Perhentian islands – The day we saved a boat

I am an addict. Is there anything more exciting than to pack a backpack? No matter how many times I already put my things in this pice of nylon, the feeling of getting it up on my back and leaving the door for the next unknown destination is every time absolutely exciting! Even if I like the place where I am at the moment I never worry about leaving: I am way too curious how the next place looks like, which kind of people I will meet and what adventures are waiting there.

The boat speeds up and the wind is blowing in my hair. I already thought that my mood could not get any better after sitting in this small plane and visiting Malaysia from above – but I was wrong. The ocean seems to be calm today; regular thunderstorms and heavy rain make this area a little bit dangerous to travel from time to time. The sun is shining and I enjoy the cool water while I hold my arm out of the small boat. I shared a taxi from the airport to the harbor with some people from Spain who have the same destination as me: Perhentian Kecil, a small island some kilometers away from the northern east coast of Malaysia. After a short flight, one hour of driving in a car and another hour on the boat I am again surrounded by bright white sand, lush green palms and a deep blue ocean. So there is maybe something more exciting than to pack the backpack: Arriving with a boat at a new destination.

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I optioned for the east cost because the weather seems to be better than on the other side of Malaysia, also the Perhentian islands where recommended to me by some people I met while traveling. After visiting three big cities in a row I had the desperate need to be surrounded by nature again. First I was in Singapore for five days where the weather already started to change. Then I went to Kuala Lumpur where it was heavily raining on the third day and the weather forecast was so bad that I decided to leave to Penang – wich was nice to visit for some days but it rains almost everyday in Penang, the whole year. I spare to write too much about the cities, just some random snaps from KL and Penang:

The bird park in KL:

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They say they have the largest free fly area in the world but you will find a lot of birds  in cages:

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The Petronas towers at dawn and at night:

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A historic building in front of a random skyscraper:

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Impressions from Chinatown:

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After KL I headed to Penang, the “food capital” of Malaysia. View from Penang hill; click on the picture to see the image it in full size!

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Fighting ants on the way to Penang hill:

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Penang is a interesting city, you will find a lot of street art here. Some impressions:

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Nature finds a way. And also in Penang everything changes:

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From the city back to the island. Long Beach at Perhentian Kecil: (click on the picture to see the full size image)

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Looks like I am back in paradise, but one should never forget how close heaven and hell can be sometimes…Like yesterday.

It was around 5pm when Finola, the owner of the chalets I am staying at, told me that she would leave to a opening party from a small remote beach bar. I asked her if I could join here and she told me to get my stuff and wait together with her for the boat which was supposed to bring us to the party and back home. It brought us to the party but never back home – it was the last ride for this boat. We went to the beach and had a drink while we were waiting for the boat and introduced ourselves a little better. Finola is originally from Ireland and started her business on the island around ten years ago. She owns a little restaurant and some chalets close to the beach with a very nice view to the surrounding islands. But she does not want to stay here anymore: On Monday she will leave Perhentian and look for a place to start a new life – again. So the party was not only the opening party for the new beach bar from her friends but also the good by party for her.

We were talking already for a while and we almost missed the boat: I found myself running to the jetty stoping the boat from leaving. On the boat there was Tommy the Aborigine, carrying some guitars. Later it turned out that he is the best musician I met in a while. With only five other people, including the owner of the beach bar, we started to head into the sunset, riding to the other side of the island and passing one nice beach after another. Tommy started to tell us about his crazy plans. He is dreaming about building a big stage on some rocks we passed while riding to the beach, he is dreaming about a music festival on the island. On every beach should be a different stage. People should be carried with small boats from one beach to another. On the boats – of course – are also musicians entertaining the people on their ride to the next stage. And just by the way he also want to build a movie theater – in the water. He is generally dreaming and talking a lot and you should not take him too serious… Already on the boat everybody was totally happy, people introduced each other and we had a good time before the party even started.

Arriving at the tiny beach were the bar is located we were a bit surprised to see that almost no people where there. A pig was already being grilled on the fire and they handed us welcome drinks as soon as we left the boat. Tropical juices mixed with Wodka and lots of different kinds of fruit, so good! They just finished building the bar on the same day, a hammer and some tools were still laying around, proofing that everything was brand new. The bar is as small as cosy: Build just from wood from the jungle surrounding the area and covered with a roof made only from gras. One small boat after another arrived and more and more people were coming. I am used to see German people everywhere but this time at least half of them were from Germany.

When the barbecue started we were about 30 people, everybody had already some drinks and nobody cared too much when it started to rain. There was a small two channel audio mixer so I set up an amp for the guitar and a loop pad. We had the pleasure to listened to some pretty cool tunes from Tommy and after a while lots of people where sitting around him and everybody was singing. The rain was getting more and more intense, turned into a thunderstorm and the waves where getting higher and higher. The roof of the bar could not stand the rain anymore and we needed to move to another building wich seemed to be a little bit more stable. Then a guy was coming from the beach and told us that they have a problem with the boat and they need help.

Together with somebody from Spain I followed the guy into the dark night and it turned out that is was not our boat that was in trouble but the one from a old man living some hundred meters away on the next beach. The rain was still getting more intense every minute and to make it even more fun a storm was drawing on. When we arrived at the location there were already around eight people, trying to do save the boat. It was like in a bad, cheap movie where everything is totally exaggerated. The waves where smashing into the side of the boat every few seconds. The lightning that was striking again and again was not only making the scene looking pretty scary but it also made everything much more dangerous. It was very dark and everything was pretty uncoordinated. While five people where trying to push the boat into one direction the other five tried to push it into the other direction. Due to the rain and the waves and the storm and the thunder it was almost impossible to understand each other. Also some of them couldn’t speak english.

The boat was almost full with water and there was no way to get the water out again: The waves where already higher than the boat. It took me a moment to realize how uncoordinated everything was. Thirst I thought that I don’t understand what they are doing. Then I realized that they just had no idea what to do… When you have ten people who are trying to work together you need two things. First: A plan. Second: Coordination. We had none of this. I didn’t even tried to explain them what I want to to, I just went on one side of the boat, screamed as loud as I can „This way!“ and pointed with my finger to the beach. I counted „One, two, three!“ and magically the boat began to move. Centimeter after Centimeter – screaming the magical numbers together now – we managed to bring the boat back to the beach. For some reason nobody got injured seriously and besides some minor scratches all that is left is a story to tell.

But don’t think that only one boat got damaged this night, of course our boat also didn’t survived the night. We were sitting again together, sharing drinks and listening to music. Everybody knew that there was no way to go home because of the weather and when we got tired we found a place to sleep somewhere around the bar. I was sleeping on a couch and when I woke at up the next morning people told me that they still could not bring us back. While our boat was not sunken, it got damaged from the rocks because it was not fixed properly. Damn. I knew it before. When we arrived I saw that the owner of the bar was fixing the boat in a strange way, it didn’t looked very safe. I know how to fix a boat and I was wondering what he was doing. But after being in Asia already for a while you just accept the fact that people here act – and think – different. It was his boat and he surely knew what he was doing…

Last night a girl who is working at the beach bar told me that this was not the first time that they saved the boat of the old man. In fact almost every time when there is a storm they need to go there and help him again. She told him already how to fix the boat properly but he just won’t listen to her. Its a mindset that is hard to understand and you will find it almost everywhere in Asia. People don’t fix anything before it breaks, only afterwards. People don’t maintain anything, they wait until it gets broken and than they repair it. If there is a bridge be sure that somebody need to fall down through the already broken bamboo before anybody will start fixing the bridge. If there is a car and you here a strange sound coming from the engine nobody cares as long as the car is still working. And if they fix it finally be sure they only fix the symptom and not the cause: Whatever it is, it will break exactly at the same point as before.

You have no idea how annoying this can be sometime, especially if you are working together with somebody with this mindset or if you rely on the work of them. I could tell you long stories about my broken motorbike in Lao two years ago… On the other side it can be also very relaxing not to care too much about stuff and not to think too much about what might happen in the future. Maybe the western people can learn from the asians how to relax a little bit and the asian people can learn from the western people a lesson about „quality“. I am reading at the moment a great book with the title „ZEN – and the art of maintaining a motorcycle“ which helps me a lot to understand the difference between the western and the asian world and also the difference between the „classic“ and the „romantic“ mindset from people worldwide. And I begin to realize slowly that it seems to be very important to balance them.

This might be one of the reason I am traveling Asia and this might also be part of the mystery why so many western people are coming here, searching „for something“. Maybe they are searching for a counterpart to their strictly methodic, rational thinking where everything has some sort of logical explanation. Maybe they are looking for a way to stop thinking so much about the future and for a way to stay more present. Maybe thats also what I am looking for: Maybe I am looking for some sort of balance.

The way back through the jungle was pretty nice. It didn’t took as long as I expected and I saw basically everything you expect to see in a jungle: Big lizards, freaky poisonous snakes, the biggest bugs you can imagine and squirrels. Lots of totally cute squirrels. The island appears sometimes like a zoo without cages. The geckos are not anymore big as your finger but big as your underarm. And the lizards are sometimes bigger than you. The fact that some of them have neon-yellow stripes on their back doesn’t help much to build up trust with them. The nature here is overwhelming: The seashells are too heavy to lift and bigger than a human head – only the sharks are small. I saw plenty of them while snorkeling but they never where bigger than one meter. Its lot of fun to swim behind a shark and to try to follow him. You can tell from the first second you see him from the distance that he is a predator: He is moving in a totally different way than the other fishes. I almost shit my pants when one of them suddenly turned around and was swimming directly at me. But it seems that you get used to everything and after a while I finally believed what everybody told me already before: Those kind of shark (reefsharks) are totally harmless, they never attack humans.

You’ve made it so far, let’s relax with the pictures and see some reasons to come here before I tell you why to stay away 🙂

Geckos, Varans, Lizards…whatever:

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Seashells in all colors:

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Sharks, Sting Rays and the World Cup Trophy:

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And lots of corals everywhere:

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On the way back through the jungle I saw some abandoned places where small resorts where before. It seems that the owner from my place is not the only one who decided to leave the island. Can you be fed up with paradise? Obviously under the surface not everything is perfect here – and by under the surface i don’t mean in the water. Maybe some people don’t want to hear this but there is a lot going on here that I don’t like. First off all they have a huge problem with waste. They regularly burn everything, producing those nice black smoke clouds you just don’t want to have in „paradise“. What is not burned just get thrown away in the jungle, at the beach or in the ocean. Again a bumper for your „paradise“. Also there are just too many people here for the ecosystem – especially without the presence of a sewage plant. You don’t need rocket sience to realize that: You can smell it. Have a look at the pictures and you know what I mean:

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Perhantian Kecil has nice beaches, beautiful water, scenic nature, it offers good opportunities for snorkeling and diving and thats why a lot of backpackers come here. But I can easily imagine how this place looked ten years ago and why Finola doesn’t want to live here anymore. I don’t know how to travel back in time thats why I leave the island soon and find a place that is a bit more like the Perhentian Islands have been some years ago. I don’t want to get misunderstood: Its still a nice place and it might be worth visiting for some days but ist not a place where I would like to stay for weeks or months. But that is actually what I am looking for.

Nemo is so sad because of  all that waste in the ocean:

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I decided to scratch this already broken surface not anymore today and to enjoy my stay here. Sometimes its almost impossible to like what people do around you, but you still have to accept it. You can tell them that you don’t agree with what they are doing. But you can’t just go there and change everything from one day to another so that it fits to what you think is „good”.

Before I try to change anything at a new place I trie to be a „zero“. I just trie to not destroy anything, thats already almost impossible. Why? Because also I produce waste which will get burned later. And the money I am spending here will support people who don’t act very long-sighted.

Sadly this goes for a lot of places in Asia, so this in a call to everybody who is working in tourism. Also if you are traveling here you can help: Speak to the locals, tell them what you don’t like. Tell them how they can do it better. If they hear those complains over and over they will react!

Just some ideas:

– They offer a lot of drinks in one way cups. Why dont they use solid plastic cups wich you can use over and over? Charge 5MR for every cup and people will walk around the beach to collect them after a drunken night.

– If they want to have electricity on the island, why not use solar cells instead of the huge amounts of petrol which they need to bring into the middle of the jungle? Its pretty sunny here…

– If they want to have millions of tourists on a small island, why is nobody building a sewage plant?

– Everybody here needs water, why does everybody need to buy plastic bottles when you can build a small water treatment facility on the island? This way they could not only save the environment but also make money from selling the local water.

There is a good way of stoping more and more people to come here: Just don’t do anything. Nobody wants to swim in his own excrements. And nobody wants so see his “paradies beach” covered with waste. If you don’t want to turn heaven into hell you need to start acting. Now.

Around noon I was back at my accommodation. And after another snorkeling the bad thoughts are gone. It surely was an nice adventure, especially the part with the boat, but way to much input for just 24 hours. I guess I deserve some sleep… I might have a dream about people starting to take responsibility for what is happening here but maybe people need to face more serious consequences before there will be a change.

Stay tuned.

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2 Comments

  1. Hasan Alattar
    September 3, 2014
    Reply

    Awesome. Looking forward to read about Taman Negara!!!!

    • September 3, 2014
      Reply

      Hi Hassan, you won’t believe it but I am not going to Taman Negara 😀 The Jungle train is not fully operated at the moment, they are repairing the rails for the next two years. Only two trains per day operate, only in the evening. But they are fully booked for the next days… I was already one second before buying a busticket to Gua Musang, from there operates a minibus. Long story in short: The owner of the hostel gave me a wrong number, I found the right number(s) from the damn minibus company in the Internet but nobody picked up. I was angry and tired and from one second to another I decided I stick back to my old plan, booked a ticket to Butterworth and from there I will make my way to the north of Thailand. 2000 km to Pai, this is going to be the longest ride ever… I am already sitting in the bus and I swear I will comit a crime today if they don’t stop playing this music:
      https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=36E44FE949FB790A!3481&authkey=!ABlpvKtJTFK0Y1g&ithint=file%2cm4a

      😀

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