04 October 2009

Slow to CJ

I'm back on Pulau Ubin, for a solo trip to Chek Jawa.
For the first time in probably nearly a decade, I decide to get there by bicycle.

After a fortifying breakfast of Sunday-only Ubin-only Lontong at Pak Ali's with Chay Hoon and Ley Kun, I get a brand new bicycle with basket from my favourite bicycle shop. Saying goodbye to Pui San who is conducting an arts session for the Ubin volunteers, I head off on a slow wobbly ride.
One thing good about cycling is that you get to see a lot more, but it's not as tiring as walking. The major roads are sealed and easy to ride. Through shady groves of fruit trees.
Next to common plants like bananas and other favourite fruits lining the road.
Tranquil fish ponds next to the coconut plantation. Both unfortunately, currently abandoned.
Pretty traditional kampung houses, some of which offer cold drinks for sale to thirsty visitors.
The Headman's house is still well-kept and occupied although he passed away in 2006. Cold drinks also sold here.
A slow bike ride at Ubin is a great way for parents to introduce their urban kids to kampung life! With many drink stops and lots to see and do. I think it sure is a lot more fun than riding at the East Coast.

After skirting a grove of Nipah palms and some mangroves, the route turns off into the dirt road towards Chek Jawa.
Along the way, you can see a pale shadow of the Kampung Melayu village that used to be here.
The earthen trail winds through forest and goes up and down a bit, with giant potholes full of water from yesterday's downpour. It's NOT a good idea to ride into a pothole because it could be deep or have a big submerged rock that could cause you to fall. And a wet muddy bike will give you a skunk-like stripe up your back if your bicycle doesn't have a mud-guard.
There are clear signs along the way at every intersection. With warnings about falling branches, which is a very real danger. Dr Chua Ee Kiam and I were nearly killed by an enormous falling Tembusu branch. Tembusu timber is used to make the giant chopping boards that your favourite chicken rice hawker uses. If it's windy or rainy, it's not a good idea to walk or cycle in the forest.
I made a lot of stops along the way at interesting plants like this Chocolate tree. Our chocolate comes from cocoa beans which are found in the pods of this tall tree (Theobroma cacao). The pods are a pale green and ripen yellow. Sometimes, you can find fallen fruits and have a look at the beans. Of course, there's a lot of processing before you get to eat it as a chocolate bar.There were also some Belimbing trees (Averrhoa bilimbi) along the way. This tree is often planted in rural and even urban gardens for their sour fruits that look like little starfruits. The fruits are used in local dishes like sambal prawns. They are widely used in cooking in Southeast Asia and the region. It has pretty pink flowers. I didn't see the fruits today.
Along the way, I also saw this group of planted trees. I have no idea what they are but they sure look interesting! Here's the tree with fruits.
And a closer look at the flowers. Little bees with bulging pollen baskets on their legs were busy at the tiny flowers.
If I wasn't cycling I would have totally missed the painfully pink flowers of the Jambu bol tree (Syzygium malaccense). The fallen flowers left a dusting of bright flourescent pink on the trail.
Here's a closer look at the flowers on the ground.
And the tree with the flowers still up on the branches. It looks like the flowers are pollinated by bats as they are pom-pom shaped and situated on sturdy branches.
Right next to the bright pink blossoms was this bunch of fallen fruits. It seems to have been ripped off one of the tall trees. Possibly by monkeys? I have no idea what they are.
And I saw this blossom of the Tiup tiup plant (Adinandra dumosa). My first time!
All too soon, I arrive at the entrance to Chek Jawa. We can't ride our bicycles on the boardwalk as the 'planks' are made of concrete and fibreglass so they can shatter. There's a big bicycle parking area at the entrance. I didn't lock my bicycle and it was still there when I was ready to go home.
At the entrance, there's lines of rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) next to the narrow trail. Actually, there are rubber trees everywhere but the regenerating natural forest has grown all around them. Next to Punai Hut at the entrance to Chek Jawa, one of the rubber trees is regularly tapped by one of the drivers who used to be a rubber tapper. As a demonstration to visitors. How wonderful!
Today, there were lots of fallen rubber seeds on the ground. Some of them had been eaten already. The neatly eaten ones probably by small animals. Wild boar probably just crunch up the whole thing.
It was a cool morning, refreshed after yesterday's long rain. I actually felt the ride was much easier and more pleasant than I recall. I used to ride in a lot in the old days before reclamation on Chek Jawa was deferred and when I was working on the Chek Jawa guidebook. And it was really nice to end the trip with a refreshing juicy coconut in Ubin Town.

The best time to visit Chek Jawa is early in the morning. Ubin Town is also less crowded. You get the pick of bicycles and the roads and trails are quiet, with few vehicles and visitors. You also finish early and can get ahead of the lunch crowd, and the bumboat queue to go home (which can get long in the evening).

More about cycling safely on Pulau Ubin from the Pedal Ubin site.
And more about Pulau Ubin on the wildsingapore website.

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