Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Malaysia/Tioman trip: last day at JTP

My body clock is tuned to early wake-ups and the rooster crows at 6am while it's still dark. I sit on the beach for a while and chat to Stefan, a German volunteer. Scratching my mozzie bites and brushing away sandflies, I say farewell to the peace and quiet of Tioman.

I had mentioned to paps previously about how the brakes didn't work on the bikes and the chain kept coming off. He was confident that he could fix it, so he came over to JTP early on our last day.

But the reality is that the brakes are completely rusted and are quite immovable ....

There's a group on Facebook called "Pay it forward Perth". One of the members collects unwanted bikes, fixes them up and gives them away - all for free. It's such a stark contrast to the way the other half lives, making do, simple lives, uncluttered. The bikes given away are cleaned up with hardly any rust, most with gears, brakes and paint jobs. These bikes have punctures, sad rusty frames, wonky pedals, no brakes, no lights and no gears. But, they get you from A to B. I find them quite a profound representation of 2 very different countries and cultures.

The cook is a bit late this morning and I miss out on breakfast. I finish packing damp towels and sweaty clothes and say my good-byes to those who are awake. There is a box where volunteers can leave anything useful and I leave some band-aids and bandages for Lauren who has (what looks like) an abcess on her leg.

I also leave behind a stack of books which I carted from Perth, several pairs of water-shoes, an old mask and snorkels.

On my last nite, I speak to Dan and start a fundraiser to try and raise enough money to get the 2 JTP cats (Spaceship and Vader/Pigeon) neutered. They are mother and daughter, and Vader is currently pregnant. The cost is apparently RM200, I chip in RM100, Stefan RM20 and I speak to the other volunteers, asking them donate what they can and spread the word around.

There are too many stray cars and dogs especially in Malaysia. Some are lucky enough to be "adopted" and fed. Others are left to roam and scrounge for scraps, their scrawny frames and small bodies a stark contrast to our big healthy cat Moses.

There is a Tioman Cat Spaying page on Facebook and a website to support ......

I'm feeling really good about my idea, and hopefully it leads to actions and solutions. I feel that Dan is the right person to have spoken to and hopefully handle the cats' future.

There are quite a few locals who run a "taxi" service from Juara to Tekek. It's not a true taxi service - they are not registered as taxi drivers and there is no official taxi company!

Paps has organized for the Malay lady who cooks at the yellow stall to drive us to Tekek in her 4WD for RM50 all up. We make Tekek in good time at 9am for breakfast.

At 9.30am we cross the road to the jetty office and join a queue. At a small table, passengers scribble name and passport/IC numbers onto a sheet of paper. Tickets are checked and boarding passes issued. It's a slow process and I start to get impatient. I ask if there's another sheet which we can start to write on and hand around.

"Just queue up", I'm told.

Paps and I roll our eyes at each other - TIM (This is Malaysia). The 10am Bistari ferry is late anyway.

We board about 10.15am and then wait another 15 minutes. The mooring rope is cast off but we don't move. Finally a ferry staff arrives on the back of a motorcycle, carrying several food packets - lunch for the crew. Haha. T.I.M.

We finally get into Mersing around 12.30pm. Mersing is superbusy and crowded, it really is a popular gateway to Tioman.

I'd recognized 2 guys who stayed at the Mentawak chalets and boarded the same ferry as us. They are from Poland and heading to KL. We had offered them a lift when I saw them at the Tekek jetty which was a good thing as they'd just missed the bus due to the ferry's late departure.

At 1pm we leave Tekek with paps driving.

At Tanjung Gemok/Rompin, I take over driving and drive between 1.30 - 4pm. We stop for 5-6 breaks all up, and I take over driving again from 6pm as we near KL so that paps can navigate.

We drop the boys off at a train line. With a combination of tiredness, paps beer, driving fast and traffic, I snap at paps as we near our destination.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Malaysia/Tioman trip: motorbike to Tekek

Friday 10 April

Paps rents a motorbike for RM80 a day and we head to Tekek in the morning. The ride through the mountainous jungle is scarily steep and the road curves into a hairpin bend. It takes us 45 minutes as dad slowly gets used to the gears and we arrive with very sore bums.

Tekek is the busiest and biggest village on Tioman. After the laidback atmosphere of Juara, I find myself coughing from the fumes of 4WDs and motorcycles whizzing around. It's a popular tourist destination as it has more of the moden conveniences of daily living including duty-free shops, a clinic, a vet and a bank.

We stop at a jetty at the northern end of town which is actually an enclosed marine park and watch some people snorkelling.

I immediately latch on to a stray cat, it's thin and a bit mangy and smells, but all it wants is some loving so I stroke it and it climbs around my lap for about 1/2 an hour.

Paps goes off to buy beer and I ask him to buy some cat food. He returns with a small tin of sardines. 

There are so many stray cats but I can't feed them all

We also meet and chat to an Aussie (Marcus) who is building a polo field for the Sultan of Johor.

A grand lunch for a small price - paps enjoys his lunch with a smile (where's the beer...??)

Petrol is sold in bottles for motorbikes (RM3) and larger gallon tanks for cars - there isn't a "petrol station" as such, it's DIY

Going back, we face the same steep incline up the mountain. The motorbike struggles for power, it veers left and right and left and then ... slowly wobbles to the left and falls to the side. Paps and I hop off ungracefully as it falls so we manage to stay on our feet.

But the beers are smashed, foaming on the road. They're the only fatality, and with only minute scratches on the bike, paps pushes it up over the worst of the climb while I walk up.

In the evening, we get stuck into excavating the shell of a green turtle which died in 2013 after being hit by a boat's propellor. Using cangkul and spades, we all get very hot and sweaty and take turns to dig and level the sides.

We scoop out bowls of sand, picking out small pieces of bones. The carcass has been buried for too long and termites crawl out, having eaten away some parts of the shell and bones. The skull is intact but the shell breaks into large pieces as we carry it out.

Eventually the bones will be pieced together and glued, to be used as an exhibit for display and education purposes.

A couple of locals pass by and stop to have a look. Everyone seems to think we are collecting eggs!

They carry 2 curved hooks over their shoulders. We, in turn, ask them what they've been up to. "Catching snakes" comes the reply. 

There are reports of a large number of tourists last year (20 ... 40 ... 50?) falling sick from a parasite. Locals are mainly immune to it. Research is currently being done at the University of Malaya (UM) to investigate the theory that the parasites uses snakes as a host. Snake droppings are washed into the river when it rains and river water is used to wash plates etc.

Symptoms are fever and muscle aches. It's not fatal, can last a week or so, and can recur again.

They've caught 3 snakes (2 pythons among them) from the trees in the jungle and samples of snake droppings will be tested at UM.

It's really interesting and I half-envy the UM student, and joke about trading places.

I'm dying in the heat and round up a few of us to go snorkelling. I've tried the large rocks to the right and the smaller rocky beachhead to the left which separates Mentawak beach from Juara beach. The beach to the right is better for snorkelling in my opinion. It can be quite a rocky entry so you need to walk closer to the big rocks, almost directly in front of the volleyball net to find the sandy patch that makes an easier entry (look for the brown along the water's edge). 

You also need to swim quite a way out (100m? hard to measure distance when out in water) to get to a bit of coral and fish. The reef isn't too bad, we float along in the warm water just in swimmers, mask and snorkel. The depth is about 5-8m here and we don't go out any further. A small black-tipped reef shark darts away. There are some resident hawksbill turtles but none of us have seen them yet.

The waves are quite big today, it was hard swimming out and we don't stay long.

A game of beach volleyball rounds up a very tiring afternoon and I sleep like a log.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Malaysia/Tioman trip: Juara on the east coast of Tioman off the east coast of Malaysia!

Tioman is a small island off the east coast of West Malaysia, about 12km wide and 39km long. I'd actually been here a long long time ago, in 1993 (22 years ago) for a short diving holiday. I don't remember too much of it from back then, but I'm guessing that it has changed and grown.
Most of the houses in Juara (a small village on the east coast of Tioman) are of the kampung style - basic wooden huts. They are light and airy, there's none of the trappings of the modern world - aircon, paint, driveways and manicured gardens.

It's rare to see a brick house like the one above

The quintessential coconut tree and the beach is almost exactly what Juara is about...
Although paying RM5 for a coconut drink is more than double what you would pay on the mainland .

Still, it's a really small price to pay for the slow idyllic island life. Where the single road that leads into and out of Juara is small ....

Where jungle surrounds the road ...

Still, urban development and human progress changes the land and nature. Island holidays are all well and good, but be aware of your effect on them. Simple things like not leaving your rubbish on the beach. Choosing accomodation that is environmentally friendly and have taken the ecotourism path.

The southern end of Mentawak beach on Juara is as it should be - quiet, with little development and still provides hope for nesting turtles to return.


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