Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Kuala Lumpur and Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

The blue whale is the largest animal on our planet ever (exceeding the size of the greatest known dinosaurs) and has a heart the size of a Volkswagen.

Each year, three times as much rubbish is dumped into the world's oceans as the weight of fish caught.

See photos from Kuala Lumpur here.
See photos from the Perhentian Islands here.

It took me about 2 hours from when I landed at KL airport to get to my guest house in Little India via bus, subway and on foot. I remember thinking on my walk that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I felt like the weight of my backpack, laptop and camera bags pulling on my neck muscles would cause my head to just topple right off. Hours sitting in front of my laptop the past couple of years sans an ergonomically correct position had taken its toll long before I left, but I had hoped being less sedentary would have improved this situation....Kuala Lumpur MISSION: Find backpack WITH wheels!

The streets of Little India are crowded with mostly men having seemingly nothing else to do but stare at western women walking by (can you tell I was a bit weary at this point?). I was getting quite used to people staring by now but when you are in a mess of heat, pollution and noise, not to mention being called to as if you were a cat or dog, one can get a teeny bit irritated.

I went to a gigantic mall in search of a backpack that would add some resolve to my back issues and allow me to keep on traveling. I found one for 180 Ringitts ($56 CDN) – oh how I love Asia when it comes to shopping! I decided I needed comfort food, so I bought a ticket to the new Indian Jones movie mainly so I could eat popcorn! I had 45 minutes to kill, so I grabbed a bite nearby. When I got into the theatre, the movie had already started which I thought was strange being 5 minutes early. When I finally figured out that the movie had been playing for quite some time, I realized I had been in Malaysia for 3 days and had no idea I was in a new time zone – ah the beauty of not needing to know what time or day it is. Better I found out this way as opposed to when I had to catch my flight to the Perhentian Islands the next day.

Upon arrival in Kota Bharu (a pit stop on the way to the Perhentians), I happened upon a couple (seemingly becoming a trend) in the airport who were looking for a 3rd person to split a cab with. We piled ourselves and our backpacks into the car for an unexpected, wild ride to the jetty. You’d think this guy was trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital! Close calls with goats and other vehicles at high speed and intermittent sudden brakes were virtually ignored by the 3 of us, who were too enmeshed in our conversation to really realize how endangered our lives were! Rosie and Duncan, from Bristol in the UK, work in television and were on their way to Australia where they planned to live for awhile.

The highlight was when our cabbie was kind enough to unroll his window after very obviously breaking wind. I looked at Duncan who swallowed his laughter and turned to gaze out the window. Rosie and I kept talking whilst trying not to laugh or breathe in the malodorous air. We got to the jetty and hopped on a boat of you guessed it – ALL couples!
I wasn’t exactly blown away by the beauty of Kecil – the small island, or better known as the ‘backpacker’ island. The beach consisted of ramshackle restaurants and as we would learn later, sub-standard over priced accommodation. We walked around looking for a place and settled on Panorama mainly because it included dinner. It was 75 Ringitts ($25) a night for a place that had shoddy window locks, cockroaches, no hot water and holes in the mosquito nets – a far cry from the $5/night guest houses I was used to in Laos. I had read that theft was a big problem there and many a traveler had woken up to someone crawling through their window at night, so it was nice to know that I had Rosie and Duncan in the bungalow beside me.

The next morning, we decided to hit Besar – the big island or more commonly known as the ‘couples’ or ‘family’ island. This was a better move. The beaches and bungalows were much nicer and carried a lot more bang for our buck. We spent the afternoon eating banana cake and drinking tea tarik (like masala chai). I have been lucky to meet some really cool couples along the way, and Rosie and Duncan were no exception.

I saw a sign for a Reef Talk session being held at Watercolours Dive Resort to educate the public on the importance of keeping the coral reef healthy. Reef Talk is a free presentation given to anyone who is interested in conservation issues and the state of our coral reefs. Overfishing, coastal development and pollution are three of the biggest threats to coral reefs as well as the global aquarium trade, dynamite fishing and climate change, to name just a few.

At the end of the Reef Talk, they mentioned that they would be doing a beach clean up the next day. I had been searching for something like this to do on my travels so I could leave the places I visited in a better state than when I arrived.

Myself and 3 couples met with Peter Caron the next day to take a boat to a nearby beach. Peter and his wife Anke run Watercolours Dive Resort and are very informed. They are a prime example of people practicing what they preach by doing whatever they can to spread the word about conservation issues; thereby, improving the world we live in. I was impressed with their ‘Love the Shark Not the Soup’ t-shirts, as this extremely important issue is not very well known amongst the general public (see my previous blog on shark finning).

Shark fins are obtained by a process called ‘finning’ - fishing the shark out of the sea, cutting all 4 of its fins off and throwing the rest of the shark, still alive, back into the ocean. Without its fins, the shark is unable to move, sinks to the ocean floor and either bleeds to death, suffocates from lack of oxygen (gained only by swimming) or is eventually eaten, defenceless, by other predators….

We headed to Tuluk Kekek where we found out halfway through the clean-up that another group had been there picking up garbage the previous day. You would never know it by the amount of rubbish we collected. When the locals saw what we were doing, it didn’t take long for them to come along and join us. For the most part, it is the locals who do the littering due to lack of education on environmental issues. We found ALL kinds of garbage from diapers to boat engines to straws and plastic bags. I can’t help but wonder how different the world would be, environmentally, without the invention of plastic. I had mentioned in an earlier blog that there is estimated to be 46,000 floating plastic pieces per square mile of ocean, according to a 2006 UN Study.

After we filled up every last garbage bag, I went along with Pete to take photos of the platforms located offshore that were overflowing with them. He wanted to send the photos into the authorities so they could see that there has to be another alternative to storing the garbage. If it all just falls back into the ocean, there is not much point to the beach clean-ups.

Watercolours joined up with Reef Check and Wild Asia to enforce a Sustainable Islands Programme. While I was on the island, a group of divers from Kuala Lumpur came to survey the health of the coral reef and I was lucky enough to meet them and take photographs for Pete’s blog. The data they gather is used to educate the public and raise awareness about the decline of the reefs.

Watercolours is also one of the first facilities in Malaysia to offer an Eco-Diver Course in association with Reef Talk where divers can learn how to participate in monitoring surveys and conservation.

View footage of Reef Check Surveys:

My trip to the Perhentians would not be complete without going for a scuba dive myself! I likened it a little to surfing in that you forget about all of the scary things in the ocean once you become enmeshed in the beauty surrounding you. It’s a strange thing breathing underwater and takes some getting used to. My favourite part was swimming over top of the fish as they turned to give me the ‘ol fish eye! I felt like I was part of their world for a moment and felt such compassion for the ocean and all its inhabitants. Visit the Reef Check and Wild Asia links to learn more about what you can do to help sustain our oceans.

Sign the Declaration of Reef Rights here: http://www.reefcheck.org/petition/petition.php

My last night on the islands, I was getting ready for bed and noticed a spider on my bedspread. Ladies and gentlemen, this was no ordinary spider. It was big and brown and thick and FAST! I didn’t have any tools to work with to safely contain the beast and transport it out of my room so I called for back-up.
Rosie and Duncan came over with their spider removal device or SRD for short (a water bottle cut in half) but as soon as Rosie came near the spider, it crawled over and underneath the bed. So we lifted up the mattress and put it against the wall. We then discovered that there were holes in the liner and it was probably hiding inside. This gave me NO comfort as all I could think about was it crawling out in the middle of the night to creep all over me while I sleep (I know I’m a pansy)! Luckily for me, Rosie and Duncan volunteered their mosquito net so I could cocoon myself in from the fierce creature.

Moments later, I noticed a gargantuan cockroach crawl to Rosie’s feet. I screamed. Rosie screamed. The cockroach ran behind the dresser. We pulled the dresser out and it started to run for cover when Duncan trapped it with the trusty SRD. The SRD involuntarily turned into the CBM – Cockroach Beheading Machine. He didn’t quite get all of the cockroach’s body inside the circumference of the water bottle so the head was sticking out and STILL moving! Duncan and the cockroach went outside for what seemed like several minutes. When he returned, we asked if he had killed it to which he replied, ‘What happened out there is between me and the cockroach.’ I guess I'll never know and think I prefer to keep it that way. Duncan and Rosie from the UK – my heroes!

I overnighted in Kota Bharu the next day and flew back to KL briefly before departing for my last stop in Asia - Kuta, Bali, having no idea that the best time of my life was waiting for me there.

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in its entirety...”

- Ansel Adams


lolo lo said...

OoooOooooo.....congrats the last stop in Bali!!! LUXURY!!! MASSAGE!!! OOooo

smithsan said...

Perhentian Island consists of two islands with endless stretches of palm lined beaches, clear water sea and coral reefs.Perhentian when translated from the Malay language means stop over. Dive operators and resorts are located on both Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil offering various styles of accommodation to suit the visitor's budget and dive packages.