Couchsurfing snafu: the big island tree house with a little crooked secret
Updated: Feb 8, 2018
On an island, somewhere off the mainland of Malaysia sits a one of a kind handmade tree-house. You won't see anything else like it on the island and certainly won't meet anyone like the fellow who proudly calls it home.
I was supposed to be couchsurfing with a local islander in their quite regular looking home until a change of plans, my host tells me to meet him at a new "address" instead. I never thought to ask why the change of plans, beggars can't be choosers and I certainly wasn't fussy about a free accommodation.
My cab driver let's me out of the car in front of what appears to be an assortment of cleverly conjoined pieces of wood that ebbed and flowed naturally hidden behind a huge wild garden. My eye's were as wide as pie, I was absolutely giddy. What an amazing find-- something I was definitely not expecting.
I meet with my couchsurfing host who explained his situation, this was his friends tree-house where we were welcomed to stay for as long as we wanted. His friend who we'll refer to as 'bus', warmly greeted me while he sat in an old office chair behind a pirate flag backdrop with a cat comfortably curled up on his lap. According to his logic, he prefers to be called bus instead of boss, because if he's a bus he can pick-up his people on the way to work, but if hes a boss he just sits there and tells everybody what to do; so for that, he would rather be a bus. I thought his response was rather witty for someone who's first language wasn't English.
Bus gave me a personalised tour of his beloved home, explaining how he constructed the entire two story building using only washed-up driftwood and rope. No bolts, no nails, no glue. Hammock beds were built into the top floor surrounded by handmade dream catchers that dangled from the ceiling above. To add to the charm, bus pointed out that almost every single piece of wood had a unique face naturally sculpted by the tides that had washed them ashore.
Throughout my stay, I learned a lot about bus. Bus was in his 40's and absolutely loved cats, so much so that he had somewhere upwards to 60 that lived on and around his large property. Every night, he would sit with his headlamp on and cat by cat would go through their fur and pick-out the visible fleas.
One day, I had met the bus's wife. Well...one of his wives, in Islamic religion you can have up to 5 wives and bus had all 5. She was very kind, and would always bring food from her parent's house to share with her husband and his guests. Soon I would be invited into her life as she paraded me around her large family's private engagement parties and special dinners. Bus had explained to me that many people thought he was crazy because of his tree house. The locals saw this as child's play, it had no place or purpose in their culture or religion.
Bus would seldom leave his paradise, but when he did, he would drive us around the island to experience his favourite local foods. A traditional Malay ice-cream made with shaved ice and topped with syrups, custards, and gummy candies. During the day we mostly crafted, making homemade dream-catchers from a various collection of beach-combed materials.
I never bothered to ask what bus did for a living, I never questioned his strange life. Until I was witness to a business transaction.
An Islamic man walked in the house and greeted us all, " assalamualaikum", he sat down and spoke with bus. Out of a bag on the floor, bus pulled out a large sack of illicit crystals. This wasn't sea glass from the beach. This was pure 'Breaking Bad' style crystal meth, except there was no Heisenberg, there was no film set. I tried to play it casual, I stayed seated and avoided eye contact. At one point I was handed the bag, obliviously reluctant to grab it, it was placed in my lap. I didn't want to hold it, I didn't want to be around it. I could only imagine an officer walking into a tree house of two Muslim men, a skinny pale British tourist, and a white blonde girl with a large bag of highly illegal drugs in her lap. I tossed it back like a hot potato and couldn't help but laugh at the narrative in front of me.
Life is a funny thing... it's a painting and we are the painter with the brush. Sometimes we are the ones watching the painter create their masterpiece, it's all about perspective.