Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Backpacking with the 'Rents

I knew we were in trouble after going through Singapore immigration. As we descended on the escalator to catch the bus that would take us across the Strait of Johor and into Malaysia the crowd before my eyes was huge. Alli and I have done the jaunt between Tioman and Singapore numerous times, mostly for visa reasons and work, but it never looked this bonkers before. We had a bus to catch in less than two hours and boy did this look hairy. The whole scene would have made me sweat and utter a few curse words under my breath if I was just with Alli or some friends, but this jaunt was quite different.

The Lady wasn't there, as the cast of characters on this journey was a novel one for me in SE Asia. I was rolling with the 'rents. My Dad (Tom) and his wife (June) were there, plus Alli's parents too (Ken and Barb). I had scooped them all up at the Singapore airport about 12 hours before. After not seeing anyone from home for almost a year and a half, since late July my Mom has visited along with everyone else above getting here in late August. It was all pretty surreal. But first I had to make it through that damn bus ordeal with the four of 'em.

Raft up! Bout to get down on the Ayung River north of Ubud, Bali, Indoneisa. *** All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.***
The standard route from Singapore (SG) to Tioman goes like this: bus from SG to their border, get off and get stamped out of the Lion City; back on the bus to cross the Strait of Johor, ending up at Malaysian immigration where they stamp you in; hop on the bus again to go to the long-distance bus terminal in Johor Bahru. From there you catch another bus (2-3 hrs. depending on the driver's enthusiasm) to Mersing, the laid-back port town with ferries to Tioman, which also randomly has the best tiramasu cake I've had in Asia.

If you're lucky you can catch the ferry the same day of your bus journey, if not then a night in pleasant Mersing will do (remember: they do have bomb tiramasu), and the boat will shove off in the morning. The ferry terminal is a shining example of incompetence, complete with late ferries and the most asinine boarding process I've ever seen. Whew, I'm beat from just writing all that. There's a few more cogs to the whole machine, but I think you get the point. It can take more than an entire day to rock this slog. Yup, it sucks. And for some reason we thought it was a good idea to have our parents experience all this.

Above two photos: Having fun in the downpour at Asah Waterfall, on the south end of Tioman. Notice my Dad's snazzy hairdo.
With my Mom it was no trouble as the crowds were non-existent, but not with the other four. One problem planning for traveling with the parents is that Alli and I have been in backpacker mode the last 1.5 yrs. Now, I kinda have beef with that term since it usually implies that I like full-moon beach parties and culturally making an ass of myself, but truth be told we do roll with backpacks. In my case an external-frame (you heard right!) Kelty from the early 90s. I think my bag is older than Offspring's breakout album 'Smash.'

Anyway, that means we're usually roaming around on the cheap. Buses here and there; hotels/guesthouses/homestays with shared bathrooms, maybe even a wee bit of mold and water damage; sweat-stained sheets; you know the usual trappings. And when you gotta carry it all on your back, in a region that loves sunshine and endless humidity, you like your bag light too.

Buchanan Christmas card maybe? Kayaking Juara Bay.
Unfortunately, everything was stacked against our parents. The sweaty heat combined with bulky rolly bags did not mix. Their belongings were pushing over 20kg (44+lbs). And they don't let you stow these bags in the cargo bays on the bus, you gotta haul 'em in and do it fast. Another annoying fact about the border crossing: people are in quite the rush, and why, I'm not so sure. A lot of the time it reminds me of those who love to speed up when they can see the red light ahead.

And the cherry on top? People in SE Asia really don't like to wait in orderly lines. To put it lightly, people will cut the hell out a line. Usually lines become amorphous blobs reminiscent of cramped rock 'n' roll shows once the band hits the stage. I've had everyone from young punks to elderly ladies butt in front of me, even whole families. So if you're living here then you gotta buy into the practice. Cut, butt, do whatever. If you don't, you're gonna get left behind.

Might be my favorite photo. Ken enjoying this strange sight: the king of candy characters in the West, meeting the king of fruits in the East. Singapore airport, always full of surprises.
As we waited to board the bus to Malaysia the amorphous blob was in full swing. So I did what I always do now, pushed forward. But I'm not gonna lie, I kind of forgot the parents were there. When I looked behind me, they were way back and I realized I hadn't gave them the low-down on SE Asia lines. They looked quite perplexed. People were cutting left and right. It was hilarious, in a we-might-miss-our-bus due to this craziness kind of way. A sort of grand welcoming committee to SE Asia for my Dad, June, Ken and Barb! But alas, we boarded all the buses and were stamped in. The journey to Tioman and Juara was finally completed by lunchtime the next day, complete with late ferries, scamming taxi drivers and some delectable roti canai in the morning.

Yeah, the day we went to Asah Waterfall it rained a little bit. Maybe an understatement.
The four parents spent about 4-5 nights in Juara, before my Dad and June moved on to New Zealand with a quick stopover in Singapore. Having the four, plus my Mom earlier in the summer, in Juara was wonderful. They got to see where we've spent a year of our lives since leaving the USA last April. They all got the grand tour of the village, and surrounding ocean and jungle, whether on foot, in a sidecar or via kayaks. Rolling through a rainstorm with my Dad and June in the JTP sidecar definitely put a smile on my face. I even got my Mom and Dad to separately try scuba diving.

Ken and Barb stuck around SE Asia much longer, visiting KL and two locales in Indonesia: Gili Meno for scuba diving (Ken was so relaxed on holiday that for the first time in his diving career he forgot to put on his dive computer before heading underwater) and the rare opportunity to visit somewhere in SE Asia where motorized land transportation doesn't occur, and Ubud for Balinese culture, kick-ass rafting, and at least for me, the crispy duck. Barb even got to have a Singapore Sling at the bar that invented the drink on her birthday.

Ken and Barb in an ox cart on Gili Meno, Lombock, Indonesia. No motorized transportation exists on the Gili's, so the only way to get around is on your feet, by bicycle or ox cart.
My Mom's visit was a winner too. Celebrating Hari Raya with her was an incredible experience and she even got to see Alli and I in action since an international school trip was taking place when she was in town. Nothing like dinner time with 60 insane 6th graders! And I'm almost certain the talent show she witnessed that we always have at the end of our trips was the most bizarre of the whole season.

Sadly the only photo of my Mom and I the whole trip. In an office in Mersing. At least we got one of us! It's cause she's always taking incredible photos. Click the Hari Raya link above to see for yourself.
After not seeing family for so long, it was darn strange to suddenly be offering them their first bite of sambal chicken or explaining how to say 'thank you' in Bahasa Malaysia. But overall, through all the hiccups (transpo issues; pooping geckos and inquisitive monitor lizards; torrential downpours; new foods; lack of numerous American amenities), I'd say they nailed it.

To be honest, I was quite nervous having to host family, but I'd do it again, no questions asked. Just a few things would be different. Did I mention Pulau Tioman has an airport? All four were surely thinking of it at some point on our overland journey to Juara. But all along part of me new that bus/ferry route was gonna be a doozy, so that's why my Dad, June and I flew off the island when we left (a first for me). As my Dad said after landing in Singapore: "If I ever come back, we're flying. We're old and we like doing things the easy way. And that was easy." Fair enough.


More photos below:
Bali Rafting on the Ayung River
Somewhere there's a Barb in that helmet and PFD combo.

Our raft guide photo bombing like a G.

The Buchanan ladies aren't having any fun at all.

The always lovely waiting hall for the ferry.
Ken, looking ever so regal, in front of the Bushman, their home for a few nights in Juara.
We got dumped on. And what can I say? SE Asia has made me a wuss with the cold.

Kuala Lumpur
Trying all kinds of new weird foods. I'm sure there's some weeds in there as Ken would say.
Celebrating Merdeka Day (Malaysian Independence Day) right, in front of a giant Malaysia One made up of pineapples and small flags.
KL Tower.
Gili Meno
The three Gilis on our flight in. We went to the one in the middle.
Scuba logbook/happy hour time.
The Buchanan's home for the week.
Lots of both Hawksbill and Green turtles in the Gilis.
Bout to head on down.
Barb and I conducting a very serious buddy check before getting into the water.
Bali (Ubud)

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