Running down time in Butterworth, running up the food bill in Geroge Town and absolutely no running in the Perhentian islands, the race was on 96 days in.
People are often quick to write off places as dull or uninteresting, but I like to think that there is always something of note to any town or village, maybe you just have to search a bit harder, rummage around the streets a little more, ask the locals for the low down. “What have you come to Butterworth for sir, there is absolutely nothing to do here”. Perhaps the Indian lad at our hotel yearned to work across the water among the bright lights and bustling lanes of George Town and his views were memories of nights out in Penang’s beating heart. We went to the cinema and watched Finding Dory. Of course, our reason for a three day stay was Mike’s 10k race. With prize money for the top ten, an elite field started to gather the night before and Mike spent an hour with the Kenyans talking pbs (it wasn’t a long conversation) before leaving them to take shelter under one of the event tents for the night. A sweaty 6th place finish earned 50 Ringett – which almost covered the entry fee. For the Kenyans their 300 Ringett was that week’s earnings.
Across the Selatan Strait, George Town’s UNESCO heritage streets are animated with quirky cast iron cartoon figures, comissioned graffiti and purveyors of food on every corner, all of which we attempted to chronical during our four days. Throw in a large reclining Buddha, huge standing goddess and trip to India Street’s version of Hello! magazine for our visa photos (Mike’s been keeping that suit well hidden!), our senses were being indulged with foreigner friendly culture; until our first encounter of fresh durian fruit sent a synaptic reminder of sulfur chemistry.
One of the less glamorous aspects of backpacking is the frequency of clothes washing. Typically back home the laundry basket would steadily aquire tops and t-shirts, get a daily dose of undies and have periodic piles of running kit. A spin in the machine, a day on the line (if there is sun in January, the washing gets hung out!) and then fresh scented clothes are returned to a drawer for the process to begin all over again. But not so for the backpacker. Laundrettes are easy enough to come by, but timing their deployment to get the best ratio of a full load against the dreaded rationing of socks is a delicate balancing act. Fitting in trips between meals and sightseeing takes advanced planning. That line dried smell rarely exists in clothes where the powder dose often appears to be an optional extra and even then once they have been consigned to the depths of a rucksack for a day all alpine meadows have been replaced with barren desert. But for those passing through George Town I can recommend Ferringhi laundrette at the top of Love Lane which for once produced glorious whites and a crisp fragrance, even if it was short lived.
An overnight coach driven by a chain smoking driver determined to rock us violently to sleep dumped us in Koala Besut at 4am, a handy 3 hours before the first boat. However; the following 5 days of sand, snorkelling and sunsets gently lifted the hand break of relaxation and we both took the chance to recharge our batteries in the idillic Perhentian Islands. The waters of the South China Sea were clear and postcard blue, teaming with fish and even coral straight from the shore. An international volleyball competition was as serious as it got after we had made our way south to the tented community of Rainforest. We spent the days and evenings sharing tales (and Mike’s newly aquired magic trick) with fellow travellers and filling our heads with inspiration. And it was those very same anecdotes that had lead us to the Perhentian Islands; a destination we had thought about, then given up on due to the cost of flights, then reclaimed with the constant appreciation of all that had swam in its tropical waters.
One of the hopes we had for our year of adventure was to learn something that you don’t necessarily come across in books or off the tv. Perhaps one thing we are growing aware of is the frequency ideas and advice are dispensed and readily consumed; the reminiscing of past events is as enjoyable for the orator as the acquisition for details of hostels, eateries and attractions for the recipient. But it reminds me of the times at home where we would turn down offers and not use the suggestions of others. No one suggests something they didn’t like! It is of course understandable that when entering an unknown, advice is a valuable commodity, but it is one that we hope to bring home with us and will continue to lead us to adventure.