By: Alan Teh Leam Seng
THE locals call it Pulau Tok Umai but most visitors who set foot on the island dub it Cashew Island or Pulau Gajus due to the abundance of cashew trees there.
No one knows who planted these trees as they are not indigenous to Southeast Asia and the island has been uninhabited for as long as the locals can remember.
It is quite a big island, about the size of 150 football fields, just off the coast of the main Langkawi island.
Tanjung Rhu Resort Langkawi's resident naturalist Zoher Mustan shed some light on the cashew tree mystery.
He said there used to be an anchovy factory on the island but it was abandoned due to poor harvests during the early 20th century. Only a piece of concrete flooring, the size of a badminton court, is left to remind people of the factory.
Zoher believes the people who operated the factory planted these cashew trees as a means of supplementing their income.
Pulau Tok Umai is just a stone's throw away from the Tanjung Rhu jetty. Nearby is the Tanjung Rhu Resort which conducts nature walks for its guests as there is so much to see and do on the island.
In fact, the action starts immediately after you reach the small makeshift jetty.
|The resort offers privacy and tranquillity by the sea.
Approaching the jetty, Zoher asked his guests to remain silent as he took out several biscuits and placed them at the edge of the water. Beckoning his guests to take a few steps back, he pointed excitedly to the water as several fish with dark circular markings appeared as if by magic.
Then, almost instantaneously, a school of fish lined up, like a group of professional footballers waiting to take a free kick. Then they squirted water at velocities fast enough to dislodge the food. In a flash, they had propelled their bodies forward to grab the food as soon as they hit the water. This amazing feat left us spellbound.
Fruits and Animals
Away from the water's edge, the land reveals a large grove of cashew trees, heavily laden with attractive red fruits.
The resort management does not allow anyone to harvest the fruits. The island is part of the premises of the resort.
"The fruits are meant for the local wildlife," says Zoher as he points to an abundance of half-eaten fruits and nuts on the ground, probably the work of the considerable local simian population.
If you are there, do not forget to stop and smell the fragrant cashew blooms before moving on. The plants produce these fragrant flowers to attract pollinating agents like bees and butterflies which help transfer the pollens.
The sandy terrain seems to suit the cashew trees well. The sand is also home to the attractive butterfly lizard commonly seen on this island, especially on hot sunny days. These reptiles like to bask on the warm sand while waiting for any unsuspecting insect to fly past. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to move close to them as they are quite timid and dart back to the safety of their holes as soon as they detect a stranger in the vicinity.
Zoher often brings along a few pairs of binoculars to help his guests watch these interesting creatures from afar.
Another interesting creature that makes its home in the sand is the sand lion, a small invertebrate that feeds on ants. According to Zoher, sand lions are common in Malaysian villages and make their home in the sandy soil around the stilts of Malay houses.
"This way, they help to prevent ants from infesting the houses. That is why you rarely see ants in traditional Malay homes," he added, while tapping the edge of the holes with a leaf, trying to lure the sand lion out of its lair by imitating the sound produced by ants as they march past.
Unfortunately, these shy invertebrates refused to emerge even after a good 10 minutes of tedious rapping.
Insects like cicadas form a large part of the island's community. Almost every part of Pulau Tok Umai echoes with their high-pitched sounds and their brown moulted skins can be seen everywhere. Sometimes, as many as 20 moulted skins can be seen on a single tree branch.
"This is a good sign as a large insect population here shows that the island is healthy and there is an abundant food source here," said Zoher.
He said insects formed a large part of the base of the food pyramid and helped to sustain the carnivores found higher up in the food chain.
|A baby octopus caught high and dry by the retreating tide.
The remainder of the island is largely secondary forest with a small hill located in the middle. It takes more than half a day to completely explore this interesting place.
But please do come prepared. Wear long-sleeved T-shirts and apply insect repellent as there are lots of blood-thirsty mosquitoes in the area. It is also helpful to bring lots of drinking water.
Keep your eyes open and use a long stick to tap the undergrowth to ensure that there are no creepy crawlies underneath.
Zoher usually ends his nature walk on the island by telling his famous face-to-face encounter with a five-foot long cobra two years ago. He still vividly recalls that fateful day when he led a group of resort guests to the island.
"It was like any other day but just when I was walking through the undergrowth by a clump of wild palms, I suddenly stumbled and fell over an exposed root. Lifting my head up, I saw a huge cobra in front of me. It was so close I could virtually 'kiss' it! Then, it raised its hood and I froze!
"Instinct and experience told me not to make any sudden movement. After about 10 minutes, I slowly crawled backwards, trying very hard not to make too much noise as the ground was littered with dry leaves. Fortunately, it retreated too, back into the dense undergrowth."
The best time to visit the island is when the tide is low as most of the lower-lying areas of the island are exposed and many of the island's "residents" emerge to foray for food. Fiddler crabs come out of their holes and schools of miniature gar fish swim among the archer fish.
By the time guests leave the island, the entire landscape would have changed.
The tide by then would be considerably higher. The fish are no longer present and the mudflats where the crabs make their homes are completely submerged. Even the boat ride back was different. Although the boatman used the same route, practically everything was unrecognisable. Parts of the island were submerged, making the mangrove trees jut above the water. Such is the uniqueness and allure of Cashew Island.
How To Get There
Tanjung Rhu Resort Langkawi conducts daily nature walks on the island for its guests. To get to the resort, take the main road from the Kuah Jetty and go north towards Tanjung Rhu.
Along the way, you will pass by Gunung Raya Golf and Country Club, Galeria Perdana and the Ayer Hangat roundabout. Follow the sign that leads to Tanjung Rhu. The Tanjung Rhu Resort Langkawi is a mere 5-minute drive from the roundabout. The Langkawi International Airport is 20 minutes' drive away from the resort.
Things To Do
Look out for the clumps of cashew trees but do not pluck any of the fruit. They are there for the animals living around the area. Smell the fragrant flowers.
Bring some biscuits or bread to attract the archer fish. Place them at the edge of the jetty and stand back. Watch how they squirt water to dislodge the food and then see the gar fish dart forward to compete for the food!
Look for a piece of stick before venturing deeper into the island. It will help to disturb the thick undergrowth and avoid any unwanted close encounters with snakes. Also, keep an eye out for the cicada moult.
Bring a bottle of drinking water and make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes. A pair of binoculars will come in handy as the island is also home to the shy butterfly lizard.
Tanjung Rhu Resort Langkawi offers 136 suites with a choice of sea, garden or pool views. It is a luxury resort and you will be pampered by friendly, courteous staff. For details, contact the resort at Tel: 04-959 1033; Fax: 04-959 1899; Email: email@example.com; Website: www.tanjungrhu.com.my.
Check out the resort's Sands Poolside, Saffron and The Rhu and try signature dishes like Thai Seafood Pancake, Canadian Lobster Cream Soup and Warm Chocolate Ginger Pudding.
If you yearn for authentic Langkawi cuisine, take a short walk from Tanjung Rhu Jetty to Tanjung Rhu village. Enjoy refreshing ice-cold coconut juice and traditional food like nasi goreng kampung and ikan bakar.
For more details, contact Restoran Seafood Anis, Jetty Tanjong Rhu at Tel: 012-473 5157 or 04-959 2346.