Monday, 28 July 2008 12:00 AM
Nick Claxton has never ventured outside of Europe before but a combination of too many years in London, a lack of proper responsibilities and an unhealthy admiration for Michael Palin now means he is spending a year travelling the globe. A terminally-disorganised 24-year-old taking on the world – solo. Here is his 14th blog entry:
Sunglasses on, sand between my toes, waves soothingly washing up the beach and palm trees rocking gently above – yeah, this was more like it.
Four hours on the bus (Singapore $28 or Â£10) and two and a half more on the ferry (35 Malaysian Ringgit or Â£5.40) had transported me from the sterile ‘mall-to-mall’ high-rises of Singapore to a swaying hammock on Pulau Tioman – my first taste of tropical island paradise.
The ferry from Mersing on the mainland had stopped off at villages and resorts all along Tioman’s west coast – each of which had tempted me with the golden beaches and sparkling water that had convinced Hollywood to use shots of Tioman as Bali Ha’i in the 1958 musical South Pacific.
Given enough time, I’d like to have sampled them all but the cost of travel between them is surprisingly high (30 RM or Â£5 – nearly as much as the ferry from the mainland!) so I let them all slide by until we reached the village of Salang in the north of Tioman.
I’d been told by other travellers that here the lively beach bars stay open late for tourists recovering from their long days lounging in the sun. This certainly appealed but I decided that beach-bumming requires at least a modicum of solitude and so followed my guidebook to find some refuge at Ella’s Place in the far north of the village.
A few wooden shacks on a narrow, secluded beach were all the Ella’s offered (double bed and private bathroom for 40 RM a night or Â£6), but this suited me well enough. It was quiet enough to relax, but I could saunter down to the bar, grab a beer (8 RM or Â£1.20) and be on the main beach in ten minutes.
Still, although the beach and jetty area marks ‘downtown’ Salang, it’s thankfully no Ayia Napa. Nightlife focuses on two small open-air bars till midnight, while one ramshackle place right on the beach opens till 5am for the serious early-morning drinkers.
But more importantly, the atmosphere is so laid back that within a few days you’ll likely find you know almost everyone staying there!
Unsurprisingly, socialising under palm trees was no hardship! I spent a few days topping up my tan and snorkelling during the day and either hitting the bars or relaxing on the beach at night.
Trekking over to the deserted beach of Juara on the east side of the island held out some serious appeal but I never summoned enough energy to take on the monkeys and monitor lizards in the jungle.
Soon however, hazy nights spent chatting to locals and other travellers broke me out of my lethargy by turning me onto scuba diving – which for many people was the whole reason they were on Tioman.
Stories of exploring a weightless underwater world of thriving reefs, sea turtles and sharks enticed me into signing up for a three-day PADI-certified ‘open water’ course. The fact that this would give me access to dive sites all over the world without further training made it doubly attractive, but the clincher for me was definitely the price.
I’d harboured thoughts of learning to scuba dive before, but lacked both the opportunity and the funds. But while learning in the dull, grey waters of the UK costs around Â£255 the same course in the stunningly clear South China Sea was 990 RM or Â£145. With sea turtles and sharks thrown in, it doesn’t bear much comparison.
After a bit of shopping around, I settled on the B&J Diving Centre as my chosen dive school as their friendly manner put me at ease but they still seemed to take their training and the care of their equipment seriously.
It was especially pleasing to find that I would be sharing my instructor with just one other guy. I’d heard complaints from other travellers – especially those who had learnt to dive on Ko Tao in Thailand – that they had been taught in large groups and consequently felt rushed through the course.
But with only me, Sully and our instructor Jay it was just really relaxing to learn a new skill. Beware though, its no free ride – there’s a fair bit of reading involved. Of course, exam rooms shaded by palm trees hardly make it a chore. Plus knowing how to keep breathing while underwater is kind of important – so I’d say that skimping on your homework is not the brightest idea!
That’s not to say it’s at all academic. From the first day, we were under the water. In fact, on my very first dive, I saw a sea turtle. That set the bar high but the next day I spotted the unmistakable outline of a black-tipped reef shark. I reckon it was about 9-feet-long – although this might just be an indication that I’ve already succumbed to the ‘tall tales’ culture of scuba divers, fishermen, seamen and surfers everywhere.s
With my dive course soon over, I fell back into Salang’s carefree rhythm with ease and focused on enjoying the place and the people during my few remaining days on this little island paradise.
But at the back of my head there was now a niggling thought. I’d imagined this year-long trip would give me the chance to see a bit of everything the world has to offer. In fact, I’d admit to having felt rather pleased – ok, smug – about this!
But my three days learning to scuba dive on Tioman showed me just how much my round-the-world plans are sorely lacking – there’s a whole other world under the oceans just begging to be explored as well!