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Published: August 30th 2008
The mainland of Malaysia receded in the backwash of the ferry as we settled in for the 30-minute ride
. This would be peanuts compared to the 4 hours bus ride we had just completed from Cameron Highlands to the pier at Lumut. Our destination was Pangkor Island (Pulau Pangkor) - a small, green enclave off Malaysia's west coast. The concrete dock led to a reception room which, in turn, led outside to the parking lot. And in the parking lot was a most unexpected sight: a fleet of pink (yes, pink
) mini-buses turned taxis. The driver quoted a fare for the 10-minute drive that was equal to the fare for the 30-minute boat ride and we had no choice but to pay. There was no bargaining with the Pink Posse.
Th first night we spent in an A-frame, tepee-type 'room' but we abandoned it at first light the next morning. Nurul, the friendly receptionist of a decently-priced hotel, ushered us into a well-appointed, slightly more expense room and then disappeared in a flash. We ventured out to 'discover' Pangkor (note the quotation marks Columbus). Just about 8 square km in size, Pangkor had a few dedicated tourist hotspots. This one,
Simian on the prowl
One of these was the Banana attacker....
Teluk Nipah, was just three tiny streets and had a good deal of accommodation and restaurants. The main street bordered the beach and was lined with shacks hawking beachwear, blow-up floaters and souvenirs. The strand was golden brown and arching. Clear-ish turquoise waters lapped at the shoreline. We strolled along the sand politely declining snorkel rental, banana-boat rides and jetski rentals. Pasir Giam Beach was another, quieter beach an easy 10 minutes walk around a bend. About 1 km off the shore was Giam Island - a scenic, tree-covered hump of an island with some gorgeous snorkeling possibilities. Accessible only by boat during high tide, Pulau Giam was easy pickings when the tide went out. The legions of sea urchins and (sometimes) waist-deep water couldn't stop us intrepid explorers from planting our feet on Giam's soil, pillaging its resources, planting our flag, staking our claim and scaring the natives half to death. Arrrrrrrrr!! Fifty men on a dead man's chest, ho ho ho and so and so. Arrrrrrrrrrr!!
Fantasies aside and back on the bigger of the two small islands, we strung out our hammocks and unpacked the books we were about to devour. And that's how the days expired,
with us turning pages, ocassionally dipping beneath the waves, rocking gently in the cool afternoon breeze and eyeing lovely Pulau Giam in the afternoon light. Pangkor's easy pace worked well with us.
Dinner was a disaster. Overpriced, under-spiced and infuriatingly small. And the same thing happened the next night. In another restaurant. This was not the plentiful, tasty, spicy Malaysian cuisine we had encountered on the Mainland. The Nasi Goreng, Nasi Lemak and the Ikan Bakar were below par. This was 'tourist food'
and we had had enough. Early the next morning we rented bicycles, stocked up on water and determined to find where the locals eat. We pedalled thru the waking forests following, of course, any inviting sidetrails to its end before backtracking to the main road. Lush, tropical and very hilly, Pangkor was. On occasions we'd push our bikes up ridiculously steep inclines before flying downhill and around corners at break-neck speed. Morning air rushed against our faces, cool and invigorating. In two hours we reached the town close to the dock. Mission accomplished, we sought out a restaurant and were not disappointed. Shanna bought some bananas, wrapped them in a plastic bag and tucked them into
the side pocket of her daypack. We followed the road to its end, weaving into and out of the sidestreets and little fishing villages and through the remains of an old Dutch fort. Cycling did certainly provide us with an upclose-and-personal perspective on this delightful little island. About 4pm, we made a beeline for home but not the way we came. We were determined to completely circumnavigate Pangkor. Occasionally, we'd get the feeling that we were being watched. Stalked, maybe. On the final hill, as we laboured to push up the heavy mountain bikes, we heard a sound behind us and swivelled around in time to see a monkey shimmy down a vine. He was a brute of an animal. The dominant male, maybe. The Provider. We glanced uphill. About 15 monkeys had suddenly materialized and were blocking the way home. It was an ambush
. The big monkey made a snatch for Shanna's backpack. She screamed and backed away almost tripping over her bike. His eyes were fixed on the bananas in the plastic bag. Another monkey advanced. We positioned ourselves behind the bikes. Teeth bared, the aggressor advanced. We were about to get a good beat down by a
monkey clan. We cautiously retreated uphill. And then it came to a head. A third monkey swung into action and made a grab at the bag. Vibert, screaming, picked up the heavy mountain bike and swung it. The monkey nimbly sidestepped the blow. With unusual strength, we managed to brandish our bikes keeping the marauders at bay until we reached the top of the hill. And then, in one fluid motion, we mounted our bikes and tore off down the hill. The pack ran screaming behind us. "Run. Run for your lives". There was no shame or cowardice in our retreat. We were grossly outnumbered. Now if it had only been two monkeys to two humans ...
The very next morning, with our heads held high, we left Pangkor in a pink taxi.
For most of the day we travelled reaching our rest stop in the city of Kangar just before dark. Kangar was a quaint, stuck-in-time city. Art-deco buildings were everywhere. Old-school shopfronts displayed plasma screens, Singer sewing machines and computer keyboards for sale. The small mall (a 'Small'😉, fresh-fruit market and a few shopping streets - they all looked retro. Our hotel was straight out the
60's. The room was authentic. The receptionist told us that the bus we enquired about departed at 5:00 AM. The bus station, which was 21st century, was a decent 20 minutes walk. We turned in early hoping to get a fair amount of shut-eye. Boy, were we disappointed! The streets outside the hotel morphed into a noisy drag strip and bedbugs (probably also from the 60's) tormented our sleep. Neither of us slept for more than 2 hours straight so having to leave the hotel at 4:30 AM was actually a blessing in disguise. We trudged thru the desolate streets, got on the bus and realized we were the only passengers.
After about 25 minutes of reckless driving, the driver turned around and yelled 'Padang Besar'
and motioned us out into the darkness. Then, he made a u-turn and blazed off in the same direction from which we had just come. For the umpteenth time on this world tour we were stuck in the middle of nowhere, in the dark and totally clueless. Our eyes adjusted to the light (or lack thereof) and we made out a single human being peering back at us from inside a dark doorway. "Thailand?"
, we shouted over. "Huh?" His voice sounded like sandpaper. "Which way to Thailand?"
, we asked. He moved out of the doorway, raised a crooked hand and pointed.
Our eyes followed his outstretched hand. He was pointing down a long dark road. Groaning, we saddled up. 😊
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