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Wednesday 19 Jun 2013
Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia

Snapping out of it with a few fishy friends

Ailsa and I came to KL in 2009 on my first trip to Asia.  We spent a very happy afternoon in the Central Market, which is a big old indoor market full of local crafts, clothes, art and souvenirs.  This is where I bought my two beaded halterneck dresses and Ailsa bought her beautiful Chinese scroll paintings.  I also fell in love with the glittering Petronas Towers.  I was looking forward to revisiting a few old haunts.

After getting a night's sleep at the Fern Loft, I gave myself a stern talking to and went out to explore my little corner of Kuala Lumpur. I knew I was in Chinatown, but having arrived in the dark last night, I hadn't yet had the chance to get my bearings. When I stepped out of my hostel door, I was very pleased to discover I was only a block from the Central Market and round the corner from Petaling Street, the main street market area.  I set off and bought myself breakfast of fresh fruit and chinese pork jerky from the street stalls.  I then headed into the Central Market and lost myself in the stalls and alleyways packed inside.  The more I looked around at familiar sights, the more I could feel my mood lifting.  I even saw the same dresses and paintings that we bought before and got myself a new top with beautiful embroidery down the back.

After lunch I headed over to the centre to see my favourite towers.  They are still as stunning as I remembered.  I had to remind myself not to take as many photos this time as I still have about a hundred from the last visit! Inside the towers there is a 7-storey shopping mall, which helped serve my Western retail therapy craving after so long on a sandy island.  And where does anyone go when they want a dose of home? Marks and Spencers of course!  I even found a bag of Percy Piglets (chewy sweets), which I always take to softball tournaments. Perfect.

I sat outside with a frozen mango smoothie while the sun went down and the Petronas towers lit up and watched the musical dancing fountains, feeling considerably more like myself again.  I also made a decision about what to do next and went back to the hostel to make it happen.  Trying to fit in Penang and the Perhentian islands was going to be too much of a squeeze, so I opted for the diving and booked my flights for Kuta Bahru.

Getting back out to the LCCT airport was easier than getting in once I had understood the process.  There was a direct bus from KL Sentral which took an hour.  So less than 48 hours after arriving in KL, I was back at LCCT flying up to North East Malaysia.  From Kuta Bahru it was a 90-minute taxi to Kuala Besut, the jetty town for the Perhentian Islands.  Unfortunately, travelling solo as I was, I was facing paying the full taxi fare myself. It is common in Malaysia to pay for a taxi at the kiosk inside the airport, then take the receipt out to the designated taxi number outside.  The people at the kiosk took pity on me and fitted me in with a group of 6 Chinese people who came next.  The previous group of six had been given a six-seater taxi.  For this group, they told them they'd need two taxis and if they took me too it would work out cheaper for everyone.  They were quite happy with this, although they ignored me the whole way there.

At Kuala Besut, I befriended a trio of English girls waiting for the boat and chatted to them the whole way over.  It seems the Perhentians are still quite undeveloped so the only places to accept online bookings are the bigger resorts on Pulau Perhentian Besar (big island) while most places on Pulau Perhentian Kecil (small island) just take walk-in bookings.  The speedboat took around 40 minutes to reach the islands, where we had to climb over onto a smaller boat to reach the beach.  The girls went one way and I went another to visit one of the dive shops that I'd read about on Trip Advisor.  They didn't have rooms, but offered to look after my bags for me while I went looking.  Three other people arrived at the same time so we all headed up to Rock Gardens at the far end of the beach.  By the time we reached it, Yolanda and I had exchanged the usual details (where are you from, how long have you been travelling, where have you been, where are you going next?) and got on well enough to decide sharing a room meant we could avoid the dorm and afford a fan room with a sea view. It wasn't quite ready so we went back to retrieve our bags and got some delicious char kway sieu noodles and watermelon juices.  Despite being overcast, it was already very humid and shaping up to be a hot few days.

I spoke to a couple of dive shops and settled on one called Spice Divers with a friendly Canadian Instructor named Evan who had previously worked on Gili T.  They had space for me to do a dive that afternoon and Evan loaned me his camera.  We went out to a dive site called Batu Payar, which was a huge cluster of corals teeming with fish.  Getting out of the boat was far more awkward than Lutwala's boat as there was a very deep seat but a very narrow rim on the boat, so it involved lifting the tank and climbing backwards before trying to balance on the rim, before rolling backwards into the water.  The neoprene mask strap cover got pushed easily off my head by the water, which caused the mask to come off every time.  This is the reason why you hold your mask and regulator in place when entering the water, but it didn't happen once in the Gilis.  Both of these things made me feel a bit off kilter before descending, but it is all part of learning to dive.  Almost all my dives so far had been drift dives (being pushed along with the current) and I was quite happy with my buoyancy control.  Here there was no current at all and I had to adjust my techniques accordingly.  I eventually got myself sorted and was able to relax and enjoy the dive.  There was a much greater variety of corals, some enormous and some small, which were fascinating to explore.  The number of anemones and Nemo fish was amazing - there must have been 50 in this one reef.

It was more of an adjustment than I'd expected to be diving with new people in a new area.  It emphasized how much of diving is about trust in the people you're with and the equipment you're using.  Having fully trusted the team at Lutwala, I had to learn to trust these new diving companions and also my own instincts about what was right or wrong.  By the time we'd finished, I was much more comfortable with everything and enjoyed seeing new things underwater.

Yolanda had met a group of people on the bus over from Penang so we headed out to meet them for a drink in the evening.  We took raincoats with us just in case, which turned out to be a smart move as we'd barely made it to the bottom of the steps before the heavens opened in a torrential thunderstorm.  Even with raincoats we were drenched in minutes.  The bar was strangely full of people enjoying an extra beer when we arrived!  I had a very nice evening getting to know Carli, Alex and Yolanda and enjoying one of the best steaks I have had in months!

Holiday blues well and truly banished. Happy days again!

















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