First of all I'd better apologise to the fanclub for being away for so long. I know you must have struggled to fill the daily void in your lives which the absence of a new diary entry from Joe must have created, and I'm sorry for that. I still love you.
Right, cracking on.
Since arriving in Malaysia myself and Andy have finally been doing a spot of 'proper travelling', as my brother calls it. Since my last post we've been to Pulau Tioman, an island off the East Coast, Kuala Lumpur, the capital, the Cameron Highlands and the Perhentian Islands. I know, I know, it's an awful lot to get through in just one post, so I'll nip the dull preamble in the bud right here and get on with it.
We spent three nights on Tioman, in the west coast resort of Air Batang (a.k.a. 'ABC').
On the recommendation of a certain Malaysian who I will mention in greater depth later we turned left after coming off the jetty due to the apparently superior beach and started lugging our bags down the concrete path towards the chalets.
About 15 paces in I heard a rustling in the bush to our right hand side and had a look to see what was causing all the kerfuffle. To my complete astonishment out stepped a 3 metre long lizard and languidly strolled across the path in front of us. I wasn't expecting there to be any reptiles bigger than Geckos out here, so I dropped my bag and fumbled around for my camera. Just as I was ready to take a photo, a local guy on a moped putt-putted his way up behind us and cried out 'Toot toot! Ah! Iguana!' like it was an everyday occurence and he was just irritated at the traffic on the roads. Me, Andy and the Iguana all got the hint and jumped off the path, leaving me rather disgruntled at missing the photo opportunity.
After about another ten paces, a slightly smaller lizard walked across our path. 'Ah...' I thought '...so this is what we're in for'. It turned out I wasn't wrong. The amount of wildlife we all but tripped over on Tioman over our three days there made us decide to nickname it 'Monster Island'. In just three trees in Tekek (the main settlement) there were somewhere in the region of three hundred Fruitbats all hanging and squawking amicably at each other, we saw butterflies that were so big they would scare small birds and countless other iguanas of equal size to the first. While we were trekking through the jungle on our way to Monkey Bay, we literally walked straight into a troop of monkeys, if that's the right collective noun. OK, given the name of our destination you may well be thinking we should have perhaps foreseen the possibility of encountering some primates along the way, but it seems we both missed the maths lesson where they taught us how to add two and two together.
We spent most of our stay on Tioman having the odd beer, lounging around by the beach and chilling out. We stayed three nights in a twin bed beachside hut, with a ceiling fan and a bathroom and shower, for which we paid the Ringgit equivalent of a whopping quid fifty each per night.
Andy modelling the 'chalet'.
By far the most energy we expended on the island was on the aforementioned trek through the jungle to get to Monkey Bay. Having seen signs on the beach that pointed into the rainforest saying Monkey Beach we thought we'd check it out. Next to these were reassuring signs displaying rates for the water taxis to take you there, so we thought we'd walk there and get the boat back. After a strenuous hour and a half in the jungle, where I must have sweated out at least a couple of chins and probably one of my guts, we emerged on Monkey Beach. It was deserted. Awesome.
I took off my bag and sandals and walked towards the water to cool off. Now, there's a lot of distance for messages to travel between my feet and my brain, and I think this must be a contributing factor as to why I managed four paces towards the water before a red light started flashing and sirens started going off in my head. 'HOT! HOT! HOT!' said my brain in blind panic.'Shiiiiiiiit!' said my feet, finally cottoning on to the problem. I started doing a grandad-playing-football-with-the-kids style half run half hobble towards the sea in a desperate attempt to cool them off. I reached the water with a surge of relief, only to discover that it was about a degree cooler than the air temperature. Nevertheless, I had a dip and did my best to cool off.
On emerging from the water we decided to take a stroll up the beach. After a minute or so of said stroll, it transpired that we were not quite as alone as we thought. In a nightmarish version of the scene from Dr No where Ursula Andress is introduced, a woman emerged from the water right next to us. She was in her fifties, German (sometimes you can just tell you know?), and was wearing nothing but a pair of bikini briefs and a sopping wet and therefore seethrough white t-shirt.
'Hello' me and Andy greet her in unison, making heroic attempts to disguise our grimaces. 'Hallo' she responded in a German accent. I kept my eyes rigidly focused on the middle distance while silently congratulating myself for guessing her nationality. Up the beach her husband was sat in the shade wearing a pair of tiny speedos. We mumbled our excuses and quickened our step somewhat.
We got to the other end of the beach and sat on the rocks for a while. There were more monkeys playing in the trees above us. After a while we became suspicious that the water taxis would only take people back from Monkey Beach if they had taken people there in the first place. There was nothing left for it but to go and ask the Germans. We strolled back and asked them. The woman, who by now had dispensed with the seethrough tshirt completely, explained that sometimes people shouted and waved at the boat and got a lift back. As she told us this she did the associated hand gesture, and uncovered a couple of square foot patches of untanned whiteness as her boobs flopped from side to side. All of a sudden the stuff caught underneath my thumbnails became fascinating, and I studied it for the remainder of our encounter. We ended up walking back and getting 2 cans of sugary drink and a litre and a half of water each to rehydrate us, and perhaps also to wash the memories away.
While on Tioman, we had decided our next port of call would be the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. For those of you who have been following my diary from the start, first of all, thankyou very much. Secondly, you may remember that a girl called Paulynn (who regulars on the site will probably know quite well) was one of the first to respond to my original post, offering to show me the sights around KL. In Singapore I decided to drop her a line to see if the offer was still open, and we met up after being there a couple of days. As a matter of chance, the person who responded to my post just before Paulynn, and who started up the whole 'Who is the better looking brother?' fight, namely Grace, was coming to KL at the same time and had already agreed to meet young PL as well. One big happy gapyear family eh? How lovely, wouldn't you agree?
PL and Grace turned out to be cool, and me, them, Andy, as well as a guy Stuart who myself and Andy had met in Singapore and bumped into by chance again in KL, spent the next few days hanging around together. We went to the Batu Caves, which is a temple in a cave where dumb tourists feed monkeys still-wrapped chocolate bars. While Paulynn was at college, us English types also visited an orchid garden and a butterfly park (I was exploring my feminine side ok?), where there were ridiculously colourful plants, and mutant butterflies bigger than your average chicken.
The day after that, after a night out at a club called Zouk, Paulynn got us up early enough and we managed to get tickets to take a walk across the skybridge in the middle of the twin towers in KL. I'd recommend doing this purely because the buildings are amazing, but you have to get there early enough (9ish) as the tickets are free and therefore quite sought after.
Me and PL in KL - apparently I'm 'uber uber tall'.
After a nice meal and a not-quite-but-nearly tearful farewell we waved PL off and went back to the hostel.
Next stop for Me, Stuart, Grace and Andy was the Cameron Highlands. This is, as it's name suggests, a mountainous area and hence a good deal cooler than the rest of Malaysia. It's also the place where, when looking through the indoor exhibits in the butterfly park we had noticed, a whole lot of inconceivably large and dangerous insects live. Not creatures I wanted to see in particular. Nor for that matter did I want to not see them, but instead feel them, possibly while in bed or on the toilet. That would be equally bad, perhaps even a good deal worse.
To put this photo in perspective, never in my adult life have I met anyone with hands as big as mine, so imagine the hand being smaller, or perhaps the insect being bigger, and you'll have a rough ballpark size.
Despite our fears, we braved the creepy crawlies and stayed two nights at an old converted Army barracks on the edge of the Cameron Highlands' main town of Tanah Rata, called Father's Place. It was a really good hostel, apart from perhaps the least hygienic toilets we've encountered at a place we've stayed since we've been away.
The first morning we were there we wandered down into town and enquired from the local taxi drivers if one of them could take us up to a picturesque tea plantation we'd passed on the bus 13km outside of Tanah Rata. We struck up a deal with one nice chap who said he'd take us up there, stop at a couple of places where we could get photos, take us for a tour of the 'Boh' factory and even wait while we got a cup of tea from the on-site tea shop, all for forty Ringgits. This came to about one pound fifty each. Bargain!
The tea plantations were really beautiful, although there weren't the women in stereotypical cone hats with baskets on their backs that I may have been expecting. Instead they have been replaced with machines and the company now have a smaller workforce in the factory maintaining the machines and suchlike. All the same, the scenery was breathtaking, and finally, in 5 months of being away I at last managed to get a decent brew, although it could still perhaps have done with a dash of milk.
Boh Tea Plantation
After Tanah Rata, Stuart decided to go to Penang, which left Grace, Andy and Me to continue up to the Perhentian islands, in the hope that we'd get there before the fast approaching monsoon season. All was good when we arrived, getting off at the resort of Coral Beach on Perhentian Kecil (translated as 'Small Island') in blazing sunshine. After a couple of minutes it became evident that there were only about two of the guesthouses open, and that all the others had closed down for the season. We booked ourselves in a double room each, with ensuite shower and toilet, all for the princely sum of 20 Ringgit (3 quid).
After a brief jaunt over to Long Beach, where myself and Grace got a bite to eat and Andy (foolishly, it later transpired) abstained, we settled in for the afternoon. Come seven o'clock we decided that sunset must be approaching, so we walked the 20 paces down to the beach to have a look. On the horizon some enormous black clouds were streaking over the sea towards us looking like the fingers of an enormous hand.
Lightening started flashing across the clouds and after about an hour of this the rain came lashing across the sea and confined us to the porches of our rooms. Andy, who you will remember, hadn't eaten earlier, was starting to get hungry. He had to wait until about 10pm for the rain to die off so that he could stumble across the path in the dark to Long Beach to get some dinner. Thankfully we were spared a display of Andy transforming into Mummra, because luckily enough there were a couple of places still open when he got there, so he came back in a good mood.
Grace left the next morning to seek medical attention for a certain India-influenced stomach complaint she hadn't been able to shake. Me and Andy spent the day on the beach, but were better prepared for the sunset thunderstorms this time around, and made sure we ate early. We even got a couple of photos before the rain came over.
The next morning we left, having paid up for three night accomodation. You may remember that I said at the start of this post that me and the boy Andy had missed the class where they taught us to add two and two together? Well it turned out we must have missed the class where they taught us to add one and one together as well, because it wasn't until we bumped into Grace again in Kota Bahru that she pointed out that we'd only stayed there two nights, but paid for three.
As a wiser man than me has been know to say once or twice in the past - 'D'oh!'.
We're off to cross the Thai Border tomorrow, which should be quite an adventure in itself. We're going to head straight for Ko Phi Phi which was devastated by the Tsunami last Christmas, and see if we can either lend a hand in the cleanup operation, or at best, lend a financial hand by spending a bit of tourist cash there.
All that remains is to say that Kota Bahru doesn't seem to have anything to be said for it other than it's sunsets, although that might be because it's a muslim town and the festival Ramadhan has just started, so it's possibly just a lot quieter than usual.
I told you I had a lot to get through.
Kota Bahru sunset