I made it to Tioman by the skin of my teeth. It was one long string of screw-ups that left me in silent awe at the notion that I’ve gotten as far as I have on this trip.
It started with going to bed at 2 am and waking up late. I crammed all my stuff into bags and checked out of the hotel at 7:30 – the same time I was supposed to be checking in for the ferry to Timoan. I caught a cab and made it to the ferry terminal by 8, right at the tail end of when I was supposed to get there. I gave the cab driver the last of my Singapore currency, as I wouldn’t be needing it anymore. Things seemed to be going fine until I got to the counter and found out I was at the wrong ferry terminal. The place where my boat was leaving from was on the other side of the country – a 20 minute cab ride away. By the time I’d worked all this out, it was 8:15 and there was no way I was going to make it there by the 8:30 departure. I would have to spend another day in Singapore. As I was accepting my fate, the woman who sold me the ticket took pity on me. She photocopied my passport so she could fax it to the other terminal, then threw me in a cab. While I was en route, she faxed my passport over and told them I was coming.
I got to the ferry terminal, paid the cab fare by credit card, went through customs and security clearance, got tested for SARS, then ran to the boat in record time. I don’t know how long they held it for me. I couldn’t bear the guilt of looking at a clock.
So I sat down on the boat and fell right to sleep. It was a nice ride.
Four hours later the boat arrives at Pulau Timoan, a tiny little island with a scattering of ramshackle huts along the coastline. It was the location for the mythical Bali Hai in the musical, South Pacific. I go through immigration on the Malaysian side, screwing up only slightly when I realize I forgot to fill out my declaration card. No big deal. I do that all the time. My passport is almost full now, by the way.
I get off the boat and onto the jetty, only to discover I have to pay an entrance fee. Of course, I have no money in either currency. I explain this to the guy with the tin cash box and fold-out card table. I ask him if there’s an ATM nearby or if he can take credit cards. He gives me a look like maybe I didn’t notice his tin cash box and fold-out card table, then suddenly feels compassion for the poor retarded man and waves me through.
As I’m walking down the jetty, some locals surround me and ask me where I’m going. I tell them I need to get up to ABC, the area where all the cheap resorts are, and they tell me I have to take their ferry. I tell them I have no money. They explain that their boat is the last one today, I have to take it, and they’ll accept Singapore currency. I explain again that I have no money and need to find an ATM. I suddenly become invisible. I was okay with this, because I was certain they were lying and it would be easy for me to get up to ABC once I had cash.
So I finally reach the shore and the only place I can get to from there is the big fancy resort 300 meters away. I haul my bags over, head to the cashier, and pull my wallet out to give her my credit card. That’s when I realize my credit card is gone.
Fortunately I have a back-up card, so I use that to get 200 Ringit, or about $50 US. It’s enough to last me a couple days, but I’m still screwed if I don’t get my main card back. I have no mailing address, so I can’t get a replacement, and the card is my complete and total lifeline.
I’m pretty sure I left my card on the boat, so I convince one of the resort employees to drive me back to the jetty. I get there just as the ferry is heading back for Singapore. I search under my seat and find the card. The clouds part and a holy light shines down upon me.
So I’m back on the jetty and all I’ve got left to deal with is how the hell to get up to ABC. Indeed, those guys were right. There is no other way to get up there other than their boat. Timoan hasn’t heard about taxis yet. The security guys at the jetty don’t speak any English, but they smile politely and tell me to wait there for another boat. It takes me about an hour to figure out that they don’t know what the hell I’m doing there or where I want to go. So I walk over to the fancy resort’s golf course and find a guy who can speak English. He takes me down to the beach and hails a friend of his who is fishing out on the water. He convinces his friend to give me a ride up to ABC in his speedboat for 30 Ringit — about $8.
I hop into his tiny little boat in a massive swell with my laptop, camera, and various other digital paraphernalia that doesn’t like getting wet. I spend the whole thunderous ride clutching my gear to protect it from the spray, then nearly break my leg hopping off onto the dock.
After that it was only a twenty-minute walk with all my bags to a resort with vacancy. I’m in a nice little hut that costs $11 US a night, surrounded by mosquito netting, typing away in the dark. I have one electrical plug, so I have to trade the fan for laptop power.
To make a long story short (too late), I’m a colossal moron. I somehow managed to stumble through the day successfully, despite doing absolutely everything wrong. This is why I like traveling alone. See, I can do all the dumb things I did today and feel fine about it, cause no one else has to suffer the consequences along with me. I’m happy to wait all afternoon for a boat that’s never coming or walk indefinitely in the hot sun with forty pounds of luggage toward an uncertain destination. It doesn’t really bother me. But if I had someone depending on me to know what the hell I’m doing – well, we wouldn’t be getting along very well right now.
I’m looking forward to married life someday.
I’m looking forward to being someone’s dad.
People should regard this trip I’m on the same way they regard a man with no legs climbing Mt. Everest. I am battling an enormous handicap.
I read that when they were searching the private gymnasium of one of Uday Hussein’s now legendary palaces of deranged excess, they found he had big blown-up posters of W.’s daughters on the wall, amidst all the pornography.
Now that’s downright twisted.
The Malaysian Ringit is the first currency I’ve encountered that has a fixed exchange rate against the US dollar. It’s a solid 3.8 at all times. It fluctuates against every other currency except the US. Apparently they got sick of it dropping all the time. I didn’t know you were allowed to do that. There must be some kind of penalty. Anyway, it’s certainly a favorable rate. Meals, hotels, and transportation are all about the same numerical amount that they’d be in dollars, so everything is around ¼ its normal cost. Hi ho!
The reason I’m updating again after posting nothing for the last week is very simple: No TV. It’s either this or sleep.