Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Perhentian islands

We had 11 days left in Malaysia and we decided that we wanted to see the Perhentian islands in the northeast before heading further south. After a long day in a minibus we arrived at the jetty at 5pm and were told that the slow boat left at 3pm (the ticket we had bought the night before at our guesthouse) but that we could upgrade for 10 ringit ($3) to the last fast boat that was just leaving. Ok whatever.

By 6pm we were moving, but shortly after leaving the harbour, we had to turn back to drop off a crewman who was suddenly seasick. Underway again by 6:30pm for what was supposed to be a 45min ride, we didn't get to the island until 8:30 (long after dark) and it then took about an hour to drop people off at each beach. This was a precarious process - a small boat (some were scarcely bigger than canoes) would come out from shore and transfer passengers from the ferry to the beach in the pitch black darkness. When we rounded the island to the last two beaches there was quite a dramatic swell - we rolled over so far at one point that the water was up against the cabin windows. No boat was prepared to brave the surf to come fetch us, so we were forced to retreat to a beach on the 'big island' to spend the night. This was annoying since it meant paying for a water taxi in the morning to finally get to the beach of our choice.

We did finally make it however (after wading with our bags from the water taxi through the surf to the beach - there are no jetties here), and the beach is beautiful.

We had originally planned on staying at a beach with just one establishment - which would have been more peaceful but possibly with monopolistic pricing. Instead we opted for Long Beach where there are perhaps a dozen places with restaurants and bungalows.

Our bungalow was fairly basic and we soon discovered that with their mosquito net you could barely feel the overhead fan, so we abandoned it and after much fiddling, we inaugurated our own double mosquito net which worked a lot better.

This room had a sink, but the tap was tied shut so we didn't really use it. Here's Katie going local, doing a little laundry in the bucket.

We signed up for a wreck dive which was the first time Katie and I had actually dived as buddies together which was nice. The wreck was pretty cool - thoroughly encrusted with sea urchins and clams, etc after only six years. It was a 50m freighter carrying sugar that ran aground and when they opened the hold to dump the cargo to get off the sandbar, the sea flooded the ship and it sank, falling on its side. We got to swim into its open holds, which are big enough not to be much of a hazard.

On the boat ride back (this is a small, open speedboat carrying 10 of us) we entered a squall and the rain was pouring so hard we couldn't see more than 50m ahead of us and lost sight of the island. After a few minutes of turning this way and that, the boatman realised he had no idea which way to go and we were all crouched in the boat shivering in the wind and the rain, with greyness all around us and choppy seas. With a bit of compass navigation from one of the instructors dive-watches we proceeded in one direction for a while, and eventually the clouds cleared enough to make out the island again. The worst part was that Katie and I were both desperate to take a leak and every bump was torture, so it was with eternal thankfulness that we finally made it back to shore.


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