Thursday, July 7, 2011

Return to Palau Ubin

[Updated 8 July, 2011-- Photos from Sec-Sea]
Palau Ubin--  Getting the kayaks ready to head out.  Rosita (watching from the surf) was our lead guide-- very pleasant, and a fun attitude.  Our total paddle was about 4 km.
Last weekend Elaine and I made our second trip to Palau Ubin.  (Palau is Malay for "island").  Palau Ubin is one of five small outer islands that are a part of Singapore.  It is mostly a reserve, but there is a small village of inhabitants.  It is accessible by "bum boat" ferries, which cost S$2.50 for the 10 minute ride across the strait.  The boats are a bit dodgy--  they are wooden, and look like they have been in service since the time of Sir Stamford Raffles.  However the captains are quite skilled, and I'm unaware of any mishaps, at least since our time here.  Palau Ubin is quite crowded on weekends, as it is a popular destination for a day trip to fish, mountain bike, or hike.  It is very rustic-- and touted as "what Singapore was like 25 years ago".  Tin roofed shacks rather than concrete high rises are the norm.

Our purpose for a second trip to Palau Ubin was to take part in a sea kayak tour.  Elaine has been wanting to do kayaking in Singapore for quite a while.  For some unknown reason, you must be "certified" to be able to hire a kayak and paddle about the reservoirs and/or coastal areas.  Certification means taking a course from the agencies that rent out the kayaks.  Since Elaine and I have been in both river and sea kayaks, it was not clear what we might gain from the certification.  However, the training course schedules just never worked out.  The kayak tour was guided through the mangrove area of Palau Ubin, and required no previous experience.  The kayaks were tandem, the sit on top type.

Full disclosure:   My interest in kayaking in Singapore has been significantly less than Elaine's.   Actually zero.  The reservoirs are limited, and thoughts of four plus hours in the tropical sun/humidity were not appealing to me-- I would have skipped the whole event.  However, Elaine persisted and the kayak tour was booked.  It turned out to be a good day.

We were fortunate--  there was a nice breeze blowing (unusual), and periodic cloud cover, which kept things relatively cool.  At one point during the tour it rained.  Since we were dressed to get wet, it was not unpleasant, and the rain lasted only a few minutes.

Although we have kayaked previously, I think this was our first time together in a tandem.  Marriage on trial.  Kayaking is similar to canoeing, but because of the double bladed kayak paddles and smaller boat, there is a greater requirement for synchronization (and communication).  Compared to others in the tour group I think we did very well, but not without some disagreements and confusion.  Elaine did not drown me and we both returned safely to the jetty--  no one left  behind stranded on a mangrove sand bar.

I would rate the tour as OK-- but too many people on it.  Perhaps one of the longer tours would be better. We saw (briefly) some Oriental pied-horned bills (like a toucan), and mudskippers--  a strange, nearly amphibious fish that skates along the surface of the mud and/or water.  We've seen small ones before, but  saw a couple that were 6 to 8 inches in length.   And lots of hermit crabs.  Apparently a Collared Kingfisher was spotted by the leader (these are highly colorful birds) but it was long gone before we reached the location-- the tour consisted of 30 persons, and in places in the mangrove, we needed to pass single file through a narrow channel.  A much smaller group would have been preferable.  There are wild pigs on the island, but none sighted on this excursion--  we saw some on our first visit to Palau Ubin.  The tour was hosted by Sec-Sea (Sea Expeditions Centre of South East Asia), a professional and fun tour outfitter.  This is the tour we did.
Training--  A little orientation and training before we head out.  Yes, I've always been the attentive student.  What did you say?

Instruction --on how to parry and block that blow from your exasperated kayak partner's paddle.
Trained, suited up, and ready to paddle
Heading out--  This picture captures a tragic reality of the waters around SE Asia-- the plastic and trash.  Singapore works hard to keep things clean, but with the dense population and the enormous ship traffic in the region it is an enormous task.  We were required to wear closed toe shoes as a precaution against glass, etc.  Fortunately this was only a particularly bad area--  most of Palau Ubin is much better.

I'm providing directions and encouragement, Elaine is doing the paddling (heh, heh, heh)
Don't try this at home--  What's that they say?  Never stand up in the boat...

Single file--  With a large number of kayaks and narrow passages, we go singe file into the mangrove lagoon.
Mangrove--  the mangrove trees are salt tolerant and provide an ecosystem habitat.  Algae grows on the roots, attracting small marine life, which of course attracts larger marine life.  The mangrove provides a habitat where the fish can hide.  The mangroves also act as a filter to trap nutrients.
Getting really narrow now .  The water also was very shallow in the lagoon. We nearly got trapped in a lagoon, as the tide went out, which would have required pulling or carrying the kayaks out on the mud.  I'm glad we avoided that-- the mud is super fine, and sticks to everything.
Oriental Pied-Horned bills--  Do you see the horn bills?  No, we barely did too.  The horn bills flew over and landed high in the trees.  However they give away their location by a cackle that can be heard for quite a distance.  (Probably just laughing at the amateur kayakers below).

Better picture--  Here's a picture of the Horned bills, courtesy Sec-Sea.

Hermit crabs--  We stopped at a sand bar near the entrance to the lagoon, where there were hundreds of snail shells, and a proportionate number of hermit crabs.  The crabs eat the snails, and take over their shells.  There is one (in a shell) at the top of the photo.  Not a terribly exciting picture, but the first underwater photo with the new water proof camera  (thanks Lois & Gary!).
Shell Squatters--  Lots of hermit crabs in the estuary  (Sec-Sea photo)

Mangrove lagoon--  This is the lagoon that rapidly lost its water due to the falling tide.  We paddled about in here for only a few minutes (maybe 5) before we realized we had better paddle out or face walking out.

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