Location: Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
Living in the paradise that is Tioman
I’ve been lucky enough to see a fair few idyllic locations this planet has to offer. From Croatia to Costa Rica, Malta to Mexico, I’ve visited destinations which each boast stunning views and vistas, fascinating culture, and sunsets so beautiful they’ll break your heart a little bit. Each year, new ‘hot’ destinations are touted as the latest paradise and people the world over will drool over photos of immaculate beaches, captivating wildlife and ravishing rural landscapes. But, sadly, often the glossy travel mags fail to convey the whole picture; whilst showing one small if positively delectable slice of paradise, they’ll often neglect to reveal the bigger picture, the built-up, tourist-ridden cultural blackhole that hides just around the corner.
Out of all the places that I’ve lived so far on this great adventure, beautiful though they are, I’ve yet to be treated to an example of a natural authenticity that is virtually unspoiled by the relentless steamrollering of consumerism and development. I’ve seen all too many times just what a behemoth tourist industry can be. So it came as a welcome surprise to set foot on a slice of paradise that really lives up to the legend.
The fact that the Guardian have just included my front-doorstep in their list of the 50 best beaches in the world ain’t half bad either – I guess sometimes the glossy travel mags do get it right!
Tioman’s mini monsoon
Ah, paradise – azure ocean as clear as stained glass; golden sands that twinkle like glitter in the ochre evening sunlight; solitary wisps of cloud dancing across a soothing sky. That’s what I signed up for and that’s what I got upon my arrival in Tioman. But the welcome party didn’t stick around for long, leaving behind a rabble of squalling winds, ferocious rain showers and waves as tall as two grown men. Within days, the visibility in my precious underwater wonderland had gone from enviable to abysmal. Diving in the rough, turbulent conditions was like swimming through soup. In a washing machine.
As Chinese New Year came and went the bad weather persisted, driving is all indoors and to the brink of bored insanity. Hints of light and blue sky have teased us here and there, providing a tantalising taste of what’s to come; as I write this, the sun is peeping out from behind a heavy rain cloud like a shy toddler peering round the legs of an overbearing parent. I can only hope that it’ll regain its gregarious confidence in March and return to blaze in all its glory.
The Great Marine Equipment Donation Programme
It was during these days of dogged bad weather that I went from pro-diver – eternally relaxed and at one with the water, to clumsy, uncoordinated shambler – completely at the mercy of the elements. In the space of a few days I had managed to donate a compass, a mask, a weight belt, a snorkel and (nearly) a fin to the sea. It was as if the vindictive wind, the wrath of the waves and the sullen surge were conspiring to strip me of as much equipment (and dignity) as possible before they’re forced back into submission by the impending good weather. Experiencing such a mass exodus to my dive gear was both a blow to my stash and to my ego. Thank the dive gods for spares is all I can say.
An unexpected reunion
After another day of grey skies and shoulder-high waves, I was feeling particularly petulant about losing so much equipment (and face). With nothing better to do than sit and sulk as I imagined my $100 mask languishing unloved at the bottom of the sea like an abandoned puppy, I donned my (remaining) gear and set out with James to retrace my last sub-aquatic movements. Dutifully executing the U-patterns that I’d wrestled with during my training, we steadily swam our way back and forth over the spot I suspected the elusive mask had been dropped. After about fifteen minutes, just as I was resigning myself to glum acceptance that it was gone for good, I heard a loud and exalted whooping coming from behind me and turned to see James and mask zooming towards me. The reunion was just the pick-me-up I needed after the February Equipment Donation debacle, and proof that the dive gods do answer the occasional prayer. Now if only they’d send a whale shark my way…