Semakau Stroll

Water- check. Mosquito repellent- check. Camera- check. I pulled on my Nike trainers for the first time in about a year. Thankfully they weren’t falling apart yet, especially the soles. In the early Sunday morning, traffic was light and the drive to West Coast carpark 2 was a breeze. I managed to arrive just two minutes later than the appointed time. Already my mum was waiting with her Bike Friday all folded, and a slight frown on her face. I glanced at my phone and realized she had sent me 3 text messages, one of which said “I hope you are not late again!” I felt a pang of both guilt and irritation.

As we strode towards West Coast Pier, the air was like a cool kiss on our cheeks. And the cranes of Pasir Panjang terminal yawned sleepily overhead with a gentle whir. West Coast Pier was a third-world-like mess of bags, packages, and signboards spilling out onto the street. There was even a metal cabinet with padlocks securing double doors. One said “For Intertek Only,” the other said “For Inspectorate Only.” I wondered if these oil sampling companies took off from launch boats here, and what strange equipment they kept in the cabinet. A group of Chinese and Malay workers squatted by one side chatting and smoking. Another group sat by themselves on chairs outside, dozing or daydreaming with earphones on.

Wing Chong welcomed us and got us to fill out the relevant paperwork. Soon we were standing by the jetty, inhaling the salty breath of the sea and the fumes from our launch boat. Wing Chong directed the captain to take the scenic route, and so we slid out over the calm, early morning waters around Singapore’s biggest industrial area. Stretching across the horizon were oil storage tanks of Jurong Island, Singapore’s national bird – the cranes – at Pasir Panjang, container ships at berth, oil tankers waiting offshore, and the flares atop the towers of our oil refineries. And as we passed the automobile terminal, we could see row after row of spanking new vehicles catching a glint of the rising sun’s rays, with the ships that had discharged them from her belly – the RoRos – lying dormant by the dock. As we sailed on towards Pulau Bukom, I could make out the pyramidal chimney-like roofs of the clubhouse area where I had spent many happy weekends as a child. And the enigmatic Pulau Hantu lay just across the water, captivating with coconut trees swaying around a deserted but tidy and clean jetty.

When our launch boat unloaded us on Pulau Semakau, it was hard to believe this was a part of Singapore, save for the logo of the National Environmental Agency on the only building on the island. We were told the landing site was originally Pulau Seking. Pulau Semakau and Pulau Seking – united by the ashes of 13 years of Singapore’s waste. Wing Chong gathered us together, and off we went on my first real bird-watching trek.

So here is my bird journal:
– Savanna Nightjar
– Paddyfield Pipit
– Lesser sand plover
– Scaly-breasted munia, chestnut munia, white-headed munia
– Black-shouldered kite
– Collared kingfisher
– Great-billed heron (resident named Jimmy)
– Black-tailed godwit
– Blue-tailed bee-eater
– Common green shank

Visit http://www.nss.org.sg/calendar.aspx for events organised by Nature Society of Singapore.

Cranes – Singapore’s national bird

Enigmatic Pulau Hantu

Wing Chong introducing Pulau Semakau

Trekking into the heart of the original Pulau Semakau

Graveyard of coconut skulls

Remnants of the old Malay fishing village on Pulau Semakau

A fruit from a plant with spiky leaves growing near the mangroves