Nightmare to Malaysia

My jinx with Singapore continued – we were sitting on the plane at Seletor airport which is basically a military base with a portacabin tacked on as the passenger terminal. Three of the engines started OK, the fourth did not. So we get unloaded back to the portacabin and watch with bemusement as the pilot leans a long ladder against the wing, climbs up, opens the top of the engine and starts fiddling about inside. This goes on for a couple of hours, then he tries the technique of spinning the propeller by hand as the co-pilot cranks the ignition (it’s evidently some kind of starter motor problem) and quickly ducking as it sputters slightly to life before becoming a foot shorter than he already was. Persistent as he was, next he’s back on the wing clubbing the inside of the engine with a 2 foot long scaffolding bar. Valiant those his maintenance efforts were, it was to no avail as it would not start.

So I was faced with having to wait until at least 6 or 7 pm for another plane to come, and as I hadn’t had a chance to obtain ringgits (Malay currency) prior to the flight, and there are no ATMs on Tioman and nowhere except the dive agencies take credit card, and no roads on the island so you have to pay fishing boats to take you around, without money I would be stuck in the airport. Even if I did make it to a chalet, I would have no money to pay for a room. Had I arrived in daylight as was planned I could have worked something out, but not after dark so bailed out of this altogether.

Gate crashed Rakesh’s apartment complex for a while and lounged by the pool, as they had still not got back from their island, and decided to get a night bus to Kuala Lumpur. I had to wait near the bus terminal for 2 hours, all I could find was a karaoke bar which was highly enjoyable (not!) then the bus left late but arrived early at 4.30am at KL, which says something about the speed he was doing I suppose! Just as we got off at the kerbside (no bus station) a monsoon shower hit, and I was swarmed by the usual taxi touts with no idea of where I was or where to go, and no money. A somewhat dubious Indonesian geezer on the bus comes to the rescue and bundles me into his cab and gets me as far as central station where I sat it out until daylight. Now I’ve made it to a hotel district and found myself a nice looking place for tonight, I just have to wait 10 more minutes until I can get in there and take a badly needed shower, which I’m sure will relieve the rest of the people in this internet caff!

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Rakesh and Michelle couldn’t take any more, and rushed off to an Indonesian island yesterday morning for a friend’s wedding party 🙂 So I spent the day eating them out of house and home and lounging by the pool basically, and attempting to make onward travel plans.

Now I’m in a big rush, have managed to book a literally last minute flight to the Malaysian island of Tioman off the south east of the country. Time to start scraping my socks down from the walls and stuffing them in my bag..

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Jakarta was the expected pain in the arse, first the flight was 4 hours late out of Bali due to a “technical problem”, and when I saw the plane I could see why, as it looked like something as was once used by the Wright brothers. They did compensate us with free dinner in the airport, which consisted of the strange combination of what appeared to be a KFC zinger leg with a big patty of rice served up in a MacDonald’s carton. So it was 11pm by the time I was out of Jakarta airport, and sure enough the taxi drivers were on me like vultures around a fresh piece of road kill. The guy I got was trying to screw me for about 200,000 whereas the bill was eventually 60,000 or so, but I had to drag him into the hotel to get the receptionist to help get him off my back.

After 4 hours I was up again at 4:30, a tuk tuk driver swindled me for 2,000 (I let him get away with an extra 1,000!) to take me to a bus station where I caught an airport bus which went surprisingly smoothly. So off I went to Singapore, unfortunately my baggage decided it wanted to go to Hong Kong, so I am still sitting here 2 days later with my beach shorts, singlet and flip flops on from Bali. Smells lovely, I’m assured by Rakesh and Michelle that I’m staying with. Apparently it’s now back here and should arrive at the apartment in a couple of hours much to everyone’s relief!

Spent the afternoon/evening with Rakesh at the bar on the riverside where Nick Leeson of the Barings Bank scandal was arrested. The state we ended up in, it’s a wonder we weren’t arrested there as well to be honest.

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Have spent the last few days loafing about in Kuta – I had intended to spend more time exploring the island a bit to places a bit more cultured like Ubud, but the lure of the lovely hotel complex, the beaches and the nightlife have been too much! Besides, it’s nice not to have to worry about moving around all the time for a few days.

I had a rather more successful massage today, this time I opted for one of the old dears on the beach, with wonky teeth and a number on her hat which CLEARLY makes her at least somewhat official, and thought she might also make a better masseus. Aside from having to negotiate her price from 150,000 down to 25,000 and then fending off someone trying to give me (yet another) manicure and some exceedingly desperate person wanting to rub my feet for money it was all highly enjoyable!

Other than that have been soaking up some sun and am looking actually quite tanned, and enjoying the plentiful nightlife, although I’ve got to know the name of every prostitute in town at this stage, just one of the side effects of being a bloke on your own I suppose. Tomorrow I fly to Jakarta on Java where I have to spend the night which is just nuisance value really, as there’s not too much to see there, but my connection the following day to Singapore is too early to make from here.

So, it’s off for one last night on the razz and then I have to hope that I can get up in time to meet my massage granny on the beach in the morning, and still have time to get back to the hotel, take one last dip in the pool and get to the airport in time for the flight…

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The path into Bali was surprisingly smooth, I was dreading having to arrive at 1am and try and negotiate the touts and get to the hotel. But they seem to have cleaned up the airport here and a prepaid taxi got me straight there and in. I’d picked the most expensive room in the most expensive hotel listed in the Lonely Planet, totalling 9 quid a night, but it is really quite nice with 2 outdoor pools and looks more like a Bhuddist temple than a hotel. The weather is great, not too hot at around 33 degrees but bright sunshine all the time, the bluest skies I’ve ever seen I think. I didn’t do too much yesterday except find my way around and sleep, until 10pm when I decided I should pop out for dinner. I ended up staggering around at 5:30am trying to remember where my hotel was…

I stopped in at the new Paddy’s Bar, one of the two venues that was destroyed by the bombs. It’s rather eerie as there is a shrine behind the bar with photos and names of the people that died there. Across the road, the site of the other bomb at the Sari Club is still a big hole in the ground. This morning I managed to get out of bed just in time for breakfast at 11am, and did some sun lounging. I decided to treat myself to a massage and that’s where things went slightly wrong, as I got into a bit of a backstreet place somehow. Having negotiated a price of 30,000 rupiah for an hour (a little under 2 quid) I had about 6 people working on me simultaneously, a full manicure and pedicure thrown in and a small child running around on my back. At the end of course the price had hiked to about 500,000, so I gave them 50,000 and left it at that. Thieving gits.

Everything is incredibly cheap though, main meals are under a pound as are beers. The taxi from the airport was only just over a quid as well. Things are evidently still quite turbulent, and although it’s reasonably busy in Bali you get the feeling it’s nowhere as busy as it should be, considering this is high season. Perhaps people have yet to start coming back here in full numbers yet. Right, some sleep is on the agenda for me now!

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Northern Territory

For something different, I went for a campervan for touring the NT. I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, although I’m glad it was just me, it’s meant to take 2 adults and 2 (short) kids, but that would be a mare. Would go for a bigger one if there were 2 of you for sure. It’s great fun, there are no speed limits in the NT so you can really put your foot down, and there are so few cars that many drivers coming the other way will wave to say hello, if you can see them in time as they are coming at me even faster than I can go. I first went out to Kakadu national park, which is more for wildlife viewing than natural features really, but still very pleasant. Then I headed south east to Katherine national park, stopping off at the Edith Falls which has a plunge pool at the base you can swim in. Signs warn you that freshwater crocodiles live in there, but will not harm you unless you piss them off, but also salt water estuarine crocs can also enter undetected, and these will eat you. They advise you not to enter the water if you see an estuarine croc and report it to a ranger (like any tourist can tell the difference between that and a fresh water croc!)

I went swimming anyway, of course… Then I went to Katherine Gorge, then headed back up north to Litchfield national park for my last night, spending a night illegally camped in the middle of the bush on the way. I reckoned I was about 30 miles from the next nearest person, and the darkness was uncanny – there was no moon that night and stars aplenty. I was crapping my bed a bit though at every sound outside, thinking it would either be a pack of dingos or an Aboriginal tribe coming through in the night to sacrifice stray campers or something. Litchfield was my favourite place, with lots of waterfalls and stunning scenery and oppotunities to risk swimming with the crocs.

Last time I was in Oz I managed to kill a kangaroo with the car, this time I had to settle for just one bird, but I still get 15 points. I’ve just returned my little home and sniffed a little tear, it was nice to just pull over whenever you want a coffee, cook some food or grab a beer, as everything was on board, fridge, gas cooker, microwave, water etc. Now it’s back to real accommodation I suppose, I’ve taken the unusual step of calling ahead to Bali to book a hotel, as my guide book predates the bombing so I had to check that the places I wanted were not blown up, hmmm……. Killing a few hours in Darwin this evening before my very late flight to Bali tonight.

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Great Barrier Reef

Big mess last night – ended up in the notorious Wool Shed of Cairns where there are more people dancing on the tables than there are on the floor, God knows when (or how) I got home, but the next thing I know is the phone ringing at 10:30 with an irate receptionist on the other end, as I should have been out of there at 10:00. Anyway, the diving was great, we went out on a rather crowded but very fast catamaran to the reef from which we did two dives en route, then on to the much more laid back liveaboard vessel for the rest. Altogether I did 7 dives in the 2 days, one of which was a rather eerie night dive for which they basically shove a big torch into your hand and wish you good luck. There’s lots of sharks about at night and their eyes glow a very bright green colour in the torch light which also attracts them, so you get to be very up close and personal with them. I’ve got some pretty decent photos of the sharks in the daytime, and moray eels and turtles and various other weird things.

It’s a pleasant 27 degrees here at the moment and bright sunshine, off to Darwin in a while where it’s 30 and brighter sunshine. It looks as though it’s not bad in London at the moment either, but I still win 🙂

Let’s see if this piece of crap will let me get some photos up, here’s the arse end of a turtle:


and here’s some other big thing, he’s about 3 feet long.


This is me!


Going back in time this is part of the Foz do Iguacu in Brazil/Argentina:


here was dinner that I caught for us on the Amazon:


and we also caught this little guy, but we didn’t eat him.


This is taking forever so will have to stop for now.

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I still didn’t get a great deal of luck with the Sydney weather, although the locals were loving the rain as apparently they’re down to 40% capacity on their reservoirs and in a virtual drought situation. Anyway it was still good enough for me to take a coast walk from Coogee beach up to Bondi beach which is a lovely walk, and one of the first things I did back in ’99 with Mark and Victoria. So that was Sydney, then it was up to Cairns on Sunday, and bye bye to cold weather for me on this trip, now I am firmly back into my shorts which is a relief, with impressive mid-winter temperatures of 26C.

Tomorrow I leave for 2 days and 1 night liveaboard diving (or shagaboard as some call it) out on the Great Barrier Reef. I get to do 6 dives and 1 night dive I think it is. I’m probably going to invest in an underwater housing for the camera today so there’s an outside chance I might get a few decent shots.

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Mount Cook

I did get to Twizel quite easily, a small one horse town really but pleasant enough. Set off next morning in bright sunshine up Mt. Cook, but by the time I got there it was raining pretty hard, just over the mountains. It did stop and I took a hike up a trail in the foothills, but the clouds never lifted enough to get good views which was a shame. Again though I was close enough to hear the cracking and see the landslides in action on the snow, ice and scree slopes.

Drove on to Christchurch for my final night, and managed to net a nice room with jacuzzi once more. Flew next morning in a clockwork aeroplane to Wellington, they don’t even bother to search you or X-ray your hand baggage on this, I suppose they reckon the plane is so small that it would just bounce off if somebody hijacked it and flew it into the side of a building. Flew straight onto Sydney, and have been hanging around a few old haunts which brings back lots of good memories! I looked at my old apartment block with envy as I walked past, how the hell they ever let me live there I’ll never know!

Today I’m on my way over to Manly, you could almost sit on the beach as the winters here are so nice, but it’s actually a bit cloudy and threatening today.

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Milford Sound

I pushed on to Te Anau in the end, as it’s a deceptively long way all the way to Milford Sound from Queenstown (over 300 Km) and I’m glad I did in the end, Te Anau is in a beautiful setting on a lake and I got a lakeside motel room complete with family-sized private jacuzzi. Had a small shocker in the morning when I learned that a big dump of snow had hit the mountain pass between Te Anau and Milford Sound, but off I set anyway, having equipped the Mazda with a set of snow chains. The road only opened at 10am, but by the time I got to the worst part they’d done a pretty good job of clearing the snow so it wasn’t too bad. There was am rather annoying delay of an hour or so whilst you queue up waiting for a bloke to check that you’re carrying chains, otherwise he sends you back.

Took a cruise down the Sound once I eventually got there, it is certainly a lovely spot, but cold. My limited winter clothes I’m carrying were just enough to keep my vaguely above freezing point, along with endless cups of tea. The good news is that the rain held off and it was mostly sunny, which apparently is a rarity in Fiorland, they get 6 metres of rain a year! Drove back to Te Anau to the same motel, as I fancied a bit more jacuzzi action, and today I’m on my way probably to Twizel which is close to Mt. Cook. I’m in Queenstown again at the moment, it’s a glorious day here too and tempting to stay, but time is against me so I have to move on.

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