It wasn't a great start to the day. Up at 7 to shower and get dressed and get to reception for a lift to the mangroves that I would be exploring.
After the first hours wait, I was getting a little impatient and asked where the pick-up was. “Oh that's not until 9am”. Cursing the woman that had told me that I had a 7:30 pick-up, I returned to my seat to wait the additional half hour. 50 minutes later the transport finally arrived and I was on my way. Arriving at the mangroves of the of Kilim Geoforest Park does not leave a great first impression. People are milling around looking lost and confused. This it transpires is because they are lost and confused as the only instruction given is “wait in this area”. We waited, and we waited and then we waited a little more.
Over an hour after we arrived a taxi arrived and two more people were deposited onto the dock. This seemed to be the trigger for action as we finally moved down to the jetty and were assigned boats. We were split between two boats and I could not help but notice that the two newcomers were not in either boat. If it wasn't for them, what on earth had we been waiting for.
A clue to the answer could probably be found in what happened next. The grip that I'd been assigned to we're boarded, with the exemption of myself. I was told to wait where I was despite being the only one left on the jetty. I stood there for a few minutes, nothing being said and watching two boats of people bobbing in the water who were as confused to the hold up as I was. “Is your wife going to be much longer sir? She’s holding up the boat”. Now unless I was really drunk last night, and I wasn't, I couldn't recall getting married at any point.
“I don't have a wife”.
“Not got one of those either. Just me I'm afraid”.
“You haven't got a wife or girlfriend? Your here alone?”
“That's right [thanks for the reminder]”.
“Er, can I just get on one of the boats”?
A similar conversation has happened in miniature pretty much every time I've gone for food since leaving the group in China. In all honesty it is really starting to grate.
We pulled over for a safety briefing. This basically amounted to ’don't do anything stupid’. I liked that safety briefing. Although slightly worrying was when the guide said that should anyone fall in, the only rescue would be by the people on the boat and asked how many of us could swim. Out of 8 people only my hand went up. Ok, I can understand the family from the Middle East not being swimmers, but don't they have swimming pools in Yorkshire and Manchester where the rest were from? Also, why go on holiday to an island surrounded by amazing beaches if you can't swim? Surely your missing out on most of the fun?
Finally, 4 hours after I originally thought I was going to be, we were off. The mornings problems just disappeared as we started to race through this amazing landscape.
Our guide and pilot were fantastic. Very knowledgable and enjoying themselves as well. Any organisational problems were obviously on land and not the fault of those in the boat. We sped along before slowing at a spot where we were told a family of monkeys can occasionally be found. We were in luck as we found them climbing up trees and then diving into the water and swimming around the boats.
Shrieks suddenly erupted from a third boat that had pulled up nearby. We looked to see a small monkey had climbed up on the side of the boat and the woman in the boat wasn't best pleased about it.
We set off again and came to a clearing where a small group of boats were gathered, but far more exciting for me were the Eagles that were flying overhead.
They moved with an incredible speed and grace. They'd circle and suddenly swoop down grazing the water with their talons. This was the reason I was here. To see eagles in the wild a d hopefully get a half decent photograph. The speed was the issue.
To get a decent focus, I had to know where they were heading so I could trail them with the camera. But to see them I had to zoom right out. They then moved so quickly that there was no time to zoom in on the bird themselves, so I'd get a nice photo of a small speck swooping in.
I then realised that two eagles in particular were attacking a small area. Just before they dived, you could make out the concentric circles of something just below the surface. By concentration on those I was finally able to get a couple of decent shots.
But I still hadn't got a shot of one face on. We were positioned in a place where the eagles would swop from behind and down. Only once did this pattern change, and one eagle came way, way closer than any other had done and in its one attack I managed to get something usable. It's not as locked in on the focus as I'd like, but I'm pretty pleased with it after 10 minutes practice.
We then moved on and our guide told us about how the mangrove functions as a natural rubbish filter, but also as a coastal defence. After the Tsunami in Sumatra, many countries have began to plant mangrove on their shores. Whilst it can do little in preventing a wave from coming inshore, it is a very effective barrier against debris that the wave brings in and therefore provides a better chance of survival. We stopped a couple of times as the pilot had spotted snakes curled up in branches, and on one occasion a monitor lizard.
How he spotted these from a good 30 foot, from a moving vehicle was staggering. Even at a stop, moved closer and pointed in the right direction I struggled to spot the first snake.his pattern recognition skills must be off the charts.
Next we moved onto two caves known as the bat caves. These limestone caves are incredibly dark and filled with mineral deposits, stalactites and stalagmites. I was shown the beginning of one stalagmite that was around 3 inches high. It had grown less than 1cm in the 20 years that the guide had been bringing people here.
To exit we had to pass under a very low hanging rock, which necessitated me to do a strange kind of squat whist bending forward and shuffling. I was pretty scared of smacking my head on the rock, but more scared of snagging one of my few t-shirts on it and ripping it.
From the batcave we moved onto lunch at floating pontoon restaurant. This was nothing like as glamorous as it sounds and the food was mediocre. But this type of trip wasn't about what was for lunch, but seeing amazing landscapes and wildlife. In that regard it delivered. It was just a shame about the 'on land' part as they really tarnish the work of the brilliant guides and pilots.