Sunday, October 25, 2015

Igal Igal Kids of Bajau Ubian

One for the album, the day we went away - Picture courtesy of Abdul Rahman Osman

I can't get enough writing about the people of Mantanani. Their hospitality was superb, one of the best that I've ever had. Saying good bye was really hard. Everyone I met on the island was friendly and nothing but praises for them. 

The Igal Igal Dancers. So cute!
These are the Igal Igal Dancers that I had the opportunity to get to know. They were cute little princesses. I can't get enough of them. Chirpy, full of life and smart too. Mwah! Mwah!

Mantanani Supermodels! 1, 2, 3, pose. 1, 2, 3, pose. They got it right!
Children of Mantanani are extremely smart, friendly and fabulous with cameras. They know how to give the best poses. Saying good bye to these lovelies was the hardest. They sent us to our boat. Lots of hugs and kisses. I was touched. May one day fate brings us together again. You all will be all grown up and fabulous. Mwah! Mwah!

Mantanani Island - Homestays

Dried fish in the making

8th-11th October 2015: 2nd visit for Sharing & Caring Programme

We came back to Mantanani, this time for Sharing and Caring Programme for the adults. Our programme was brought by Shell to create and educate the community about alternative and sustainable livelihood. Since their main source of income came from the sea, we gave them a bit of soft skills and opportunities to generate future career/income. I won't go into details here. 

What I am going to show is the experience and how many of you could be of help to this Bajau Ubian community. There are many ways we could contribute to their economy, i.e. by going there itself would help the community. If you go there, please choose to stay at the homestays instead of the resorts. It's not just way too cheaper, it is also a good deed. Homestays there are certified by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia under the 'Program Homestay Malaysia'. Their rate is reasonable, i.e. RM100 per day per person. That is a full-board rate inclusive of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between as well as supper. Please call En. Muhammad, the homestay coordinator @ +01125319022 for reservation.

One of the homestays, how they looked like.
As for guides, you can hire any of the teenagers over there to show you around and about the island. They are really friendly people and they are eager to be of help. But ensure to pay them for their effort. For our trip, we pay all our helpers and guides RM50 a day. We treated them to all meals and refreshments that we had as well. The task was like carrying our things, introducing us to the right people and guiding us to interesting places. 

Those who want to dive or snorkel can still do so while staying at the homestays. Some of the resort accept walk-in guests. We did just that with Mantanani Dreams Resort. And we had a karaoke session over there as well. It was a wonderful experience.

Activities around the island can be planned together with the homestays as they could also provide a boat ride to Mantanani Kecil and Lunggisan Island for a picnic or just island hoping. You can easily customised your trip any time you like with an extra budget of course :)  

This is the receiving hall to welcome guests. It's still under construction when we were there.
In the future guests to homestays will be hosted at the Receiving Hall that they are building it right now. Interestingly, the hall will be built using recycled bottles filled with rubbish. It's an effort of one of the NGOs that are based over there to reduce the rubbish found on the beaches. Please be aware that rubbish are found in abundance along the beaches because of two things, (1) it was washed ashore from the mainland and (2) it was from the locals themselves as they do not have a proper garbage disposal system. 

A few NGOs have been championing this issue. The locals are acceptable and cooperative towards all the efforts. From how I see it, we just need the government to lend extra hands in transporting the garbage out of the island via regular boats as this is very costly for the community to do it themselves. Other than that, they are pretty much self sufficient. Water source is from the ground. They pump out their own water from the earth. Electricity is generated from a big generator centralised for the whole island about 6-hour a day. Yeah, please bare in mind that during day time, there will be no electricity until 6.00 p.m. Don't just stay-in during these time, go out and explore! 

Igal Igal Bajau Dance performed by children of Mantanani
On our first visit, the homestays owners threw us a BBQ dinner with charming performance of Igal Igal Dance by the children. It was really cute and quite festive. However, on our second visit, we had to go out of the island earlier than planned, so the homestays had the Igal Igal Dance performed in the morning of our departure. As we can see, these children are really cute. The custom was for guests to slit small notes in between the dancers' fingers as a token of appreciation of their dance.

The monsoon session just about to start usually from October onwards

A day before we were about to leave, it was started to rain. Strong wind and pouring rain cats and dogs at the wee hours. I was awakened by the sound and took the photo at around 3.00 a.m. from my bedroom window. It was beautiful to have rain after awhile not having it in Kuala Lumpur. I love rain. Hehehe...

Okay, the posting is too long. I don't want people to scroll to much. To be continued.

Lunggisan Island - Hidden Treasure of Mantanani

6th September 2015: Lunggisan Island Escapade

After our successful first programme in Mantanani Besar Island, it was time to go home. Around 10.00 a.m. we took the opportunity to explore Pulau Lunggisan which was only less than 15 minutes  boat-ride away. The island was round in shape. It has no human habitation. At one side of the island, there's a huge cave that kept a hidden treasure. The precious cave holds the most sort after bird nests. 

Introduction to Lunggisan Island - Superb crystal clear water, impressive white sandy beach, feels like in heaven.
There were a lot of charming side to Lunggisan Island, one was the breathtakingly crystal-clear water. High visibility that you can see through the seabed even as when it was really deep. The shape of Lunggisan Island itself was charming. Like a big green bun, protruding round-half-circle. The beach we landed was like a small bay. We were anchored on the almost perfectly white-soft-sandy beach. A hidden paradise, the sand felt gentle to my bare feet. Instantly I forgot about the UV rays. 

The Panaromic view of the secluded bay in Lunggisan Island
It was just a short pit stop for us. Our flight back to Kuala Lumpur was that same evening. We were there just about 30 minutes. I took the panaromic picture of the entire beach before we hopped on our boat and left the beautiful little paradise. 

Little charming things you could find in Lunggisan Island
As much as dead corals are beautiful, they are not a good sign. I hope Mantanani Islands could preserve its natural habitats. Humans tend to destroy their surroundings for survival but educational programmes by the NGOs and government is hoped to make the difference. On a bigger picture, I would rather address the welfare of Bajau Ubian community more than anything else. They needed to be helped in terms of alternative livelihood, education, basic amenities and most importantly effective rubbish/sewage disposal system. They shouldn't be left out to fend for themselves at a place that could be a future popular tourist attraction. But I don't agree that we should sacrifice them in the name of tourism either. Their ancestors were there before the era of Japanese occupation, so why would they be transferred out just so that we could turn the islands into main tourist attraction. It doesn't feel right because it's wrong.

In Lunggisan Island, you see lots of blue hues. Magnificent! 

Okay, back to Lunggisan Island, it's a worthy trip to make. Lots of blue hues high up above and down below. No kidding as you can see it in all of my photos here. If you happen to go to Mantanani Island, don't miss the opportunity to go there. Be it a diving trip, a community programme, or just curious to have a look, just do it! 

Like all my travelling activities, I recorded almost all here in my blog, so does this one in Mantanani. I will write some more because it is not even near finish yet. Stay tuned folks :)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mantanani Island - The school children programmes

The day when children got all excited to see a drone flying above them - with our team mate Mahfiz
We had a wonderful participation from SK Pulau Mantanani for our school programmes. Children of Mantanani interestingly were enthusiastic to learn. They were lively, participative and supportive towards all that we asked them to do. Our programme was a success. It's a full 10 points. As much as the children had a great time learning, we had a great time teaching and getting to know them.

The drone that caused all the excitement in Mantanani by our team mate Nasrul Affendy.
When it comes to posing for cameras, Mantanani children were not shy. They love cameras which made our job easier. Unlike other parts of the world where children living in a tourist attraction community that has a norm to ask money before posing for a camera, these children are still pure and untouched by the capitalist mentality. Thank God for that and hope they would stay that way, always.

Mata Helang Programme, the brainchild of Awang

SK Mantanani has its own solar generated electricity and internet access. However, the usage was only restricted to the school and not to the community at large. Most NGOs and community programmes were held at the school premise for this convenience. 

Our Sharing and Caring Programme for the school children was aimed to empower them in the following areas; i.e. building up confidence, self worthiness and improving communication. Parts of the syllabus were to learn basic English, basic journalism, and basic photography. The syllabus stressed on experiential learning with fun activities and role play. Indirectly, they were able to recognise their own potential, understanding nature and their surrounding. Courtesy of Shell, we donated cameras and science equipments for their continuous learning. 

Memento presented to Cikgu Limun, Headmaster of SK Pulau Mantanani
From left: Mahfiz, Zul, Liz, Cikgu Limun, Awang and Cikgu OJ
Photo courtesy of Abdul Rahman Osman

My team was comprised of professional photographers and passionate philanthropists. Their skill was out of this world and one of the best in Malaysia. Zul is a photojournalist, writing for many renown newspapers and magazines in Malaysia, whilst Mahfiz, Nasrul and Rahman, they are extremely skilful, experienced, creative, awesome and lots more. No words to describe these special people. 

I am truly humbled not to use their photos here to tell our story because I couldn't get my hands to them gorgeous photos fast enough for my blog. They are all busy people therefore I had to be content with my own mostly selfies taken from my Smart Samsung Camera. Hehehe.

Some of the photos by these professionals are posted below. Lalala... (hope they won't be mad).

One of numerous amazing captures by Nasrul Affendy. Makes me speechless.
Arul, one of our little island friends captured beautifully by Abdul Rahman Osman in infrared mode

Sail away. Miniature boat made by the children to play with. This beautiful moment captured by Mahfis MA
Two of most recent articles by Zul for NST and Travel Adventure Magazine. He's also an avid adventurer. That guy on the covers was him.

Last but not least, my BFF Awang, whom also was our team leader who brought us together for this project. He is a passionate environmentalist. He is like a celebrity in the environmental NGOs circle in Malaysia, championing issues of sustainable living and environmental conservation. He appeared regularly in our local radios and TV stations.

Okay... that's all folks. This is a posting dedicated to the children of Mantanani. Mwah! Mwah!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mantanani Island - Getting to know the community

One of the houses of Bajau Ubian of Mantanani Island

3rd-6th Sept'2015: Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu-Kota Belud-Mantanani Island

Mantanani Island is located off the North-West coast of Sabah, Malaysia. It is a cluster of three islands, i.e. Mantanani Besar, Mantanani Kecil and Lunggisan. However, only Mantanani Besar has habitants, a population around 2000. People there are called Bajau Ubian. They speak their own language which is totally different from Bahasa Malaysia. Best communication is via Bahasa Malaysia, however with the boost of tourism industry and the presence of many NGOs at the islands, most Mantananians can speak and understand basic English. 

The main source of income is all related to the sea as most are fishermen. Other occupations are small enterprises owner such as the groceries and eateries. There are also some that work at the resorts as a guide, cook, housekeeping staff, general worker and diver. Based on our random survey, average income per household is around RM500/month.

Meeting up with the community and authorities for our programmes
There were six of us travelling from KLIA2 to Kota Kinabalu at the earliest hour. The flight to Kota Kinabalu took about two and a half hours. We reached the airport around 11.00am after a slight delay by Air Asia of course. From the airport, we took a private vehicle to Kota Belud, about an hour journey to our next destination, i.e. the jetty. We took a boat provided by our homestay operator at Jeti Kg.Rampayan Laut, Kota Belud. It took us only 45 minutes to reach Mantanani Besar Island. It was a beautiful journey, enjoyable boat ride of the South China Sea and it was a scene to behold. I kind of mesmerised by it. The boat has no roof so we were exposed by the scorchingly hot UV rays. However, once the boat started to move, the wind made it more bearable and you hardly feel the heat. This was when my SPF 130 sunblock served its purpose. 

The day we arrived

As we were reaching the shallow water of the island, the water started to change to light blue, almost green sometimes and emerald green. It was crystal clear, I held my breath full of excitement. Such beautiful water and high visibility. I can see the seabed. 

Beautiful coconut trees and white sandy beaches can be seen from afar. It was not even near landing. And as when the boat approaches the beach (yes we anchored all the way to the beach instead of a jetty because it was nearest point to our homestays), we were greeted by the village children and the people of Mantanani observing us with curiously but not without a smile. 

The things that facinate me on first day of arrival.

A lot of caws and ducks along the stretch of the beach we landed. The caws like to eat just about anything it can find and it roam the entire island. The village is called Kampung Padang. There are only two villages in the island, i.e. Kg. Padang and Kg. Siring Bukit. The most populated is Kg. Padang where the homestays are. Houses were built a mere 5 meters apart from each other. There were no motor vehicles on the island except for bicycles. No road and no engine noises except for the sound of generators and boat engines. That's it. A very basic simple lifestyle. 

The hospitality we received from the homestays was beyond our expectations. We had our welcoming drink provided by one of the homestay owner, i.e. Tuan Haji Boy (homestay that I stayed with my friend Awang). We were separated in three different homestays, two pax for each homestay. The community were courteous, very friendly and they smiled all the time.  We felt at home in their homes.

Homestay rate was RM100/pax per night inclusive of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks in between as well as supper). Bajau Ubian are great at cooking. We ate like a p**. Sorry but truly. I gained a bit when I was there. Thanks to the fresh seafood and the good cook. 

Lobsters, Garoupa, Red Sea Bream (Ikan Kakap Merah), abalones, parrot fish, sea snails and what not. We ate all these during the 4Day 4Night stay at the homestay

Humidity is extremely high in Mantanani as I mentioned earlier. It is advisable to only wear thin fabrics, not to forget shades and lots of sunblock (only if you are not planing to swim or go into diving because sunscreen lotion can kill the corals). I used SPF130 sunblock and never parted from my hand-fan. Electricity at the island is generated from one big generator, therefore it was rationed for only 12 hours a day, i.e. from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. the next day. However, during our stay, the generator broke down and it was humid like h**. Sorry again. I sweated like nobody business, I ran out of shirt and panties. I had to open all windows and sometimes slept outside on the balcony. Torchlight or headlamp is a must as there are no street lights. Blackouts happen pretty often and you might want to take a night walk.  

Owh, another important thing is that, they use an underground water from individual water source that they dig deep in the ground. It was amazing how they all could dig out water this way. The taste is not salty but thick with minerals. Taking shower with this water sting the eyes at first but you get used to it afterwards. 

Our first agenda was to get to know the community, putting up posters and meeting up the community leaders. It was a taxing task for us on our first day of acclimatisation but we managed. 

My next posting will show the community programme that we had with school. We taught the children of Mantanani about Basic Photography, Basic English Communication and Basic Journalism. Think it was too hard for them? Nope. they coped very well and shined with million colours. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mantanani Island - The story of us

The Mantanani Island Community Project Crews
Okay, this is how I am going to write this. Now I am in a hospital shift taking care of my loved one. I am just going to summarise my story short for this particular posting. 

Here we go again, the six of us embarking on a journey to Mantanani Island in Sabah for the second time. We went there for a purpose, i.e. a community project which taught the local about alternative livelihood and sustainable living. It was a challenging task for all of us but we made it happened within our capacity. The project was a specially designed programme namely Mantanani Sharing & Caring Programme 2015.

Flying via Air Asia. Photo courtesy of Awang's Samsung Handphone

We had a perfect team. Our crew members were consisted of a leader, i.e. Awang, myself as a facilitator together with a photojournalist cum scuba diver facilitator, a photographer cum children programme facilitator and two videographers. It can't be any more perfect than this!

I was happy and very thankful to be able to create memorable experience and spending time with these selected individuals. In fact I was feeling honoured to be able to work with them, professionals who shine bright in their respective fields and most importantly they are friends that matter.

This is how we do it. On a local speed-boat to Mantanani Island.
Our first trip to Mantanani was made on 7th-10th September 2015. We had Sharing & Caring Programme with the school children. The second trip was on 8th-11th October 2015 which we had programmes with the adults. Alhamdullillah, all the programmes went well. 

Our greatest challenge in Mantanani was the weather itself. It was scorchingly hot. The only transportation to reach there was via a speedboat. You either take the ones provided by the resorts or take the ones offered by the homestay. In our case we use the homestay as we would like to get closer to the community. There you can see us converged on a locally made speed-boat. We saw the boat handler made his own boat using very minimal tools. Very impressive. 

Kg. Rampayan Jetty
The starting point to go to Mantanani Island was from the jetty in Kg. Rampayan. They had many jetty to go but the shortest distance according to our Homestay Leader was this one. So off we go. It took us only 45 minutes to reach the opposite shore. 

I fell in love with the sceneries. Even the jetty looked classic to me. The mangrove was another story. They say you can see fireflies at night as well as proboscis monkeys. But we haven't had the time for it on both our trips to Mantanani. Maybe next time.

The locals use these types of speed boat to move about
The sceneries during boat ride was super fine. Lots of seagulls, even a flying fish if you get lucky, lots of activities going on and the mountainous background was breathtaking. The sea water was super magnificent blue, with emerald and green hues to it depending on the depths. However, as you can tell, it's crystal clear, baby! 

Who would have thought that this island existed in Malaysia. Nobody really pay attention to it even until now when I am writing this. Therefore I hope this posting will help bringing it up a recognition higher locally and internationally. God's willing. Aamiin.

Okay, until next posting. I am signing off now. It's 2.50 am. I am already too sleepy sitting stiffly on a hospital chair. Going to sleep on this chair too. Huhuhu.... Chiow. Mwah! Mwah!


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