Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Big Family Trip 2009 - Pulau Pemanggil Part 3

We were informed earlier that our ferry will be picking us up at 7am to go back to Mersing. However, during dinner we were told that the ferry will be coming from Pulau Tioman and will be at resort at 6am. That was ridiculously early but I remember what I was told about having to catch the tide. At 4.50am, we were all waken up by loud blaring of horn from the sea. The ferry was here! WTF!

We got ready quickly to board the ferry. Everyone had gone to bed really late and were forced to wake up early. I let Laura and Adam sleep while Dita and I got ready our things. Woke them up only when we were ready to go down to the boat. They fell quickly asleep again in the boat. We finally left the island at 6.15am.

RZ asleep in ferry RinZen asleep in the ferry.

Laura and Adam were next to me. They both rested their head on my lap and slept through the 1 1/2 hour boat ride to Mersing. Most people slept on the boat after having waken up at such a ridiculous hour.

Life jackets in plastic bags I looked around the inside of the ferry to chart the escape route. I can't help my paranoia having read news about ferry disasters over the years. The ferry took only what was allowed and was not overcrowded. That was reassuring. I noticed that the life jackets were still in their original packing. Will we be able get to them in an emergency?

Breakfast was packed by the resort operator for us to have breakfast in Mersing. We were told that we'll have a picnic by the sea. That sounds really wonderful until we got to the place. We were at a public park area with food stalls which were not yet open that time of the morning. There were rubbish strewn everywhere. The beach was littered with rubbish as far as the eyes can see. So sad that visitors to the islands leave with a negative image of the area. Mersing is a disorganized, messy little town. Ironically, it is also the gateway to all the beautiful islands of Pulau Tioman, Pulau Rawa, Pulau Aur and Pulau Dayang. If the authorities and people cannot keep Mersing clean, how can they be expected to keep the islands clean? How much environmental damage and degradation can the islands take before all the corals are dead and gone? People still endure the discomfort and sorry sight to get to the jewels in the sea. For how long?

It is so wonderful to be children. The grown ups noticed the litter and unkempt state of the place. Kids saw only the potential and the fun.
J Yoong & Sze Yin in playground
The bus ride back to KL took a long time. Night time was more manageable as kids were asleep, so less stops for toilet. Travelling back to KL in the day, we made several toilet stops along the highway. First stop was for lunch, which was less than 2 hours after a nasi lemak breakfast. It was ridiculous really but we had to because after that, it was stopping along the highway at one of the rest stops. The prospect of letting loose 40 pax at a highway rest stop for lunch and then trying to get everyone to board the bus again was toooo stressful. We had a light lunch and was off again. The restaurant where we stopped were quite disappointed that we didn't order seafood for our lunch, choosing instead to have noodles. Family members heading back to Singapore arrived home before 1pm. We got back to Tim and Vivian's place in Subang Jaya almost 5pm.

Kids and I had dinner at a restaurant called Splendid in Jusco AU2. The place looks like a Secret Recipe wannabe. Food was ok lah. Service was good. I just wanted to go home and rest but kids and helper had to be fed.

Laura eating pizza Adam eating pizza
What did I learn from this trip?

Do not organize a trip without first visiting it. We didn't get to spend much time with the Higher Authorities as we were out to the beaches while they stayed back at the resort.

Ferries ply the island route several times a day but we had to board ferries at ungodly hours because Pulau Pemanggil, Pulau Aur and Pulau Dayang do not have high tourist traffic. So the ferry operators "force" the island resort operators to take low traffic times which means really early in the morning. We were told it was to catch the tide but I noticed that we left Pulau Pemanggil at the low tide. Now it's all clear why divers and avid anglers choose to charter boats to get to the islands.

The Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board does jack shit for Cuti-Cuti Malaysia judging from the sorry excuse of a port for Mersing. The place was unkempt, cramped and had no facilities. Only one toilet cubicle for Gents and one for Ladies. Most visitors would have travelled from out of town to get to Mersing to go to the islands. We obviously needed to use the toilet. If any one of the toilets were blocked, we would have been screwed!!

Island dwellers and chalet operators know shit about preservation and recycling. They throw things into the sea without a second thought. Visitors see that the island is already dirty, do not think twice about littering the beaches and the sea too. Places like Mauritius have strict regulations, including allowing only environmentally-friendly sunblocks and suntanning lotions. I will be happy just to see the islands treated with more respect. Doesn't take much to clean up the beaches and keep them clean!

I want to visit the islands again but thinking of the long journey and the discomfort of being in Mersing puts me off. Maybe if I have short term memory like most Malaysians do, I'll go again. Organize another big group there? No way!!

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Big Family Trip 2009 - Pulau Pemanggil Part 2

During the briefing on the first day, we were told that breakfast will be served at 7.45am. Not quite a relaxing holiday is it? Holiday usually meant sleeping in and eating at whatever time we felt like it. Ok ok, most hotels closes their breakfast counter at 10.00am. The kids were too excited to sleep late anyway. We were given the option of going island hopping or staying in to play indoor games. I believe telematch could have been arranged but we didn't feel like trekking across the rock to the rubbish-strewn beach. Dean was ok with arranging for a speed boat to take us to a nearby beach on another part of the island. 20 of us (a few Higher Authorities, adults and children) opted for that option. 15 pax (adults and children) opted for island hopping. A few of the Higher Authorities stayed back to play mahjong.

Along the beach were abandoned kampung houses and chalets. Dean showed us where lunch was to be brought to us. Loo Keat and I followed him through path which had mango trees on our left and right. There was also a ciku tree and jambu trees. Since nobody occupied those houses anymore, we could help ourselves to the mangoes. They were delicious!

Wi Liang & Yu Mi Sar chim, HJ, San & Yee
laura on beach RZ on beach

This was the view from the jetty:
view of fishes from jetty big school of fish
Large schools of fish swam near the jetty. Crabs hung on to the side of the jetty. We could see live corals in the sea. Adam and I snorkelled around for a long time. The sea was calm and deep enough to snorkel but safe enough without a sudden drop off point. There were lots of dead corals but also lots of live ones. I felt quite sad that these corals may not be there anymore in a few years due to pollution and release of sludge by tankers. We managed to see many types of fishes including some clown fish swimming in and out of anemone. So beautiful!

Cousins pulling funny faces Keat & girls
Justin & Hui Yee Min
The view from the jetty was quite amazing too. We even saw turtles! Our group saw 4 turtles (I saw only 2 'coz 2 swam by as I walked away!)

Jayden & Sasha My sister-in-law, Sasha, with Jayden who also swam about in the sea.

We were having some problems with the water supply at the resort that day. So the instruction was to bathe before getting back. That meant standing fully clothed to mandi. I washed my hair on the jetty! Several times, "Survivor" came to mind. We expected to be picked up at 4.00pm but were picked up at 6.00pm instead. When we got back, Dean told us his boat broke down on the way back.

My camera battery went flat at dinner time. Must get some photos taken by my cousins!

~ to be continued ~

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Big Family Trip 2009 - Pulau Pemanggil Part 1

big family photo 2009

When organizing the Big Family Reunion, the criterias I have in mind for a place are:

1. can accommodate 60 and above pax of Big Family members.

2. has a place for the Big Family members to gather to chat and have fun.

3. is accessible to the Higher Authorities who are made up of our parents, aunts and uncles (my father's siblings and their spouse).

4. is within our budget which is not much for such a big group.

5. if possible, by the sea. My cousins, brothers and I used to spend one week every year end school holidays in Penang where we had the most glorious and fun time.

Not many places can fulfill all these requirement. A few months ago, when I was at my dentist's clinic, I chanced upon a brochure for Lanting Beach Resort in Pulau Pemanggil. P Pemanggil is off Mersing on the way to Pulau Aur/Dayang where PT and I spent a couple of memorable holidays basking in the sun and swimming in the coral filled sea. I checked with a couple of BNI members who have been to the resort (one even has his photo on the brochure). So I got in touch with Dean who is the proprietor of the resort to discuss booking a family reunion at the resort. Dean assured me that the Higher Authorities will be able to access the rooms, I know the sea around the area is beautiful, the place can accommodate 120 pax and it has a huge dining hall where everyone can gather. Best of all, it was within our budget. Viola! We have a place for our Big Family Trip 2009!

Our journey started at night on Friday, 5 June. The drive to Mersing is very long. We were told to get to Mersing before 5.00am to board the catamaran at high tide. To save anyone from driving, or try to keep up and keep together and have the fun begin as soon as we depart for the island, a bus was chartered for our trip. The KL side filled up a 40-seater bus. The Singapore side went to Mersing on an 11-seater van. We were instructed to arrive at the Mersing port by 4.30am to board a catamaran to P Pemanggil. We got into Mersing port by 3.45am and were the first to get there.

waiting at Mersing jetty We waited for the contact from the resort to arrive so he can sort out our boarding pass. After the Seagull Express incident, the port authorities has become strict with checking that ferries do not exceed the allowed number of passengers. I was relieved to hear that as I really do not want any danger to befall my family members. Unfortunately, our contact did not inform us sufficiently what to expect. The Higher Authorities were getting anxious as more and more people arrive at the port. BTW, the port has only one toilet cubicle each for Ladies and Gents. That will be another post rant.

At 6.15am, we finally boarded the ferry (which was told to be catamaran earlier) to get to P Pemanggil. All of us have been travelling in a bus for hours, waited for hours at the port and now sitting inside a rocking boat. We couldn't use the upstairs which was open air because that section was closed. Everyone was very excited to get to the resort but they also suffered from motion sickness. Mad scramble for plastic bags and sounds of retching later, we arrived at the resort.

The sea around the resort was breathtaking but when I saw the resort from the jetty, my heart sank. The resort did not have a beach. The beach was separated by huge rocks and the rooms were set really high on a hill.

We climbed up the steep steps leading to the dining hall, helping our Higher Authorities up. The resort staff helped carry our bags. Breakfast was to be served shortly. We were all hungry by then. As food was being taken out, Dean went through some house rules. Lots of them were common sense but after the long journey and the rude shock of not having a beach, the list of rules did not go down well with quite a few of the family members. We were not having a good start to the family reunion. We were also allocated our rooms and given our keys then. Our group was allocated rooms nearer to the dining hall. We had to do a bit of reshuffling for the benefit of the Higher Authorities.
cousins outside room cousins outside room2 My brother and I offered to switch our rooms for the seniors but there was not enough bed space for them. By this time, my head was in a cloud yet trying to make the most of the whole situation. I think my cousins were too.

After breakfast, some went on a boat to another beach for snorkelling. Some of us chose to go to a nearby beach which meant walking down many flight of steps and on a huge rock to get to the beach. I wish the beach was kept clean. Such a shame to see such beautiful sea set against a filthy, rubbish strewn beach. The sea was choppy. Kids were squealing and having fun. I was on the alert all the time to make sure none of the kids get pulled out to sea *sigh*

Then we went back to the dining hall for lunch. So far, the best part of the resort was the food. Quite a variety of dishes with lots of vegetable and delicious ulam. The cooking was tasty. After lunch we were given the option to go snorkelling again. Since there wasn't much to do at the resort, a group of us went on the snorkelling trip. We were dropped of at a nearby kampung with a beautiful beach front. Unfortunately, also strewn with rubbish. The sea was crystal clear and calm. Shallow water stretched quite far which made it safe for children to splash about. A few of the cousins who had gone to the island earlier for snorkelling were still there. They were quite upset by then as they've been waiting for the boat to fetch them for hours. It was way past lunch time (3.00pm by then), nobody had told them exactly what time the boat was to arrive to pick them up. The resort brought their lunch when taking us there.

Hearing that, I chose for my kids and I to return to the resort after the group had finished their lunch, having spent only an hour on the beach. Could it get worse than this??!

We chose to ride in the front of the boat to go back to the resort. Short while after leaving, the boat turned back towards the beach. I thought perhaps they forgot to collect something and was going back. Turned out, someone had spotted a small luggage bag floating in the sea. The resort operator and crew fished out the luggage from the sea. They were very excited to know what was in the bag. Popped open the bag and inside was a journal of sorts with pages of notes and drawings. The bag was very neatly packed. It was quite obvious that the bag hadn't been in the sea for long. In the journal was a passport and photos. I thought that's great. They'll be able to hand over the bag to the proper authorities to return to the owner. When ensued was shocking! The boat crew and resort operator pulled out the things one by one, shouting with excitement of their find. They were no different from pirates who pilfered and robbed. I was so sad that my children had to see what they were doing. My cousins and I were so shocked, we didn't know how to react. They rummaged through the bag to look for cash but couldn't find any. Then the resort operator threw the underwear in the sea deliberately. Any wonder why the beaches were strewn with rubbish? Words cannot describe the disappointment and sadness I felt on that boat ride. Laura and Adam were full of questions about what they witnessed on the boat. Asking if that was what is meant by Finders Keeper. It was very disturbing to realize that the beautiful islands, the jewels of our country, are run by barbarians and hooligans who obviously do not know anything about preservation. These islands are their livelihood and should be their pride, yet they chose to rape, exploit and litter. What is the heritage my children are growing up to inherit? I don't even recognize the country I grew up in anymore.

The resort operator collected vintage items in his resort, old telephones, gramaphones, photos, weighing scales, etc. I looked through the photos hanging on the wall. These were photos collected from various junk yards and sales so were not of any particular families. Most of the photos were from the 40s and 50s. What struck me was how similar these photos were to the ones in my family collection. There was no distinction between the races. Malayans dressed in similar fashion and one couldn't tell if they were Malays, Indians, Chinese or whatever crap the politicians have been trying to ram into us.

Most of us took a long nap in the afternoon, after a long night and rough morning. Night time was spent chatting and kids played by themselves. Adam played Congkak for the first time and enjoyed himself tremendously. The children gathered on the dormitory floor to play. One of the kids fell asleep playing!
Big Family Kids

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