Journey to The Edge of Civilization
The pictures in the glossy pamphlet of the Batam Island Holiday Resort looked inviting; beachfront position, swimming pool, tennis court, luxury air-conditioned twin share rooms, but we should have read between the words of the agent in the Singapore travel agency.
It was a short trip to Batam by ferry from Singapore, a tiny island of Indonesia just off the tip of Singapore and Malay Peninsula. The medium age of Batamese is 20 years old and the town of Batam is famed for its night-life of pubs, clubs and casinos. It was the latter where Shayne, a mate of mine, and I, were hoping to try our luck.
However, our resort wasn't in the town near the other hotels, it was right across the other side of the island through bush and off the sealed road and then off any road; through volcanic craters and boiling mud plains and the ruins of an ancient civilization; past several primitive tribes that had never seen white people before to a tiny clearing that had been hacked out of the bush where a hotel and a few bungalows sat - The Batam Island Holiday Resort. From the front, it looked just like it did in the glossy brochure.
A few local monkeys then came out to welcome us and look at the strange humans. They were cute and furry with white on the stomachs and light brown fur, but kept their distance from us. It was like being in some unexplored region of the Amazon. We checked in under the thatched roof. Whew! 40 something degrees Celsius. Every one of the staff had hand fans. That wasn't a good sign! Neither was the sign they brought out while we were still waiting to register.
"No Electric till 4 pm."
I looked at my Rolex copy-watch. It was 5:05 pm.
The bus that had deposited us there had already left again, so we had no choice. We had to register.
As we were taken through the resort we passed the pool, which had ropes across it, tied to chairs on either side. A sign hanging on the ropes said "Pool Closed - No Swimming", but I could see goldfish capering about quite audaciously in the invitingly cool clear waters.
The hotel porter finally wedged our door open to gain entry to our spacious twin share room. There was just enough room for two single beds squashed together in one room. The bigger room was the bathroom, which is where we had to put our luggage. Unless one of us wanted a shower when some of it had to go on the beds. The other room did have a wall air-conditioner too; accept, there was no electric yet.
Having "settled in", we went to look at the beach.
The beach! How I remember the first sight of those fabled shining oily shores. Directly opposite was Singapore. In between were about 60 huge oil tankers or cargo ships lined up and waiting to dock. Some of the crew on a big red rusting tanker waved cheerily to us. I started to wander down the beach towards the jungle but one of the hotel staff came over and grabbed me by the arm.
"Nono.Nononono!" he said, gesturing animatedly.
"Really?” I asked, letting him lead me back to the resort. "What's there?"
He looked around and then whispered to me.
"The monkeys!" he said, wide-eyed, and that was about the extent of his English. I couldn't get anything else out of him. I didn't know if they were aggressive or amorous, whether they might just take a little rabid chomp if I strayed into their domain or bands of killer monkeys hunted the forests for tourists to skin alive. Suddenly, in my mind the cute little fuzzy monkeys became horrifying mutant apes with vicious gnashing incisors!
So it was a hot and humid 40 degrees C; no air-conditioning or fans; couldn't swim in the pool because the goldfish were there; couldn't swim in the ocean for threat of being sucked into a propeller; couldn't leave the resort grounds because of the "monkeys", and no other transport available to get to Batam town. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, yet as night fell, I was certain I could still see the lights of our luxury Singapore hotel across the waters and bows of ships.
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