The island of Panau is the perfect holiday destination – a place where anything goes, where the sky’s the limit; where the only thing keeping you grounded in Just Cause 2 is your trusty wrist-mounted grappling-hook.
Where do you go for your summer holidays? The Greek Islands? The Balearics, maybe? Sounds nice. But for the past four years, I’ve visited a largely unheard of island in southeast Asia.
It’s a place where anything goes. I’ve base-jumped, para-glided and parachuted. I’ve driven off-road, raced on-road, flown stunt planes and stolen military-grade helicopters. I’ve also brought about regime change and averted a nuclear war – although I’m not entirely sure how that happened. But that’s Panau for you.
I first visited Panau in August 2011. I paid for the trip, but it was a company called Avalanche that took me there. I guess you’d call it “an adventure holiday”. First impressions weren’t good, though, I have to say. I was parachuted in, at the dead of night, and was asked to help take over a military base high up in the island’s central mountain range. Actually, it might have been a power station or an oil refinery – I forget which. It was three years ago.
Anyway, the welcome party were heavily armed military personnel, all of whom seemed to have unwavering aim and were able to target me from a fair old distance, easily whittling down my health, so I had to spend a lot of time hiding behind rocks, recovering a bit of energy before poking my head out to try to work out exactly where the bullets were coming from.
Lucky for me, I’d brought along a wrist-mounted grapple hook. It came with the holiday package, and it quickly made itself invaluable. Latching on to the base/plant/refinery’s outbuildings and yanking myself across huge tracts of land certainly sped up traversal and helped pull me out of a few sticky situations.
I had teething troubles with it – inadvertently falling off the odd rocky outcrop, that sort of thing. I eventually mastered the hook, though, and managed to do what I was asked to do: blow shit up. This is how they solve a lot of their problems on Panau, apparently. In the years I’ve been back, I’ve blown up trucks, submarines, satellite dishes, expensive cars, intercontinental ballistic missiles, oil pipelines.
I won’t lie: I’ve enjoyed it. At times I wish there were more nuanced ways of resolving situations. But then, what do you expect when your tour operator thrives on chaos, piling on extra activities the more mess you make. But before you start blaming Johnny Foreigner for all these anarchic episodes, you should meet some of the locals.
Generally speaking, Panau’s inhabitants fall into two camps. There are those that run away screaming when you start shooting, and there are those that shoot back.
Sometimes they start shooting at you for no good reason, which can make getting around the island somewhat frustrating. But the trigger-happy sort are fairly easy to get away from. The grappling hook I mentioned earlier can be used to grab on to passing vehicles, whipping you onto their roofs. Then it’s a quick dive through the side door, or an open window, and the vehicle’s yours. The natives are nothing if not generous.
Also, the tour operator gave me this wonderful reusable parachute, which can get you up and away from a spot of trouble if needs be. I’m not entirely sure how it works. Things on Panau tend to defy the laws of physics. But I thought it best not to quibble. After a time, it became my main mode of transport, as well as escape. Often though, I felt it would have been nice to have been left alone to explore the island without constant hassle from security forces.
But I digress. I was meant to tell you about the people I met on Panau. I guess you could call them ‘comrades’ of a sort, but they weren’t very nice people: mobsters, militias and cult leaders mainly. Not the sort of crowd to spend a great deal of time with. But they kept me busy, showing me around, and offered me a sense of purpose during my stay. Some of the activities they had me doing we’re pretty unsavoury, but they knew which of my buttons to push, and quickly sussed out that I was fond of a bit of daring-do.
I particularly liked it when they sent me off chasing convoys and hijacking vehicles. The security forces, for all their bluster, were clearly useless tacticians – happy to transport the island’s big-wigs around in woefully protected convoys. Nothing that a bit of whip-smart grapple-hooking couldn’t crack. The same goes for their military bases, which relied on attack choppers as their last line of defence. Three years down the line, I was still using the same old tactic – grapple hook mid-air hijack – to neutralise the threat. You’d think they’d have learnt their lessons, but they never did.
I honestly don’t remember a lot of detail about my trips to Panau, or what I did there. Each time I went back, I had a blast. But after a while, it all dissolves into a blur of gunfire, explosions and aerobatics. There were a few highlights I do recall, however, which occurred during my second and third trips to the island. One of my ‘pals’ asked me to break into a military airfield, steal a fighter jet and shoot down a few missiles that had been accidentally set off. Good times.
Another time, they introduced me to private members club on an airship, high above the western coast of Panau. I caused a bit of a ruckus and got kicked off. The view on the way down was stunning.
There is plenty to see and do in Panau, as well as lots of little trinkets to collect. I reckon I could keep coming back for another three years and still not visit every mountain village or military garrison, forest shrine or bustling conurbation. But if I did so, I’d just be sightseeing, ticking things off, just to say I’d been there done that.
So I’ll stay away, bide my time and wait, until the next Avalanche adventure holiday beckons. I’ll be older by then, so who knows if the same mix of ridiculous thrills and spills will appeal. Maybe I’ll be looking for something with a bit more substance to it next time; a more varied pace; an opportunity to actually explore the land and its people a little deeper.
Ahhh, who am I kidding?