Friday, February 21, 2014


How do you get around on an island with almost no roads?  The common answer here is a sea taxi.  You can get picked up at any of the village jetties here and taken to another jetty on a private boat, for a fee.  But this was not good enough for us.  We are devoted walkers, and we are trying to see places by foot.  Besides, Tioman is pretty small and there is a lot of shady rainforest.  We figured, there has to be a trail.  And we were right.  Sort of.

Starting from the north end, we walked ten miles down to the southern beach village of Genting without a problem.  We noticed that there are usually footpaths that follow the electric cables on the island as they run from village to village.  Even better, these cables often run through the forest and across some excellent scenery.  So far so good.

At Genting, we were told that there is no path to the next beach.  This didn't make sense, since we could see the cables clearly running through the forest in that direction.  Undeterred, we scouted along the path.  It went through a village of abandoned huts, gorgeous deserted beaches, and eventually became a wooden boardwalk through the tree trunks until it ended at a fancy private resort.  We continued following the cable until the resort staff stopped us.  The man said he usually does not allow people to walk through, but he made an exception for us, and led us to a giant boulder.  Up there, he pointed, and to the right.  He smiled as we clambered over the railing and scurried right under peoples' guest rooms. 

We were back on the trail.  Except you could hardly call it a trail at this point.  Steep, and meandering, and difficult to find at times, but always within sight of the cables.  It took us to yet another resort, except this one was still under construction.  The construction workers there pointed out for us that the best way to continue would be out to sea.  Yup.  They meant for us to go into the sea, around a boulder pile, and then back on shore on the other side.  We did our best but, waist deep in water even as the tide was pretty low, soon decided that we would rather go over the rocks than around them.  Didn't want to lose our electronics in the South China Sea.  So we went back to the cables where they stretched high above the water.

The next four hundred meters were the hardest, but most fun.  There was almost no trail at this point, just trees and roots holding together piles of boulders.  We began scrambling and holding onto vines and jumping across some tiny chasms, following the cables all the while.  This jungle is full of amazing plants that almost seem like they want to help you, giving you armholds and footholds.  And there are those thorny ones that seem almost unnecessarily cruel.  But it is so full of life back there.

We finally emerged from the jungle and landed at Nipah, which is easily the most spectacular beach I have ever seen.  A long clearing that stays shallow for a surprisingly long stretch, with smooth footing under clear water, black sand and yellow sand, a river flowing into the ocean, a magnificent sheer rock face in the background, and islets dotting the horizon.  And almost no one in sight. 

The owner of the beach huts looked behind us and, seeing no trace of a water taxi, asked us if we got here by spaceship.  They clearly were not expecting visitors, but he was happy to rent us a room.  Content with the beachtime for only so long, we had acquired the taste for the jungle during the walk here, and we wanted more.  We had been going around the island but what would we find if we went higher and deeper up into it? 

Well you can't just walk around in the jungle without a path.  It is way too dense and full of aggressive plants.  And there is not exactly a trail map here.  Fortunately, at Nipah the stream that flows out of the jungle also serves as an excellent path up.  We spent about four hours clambering up the dry rocks of the stream bed seeing how far we could get.  We were above the canopy at various clearings and ended up in spaces unlike any I have seen before.  The bird calls were wild and the chittering monkeys quite territorial.  In our search for the elusive binturong, we also saw two new animals, one I think a flying lemur and the other maybe a mouse deer.  There were a panoply of brilliant butterflies and humongous ants.  We turned back when the streambed became overgrown and thorny, but who knows what we would have seen if we had kept going?  All in all, it is wonderful to be here.  But after so many days of jungle trekking, we think we may take the sea taxi back after all!

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