The return bike ride from the ferry port is just as lively as the trip out there. Eventually, though, the Stardust Guesthouse appears like a vision before me, and not before time. But knowing my luck, I’ll make it all the way back in one piece, climb off the bike, and promptly fall down a storm drain. I decide to keep the crash helmet on until I’m well away from the moped and safely back at reception. ‘You get ticket OK?’ the lady at the counter asks. ‘Yep, no sweat’ I lie. ‘I go to ferry port tomorrow morning’ I continue. ‘…and thanks for the ride.’
In view of the last 30 minutes of my life, she then delivers 4 words that could freeze bone marrow: ‘Tomorrow, you need motorbi…’
I cut her short. There’s no need to finish that sentence. ‘No, I’m good, thank you!’ I blurt in an overly keen, please-don’t-trouble-yourself kind of way.
‘I walk. I like to walk…I enjoy walking…every morning!I love it!’ Me? Enjoy walking? Meh. I think not. This is coming from a bloke who, in the normal run of events, generally qualifies the word ‘walk’ with ‘last resort’ and would only consider running on very special occasions, like if being chased by a bull elephant. Or a Grizzly bear, and a big angry one at that. But the words continue to spill out, each one unimpeded by any form of brain activity. Then, as if to brush away the last remaining fleck of personal credibility, from nowhere comes this ridiculously toothy grin and an accompanying hand signal to raise the weeee-taaard bar even further.
I look to my hand, which has now made it’s own way out and into the space between myself and counter lady, and my eyes are fixed firmly upon it as if to draw even more attention to what happens next. And the next stage is inevitable, there’s no going back – the hand is already out there and has no intention of retreating without putting on a show first. The index and middle fingers are fully extended and pointing downward and, as if they were an entity to themselves, start to flick rhythmically to and fro like something from a Yellow Pages advert. All the while, I’m bobbing my head and smiling like I’ve just been eating Prozac off Carmen Electra’s boobies and I’m saying ‘walk, walk, walk’ in time with finger flicking.
I can see how ridiculous it looks, after all I am actually there, BUT I CAN’T STOP IT! Please, God, make it stop. Possibly call in a meteor strike as a distraction, or an ice storm maybe, or as a last resort even engage my brain if need be, but somehow, please, make it stop.
Eventually, just before my other hand has to intervene, it does stop. Clearly, it’s been doing it for long enough now – long enough for everyone to form their own well founded opinion – so now I can put my hand back in my pocket where there’s a little less chance of it continuing to make me look like a complete tool. Besides, that’s my mouth’s job. So there you have it, another fine example of pointless gesticulation. Once again, consider the bar raised.
With the show now over, I look back up to the lady who has now moved a little deeper behind the counter, possibly out of throat slashing range, and is now clutching a menu as if it were a comfort blanket, or perhaps her last line of defence. Despite her putting on such a brave face, I can see the confusion and smell the fear.
I review the situation and wonder whether I managed to get the message across. I think I did, albeit not the message I’d initially hoped to convey. Still, either way it’s a safe bet that I’ll be making my own way to the pier tomorrow. And maybe looking for a different guesthouse to stay in tonight, possibly one without the optional ferry transfer service.
Langkawi tomorrow. Stroll on.
My jobs in Penang are done. I’ve had my fill of curries and Guinness and, thanks to one of the book shops on Chulia street, Penang’s tourist epicentre, I have a new Thai visa in my passport. This visa gives me another 2 months in Thailand with the option of extending for a third month from within the country. In theory, I can now go back to Thailand and avoid the wrath of immigration for another 3 months.
The process couldn’t be easier. Hand over your passport, a couple of photos (also done on Chulia street), and 120 Ringgit – that’s about 30 US Dollars – and go back 2 working days later to pick it up.
So here I am, passport in pocket and all set to head back to Ko Phi Phi. I can make it back in two days if I get the bus up to Had Yai, the main provincial town in Southern Thailand, and then onto Krabi to catch the ferry back to the island – but since I’m in no rush I’m going to take a detour. I’m going to head back via Pulau Langkawi, or at least try to anyway.
Pulau Langkawi, the next island north of here, doesn’t look very far away according to the map pinned on the Stardust Guesthouse wall. The map also shows a gently curving dotted line running from the north coast of Pulau Penang to Langkawi’s south east corner. Also on the dotted line, there is a little picture of a boat. I’m guessing I can take a ferry to Langkawi.
I ask the lady in the Guesthouse if the ferries are running this time of year. This is her cue to sell me a ticket to Langkawi. But before giving me either a yes or a no, she calls over to the young Malay guy at reception. Counter guy immediately picks up 2 crash helmets and strides confidently toward me. Holding out one of battered lids, he says ‘We get ticket now?’ Taking that as a yes for the ferry question, I say ‘sure, why not?’
Gone are the days of asking the price before I buy something in Malaysia. Malaysians are among some of the most honest people I’ve met in Southeast Asia. Of course, taxi drivers and market vendors are a little different, but where in the world isn’t that so?
His bike is sitting outside the cafe. I hop on the back and even before I have time to work out how to fasten the helmet strap we’re wending our way through the streets toward the ferry terminal. 5 minutes into the ride I give up on the helmet’s chin strap as a bad job. Instead, my efforts focus more on keeping my kneecaps in their current locations and not leaving bits of them on a variety of parked cars that we hurtle past at warp factor 5. I clamp my gangly limbs tightly to Barry Sheen’s torso while he repeatedly demonstrates his mastery of the racing line. The back of Barry’s head and neck start to go a shade of purply-blue, and the laboured wheeze is becoming more pronounced with each car narrowly missed. Nevertheless, the torso death clamp continues with gusto. In the battle for limb retention, I will not be defeated.
We reach the ferry port and pull up outside one of the ticket shops that line the entrance. I remove my knees from deep within Barry’s ribcage and he breathes easily once again, he seems almost as happy to be off the moped as I am. Removing my still unfastened crash helmet, I glance downward to the previously unclipable clip. It now seems oh so straightforward. I make a mental note of what locates in where for the ride back and wonder whether I should ask to borrow an extra 2 crash helmets, the original one for my head and the other 2 for my still miraculously intact kneecaps. At least that way, with this extra protection, my only concern for the return journey would be getting a Tom and Jerry-esque clotheslining from a bus wing mirror. As we approach the ticket shop, I picture a road sprinkled with shards of glass and, dangling limply from the side of a bus, a buckled plastic wing mirror housing with a deep set of teeth marks in it. I also wonder how long it would take me to walk back from here to Chulia Street.
Getting the ferry ticket proved painless enough. We stand at the counter, Barry talks, I hand over some money get given a slip of paper and we walk back out into the sunshine. If only everything in life could be this easy. We climb back onto the bike, I tuck my knees back into the indentations I made earlier, and without further ado we’re away from the starting line and ripping up the asphalt, our chinstraps gaily flapping in the breeze. We swing onto the main road – to me, a wing mirror rich environment – and instinctively I clench my teeth and start to bop and weave like Muhammed Ali.
Also, I’m working pretty damn hard not to poop my pants.