After nine weeks travelling around the Middle East in 2004 it came time to begin the long journey back to Australia, but not without a stop in Singapore and Malaysia first. Here is my final diary entry from my first overseas adventure, edited only slightly for public viewing, and spliced with pictures from ten years ago!
I thought I was really ahead of them when I arrived at Cairo International Airport three hours before my flight. However my excitement was soon to be dented by a late-running flight; leaving at 5pm instead of 3pm. That wouldn’t have been such an issue if I hadn’t been planning to board a connecting flight from Bahrain to Singapore. We were now due to arrive in Bahrain just as the connecting flight departed. By “we”, I’m talking about me and the forty-nine other passengers hoping to make the connection. And no – we walked up the air bridge to the hole that is Bahrain International airport to be told that the flight couldn’t be held for the fifty of us. I had to be in Singapore to catch a train to Kuala Lumpur, so obviously it was no consolation that Gulf Air would provide accommodation for us until the next flight, twenty-four hours later.
When I told the officials this, they told me rather excitedly that there was a flight to Kuala Lumpur via Muscat (in Oman) departing later tonight. After I witnessed some heavy whispering behind the reservations desk, the airline representative came forward and kindly cited the following; “You’re going to KL, your luggage has been checked through to Muscat, and we’ve cancelled your ticket to Sydney. The Muscat flight boards now, so you’d better hurry!” When I offloaded a fairly heavy load of complaints, he was finally able to retrieve me original itinerary and find me a hotel in Bahrain.
Bahrain is a strange little place. It’s the type of place where you would expect money to soon start falling from the sky but with no-one around to catch it. For a traveller who didn’t include Bahrain on the itinerary, Gulf Hair have let me endure it twice and both times for free; it was as if to say “hit me again, I didn’t get the message!”
On departure, an airline representative at Bahrain airport promised me that they had organised some transport from Singapore onwards to Malaysia, to compensate for the missed train ticket. On arrival in Singapore, and by the time I found someone at Changi Airport stupid enough to work for Gulf Air, they told me they knew nothing about transport to Malaysia. When dealing with staff at an airport, most people try to create the impression they can support themselves; after two days in transit, I looked like I could support little more than an addiction to No-Doz, and this seemed to scare them into giving me a night at the Pan Pacific Hotel, with all expenses paid for! I checked in, went out to see a movie (by paid-for limo taxi) then sat in the bath all night to contemplate a bus ride to Malaysia the next morning.
Catching a bus to the border causeway and onwards to the city of Melaka was on of the coldest experiences of my holiday, in a bus that felt like an air-cooled meat-fridge on wheels. I was met in Melaka by my aunty Noraini and her children Alia and Aifa. Malaysia feels a bit like Singapore, but rougher around the edges. But above all, it’s exotic! Never have I seen entire rainforests grown from palms and ferns. It’s hot all day, and the sun sets over the ocean. The plantation-style houses are dwarfed by misty, deep green mountain ranges. Simply gorgeous.
Over the past few days I have been wiping the ever-present sweat from my forehead and learning the Malay way of doing things, which has an emphasis on respect and dignity. To hear people talk about Malay culture is like listening to a really visionary corporate mission statement. I have visited beaches with temple-like structures built actually on the sand, just like you would read about in a book. I have visited Mini Malaysia, a deserted theme park devoted to Malaysian culture. And I love the multicultural, multi-faith nature of society here. Tomorrow I’m catching a bus back to Singapore, and from there flying to Sydney on Christmas Eve.
I spent much of the flight time between Cairo and Singapore pondering philosophical questions. If young Egyptian men love sex as much as so many of them claim to, how come so many Egyptian women appear to be chaste at marriage? Is donkey or camel trading really a worthwhile profession, and if so, would I consider it? Did I really have a good reason for visiting McDonalds in Jordan? And was it really the cultural equivalent of farting in church? I also pondered how to finish these diary entires that I’ve shared with all of you. I’m not regretful or disappointed about any part of this trip, and as a first time, solo traveller, I think that’s something to be grateful for. For now, it’s with a bit of sadness but a great deal of satisfaction that I sign off from Melaka, Singapore and the Middle East in 2004.