The Bengali Runaway: My First Trek
There didn’t seem to be much to do in George town so I took a one hour bus journey to the national forest. You could trek through the forest and end up on numerous beaches depending on which trail you took. One of the beaches had a turtle sanctuary which I wanted to see but the trek was about 90 minutes. I was doing this alone and I had never trekked before. I bought myself some veg stir fried rice from the local Chinese shop and an extra bottle of water. There was no time to eat it at the cafe as the turtle sanctuary closed at 4.30 so it meant I had to leave ASAP. I decided to eat once I'd reached my destination. It started raining and the guy at the entrance advised me not to go. 'I'll be fine!' I replied and signed the register.
On my way in, I saw a family come out. The father had a walking stick with him which he handed over to me. I felt like a real traveller. Food and water in bag, walking stick in hand and hat on head, I was going trekking through the Malaysian forest. I was doing what I had dreamt of for many years. The rain hardened as I made my way in and the pathway twisted and turned, sometimes going steeply upwards and forcing me to dig my spare hand into the wet earth to grab hold of the gnarly roots and pull myself up. What an experience! I had never interacted with nature like this before. I came across a small stream and dared to sit in it, allowing the cool, fresh water to rush through my legs. It took me 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete my journey.
The beach was empty bar a small group of boys at the end of a pier. I dragged my legs across the sand to the turtle sanctuary to find it was closed. It was quarter to five. The little cabin was open to I could see the turtles swimming in the tank and read the various information posted on the wall but there was no one there to speak to. I went back to the beach and absorbed the calm, serene view with my eyes while I slowly ate my lunch. Everything was so still and quiet, the colours, a multitude of pastels wrapped themselves around me. I felt like I was enclosed in watercolour painting. The forest stood on my right, breathing in and out clouds of condensation. A touch of heaven. That's what it was.
By the time I was ready to leave, it was getting dark and I did not fancy trekking through the forest again. As much as I had enjoyed it, my legs were tired and I figured it would be a little more dangerous in the evening. There were lots of opportunities to catch a foot in a hole and sprain an ankle. That was the last thing I needed in a foreign country where I had no health insurance. I walked over to the security cabin and asked the guy to call me a boat. He was friendly and chatted to me while I waited. The boat arrived half an hour later and I was able to see the island from a different angle. Beauty at its finest. The guy charged me 100R. It was expensive but I didn't have the energy to try and bargain. I did however, have the energy to visit the pasar malam (night market) and finally bought myself a pair of sandals I'd seen the locals wear. I gratefully switched into them and put my soaking sketchers into my bag. The night market was similar to the other markets I'd been to. Once you had visited a couple, they all more or less felt the same I guessed.
I got back to the hostel late to find the odd receptionist there. I had been given a single mattress on the floor in a mixed dorm because all the beds had been booked by a group. For some reason, he assumed I had checked out despite the fact that I hadn't returned the key. I felt very exposed sleeping on the floor with bunk beds towering around me -I had never slept like this before. I asked if I could have a bed instead of just a mattress and he shrugged a shoulder and refused. I tried to argue that some people hadn't arrived yet so it should be a first come first serve basis. He didn't care. He said it was a group booking and I was just one person. I wanted a refund so I could stay in another hostel but he couldn't give it, he conveniently didn't have access to the money. I was getting frustrated by the second. I then said I would just take a bed and whoever came last could have the mattress. His response rendered me speechless. 'I don't have a problem kicking you out on your arse.'
I had never been spoken to like that by anyone in customer service before. He went on to say he didn't care about people. 'Then why are you working in hospitality?!' I fired back. I couldn't argue with this nut job. It was late; I was tired and needed to sleep and arguing with someone like that was really upsetting me. I could feel my emotions heightening and the tears threatening to fall out. I had to leave the reception. I didn't know where to go for privacy, the dorm was half full and you didn't spend time in the bathroom unless you had to. I ran upstairs, through the corridor to the little balcony at the end of the building and let the tears roll. I wanted to leave but didn't know where to go. I was tired of Penang and hated this receptionist.
I don't know if it was my anxiety kicking in but I suddenly felt unsafe. What if he decided to attack me while I slept? The dorms didn't even have doors; instead they had thick curtains that offered privacy but no protection. You're at your most vulnerable when asleep. 'Okay don't over think and assume things,' I told myself. That’s how my anxiety starts but I had learnt to recognise the signs before they escalated and talk myself out of it logically. I gulped in a few breaths of fresh air and collected myself together. 'I'm a strong person,' I said to myself. I was not going to let this freak upset me. I was going to sleep on the mattress for tonight and then leave tomorrow. Maybe I was being fussy with the mattress anyway; travellers didn't care where they slept as long as it was clean, dry and safe. I highly doubted the other occupants of the room would all look down their bunk beds at me while I slept. I needed to toughen up. Once I'd wiped away the last tear, I turned and headed back to the dorm. I past the receptionist on my way and he started saying something about returning the entrance card if I decided to stay in a different hostel. 'I'm staying,' I snapped and then walked away.