Tioman islets

Tioman Islands

I messed up my trip from the National Forest to the Tioman Islands. I didn't trust the taxi drivers who would take me directly, and I ended up taking a bus to this intermediate town. When I got to the town, it turned out the connecting bus wouldn't leave till the next day. This was after waiting around for an hour or so. I ended up paying us$80 for a taxi to speed me to this town named Mersing, trying to catch this ferry.

The driver was a maniac but I was late and it was OK. As we were getting close, I remember seeing this animal in the road. The taxi driver had to swerve to miss it. It turned out to be an iguana, about as big as a dog. It didn't seem like a big deal to the driver. Not again! Damn iguana. Must be pretty common out here.

Mersing was a boring town. In fact I've decided that it was the worst town I visited. Nothing interesting happened and I met no interesting travelers. There was no bar that I could find to meet people at.

I ended up walking around in the early evening. I was walking in a residential district. In southeast asia, the sewer is usually like a jazzed up gutter, like a moat on each side of the street. Or a small canal, concrete walls. Anyway I was walking in a residential district. This iguana was right in the middle of the street, and as I approached he scampered down into the sewer. Like it was the Malaysian equivalent of a racoon or something.

That's it. That's the only interesting thing that happened in Mersing. I bought some cheap gin at a grocery store and got drunk in my room.

Tioman approach

The next morning the boat left to take me to Tioman Island. It wasn't until I was on the boat that it occured to me to think about WHERE on Tioman Island to go. There was a number of locations. In addition, there was a number of other islands to go to in the chain that were less developed than Tioman. I narrowed it down to two places: one that was a good place for diving, and the other was "the resort".

Then I thought about the boring time I had in Mersing, and the fact that I had enough money to afford the resort (which was by far the most expensive option). I decided to go to the resort, thinking it would give me the most flexibility.

The Dive

Finally, finally, I could go swimming, in reasonably clean water, on a beach. I was totally into it when I got onto the resort. At the time it didn't even bother me that there was a huge golf course there.

I immediately signed up for a scuba dive. I was buddied up with a European woman who I didn't know very well. Besides us there were just a few other people that afternoon.

Scuba diving is a very compulsive sport. Part of this comes from the realistic need for robust safety standards. Despite a minority of women, the direction and tone are controlled by men and there's always a competitive atmosphere. I usually try to avoid playing the game too much, and so sometimes I come off looking like a bozo, depspite the fact that I've had about thirty dives in a variety of venues and I'm pretty much out of the beginner category.

Part of the compulsiveness revolves around equipment. I honestly think that some divers do it only because it's so cool to put all this equipment on your body and do technical things. I'm sure someday spacewalking will be the same way.

The biggest chunk of equipment is this thing that you wear. There's an inflatible jacket called the BC. The tank straps in behind it. Then you take this octopus of hoses and stuff and attach it to the tank. And then you hook this hose into that and this other thing goes under a velcro strap. And ALWAYS make sure to blah blah blah... When you're done, you end up with a sortof backpack that you wear, with no less than four mouthpieces and two dials to watch. You haven't even put on your mask and fins yet. And if we weren't in the tropics, we'd be messing with a wetsuit, don't get me started about wetsuits.

OK so in all of this stuff there's plenty of opportunity to put something on backwards or to forget a step, like when you turn that knob all the way till it's open, then turn it back a quarter turn. And there's always some asshole telling you that you should always turn it back ONE WHOLE turn, not a quarter turn. If you turn it back only a quarter turn, then blah blah blah... Of course that's the way you were taught, but now it's wrong. Both ways are probably just fine, but somebody somewhere had a problem with one way, so for this person the other way is the only right answer. Meanwhile somewhere else in the world there's somebody telling their students to not even turn it back a quarter turn, because it wears out the bearings for the blah blah blah...

And ALWAYS put the hose to the pressure gague UNDER your arm, this way when you reach up, blah blah blah. And, the equipment is always changing in minor ways, plenty of opportunity for someone to make you wrong. Meanwhile I hadn't gone diving in six months, and before that three years. So the usual stuff happened, the instructor corrected me on this or that, and we were on our way.

These settings and decisions are typically not as dangerous as you might think. One time I made the mistake of not turning on my tank at all. (There's a knob at the top.) Well, things like that you find out about immediately, and I did as soon as I put on the mouthpiece. The grand majority of the mistakes you make (and everybody always makes them) are either irrelevant or else they lead to minor annoyances that you just deal with. If you get a lot of practice and your own equipment, you iron out these gliches.

I guess I shouldn't complain. It's this impulse to criticize that keeps the safety standards so high.

The Swiss Travel Agents

I ended up hanging out with a bunch of travel agents from Switzerland. My diving buddy was one of them. They are sending their customers to the resort I stayed at on Tioman. We all got trashed and threw each other in the pool.

Pool. So depressing. You've got beautiful blue water and they got a frigging pool.

But I had a good time with these people. This one guy, the boss of them all, said to me, "The one most important thing about the Swiss that Americans should remember was that we are all from Sweden." I don't know, at the time it was just incredibly hilarious to me. I guess we were all drunk at the time.

Tioman bottom


The next morning I signed up for a snorkeling tour. You sign up for this thing, the boat driver takes you to four locations and you dive for an hour or so in each. At lunch time, he even takes you someplace for lunch. Then he takes you back in the mid afternoon.

Yes, this photo and all the ones in this section were taken with one of those cheap waterproof disposable cameras. Yes, it really looks like this. Get wet! You should learn to snorkel and go to the tropics. The carribean isn't that far away and it's just as good.

Tioman blue fish The boat contained the driver, a malaysian who we had amazingly little contact with, and a family from Singapore. They were of Chinese descent and he was some sort of engineer I think. The couple had their kids and grandparents along too, about a half dozen people. I ended up talking to the husband a lot, just business things and stuff we were both curious about. A very interesting guy.

Tioman bottom

The diving was pretty spectacular, at all four sites. Disposable underwater cameras can't go deep, but that's perfect for snorkeling.

Tioman child

This guy, his family was pretty easy to be with. Towards the end they got tired of diving and I ended up being the only one left diving at each spot.

Tioman coral

Tioman lizard Once we landed at a beach and there was these lizards. They typically are perfectly stationary and still, but when they move they move pretty quickly. I was close enough to run over and grab one and try to wrestle it, except I could envision only two possible outcomes. Either he's going to bite me or he'll run away. I decided against it.

They were probably eyeing me the same way, with similar conclusions.

Tioman lizards

Tioman pencilfish

Tioman ray

Tioman red fish Tioman sea urchins

Tioman striped fish One time I went into the water and it was so shallow that I scraped my back on some coral. It was right where a backpack could go, it was a pain. But it got better quickly.

Tioman under surface I also did diving in the Togian Islands, but I took no photos there. I also went diving at the wreck of the Liberty, and I took photos there.

The Spring

At one point I got sick of the regimented resort and I was just dying to find some uncharted trail through the jungle right behind the resort grounds. There was this wall of vegitation going uphill, and I decided that there simply had to be some trail of some sort somewhere. There was in fact a well known trail that cut through the middle of the island, but you know almost anywhere in the world where humans go, there's footpaths through the woods. I like to go exploring and discovering places like that.

At the resort, there's a sortof "sports desk" where you sign up for various activities. Bicycle rental, snorkeling, scuba diving, jungle hike, tennis, golf, whatever. This is a resort now, anywhere else you'd just put on your shoes or fins and go. But in the resort you have to sign up for it, and they have to take you in a boat or a bus, and there has to be a guide taking you and yacking at you the whole time, and they charge it to your hotel bill. The hotel is a hundred US dollars a day; what's another six or twenty dollars on top?

So I go to the desk and sure enough there's a couple of hikes there, there's one going on the cross-island hike, and there's another jungle hike. I tried asking the guy who signs you up where the trail head was. That is known only by the driver, I was told. What a creep.

They were like that. You could rent a bicycle, but not overnight. And you weren't supposed to ride outside of the resort grounds. I did anyway; there was nothing to ride to inside the grounds. I did this a few times. I went outside the front gate and managed to ride all the way up the coast, most of the distance shown on my map. I saw the airport, I had lunch, I changed some money. I saw where the cross-island trail was. But I found few places that had credible trails into the woods other than that.

There was a place right outside the resort gate that seemed promising. Right outside the gate was a place where a lot of locals lived, people who worked at the resort, like apartments. Not promising. You cross a little bridge and there's a dirt road off to the side...

There was a sortof place to eat right there. I asked the guy there if there was a trail. I forgot what I said; probably "jalan" which means both "street" and "trail". He said yes.

Well I followed the dirt road, and there were a few places that looked like trailheads, sortof. Basically I ended up going bushwhacking, going nowhere. I scared away an iguana I met in the woods, that was about it. But it was a really big animal, it could have knocked me over if it lunged at me. Not to mention his dental hygine's effect upon my bloodstream.

Jalan. Sure. Also means "dirt road that goes back a hundred feet and ends".

Across the river I could see the back of the apartments where the locals lived. Basically, big heaps of garbage that were burning. There was this characteristic smell of burning garbage all over the place, and smoke, it was pretty depressing. After I had been there, I noticed that I could even smell it sometimes when I was in the resort. It's like the people running the resort didn't really notice or something. And all of the izod-shirted tourists sipping from tall glasses with paper umbrellas on the beach, while checking out the younger wives splashing along the waterfront in bathing suits (nobody really swims), they probably didn't notice.

All of this was north of the resort. The coast ran north-south, most of the civilization was to the north. According to the map, there was very little civilization except for this strip on the west side of the island. That trail that cut across the island, it went to a small settled area on the east side. Not much else.

So I started walking up the road past the resort, to the south, to see if I could find anything.

Inland from the golf course, I found something. There was a stream coming off the side of the hill. And there seemed to be a trail along side it. Where could the trail go - hey, it's like twenty feet and the hill goes straight up. I stepped into the brush cautiously. You never know, sometimes something that looks like a trail ends up being an animal path, and the only way to get through is to crawl on your hands and knees.

I wasn't sure if it was really a trail, but there was a sign off to the side (danger something, don't dive here it's only a foot deep or something), and there was a rope thing stretching down the hillside. I don't know what to call it; a big blue thick nylon rope with loops tied in it every few feet, specifically designed to aid a human climbing up the side of the hill. Bingo, this is a human trail.

Tioman spring Tioman view from spring

I went up the hill. It led to where a natural spring was. The water dribbled down over the rocks and collected at the bottom of the hill. It was a maintenence trail; they had a pipe going up and trying to tap water from the stream; at the time I it was broken and spring water was spilling out.

Tioman view

The view was nice from up there, though.

I think the best part was this feeling of accomplishment. I beat the system. I found a trail in the woods and I got away. And there was nobody else anywhere nearby. Ignore for a moment that I was just a hundred feet from the road.

Tioman rocks

The trail didn't really go beyond where I was; I guess if I was really determined and/or foolish, I could have gone further, but I really didn't think I'd find a trail beyond there.

Instead I went up the road. There was another hotel, looked quite nice and private. Beyond that was a big beach and lots of abandoned stuff. A building that had a dock attached; it had been decades since it was used and it was all broken down. Some trailers from Russia that were locked. Some nice scenes.

Tioman sunset

Tioman path

Cross-Island Walk

There was a trail that went across the island. Apparently you could walk there yourself and not have to pay a stupid guide or tourbus or anything.

I decided to do this the morning before I left. There wasn't enough time to go all the way across but I could go most of the way.

Tioman jungle path

By this time I was dealing with the heat in the woods by pre-drenching my clothes with tapwater. You feel dumb doing it, but, let's face it, it'll end up being just as wet by the end of the day. And it's a lot more comfortable, and your body loses less salt. Then, in your daypack, make sure the part against your back has a thick newspaper, for padding, wrapped in a plastic bag, to keep the rest of your pack dry.

It was very pretty. I got to the farthest place I had time for, and right there was a small swimming hole. I spent the next twenty minutes or so just goofing around in the water. It was delightful, in the middle of the forest with absolutely nobody around.

Tioman islets I took the ferry to Singapore. Goodbye Tioman Island!
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