Here in October 2016 I am at the start of an Island Odyssey – but it’s not my first. Back in Jan 2013 when recovering from an operation that had gone horribly wrong I wrote about my first ‘Island Odyssey’. It was in 1995 – a bit different from my current situation but enjoyable in it’s own way.
Here it is – My original ‘Island Odyssey’:
When you are feeling below par what better pick-me-up than to look back to better days. My recent mistake with the WordPress Media Gallery where I inadvertently dumped 1500 photos and screwed up a large number of my posts has given me the chance to return to the mid-nineties.
I was involved in motorcycle grand prix racing and had three weeks to chill between the Malaysian and Japanese GP races. The rest of the team had gone to their respective homes in various places round the globe but I was going walk-about. A chance encounter with Giamaco Agostini as we left the hotel that last morning gave me an idea where to go. He told me instead of following the masses to the ‘fleshpots’ off the west coast such as Phuket – to go east to Khota Bahru and pick up the backpackers trail for the South China Seas. I promptly bought a rucksack on the market in KL China Town – dumped my suitcase in left-luggage at the airport and bailed out!
Redang Island was my first stop and the transport was by cigar boat. Kuala Terrengannu was the jumping off point on the mainland so I caught an internal flight up there from Kuala Lumpur. Cigar boats are long and thin with no cover, just a pile of merchandise plus wooden plank seats for possibly six passengers and two crew. A similar seating arrangement to the rowing boats on your local pond in fact. The important bits were hung on the stern – two humungous Yamaha outboard motors!
Boy could this thing go! The Malay driver pushed the boat off from the wooden jetty – aimed her at the horizon – Hawaii – the Philipines or whatever and wrung her neck!
I don’t have a pic of my more rustic twin engine boat but I have found one of a smaller boat along similar lines to set the stage —
After what seemed like a few hours of skimming across the waves Redang Island hove into view. D’ya like that word? Hove? Very nautical of me. I must have picked it up when I was learnng to sail dinghies on Loch Earn – nice to know all that money wasn’t wasted.
Anyway we ‘hoved’ into Redang right by the wooden huts that were to be my home for a few days. I didn’t meet anyone that first night – just found something to eat in the Tenko style mess hut then returned to my wooden cabin and slept like a log.
The sun rises early and so did the breakfast chef! Along with lots of smiling Malay faces – it was hard to tell who was staff and who were guests. Then Dusty introduced herself – an air stewardess from one of the former African colonies having a six month sabbatical to backpack all through the South China seas. She had been as far south as Bali and was working her way north before flying home from Singapore in three weeks time.
We explored the island together – snorkelled over the coral reef and in the evenings after dinner joined everyone in the karaoke hut. It was just so much fun!
The pic shows a ‘me Jane – you Tarzan’ moment in the jungle. Yes being a sporty type she dived beautifully off that branch into the pool. Things didn’t stop there – she refused to come out until I had followed her in.
Coward that I am – I didn’t trust the branch to carry my fourteen stones but I got out there. My next challenge was to release my strangler’s grip on the limb and dive in! Not easy! I’ve survived one broken kneck in my life and diving headfirst into that dark pool could easily leave me with another. Cpn Sensible wasn’t with me that day and eventually I let go the branch – closed my eyes and went for it!
I must have passed some sort of test – maybe it was my singing at karaoke as Dusty suggested we team up to visit our next port-of-call – the Parenthian Islands.
A kiss of life for the fish – Dusty style —
A few days were sufficient on Redang – it wasn’t primitive enough. It had running water and electricity. So it was back to the mainland then up the coast by mini-bus to Kota Bahrur to catch a cigar boat ride to the Parenthians. They were well out in the ocean and it was dark when we arrived and were dropped off on the beach – and that’s where we stayed till morning.
Get any romantic thoughts out of your head – this was hardcore roughing it. We pulled every bit of clothing we possessed over our heads and lay down on the pitch black beach to sleep.
I think this is an everyday situation for tough-as-teak girls like Dusty and soon she was snoring softly. I on the other hand flinched everytime I felt movement under me! In the morning we were soaking in the cold heavy dew and learned that the movement under us had been sand crabs. They spend the hot days in their burrows and come out onto the beach in the cool of the night. Yes we had been lying on the entrances to their burrows! Better that than with snakes in the jungle!
I’m not sure of the spelling but I think this small jungle clad island was called something like Wee or Wie. There was only one place to stay and this was it. Fortunately some of the backpackers were moving on next day and Dusty was able to share a shack with a posh girl from the home counties while I got the lovely hut just above the beach.
There were no doors – no windows and you’ve guessed it- no toilets. You either risked going for bush or used the latrine pit Tenko style. Oddly enough I never felt alone – at least not after I found my first snake slithering in through the walls!
I was invited by the Malay owner to return later that year after the GP season was over to help develop his operation but something else came up and I went to Spain instead. Another ‘What if’ in my life but you can’t do everything and I often wondered how those low lying islands fared when the Tsunami roared through a few years later.
The proprietors family had what we would class as an idyllic lifestyle – he lived in the big hut on the right and we all ate on the open deck of the lower hut with a few more guest houses dotted around the jungle above the beach —
We all ate at a big plank table on the communal mess deck attached to the owners family hut and if you wanted a shower you filled the overhead bucket if there was water in the well – soaped up then tipped it over you. Mostly we washed in the sea! The days were spent swimming or snorkelling over the coral reef and walking the beach. The adventurous climbed palm trees for coconuts and there was an occasional boat trip to a neighbouring island which was slightly more civilised than ours.
The view from my hut —
There was no karaoke on Wei or at least no karaoke machine. We lit a fire on the beach at night and talked or sang. With backpackers from all over, songs were sung in a few languages but anything by the Beatles was guaranteed to have everyone join in. Out at sea the bright lights of the squid fishing boats lit up the night as they scooped everything from the shallow depths and tore up the coral reefs. It takes man but an instant to destroy what nature has taken years to build.
After the second week we returned to Kota Barhu up near the Thai border on the mainland. Dusty caught a flight to Singapore for her last week of freedom before heading home to Zimbabwe and I got on the Jungle Train to Kuala Lipis right in the centre of Malaysia. I could have gone all the way south to Singapore by train cos that’s what the Japs did to surprise the British forces in the last war. The Brits were expecting to be invaded from the sea and prepared their defences accordingly. The Nips came down on the jungle train and sneaked in the back door! Like taking candy from a baby!
Like I said I only went halfway but that was an eye-opener. Through mountains – across rivers – past logging camps and native villages – it was a wonderful journey. I still had a week to myself before flying on to Japan for the next Grand Prix and I was going to make the most of it.
From Kuala Lipis I caught a long-distance bus to Kuantun on the east coast then another one south to Mersing where I took a boat out to Pula Tioman for a few nights – the island where South Pacific was filmed. It was nice enough but too civilised – not a patch on the rustic Parenthian Islands and I guess I was missing Dusty. She had been great company with never a dull moment when she was around!
I spent a couple of days back in KL before my flight to Japan – most of it in Chinatown. One night in the YMCA hostel and my last night in the comfort of the Swiss Hotel.
and what became of the delightful Dusty? Well we kept in touch for a few years – as you do – then life intervened and regular correspondence took a back seat. The last I heard from her she had been selected as a crew member of the Presidential jet on a State visit to Brasil – yup – there’s never a dull moment when that girl is around 🙂