Thursday, January 03, 2013

One Day Pontian Eco-Tour

I have been organising cycling, trekking and run events for friends and some meet up sites members but this trip was certainly different.  We do not have to trek up mountain, cycle or run under sweltering sun.  It is an eco-tour to Pontian in the idyllic south-western region of Johor and travelling in the comfort of a luxurious coach cabin.  For this eco-program, I am charging S$70 nett per person, which includes land transfer, lunch, some leisure time for last minute shopping and a personalised explanation by the facilitators, among others.

The trip was scheduled on 29 Dec, Saturday for all 27 of us with me as their tour leader. Sheepishly, I must admit it was also my first such trip but I reckon I should not have any big issue ahead, after all it was just a one-day trip up north.  Some of our regular kakis also came along.  Kevin who is always so supportive and I only realised that he is still nursing a leg injury from his recent Hokkaido skiing trip with Y Trek.  My running mate, Catherine and she brought along her parents too.  Jacky, his wife and their two lovely boys though the youngest one is quite a rascal who was ‘taunted’ by me throughout the tour in light-hearted spirit, of course. And JK too who tagged along with Catherine.  For the rest, it was my first meeting with them but soon, we will gel well.     

Prior to the departure, all were informed to assemble at Newton Hawker Centre open car park by 7.30 am. That morning, I got up around 5.45 am and very quickly, I was on the way out.  I took the train to Newton station and I was already there well before 7.00 am. One by one, they arrived and as usual, one or two arrived later than the scheduled time.  The last person arrived at 7.45 am and after making one final headcount, we were off to 2nd Link. I was using our own 44-seater Citystate Destinations coach for this tour with our ever trusted coach captain, Jason on the wheel. 

Frank, our facilitator was on board with us, together with his assistant, Lee Hong. While travelling, I did the initial introduction and a little bit of rah-rah to break the ice.  Thereafter, Frank took over to explain the program of the day in more details. As it was still the school holiday period, I was expecting heavy traffic jam at the 2nd link. There were more cars and coaches on that morning but it was better than what I had expected – couldn’t have asked for more, really. All in all, it took us about an hour to clear on both sides. Soon we were travelling on the highway heading to Pekananas town to our first stop – the bee farm in Parik Sikom. The name of the bee farm is called 'Nictar Bee Farm' which is owned by a local Chinese man, Haleem. I thought he must be a Chinese Muslim but no, Frank told us that his surname is Lim and everyone used to call him 'Ah Lim' but gradually it ended up as 'Haleem'...well sounded almost the same.  That much about the bee farm owner.

We sat in rows facing Haleem, just like children waiting eagerly to attend our first eco-lesson.  Haleem brought us up close and personal to the bees from the beehive he has been keeping but before he can do so, he has to ‘smoke’ the bees first. He said the smoke is to 'disorientate' the bees so that they will not become aggressive and start to sting. He then explained how honey is gathered from his farm, the eco-way. Some brave hearts from among us even held on to the beehive for photo taking and Carolyn (picture above) was among the few. I preferred to watch on the side while looking out for open space in case we need to dash for cover, you know what I mean (do not take the last part seriously though) . Oh ya, on our arrival, Haleem had earlier prepared his cross-breed pineapples from Johor and Sarawak for our fruit testing, which he proudly called 'Josa Pine' (Jo for Johor and SA for Sarawak). I have to say it is sweet and juicy – in short, heavenly.  Haleem produces his own honey which he sells at his premises after each ‘bee demonstration’ and of course, some of us ended up buying, even his ‘Josa Pine’ too - much to his delight.

Our next stop, Lee Rubber Plantation. This plantation is owned by the Lee family in Singapore, one of the founders of OCBC and it was one of the biggest pineapple exporters in the world then.  The plantation is not opened to the public but Haleem is the man who is authorised to bring us on a private tour of the plantation.  It is 10,000 acres of nothing but pineapples.  In case, you cannot visualise how big is 10,000 acres, well, one acre is about 44,000 sq feet.  We can only see rows of pineapple to the end of the horizon.  I have not been to a pineapple plantation and this is certainly an eye opener for me.  Pineapple is best grown on soft soil and it gives bouncy effect when one jumps on it.  Soon, some were happily jumping on the soft soil next to the pineapples to feel that bouncy effect.    

Lunch is our next agenda.  Frank told us the lunch theme is what else but pineapple.  The ride to our lunch point which is also the horse farm took some 20 minutes.  We are travelling in the remote region in Pontian, the road is quite narrow, long and winding too.  Quite a challenge for our high deck coach but we have a superb driver in Jason - he certainly knows his way around.  He even had to carefully manoeuvre over low hanging cables, phew.

The horse farm is called ‘Wednesday Ditch Farm and Resort’.  First, we headed for lunch to answer our hunger pang.  Among the dishes, we were served pineapple rice being our main course, yes…literally on a pineapple which we can scrap for its flesh after finishing our rice.  There was some confusion when one member who is a vegetarian had our vegetarian rice taken by someone in the group and she had to wait a little longer for the cook to dish out her vegetarian meal again.  I went over to that fella to tell him that it is right for him to take someone’s lunch without checking first.  Small issue, everything was quickly blown away after lunch.     

At the horse farm, we were briefed on some of the basis equipment and techniques for horse riding by the instructor.  A rider did a short demonstration for us but nobody had volunteered to mount on the horse, or are we allowed?  Perhaps, ride is chargeable.  But we were allowed to feed the horses at the stable.  It was my first going up close and personal with a horse.  Frank did propose a 2 day full board horse riding training course at this farm and at the end of the course, we can earn certification by Malaysian Sports Authority for Equestrian Olympic Standards.  The course comes in 7 modules over 2 days.  Already some in the group expressed interest.  I wonder with that certification, can I race at Kranji Turf Club (dream on…)?

By now, it was about 3.00 pm and next, we will be heading to a local snack factory which is about 40-min drive away.  I took a short nap while on the move.  On our arrival, we were immediately treated to a sampling of pineapple tarts, fish & prawn crackers and a variety of local products.  After the sampling, some were happily shopping for the goodies at the shop.    

Our final stop was the much talked about Johor Premium Outlet before heading home and we were to spend an hour there.  After making sure everyone was accounted for, we left for Singapore just before 6.00 pm.  It was smooth sailing at both sides, no jams but we had to wait a little longer for Jacky and his two children at the Singapore immigration who were caught in the human queue.  All was well and finally, we reached Newton car park at about 8.00 pm.  It was a short trip but quite an educating one, at least for me…and am sure the rest should share the same sentiment too.  Watch out for more such trips in the near future.   

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