Double the Fun

We wanted something different when we awoke, something less urban. We got it, but it would take some time, and Singapore’s version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. As our train headed east towards the far-off Changi region, it began to rain, hard. Some platform workers assured us that it would pass quickly as usual, but an hour later it was a full out storm. This could ruin our plans, or at least dampen them! We considered an about face, but decided to see this plan through as far as we could go. The second transport leg of this journey involved a bus. Once we found the correct queue, we were rewarded, because it turned out to be the double-decker variety, and the best seats in the house were empty! From our top front cusions we watched with great pleasure and interest as the bus navigated across unfamiliar territory, with villages getting less urban and more rural with every stop. We cut right through a vast prison complex, stretched across a large, winding, tropical setting. Periodic signage displayed the importance and goals of rehabilitating the inmates -not just punishing. Aha, we thought! A piece of the puzzle, and a slice of Singapore psyche.

The final leg of this journey started where the bus dropped us off: at a small, rustic harbor. Old, charismatic, gurgling boats take passengers in groups of 12 on a wavy jaunt across the sound to Pulau Ubin, a mostly abandoned old fishing village now best suited for walking and biking. As luck had it, we were passengers 11 and 12, so those who had been waiting a while were glad to see us approach, and we all quickly boarded the wet, wooden, noisy, smokey vessel for a 10 minute chug.

A cluster of old tin and plaster restaurants and bike rental shops make up most of the harbor village that greets you, along with an old, red brick, Taoist temple, incense burning. The scene looked old and Asian, and real, despite the obvious touristic nature of what it had now become. A small woman shopkeeper held out two cheap rain ponchos for us as we passed, which we gladly bought and put on. Then, like most others who first arrive, we chose a place to sit and eat a cheap, tasty meal, before heading off to explore this jungle island.

It was drizzling as we ventured farther away from the bay. This probably limited the wildlife opportunities, and made looking up for birds or into the trees difficult. Eventually the drizzle stopped, and we’d walked a long way, and I was tired and wished we’d rented bikes by then. But if so, we likely would’ve missed out on the best parts of our jungle island adventure: crossing paths with a family of wild boars (loved the black mane on the father, and the hurried babies); a serene, still, ash-green, reflective, quarry lake; a jungle pond with lilies, interesting scat nearby, and odd termite mounds; and the best part: 1, then 2, and then a third monkey, swinging high in the trees above us, and shimming up and down the vines and branches. This happened near the end of our hike, just as we’d given up on the possibility.

The double-decker bus ride was so fun that we took it most of the way home, past unfamiliar parts of Singapore. We hopped off within walking distance of the last “must see” place on our list, Arab Street. Unlike Little India, this district was very clean. But just like it, it felt authentic, and was a marvel to walk through -though a bit late. The main mosque towered over the Arabic village, with its large gold spire lit up and everything so exotic and clean, like something out of Disneyland -but this was real. We enjoyed a wonderful, sumptuous, tangine-cooked dinner at a table in the street, a stone’s throw from the mosque, before exhaustion set in and sent us home. It had been another fabulous day in Singapore. And we were grateful for it.

-matt

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