Squid jigging in Terengganu, Malaysia, and more
Veena Patwardhan recalls an unforgettable experience in Terengganu, Malaysia.
The heaving waters of the ocean are set ablaze by the rays of the setting sun, and a full moon that has just appeared above the horizon is rising majestically into the sky. But when we had set off from the jetty on Redang Island, it was still bright. After cruising out to sea for an hour or so, our captain decides to drop anchor.
Our college-age team leader now hands each of the six of us on the boat a spool of fishing line. It is weighted at the free end with two colourful fish-shaped lures or jiggers fitted with multiple hooks.
Eager to get started, we begin unwinding the line from the coil, careful not to hurt our fingers on the sharp hooks. Our team leader watches me as I toss the line into the water over the side of the boat and continue to uncoil a few more metres before tugging at it like in the video clip shown to us the previous day.
“No, no. Not to do that way,” he says, shaking his head. “He show you how”, he adds pointing to our captain’s helper, a toothless old fisherman with a salt and pepper stubble. As instructed by the team leader, the old man proceeds to give me a demonstration.
If you’re wondering where I am and what I’m doing, I’m trying to catch squid in the South China Sea! I’m out squid jigging in Terengganu, Malaysia. Around 120 international and Malaysian journalists and bloggers are here in the state of Terengganu on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia at the invitation of the State Government and Tourism Terengganu. We’re here to attend the Terengganu International Squid Jigging Festival 2015 and other cultural festivals.
Haven’t heard of squid jigging before? Well, it’s the traditional way Malaysian fishermen catch squid. No fishing rod, no fancy equipment… they use just a fishing line and weighted jiggers to catch these sea critters by hand.
I watch carefully as the veteran fisherman releases metres and metres of fishing line into the water before he begins yanking it at intervals. The team leader tells me the jiggers should reach the seabed where the squid tend to hang out.
I spend the next couple of hours desperately trying to catch those translucent, tentacled sea creatures but fail to snag even one. Our entire team draws a blank, but I’m thrilled that of the six of us, Danan – an Indonesian photojournalist, and I have got our sea legs. The rest have been laid flat on their backs by queasy stomachs and sea sickness.
Our boat continues to be tossed by the waves and the wind. All around us, short distances away, we can see our flotilla of a dozen fishing boats swaying from side to side like drunks too. Occasionally, we hear whoops of joy and excited yelling from our other colleagues as someone or the other pulls a squid out of the water.
By now, the multi-hued sunset sky is as ink black as the sea that is shrouded in darkness except for the illumination provided by the twinkling lights from our fishing boats.
The seascape is so beautiful, so enchanting. I get the feeling the salty sea breezes, the dancing waves, and the magic of the night have all joined hands to cast a spell on me. I feel at peace with the world and experience an exhilarating sense of complete freedom. I wonder if that old warhorse Santiago, the gritty hero of Hemingway’s classic – The Old Man and the Sea – had felt similar emotions as he fished for days and nights on end in his little boat out in the ocean.
Despite my amateur fishing efforts yielding no results, I’m surprised to find I’m loving every moment of this first-time experience on the high seas. The way I look at it, squid jigging or, in a broader sense, fishing is a journey. It’s not a destination and is more than just about catching fish. It’s about the joy of being drenched by the sea water. It’s about listening to the blowing wind, feeling the sea breezes whip through your hair, marvelling at the rhythm of the water as it rises and falls, experiencing a oneness with the vast expanse of the ocean and the infinite night sky… I’m glad I didn’t pass up the opportunity to experience all of this.
By 9 pm, the entire fleet of fishing boats heads back towards the Redang Island coast and we return to the Laguna Island Resort (where we will be staying overnight) with our modest catch of squid. As expected, the highlight of the buffet dinner that night is freshly caught grilled squid.
So much to see, so much to do
My fellow writers from the far corners of the globe and Malaysia had arrived in Kuala Terengganu, the capital of Terengganu state, just the previous day. Famed for its string of pristine, silver sand beaches spanning 244 kms, and its pre-dominant Malay culture, the state of Terengganu overlooks an archipelago of picturesque, forest-clad islands, some of the most famous ones being Perhentian and Redang.
After spending the first night on the mainland, right after breakfast this morning we had embarked on a one-hour ferry ride from Shahbandar Jetty to Redang Island. As we neared our destination, I had found myself gazing at the bluest ocean waters I had ever seen. And that’s not an exaggeration. The crystal clear, turquoise blue waters here abound in marine life and snow white coral reefs. Which is why Redang Island is listed among the most beautiful islands in the world and is a popular getaway for activities like snorkelling, swimming, and scuba diving, besides trekking and boating. Accommodation is available on the island to suit different budgets.
We spend our second night in Terengganu at the Laguna Island Resort and wake up to stunning views of lush vegetation all around and the sparkling ocean waters beyond stretching into the distance.
On Day 3, we head back to the mainland and pile into buses to drive to Setiu, a peaceful, coastal district of Terengganu. Along our one-hour journey, we learn from our guide Osman bin Jabbar that Setiu is blessed with abundant wetland resources and is home to the endangered painted terrapins.
We alight from the buses at a beachfront tented pavilion, and are pleasantly surprised to find a reception committee waiting to greet us with a veritable feast of goodies. Right off, we are treated to tender coconuts as big as footballs, chilled in large tubs of ice water.
Next, we are ushered to buffet tables laden with traditional Malaysian dishes. On one large table is an assortment of coloured drinks in large glass containers with taps. One of them is Milo, the chocolate drink that’s a huge hit in this country. However, I am in no mood to have anything with chocolate and much as I am tempted to, neither do I want to risk picking something I might not like.
As if reading my mind, someone says from behind me, “May I suggest something Ma’am?” I turn around to see it’s Francis Loh, another of our friendly, helpful tour guides, looking sharp as usual in a batik print shirt.
Filling a glass to the brim with a pale brown drink with pieces of ice and what look like lime green bits of noodles floating in it, he hands it to me with a smile, saying, “Try it. Tell me how you like it.”
I take a sip and give him an appreciative smile and a ‘thumbs up’ in reply. Made from coconut milk, palm sugar, and flavoured rice noodles, the drink is delicious. Francis watches me ask for some more with a satisfied grin on his face. “It’s called cendol (pronounced chen-doll)”, he tells me.
Post lunch we listen to the strains of traditional Malay instruments, and watch a demonstration of native martial arts, giant top spinning, and Malaysian crafts. I am thrilled at picking up beading skills from a Malaysian craftswoman. The beautiful bead work keychain I have made by following her instructions, all delivered through signs and gestures, is going to be a prized possession.
… To be continued in Malaysia’s treasure: Terengganu Part – 2