Choppy waters beneath the bouncing boat gave us the workout of a lifetime as we clutched our stomachs with laughter. The bulky life jackets made this quite challenging; their padding by no means lessened the intermittent blows to our spinal columns. If the ride was a musical score, it was a jumble of smooth minuets and unexpected staccatos. After reaching the outward reef of the island, we paid the driver and tossed our backpacks into the smaller water taxi that would shuttle us to shore.
Pulau Perhentian. A sweeter sight had never been seen. Relief and exhaustion were culprits of our delirious giggles, for it had been nearly thirty hours since our last full night’s sleep.
The afternoon prior, we’d entered a hectic bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur. Tickets had been purchased through our hostel, but deciphering the map and brochure proved to be problematic. Lines of people zig-zagged around columns and booths in the plaza, and – as if it wasn’t complicated enough that all the Pulaus, Jalangs, and Ports sounded the same – no one knew where our bus company was located, and the time for departure was rapidly approaching. A neighbor to the equator, Malaysia’s humidity meant even light breathing made us perspire… the fact that we were running back and forth between travel agents and receiving desks whilst carrying forty pound backpacks meant we were swimming in our own sweat. By the time we arrived at the correct bus lot, the sarong I’d dreamt of lounging in at the beach had been demoted to nothing more than a sad, soaked exercise towel.
Driving to the coast from Kuala Lumpur would take us a few hours, so we’d chosen the overnight transportation option. Gasping to catch our breath, we stacked our backpacks in the lower chamber of the flashy tour bus, glad to be carrying only small knapsacks that held our passports and money belts. Climbing the steps to the cabin, it was clear we had a night of pure luxury ahead of us. Immaculate velvety seats beckoned, though most were taken and it became obvious we three would be split up. Air fresheners infused the expanse with cleanliness, a stark contrast to the vehicle fumes we’d been breathing in the parking lot just minutes earlier. And climate control!! I could already feel my overheated body cooling down in the comfort of the forceful HVAC.
We pulled out of the city as the sun began to set and the anxiety of missing our highly anticipated beach excursion diminished like golden rays into night. And then we realized we’d forgotten our food in our backpacks. Searching our daypacks repeatedly in hopes of finding even a nutrigrain bar to tide us over until day break ended in vain. Looking at one another dejectedly from our scattered seats, we admitted defeat and decided to sleep. Unfortunately, not all the reclining chairs were functioning on our portable guesthouse. However, the seats that did were occupied by riders sitting directly in front each of us, so it wasn’t long before we were up close and personal with the headrests of our fellow travelers. I closed my eyes and tried to rest. But by then, the energies spent running around all afternoon were catching up with me, and my stomach began to rumble. It was at this point I began to resent the overwhelming scent of artificial fresh air, merely because the teasing of the senses made my mouth water until my jaw clenched. I tossed and turned but eventually fell asleep. Until my convulsing cold body woke me, that is. Leaning into the isle to work around the neighbor in my lap, I reached down with shivering hands and pulled my damp sarong over my body like a sheet.
At dawn the next morning, we were dropped off at Kuala Besut, the port where we would catch a speed boat away from the coast and onto an island. Little did we know then how much more adventure our transportation had to offer us. But, as we laughed at the predicament and joy of the memories we were creating, I learned that when life hits us with speed bumps, water induced or otherwise, we have opportunities to respond in many ways. Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Whenever possible, I try to smile through them all, because life is not always illustrated by a sarong on the beach, sometimes it’s clinging to that sarong as your only source of heat on an intensely air-conditioned overnight bus in Southeast Asia. Maybe wrong is just a detour.
Travel gifts us with treasures that come from learning to alter our perception. This time, in Malaysia, I was exposed to numerous worlds. A crowded bus terminal in a busy city center, an unforgettable and hilarious night of non-sleep on a luxury guesthouse on wheels, and the underwater paradise I explored when I snorkeled for the first time. The last world was one inhabited by slender sharks, curious creatures, and rainbow striped fish that camouflaged themselves against my bikini. I will never forget the understanding I gained about natural life under the sea because I had the chance to observe it and not just read about it in my science book. It is my theory that by exposing ourselves through travel and respectfully entering environments foreign to our own, we are graciously allowed these types of experiences! Onward, explorers, and learn more every day!
Read more about Thirty by Thirty here…