magazine of the Biological Sciences Society
National University of Singapore
|The Mudskipper, Nov 97|
A small trail near the rubber plantations led to some alarming signs that said "Danger! Land Mines!" I tried to call Alvin (ex-combat engineer) back in the lab on the handphone but no joy. Since this was not a live firing area, I decided to cut through the barriers but still tread softly. Nothing went boom! So it was as innocent as I had assumed.
The trail led across a wooden plank bridge to a picturesque mangrove inlet with kingfishers, big mudskippers, monitor lizards and lots of fish, with stilt roots on one bank and a sandy beach on the other - must be some instructor's favourite fishing ground!
After the coastal exploration, I used a short cut which was a dead reckoning due south of the coastline. Scrambling up a hill slope, I saw an old bunker facing Southern Johore. Now well reclaimed by the forest (I nearly walked past it), it must have been part of the old coastal defences, like those Sentosa or Labrador bunkers. Perhaps something the DO-GRA regiment used during the war'?
After the hill, I struggled through a dense jungle of Lumnitzera - full of brittle dead wood and very thick mud. Only 30 minutes of it, and I was quite breathless. I was wearing sandals, covered in grime and carrying an umbrella. Thanks goodness I was alone! There no longer are civilian communities on Tekong but I saw their old kampung. Much overgrown, but there was some old fencing, urns (on which I cut my foot, ouch!) and well-defined streams that must have drained their coconut groves. Eventually I came to a well where I had a wonderfully cold bath and a complete change of clothes.
The second day was easier - I accompanied the lads on my $200 mountain bike with failing brakes. We saw a couple of wild boars, that looked like small cows from far!! I kept my parang handy and explained to the guys how I would swipe the boar to provide us all with lunch. My actual plan was to out-pedal the rest, leaving them behind as placatory sacrifices for the tough pig.
Later we saw the largest boar ever(!) through the fence of the M203 (grenade launcher) range. Adrian was hoping it would step on leftover practise-ammunition. Some of those 'practise-rounds' are filled with curry powder resulting in this case, instantly seasoned wild boar meat!
When the fence abruptly ended and no obstacle hindered a confrontation, we were polite to the boar. He gave us a dark look and thundered away...
Biking around the island was relaxing, but boy, it was really hot! Outside Camp III, there was a flag which is raised when the temperature is at least 32 degrees Celsius. Obviously, heat is a significant problem. Not so for Adrian, who nearly cycled us to our deaths (by heat-stroke) to reach some picnic spot situated well within his imagination.
Lunch was also a picturesque spot, but this time on a stream-lined, shady leaf-covered floor of a ru forest. We built a fire just to smoke the other major problem, the mosquitoes, away. We later spent more time eliminating the last spark of what had became a roaring fire! Thankfully, I don't usually get bitten, but I could see the clouds of mosquitoes in the reclaimed land, and fogging teams hard at work.
We often stopped to collect lots of leaves and inflorescence. Not very macho, but my company for the day were two of Dr Hugh Tan's students , Adrian and Jude - flower boys, if you will. When plants were out of reach, our relative body weights and structures deemed that it was Adrian who perched on my shoulders (weak with two repaired collar bones), trembling as he balanced to cut down some flower. Botanists!
There is a veritable perfume garden out there! We found lots of wonderfully fragrant flowers, leaves and wood. But we couldn't have made a pretty picture - three cyclists, all mud-covered, bearing fullbacks, wrapped in camouflaged cloth with mud-strewn bikes, plant and wood-laden and bristling with parangs. But there we were, exclaiming over flowers, and sniffing away!
Quite a nice pre-Christmas outing in our own backyard...
Otterman Note: All illustrations by Kelvin Lim, based on scenes described by the Otterman. No pictures ware taken on the island, for we had to surrender our cameras at the guard room.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dr Hugh Tan and Adrian Loo, who arranged and prepared for the trip on which I hitched a ride, and Adrian and Jude for the company that day.
© N Sivasothi, 2001