The Bengali Runaway: Langkawi
The next morning, I packed my things and ran away to Langkawi. I had secured myself a voluntary placement at Tubotel, a funky hostel where people slept in tubes facing the sea. It took me a good part of the day to get there and by the time I reached the hostel, it was about 10pm and all I wanted was a warm, safe and comfy bed. The boss's wife, a Thai woman came out and met me at the bar and I was given the economy room - a large cabin with six bunk beds. It looked like it had only just been done, concrete floors, brick walls and lots of wood around the beds (for privacy). There was something in the room that stung my eyes, the paint perhaps. No one else was sleeping there and I felt...what? Alone? No, something else. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Or maybe the word didn't exist in my vocabulary.
I met Alex, the owner of Tubotel the next morning. A large Austrian guy, friendly enough. I was to hang around the communal area for a few hours every morning and evening and just talk to the guests in English. This was to help people feel at ease and smooth over any translation issues between them and the Malay staff, most of who spoke very little English but were really nice and friendly. The two younger girls were very social in particular, taking a photo with me and offering to take me out during our time off.
I spent the first day walking along Cenang beach and exploring the area. It was quite busy and commercialised, lots of water sports taking place and half way down, a Starbucks and a KFC. There was no escaping those big chain stores. I was approached several times by the local boys on the beach who were selling water sports activities. I was tempted but I turned them down. I was a traveller, not a tourist. This meant exploring the country and the culture for as little as possible and not throwing it away on tourist attractions. However I had never been paragliding before. Was this not the perfect time to do it? I stored away the offers in my brain for another time.
There were also two other volunteers at Tubotel, a Canadian couple who were producing art work for the museum owned by Alex. And then there was Herry, a friend of Alex. He had been travelling for eight years and had a condition where his body didn't handle the cold well. His fingers would seize up and he wouldn't be able to use them so he spent most of the year in south east Asia and considered Langkawi his second home. His role was similar to that of a creative director and it was actually him who had advised Alex to take on a volunteer to speak English to the guests.
The four of us sat down and spoke quite a lot and I felt like I was a part of their team. It was a nice feeling in contrast to what I felt on my journey there. I told Herry I felt a little homesick because that was the closest thing I could use to describe what I experienced. He shared his own journey with me and advised me to go slow. 'When you're on your laptop or your phone, trying to book that ticket to escape the place you're in, that's when there's a problem and you need to stop,' he had said. He was right. Running away could damage my relationship with travelling and I didn't want that. This was my dream. I had dreamt of doing this for so many years, I couldn't risk jeopardising it out of fear and discomfort. I had to slow down.