The further inland Erin and I stroll, the denser and more untamed the jungle growth becomes. Five hundred metres away from where we released turtles, the foliage becomes almost impassable and returning to the other end of the spit, where the people are, seems a very feasible idea.
Erin and I wander along the shoreline, spotting crabs and trash and driftwood. Like a lot of places in Borneo, this one appears to have had a lot of money invested in it, once upon a time. It’s just that the structures have never been maintained, never repainted or patched up as things fell down. And the humid weather, the rapid growth of the plant life… they take things so quickly, with such earnest mold and rot.
Small shelters that dot the shoreline, picnic gazebos in various overgrown stages of becoming run down. We come across the occasional abandoned longboat. There’s a building that appears to have once been a house, and another that might have once been a unmanned lighthouse. Both are being slowly swamped by the greenery around them.
And, sadly, there’s a lot of litter. Discarded food packets, empty water bottles, shredded plastic bags. The feeling of self-satisfied eco-tourism that releasing turtles produced is nastily offset by the sight of a knotted mess of nylon fishing net that Erin and I discover on our walk. You know the kind of net I mean…. it’s the type of fishing net that you see strangling sea life in grisly enviro-shock pictures.
As we return to the more populated end of the peninsula, where the water is clearer and the sand wider; we find ourselves unable to walk more than twenty metres or so before someone stops us for a chat, a hug and a photo. Families pause to say hello and practice their English skills with us. As usual, my over-confidence begets confusion- a woman assumes my greeting, in Bahasa, means I’m somewhat fluent. I feel dumb-foundedly stupid, standing and staring at her with my mouth open as she clearly waits for a response to a question she just asked me in rapid fire Indonesian. She laughs at my confusion, and repeats her question– “Where are you from?” in perfect English. Which makes me feel even dumber.
There are two or three school groups on the beach, releasing turtles and picnicking. The boys are too shy to ask for a photo but attempt to stand inconspicuously a foot or so away from Emma while their friends snap pictures on a mobile phone. The girls are nowhere near as timid and we communicate in a mixture of broken Bahasa and English. They want their photo taken with us despite the fact none of them have a camera, and we happily oblige with our own. They love that Erin is American and ask us if we know Rihanna (“Ri–Hanna?” The pronunciation takes us a few attempts, back and forth, to decipher).
We’ve been told we can swim, should we wish too. The water is tepid and the weather certainly warm enough. We all decline. The local woman here are veiled and while we’ve been assured no one will mind, it still feels disrespectful to show that much flesh in a place that does not warrant it. (In the elevator in Pangkalan Bun, a man dressed in a business suit greets me and asks where I’m from. I reply “Australia”, and he smiles “Ah! A lots–of–Jesus land!” and that kind of seems to cover it, so I just nod and smile back).
We find ourselves climbing back on board our small klotok at the same time the girls we chatted with earlier are boarding their own. We take their photo and wave, blow kisses and shout goodbyes.
Gliding across the Bay back to the other side, where a seafood lunch is waiting (chicken for me, thanks Garry); the sky behind us turns inky indigo, heavy with an impending tropical storm. The clouds swell and crest over the heads, between the land that cups the Bay from the Java Sea.
They roll their way low across the water, chasing us back toward the land.