Monsieur and I didn’t take long to unwind at the Pelangi Beach Resort, but we can’t sit still for long so soon we found ourselves reading the large, wooden activities board near the Horizon Pool. On the board hung signs bearing the names of the various activities that were available that day, with start time and meeting point information.
The list included windsurfing, kayaking, feeding the eagles for which Langkawi is known and named, and a kiddie club. There were also details for a number of tours including island hopping and a kayaking trip through the mangroves to visit a real, live bat cave.
I later found that the windsurfers were either broken or mismatched with ill-fitting sails, but that didn’t worry us as we’re not exactly World Champion windsurfers. Monsieur’s eyes had brightened at the thought of the bat-cave kayaking adventure, so we booked ourselves in, only to cancel at the last minute because we would have had to leave at the crack of dawn one morning, which defeated the purpose of winding down. In any case, the idea of puddling about in mud with mosquitoes aplenty and a visit to a cave full of scary bats with their ammonia-stinking urine was not particularly alluring, so I wasn’t exactly sorry, as it was already clear that boredom wasn’t to be an issue at Pelangi.
Monsieur booked a golf outing at one of the island’s courses while I bought a ticket for an island-hopping excursion. About a dozen of us squeezed onto a smallish boat with canopy and the skipper instructed us to put on life jackets. Then out to sea we went. The sea was calm until we were a reasonable distance out from shore and that’s when the motor revved and we started skipping across the choppy water like an unwieldy pebble. It was the sort of bouncing that pushed your breath out of you each time the boat thudded downwards and being a prepare-for-the-worst sort of person, I started to watch the current in case we capsized and I had to swim for shore. This didn’t feel safe at all. Even the lifejackets were faded with age. I thought of Monsieur and how wise he’d been to select a landlubber activity today.
After around fifteen interminable minutes we entered a large bay on our first island destination, slowing down as we approached the pier on Pulau Dayang Bunting. This name means ‘Island of the Pregnant Maiden’ and, although it’s the second largest island in the Langkawi archipelago, it is uninhabited. Only day-trippers visit here as there is nowhere to spend the night.
As we walked up a hill through the island’s jungle, an Englishman chatted to me. Sixtyish with a shock of short, white hair and the tan, lean body of someone who enjoys the tropics, he gave me a travel tip:
“I don’t bring a proper bag on these days out,” he began, shaking his white plastic bag at me,
“Just a towel and some basics in my wallet, like my room key and some cash. I leave everything else back at the hotel. That way, I have very little to lose.”
Hmmm. So much for the smug smile at the end of that statement. It would seem that the monkeys of this island were listening to my new English companion because, just as we reached the top of the hill overlooking the Lake, a light-pawed macaque jumped out of nowhere, grabbing the plastic bag out of the Englishman’s hand and carrying it deftly up a tree. Once on a branch safely out of our reach, he turned the bag upside down, spilling the Englishman’s few items all over the jungle floor. All, that is, except for the wallet. This monkey was smart.
The entire group stopped to help retrieve the towel, a spectacles case and a water bottle, but there was no hope of getting the wallet back. The monkey was now assessing its contents with the concentration of a seasoned thief. Receipts tumbled out of the tree, but no cash and no room card. Nope, he was keeping those. The monkey’s next trick was to nibble the wallet with relish. He wasn’t giving back his tasty new prize. No way. We waited some time to see if the macaque would grow bored of the wallet and let it fall to a place where we could retrieve it, but in the end the Englishman gave up.
“At least there’s nothing of importance in there,” he sighed, “just fifty Ringgits. The hotel can always make me a new room key when I tell them what happened.”
Down at the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, people were already swimming. To one side of a timber platform bordering the dark green water was a small snack shop filled with soft drinks and plastic inflatable toys, providing a splash of synthetic colour in an otherwise natural haven. On a short pier, a man was hiring out canoes and pedalo boats, which looked like fun. All I wanted to do, however, was swim off the trickles of sweat coursing all over my body. First I had to get my clothes off without attracting too much more attention from my New Best Friend. The Englishman made me feel a bit uncomfortable but there was no shaking him off my trail. It was my fault. I’m not rude enough. It seemed he’d adopted me for the day and the lack of a Blatantly Direct gene in my DNA meant I found it impossible to tell him to go away. Luckily I already had my swimsuit on under my shorts and tee shirt as the way he was looking at me and the other girls in their swimwear was just a tad too interested. Trying not to attract any more attention, I whisked off my outer garments and jumped into the water without hesitation. For the moment was safe from pervy old eyes. Then I remembered the legends of the Lake.
The first concerns its magical properties which apparently make barren women fertile. The guidebook said that one couple finally conceived after nineteen years of trying, once the woman had swum in the Lake. The second legend says that a giant, white crocodile lives here and as the water wasn’t exactly transparent, I suddenly wanted out because I couldn’t see my feet and my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. I needed desperately to see my feet.
Hauling myself up a ladder and pulling a towel around me, I sat on the edge of the platform, chatting with some of the other island hoppers. As we shared our experiences of this fascinating country, I looked across the Lake at the dense foliage wrapping itself around the water. The tree shapes looked familiar, but why? Suddenly it hit me. They were exactly like giant florets of broccoli.
In the afternoon heat, I soon dried off and we returned to the boat to hop across to another island. This time, we wouldn’t be going ashore; we stayed floating still in the bay, watching a large group of eagles feeding. The skipper threw some food out into the water near our boat and suddenly the sky filled in a Hitchcock-esque way, with formidable, circling birds. Then, one by one, they swooped down to the water to pick up some food before swooping upwards again.
These were eagles, which have a special relationship with Langkawi, for the word, ‘Langkawi’ means ‘red eagle’. From the looks of things, these were white-bellied fishing eagles, not red eagles, but I wasn’t about to nit-pick. Seeing these intelligent birds in action was quite something.
The last island on the hopping list was known for its beautiful, white sandy beach. I wanted to read, but the Englishman wanted to tell me all about his life in England as a language books publisher. I went to the bar for beers. As the Englishman wasn’t going anywhere and had no money on him following the macaque attack, I shouted him a drink in the interests of anaesthetising myself against his drone.
It was hot on the beach. Having exhausted his life-story for the moment, the Englishman invited me to swim with him, but I declined, watching my companion with amusement as he stripped down to his shorts, sucked in his belly and strutted in the most macho fashion he could muster down to the water. He turned to flash an appraising grin at every girl he passed. Obviously, this was a man with the hormones of a teenager.
Eventually we made it back to the resort and I was relieved to bid farewell to the Englishman. On the final leg of our boat trip he’d been chattering away inanely about his ‘friends’ who sing each night in the Pelangi Lounge, suggesting that Monsieur and I might like to join him one evening to watch their act.
“Yes, of course!” I nodded, “that would be fun!” I lied, cursing my inability to tell him that never, ever would I knowingly inflict his superior inappropriateness on Monsieur.
On the way back to our chalet it struck me that there’s a live one like the Englishman wherever you travel: a bit lonely, a bit leery and a bit too full of Heinz baked beans. It’s impossible to put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with them, but there’s a vibe that goes with a whiff of testosterone, and instinct says that they’re travelling alone so they can take home a different sort of souvenir: a wife.