This is Jason, a professional nature guide, born and brought up in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. In his life he moved around a little, Kuala Lumpur, London for a couple of years, back to Kuala Lumpur for six, over in France for five, before finally deciding to settle back in his place of birth: the Cameron Highlands. He was our guide during a hike in the CH and we were pretty impressed by his knowledge of nature. We decided to ask him some questions about his life in the CH and how he ended up doing what he loves!
This is his self-written story
It was never our intention to return to Malaysia after moving over to France, but the financial crisis in Europe made it difficult for us to find stable jobs so we decided to return to Malaysia. My wife and I currently live in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, and for the past six years, I’ve been working as a full time nature guide. The early months of my return was a little rough and I found it difficult to adapt to life back in Malaysia. However, I found solace within the wonderful nature here in the highlands so I decided to hit the trails to try and discover what I really wanted out of life. It was on one of my hiking trips that I met an Austrian couple. Having stayed in the Cameron Highlands for 4 days, they had run out of trails to explore so I invited them to join me on the Cameron Valley Descent; a trail carved out 50 years ago but rarely used by hikers. As we made our way up and down the hills, I introduced them to our local fauna and flora, filling their minds with minor details and information which they had missed during their previous hikes. Overwhelmed by the huge biodiversity and wonders of our natural environment, they urged me to take up nature guiding as a profession. The rest is history….
Life is so much more meaningful and so much more relaxing these days. Being with nature is a wonder, and the experience can only be shared physically rather than in words. I can walk the same trail every day and nature will surprise me with a beautiful bloom, a skipping insect, a fluttering butterfly, the call of gibbons, the songs of birds, the whispers of the wind through the trees, or a cold shower, just to show me how alive and wonderful the world truly is. And best of all, I get to share it with my guests.
It wasn’t really difficult to become a nature guide, actually. I had to go through a 3-week course organized by the Ministry of Tourism & Culture Malaysia but it’s generally pretty basic. Most of my knowledge had been accumulated over a period of 15 years while working in collaboration with various non-government organizations (NGOs) such as the WWF (Malaysia), Malaysian Nature Society, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Kew Gardens, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), etc. The thing about life and nature is that it lives and evolves. Our knowledge and understanding of it is still pretty slim, and as nature guides, we have to stay alert and be able to see the subtle changes caused by our actions. As an example, global warming and loss of our wilderness would cause the extinction of various species within a given environment. Thus, we have to keep ourselves up to date not only to what is happening around us, but elsewhere in the world.
The easiest and most difficult part of being a nature guide
The physical requirement is probably the easiest part of my journey into professional nature guiding. I’ve always enjoyed hiking, and have been doing so from a very young age, so it was quite easy to get back into a daily routine. A passion for nature helps as well, and I tend to have a huge curiosity as to what is happening within our montane forests. The difficult part is covering the different aspects of our natural environment; i.e. climate, geology, ecology, biodiversity, as well as the impact of human development on the natural world. From a naturalist point of view, it can be quite disheartening to see various species disappear due to human encroachment and development, but one can’t allow such problems to affect us emotionally. As humans and consumers, we bear the guilt equally, and the only thing we can do is to have hope. As nature guides, it is our duty to help people understand and appreciate the importance of our natural environment as well as highlight the impact of human actions upon this beautiful world. If the message is spread far enough, we may someday be able to find a balance between human needs and nature conservation. Without hope, passion, or the desire to learn and understand, being a naturalist would be difficult indeed.
Support and inspiring others
My wife is extremely supportive of my new career path, and so are my parents and sister. As for my friends, a few have taken the path and are now fully involved in the eco-tourism industry. Cameron Highlands has probably the largest number of professional nature guides in Malaysia who truly appreciate their surroundings and go all out to make new discoveries as well as study the rich biodiversity found within the highlands. However, as I mentioned earlier, the most difficult part of our career is to get past the emotional impact caused by deforestation and human development.
As a Malaysian, I love my county; and my wife who is French, truly enjoys the cultural diversity, the food, the climate, and the natural environments of this country. One could visit a city or a town numerous times and still discover something new to experience. However, the country could do with better planning and management of its natural resources.
Personally, I feel that we are rushing progress and development without actually taking into consideration its impact on the natural environment. Both Sarawak and Sabah seem to have found a solution to the problem and are managing their national parks well, but here in Peninsular Malaysia, we are still quite far behind. I am happy here in Malaysia. After all, it is home… The career life of a nature guide has its own rewards (e.g. peace of mind, wonderful nature, fitness from hiking), but it’s not going to make me financially rich. As long as I can pay my bills, put food on the table, and take a short holiday from time to time, I’m content. However, if ever I do acquire the financial capacity to move, I’d choose New Zealand as my new home. Why? Well, peace of mind, wonderful nature, and fitness from hiking…;).
Digital Nomads in Malaysia
I would recommend Malaysia to DN because of:
-Food: One could eat for a lifetime in Malaysia, and probably not be able to try everything.
-Cultural diversity: How Malaysians get along and live in almost perfect harmony still remains a mystery, but we seem to get along fine, and share in the joys and celebration of the different cultural activities from the various ethnicity living within the country.
-Nature: Malaysia is truly blessed with a vast variety of natural environments. From beautiful islands and sandy beaches to tropical montane rainforests, there is something for everyone. Enjoy diving and snorkelling, head to the Perhentian Islands, or even Sipadan and Mabul in Borneo. Enjoy caving, head to Mulu National Park, or the Niah Caves in Borneo. Enjoy hiking, there’s Taman Negara, as well as the Cameron Highlands, plus numerous other national parks scattered throughout the country.
The only thing I can think of why DN shouldn’t come to Malaysia is that our internet connection can be pretty shitty in some places…:D. It seems to be improving but it might take a few years before the entire country has fibre-optic connections or better bandwidth. Currently, the only city that seems to be receiving the most attention is Kuala Lumpur.
Do you want to meet Jason and learn more about nature in the Cameron Highlands? Check the website of Cameron Secrets Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd.