Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tioman … then and now, untouched as ever!

Canoes by Ms N
Canoes stacked by a beach cabana, Paya beach
The full moon is silhouetted against the sea, smothering the waves with silver reflections. Sitting on a dune, we watch the continuous ebb and flow, each with our own thoughts. For me, the sea has always been a confidant, a friend absorbing all it is told and never revealing those secrets; always giving the best advice — its meaningful noises can be interpreted any way you choose... The fresh wind fills the senses with the power and mood of the sea; everything is transformed by its touch; even Comeback (the dog) gazes, his odd little nose aloft, at the silver ribbons unrolling before him several times a minute.
-Che Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries

This is why the Motorcycle Diaries is amazing. It’s not the greatest piece of writing or doesn’t have lofty observations. But it has layers… every so often, you will re-discover a passage, a part of the journey that will make you think, ‘Dang! That is exactly how I felt when I was at so-and-so, and when that happened’. This book could have been anyone’s journey … it could have been your journey!

I was re-reading the Motorcycle Diaries around the same time that I had gone to Tioman for the first time, couple of years back and I recall thinking how aptly the above words fitted the few days spent idling on this island. There is something to be said about just watching the endless ocean, and letting the motion of the waves take over you. Every single activity seems to take on an added depth when watching the sea – the coffee you sip, the book you are reading.   The sea here is calm and beautiful and it is easy to lose yourself in the beautiful interplay of blue and turquoise even as the day's heat seduces you into a lazy lull. And that first splash of cold when you dive in. And after all this, there are still the nights…

When I returned to Tioman, this time to Tekek beach, I was a tad worried it wouldn’t live up to my memories. But I was overjoyed and even surprised to find it just the way it used to be – rustic and under-developed, even after 2 years. My last trip had been on a long weekend, and we were scrambling to get the accommodation and travel sorted out and it seemed as if every single “resort” was booked out. Was this the ‘untouched’ island people spoke off? I expected to see crowded beaches and half of Singapore camping there. But when we arrived at Paya beach, it was a heady relief to see we had the beach more or less to ourselves.

Once past the not-so-pretty Tekek ferry terminal, the island opens up with the thick tropical forest rising in front – tall, green and dense, and almost reaching the skies. The road branches into 2, following the curve of the sea. Along the way are some wooden long houses, randomly dotting the roads, some have small grocery stores or restaurants, the odd souvenir shops, a garage… and there is that odd broken truck by the side. In the distance, there is smoke from some cooking fires. The road itself curves into the forest, which takes you through the heart of the jungle to Juara, the beach on the other side. The so-called resorts are in fact collection of wooden long houses, quite basic in the luxury they afford. Life takes on a slow and unhurried pace. So did our routine. 

I do wonder if I will tire of beaches, and it feels like I will after every trip. But within days of returning to regular life, all I long for is the calm of the seas.

Some FAQ:
Getting to Tioman is still a bitch (sorry, but that is what it is). But may be that is what keeps it rustic too. We tried a taxi (highly recommend it) for $150-200 one way from Singapore to Mersing. The ferry from Mersing to Tioman, however, still demands patience and god’s grace. Also see this link for 5 ways to get from Singapore to Mersing.

Choose a good beach too. Personally, I found Salang beach had too many chalets lined up one after the other. Tekek, is the main town on the island and the airport is also here. But this beach still felt more spacious. From Tekek, one can get to ABC beach and also Juara quite easily.

Try the Sunset cafe in ABC for some divine pizza's. The walk from Tekek to ABC can be quite nice too.

Also, the jungle walk to Juara is interesting. It takes around 2 hours, and it is recommended to hike in decent shows (i.e. not flip flops).

Untitled by Ms N
S at work, building a cabana by the beach...

Untitled by Ms N
Ayer Batang beach at night

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