Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Butterfly action


It’s a funny coincidence that leads us to meet people at times, this was just what I felt when a colleague and I were heading to Banggi this May. When boarding the ferry heading for the Island from Kudat, Yanyi commented that there were students from UMS going the same was as well when she spotted one of them wearing a School of Science and Technology (SST) T-shirt. She made introductions and we got to know more about each other. The coincidence was the fact that they were Conservation Biology students and were here under Dr Menno to look for snails and butterflies specimens and the previous month I was on the same ferry as their senior who was there for the same purpose. It was a nice surprise that I met them this day as both of our groups weren’t aware that anyone else was headed for field work during the same period.

During one of the slack days I had concluded my sample collection and made the decision that I would follow them as they go butterfly hunting and snail prospecting. The previous day as I headed with Azlyn, one of the supervisors for the Banggi seaweed farms, to Teluk Lung the main seaweed cultivation site we only had the small boat and our journey was like a bucking bronco as we had to dodge and ride the waves which were huge (1-2 meters) due to a prevailing westerly wind, regardless we were soaked to the bone when we reached the place. This time as they headed to Batu Kawi, a limestone outcrop to look for samples, I tagged along in the larger roofed boat and though we met with turbulent waters, I wasn’t too wet by the end of it.


Our first stop was at a village by the coast of the Balambangan Island, it wasn’t much a few huts for workers and families of a mariculture station, farming fish and also sea cucumbers. We were greeted by an acquaintance of the workers, a man we called Datuk. He offered us all the hospitality and help we needed, giving us a berth to park our boat and also directions to the hill. From the outpost we walked along a rugged trail, all the while the three students were busy pursuing butterflies with their nets amidst shouts of, “Look there’s one go get it”, “Swing harder you’re missing them”, “There’s one we don’t have, quick run and get it”. The workers of the seaweed project decided to join them though they were just there to ferry them and in the end they were the ones running amuck as they chased butterflies into thickets.

I was fascinated by the number of butterflies flying around, if they weren’t there I doubt I would even notice these insects amidst the jungle. Our hiked wasn’t too hard or long, the path was quite well maintained though certain parts were eroded by rain water fed streams. The girls were busy putting the captured specimens into pouches as the workers shouted in ecstasy at their latest capture. Liew who was doing the snail sampling went ahead to the foot of the hill to look for snails while the rest of us took a break and had some breakfast of bread and a drink to rest. The place was shady but the time spent waiting for them to conduct their work left my butt all sore as all I had for a seat was a jagged limestone rock.


We were done in 2 hours time and thus with jars all full we headed back, it was a much fruitful search for them as they exclaimed the amount of specimens they got. A surprise awaited us as we once again set foot on the outpost, though we declined initially earlier that morning to lunch, Datuk came out and stopped us as we were about to set out and said his wife has already prepared refreshments for us in the kitchen. We were glad as we were heading to a long schedule of sampling and wouldn’t have had lunch till late in the evening and so his calls were sheer invitation. The spread he laid out was sumptuous, there were curry chicken straight from the steaming pot, fish curry, stir fried vegetables, grilled fish and sotong (squid), pickled vegetables and lovely sweet black coffee. We ate to our hearts content that afternoon. It was a rare sight to note the friendliness and openness of people here that would invite us strangers to lunch without much qualms and would take no payment besides our friendship (except a little enticement to endorse his seafood products to prospective clients interested in it).


Thanking the Datuk and after leaving with a few cheap purchases of salted fish and sea cucumbers we headed for another round of butterfly catching. I took the opportunity to snooze, never knew that riding a boat can be so tiring as well as sore on the bottom. We reached back near evening in time for dinner. That night we had a blast literally, the western winds were picking up speed signaling the changing of the monsoons and I was awoken early that morning (around 3 a.m.) as the place was howling. One could not walk properly even as the strong gust caught all in its blast, it snuck in every nook and cranny and none escaped from the chill breeze. The workers who bunked out in the open soon had to find shelter as the sea spray was lifted high onto the platforms and the boats had to be secured from the increasing wind and subsequent high waves. We all couldn’t sleep after that, opting to sip hot tea and coffee in the dark to await morning. The winds did not die down the next day and as we set off from Teluk Lung back to the base camp at Kerakit, even the large boat had to ride the enlarged waves, we went up and down like a yoyo, water splashing us back seat riders that could not find shade in the front and when we did reach back we were soaked to the bone. It was a thrilling ride but one I wouldn’t want to repeat any time soon.

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