Posts Tagged ‘boat’

Taman Negara, Pulau Tioman and Singapore

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

It’s been an eventful time since my last post, with no access to internet, so this’ll be a short update on lots of things. 😉

I left the Perhentians on my 29th birthday, September 18. The trip to Taman Negara national park turned out to be a long one, due to Hari Raya, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. The most memorable was probably when our bus was driving around the small streets of Jerantut city, looking for an ATM where we could get cash to bring into the chemically ATM-free Taman Negara. I had 69 Ringgit with me, so going without more cash was hardly an option, and I was not the only one in that position. The first ATM was out of cash, since everybody had been stocking up for the Hari Raya bank holiday. The second one wouldn’t accept foreign credit cards. The third one was also empty, but luckily at the forth ATM (the last one in town…) we got our cash.

Several guest houses in Taman Negara were closed because of Hari Raya, but eventually I got myself checked in. The next morning I slept long, before going into the National park itself. I asked about doing the nine day trek to Mount Tahan, the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia, but all the guides were off for … you guessed it: Hari Raya. 😉 Instead I headed out alone on a short trek, that turned into a long trek, and nearly an involuntary overnight trek… I went on the Canopy Walkway, long bridges high up in the trees, and then I continued on to scale at least a small mountain, Bukit Indah. When I came back down, I was five kilometers from the village I came from, Kuala Tahan, and six from Kuala Terrenggan. I decided to go up to Terrenggan instead of going back the same way I’d come. It was a pretty hard trek, up and down small canyons with a creek to be forded in the bottom of each, and fallen trees across the path every few meters, to be climbed over, crawled under or walked around. A wild boar got as surprised as I did, when we were suddenly staring each other in the face a few meters apart, and I don’t know who jumped higher, me or it… Luckily the startled hog decided to head the other direction, because I barely had time to remember how aggressive these tusked animals can be, and look for a tree to climb to get out of the reach of those sharp things before he was gone in the undergrowth.

In the middle of nowhere I walked into a camp of Orang Asli, the aboriginal nomads inhabiting the national park, and they could tell me I was not too far away from Terrenggan. With lifted spirits I pressed on, anxious for a meal and a boat back down the river to Tahan. Imagine my disappointment when Terrengan turned out to be nothing more than a long-abandoned resort, in the process of being reclaimed by the jungle… I was sitting on the old ramshackle pier by the ghost town resort contemplating what to do if no boats came by. I figured I’d have to head back to the Orang Asli, and ask if I could stay the night with them, and head back in the morning. I had a bit of money with me, so at least I could pay them… When I was about to give up, a group of overnight trekkers came down the path, and met with their pre-arranged transport on the very same pier I was sitting! I managed to get a ride down the river, to a shower and a hot meal. The trek that started out as a 45 minute easy walk, turned out to be a gruelling seven-hour adventure that saw me back in my guest house after dark… 😀

I met a nice German girl called Katharina in the dorm I was staying, and we travelled together from Taman Negara furher down the east coast of Malaysia to Pulau Tioman. She left there a few days ago, and I left this morning. Tioman was like a bigger version of the Perhentians, with more monitor lizards, more monkeys, and more people. 🙂 I dove with Fisherman Divers there, had five dives on three different days. I was only planning to stay there a few days, but it turned into a whole week. 😛

This morning saw me leaving on the 7:30 boat to Mersing, and then get the bus at noon to Singapore. When I arrived, I spent almost an hour making my way by the subway to Little India, and it turned out I could have walked here in less than half that time… I then strolled around Little India, which is supposed to be the backpacker area, looking for a guest house and asking people, but nobody seemed to think there were anything else than more or less expensive hotels!  Eventually I sat down at an artsy fairtrade restaurant, had an expensive (but organic and fair) meal, and used Singapore’s fantastic free WiFi to find out that there were in fact lots of guesthouses nearby. I chose one that I’d heard of from another traveller on the ferry to Tioman, Ali’s Nest, and so far I am happy about the choice. It’s basically a Chinese family in the middle of the Indian quarter who’ve made a couple of the rooms in their apartment into dorms… The family also lives here, and grandma (looks like she’s at least a hundred years old) is looking over my shoulder as I write this. 🙂

Diving with a cracked rib

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Approximately a week ago I was diving the Sugar Wreck, and my hand slipped while I was pulling myself up into the boat. I put a little to much weight on my chest, and there was a popping sound accompanied by a sharp pain. When I got back in the boat I tried to lift another diver’s scuba unit out of the water, and the pain was suddenly so strong I had to struggle to get the unit into the boat…

Since then I’ve been feeling quite useless, seeing as I can’t do any heavy lifting. I was also a bit curious as to whether there are any negative effects of high nitrogen levels on healing bone, but there are none, so I keep diving. For the first few days, under water was the only time breathing didn’t hurt… It got a little better, and I tried to carry some cans of fuel for the boat, and now it’s worse again… 😛

All in all, though, I’m having a great time. It’s extremely busy here now, so it’s not every day I can dive, since all our equipment is in use, or the boat is full or something similar, but it’s good to have a break from the water every now and then.

Yesterday I had a bit of spare time, so I did some research on the Sugar Wreck. What I found was quite sparse, but apparently she is the 3,500-ton M/V Union Star 17, which had run aground on Pantai Sri Tujuh, and was dislodged Dec 13 2000. She was then sent on her way to Batam in Indonesia for repairs, but she sank between 4pm and 5pm on Dec 16, six nautical miles off Kuala Besut, due to a leak. The captain and 16 crew members were rescued in their life boats by marine police. About 1,000 tons of sugar were transferred to the M/V Union Star 20. 

I have not been able to find out who owned her, but it would be cool to find someone who has blueprints. 😉

Seven hours to get cash from the ATM

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I am feeling more and more as a part of the staff here at Sunlight, and that feeling was especially strong yesterday. I ran out of cash a while ago, and while I can write everything on my tab at Moonlight, where I’m staying, I don’t have a tab anywhere else yet. Eventually I had to go get some cash, and the island I’m living on is remote enough to not have a single ATM. There’s one place where you can get some cash, but they charge 10 percent for the service, just because they can. 😉 In order to get my Divemaster license, I also needed to have a physician’s signature on a paper that says I’m fit for diving, so I really needed to take a trip to the mainland.

Yesterday I organized to not assist any dives, and off I went at eight a.m. First I have to take a taxiboat out to the speedboat, and then the speedboat to Kuala Besut on the mainland. At the jetty in Kuala Besut I found a taxi that could take me the last fifteen kilometers to Jerteh, which is the closest place with an ATM… I had my own cards to withdraw money from, and a handful of other cards from other people working here, so that when I was done, I had about 15 000 NOK in my bag. With the shopping I had to do, my visit to the doctor, and mailing the camera I’ve been using, and which has stopped working, back to Norway, I wasn’t back on Long Beach till three pm.

But, returning to the reason I started writing about this, feeling part of the community here; when I was going to get the boat back out to the island, I didn’t buy a ticket, and when I was stopped and asked for my National Park pass, I just said that I was working at Sunlight, and they waved me past. 😀 On the boat I paid the “local price” directly to the captain, instead of the more expensive tourist ticket at the ticket office. On the boat I also sat with the crew, and helped out a bit with loading and stuff. It was a bit weird, but a good feeling of belonging anyway 🙂

A more average day on the island starts at a little before eight, because the shop opens at eight. Just about then the first boat from the mainland comes in as well, so people start arriving. It’s quite laidback around here, so the things that need to be done in the morning are just done as people kinda feel like it. There’s sweeping sand off the floors, putting out buckets for people to wash the sand off their feet when they come in off the beach, and emptying, cleaning and refilling the pools that are used for washing the salt off masks, snorkels, fins, regulators, BCDs and computers after every dive. Then during the day, I study dive theory whenever I’m not out assisting on a dive. The shop closes at seven, and in the evenings, I spend time with students and staff, or after a day with too many dives, just lay vegetating in front of the TV in the “lounge.”

As you might see, the time for writing blog updates is limited, and even if I did have time they would probably be more of a dive log than a travel log. 😉

June 16, Snorkeling in Shark Bay on Turtle Island

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Koh Tao, the Turtle Island, is not a place you spend a lot of time if you don’t dive or snorkle… 🙂 If you do, however, you can stay here forever. Helena and I have rented scooters here as well, and driven around the island. On Sunday we headed north towards Mango Bay, but turned off the beaten path to find a way down to the only beach on the entire island that is remote enough to not have a resort yet. We wanted to see whether it was possible to go there and spend the night, but we were glad we went without supplies and everything first, because it was VERY difficult to get to, and once we finally got there, the tiny beach was full of broken glass… Not a very nice place to spend the night. It was a nice experience though, climbing through the jungle up and down the steep hills, and over rocks on the waterfront. The ride along the road was also an experience, with inclines so steep that the 125cc scooter was hardly able to pull it’s own weight up, let alone the two of us!

Yesterday we kept looking for beaches to spend a night on, but we had no more luck than the day before, even though we checked most of the beaches on the less travelled east coast. We also decided to buy some snorkling equipment, so we wouldn’t have to keep renting, but both of us had troubles with the masks we bought, as they kept leaking. We returned the masks today, and both of us got new ones that fit better.

Today we went out to Shark Bay, where we were the first evening. We snorkled around for a while, hoping to get a glimpse of a black tipped shark or a sea turtle, but it was all rather depressing. The whole bay has been a big coral reef, but now it’s basically all dead… There were some nice fishes, some colourful corals, and a quite cool car covered in corals 😉 on the bottom, but most of the reef was just underwater wasteland.

Other than that, we’ve been spending the evenings lounging by the Eazy Bar on the beach, talking to other travellers and divers, and last night we checked out the night life in Sairee beach, which was greatly exaggerated… I’ve decided against taking my divemaster certificate here, since they no longer offer free courses in exchange for working for a couple of months. There are too few tourists and too many divemasters for that nowadays, so I’ll try in Malaysia. Helena had decided to do her Open Water, but she kicked a rock on the first night, and her big toe hurts too badly to enjoy swimming around with fins on, so she’s also postponing till Malaysia. Since we’re both headed the same way, we might stick together for a while longer, as long as we still enjoy each others’ company.

As I write this, we’re sitting on a beach front balcony that serves as a class room for dive courses earlier in the day, charging our electronic gadgets. For some reason our room, though nice, has no electical sockets, so we can’t get anything charged around there. It’s extremely windy tonight, so unless it calms down by the morning, we might get a rather bumpy boat ride to the mainland…

Stunning scenery in Ninh Binh

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

We arrived in Ninh Binh last night at 9.30. We decided to take an early night, in order to get up early, and botched miserably as usual… After our usual breakfast pho, we headed off on a rented moped around 11am. The destination was Tam Coc, where there are karst formations of the same kind as in Ha Long Bay. The limestone has been thrust up from the old seabed and then been withered by wind and water in much the same way, but the difference is that here Rowing with feetthey are on land. A slow river meanders between the rice paddies, and curls around the jutting karst spires, except where the water has cut a hole straight through them. We hired a flat bottomed sampan, and were rowed up the river, and through three of the caves. The lady rowing, alternated between using her arms and using her legs to push the oars! We even put our strength to use with a paddle ourselves, when we got bored of just sitting and looking.

Our timing turned out to be as perfect as could be, since we had the river to ourselves almost all the way. Only at the very end did the next bus loads of day trippers from Hanoi start moving rank and file up the river, with only a few meters between each sampan. The best moment on our whole 2 hour boat trip, was when our rower stopped rowing in a narrow, uninhabited valley, and the silence was so intense we could hear our own breath… That’s a first in Vietnam, even for Annikken who has spent months here earlier!

After the boat trip, we headed further into the karst scenery on our moped, until the road ran out… There we were befriended by a deaf road construction worker, who insisted on showing Gjerulf a small, deserted valley over a low ridge. It was a short trip in dense jungle, but it was like entering a different world! With his communicative sign language, he explained that the valley was home to both monkeys and huge snakes. Meanwhile, Annikken helped a Vietnamese family build the foundation for a new house… She lifted heavy rocks, tried her hand at chiseling a rock, and helped apply the mortar. At first they were making fun, and pointed to a big rock they wanted to have carried over. Their faces changed rapidly when she just smiled, picked up the big rock, and asked where they wanted it… When she lifted her arms and flexed her muscles to show how strong a Norwegian woman is, they lauged happily at her antics.

After lunch, we just drove around for a while, until the sun set between the limestone towers. As we write this, we are waiting for the sleeper bus to come and take us to Hue and on to Hoi An.

Ha Long Bay

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On Wednesday we bought tickets to go to Ha Long Bay, and Thursday morning we were picked up outside our hotel by the travel agent. After a four hour drive, we arrived in Ha Long City, where we transferred to our boat. As we started out from the tourist pier, we were served lunch on the restaurant deck, and we soon reached an island where there were a couple of really nice caves. When we headed out to sea again, we checked into our cabin, and headed out on the sun deck on the third and top floor. The type of boats that take tourists out on the bay are called Junks, but it still looks a bit strange when a boat proudly displays “Paradise Junk” or “Junk Tours…”
Cruising around between the striking karst formations sticking out of the water, Pia, a danish woman who was travelling with her daughter, voiced a question of whether they could be called islands. They were certainly big enough, but they were basicly just huge rocks with vegetation clinging to the tops and sides. We never did find out what the definition of an island really is. 🙂

In the afternoon some of our group were dropped off at Cat Ba Island to go trekking and stay at a hotel, while we continued to where we’d stay the night, in the boat. We had a beautiful sunset, and Gjerulf had a little swim in the ocean once we stopped. The next morning we also started with a dip, before going kayakking. The islands or rocks or whatever are just as magnificent up close. The formations are beyond description, the way they just rise abruptly out of the water, with their sharp ridges and sheer walls flecked with clinging trees and bushes.

After kayakking we had breakfast, while waiting for a couple of vietnamese girls who’d lost track of time while kayakking. Our guide set out to look for them, but they got back from another direction immediately after he left, so then the whole Junk set out after the guide. 😛 The rest of the trip we spent on the sun deck. Annikken suggested Gjerulf should put on some sun screen. He thought it sounded like a good idea, and then immediately forgot about it. He now sports a fancy sunburn where the shorts and T-shirt didn’t cover him.

Yesterday we were invited to spend the day at a pool in a nice hotel, with Gautier, the Frenchman we met last Saturday. He’s been teaching English here in Hanoi for a year and a half, and has taken Annikken sightseeing on his moped, and shown us nice places to eat and to watch football. Gjerulf was particularly happy about Finnegan’s, the Irish pub where you could get a REAL Irish stew, and where Annikken got to watch footie both Saturday and Sunday nights. 🙂

Today we’ve checked out of our hotel, and we’re taking the bus back south to Hoi An. The plan is to stay where the weather is sunny, and a beach is within reach… 😉 The weather forecast says Thursday onwards is going to be rainy again, and we might head further south to look for better weather. Nothing’s for sure, though, we just go where we feel like, when we feel like it.