I leave Labuan Bajo (Flores Island) early, having had breakfast overlooking the bay and waving my goodbye to the manta rays I now know lurk beneath the surface.
From the taxi I get some insights into village life, like a man driving his 3 kids to school – all on his motor bike. Two sit behind him and one in front. I scramble to get a picture but miss it. The driver plays a really good reggae tune and when asked thinks it’s Bob Marley. It's probably his only reggae reference, although an old one. The airport hasn’t opened when we arrive and the handful of Westerners having visited Komodo all wait patiently outside the small barrack building, lost here where Western influence has no bearing.
Upon disembarking my tenth flight during the three week stay in Asia, I shake my head once again to try to get rid of the water in my ears from the ten dives. I am immediately swamped with taxi offers in Denpasar, and one guy tries to skin me for 150,000 rupiah for a 5-10 minute ride. With no remaining patience I quite aggressively get him down to 40,000 and get a motor bike ride to nearby Kuta beach. The driver, Shah, is nice and immediately launches into the customary questions I now expect in each encounter:
1) Where you from miss
2) How long you stay in X (here Bali)
3) Where you stay miss
4) You married miss
5) Why your boyfriend not come with you
6) You live in London? Oh, very faar…
It’s well meant and stems from kind curiosity and he tells me about his wife and his three kids (he looks about 25). He agrees to come back and pick me up from the beach three hours later (although late, he keeps to his word). At Kuta I am reminded of the horrible reliance of tourism in southern Bali and after three scorching hours at the beach and about a million ‘hello’s from market vendors), Shah drops me off at the airport again. I am glad to be moving on.
In the evening I'm picked up from Kuala Lumpur’s LCCT airport by my homestay owner Anas and his wife, Sharifah, whom I have booked with after a recommendation from a Dutch girl I met on a plane. They are to become my new family for the next two days. I can’t describe it any other way, they take me in as if I was a long lost daughter and spend two days driving me everywhere. On our way from the airport they insist on showing me Putrajaya, a town center out of the city where they have put all ministries and the prime minister’s office to be closely linked together. It also features one of the most beautiful mosques I have seen.
Malaysia is a huge melting pot of Malay Muslims, Chinese (probably Christians) and Indian Hindus. It feels like a Muslim country however, and Anas and Sharifa are excited about showing me their everyday day life. They are an interesting mix – Anas worked in finance but now runs the B&B, Sharifah used to be a teacher but since retirement is a wedding planner with friends in high places (ambassadors' wives). Their daughter who drives us organises kid’s parties - on the back seat of the car, perched between Anas and Sharifah, is a pump for a bouncy castle. They’re bubbly, fun, happy and very chatty – and very proud of their country. I smile until my cheeks hurt, glad to have met them.
In bed I quite gratefully realise that this is the last time on this trip that I find myself in a new city, sleeping in a different bed (I’ve counted 14 so far since Aug 31st) and establishing connections with new people. Two days to go of my adventure. Although wonderful and exciting and a privilege to be able to do, there comes a point in your travlling when you just want to go home.