I woke up on Pulao Tiga Day 2 well-rested and ready for a day of fun. I’d heard the resort offered snorkeling tours (of non-snake infested waters) so I figured I’d head there for that and then maybe hit up the mud volcano in the afternoon. I put on my bathing suit, loaded my dry bag with my GoPro and snorkel, and headed down the beach to the resort.
I’d been told the only tourists on the island were a foreign couple in the resort so it came as a surprise when the tour manager said the tour was full for the day. Apparently they had two full boats of tourists set to arrive that afternoon. There went my morning plans.
As I reconsidered my options the restaurant cook (let’s start calling him Ramsay) came running out, waving enthusiastically, all excited to see me. He asked what I was up to and when I told him my plans for the mud volcano he said he wanted to come with. The man was nice but he was wayyy too into the foreign white girl thang so the thought of heading into the jungle alone with him wasn’t too appealing.
I told him I didn’t want to wait (he had to work til 3 pm) and asked what the hike was like/if it was safe to do on my own. Ramsay was visibly disappointed but said it would be fine to do solo as it was pretty flat – just a 30 minute walk through the jungle. He also said I should watch out for the monkeys (what about those snakes though?..).
Looking back, I should’ve gone back to the hostel to change into some proper footwear but I honestly thought the hike would be NBD. Ramsay told me I’d be fine…bikini and flip flops it would be.
The first bit of the hike wasn’t bad but it was pretty muddy as it had poured rain the night before. Things were a little treacherous at parts but I took my time, looking around anxiously for the monkeys (they really didn’t seem that menacing) and trying not to think about snakes.
Arriving to the mud volcano was comical. I pictured a volcano of mud. That is what they call it: Mud. Volcano. It was legit a swampy mud hole in the middle of the jungle with some stairs as an entrance and a rope to pull yourself out. That was the mud volcano. Honestly the mud hole repulsed me but I’d come all the way there and this was now my only activity for the day so I decided to make the most of it.
I’d read that the mud is good for your skin so you should soak in it like a mud bath. I climbed in, smeared some mud on my face, and promptly climbed back out again. The mud wasn’t pleasant. There were twigs. And branches. And a high probability of snakes. I was done for the day. I headed back out to the trail.
I noticed immediately that my muddy feet were not meshing well with the already muddy jungle floor. It was extremely slippery. I fell twice. But I tried to take my time, slowly maneuvering over tree roots.
As I walked though the jungle the first boat of tourists had evidently arrived and every one of them was from China. I’ll admit that the image of a blonde swamp creature lumbering through the jungle was probably pretty photo worthy but the high numbers of them laughing, pointing and snapping photos of me as I slipped and slid my way down the path was extremely annoying. I kept falling on my ass regardless of how carefully I walked and my attempts at getting the mud off my feet to make it easier to walk were futile. I considered walking in the leaves next to the path but…snakes. I was getting mad and the photo snapping wasn’t helping.
Of course the Chinese tourists had long passed me when my attempt at breaking another fall resulted in me smacking my wrist on a tree root. I knew immediately that it was broken. There was no question. I’d broken my other wrist a couple years earlier and it felt and looked exactly like this.
I didn’t cry when it happened I was just pissed off. I believe what I said was “Are you fucking kidding me?” as I sat in the mud, trying to quickly rip off my souvenir bracelets as my wrist started swelling in size.
The Chinese tourists were long gone so there was no point calling for help. I had to get back to the beach. I crawled around, picking up my scattered belongings (try closing up a dry bag one-handed), rested my wrist on my flip flop, and pep talked myself back to the beach.
It was extremely stressful because I was scared that if I fell again I’d hurt myself even more. At every bend in the path I prayed for another tourist but no other tourists came. I was broken and alone in the jungle. I have no idea how long the rest of the hike took…it felt like forever…but the minute I saw the beach in the distance I broke down. I don’t know if it was in pain or relief that I’d made it…but them tears were flowin’.
I headed towards the park employees to ask for help but they all just stared at me blankly (“Why are you crying strange muddy white girl?”). They did not understand the situation. Frustrated, I headed the 10 minutes down the beach to the resort. Everyone I passed just smiled and waved. It wasn’t until I actually walked into the resort restaurant that someone understood what was going on.
I’d just like to say that Asians are NOT good in a crisis. There I was, half naked, covered in head to toe mud asking for a boat and they just kept crowding around me, yelling at me in Malay, snapping photos (yes, they were taking photos), and asking for my passport (do I seriously look like I have my passport on me?). There were also a few leering at me rather inappropriately (it’s a Muslim country so I don’t think they see many bathing suits) which was really not helping the situation.
My requests for a boat were met with “TWO TWO” (I think that was the next time one was scheduled to leave) and they were not understanding my replies of “I WILL GIVE YOU ALL OF MY MONEY I JUST NEED A BOAT RIGHT NOW.” In my asking for ice they brought me a glass of water (at least they tried) and at one point they made me a splint out of a magazine and a vine (yes, you read that right, a vine).
I was also trying to simultaneously keep an eye on my stuff which someone had taken from me and placed down the beach because with my luck I would probably get mugged. Oh, and at one point Ramsay showed up, completely distraught that I was hurt, grabbing me by my BROKEN wrist and pulling me towards him (pretty sure I screamed at him “DON’T TOUCH ME!!!” and stormed away. Dramatic? Yes. But who the fuck yanks on a broken wrist).
Eventually the tour manager heard the commotion and came to help (thank god), fetching a legitimate first aid kit to make a splint and sending someone to gather my belongings from the hostel so I could catch a boat out of there. He arranged a boat to arrive in 10 minutes and I headed to the beach to the outdoor shower to try and wash some of the mud off.
It would be at this exact moment that the next boat of tourists arrived. There they were, walking single file down the dock towards me gaping in confusion as I stood there half naked, crying, awkwardly scrubbing mud from my broken self.
The boat arrived and I hopped on, hoping the tour operator would accompany me but nope…just me and two Malay guys that don’t speak English. Don’t get me wrong, they were super nice, grabbing me pillows to try and support my wrist as the boat smacked over the waves and they took me to the mainland for free…but it would have made life so much easier if they understood what I was saying.
The boat ride felt like forever…probably because the constant bouncing on the waves was excruciating…but we made it back to the port village safe and sound. I tried to repeat “hospital, Kota Kinabulu” (because that was the nearest major city) but they ignored me, passing me off to some random dude waiting at the jetty with a car. He of course didn’t speak English either and took me to some ghetto clinic that there was NO way I would be receiving medical care in. I tried to explain this, refusing to get out of the car, but finally gave in, walking into the clinic hoping I could at least use a phone to call my insurance company.
The clinic workers were shady and I got the definite vibe they were just trying to get money out of me. They wouldn’t let me use their phone (actually they smiled and said yes then led me to a hospital bed they wanted me to get into) and kept trying to do unnecessary menial tasks for me (changing my splint that was completely fine, etc.) to up my payment to them.
I stood my ground, refusing to be admitted into the clinic. I asked for a bus or a taxi but of course the village doesn’t have taxis and the one bus a day had already passed. I tried to ask if the next town over had taxis and they were all “ooooh very expensive” and I was all “I WILL PAY ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY I JUST WANT TO GO TO KOTA KINABULU.”
Eventually I think they realized they would not be convincing me to stay there and my random dude with a car called back the two boat people who switched me into their car instead. I tried repeating “hospital, Kota Kinabulu” but they, again, ignored me and kept driving. We pulled up to where the boat was docked (the same place we started…seriously?) and they walked away, motioning for me to stay in the car. I just sat there, sweating in the stuffy vehicle, wrist pounding, completely unsure of what to do next.
Thankfully, the boat people returned about 15 minutes later and motioned for me to follow them. I was now in a state of extreme frustration, all of this being bustled around, but I really didn’t have another option so I begrudgingly followed.
They took me to my saviour.
Apparently the park office was located next to the jetty and the manager there spoke perfect English. A godsend, I tell you, a godsend. I explained to him the situation, how I was positive my wrist was broken and wanted a proper hospital with a proper doctor which I knew I could find in Kota Kinabulu. I said I would be willing to pay any amount of money to get there. He repeated that there were no taxis, etc. etc. but said he would be willing to drive me for (gasp!) $30. He said the amount sheepishly like it was this insane amount I couldn’t afford (I was ready to gift the man my first born child at this point. Pretty sure I could handle $30).
So off we went, me and the park manager, making the 2.5 hour drive to Kota Kinabulu. We did make one stop for ice (it was legit like asking for diamonds…such a struggle) but besides that it was a stress-free drive to a real hospital with real doctors and real x-ray machines that I trusted. The park manager was super nice, waiting for me while I went in and ultimately driving me to the hostel I’d stayed at previously after all was said and done.
The doctor in Kota Kinabulu spoke perfect English, confirmed my wrist was broken and when he suspected I might need surgery he had a specialist drive up to the hospital to see just me. They gave me honest opinions about their level of care and how my best bet would be returning to Canada for surgery. Considering this is Borneo I was very impressed.
They put me in a cast nearly up to my armpit (seems excessive), told me I should be fine for a few days as long as I went straight to the hospital when I got home, and gave me some pain killers for the plane (I later found out this was just Tylenol…no wonder they did absolutely nothing). I returned to my original hostel in Kota Kinabulu and booked a plane home for the next day.
The whole situation was extremely depressing (in just the next week I’d planned to do a jungle boat tour and dive one of the world’s top dive sites. I was excited): explaining to my old hostel friends what had happened, skyping my parents to tell them I was coming home, wondering what the hell I was going to do with myself back in Canada: broke (my last minute flight home completely drained my bank account), injured, and unemployed.
But everyone was so, so nice to me. A stranger friend helped me pack my bag, the hostel refused my money and let me stay the night for free, strangers in the airport helped me lug my things around, and strangers on the plane helped me open the vacuum sealed food (admittedly after they’d watched me pathetically struggle first).
My aunt met me during a layover to gift me proper pain meds (the Malay shit was not cutting it), a friend picked me up from the airport and took me to the mall for a phone plan on the way to the hospital (priorities), and by the time I was done my surgery (two days in the hospital later) my mom had arrived from BC to help me get my life together.
My insurance company classified it as an “emergency evacuation” so I ended up getting a substantial refund which helped a lot, and a catch up coffee date turned into me getting my old job back pretty much right when I got home. Everything ended up okay…it was just really disappointing. I had big plans. But big plans change.
So that’s it friends; that’s what happened. I did not survive Pulao Tiga. The tribe has spoken.