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Fish heads, raw ingredients for keropok

Sadly today we had to leave our little tropical paradise and continue on with our travels. But not before we took the opportunity for one last dip in the sea. The weather seemed to know that we were moving on as it was cloudy and a bit overcast and there was a stiffer breeze than we have had over the last few days. We waited until about ten before taking our dip as the sun by that time was struggling to break through the clouds. I cannot recall ever having swum in sea water as clear and warm as this before. It is very salty, not great when it mixes with sun tan cream and drips in your eyes, but good as it gives you extra buoyancy for floating and watching the marine life go by beneath you.

We packed our bags and waited for our boat to turn up to take us back to the mainland. We had hoped to be on the afternoon boat but had to leave at midday as the later boat apparently is not running yet, odd as this is the one the agency booked us on to. On the way out the boat had been smart and relatively new and was not packed to capacity, although the sign saying “maximum ten passengers” was well and truly ignored. Our boat back was pretty different. By the time it got to our jetty it was already pretty full and there was barely room for us and our backpacks. It was also a bit of a rust bucket. As I held on to the handrail next to me it gave way as the joint had well and truly rusted away.

Although the wind had died down a bit since this morning it still made for a choppy ride. No glass like seas as we had on the way across. The boat was very low in the water and my nerves about small boats kicked in immediately as any slight deviation from going straight made me think we were going to capsize. We did not, and made it safely back to land, but those of us unlucky enough to be on the outside of the boat got a good soaking into the bargain.

We headed back to Perhentian Pelangi travel to find that the lift to Tanah Merah with us just paying for petrol had, not surprisingly, turned into a taxi for which we would have to pay full fare. We chatted briefly to a young couple from Bromsgrove who were just on their way to the islands and then set off on our way.

About ten minutes down the road the taxi driver stopped so we could take a look at a place where they make keropok, more familiarly known to you and me as prawn crackers except these are made with fish not prawns. They mince the fish and roll the resulting paste into large Swiss roll shapes and then steam them in big vertical kettle type contraptions. The end result is then sliced and put out to dry in the sun on large bamboo racks. It is deep fried before you eat it. From the paste they also make fish sausages which you dip in a sweet dark sauce before eating them. They were OK but not great. It was an interesting little stop but food hygiene standards have not yet hit this part of the world. All the equipment looked like it could do with a clean and there were flies everywhere.

It took us about another hour to reach Tanah Merah. Our route took us through agricultural land where tobacco and rice are the main crops. Our driver did not seem to be a fan of his local area as he kept saying “there is nothing to see here”. Stef had a quick lesson in Bahasa Malaysia in exchange for complementing the driver on his English. He dropped us at the train station having pointed out to us the KFC which seems to be a highlight of town.

As we had to leave the islands early we were at the station three hours before our train, too long to just there and wait. A quick scout of town showed that KFC was probably the best place to wait and against our better principles we headed inside into their cool air conditioned environment. Here we are definitely a novelty factor. We saw no other tourists but attracted quite a few stares and a lot of giggles from the kids who came in and out. It was a busy place with whole families coming in for dinner and a roaring trade in take aways.

With about half an hour still to go we headed back to the station to wait for our train. It arrived on time and we quickly found our seats, a task made much easier as the platform tells you which coach will be where when the train stops. It was cool inside, so much so that we had to dig our coats out after a couple of hours, and we had comfy seats with lots of legroom. A TV played the train channel, pictures no sound, showing films and a programme about a German high class delicatessen that has now opened a branch in Tokyo

Tanah Merah train station

The buffet car had a regular supply of food and drinks going up and down the train although they did not seem to be selling much. All went quieter as it got to eleven pm and even the group of Chinese people on board seemed to stop walking up and down between the carriages to have a chat with their friends. Stef had a quick snooze but despite setting the alarm on my phone I stayed awake to ensure we did not miss our stop.

On time we arrived at Jerantut at midnight. The station here was pretty much the same as Tanah Merah. Both had one platform, a few seats, a ticket office and a small café. Guards in light blue uniforms checked tickets on the train and made sure people got off at the right stop. Those on the ground were ready with their flags to conduct proceedings and get the train underway again.

We were both glad that we had called ahead and booked somewhere to stay and a pick up. We were also glad that we had double checked earlier today that they had out reservation because it had seemed to go walkies. A bus was there to meet us though and a friendly chap took us to our hotel. We had opted for the Hotel Sri Emas, which is referred to in Lonely Planet as backpackers central for those going to Taman Negara. We were both pleasantly surprised at what we got.

It was a steep climb two floors up to our room which, although small, was spotlessly clean and came with its own bathroom. A quick round of splat the mossie (we drew 1-1) brought an end to what had been a long day and we were soon curled up in bed both trying to switch off our minds and get some sleep.