Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nov.23 Sabah Adventure Day 8 – Time for Tea

On our way back from Sandakan to KK we stopped at the Sabah Tea Plantation that is nestled in the hills by the little village of Napalak. Over 6000 acres are managed by it but only around 1000 are in cultivation: the rest being reserved for original jungle. They've noticed that the jungle serves as an attractive "bait" for the insects to stay away from the tea leaves. This eliminates their need for pesticides thereby allowing them to say that their tea is Organic. To combat soil-based fungus they use Elephant Grass to soak up excess moisture and clean out the fungus.

We toured the tea factory and saw how the leaves are processed. Leaves are picked in the morning (using hand-operated trimming machine for regular tea or manual pick for the high-end organic stuff) and placed onto long troughs for wilting. They wilt until the next day which starts the fermentation process. After that the leaves are dried and crushed/rolled. They turn from green to dark brown and it looks and smells like the underside of a lawn mower. Then they are dried fully which stops the fermentation process and gives the tea its flavour. After that the tea is cleaned (removal of twigs and other stuff) and sifted to determine grade. Big leaves are for loose tea, smaller are for tea bags and the really fine stuff is for "teh tarik" (rope tea wherein the tea is not filtered).

Interesting thing we learned is that the same tea plant is used to make the black tea (Sabah's specialty) and green tea and the Chinese favourite Oolong. Difference is in how long the leaf wilts and how long the fermentation occurs. Oddly enough we didn't like the tea we had there even though we've been drinking Sabah Tea all week - mostly because they put too much sugar into it.

Kampung Luanti Fish Massage near town of Ranau

Our tour guide told us about this "fish massage" place just down the road. Julie had heard about it too so we went to check it out. This was one of the strangest experiences I've had. They give you some fish food, you wade into the water (Rm15 for your legs, Rm30 full body) and the fish start swarming around you. As they brush up IMG_8646 against you it's hard to remain calm. And then the guide tosses food around my knees and the fish swarm turns into a writhing mass and you cannot help but giggle as they tickle the backs of your knees. The fish are a type of catfish (Kelah?) and don't have any teeth. So the next trick is to put some food in your hand, make a loose fist and stick your hand in the water. You definitely get attention that way and the fish try their damdest to suck the food out of your hand. Most similar to feeding sting rays as they suck squid out of your hand But for those who haven't done that - imagine a fish sucking food out of your hand while making a slurping sound.

I went in first while Julie was changing so by the time she got there I was accustomed to the feeling and threw food in the water around her legs to make her squirm.

I wouldn't call it a massage but it is a neat feeling.

After we ran out of fish food we went up to the lounge at the office to hang out for a bit. Someone brought in some Durian fruit and we figured we'd give it a try since we see so much of it for sale along the roadside. We were told it smells bad but tastes OK. Well, it smells not too bad but tastes gross and has the consistency of egg salad. It tastes like fried onions & hard-boiled eggs, and gives you the worst after-taste when you burp it up later. Neither of us could finish one piece. Supposedly you get used to it after a while, the locals say...uhg.

After our nice morning the day sort of went downhill. First we couldn’t find this rafting place up the hills (reconciled later from a fellow who says rafting on that river is for families) and then we couldn't find a place to stay (again, driving around in the dark). We didn’t get lost, but did lose our way before eventually ending up back in KK and our reliable City Park Lodge.

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