Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cruising along the Weston

Seeing the mangrove trees adorned by speckles of light coming from countless fireflies would make one understand why the locals of the small town of Weston in the Beaufort district of Sabah have dubbed Mother Nature’s display the “Christmas trees at night”.

On a medium-sized boat, both children and adult visitors rose from their seats as soon as they saw the glittering natural splendour, located just about a 10-minute boat ride from the Weston River Cruise (WRC) restaurant and jetty.
The surrounding was almost pitch dark, making the “Christmas trees” stand out even more. Some 5 metres away from the mangroves, the boatman stopped the vessel and took out a torchlight with a green filter — drawing the illuminating insects towards the fascinated visitors.
Prior to the firefly boat cruise, the holiday makers are served with a hearty dinner of local kampung dishes at the restaurant which overlooks the river.
Opened in December last year, the restaurant and jetty are among 10 other such premises along the stretch of Sungai Bukau and Sungai Nabahan — a wetland wonder located about 100km from Kota Kinabalu. WRC manager Dayang Anizah Bongsu said the ecotourism destination is gaining popularity among tourists, both local and foreign, who are drawn to the locals’ hospitality as well as the beauty and serenity of the wetlands.
“We started out with a small boat that could carry 20 to 30 passengers at a time, but we can now afford to hire boatmen who can ferry more visitors.
“Tourism is now the main source of income for most of the locals here, whereas the previous generations were mostly fishermen selling freshwater seafood.”
The rivers that meander out to the South China Sea are vivified by wondrous wildlife, such as long-tailed macaques, silver langurs (also known as the silver-leaf monkey), white-bellied sea eagles and more.
If the boat cruise is a show, then these creatures are the cast which visitors from all over come to see.
Superstars of the river cruise, however, are the proboscis monkeys — endemic to the Borneo Island and referred to as bayau by the locals or monyet belanda (Dutch monkey) in other parts of Malaysia.
Upon reaching the town from the capital, the hosts from WRC brought the guests to the jetty — walking distance away — to be served with refreshments before getting onto a boat to see the sought-after long-nosed monkeys.
About 5pm, the boat set sail and within 10 minutes of navigating through the river surrounded by mangroves, nipah and tall swamp trees, the first barrel of proboscis monkeys could be seen. These endangered monkeys, which mostly live in groups and are also the mascot for Visit Malaysia 2014, are rather elusive, so a pair of binoculars would come in handy to observe their antics.
However, during this particular excursion, some of the monkeys were seen jumping off the tree branches, descending into the river as well as honking and snarling to communicate with each other. It was truly as if they were putting on a show.
A saltwater crocodile was also spotted on the muddy riverbank along the wetlands, which is connected to Sungai Padas and is a popular spot for white-water rafting. At one point, wading birds, such as herons and lesser adjutants as well as birds of prey, namely, eagles and kingfishers, also made an appearance. The visitors were informed that at a nearby fishing village, the residents usually sell prawns and crabs, but as it was a Friday then, businesses were closed as the fishermen were attending Friday prayers.
The cruise may not excite adrenaline junkies, but it’s a good way to spend a relaxing evening — sitting back in the boat and enjoying the scenery as it journeyed down the river into the sunset.
If the sun sinking on the horizon is an artist with a paintbrush, then he makes the waters, the sky and the trees at Weston river his canvas.
Towards the end of the boat trip, the sunlight coloured the sky a hue of red, orange and yellow, which was reflected the vast river and the trees lining it.
Almost in unison, all passengers aboard became “shutter-happy”, as they took out their cameras to eternalise the enchanting view of the sunset.
After returning to WRC’s jetty and restaurant, the visitors re-fuelled with a wholesome dinner alfresco, before setting off for the fireflies cruise.
The half-day tour is perfect for vacationists who crave a brief getaway from the city and suburban life, or those who just like to be charmed by the wildlife and local hospitality — Weston style.
-nst online.

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