Monkey Beach

Disio and I rented a bike to explore Taman Negara, a national park near Georgetown.  We packed barely enough supplies into Disio’s tiny backpack, picked up the bike, and went winding through the spiderweb of Pinang city streets.

The streets in Malaysia are the result of an Asian culture successfully emulating the infrastructure of western design. There are the heavy overpasses and ubiquitous street lights of red, yellow, and green. But there is also the swerving, weaving, shoving, crowded style of Eastern motorways. The experience of riding on the back of a bike through the organized madness becomes surreal when combined with the structural semblance of home. It’s like watching a kung fu movie set in the wild west.

On Disio’s insistence we stopped at McDonald’s and I couldn’t be fucked to preserve my decade long run without eating the mush. So I put away a Big Mac, and actually marveled at how unmistakable the taste was. Across the span of a decade, and around the world the Big Mac tastes the exact same. How unnaturally constant, a slightly grotesque oddity displaced in time and location.

Disio and I set out to find some nature and escape the steamy concrete jungle. We succeeded, but the haze still followed. It beat us to the beach by two weeks, and cast its regular pall.

We made it to Monkey beach; a lazy title employed by foreigners; an obvious description of the animal presence and the scene they wander. It usurps the original name which is Telu Duyung, a translation meaning ‘Mermaid Beach.’

The walk was hot. Worse than that, it was boring and easy. The attention that normally goes into burning calf or calculated step was instead paid to the heat. The heat turned us both into walking aqueous solutions. A flood of sweat soaked through our shirts creating a filthy coating of jungle dust and the gaseous particles of haze pollution. I sauntered along thinking all about it.

When the temperature of a place hovers just below unbearably hot, it makes cooling down a painfully slow, delicate process. The ocean was lukewarm, so was no help at all, and there wasn’t any wind. The mind teeters towards insanity when it’s boiling and has no avenue for relief.

The beach itself was the derelict shell of an off-season tourist trap. There were empty tables everywhere, with empty plastic deck chairs. The place was filled with ghosts on holiday from their obligations in purgatory.

I approached a group of locals, two of whom were carving seats into a massive log. That small conversation planted a seed.

Disio left to get food. I stayed and built a small camp. I collected some firewood, and readied a campfire. I scouted out the best two chairs in the place and dragged them to our spot. I set up the tent under a bar lounge area. The bar was Bob Marley themed of course.

In the haze the sun doesn’t go down. The whole world just turns its shoulder and succumbs to darkness. The grayness darkens until only a starless blackness looms overhead. The few visitors all left before the snuffing of the light. Alone and still missing Disio, I waited on the beach. I sat in the chair, and listened to the pathetic slap of tiny waves.

Disio finally showed up, and we ate a delicious Chinese dinner. I sucked down the soup right out of the bag. We drank Whiskey and talked about everything. Then we went for a stroll down the beach.

A few hundred meters out someone snuck up on Disio. He shouted ‘Hey there!’ and wielded a heavy knife. The man was named Fari, and he recognized me from before. We explained that we were camping that night on the beach. Fari invited us back to his hut for a smoke out of a bamboo bong. We accepted.

We played cards with those lonely protectors of the beach. Fari was a skinny Indian man, 21 years old; a kid with a warm fire in his bark brown eyes. Fari revealed he’d been addicted to meth at the age of 15. He’d found salvation from the addiction in a job on this beach. He defends the idle banana boats, kayaks, and simple infrastructure from would be pirates. He uses a big serrated knife.

We talked about everything possible given the small common ground of language and experience. The glimmer of a single flashlight bulb was all we had as light. But we were able to laugh, banter with each other, joke about the struggles of life.

The ability to confidently interact with any person is one of my favorites that I’ve developed on the road. For most of my life I was restrained by the fear of being rude and shackled by shyness. But the arena of travel fosters gregariousness, and it’s in the fun little ventures with locals that it grows.

After awhile we said goodnight and returned to our humble camp.

Before bed, I took a last dip in the ocean and found pure magic. Although the stars were blotted out by the haze, they came out in stunning, enchanting style in the water. As soon as I entered a cosmos of bio-luminescent plankton radiated from the wake of my every movement.

I was enraptured by the effect. I felt charged with water-bending wizard hands. I thrashed and splashed in the glowing aquamarine light show. I opened my eyes under the surface and beheld the flecks of blue light flashing wondrously in the inky expanse of water. I felt like a giant in a fireworks display.  I felt like a titan swimming naked through the galaxy.  It was such a perfect moment, vaulted into that condition by the spontaneity of it.

After I’d had my fill, I fell asleep on the beach.

Thank you for reading.


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