Getting over my ‘Jaws’ complex
(a page from my Travel Journal)
I’ve just spent several days on Pulau (island) Lang Tengah where I stayed at the D’Coconut Lagoon Resort. Lang Tengah is a small island in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, off peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, a 45-minute boat ride from the hamlet of Merang on the mainland.
Lang Tengah island is a picture perfect tropical island: fine white sand, swaying palms, and water that is so clear, it’s like swimming in a massive aquarium. The island is covered with virgin rainforest while its sandy, boulder strewn shores are a portal to a breathtaking underwater world. The colour of the water is just magnificent: brilliant interchanging hues of aquamarine, emerald and turquoise. The coral reefs that line the island’s shores harbour an amazing variety of sealife.
During my four days there, I went snorkelling every chance I got. It was simply awesome. I could just walk off the beach with my snorkel and flippers and within seconds, I would be surrounded by dozens of colourful clown fish (little nemo’s), large parrot fish and other brilliantly-coloured tropical fish. There were also schools of barracudas, squid and yes, black tip sharks.
When the guys at the dive centre told me there were lots of sharks in the surrounding sea, I got a bit worried… I was still worried after they told me that the sharks were pretty harmless and that there’s never been a case of a shark attacking anyone around the island. You see, I’ve always had a ‘Jaws complex’. I saw the movie when I was very young and since then, I’ve always been terrified of those monsters of the deep! I know I’m not the only one with this complex!!
I heard Monica scream at the top of her lungs (pretty much like Jessica Lange in the King Kong movie).
My first venture to the coral reefs was quite memorable. I went with Willem and Monica (a Dutch/Spanish couple I met at the resort). The three of us stayed together and we were in a pretty shallow area (about two meters deep) when all of a sudden, I heard Monica scream at the top of her lungs (pretty much like Jessica Lange in the King Kong movie), I turned around and Monica was already making a beeline back to the shore. Willem and I followed her back to see if she was ok.
By the time we got to her, she was on her feet, trembling and breathing very heavily. She looked at us like she’d just seen a ghost. We asked her what was wrong and she squealed that she’d seen a big shark, just a few meters away from her. “How big?” we asked. “At least two meters”, came the reply. Ok, now it was my turn to slightly tremble. At the same time, I felt an incredible adrenaline rush and the urge to go back out there and find this big shark! Willem and I did go back, leaving Monica behind but we didn’t see any sharks. Later that day, we ventured out again and this time we saw various smaller sharks. Such beautiful creatures. I was so awed by the fact that I was in the same space as these sharks, and to see them swim by or below us along the seabed was simply astounding.
The next day, I was out snorkelling on my own and a single barracuda and some parrot fish kept me company throughout. I got to see the big shark – it swam past, just five meters or so away, and strangely, I just stared and enjoyed the moment. Ok, I admit, I did feel a tinge of fear but it ebbed rather quickly. I spotted about six other sharks, including some baby black tips. Mind-blowing stuff! On my last day on the island, I met another Dutch couple on the beach and I told them the story of Monica’s hysterical shark encounter and we had a good laugh. The husband told me about his wife’s first shark encounter. They were out snorkelling together and when she saw a shark coming straight at them, she grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him in front of her…in the shark’s path!! He was like,”and what was I supposed to do? Say shoo-shoo (while waving his hands), go away?”. Brilliant!
The whole experience was just enthralling.
The corals at Lang Tengah island were spectacular. Large fan-like corals, layer upon layer interspersed with colourful sponges, tubes, bagpipe-like corals and the fish… Wow, just thousands of them. If you stayed still for a minute and stretched out your hand, they would come close and nibble at your fingers. On one of my snorkelling trips, I floated in one spot for ten minutes, doing slow 360 degree turns, as literally thousands of colourful fish swam around me. A large school of squid swam by and a few inquisitive barracudas dropped in to check me out. The whole experience was just enthralling.
There’s absolutely nothing to do on this island except enjoy its outstanding natural beauty by way of walks along the beaches or through the jungle, snorkelling or diving, swimming or lazing on the beach or at the pool with a book. The island has a very private, secluded feel to it which is just perfect for anyone wanting to avoid the masses and just chill.
The Dutch were by far in the majority on this small island (they’re everywhere aren’t they?!), followed by the Italians. I spent many hours with Willem and Monica snorkelling, lazing on the beach and having wonderful discussions over a couple of ice-cold beers (that’s how beer should be served in the tropics: in a frozen glass!) and quite a few G&T’s (supposedly to ward off the mozzies) at the bar. Great company.
As for my ‘Jaws’ complex. Well, I’ve certainly learned to appreciate sharks – they’re absolutely stunning creatures. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be going shark diving in South Africa to see the Great Whites anytime soon! Black tips are a good start. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet to be swimming with the Great Whites.