Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lis Na Ree (Part 2): Penaga Laut, Epiphytes, Goats

As described in an earlier post, Lis Na Ree was a decent place to stay for a very reasonable price. The distinguishing feature of their pool is an enormous Penaga Laut tree (Calophyllum inophyllum) tree at one end of the swimming pool, which makes for an interesting view when swimming on one's back. The tree was so interesting that I did some research later. The Healing Trail: Essential Oils of Madagascar, a book written by Georges Halpern and Peter Weverka (2002), was one of the more interesting sources about the Penaga Laut.

As seen in the photo, the fruit grows to about the size of an apricot and contains a yellow seed from which a valuable oil can be obtained (in Madagascar, the oil is called foraha). The oil has been shown to cure skin diseases, including: cuts, cold sores, rashes, blisters, burns, psoriasis, acne, eczema, and chapped lips.

One of the most interesting item about the tree may be two chemicals found within the leaves of a related species in Sarawak (Calophyllum lanigerum, Bintangor in Malay) which were discovered to act against the HIV virus. The original plant material was collected in 1987, but when researchers went back in 1992 to find the same tree from which the materials were collected, the tree had been cut down. Urban legend has it being logged, but in truth the tree had been small and was cut down in the initial collection effort.

(Left: Bird's Nest fern growing in a Penaga Laut tree)

For our purposes, the Penaga Laut is one of the few plant species that have drift seeds: seeds that are water-proof and can thus drift for many miles in the ocean until they land on and populate isolated islands. Cocos nucifera (common coconut palm) is the most famous, but in the South China Sea, one can also find the Penaga Laut on many seashores.

The Lis Na Ree also had two very large epiphytes growing in trees just outside their parking lot. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, usually trees, and obtain most of their nutrients from rainwater. The fern in the above photo is, I believe Asplenium nidus (Bird's Nest fern), while the one in the lower photo is Platycerium coronarium (Stag's Horn fern).

(Right: Stag's Horn fern growing in a Penaga Laut tree)

Finally, the Lis Na Ree is right across the road from a goat farm. The owner of the resort informed me that the goats are not being raised for their milk, but rather for the annual Korban sacrifice that is practised by the Malay Muslims of Malaysia. During the month leading up to Hari Raya Korban, families will either go in to buy a cow (lembu korban, for up to 7 families) or a goat (kambing korban, for 1 family). Cows usually run in the RM1,500-2,000 range whereas goats are around RM350-500.

The goat farm is well-kept, and is not smelly according to the resort owner. As you can see in the background, there is a shelter on posts that get the goats off the ground at night. The bucks, does, wethers, and kids have ample room to roam and graze.

(Left: Goat farm across from Lis Na Ree, South China Sea in background)

Take a look at the video below and you will see some youngsters, males no doubt, practice their head-butting skills.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cuti Malaysia! : Lis Na Ree, Penaga Laut, Warung Mizi

For our 3-day vacation over the national cuti sekolah (school holiday) break, we chose the Lis Na Ree Resort just 1 km down the road from the Sanctuary Resort in Kampung Sungai Ular.

(Right: Pool at Lis Na Ree resort, Penaga Laut tree at far end)

We chose the Lis Na Ree resort for the fact that it was cheaper than the Sanctuary Resort, even though the Sanctuary sits right beside the estuary (kuala) of the Sungai Ular, from where boats leave for Pulau Ular. The Sanctuary is a condominium development that rents out 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom apartments, which makes the cost quite prohibitive for just two people. Thus, we chose the Lis Na Ree, just down the road.

One nice thing about the Lis Na Ree is their pool, which is not exceptional save for the large Penaga Laut (Calophyllum inophyllum) tree at one end which produces abundant shade and fragrant white flowers. In the morning, after a strong rainstorm the night before, you can also find its green ping-pong ball size fruit bobbing in the pool.

It is this ability to float (called drift seeds) that has enabled the Penaga Laut to colonize many islands in the South China Sea, and Indian and Pacific oceans. What gives the bouyancy are internal air cavities and a thick fruit shell that prevents both water-logging and sinking.

The tree typically grows on the crest of sand dunes and beaches, which stabilises the beach, and it produces long, low-hanging branches that make for great shade and hammock mounts. As the photo shows, the Lis Na Ree has done a good job in building around this tree rather than displacing it.

The day before our island trip, we hosted the children of my colleague and her sister. Children and swimming pools go together like bread-and-butter, and these four children (one not in photo) had a blast splashing and getting comfortable being in the water. In fact, the Lis Na Ree is quite popular with families since the parents can sit on the steps leading up to the pool-side rooms and watch their children only feet away. For us, we actually enjoy the sound of children splashing, and laughing (squealing with joy). Very pleasant sounds.

Of course, what would vacation be without a decent eating spot? Our first morning found us driving down the road to find the kedai/warung with the most cars parked beside it. Kampung Sungai Ular's hot-spot turns out to be Warung Mizi. Our choice was confirmed when in our 30 minutes at the shop, we watched around 10 different snack sellers bring their wares to the warung to be sold (donuts, kuih, springrolls, sweet-sticky rice, etc.). This is quite common in Malaysia -sort of a cottage industry- whereby (mostly) women prepare a plate of snacks to be sold at the local shop. This gives a bit of extra income to the housewife and provides the shop with a larger selection of finger foods for their customers.

(To be continued....)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pulau Ular (Snake Island), Pahang

(Copyright 2009 Google, of course. But they didn't take the photograph, they just figured out how to link to the database in which the photo resides. But we have to give them credit. Pulau Ular is not visible in the blog view: click on the photo and you will see it.)

After having made 12 trips (in 13 years) to several of Malaysia's wonderful islands (Tioman 5 times, Kapas 5 times, Tenggol and Pangkor once each), we finally made it to the island closest to our house: Pulau Ular, just 30 minutes up the coast from us on the way to the famous Cherating beach area. Many times had I driven past Pulau Ular and its neighboring kampung, Sungai Ular. Trips to the other islands is quite costly both in time and money. But here was an island just off the coast, maybe only one kilometer. In fact, it looked like one could swim to it, or at least take a kayak out on a calm day.

(Right: Sungai Ular estuary)

Over the years I would ask the local Malays with whom I worked: Have you ever been to Pulau Ular? Is it possible to hire a boat to go out there? No one knew. Very few of my colleagues had ever been to an island off Malaysia's coasts. In fact, when one lady decided to take her honeymoon to Pulau Tioman, she came to me for advice on travel and accommodations!!

Finally, I met the sister of a colleague of mine at work. She and her husband live in Kampung Sungai Ular and said, "Yes, people go out to the island all of the time for fishing and snorkeling."

(Left: West coast of Pulau Ular)

That sealed the deal for me. My wife and I set a date for a 3-day vacation to Sungai Ular and Pulau Ular, coinciding with Malaysia's national cuti sekolah (school break) period (described in another post).

To get to Pulau Ular, you can hire a boat from any of several jetties. The closest jetty is that at the Sungai Ular estuary beside the Sanctuary Resort in Kampung Sungai Ular. As the photo shows, the island does not appear to be too far off the coast, perhaps only 1-2 kilometers.

(Right: Clear water, but dead coral)

Although some resorts advertise the "Snake Island" trip in their brochures, basically a client must go down to a fishing jetty (there is one at Cherating, also) and negotiate with a boat owner. The only price information that I could find before going was a post from 1998 that stated RM30-35 per person. The Lis Na Ree resort, where we stayed, advertised RM45 per person at their front desk, but when I inquired, I was told that I had to go negotiate for myself at the jetty! A boat owner and I agreed on a price of RM50 per person since there were only two of us. Perhaps if we had four people, he would have given a lower per person price since it probably wasn't worth his time to take his boat out for less than RM100.

We left early, around 7:30am, with a promised 11:00am pick-up. Having been sunburned before in Malaysia's tropical heat, I know my limits despite a heavy dosage of sunscreen. I also wear a T-shirt when snorkeling because the back is the hardest to keep protected, and I had been burnt raw one time before. These days, I also wear a skull cap under my snorkel mask to keep my head from getting red. I am not bald, but thinning hair means less protection.

(Left: Lonely monkey in the island interior)

We actually went too early in the morning for the water was quite murky, and it was hard to see far underwater until the sun came up over the hill on the island, around 9:30am. After that, it was easier to see, but still less clear than the other islands we had visited (except for Pulau Pangkor, which is just as murky).

The coral on the west side of the island, off the sand spit, was dead, but there was an assortment of fish around the granite boulders. Since the ocean swell comes in from the east, the west side was calmer and better for snorkeling, but protected coves also become the collection zones for jellyfish of which the blue variety (about 6-7 inches in diameter) were the most common.

We hiked up the hill and across the interior of the island in a 3- or 4-minute walk. The island is quite small, but it does have a high hill and tall trees, and someone had built a rain shelter at the top.

One website had mentioned that Snake Island had no snakes but one lonely monkey! We didn't see the monkey on our hike, but as we were snorkeling the monkey came down to inspect our equipment basket for food! A few rocks thrown and the monkey was back up in the trees, where I was only barely able to get a photo of him with my little point-and-shoot camera. What does he do all day?

A couple of boats from other resorts came during our short stay, and there was plenty of evidence of past pickniks (lots of paper plates and plastic bottles) so I am sure Mr. Monkey survives on human rubbish in addition to what few fruit and coconut trees are available.

The east side of the island, open to the swell that comes off the South China Sea, has a steep drop-off and, thus, not so conducive to snorkeling from the shore. There is also a smaller island to the southeast of Pulau Ular: I call it Little Pulau Ular, and it has only two tall trees on it. The snorkeling might be better around the outer island, but that question will have to remain until I can make another trip.

For serious snorkeling and scuba-diving, a trip to Pulau Ular could be considered to be a joke. But since I am getting older and less interested in battling the masses to visit Tioman, the Perhentians, Redang, and etc., and I have Malay colleagues, kampung folk, who have never been out to a single island, I feel that Pulau Ular is the perfect choice to introduce them to the fun of visiting a slice of rock and forest out at sea. It is a great place to introduce people -especially children- to the wonder of snorkeling. Plus, I can be at home in my own bed by nightfall!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flame of the Forest

On my walk to work, I pass by several types of trees. One of the more common ones is called the Flame of the Forest, and now that it is in bloom it is easy to see the reason for its moniker.

(Right: Flame of the Forest)

The scientific name for the FotF is Delonix regia, and according to this site, it is native of Madagascar, and "discovered" by botanist Wenzel Bojer in 1820, who introduced it to the island nation of Mauritius. From Mauritius, it has been transplanted to the Malayan peninsula and other locations.

FotF belongs to the family Leguminosae (Caesalpinaceae), which is obvious to even amateur botanists if you see the bi-pinnately compound leaves. In Malaysia, it is a common planting alongside roads and car-parks. Since there are many species of trees similar to it in shape, size, and arrangement of leaves, it is not until it produces the dramatic display of bright-red flowers that one ascertains it as the Flame of the Forest. This latest blooming came after a period of daily rainshowers in the midst of what should be the dry season (musim kemarau).

(Left: Flowers and bi-pinnately compound leaves.)

Of course, given its broad umbrella-shaped crown, the trees commonly have a car or two parked each one. If the Lord of the Rings had been made in Malaysia, Gollum would have been filmed proclaiming "My precious; my precious" over his car, not some magical ring!! In such a manner do the Malaysians pamper their precious precious cars.