Arrived in Tawau, debit-card less and loaded with baht. No change desk. Begged a ride off of friendly bus drivers out front, drove to Semporna, on the Malaysian side of Borneo. One hour, increasing dark, rows and rows of palm trees. First night in the boat, docked at the customs jetty. Leering fishermen all around. “Be careful! Be careful, baby,” as we cross the splintered dock. Small place, very nice, full of adventurous mementos.
“This shell is worth about a thousand bucks in Papua New Guinea,” my friend said. “I own land there.” This is a blow gun, this is a machete. We make a plan for if somebody tries to break in at night. A rat travels the ropes from the neighboring boat and scuttles around in the hold. Set a trap with leftover sausage.
The power is out. Sleep in the choking heat; sweat and mosquitoes. Too hot to sleep more than a few hours at a time. Finally up at 8 AM, the sound of motor boats, a rooster, men yelling. We’d watched them haul in plastic buckets of tuna the night before, lining them on the dock, shiny and frightened. We crawl to the dock, hot, and dirt. Feel a million miles away from the few, gently polished tourists in town, moving in quiet drifts of rubber-sandaled feet.