13 Apr Singapore Off The Beaten Path: Biking In Pulau Ubin
Steve McQueen once said, “I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth”. You may know that this isn’t far from my own truth. I like cities. I do. I love exploring new skyscraper-laden skies, bursting with colors, people and smells, but I usually find that after a few days, the urge to go somewhere quieter, towards nature, begins to pull.
So, during our fist week in Singapore we learned that there’s an island close to the city where not many tourists venture to. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
So, on Wednesday morning we started our journey to Pulau Ubin.
Once in Changi village, which is easily accessible by MRT, we walked to the ferry terminal where a barefoot Captain dressed in a striped shirt, with a look that suggested that he couldn’t care less about anything but his boats, welcomed us.
We set off in his blue bumboat.
The second I stepped on the island I felt it. The vibe was very different from Singapore, even if we had left the city behind only 10 minutes ago. It was as if the bustling world which was visible across the ocean had existed only in my imagination. This humid, laid-back island was like stepping into the Singapore of the past. The one you only get to experience through history books.
The first thing we did (after snapping photos of the welcome sign, of course) was rent a bike. It’s the best way to explore the tiny island. With no maps, and absolutely no clue where we were going we started pedalling away from the shops in Pulau Village, and we left the smiling locals behind.
Within minutes we were deep into the jungle, and the sense of freedom was immediate. The only sounds were the wind, our wheels, and the wildlife hidden among the trees.
This is what I love, I thought. This, right here, is exactly why I travel.
First we stopped at the Chek Jawa Wetlands.
This rich ecosystem, which comprises more than 100-hectares in wetlands, feels like a million miles from the pristine and glamorous Singapore. We walked the entire length of the boardwalk that goes straight to the mangroves, through the ocean, and into the jungle again. We didn’t spot any wildlife, but watching the well preserved mangroves was enough of a reward. This boardwalk, which sits right on the water, kind of reminded me of Britney’s “Sometimes” video, and I had that song seriously drilled into my brain the whole day. But I’ll never admit to this out loud. Ever.
Next, we climbed the stairs of the Jejawi Tower for spectacular views of the island. Even if the heat feels like it’s burning you inside out-because it probably will-do climb the stairs. If not for the appreciation of how small you are next to nature, then for the views.
Leaving the Wetlands, we took our bikes for yet another spin through the wilderness. This time, something magical happened. We saw not one, not three, not five monkeys, but six.
For me, this is the best way one should come in contact with wildlife. In their own environment, in their turf, with their rules. It makes it so much more special than seeing them behind bars in a zoo. Two of them were mammals doing it like they do in the Discovery Channel, if you get my 90’s drill.
On one of the island’s maps we saw a route going to “German Girl Shrine”. It was also mentioned in our guidebook but we didn’t know exactly what it was. So we set out to explore it. We got kind of lost a couple of times but the few locals we met in our path were friendly and eager to help us get there.
It’s not close to the village, and not many tourists venture here, but that’s exactly what makes it so special.
The legend says that a German girl, who was the daughter of a coffee plantation manager was running away from British troops that’d come to arrest her parents during the war. While she was trying to escape, she fell in a ditch and died. Inexplicably (and this is the part that intrigues me the most) somewhere along the way, this Catholic girl got turned into a Taoist Deity and now has her own shrine in Pulau Ubin.
There’s nothing nearby. And I mean nothing. The few stalls that we passed on our way were abandoned, or at least they looked that way. And we didn’t see a single person remotely nearby.
Then, out of nowhere, almost like a vision, this yellow house-turned-shrine appears and it’s hard not to be captivated. Some of the offerings make this place even more interesting-mascara, lipstick, nail polish, and even false lashes. Guess even deities love their makeup.
It was the perfect way to the end our day in Pulau Ubin before heading back to town. I remembered why it is that sometimes I prefer venturing into the virtually untouched. To find places like this.
Before I wrap this post up, I want to share a story with you. I don’t know if I believe that you meet people at the moment you are supposed to, that it’s life’s way of showing you that it’s paying attention and sending you exactly who and when you might need it the most.
But there are times when it’s hard to doubt it.
Up in the Jejawi Tower, with nothing but jungle and ocean as far as the eye could see, there they were. Andy & Jackie-a British couple in their 60`s, who were about to go to New Zealand, and they had every intention of living every day of their trip as fully as they could. In their agenda were included: bungy jumping, rafting, canyoning and serious trekking. And I admired them deeply for this.
Then, just before we said goodbye, Andy told me something that’s been on my mind since that day.
“Everyone says that you only live once,” he said, “but I’ve realized that this is not true.”
“What do you mean?”
“You only die once,” he said with a cheeky and confident smile, “but you live every single day.”
It hit me. Especially because of what I’ve been through these past months, and because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about. We live every single day. And not to go all Leo on you, but it’s up to us to make every single one of them count.
I just realized this is my third 90’s referene in a single post and it’s making me feel old.
Anyways…I thank Andy an Jackie for the amazing life lesson. And I’ll always thank Pulau Ubin for giving me the chance of meeting them at the moment I needed hearing those words the most.