Disclaimer: Any photos you see in this blog have been purchased. We had neither the time, foresight nor the equipment to take any!
It was our last weekend together in KL and Sam was keen to go out and do something interesting, claiming he’d ‘done shopping malls now’. I know the feeling. I’ve never been a lover of malls; the one-design-fits-all galleries overlooking floors below; all the same stores; the ubiquitous Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and car parks that were full by noon. He wanted to go ‘out’.
A few weeks ago, Ian and I had been in search of seafood and had therefore ‘been’ to Kuala Selangor on the west coast. That time we’d got as far as a car park, thought it looked like a dead end, turned round and headed for our tour of mudflats and containers before driving home unfed.
But Christa had told us you could feed monkeys near a lighthouse in Kuala Selangor and a few people had recommended we go to see what is apparently the biggest colony of fireflies in the world. Apparently you could get a boat from the somewhere near the monkeys. With the satnav saying it was under an hour’s drive (it was only 66 km after all) and the news that we needed to get to the monkeys just before sunset we left around 6pm.
Fireflies and monkeys were both on our KL bucket list so with dusk around the corner we decided to go for it.
Why had we trusted the satnav? We’d learned before that you can’t believe what they tell you in Malaysia. Sunset was due for 7.15 and it was destined to be a full moon. We arrived at 7.45. Oops. It was almost dark. The monkeys gather in family groups on a hill called Bukit Malawati. The car park,was, inevitably, the very same car park in which we had turned round and given up on our last trip.
As we wound up the narrow green, tree-lined slope I was struck by how beautiful it was here, and quiet. If it weren’t for the fact that I knew the view was of a shabby town, then those mudflats and out to the Malacca Straits, I could have believed the Mediterranean sea would glisten below us.
We were concerned we’d be too late for the monkeys, but despite the fact that it was very dusky indeed we saw two large, friendly bunches right away. They are so tame that they took the slices right out of our hands. I was worried they’d scratch or bite in their enthusiasm, but no, these primates are so well-fed and used to being hand fed that, if you hold out a piece of fruit in your fingers they will steady your palm with one hand and gently prise out the slice with the other. Their fingers are smooth, as if they are wearing leather gloves, and, in a full-grown monkey, those tiny hands are the size of a newborn baby’s.
Sadly, by this time of the evening, our monkeys were not hungry. They chucked the banana straight on the ground disdainfully and deigned to nibble only the slices of sweet potato. The failing light meant we only spent fifteen minutes there in the end but it was a great experience in a beautiful location and one we are keen to do again, but earlier.
“What’s the collective noun for monkeys?” Josh asked.”Is it tribe?”
“A troupe?” I said, thinking that one to be correct if a little dull.
“It’s a chatter, isn’t it?” said Ian.
And do you know, I think it might be right too. Don’t you just love inventing collective nouns? Could it be a gluttony of monkeys?
After, we headed back down the same hill, through the car park and turned left this time, then left again and there was the jetty and a cluster of busy stilted restaurants overlooking the muddy river. We’d heard The Riverview was good and so that’s where we went, attracted by the orange table cloths, yellow chairs and the fact that the pillars were strung with fairy lights in the shape of palm trees. You could not miss it.
We booked a trip for 9 pm, the last of the evening. It cost 18 Ringgit each for a private boat (about £3).
The full moon lent an ethereal quality to the sky, which was a dusky airforce blue. The river, usually the colour of grey ‘builder’s tea’ (made too weak – with cheap tea bags – I am British and I do know my tea) looked like dishwater as we sliced through the waters lined with mangroves towards the fireflies.
After about 15 minutes the driver cut the engine down to a minimum, turned the overhead light on and then off again and we waited. There, on our left we spotted a delicate twinkling, as if skeins of Christmas tree lights were strung between the branches, flashing out of time with each other, on and off. Mating of course. I’m not sure that ‘flashing’ has ever appealed to me as part of a mating ritual, not since I was flashed at by a man in a grey gabardine overcoat. He had been waiting outside the Gents in an alleyway , just standing there, opening his coat to passing schoolgirls, like me. It was broad daylight at the time. The experience was dumbfounding. But I digress.
This was as delicate and tender as candlelight, hundreds of bulbs, randomly strung out, maybe eight to a tree, over a stretch of a few hundred metres.
Our driver said that high tide had been at 7.30, which was the best time to see the fireflies, because, then, the river was high and the twinkling was reflected in the water too, doubling the effect. Typically, we’d been too late for that too. He reached out, dipped his hand in the water and caught us a firefly, tipping it into Josh’s palm. We gathered round to watch its glow. He passed it to Sam and it landed on his leg. It was so light he could not feel its presence but we watched it move around a bit before flying off and away, back to join its skein.
We learned that water stops the firefly from moving, which is why the driver wetted his hand before he caught it, and that once it was dry it could move again. I guess it had used Sam’s leg hairs like the drying brushes in a giant car wash.
Kelip-kelip is Bahasa Malay for fireflies, which is rather onomatopoeic, like its flashing.
As the boat did a U-turn to take us back to the jetty we gazed out at the half-light of the sparkling mangroves and got all creative.
“A constellation of fireflies,” suggested Sam.
“How about a strobe?” suggested Josh. “A starscape.”
I made a few suggestions but wasn’t happy with any of them, really. We got back in the car and started the long drive home. About half way there it came to me.
“A paparazzi of fireflies,” I said. Well, I thought it was the best anyway.