Kayaking through this ancient coastal forest in Langkawi is an ‘unreal’ experience
by FARLY KHALID
Charcoal has been a prized fuel source since the Iron Age.
After wood is baked till all moisture and oils are gone, the remaining carbon burns hotter than anything else known in ancient times.
And mangrove trees give the best and most abundantly available hardwood for making charcoal.
Langkawi has a coastal mangrove forest of almost 100sq km, now called the Kilim Geoforest Park, inscribed as a Unesco Global Geopark with an ecosystem carbon-dated to 550 million years ago.
When the archipelago was a haven for pirates in the 1800s, it also had a community of mangrove tree harvesters.
The men cut down mature mangrove trees while the women worked the kilns to produce charcoal.
The ruins of the kilns still exist in a place called Kampung Siam in Langkawi, and in the dense mangrove forest are “trails” – narrow waterways – left behind by the mangrove wood harvesters of ages ago.
“With the Unesco listing in June 2007, no one is allowed to harvest mangrove trees. But the trails are still there for us to explore,” said kayaker Hasniza Othman.
One cannot walk along these trails; they are full of soft, squishy mud at low tide and flooded at high tide.
Neither can one use a motorboat because most of the trails are too shallow and narrow.
The best way to explore, said Hasniza, is with kayaks.
She is one of several licensed kayaking guides who bring explorers into Kilim Geoforest Park’s mangrove woodlands.
She has been at it for five years, leading groups of 12 to even 32 paddlers through the mangroves.
The heart of a mangrove forest is unreal, unlike any other environment on Earth, said Hasniza.
The root systems of the trees arch down from high above the water, looking like fantastical fingers of mythic creatures.
The rich ecosystem offers a breathtaking variety of wildlife to view, including many species of eagles and other birds, dusky leaf monkeys and countless marine species.
But from her experience, Hasniza said the most unforgettable part of the trip is just the joy of paddling through an ancient forest almost perpetually flooded by the sea.
“Almost half of all the people I have guided into the forest admit that they have never boarded a kayak before.
“Actually, it’s easier than learning how to ride a bicycle. I give them a few quick instructions and 30 minutes later, they will be controlling their kayaks just fine,” she added.
When travelling in a large group, Hasniza said their system is to have a leading guide, a middle guide and a sweeper guide to keep all paddlers safe.
“It’s not a sport. We don’t paddle fast. We want to go slowly, observe nature and take many photos,” she stressed.
She said all guides are licensed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Malaysia, on top of being skilled paddlers in their own right.
Greenhorn paddlers will be happy to know that the very geography of Kilim Geoforest Park lends itself to kayaking pleasure: the many islets and channels break up the sea’s currents so that even in the strongest spring tide seasons, it feels like one is paddling on a lake.
The water in the channels is so placid, said Hasniza, that paddlers can happily hop off their kayaks and dunk themselves in the sea.
“You must wear good quality life vests at all times when you paddle. Even if you can’t swim, your life vest will keep you afloat, so many paddlers like to hop off for a dip when it gets hot,” she explained.
Source: Kayaking through this ancient coastal forest in Langkawi is an ‘unreal’ experience – The Star
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