|What can I say? I'm in love again with some more islands. I think I'd rate the Perhentians as nicer than Fiji (if that is fair to score them against each other). After enjoying the snorkelling in Fiji so much I wanted to complete my PADI Open Water qualification so that I could further enjoy the sea when I get to Thailand. As luck would have it Sarah, a regular visitor to Red Palm, arrived during my stay and she just happens to be a diving instructor on the Perhentian Island of Kecil. After talking to her I decided to get myself there, to Dive Tribe, and get on with my course.
In good travelling-style I hooked up with another lone traveller at the airport. After enquiring as to where she was heading myself and Nicola shared the RM50 taxi ride from the airport at Kota Bharu to Kuala Besut where we had to get the boat to the islands. Before leaving the mainland we booked into some accommodation, upon the reccommedation of Sophie, which was fortunate as the islands we due to get very busy due to the impending National Day (a national holiday in celebration of independance from the British). We got on really well so decided to go-halves on a room. Nicola was already an advanced diver and was also hoping to get out into the sea a few days.
Due to issues with their boat being unreliable (and the locals being too 'relaxed' as to get it repaired promptly), business at Dive Tribe was quiet and I was really lucky to get signed up for the course on a one-to-one basis with Andy.
Despite ongoing mechanical problems (on two ocassions we got kitted up and into the boat only to have to get out without having even got wet!) I completed my course in 3 days. There was lots of theory work to do, which kept me occupied when the boat was knackered; it was actually quite nice to be doing something a little bit mentally challenging for a change. I completed all of my practical work in the sea, finding quiet lagoons and bays to do the skills tests and confined-water work. I think it really worked well to get such personal tuition as I felt really comfortable and safe all the time. I was amazed that my first experience of breathing underwater didn't phase me at all - and it just got better and better!
On Wednesday and Thursday I completed my four qualifying open water dives, each about an hour in length. The South China Sea is apparently a jewel for divers - we saw amazing stuff. My final qualifying dive was outstanding - even Andy was overexcited about what we saw. That was another bonus of my tuition, he is so genuinely enthusiastic about his diving that it is impossible not to get drawn in. He was great at identifying fish and writing their names underwater! On that last dive we just saw so many fish, we were constantly surrounded by massive shoals shining and sparkling with the sun breaking through the surface. We also saw a scary Moray Eel, which is apparently 6' long - I had to get upside down to see it under the rock and just saw it's massive teeth and scarpered! My favourites were the Blue Spotted Rays and the Vanicolo Sweepers (which look like a tear-drop). Andy was diappointed that I didn't get to see any Black Tip Reef Sharks or turtles (which would have been cool) but I was more than impressed with the selection I did see. On the morning of my last day (Friday) I went on a fun dive with Mari in an effort to spot a turtle (which we didn't). Prior to this, my first dive as a qualified diver, I was surprised to find myself feeling quiet anxious; though I'm not sure if this was possibly more to do with not having Andy with more - or the Monkey Juice we'd enjoyed the previous night!!!
So diving is now on the agenda along with the other expensive sports I've got into since travelling - but I think maybe diving takes poll position!
Diving aside Kecil was amazing. Again the people were extraordinary, genuine interest in fellow humans! Our side, Coral Bay, was quiet with just a few resorts and restaurants, whilst Long Beach on the other side (and accessible by sea or through the jungle) was busier and more commercialised, but good for a night out. We hung out at the dive shop in the day but met loads of locals in the evenings. On two nights we suffered bad storms, which resulted in a few problems with snakes that sneak into the resorts after rain. Fortunately I didn't actually see any, but I did hear screaming when they had been sighted. We did have fun with two massive lizards and the regular gheckos in our room though!
On the Thursday night, despite the torrential rain, we embarked over to the 'other side' for dinner after the promise of a big party for National Day. We didn't realy find the party, but were introduced to Monkey Juice, the local whisky/bourbon drop. We veered away from the local Vodka though as a local man had been found dead on the jungle path the night before because of over-consumption! As can be seen in the photos, the jungle really was very much a deep, dense jungle. Walking back at night was somewhat dodgy with just my 'Fremantle Prison Torchlight Tour' keyring torch to guide us! On Thursday night I actually slipped right into the bush and we were both laughing so hard it was very difficult to get me out.
There is quite a problem with cats on the Island and on Friday morning I arrived at the dive shop to find two tiny black kittens that Tip had agreed to take care of. They appeared to have been abandoned by their mum, but were certainly only a week or so old. I tried to clear their eyes of a conjunctivitus-looking gunk, but they were in a bad way - I think they will probably die, but hopefully not. Somebody certainly needs to start doing a bit of castrating on that place though!
At 1600hrs I boarded the last boat to the mainland - only to discover it had died and consequently I had to swap to another passing vessel! My luck with water-travel is getting worse. I wasn't delayed for long and arrived at Kuala Besut at around half-past five. After buying my overnight bus ticket back to KL I found a little cafe to have some dinner and kill some time. I ended up having a lovely evening chatting with the lady owner, who seemed so pleased to chat to a foreigner and ended finding me different local foods and drinks to try. She was really lovely - I must remember to send her a postcard when I get home!
So it is now 0859hrs on Saturday 2nd September and I'm back in KL. The night bus was terribly uncomfortable and I didn't sleep at all, but there were lots of characters on it which made the time pass. I've been sat in this internet cafe since about 0545hrs, but at least I'm now up-to-date. I have a flight booked to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this afternoon. I'm excited to be going there as I've heard nothing but good stuff (except that it's so humid you virtually liquidize) but I am very sad to be leaving Malaysia. It's been a real surprise to me; maybe I should have paid it more attention in the past, but I have really come to love it and feel very much at home here. Malaysian people are very kind and
hospitable. They really want you to see and experience the best that their country has to offer - I think I did, but not enough!