Tioman Island. A land of monkeys, monitor lizards and monkeys fighting monitor lizards. Oh and there’s jungles and the odd reef as well.
16.10.2010 30 °C
Even from the boat Tioman was spectactular, a volcanic mass rising from the sea, a steep mess of jungle, shimmering beaches and volcanic cliffs and peaks. I’d chosen ABC beach, I’d heard it was peaceful and a nice place to relax. I really felt I needed just a bit of that time on my own. Find myself again. Write some new songs, read some books. It had been a couple of months since I’d finished a book. Being social had overtaken.
I arrived on Tioman Island with a smile on my face, yet a small sadness in my heart. I was happy to be on my own again, after quite a few very social weeks. Looking forward to new adventures and new faces, and also a bit of "me" time. But I would miss these people, my new family. Erik with his ever smiling face and sweet tunes; Hakan and his grumpy German humour; Aro with her intrigue and constant jingling; Kevin with his cooking and optimism; Karen and her sexy Spanish cursing; Tya with her smile, her ukulele and the “chicken shaker” and everyone else in Le Village gang. Some I’d known for months, some a few days, though all with a place in my heart. But these things are part of travelling. The fast and intense friendships, all the while knowing that soon it will all end. But when it does end it also means the start of the next phase. New adventures and new faces to share those adventures. And the thrill of being on your own again.
ABC consists of one track that spans quitea long beach. The odd motorbike with sidecar carrying dive gear and the odd pushbike bounce along the road but most of the traffic is pedestrian. There are a number of guesthouses and restaurants spread across the strip and the odd bar; but they are far enough apart it gives the whole place a very relaxed vibe. The actual beach (excuding small patches at either end) is quite rocky and uninspiring, but the relaxed pace makes up for it.
I found myself a simple and cheap bungalow just back from the beach, a nice little hut to base myself from. Straight away I threw myself into my Advanced Open Water dive ticket. Again I loved the diving, exploring the underwater wonderland. Marvelling at the myriads of fish and coral on display. I actually realised I was really enjoying the learning as well. Over the past few years I’ve had very little formal learning, just the odd short course through work and some of the mines rescue training. Its been enjoyable throwing myself at something new. Whilst you do learn about the world while travelling, it isn’t very intense. And after a few months away it’s good to focus on something and use your brain a little.
As part of the Open water I did a night dive. Unfortunately we really didn’t see much at all. Visibility was ordinary anyway and the sealife seemed to have an aversion to our lights that night. I still enjoyed it however. It’s rather a unique feeling, being weightless, underwater in the dark with only the beam from your torch to light the way. We saw a few interesting fish, but definitely the highlight was when we were returning to the shore. I turned off my light as we were snorkelling back and noticed the odd glow. I asked the others to turn off their torches and as we adjusted to the light the phosphorescent algae started dominating the ocean. Its rather cool seeing it underwater with goggles. As it is lit by disturbance, my fellow divers seemed to be glowing, surrounded by a halo of tiny green glowing orbs. It did get a little hairy as we returned to the shore as the tide was quite low, and hence the seafloor presented a minefield of urchins to avoid in the dark. A couple of times in the shallows the only way to avoid them was to press my torch into the ground to push myself away. Of course this meant the light was gone. Of course when I re-lit my way more urchins had appeared. And as this cycle repeated itself a few times the fear of urchin stings was steadily increasing as I bounced from one darken lurch to another. Eventually though I emerged from this maze of black spikes back onto the beach.
My time on Tioman passed quickly, days melding into one. I got some of the solo time I was after, though the week was still very social. Meeting new people diving and a few enjoyable nights at one of the beach bars. I had a couple of good days snorkelling and a couple of days with a few fun English girls I’d met at the bar.
I walked out to Monkey Bay one day on my own. I hadn’t quite realised how intense the little walk was. It took less than an hour, but it was all up and down over a few hills on a rough slippery track through the thick jungle. I hadn’t exactly come prepared in my flip-flops, and ended up doing the walk bare foot. Great fun though. And luckily at the bottom of each hill was the shore, so i ended up having a few dips to cool off on the way. Monkey bay was quite a nice snorkelling destination. When I finally found the best reef at the far end of the beach the clouds were just gathering on the horizon. I was snorkelling for a while, engrossed in the coral and fish swarming around the impressive drop off. Watching the bigger fish hiding down in the depths below the coral wall. I’d noticed it was a little darker and it was a little choppier, but it was only when I surfaced to head back to shore I realised how much the weather had come in. It was about to rain and the wind was quite powerful. I was about 100m from the shore and it was only a bit choppier out there, but the waves in at shore were quite strong, and it was quite dangerous getting back to shore with the coral and rocks in the shallows. But I made it with only a couple of minor scrapes. The storm hit with a vengeance as I made the trek back to ABC, the rain making the track slow and slippery, and the lightening flashing through the dark jungle. All in all a good day.
One wet afternoon I was sitting on my bed playing guitar. I’d intended on a relaxed afternoon of walking and snorkelling, but a nice tropical downpour put an end to those ambitions. Outside the rain was pelting down and the heavens were cracking with thunder and lightning. Over the din I heard an unusual noise, a sort of light scraping clicking sort of noise. At first I ignored it, but eventually stood up to have a look. The door to my room was open, and on the floor was one of the Islands giant monitor lizards. This one would have been roughly a metre and half and was stood just in front the doorway. As I shouted and jumped in the air the lizard let out a small hiss and turned and sauntered back out the door. I knew there was no risk, but it still left me with a pounding heart. Strangely later that night a bat flew in through my open window, did two laps of the room and then shot back out through the front door. I was popular with the wildlife that day!
Another day I was walking down the track and spotted on of the islands many monkeys hissing at something behind a tree. As I got closer I realised it was one of the monitor lizards, who responded with a large hiss of its own. I was hoping for Godzilla Vs king kong battle, but the foes eventually got bored and went their own ways, the monkey giving me a hiss as it ran past. Bloody monkeys. You can always tell the people who are new to travelling in Asia. When they see a monkey its all “It’s so cute!” and reaching straight for the camera. Those who have been around for a while are wary. Keeping bags and cameras close and usually muttering “bloody monkeys.”
I was reminded whilst on Tioman how conservative Malaysia can be. You don’t see much of it in most “tourist” spots and in the centre of Kuala Lumpur with all its Chinese and Indian influence. But outside these areas Sharia law is still enforced on the Muslim born population. It’s illegal for a Malay to drink in public, which includes bars, so these are usually confined to tourist and expat areas. A sign on the ABC wharf warns of the punishment for a Malay caught drinking. A large fine and/or imprisonment and/or 6 lashes. Quite harsh. I was also talking to a western girl working on the island who has hooked up with a Malay guy. That is completely illegal and he faces hefty punishment if this is discovered (again a mix of fines, imprisonment and lashes.) They are now doing there hardest to get working visas in Australia or New Zealand so they can leave. They are sure that if they stay, one day they will be caught.
After my jaunt to Tioman Island I returned to Kuala Lumpur and Le Village for two nights. This time I was determined to leave and quickly purchased myself a flight to Phnom Penh. I had finally decided somewhere at least a little different to Malaysia and Indonesia was in order. Cambodia was one of the places I was really looking forward to especially Siam Reap and the Angkor temples.
One of the scariest days of my trip was the day I had left. I’d had a small bite or cut on my right arm for a few days. The day before I left around lunchtime I noticed it was red and inflamed, a small tropical infection. The next morning I woke to a throbiing pain in my arm. It had turned into a giant pus-weaping inflamed lump. My arm was red from my wrist almost to my shoulder. I caught the boat to the port town of Mersing and ended up stuck there for 5 hours. I tried to find a doctor, but with no luck. It’s hard in a place like that on a Sunday during Ramadan. I did find a pharmacy and buy some antibiotics which I immediately started. By this stage I’d noticed what looked like track marks heading up my arm and I was developing a fever and a sensitivity to sunlight. Shit. This was getting bad.
I bought a thermometer and started monitoring my temperature. when I started it read 38 degrees, but as the hours wore on it increased. Half way through the bus trip back to KL my temperature was 40. Remembering that phrase "Brain boiling" I was getting worried. “Stuff heading to the hostel when I get there,” I thought, “I’m going straight to hospital!” Luckily half way through the trip the fever broke and the swelling in the arm went down considerably. When I arrived in KL my temperature was back to normal and I decided medical attention could wait until the next day. When I woke in the morning the swelling had almost disappeared. The antibiotics? A good immune system or just a strange infection? Who knows. Whilst it was “almost” back to normal the next day the infection just won’t disappear, whatever I throw at it. And almost two months later I still have a small pussy open would on my arm. Damned tropics!
I was expecting some of the familiar faces to be in the Le Village hostel when I returned, but I wasn’t prepared to see basically the entire crew perched on the hostel couches when I stumbled in at midnight. I had expected not to see some of that crew again on this trip, and our goodbyes the week previous might be final. Another couple of good fun social days ensued. The final night was filled with good food, drinks and good jams. Always fun jamming with Erik. He somehow throws that infectious smile and attitude of his into his guitar. And of course Tya with her soaring voice and expert chicken shaker (ie. Egg shaker) skills. Locky still hadn’t gone to India and we had more final goodbyes before I finally took my leave again and headed for the airport. That morning included some other “final” goodbyes, and a rather emotional farewell to Aro. Pangs of sadness rocked through my heart as I once again said goodbyes, but after a few minutes a smile had crept back onto my face and the joy of being on the road had once again buoyed my spirits. And that is why I travel. I guess when that feeling goes it’s time to stop.
But that time is not now...