Tag Archives: rainforest

Above the treetops at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore

Up until a few months ago, I was living in sunny Singapore. Since then, I have moved continents, to the land of canals and krokets, Amsterdam, and find myself trying to make sense of a very fickle spring.

When I think about my time in the Little Red Dot, I’m happy I was able to capture different facets of the city, via my articles for PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. So here is, the last of these nuggets from the city I called home for nearly 6 years.

My article in the May-June’17 issue of PASSAGE encapsulates my many wonderful memories of the MacRitchie Reservoir Park in Singapore. Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.

2017_May-June_MacRitchie

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

I’d like to reiterate that when visiting any nature reserve/park, please be extremely respectful of the environment. Loud chatting or music will disturb wildlife and ruin any chance of spotting them. Going off-trail to get a picture damages the ecosystem that nurtures these species. As the old saying goes…

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.

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You can read more about the wildlife/natural history of Singapore in the following posts:

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Pasir Ris Park

Birds of Singapore

The Wallace Trail

Singapore Botanic Gardens

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In the land of Barbecue & Rum – Puerto Rico

The drinking world is divided into those that absolutely love piña colada and those that absolutely dislike it! It’s a bit too sweet for my taste but its popularity is undeniable. This delectable mix of white rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice; is after all, the national cocktail of Puerto Rico.

Did you know that nearly 70% of the rum sold in America comes from Puerto Rico? The island prides itself as the ‘rum capital of the world’, with Bacardi being one of the largest rum producers on the island. No surprises then, that Bacardi’s distillery in the town of Cataño is known as the ‘Cathedral of Rum’. Nearby is Casa Bacardi, a museum unlike any other museum you know! It offers exciting tours of the distillery, a heady rum tasting session as well as a mixology class, among other fun activities. http://www.visitcasabacardi.com

At the entrance of the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

At the entrance of the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

Nothing like starting the day with a spicy rum punch! At the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

Nothing like starting the day with a spicy rum punch! At the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico

During Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the New World in 1493, he reached the shores of the island we know today as Puerto Rico and named it San Juan Bautista, after St John the Baptist. The capital of the island, founded in 1521, was called Ciudad de Puerto Rico, which translated into English means the ‘rich port city’, alluding to all the gold that was found in its rivers. In a strange twist of history, the capital city came to be later known as San Juan while the entire island was referred to as Puerto Rico.

Statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon in Spanish) in Plaza de Colon in Old San Juan

Statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish) at the Plaza de Colón in Old San Juan

The indigenous people of Puerto Rico (and the larger Caribbean region) are the Taino Indians. They were the first people that Christopher Columbus encountered when he arrived in the New World in 1492.

You’d be interested to know that the word ‘barbeque’ comes to us from the Taino people. While this cooking technique has been around since prehistoric times, the Taino used the word barbicu to refer to a wooden rack built above the ground for smoking food. Spanish conquistadors took the word back to Spain and by the 18th century, English speakers were using the word ‘barbecue’ to refer to a late afternoon social gathering where the highlight was the grilling of meat.

In fact, several commonly used English words come to us from the Taino people. Hammock, potato, hurricane, canoe, potato, cassava and maize are just a few examples.

Spain surrendered Puerto Rico to the US in 1898. While it is officially known today as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it is an unincorporated US territory.

There is so much to experience in Puerto Rico – it’s luscious coffee, the El Yunque National Forest, the Arecibo Observatory (the world’s largest single aperture telescope, featured in the James Bond movie Golden Eye), its stunning beaches (it’s an island after all!), its many underwater treasures. For now, I leave you with these snapshots of Puerto Rico….

Mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed green plantains) with shrimp

Mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish of fried and mashed green plantains) with shrimp at Raices, a local restaurant

Red snapper ceviche with tostones (fried plantain) at Marmalade, Puerto Rico

Red snapper ceviche with tostones (fried plantain) at Marmalade, a fine dining restaurant in San Juan

Ending the meal with a divine chocolate mousse topped with raspberry ice cream at Marmalade, San Juan

Ending the meal with a divine chocolate mousse topped with raspberry ice cream at Marmalade, San Juan

The Paseo del Morro trail along the 16th century citadel that guarded Old San Juan

The Paseo del Morro trail along the 16th century citadel that guarded Old San Juan

Another view of the Paseo del Morro trail

Another view of the Paseo del Morro trail

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan - the oldest church in the US (original building dates back to 1540)

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan – the oldest church in the US (original building dates back to 1540)

The narrow streets of Old San Juan

The narrow streets of Old San Juan

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Postcard from Panama

Everyone’s favourite Panama souvenir? A Panama hat, of course!

Well, if you thought Panama hats came from Panama, it’s time to do some research. In reality, Panama hats have been made in Ecuador since the mid-1600s. In the 19th century, they began to be shipped from Ecuador to the rest of the world, via Panama, thus creating the myth that they were made in Panama. Well, now you know!

The label on the inside of my Panama Hat - still made in Ecuador!

The label on the inside of my Panama hat – still made in Ecuador!

Made from the leaf fibers of the Paja Toquilla (a palm-like plant), a Panama hat at its finest, is said to be able to pass through a wedding ring! And yes, you can buy them in Panama.

Panama City, the capital of Panama, was originally founded in 1519 by the Spanish. After it was attacked and looted by a British buccaneer by the name of Captain Henry Morgan in 1671, a new city was established 2 years later not too far from the original location. This historic town is known today as Casco Viejo (which means ‘old quarter’ in Spanish) and was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

The quaint streets of Casco Viejo (old quarter)

The quaint streets of Casco Viejo (the Old Quarter)

On a separate note, if you thought the name Captain Henry Morgan sounded familiar, that’s because the world famous Captain Morgan Rum is named after him 🙂

No trip to Panama is complete without a visit to the pride of Panama, the Panama Canal. It is after all, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

A ship approaching the Miraflores locks, Panama Canal

A ship approaching the Miraflores locks, Panama Canal

After much political manoeuvring surrounding the creation and control of the canal (that’s a post for another day!), the Panama Canal opened on 15th Aug 1914. It took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nearly 10 years to build (1904-1914) and more than 75,000 workers were involved.

This feat of engineering connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, saving ships sailing from New York to San Francisco (and vice versa) nearly 13,000km (8,000 miles) as compared to going all around Cape Horn in Chile, South America. Panama assumed full control of the canal in 1999.

30-40 ships cross the canal every day and a ship takes roughly 8-10 hours to cross the 80km canal. Interestingly, the ship captain isn’t allowed to navigate the canal on his own. A specially trained pilot steers the ship through the canal. The system of ‘locks’ used by the canal is an impressive phenomenon to watch and an engineer’s delight!

A ship getting lifted at the Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

A ship getting lifted at the Miraflores Locks to enable it to transit the Panama Canal

2010 was a landmark year in the history of the canal as the millionth vessel transited through the waterway.  Ships that use the canal pay a toll based on their size and cargo volume, with large ships paying as much as half a million dollars. Richard Halliburton, the American adventurer holds the record for the smallest toll ever paid when he swam the canal in 1928 – 36cents. There are many jokes about where he could have possibly kept his change 😉

The canal generates nearly $2 billion in annual toll and along with allied industries, is a significant contributor to the Panamanian economy. You can either watch the ships navigate the canal (http://visitcanaldepanama.com/en/) or book an actual boat trip along the canal.

All the buzz around the canal completely overshadows the fact that Panama is home to dense rainforests (the forest cover is almost 50%), which in turn house nearly 1,000 species of birds, more bird species than the US and Canada combined. With 2,500kms of coastline and nearly 1,500 islands, Panama also has a rich and thriving marine life. That calls for another trip to this fascinating country – the only country in the world where the sun rises in the Pacific and sets in the Atlantic.

I leave you with some fun snapshots of Panama….

A food platter with ceviche, carimanola, empanadas and much more @ Diablicos, Panama City

A sampling platter with ceviche, carimanola, empanadas and much more @ Diablicos, Panama City

Local beer, Cerveza 507 @ Diablicos, Panama City

Local beer, Cerveza 507 @ Diablicos, Panama City

A local painting purchased from Casco Viejo, Panama

A local painting purchased from Casco Viejo, Panama

La Catedral Metropolitana (completed in 1796) in Casco Viejo is one of the largest cathedrals in Central America

La Catedral Metropolitana (completed in 1796) in Casco Viejo is one of the largest cathedrals in Central America

The church-school complex of Iglesia de la Compania de Jesús (completed in 1741) , Casco Viejo

The church-school complex of Iglesia de la Compania de Jesús (completed in 1741) , Casco Viejo

Miraflores Locks Control Tower at the Panama Canal

The Miraflores Locks Control Tower at the Panama Canal

 

Hasta la vista amigos! 🙂

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Datai Dreaming

What’s a rainforest without some rain, right? So we packed our bags and headed to Langkawi, Malaysia during the off-season (early August). Our destination – the spectacular Datai Bay.

Rain in the rainforests of Datai Bay

Downpour at Datai beach – not a soul in sight! 

Located on the northwest corner of Langkawi island, Datai Bay is a crescent shaped, golden sand beach, backed by a 10 million year old rainforest. There are only 2 resorts at Datai Bay, one at each end of the beach.

The resident naturalists at The Datai (where we stayed) take guests on morning and evening walks to observe the local flora and fauna. And that by far, was the highlight of our trip!

The rainforests around Datai Bay are teeming with wildlife. Nearly 250 species of birds and over 500 species of butterflies. It is also home to the only flying primate in the world – the colugo or the flying monkey. Datai Bay is said to be the best place in the world to spot this evolutionary marvel.

And we were not disappointed! We spotted them sleeping during the day and gliding like little ninjas at night. We lost count of the number of colugos we spotted!

A colugo camouflaged against the tree bark

A colugo camouflaged against the tree bark

Wildlife friendly road signs

Wildlife friendly road signs

We watched in sheer delight as adorable dusky leaf monkeys made a meal out of tree tops, the gawky pied oriental hornbills raised a racket, cicadas and frogs gave shrill midnight performances; and the flying squirrels darted silently between trees at dusk – all during our daily strolls in the resort property.

A dusky leaf monkey in the midst of his meal

A dusky leaf monkey in the midst of his meal

One member of a family of Oriental Pied Hornbills right outside our beach villa

An Oriental Pied Hornbill right outside our beach villa

Whip snake - Datai Bay, Langkawi, Malaysia

A whip snake we spotted at the neighbouring resort

Unfortunately, the weather did play spoilsport and some of our outdoor activities were cancelled, including the trek to Gunung Matchincang, Malaysia’s oldest geological formation. This rock formation is believed to be the first part of Southeast Asia to rise from the seabed nearly 220 million years ago.

The rain brought out the stunning beauty of the jungle around us. We were happy just to stay indoors and watch as a blanket of mist and glorious green enveloped the resort.

One of the few occassions we dragged ourselves away from the warm, comforting waters of Datai Bay was to visit the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. This mangrove forest forms part of the larger Langkawi Geopark, which is Southeast Asia’s first geopark recognised by UNESCO.

Endless mangrove forests in the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

Endless mangrove forests in the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

A cruise along this seemingly endless, mangrove forest provided many visual treats – the rich birdlife, a mangrove pit viper hidden in the thick foliage, interesting limestone formations, the eerie bat cave and of course, plenty of cheeky macaques. We even spotted a monkey swimming merrily after a crab (his lunch for the day!)

A white bellied sea eagle disappears into the mangrove forest

A white bellied sea eagle disappears into the mangrove forest

The spooky bat cave

The spooky bat cave

Our week at Datai Bay gave us a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with nature. We had made peace with all the critters around us, including the insects and the geckos. We were at home!

This is definitely not a place you visit just once. Jumpa lagi, Datai Bay! (See you soon, Datai Bay!)

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