Forgive me for being lazy with updates in the past couple of weeks – although I’m pretty sure the weather in Montreal is sufficiently distracting you all! We’ve been holed up on spectacular Pulau Tioman, Malaysia, a few degrees north of the equator in the South China Sea. The awesome Rich Joyner has graciously invited us to hang out for a spell at the impossibly beautiful resort which serves as the base for his educational adventure programs (his organization is called Our Little Planet – really awesome – check it out!).
After a rather long but relatively uneventful day of travel beginning at 4:00 am in Bali and including two border crossings, we stepped off the ferry and onto Tioman in the early evening, welcomed by Rich and another Montreal buddy, Miss Tanya Dawe, who by sheer coincidence has been here visiting/volunteering on some programs. It was a very triumphant reunion indeed.
The whole island is breathtaking, but the village of Juara, where Rich lives, is more wonderful than you can even imagine. It’s got soaring mountains and clean, fresh rivers supplying the most delicious cold water, thick jungles, interesting flora and fauna, superb sandy beaches, coral reefs teeming with colourful life, relaxed locals (and cats!) – it essentially fits the description of paradise of any sane person.
We filled the next few blissful days with a wide range of leisurely pursuits:
- Gazing out at the beach incredulously from the verandah, marveling at the proximity to the sea and the way the waves sound completely different from one day to the next;
- Trekking (some would say that’s a slight exaggeration; I don’t think so since Rich carried a machete) through lush, full-on jungle to reach an idyllic waterfall (and not batting an eye at having to wade through several muddy rivers with our shoes on!);
- Gluttonizing on fantastic Malay food, especially cheese roti canai at breakfast and char koey teow, fried chicken, prawns, and salt and pepper squid in the evening (we ate at a place Rich took us to, Kak Long Cafe, so often that they started our order when we walked in the door);
- Gluttonizing on a slightly less-fantastic late-night snack combining the unlikely elements of processed cheese, leftover Singapore noodles and black pepper beef, sliced white bread, several bananas, a tin of tuna salad, and a bag of BBQ chips pilfered from Pierre’s supply;
- Strolling through the enchanting village of Juara, returning waves from friendly uniformed schoolkids and pausing along the way to examine the occasional vividly-hued butterfly, exquisite tropical flower, or unsettlingly robust but comically befuddled monitor lizard;
- Discussing the relative merits of David Lee Roth vs. Sammy Hagar (and later googling to confirm that DLR did indeed spend some time as a paramedic following his Van Halen career);
- Counting shooting stars and fireflies from rocky vantage points on the beach (I got to see my first shooting star ever, and Tanya got to witness my reaction to the momentous occasion);
- Cuddling the retardedly adorable resident cat, Garfield;
- Learning about the plight of sea turtles (Tioman is a nesting ground for two species, and there’s a conservation project next door to Rich’s place – the Juara Turtle Project)
- …and perhaps most excitingly, snorkeling like mad!
My snorkeling career thus far has left much to be desired. There was a brief stint in Cuba in 2002 which was marred by inferior and probably faulty equipment. More recently, in Costa Rica in 2010, I was offered flotation devices (yes, floaties, okay?) by the kindly boat operator who noticed my nervousness, only to be gazed upon scornfully by a German fellow snorkeler who then, in the most solemn of tones, pointed out helpfully: “Zaat is für beh-bees.”
Encouraged by the success of our recent foray into diving with Kylie in Cambodia, it wasn’t too difficult to convince me to give snorkeling another try. We grabbed some gear, strolled a short way down the beach to a spot near some reefs, and went for it. It was really, for lack of a better word, amazing. Any fears I had were overridden by the wonders to be beheld, and I decided the experience was worth the constant (perceived) risk of drowning. The next day, Rich arranged for two fun local guys to take us all on a boat to several popular snorkeling/dive sites. It was a magical day. The highlight, for me, was following a graceful sea turtle for some distance, watching her glide through the coral; and Riccardo was pretty enthralled with the several species of (vegetarian) sharks we spotted. A sting ray darting around erratically made me nervous after a conversation we’d had earlier about Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, and at one point, I was pretty sure Rich and I were accepted as peers by a school of bumper-headed parrotfish (though hopefully not on account of our appearance). The sheer number and variety of fishes was staggering, and it was mesmerizing to float along among them. Even a slightly painful brush with an anemone didn’t deter me. Each decade of the last century was represented in marine form – from the ultra-cool, neon-brushed eighties fish, to the mellow, tie-dyed sixties fish. Truly a remarkable experience.
Rich and Tanya left Tioman after a few days to lead a group of students through a national park in southern Thailand, and Rich, in his infinite awesomeness, allowed us to stay on a bit longer at this magnificent place. It’s unbelievably appreciated, particularly since Riccardo and I had kind of hit of a wall and weren’t feeling the itch to spend a great deal of time at our next planned destinations of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Pierre too was grateful for some much-needed R&R before going back to work for the International Criminal Court out of Kinshasa, DRC.
The previous two stops before this one were equally wonderful – a whirlwind tour of the fascinating and culinarily-rich town of Penang, Malaysia, and a luxurious week with great friends in gorgeous Bali, Indonesia. I’m looking forward to memorializing those good times here soon.
We’re soon homeward bound – but not before a few last exciting stops! Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.