Onward and Upward

I woke up this morning expecting a hike. What I got was a machete-carved voyage straight up a mountain ending with the most beautiful view of my life.

Today was our third day on Palau Dayang, a tiny island four hours by boat off Malaysia’s east coast. Yesterday was filled with snorkeling and collective amazement over schools of yellowtail snapper, enormous thickets of staghorn coral and occasional sightings of a blacktip reef sharks. Today, though, was our hike day before we made the long trek from the peace and quiet of island life back to the chaos and commotion of Singapore.

We started with a very short boat ride across the channel to our neighboring island, Palau Aur, where we met our guide for the day. He started us out with an easy walk up some concrete stairs and across a paved bridge past the watchful eyes of a few cows. Soon, however, he turned off the path and we learned why he had been carrying the machete. He proceeded to clear out a “trail” for us to follow. We reached a large rock which offered a beautiful view of the surrounding water. We thought we had reached our goal, a landmark by the name of “China Rock,” but when we said this aloud our guide just laughed and shook his head. Soon we were off again, climbing our way through the jungle. We knew when we had reached China Rock, and we understood why our guide had laughed. It towered above us, clearly marking the end of our hike, or so we thought.

Suddenly our guide had his shoes off and was climbing right up the rock, indicating for us to follow. Follow we did, one foot at a time making our way along the rocks edge until we got to a nice flat section where another rock section blocked us from going further. This, we thought, must be the end. Once again we were proven wrong as our guide gestured for us to get on our stomachs and army crawl our way below the rock that was blocking our path. We finally made it to what was actually the grand finale – a large flat section at the very end of the rock that overlooks the entire island and ocean beyond. It truly was magnificent. We could see the dock we landed on, the rooms we were staying in, even the boat we arrived on. All of it looked tiny from our vantage point high above the treetops. The water was even clear enough that we could see the reefs we had been snorkeling in, it felt like if we focused hard enough we might be able to see the tiny clownfish making homes in the anemones just beneath the surface.

It was hard to imagine we were just a half day’s journey from the skyscrapers and sediment filled shores of Singapore. Parks and gardens are nice, but this served as a welcome reminder of the importance of returning to actual wilderness: nature that’s not the product of a design board created just for human consumption. We admired the view, mourned the fact that we would be leaving our newfound paradise in just a few hours, and took many, many pictures before our guide said it was tragically time to leave. Then we had one final realization, we still had the trip back down the rock.

The view from our lovely Palau Dayang
The view from what we thought was the end of our trip.
Searching for foothold as we climbed higher and higher
The stunning view from the actual top of China Rock
The way back down – crab crawling our way through crevasses