by Khairul Hisham
Note: This essay is slightly edited from a 1000 word assignment for Professional Writing 1: Core Competency submitted last Sunday June 30. The story is a composite of several experiences I had as a teenager. Not sure if the right people as mentioned were present for the bulk of this story. If you’re reading this and you were there but I didn’t mention you, let me know. Not you, Ming Fang. You pipe down.
The cerulean sky had not the slightest taint of cloud above us as we dismounted our bicycles upon our arrival at Teluk Batik beach. I don’t recall whose idea it was but it was the consensus among the four of us that we would walk the trail over the hills to Teluk Rubiah beach and then headed back to Teluk Batik by way of the shore. Ming Fang adjusted his glasses and excitedly said, “It would just be us walking over rocks between stretches of isolated beaches between here are there. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” I said, and as usual I was always up for good ideas.
And so Tsing, Woon Seong, Yu Hoe, Khoots, Ming Fang and I began our journey, leaving the bustling weekend holiday activity of Teluk Batik and its visitors behind us.
We had hiked to Teluk Rubiah before. Shoulder to shoulder, we travelled to the southern inland corner of the beach where the gravel road turned into a red dirt path that led into and over the hills.
Several moments later, the terrain gave way to steep gorges down on both sides of the path. We trod carefully. Then immediately, the path was sandwiched by steep cliffs crowned by thick green foliage. As before, I wondered at the little open-walled hut atop the western face. I thought, “Who would be stationed there and what would they be looking out for?”
It was then that we saw a figure coming from the opposite way. He appeared to be a elderly man with unkempt hair and worn out clothes and shoes. I wondered where the man came from because we were a long way from any kampung. He then greeted us in perfect English, greeting us and then asking, “Which way to Teluk Batik?” We told him it was a couple of kilometres straight down the way we came from. He thanked us for the information graciously and went on his way.
We were all flummoxed by the encounter. Who was this person and where did he come from? Before we could ask, he was already disappearing into the distance. Nothing more we could do on the matter, we continued our march to the other beach.
Soon the red dirt turned into pebbles and sand. Coconut palms displaced most of the other trees in a wide expanse of tall lalang grass. Insects buzzed the air and swirled like dust motes. Mosquitoes were feasting upon our blood as we strode single file through the lalang. The foliage then ceased several metres from the shoreline.
The smell of the ocean was palpable, and was a welcome sensation. In the distance, vague shapes of sea vessels slowly traversed the Melaka Strait along the horizon. There was no one else in sight. Although we had the entire beach to ourselves, we rarely went for a swim there. It had uncomfortably more pebbles under its waters than at Teluk Batik.
It had only taken us just under half an hour to reach the beach. The sun approaching its noon time meridian was causing us to be sweat-drenched. I thought, “No matter. We’d be back in Teluk Batik soon.”
Khoots led the way over the rocks on the north end of the beach. The boulders were large and irregularly shaped, but we managed to navigate our way through and reach a rocky incline that took us out of sight of Teluk Rubiah. After some time, we arrived at another beach, a smaller cove that was isolated from civilization. We traipsed over to the other end of that beach and started trudging over the boulders there. Soon we were on another beach. It had been more than half an hour. “Certainly,” I thought, “Teluk Batik wasn’t that far away.”
After the third beach and its rocky barrier, we were exhausted. No one had brought water but did not entertain the idea of doubling back toward Teluk Rubiah. The thought of going through all the rocks again made everyone balk.
So we trekked onwards.
We kept expecting Teluk Batik to emerge behind a sea-swept rock, but it never did. On the other hand, the boulders were becoming more difficult to climb on. So we went near the water and leapt from rock to small rock. I mused, “I hope these stones don’t just end before we reach the end.”
Then, we chanced upon an unlikely scene. There was an angler standing on the rocks at sea level with his line cast to sea and his gear on the next rock. He looked at us, then returned his attention to his fishing rod. We slowly crept behind him, wondering how on Earth this man could have found his way there. I figured that we must be in walking distance to a safe spot, perhaps even to Teluk Batik. So we went on our spirits rejuvenated.
But then, the stepping stones did end and we had to climb the rock which was at least 5 meters at its highest. There was an incline so we found footholds to step on as we ventured up the rock face. After five minutes, we realised that we were on a sheer incline. How in the world did we end up holding on to our dear lives on a cliff face two meters over the ocean?
Forearms were scraped, knees bled and muscles were sore. By no small feat, we pulled ourselves up and over the rock face and into the jungle above it. I sighed, “I can’t wait to drink something cold and sweet.” We followed a series of clearings down a hill and found ourselves on yet another deserted beach. I wondered if someday I would remember the details of this adventure enough to write about it.
After another cluster of rocks overlooking the sea that was easier to traverse, we finally saw people swimming in the water, but there were still far away. We had a long way to walk, but we were glad to be within sight of other humans. Before long, Teluk Batik welcomed us back.
Stepping off the last rock and setting foot on the sands of Teluk Batik, we rushed for the drinks vendor to rehydrate ourselves. It had taken us more than two hours to return there.
Our teenage minds young and stupid, we merely marvelled at our adventure immediately forgetting all thought of hardship and peril. Then after a cooling swim, we rode home feeling happy and content.