Back on April 5, Natalie Poole, 35, went with a group of other volunteers to Kyun Pila Island, off the coast of Myanmar, to spend a month helping clean up a coral reef.
“We crossed the Thai border 15 minutes before they closed it so we would have either been in no man’s land in Thailand or could carry on to the island,” she said.
They had been scheduled to return on May 5, but their boat never showed up. Poole said that she and her team knew going in that the coronavirus could make things tricky, but they weren’t prepared for just how much of an impact it had.
“We knew what was happening with the coronavirus but we went with it. We thought we might get stuck a little bit but did not think for one minute it would escalate as dramatically as it did,” she said.
She also said that she and her team made the “best decision,” as they were able to complete the work they were sent to the island to do.
While stranded on the snake-infested island, she and her team cobbled together shelters built from plastic waste that had washed ashore on the island. Food supplies came in once a month, and the team rationed it, supplementing their diets with foods foraged from the island. They built a well, a fire pit, a washing station, and even crude furniture.
“If we wanted something we had to build it for ourselves,” she said.
Poole says that she was used to living simply so it wasn’t too much of a strain on her.
And though the island is home to snakes, scorpions, wild boar, and other nuisances, what bedeviled here the most were the mosquitoes and sand flies.
The biggest problem, for her, was not knowing how long she would be stranded on the island.
Eventually, she was able to hitch a ride on a supply boat for a 7-hour passage back to the Myanmar mainland. From there, it was a three-hour flight to the nearest international airport, where rescue flights were being organized by various embassies.
Eventually, she was able to finagle her way onto a flight to Paris and, from there, back to the United Kingdom.
Still, she says she’s richer for the experience.
“The overall experience was very positive. It was meaningful, enjoyable and a unique experience for lockdown,” she said.