Although the way down to Tioman was a mission, it seemed like most of the island learned their lesson on how to properly prepare for the journey – ourselves included… to some extent. Being responsible, we decided that instead of partaking in what had quickly become our nightly ritual of card games and the occasional midnight ocean dip, we decided our final night should end relatively early so that we’d actually be conscious for the beginning of our journey, which again began at an hour that shouldn’t reasonably exist. Just after 4am, we loaded back into a pickup truck to get to Tioman’s port in TekTek, which was actually not too bad, since I got a full seat in the actual interior of the truck this time around!
From there, the ferry that we were scheduled to depart with at 6am (inevitably) got delayed. This was a lot less of a concern this time around though, since we still had more than enough breathing room between when our ferry was supposed to arrive and when our connecting bus was scheduled to depart. Plus, I had kind of learned to take times as approximate numbers.
Even with the delays, we were still about 8h early for our scheduled bus, so instead of waiting around in Mersing, we pulled some Amazing Race-worthy maneuvers and set ourselves up with with a slightly more complex route that ended up getting us back to Singapore before our original bus would have left!
All-in-all, the trip was (literally) breathtakingly awesome and has gotten me even more excited for my upcoming trips (if that’s even possible)! Plus, I’m starting to feel like my travels are an investment in training for the Amazing Race!!
As much as I loved the rainy waterfall excursion, we decided that we should probably use the weather to our advantage. After a quick chat with what seemed to be our hotel’s only employee, we found out that the Beach Shack Chalet, located on the neighbouring beach of Juara Bay, offered surf rentals.
The conditions were supposed to be ideal because the monsoon we seemed to be experiencing had made the waves big enough to surf – a rare occurrence in Malaysia. Raring to get back on a board after my travels in San Juan del Sur, and for my buddies to get to experience some of the action, we took off for the beach.
In less than half an hour, we came upon an eclectic beach hut and an endless supply of slightly choppy 2m swells. I then found myself using my (very) limited surf knowledge to teach my buddies how to ride the waves, only to have the Chalet/Shack’s owner, Tim, come up and pass on some pointers to myself.
Despite being at their mercy for most of the afternoon, I was still able to catch quite a few waves (between floundering around and generally acting like an idiot) before eventually hauling myself back to shore. Now when I say, “hauling”, I literally mean I had to drag myself out of the water, the current pulling me back so hard. Despite the extra missioning this required, I decided to take it as a sign that the tides didn’t want me to leave (lucky for them, I’m already planning my return).
By this point, the sky had reached a calm point, and I had finally learned my lesson that this meant that I needed to take advantage – FAST! I quickly set off to build a sand sculpture (my beach tradition). My original plan was to make a surf bunny (the less common cousin of the snow bunny), but the pieces of coral I used for ears ended up looking more like antlers and the body looked like a shapeless blob (going to blame the grainy sand – not my blatant lack of sculpting ability – for this one). Seeing the finished product, my friend dubbed my creation a Mukdeer – a combination between a reindeer and the Pokémon muk. I actually kind of liked this naming because I got to feel like a badass Pokémon breeder, combining Stantler with Muk (which would be a big deal in the world of Pokémon breeding, because its usually impossible to breed Pokémon from different egg groups – just saying).
Even after taking the time to revolutionize a Pokémon profession, the sky had still held off on its next downpour, so I took advantage with a photo session:
After taking enough naps (5), I was finally caught up on sleep! Having a bowl of comfort cereal for the first time in over a month, along with a hot cup of coffee, also helped quite a bit.
This isn’t to say that I’ve gotten less adventurous with my food choices, I had an entire grilled fish the night before, eyes and all! (The eyes were actually quite crunchy!)
Even though it had begun raining during this comfort-breakfast, we had decided that it probably wouldn’t end up raining hard enough to be a hazard for trekking through the rainforest to a nearby waterfall. A compromise was taken in that we would go to the closer waterfall, which was only an hour hike away, mostly along the road.
Now, I know I usually have questionable judgement about what’s reasonable (“oh yeah, I can totally work 3 jobs and go to school part-time, sleep is for the weak!” and “first time dragonboating? Of course I can go for 4 hours, no big deal!”), I have to admit that I didn’t really know how ridiculous this journey was going to be. After compromising on going to the “close” waterfall, I figured that because the hike was going to be along a road, it would be easy and I wouldn’t need trekking footwear. I also assumed (and you know what happens when you assume: you make an ass out of you and me: ass/u/me) it would be safe to bring my DSLR camera. I even wrapped it in a bag, in a towel, in another bag and was feeling quite prepared and responsible! (Hah, I’m so silly!)
I should have realized that the hike along the road would take us down the same path we took to get to our hotel as there’s only 1 road leading to Juara Mutiara. This road is very VERY steep. I knew this. I could barely sit in a truck going up and down it, obviously it was going to be more than just a walk in the park. Luckily, I have experience with Rocky Mountain hiking and was able to power up the hill in sandals.
The falls were about 4m high and surrounded by some gorgeous rainforest scenery. There was also a small area where you could swim behind the falls and a natural jump-off point into the pool below. With my history of jumping off things (planes, bridges, etc.), it wouldn’t have been a real trip for me if I hadn’t made at least one leap!
Soon after we arrived, the gentle drizzle we encountered during breakfast decided to turn into a full out down pour. Since I was already happily swimming around the falls at this point, the rain just added to the whole experience – I was basically a kid running through sprinklers and jumping into swimming pools – good old summer-time bliss. Eventually, reality decided we needed to be re-introduced, and I realised that my camera was not as waterproof as I was. I ran back to check on it, took a few quick pictures (which didn’t even turn out too well because my lens kept getting covered in rain) and packed it back up.
All of this packing and unpacking ended up making the bags slightly damp, so I started rushing back to the hotel room to get my baby DSLR back to safety. I cradled my bag and positioned the umbrella I was carrying so that I remained soaking wet, but my camera (hopefully) remained dry. (Looking back, I realized that this is a direct example of how much I actually value my toys more than my life.)
We finally made it back to the room, and I rushed to dry off my camera and test it out. After the lens failing to re-adjust itself properly while my heart temporarily stopped beating, it eventually sorted itself out and I was able to breath again.
In the weeks leading up to Chinese New Years, I’d heard a lot of rumours about what Singapore was going to be like over the weekend. Everything from downtown being so crazy, you can barely move around to the entire city shutting down because everyone will be at home with his or her family. Neither wanting to get trampled to death (something I would have only taken as acceptable during the running of the bulls) or starve not being able to buy food, some fellow Ryersonians and I decided it was about time we travelled outside of Singapore anyways. Since it was our first excursion out of the country, we decided to start with somewhere close, Tioman Island in Malaysia.
Tioman is part of the largest group of island volcanoes in Malaysia, but if you believe the legends, the island of Tioman is actually a dragon princess who fell in love with the gorgeous South China Sea waters and decided to turn herself into an island so she could live in the waves. While I agree that the waves were pretty awesome, I don’t think they’re worth giving up being a dragon for – I mean, come on, breathing fire!? Flying!? Even just looking super hardcore!?
Either way, the island is now made up of 8 small villages and a huge nature reserve set up to preserve the local rainforest and marine life. The island is such an adventure, even just getting there was a trek. We began our journey at about 4am on Saturday, heading by taxi to the north end of Singapore. From there, we took a bus to the Singapore – Malaysia customs to get passports stamps.
From there, it was back on a bus to Larkin, then a taxi from Larkin to Mersing. Although I was passed out for the majority of the taxi ride (I had just pulled an all-nighter), I woke up several times to some major swerving, follow by the driver muttering things like “too fast to slow down” or “that boar came out of nowhere”. Looking back, I’m actually kind of glad I was too exhausted to be afraid!
When we finally made it to Mersing (all in one piece somehow), we were meant to board a ferry soon after arriving, however, the ferry company decided to oversell their tickets, so even though we bought ours in advance AND showed up early, we still weren’t able to get on our scheduled boat. Since it was Chinese New Years, and everyone in South East Asia seemed to be travelling, there were several other tourists in the same scenario. Now, we were kind of upset we didn’t get our seats, but compared to some of these people, it looked like we asked for a later boat. There were people screaming at tour guides, boat captains, security officers (basically anyone within shouting distance) and when that didn’t work, cell phones got pulled out and several “you lied to me, I’ll SUE YOU” conversations happened. Eventually, the tantrums actually got something done, and another ferry was called to arrive about an hour and half after the one we missed.
After a gorgeous boat ride through crystal blue waters that I managed to sleep through most of, we were finally in Tioman!! A truck had been arranged to pick us up from the Tektek ferry dock, so after a quick stop at the duty free for alcohol and sunscreen, we were finally on to the last leg of our journey.
Since we were sharing the truck with another group of hotel guests, our group opted to sit in the back. Getting into it, we definitely did not realise how much of an adventurous decision that was. The road from TekTek to Juara runs up and down the steepest range of hills I have ever seen in my life (and I’ve seen quite a few hills)! I have to say, going down a steep, rainforest incline on a road that’s only semi-paved in the back of a pick up truck is a moment when you definitely feel truly alive. I get this type of moment from time to time (like speeding towards Cascade Mountain on a bike in Banff) and they always remind me why I’m so in love with travelling. It’s an addicting feeling and I am definitely hooked!
After a total of about 8.5h of travel time, we finally arrived at the Juara Mutiara hotel. I took full advantage of the beach-y paradise and passed out under a coconut tree.