Pirate: a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.
Parasite: an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.
Pickpocket: a person who steals money, wallets, etc., from the pockets of people, as in crowded public places.
With the scene set for this post, let take you on a journey along the Strait of Malacca. But first, a brief background on this important trade route.
The Strait of Malacca connects the Pacific Ocean to the east with the Indian Ocean to the west. For that reason this 900km (550nm) stretch of water is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Apparently forty percent of the world’s trade, including a quarter of the world’s oil, is shipped via this narrow route. Some 50,000 ships each year they say. The Strait is infamous for its piracy, which reached its peak during the 1800s when the British East India Company traded in the region. Mostly though, modern pirates focus on commercial vessels, leaving the smaller and weaker cruising yachts to motor through the flotsam and jetsam.
During our stay at the pleasant Admiral Marina, located 10km south of Port Dickson on the Malaysian Peninsular, we opted to bus to Melaka and stay a couple of days, rather than join the rally one-day tour. (Melaka is Malay spelling; Malacca is English spelling). Along with us were a couple of Swiss yachties also wanting a longer stay to absorb the history of this infamous port. We journeyed from Port Dickson to Sembelan via taxi, then caught the local bus (RM7.00) to arrive at Sentral Melaka bus station. Our accommodation for two nights was Ringo’s Foyer; a cool, hippy like place, with 18-30 year olds, and a lively manager named Howard. Howard’s English was very good and his effervescent personality bubbled its way around the guests as he introduced us to everyone and everyone to us. The Swiss couple had a lovely double room for RM80.00 per night, and we had a small twin share for RM40.00 per night. The place is cheap and cheerful and smelt fresh and clean. Looks like a good place for a few days.
Over the three days there we journeyed through the streets of Melaka to the various tourist hotspots such as the Maritime Museum, the Stadthuys, A’Famosa, St Paul’s Church, plus the touristy Jonker Street. We took a 45 river cruise, the boat winding its way up the Melaka River allowing us to view the artwork painted on the buildings and locals walking along the boardwalk on the southern side of the river. The bustling port of old Melaka slowly died when the Brits took over deciding Johor and Singapore would be better trading areas.
The morning of our final stay at the guest house, I had a number of bites on my shoulders, feet and hands, plus other parts of my body. I thought at first it was mosquito bites, as I’d had the window open against the much too cool air conditioner. The bites were very itchy and didn’t look like the typical mossie bite. After a while though as my body heated up, so did the itching. It was obvious I had tracks of bites, indicating something had had a feed on his way along my skin! Ew! With my trusty iPad I Googled ‘bed bugs’ and I’m almost certain that’s what my bites were. After traumatising myself with pictures of swollen limbs, scabby sores and reading all about bed bugs and parasites, I was horrified! Given I’m prone to bites, I’ve got a fairly good ‘no scratch’ policy, and over the course of the coming days, the itching slowed and the bites began to fade. Luckily for me I was not snacked on too badly. Must’ve only been a few hungry little buggers.
So back at Blue Heeler, it was time to depart Admiral Marina with the rally, on our way north. The program of events at the designated rally stop at Pangkor Marina didn’t appeal to us, so on the off-chance to get a berth at the busy Straits Quay Marina at Penang, we were happy they could squeeze us in for a week. We made our way to the marina on the north east corner of Penang, along with other boats including Destiny and Kilkea II.
Travelling in this part of the world can be dangerous because of the number of fishing boats and nets in the water. The nets are hard to see, except for a small flag at one end and if you’re lucky, a matching flag at the other. Mostly though the floats are small and difficult to bypass. One option is to stay close to the shipping channel, but there’s still plenty of crap in the water waiting to foul your propeller. We maintained a good lookout at all times and still had a couple of near misses.
We motor-sailed to Pulau Pangkor and anchored on the Pangkor Laut side (west) of the island for a night. The swell came in strong so it was a very uncomfortable night. We moved to the east side the following day and anchored near the small village. We dinghied across to village where we hired a Moped and tore our way around the 8km circuit to check out the views, stopping for a lunch of chicken rice and checking out the village shops. Steve from Recluse joined us and when we arrived at the dinghy, it was sitting high and dry but unfortunately not on sand. The villagers live above the water in simple wooden huts and drop waste and crap into the sea below. It was this crap we had to plough through to get to our dinghy and lift it back into the water. Wayne sank up to his knees in the black mud while Steve had plastic bags on his feet to keep out the filth. Steve and I then walked along the jetty and Wayne motored across to us to pick us up. Back on board we washed our feet with disinfectant as the mud was truly disgusting.
The following day we continued our trip to Penang, stopping for the night at pleasant Pulau Rimau anchorage at the southern end of Penang, before travelling under the ridiculously long unfinished second bridge, then under the original bridge that joins Penang to the mainland.
The entrance to the Straits Quay Marina was a little shallow, but we made it in okay. The Straits Quay complex at Penang is quite fancy. It’s not a marina per se; more of a shopping area with around 40 berths. Nonetheless, we have excellent facilities and access to restaurants and buses into nearby Georgetown. It’s best to book here by contacting Captain John Ferguson, the manager of the marina.
Wayne spent a couple of his early teenage years in Penang so we took the bus ride to have a look at the old place and his old school. He says a lot has changed in 35+ years, but the food is just as good.
The crews of Destiny and Blue Heeler took a bus ride into town then walked for about 15 minutes until we reached the Thai Consulate. Here we arranged our tourist visa to visit Thailand. Somewhere on the walk, I’d been bitten by either an ant or spider on my ankle. Needless to say, over the course of the day the bites on my feet worsened and I was itchier and itchier, so much so, that the following day I went to the doctors with huge blisters on my ankles. Even the old bed bug bites has begun to re-itch once more. Argh! A course of antibiotics and antihistamines for me for the next week. I was bitten again yesterday, resulting in more itching and more blisters on my swollen foot.
Nonetheless, we’ve been out every day to see the sights of Penang. Wayne and I went to town on the 101 bus to Georgetown and we’d planned to catch up with Destiny and Kilkea II later that day. On the journey we stopped at a bus stop to let passengers off and quick as a flash, a guy ran off the bus just as the doors shut. For some unknown reason, I yelled, “he’s got my wallet!”. Why I knew that, I have no idea, but I think his body language and the proximity of my backpack to him triggered something within. I frantically searched my bag and confirmed the snatch while the bus sat at the lights as the crook ran off. I screamed at the bus driver to open the doors and let us out, but he said “Not until the next stop”. Argh!! The guy was running away and we couldn’t get off the bus! A young guy got up and told the bus driver to open the doors and we rushed off the bus, across the traffic and tore down the road looking for the guy and my wallet. No luck. I was pretty pissed off. Wayne listened while I ranted, yelled, cried and cursed, then he bought me a feed of McDonalds while I used the iPad to cancel my credit cards. Fortunately my purse contained only money, my drivers license and credit cards. I was a little bummed out after this incident so to ease the pain we arranged to have a few beers at the Healy Mac’s Irish Pub at the marina with the others.
Miraculously, I received a text message “Contact me. I have something very important. Joe”. My wallet! I called Joe and in broken English he told me that he’d found my wallet in a phone booth somewhere closer to the city. He kindly offered to drive it directly to me at the marina – what a guy! Could he be the guy that rolled me, wanting more cash as a reward? Who knows. Anyway a fellow and his mate turned up with my wallet in hand. I thanked him profusely and gave him a reward to compensate him for his generosity. Of course there was no money in my wallet, but everything else was in there, including my marina pass and my Rapid Bus Tourist Pass! Yay! Later on I sent a text to Joe to once more thank him for his kindness and he replied with the following text “Its a small matter, thats my responsibility, my identity and my country, anyway thank a lot to coming to Malaysia” (sic). A nice guy it seems.
With the unexpected drama out of the way, the following day we resumed our foray into the sights and smells of Penang, supposedly the “8th most livable city” in the world. That’s a big call, but it is pretty nice here. Still there’s the ‘monny drains’ and the stench of Durians, but there is a definite reduction in garbage and an increase in rubbish bins than in other parts of Malaysia.
The central area of Georgetown, for me, was a delight to walk through with various hardware, goldsmith, fabric stores, and hawkers restaurants, plus all the historical buildings. A walk down to the famous Chew Jetty was interesting – the homes of the clan-folk are perched over the water on top of cement pylons, made by stacking plastic buckets and filling with concrete (see picture). We took a bus over to Air Itam an caught the funicular to the top of Penang Hill for some great views of the straits and Georgetown. Back down we caught another ride to Kek Lok Se temple – very impressive and full of souvenir stalls.
Yesterday Wayne and I went to ‘The Chemical Man’ at 352 Lebuh Chulia. This place is amazing! It smells like a high school science lab with bags of chemicals, beakers, bottles stacked halfway up the walls with only a narrow path to walk to the old Chinese guy at the back of the store. He looked about 100, but considering his environment, he was probably only 30 something. Wayne bought some products to clean out watermaker, heat exchanger and hull – sodium metabisulfate, muriatic acid, and citric acid. Many of the chemicals he sells are unavailable back home, or at least 10 times the cost. With the air thick with chemical smells, that shop would go off like a bomb if anyone lit a match! On the way we also bought a new starter battery for Blue Heeler as the other had died a slow death.
So, although I was robbed, stung, bitten, stung again and continue to itch, I’m thankful that I’m fortunate to travel, as many are not so lucky. I’ve enjoyed my time in Penang and the Straits of Malacca. I’d love to stay a couple more weeks at Penang, but today is our final day as the marina is hosting a boat show and we have to leave. Today we sorted Blue Heeler and as a final night in Penang, went to the cinema to watch the new Bond film Skyfall. Tomorrow we make our way to Pulau Rebak at Langkawi, where we’ll stay for a month. Until next time…Ally.