Thursday, 16 August 2012

Don't Boar Me

The bumboat that takes you to Ubin

It is hard for people to imagine that Singapore has over fifty natural islands, a handful of artificial ones and many more now lost to land reclamation. Many of the natural islands are not available to the public, used by the military or are uninhabited, Luckily, there are a couple of islands that you can still visit for a few hours to escape the maddening crowds of Singapore and catch a slight breeze to cool your senses.

I took my sister to such an island; Pulau Ubin is home of the wild boars and rouge monkeys. After seeing all the slick, high-end architecture in Singy, I wanted to show Lori what life was like before the fame and fortune hit The Tiny Red Dot.

Houses on stilts in Ubin
They say Ubin is what Singapore was in the 60s. Hard to imagine when you see the tiny homes on stilts, eateries that are mere shacks, one lane dirt roads and a small jetty where the bum boats dock. If there was a toilet on the island, I didn't see it and it was probably of the squat-and-dip variety.

Singapore of today is glitz, glamour and as high end as you can imagine. The country recently celebrated its 47th birthday so the transformation in this short time is nothing less than remarkable.

One of the many bike rentals shops

It wasn't my first trip to Ubin so I knew what to expect. Lori, however didn't know the only way around this hilly, granite isle was by bicycle. After looking at row upon row of rusted, decrepit bikes, she informed me she hadn't ridden in over ten years. Nothing like baptism by fire and I planned to baptize her on a ride with barely-there-brakes, one speed and steering that resembled a pulverized grocery cart.

I could see this brilliant plan of mine going south quickly but we managed to find her a "weecycle" because she is only five feet tall. Surprisingly, she looked like a pro after only a short time so we continued on our merry way, hunting for the wild animals I promised. Lori felt more confident when we happened upon some Japanese tourists that not only were newbie cyclists, the ladies all had training wheels on their grown up bikes. Not an easy feat when riding mountain bikes up rocky terrain. 

Lori was delighted in the Jackfruit trees, the Lotus ponds and all the tropical vegetation we passed. What she wasn't delighted with was the amount of sweat cascading out of every pore. Whoever was the one that said women "glow, not perspire" obviously grew up in a cold country; perhaps Canada?

Watermelon baby coming to check me out

As luck would have it, before my sister liquefied into a puddle, I found the shy mama and baby boars that hide in the trees, only showing themselves when they cross the road. We got lucky when we quietly rested under a gazebo watching and waiting. It wasn't long before many boars appeared. The babies were so curious they came right to us so Lori was able to see the unfamiliar, watermelon striping on their bristly bodies.

It wasn't much longer when I heard the unmistakable racket of the Long-tailed Macaques. She was in for a treat today. We saw dozens of monkeys in the bush, some carrying their infants, some scampering from tree to tree and many just running alongside of the boars, hoping to spot some unsuspecting tourist and grab their food. 

It was at this point where we had to park our bikes and hike the rest of the way on the coastal boardwalk. We saw outlandish mudskippers, fiddler crabs and kaleidoscopic butterflies. We sat on the boardwalk for a long time trying to determine how I happened to be living more than 14,000 km from home and if I would ever get back to Canada. We counted the planes that flew overhead landing at Changi Airport. We marveled at the amount of air and ship traffic coming to Singapore. 

Lori trying her first and only Ice Kacang
It was time to head back to the city so Lori could have her daily Kopi Ice (Iced Coffee) and her first taste of Ice Kacang. I knew the cold beans, corn, and attap chee nuts would cool her down or terrify her so much she would forget how tin-roof roasted she was.

What a big day for my big sister.  She got to observe some mystifying nature, conquer bike riding and experience up-close and personal time with a boar. Usually in Saskatchewan from where we hail, the only bristly boars we see are the kind at the small-town country bars on the weekend. For her sake, I hope this will be more memorable.


  1. You rock sister !
    Watermelon babies are the best...

    1. That is until they grow up and be the big bristly mamas we saw...they were scary!

  2. Chin Chang Chung16 August 2012 at 06:29


  3. was this the same place you took us and we saw the monkeys by the bundles and the boars fighting??


    1. Yes, Sam, this is the place I made you ride the baby bike, where the monkey tried to steal the bike from the bike stand.

  4. Loved ubin! next time lets eat supper with the locals - granted its not wild boar to eat!


    1. Jackfruit weren't as big but we did see the mudskippers. I am also not eating the crabs - blech!