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:
- 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.
- The language of friendship, kindness and community can override any linguistic barriers.
- I can have cold showers for a month and still feel like a lady.
- Respect for others includes having respect for our earth, and vice versa.
- It’s important to be nice and friendly to gun-wielding men who approach you as you bathe at the beach.
- 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.
- It’s incredibly hard to refrain from taking photographs of every beautiful child who has nothing but warm smiles to give.
- My pale white legs are considered sexy after all (just ask the hoards of people staring and touching me, who thought so).
- Learning to surf is even more scary when a hundred local villagers crowd the beach to watch you.
- 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.