Ten things I learnt while drunk on paradise.

We were a party of five, cruising around dizzying hairpin bends on a mountain road, riding motorbikes laden with surfboards. The scenery was a feast for my eyes - to my right was a towering wall of impenetrable lush jungle; to my left - a dramatic plunge to rice fields, grass huts, coconut palms and a fringe of pure white sand on a brilliant blue.

I didn’t need the rear-view mirror on the rusty motorbike to tell me the expression on my face was one of pure glee. I was besotted with Sumatra.

In all honesty, I am an unashamed lover of the concrete jungle. So when the invitation came for four weeks of cold showers, non-existent telecommunications, plus the company of a bunch of barefoot lads spending their days gallivanting off to find the most unreal surf breaks, I accepted ever most cautiously - to step deep into the throngs of a different kind of jungle.

Yet any remnant of hesitancy was stripped away the very first moment I arrived. What greeted me was a world completely removed from ones I had known. There were smiling faces of people, who despite their poverty, had their heads held high and their arms outstretched in welcome; finding joy in their love of the land and each other. It was for these reasons that they were far richer than a lot of people I know.

Over those weeks I learned a thing or two (or ten) about myself and this glorious place:

  1. The simple things in life can be some of the most rewarding, as demonstrated by local children - spinning tyres, flying kites held together by sticky rice,collecting seashells and crabs at low tide.
  2. The language of friendship, kindness and community can override any linguistic barriers.
  3. I can have cold showers for a month and still feel like a lady.
  4. Respect for others includes having respect for our earth, and vice versa.
  5. It’s important to be nice and friendly to gun-wielding men who approach you as you bathe at the beach.
  6. I can handle having a goat tied up in the backyard; watch it play, then later slaughtered and butchered and still enjoy goat curry that night. 
  7. It’s incredibly hard to refrain from taking photographs of every beautiful child who has nothing but warm smiles to give.
  8. My pale white legs are considered sexy after all (just ask the hoards of people staring and touching me, who thought so).
  9. Learning to surf is even more scary when a hundred local villagers crowd the beach to watch you.
  10. Those images you see of coconut palms, white beaches, aqua waters and thick jungle ain’t fairy tales.

What I discovered is that spending time in third-world goodness - isolation from the world you know - is like living a month of Sundays. Having no hot water, lattes, makeup or heaven forbid - the Internet, provided a detox of a very special kind. It’s a wonderful way to come back to earth.