Km 10435 – Langkawi, Malaysia
- We arrive in Kuah in the evening and find the house of Jeff, our new host. This is the next intensive experience, the next human microcosm that we dive into. With Jeff, there is also six dogs and 25 cats living there. But the cats usually only come for eating and drinking and are free roaming. The dogs, on the contrary, are mostly even sleeping with him in the same bed. The animals are well cared for and well trained. Jeff is working as a pet sitter. For many years he worked as an accountant (studied and worked in the USA, later in Malaysia). That way he was able to finance his dream to study animal behaviour. We get not know his (partly frightened) furry friends and talk until late at night. We listen to his stories. He has many of them to tell, has experienced interesting things.
- One of the stories Jeffs tells us is about how he worked as a paramedic and teamleader after the Tsunami 2004 in Aceh, Indonesia to look for survivors. He tells us about each person who got rescued. From an old British man to a 10 year old Indonesian child. In his team, six people were rescued. That has been a lot. Other teams didn’t find anyone. Only dead bodies, so many dead bodies everywhere. Afterwards Jeff has a trauma, he keeps seeing images of the dead bodies. One year of psychotherapy helps him to concentrate on the postive, on the rescue of the survivors. Besides, he stayed in contact with the rescued people. As the old British guy died several years after the catastrophe, his son came to Jeff in Malaysia. And, together with him, a suitcase full of money: 50.000 Pound. As a thank you for the rescue. Jeff, the incredible, the humble, doesn’t accept, doesn’t want the money. Instead he names several NGOs (among them: eight dogshelters in Malaysia) and asks to support them instead. How wonderful!
- That’s how a week in Langkawi passes by quickly. On our way back (from a ‘cycling-round-the-island-excursion’) we put up a paper at each of the three harbours. We wrote that we would like to hitchhike a boat – to any destination. Shortly after that we receive an email from Alasdair, saying that he would sail back to Phuket (Thailand). We are welcome to come along „at no cost except your travel stories“. We accept!
LANGKAWI – PHUKET (Thailand)
- With Alasdair, his girlfriend Katya and Steve, his helper, we buy some groceries and stamp out the day before we leave.
- Alasdair’s boat is a 51 foot catamaran with the name Mahayana: six cabins, a huge living room with kitchen, just an incredible boat – without words! The catamaran anchors in the bay and we sit together on the trampolins (the nets that are tensed between the two bodies). The stars above us, the water below us. The more we get to know the two, the nicer they become. Both of them started travelling immediately after high school. Steve ended up in Fiji where he has worked for an NGO (an underwater research center) for many years. The 27 year old Alasdair has taught him self programming skills and after many trials and errors he was able to found an enterprise. He discovered a niche and was smart enough to use it. We had assumed to meet a „rich kid“, but found a „smart kid“. Katya will stay mostly silent until the end. Looking forward to the upcoming days we crawl into our cabin!
- Our first day at sea, we have rather little wind. So with the help of the motor we slowly chug over the water. Alex doesn’t feel well and has to vomit. We think it might be the food of the day before. During the day: not so much happens. No sail has to be lifted up, no ropes have to be moved, no potatoes to be peeled. Not exactly correct. We do help in the kitchen. We have a lot of time to read and listen to music. In the evening we sit on deck and chat. This is the case for all three days at sea. The following days have more wind and waves though – and therefore also more feeling of unease for Alex.
- The second day we can actually lift the sails and move with around 10 knots (= ca. 10 km/h). We learn: sailing boats are extremely slow. The third day: the wind is coming from the front and the waves are so high that the whole boat moves up and down, gets lifted on the sides, is moving down into a wave’s valley to then surf on top of a wave again shortly after. Alasdair leaves the sails down, because this would make the wind moving us around even more.
- It is the arriving, the afternoon and evening hours that impress us. We anchor in front of an island. Just any, uninhabited island. White, lonely beaches, water in diverse blue and turquoise colours. It is possible to swim to the beach on the shore. A little bit later we have already jumped into the water with snorchelling utensils to discover the coral reefs lying between the boat and the beach. The snorcheling hours definitely become a true highlight. Only us, the water, the corals and all the living creatures inbetween in unbelievably light and surreal looking colours. Starfish with long black stings, violet corals in interesting forms and bizarre shaped fish (Nemo, colourfully glowing, striped) – pure diversity!. Additionally, the water is such a different element. To breathe and move here – that is excitingly different in comparison to being on land.
- If you have a boat, there is always something to repair, clean, exchange. The running costs must be huge (already just considering Steve’s salary). That is probably one of the reasons why a Swiss sailor whom we met in the Royal Yacht Club said that a bicycle means more freedom. During the last day at sea one of the two cranes which holds the dinghy almost breaks (because of the many waves). Alasdair solves the problem by lifting up the dinghy with the help of the big sailing mast. This relieves the damaged crane. His commentary: „These kind of things happen regularly“ and his conclusion for us: „Don’t buy a boat!“
PHUKET (Thailand) – ALOR SETAR
- After three days at open sea, we become hitchhikers. Our second day of hitchhiking we become lucky. After many short rides, Poe stops for us and takes us all the way to Phattalung – a long ride. Since 23 years Poe lives in Denmark and is on her way to visit her Thai parents. The good natured woman understands immediately why we chose to hitchhike. „Because you don’t get to know the country and it’s people, if you just stay in the hotel!“ Finally someone understands it! Hitchhiking is not a well-known concept, neither in Thailand nor in Malaysia. But is still works – although each time we have to explain what we are doing and why we prefer this to taking the bus.
- A „Welcome to Thailand!“ as we board the car, a mangosteen each (see picture) when we get off. Som Boon, an angel, who doesn’t give us any chance to protest. He is so into his Asiatic helpfulness that he doesn’t understand: we would like to go where he is going. But he just brings us to the closest Thai-Malay border (our aim for the day) – problem solved!
- We stand at the side of the street. But no one stops until we draw a sign with our destination: Penang. Thereupon Ibrahim stops. The 35 year old belongs to the group of the Malay. With 65% of the total population they form the biggest population group among the Malaysians. Besides that many Chinese (20-25%) and Indians (5-10%) form the rest of the Malaysian population.
- In Penang we have Sylvain (Alex’s flatmate in Mainz and Paris) and his girlfriend Alice visit us and they spend some days with us.
- Together we explore Georgetown’s old town: English style colonial buildings decorated with street art. In front of a temple we watch a Chinese man who burns some paper. He starts talking to us and happily explains: The burning is symbolic for energy transfer from earth to heaven. He doesn’t see any problem that each person follows her own religion. Because in heaven – according to his wonderful explanation – all gods live together peacefully and are having a good time. Some sort of shared community for gods. A beautiful image that he draws. The Taoist thinks that religion is nothing bad. Most religions are even quite similar, e.g. most have a custom about the point of not taking food for granted. The Muslims are celebrating Ramadan at the moment and many other relgions know relinquishment as a method to learn appreciation. His friendly smile and his simple words have sealed peace between all religions in a little side road of Georgetown!
- In the evening we meet Ru. The 40 year old is so likeable straightaway. She has a lot of energy and tells us how her lifestyle (meet and host travellers) is clashing with her traditional family. Her personality interestingly unites a young, sophisticated, modern woman with the traditions of the Chinese high culture. Soon she would like to go to Taiwan to study the construction of on old Chinese wooden instrument. We enjoy many different foods from two food stalls (Ru helps us order and explains all the local specialties) and we are really rejoiced having had the chance to meet her.
- We continue francophone (with Alice, Sylvain and a Canadian from Quebec) and hike up trek number 1 – through the jungle, past big roots up to the highest summit in the area. Then down again, through mossy forests until (some kilometers further downhill) a valley full of tea plantations extends below us – green as far as we can see. At night we play some farewell card games with Alice and Sylvain before they say good bye. We spent a great time together: easy-going, funny and active.
- Continueing to play cards we spend my 31st birthday. This time we play with Martin (who studied with me and whom we have already met in Thailand and Myanmar); he has (in contrast to us) come up to the highlands by bicycle.
CAMERON HIGHLANDS – GAMBANG
- Again hitchhiking and thus two days early we arrive in Gambang: the location, where our 10-day Vipassana meditation course will take place – which is to be told the next time