Sonrisa’s food storage locker has swallowed the entirety of my arm, and I still cannot reach the very back. I lean in, wedging the triangle of my shoulders into the rectangle that is the locker’s doorway. It’s dark. I should have grabbed my headlamp first, maybe then I could see. I’m looking for those little green packets of fake sweetener, Stevia mixed with something else to make it taste less nasty. I need it, to make my orange blossom & cardamom tea taste right… “this is why we need to reorganize these damn cubbies! Can’t find anything in here…” *scratch scratch scribble* I suck in my breath.
“What was that?” I think to myself. “Did I hear something go ‘scratch, scratch, scribble?’”
I swear something skitters across my hand.
“Oh my god, oh my god! What was that!?” My heart is pounding and I am suddenly certain that I have wedged my shoulders into a cubby that is also housing a nest of Plague Rats. Panic ensues. If you’ve ever tried to extract yourself from a dark, sailboat cubby you know panic does not help narrow your shoulders. I attempt to yank my body outward, but I only scrape my shoulders against the narrow inlet. I smack the back of my head against the top shelf, my hyperventilation is filling the storage cubby with carbon dioxide and in seconds, I’m going to pass out from lack of oxygen. My face will be chewed off by the Scourge. I change angles and yank the other way.
“Aaaahhharaaauughhhh!!!” I pop outward and fall against Sonrisa’s bulkhead breathing like the Incredible Hulk.
Andrew hears my squawking from outside and runs to my salvation. “What? What!?
I explain myself, and look at Andrew expectantly: someone has to save us all. Andrew says nothing, but as a good Captain will do, dutifully removes each and every object inside the food storage cubby to hunt down whatever Monster has taken hold of my sweetener packets. Finding no evidence of any Cubby-Gremlin of any kind he hands me my plastic bag of Stevia packets and proceeds to judge me.
I scowl and peel open the door of the tea cabinet only to have six or seven vacuum sealed packs of “To Life Or Possibly Death By Beheading Tea” spring forth at me and rain down onto Sonrisa’s countertop. This unleashes an adrenaline filled tirade about how the cubbies are so full of crap we don’t use that it is the perfect nesting ground for Cubby-Gremlins (that do not exist) of all kind and nature, and I will not stand for it any longer, but I can’t possibly clean them out myself lest I be attacked again, and my delicate disposition will. not. stand. for. it.
I just wanted a damn fake-sweetened cup of tea. This is when I decide: I need a break.
* * *
I grip the plastic steering wheel with that curious rubber-give to the first millimeter; it’s sun warmed casing burns my hands. I reach with my left hand and click the transmission back a notch. It’s still awkward to drive left, but four wheels attaching me to land feels the most natural of all things. Andrew is fussing and fidgeting with the radio, trying to figure out how to connect the iPhone so he can listen to his tunes. The gravel beneath the tires crunch as I back away from the dirt lot.
I pull away from the marina, the Cubby-Gremlins, and my usual view of seascape. I drive through rice fields and bustling little cities until we start climbing and swaying with roads that swoop through strange rock formations, mining digs, then along the edge of sheer cliffs with orchids growing wild in the grass like sunflowers might at home.
“Every now and then, you need a vacation…” I say.
“From your life that is like one giant vacation?” Andrew finishes my sentence.
“Yes, exactly.” I explain.
We are heading into the Cameron Highlands are Malaysia’s version of mountain territory, and the home of some real “cloud forests” like the imitation jungle we visited in Singapore. An agricultural hub, the Highlands are where they grow flowers, orchids, cool weather crops like lettuce, spinach and a Highland specialty: tiny, jewel red strawberries.
As we crest over a hill, we drop into a high altitude valley speckled by the white plastic tarps of greenhouses. The highland city is busy. Old British style trucks cart soil, fertilizers, equipment, and farmers over here, then fruit, vegetables, and crates of honey over there. It hardly seems like a vacation area, except for the abundance of large buses carting tourists all wearing the same T-Shirts and sun visors, following a leader who is carrying a triangular red or yellow flag atop a stick. The roads are dusty and diesel exhaust is the only “rainforest cloud” I am enjoying so far. We hold out hope for improvement as we round a few corners.
We stop to see a strawberry farm and pick up a bottle of Rainforest Stingless Bee Honey.
Across the way we are accosted by a Chinese Grandma who speaks very little English but knows beautiful orchids speak across all languages.
We visit a stand selling beautiful and rare rainforest plants that draw their humidity and water from the air. Some carry a pretty price tag, too, at over $100 US per plant to purchase.
Then, we round the corner and the scenery shifts. Hills upon hills roll into the distance, all covered by the same green bush lovingly trimmed into what seem to be decorative topiaries. But, these plants are anything but topiaries. These are working plants, providing all manner of delicious refreshment the world over. These are the Tea Plantations of Malaysia.
…To Be Continued.