Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Slummin' in paradise

Last we chatted, we were in Kota Bharu. It's the very conservative, predominately Muslim, northeastern corner of Malaysia, a place with no malls, movie theaters, alcohol, or bowling. It is home to traditional Malay culture though, since the people were basically cut off from the rest of the country until fairly recently, when they built a road on the east coast. We went to the Kelantan State museum while we were there and saw an exhibit on the elaborate kites of the region. We also took in a performance that included a mock Silat fight (Silat is a Malay form of martial arts), which was one of the top ten oddest things we have witnessed. I won't try to describe it, you'll have to watch the movie when we get it uploaded. The musical accompaniment was by oboe (normally one of my favorite instruments, but in this scenario, think snake charmer, not symphony orchestra) and various drums and gongs. The oboe player was truly amazing - he could somehow play continuously without a single break in the sound- we have no idea how he did it. Before the Silat performance, another group of men played kertoks, which are drums made out of coconut husks with a wooden board attached to the top. You bang the board with a dowel wrapped in rubber bands (I got to try it, and yes, once again impressed Colin with my total lack of rhythm), and it make a lot of noise. I had fun!
The next day we took a speedboat the 16 miles to Pulau Kecil (Little Perhentian Island). You all would have hated it! The island is really rustic- electricity by generator (our bungalows only had power from 6:30pm until 8:00am), no phones, no vehicles other than boats. There is almost no development on the island- just three sandy beaches, a few bungalows and dive shops on each, and one dirt path across the middle through dense jungle to connect them. Our bungalow was right next to the water (we would open the sliding door and watch the boats from the bed in the mornings). The water was so clear! We went snorkeling by swimming right out into the bay- we didn't even have to take a boat trip to get to live reef. The sea creatures were amazing: we saw giant clams (the clams themselves are really colorful, the shells have coral grown around them), huge parrot fish, gobies, sea cucumbers, and... NEMO (okay, his distant relations. They were clown fish and lived in anemone houses nonetheless.)! We also saw all sorts of colorful coral formations, a HUGE puffer fish, and other technicolor fish we couldn't identify.
As for other island fauna, our constant companions in the open cinderblock bathroom vent were a pair of tokay geckos (blue with orange spots), which we believe, accounted for the lack of mosquitoes in our bungalow. There are also monitor lizards of small to very large (5ft?) size strolling freely everywhere. The greatest excitement for everyone was when some of the local men caught a reticulated python that was probably 6ft long in a palm tree in front of our veranda. The men were talking animatedly about its barbecue potential (it was hard to tell whether or not they were joking; we had vegetarian dishes that evening for dinner).
After an epic boat to bus to bus to bus to hotel in Kuantan to bus to Kuala Lumpur journey, we're settling here in KL through the weekend for the F1 race (hopefully we won't get too waterlogged- rain is in the forecast, but it's a nice, warm deluge!)and to plot our next move.

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