Getting over my ‘Jaws’ complex

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.

D' Coconut Lagoon

D' Coconut Lagoon

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.

Lang Tengah

Lang Tengah

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.

Lang Tengah

Lang Tengah

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.

Pristine white sandy beach

Pristine white sandy beach

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.

D'Coconut Lagoon pool

D'Coconut Lagoon pool

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. :-)

Read other Travel Journal entries or more about other island getaways.

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24 Responses to “Getting over my ‘Jaws’ complex”

  1. velvet 09/07/2009 6:49 pm
    #

    Thanks for your comment Alex. It definitely is a mind-blowing experience to be in the same space as these creatures!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Alex Berger 09/07/2009 6:43 pm
    #

    Beautiful recount and photos. I’ve always wanted to swim with sharks, I find them amazing. Definitely in clear water though! There’s something stunning about being around the ocean’s version of lions and tigers.

  3. velvet 18/05/2009 9:43 pm
    #

    Hi Erica,
    Ummm, I won’t be diving with any Great Whites any time soon. :-) The black tips were awesome to look at (and sufficient to help me get over my ‘Jaws’ complex) but Great Whites are a bridge too far I think… though I have seen them close up before. Just hop on a boat from Gans Baai (bay) east of Cape Town for a whale-watching trip and they’ll take you close to the Great Whites as well. I remember leaning over the boat’s railings to get some good shots but made sure I had my arms & legs curled tightly around the railings! :-)

  4. Erica 16/05/2009 7:47 pm
    #

    You’re definitely not the only one with this complex. So far I haven’t been swimming or snorkeling among any sharks, but if I ever travel to Cape Town I’m strongly considering ‘diving’ with white-sharks in one of those big cages. Facing your fears is the best way to get rid of them!

  5. velvet 13/05/2009 10:55 am
    #

    It’s quite easy to get to this beach. Fly from KL to Kuala Terengganu (45 mins), then take a bus/taxi from Kuala Terengganu to Merang (another 45mins), and a boat from Merang to Lang Tengah (50 mins). The hotel has its own boat service so if you book with them, they’ll inform you of the boat schedule. You can check for the hotel rates here or you can look up Ping Anchorage, a local touroperator. They have great deals for many of the Malaysian islands.

  6. jen laceda 13/05/2009 2:43 am
    #

    I love snorkelling, but probably like most people, everytime I go into the water, the JAWS soundtrack plays in my head.
    How do I get to this beach? Also, how much does it cost to stay at D’Coconut Lagoon? I’m dying for a beach vacation.

  7. velvet 11/05/2009 12:08 pm
    #

    Hi Cathleen,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I can highly recommend Lang Tengah island. There are other stunning islands in Malaysia as well such as Sipadan, Layang Layang, Mataking, etc… which are amazing snorkel/diving destinations.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  8. Cathleen 11/05/2009 5:02 am
    #

    Yeah sharks and snokeling!! i def want to check out this island in Malaysia. Thanks for your great story!

  9. velvet 10/05/2009 9:42 pm
    #

    Hi Gaby,
    Thanks for your comment. You are not alone! :-) I love snorkelling but I had this fear of sharks. I must say that this experience taught me to be a lot less fearful and appreciate sharks a lot more. They’re absolutely beautiful creatures. I must add though that these were black-tip sharks which are quite harmless, unless you provoke them. I’ve seen Great Whites in South Africa (from a boat) and there’s absolutely no way I’m getting into the water with those around!

  10. gabybali 10/05/2009 5:39 pm
    #

    Keith!What an interesting story!You made me laugh with the story about the the dutch wife pulled her husband shoulder over in front of her, on the shark’s path!!!-LOL
    I have a big Jaw complex (and jelly fish) too!And that’s explained the fact that I NEVER do snorkeling nor diving nor surfing given the fact as Bali beach lover! Gotta get rid of this paranoid!

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