Sunday 19 January 2014

Paradise Lost- Pulau Pangkor

Even the male leaf monkey turns his nose up with disgust, having tentatively inspected my squalid hotel room from the balcony outside.

Perhaps inevitably, the Pangkor Bay View Hotel does not offer a view, except of a rubbish strewn wasteland and it is certainly nowhere near a bay. Sadly, this crumbling concrete edifice located a few hundred meters up a scruffy narrow road, is entirely devoid of any charm, rather like the rest of the island.

Once upon a time, this was a natural unspoilt gem, sited just off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia in the straits of Malacca. A few humble fishing villages, some quiet white sand beaches and the forsaken ruins of a 17th century Dutch fort, reminding visitors of the days when this was a strategic maritime spot in the lucrative spice trade and later in tin and rubber.

As the ferry from Lumut passes the naval base and approaches the traditional fishing villages of the east coast of Pangkor, it seems surprisingly sleepy and undeveloped. It’s not difficult to imagine how, not long ago, it was a romantic island paradise, popular with Malaysian holiday makers and a few western back-packers. Now very few visit except organised tour parties of hysterical local students, those imprisoned behind the high fences of luxury resorts who could be in Barbados for all they know and those few who still pay any attention to Lonely Planet.

The mountainous spine of the island is thick with dense steaming jungle but the periphery is lined with a smooth black tarmac road that separates the forest from the sea.  Along the east coast piles of refuse are either stacked in stinking heaps near the traffic or just distributed casually across the beaches and on the forest floor. Polystyrene food cartons, plastic bottles, discarded food waste, soiled nappies, plastic bags; an impressive smorgasbord of shite.

Teluk Nipah is a handsome U-shaped bay with two boulder strewn islands guarding each end of it, which has been tragically ruined by callous disregard on the part of humanity.

Concrete bunkers have been built on the shoreline to accommodate tacky shops selling “I love Pangkor” T shirts. The narrow strip adjoining the road looks like an abandoned seaside refugee camp complete with rusting barbeques, discarded kayaks, wrecked jet-skis and dilapidated temporary buildings. Hundreds of faded orange life jackets hang from every tree on temporary string lines, ready for a maritime disaster that may have already occurred. Giant black Hornbills perch on the fence of a deserted restaurant being fed sticky rice and crisps by bored tourists and those greedy Hornbills won’t hesitate to share anyone's lunch.

Surly and recalcitrant youths sit on motor scooters and rev the engines before screaming away in to the distance.

This is high-season but there is an unmistakable atmosphere of mass resignation and desolation as a white plastic chair is washed in the surf and the high water line is marked by a thick strand line of marine rubbish. There are more pariah dogs to be seen patrolling the beach than tourists sunbathing and a single converted fishing boat tows an inflatable raft at high speed across the polluted bay.

There are no high-rise resorts in this small soulless village so the greed of international corporate groups and global capitalism cannot be blamed for this local man-made disaster.

At least that monkey has the good taste return to his jungle home in the mountains and I can escape from this lost paradise on the first ferry back to the mainland the morning.