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My name is Paula, right now I am staying in Phong Ngu, an 57 sqm big island in Thailand, but I am American - originally.
It must have been two and a half years now that I left West Virginia, I was 19 then. Just finished High School, only thought about getting out there, Steve ( my Ex, and a so called truth asshole, excuse my language) had just told me to, well, to get out of his sight. Mum had arranged an interview for me with the local sewing factory in town... All in all live sucked - and I just had to get away. I remembered an old pal who had worked and lived on a trailer for some months, cruising southern America and the west Indies. For sure, it was hard work, but hey, I could shovel coal!
So I packed my bags, sat on the bus and found myself, after some days of travel, on the coast of North Carolina, where amongst huge other ships a cargo ship from Taiwan had docked on. I met the captain in the local pub in the harbour, pulled all my charm and female weapons to later get accepted as cleaning personal on the freighter.
We left the American coast on a late September morning, I haven’t seen my home - country since then.
Taking the route through a channel in Guatemala we soon found ourselves on the house high waves of the Pacific, weeks were spent on the open sea, lot’s of stories to tell.
But this one should deal with some of the most beautiful, but also of the scariest moments I had in my life.
We had reached the Islands of Indonesia, where we halted in a middle sized seaport. The freighter had taken a lot of strain in the last couple of months of journey, we were going to dock here for 3 weeks altogether before we would take off to meet the shores of India, our next destination.
I for sure wouldn’t sit around the whole 3 weeks getting drunk every night on local beer ( which is by the way most horrible) like the other lads from the ship - I wanted to get out there. I wanted to explore the jungle lying behind the dirty streets of this town, up there in the mountains covered by mist or across on one of the islands we had passed on our way in to the seaport. Pictures of Treasure Island flashed through my head when I booked this one week island hopper. There should be 3 other chaps round about my age, a very small load for the rather sturdy looking boat we met on the shores. Richard, the Irish, had just flown in from Glasgow 3 days ago. He still suffered from the jetlag and was horribly sunburned by the first sunlight he got this year. He claimed to be 23, rather looked like a 17 year old school boy though, whose shirts are prepared by mom every morning. He looked a little sad but very intelligent through his hornrimmed glasses. They seemed to make his eyes the size of a frog. He didn’t speak much, very much the opposite of Kelly. Kelly was a restlessly jumping, endlessly talking and continuously giggling redhead from Australia. This was her sixth trip to Papua New Guinea, she loved the surf, the parties, the boys, and the cheap beer. And there was Keith, a 29 year old, gorgeous looking south African who was on his own mission through life since he started his travels 4 years ago. He made the impression on being through the tough parts of life and still keeping the warmth of a big open heart. He spoke 6 languages, 3 of them were tribal African ones, that he learned while staying with indigenous tribes in central Africa. And me, the runaway from home, 20 by now, strong arms, bronzed skin and a rough speech from dealing with tough guys on the cargo ship for months. Swearing, yes, that was what I could do best. And drinking. And walk in storm level 11 without tripping. And cook massive pots of stewed rice with tinned veggies. My virtues from my former life, as I loved to remember it, the playing the piano, the Spanish lessons and the huge mussel collection - seemed to have happened in another time and space. We took of on an early Sunday afternoon, Chumbaco, the skipper and tourguide, wanted to get to the first island just before sundown. There we would savor the beers out of the packed cooler box on the beach and watch the sun melt into the blue ocean. We weren’t even 10 minutes on the sea yet, when Richard quickly excused himself from our conversation we had started on the upper deck. Bowed walk and clenched fingers on his stomach, the pale face with the red spots frowning in pain, he ran away, spending the rest of the journey on the lower deck, half time in, halftime just outside the men’s toilettes. Diarrhea after consuming raw fish... Poor little chap. Keith seemed to be prepared for that and after some yellow pills out of Keith’s metal box and two glasses of water Richard started feeling better. But still he wouldn’t come back up to where the others were.
The sun was getting low and the small shape on the horizon, our first destination, drew nearer. The island took more and more shape in the dimming light. The first bottle of rum out of Kelly’s backpack was nearly empty, the skippers eyes were glancing and seemed to sink over and over again in Kelly’s deep neckline. Keith had his third joint between his teeth and seemed to float somewhere else - just not here. My head felt a little heavy and my tongue went slow, I just had one word in mind - cruising. Yeah, that’s what we did, cruising! No worries, no hard labor, just cruising.
A terrible crackling noise shot me back into reality, the boat screamed and tilted, as if a giant squid had clenched his long dreadful arms around to crush it.
Chumbaco had jumped up, white faced he drew his arms towards the steering, but it was too late. The boat had hit a coral reef that stuck out of the water at low tide. Already Richard came running up, horror in his eyes, screaming “water, Water, there is water everywhere!” I moved as quick as I could, my head bouncing, terror striking me - We were sinking. Kelly was only half awake, the alcohol had switched of all her conscious body functions. Chumbaco didn’t move, he only stared full of fear. Only now I realized that there were neither lifejackets nor floats on the boats The hull tilted dangerously and I only focused on holding Kelly in one hand, my small daypack in the other. Then black cold waters, stirring, panicking, terribly determined to not let go what I had in either hand Next thin I remember is a strong pull on my sweater and a deep breath, Keith had pulled me up, onto a floating piece of wood I wrapped my arms around desperately. Only now I realized, that I had lost Kelly, I screamed, but Keith was down already, searching. He stayed down a scary long time, seconds, maybe minutes, until his head broke through the water, and thank god - holding Kelly in his hand. I took over - and Keith went down again, looking for Richard and the skipper, no one of them could be seen...
Kelly didn’t breathe, I held her nose, blew into her mouth, as I had learned with my emergency training in driving school, terribly long ago it seemed. Finally she coughed, threw up and, thank god, took a breath... Keith was up again, nothing.
He went down some five or six times more, while I was pressing onto the piece of wood. The ocean started turning purple in the light of the fading sun. Tears ran over my face and millions of thoughts raced through my head, driven by one outlining all: sharks. I was bleeding, as well as Kelly from her nose, we would be easy prey at this hunting hour Then we started swimming...
It was dark, maybe far past midnight, when Keith and I had finally sand underneath our feet.
Kelly seemed asleep, maybe unconscious, maybe dead. We dragged her through the shallow water and fell like stones as our feet touched the dry terrain.
It must have been somewhere around midday, when my eyes opened. It took a while to realize where I was, wondering if I was still asleep and dreaming or not. I was lying on sand, the shade of palm leaves over me, my clothes where gone and replaced by some huge banana leaves, my head hurt. Only slowly the memories of the last nights horror came back, I got up and peered out of the shelter, wondering how I ever got there. I saw Keith not far away, bending over Kelly, somehow cleaning the wound on her arm. My clothes hang nearby. I dressed into the dry pants and a shirt and walked over to Keith. Only now I realized my terrible thirst and the grumbling of my tommy - it had been ages ago that I ate something - and the dehydration of a heavy hangover made my tongue feeling like rough sandpaper.
Keith had been up first thing in the morning, carrying me and Kelly to the nearby bushline since the sun was getting hot. He had left us there, looking for help somewhere nearby. But he only came back carrying an old plastic bottle with fresh water, he hadn’t seen a sign of human beings anywhere. Kelly was still unconscious and there was no sign of Richard or the skipper along the long beach. We had just experienced hell, on a place that looked like paradise itself. Having fresh water helped us over the first biggest needs - drinking and cleaning the wounds we had suffered. I still couldn’t really get it that I just had stranded on a beach, not knowing where I was, no papers, no money, no nothing... I must had lost it all in the accident. But wait, my fingers ran over my tights, oh my god, my pocket knife was still there - I had placed it in a zipper pocket to prevent it from falling out. What a high gift it was finding it now...
The rest of the day Keith walked around the bush, picking some fruits, he even came back with some protein he explained - mites. It almost turned my stomach seeing what I was supposed to eat for dinner... Kelly was still unconscious, but the heat on her head had lowered, thanks to some medication Keith had given her. By some miracle he rescued his metal surviving box over all the tumult.
The same night we found Richard on the beach. His faced looked downwards as he drifted in the shallow waves We buried him close by in the bush, a place I will never forget as much as I will never loose the heavy knob in my throat when remembering this days.
Kelly woke up the next day, after we had spent a night full of fear of wild beasts and fights with the mosquitoes. Keith and I had held watch alternately.
It was the third day on this beach when we felt strong enough to start walking and looking for help. Kelly had recovered quickly, the big limp on her head had turned blue, but she seemed to have lost her speech, she hadn’t said a single word since she woke up. Numb and absent she stumbled between me and Keith when we set out for the forest, along the little fresh water stream Keith had discovered.
We walked for hours, upwards steadily, my head spinning from the strain, the fear of snakes and spider and the question why the hell I was here. We hardly spoke in these hours, everybody seemed to trot in his own little world, wiping the sweat of the forehead once in a while. Keith led, but it seemed he also didn’t know where to go. It was beginning to dusk when we arrived at a small pool the water from above had formed. A total quietness hung over the forest, only the water murmured as it rushed down black, smooth rocks.
Somewhere here Keith found some dry wood, he seemed to have a nose for all the things needed, and by rubbing some matches he had kept dry in his metal box he lit a fire. I found some fruits and even caught some fish. Keith had showed me the day before a berry he knew from tribes in Africa, their juice affected fish like drugs, poured into a pool the fish would get numb and only swim very slow - easy to catch by hand.
We filled our bellies - and fell each into deep dreams soon, completely forgetting to hold watch, floating away in each ones little world.
Big noise - birds screaming - woke us up in the morning- Heavy - hearted we set forth again, climbing the waterfall and the onsetting country. The air drew colder, nice for a change after the humid heat in the valley.
It was somewhere around midday when we suddenly reached a clearing. It rushed to my head in an instant - there will be people here to help us! Instinctively I ran out into the field, screaming, shouting for help, and it took Keith some seconds to haul after me, pull me to the ground and hold my mouth, fiercely piercing me with his eyes.
But it was too late, they had seen us.
„What have you done?“ hissed Keith, pressing his strong body onto the ground next to me - „don’t you know what this is? This is a ganha field, drugs, you know, and these are gangsters!“ My heart stopped, but how was I supposed to know with not having seen a Marihuana plant ever before.
The gunmen drew neared, the held Kelly in their arm already, she was till completely passive and seemed absent. I felt the kick of a foot in my stomach, a hard piercing pain and the I got pulled up by a hard hand, looking into a strange asian face shouting on me in a strange language I didn’t understand.
Keith they hid with a gun, he dropped and his nose was bleeding. Then they dragged us to a hut nearby, where we were locked into a small hut with armed guard outside. Still we didn’t have a clue where we where, what was happening and who these guys were. It was hours later that we saw a face in the small window facing westwards - and - thank heaven - it was a western face! My hopes did summersaults, I woke up Keith and Kelly, as the man entered the room.
He carried a tray of food and some water with him and asked us in broken English to please eat something, he would be back very soon. We fell over the food like starving wolves, we hadn’t eaten proper in days.
Short after the white face came back and asked us to follow. We were paining, Keith’s head crusted with blood, Kelly’s temperature had risen again, she was murmuring strange things. My stomach hurt awfully and I was in the desperate need for a toilet.
The men proved to be Policemen, we got caught in the middle of the hunt for drug dealers. They had discovered this plantain some days ago and had pulled in to arrest the operator the same day we arrived out of the bush. But the drug dealer had been warned, they had vanished just before the Police arrived and a big hunt begun. We were accidentally taken as on of them and therefore immediately arrested, before it was clear that they had caught innocent backpacker. The questioning held on over our tale, our stranding, our quest.
After long time of talking and excuses we got transferred to a jeep who brought us to a nearby village - about 30 miles away - where a nursery gave us housing. We spent 3 days in the care of nurses before the policemen picked us up and brought us back to the mainland Kelly had been the only one of us who still had her papers on her, her parents where waiting on the port already and took her with them instantly. There was no thanks, no question no good bye. Kelly was still in shock and her parents wanted to get her out and away ASAP.
Keith and I started to work on what we just had been trough, he was a great help, we got to know each other very well, and love wasn’t very far I quit the job on the trailer, gave a short notice to my parents that I found my place and travelled with Keith South East Asia for a while... We got stuck here in Phong Ngu when our cash ran out, Keith started working as a fishermen and I found job teaching English in the local school. We live simple, but happy, only once in a while nightmares still hit me with a pale figure facing downwards in the slight surge of shallow blue waters...
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- Anja Dietrich (Autor), 2001, Dangerous Adventures in Indonesia, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/103267