After 12 days of luxury in Singapore, I finally pulled myself out of my relaxed stupor and hopped on the bus to Johor Bahru. Before I'd had time to blink the lethargy from my eyes I'd left the city behind, and the bus over the Causeway and into Malaysia.
Planning a trip through Malaysia isn't that easy; at least, it's not easy when you're sitting in a penthouse suite in Singapore, with the TV and hi-fi within infra-red range, the fridge bristling with beer, and the contents of your backpack finally clean and drying on the line. Never before have I read a guidebook and been so utterly uninspired.
Take this description of the Perhentian Islands, a gorgeous spot off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia: 'As far as things to "see and do" go, it's a simple case of lazing around watching the coconuts fall.' No! The book is full of stuff like this, places that would have sounded like paradise to me two years ago, but which sound pretty dull now. Have I lost the point?
Or how about the Cameron Highlands, one of the most popular backpacker spots in Malaysia? 'Jungle walks are the thing to do here...' it says. Bloody jungle! If I never see jungle again, I shan't be sorry1. From my scouring of the book, Peninsula Malaysia has nothing I particularly want to see, and eastern Malaysia is still full of smoke from Kalimantan. This doesn't look good2.
So do I skip a whole country because it sounds boring? Of course not, but I won't hang around if it turns out to be as mundane as it sounds. The man I met in the Singaporean park said Malaysia was pretty much exactly the same as Indonesia; if that's the case, I'll go through Malaysia faster than a Bali burger goes through an Englishman.
Something else bugs me, too. I look ahead, and whatever my plans, I feel apathy. Travelling – at least at the moment – has lost its sparkle; this nagging feeling started halfway through Indonesia, but it hasn't evaporated like most chemical depressions. So what on earth has happened? I think it's this: I now know I can cope with anything, go anywhere, explore any part of the country, survive in forest, desert, ocean, mountain and river, cope with cultural challenges, language barriers, health problems and sourcing money... so what else is left?
The housebound of you will answer, 'The travelling is left; now you've got an experience where you don't have to worry about the logistics, because you know you'll cope, so just go out and enjoy it, you self-indulgent whinger!' So why do I keep thinking that I can't be bothered, that it's all a little bit too much effort to go and see Malaysia, Thailand and so on? Not for the first time in my life I'm at a total loss; my alternative lifestyle from the last two years is becoming normal, everyday, almost mundane. It's no longer a challenge, and this is exactly why I left my job in the first place. Am I destined to have to screw up my life every two years just to keep the variety intact? I hope not...
One thing that does keep me going is reading other travelogues, though. For example, I spent some of my Singapore trip reading Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent, one of the few books in this world that actually makes me laugh out loud. When I read book reviews that contain lines like 'tears ran down my face' I normally squirm at the blatant lie, but seriously, I laughed out loud at The Lost Continent. Buy it: it's a hoot. I'd love to write something that good... and to do that, I have to keep on going, I guess.
1 I wrote this paragraph before deciding to spend a week in the central jungle of Peninsula Malaysia, which would turn out to be a highliht. Funnily enough, after that week I vowed never to go on a rainforest trek again; the lack of views, the hard going and the astounding selection of creepy-crawlies is enough to wear down any resolve. I also remember making the same comment after leaving Fiordland, and Hinchinbrook and Fraser Island all came complete with rainforest... and, of course, I've happily ended up in the forest a number of times since. I obviously don't listen to myself a great deal, which is clearly a good thing.