Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 27
Malaysia (Part 1)
After sending Mark off to work one last time, we packed up and headed to the bus station. The bus ride into Johor Bahru via the Causeway connecting Singapore and peninsular Malaysia was a bit confusing. We had to get off the bus to go through immigration on each side of the bridge and then figure out where to queue to get back on the same bus. At one point we waited in a long line for several minutes before realizing we were in the wrong place and the line we were supposed to be in was empty.
Eventually, we made it to the bus interchange in Johor Bahru and boarded another bus to Kota Tinggi as it began to rain. In Kota Tinggi we changed buses again and by late afternoon we arrived in the small town of Mersing on the east coast. Our goal was to get to Pulau Tioman, an island off the coast that had been recommended to us for good scuba diving. It was too late in the day to catch a ferry so we made bookings with a nearby agent for a ferry the following morning and accomodation at the village of Nipah on the southwestern coast of Tioman.
For the present though, we had to crash in Mersing. Suzanne insisted on examining every hotel within a one kilometer radius of the bus station, and she finally settled on the slightly decrepit but air-conditioned Mersing Hotel for 30 Malaysian Ringgits or about $8 US. ($1 US = RM 3.8) After dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant we checked email and then went to bed.
In the morning we were up early to do some grocery shopping before returning to the travel agent for a ride to the ferry terminal. After the two hour ferry voyage, we were let off on a long concrete pier in the village of Genting on Pulau Tioman. From there a speedboat carried us south along the coast to Nipah. Our bungalow accomodations were very simple thatched huts and attached concrete bathroom complete with enormous snails meandering across the walls. They may have been overly rustic, but considering the isolation and natural beauty of the island, we didn't mind. Soon after arriving I discovered that the combination lock on my backpack would no longer open, so I had to round up a hammer from the fairly unhelpful staff and smash it off.
We spent the afternoon exploring one end of the beach near our bungalow and found a small lagoon where some monkeys were climbing around in the trees above us. As we were sitting on the edge of the lagoon quietly watching them, an enormous lizard emerged from between two large rocks across the lagoon. At first we thought it was a crocodile. It was about four or five feet long and stopped at the edge of the water, flicking it's long tongue out to "taste" the air. We later learned that this was an iguana and they are common on the island. As I reached for my camera, the iguana noticed us and quickly ran back into the jungle. I crossed the lagoon at a narrow spot and climbed up some rocks to see if it was still around for a photo, but I couldn't see it. I did, however, notice what I thought was a python resting on top of a large branch growing out over the water farther down across the lagoon. The dense jungle prevented me from getting closer to verify this, but from the picture I took I was later able to identify the beast as "only" another huge iguana resting on the branch.
This morning we arranged for a speedboat to take us back to Genting to look for a dive shop. At a place called Simply Scuba we tried on some gear and arranged for a dive trip the following morning. Originally we had wanted to dive at a place called Tiger Reef, as recommended by our diving instructor Rex from Cairns, but the local divemaster warned of strong currents in that area so we opted for some easier dives to two small islands off the coast of Tioman.
We returned to the pier to find that our speedboat had not waited for us as had been our understanding. While waiting for another boat to come by to give us a ride back to Nipah, we watched a local Malaysian man catching tropical fish using a line and hook and small pieces of tomato as bait. Most of the fish he pulled up were beautfiul, multicolored parrot fish. After he caught them he would leave them to flap around on the pier. It was hard to watch them asphyxiating, but interesting to see how the colors changed and then faded as they died. Sue made sure he was catching them for food and not for sport.
Eventually a ferry arrived from the mainland and our speedboat returned to meet it. Back on the beach at Nipah, we spent the afternoon reading and napping in hammocks stretched under shady palm trees.
At nine o'clock in the morning our dive guide JoJo and a boat driver arrived to pick us up on the beach in a speedboat. We were joined on the trip by Mark from England, currently living in Kuala Lumpur. Our first dive was at a small islet called Bahara Rock. The visibility was not very clear and the colors of the coral not very bright, but still being new divers, it was still exciting. The marine life was similar to that which we had seen in Bali. On the way over to the second dive site we saw a pod of dolphins swimming parallel to our boat. The second site, Jahat, was similar to the first.
In the afternoon, after the dive trip, we walked down to the end of the beach at Nipah which we had not yet explored to do some snorkelling. We swam out about thirty meters off the beach where the water was about ten to fifteen meters deep. At one point the water I was swimming in began to get very murky with small particles of what looked like mud. Just as I was about to pick my head up to scan the surface a largish (five or six feet) black-tipped reef shark came into focus a few meters in front of me from right to left. I dove back down and swam towards it, taking pictures with a disposable underwater camera (knowing from experience that the closer the subject is, the better with this camera). The shark then turned straight towards me (which was a bit disconcerting!) before seeing me and quickly swimming away. (Reef sharks are not agressive and are not known to be dangerous.) I returned to the surface through the thickening murky water and then heard Sue calling out for me to watch out. Directly in front of me I saw the source of the "mud". A passing fishing boat had dropped a large bamboo fish trap on the surface of the water. It was filled with a big mass of fish chum and I was in the middle of the slick which was developing as it disintegrated. Not wanting to be mistaken for chum in the presence of sharks, I quickly followed after Sue who was already swimming towards shore.
In the morning we again rode the speedboat back to the pier at Genting to meet a ferry back to Mersing. While waiting for the ferry, Sue and I were entertained by an overbearing German man who was verbally torturing anyone who would listen. He seemed to be the type of fellow who would ask about your travel experiences, denounce all of the places you have visited as a complete waste of time, and then present his far superior itinerary. At one point we heard him boasting to someone how he could travel for a whole year with a backpack half the size of anyone else's and then later we saw him corner a Chinese girl and demonstrate his travelling savvy by producing a picture book of common actions which he explained would allow him to communicate in any country by simply pointing at the pictures.
From Mersing we took a long bus ride across Malaysia to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, 35 kilometers from the west coast. We settled in at the Kameleon Travel Lodge down the street from a bustling Hindu temple where some kind of ceremony was taking place and the whole corner was strewn with broken coconut shells. We spent the afternoon and evening wandering through the night market on Petaling Street in the Chinatown area and then the Central Market indoor mall.
Kuala Lumpur was somewhat like Singapore. The "LRT" train system was clean, air-conditioned, and easy to use. The weather was very hot and humid. We found the street vendor food to be not quite as good as that in Singapore. The city, or at least the area we were in, was also very loud and chaotic. At one o'clock in the morning, there was construction work involving the use of a jackhammer next to our building. And that seemed to be the norm.
In the morning we set out to tour some of the sights in KL. While trying to find the nearest LRT station we met a Malayan man named Gerald John Baptist who was selling maps in the street. We got to talking with him and found out that he was a Christian. He told us of how the Malaysian government provides substantial benefits for the Muslim population, but treats the Christians as second-class citizens. He was very passionate on the subject, describing how he has lost friends who have converted to Islam so that the government would provide free housing and employment.
Following Gerald's directions, we found the LRT station near the Masjid Jamek mosque at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers and rode it to the KLCC Shopping Complex. Our goal was to visit the sky bridge connecting the Petronas Twin Towers (now the tallest free-standing twin towers in the world, following the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York City). Unfortunately, we found out that only 800 tickets per day are distributed for the sky bridge and they were all gone. We instead walked around the base of the towers and then through the adjacent Kuala Lumpur City Center Park.
Riding the LRT back to the Masjid Jamek stop, we walked over to Merdaka Square to see the 100 meter-high flagpole where the Malayan Flag was hoisted on August 31, 1957 signifying the independence of the country from British rule. In the evening we again wandered through the night market on Petaling Street. Sue bought a skirt and I bought a new belt to hold up my pants which are now much too loose on me.
Riding the speedboat to Nipah, Pulau Tioman
Waterfront property, Pulau Tioman
Nipah, Pulau Tioman
Lazy iguana (on the branch), Pulau Tioman
School of little blue fish, Pulau Tioman
Black-tipped reef shark, Pulau Tioman
Jalan Petaling market, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
Sue buying dessert, Jalan Petaling market, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
Masjid Jamek, Kuala Lumpur
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Fountain in Kuala Lumpur City Center Park
Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Kuala Lumpur
Merdaka Square, Kuala Lumpur