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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

THE MANGROVE FOREST

WEDNESDAY, March 29/06

Today we took a boat trip from a Malay fishing village up the Kilim River through the mangrove forest. It reminded me a lot of the bayous in Louisianna except there the trees are Cypress and there are alligators in the swamps. The forest is dense and swampy here and there are many species of wild life such as pythons, minoter lizards, small crocs and of course the monkeys. We even saw some 'mangrove' dogs, (Malay dingos), a small russet- coloured dog that can run about in the muck and mire without sinking.

One of our first stops was to a rocky island (Flying Fox Island) to see the hundreds of huge bats (called flying foxes or flying dogs) who inhabit it. There were dozens of them hanging from the trees. Their wing span can reach 1.2 meters. They prey on the lizards and other smaller wild life on the island and in turn they are preyed upon by the eagles who we saw hovering around.

Before we entered the river delta, we stopped at a place where you could feed the eagles. Langkawi means "brown eagle", the symbol of the island. These are the white-bellied sea eagles and there were also brahamian (brown) kites -- hundreds of them who circle the boats coming down to feed. The guide explained they only give them tid-bits so as not to disrupt the natural habits of the birds and make them dependant on hand-outs from the tourist boats.

Journeying up the river was an adventure. There are so many shades of green, even the river is green, and the jungle and mangrove forest is thick and lush. The mangrove trees grow right down into the water, their roots sometimes exposed at low tide. They are many species of wild life here and we saw a small croc swimming across the river (about the size of a caymen) and also moniter lizards. The mangrove trees have been used for the production of charcoal and we visited an abandoned charcoal 'factory' with the kiln and houses where workers lived. Now this mangrove forest is protected by the ecologists and forestry service so the mangrove charcoal factory here has been closed.

Farther up the river, we stopped at a fish farm -- not one for commecial use, but one where tourists can view the various fishes. We teetered along the wooden plank floats and watched our guide feed various species of fish including a manta ray ("sexy lips") a barracuda, and sea bass as well as others. We had stopped along our cruise to feed a school of colorful yellow and black stripped zebra fish cracker crumbs but that was the only fish-feeding I did myself this day. We could hold the horseshoe crabs if we wanted and he tried to pick up the slippery polka-dotted moray eel but it preferred to hide in it's pipe hideaway.

Before lunch we stopped at the bat caves. This it the habitat of the fruit bat, a small bat which we saw clinging by the hundreds to the ceiling of the caves. There are also colourful stalagtites in the cave. We'd been warned about the smell but the bat guano wasn't too stinky.

Our lunch was a buffet at a unique restaurant, The Barn Thai, which was a big wooden building built like the traditional Thai and Malay houses. We shared a table with a friendly Welsh couple who were part of our tour group. They came from a town near Caerphilly where my Dad came from and my cousins live so it was fun talking to them. After lunch we cruised back down the river to the Adaman Sea and along the rugged coast to a beautiful white-sand beach, Tanjung Ruh, where we stopped for a most refreshing swim!

Today the weather was hot and sunny, about 33C or more with a very high humidity. It's the first day since we arrived that it hasn't rained at some point so we were grateful for all that sunshine although it was far to hot to be out in it for long.

Tonight we opted to go to the Beach Bistro. Of course we went at 7 pm and had a light meal, with Tiger beer which is cheap and good (not that extravaganza of last night!) The music starts at 8, the duo who sings there are very good and sing a lot of old familiar and excellent songs, and have beautiful voices. We were the only audience but probably because it was so early. Left there before the first set finished though I would have liked to linger longer. Back to the hotel. Brandy and a nice talk on the balcony (steamy hot out there) and that's it for the night. By 9 I'm in the computer room -- a regular guest here these days. We have one more night here - tomorrow. Hopefully the pool will be open so we can spend most of it swimming and sunning. We've asked our taxi driver to pick us up by seven to go for a specail dinner (his suggestion of a restaurant). Then on Friday we're heading back to Kuala Lumpur. It's been a simply wonderful visit here...fulfilling a life's dream of lazing on a tropical island. I'm grateful for every moment of it and have a supply of stories to entertain my friends with for some time to come.

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