Wednesday, 13 February 2019

MacRitchie Nature Trail

Across The Canopy
On our way back from Bali we stopped off at Singapore for a few days as we have been told by so many people what a great place it is to visit.  On the last day we were there we decided that we wanted to see a bit of wildlife, which is surprisingly abundant in this city.  There are a number of walking trails in the  city but the one that grabbed our attention was the 14km circumnavigation of MacRitchie Reservoir.  It was rather easier to get to than some of the other alternatives on offer as Marymount MRT station is relatively close by.  

Dappled Sky
Once out of the station we walked the short distance to the trail.  Although the roads we crossed were fairly busy they were nothing on those that we find in Bangkok.  The traffic lights were properly observed and looked strangely reminiscent of those that we find in Britain.  We found our way into the MacRitchie Nature reserve via a footpath we weren't altogether sure was official although it was marked on our map and had clearly been used a lot by other people.  We soon found the trail we were looking for although clearly we weren't at the official start we weren't far along as the km posts that we found measured the distance back to the start as only being a few hundred metres.  We decided to walk anti-clockwise around the lake, on the basis that the refreshment place would be at the end of the walk rather than near the beginning.

Big Leaf
The first thing we noticed about this walk was that the distances were measured meticulously and regularly so although there was a feeling of isolation in the forest that we now found ourselves in it couldn't really be classed as wild rain forest.  The walking surface was good and despite the fact that it was a very hot day the cooling shade of the forest was very welcome.  The path was very popular with families - we passed lots of them on the way towards the first milestone on our walk; the ranger station.  

Got Any Grub?
Not long after starting we took a side trail down to the lake side, one of the few areas where you can actually get up close to the water on the north side of the reservoir.  This part was a little oasis in the trees and the stillness of the lake coupled with warm temperatures meant that the water was full of weed.  Not a weed that choked the life out of the lake - indeed it looked very clear and inviting - but weed which somehow managed to enhance its attractiveness.  We didn't linger too long as we thought we would see a lot more of the water further on.  We would have to wait a long time for that to happen!

Being in a sub-tropical rainforest, despite the slightly manicured nature of the path, meant that we would definitely need to keep our wits about us as we walked along.  There were a number of warning signs about the monkeys and their propensity to steal food, plastic bottles and cameras.  We also saw various gaps in the forest where new growth was fighting for the new light.  Perhaps most remarkable though were some of the dead leaves we saw on the ground - they looked absolutely enormous!  However much the things we saw were a feast for the eyes, our ears were subjected to a rather different experience.  The volume of the cicadas was absolutely deafening and a sound that didn't really seem to be natural at all.
Canopy Bridge View

The going was quite easy but it was still a surprise to get to the Ranger Station so quickly.  Just before we did though we had a reminder that our walk through the forest wasn't quite as wild as it seemed.  We came upon a road that led from a housing estate to a country club just beyond and the illusion of the rainforest was temporarily dispelled.  We had managed to get a bit snarled up with a number of large family groups out walking at this point too.  We were thankful then when we reached the station as for many of the groups this would be as far as they would go.  There are toilets here - very useful to know if you come yourself.

We paused for a while watching the monkeys that gather here on the off chance that they can get some tasty human food.  I didn't see anyone actively feeding the monkeys and they seemed a bit more timid than in other places where I have encountered them.  They were very interested in something on the tree and when we looked closer we saw a creature climbing up, the likes of which I have never seen before.  It had a face that looked a bit like a bat and it certainly had wings but they were not the wings of a bat.  We watched it shinning up the tree seemingly unperturbed by the attentions of the macaque monkeys.  We had no idea what it was and only when we got back and did some research did we discover that it was a colugo, or flying lemur (a little misleading because it isn't related to lemurs).  It certainly was an exciting find and it propelled us on to the treetop canopy bridge, which is probably what attracted us to the walk in the first place.

Butterfly at Jelutong Tower
This part of the walk is a strictly one way around the track and with good reason for once you get to the suspension bridge that takes you across the treetop canopy you quickly realise that people trying to pass one another on the bridge would be a recipe for disaster.  After a bit of a climb to the top we were rewarded with an amazing view across the top of the rainforest - a rare treat indeed.  Over in the distance we could see Upper Peirce Reservoir, one of the four in this part of Singapore that provides drinking water for this city-state.  We wobbled across the bridge slowly and gingerly but in truth this isn't a scary experience as my daughter (who is afraid of heights) will testify.

The Lake - Finally!
I could have stayed on the bridge for rather longer than we did but mindful of the distance we still had to cover we moved along.  On the other side of the bridge the boardwalk started.  The boardwalk lasts the remainder of the one-way stretch of the walk and is bordered on each side by interpretive boards every so often that explain some of the vegetation and wildlife that lives in this forest.  For example we learned about the rattan tree (the one that furniture is made from), the rusty oil fruit with their velvety leaves and birds such as the hill myna and banded woodpecker.  We read a lot of them but to be honest  I had to skip past some of them otherwise we would never have got back!  We saw more monkeys looking a bit challenging in one of the shelters provided.  Less bothered about us was a monitor lizard that quickly scarpered into the forest.

Golf Course
Eventually we got to the end of the boardwalk, my favourite part of the day.  By now we had lost all the crowds and had the forest to ourselves which was a relief.  We pushed on to the Jelutong Tower, where we had another opportunity to climb up to treetop level.  I wasn't going to be dissuaded from doing that so up I went and I was soon joined by butterflies, spiders, fruiting trees and an amazing view out across the tops of palm trees to MacRitchie Reservoir below finally showing itself in the trees.  Just beyond there was a glimpse of the tower blocks we had seen at the start of the walk and I therefore knew that we were roughly half way round.

From this point we were also heading downhill and the path got rather easier as a result.  We were soon alongside a golf course but luckily our path had a distinct course that didn't require us to cross the golfing area, which is what I had thought before.  By now the cicada noise had quietened much to our relief to be replaced by birds sounds, most singing but also the odd squawk that could have been from a parrot, myna bird or a crow.  Whatever it was we never got to see it.  We had some more boardwalk along this stretch and bumped into a family that were very interested in something in the trees.  When we got close we saw that it was a macaque sitting on the branch  of a tree wondering what all the fuss was about.  By this time we had seen a lot of macaques and so we left this one alone and continued on our way. 

Health and Safety
It wasn't long before we came to the shores of MacRitchie Reservoir, the body of water we had been walking around all day without seeing very much of.  This would change now for the remainder of our walk was mostly along the shoreline.  This is the oldest of the reservoirs in this part of Singapore and almost looks like a natural feature now, having been here since 1867.  Our side of the reservoir now gave way to meadow for a while, enabling us to get a really good view along the shore.  To our right the golf course was largely deserted but we caught sight of some fairly exotic looking birds squabbling in the trees.  Sadly they were a bit too far away for me to get a decent  picture but they were certainly very eye-catching even if their manners could use a little work.  We also saw some flowers for the first time along here.  I wish I could tell you their names but I am clueless about flowers in SE Asia at the moment.  I can tell you that the yellow and orange ones caught my eye as did some fruit that I saw growing up the side of a tree.

Monitor Lizard
We briefly left the lake and wandered across a piece of forest separating two inlets where bizarrely we spotted a cockerel wandering about. We also caught sight of a skink in the undergrowth, a rather interesting little lizard like creature that didn't know whether to be bold or shy when it saw us.  The result was that it stuck around long enough for me to get a half decent picture.  Sadly the next section of path around a boardwalk along the shore was closed for maintenance so we had to make do with the inland alternative until the next inlet.  Here we were able to take the boardwalk around the shoreline and it made for a delightful walk.  In the water we caught sight of small fish and numerous dragonflies whizzed around.  There is obviously plenty of food in he lake for it wasn't long before we saw a monitor lizard lumbering along the shore.  When it saw us it quietly slipped into the water and was gone within seconds. 

Humming Bird
Part way round this section of walk and we had an unusual obstacle in the shape of an overhanging tree.  I gather it has been here a long time in this state for the authorities have left the tree alone and lowered the boardwalk and put in plenty of signage to deal with the health and safety.  It is rather an unusual set up but I suspect one that has been here a good may years.  By this time of the walk we were starting to think about the refreshment booth and wondered what it might serve.  Fortunately it wasn't too much further on and soon enough we were in the 'park' part of the reserve.  This is a much more manicured part of the reserve and the bougainvillea provided a good deal of colour.  We passed by the old bandstand and passed by what looked like some lodgings.  As we descended to the cafe we caught sight of a hummingbird - the first one I have ever seen in the wild.

The Dam
Any thoughts of tea and a slice of cake were soon dispelled when we got to the cafe.  It was largely Asian fare but I will say that the spring rolls that we ordered were delicious and provided a satisfying snack after our lengthy walk.  It was a very welcome pitstop and a wise one to have at this end of the walk for I fear we wouldn't have finished if we had come here earlier on.  As it was we only had to climb up the side of the dam and walk around the end of the lake to find the path that we had entered on about four hours earlier.  I have to say that thus far this has been probably the most satisfying walk we have done since coming to Asia.  We all agreed that it was one of the highlights of our holiday.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Bali Paddy Fields

Early Plantings
One of the must do trips in Bali is to walk or cycle around the paddy fields and there are a couple of particularly popular locations.  We chose Ubud partly because we combined our visit with a trip to the nearby Sacred Monkey Forest and a Bali Dancing show we wanted to see nearby.  Ok, so proper tourist stuff but without knowing when we might come back these things should be seen when on holiday.  It turned out to be a nice mixture of things to do and this was undoubtedly one of the highlights of being on the island.  We took a tour on this occasion rather than trying it ourselves principally because it was a lot easier and saved a good deal of time.  There are self guided walks in the area but we thought it would be fun to cycle for a change.

Bali Sunset Adventure is quite a nw outfit and as such we were able to get a good discount in the hope that we would spread the word about them.  Well I guess I am through the channels of this blog!  Our guide was quite patient with us but his pace was a little slow and this caused a bit of frustration initially as my girls wanted to go a lot faster.  However, later on in the ride it was actually quite a good idea to keep things at a slower pace, partly because of the steamy conditions (it was rainy season in Bali when we got there) and partly to keep ourselves from falling in a paddy field!  It was easier than you might think to do the latter partly because of the narrow paths and partly because of various things left on the paths that would have been very easy to collide with.

We turned right out of the compound and headed along a long straight section of road which enabled us to get used to our bikes and get some speed up.  This was quite important to try and keep up with the traffic as it was quite busy and there were few places to pass us.  It also helped us with some momentum as we crossed a small river valley; one of the countless valleys carved by rivers carrying water very quickly from the upper slopes of the volcanoes in the centre of Bali.  There wasn't a lot of opportunity to look around while on this  road so it was with some relief that we turned right a little further along the road from the valley.  We then found ourselves on a nice quiet road for traffic but there were plenty of other things going on.  The street was beautifully decorated with Penjor, large bamboo poles that hang over the road that are highly decorated.  Each one was slightly different and there looked to be a certain amount of family pride in getting them slightly better than the one down the road.  Despite the fact that they all followed a similar pattern each one was very slightly different.

Temple Guards
We continued along this residential road until the houses ran out on the left hand side and we got views over the paddy fields.  What was very striking was how they were all at slightly different growing stages.  I guess in a tropical climate with no real seasons to speak of rice crops can be grown at almost any time.  The sight that was most interesting was watching the fields being ploughed.  Rice paddies obviously have a lot of water in them and the ploughs have to be adapted to suit this environment.  The farm worker obviously gets very dirty as he pushes the plough around but he isn't alone by any means as behind him were herons and egrets eager to scoop up the frogs and crayfish that live in the swampy conditions.  I found it almost comical watching them - they are Bali's version of seagulls I guess.

Flower Fields
At the corner of the field was a Hindu temple.  Bali is unusual in Indonesia as being a predominantly Hindu island and the province is the only Hindu majority in Indonesia.  It is said that more than 90% of the Hindus that live in Indonesia live on Bali and the culture of the island is as you might expect heavily influenced by the religion.  It is a little different from Hinduism in India however as the caste system has not been introduced here.  The temples have a unique style with intricate carving and are often decorated with gold cloth and guarded by stone carved elephants and all manner of other more scary looking mythical creatures.  Outside the gates you can usually see various offerings, often food and/ or drink in small bamboo trays.

We turned left along a road between paddy fields and then found our way onto another quiet residential street where the only traffic was the odd motorcycle, usually heavily loaded either with household articles or people.  It isn't unusual to see whole families of people on small underpowered motorcycles in Bali (or Thailand for that matter) and I always wonder how the bikes cope long term?  After a few more minutes we left the road altogether and headed along agricultural tracks for the next part of the journey.

Once out in the fields it was interesting to see that rice wasn't the only crop.  There were also fields of flowers and our guide explained that these are largely grown for all the various ceremonies that are held at the temples.  Having seen the number of flowers that are used I had wondered how they managed to get so many fresh ones all the time.  Sadly I couldn't name any of the flowers but pinks, oranges and burgundy red were the main colours.  Instead of hedgerows there were banana trees and I imagine these help protect the crops from the wind.  Canal systems much like we saw in Madeira (lavadas) carried water around and I wondered whether the Portuguese had actually influenced this technology for they had colonised parts of Indonesia.

Out Into The Paddy Fields
The tracks through the fields took sharp turns around the field edges and as we passed by one field junction we dropped down the side of a valley to a small stream below.  Shrieks of laughter came into earshot and we saw a group of naked boys jumping into the stream from a small footbridge overseen by a rather stern looking woman who I am sure was tasked with making sure they stayed safe.  A little further downstream and another woman was doing the washing.  I guess that even on a relatively rich island (by Indonesian standards) mod cons are not necessarily things that all the population has.

Irrigation Channels
We wound around the path that followed the stream and eventually came to a junction of irrigation channels where we stopped to make sure everyone had caught up.  We were kept company as we waited by a large group of ducks.  They were free to come an go but seemed to want to go everywhere together...  They initially shaped up to waddle away but when they saw we weren't a threat they came shuffling back.  We left the road at this point and made our way along the alleyway that runs between the paddy fields and views to left and right now showed a vast expanse of rice growing.  To our western eyes this was quite an exotic sight, especially with the farm workers toiling in the fields wearing their traditional sun hats and accompanied by large numbers of herons who feed on the creatures that live in the swamp like conditions.  We also watched more of the ploughing with much fascination (as did the herons - huge numbers of them!).

Once we had traversed the rice paddies we entered a small palm tree woodland and past yet another temple and regained higher ground to meet the road through the village once again.  There were a lot more people in this part of the village and especially young boys playing games on the road.  As we cycled by we got cheery hellos and enthusiastic waving - a far cry from the sort of reception that we might have expected from similarly aged boys in Britain.  One set of boys were up to no good however; they had found some firecrackers and were letting them off in the street.  They stopped as we went by and continued afterwards, accompanied by peals of laughter.

Our ultimate destination for the tour was one of the numerous luwak coffee farms that try to entice customers with tasting sessions.  The range of teas and coffees on offer was much the same as one we had experienced and we were enticed to buy a couple at the end.  We also had some Nasi Goreng (fried rice) which is something of an institution in Indonesia.  Indeed our driver told us that he has it for lunch every day and never gets tired of it!  I can certainly vouch for its tastiness - whether it tasted particularly good at this farm or whether it was needed after our exercise I cannot be totally sure.  It certainly rounded off an excellent tour and one to be recommended if you are ever in Bali.  Getting out into the countryside in this way will show you a completely different side to  the island besides the massage parlours, cocktail bars and surf shacks of the coast.

Back Into The Forest