Monday, May 12, 2014

Water Festival - Langkawi #1

11 May 2014

We took a ferry from George Town to the island of Langkawi (arrow in the upper left of this map), which is actually an archipelago of 90-something islands, up north of Penang.  Langkawi (pronounced lang-COW-wee) is just about the northernmost part of Malaysia, just south of Thailand.  And the island group was made tax-free, so many people come here to shop.  The boat trip was nice - it's about 3 hours on a passenger-only ferry that zooms through the waters, past all kinds of islands and various fishing boats, and follows the Malaysian coastline before making for Langkawi, which is further out to sea.  We had tea or coffee, ate our bagels from the Kantan Café in George Town (best bagels we've found this side of the Pacific!), and watched the scenery.

We rented a little (really little!) car near the ferry landing in Kuah, and headed to the place we rented out in the village of Kampung Berjaya, near Pantai Cenang (pink arrow) - meaning Cenang Beach.  (Pronounced che-NANG, something like the Italian ch for a "c")  We're staying in the spare guest room in a house in a small village, and our hostess is a Polish woman who spent the last 20 years living in Greece.  And she has a friend staying with her, a woman from Singapore.  So we're quite the international group!

Langkawi a gorgeous beachy paradise, with white sand beaches, clear aqua water, and all the water sports anyone could hope for.  Plus hiking in the geopark (a UNESCO Heritage Site because this area contains some of the oldest geological features in SE Asia), animal spotting up north, snorkeling and diving in the southern islands that make up the Langkawi chain, and sea eagle feedings.  There's a giant sea eagle statue near the ferry terminal, so kitschy and touristy, which I love in a warped sort of way.  We saw some sea eagles today, and they looks something like the American bald eagle - but some people say they are closer to the osprey than the eagle.  (According to Wikipedia, if you can believe them, the white-bellied eagles of Malaysia and the Solomon Islands make up a superspecies, whatever that is.)  Anyway, huge birds with white heads, bellies, and undertails - the rest of the body and wings are dark brown or grey, hard to tell at a distance.

Well, we managed to drive to our house and meet our hostess, and settle in.  Of course our first place to go was the beach, because that's why we came to Langwaki, for the beautiful beaches.  Bonus! - Friday and Saturday were the Langkawi Water Festival!!!  All kinds of water activities like boat races, jetski races, maybe a water balloon fight (we never saw it, but there were rumours), and of course booths with food and drink.  And crowds of people, locals and tourists alike, just having fun hanging out on the beach.

Okay, so, one of my burning questions has been what do traditional and observant Muslim women wear when swimming - the answer is swimsuits that provide coverage from neck to ankle, with a head scarf.  Yup, special swimsuits (though I'm not sure of the fabric, but it did look somewhat like swimsuit nylon) with long slacks, long sleeved top, kind of a long tunic over that.  Little girls were in these suits too.  Of course, there are less observant people in swimwear with less coverage, but I was curious about the very observant women so I was happy to finally see what these women wear in the water.

One of the big features was the duck chase.  In the water.  Yeah, I know, one worries about the poor freaked out ducks, duck cruelty,all that, but they didn't fly away, so I guess they are domesticated ducks.  The process seemed to be that a group of people would gather in the water, in a line or a circle.  Often the group was confined to a certain age group or gender.  Then a duck would be released.  And everyone would run and swim and splash and try to catch the duck.  You catch the duck, it's yours.  I'm figuring the duck joins the family flock, and provides eggs.  Or maybe becomes dinner.  It's the Malaysian version of a greased pig competition, but in the water.  (It was pretty crazy, and the photos below show the excitement and craziness, as well as a few proud duck winners.)

I think my favourite photo of the day was this family of kids - I'm not sure which one caught the duck, I think it was the boy in the striped shirt.  There was another boy about his age who ran out of the picture.  But I love the fact that the boys let their sister hold the duck for the photo - just so cute!  (The youngest seems to have won a prize, we weren't sure how or what it was - but no way was he letting go of that box!)

There were some giant white floats in the water that turned out to be sample rescue floats - though I tried asking a few people about them, and we thought maybe they were some kind of Wipe-Out type of game.  (I tried asking some teenage girls, and they went into hysterics as I mimed jumping from float to float.  Okay, so I'll admit, seeing some older woman tourist hopping around on the sand would make me laugh too.  But they seemed confused with the English, so I acted out my words - it got the meaning across, but apparently it was funnier than I meant to be.)

Of course, there were also beach volleyball and beach soccer games going on.  A few times errant balls came our way - the best was when a soccer ball game by and I ran up to kick it back - it really was an inflated beach ball so it didn't take a kick well - but a bunch of teenage boys walking by applauded and cheered for me!!  Too funny!!  (Gotta love teenagers!)

More people poured onto the beach for sunset and dinner, and we headed to a restaurant and then back to our place.  Relaxed, unpacked, read, internetted, edited photos - and maybe about midnight, BAM BAM BAM FIREWORKS!!!!!!  We had a great view from the little one-lane road out in front, and just stood there watching the sky light up in gold red orange blue green silver - the beach was so close we could feel the repurcussion of each blast, and then see the gorgeous fireworks.  With, of course, lightening pulsating around the rest of the sky, nature echoing the pyrotechnics.  

Wow, what a welcome to Langkawi!


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