Hole in the wall

From a mile out you see nothing but a sheer rock wall, 150 feet high and running both ways for miles. Run up to the north a bit and a sliver of a crack appears—the Hole in the Wall, one of Langkawi, Malaysia’s hidden jewels. Once you’ve butted through the tidal outflow, a view like a Chinese landscape opens. Mangroves line the shorelines, and limestone cliffs climb 500 feet straight up.

We anchored in the channel, and around us yellow mangrove leaves rode out to the sea. On the shore a golden kingfisher, whose iridescent plumage exactly mimicked the color of the leaves, took minnows from the water’s edge.

Far overhead, Brahmani kites, locally called eagles, soared on the morning thermals. We took the dinghy into the estuary’s south arm to photograph them. As we lay quietly tied among the arching roots, two tourist launches raced in. They threw scraps to the eagles and immediately the air was thick with birds. Then, as fast as they came, they left—on a full plane—and there was silence except for the odd mewing call of the eagles.

At low water a troop of monkeys came out onto the mud flats to catch crabs. The juveniles leapt from branch to ground and squabbled loudly.

Up the north arm, a line of a dozen boats lay on long-term moorings. Most were home-built, boxy, roughly welded affairs. They listed ports-of-call from around the world. In the twilight the mood was full of broken promise and waylaid dreams, quiet as a churchyard.

That evening a big weather system came off the coast of Thailand. Squalls and heavy rain lashed the tiny anchorage. Moose hauled at her snubber, but held fast to the muddy bottom. Only wavelets played against the hull, although the lightning flashes showed a jagged sea running outside. The Hole in the Wall is the sort of anchorage that breeds courage.

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