"Survivors" find paradise on Pulau Tiga
"Hold on tight and make sure any camera equipment is stowed in a dry place" shouted Abdul, my 24-year-old Malaysian captain as he gave full throttle to the twin 90 hp Honda motors. The bow of our small, open craft quickly reached precariously for the sky as if trying to take to the air.
I had vacated a luxurious suite at the Nexus Resort located a short distance from Kota Kinabalu at 6am, driving south to Kuala Penyu, a dusty fishing village on the south-west coast of Sabah, Borneo.
Bags safely transferred by willing hands from bus to boat, we were now bouncing across every second white cap on our way to the island of Pulau Tiga located about 15 kms off-shore.
Similar to thousands of other beautiful tropical islands seemingly floating on the now sparkling South China Sea, Pulau Tiga enjoyed relative peace from prying tourists until, only a few weeks before, its anonymity was changed for ever. On the night of 31st May Pulau Tiga’s colorful bird-life, dense jungle white sandy beaches and coral reef were catapulted into the homes of 75 million North Americans as backdrop for the successful TV mini-series, "Survivor."
Over a period of 39 days, 16 total strangers, supposedly "marooned" on a deserted island, pitted their survival skills against one-another until a winner emerged to claim the $US1 million prize-money.
Inertia pushed me forward on the seat of my now soaking pants as Captain Abdul eased the motors back, the bow once more finding the water. We were approaching the jetty that between January and March, 2000 had been the drop-off point for more than 120 production staff, helpers and 30 tons of props, generators and camera equipment.
Once off the jetty, it took me just a few steps on the hot sand to reach the main clubhouse where I was greeted by a green neon sign flashing "Survivor Bar."
My guest cabin was neatly tucked into the jungle only a hop, skip and a couple of jumps from the beach. Perched atop one meter-high stilts, each cabin was relatively sparse but contained the necessities of western life including comfortable bed, toilet, shower, ceiling fan and electric lights.
Once unpacked, I jogged along the seemingly endless, humans-free beach for a few minutes, took a dip in the warm, clear ocean then headed back to the open fronted clubhouse for a light lunch of salad and cooked meats washed down with chilled orange juice.
Lunch over, the island’s Operations Manager, 32 year old Terence Lim offered to guide me across the island to Pajong Beach, the isolated location of the Survivor’s camp. Getting there on foot, which was the only way other than by boat, took us about one hour of hard slogging in the uncomfortable humidity. Our track was well defined for much of the way, but dense jungle only a few meters on either side was struggling hard to take back the clearing.
Inquisitive monkeys followed our advance through their territory, while under foot every fallen tree branch became a potential deadly snake to this nervous city-based writer.
Pulau Tiga measures only 20 square kilometres but is the largest of three islands that make up Pulau Tiga National Park. Formed from the eruption of several mud volcanoes, the island has a unique ecosystem supporting numerous rare species of birds, 132 species of fish and lush plant life.
The highest point was at the center of the island, where Terence told me, "we are now 100 meters above sea level. This spot may be a little higher on our return as we are standing over subterranean gas that continues to expel muddy sediment from which the island has evolved." To graphically illustrate his point, he carefully took me past a number of small mud volcanoes bloop, bloop blooping away nonstop.
Moving along quickly, we eventually reached Pajong Beach. Scattered along the tree line were a few decaying palm thatched structures that had only a few weeks ago housed "survivors" and served as their Tribal Council. The tangled remains of the raft upon which they originally came ashore were found floating between rocks. Until reclaimed by nature these would be the only remaining signs of the cast and crew’s hurried return to civilization.
Dusk was fast approaching as my nose followed the smell of burning logs and cooking food back to the clubhouse. I was by now a very tired, dirty and hungry excuse for a world-travelled adventurer. My adventure for today, however, was just about over.
A quick dip in the water after dinner, then bed sounded wonderful. Nowhere near as luxurious as the beautiful suite vacated earlier that morning, but a bed is a bed when you are this tired.
Lights out, my alarm is set as instructed for a 5.30a.m.wake-up. Where am I going tomorrow anyway, my already half-asleep brain tries to reason? 6.00am at the jetty for the return trip to the mainland then hurried bus ride to Kota Kinabalue’s International Airport.
Change planes in Kuala Lumpur for the flight to the island of Langkowi on the northwest of Malaysia, just south of the border with Thailand. Then short transfer to, thank heavens, another luxury resort where I could hang up my now moulding clothes for the next few days.
I am now beginning to appreciate why Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines people want me to see so much of their beautiful country, but even we travel writers need sympathy and rest sometimes………….Captain Tony