Two days later I was on a minibus to the Cameron Highlands. It was a winding road through the palm plantations that stretched as far as the eye could see. Malaysia is the worlds second largest producer of palm oil and its economy relies on the industry, but cultivation has been criticized for environmental impacts including deforestation, loss of natural habitats of endangered species, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the hills in the Highlands are also covered with prefabricated greenhouses, which really detracted from an otherwise beautiful natural area.
The minibus dropped me in town and I found a room at Eight Mentigi Guest House. It was my first dorm bed in a while, but I met 2 new Dutch friends that invited me to dinner - one bonus of communal sleeping I guess! Rafflesia hunting was the order of the day, and I got up early to start the 5 hour adventure. The Rafflesia is a rare flower with the world's largest single bloom. The flower begins blooming at night and start to decompose only two to three days later. The time from bud emergence to flowering is six to nine months. Male and female flowers must be open simultaneously for pollination to occur, so successful pollination and fruit production are quite rare. In addition to habitat loss, these reproductive limitations are contributing factors to why many species are endangered.
It was a trek through the jungle to find the cartoon-like flower, and there was no guarantee that we would find one in bloom. After 2 hours, one injury, and words of doom and gloom from the crabby English lady, we came to our first flower - it was 5 days old and on its way out. About 3 feet across, it was a fading dark red and emitted a strong smell. We were happy, but hoped to find a new bloom and decided to hike a bit further into the jungle. Our reward was a day old Rafflesia, not even full open. The red was robust and it was gorgeous. It was a successful hunt and great hike, and a highlight of my time in Malaysia. The guide dropped me off just in time to catch my 2pm minibus - off to Georgetown in Penang!