Tuesday, 6 November 2012

March Madness 3 - Pulau Sibu 3

This story continues from: March Madness 3 - Pulau Sibu 2

When I woke the next day, it was still early and the sun had yet to rise fully. I took to the footpath and walked that short distance across the island to the beach on the other side. It was strangely still and deferential  Looking at the dead corals again reminded me of the killing fields of Cambodia. Here, instead of piles of bones, were piles of dead coral. I wondered what it would take to revitalise the whole zone.

I skipped a few stones into the sea and retraced my steps back to the footpath. The kitchen should be serving breakfast soon and the rest of the guys and gals would be up and waiting.

The second day was all sand and sea. A few of us tried canoeing and windsurfing. I either laid on the beach or dipped into the sea. I had canoed quite a bit in my youth and so had no more interest.

But windsurfing was catching on in Singapore then and so I was keen to try it out. However, the winds that day were not very cooperative. I decided to just laze about and get tanned. Later, we all got together and played volleyball on the beach.

Around late afternoon, we went on an excursion to Big Brother Island (i.e. Pulau Sibu Besar). In size, it was about six to seven times larger than Pulau Sibu Tengah (aka SIR) and about 2km away. We visited one of the five resorts there. Unlike SIR, they were the rough-and-tumble sort and each was served by its own flimsy jetty.

Some guests we saw there were sun-bleached, wiry and wore headbands. They looked very much like the seasoned hippies of the '60s. I remember thinking they were no different from "harm yu" or salted fish laid out in the sun too long. It made us wonder if these over-tanned folks had lived on Pulau Sibu Besar all their lives!


On the second day, we learnt from those who canoed that there was a sea eagle's nest around the left side of the island. It was nestled in some rocks quite near to the beach below. The cliffs on our island were not high, roughly six to eight storeys tall. Only the top of the right cliff was accessible via a narrow footpath.

From up there, we could get a good panorama view of the ocean as well as the sea route our ferry had taken in to approach the resort. Although the cliff was small, its stony facade somehow injected a natural sense of ruggedness and adventure to the place. They bear an inscrutable testimony to an outdoor life.

The reason that the eagle's nest was so low is that the place was isolated and free from human encroachment. The nice beach there could only be accessible by boat.

We knew it was nice because Mr Hassan had told us during that first night conversation. He was describing the new kind of clientele he was targeting at and related the story of a well-off Indian couple who were there for their wedding anniversary.

Wanting a private spot to celebrate, the couple had approached him for help. Mr Hassan then picked out that spot of beach where the eagle nest was, knowing full well that no one else could get there on foot.

"That Indian couple had a late night picnic with champagne and stuff. We picked them up later. Much later," Mr Hassan said, ending with a wink in his eye.

I saw the beach the next day, not by swimming but by windsurf canoeing. That's when you use sit on a windsurf board and canoe with a paddle. I was bored and wanted some adventure and so off I went on my own.

The beach was indeed nice: White sand with clear waters walled in by some rocks which gave it a private, lagoony feel.

The waters were surprising shallow for a long stretch and colorful. There were many big rocks that somehow  gave off colors of the inside of an oyster's shell. That made me wonder if the same seascape stretched for 2km to the bigger island. I had seen the same thing before between two islands off the shores of Sabah. Over there, I could even wade through coral-filled waters to get to the other island during low tide.

The sheltered bay of 'Eagle's Beach' made the island feel near and safe. But once I got to the turn, that's when the sea really opened up. It made me feel as if I was in a paper boat bobbing in a large ocean. In such a situation, it is hard to keep faith with a flimsy surfboard, but I held fast to the conviction that it will not sink.

With a canoe, I alone could not right a capsized one. Trust me, I've tried that during my canoeing days. You would need a buddy in another canoe for that. With a surfboard you could even paddle without an oar! That's the reason I went sightseeing with it.

Now facing the open sea, I began to think about sharks. Are there any around? A Big White has been known to taken a chunk out of a surfboard, so in the end, my smart idea wasn't so smart after all. I decided to paddle on and watch out for them just in case. Big Whites had been known to roam the Gulf of Thailand which was many miles away from where I was. Still, one should be wary. Stories of rogue sharks attacking swimmers in coastal waters surface from time to time - kind of like how car park wardens turn up from time to time to remind motorists to behave.


Having made that turn, I was now paddling past the back of the island. The familiar sight of chalets and those dead corals (undersea) gave me comfort. I didn't go too near to the beach though, but stayed a comfortable distance out to see if I could spot any still-alive corals. There were none.

As I paddled on in this little adventure of mine, the island became bigger. I guess the reason was that much of it was inaccessible and hence not factored in. Also, that short footpath through its middle between the beaches also gave the false first-impression that the island was small. I mean you cannot judge a woman's assets by her small waist alone. Look at Dolly Parton.

And just like Ms Parton's curvaceous outline, I eventually reached another turn and come up against a big lump rising into the sky. It was the same eight-storey high rocky precipice I had seen arriving on the first day. Looking at the same cliff now up close and from a flimsy surfboard, my feelings were different. It's not so much awe-inspiring as bleak. It was a cliff no one could climb. It was simply an absolute obstacle.

That thought reminded me of one of my favourite movies, Papillon. It is a 1973 movie about a man of the same name (Papillon is French for butterfly) who refused to surrender to the harsh prisons he was sent to after being convicted of a revenge killing he claimed he was wrongly accused of. After several near deaths, escapes and recaptures, he was eventually sent to Devil's Island, a place ensconced by cliffs, rocks and strong waves that no one was deemed able to escape from. But escape Papillon did and quite ingenious too.

So, in view of all that Papillon went through, my own round-the-island adventure was really child's play.


From the cliff, it was a matter of minutes before I paddled myself back to where I had started: the front of the resort. But not before battling some strong currents.

I was hoping to just slip unnoticed into the verandah and sit down for a drink, but some of my friends rushed out to ambush me. One of them was pretty livid. "Where the hell were you? We thought you were eaten by sharks or something! We looked everywhere for you!"

I felt sheepish then. Going out on an adventure on my own was fine but taking my friends' concern for granted was not. I apologised to them and explained that I had gotten carried away. It was true in a sense - I had wanted to see the Eagle's Nest. Fortunately, the matter was soon forgotten. The guy who had made the most noise was Yew Meng, my OCS platoon mate during NS. I thought he should have known better that I could take care of myself. I wondered then if he would have approved if I had first told him of my plans to circle the island on a surfboard. Probably not. But Yew Meng was a mother hen like that.

But for an hour or two that morning, I felt like Robinson Crusoe or Tom Sawyer going on a grand sea adventure. Sometimes a guy gotta do what a guy gotta do in order to experience new things; or else you wouldn't be reading this story!

Next story: PR Tale 1 - Bangkok

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