This past summer our family spent a total of four weeks traveling around 3 countries; Indonesia, Singapore & Malaysia. It was an incredible month long journey filled the priceless highs and the inevitable lows.
After over 3 weeks of awesome adventures we found ourselves on a journey Tioman Island, the last destination of our travels.
It was a long trek to get to Tioman; a taxi picked us up from our apartment in Penang before the sun had even risen, we caught a quick flight down from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, navigated our way to the bus station and then jumped on a bus to Mersing; a journey predicted to take 5.5 hours made longer due to a tire blow out along the way.
Once we arrived in the small town of Mersing we purchased tickets for the next available ferry (departing the following morning) and checked-in to a cheap hotel for the night.
The ferry from Mersing to Tioman Island is quite a process too, mainly due to the language barrier. You need to go to several different windows to get passports checked, pay taxes, exchange tickets for boarding passes and then the waiting game begins.
Finally boarding the ferry, where seats are assigned, you sit back, relax and enjoy the couple hour ferry ride. Once arriving in Tioman you have to listen out for your stop; staff will simply walk down the aisles yelling which stop you are at and of course they change the order of which ports they visit first so you can’t even count the stops.
Juara Turtle Project (JTP), a sea turtle conservation, research and education facility was our whole reason for the trek to Tioman and was to be our “home” for the next 4 nights while we volunteered.
Located on the East side of the island we jumped into a small jeep like vehicle and paid the driver to get us across the island through the jungle. The ride itself was almost like a rollercoaster with the girls throwing their arms in the air and asking for our driver to go faster!
This was our first volunteering experience and as such we had no idea what to expect but what we didn’t expect was for it to be the highlight of our month long trip and a regular topic of conversation even 3 months later. Our experience, while short, was life changing.
So, how does the volunteering work at JTP? Well for starters you pay a minimal amount, which varies depending on season and length of stay.
We paid around $325 USD for our family of 4 for 4 nights; that includes your accommodation (mostly dorm style with a few “family rooms”) breakfast & lunch; both made onsite daily by a wonderful cook and lastly monies received from volunteering helps keep the project going, so you know your money is going to a good cause!
Each evening a meeting is held where the various jobs are divided up amongst the staff and volunteers for the following day. These include general housekeeping tasks like watering plants, cleaning out foot buckets, wiping tables, sweeping floors and clearing the road of sand. As well as turtle related jobs; checking the beach for nests (morning and night), taking a boat to other beaches to check for nests and checking the hatchery for any nest that have hatched.
Turtle talks are held daily where locals and tourists can pay a tiny amount to learn not only about sea turtles but also what Juara Turtle Project does. These talks are led by both staff and volunteers. We learnt so much about turtles by attending and leading these talks. If you find yourself on Tioman and don’t fancy volunteering I highly encourage you to attend a turtle talk.
There are also random jobs/projects that pop up depending on whats happening on the hatchery front and also improvements to JTP; while we were there Matt helped to build a foundation for a water tank!
It’s not just work, there is plenty of fun to be had also. Each day there are different activities, our first day we went on a jungle trek to a waterfall! There are kayaks available to use, people went snorkeling some days, we did a cooking class one day where we made Malaysian donuts and you can even go jetty jumping!
There are a couple of things that made this time life changing for me. Firstly my lack of knowledge regarding sea turtles was zilch before going to JTP, this experience really opened my eyes not only to sea turtle conservation but marine life in general – there is so much we can and should be doing in order to protect the environment.
Secondly, seeing people of all different walks of life come together; amazing. One night we sat around the camp fire with fellow volunteers all telling stories ranging from funny travel tales to childhood nicknames. As I sat there I counted not only how many of us there were but how many different nationalities; nine in total with 7 languages spoken between us, varying religious & political views.
Getting to watch a nest of turtles (93 total) hatch, completely priceless and I think for Matt finding a turtle nest and helping relocate it to the hatchery was very memorable for him.
Lastly, how incredible everyone was with the girls. Seriously there are not enough words to tell you all the amazing things that went on. They played with them, helped them do their chores, watched movies with them, swung in hammocks, conversed with them and taught them.
I actually feared that people would find our kids presence annoying; it was the total opposite. As for the girls, they loved every minute of it. Clio, who was only 3.5 when we visited not only talks about going back but still remembers the 2 types of turtles that nest on Tioman & even made up a little song about sea turtles! Eden, who signed up for jobs everyday wished we had spent our entire month at JTP and is hoping we return next year.
Whether we return to JTP or not, we definitely see our family doing more volunteering travels in the future!
You should also check out this beautiful video made by one of the interns we met at JTP, Clio even makes a small appearance!