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Survivor Island

Pulau Tiga in Sabah, Malaysia is known as “Survivor Island”, because the first season of the hit television series was filmed there. Daryl Yep spent a few days there and lived to tell about his adventures, including frolicking in a muddy pool and searching for highly venomous sea kraits.

I was tempted to dive right in to the awesomely inviting turquoise waters as we arrived at the dock. The tranquil natural surroundings were reminiscent of an idyllic setting for a summer romance. The bright blue sunny sky, though scorching, was welcomed with much pleasure. We had in fact prepared for the worst after being informed that the past few days had been cloudy with torrential rain. Sheer tranquillity, along with sun-drenched pristine beaches, is of the essence on an island escapade.

Pulau Tiga, it seemed, had already fulfilled my simple desires. The feeling of weariness I had had earlier slowly dissipated. Somehow, the sound of crashing waves always has the miraculous ability to calm my senses. Any complaint suddenly became trivial. Now I wasn’t exactly being grouchy, but seriously, travelling over five hours in three modes of transportation on a hot and humid day can somewhat sap one’s strength, not to mention enthusiasm.

Kota Kinabalu International Airport was the closest we could get to Sabah before being whisked away by a van for a two-hour ride to Kuala Penyu, followed by a twenty-minute speedboat ride. Though it took place a decade ago, avid fans of Survivor would probably still remember how corporate trainer Richard Hatch outlasted fifteen of his fellow Americans to become a millionaire after being marooned on Pulau Tiga for 39 days. Being the site of the very first season of not only Survivor US but also the UK version had generated wide publicity for Pulau Tiga and Malaysia, as millions of viewers tuned in weekly to find out who was being eliminated. Our arrivals were greeted by a large signboard that read “Survivor Island”, naturally. Some of the props used during the filming of the reality show were also visible.

Close encounter with the slithery kind

Our excursion to Snake Island was eagerly anticipated, though not entirely without fear and anxiety. The infamous rocky volcanic outcrop, also known as Pulau Kalampunian Damit to the locals, is inhabited by hundreds of Yellow-Lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina). The 20-minute speedboat ride to the island was probably too short a time for some of us who started to contemplate whether it was a good idea to set foot on the island at all.

To be apprehensive is understandable. Though I had posed almost check to cheek with a huge python for a shot, I reckoned that the highly venomous Yellow-Lipped wouldn’t be as docile. Twice as poisonous as the King Cobra, a single bite from this sea krait would be enough to send someone to eternal slumber in no time. To paint a clearer picture, once bitten, one wouldn’t even be able to make it back to Pulau Tiga alive.

So, if Snake Island sounds dangerous, why are visitors still flocking to this place, you might ask? Honestly, the snakes are actually quite harmless as they are rather inactive and lethargic during the day due to the heat. They will not attack humans unless stepped on or mishandled. They prefer to coil up among the rocks, tree roots and crevices in tree trunks and will only hunt for food in the sea at night. Unlike true sea snakes that spend their entire life in the sea, the Yellow-Lipped come ashore to rest, digest their food, slough their skins, mate and lay eggs. They are hunted by the white-bellied sea eagles that circle low over the island. Hence, they head for the sea when it’s high tide to minimise the risk of being caught by the eagles.

A few minutes later, our guide Nell found a pearly-blue snake with black bands resting among some rocks oblivious of curious intruders. Swiftly but gently he held the snakes for us to take a few close-up shots. Needless to say, as soon as we got what we headed there for, we made a dash to our boat knowing very well that the island wasn’t a place for sightseeing.

Read Part Two of Survivor Island

Daryl Yap is a traveller and a writer who loves to combine the two in writing about his travels around Malaysia. This article was published in Senses of Malaysia magazine, a publication by The Expat Group.

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