Elizabeth the Island Enthusiast

a celebration of unconventional adventures

Tag: Island Solo Travel

The Most Treacherous Ferry Ride Ever (Not)

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about inter-island ferry rides.

In particular, the ferry ride between Penang and Langkawi Island, Malaysia.

LangkawiCenangBeachCenangBeachSunsetLangkawiLangkawiIslandFerryJetty

After spending a week on Malaysia’s Langkawi Island, I decided I’d travel via ferry over to the island of Penang. I’m completely aware that yes, arguably taking a plane would have been faster and not that much more expensive, but I’ve taken a lot of planes recently, and I was in the mood for a nautical adventure.

When disclosing my sea-travel plans over dinner one night to others at the hostel in Langkawi, however, I received an array of daunting responses – apparently this ferry ride was THE worst transport experience EVER:

People just puking everywhere; well over half the boat was puking, I’d say. It was like a rollercoaster in slow motion. If you do go, make sure you sit in the back of the boat, otherwise you’ll vomit for SURE, even with medication for motion sickness… Really, it’s probably best you just look into taking a flight.

This sounded worse than the treacherous and draining overnight 24-hour ferry trek between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, Fiji, which I’d purposely avoided during my time there.

One girl ranted for a solid five minutes about reportedly getting bedbugs after taking this ferry ride.

“Really?” I asked, “did they get into your luggage, or where?”

“No, I found one in my bra,” she responded, clearly distressed. “But it definitely came from that boat!”

“Lucky bedbug,” sneered one of the girl’s male friends seated at the table with us.

“Ughhhh oh my god, shut uppp!!

*For the record – this was the same girl with the questionable story about a crocodile sighting earlier that same day, so in either case I figured I’d take whatever she said with a grain of salt…

LangkawiIslandMalaysiaSecludedBeachLangkawiIsland

Maybe I just got really lucky. Perhaps they had taken the ferry ride in the midst of a violent storm. Or, maybe the route from Penang to Langkawi endures significantly more turbulence than the route from Langkawi to Penang.

I don’t know.

I went into the journey expecting the absolute worst: sickness and filth everywhere; incessant vomiting; nothing but flea-ridden old mattresses to sit on; the dank essence of human anguish and despair lingering in the musty, unventilated air…

At check-in, I was given a slip of paper with my seat number – #41 – oh they give you an assigned seat? That’s nice. I prayed it was towards the back.

Instead, seat #41 was actually near the very front of the boat. This made me a smidge nervous. At least it was a window seat. It’ll be okay, this is why I didn’t eat much lunch today…

InsideLangkawiFerryFrontOfTheBoatBoatInteriorLangkawi

As soon the boat began to depart from the jetty, I couldn’t help but notice half the passengers begin to switch seats – in particular those situated near the front, migrating way towards the back. The cautious American couple previously seated in front of me, neck pillows in tow, seemed the most urgent.

Uh oh, perhaps they heard the same stories…

Suddenly the boat lurched forward, sending the bow upwards and then down with an adrenaline-surging WOOSH. My heart and stomach leaped into my chest for a millisecond. I held onto my seat for dear life. I would have closed my eyes, if it weren’t for the spectacular views out the window…

LangkawiPenangFerryViewsIslandFerryViews

But then there was nothing. I’d been told this ferry felt like a haphazardous speed boat.

Is this the correct vessel?

I looked outside. Smooth, smooth seas, as far as the eye could see…

Maybe we just haven’t gotten far enough out yet, I thought to myself. The massive, vomit-inducing waves were in more remote areas, surely.

Still nothing.

“The Jungle Book” DVD began to play on a large flat screen TV up front. Some of the passengers lay down on entire rows to themselves and fell asleep.

A faint rumbling sound caught my attention. Oh no…

Alas, nope, no one was retching. Just somebody snoring in back, likely lulled into a deep, deep slumber by the boat’s gentle side-to-side rocking motion, which I’d barely noticed up until that point.

Was this seriously the same boat ride?

SlumberingFerryPassengers

Between the movie and the excellent exterior scenery, my entertainment involved observing the drowsy man in the seat in front of me, who nodded off and on, snapping awake every few minutes after slumping down too far to the side. A reddish-brown insect causally climbed up over his shoulder onto the headrest in front of me.

Oh dear, I thought, is that the bedbug? From what I knew about bedbugs, this creature appeared a bit too big, but I felt disconcerted anyways. Until it flew away.

Bedbugs don’t fly, do they?

I’m still not entirely certain what that thing was, but due to my lack of bites, I’m going to trust it was not in fact a bedbug… Thank freaking goodness.

SmoothSailingMalaysiaIslands

Apparently there was a party in the water at the George Town, Penang jetty... Balloons everywhere!

Apparently there was a party in the water at the George Town, Penang jetty… Balloons everywhere!

So yeah, by the end of three lackadaisical hours and two DVDs, I was ready to be off the boat. But overall? I thought it was a genuinely pleasant journey.

Would it likely have been much worse filled to capacity in hurricane-like conditions? No doubt.

Again, I’m pretty sure I got EXTREMELY lucky. But hey, no complaints here!

LangkawiIslandFlowers

Labasa: The Other ‘Sugar City’

Yesterday I arrived in Labasa, the biggest township on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu.

Prior to coming here, I’d heard a variety of commentary about Labasa, most of which wasn’t terribly positive…

“Vanua Levu is just too remote. There’s nothing to do, no clubs…”

“Labasa is okay, but Viti Levu is so much more cosmopolitan…”

“The weather is nice and there’s good fishing, but don’t trust anyone!!”

Even according Lonely Planet’s website, Labasa “is a dusty sugar and timber town that doesn’t hold much allure for the average traveller. Sitting about 5km inland on the sweltering banks of the Labasa River and reclaimed mangrove swamps, the top sights in town are a large sugar mill and the seasonal trains that ka-chunk bushels of cane through Labasa’s centre.

That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

Whoever wrote the introduction for Lonely Planet’s Labasa, Fiji travel guide evidently didn’t stay too long.

Flying over Vanua Levu's vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

Flying over Vanua Levu’s vast sugar cane fields before landing in Labasa

LabasaAirport

With that somewhat dreary description in mind yesterday afternoon as I drove through the city center for the very first time, I couldn’t help but note yes, Labasa is, in fact, a bit dusty.

It’s considerably rural, and some of the buildings in town did appear a tad run-down, if not shuttered. But, arguably, I could say the exact same things about places in West Virginia, or Greeley, Colorado.

Overall, I found Labasa quite colorful, quirky, and teeming with liveliness, the cars and streets adorned with dazzling lights in every hue after the sun went down (I later learned this may have been temporary because of the local ‘Friendly North’ carnival festivities last night, but hopefully not – guess I’ll find out soon enough!).

Labasa holds plenty of allure – I honestly can’t wait to explore this place over the next couple weeks!

LabasaVanuaLevu

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Papaya trees, just growing right outside in the backyard!

Having been here for a solid 24 hours now, I’m convinced Labasa has so much more to offer, although I’m certainly intrigued by its enormous sugar mill, which seems to be running around the clock processing the current sugar cane harvest.

The amount of sugar cane in the area is mind-blowing, really – it’s entirely possible Lautoka boasts more sugar cane field acreage (and I think I left right at the start of Lautoka’s sugar harvesting season), but I’ve never observed so many heaps of raw sugar, piled high on open trucks idling in an endless queue by to the mill.

I’ve never smelled air so densely sweet.

VanuaLevuPalmTrees

Weird Adventures at the Sugar City Mall

The other day I took a quick jaunt around downtown Lautoka, just for the hell of it.

Although it wasn’t a particularly lengthy expedition, it did involve a some mild exploration and tons of accidental mischief. Without trying, I have the strangest tendency of getting myself in the most entertaining situations…

Okay, some of these situations might not seem that entertaining to a lot of people, but I really enjoy taking otherwise mundane circumstances and transforming them into wildly thrilling adventure stories. I guess that’s partly why I started this site.

Like all things, the term ‘adventure’ is pretty subjective though, right? As is ‘wildly thrilling,’ but I digress…

SugarCityMall

I found myself wandering towards Lautoka’s notorious Sugar City Mall, which is one of the more decrepit shopping centers I’ve visited (if we’re being honest here), featuring a handful of seedy electronics stores, desolate kiosks and knick-knack shops, all blaring festive, upbeat Indian-style music. I will say the shops along the exterior of the mall far exceed the selection inside.

To my disappointment, the Sugar City Mall only had actual retail on its lower level, despite the fairly misleading outward appearance.

Because it seemed like the only logical thing to do, I decided to wander up the mall’s motionless moving walkway, beckoning me with its absence of signs advising the area might be ‘out of bounds.’ What I discovered was… Well, just watch the video, and you’ll see: