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Memories of Balak – III

Despite being an island mostly filled with fish-hugger conservationists, there was a fair amount of competition on Pulau Balak. At the start there was a big challenge to learn to identify fish, coral, and slimey spineless things, with tests. Some of the volunteers were straight out of their A-Levels and were still on a learning tip, so this proved no problem to them. But a comparison of identification test marks bears no real relationship to the spirit of true competition on the island. This was to be found in the various awards that were presented…

Muppet Award

This nightly award was the highlight of the evening meal (hotly contested with the expedition leader’s daily roundup) . Emily, first winner of the award, would recite the nominations for who had done anything remotely absurd that day. The nominations would primarily include one of the members of TRACC – the other NGO we shared the longhouse with. They had more boats to play with, which are always a source of mishap – people falling between boats, people setting off to dive without masks, people forgetting to take their small boat from between the beach and the house before the tide went out.

Some nominations were kind of strange, and in my best Dennis ‘Speak a bit quicker and stop nodding you hapless fool’ Norden way, here are some of the ones that spring to mind:

  • Trudi put chicken into the vegetarian food and continued to protest that it was a vegetarian meal
  • Jackie suggested using cement to fill the crack in the wooden dug-out canoe whose bouyancy was always suspect
  • Joe saying that only he could drink Tequila like a real man – through his nose while hanging upside down from the pullup bar, and promptly having to lie down with his sinuses in excrutiating agony
  • Dave, the expedition leader, leaving one of the boats pointed at the beach with the engine running, getting out of it, and forgetting about it
  • Rich for absent-mindedly pouring coke into the only container full of drinking water on the island
  • Emily for keeping her waterproof diving torch in a ziploc plastic bag to keep it dry

Hardcore Award

This weekly award was for valour, for being hard, and nothing to do with those junk emails you get when hotmail reveals all of its email addresses to all and sundry. (Britney, Shakira, Viagra, Strap On, add 3 inches etc). Scouse was the second winner, managing to hang from the pull-up bar by the tops of his toes. I managed to get it by dragging about 20 metres worth of tree and poles from the other side of the island while recuperating from Balak Belly, and not being able to temporarily ingest anything other than water for three days. Alex got it for breaking her toe, throwing up underwater, and driving everyone back from a dive without mentioning it to anyone.

Pisshead of the Weekend Award

I was disappointed at not winning this more than once – putting my heart and soul into chimping on a Saturday night by the inevitable fire on the beach. One weekend I did win was Sarah’s 30th Birthday party, for which I roped myself in to promoting party games. I was particularly proud of being able to turn the prize for pass-the-parcel from a packet of TicTacs (don’t underestimate the power of such a treat on a remote island) to a packet of TicTacs and the opportunity to dance and sing the Flashdance theme while having jugs of water thrown at you. It was kind of upon Alex’s insistence that she won and got her opportunity to do this feat, and while she normally sulked if people threw too much cack at her clean clothes (cake in nightclubs, talc in the changing cell), she was keen as chips to be covered in water and prance around. To make sure I got the award, I fell over a few times, spilt things and shouted a fair bit too.

One weekend I was particularly miffed at once again being pipped at the post for the pisshead award. It was the same Saturday night that the ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ competition had been postponed and I had rummaged into my secret stash of jungle to pullout enough quality firewood to make a ‘Burning Man‘. The chaps did an astonishing job of stealing the requisite bent rusty nails to fasten the logs into said effigy, and nailing them together, so the prospect of a booze fuelled night with no obvious focus for entertainment was avoided. For some reason, I declared no burning until midnight, probably to weed out the lightweights.

I’d put in a good early appearance – hardly able to sit up at dinner, I had poured some of the very limited and precious commodity called Tequila into a communal punchbowl, fashioned from specially imported ice. I realised my gaff at having to share my sacred booze (there were only three bottles on the island in 9 weeks as far as I’m aware), and made a desperate attempt to slurp the lot (via a series of four straws) before the hippies got their greedy tonsils on it.

With another block of specially imported ice, some folks fashioned a tequila luge. By carving a runway into the surface of a two foot long block of ice, a Cresta Run for booze was made. Propping the ice up at one end, you could deliver cold booze (tequila if possible) mixed with anything you could squeeze onto the lower part of the cooling run into someone’s waiting gulliver at the lower end. Cold things were a precious commodity on a tropical island with no fans, no fridge, and no running water, so even our most holy Christian, the reverend Susie, got her Jesus-loving lips wet with illicit booze.

No matter that I passed out at about 10pm, managing to wake up when my name was called for burning the man. No matter I subsequently staggered all over uncharted bogs and broken glass on the island to collect more palm fronds for the burning. No matter how P D Mulhooned I was, Susie was awarded the prize the next day. Apparently she didn’t walk in a ruler-straight line after a few shots of nasty meths. My liver and I were a little disappointed after our concerted efforts. The only consolation was that she resolutely refused to admit that she had been at all inebriated, and wouldn’t touch the award, being totally offended by our intimations that such a clean living lady would ever lower herself to the level of a common animal with drugs.

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