Don’t worry, I’m not evolving as a writer—the Singapore jungle is not a metaphorical one of the concrete variety, but an actual jungle. Apparently Singapore is one of only two cities in the world, Rio de Janeiro being the other one, to have an old growth rainforest within its city limits. I read that somewhere. Determining whether it’s actually true would require research, so I guess we’ll never know.
The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the neighboring Central Catchment Nature Reserve lie right in the heart of Singapore, yet together they have a larger variety of plant and animal species than all of North America (that’s from Wikipedia—no further research needed). Getting there is easy; you can just hop in any taxi or alternatively you could not be lazy, money-wasting moron and just take a bus. Everything is labeled in English and they never seem to get crowded, making the Singaporean bus system easily the best in Asia. Wait, did I just give some actual travel advice? Maybe I am evolving. At least I still managed to insult people while giving my advice.
The bus dropped me off across the street from the entrance to the park. Due to the Singaporean heat and humidity, I lost two kilograms of water weight crossing the road and another two getting to the trail head a few hundred meters away. I paused briefly to look at a map showing a few different possible routes and sign below it warning not to enter the park during a thunderstorm (how’s that for foreshadowing), before entering the darkness.
The jungle turned against me immediately. First, the dense canopy of trees (I know I just wrote about the large variety of species in the park, but distinguishing between “trees” and “bushes” is the extent of my botanical knowledge) served to make the humidity even more oppressive. Second, I was attacked by a clearly non-native and invasive species known as “camera toting Japanese tourist”. And not just one; a whole family locked me in their sights and would not leave me in peace until I had been captured on every camera with every possible combination of family members. I did manage to claim a small victory by overcoming all their efforts to get me to flash a peace sign. I can continue to proudly say that to this day no picture exists anywhere in the world of me flashing a peace sign (or any sign for that matter).
About one kilometer into the park, the rains started. Two kilometer past the sign with the thunderstorm warning, the first lightning bolt probably lit up the sky. I say probably because the trees kept out most light, but I did hear thunder. “Rain” in the tropics has a very different meaning from “rain” in, say, Europe, meaning that within minutes the trail I had been walking on became the stream I was wading through and at times, the waterfall I had to scramble up. I had an umbrella, but had to sacrifice myself and use it to keep my camera dry. I guess it didn’t really make much difference since I was walking in running water.
I probably should have turned around at that point, since I was two kilometers into the park and the shortest trail was eleven kilometers in total, but I figured since I had come all the way out here I should at least continue on to the HSBC Tree Top Walk, which as the name would suggest is a suspension bridge hung above the canopy (and sponsored by HSBC). Besides, if I’m going to reference Conrad in the title, I can’t exactly turn around after two kilometers, a bit of rain, and one, admittedly hairy, Japanese tourist attack.
By the time I made it to the bridge, the rain had let up a bit, but not enough to make for a great view. One nice discovery was that even above the trees, you can barely make out that you’re actually in the middle of one of the world’s great metropolises. The bridge is located about halfway into the park along the trail I was following, so I decided to continue on rather than heading back the way I came.
It was at this point that fatigue started to set in. Soaked, exhausted and deep in the heart of the jungle (over 7km!) and knowing that I had just as far to go to get back to civilization, the meters got longer and time stretched to infinity. As I plodded along, wearily putting one foot ahead of the other, I had my first encounter with the native wildlife (the Japanese family doesn’t count as they were an invasive species not native to the area). No, I didn’t actually see any animals aside from the occasional insect, as animals know enough to take shelter during a thunderstorm. What I encountered was far worse.
Joggers. And not just any joggers, but the type of people who take any activity they do to a level of obsession unfathomable to most of us. The “jogger” variety of this type of person is most easily identified by their clothing, every single item of which is designed to invite ridicule and hit and run “accidents”, which is probably why they go jogging on muddy trails in a rainforest during a tropical thunderstorm. Secondary identifiers include a ridiculously exaggerated expression of focus and determination that would be more at home, but still over the top, on an Olympic marathon runner and a completely unconcealed disdain for those of us who came to the park to enjoy the natural surroundings and to perhaps even take some pictures (we really do ruin it for everyone, I know).
The joggers were out in force that day, but I made it safely back to the park entrance thanks to some quick thinking and the handy “How to survive a jogger encounter” pamphlet they handed out at the visitor’s center. Basically, you need to maintain eye contact at all times. They will glare at you and sneer, but as long as you stay focused on their eyes and don’t blink, they will pass by harmlessly. Whatever you do, don’t look down. One glimpse of their outfit and you will collapse in an uncontrollable fit of laughter that will leave you completely vulnerable. You’ve been warned.
Singapore is rightfully famous for its food and its orchid garden, but it also boasts a variety of options for those looking to get away from the bustle of the city. The nature reserves making up the Singapore jungle are probably some of the lesser known among those options, but to me they were also the most worthwhile. Just don’t go in the afternoon during the rainy season.