“Aaaaggghhhh! You fucking wankerrrrrr!” I scream at a young guy as I chase after him on my scooter. He has just grabbed my breast, whilst driving at 60kmph on his scooter, and now I’m on a high speed chase.
But after just half a minute I wonder what I would actually do if I caught him. Ask him to pull over so that I can have a polite word with him about his misogynist ways? More likely the chase would end with me having a serious scooter accident. So I stop driving and cry instead.
Chris and I are on Langkawi island, our first stop in Malaysia. Langkawi’s fences and imposing buildings gives me the impression of being on a military base. And more so than in Thailand, expensive hotel resorts have stolen huge swathes of land, privatising Mother Earth for the ‘elites’ of this world, and chopping down rainforest for an ‘exclusive’ golf course.
Some beaches are out of bounds for commoners like ourselves, and we have to go through a security booth to access another beach, signing a form saying that we agree to a resort’s rules.
On our first night in Langkawi I start itching. I’m so itchy that i can’t sleep a wink. Almost manic, at 3am I ransack the bed and find bed bug poo and one dead bed bug. The next day we change guesthouses.
But Langkawi has some major plus points…There’s so much rainforest that it takes my breath away. It’s also full of wildlife, with hornbills squawking in the trees, inquisitive langurs on the same trees, egrets wading in the water and sea eagles soaring through the air. Giant black squirrels forage for fruit, whilst macaque monkeys appear from nowhere to steal our possessions.
We spend one whole month hitchhiking the country, one of the easiest countries in the world to hitch. We never need to take a bus. Gone are the rides in pickup trucks…most lifts in this country are in cars (slightly boring compared to pickups!)
One amazing thing about travelling through Malaysia is that absolutely everyone can speak English. Now, I’m definitely not saying that everyone should speak English: the language of the old colonising imperialists and now the universal language of capitalist landgrabbers. But it makes our month in the country so much more interesting. We can actually have proper conversations with our drivers about the politics of the country. We talk to our Be Welcome host, Jean, about land rights for those who are not Malay. We talk to people about the oppression of Malaysia’s indigenous population. We find out about people’s lives in a way that isn’t possible when there’s a language barrier. (Don’t get me wrong, we’re trying to make an effort with Bahasa Malay…we just aren’t very good at it!)
We visit the jungles of Stong and Taman Negara, camping at both. It’s at Taman Negara that I get vomiting and diarrhea, spending the night sprinting the 200 metres from our tent to the toilet block.
We then spend almost two weeks wild camping on the tranquil island of Pulau Kapas. There’s not another soul on our beach after sunset. Kapas really is beautiful. There are no cars, no motorbikes, no roads, even.
Hitchhiking through the heart of the mainland, we realise just how much nature has disappeared for palm oil plantations. “Every time I drive through this area I notice that more and more forest has been cut down for oil palm trees,” one driver tells us. We pass truck after truck transporting logs, cut from the jungles.
Our visit to Malaysia ends with a trip to Kuala Lumpur, where we are hosted by Kemi and her lovely family. Kuala Lumpur is fast becoming one huge shopping mall. Even when you don’t want to be in a shopping mall, you find that you can’t escape. Despite this, we enjoy the mix of Indian, Chinese and Malay cultures and foods.
Thank you to our kind drivers and hosts who made our stay in Malaysia all the more interesting!
Just a few of our drivers: