Friday, May 20, 2005

I have survived!

I'm back from my 1 week of volunteer work for the Sea Turtles Research Unit (SEATRU) at Chagar Hutang on Redang Island. The following is a faithful narrative of what we (me, Jia Huey~JH, Sook Yeng~SY, Selina~SC, C Pearl~CP & Li Li~LL) did and also my random thoughts at the moment:

Saturday, 7th May ~ JH, SC, SY and I met up at the Tmn. Bahagia LRT station at around 8pm. We then proceeded to KL Central and then hopped on to the KTM commutor to the Putra stop. We met CP and LL near the PWTC bus station.Boarded the Transnasional bus to K.Terengganu. The journey was long and tiring. Everytime I seem to fall asleep I'd be woken up by something... people's snore, announcements of stops (we had 3 i think), etc.

Sunday, 8th May ~ We arrived at the K. Terengganu bus station (Tanjung) at around 5am. We were very blur and it took us quite some time to get our wits together and accept a van drivers' proposal to send us to KUSTEM for RM5 per head. So off we went in his rickety van passing right through the still sleeping town centre of KT.

The van driver didn't know exactly where we were going and he refused to read our map. He asked us to direct him to SEATRU House. So it was the case of the blind leading the blind since none of us had ever been to KUSTEM before! However, we arrived safely one road away from our destination (and after pissing the driver off by leading him to wrong place) at about 5.45am. Since it was so early (practically dark like night), we waited outside the Faculty of Food Science building till 8am. Sunday is a working day in Terengganu; so many people saw us there (looking like refugees sitting on the road) and asked us questions!

At around 8am, the SEATRU House was opened and so, naturally we headed there (after washing up in the staff toilet). There, a mandarin-speaking girl entertained us and gave us our volunteer t-shirts. This girl was our Research Assistant who goes by the name Pei Chek. Later, Pelf collected our fees and showed us the video documentary and power point presentation about the Chagar Hutang turtles. Meanwhile we watched Pei Chek make so many rounds on her motorcycle ferrying vegetables and other food stuff. We met Proff Chan and she talked to us for awhile. Then we helped some staff to load the boat into a lorry... it was a hard dirty work for 6 girls and 2 men.

At 11am, a van brought us, our RA (Pei Chek~PC), Morita san (a master student studying ant predation in CH) our luggage and our food supply to Merang Jetty. Our ferry from Laguna Resort arrived at 12.30pm. The 1 and 1/2 hours ferry ride was really rocky and noisy (the ang moh children la) but we all managed to get a few winks of sleep without getting seasick. There was some confusion when we reached Laguna Resort and as a result, CP lost her hand-carry bag... CP and the RA tried locating the lost bag but to no avail. So we got onto the SEATRU speed boat and had a choppy ride to CH. Our boat literally flew up and landed on the enormous waves numerous times; we were showered with cool salty sea water at intervals. Being naive, we thought that was normal (much later did we find out that we were actually in a dangerous situation!).

The staff in CH consists of Zul (who drives the speed boat and cooks for us), Nawi (who seems to be the head staff) and Nazri ( who's most friendly with us).

We reached CH late afternoon. We took baths, and had ginger chicken and cooked cucumber for dinner. Then we settled down for our night watch. We sat on the beach behind 2 logs which served as our hide-out/look-out place watching the horizon turn from day to the darkest of nights. It was difficult to adjust our eyes at first as there was no moon... however there were hundreds of stars to compensate. The stars seemed to continously appear with different intensities.

Finally, there were 2 turtle landings. Both were Green turtles, however only one of them nested (according to the staff, this turtle was the biggest so far; measuring 117cm x 96cm). Since the sky threatened to rain, we had to go back to our hut. SY, SC and I had rain coats, so we witnessed the turtle lay her eggs. That night we slept in our hut. JH and I were patrolled the beach with the RA at 2-4am.

Monday, 9th May ~ Woke up at around 7.30am. Breakfast was bread with jam or peanut butter. Then we tagged our first turtle nest (026) and later helped Mr. Morita dig small holes (preferably 80cm deep) at the edge of the jungle for his experiment (to kill the Yellow Crazy Ants which originated from Africa <check out the Christmas Island story> and to repel the native Army Ants). After that strainious activity, we helped him with his line transect plotting in the jungle. There were lots of ants and mosquitoes there... it was really uncomfortable.

CP bag has been found! It was all the way in another resort called Ayu Mayam (I think)!!! One of the guests took her bag mistakenly. We had sawi, fried chicken and vegetable soup for lunch. After which, SC and LL went snorkelling while JH and I went patrolling. Dinner consisited of fried rice and ginger chicken. Then we camped on the beach for our turtle watch. The sky was very dark and cloudy. One turtle landed close to our hide-out. She passed us and went on to do her body pitting, dig her egg chamber, lay her eggs and sand bathe (to cover her tracks). However, when it came to crawling back to sea, she made a U-turn towards our hut and took so many hours to get her bearings and head off to the sea. To add to her anguish, it was low tide and there were so many rocks for her to pass...

Tuesday, 10th May ~ Woke up on the beach feeling very damp (vapour from the sea? morning dew?)!!! Had yellow noodles tom yam for breakfast (cooked by PC). After our (JH and I) patrol shift at 9-11am, we all went snorkelling with one of the staff (Nazri taught JH and SY snorkelling with a tyre). It was so FUN!!! Although I haven't been swimming for the past few years and have never snorkelled before, it didn't take me long to adapt myself... although I did swallow a mouthful of salty sea water (later on I kept on drinking water... I guess to stabilise my body's osmotic pressure?)... I have learned that I must NEVER swim on my back WITH the snorkels' mouth piece on because it then serves as a very large straw!!! hahahaha Anyway, my legs became stripey as a result of a combination of the sun and wearing sandals. Plus, the life jacket lacerated my arm (near the arm pits)!!

We got back at about 12.30pm and had a lunch of curried chicken, long beans omelette and "sum" vegetables (complements to the cook, PC!). It rained in the evening. We whiled our afternoon away by playing cards, mainly "Big 2" (cho tai tee) with the staff. Then we had fried rice, fried yellow mee and baked beans with egg for dinner. There was so much leftover mee.

During our turtle watch, there were 2 landings but no nesting. While we were sleeping, 1 more Green turtle landed and nested. We had to sleep in our hut because it started to rain heavily. It was a cloudy night with the sea breeze (zephyr?) whistling in our ears. We discovered the hut was leaking in 3 places... so we placed pails to collect the rain water.

Wednesday, 11th May ~ Woke up at around 7.30am with lots of mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. Here, no matter how much repellant we put on, the insects just keep coming. And not to mention their mammoth sizes (compared to the domestic kinds we see back in KL) and their ferocity in getting a little blood.

SC made me a maggi mee with an egg for breakfast. Then JH and I went patrolling and discovered we had forgotten to bring out the patrol record book. Turns out that there were 5 crab holes in 5 different nests at 4 different directions!!! These crabs really want to test our memories!

We went snorkelling... FUN!!! We fed many colourful fish! We saw a tourist boat going ashore and we shouted at them from the sea, "jangan mendarat!"... I had a mild asthma attack, so I swam back with SC and LL (they were going to ward off the boat). I inhaled 2 Ventolin puffs and was much better, so I went back to snorkel. It turned out that the boat man wanted to borrow tools to fix his engine.

PC cooked us lunch, which was seaweed soup, french beans with carrot strips and sardines in tomato onion sauce. After lunch, PC gave us a comments/questionaire booklet. We spent the afternoon trying to fill it up... but we didn't finish it because we still had lots of things to experience! The staff killed 3 monitor lizards!!! They are equivalent to the scavenging dogs... and their bites are fatal not because it is poisonous but because it has so much bacteria in its saliva! Zul came back from his "kampung" and he cooked us a dinner of beef rendang, fried egg-coated egg plant and fried fish (grouper fish cought by Nawi and Nazri from the sea).

At around 8pm, 3 Green turtles landed and all 3 nested. Tonight for the first time we saw a crescent moon! It really acted like nature's spotlight! Since we weren't allowed (yet) to go near the turtles until they had finished laying eggs, we spent our time looking up at the night sky. I spotted the Orion's Belt, the Big Dipper and the Archer constellations. I also saw a shooting star for the first time!!! Praise God... it was so beautiful!!! The more I see of nature's wonders, the more awestruck I am of all our heavenly Father has created! We slept in the hut because the sky threatened to rain (but didn't in the end...heard and saw rats running about!). Patrol duties were at 2-4am... Zul didn't let us off the hook and we JH and I had to wake up at 2.15 am and patrol the 2nd time at 3.30am. The tide was very low when we patrolled.

Thursday, 12th May ~ Woke up at 7.30am with lower back and neck aches. Sleeping cramply on the hard plank floor of the hut or even the beach is very uncomfortable. Had breakfast of Digestives biscuits then went to tag the 3 turtle nests. after that we went to Marine Park by the speed boatwith PC, Nawi and Nazri. It was saturated with snorkelling tourists and the coral reef was dead and unvarying (not at all as spectacular as CH). Since the Marine Park had cell phone reception, I text messaged mom for the first time since I arrived to CH. After much persuasion, we went to see baby sharks in... (Pasir Panjang? Laguna Resort? not sure...) I saw the baby shark twice, parrot fish, grouper (polka dotted fish used to make sweet and sour fish) and trigger fish (who's reputed to be very territorial and its bite can rip through diving gear!) who kept heading in my direction with its mouth open!

Came back for lunch at 1.30pm. Was so starved. Lunch was beef rendang with potatoes, french beans with carrot, pickled vegetables (cabbage, onion, chilli, cucumber, carrot), and pumpkin something (look like dhal but tastes slightly sweet). Read "2 Viking Romances" book that I brought to pass away the evening. Saw a school of jumping fish and turtles surfacing the sea for air while we were chatting near the CH faded rock.

We had fried meehoon with chilli padi and sweet pineapple with pandan drink for dinner. There were no turtle landings tonight so we ended up gazing at the stars and moon and sleeping on the beach.

Friday, 13th May ~ Woke up on the beach at 7am. Breakfast consisted of Digestives biscuits and salmon spread on crackers. Today's schedulr is beach cleanup. So we were divided into groups and picked up all the foreign object stranded on the beach. It was very HOT! I think I burned my scalp while snorkelling... It's painful... and I'm very spotty due to insect bites... and I'm getting so.................. TAN! Anyway, we also helped Mr. Morita pull out grass near his experiment site.

We went snorkelling later (except CP). SC, LL and I saw a turtle swimming in the bluer part of the sea (sea bed is sand only). We tried to outswim it but failed miserably! hahaha The turtle swims so gracefully using its front flippers... and there was a smallfish lingering beside its flipper, eating off the turtle. We saw huge oysters with intricately patterned electric blue tongues which retractacted whenever there is movement nearby. I saw a few swordfish; they like swimming near the waters' surface. There are many sucker fish which look like the rock surfaces and I saw a trigger fish as I was entering the water! The coral reef looks like an under-water garden (although lacking in diversity of colours most of the time). Some of the structures look like the 'mushroom effect' of a nuclear bomb, gigantic potatoes with 'brain-like' surfaces, brocoflowers etc. The sea water varies in temperature too... near the shore it is cool, deeper waters above coral reef it is warmer but the waters where we saw the turtle was cold.

Later when we came back for lunch (PC cooked 'foo chuk' with glass noodles soup, french beans with baby corn,potatoes and chilli, and canned curried chicken), a blue and black butterfly kept landing on my swimsuit and sucking the sea water off it! You could say that I was hassled by a butterfly!

There's an addition to the current inhabitants of CH... his name is Jeremy and he's Proff Chan's son! (spy?!?) Anyway, we had fried rice, baked beans, fried eggs, fried fish and tomatoes with cucmbers for dinner. It kept on raining so we played cards till 8.30pm. Then we got news that a Hawksbill turtle had just landed near our hut sector... we had to block out our lights and wait till she was done laying her eggs (she's a shy species). I got sprayed sand while she was sand bathing. Hawksbills are very much smaller (width 80+cm)than Green turtles and the move much faster too. The staff relocated her nest and discovered there were 142 eggs! We got to hold a turtle egg... it was like a softer ping pong ball! The poor turtle slid into the stream while sand bathing and had to swim and crawl her way back to sea.

Altogether there were 5 landings and 3 nestings. 2 Green turtles made U-turns back to sea. One turtle went under the netting of a previous turtles' nest and had to be scared away. We managed to touch a Green turtle's egg too... it was still slimey and warm... its bigger than a Hawksbill's egg.

Slept in the hut because it was drizzling outside. Patrolled at 12-2am.

[Continuation here]

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sue May! We were on the slot after you (Slot C) at Chagar Hutang. Stumbled upon your blog from Pelf's blog. Do drop by ourblog entry about our experience at Chagar Hutang. - Bart & Angie