Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Our 115 day World Cruise, day 74, Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Okay, my morning was a little confusing.  We started out by going to Cobblestone to get the car detailed.  There was such a long wait we decided to go back tomorrow and to go earlier.

I then decided that I should text my daughter Tami, who came home from active duty , yesterday.  I had a feeling that she was going to show up at Starbucks to surprise us.  Our tradition is to buy coffee for any service persons who are in uniform when they come into Starbucks.

Now Tami, who was in uniform, hid in their car.  Her car looks exactly like Vicki's and we parked right next to it.  We got out and went into Starbucks and did our morning ritual.  We were busy looking at our phones and did not see Tami and my grandson Aaron , come in.  Tami is waiting for one of us to jump up and buy her coffee.  I got up from the table and brushed right by her to pick up our order!  Meanwhile Tami and Aaron sat down at our table.  Vicki had just gotten a text from Irwin saying that they were on their way, when these 2 people sat down.  Vicki's head started bobbing and she started sputtering and was about to tell them that the seats were taken.  Mind you they were already sitting in the chairs....Meanwhile back at the pick up bar stood I!Moving swiftly and gracefully I swope down on our table seeing that two people had sat down.  Now you would think I would have recognized them since I was thinking they might drop until I sat down across from them did I realize who they were!  I did not even hug her ...Ω

                                                      "Mom still does not see me!"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
       Then in walked Irwin and Sandi and we were back in confusion!ll     "We are so glad to see you"

                                                                  Mom is home!                                          

                                                             "No one bought my coffee"                                

                                                "Okay no one recognized her!"                            

                                           "I wonder why I did not recognize her"                                    
    We went to the low vision store and I got a keyboard and Vicki got reading glasses.  Now we are at Bobby's Cafe and we are going to have a BLT!  I know what you are thinking ....why not black forest cake?  lol!                                                                    

Where we did not go today....but the Amsterdam did!

Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia

Postcards from Paradise!

ray.......a new port for most of us....Porto Malai, Langkawi, Malaysia.  Today we discovered this island of Langkawi, is one of many of the islands that belong to mainland Malaysia.  It has many good things going for it with beautiful sandy beaches, affordable resorts, waterfalls, hot springs, fishing and caving.  The landscape is lush with tropical growth, palms, coconuts, rice fields, and rubber plantations.  It could be the perfect paradise with one exception.....the overwhelming heat and humidity.  To be fair, perhaps we are visiting here on one of the hottest days of the season where a little rain may have helped cool things off.  We know one could have definitely cooked an egg on the sidewalk today.

We booked a 4 hour tour with the HAL group, and we were sure glad we did.  Our destination was the mangrove with its caves, bats, fish farms, and wild eagle sightings.  Our bus was the first to load, and all seemed to be going as planned.  That is, until the bus could not make it up the hill right outside the port gate.  Try as he could, our driver could not put the bus into low gear to get over the top.  But there was a silver lining in this story.  As we slowly rolled downhill for the third time, we spotted a group of monkeys eating fruit or something in a culvert across from the bus.  They were almost buried in the green grass which kept them cool and out of the sun.  Within 10 minutes, a replacement bus arrived, and we switched quickly.  For a change, this group of passengers were good sports about the delay.

We soon passed through villages with the traditional houses, called kampung.  Mixed in with the homes were newer buildings and resorts, a sign that tourism has taken hold in this part of the world.  In fact our young guide said that the infrastructure for tourism did not begin until 1987.  He further stated that in the future most of the existing abandoned rubber tree plantations will be sold, cleared of the trees, and turned into golf courses, condos, and resorts.  They believe that the future for the younger generation of locals will benefit with this growth.  English is being taught so the next working group of citizens will have more opportunities than their parents or grandparents who were mostly farmers.  Education, as in most countries, is the key to success.

Arriving at the mangrove site, we lined up for the important pit stop before boarding the small boats.  Eight of us at a time were guided, carefully, into these motorboats manned by one young fellow per boat.  The warning in the shore excursion booklet must have scared away those with canes and walkers.  It stated that this is an adventure tour, requiring us to climb many stairs along uneven paths.  Hmmm, almost scared us, well one of us that is.  Lucky there are always some nice fellows among the groups with available hands to help the ladies climb onboard these unstable vessels.  

Our first stop was very close, and that was a really good thing, because we got fumigated with the smoky exhaust from all the other boats.  Well, at least we would not have to worry about mosquitos....they would never survive the fumes.  Anyway, we pulled alongside a wooden platform that brought us up to the opening of the limestone caves.  Warned not to touch the railings (bat guano), we slowly gained entrance to the caves full of stalagmites and stalactites.  Using our small flashlites, we saw hundreds of small bats clinging to the rough ceilings.  Even a few of them were flying from side to side, leaving us praying that we did not get bombed by any of them.  We did not linger in there too long, because the smell of ammonia from the droppings was powerful.  One of the caves was difficult to access without bending down low.  Yes, we can still do it, as did the rest.  This is one time being on the shorter side would have helped.  Exiting the final cave, we came out in the middle of the mangrove trees, where our guide explained how they filter salt from the brackish water.  When he mentioned there are poisonous snakes in these spooky mangroves, like black mambos, we all left in a hurry.

Back on the boats, we sped off to a sample of a fish farm built in the water.  It's called aquaculture, where fish are kept in cement enclosures and fed until full size.  Wooden platforms made with planks of lumber were the only thing we had to walk on to see the varieties of fish they had on display.  They had Moorish idols, moray eels, groupers, some kind of spitting fish, small tuna, and sting rays.  An elderly Malay man was so proud showing off his collection of sea creatures.  At the end of the visit, he passed around a horseshoe crab for all to hold and examine.  

The final stop was in the middle of a calm spot in the mangrove, where we saw the best display of eagles that are indigenous to this region.  In fact, the name of this island, Langkawi, means auburn eagle, a symbol that can be found on many souveniers sold here.  Strong and stately, these birds lived up to their reputation as they took turns scooping up pieces of chicken skin and fat that the guides threw in the water for them.  Happy to have had a nifty sports setting on our camera, we got hundreds of photos, as the 50 or more eagles soared and dipped their sharp talons into the water.  As they climbed towards the tree branches, they bent over to devour their prize bits of chicken.  Our guide said they deliberately do not overfeed these birds, because they do not want them to be dependant on this food source.  Frequently, the locals will feed them discarded fish entrails, a more suitable diet for these fish-eating fowl.

To cool us off a bit, the driver took us on a high-speed ride out of the mangrove and into the ocean, where we saw many huge monolithes and cliffs of limestone, similar to the ocean terrain around Phuket, Thailand, where we happen to be going to tomorrow.  Pointing to the horizon, our guide said we were looking at the mainland of Thailand, a short distance from here in Malaysia.  He told us that the location of this large island has always been a problem in centuries past, because Thailand wanted it as part of their country.   Despite many wars, it never happened.

We had a choice put to us on our drive back to the pier.  A free shuttle was running from the Zone Duty Free Shopping Complex to the pier, with about a 20 minute ride one way.  We could opt to stay in town and ride the shuttle back, or go directly back to the ship.  Keeping in mind that the ship was due to leave after 4:30pm, we decided on a whim to stay behind to see what was there. It was only 12:30pm, and we had some time to spare to check out the nearby beach and souvenier stands.

Well, it turned out that there were no typical souvenier stands, but a decent grocery store and several small boutique shops.  Also located here was Underwater World, where you can see over 500 local marine species.  Not having time to go inside, we just wanted to know where it was located in case we ever come back here.  What we did find, was s stretch of gorgeous white sand beach where many of our passengers were enjoying the warm waters of the calm surf.  Other tourists were there with little kids, obviously not from the Amsterdam. Some of the sunbathers looked a whole lot better than most of the cruiseship passengers, but that's what being young is all about.  Youthful moms and dads can look good while chasing the little ones around keeping them out of harm's way.  Been there, done that.  Friends Bill and Leta were also walking the beach, but wisely kept to the shady treeline.  It was apparent to everyone that the heat was taking a toll on us, and it was time to consider heading back.

Our guide had said that three or four things were a good buy here.   They were cigarettes, alcohol (strange, because this is mainly Muslim), cars, and chocolate.  Since we do not smoke, and did not need any more booze, we knew the car was out.  So we opted to buy three large bars of Cadbury Dark Chocolate with almonds.  The store vendor did take US dollars, but gave back coins in ringgit, the local money.  Today the US $1.00 was equal to 3.10 riggit.  We did check out the t-shirts, but kept in mind our guide's comment on the fact that they are really not a good quality.  He said when they are washed around four times, the logo of the eagle soon looks like a chicken instead.  Hey, at least he told us the truth.  We never did see any souveniers, but suspect they would be the same that we saw in the last port in Vietnam.

OK, we were ready to catch the shuttle, but where was it?  No where apparently, because we all waited almost an hour for it.  Must have just missed it, and had to wait for the return back, since they were only running one.  What was considerate were the large number of crew members who stepped back, and let the passengers board the bus first.  Good thing we had plenty of water that we had been given from the tour.  It got us through while waiting in the heat.  Even in the shade, we were melting.

You can imagine how wonderful that air-conditioning felt once we reached the kiosk where our room cards are scanned.  Relief, finally.  Missing the Lido lunch, we went directly to the Grill and ordered cheeseburgers and crispy fries.  Sailaway was early at 4:30pm, and we left shortly thereafter.  It was still boiling outside, because it felt like our flip flops were gluing themselves to the fake teak decking on the aft deck.  We stayed until the ship was out of the bay and clear of the outcroppings of tiny islands.  Our guide had told us that there are 99 islands in this area, with a total of 104 islands at low tide.  In fact the Captain mentioned in his talk that we may run into some problems navigating around some of the more shallow seas on our way to Phuket.  At least we are close to Thailand.....a total of about 24 nautical miles.  For that reason, the Captain has slowed the ship to a crawl and will be actually stopping sometime during the evening.

Dinner was fun tonight, because it was Martha and Bob's 33rd anniversary.  They had invited one nice couple from Adelaide and Joan's friend, Pete.  Eleven of us, along with the waiters, sang them a song and shared a very dark chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with the group. We hung in there until 10pm, and were pleasantly surprised to find a reminder card that we could put the clocks back one hour before retiring.  That was truly a gift.

Mary Ann & Bill

Photos from Jeff!

Wow, can’t believe it has been 180 days since I boarded the ms Amsterdam…..   that’s a long time!  Today was a first time visit to Porto Malai, Langkawi.  It was a very lovely island to visit.  We got off the ship first thing and hired a taxi for the day to take us around the island with the main stop being the Mt Mat Cincang cable car.  The tour of the island was beautiful, great beaches and coastline and lots of monkeys….  I even had a troop of them try and attack me, very scary creatures.  Aside from being very hot the day was very enjoyable.  Tomorrow we look forward to Phuket Thailand where we see our friend John Ziment…..

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