I vividly remember during my childhood classroom days, in Geography class specifically – Tasek Merimbun was thrown around as one of Brunei’s sights. I even had to do a presentation at one point of my primary school years, made up of low resolution photos with scrawny papers edged heavily glued to manila cards. Truth be told, I have no idea where the place is. Truth be told, neither did my classmates.
We were told of this Tasek (i.e Lake) that encapsulates and breeds mysticism. From the legends of Labi Labi (huge turtle) to Si Paloi (we have to admit, that is funny), growing up as a Bruneian kid we were never short of our folklore stories and most of us including myself accepted that as part our growing pains.
Speaking of growing pains, I applaud the schools for having extracurricular activities and as cliché as it may sound, what are high school days without these ECA? One of my ECA was a supervised trip to Tasek Merimbun. We were a small team supervised by a dutiful senior teacher and on some accounts I remember us walking around the jetty and taking photos of scrubs and insects that were abundant even in my own backyard. I think it lacks purpose.
Twenty years later, several camping trips and nature walks in endemic parts of the world, I revisited Tasek Merimbun. Little did I know this place left its underrated footprint and changed the way viewed nature appreciation in my own home. The buildup started two weeks prior to the trip. It was during one of our angsty Monday team meetings; my supervisor was beaming like a billion dollar baby as he was explaining about his weekend lake cruise around the lake. He even showed photos that would not suffice our courtesy “ohhhs” and “aaaahhs”.
For me Tasek Merimbun breeds a bittersweet nostalgia, a transcending journey. The road from the bustling Bandar meandering to the one way roads of Tutong filtered the best unkept secrets as if we are expecting for more, the road less travelled as some souls might say. Our extroverted energy filled vans all came in unison silence as we entered the village roads of Tutong, immersing in what our dear excited selves can take in. I jumped in my seat when I saw a Sapi in between two modern semi detached houses with a backdrop of cliff.
Our team building was an eventful and much needed one. It was every nature videographer’s or promoters dream to capture 20 people dancing, eating and attempting yoga happily in a Balai facing an astounding view of the lake and rainforest.
The highlight of the day for everyone was the lake cruise or sunset watching over the lake – either or both. A trip can only take 3 people – considering the works of a lake boat is quite limited. With each trip we were taken to a half an hour lake cruise ride by the driver who I would profusely would claim as a boat expert. He seems to know his way around the lake, carefully maneuvering his ways on an instinct basis. He minimally narrated the tour, empathizing with our feelings to immerse in the vast wonders of nature. It was like going back to prehistoric days where everything was raw and unexposed to tyranny of the outside world. The orange gold sun reflected on the open lake and from afar, we saw two islands that stood out. The boat driver told us that one lake is called Pulau Buaya (Crocodile Island) which to me looks like a Jurassic Island while the one opposite is known as Pulau Labi-Labi (huge turtle island). This brings back to the mystical folklore as per mentioned in childhood days: it was believed that a princess was on a hideout from her parents and suddenly a mystical creature took her out. Unfortunately, they got stuck in one of the lakes, hence the island.
They say still water runs deep and there is a certain calmness about the dark lake, as if something exciting or alive is about to burst. The calamity reached its ascending peaks as we entered the dense forest lake where the water was calmer, murkier and darker. Sandwiched between us was dense rainforest (or purun), half protruding while half submerged adding intensity to the mysteriousness. The sun was still glowing from a distance preparing its last hours to depart. As we go deeper it gets more intense.
The boat driver broke our unison silence, saying “lets just turn back here”. We nod our heads and without hesitation return to the mainland. Our eyes glimmered and childlikely acknowledged each other’s presence for this wonderful shared experience.