Coming out of the tree-enclosed path from the village to the beach I was taken aback by the view: a palm-tree lined empty, white beach with glistening turquoise waters. We looked at each other, exchanging glances of astonishment as if to say ‘we get to spend five days here?!’ before charging onto the beach to dip our toes into the sea.
We lived in our bathing suits during our five days at the beach (literally – some of us even slept in our bikinis). Our hair was constantly salty, and we were rarely away from the sand. Countless hours were spent laying out atop our sarongs, reading in beach-side hammocks, diving under waves, playing with sandy puppies, and exploring the adjacent islands. We even had meals on the beach; we grilled fresh seafood – lobster, fish, and shrimp – at beach bonfires and sat around chatting and laughing until the rising tide signalled that it was time to call it a night.
To give back to the beach that was giving us so much we dedicated a morning to cleaning up. Using the divide-and-conquer method, we split off to different sections of the beach to fill bin bags with waste that’s made its way to the shore. By the end we’d filled an entire truck bed with bin bags. We competed over who came across the weirdest things. In the running was a doll arm and a sanitary pad but ultimately Miles took it with a litre of blood he regrets having found.
Though our time away from the beach was sparse, when we were at home – a traditional Malaysian longhouse made of bamboo and palm fronds – we spent time getting to know our host family and their culture. Fifteen people lived in the house: two brothers, their wives, their mom, and their eight children. The women taught us to make beaded bracelets (a long, largely impatient, but very fun process) and the kids were very warm with us; the small ones often climbed on my lap without any warning, the oldest girl loved to play with my hair and the boys fought over who could play Bubble Pop on my phone. I especially loved playing with the youngest, a thirteen-month-old girl named Natalie who had to be torn out of my arms more than just once.
One night the villagers performed a traditional dance for us. Dressed in traditional garb (embroidered robes, long bead necklaces, and a colorful turban) a man followed by three women danced in a line to the beat of three gong-like instruments. Meanwhile Natalie sat in my lap wiggling around to the music. Then it was our turn to perform. The dancers lent us their robes and beads and led us in their traditional dance. We all tried our hardest to maintain the rhythm while bouncing, turning, and swaying our arms in the unfamiliar way we were being guided to do so. Everyone watching laughed at the sight; I think it’s safe to say the locals did it better.
On our last day at at the beach we went to the point marked as the Tip of Borneo to enjoy the sunset. Perched on a nice rock we watched sky turn a perfect pink as the sun descended to hide behind the sea, marveling at how perfect of a way this was to end our time in Borneo. We’ve done a lot: we’ve built a house, spotted orangutans, taught rowdy children, sloshed through muddy terrain, enjoyed a river safari at sunrise, camped in the jungle, and spent hours on the beach. We’ve loved it all, and we’re sad to be leaving, but we’re very excited for all that’s ahead in The Philippines.