1 May 2013

Travel: Langkawi Mangrove Safari

Photographic safari in lush island geopark (for Vertu
‘ALLOW me to introduce the totally lunatic ecosystem known as the mangrove,’ says husky-voiced Aidi Abdullah, the self-taught, self-confessed ‘tree hugging’ naturalist annexed to Four Seasons’ Resort, Langkawi. ‘It’s a forest between land and sea where trunks never touch the ground.’ He gestures towards a tangled mangle. ‘The roots do all the work, naturally grafting with those of the other trees to form a common society.’ 
A fan of the work of Charles Darwin and God-denying, Richard Dawkins, Abdullah’s interest in nature stems from youth. ‘My father bought me Life Nature Libraries when I was eight,’ he reveals. 
On closer inspection, the writhe is freckled with fingernail-sized rock oysters. ‘In Penang they make the best oyster omelettes,’ recommends Abdullah, patting ample belly. In contrast to these living filters are those petrified to the ceiling of an eerie, bat-infested cave, into which we tentatively glide. ‘These were amassed during global warming 3,000 years-ago,’ says Abdullah. 
Returned to the welcome of daylight, Abdullah clocks animated micro-life unravelling at a clear slip. Male fiddler crabs, initially shy, emerge waving singular exposed claws. ‘They’re calling females who judge them on the number of rotations they achieve, and then look at their burrows. An Italian fried saw one visit 104 before deciding whom to mate with,’ sniggers Abdullah.
Above, eagles soar with V-shaped wings; a Brahminy kite, official bird of Langkawi, calls. But Abdullah is more intrigued by a kingfisher’s express vocal urge. ‘Poor thing’s got a sore throat,’ he consoles. Beside us, young macaque monkeys groom their mother. ‘They go mad for Pringles,’ says Abdullah as we sidle alongside. ‘I’m dying to know at what level of awareness they look at us with.’ 
This being a photographic safari, I enquire after the best way to study the fauna. ‘Patience and understanding,’ Abdullah answers. ‘All animals behave to a known fashion.’ Because he bears such sensitivity and intuition towards the mangrove, I ask if Abdullah would wish to be reincarnated as an inhabitant. ‘That’s a dangerous word. But I’d be a tree or a crab.’ 
We set course to open water. But Abdullah signals skipper to cut the engine. He has locked onto the scent of the tiny Xylocarpus, which he says only momentarily flowers. ‘One guest, a perfumer, became obsessed with its illusive complexity,’ he whispers, treasuring the tiny specimen. Its completeness of aroma is staggering: a symphony of creamy jasmine, reticent honey, golden butter and dense vanilla.
As I savour the scent, serenity is shattered by a speeding boat, its wake disconcerting. ‘The guide may have to fit in four tours daily to feed his family,’ explains Abdullah. ‘I wish they’d charge more for fewer...’ 
Overall, the mangrove’s soul flourishes in immense contrast to past decades when now defunct charcoal factories decimated its aquatic life.
As well as offering illuminating photographic safaris of this ‘lunatic ecosystem’, Abdullah is authoring ‘Infinite’, a mangrove study. He is also keen to capture Cambodia, the Philippines and Burma through his lens... 
For Vertu
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