Monday, September 6, 2010

Cheers, Mate!: A Tioman Island Excursion

Two Americans, two Englishmen, and an Irishmen set off for Tioman Island, located just off the coast of mainland Malaysia near Mersing. It was Friday night and the five of us gathered in front of PGP at 8:00 P.M. to head over to the border between Singapore and Malaysia. The plan was to take a taxi to customs at the border, ride the bus from Johor Bahru to Mersing, then wait out a ferry to take us over to Tioman Island.

All went according to plan as we eventually made it to Mersing at 3:00 A.M. on Saturday. It made no sense to get any form of accommodation considering the first ferry that could get us to the island was at 6:00 A.M. (although nothing in Malaysia is ever on time as this ferry didn't leave until 7:00 A.M.). For the three or so hours of waiting, the five of us played a variety of card games while numerous stray cats kept a watchful eye on us. Some of them even came so close as to make my fellow compatriot and I jump from our seats since I will just say we aren't the biggest fans of cats. Besides the card playing, us Americans were introduced to some unique games that our U.K. friends played. The first one being anyone who says the word "mine" at any point in conversation must do ten push-ups for each time they say the word (I just did ten push-ups even though I was explaining the game to other people I won't argue it). The second game is if you say anything about a girl, whether you know them or not, and someone then says "Tell her," then you have to go tell them. I won't give examples of things people said this trip, but you can get creative and just imagine.

With very little sleep under our belts, we got on the ferry and arrived in Air Batang on Tioman Island at approximately 8:30 A.M. that Saturday. I was salivating over my first impressions of the island as we pulled into the dock. This was one of the first things we saw:

The water, the beach, the mountains, the jungle. It was incredible to have awoken from a deep sleep to see a paradise as extravagant as this. The weather was incredible when we got off the boat; sunny and less humid than in Singapore.

After finding a place to stay in Air Batang, it was off to the beach where I fell asleep in the sand and burned my whole back. Sorry Mom, I let you down. We also did some snorkeling and saw a number of fish and coral in the tropical waters of Tioman Island. After spending the entire day in and around the beach, we had a dinner and drinks nearby while playing more cards games, mainly the game ***hole.

Later on, things got a little interesting. We thought we could venture to another part of the island, Salang, on foot. Only problem is we didn't really know how to get there. Four of us ending up making a forty five minute walk to the airport, which is in the complete opposite direction of Salang. Luckily, we hitched a ride with some random construction worker back to Air Batang, saving us a lot of time. For your kindness I say to you cheers, mate!

I will tell you that the one downside to Tioman is the lack of nightlife it provides. Most restaurants and stores close down at around 10 P.M. with only one or two bars open after that. But for this night, following the walk we were all ready to get some sleep for the long day we would have that Sunday.

With people being low on cash, we had to make a trip back to the airport first thing on Sunday to get to the nearest ATM. This time, though, we chose to rent some bikes instead. It reminded me a lot of when I would go every summer with my family to Martha's Vineyard and bike around the island in a similar manner. It was incredible when we got to the airport to see a plane land and take off from the tiny runway located next to the huge mountain seen in many of the photos I've taken. No wonder very few flights come through Tioman each day.

When we returned back to Air Batang, it was time to partake in what would take up the majority of our day, a five hour long snorkeling trip. The four of us (one person went diving since he is certified) hopped on a boat with a local fisherman and set off for nearby Tulai Island.

Battling some relatively calm yet somewhat rough waters considering the boat we were in, we reached the island. I am going to apologize in advance that we didn't have an underwater camera with us for the following part of this passage.

The picture on the right is where we first stopped just off the coast of the tiny island. Right as we were about to jump into the mostly clear waters, the fisherman takes out a loaf of bread and starts throwing slices of it in the water for the fish to eat. A number of tropical fish immediately sprung up for whatever tiny morsel they could get. I entered the water near the feeding frenzy and saw a ton of some of the coolest looking creatures I have ever seen. Fish with strips, others with cool coloring patterns, and some that looked like they were glow-in-the-dark. It was a marvel to see the schools of fish, the coral reefs, and even a sea turtle slowly moving along the ocean floor. We explored the waters around this part of the island for about a half an hour to forty five minutes.

We then moved on to bigger and better things, reef sharks. The fisherman took us near the rock formation seen below that was little a further away from the shore to find some reef sharks and check out more aquatic life. The water wasn't as clear or as calm as it was at our first stop making it difficult to see, but nonetheless, a few of us were able to find some reef sharks about a yard in length. One person found a bunch of clown fish over by the rocks. As you can imagine, a number of "Finding Nemo" references were made throughout this boating adventure like quoting from the scene where Nemo says "Amnemonemomne" or people saying "I found the Dory fish." Otherwise, not as many tropical fish were to be found or were hanging out at depths I didn't feel like swimming to. Regardless, it was nice to cool down in the water since my back was still burned from the day before.

It was then time to have some rest and relaxation on one of Tulai's many beaches. We made our way around the island to a beach that sported clear waters, soft sand, and plenty of quality snorkeling. By now, the sun was starting to peak out from behind the clouds making for a more enjoyable experience. When we got back in the water to go snorkeling around this area, we were met by something not quite as friendly as the previously mentioned tropical fish. I have no clue what species they were, all I know is they were jet black fish all over and had a knack for biting people. I stood and watched underwater for five minutes while one person had to defend himself against this one black fish. It would come and get swatted at by this person, then hide in some shelter for a few seconds followed by coming back out into the open only to get swatted again by the individual. The black fish almost won at one point when in a failed attempt it tried to go up his bathing suit. This process repeated itself over and over again while I played the role of innocent bystander who may or may not have been laughing the entire time this took place.

Of course, karma took hold and so it would be only five minutes later snorkeling further out from the beach that a black fish tried to bite me in the back. It was funny as we all tried to avoid the black fish so as to enjoy seeing more colorful and peaceful ones, I might add. We also saw a manta ray hanging out under some coral right before we decided to leave Tulai.

It was time to head back to Tioman, having left for Tulai Island over three hours prior. Our guide, the fisherman, took us to the real Salang, just north of Air Batang. It was funny to finally have reached what seemed like almost a mythical place following the mishap from the night before. We enjoyed a nice lunch and walked around a bit to see a more touristy setup than in Air Batang, but still very much a relaxed environment. Before heading back, our last stop was snorkeling in Monkey Bay to complete trip.

We then returned to shore, changed, and headed back to the beach for drinks and hanging out. Before that, though, here comes one of the I wouldn't call highlights but more interesting moments of the trip. There is one sidewalk to get you up and down Air Batang. As we were walking, there was a little Malaysian boy anywhere from 2-4 years old standing in the middle of it, arms and legs fully extended as if to say we could not pass. Did I mention he was bare-naked? Confused and unsure what to do, we approached the boy seeing if he would move. Nope, wasn't going to happen. We stood toe to toe with him for a few seconds; the one nude child standing among five twenty-somethings. One person tried to get by but the boy grabbed onto him. We all burst out into laughter as he had to runaway from the kid for a moment. The boy comes back and I try to get by, but instead comes within inches of grabbing me. The other three in our group sneak by him, while I'm pulling jukes and spins to get by this kid while staying on the path (who knows what I would have stepped on in the foliage, otherwise). It was funny when we all got by the youngster since we jogged away to keep our distance from the nude child as the mother called him to come back.

We finally made it to the beach area by the bar to enjoy the sunset seen here:I was startled at one point on the beach when I saw a very large gecko of sorts sprint out of the jungle onto the beach near where we were sitting. It was a harmless creature but it's size caught me off guard as it moved across the sand. While I do have photos of some monitor lizards I ran into, I don't have a picture of this guy to show.

Once nightfall fell upon Tioman, we decided to have a pricier seafood meal. By pricier I mean still very inexpensive considering we were paying in Ringitts, but more expensive than the $3-$6 meals we had been getting the last few days. We all enjoyed barracuda, mackerel, king fish, and prawn caught only the day before. A solid meal to cap off the weekend. Following the feast, we hung out at the bar down the path and played more ***hole while meeting other tourists and locals until about 3 A.M. I will just say that everyone was really getting into the game to the point where, for those who know how to play, we had nine positions: a god, a president, a vice president, three secretaries, and three lowers positions with the last one bearing the name of the game.

Overall, the trip was great for some R & R. I would say we were a great group as far as having the same agenda and priorities regarding what to do in Tioman. This group, which includes three people from the United Kingdom, always had me within earshot of someone saying "Cheers, mate," never failing for an internal chuckle since it is rare I ever hear such a formal way of saying "Thank you."

There was never a boring moment and a good time was had by all for the duration of our stay. Who knows, maybe I will venture back once more before the semester is over...

Cheers, mate.

1 comment:

  1. friggen tight dude, can't believe i saw this on the travel channel and now you're actually livin' it!