Friday, June 7, 2013

Langkawi: Nothing But Sea and Sky

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. -Alexander Graham Bell

I was heartbroken to leave Langkawi. I had loved every minute of my weekend at this tropical island paradise - hopping from island to island in a small boat, eating deliciously authentic Malaysian food, exploring through the jungle for a waterfall, watching mind-blowing sunsets, and swimming at a glorious beach. I felt very much at home in the natural setting of the islands, and when it was time to board our ferry and zoom back to civilization on the mainland, I mourned.

Trudging along through the ferry terminal, I allowed my hosts, Nana and Izzah, to lead me to the passenger-only vessel that would sail us back across the Indian Ocean to Kedah. As we boarded the ship, my eyes swept the small cabin and I felt another wave of disappointment crash over me. There were rows of upholstered seats, just like a plane, and the windows were sealed to keep in the air-conditioned air. People were stowing their luggage under their seats and settling down for the hour-long crossing.

Nooooo! I was expecting something more like our ferries at home. Huge car decks on the lower levels, spacious passenger cabins up above with plenty of seating options and room to walk about. Best of all, our ferries feature open-air decks where we can experience the crossing in the fresh air. Although it's usually outrageously cold out there, I love to feel the wind on my face, watch the waves crash on the prow, listen to the gulls cry, and soak in the incredible beauty of sea and sky.

Dispirited and about to resign myself to the fates, I made one last and desperate plea for help.

"Nana," I began, "Isn't there some place where we can go outside?"

"Hmm. Maybe." She gave me a ray of hope. "Let's sit down for now, and once we are underway, I'll ask."

Thoroughly confused, I sat. Either they had a deck or they didn't. What would be the point of asking? My brain told me to give up and settle in for a long, boring ride, but my heart still dared to hope.

* * * * *

Ten minutes into the trip, I saw Nana get up and walk across the cabin. Izzah accompanied her. They stopped to talk to a man in a blue short-sleeved dress shirt. Within one minute, they smiled. Nana waggled her finger in my direction, beckoning me to follow her.

We gathered up our belongings, then went up a small staircase to an upper passenger cabin, much like the one we had been in. We walked not toward the seats but to a single doorway in the forward wall.

Nana knocked. The door opened, and there was the man in the blue dress shirt. He motioned us into a third cabin, this one smallest of all, and obviously not intended for paying passengers. This cabin was for the crew. 

Leading us forward to another door, again in the forward wall, the man stopped to take off his shoes. We followed suit. He opened this door...and I gasped.

We were on the bridge. Full windows faced the ocean, instrument panels sparkled with lights, and a team of busy officers were commanding the ship. Tiptoeing behind their chairs, nodding and smiling as we passed, we were led through a tiny side door of the compartment and out into the fresh air.

A bolt of lightening hit my brain. I was standing on the open bow of a high-speed vessel. Clearly, this was no place for passengers - no railings, no life rings, no safety protocols anywhere in sight. The views, obviously, were astounding. I stood and gaped, completely unable to grasp what was going on. 

Interestingly enough, Nana and Izzah were taking this all in stride. Smiling at my euphoric disbelief, they whispered an explanation: 

Mr. Blue Dress Shirt was the ship's captain. 

Either Nana or Izzah had asked him if they might pretty please be allowed to take their American friend out on the "deck." Each girl claimed that it was the other girl who had charmed him into saying yes; all I could see was that he was most interested in polite chit-chat with the two of them, and they quickly launched into a Malay conversation.

Perfect. I excused myself from their little gathering and prowled around the deck, taking photos of my incredibly beautiful surroundings. At first, we passed among the islands of Langkawi, green jewels floating on the turquoise water. I rushed to drink in every vista, sure that our visit would expire quickly.

But the minutes wore on..ten, then twenty, even a half hour later, my three companions were still merrily chatting on.

We had cleared the islands now, and were out on the open waters of the Indian Ocean. I laid aside my camera, allowing all my senses to drink in this amazing experience. 

The sky was pale and beautiful, decorated with delicate clouds. The sunlight brought hints of gold to their edges. Despite the strong wind blowing across the bow, the air was hot and the sun insistent. I felt the steady surge of the ship's engines, and the relatively gentle motion of the waves beating against the prow. 

Honestly, I felt like I was dreaming. This crossing was one of the most incongruous and beautiful things that has even happened to me, something so adventurous and amazing that I never even dared to imagine it. 

It's happening, I told myself. Remember this moment for the rest of your life.

And that's when I noticed these ship-size rear-view mirrors. By scooting myself around just a bit, I was able to catch my reflection. I pulled out my camera for one last shot, so that I will always be able to remember myself as I was that day, surrounded by nothing but sea and sky. 

* * * * *

To find all the stories of my amazing adventures in southeast Asia, go here:


  1. What a beautiful place and a fabulous experience!

  2. beautiful piece. beautiful pictures. yes, for the rest of your life you will remember this open door! :)


    1. I know you would have loved that trip as much as I did. :)


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