Monday, November 24, 2014

At the End of Everything #15

The road upwards to Bukit Timah was certainly far from what I had expected. Touted as the highest point in Singapore, I expected a route that offered more of a challenge. Something that would test our limits. But 30 minutes after starting our trek, I was already at the summit, wondering if I had climbed the correct hill. There was a radio tower next to me and yet another rock nearby, congratulating us for reaching the top of Bukit Timah, along with the amount of distance that I had climbed.

To be honest, I had envisioned the whole process to have been much tougher, and the view from the top to be slightly more breathtaking. But a scenic view was hardly what greeted us. Aside from the radio tower and the rock, there was another hut located nearby, in which Jenny was resting. A vending machine offering different types of cold drinks sat in it, silently called out to us, asking us to buy its wares. It was strategically placed though, the vending machine, and before I knew it a cold bottle of 100 Plus was already wrapped in my hands.

There were a few other people besides us, but aside from that, all that was left to see were trees. We were able to catch a glimpse of the view that laid behind the trees through the small cracks in between them, but trying to get through those trees was just well not worth the effort.

I walked back to Jenny, who was leaning against the bench in the hut. “So much for the top of Singapore uh.”

She looked back at me, still catching her breath. “Hey Monkey King, just because you’re okay with the trek doesn’t mean that others are too. The path was pretty steep alright.”

I thought about our ascent. She was right, in a way. While the main path was tarred all the way to the summit, there were places where the angle upwards was pretty steep indeed. You could feel your back and legs straining to keep up with the slope. There was not as much bend and curves that you would expect from a roading leading up a hill. Still, the entire path itself felt too short, too fast. I was not satisfied.

I passed the can of 100 Plus that I bought to Jenny. “Say, would you want to try out the other paths that are around here? Just so that our trip is worth the effort?” 

Jenny took the can and held it in her hands, her eyebrows raised and her mouth tilted sideways for a moment. She stared blankly at the ground, perhaps contemplating my suggestion. After a while she turned back to me, and shrugged. “Why not? I have already told myself that I’m going to spend the entire day here today, so might as well. And I bet it’ll be exciting too!” 

She then drank a quarter of the 100 Plus, before standing up and handing me back the drink. “So, shall we?” She walked gingerly down the path. I chuckled to myself, before running a few steps to catch up to her.

We retraced our journey through the main path down but stopped immediately near the first dirt path that greeted us. It branched off into the jungle, downwards into the colelction of trees. A signboard nearby with an arrow painted on it pointed down, with the words ‘Kampung Trail’ emblazoned on it. A slightly smaller signboard sat beneath the first signboard, which showed the map of the entire Bukit Timah reserve, and where we were supposed to me. 

Both Jenny and I tried to study the map to determine where we were going, or at least to have a rough idea of the surrounding area. But there were only a collection of different wriggly lines that snaked around randomly in different colours, which made absolutely no sense to me. I turned to Jenny, who shrugged back at me. I guessed she was as equally lost as I was.

“So… how about we step into the unknown then?” I gestured with both my hands, like how waiters normally welcomed customers into their restaurants.

Jenny took a glance at the path that led away from the main road, standing on tip toes while doing so. The path led downwards in an endless series of steps that go as far as our eyes could see. Slabs of cement gave the steps a makeshift look of a staircase, while leaves from the nearby trees branched over the path. The entire path itself felt more rugged, kind of like the trail that I had pictured when I first thought about hiking. Before I made a decision, she shouted “Let’s go!” and ran down the cement slabs.

“Hey!” I shouted back when I noticed her dashing past me. She was one spontaneous girl, I thought. I hurried down along the steps as well, eager to catch up. The cool forest air brushed against my face as I made my way down. It did not take me really long to catch up to Jenny, who was now standing next to a tree in the middle of our path. “It seems to be quite steep down from here on, doesn’t it?”

Trying to catch my breath, I looked down at where Jenny was staring at. It has been a while since I last exercised, and the short sprint taxed me. 

The slabs of cement that had formed an artificial staircase for us ended where we stood. We were standing on what looked like a mini cliff, with a drop down to the ground below. I took a step down to the brown dirt path that continued from ours, holding on to a nearby tree trunk for support. The root of the tree held the ground in place, creating a difference in height between the two places. My feet landed with a soft thud. The ground felt damp and mushy, which I guessed must have been a result from the rain yesterday.

Jenny eyed me warily from where she stood, unsure if she would follow me. I held out one of my hands to her. “Here, hold on to my hand.” Only after saying that did my brain suddenly realized the significance of offering my hand to her. Or rather began to overthink it. In the split seconds that my hand was in air, different thoughts raced quickly through my head. Was I dropping too big a hint? Will she misunderstand my intention? I held my breath in anticipation.

Jenny took a look at my outstretched arm, before holding on to my hand and using it to support herself while she navigated down the steep incline. I kept a straight face while she did that, but deep inside my heart let out a little holler of joy. She muttered a quick “Thanks” when she reached down.

Jenny scanned our surroundings. “This is certainly not what you would expect to see in Singapore uh,” she mused. 

I followed her gaze, taking in the sight that surrounded us now. “Yeah.” It was complete change in scenery. The last object that reminded us of civilization, the cement slab pseudo staircase, was no longer visible from where we stood. A sense of awe crept over me. 

The both of us stood there for a period of time, admiring the part of Singapore that we usually do not see. The trail in front of us was covered in foliage, adorned by bushes and shrubs on both sides. Tall trees stood not far away, their canopy blocked out the sky, only letting in patches of sunlight occasionally. Finally Jenny turned towards me, her face beaming with excitement. “Oh my gosh, I can’t to see what we can find!” And she began walking off again, along the narrow dirt path. 

“Hey, wait for me!” I yelled, as I quickly followed suit.

Our path this time reminded me of the time when I went for a camping trip in a forest back in my home country. Jenny and I were the only two humans walking along the trail, accompanied by the sound of different insects and animals. There were several steep ascents and descents along the way, which required us to hold on to something as we attempted to find a solid footing on the ground. I would go first every time, planting myself firmly on a spot, and offering my hands to help support Jenny. And she would take the offer every time. I was elated.

Occasionally one or two runners would pass by us, and we would usually stand at a side, allowing them to pass. You know that they were the seasoned runners along the trail because how they looked while running. They seemed so focused and serious, and some of them would be holding something in their hands as well. Either two dumbbells or filled water bottles. To train their arm strength, I guessed. The both of us looked so out of place in comparison to them, with our backpacks that made us looked like schoolkids. 

Before long we found ourselves standing at a small clearing, a small concrete structure stood solitarily amongst dead brown leaves on the ground. Jenny leaned against what seemed to be the buildings pillar, catching her breath. It was supposed to be a downhill journey, but the entire path was far from a straight downhill trail. It twisted and turned in different directions, and made us climbed and go downwards as well. Almost as if we were walking in a big giant circle. 

Except for the trail that we were on, every around us looked almost the same. Covered in similar trees, shrubs and plants, it was hard to make out our position or to recognize any landmarks.

“What do you think this is for? And why is it doing out here alone in the jungle?” Jenny broke her silence, putting one of her palm on the wall. 

I studied the structure, grey in colour. Green moss covered lower parts of the walls, and a rusted ladder perched against one side of it. It seemed as if the structure has been built on that piece of land since forever. The way it stood there, against a backdrop of tropical greenery, gave off an eerie and mysterious aura to it. I wondered about the history that was hidden in the time forgotten walls of the building.

Turning back to Jenny, I shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe it was build during the second world war?” She nodded at my explanation. 

We continued our hike soon after that, going straight according to our path. While the hike up to Bukit Timah took only a mere 30 minutes, we were still walking along the jungle path almost one hour and fifteen minutes after we started. 

The clock on my phone told me that it was already close to 5 pm, which worried me somewhat. The pessimistic part of me was afraid that we might get lost. Worst case scenarios that could happen started popping in my head. What if this path is one of the super long ones? The last thing that I want was to get stuck overnight lost in a forest. 

“We have to turn back if we cannot reach the exit by 5.30 pm,” I voiced to Jenny, as we trudged down a similar set of landscape, still no sign of civilization. 

She turned back to me, with a hint of concern on her face. “Why? What’s wrong?”

I looked at the sky, and back to my phone. “Cause I’m scared that we will not be out from here by nightfall.” 

Jenny followed my gaze to sky, draped in a bright orange hue by now, and then back to the trail. Tilting her head back to me, she gave a cheeky smile, before shouting “Which means we need to go faster!” and darting off again. I sighed reluctantly with a smile. Her enthusiasm was infectious, as I found myself to be constantly amused by her actions. 

My concern seemed to have dropped somewhat seeing her like this. I reassured myself that no matter what happens, we were still in the middle of the most developed island in Southeast Asia. Besides, according to the park’s website, the last tiger in Singapore was seen quite a number of years ago. The most that we have to deal with was most probably monkeys, or hungry mosquitoes. I picked up my pace to join her.

Another 15 minutes passed before we were forced to stop. We found ourselves standing in front of a striped red white tape, tied between two trees. It was the type of tape that people use to cordon off an area when accidents occur. A white paper, wrapped in clear plastic, was stuck near the middle of the tape. It had the ominous message of “Danger!” written on it, along with smaller message below that explained that there were ongoing renovation work in the area.

Jenny and I looked at each other. I felt a sudden sense of dread crawled over me. What if we really ended up trapped in this forest?

“What are going to do now?” Jenny asked. She walked in front to the tape, and tried to look beyond the barrier. “Don’t see what’s wrong, but I think let’s not doubt Mr Red Tape eh?” 

I chucked in response, somewhat amazed by her sense of humour, even though I was already growing nervous. I looked at the my phone’s clock again, and then back at the path where we walked from. It would take us roughly the same time for us to retrace our steps, about an hour or so, which meant that it would be close to 6.30 pm when we reach the main path back. I walked to where Jenny was standing, and tried to take a look at the path that laid behind. It stretches on like the path that we were on, with no indication of where it leads to.

I turned back to study our options, to see if there is an alternative path that we could take. Only the forest greeted us all around. There was not much options for us except than to turn back, if we do not want to risk getting caught by the night. Jenny walked up to me, and perhaps thinking the same thing. I took out my phone, and opened up Google maps. Perhaps technology could provide us with an answer. I stretched out the phone to Jenny as well, so the both of us could see the screen.

The map did pick up our location, to my relief. We were marked by a familiar blue dot on the screen. But other than a road that laid quite far away, which I assume to be the main path up the hill, we were surrounded by greyness. Which meant there was not much information that Google could give. I gave a sigh, before closing the phone.

*****

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P/s: I have been writing! Just that I have not been posting. My internal editor just would not let me do it :/


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