Wooden huts. Sandy grass areas covered in pine needles. Walking carefully to avoid the prickly tiny pinecones. Blue glittering ocean just beyond the trees, deep lush green palm trees behind the huts. Warm, salty air, parents in swimwear sitting somewhere just out of sight.
Those were the holidays of my early childhood.
We often took holidays with other families. I remember one holiday, where we had to walk along a tiny dark path through the jungle to get to the beach but one day we were not allowed to go swimming - there was a snake on the path. I discovered my favourite food in the world, ketchup and butter on white toast. The other dad told his daughter and me about a squirrel he once caught and tamed, so we built our own trap (a cardboard box with a little stick and string to pull the stick once the squirrel would get inside) and waited for hours. The dad came back and gave us some food to stick in the trap. Still, nothing happened. It was one of the most exciting afternoons of my life.
I went back to a few of those places. We went to Desaru, which was the Bintan of the eighties, but no memories came back. We went to Bali, where apparently my brother got lost in the waves (he's fine now). But the well-manicured lawns at Bintan or Desaru or at the resorts in Thailand, were never quite what I remembered from our Southeast Asian holidays (they did remind me however of our Spanish ClubMed holiday when everybody got sick except me.)
I never saw any squirrels at any of the resorts.
I had given up on the rustic resorts of old, and gotten quite used to the luxury of the now.
And then Man Tamtam and myself went off on a weekend break to Sibu, an island off the eastern coast of Malaysia, just a bit below Tioman. It was exactly the way I remembered our holidays from long ago. The sort of rustic luxury, where the wooden huts do not have aircon or hot water, but the well at the resort provides drinking water from the tap. The wood has been sanded and stained, so there are no splinters, the restaurant is complete open air but with a large overhanging roof, providing shelter when it rains. There were prickly pinecones and squirrels hopping on the huts. Man Tamtam claims he woke up during a thunderstorm one night to see a cow outside the hut, and sure enough, the next morning we saw hoof tracks in front of our verandah. There is no wifi, or even mobile coverage, but they have speedboats to transport guests to other white-sanded islets for snorkeling and diving.
It was divine. In a couple of weeks we will bring the children there, and I can't decide what I look forward to most: the snorkeling, the swimming, sitting on the verandah while they sleep at night or the jeu-de-boules game which the resort also provides.
I might even let the children have ketchup and butter on white toast.