Pulau is a set of three islands off the coast of Borneo where turtles migrate to drop their eggs. There’s a lodge on the largest island, which is actually not very large at all, where people can stay overnight and observe the turtles as they come ashore. The lodge only accommodates fifty people, so we got our reservations in early. David, Leanne, and I arrive at eleven o’clock in the morning. We’re given basic instructions about meal times and rules, then we’re shown to our rooms. The room holds two twin beds, a small table, and a thin rough towel. No desk or chair, and no pictures to lift the spirits of the bedraggled. Beetles scurry around in the shower area, which consists of a spout extending from high on the wall adjacent to the toilet. Definitely not luxurious, but there’s air conditioning.
The egg-laying doesn’t happen until dark, which gives us an afternoon to kill. We walk the perimeter of the island, which takes about half an hour. It’s hot, hot, hot, and I feel my pores shrinking and sizzling. We eat lunch and take a nap. There’s a pathetically small portion of the beach roped off for snorkeling, so we rent masks. The near area is murky, so I flop into the water with low expectations, but only a few yards out the water clears and a thriving fish population darts in and around healthy coral. I don’t venture below the surface because fire coral’s everywhere. There’s a whole field of massive table formations. My only unusual sighting is a black and silver sea snake. Overall the snorkeling is a pleasant way to pass an hour.
We get cleaned up and head to the cafeteria. The food at dinner lacks inspiration, and once again, no wine. But the meals aren’t why we’re here. After dinner Leanne, David, and I and forty other people are herded into a room and shown a video explaining what we’re soon going to witness firsthand—a turtle dropping her eggs. Then we troop back down to the cafeteria to await notification from a ranger that a turtle’s getting busy out on the beach. While we wait David and Leanne attempt to teach me a card game they recall from childhood, Garbage Rummy—more time is spent trying to remember the rules than playing the game.
An announcement is relayed from the beach and we all troop from the building, across the football pitch, and out on to the sand. Rangers point the way and we’re instructed to turn off our flashlights as we approach. Also, no taking pictures. Sure enough, a huge turtle has dug a pit for her project in the sand. All us tourists crowd around her hind quarters and watch as her extended birth canal deposits eggs in pairs. They’re covered in clear slime and are about the size of golf balls. As soon as they land, a ranger reaches in, gathers them, and places them in a bucket. In a little while he’ll replant them in a safer place. The tourists are surprisingly polite. They squat and watch, then move back so others can move forward. The turtle is in a trance. She just wants to get the job done and get out of there. She lays a hundred and forty-four eggs. The rangers seem very proud of her. When the eggs quit coming we’re led to the hatchery, which is a simple field of sand with protective netting around the nests to keep the monitors out. We watch as the ranger places the eggs in a hole, records the date, fills the hole in, and places the netting. When the babies hatch they’ll dig their way to the surface and the rangers will carry them to the water.
The three of us agree that this egg-laying was a really wondrous thing to see, and we’re glad we made the effort. When we get back to the room I discover that ants have taken over my bed. This is because earlier I’d mixed Grey Goose with Sprite (a travesty!) in a water bottle. When I finished it, I replaced the lid and tossed the empty bottle on the bed. It never occurred to me that it would attract ants. Luckily, there’s a spare bed in Leanne’s room. The boat picks us up at seven in the morning to carry us back to Sabah.