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When Butterflies Attack – Cameron Highlands (Malaysia) | We're Not There Yet

R and I had a breakthrough about the pace and purpose of the rest of our trip in the last day or so. Basically, we decided to speed it up. We had been kind of drifting around, hitting all the tourist spots that we encountered along the way- very indiscriminately, actually. That’s how we ended up in the Cameron Highlands in the first place: we had taken a bus in that direction and it was just the next place that was listed in our guidebook. As good as it was that we achieved a kind of clarity about big issues during our stay, we still felt like we were kind of missing what, exactly, was the big deal about this place. It is pleasant enough, the weather is mercifully mild, and we managed to find some real gems in regards to food and lodging. But it seems that the appeal of the place had been contingent on the visitor being of Northern European origin and living full time in the hot, sweaty tropics, thus making any hillside with a little bit of cool air an oasis of sanity. For a couple of Americans looking to be wowed, it was decidedly understated, although lovely and calm.

On the last day of our planned stay, we rented a motorbike and decided to cruise around the countryside, which is the thing to do. Local businesses hand out maps pointing out such highlights as the rose garden, various tea plantations, and a butterfly farm. R wanted to go to the butterfly farm to take some photographs, since, he figured, shooting butterflies in a cage is like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. The thing is, the place is actually a butterfly and insect farm and I have a compulsive, irrational absolute phobia of bugs. This includes butterflies.


Kind of cool to look at…. from a distance


Attacking a turtle

When we arrived at the place, I resolved to confront my fears and try to see why on earth everyone else seemed to like those creepy crawly monsters with wings. Lipstick on a pig, I say. The ticket seller assured me that all of the insects were kept in cages and that I could completely avoid them if I wanted. Stupidly, I let this dull my vigilance and it was to my horror that I stepped through the heavy plastic dividers into a swarming flock of butterflies. Big, black, creepy, crawly bugs with so many legs and long, searching antennas. Their flight patterns were so erratic that I couldn’t predict where they might land and so I had to duck and run, using my motorbike helmet as a shield against any stray who might have had a mind to launch itself at me. They were literally everywhere, which I suppose is the point, but to me was a nightmare. Children could be fooled by the scraps of color pinned to the spiny, stiff back of a freaky 6-legged creature, but I see them for what they are: bugs.

I cringed and stumbled my way through the displays, refusing to looking into the millipede tank and shrinking in fear when a guide pulled out a fat, forked stick with a rhinoceros beetle stuck on one end (If you don’t know what these things are, just use your imagination. They are monsters). There were some delights, like the tortoise enclosure and the kind of cool leaf insects (safely locked away from where they might cause me psychological damage by landing on me or looking at me funny) but for the most part, it was an exercise in patience and self-sacrifice. Later, when R showed me some of the photos he took that afternoon, it is hard to see the beauty through the bugs.

Leaf bug

Walking stick

Rhino beetle, about the size of a rat

Oh. And there are scorpions.

The day was not lost, though. We continued on to the Boh Tea Plantation, which sounded like kind of a drag, but the girl who rented us our motorbike insisted was not to be missed. I am not a tea drinker and have seen a tea plantation or two in my travels, so I was kind of dragging my heels on this one but, hey, didn’t I just pay admission to go look at a bunch of horrifying creepy crawlies? I could stretch my limits a little further and see what the fuss is about. I expected that it should be a nice ride at least. And it was; it was a beautiful ride through rolling hills covered with tea bushes. But instead of anonymous green everywhere, the rows of plants formed the most artful patterns and gave the whole area a theme-park effect (in a good way). I was so enamored of the place that I almost forgot to be horrified by R’s scooter-piloting skills. Almost.

BOH tea plantation

Handpicking tea leaves

Tea bushes

We took a short walk to the Boh Visitors’ Center and even had a look at the tea being processed. Neither of us are big tea drinkers, but we stopped at the outdoor cafe overlooking the valley below and had a little spread of tea and pastries. It was all kind of coming together for me now. The Cameron Highlands had developed into a kind of destination and had the maleffects of tacky shops and cheesy tourist attractions, but there was a reason for being in the first place: it is peaceful, it is beautiful, it is a place to escape from the throbbing heat and pace of the rest of Malaysia. We were on our last day and very motivated to start moving more quickly and with purpose, but this afternoon was a little oasis of good, clean fun in the outdoors. We went home contented and feeling ready to tackle what comes next in this whirlwind trip of ours.