The Dorothy in me
“To be in a place where I have never been.”
This was the dreamful answer of my friend, Marco Giovanni Battistotti, when I came to ask him a naïve question one solitary afternoon on the fabled island of Langkawi.
His candid, fanciful vision of a conscious mind led me to a state whereby in a split-second, I caught myself falling for a little daydream. At first it was an obscure picture. I couldn’t make out a single image from a canvas of black and shades of gray. As I tried to venture deep into my subconscious, things became more vivid.
In the dream, I was walking on the seashore, clad in a white chemise, while the cold waves began to caress my tired, callused feet. The sand I was walking on and the warmth of the zephyr made me ache to stay for a little while and hold on to the pleasure of reverie. I watched the sweet Malaysian sun make its final stretch of the day, igniting into a cosmic ball of fire, giving the sky a crimson glow. I saw the eagles dancing in a circular interlude as they headed off to their nests in the north, while the cuckoo perched safely on the branch of a tree singing its twilight song. I turned around, ready to head home. A tap on my shoulder stirred me and slowly, I opened my eyes to face reality one more time.
When I first stepped on the main island of Langkawi, it felt like I was walking down the long and winding yellow brick road. The journey was not easy because each brick handed me various surprises that often caught me off-guard. Dire things also stepped in the way, bridled me in one corner, and made me reconsider my options to come out with a wise decision. As a foreign national whose days of stay were numbered as one flipped a page in a book, traveling to another place would mean a sweet cut off my hard-earned savings. Adapting to a culture totally different from what I’m accustomed to, trying to speak like a local, learning the pattern of a more relaxed lifestyle, and exercising patience all the time were just some of the predicaments I dealt with.
I finally knew how Dorothy felt when she found herself marooned in the Land of Oz.
Langkawi, The Jewel of Kedah, is a beautiful archipelago of Malaysia whose history and origin lost their course in the passage of time. Known for its mystical legends, the archipelago is made up of 99 to 104 idyllic islands off Malaysia’s west coast. Some of the islands are scattered in the Andaman Sea where it merges into the Malacca Straits. Langkawi’s shoreline is mantled by powder-fine sand and swaying native coconut trees. The main island, about the size of Singapore, is a thick blend of picturesque paddy fields and lush rain forests. With all its promising tourist destinations—from the grave of the island’s legendary heroine, Makam Mahsuri, “The Field of Burnt Rice,” down to the waterfalls of Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells), a playground of ethereal beings, according to local folklore—it can take a week to fully enjoy this hidden paradise.
Taking inspiration from the famous children’s story, I recalled Dorothy’s quest, how she managed to find her way home to Kansas with some help from her friends and the advice of the good witch. While I was stuck on the island, as my boat ride to Thailand had been cancelled, it was luck that I remembered what Mr. Snuggles, a beastly traveler whom I met in a plane going to Kuala Lumpur, told me. I should see Marco if I were to be in Langkawi.
I had heard stories about Marco. I did not know the fellow apart from what I had read from his superb hospitality record, including his 30 years in the hotel industry, having worked in 18 hotels in 11 countries. In the beginning I was hesitant, convinced that the chap was busy overseeing the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resorts and Spa, but I was swept by a mystical force, rather like Dorothy who was whisked away by a tornado and brought to the magical Land of Oz. Hence I embarked on a quest to see the wizard and look for Marco.
The fateful day came. I arrived in Meritus in the pleasant afternoon of Oct. 31. Prior to my visit, I asked about Marco’s whereabouts. I was happy to get a response from him and was excited to personally meet the wizard of Meritus the next day. It was such a wonderful surprise that I got to stay in a huge Malay traditional house. I had asked for a simple room; they gave me a house!
I couldn’t get any luckier. They say that the best thing in life is getting things for free, and to me, I was a victim of that adage. On that night when everyone back in the Philippines was commemorating the Hallow’s Eve, I had my own celebration!
I also got to order a free meal, was invited to the club during my stay. The night ended with festive music and I was awed by the artistic talent of my very own people.
In the morning of Nov. 1, at exactly 10 o’clock, I met Marco for the first time. The exchange of greetings led us to a more spontaneous tête à tête, where we shared more than just each other’s story. The man had a humble soul. Our conversation ended with me asking him a question as to where he would like to go next.
His answer made me think deeply for a moment. After a while, he bowed to me politely, and made his way to his office. I was left alone in the club and soon after, I took my camera and headed out to take snapshots of the island.
The next day, it was time for me to go. I counted the remaining dreadful days before my Malaysian visa would expire as the clock continued to tick. It may have been a quick visit to Meritus but the moment I had spent in her warm bosom and embrace will be a lifetime memory to treasure. Delightful experiences and fun in general are always rewarding. It took me about 1,500 miles just to know that sometimes a weary soul longs for a special place to rest, and I think I have found that place. During my last day I decided to go for a long walk along the coast. I was clad in a white chemise, and the cold waves began to softly caress my tired, callused feet. This time I was not dreaming.
I felt the powdery sand against my feet and the warmth of the zephyr blowing on my cheeks. I closed my eyes and I ached unbearably inside. Just when I opened them, I saw the setting of the sweet Malaysian sun, igniting into a cosmic ball of fire that will soon give birth to the moon and the stars that will light up the night sky. I watched the eagles’ primal dance and heard the cuckoo starting to sing its twilight melody. Just when I turned around, ready to head home, I remembered what Marco said: “To be in a place where I have never been.”
I smiled. I knew what Marco meant.
Traveling had never been so mysterious and wickedly fun. Perhaps just like Dorothy, I only had to remember to keep clicking my red shoes to get me where I wanted to go.
Jan Sevilla, 26, describes herself as a quixotic budding writer from the Philippines who works as a development research assistant and finds Malaysia a place she can almost call home.
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