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Sunday, March 26, 2006

MONKEYING AROUND ON THE ISLANDS


March 26. Today we went island hopping. Pulau Lankawi is the island where we are staying, the largest of a cluster of 99 islands. We boarded a small tour boat with several young Chinese couples and our guide and headed out into the sparkling sea toward the many small jewel-green islands that surround Langkawi. The islands are renowned for their legends and our first stop was Pulau Dayang Bunting. We were greeted by swarms of monkeys who live up their their name as mischief-makers and saucy little characters fearless and rather pesky. When my friend left her bags unattended one of the girl monkeys went into them, and tossed everything out, searching for trinkets or food!

Fifteen minutes through the jungle we arrived at a crystal clear emerald coloured lake. This is the legendary Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. According to legend, a celestial princess married a mortal prince and gave birth to a baby which died soon after its birth. She was so heartbroken she buried the baby in the lake. And when she returned to her celestial home, she blessed the lake so that any maiden who wished to conceive who bathed in the lake would become pregnant. (It ain't gonna happen to us but we sure enjoyed the swim!)

While we were waiting for stragglers at the jetty, the tour guide, Freddie, told us about the day of the tsumani. He had just brought a group back from the lake and they noticed all the water had been sucked out of the bay. Not knowing what was happening, thinking it was just an unusual low tide, they were all taking photos and then the water started to rush back in. They all ran for the higher ground and the water came back in, rising up above the pathways and little bridge. Fortunately nobody was hurt or worse. And in fact, by some miracle, Malaysia suffered little damage and loss of life from the tsunami. He said only 1 person in Langkawi was killed although several fishing villages were destroyed.

We boarded the little boat again and cruised out between the islands to a place where the eagles come to feed on fish. There were dozens of beautiful bronze-coloured eagles surrounding the boat, diving and soaring around us. Quite a sight!

Then we continued our cruise on the very calm sea, passing by many of the small, jungle-covered islands that are not much more than rocks covered with trees jutting out of the turquoise sea. Others, like Pulau Beras Basah have beautiful white sand beaches. This island, known as "The Isle of Wet Rice" was our stop for an hour's swim. The sea here is so warm, like a bath, and clean, clear with soft sandy bottom. There are not many shells on the beaches, and only a few pieces of coral from the reefs. Looking down from the jetty, the water is so clear you can see schools of little yellow and black striped fish swimming. These islands are great for scuba divers and snorkeling. And there are other water sports provided like riding the 'banana boat', towed behind a speed boat. Great fun!

More monkey business at Pulau Beras Basah. They are mainly the long-tailed macaque and dusty langur monkeys. You see the old grumpy grandpa monks, the over-protective dads, the mothers with their new babies held securly against their breasts, the young ones and teen-agers. Whole monkey families. Quite a sight! We took lots of photos. It was so fascinating watching them in their own natural environment. And getting up close and personal with them!

Tomorrow we have a half-day island tour. More legendary sites and a look at the padi fields as well as other sights. This is truly a unique advanture and one I'll remember for some time to come.

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