Fast Idle

12 Nov 2006

Pantai Cenang, Langkawi

"It's self-revving," my fiancee comments.

The motorbike - one of the largest on the island - is getting more than enough revs from her personally, but glued to her back at 70km/h, I'm not going to argue.

The beautiful coastline and imposing cliffs flash past, as I struggle to unfold the map against the wind. The GPS is useless, unable to see the sky between the press of our bodies.

There's something not very manly about being on the back, but with the locals swerving all over the road, I'd rather trust her reflexes than mine, and, more importantly, so would she. We pull over for a photo op near Tanjung Rhu, the low rider crouched on the white sand, its rider posing in front of a perfect beach fronting uninhabited islands. I'm too busy enjoying the composition to reach for the camera.

The best photos are the ones you never take.

We swing through Pantai Kok, an entire beach nearly deserted apart from the occasional local couple sitting on their bike opposite the beach[1], and one unfortunate tourist couple who were sunbaking topless until we got there.

At Gallery Perdana we're stunned by the quantity and quality of gifts presented to Malaysia from foreign governments and, more disturbingly, from local corporations. They come from as far as Sudan and Australia, but we don't see any from the US[2].

Telaga Tujuh is the highlight of the trip to date. The seven waterfalls footed by deep clear-water pools are unremarkable, but it's possible to slide from one to another. A couple of Japanese tourists look at us like we're insane, and perhaps we are - go off the seventh falls and you're in for the best, and last, slide of your life.

The Langkawi cable car shows us exactly how far that last slide would have been - nearly a hundred metres. Overcome by vertigo, I'm unable to walk the suspension bridge between two of the island's higher peaks. One poor tourist, either braver than me or lacking my self-knowledge (and understanding partner) is miserably pinned most of the way across.

At Kuah we run the ATM out of ringgit and the money-changer out of baht, no doubt to the amusement[3] of future arrivals.

Later, with the bike to myself while Lyn's holed up with jellyfish bites[4], I see what she meant. It has a fast idle. I'm burning fuel just sitting here, waiting for the right moment.

Perhaps it's the Italian coffee I had in Kuah, but I've been thinking about how to stay here longer, much longer. People need to be trained, arrangements need to be formalised, gear needs to be acquired, contracts signed, accounts organised. The previous night, I'd slipped out to an internet cafe and logged in to a computer I'd sworn not to touch, in order to fix a couple of problems, and spent the next day thinking about consequences, next steps, opportunities.

This is as slow as it goes. Resigned, I sit at the intersection at a fast idle.

fn1. I'm assuming that, like most locals, the couple are Muslim. This would mean, I suppose, that she can't go into the water since it would mean uncovering herself, so he doesn't either as a sign of solidarity, and theyjust sit opposite the beach.

fn2. Yes, we were looking. The recent elections don't change anything. Anti-Americanism is still cool.

fn3. Not really.

fn4. I got stung, but she got bitten. Or perhaps 'mauled'.