Since I last wrote, I am a whole year older and wiser, or at least that’s what I’d like to think. The week leading up to my birthday was spent in the misty village of Bongkud. Our time was spent mostly on concreting a new market place for the village, although one afternoon I did have a shot at teaching states of matter to a group of Malaysian twelve year olds.
Every waking minute we were together within our newly expanded group of sixteen. When we weren’t working we would be playing volleyball or learning local songs. But by far the best way to pass time at Camp Bongkud is at the village Zumba club. In the community hall, partly built by a group of fellow Hardenhuish students back in 2011, we joined the mums of the villages to shake our stuff, often getting very lost in footwork, to Hula Hoop and other Malaysian pop songs. I’m not quite sure what the instructors thought of us all but we had a whole lot of fun every day.
I was lucky enough to have the day before my birthday off as an R&R day. The first half of this was spent at the Poring Hot Springs nearby. I’ve always believed that the best things in life are the unexpected adventures and the Poring Hot Springs certainly had a few surprises to reveal. Anticipating just a few pools of varying temperatures, I was a little bit taken aback when our first destination on arriving at the Springs was a ‘Canopy Walk’. After a pretty steep ascent through the jungly terrain we reached a wooden tower of ladders leading not to a raised boardwalk as I had interpreted ‘Canopy Walk’ to mean but instead a whole series of hanging bridges. I felt like I was at Go Ape or something walking amongst the treetops on the rickety planks. I’m not sure what was more impressive, the walk itself or the views of jungle disappearing far off into the horizon. All I know is that one of these two took my breath away.
Back on solid ground, the most adventurous of the group explored the waterfalls and bat cave before we eventually tried the Springs. After all the excitement of the bridges and hikes the springs were ever so slightly anticlimactic with the hot pools smelling too strongly of sulphur while the other pools, although picturesque, were far too cold. It just goes to show, sometimes the expected is underwhelming compared to the surprises that life throws at you.
And now to move on to the main topic of this blog: my birthday. My birthday celebrations actually began the night before as the incredible friends that I have made over the past weeks arranged a secret little party with far too many balloons and the most chocolatey cake with my name iced on top and everything. As I blew out the candles I made an early birthday wish: “please let the weather be fit for us to go to the island tomorrow”. Wishes do come true. The next morning, after a breakfast of burnt toast and cards from home, we were off to Mantanani Island! At the jetty I got to show off my new age as we filled out our details on forms confirming that we accepted the terms and conditions of the boat ride. Terms and conditions which stated that the company was not liable for any injury or death caused by the journey. That’s when we should have started feeling wary.
The wonderful thing about rollercoasters is that (typically speaking) they are safe thrills. Yes, you may be taking corners and loops at unbelievable speeds but you can always be reassured by the safety rail and all the rigorous tests to ensure that the ride is safe. In contrast, the boat ride to Mantanani was just thrill. Not really much safety. With an initial issue with the boat taking on an unsettling amount of water, a little bit of engine rewiring ten minutes into the journey, countless bumps and moments when all you could see out of one side of the boat was sky and ocean from the other, it was hard to shake off the fear that the boat could just possibly sink or capsize. But then I guess, that’s all part of the fun and exhilaration. Thankfully we eventually arrived on the island and discovered that the camp truly was on the beach.
So I spent my 19th birthday by the sea. I sunbathed and swam and napped in a hammock just metres from the water. As dusk approached we waited for the sun to set as the sky turned from blue to orange to pink to red. After dinner and an evening of traditional dances performed by a group of 11 year old girls, it was time to celebrate my birthday some more. They don’t really go in for cake out on Mantanani (not sure what Mary Berry would think of that) but instead the incredible cooks made a whole mountain of donuts drizzled with custard and Milo powder. Quite a spectacular cake-substitute. Fully fed with sugary delights we made the seventeen second journey to the beach for a campfire. I’ve always dreamt of having a campfire by the sea and finally my dream had come true. As the night drew in and the flames died down, I saw my first ever firefly and wished on three shooting stars. I feel so lucky and wonderfully spoilt to have spent my birthday in such a beautiful place with such amazing people. Admittedly I do wish that I’d been able to share the day with my friends and family back home but it’s impossible to have it all. Very few people get to spend a birthday in a place of so much beauty as this so I’ll focus on the sound of the waves lapping the shore and the feel of the sand between my toes rather than the fact that I missed out on my grandparents’ tuneful rendition of Happy Birthday. Even so, I had a perfectly blissful day. Maybe I’ll just have to convince my family to give me a second birthday when I get home, if the Queen can have two birthday, why can’t I?
I’ll keep you posted,