Monday, 25 June 2012

Perhentian Islands PT1

June 4th - June 7th, 2012

I can't really remember the last time I was on a boat.

I certainly don't think I have ever stood upon a dock loaded with 60lbs of luggage attempting to board a small 15 seater boat swaying violently on a choppy ocean. It felt like attempting to stand on a slack line strung up between two mountain peaks under 40 knot winds. 

Just about every traveller we encountered thus far has claimed the Perhentian Islands to be a "not to miss" experience; white sand beaches, crystal clear, warm turquoise waters and some of the best coral reefs in SE Asia.  

I must admit to a wee phobia of mine here; I have some strange feelings in regards to what lies beneath the surface of the water.  I have not spent much time by the ocean and it's a bit of an unknown entity to me I guess.  I remember being on a holiday with my family and our closest neighbours on a houseboat one summer.  We were swimming and I was following my Dad back to the boat to find myself entangled in seaweed.  What an awful feeling!!!  Give me a plate of seaweed and I will happily eat it… trying to swim entangled in it and I'm not so keen.  People are looking up into space in search of alien lifeforms but I don't see why when all they have to do is go underwater for some of the scariest beings in existence. Above all, I was not sure about everyone we met claiming that swimming with sharks was to be a necessary experience.  Vegetarian sharks indeed. 

We found out a day before leaving Cherating that our bank accounts had been blocked for no reason whatsoever leaving us without access to our funds.  Moreover, we were getting charged far more than we had been informed we would when withdrawing our own money.  In the two weeks we had been in Asia we had already racked up some $200 in bank charges.  So they take an atrocious amount of money from us then proceed to block access to our own account entirely!   Of course we found this out at the weekend so there was nobody in the office for 3 days due to the time difference between here and Canada.  We had a couple hundred ringgit in our pocket plus some emergency travellers checks and a little American hard currency on us which we were trying not to use.  Before leaving Canada we informed CIBC at two different branches that we would be leaving for an extended trip. We have had a number of issues with CIBC in the last year and this was the icing on the cake.  

I was hesitant to be leaving for an island which reputably had no ATM, internet, telephone service or the ability to pay for things with a credit card.  Julian persuaded me however and I found myself on this boat en-route to the islands.  

The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the water; I have never seen a coastline to be clearer than the water in my bathtub.  Colourful tropical fish swam in the turquoise waters as the idea of sharks re-entered my mind.

The second thing was that the beach was littered with western people in skimpy bathing suits absolutely baking themselves in the afternoon sun.  I don't understand how or why people can do this. if I were to expose myself to the sun for more than about 20 minute my skin starts to burn.  Not only that but the heat is so incredible it's not long before I feel light headed and slightly ill.  A hugely different vibe compared to east coast beaches frequented by predominantly muslims, fully dressed and complete with hijab and some in full burkas as they wade in the surf.

Thirdly and most offensively I think was the amount of rubbish that littered the area.  Before we boarded the boat we paid a fee of RN5 which goes towards the upkeep of the island.  I expected the contribution to be used accordingly but that didn't appear to be the case.  I don't understand how people can happily toss their litter all over the ground when they are surrounded by such gorgeous landscapes.  Everywhere in Malaysia so far there has been a noticeable amount of refuse piling up on beaches and street corners but here in the Pacific jewel of the Perhenthians it was more apparent then anywhere we had encountered on the mainland.  

Julian left me and all the bags on Long Beach while he hunted back and forth across the island of Kecil in search of the best priced accommodations.  I responsibly stood guard by the bags but the water was far more inviting.  Slipping off my trousers I waded up to my thighs to find myself amongst brightly coloured yellow, black and white fish.  They came curiously close until finally I felt some nipping at my toes.  Unconvinced of this being considered 'fun' I found myself walking back and forth between the beach and the sea trying to get used to the fact that I seemed to be on the opposite end of the food chain than I am used to. 

After about an hour and a half Julian returned drenched in sweat to report his finds.  We walked the length of the beach and followed a trail inland up a small hill into the jungle.  The shade was refreshing but as we gained slight altitude the humidity grew heavier and the temperature raise by about five degrees as we moved away from the cooling effect of the ocean.  By the time we reach the reception desk of Tropicana Inn  I was dripping in sweat and was grateful for the bottle of water which was immediately offered.  To our surprise this budge accommodation took payments by VISA and offered free internet access which was definitely necessary to take care of our suddenly precarious financial situation.

The room was simple - secluded in the jungle a single room with wooden planks for a floor and a large mosquito net housing a double bed with an en-suit 'wet room'.  It was quiet, far from the busy beaches and still only RM40 (about $14CND) per night.  We paid for three nights intending to spend one day exploring the island and beachheads and the following on a full snorkelling tour of the coastal waters. 

Ewans Cafe offered a great selection of local foods and nice relaxed, family orientated vibe.  Ewan was a happy soul who ran the business with his family - his 3 year old son approached me with a pad and paper, looking up at me with his dark brown eyes, expectantly.  We ordered our drinks from him and he in turn offered us a large amused smile before returning the empty pad of paper back to his father.   We ended up eating there for just about every meal - his curry was so good!

The jungle is a loud place at night full of creatures calling out and disturbing my slumbers.  I found I fell asleep quickly but woke often feeling somewhat stressed from the unusually loud ambient racket outside.  We had a gorgeous pair of medium sized geckos who frequented the wall outside our door above the light each night where their meal of moths and other insects were attracted to the light for effortless dining.  As we stood amongst them watching their tongues devour their prey we realized bats shared this space as well; flying in and out of the space hunting the same insects our lizards were after. 

It didn't take long for Julian to decide he disliked the vibe on this island.  He stated he may as well have gone to the south of Spain where all the other English vacated, swimming and baking their brains out in the sun with a case of beer close at hand. The litter on the island spoilt things considerably, you could barely walk five paces anywhere at all without stepping over a plastic bottle, crisp packet or beer can and in a couple of spots there were considerable collections of black sacks, filled with more rubbish, by the side of the pathway which ran from one side of the island to the other past and through at least two building sites. The Tropicana, whilst cheap, was poorly maintained and built by a team skimping on supplies, you know; mortar and floorboards, that sort of thing. Just get something standing, as cheap and fast as we can, get bums on beds before the whole operation gains such a bad reputation from the bleached, broken and dying reef that the Euro's and US$ head for Kapas down the coast where the whole tortuous process can begin again.  I forced him into the water for a swim that first full day but he was still not convinced and was wanting to do nothing more than sit in front of the laptop, pretending he was somewhere else and reminiscing over recent history as he buried himself in photo editing.  We almost left the island that afternoon but the hotel wouldn't refund our third night, which now I am quite thankful for considering what came about the next day.

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