I’m sure you remember folks how I raved about Pulau Ketam. You may also reasonably expect that once I label something Part 1, another part must follow. I indeed hate to leave things unfinished. It’s just that with Pulau Ketam, despite its proximity, it’s been rather complicated. Quite simply since September 2020, when I last visited this genuine island, the pandemic hasn’t allowed me another chance to go and check this one more piece that I desperately needed to put the whole puzzle together. I’ve been waiting and waiting, to the point of growing grey hair, but with all the lockdowns and travel limitations the prospects of the third visit don’t seem to be real. So I’ve decided to write Part 2 regardless. Ready? Let’s go!
My second visit was a combination of an amazing unpredictability and serendipity. In Part 1 I churned out superlatives about this place and how it had me spellbound after my first trip there. Apparently, that was just a tip of the iceberg as I was about to experience even more of the island’s amazing hospitality. You might also remember that it’s mainly inhabited by Chinese and it seriously reminded me of another favourite place of mine, the Lantau Island in Hong Kong. I think I also said that it seemed as if time had stopped there and people only enjoyed themselves and how that’s probably down to the amazing ability of Chinese to skilfully combine the work hard, play hard attitude. And I was just about to discover that.
Where to stay
Since I had almost zero sleep on the night before the travel – excitement does that to me – I was dying to get a nap. Pulau Ketam D’island beds&cafe was the right place for that. This spotlessly clean family-owned homestay has it all from comfy rooms, lovely views from the terrace, refillable water and amazingly friendly owners. Luckily they let me check-in earlier and as soon as I arrived, I jumped into the shower and bed to get the well needed rest.
Meeting Peggy again
In my first post about this amazing island I told you about Peggy and her great Remember Me restaurant. I didn’t exactly tell Peggy I was coming back as I wanted to surprise her and keep it cool at the same time. But since my decision to return was rather on the spur of the moment I texted her just to make sure the boat services were running. I still didn’t tell her specifically I was coming, but it didn’t take a fortune teller to guess. The excitement was clearly palpable and could be sensed even from my just-by-the-way question. While I didn’t explicitly confirm, I knew Peggy had figured I was on my way. I came to see her right after the refreshing rest. I wanted to order my favourite fried squid but Peggy insisted that I ate less because in the evening we were going to a party with her friends. Yay! I was invited to socialise with locals and it looked promising. As I saw later, this was clearly an understatement compared to what I experienced afterwards.
16 September 2020
This was a Malaysia day but locals on the island seemed to have given this day a different meaning and twist. It looked as if it was some sort of remembrance event for souls that are not with us anymore. I believe it was also the end of one lunar month, so perhaps that was important too. All along the island people were burning Chinese money, or other stuff and it seemed like a very special day. Simply, the inhabitants were up to big celebrations which I was about to witness myself.
Naughty electric motorbike
While Peggy was clearly excited to introduce me to all her friends, I became slightly worried when she said we would go by the electric motorbike. From Part 1 you already know that I was reluctant to try this mode of transport in Pulau Ketam. It seemed fairly easy to either lose balance as you try to avoid other clearly more dexterous riders in those incredibly tiny and narrow paths or simply make a wrong move and as a result end up in the stinky mud and keep those hungry crabs some company. I’d pictured that scene a zillion times, indeed. “What if I walked?” I asked meekly but this clearly wasn’t up to negotiation. “Nah, too far, too far,” Peggy decisively answered as she slowly but surely dragged me to her friend’s again to rent the smart invention locals so skilfully used to move around the island. I sensed problems but decided to give in. Well, I didn’t have any choice and the problems started already on our way to her house.
As opposed to Peggy who elegantly slid through the narrow, often extremely steep paths, I wasn’t so confident. Plus my electric motorbike, given it was actually for free, seeing as it’s technically a favour for Peggy, wasn’t exactly reliable. It was old and the battery was worn out. The brakes were quite the same story. So I was sure I looked pitiful to Peggy as I fought my way through the maze. At one particularly steep part of the road, my old motorbike gave up abruptly and I started going down backwards.
‘Oh no!’ I shouted on the inside and tried to manoeuvre to keep the naughty vehicle in control. But despite my quick reaction, jumping off and trying to push the bike up and forward like a true Spartan, I just couldn’t pull it off. I wasn’t a Spartan, obviously, and the heavy little bastard dragged me down pretty mercilessly, its pedals violently pushing to my shins. Collecting all my powers I somehow managed to reverse the falling tendency and push the old bloody thing to the hill. At this point though I was seriously and quite reasonably freaking out and totally not up to riding the motorbike in the opposite direction where an ugly, dangerously looking descent waited for me.
Getting a bad rep
With its shaky brakes I panicked and exclaimed so that Peggy who was impatiently waiting down there, wondering what I was creating there, could hear me: “I’m not going to ride this hill. And I can’t walk with it either. It’s too heavy to manage!” Peggy didn’t think it was a big deal: “Come on, why are you still up there? It’s okay!” But no, I wasn’t risking this shit. I could see it coming. The brakes will snap or something and I’ll smash my beautiful and young body against the house down there at the bottom, my brains splashing out violently in all corners serving as a snack for the fish and crabs.
“No, no, no, I’m not riding down on this!” I shouted back almost ready to leave the heavy rusty motorbike there on the tip of the hill, acting like a stubborn child. And like this we kept this loud conversation going for a minute or two until her son, who by a complete coincidence appeared behind me as he returned from work, helped and drove without any problems down the steep road, only confirming my reputation of a sissy. Of course, I am not one, but now Peggy for sure thought I was. And her good looking son too. ‘Never mind, I can’t impress everyone with everything I do,’ I shrugged it off and kept following Peggy. The rest of the ride was smooth, I manned up and since there were no more steep surprises, it went well. Once we got to the location and I parked the unruly vehicle, all seemed fine.
The Chinese way
Now the real events were about to unfold! Once I was sat down I instantly became the attraction of the evening. Peggy eagerly translated as I answered all the questions, food was thrown on my plate constantly, my glass was filled with an incredible regularity, prompting me to drink more and cans of beer were served to me one after another from all directions, as if probing me if I could handle this. Peggy might have told them about my not so great riding skills, so now I obviously couldn’t lose my face anymore. Surely you understand!
Although I didn’t understand a word, I knew I was welcome and everyone was glad Peggy brought me. I smiled, laughed and toasted heavily with everyone, probably every single minute or so. My initial intention to keep it cool and under control, drinking only moderately, went down the toilet very quickly. The gregarious spirit was stronger than anything I’d ever seen in Malaysia so it was impossible to resist. Of course I took photos of everything and everybody so I have about 400 shots from this evening alone. About 12 cans and 250 photographs later, I started bonding with the females by something I always love to do when in such a mood – dance! Suddenly I became even a bigger star. I might not be the best motorbike rider but if there’s one thing I can do, it’s bonding with people through music and dance. And once I get into it, I’m unstoppable! Soon I saw myself dancing with almost everyone. This was my strategy. They couldn’t resist. I drank my beers dutifully and they did their part too. Amazing vibe, I’m telling you. I couldn’t believe I was still in Malaysia. This was out if this world hospitality and way of celebrating.
The bike again
There was another intermezzo with the electric motorbike when in the middle of a passionate dance it started raining heavily, Peggy shouted at me to park the bike under a roof nearby. I froze for a second as another encounter with the motorbike was the last thing I needed at this point but figured it couldn’t be worse from the previous faux pas.. ‘It’s just parking,’ I encouraged myself as I took long leaps towards the bike in the rain. Well, but by this time I’d already had about 20 cans of beer, my blood was boiling with party mood and I suddenly forgot all the functions of the bike. So it happened that amidst unknowingly and insensitively moving the wrong handles, setting the little monster in uncontrollable sharp motion forward, I indeed almost ended up in the water, only managing to stop this from happening by luckily standing and yet again letting the bike push to my legs. This stupid battle between my calves and insensitive hands took way too long. But it was futile. I couldn’t even control the handles properly, moving forward and trying to stop at the same time.
A couple young boys observed the struggle from their house further away so I thought I’d call them. “Can you help me?” I shouted in their direction desperately. One of them quickly ran towards me. He had this ‘How come you can’t even park a motorbike?’ look on his face but he gladly took care of it. By that point I knew for sure I made a complete fool out of myself and the whole island would share the story about of a pitiless young foreigner who couldn’t ride a bike so it was crucial to balance this with some positives. Once he safely put the electric enemy under the roof, I thanked him and hurried back to the Pulau Ketam’s Thursday fever to keep propping up the good side of my reputation. The party continued until wee hours. When it became crystal clear that I could barely walk, let alone ride any sort of vehicle, I was transported home by one of those wonderfully nonchalant Chinese men who even after heavy drinking would swoosh through the island’s maze like a breeze. I hugged him tight as we pierced the darkness and solitude of the dawn and voila – another great memory was born. Life is great!
Waking up was relatively easy, in spite of the palpable consequences of the previous night. Bruises on my legs so huge that any movie make-up artist could envy greeted me first thing in the morning. Large green, purple and bloody patches were all over my shins and calves. It looked horrendous and I seriously thought they would be permanent. They were clearly the result of my troubles with the motorbike and I suddenly recalled all the incriminating moments of the previous night. Obviously, I didn’t bond with the little vehicle. But it was also clear that I certainly didn’t disappoint on the other, to me more important level and that’s the party. I had this elevated feeling that I pretty much smashed it and created long-lasting memories not only for myself but also for Peggy’s friends. Ignoring the throbbing headache I sprung up and went directly to Peggy’s for a morning coffee so that I could piece the puzzle together. You know, I needed more details on how and what time exactly I got home, what happened to that motorbike and potentially any other important information that I missed or forgot. Peggy made me an amazing coffee, we had a laugh about the party and all was well. Time to explore the island again! This time to the other side!
Playing it safe
You would think that I’d never sit on an electric bike again and you would be right. I couldn’t but given the state of my legs, a regular bicycle was out of question too, so I manned up again and went for an electric bicycle – a much safer option for an amateur like me. But I made it clear to Peggy’s friend – functional brakes and battery or no renting! And it was great this time. I ventured to the opposite side of the island and discovered again many beautiful corners of this inconspicuous lovely place. The maze just drags you in so skilfully.
Around the island by boat
But Peggy had more surprises up her sleeve. She instructed me to be back from my exploring early and wait at the jetty at 6pm and be ready for a boat ride along the island! Yay! There’s plenty to see as the whole area is full of small islands, mangroves and isolated stilt villages. Some of the islands are surprisingly uninhabited. On others, however, the people who live there get full support from the government given the isolation and lack of infrastructure. Then we moved through the mangroves which was amazingly calming. And finally, we stopped by a fish farm where Peggy’s husband caught a fish for dinner.
Kelong Floating Fish Farm
This was definitely the highlight of the boat trip. I’d never seen a fish farm like this before. Upon our mooring the boat we were greeted by unbelievably fierce barking of two huge and scary dogs. At first I wasn’t really keen on getting off the boat but once they got used to us, they were fine. Later it was explained to me that having fear inducing canine guards was indispensable as attacks and stealing were not uncommon. But in fact, one of the dogs, as I later found out, was just a puppy who badly wanted some play time. The farm doesn’t get many visitors so opportunities for fun are scarce.
By the same token, the handful of men who worked on the farm, and also lived there permanently seemed tired but content with their fate. When I saw where they slept, I suddenly admired them. On the one hand for being able to stay completely isolated for 24/7 in such a tiny hut surrounded by vast mangroves and sea (anyone still complaining about the quarantine?) and on the other for not going nuts. It’s just them, the dogs, fish, and the nature. Nothing else, nothing more. I walked around the farm with my jaw dropped. What’s more, it was an amazing opportunity to take some unique photographs. And by this amazing excursion to this isolated farm we concluded our boat trip. On the way back we took even more shots profiting from the sunset and I continued to be blown away by everything that Peggy and her husband did for me.
In the evening many there was dinner planned with Peggy’s friends again. As usual, I understood nothing but it wasn’t an obstacle, the communication went well. My knight rider from the previous night insisted on taking me home again, even if it was just a few steps away, since apparently he wanted to profit from that tight hug I gave him. What an amazing touch to make my last night on the island pleasant. La vita e bella!
Point for criticism
As much as I’d hate to finish on a negative note, there’s something I need to reveal and without which my stories from Pulau Ketam would be incomplete. In my first post I told you not to trust reviews. And I stand by it. Except for one thing and that’s the inhabitants’ attitude towards the environment and the need to preserve it. Some reviews claim the island is dirty. Well, the island itself isn’t but the water definitely is. Unfortunately, and this is the only criticism I’ll allow to vent – surely by now you know Travel Mishmash doesn’t sugar-coat things – and that’s the locals’ way of dealing with waste. If I am to put it mildly, I’d say they are not aware, but I don’t do mildly either. They just don’t seem to give a rat’s ass, for the lack of a better term.
As I rode past the quaint houses, I’d more than often spot a local throw something from their window right into the sea. That something could be anything from packaging, plastic objects, old clothes, old shoes, broken this and broken that, waste from cooking, waste from building, whatever waste. Briefly, the sea is clearly a dumpsite. I must laugh when I recall one of the reviews which disappointingly mentioned there was no beach to swim. My dear, you should celebrate this fact because trust me when I say you really do not want to swim in these waters, you really don’t. No wonder it’s all murky, brownish and full of rubbish. Though the most peculiar thing I saw was a mattress. I mean, would you throw a mattress away like this? I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at this, seriously.
At some point, somewhere between being totally amazed as well as appalled by this, an idea struck me. What if I started an educational project here which would combine teaching English along with environmental awareness? It would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Suddenly I starte picturing it all pretty madly – how locals are building a small unit for me, all enthusiastic about this great initiative and sending their kids to this wonderful teacher who has the island’s best interests at heart. I eagerly teach kids day by day and the whole village loves me.
Newspaper articles are being written and equivocal headlines boost the sales -“Young Woman Saves Island from Environmental Despair!” Soon after TV channels report of this miracle, my efforts go viral, books are written and movies will be turned. It’s simply a sensation. The chain of brilliant ideas kept flooding my head as I slowly rode in those tiny paths, observing the colourful houses. When suddenly – boom! I saw a hand drop an empty can from the window right into the sea. And just like that my vivid visualisation came to a screeching halt. ‘Hmm, maybe not,’ I suddenly felt a change of heart and thought that my plan should only be the last resort. “No hard feelings, my dear Pulau Ketam, alright?”
You may be also wondering what that last piece of the puzzle was. It’s Sungai Lima, an island just next to Pulau Ketam. It’s not touristy and apparently even more unique, given its relaxed vibe and laid-back atmosphere. It’s mainly inhabited by fishermen and often you get to see mostly women and kids there, as men tend to be out on the sea for prolonged periods of time. You can rent a bicycle too and enjoy more relaxed rides since this island has not been commercialised yet. A few homestays are however available and I am gutted I couldn’t try them yet. Never mind. Maybe another day…
And there you have it guys. Not sure what I am going to write about in the upcoming months, given the pandemic and another lockdown. But fret not; Travel Mishmash will come up with something! Thanks for reading and stay safe ya’all!