In short these days proved that writing a blog while being on-site for a volunteering task is actually almost impossible. We never had to be warned twice to get to the bed at the end of the day. I’ve made the mistake of not taking notes so now I have to rely on my memories to share the experience. We started a little bit slow as our project dive instructors were also away for training.
Basically, we spent time on 3 different things during these days:
1. doing diving courses at different levels. We were three from Cisco, all different levels of diving experience so taking different courses. I chose to extend my knowledge from being an advanced open water diver to rescue diver. This was a very interesting but pretty exhausting choice. Started with two days of reading up the theory and then about 3 days of activities from emergency first responder course to actual surfacing with unconscious divers and doing surface rescue as well. My trainer was almost doing it marine style which served me well but was pretty tough. When I got my first time of relaxing in the hammock at the beach, I fell asleep in 5 minutes.
2. doing some training to understand what does the Perhentian Marine Research Station do and what kind of activities we can help out with. We also learned that normally this program was designed for at least 3 weeks and we understood why: for doing research we need practice and training before we can supply scientifically valuable data. It takes about 2 weeks to get a grip so our two week stay is useful to check upon how our support money is spent, not much more. Especially when also taking the diving courses. Probably reason to come back next year?
3. some programs to see how other projects are working and how do they fit into the life of the village.
Before all of these, we immediately took a water safety test to make our hosts sure about our skills in water. This was a unique thing to do at the village beach named Nemo beach which is one of the most beautiful reef areas close to the surface. As the test quickly turned into happy snorkeling in the tropical warm waters, we were greeted by insane amount of clownfish (hence the name of the beach), sea anemones and various coral formations so close to the surface that it took actual efforts to not to accidentally hit them: wearing fins for snorkeling is not allowed on the islands as they may damage the corals without the person noticing it. Well, yeah, hitting them with the toes is definitely noticable and painful. We also had our first view of the artificial reef built by the project (4-5 meters deep) using bottles enclosed in concrete, fixing broken coral pieces to them and hoping that they can attach and start growing, turning the artifical reef into a real one over many years. The initial impression was mindblowing, this was the first coral reef I saw in my life and the colors and marine life were really much more than I could expect. Good start!
As part of the greeting, we had a proper lunch in one of the village restaurants so we experienced some local cuisine. Turned out that there are many ways to eat rice as main dish and it was fun for the rest of the stay there. However, I was happy to eat something else than rice after we returned but that’s another story… Though would be unfair to state that we did not have the chance to eat anything else later: the grills of freshly caught fish (namely blue marlene and barracuda) were just simply awesome but we had to get these at the resorts, not in the village. Tells a lot where do most of the fishing industry work during the tourist season. Also, we all agreed on that squid prepared in malay style is definitely one of the best meals to try.
Oh, and the fruits: during the stay we practically lived on four different fruits. I had to have my everyday coconut which is a really refreshing experience. Deniz voted for the mango which had the season spot on. They serve it with chili sauce! And it works! And then we had the other two: the hairy one and the bald one. They both remind of lichi and very refreshing. I preferred … due to the lack of seeds. There was no durian on the islands which I consider lucky after tasting it later… not my cup of tea.
Still about food: during the first week we already had the chance to be part of a traditional malay dinner hosted by one of the families. This happened as a joint effort with our sister program, the Perhentian Turtle Project. We all received the traditional sarongs and visited the hosting family, sitting around on the floor and eating by hand. While it feels strange at first (especially eating by hand with all the sauces), it becomes fairly natural and it visibly brings people together: there is no way to rush when eating in this style. Our hosts were really good in serving local dishes and it was a very nice experience. The questions arose: how often can they have dinners like these within the family? And do they always serve so big variety of food? The latter was answered when we realized that the project pays for the dinner: of course we could not expect a local, simple family to suddenly host 10-15 guests to a full featured dinner.
After the first few days I finally got involved in the activities (I pushed for doing something before I started at the dive center as I already had the required certification). That’s for next post, stay tuned!