We were very excited to find out that a campground on the beautiful Perhentian Islands had two volunteer vacancies that Grant and I would be filling for a month. It sounded too good to be true: bioluminescent plankton, turtles laying eggs, great snorkeling right next to our accommodation, and our own private beach for a month long. We made a pact beforehand…if the accommodation wasn’t up to our (minimal) standards or we began working way too much we would leave early. And with that in mind, with about five books among us in case we were deathly bored, we made our way to Rainforest Campground on the ‘little island’ of the Perhentians.
It was an easy ferry ride over and we reached the campground nestled in its own cove south of the main resort beach area. No dock, just jump off the front of the boat. Private beach: check. A pirate and Malaysian flag, hand painted signs all over the place, several bamboo structures, and tons of friendly people greeted us as we made our way to the reception counter.
We met the other volunteers (including a Danielle from California…this was about to get confusing) and the owners who all seemed like incredibly laid back people. We were given the rundown: the cafe and bar has to be manned, tents and bathrooms need to be cleaned, and labor needed to be completed. Easy. In exchange for our time, we were fed and housed for free for a month. Kickass!
We learned that the couple who we would be replacing slept in the treehouse, which is also where we would be staying. It came equipped with three of the most massive geckos I had ever seen (later to be named Ali, Mercury, and Falsto).
In addition to geckos, there was much more wildlife walking, flying, or swimming around our campground. Giant monitor lizards, sea eagles, stingrays, and black tipped reef sharks were things that we saw daily. Vipers, territorial monkeys, and sea turtle tracks on our beach were special sightings. I had to continue to remind myself that we were staying in a rainforest, because some of these sightings became so commonplace. Turtles and amazing snorkeling: check and check.
We learned more about the island as we explored around. Long beach is a fairly dirty, party beach where nightlife (including crappy house music) can be heard well into the early morning. It makes for great sunrises though, as it is east-facing. Coral bay, on the west side of the island is a bit classier with nicer eating and resort options. We would walk over to coral beach for milkshakes and wifi as needed. Our beach was a 25 minute walk south of coral bay, on a beautiful path leading through the rain forest. This island is unique in the fact there is not a single car, truck, or vehicle of any kind on it. Boat taxis are plentiful however, and many times we could hear tourists screaming as the drivers tend to go as fast as possible between point A and point B. The fishing “village” on the south tip of the island, is is more like a local town.
A couple of times we made it to the fishing “village” for breakfast (always before 8 AM to snag local prices).
We also spent a day scuba diving, which is always awesome. One spot had horrible visibility so we spent the duration of our time diving through underwater caves. It was a lot of fun. The day we spent kayaking was great because we could spot good snorkeling areas as we were cruising over them.
Another highlight was putting up a volleyball net on our beach so we could play in the evening (the daytime was way too hot). While there, an Italian couple that were patrons-turned-volunteers, spent all day preparing for homemade pizza night (cheese included). We all ate way to much that night. They also taught us how to make homemade pasta and gnocchi!
And we ended up seeing the bioluminescent plankton! Check. Apparently, it is always in the water but there is so much light pollution on other beaches on the island it is impossible to spot elsewhere. For 4 or 5 nights in a row, around the new moon, we grabbed snorkel gear and headed to the beach. It was incredible to see the little bits of light spiraling around our moving body parts. The light from the stars in the sky and ocean were almost interchangeable. It was also hilarious to see grown adults flailing around as much as possible to disturb the plankton into glowing bright. Shouts of “You’re a wizard, Harry” were screamed. We were surprised to see fireflys floating through where the rainforest hits the beach. We were surrounded by points of light in the sky, ocean, and air around us. It was one of the most magical things I have seen.
Even though my days weren’t spent doing all that much, I still found myself wishing there was more hours in every day. The volunteers, patrons, and owners of the place were all really great people to talk to and I often spent an entire day sitting in the cafe chatting with whoever was down there. Rainforest Campground is beautiful, and attracts beautiful people in return. It wasn’t uncommon to hear about folks deciding to stay with us after wondering down to our beach randomly, or extending their stay by a week or so once they see what the place has to offer. We had so many laughs there as well as deep conversations about internal struggles, politics, and dreams. One of the volunteers led beach yoga sessions in the mornings. One patron painted a beautiful mural in our cafe. People were often seen meditating on the beach. Our place was magical. I’m going to miss Rainforest quite a bit.
Danielle and Grant