The Hills ARE actually Alive
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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Travelling with Barsie is a bit like travelling with Karl Pilkington or someone as nonsensical, his spontaneous one-liners baffle every time.
We're on Tioman Island. Look at the pics, it's a gem. To many it's simply paradise. You've only got to get on the net and do a quick search to find a whole spread of resort options, a lot of which are engineered from the UK and clearly peddled as a dream destination. People will pay a fortune to come somewhere like this, and hand over well in excess of 400 ringgit for a room. Barsie and me came over on a boat from Mersing, knowing even before we landed that we'd struggle to find accommodation, though we were more than happy to sleep on the beach or in an old boat somewhere.
On arrival, the only thing we could find north of the jetty was a small twin room for RM180, or a bottom-ender for RM140 over in Salang, which was too far away and too late in the day to chance it. I was already clearing out an old broken canoe on the beach when Barsie came flying back from the other direction with a smug grin on his elastic face. RM30 a night for a beach chalet with attached bathroom. 'That's two and half quid a piece Barsie!' - I made him say it again. He wasn't shitting me. You flamin' beauty, get the Tigers in!
The island itself is a lush jungle-laden paradise positioned nicely in a calm corner of the South China Sea. We're staying in a little village called Air Batang, over on the west coast. The populated stretch of 'life' here covers just a kilometre or so either side of the jetty which links a string of Malay family homes by way of a concrete pathway wide enough to take a golf buggy. Many of these families arrange a scattering of modest seating and offer home cooked (and caught) food to enjoy at the water's edge, where the deep orange sun lowers itself down lazily as you sup a cold beer and rip in to a freshly barbecued prawn. Yes. It's nice here.
And so... I've been spending most days sitting under the shade of a coconut palm reading a book as the beach bar pumps out lazy Malaysian reggae mixed in with a bit of Marley, or splashing about in the clear turquoise waters just for the sake of trying to cool off a bit, which is completely pointless as the sea is as warm as a hotel spa.
It was during one of these half-conscious states of mindless grazing that we met the resident chef here at the restaurant. He introducing himself as 'Superman' ('but at night you call me Spiderman',) got himself comfortable and spent the entire afternoon polishing off a whole slab of Tiger while talking us through the more intricate ups and downs of his eventful life. Turns out he was right up there in the Hilton chain, travelling all over the world working his magical Indian/Malay fusion - that is until he gave it all up to live a simple life here on Tioman cooking a decadent tourist menu by night and getting blind the rest of the waking day. And boy does he cook. Like a demon. After getting completely legless he rustled up an absolute feast of a marsala for Barsie and me, the kind of feed that makes your eyes roll into the back of your head. Real nice guy.
We've been on the island almost a week now and it's probably been one of the most banterful times so far. Due to the nature of the place we've found a more diverse mix, including the standard romantic-holidaymakers (a Finnish husband and wife who look unnervingly similar), a lively couple of RTW'ers from Barnsley, and the not-so-usual encounter with some quality unexpected randoms - in this case a bunch of Americans (of the good breed) who aren't really supposed to be here. The majority of them are actors and singers, playing the main cast in a professional travelling production of The Sound of Music. They were due to perform a heap of shows in China, but with the tragedy of the recent earthquake and all its upheaval, things have gone Pete Tong and the majority of them have found themselves living it up here on the island, with us. Naturally, the banter has been copious and I've had some of the most interesting and random conversations I've had in a long time, not to mention the hysterics generated through playing Shithead and Pitch 'with a twist' and singing some outrageously bizarre songs with a few beers well into the early hours. Bang on.
There's a lot of great diving around here (shit loads of operators dotted about) but I haven't really felt the urge, just happy to kick back and relax.
After a day or two it soon becomes the norm to stroll back and forth along the strip, stopping en-route for refreshments or to catch up with people you haven't caught up with for an hour. It's kinda like living a real-life island soap opera. And it doesn't take long to develop the instinct of jumping out of harms way whenever you hear the scream of an oncoming engine.
In most cases this is the sound of locals tearing along on their little 2-stroke Hondas, the majority of which are piloted by young children carrying even younger children AND the family cat (who holds the groceries.) Some bikes have a small box-trailer welded on the side to accommodate even more family members or to assist with the public transportation of other islanders who simply wish to get from here to there without breaking a sweat. I swear, one night an entire family blazed past me followed closely by a toddler on a small plastic tractor who was peddling like the clappers to keep up! Madness. And if it's not the locals it's the wildlife. At night you'll see frogs jumping out from everywhere and I've lost count of the times I've turned a corner to find a dirty great monitor lizard sprawled across the pathway. Not much argument there really, they're insanely muscular and have a whip-like tongue the length of their bodies.
Still having some of the weirdest dreams I've ever had. It's a surreal place here. But it's a beautiful place.
Sand is still and always will be, shit.
Where I stayed