The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

High Tea and Steamy Sandy Delights - The Perhentians

This weeks blog is coming from the stunningly beautiful Perhentians Ialands, an absolute tropical paradise that ticks every box..
Palm treed beaches of icing-sugar white sand lapped by glittering turquoise waves. Waves so gentle and warm you’d swear you were sitting in a enormous five star swimming pool. Inches away from the shore line, fringes of coral lace gardens swarm with brightly coloured fish, so close and so clear they can be viewed from the banana lounges on the beach. We laze here, a cool breeze caressing our sun drenched bodies as we peer into this amazing natural aquarium. Above two small squirrels with bushy tails chase each other across the trees tops. Wildlife abounds here. There’s even a monkey, tiny and as cute as can be sunning itself of the rock just next to us. One of the locals picks him up and takes him to the waters edge. To our delight the monkey jumps in and begins swimming underwater, comes up, splashes and claps his hands then dives under again. Big M goes to the waters edge to take a photo and the monkey comes out, scampers to Big M’s feet and wants to play. His antics are absolutely delightful to watch. Yes, he is a pet and although I'm very much against keeping these beautiful animals as pets, this little chap seems happy. Earlier as we walked through the islands jungle to another beach, we were amazed to come across masses of Iguanas. Huge metre-plus long lizards with enormous claws. Looking very similar to goannas but larger, fatter and moving at a slower pace, when we saw our first one, we thought for a moment that it was a Komodo dragon. A glance at the 1989 LP I’m using on the trip tells me that back then sleeping on the beach at night came with a warning to “be prepared to be trampled on at night by the iguanas!”, thus I’ll be giving beach sleeping a miss.
We are staying on Pulau Perhentian Kecil, or “ little island” as it is know. Across a narrow strait is Pulau Perhentian Besar “big island” and although we haven’t been to it yet, we’re told by other travellers its just as beautiful. From where I sit it looks just as idyllic and peaceful. And peace is the order of the day on Kecil. It’s extremely hard to find alcohol on the island, thus there are no drunken backpackers whatsoever and the only transport here is either to leg it or catch a water taxi. Due to this lack of motorised transport the only sounds are the chirping birds of the forest, the lapping waves and the occasional dive boat going past. 
It’s a far cry from where we were 24hours ago….
Leaving Kuala Lumpur’s frantic pace and muggy weather, we caught the express bus (a wonderful first class vehicle with seats like armchairs and curtains that would give Buckingham palace a run for it’s money) to the Cameron Highlands. The first part of our five hour journey was of monotonous oil palm plantations lining the flag bedecked freeway. So uninteresting was the scenery that it put us to sleep a number of times, with every time we woke, there was another palm tree and flag. 
After about three hours the bus turned from the freeway and travelled along a smaller road dotted with villages. The shock of seeing these villages hit me with surprise. With Malaysia proudly proclaiming itself No.1 on every other lamp-post, I was expecting to see the regional villages to be reasonably modern – perhaps with render concrete & tiled houses , paved streets, and the standard concrete square shop fronts. Instead we past traditional kampung style villages of shabby timber or bark huts with thatched rooves, dirt roads strewn with rubbish, chickens pecking amongst the plastic bags and bottles, scabby dogs looking very much in need of a feed and market style shops -blue tarps over stick poles. It was in stark contrast to the shinny city of consumerism we had just left and a reminder that the divide of the have and have-nots was indeed great, and Malaysia still had a way to go.
The bus began climbing the steep mountain and we passed stunning waterfalls, tall bamboo forests, market stalls selling durian to eager buyers and numerous half staved dogs wandering on the road. I was extremely distressed to see all these dogs and later found the many straggly cats in the village of Cameron Highlands just as distressing. We eventually arrived at the hill station of Cameron Highlands close to evening and couldn’t believe the absolute contrast to both the golden city of KL and what we had just seen in the villages prior.  
The village of Tanah Rata was where we had decided to stay and it was stunning! A beautiful alpine-style hamlet with white tudor inspired buildings, pretty colonial shops, streets lined with gardens overflowing with flowers and a background of rolling green mountains. Strands of fairy lights dappled in the trees and it was as if Christmas was just around the corner. The coolness of this mountain hamlet saw us donning jumpers in the early morning and evening. We booked into a fabulous guesthouse for three nights and quickly fell into the “Highland routine” of trekking in the morning, visiting tea plantations at the midday and kicking back in the afternoon at the ‘Traveller’s Rest Pub” before wandering off the check out the delicious edible fare on offer in the many restaurants. 
The highlight of our time at Cameron Highlands was visiting the incredibly beautiful tea plantations the area is renowned for. Picturesque rolling hills of clipped tea hedges that appear to go forever.
Although Cameron Highlands is known for its tea, the area really should be famous for its strawberry farms, they are everywhere and so is everything and anything that can have a strawberry emblem on it. Shops, street stalls and humpy huts touted every conceivable strawberry item possible – stuffed strawberry toys (big, large and ginormous – no such thing as small here when it came to the strawberry train!), slippers, tee-shirts, magnets, balloons even fluffy strawberry earmuffs!
The lowlight of our stay here was a visit to the Butterfly Park and although interesting to see and get up close to the many insects, snakes and butterflies of Malaysia, it was unfortunately a dismal place where many of the exhibits seemed stressed or even dead! Zoo's perse are a double edge sword, to keep the animals in such a way that they are not free, yet to be able to view these amazing creatures would be next to impossible today with the deforestation and extinction that is happening, let alone be lucky enough to come across them even in the wild. It's a real moral dilemma!
By the third day we were high-tea and strawberried out and ready for some sandy shores. This resulted in a hot six hour mini-bus trip – there were eleven of us crammed into a Toyota Hiace 12seater with no room for luggage…. and we were all lugging backpacks, two had huge pull-along suitcases and one even was carry a big framed painting of about three foot squared! thus it was a pretty squishy ride. But I was to find our mini-bus ride was nothing compared to the fast-boat we had to catch to the islands. 
This fast-boat was a small fiberglass open sided vessel with a tarp overhead. Twenty people including us boarded this boat; we had to hold our packs in front of us for the forty-five minute trip. Our safety message was one sentance “up there is the life-jackets”…. upon glancing to the pointed direction it was obvious that these jackets would probably stay up there in an emergency due to the numerous knots in the webbing that would need untying, let-alone trying to untangle the jackets from the webbing. After this quick message, we were hurtling across the waves into open sea, the vessel bucking like a demented horse, crashing into every wave and dropping into the troughs with a tremendous thud. Unfortunately I was third last onto the boat and thus was sitting one seat back from the front, seat is an understatement…. It was a bench seat with little padding and with every smash into the troughs I could hear and feel cracking. I was terrified! And as we smashed along I screamed in full-suround-stero. The French couple in front of me thought it fabulous and raised their hands as if on a roller-coaster ride, their screams were for more. If the island wasn’t so deliriously beautiful, I think I would have been a jibbering mess at the thought of the return trip and no amount of rescue remedy would be of help.
As it is, Kecil is worth the terrifying trip. Gorgeous little wooden chalets and thatched sleeping huts dot the shoreline, strands of coloured lights hang from eating pavilions and pastel painted boats bob gently in the bay. The bay – Coral Bay – faces west and as we land, it is late afternoon and we are treated to a beautiful soft pink sunset. Later at night we dine on the beach under the stars, eating the fare that Kecil and Besar are famous for – their BBQ’s. For a low 18rm ($6.00aus ea) we feast on an amazing meal of chicken dripping with aromatic sauces and assorted rice, salad, fruit and banana breads, all tasting absolutely exquisite. Looking out to the bay, even under a half moon, we can clearly see into water and watch fish skip across the waves. We certainly are in paradise!