Friday, October 14, 2011

Camping at Suai Beach : Ritz Carlton

Nazeri, Zeana, Maye, Radhika, Mad Ali, Sara and Roslee about to cross the river from Hilton 2 heading out to Kpg Kuala Suai Dec 2008. Photo by Rabani HM Ayub taken on the 3rd day of our trek..

One of the reasons for making this trip was to observe dark skies in Suai, another was to recollect fond memories of camping in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of like minded friends back in 2008.

We first camped out at the location dubbed Hilton Camp2 during our Long Beachwalk back in December 2008. It was serendipity that we reached the site slightly later than expected and by then were not able to cross the river due to high tide, thus camped by the riverside instead. Tired, hungry, we ran out of food as well as water. A few minutes after setting camp, heavy storm clouds approached, it rained heavily and all we had was soaked. As night settled in, the skies glowed with brilliant stars. The glorious sunset and nightscenes that evening were perhaps the most memorable; not the blisters, not the oats and tuna sandwich dinner; not the rainwater tea or the lurking single crocodile we spotted in the river at dusk. After 3 days of walking, the smiles on everyone's face that night was priceless.

This 2011 trip had young pre-adults with us. Rabani, Sara and I were the only ones from the long beachwalk crew that could make it. Musa who was on the original recce crew prior to the Longwalk was also determined to come along with us for the 2 nites camping. Phillip, Adeline, Liza, Ben, Darren, Tiffany, Kenisha, Kendrick, Ali, Shamsul and Abdul were first timers to the area.

We drove to Kpg Kuala Suai through the oil palm plantation. The drive over was smooth and without much drama ... other than the depressing rows upon rows of palm oil; a dozen perplexed looking Indonesian plantation workers we passed along the road who was immediately engulfed in dust behind us.

What's more depressing was perhaps the newly opened up acreage of plantation : recently bulldozed zones, blackened tree stumps still standing while others with lingering amber. The area had been burnt all the way from the edge of the existing plantation to the coast. Another area of peatswamp undergoing conversion by fire.

With backpacks fully loaded we had everyone walking with their own rations for the 3days-2nites camping including 3.o L water. After 1.5 hrs of walking, we made camp at an inactive river, recently sanded up and choked with logs. There was plenty of room for our tents in the sand, plenty of wood to keep the fire going over the two nites. The new campsite was quickly dubbed, "Ritz Carlton". Hilton 2 was not 40 minutes away.

The area was quickly turned to a home away from home : 2 big fireplaces and working kitchens with an unlimited open space for everyone. RC would've made a perfect basecamp for longer stays except for the lack of flowing freshwater.

That first nite we were afforded magnificent views of the Milky Way; we found the Suai dark skies we were after. Scorpio was right in the middle of the display as the sun dipped below the horizon; Orion came later towards the start of the next day over a beautiful cloudless sky right over our campfire.

The next day we walked over to Hilton 2 along the beach: tide was low, the day bright and overcast, the air fresh from South China Sea.

For the short 40 minutes walk over, those who participated in the Long Beachwalk recollected the events from 3 years back : the magnificent beach scenery, quiet and deserted; the friendship we honed over the few days of hard slog and blistered feet as well as the motives each one of us had for undertaking the longwalk.

The glorious sand at Suai, at times a bit muddier depending on the season.

The crew of 2011 Ritz Carton camping weekend looking sprightly and refreshed after 3 days and 2 nites out in the middle of nowhere. (Rabani and Nazeri not in the picture).

Our home away from home, by the time we left on Sunday, the area was clear of logs ... it's an open spacious sandy place perfect for sunseekers.

All around the campfire just after dinner.

Going back was like both saying "hello" and "goodbye" at the same time. The quiet and deserted beach wouldn't be quiet and deserted for long. Big changes to the landscape already took place along much of the the coastlines. We were glad to have walked the place many years back experiencing it in the last few years of its pre-existing state. Hopefully there'd be a few more years of that which would remain, if only just.

There would always be Milky Way, Scorpio and Orion I guess in the dark of Suai nights, traversing the skies over similar stretches like Hilton 2,and Ritz Carlton. That is before something more sinister takes to the skies.

Scorpio and the Milky Way just after sunset from Ritz Carlton.

Read more on Scorpious here.

Write-up and pictures by Nazeri Abghani, MNS Miri, Oct 2011

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