Day 4 Cameron HIGHLANDS

Cameron HIGHLANDS to Georgetown, Penang; Rice Paddies, Water Buffalos; and our First Big Screwup

Correction: I last reported that a Speed Stage was cancelled in order to avoid disturbing a tiger and her cubs. That is what I was told at the time. Subsequently, I learned that the landowner objected to the rally traversing his land; probably wanted to be paid more. This sounds like the more likely reason for the cancellation.

The Car and the Rally:
Having to wait until a herd of
Water Buffalo cross the road
Our day started at about 5000 feet in the Cameron Highlands and for the first time it was a cold morning; long sleeves and wraps. As we came down from the Highlands the temperature warmed and we were quickly back to T-shirts. Our first test was a small racetrack and we were not particularly fast, but not a big problem.

Thereafter, we went on a long drive north. Today we saw tea plantations in the Highlands, palm plantations at lower altitudes and rice paddies in the lowlands. I was particularly interested in the palm oil processing as I once owned a large soy bean processing company -- Central Soya. The refining process is similar, but not identical. After the fruit bunches of the palm tree are harvested (a very dirty and difficult job as the trees are planted densely and the fruit attracts all kinds of varmints, including snakes), it is then processed to get the oil from the fruit, then it is bleached (from red to clear), and make sure it's smell is neutral. It is then ready to be used in commercial products from salad dressings, soaps, perfumes, etc.

Many Conservationists object to the palm plantations as the growers continue to level natural tropical forests/habitats to plant their plantations......that is bad for all the creatures who live in the natural habitat........including monkeys.

Our second Speed Test of the day was a 9+ km run up a hill (hence, the name Tour de France). It was very unusual as the test required us to make two stops and write down a set of numbers posted by the Organizer. Our screw-up was that we blew through the first stop without writing down the code numbers. Alas, our speed was pretty good and we were not penalized too much for the screw-up. At the end of Day 4, we are in 8th place with all cars ahead of us having substantially larger engines.


Malaysia, like much of Southeast Asia, is changing quickly. Yes, today we saw monkeys in the forest, water buffalo stopping traffic on public roads to reach their pastures and legions of individual roadside vendors selling all sorts of items and food. That is the scene in the countryside, but once you arrive in a large town or city you are impressed with the many building projects going on simultaneously. Cranes and work crews are everywhere.

Georgetown, Penang, where we are spending our rest day was a small resort/fishing village when I was here 30 years ago. Today, it looks more like Hong Kong or Singapore (or even Miami) with high rise construction everywhere. The government has built a 20 km bridge from the Malaysian mainland to the Island of Penang. The bridge is beautiful and first class. Each new modern hotel is bigger and fancier than the last.....quite a transformation.

Speaking of hotels, we're staying at the Grand Old Lady of Penang, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, built in 1885. It is located at the then British Port and was the home of all social events when the British Empire ran this part of the world. In fact, Britain was in control of Malaysia (which then included Singapore) up to WW II. The Japanese occupied the entire country during the war and after the war the people here achieved their independence under the Malaysian Federation. There is still a lot of British influence that survives, including the tradition of driving on the " wrong side" of the road (i.e. on the left side).

Our rest day consists of minor adjustments to the car, getting it refueled, an afternoon nap and a reservation at a Chinese restaurant that specializes in Peking Duck. The next day we're off to the Thailand border.