We left George Town with a plan to visit Cameron Highlands, a place famous for it’s altitude, jungle walks and tea plantations. Lying above 1800 meters the place is the only part of the Malay Peninsula, that guarantees a relief from the humid, tropical heat.
A day after we said good bye to Penang, Mat started to feel a bit weak. We managed to find an inexpensive (and very run down) Chinese hotel in one of the small towns on the way to Ipoh. Cycling in Malaysia, or in any tropical countries is extremely exhausting. Despite drinking plenty of water and covering our bodies with sunscreen, we were overheating all the time.
In the middle of the night Mat woke up shivering. The room had no aircon, only a fan was cooling us down during the night, so it was quite hot, but despite the heat Mat was still feeling cold. At first, we took it for a heat stroke. We knew, that it could be something more serious, but it was way too early to judge.
In the morning he was feeling even worse, had no appetite and could barely walk down the stairs. We decided to cycle a bit and see how far we can get.
After 10 kilometres we were sure that we would not make it even to the nearest village…
We agreed to hitchhike, and when the driver of a truck stopped for us and told us that there was a clinic in the nearest village, we made a quick decision and went for a check-up. We carry anti-malaria pills with us, but we never take them as prevention. We needed to know what was causing the shivering and weakness, so we asked the doctor for a blood checkup. The results were not good. The doctor found out that it was not malaria, but Mat’s platelets level was down, indicating dengue fever.
Since there is no cure for this mosquito transmitted disease, we had to find a quiet hotel to spend the next week waiting until it is gone. Since Anna had dengue just 3 week before, we knew more or less what to expect. Very slowly, we rolled to the nearest town and checked into a naphthalene stinking air conditioned room without a window. This was going to be our burrow for the next 4 days…
When our friends learnt that Mat was sick, words of support started to flow. One Danish friend of ours, who is interested in traditional medicine, advised us about natural remedies for this nasty disease – papaya leaf and turmeric juice.
We went out in search of a papaya plant. It took us 2 minutes to find a nice, young tree from which we harvested four, fresh leaves. Luckily the remedy for the disease is widely available on the spot!
Back in the hotel we asked for something to crush the leaves and to our surprise, we were provided with a perfect tool for the job – a granite grinder.
Together with the staff of our hotel we managed to produce a bit of juice. Not much, but enough for a dose for one day.
The juice was absolutely horrible, almost impossible to drink. Even when mixed with honey, its bitterness was very difficult to bare. It was hard to tell if it helped Mat to recover, but after 4 days in bed we had enough of that dark, smelly room where we had to stay and decided to take an hour long train ride to Ipoh.
We knew from a friend, that there was a Warmshowers member, who has adopted the whole floor above his shop to accommodate touring cyclists. That sounded like a perfect place for us to rest, and as we arrived in Michael’s place we knew that it was the right decision.
Our host not only let us stay in his little cyclist’s paradise, but also spent a lot of effort to show us around. We visited the old part of Ipoh, tried the famous Ipoh White Coffee, ate at amazing vegetarian restaurants and even explored some caves. All with the dengue virus still flowing in Mat’s veins.
Mat was rather weak after the disease. His case was worse than Anna’s, he had a terrible rash on his back, could not eat and had to visit several hospitals for some additional blood check ups. On top of that, on the 3rd day of having dengue, a small blind spot appeared in his right eye making it difficult to read.
A full recovery from dengue fever in some cases can take up to months, and it is not uncommon for some patients to suffer from depression and anxiety weeks after the sickness is gone.
Definitely climbing to Cameron Highlands was not the first thing that we wanted to do, but we managed to survive harder adventures, so we gave it a try.
The climb was awful. We had to brake it in two, and camped in the jungle on the way to the mountains. When we finally reached Tanah Rata – the main hub of the highlands, we were exhausted. The fresh air was a nice change though, after weeks spent in the sweaty lowlands.
The passed by tea plantations reminded us of Yunnan and Darjeeling although here there were only a few hills, nothing compared to what we have experienced in China and India before – so to be honest, quite disappointing. After rolling down on the other side of the Cameron Highlands we wanted to visit one more hill station – Fraser’s Hill, before heading towards Malaysias capital.
Much more laid back than Cameron Highlands, this popular destination for many Kuala Lumpur citizens did not offer as much as Tanah Rata, but was a nice resting spot before the final ride to the lowlands.
During our journey we had to face many difficulties. We managed to survive them all, but sicknesses are even worse than officers on the borders of Central Asia. Our dengue was a high price we had to pay for visiting beautiful locations. Now we only hope, that the immunity that costed us so much to develop will protect us from getting sick again. At least from one of the four strains of the virus…