Sunshine and Sharks

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of Malaysia  , Terengganu,
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Our bus ride to the Perhentian Islands was better given we only had one driver and one bus for the whole journey, however our driver seemed intent to break every rule of the road he could think of. His preferred strategy was to drive up, bumper to bumper, with any traffic and honk his horn repeatedly until they pulled over to let him through.  This bullying did seem to get us through some heavy traffic but unnerved me so much I had no choice but to force myself to sleep to get away from the horrors out of the windscreen.  Suddenly we skidded to a halt and I woke up with a start expecting to see some poor biker sprawled on the road in front of us.  Instead we were the only traffic on the road, unless you counted the herd of wild elephants.  We watched fascinated as about six adults and three babies took their time to stride across the road, our driver had met his match and wasn't going to be bulldozing them out of his way too. 

Somehow we arrived at the 'ferry’ port and were loaded onto a speedboat to finish the trip to Kecil the larger of the two islands where we were greeted with a lovely little scam.  The ferry stopped about 200 meters short of the beach and told us we could either swim in or pay the local boys with smaller speedboats to drive us in.  Faced with no options, given we would have sunk like stones trying to swim with our backpacks on, we precariously made the transfer from one boat to another with our luggage and 20 seconds later we were ashore.  Then it was a time for action.  The island was tiny with few hotels on offer and none of them took reservations.  They instead had a system of allowing current guests to stay as long as they liked and therefore only knew when a room was coming available on the day guests decided to checkout.  This frustrating system meant that I had to run around all the hotels to find a room as soon as we arrived whilst trying to get ahead of the others on our ferry all doing the same thing.  It was midday and about 38 degrees, the white sand was scorching my bare feet and running with lack of water started to make me feel ill quite quickly but after the first four hotels were full desperation kept me going.  Steve manned the bags so at least I didn’t have to carry anything unlike some poor souls who were close to collapse doing the same as me with two backpacks on. 

Eventually the very last hotel I tried, Moonlight, had one room left which we snapped up and settled down in.  We later learnt how the popularity of the islands has grown so quickly that there simply aren’t enough rooms for all the visitors that arrive daily, so many have to leave the day they arrive after paying for the ferry and doing an unsuccessful hotel gauntlet run.  I can’t help thinking that a simple change to the booking procedure would solve so much upheaval although it is the usual way of things in Asia and I was pleased once we had a room that we could stay as long as we liked without being booted out. 

Our time on the island was wonderfully low key spent sunbathing, reading and swimming in the clearest water I have ever seen.  We went on an amazing snorkeling trip where we found ourselves swimming with huge sharks nearly two meters long.  On our trip was a guy from Kuala Lumpa who comes here every year and only has seen a shark once, we were lucky enough to see four on our first stop.  They were fascinating to watch and with the water being so clear we could see for 20 meters so the view of a big shark circling below and somebody’s legs dangling off the side of the boat it looked like an all too familiar horror film!  Regardless of the sharks the reefs we were swimming around were gob-smackingly beautiful and diverse so we were very entertained.  En-route to our lunch spot our driver stopped the boat and pointed out a big turtle on sea-floor (another advantage of crystal clear water) we donned our masks and swam down for a closer look but our keenness attracted other boats in the area and before we knew it four other boatloads had all jumped in for a look as well and it turned into a mass jumble of arms and flippers chasing after the poor turtle who was now being chased from his resting spot.  From the brief moments I got to spend with the turtle I got to see how majestic they are and why everyone wants to see one but with the way tourism is invading their privacy I doubt they will choose to hang around the islands for much longer which is a terrible shame.  I didn’t want to be a part of the mass turtle hunt so I swam off back to the boat through an unsuspecting cluster of jellyfish who showed me no mercy – and that’s the price you pay for trying to respect nature

Thankfully I only sustained minor stings that wore off in a few hours and still had plenty of gusto left for the final few reefs where Steve made a dive down in between two huge branches of coral and came face to face with an even bigger shark!  Thankfully the shark showed his indifference by beating a hasty retreat into the deep blue and leaving us in disbelief  at what shallow water it chose to be in.  My respect for sharks has quadrupled after seeing them in their natural habitat, if they wanted to actually attack you, you really would not stand a chance, they are just so fast and elegant in comparison to a helpless swimmer with limps flailing everywhere.  It’s a food chain that we just do not deserve to be on top of. 

We had heard there was good coral just out from the main beach we were staying in so we sweet talked our boat driver into dropping us further out to sea so could swim back to the hotel and enjoy the coral enroute.  However, once we got into the water we saw with horror how devastated the coral here had become.  The Perhentian Islands are truly beautiful but you really didn’t have to look far to see the damage being done by a sudden surge of tourism, littering and pollution from the increase in boat traffic.  Nothing seems to be being done to monitor it and we heard that the damaged reef we saw was the same as the other perfect ones we saw only a couple of years ago so it terrifies me to think of what will become of it all in the next few years.  We actually saw more locals throwing litter into the sea than tourists so it seems to be a problem that is not going to stop any time soon and I hope we are not the last generation of backpackers who get to see these amazing sights but I fear that if things don’t change drastically there’s no other outcome possible.

On a brighter note we found out that one of the bars was putting up a big screen on the beach for the start of the world cup so for better or for worse we wouldn’t miss the first England game.  We had to wait until 2.30am for the game on Malaysian time and got a couple of beers in to cushion the inevitable blow of a typical England performance.  It was then that we thought back and realised it had been just under a month since we last had any alcohol, unheard of in our ‘real lives’!  Needless to say we were complete light weights as a result which suited our budget well and so began the bad influence of the world cup.  Back to drinking and out all day seeing the sights then up all night until 4.30am watching football.  An exhausting but a great way to live, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

In total we spent four days living the island life and finally got a ferry back for a bus connection to take us off to the Cameron Highlands for a well deserved break from the heat and humidity….or so we thought….

Lots of Love,

Amy and Shark-loving Steve
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