*I edited this and then my wonderful phone decided it wasn’t worth saving so sorry if this doesn’t make sense! I will try find time to edit again later!*
I think the best way to tell this is from the beginning through to the end, written from the point of view we had at that point in time, so you can see how these two days developed. Saying this, I can already feel a wave of sarcasm coming on so maybe I wont manage this! But anyway, this post is about our time Couchsurfing in the Jungle.
The plan was to meet Ang on thursday and then spent two nights with him in his Jungle House on the south side of Penang.
He’d been in contact with us non stop for the last week with events going on in Penang and asking us over and over if we were okay with sleeping in a mattress with no electricity. Obviously both Rach and I were fine with this, we had head torches, mozzie nets, and a few days without electricity and the real world sounded good.
At 2pm we headed to our meeting point with our bags and spotted Ang accross the road. He waved us over and straight away started telling us exactly how to get to his jungle house (he only had a moped and couldn’t take 2 of us) he gave us bus numbers, recommendations on what type of bus etc, and then suggested we left some of our stuff in his house at the Jetty as it was a 20min walk through the jungle to the house.
That was all fine and dandy, Ang was telling us all about couch surfing (a lot of stuff we already knew but he seemed to be on a roll and possibly this was a standard speech for him so we let him continue, some points of view etc were quite interesting).
He dropped our spare bag off at his family clan hose on the Jetty. then said he had to go to work but could meet us at the fishing village near his house at 6:30, and we parted ways. Rach and I just chilled on the edge of the Jetty for a while, from here you could almost imagine the city wasn’t here, just an island with this bright blue sea, and an impressive bridge over from the mainland, it was just unbelievably relaxing. After meeting a family from Indonesia, who were sad we couldn’t make it to Indonesia and offered us a place to stay in their home if we found ourselves there, we grabbed some fruit and chocolate banana cake and made our way to the bus terminal.
I really cant tell you anything about the journey as I was out like a lamp! I woke up as we needed to transfer buses and after 2 hours or so of travelling we found ourselves at the most beautiful little village on the south coast of Penang.
There was a school and two food stalls, and a platform on which a few locals were resting, no men here spoke English and only a few of the women did, but we had been told to just say ‘friend of Ang’ and they would let us share the shade. A local woman was chatting to us about the Jungle almost straight away, warning us for Mosquitos and offering us a ride up there (I dont think she understood that Ang was meeting us there) but she was very kind and welcoming, as were the men who couldn’t understand us but just made is feel very at home.
Finally Ang appeared, he had come from the other side of the island in bad traffic, though he wasn’t really late, he still apologised. We sat in the shade as Ang told us all about the couch surfers he’d hosted, they all sounded very interesting but it got to the point where we were starting to feel like he was making a point to us, many a time he mentioned how brilliant it is when girls travel on their own, and that this is the way to do it. Hitch hiking across Asia and not needing a friend. He made it clear (whether on purpose or not) that he had hosted much more interesting people than us.
We went for a bite to eat at the only restaurant in the area, where there was actually a fishing pond in the back of the restaurant where people could catch fish and either ask for it to be cooked or sell them to the restaurant. The atmosphere here was so relaxed and welcoming. The table next to ours gave us a large bunch of a fruit very similar to a lychee that we’d tried before, and Ang ordered us some noodles and green tea. All in all the place was wonderful. Ang told us more about other couch surfers and asked me about my cycling (he has seen my facebook profile). This was actually the first (and only) question he asked us about ourselves. And he was a bit taken aback when he found out we had wild camped before (I’m also not sure if he realised this wasn’t a big deal). I honestly dont know what he thought of us, but he didn’t ask us anything about ourselves after this so I think he assumed we had never travelled before and maybe were not at all independent. The of course isn’t to say that there isn’t a hell of a lot for us to learn, and that we would feel comfortable travelling alone as a woman across Africa, but he never really gave any interest in us as people. A vital part of couch surfing in my opinion.
Finally we headed up towards the jungle. As it had become dark, Ang decided to take us up one at a time on his moped, a 5 minute journey or so, as the jungle was harder to walk trough at night. Rachel disappeared off into the distance and I waited at the road confusing the locals (tourists were not common here at all) until Ang reappeared a while later.
I hopped on the bike as he said ‘sorry that took a while, we were chased by some dogs.’ Immediately I was hoping rachel was okay. I’m not a great fan of dogs, ones with their owner, fine, but a few chasing you down the street in Malaysia? I knew I’d have been shook up.
I then made the mistake of asking if Rachel was okay, getting the response that she was fine, she had a stick in case of wild boar and food incase the wild dogs appeared!
As we drove up the mud path into the jungle I was very keen on catching up with Rach, hoping that she did not have to stand there alone for long, as Ang said we were almost there I saw the head torch in the distance and relaxed a wee bit.
Bless Rach, she was standing there with a fan to keep mozzies a away, a stick to keep snakes and boars away, food for the wild dogs (who Ang had become a kind of owner to) and a very dim head torch!
Rach was coping heroically but was obviously a tad shook up. Though It was great of Ang to make sure that we would be more than fine with no electricity, there had been no mention of wild boar, dogs and King Cobra!
We walked through the trees for a while to an opening where a small home has been built, little water due to no rain, a basic toilet and a disused kitchen, and then the main downstairs room that was covered in the most beautiful art work. Apparently couch surfers who stayed for a while would paint the walls, and it was brilliant. He took us upstairs, telling us all about the chickens next door that attracted a lot of snakes and animals, the poisonous spiders and scorpions, all things that it would have been nice to know about before we headed out, but with Ang there we felt safe. Still nervous of course, but safe.
This was when his wild dogs appeared downstairs, three of them, we headed down together and watched as Ang fed them, they were obviously tamed to some extent and loved Ang, but of course we were strangers so we’re told not to touch them, they are still wild.
The dogs took over the kitchen and we headed back upstairs, we asked Ang if he’d ever had much trouble here and though he took many or precautions, he had only once found an animal in his kitchen, and just stayed safe until it had gone.
So we scooted under our mozzie net, no mattress, just a sheet and the wooden floor, no fan, but a surprisingly nice breeze, no lights, but the most beautiful oil lamps scattered around (so you can see shadows of anything that comes in) and a knife next to our pillow in case something does come in!
With Ang here we honestly felt safe, he knew what he was doing and had been telling us what to look out for and checking for animals the entire way up through the jungle.
Before we went up he mentioned that he would have to go to work tomorrow, of course this was fine, Ang was apologetic, and it was obvious that this hadn’t been his plan so we said we would happily hang around the village for the day. He said he would take us out for sunrise, and show us the plantation and more of the jungle the next day and we fell asleep comfortably, though with some crazy noises from insects, dogs messing up the kitchen, and all sorts of animals outside.
We woke up early to a beautiful peaceful view of Palm trees, jungle and the sea, but Ang was still sleeping. He had warned us to be careful waking him as he slept with a knife on him, so we left him to sleep and at around 8:30 he got up and we dared leave the mozzie net!
After he’d checked downstairs we followed him down to find the dogs hanging around and Ang went through his plan for the day. He wanted to go see his neighbour (the one with the snakes) before heading to work. He told us about cafés etc we could find in the village whilst he was working and then asked about us staying another night. We were both more than happy for another night here and to see the plantations and jungle, so of course said yes, and then Ang said that we would be staying on our own. Another couch surfer was in Penang and he wanted to meet them this evening so he would not be back up.
Of course this changed everything. We were very happy to be here with Ang, but without him? He had spent the entire evening explaining how careful you have to be here and how essential jungle knowledge was, he had even admitted that he gets lost sometimes on the complicated jungle paths, and yet he then suggested us staying here on our own and finding our way here and back through the Jungle on our own also.
He was wanting to leave very soon after he said this and we were obviously quite nervous about this idea, we told Ang that we didnt want to stay on our own as we would not feels safe here without him, he understood and said that was fine and then got ready to leave. It was only then that we realised that he was not planning on helping us find our way out of here!
The trees had fallen in the night meaning the original paths we had followed were now out of use, and he took us a much less obvious way to see his friend. As we headed back to the house he said that he would leave us on the path and head down to the village. We could stay as long as we liked and head down in our own time. We asked if we could go down with him, but he was in a rush, apparently he wanted to have breakfast with his friends and spend a good 45 minutes with them to socialise. In my eyes it didn’t seem right to leave two girls who you were hosting in the Jungle on their own to have a social breakfast. But apparently to him this was not a problem at all.
As Rach and I became more uncomfortable about the idea of trying to find the house again, never mind not having Ang to keep the dogs at bay and not having the dogs to warn us for snakes and other animals. I finally just turned and stated even more clearly than before that we were not comfortable at all finding our way through this jungle at all, and that if we had known this was his plan before we had set off to his friends, we would have packed and joined him out of the Jungle. This genuinely seemed to shock him for a second and he finally said he would take us back to the house, mentioning that of course this was our first time here. I honestly think that it just hadn’t occurred to him that the reason we were couch surfing was to do this kind of thing safely with a host, and being left in a Jungle with no food for the dogs, on paths even Ang sometimes got lost on, and after all the animals and stories he had told us the previous night, that we would be at all nervous about then venturing out on our own with no experience.
After all this he still only took us to the house and back to the more obvious path and then scooted off into the distance leaving us with a stick each to work our way down!
A few minutes in I looked behind me and realised we had a stalker. One of Ang’s wild dogs was following close behind, though I was nervous at first, we soon realised that his was the runt of the pack and he was more nervous of us that were of him, as he slowly gained his confidence he became Herbert, our friendly companion who without I think I’d have been a lot more nervous. He followed us along and kept us feeling a lot safer from snakes and other wild animals until about 10 minutes in where the dogs who had followed Ang ou of the Jungle were working their way back up the path. These dogs did not seem so kind. Rachel who was slightly in front spotted them first and had a fright as the dogs came running towards us barking and growling. I just said to Rach to look down and keep walking, we moved out sticks to the left hand side where they were and just walked slowy along. The dogs growled and bared their teeth as they bit onto my stick, the only thing between them and my legs! Herbert our trusty dog was a gem. He came to our rescue keeping the other dogs away and at a distance until we were past them and then he caught us up and carried on. With Herbert there I actually didn’t feel too scared but I was damn angry with Ang as we remembered there were more dogs at the entrance to the jungle!
Ang had also mentioned that his wild dogs didnt go to the village as it was other Dogs territory, so we were waiting for the moment that Herbert would decide to head back, but there he was. As we left the jungle finally, the dogs appeared, 5 or 6 of them standing right across the road, we did the same thing again, heads down and walk. These dogs not only went for my stick but we’re jumping up and trying to bite my arm, I was torn between making sudden movements and aggravating them and the fact that their teeth were getting damn close of my arm stayed still! Maybe 10cm away. Herbert of course, being the trusty wild, gnarly, dog we had come to know and love, leaped off and some how managed to get us through and keep the dogs away. And then once again came to our side as we entered the village.
As soon as we were on the road we relaxed, and made our way to the shaded area we had been at before. There were a few men lying there, including a guy we recognised from before who, with just gestures and no English, welcomed us to join him, and then spotted Herbert. He was so shocked! He had presumably never seen him down here before and looked a tad nervous. Through bad sign language we asked if this was okay, and he gave a kind of perplexed shrug to say ‘I guess so’ as the other dog there and Herbert met and seemed to get on.
As we sat ther with Herbert walking around us locals kept coming over and just staring, intrigued, as Herbert and the local dog got to know eachother. For a moment it could have all gone wrong. Herbert turned on the other dog when he came too close to us and bared his teeth, somehow looking more terrifying than the other dogs we had seen and we all looked over nervously at the other dog. Luckily nothing came of it and after a relaxing read and snack in this most beautiful village we headed for the bus, Herbert once again at our tail!
He luckily didnt try to get on the bus as we then made our way back to George Town. Discussing Ang and the whole adventure on the way.
I keep trying to work out what to think of Ang. The first half of the trip was honestly great. We felt safe, we got to see and sleep in this amazing jungle, and we were looking forward to meditation and yoga in this unusual setting. (None of which happened 😦 )
I think if Ang had hung around this could have been an absolutely wonderful few days. Experience wise anyway. From the couch surfing experience I’ve had before, the highlights are usually 50% the place, and 50% the interesting people you meet, the conversations and stories you share with them. But with Ang it felt like a business, like having us stay was just another couple to add to his collection. He had no interest in us at all. He asked me one question about myself, and none to Rachel – he didn’t even introduce himself or ask rach’s name!
He was evidently too busy to host us, and part of me wishes he had just said so from the start. Though I can understand that he wasn’t planning to work and he had no choice, he had made a commitment to us to host us for two nights and show us the jungle, yet the moment a more interesting 18yr old Russian hitch hiker got in touch he literally ditched us in the jungle in order to see her instead.
Saying this, he is still sending messages, offering for us to join him at events and meditation suggesting to me that he honestly doesn’t realise that what he did was not okay. (Not that this makes it okay- but still)
And maybe we are being over cautious, though I dont think so. After spending an evening taking about deadly snakes, spiders, boars and experiencing the wild(ish) dogs knowing there were fully wild dogs out there, I think our reaction to being told to find our own way back was justified. Especially on paths that no longer existed that Ang himself got lost on! (He apparently didnt like maps)
The fact that he was overly concerned that we could not cope with electricity, but never mentioned the wildlife just makes me curious to how he works. Obviously, its a jungle so we expected there to be wildlife, but for him to be so intent on mentioning the first and not the second makes no sense to me!
It really was a shame, things started out so well and he has so many good recommendation suggesting that if he was not busy it could have been great! But we got back safe, which in the end is all that matters. And now I need to work out how to review him.
All in all, t’was an experience. Not the one we were expecting, and not all good (and not all bad!) but an experience all the same!
We’re looking forward to seeing Emma today and moving on.
We headed to a large couch surfing meet up that evening (which I will talk about later) but none of them thought Ang’s behaviour was acceptable, and though he was the couch surfing ambassador of Penang, none had heard of him!
Beyond this, when we reached our hostel, a girl asked us if we knew Ang, she recognised us from a photo Ang showed her (presumably in the same way he’d told us about others) and this 24 year old Ukrainian girl travelling with a friend was the Russian 18 year old lonesome hitch hiker Ang had ditched us for. ( he had then found himself unable to host her also) and she had also found him a bit difficult to communicate with. We warned her about the Jungle, trying to make it clear it can be good but that he really will not think to stay with you. And that you have to make it very clear. We don’t know if she stayed with him or not in the end, but it was interesting to hear her point of view and to hear that he had backed out of his commitment to her also!
This is now turning into a gossip, but I’m fine with that! My brain is still trying to work it all out!
Safe in Penang now with the Emma and Mark, and I’ll blog it up later 🙂