Monday, October 26, 2009

When in Pulau Ubin, don't do as the locals do

Or rather, don't do as John the Belgian who's been in Singapore for 4 years (so I guess he counts as a local) does...

This past weekend, I traveled to Pulau Ubin, which is an island that is technically still part of Singapore but completely unlike the rest of the country. Whereas "mainland" Singapore is generally all urban hustle-bustle with its fair share of NY style driving and seemingly limitless street vendors, the island of Pulau Ubin is a beautiful respite from this atmosphere.

I made the trip with Trevor, Ana, and Mark (three other PiAers), and we also met Kin Hoe (my coworker) and John (his Belgian friend) and Don (John's Filipino friend). The seven of us met at the Changi Village ferry station on the east coast of Singapore, and from there we took a 10 minute bumboat ride (yes, it is called a bumboat. Grow up.) to the island. The bumboat was this tiny little ferry that could barely hold 10 people on it, but it was an amazing experience to be able to sit on the top of this ferry as we were cruising away from the city and towards the jungle of Pulau Ubin.

What we knew about Pulau Ubin before getting there: it was a jungle, you can go biking there. That's about it.

What we found out about Pulau Ubin when we were there: it is a combination of a local village (about 100 people live there), a tourist mecca for cyclists and hikers and explorers of all kinds, and it's a place where people die (or at least, get very very hurt. More on that in a bit).

So John was our guide for this trip, as he's been coming to Pulau Ubin to bike for a couple years now, almost every weekend. Upon stepping off the boat, he took us to one of the multitudes of bike shops that rented bikes to people looking to explore the island, and it was a good thing we had him as our guide because he knew the best shop to haggle with for a good deal - we paid 6 dollars per person for a bike for 3 hours, whereas walking around I noticed that other people were paying upwards of 20-30 dollars per bike. The bikes we rented were decent - they had a rear suspension, and the brakes worked; but in many cases the shifters weren't too, well, shifty, and in other cases the chains were stretched out so much you couldn't put very much power into any given stroke. But, well, you can't really complain, this was just going to be a leisurely ride, right? And you don't need a highly functioning bike for that, right?


We followed John onto the first trail, which we all noticed was conspicuously labelled as "Black Diamond." Now I'm fairly confident of my skills on bikes, but the rest of the people in our group, excluding John, were not; to top it off, none of us were wearing helmets, because John assured us that the trail "was not too difficult, you just need to be careful." So we all embarked on the trail, John first, myself second, the others behind. Within the first, oh, 15 meters of the trail, everyone else in the group except for myself, John, and Don had decided that the narrow, twisting, rocky, tree-laden, steep dirt path was too difficult for them (wisely) and turned back to take the "Blue Square" trail. I continued to follow John along the trail, although I was taking it much slower than him, and Don was following my pace behind me. We approached one particularly steep/tricky section in the trail, at which point I slowed to a near crawl, and actually just hopped off my bike in the middle of the section because I did not want to hurt myself. Suddenly, I heard from behind me a shattering "thud" and I immediately heard Don cry out in agony.

I threw my bike to the ground and ran back to him, as he was trapped under his bike off the side of the trail. Don had lost control going down the section and was now lying on his side, grimacing. I immediately feared for the worst, because as I already mentioned, we were not wearing helmets. Don's left shoulder, left hand, and left knee were severely cut up, and he was also complaining of vision issues and feeling faint. I was afraid that he had hit his head, although he claimed that he did not. John returned to the scene at this point, and we assessed Don's situation. He was able to stand up on his own after several minutes, and seemed to have suffered no further injuries; he also said his vision cleared up and he no longer felt faint. He claimed to want to keep riding; I refused. I told John that this path was too dangerous for us, as was clearly evidenced by what should have been a larger injury. We then decided to leave the path, and instead walked our bikes back out to the main road. We returned immediately to the starting point to meet up with the other members of our group, a little bit shaken but not too much worse for the wear.

Despite this nearly-serious accident, we all still had a fantastic time. The scenery around the island was beautiful, and it was great to get back on a bike for the first time in several months. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from when we were on the island, because my camera finally broke as I was walking off the ferry (it's been slowly breaking for a while), but I will definitely be returning in the future. However, I don't think I'll be checking out the "Black Diamond" trail any time soon.

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