So I’m slowly revealing in this blog, that I’m a less than organized traveler. Through recent tales, I’ve thrilled you with my idiotic recaps of Cuba and Capri. This post continues my Inspector Clouseau-like travel escapades, with another island. Tioman Island to be exact.
In the summer of 2008, I visited Singapore for a work conference (yeah, I’m not sure how this one happened either). And like many previous work trips, I decided to stay a few extra days for exploration. In a rare moment of maturity and personal evolution, I actually researched where I wanted to go, ahead of time. I decided I would travel up to Malaysia and visit Tioman Island, a beautiful location off the eastern coast.
Because I researched ahead of time, it was a pretty easy process. Take a bus from Singapore to Mersing, stop at customs and continue. From Mersing, I could hop on a boat and get to Tioman Island. Easy. Here’s a picture of some buses, to set the tone.
I prepaid by bus ticket in Singapore and the next day boarded at some ridiculous early morning hour. And here’s where idiocy strikes again. I had a few Singaporean dollars, no US $ and no Malaysian Ringgit’s (which sounds like Harry Potter money). So no cash. How dumb can I be sometimes? We started the journey and I’m already sweating this lack of planning. We stop for a break and buy some breakfast with my last Sing-dollars and talk to the bus guide. I explain my predicament and he assures me that when we get to Mersing, he has people that can get me to an ATM. Phew. I get back on the bus for the rest of the journey, unwrap my breakfast and dump rice and other bits of food into my lap and all over the seat and floor. Of course everyone notices. It’s always nice to reinforce the American tourist stereotype. You try picking up tiny bits of rice from a floor.
We arrive. I get off the bus. My bus buddy gets on his cell phone. Moments later, two men arrive on a moped to assist me. One of them will look after my bag. The other will take me into the main section of Mersing and to an ATM. Every part of my intuition told me this was a preposterous, risky idea. So, of course I did it. My reasoning came down to this: This situation was so ridiculous, so ass backward, so impulsive, that it had to work. I hopped on the back of the moped and took my camera.
We zipped into town. I was praying my card would work in the ATM and of course it did (again, I stress here, I’m a lucky traveler). I had a good crowd watching me do all of this, but I remained calm and confident this plan was on track. Money in my pocket and we were headed back to the bus station, where we found the other man with my bag. Some awkward smiles, handshakes, $20 each and I was all set. Off to Tioman Island.
I survived the boat ride without vomiting and made it to the island, where I was greeted with such hot, sunny, beauty. It was paradise filled with locals, scuba enthusiasts from all over the world, and dumb me.
I wandered around for a bit, and found a place to stay for $12 a night, very basic room, no air conditioning.
That’s where I stayed for the next few nights. I can’t say I slept that well and the heat was unbearable, but I really wasn’t there to lay in bed and watch cable TV. So I explored the island during the day. I swam. I ate some really good food. I reread Microserfs (one of my fave books). I took photos. I drank beer. And I decided to hike. I felt like I was in an episode of LOST. So like Mr. Eko I headed into the jungle, minus the wooden paddle.
I’m not going to lie. There was a big climb. I almost fainted. I almost turned back. But my thought process was similar to the ATM arrangement. I’d be fine. Even if I did collapse, someone would find me. I drank a liter of water within 10 minutes. I’m telling you, it was hot. I wandered through this lush jungle for some time, seeing big lizards, crazy birds and boisterous monkeys. Welcome to the jungle. As I descended down through uneven paths, I discovered a private beach. Completely empty. I jumped in (because at this point I was dripping with sweat) and soaked in the experience of swimming in the South China Sea, it was slightly hard to believe.
Talk about lucky. I trekked back up into the jungle with new energy and a better understanding of the natural life. I stopped an hung out with a lizard as monkeys watched from above. You can still hear the ocean in the background.
It was a quiet, beautiful island with delicious, fresh food. I learned to relax and enjoy the simple things. I appreciated shade. A slight breeze. The changing location of the sun. And I realized monkeys are nothing but trouble. I settled into a routine and I ended every single day, laying in this hammock, reading, taking photos, drinking a beer, listening to music, and enough cash in my pocket to get me back to Singapore.