The only place I’ve travelled in the world where a fruit stall doubles as a bus stop, is just outside the mountain town of Tanah Rata in Malaysia’s north.
As our tiny bus grumbled up the gentle inclines, locals peered in at the strange collection of visitors and excess baggage crammed inside. Freshly wet hills were dotted with the occasional unseemly scaffold of a new hotel construction, but closer to the window, flora of every variety hung at the roadside.
Thirty minutes east from Tanah Rata, we realised that the hostel receptionist hadn’t been pulling our leg about the fruit-stall-bus-stop. A beaming smile emerged from the shadows of a tarpaulin. Its owner an elderly lady stood behind a hoard of fruits cascaded over wooden baskets. Foodstuff and random household accessories hung from the beams above her head, leaving her only one space to hover.
There was something about beginning a hike at such an unusual landmark that gave us a great sense of adventure. Covering over 8km of rolling highland towards the famous BOH tea plantation.
The hiking itself was easy and peaceful. As our boots ate up the road ahead, we turned corners that each held a slightly different view. Meandering inclines gradually took us above the dense morning mist that was yet to pluck itself from the greenery below. Old tractors and other miscellaneous machinery littered the roadside. Abandoned but in a state of eternal readiness.
Any breathlessness on steep sections was easily forgotten as we were distracted by the rising temperatures, the distant echo of bird calls and the occasional glimpse of ladies picking at the myriad bushes lining the slopes. Taking photos and losing ourselves in the waist-high shrubs, the lives we had left behind seemed more than just a long-haul flight away.
Founded in 1929, the BOH Tea Estate is one of the most renowned in Malaysia and manages three separate sites. Facts and figures aside, in reality the first thing we noticed after an incredibly silent ascent was the noise of other humans. The place was a hive of activity. Here, the machinery moved and whirred and was still very much alive.
I had been seeking a cup of English Breakfast tea since the day I’d arrived in Bangkok almost eight weeks before, and what a momentous way to break my drought. We rested our boot-clad feet on a sweeping wooden veranda overlooking the very leaves we were about to sample. Clasping my cup in both hands, I took my first sip. Heaven. As we drank the sun finally broke through the morning haze and the blue sky became dotted with bulbous white clouds.
Fully revived, we visited the old factory. Learning all about one of the most underrated processes in the world. It turns out that it takes quite a while to brew the perfect cup of tea. A far cry from my daily dipping of a teabag in some hot water, I had developed a new-found respect for the humble tea leaf.