18 September 2011


Singapore, like Hawaii, is a state made up of a number of islands – 63 to be exact. Though we may not be able to find all of them on a map, we are starting to explore those we are able to see first hand.

Yesterday Paul and I took a boat to four of the eight islands south of the main island, known as the Southern Islands – Pulau Sakijang Bendera, Pulau Sakijang Pelepah, Pulau Seringat and Pulau Tembakul.

Pulau Sakijang Bendera, more commonly referred to as St. John’s Island, is a former cast away island for people with diseases such as leprosy and cholera – turned holding cell for deportees – turned drug rehabilitation center for opium addicts – turned weekend vacation getaway.

We were trapped on the island for three hours until the boat would return to save us, so we decided to wander around. When w purchased our tickets we were warned that there was no food or drinking water on the island. Thankfully, we had packed our backpack with lots of water and some snacks.

We headed out on some cement trails and came across the Tropical Marine Science Institute, where we were met with a sign that said we were trespassing, so we turned around and walked back toward the prison yard.

No, I'm not kidding. There really are prison yards - barbed wire and all.
Where The Sidewalk Ends is one of my favorite childhood books but I had no idea I could come across so many sidewalks that just stopped in one place. We would walk a little ways and then…nothing. The sidewalk just ended in a field or in the grass. Weird.

We found some local homes and island dwellers and, since we had some time to kill, we wandered over to another island, Pulau Sakijang Pelepah (also called Lazarus Island), which was connected by a causeway. We carefully kept our eyes on alert for monkeys, big lizards and snakes but the only animals we came across were birds, geckos, some chickens and stray cats.

Pelepah was more deserted with few roads and few homes. We walked the cement paths and relaxed a little in a pavilion by the water on Pulau Seringat as we listened to the rain sprinkle in the leaves around us. This group of three islands was supposed to be developed into touristy land just like it’s Southern Island partner, Sentosa. However, a few years ago, plans were scrapped and the land is now just out there for anyone to explore.

When the boat returned, we hopped aboard and made our way to Pulau Tembakul, known as Kusu Island. Paul decided this island is where Singaporeans go to see grass.

The name translates to Tortoise Island and I was certainly excited to see these creatures. I was highly disappointed to find out that the giant Galapagos-style tortoises I was expecting were not present. In one small area in the middle of the island, Paul did find the “Tortoise Sanctuary.” It was a cement hole with water in the middle and 40 or so little turtles were taking a nap. The only giant turtles were made of marble.

We walked the circumference of the island in under 30 minutes, which was just the time we had before the last boat left the island for the day. On our way back to the dock, we came across some steps with the words “DATOK KONG” written on a large sign above.

“Want to go?” I asked Paul, ready to race up the stairs.

“That depends,” he replied. “Are barrels about to come down and stop me?” This, for those who may not see the significance, is a reference to an old school video game called Donkey Kong, which sounds a little like Datok Kong.

We started racing up the stairs even though the sign clearly stated this was supposed to be the “down” way. We began jogging up and were a little more than halfway when we realized that the stairs just kept going so we slowed our pace. One hundred fifty-two steep steps later, we made it to the top.

We found a yellow building with decorations and writing all over. I learned this morning that the building is home to three shrines of holy Malay saints. Legend has it that a tortoise turned himself into the island to save two shipwrecked sailors, one Chinese and one Malay. Each paid homage to his religion by building a shrine, one Muslim and one Taoist.

The Da Bo Gong temple is on the lower level of the island and can be seen as the boats enter the dock.

While we may not return to these islands, it was definitely a good experience to see just once. We look forward to seeing what else Singapore has to offer as we continue our life’s journey here in Southeast Asia.

No comments: