Large trees with foot-long broad leaves and box-shaped fruits stretch almost parallel to the sand out towards the sparkling sea, providing a natural canopy under which to escape the heat or the rain. Under the trunk of one is a triangular mosquito net (mine) with sand piled on its sides and attached to wooden sticks in the corners to keep out vermin and mosquitos. Draped width-wise and covering half of it as well as the trusty pack is a dark blue rain poncho. It provides shelter from rainstorms if I crouch in the middle of the makeshift "tent" and fold up my mat and sheet under me. Also under its generous canopy are two glass bottles containing kerosene at various degrees of fullness. And to complete the picture -- in addition to my sheet airing and flapping in the wind and my blue 2lt pot, melamine bowl, chinese spoon, wooden spoon, chopsticks and stainless steel cup chilling in the shade -- is my pride and my joy, my very own Butterfly 2412 primus-style brass pressure stove.
The beach is mine. There is only a small jungle trail leading to it, and the weekend campers (a large extended family and a group of kayaking students) have left the beach to me and the thieving monkeys. Oh, and Jowhari who seems to be building some kind of resort on one half of the beach... but he comes and goes. The backdrop is pure rainforest from whence the monkeys make their forays to the beach to raid and pillage in their vendetta against all plastic bags. That's partly why I'm here, under the beautiful shade of my tree, to be on the spot to chase away with sticks and stones any attempt on my property or territory. An old grandpa monkey stole my two last bananas yesterday while I was talking to someone informing me of the pending arrival of 25-30 Maybank employees who will participate in kayaking and repelling activities in an attempt to foster team-spirit and make them forget that they are wage-slaves and must sell their only possession (their time) in order to live. Until they show up it's only me and the monkeys. And as I have a small stash of coral bits to throw and a solid stick at hand, we can say for all practical purposes it's just me.
It's hard to describe how happy I am. It's not just that I am healthy and well-fed and have shelter and drinking water and a tranquil beach and a rain forest and even a table and chair (thank you Jowhari); or even that I'm alone and can do whatever I want. I think it's the stove.
That's the one essential piece that ties it all together and makes this entire adventure possible. Thanks to it this time around I have absolute and undisputed freedom.
The three weeks spent in the madhouse that is called Georgetown Guest House
in Penang have thus not been spent in vain. For one, I now have a large set of experiences to draw from if I ever decide to write a book (except they're almost all too bizarre to be believable). Such as watching the lights of the tall buildings through the murky dark while approaching on the ferry and thinking "this looks straight out of a sci-fi movie"; or upon arrival at 1am being met by a fat indian man with bloodshot eyes on a motorscooter who invited me (and my female companion at the time) down a dark alleyway to visit "his" guesthouse, while a chinese man ran after cautioning us about following "the indian man" -- and offering the services of his own hostel. The indian was so drunk he gave us a 35%!d(MISSING)iscount, so we stayed. Then at this same guesthouse we sat in matchbox-sized windowless rooms with plyboard walls as our neighbor transformed from well-spoken intelligent "retired university professor" into a raving screaming alcoholic madman. He remained that way for the better part of two weeks shouting "Ma!" in his sleep and only occasionally emerging from the corner to which he had been banished to buy more drink and stumble around in a drunken stupor with his lower lip hanging down. Then one morning he announced he had had a "bad chest cold", but was now better. And then lets not forget the WWII veteran Englishman who would corner anyone who seemed likely to listen (mostly the female companion) and recount in detail the days' activities, such as what he had eaten, how he had prepared it, and obviously much more if he had been to the market. This gentleman then purchased a Butterfly 2412 stove, which I immediately coveted and ran out to buy one of my own.
And what better thing to do with a stove but camp out on a beach under a ramshackle tent?
I ended up spending 10 nights on the beach. I gradually improved my shelter, became more creative with my cooking (boiled rice with little dried fish turned into fried fresh fish and vegetables and scrambled eggs and fried noodles), and made friends with the people in the nearby village (who were nice enough to let me charge my ipod in their shop and even invited me to dinner), and became totally arrogant in my attitude towards the monkeys. Like a gloating conqueror I pressed the point home at every opportunity: throwing stones and threatening the monkeys whenever I saw them (regardless of whether they were in my
territory or not), and leaving my camp unattended for hours with my food in a styrofoam "ice box" secured with my luggage-strap-cum-belt. I even went as far as to email some of you about my victory over monkeys (and thus over nature), and began clearing dead leaves and other viper- and scorpion-habitats and burning them, making the area suitable for safe human habitation.
Then one friday morning I went to town to fulfill my religious as well as commercial and technological obligations, spending most of the day away from town and only thinking of what exciting food to cook for dinner. I tramped back in the evening, utterly exhausted and ready for some good fish, but was met with the ugly and horrifying spectacle of the broken lid of my styrofoam foodbox: a quarter of the lid had been broken off and all
my food looted. I initially suspected foul-play: maybe Jowhari was tiring of my company and sabotaged my food supply in hopes of driving me away? I followed the trail of torn plastic bags hoping to recover enough food to scrape together dinner, but gave up when I found the plastic jar of peanutbutter torn open. No, these monkeys are not only thieves; they're evil and strong. I caged a cup of rice from the weekend kayakers (who looked a little incredulous when I told them the monkeys had stolen my food), and was forced to admit defeat at the hand of tailed screeching evil monkeys. The next morning I made french toast to ease the pain of failure, packed my gear and left the beach to its rightful owners.
Thus ends the tale of my attempt to survive on a beach in "nature". For next time I'll be using more hardware.
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