TOTTERING ON TIOMAN ISLAND
The visit to Tioman Island took place right at the end of the season there, for oddly, as a near equatorial island, it does have a distinctly unpleasant and stormy season from November to February. However, we enjoyed excellent weather and very good visibility when snorkelling.
Being accompanied by five fellow staff members and nearly fifty 16 years-olds does not usually lend itself to a relaxing time but it has to be said this was the easiest and least stressful field trip I’ve ever been on. Credit must be given first to the students, whose behaviour was generally magnificent. Quite clearly I had not been on a trip comprising mainly Bangladeshis before and I’m sure cultural differences do make them less inclined to “act up” than perhaps Koreans might or, may I be struck down if I ever have to do one again, a bunch of English kids might behave. I don't believe I would even contemplate 50 American students; how do the teachers do it; they must be insured for billions!
For obvious reasons the identities of the staff and students are not revealed in this account and the photographs chosen are sufficiently blurred, or small, to prevent recognition.
In addition the organisation of the trip was first rate; great credit must go to both the school staff and the staff and management of Eco Field Trips for whom I have included a link below. To add to this, the accommodation was ideal for putting up such a group; the Eco Field Trips Resort sits tucked behind a white sandy beach, nestled between two forested granite ridges that jut out into the ocean forming a cosy bay, which protects and secludes the sands and the resort.
With virtually no traffic on this part of the island access is by foot or by boat; in the heat of the day the latter is preferable. I guess the only downside to the location was that the access to the water necessitated reef shoes but if you were equipped with such, or diving boots, there is then immediate access to corals and massive numbers of fish. I tried to make sure I went out for a swim and snorkel twice daily but for the students this luxury was not permitted. I’m not clear if it was school rules or trip rules but students were only allowed into the water in life jackets and then only as far as waist deep, except when accompanied by qualified life savers; in these circumstances they chose not to enter the water, which I find perfectly understandable.
In fact on the two days that we went snorkelling, accompanied by the Eco Field Trip personnel, life jackets were compulsory, including for staff. I found it exceptionally uncomfortable snorkelling in a life jacket but took my mind off it by working with a single student who could not swim. We achieved more than a little success and at the end of the trip she was very comfortable in the water, having been fearful to start with. The reef areas were teaming with life and we got close up and personal with quite a few fish. Unfortunately, largely due to my duties with the solo student, she and I were practically the only ones on this adventure who failed to see the reef sharks!
As well as the snorkelling we spent time in the mangroves, at low tide, so it was a little muddy and, to my mind, the most boring part of the trip. The students had to choose locations for their Science work from rainforest, reef/beach or mangrove and I pulled the short straw on supervision. The crabs were pretty fascinating but I’d rather have been snorkelling in the mangroves at high tide rather than plodding about trying to avoid stepping on crustaceans and children!
My favourite location was the rainforest. We only penetrated a kilometre inland as the crow flies, although the path we took was somewhat longer, ascending some 130 metres or so, but it is quite evident that the interior is a different world. Tourists largely dump themselves on Tioman’s beaches, go fishing, boating or scuba diving, and very few take advantage of the rainforest excursions that are available; the interior is therefore a place to get away from the crowds. In fact there were no crowds anywhere on Tioman while we were there; it was a real struggle for the kids to find enough tourists to interview!
I thoroughly enjoyed being in the rainforest but once again my dodgy knees proved burdensome on the way down. This problem is becoming very restrictive and it has to be time to do something about it. Ligament injuries to both knees (skiing and football) combine with grinding pain from arthritic damage behind the knee caps to make descent a most unpalatable occupation. Obviously if you can’t come down without pain, the fun of going up and being “at the top” is somewhat negated by the prospect.
A second problem compounded that of the knees; my new vari-focal glasses. I had thought they would be ideal for hill walking, allowing me to read maps, take photos and to tramp around gaily whilst being able to see everything there is to see. Well...that’s true to a point, but this issue is not just an issue it is a big issue! Again in descent phases, thus magnifying the original joint problem, the lower part of the glasses, being fixed for reading, prevents me from judging depth in the area of my feet; it seems I misjudge every drop by 10cm or so. Now this is a long drop; if instead of dropping 30cm as you expect, it is actually 40cm, the whole question of balance is thrown, tipping you forwards, and the leading limb comes down with a bone juddering slam, as your ankles fail to take on the unexpected additional impact, and the resultant forces drive straight through your...let’s guess...knees!
Man! There has to be an answer! Taking my glasses off when going downhill improved things but I’ve become so obsessed with where my feet are that I’m failing to take in anything around me! Solutions on a postcard please!