When we launched early Friday morning from Pasir Ris, the water was still. The air hung, weighty and heavy and silent. Dark clouds filled the sky, ominous.
But it was a holiday weekend (Hari Raya Haji), so our spirits were high. We just needed to make that 2+km crossing over to Pulau Ubin. Given that our destination was to explore the heavily wooded mangrove rivers of the island, a bit of rain didn’t faze us.
As it was, as soon as we started the crossing, the winds picked up, flattening the left side of my wide brim hat against my face, so that I had to physically turn my head port side to look out for the rolling white caps that had formed, and which slammed repeatedly into my kayak.
We powered on without stopping, for a brief rest meant getting immediately pushed eastwards by the strong currents. As it was, to make the narrow slit of land that bisected Pulau Ketnam at high tide, we had to paddle full steam upstream.
But as soon as we crossed the channel, the howls of the winds abruptly subsided and the waters become glossy smooth again. Protected by the islands of Pulau Ketnam and Pulau Ubin, it was as if we’d crossed into another world.
Shan and Caroline had just explored the area with Huey of Kayak Asia the week before, so they were familiar with the windy route. We ventured up the river Sungei Puaka, and as the river narrowed, the sounds of the mangrove surrounded us. Crickets in their never ending chorus, unknown birds hidden in the dense foliage calling out to one another. We spied herons, sea eagles, a swimming otter. Shan and Caroline, in the lead, also spotted a wild boar in the waters.
Midway up the river, the skies opened up. But protected by the trees, we only felt light droplets on our heads. We delighted in moving slowly through the increasingly narrow river, up through sections where we almost had to navigate by pushing ourselves off the exposed roots, because it was too tight to get in a sweep on our paddles.
The passing rain showers had cleared though, by the time we pushed out of the mangroves into the northern side of Pulau Ubin. Soft golden light lit up our kayaks, and a gentle breeze played about. We could either round the island back to the southern side facing Singapore, or wend our way through another set of rivers in the mangroves again. It was a unanimous decision – back into the magical mangroves we went!