06 December 2014

Borneo Blast, Day #2: Rowing to my Very Own Island!

When I was growing up in Dallas, Texas we would go to amusement parks all of the time during the summer. A water park named Wet n' Wild and Six Flags . . . Both of them were overly crowded and probably completely unsafe. But every summer we were there as a family or with friends, all of the time. And by the time I was in 6th grade, I began to have this reoccurring dream--nightmare, really--that the two parks had mixed together in a disastrous sort of way. Six Flags became flooded while I was stuck on top of a roller coaster. And somehow that flooding mixed with the ocean (it was a dream after all). And not only was I stuck on top of a roller coaster surrounded by water, but there were hundreds of killer whales swimming around me. I remember that dream like it was yesterday.

My goal when booking my trip to Borneo was to take a diving course. I mentioned how the ocean sort of frightened me with it's vastness in my previous post. But I booked the diving course anyhow and thought, I'll be fine. I'll just do it and deal with it. Except that the closer I got to actually leaving for Borneo, the more I thought about that nightmare I mentioned above. I don't even know if killer whales live around Borneo, but I cancelled my dive course booking. I decided I wasn't ready. The most exhilarating and frightening thing I can think of right now at this moment in time would be to stare a whale in the eye while underwater trapped in heavy gear. It took my breath away, and I hadn't even done it yet. I know they are harmless, and I've been whale watching a zillion times. But for some reason, something stopped me.

So I accepted it. I decided that I would do other water activities. Find other ways to experience that crazy vastness of the ocean that completely terrifies me. 

I started my second day in Borneo with another walk on the beach. I thought it was so fun to just walk up and down the coast in the sand. I found the most random things in the water, like the chair above. I also had an absolute blast watching all of these tiny, translucent side-walking crabs build their little sand caves. They would roll up the most perfect little sand balls, in all different sizes, creating beautiful designs outside of wherever their little cave was. And they scurried back into their cave every time I approached them, covering their little cave holes with one of the balls they just made.

The night before, I asked my driver, Mr. Able, what he thought might be fun to do. I told him that I had absolutely no interest in doing anything that other tourists might be doing. I didn't want to go to a zoo to see monkeys, or be around a giant group of people. I just wanted to feel a connection to the water in some new way.

He said that he had a friend who was opening up a new, tiny, exclusive beach hut resort. And would I be interested in going to see it and taking a boat out on the water, perhaps even rowing to another island. 

This is when I decided that drivers know the best things to do, but you really have to drill them. They are so used to taking people wherever most tourists go, so you really have to tell them exactly what you might be interested in doing. And I promise--if you trust them--the most exciting things will take place. It happened for me in India, and now in Borneo. Always, always, always talk to the driver and trust in them to make things happen!

So around 9am, we were off. It was about a 2 hour drive. We stopped off at a little market to pick up some fruits and bottles of water. Color was everywhere!

The drive was relatively flat until the very end. We started winding through hills, up and down. Then we got over one hill and he told me to look out the window. That's when I saw the view pictured above. It was so blue and luscious! He said to me, "Just around that curve on the right, that's where we're headed." 

Sure enough, not a soul in sight! It was marvelous . . . 

It took about an hour for Mr. Able and one of the two construction workers on the property to arrange the boat and get it ready. So I made myself at home . . . I tossed my shoes off in the sand, and played in the water and climbed around on the rocks.

I couldn't stop taking pictures of this place. It was just so pure and beautiful and empty! I've become such a recluse in my old age, and I absolutely love it! The only sound I could hear was water lapping against the rocks, and the occasional bird. It was just so magnificent!

Finally the boat was prepared. I took a quick picture with the construction worker who had helped us out, and then we were off.

It was just a simple row boat. We both had oars. And Mr. Able thought to grab his battery powered motor from his house--a welcomed surprise! 

The island we were rowing to is that little tree-covered green spot in the image above. It may appear that it is relatively close. Well, I am here to tell you that it was not . . . Mr. Able guessed that it was about 3 kilometers away. But I don't think that's true. I think he was telling me that in an effort to keep my panic at bay.

As we sat there rowing, surrounded by water, I started to get imaginative in my head. I began to think of the dream I had as a child and the movie, The Perfect Storm. But this did not deter me. I kept on rowing and tried to shoot as much video and still images as possible.

It was when we were about halfway that I realized we had a little stowaway. I didn't have shoes on, so while I was rowing, I felt this little tickling around my left ankle. That's when I met Harry. I hadn't seen a hermit crab since I was much younger. I picked him up without thinking and then squealed when he popped his head out and his little arms touched my hand. I set him back down again, and continued rowing. We were taking Harry to his new home, a private island all to himself! Hooray!

About 3/4ths of the way to our destination, I began the dreaded chant, "Do you think we'll make it?' It's like I was a child again, in the back of my parent's Chevy Blazer on the way to Colorado: "Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?" Every 2 minutes I was asking the question, "Do you think we'll make it?"

We had been rowing for about three hours. Three hours??! Yes, three hours. Turns out the little motor that Mr. Able brought didn't work. He forgot to charge it the night before. Ooops. Plus we were headed towards the wind, and it was hot, and we were out of water. Oh the irony to be surrounded by water, but out of water.

Then without any sort of fireworks or ticker tape parade, we made it! Just like that, we hit shore. Hooray! Hooray!

The beach was solid shells. There was absolutely no sand. It was so incredibly beautiful! And the perfect new home for little Harry. He could pick out any new shell he wanted to live in . . . Countless outfits at the ready!

We were both so happy that we made it! I mean, seriously! Writing this now and looking back at these pictures . . . My goodness! How gracious I feel to have been able to experience this!

Mr. Able found Harry a place to live while I took in a victory splash. We ended up only staying on our little island for about an hour. Maybe even just 45 minutes. But I can safely say that it was probably the best 45 minutes of my life. EVER.

I kept looking at the sky while taking in the new island. The weather was changing. Clouds were rolling in and thunder was booming. We got back into the boat and began our journey to the mainland. That's when the chant turned from "Do you think we'll make it" to "We keep rowing, but we haven't moved at all!!" I have to admit: about halfway home, I kind of had a bit of a nervous spell. Mr. Able had just finished telling me about how the last time he was out on these waters, he saw some whales feeding just over there. That story coupled with the rain that was on it's way sort of did me in. I didn't cry, but I rowed faster than any other human has ever rowed, ever. It was a mild freak-out, but a freak-out nonetheless. And I was so hot and thirsty and completely sunburned, down to my core.

About 50 meters from the shore, I jumped ship. I didn't care if I could stand or not, I just had to get out of the boat and feel the coolness of the water on my skin. Thankfully, I could stand, if only barely. I held onto the side of the boat and we kind of drifted in . . . At this point it had started sprinkling. I squelched all of the crazy thoughts going on in my head like what if we had still been on our island during the rain. Oh my gosh! What if, what if, what if??!! But we were safe. We made it to our magical island and back again, just in time for the storm. Lucky ducks!

I did it! I was so happy and thankful and filled with excitement!

We got back to the shore a lot quicker since the wind was at our backs. We ended up back on the mainland in about half of the time that it took us to row out to the island. I just stood on shore and looked out at the island where we left Harry. What a marvelous, once-in-a-lifetime, experience I just had. I know it probably doesn't look like a lot. But to me, it meant the world. To me it was incredible.

I begrudgingly got back in the car to go home, back to my condo. I really wanted to stay there at that enchanted beach. Alas . . . The ride home, back through the little villages, was just as beautiful as anything else I had seen that day. Roaming cows, pink houses, rice paddies . . .

Back in Kota Kinabalu, I remembered that I was in Malaysia. (Ha!) I wanted satay and I wanted it now. The perfect ending to a perfect day . . .

We stopped off at a little street side market and it was a treasure-trove of goodness. Satay for miles!

We also stopped off at this little stand on the highway where a lady was selling coconuts. Let me tell you in case you are unaware, there is nothing more refreshing at the end of a day of rowing than drinking out of a fresh coconut. And there is nothing more exciting than watching a lady in fabulous complimentary-colored prints, hacking away at a coconut! So good . . . Perfection achieved.

Up Next: Climbing a mountain for the second and last time in my life. (Here's a tip: mountains look just as good up close as they do from a balcony with a glass of wine in hand . . . )

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