Thursday, October 6, 2011

a forest full of rain

In the middle of Singapore is the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.  Like most other nature reserves, it's mostly walking trails through trees, with the occasional small animal sighting.  
What makes Bukit Timah unique is that the 'nature' is technically a rain forest.  A real deal, southeast Asian rain forest, right in the middle of the city.  It's advertised as one of only two rain forests in an urban setting in the world (this being a selling point because one would think that "urban" and "rain forest" would be mutually exclusive).  Bukit Timah was my destination for the day.

Despite Singapore not being gigantic, and despite it being in the middle of the city,  it took a longer cab ride than you would think to get there. There's no train stop nearby (in theory one is opening THIS SATURDAY, but not when I went), so a taxi had to do.  As I got dropped off, I noticed that the other visitors here had all driven.  I realized that leaving was going to be a bit of a problem, but I'd worry about that when it came time to leave.

On the map here you'll see the various trails.  The color highlights are the 'major' trails- wide, paved, clearly marked.  There are thin grey lines sprouting off from them- these are the smaller, unpaved, hiking-type trails.  They've got various degrees of difficulty- yellow is considered 'difficult', blue was 'easy', and so on.  Blue should take about 30 mins, yellow 1 hr 45 mins.  Red, yellow and green all basically end up at the same place- the summit of the park, some 500 ft. above sea level.  I decide to walk up red, then back down green.  Figure this will take me...about an hour.  Off I go.

The beginning would be easy, since it's paved, but it's extraordinarily steep.  I wouldn't be surprised if they carve steps into the path one day.   The walk up is fairly uneventful.  There are some signs warning me not to feed the monkeys (Monkeys! Yay! Best nature reserve ever!).  A few other signs here and there tell me what type of tree I'm looking at, or to keep an eye out for various endangered animals.  I'm in the rain forest, but honestly this looks and feels like a walking trail through the middle of Florida.  There was a brief rain storm as I arrived, so everything is wet and humid, but it looks to be drying quickly, and I make good time.  

At the summit, there's a rock giving you the latitude & longitude of where you are, some benches, and a gazebo type place to rest.  This is nice I guess, but if this is a rain forest I don't see the fuss and distinction.  So it's time to head back down, and I look for the green trail.  On second thought, this was pretty easy- let's look for the yellow trail and take that loop around.  It's got to be around here somewhere.  Ah- that post has a yellow band on it- that's it.  

The path I'm on is now unpaved.  It goes down the hill pretty steeply;  there are steps that are easily a foot high, and some of the larger steps are 2 ft.  It feels less like a trail staircase than a climb.  At this point, the warning system in my head starts some low level beeping- if this trail loops around back to the summit, then this insane downhill staircase is going to have a twin insane uphill climb.  Still I trudge onward, because now it's starting to look like a rain forest.  It's really humid, and the trail is getting a bit exhausting.

Wow, this trail is longer than I thought.  The trail is really just a muddy path- it looks more like a path carved by water running down the mountain.  I've seen 2-3 other hikers though, and along with the occasional marker post, I know I'm at least ON a trail.  But this...this isn't easy.  The trail is 2-3 feet wide at best, and in sections it's only half a foot wide.  It's still pretty wet from the earlier rain, and there are exposed tree branches and rocks all around.  And it keeps going and going.  

Finally, after what seems like forever, I come across another one of those bench/hut/gazebo things.  I'd seen a few spots like this on the walk up to the summit, and know that they've got a trail map posted.  
I am not on the yellow trail.  Not on the main yellow trail anyway.  I am on one of the side grey trails.  The insanely long one, that goes waaaaaay to the edge of the park border.  And I'm at the hut that's at the absolute farthest point from anything.  (If you care to look at the map again, and can make it out, there's a tiny red square at the very top of the map labelled something like 'Dairy Hut'- that's where I am at this point).  
I'm tired, but not exhausted.  I can either keep going forward, or backtrack.  Each looks like it'll be equally difficult.  I press on.

The trail doesn't get any easier.  15-20 minutes past the hut, and I make it to the next little hut on the path.  It's disappointing how long it took me to get here.  It's calming, but the headphones on my iPod are starting to glitch and stop playing in one ear.  It's super hot.  Forward is the only way to go.  
A little further on, and I hit the upward stairs.  The FIRST batch of upward stairs.  It's solidly 3-4 stories tall, and each step looks gigantic.  I sit on the first mini landing and take stock.  I haven't been camping in years, haven't reallllly been hiking in ages.  I'm no survival expert.  But I lived in Alaska as a kid, went to high school in Colorado, and am not an idiot when it comes to the outdoors.  I think:  I have no phone.  I am not wearing proper hiking shoes.  I have no water.  I have nothing to eat, not even a candy bar.  There's a possibility the monkeys will attack.  I've seen other people on the trail, but not many.  Realistically I figure I could go 20 minutes before seeing another person.  I am not in total danger, but a twisted ankle could get really bad really quick.  I now notice that there is a mist or steam coming from the's coming from ME.  In addition to having no water, I am sweating galore, and steam is rising off my shoulders and head- I think I must look like some football player from the old NFL Films.  "Down to their last timeout, the team turned to star player Dan Warnick to yet another miraculous comeback", the voice intones.  I'm losing fluid, and must be another 20 minutes from the summit.  Must keep moving.  Carefully, but quickly.

Good lord these steps are immense.  You walk up 30 of them, walk another 50 yards, and there's ANOTHER bunch of steps.  My sole focus is just getting back to the main path.  This is slightly easier since the iPod earphones finally stopped working entirely on the left hand side.  More stairs.  Walking.  More...and oh sweet yes it's a paved trail.  I'm back on the main yellow.  

I'm exhausted, but being on the main trail again is rejuvenating.  Plenty of people here, I know where I am, and I know there's a water fountain at the bottom.  I make it back, and that water fountain is my best friend.  I twisted no ankles.  Wasn't attacked by monkeys.  Got some good photos and a cool story.  And saw a rain forest up close and personal.  Now, to find a way out of here.  Looking at the map, it looks like there's a mall fairly close by.  They always have taxis there, so I head out.

On the road out of the park, HOLY COW HOW DID I MISS THIS-  monkeys.  MONKEYS, PEOPLE!  Lots of monkeys!  There's a whole bunch of monkeys- there's got to be 40 or 50 just chilling out in this clearing by the park.  They're smallish, tan, and have long tails.  They are cool.  There are signs about the monkeys- don't feed them, don't leave your backpack on the ground and not pay attention (the monkeys will steal things from it), don't walk between two monkeys.  It is awesome monkey zone.  I resist all urge to start Oooh Oooh Aahh Aaah! to them (I make a quite good ooh ooh aah aah monkey noise), as I don't want to have a field full of monkeys attack me if I offend them.  

It's close to dinner time when I get a taxi at the mall, and I'm thinking I could easily sleep until the next morning.  But I've seen a rain forest and I've got pictures of wild monkeys, and it has been a most interesting day.

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