Up in the Clouds at the Mossy Forest, Cameron Highlands
‘Don’t step on the moss’ is Ahmed’s only advice as we slip and slide up a steep, muddy bank, away from the road that runs from the base to the summit of Gunung Brinchang Mountain and towards the 200,000 year old Mossy Forest.
Avoiding stepping on the spongey, khaki-coloured floor of the mossy forest is not easy and can only be achieved by leaping from one slippery tree root to another and as I grab a tree branch to steady myself and hear the unmistakeable creak of it being torn from its mooring I realise that we’re probably not supposed to be here. There are no other tourists clambering around this pocket of forest, away from the safety of the raised wooden boardwalk that runs for 2km up the mountainside but we’re with Ahmed, our coke-head peppy, encyclopedic tour guide who acts like he owns this mountain and judging by the way he talks about it, just might.
Mossy forests are also known by the more ethereal name, ‘cloud forests’ as they are found so high above sea level. Up in the clouds fog stops sunlight from reaching the forest floor and condenses on the leaves of trees, dripping down and encouraging green moss to grow on every surface. The moss covers the trees and ground and although it’s been there for thousands of years it looks as though it’s only recently oozed into place, like melted wax.
Local tour guides advertise the mossy forest as the ‘real-life Avatar’, due to its resemblance to the terrain of the fictional planet Pandora from the 2009 film but, as is often the case, reality is stranger than fiction. The cloud has temporarily lifted from the forest on the afternoon we’re there which means visibility is good but that doesn’t mean you can see much more than a foreground of torturously twisted green-furred branches, stretching out in front of more twisted branches, strung together with vines and ferns.
With no view deeper into or through the forest it’s hard to get a sense of perspective and the way the branches stretch out in all directions from the hilly forest floor is enough to give me vertigo. Even with six of us there it’s so quiet I feel like I could fall down a rabbit hole and no one would know. I stare down into a deep moss-lined hole, gaping invitingly from the centre of a thick free trunk, and know that if I was to get lost now I would never be found.
The information Ahmed shares about the forest is fascinating and plentiful but there’s no chance I can get my notebook out as I need all four limbs to negotiate the treacherous maze of tree roots underfoot. I try to remember what I can but it’s useless and when I come to read about the mossy forest later I can find little in the way of facts on the internet. Blog posts abound as do beautiful photographs but actual information is sparse. There isn’t even a Wikipedia page for this place, something I find both unnerving and totally fitting although there are recent newspaper articles about degradation of the forest caused by tourists.
I slip once and when I lift my foot back onto the slippery root a watery footprints remains in the once perfect carpet of hundreds of thousands year-old vegetation. I really shouldn’t be here but, selfishly, I’m so glad that I am.
- For our four-day trip to the Cameron Highlands we stayed at T J Lodge which, for the price, was fine. We took a double room but hostel beds are availble and are only on one level which is nice. We booked our tour of the tea plantation and mossy forest through T & J and couldn’t have been happier with it.