Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mangrove Mud

The following photos are all from Langkawi Island. The resort we were staying in has a floating boardwalk a short distance into the mangroves (seen here at low tide).
Some years ago I sent six months working on a mangrove project, living in the heart of Johor Baharu in an old colonial house overlooking the Straits of Malacca -- except if I was in the field, when accommodation varied from sleeping on cement floors being bitten by sandflies to hotels directly over a Chinese coffee shop, and much of my day was spent in boats poking around in some of Malaysia's remotest streams and estuaries.
One memorable day when we tried to walk through one of Malaysia's oldest untouched mangroves to find the southern most family of gibbons in the Peninsular. No one had known those animals were there until we heard them; the scientific books and papers said white-handed gibbon territory did not extend that far south. (I imagine they don't exist now, a few short years later -- I suspect the area has vanished under the all-encompassing "development" greed of man, and the gibbons died, or were captured. They were not in the mangroves, but isolated on a patch of higher ground forest. )
Unlike these flat seaside mangroves, an old grove can be incredibly rough going, with lobster mounds two metres high and drainage rills two metres deep - climb, descend, repeat, climb, descend, repeat. The trees were huge things, gnarled beyond description with interlaced roots -- a cat's cradle of wood. To set foot on the gluey grey mud that would suck your boots off in a second, it was necessary to balance on this lacy network of grey goo-slippery wood below and haul on the tree branches above. All lugging cameras and backpacks in near 90F heat and 100% humidity.

It took us over an hour to go less than a kilometre, which is when we decided to give up (given that getting trapped in there by the tide might not have been funny.) It was easier for the men involved -- they were 6 footer lanky Danes, with long legs, and twenty years younger than me...
What surprised me most was how astonishingly beautiful mangroves could be. And how alive with life.  Note the roots poking through the mud above, a case where roots grow up to aerate themselves.
And (above) in among the roots and the new saplings, a hermit crab with his shell adorned with the remains of other dead shellfish.
And what about these, above -- fiddler crabs. Each male has developed a single claw much larger than the other. Its purpose is pure aggression. It can't use it to feed itself! Below there's one guarding his hole.

Note all the other types of shellfish lying around, waiting for the tide to come back in.
And me -- taking a photo
And here, a lovely blue crab with pretty markings.
The sounds of the mangroves are incredible -- pistol prawns snapping, all the clicking and scuttling underfoot, and the birds - Brown-winged Kingfisher calling, the slow flap of a dark morph reef egret, the singing of tailor birds and orioles and fantails...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Green and wild reasons to love Langkawi

I have several favourite resorts on Langkawi Island. It has a whole range, from glorious luxury (Datai Langkawi; The Andaman -- where I once stayed while on a job!) to cheap backpackers.
This time around we went for comfort and great surroundings, but not outrageously expensive. I like the Berjaya Beach Resort because they (like the Andaman and the Datai) pay a lot of attention to keeping the green surroundings and blending the resort into the greenery.
 Some of the chalets are over the water, but these are not my favourites; I like the chalets tucked away among the trees. You get woken up by the birds, including hornbills, and can watch the wildlife on your verandah. At night, there are flying "lemurs" (actually colugos) and flying squirrels.
 Of course, there are still the usual things like swimming pools and recliner chairs on the beach.
 One of the restaurants, see below, I enjoyed at breakfast because just below was the playground of about fifteen grey bellied squirrels and a number of common mynas.
These squirrels were wrongly identified in the resort literature as Plantain Squirrels; they aren't. They are Grey-bellied. (I have both types in my garden.)
One other reason I like these "green" resorts is that they don't clean the beaches with tractors and mechanical scarifiers -- it's done by hand, so crabs and other wildlife living beneath the sand is not disturbed. This means the herons and waders come to feed.

I remember walking out on to the beach in the early morning at The Andaman, and seeing the beach covered in tracks: monkeys, monitor lizards, otters, civets, leopard cat, herons, rodents, crabs and mud worms of all sizes. It was like a written history of what had happened during the night and at dawn, written in the sand.
A colugo taken at the resort on a previous visit. Remember these things fly. Well, to be more accurate, they glide...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Island Paradise?

I first went to Langkawi Island when I was in my twenties. 
I don't even remember the year, but take my word for it, it was an age ago. 
1969 or a little later.  We stayed in the government resthouse, I remember.
Langkawi is a group of islands -- supposedly 99 of them, off the northern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. You can see the Thai islands from there. We were back there, just recently.
Back in those early days, you had to take a slow local ferry that didn't run all that often, and you were probably the only tourists on the boat. In fact, we might well have been the only tourists on the island. there weren't many roads, and even fewer cars.
People lived by fishing and farming -- rice fields ploughed by water buffalo -- and generally ignored the mile upon mile of magnificent beaches, crystal clear waters, coral reefs and age-old geological marvels. Boys may have learn to swum; girls and adults didn't.
There were forests and mangroves...

 And wildlife...
Like this Long-tailed Macaque above, photographed outside our chalet...

Or this Dusky Langur (leaf-monkey) sitting on our chalet roof...
Or this Southern Pied Hornbill above that woke us up in the morning
There are waterfalls, like this one above and below -- Seven Wells...
Seven Wells from the air
And beaches like this one...

...or mountains, like these (Mat Chinchang)...
 It was a backwater when we first went there, but in a way, a glorious one. With rice and fish, wood in the forest and mangroves, home grown vegetables and fruit in the back yard, all in a magnificent setting, with the village school down the road, life might have been quiet but, if you didn't have ambition, it can't have been a bad place to grow up in.

Now, it's a pretty good place to holiday in. And the islanders are a great deal more prosperous.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More on the weekend in Penang

The birthday dinner of our host was held on top of Penang Hill. The hill is one of the famous Malayan "hill resorts" of British colonial days. Normally the view is stupendous, but alas, over in Sumatra across the Straits of Malacca, the Indonesians were burning the island as they seem to do about once a year. (Malaysia is not innocent here, either -- they do the same thing on Malaysian Borneo). so it was very hazy.
Note the bridge to the mainland
me under an ancient Angsana tree
On Strawberry Hill -- so called because Captain Sir Francis Light of British East India Company days is supposed to have levelled the hill to grow strawberries in the late 18th century -- stands a restaurant called David Brown's. It serves a British traditional menu. Good food, and because we sat out on the lawns at the edge of the slope -- a glorious view as the sun went down and the lights came out...
(Francis Light leased Penang from the Sultan of Kedah. He died of malaria and is buried in the Protestant cemetery not far from the Hotel Penaga in Penang. His son was the surveyor Colonel William Light who laid out the city of Adelaide.)
The party-goers, many ethnicities, many countries, 1 Malaysia.