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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

28th September 1996, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It's a month or so later and my stint in Indonesia has come to an end. Since the last entry I scooted back to Bukittinggi, Sumatra and went on a trek to Siberut Island which is populated by a tribe of people called Mentawais. They were virtually stone-age before westerners discovered them and brought them religion (hallelujah!).

Anyway spent an interesting week on the island with 10 other travellers (a big hello to Suzy, Erika, Pete, Lisa, Rob, Kristie, Cathy, Paul and last but certainly not least Jurassic Bone and Norm), staying with a few Mentawai families in their wooden houses in the middle of the jungle. Lots of trekking through mud and rivers was done (only one leech attached itself to me). The locals were extremely friendly, they liked hugging you a lot and smoked like chimneys. For one of the families we stayed with we happened to be the first westerners ever to stay in their home. Many of the local men wander around in loincloths and their bodies are covered in ritual tattoos. Some of the women have their teeth sharpened into points, especially the older ones.

I happened to celebrate a birthday on the island (I'm 25 and a half ... a half decade) and that day (7th Sept.) all the guys in the group went wild pig hunting with a couple of Mentawai medicine men wearing nothing much more than our newly made loin cloths and some face paint! You know, the usual 30th birthday celebration stuff. I carried a bottle of Guinness all the way from Sumatra especially, didn't taste so good warm but it had to be done. Incidentally Guinness is brewed in Jakarta, 7% alcohol, and is very popular in Indonesia (in a lot of places it is the only foreign beer you can find) as well as in Malaysia (where it hits 8% alcohol and is quite tasty).

The girls outdid the guys the day before when they went fishing with the Mentawai women and returned clad only in banana leaf skirts and daubed from face to navel in dried mud! Yum yum. The house's front porch collapsed under Rob, Paul, Pete and Bone as they raced out with their cameras to photograph the girls, pretty funny (I was way ahead of them and off the porch before it broke, natch).

After the trek a few of us climbed a local volcano, Merapi, at night in time to make it to the top for sunrise. The top was very interesting, Merapi is active and in theory climbing it is forbidden (it rumbled once while we were up there) but for a guy who lives on the edge like me 'twas a piece of cake! :-)

Spent a while at other tourist places like Lake Toba and Berastagi (where another active volcano was climbed) before leaving Indonesia on a ferry to Penang, Malaysia. Rather unfortunately, in Penang while walking from the ferry to a hotel my passport fell out of my pocket and got lost! Normally I keep it safe in my shoulder holster wallet but after coming through immigration I thought it would be okay in my pocket until the hotel was reached and I could then stow it safely. Well, duh, that was a mistake.

Food is excellent in Malaysia and travel a lot easier than Indonesia. From Penang stopped in Taiping and Cameron Highlands before making it here to KL. Should be able to replace my passport on Monday and get it restamped by Malaysian immigration (I have the necessary police report for that). I'd better not lose it again I'm thinking.

The current very(!) approximate plan for my continuing travels is October in Malaysia (with a bit of Singapore again), November/December/January Thailand with Laos thrown in there, end of January Cambodia, February Vietnam, March South China/Hong Kong, April N. China/Tibet, May Nepal, June/July/Aug India, September home or Africa(???). If any of you are thinking of heading to Asia for a holiday or to go travelling then let me know your plans. So long ...

2nd October 1996, Singapore.

Well, I made it to Singapore which means I was able to replace my passport (quite easily, took 20 mins at the Irish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur) and go to Malaysian immigration and get a special pass to explain where my immigration stamp had disappeared to (not so easy, more like a 2 hour job).

The day after my last entry I had an interesting experience. I was wandering around KL (Kuala Lumpur) checking out the various interesting buildings/mosques/temples etc when this guy started chatting to me in the street. He was with his sister and niece and it turns out his other sister was starting a job in a hospital in Ireland in the near future and to cut a long story short I ended up at his house in the suburbs to chat to the sister about Ireland and to quell the fears of his parents.

Well, the sister was at the market when I got there so I started talking to the guy's brother-in-law and the long and the short of it was that this dude was a dealer in a casino in the Gentian Highlands (near KL) and he wanted to show me a system whereby if I ever made it to the casino I could come to his table and win money but only for a short time in case anyone became suspicious. Sounded quite interesting so before long I was learning his system to cheat at blackjack.

All was well until it turns out that there's a Singapore man on his way over and he wants to play mahjong but they're going to get him to play blackjack. I wouldn't be playing but what I had to do was pretend I had lost 3000 dollars playing mahjong that morning and say that I was feeling very unlucky and that I wanted my (new) brother-in-law to play instead of me and then hand him 500 Malaysian dollars that I had been given to put in my wallet. All sounded like a load of bollox but I couldn't figure out yet how I was going to lose any of my own money so I played along when the Singaporean dude arrived.

He tossed his briefcase up on the table and pulled out 2000 US dollars in a wad of 100's to begin playing and I played my part, rattled off the losing at mahjong story (couldn't quite keep a straight face here) and gave the 500 Malaysian (200 US) to my new brother-in-law. Anyway, it turns out that my brother-in-law was only supposed to hold the cards, I was to do all the betting. So off we go, white chips were $50, yellow $100 and following the system (where I knew all the cards on the table as well as the card on the top of the deck) I won the first couple of hands. Then on the next hand (where I had a guaranteed win) the Singaporean saw my bet and raised me $400 but I only had $200 in chips left. So my new found allies in crime signalled me to make up the shortfall from my wallet so at last we'd gotten to the point where my own money started to appear. Time to end the charade and get out of there which I did in double quick time.

Anyway, that was the abridged version of what happened. I had heard before of westerners being hood-winked into playing card games and pretty soon ending up losing thousands of dollars but never knew quite how somebody could fall for it. I would probably have won the hand where I had to chuck in $200 of my own money but pretty soon after I'd chucked in more money I would have ended up losing it all I expect. Quite an interesting day, all told.

Till next time ...

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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