Tioman Island

Just a warning this is going to be a long one. This should keep you entertained until I tell you about Taman Negara.

Tioman island really is a beautiful place. It’s shaped like an apostrophe and some say like a sleeping dragon (there is a cute legend behind that one). It really is a piece of paradise. Unfortunately, ambition to increase tourism, coupled with the lack of conservation/ wildlife management is going to bring this place down the toilet in the years to come. It’s all very, very sad. The main attraction of the island is the snorkeling and scuba diving, so they are going to build a second airport in the southern part of the island large enough to land 747’s. To do this they will have to blow up the mountain that separated two bays (Paya and Genting)in order to build the runway along the shoreline to connect the bays. This island is only 38 km in length and 19 km wide. Good-bye coral reef!

September and October is the low season here. Most places on the island close in October because of the Monsoon season between November and February. Just an FYI.

After staying in Air Batang for the night, I moved on to Paya in the southwestern part of the island. This bay sits right below Ganung Kajang, the tallest mountain on the island (1048 m), and to my surprise with mostly untouched forest. The hard terrain and high mountains has kept logging at bay. Thank goodness!

I arrived by speedboat in the afternoon and stayed at one of the bigger resorts in the area – Paya Beach Resort. There are only three and this was the only one I could get a hold of. I got the cheapest room in the place with no window, with ac, my own bathroom, 4 bunk beds of my very own and a shared balcony (11 bucks/night). Well it really wasn’t a balcony, it was more like a porch, but it faced the mountains. You couldn’t really sit there very long and enjoy the view because of the mud flats that were below, which smelled like sewage. Nice, right.

Right away I began my investigation on getting into the forest. When I told them that I was a biologist they instantly referred me to this woman named Bridget. I thought this was the owner or something. So they asked me to come back to the reception area and I would be escorted. So I took the opportunity to actually make myself look and smell a little more presentable (after the morning’s trek in Air Batang).

Once I looked more decent I waited to be taken to this Bridget woman. So this young boy shows up to escort me and this other guy. We start walking and left the resort. We crossed this old rickety bridge that I was certain that I would fall right through. We continue walking past the second resort and onto a trail into the forest. I wasn’t properly dressed for a hike in my skirt and sandals. I had no idea what was going on until the guy I was walking with said he was there to meet Bridget to train to be an instructor for her eco-field course for undergraduates, which was based in Singapore. The light bulb went on at that moment. We arrived to find a group of students and teachers that were taking surveys in the stream, but Bridget was somewhere in the forest with another group of students. When she finally came I quickly introduced myself and she was a bit confused since she had no idea who the hell I was. When I mentioned leeches, to my horror she said that the leeches weren’t out yet. It hadn’t been raining that much lately. Even though the mountains seemed to surrounded by clouds. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear. With 40 students running around there was surely enough bait. I left there a bit deflated with the news.

I went back to the resort to try and negotiate for a guide to take me into the forest and to higher ground. I was given two choices: take a 3 hour trek into the forest where leeches had not been seen or up to the top of Ganung Kajang which was six hours up and about 4 hours back. I opted for the latter since going to higher elevation would increase my chances of finding leeches. They just needed to find someone who would be willing to take me. These kind of treks are usually organized in groups. Since I was solo and it was the low season, they were being less accommodating. So, the guides that typically do this trek were nowhere to be found and in the end I had to agree to have a local take me into the forest, but only about 2 hours up the mountain. I said fine. I thought it was better than nothing.

I met my guide, Jalel, at around 9 am (he wouldn’t go earlier). He was
about 55, 4’11” and very fit, man. When we headed into the forest. I was feeling good because it had rained the night before. The forest was so amazing. The trees were just towering over me making me feel like an ant. They were just huge. I was walking in undisturbed forest so there wasn’t much undergrowth because of the dense canopy cover. The forest floor was covered in leaf litter with randomly spaced shrubs, interesting blue ferns and short palms. That’s it. Oh and some of the largest boulders I’ve ever seen. Tioman Island is a volcanic and granitic island, but don’t worry there are no active volcanoes here. About 30 minutes in I was soaked from head to toe and was huffing and puffing, while my guide was gliding up the steep slopes. That was fun. Once I got my rhythm I was fine. It’s just getting started that was the hardest part. It’s not like I go climbing mountains in NYC everyday. We arrived to this very steep slope and followed my guide as he stared looking in the leaf litter and turning the leaves over. It wasn’t as damp as I would have liked, but it was worth a try. Surely crawling around on the ground would attract some of these little suckers. I put the thought of spiders and snakes out of my head and just focused on the task at hand. After about 2 and half hours of crawling and being hunched over the ground turning over the leaf litter, there was a leech sighting.

It was the most sluggish, most pathetic jungle leech I’d ever seen. Normally, terrestrial leeches are fast moving and aggressive, while this one was barely moving. Regardless, I was excited about Jalel’s finding (I didn’t find it) and happily put it in my tube. We looked for about another hour and half and turned up empty. It was time to go back. The most horrible thing is that the whole time we were there I heard thunder near by. So it was raining somewhere, but not where we were. That same morning the eco field course went north to hike the trail from Tekek to Juara (from west to east) – a 2-hour walk. They were the ones that got poured on. They said they looked for leeches, but didn’t see any.

What a disappointment.

My transport from ABC to Paya Beach
Paya Beach Resort - my lodge
EcoTours from Singapore - students with water snake
Rickety bridge
Jalel searching leaf litter for leech(es)
Big Boulders
Tioman Leech
Blue fern
Weird insect and slime mold