For my wife and I, it has been quite a while since we took off on one of those spur-of-the-moment lets-get-the-hell-out-of-here-and-recharge-our-battery trips. Since life has been rather overly hectic recently, what with unexpected illnesses in the family, moving house and of course, the Eid Fitr celebrations on top of our usual workload, we were more than ready for one of those trips again.
It was a Sunday morning when we got into our trusted Malaysian-made car and made a beeline to ‘somewhere’, exactly where that ‘somewhere’ is happen to be in the general direction of the east coast of Johor. It wasn’t til later that ‘somewhere’ became Mersing and the white sands of Air Papan, via what was initially planned as the Tanjung Sedili-Jemaluang route but later became the Tanjung Sedili-FELDA Tenggaroh palm oil plantations-Jemaluang route.
It must be said that it’s definitely not our first time to Mersing (having passed through on the way to Kuantan, Pahang many times before) nor was it our first time to Tanjung Sedili or the FELDA Tenggaroh plantations (the first time was because of a wrong turn somewhere, and exactly where, to this day, I have absolutely no idea) or Jemaluang (no choice this!) but for Air Papan, it’s definitely our first time. At this age, you say? Well, better late than never, I’d say.
Since we were making good time, we decided to make a pit stop at Tanjung Sedili for a bit of brunch. Brunch was at ‘downtown’ Tanjung Sedili, where the jetty is located.
I must say that whenever we are at ‘downtown’ Tanjung Sedili, I can’t help but feel transported back to the Sixties, when I was still a child, accompanying my late father to wait for the fisherfolk coming in with their catch. Fresh fish was in abundance then. So were crabs, prawns and what have you. And at what looks to me, the same jetty as it was then. Call it absurd if you must but it’s a feeling I could never shake off.
After brunch, we continued with our journey and again, I made a wrong turn and again, I could not figure out where that wrong turn was. But as they say in this part of the world, all roads either lead you to Kota Tinggi or to Mersing. Since we had already fill up the tank and that you can still get a signal on your mobile, I felt safe enough to be lost. Again. It helps that I didn’t tell my wife that I took a wrong turn. Again.
True enough, we found ourselves back on our planned route and soon, we reached Jemaluang. Anybody who has made their way to or from Mersing, can confirm that Jemaluang is one place you just want to pass through ASAP and not hang round much. Not that there’s anywhere to hang around much unless there happen to be another side to Jemaluang we were not aware of. And secondly, Jemaluang is not a place I’d want to be after dusk. It is unnaturally dark as you approach Jemaluang after dusk and it always gave me the creeps.
But Jemaluang does tell you one thing and that is, Mersing is not far off and true enough, we got there even before we knew it.
By all accounts, Mersing has become more and more unrecognisable these days, what with the new Institut Latihan Perindustrian (Industrial Training Institute), a MARA Junior Science College (MRSM) as well as a Sekolah Menengah Sains (SMS) now calling Mersing home. It used to resemble a sleepy deadbeat of a town, with not much happening. But not anymore.
Fishing boats and trawlers can still be seen at the main thoroughfare of Mersing and fisherfolk still make up the bulk of the population. ‘Downtown’ Mersing still hasn’t changed except for maybe the presence of a few cafes and souvenir shops, catering to the holidaying folk waiting to make their way to the islands for their much-anticipated sun-kissed holidays or those who just had their share of sun, sand and water, with a tan to show for it all.
Tourism is fast replacing the traditional revenue generating activities in Mersing. The boats and trawlers still go out to sea, but on most occasions the ones doing the fishing are fishing enthusiasts from out-of-town, chartering the boats for a three-day, two-night orgy of fishing (and barfing, if you are unlucky enough to be out at sea when the seas go rough on you). What used to sell salted fish are now selling printed souvenir t-shirts. Homestays and chalets can be found easily, with a few hotels to boot. Good then for Mersing and its folk.
As for us, we made our way to the beachfront at Air Papan, famed locally for their white sand, via the coastal road. Enroute, we became disappointed with the beaches of Mersing, where the grass grew long and wild, and rubbish were strewn everywhere. The local authorities had better do something quick to rectify the situation IF they are serious in promoting Mersing as the main gateway to the holiday islands off the coast of Johor, EVEN if it’s not just for the sake of keeping Mersing neat and tidy.
But to blame it all entirely on the local authorities is not fair, for equal blame must also be placed at the doorstep of the visitors to the beaches. After all, not all the rubbish came from the passing ships seen on the horizon, nicht wahr?
As a matter of interest, the sands of the beachfront in Mersing resembles that of Tanjung Balau ie dark in colour.
Upon reaching Air Papan (easy enough and barely 10 minutes or so from Mersing via the coastal road; just follow the signboards), we were surprised to be charged RM3 (circa USD1), just to enter the area. For maintenance purposes, it was said and with a receipt to show for it as well. We thought we were being fleeced but any misgivings were quickly dispelled when we saw the beach. It was actually CLEAN and WELL MAINTAINED and for me, very important that and alone worth the RM3. No arguments there.
And as you make your way to the water to watch the waves chase one another as they rush ashore, you can’t help but to feel tickled by the fine sand in-between your toes, the heat passed on from the fine sand to the soles of your feet, massaging them, whilst the strong cool breeze give your face a gentle work-over with the natural elements of salt and water. So altogether now – Aaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!
Is this what they call the process of rejuvenation? Reinforcing the feeling of being alive? To be alive? To be eternally grateful for life’s little pleasures and to look ahead to the future anew? When all the aches affecting the limbs and the cobwebs that clouds the mind get ‘washed’ away?
It did not take long before we began to act like little kids on a beach, not that we got into the water anyway, inviting though it was. That we’ll save it for the next time. Of that we are certain and this time with the boys in tow, as a reward for keeping the house intact all this while. Maybe. Just maybe.
But for the time being, we wanted to enjoy it while it lasted.
When making our way up and down the beach, you can’t help but notice small holiday resorts coming up, lining the beach front. We made our inquiries and were surprised to discover that the quoted rates were reasonable by local standards. We sincerely hope it stays that way for as long as it possibly can, for it would be a shame AND a tragedy if Malaysians can’t even afford to enjoy a holiday in their own country.
We also saw a lifeguard tower but we didn’t see any red shorts, be it on a person or being left out to dry. Maybe they wore brown in these part of the woods. But whatever colour it may be, it was comforting to note that there was a lifeguard tower. Now if only there was somebody manning it, that would be great.
It had to end, our little escapade. With batteries recharged, and cobwebs swept away, we began to make our way back to JB. Funnily enough, Jemaluang did not look that bad after dusk.
We’ll be coming back to Air Papan, that’s for sure, even if it means taking a wrong turn (again!). In the meantime, our sincere hope and wish is that the beaches of Air Papan will remain as it is for as long as possible, before the big boys come into the picture resulting in the beach falling victim to uncontrolled commercialization. Sincerely.
To the Johor State Government and the Mersing District Council, commercialise Air Papan if you must, but PLEASE, plan for it and managed it well so that we can all AFFORD and ENJOY what Air Papan has to offer for years to come. That would not be bad, would it?
Date : 8 October 2012