Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Missing Stooge

There is much to cover since our trip to Perhentian Island, but I will begin with our departure from the Islands as it is the most recent and terrifying experience to date.

We decided, smartly, I guess, to go the "long way around" to Bangkok from Perhentian Island (get a map) and avoid the part of Southern Thailand that had a bombing 2 weeks ago (Muslim separatists and all...).

So we leave the Perhentian Islands on the 8AM boat. The boat arrives at 9:30. We take a cab and it arrives in the transport hub, Kotu Bharu, at 10:15. We get some cash (malay ringgit) and head to the bus station across the street. Uh oh, we've missed the "day" bus to Piang which will avoid the bad area.

So the options are: 1) wait 12 hours in the dirty bus station getting very bad vibes and bad looks from locals until we can take a 9:30 PM bus out that arrives at a soooooo bleary 4:30 am into Pinang. 2) Take a cab, now-ish, for 3x the price of the bus. Or 3) Say screw it and go the short way to bangkok via the state department "avoid unessential travel" area (which requires a few hops and stops). So 3's out. And one is so unpleasant even for an hour that we opt for 2.

We hook up with a dutch guy and bargained with the taxi drivers to drive us to Penang for what amounts to about $20 each. Imagine being in a country where $60 can get you a 7 hour taxi ride somewhere AND the taxi drivers simply turn around after dropping you off and go back home. Then imagine what a taxi in that kind of country looks and smells like. Then imagine the poor souls who are destined to drive these "vehicles" for eternity.

No AC, they didn't speak much English, it was a very balmy 90 degrees the whole trip. But nobody told our tweedledee and tweedledum cab drivers that we wanted to avoid Southern Thailand. So off we go, right into Thailand! Ironic. Luckily, when irony is involved, only madcap situations develop and not life-threatening ones!! Of course we didn't realize that was the route they chose until we were at the border being questioned (in a make-shift tent) about our feelings on GW Bush by the Thai border official in a VERY Muslim area of Thailand. He was totally agreeable once we communicated our feelings re GWB were similarly somber. The Dutch guy got to chat about football (soccer) with him.

Then the car broke down for a bit in the deserted mountains of s. Thailand. That was a blast. Of course no standing still was even worse than moving (which wasn't so pleasant either).

Finally we get to Penang, but of course our drivers have NO idea where to drop us off. Weird thing about the rest of the world is NOBODY knows how to read maps. So although we had the map for him, and the language Malay uses the same characters as English they refused to use it.

By this time we are absolutely dying from breathing nasty exhaust fumes all day. I am covered in sweat and pollution as whenever I scratch my many many many mosquito bites my nails come back covered in the black nastiness that has stuck to my skin after traveling into the cab through the window.

Oh yeah - one window in the back seat (left side) doesn't open, and there are three of us back there b/c there are two drivers to share the job. They were effectively the two stooges doomed to travel the world in search of their long-lost third.

Unbelievable, but it all worked out. That terrible ride was orders of magnitude better than hanging out in the dirty and somewhat antagonistic-towards-westerners town for ten hours for the overnight bus, etc. etc.

We got here safe and settled into our hostel and got some Indian food for dinner and headed to bed.

Check out the flickr link (meandering pictures) to see our most recent photos. The Perhentian Islands trip itself was an absolute blast.


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