We meet Rachel at five ready to go on the Mangrove walk. I say ‘we’ because there is a group of about ten. Gilbert however is going to wait at the bar. He’s checked out the board walk and says I can tell him all about it later.
Rachel who is a local, beckons us to follow her. I have my sandals in my hand as the tide is out so the big plastic squares which normally float, are now sitting on a slanted angle and I m worried I’ll slip. She stops at a point and is peering into the tree branches while she waits for the rest of the group who are coming. “I’m just looking for snakes” she says, at which we all step back a step. “Wwwwwwhat kind of snakes?” I ask. “Cobra and pythons and smaller sea snakes”, she answers, still looking. “Well can’t see any….so these are mangroves, she announces looking at the group. On this Island we have about 70 different varieties and in the world there is about 140 different kinds.
You’ll see the aerial roots which not only stabilise the tree but act as a filter as the water funnels through as well as filtering the salty water that the tree sucks up”. She’s excited now and telling us the yellow leaves fall off into the tidal estuary we are balanced on, turning into algae and feeding the small fish and crabs. The Monkeys come in and feed here. In fact it makes up about 25% of their diet and when the tides high, the bigger fish come in and feed on the smaller fish. But the most amazing thing is how they filter the waves coming through.
For example when the tsunami hit in Dec 2004 it was the Mangroves that helped to break the force of the waves. It was also lucky it hit at low tide and Langkawi is surrounded by around 100 small islands so it only reached 4metres high and did little damage. In fact Unesco came to see how Langkawi had fared so well and discovered something quite rare. Three different forests, and she points up the hill. The Mangrove forest surrounded almost the whole Island. Then the rain forest belts and then ancient limestones forests which are very rare, she points up the hill at the soaring crags. It bestowed the title of Geopark on Langkawi and they are trying hard to educate the locals and the visitors. The locals of course for generations have used the mangroves for healing, building, paper and matchsticks to name a few things”. We turn and head the other way and Rachel leads everyone onto a wooden Boardwalk.
Everyone steps over the lip and I’m the last one but as Rachel is talking again I stop and listen. “Be careful of the fire ants she warns, pointing to the ridge everyone has stepped over. See the big red ants”…and suddenly I realise the whole ridge is alive with huge ants making their way back and forward. “Be careful, she warns. They have a nasty bite and you may have your legs swell up very bad and have to go to hospital…Where was I?” and she continues to tell us about the crabs but I’m pretty sure no one is listening. I look where I’m standing. Bare feet and sandals in my hand still, but there are no ants there at all. Everyone else is watching the ground, wiping at their legs thinking they might’ve felt something. Swiping their arms, stamping a foot here and there just in case. A lady thinks something’s in her hair and asks her mate to check. A guy takes his sneaker off and hops on one leg as he looks right inside. He thought one was on his shoe. He wants to check if it got inside. Rachel continues…”and so the winning crab wins the house and his wife, and the loser must leave.” Everyone’s got some kinda twitch going on. It was pretty funny. Rachel moves on now and I jump the ridge and put my shoes on and follow the crowd quickly, smiling to myself.
At the next stop she tells us about the monkeys in the area. “The eagle comes thru and plucks the baby monkeys for their dinner. This keeps the population down which sometimes can get up. Sometimes they catch a group and mark them with a coloured spray. Once a monkey is marked he is an outcast and he bands with the other marked monkeys and they move them to another area of the island. They don’t kill them she assures us with a smile”.
One of the girls tells us they came back to their room to find the monkeys had been in and eaten some of their pills and medicines and mucked around with their make up. Rachel has a chuckle about the monkeys looking younger. She tells us you have to lock the door, not just shut them and says the locals call the monkeys ‘the Mafia’. How when they take tourists out the monkeys can pick pocket and swipe bags quick as a wink. They know that plastic bags often contain food and so will grab a plastic bag before anything else.
She tells us plastic is the worst thing for wildlife. Around five bags of rubbish is gathered off THIS beach alone outside of Berjaya everyday. Plastic bags and bottles are the most found items washed up. They have a dwindling sea turtle population because they eat the floating plastic bags thinking they are squid and because their body can’t digest it, they die. Same with the birds. They find plastic caps and ring tops in their system when they cut them open. If only we could get rid of the plastic she says.
We talk on about conservation on the Island and she says Berjaya where we are staying is the only hotel with a replanting program. That some of the hotels are building huge concrete bridges to act as wave breakers if there was to be another tsunami. She shakes her head at the stupidity. The area most damaged was where they didn’t have mangroves and instead of replanting they are putting in concrete barriers. You cannot beat Mother Nature she says. You cannot!
We head up to the bar and I’m telling Gilbert all this when the band comes over and asks if we have a special request. Gilbert tells them it’s our last night and they play a special Malaysian song for us. Dinner arrives of squid rings, samosas and a huge salad. “Last dinner here” Gilbert says looking at me. Last breakfast, last swim….Can you be happy and sad at the same time? Definitely!