One thing about growing up in a city like Singapore is the lack of opportunities to learn about nature. I mean sure, we learn a lot about nature through our Science lessons. But to be in a natural environment to learn through exploration? That’s something to really look forward to!
Which is why I was intrigued by the idea of an Eco-Vacation developed by CreativeKids Singapore, a company that is experienced in organising nature field trips for children, not just within Singapore’s small pockets of nature, but also in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia!
When we were invited to try out the EcoVillage Programme at Bintan Resorts, I jumped at the opportunity to get my
spoilt brats city kids to get their shoes muddy and hands dirty in what promised to be a day of hands-on learning at a new EcoVillage in Bintan.
We arrived in Bintan via Bintan Resort Ferries together with our guide from CreativeKids, Grace. Right after she told us she was a mother of four, I knew we were in good hands. Grace introduced us to our driver who drove us from the ferry terminal to our lunch venue, Ayam Presto.
We got a taste of local cuisine at the homely Ayam Presto where their signature fried chicken was prepared in a unique way where we could actually eat the bones!
Prior to visiting Ayam Presto, I would never have imagined that chicken bones could be eaten. But the folks at Ayam Presto figured out a way to cook the chicken until the bones were crispy. ‘Eating chicken bones’ sounded like a Fear Factor challenge to me initially, but the chicken bones here actually tasted good! You got to eat it to believe it.
After our unique lunch, we continued our bus ride to EcoVillage Senggiling. We were having fun counting chickens in the the courtyard of the local houses that we passed by until I spotted a plantation of clove trees on a hill up ahead.
That marked our arrival at EcoVillage Senggiling!
The boys remarked that the soil here looked very red. Pretty soon, we would find out more about this red soil!
We arrived at what I assumed was a welcome centre, where Grace started with a presentation to introduce us to EcoVillage Senggiling.
Using three hoops of different colours, she explained that EcoVillage aimed to bring together the three elements of nature, sustainability and people. Okay, I may have gotten the colours mixed up, but idea is there. Not too sure whether the boys got the idea though, coz they went, “OLYMPICS!”
Grace brought out a bunch of stuff that were produced at the EcoVillage and poured them onto a basket in front of us.
The kids were free to touch and feel the items on the basket.
Our attention was drawn to the cloves, which was the main produce of EcoVillage Senggiling. Grace explained to us the uses of cloves and how valuable clove oil is.
And we went back to the basket to play a little game. The kids were given cards with the names of the items and they had to match the cards to the items.
With quite a bit of guessing and help from the adults, they managed to complete the task!
The parents were then given some cards with information about the items which we had to try to match to the items.
After we pretty unsuccessfully (not a typo – it was difficult) matched the cards, Grace went through each item and their characteristics and uses.
As she went through the items, the kids were again free to touch, feel, smell – do whatever they wanted to explore the items except to eat them. Or break them.
She even burned a piece of Agarwood – which produced a strong smell and we learned that Agarwood was the base ingredient for incense!
The boys were fascinated by the smell of the Agarwood and kept trying to blow the burning wood to make the smell stronger. Thank goodness they didn’t try this when they visited temples.
We then moved on to watch the distillation process for clove oil. Apparently they have been distilling since morning and only collected that little bit of clove oil. No wonder clove oil is so valuable!
Moving on, remember the red soil we saw on our way in? Grace explained that the soil at EcoVillage Senggiling was not suitable for growing the clove trees directly because it was very poor in nutrients. Hence, they had to mix a nutrient-rich compost to grow the trees in. And to show the difference in nutrient-level, she did a little Science experiment where she passed electricity through the soil (where the light bulb did not light up) and the compost (where the light bulb lit up).
Next, she introduced us to aqua sorb.
If you have ever left your kids’ diapers on for too long, you would know this stuff. I once let my kid (can’t remember which one) go into water play wearing his diapers. After a while, his diaper had this slimey stuff which freaked me out. Since then, I invested in swimming diapers.
But oh, I digressed. So aqua sord, the stuff they use in diapers, is able to absorb a lot of water and it turns into this slimey mass after it absorbs water. And they used this at EcoVillage to provide water to the clove trees.
The kids had fun getting their hands dirty and slimey by mixing aqua sord in a beaker of water!
After the kids washed all the aqua sord off their hands, it was time for a break. We were treated to snacks and drinks – all made with produce from the EcoVillage!
After the quick break, we resumed the session with a grafting demonstration. Turned out clove trees couldn’t be directly planted in the soil here in EcoVillage Senggiling. So the folks here actually developed a grafting technique which would allow the clove trees to grow here!
They brought out a clove plant and a Pucuk Merah – a native plant whose root system grew well in the soils of Bintan.
It was pretty cool as we watched how they carefully grafted the shoot system of the clove plant with the root system of the Pucuk Merah.
And now that we have prepared the aqua sord solution and grafted the clove plant, there was only one thing left to do – Plant the clove tree!
It was super exciting to see how everything we have learned so far come together. We started by shoveling the compost and placing the clove tree inside.
Next, we poured in the aqua sord solution we mixed earlier around the plant. This would provide the plant sufficient water to grow.
Finally, we covered the aqua sord with compost. And we were done! Hooray, we planted a clove tree right here in Bintan! How awesome was that?
But that was not the end of our adventure. We left our little clove tree and proceeded to the plantation in search for cloves that were ready to be harvested.
Most of the cloves were still pretty green and not ready to be harvested. We were told to search for the ones that had turned pinkish. The boys took the task really seriously and went from tree to tree until they found some pinkish ones and were so excited to pluck them down!
After we tried our hands on harvesting cloves, we moved on and passed by a pineapple plantation. I didn’t think the boys would be that interested in pineapple plantations after we visited Okinawa, where there was no lack of pineapples. But they stopped to check them out anyway.
While the boys were busy checking out the gigantic pineapples, I heard a commotion behind me. Turned out that the older kids from Sengkang Babies had harvested a pineapple! Awww man, I missed all that action!
With a giant pineapple and a handful of cloves with us now, we continued our stroll through EcoVillage Senggiling until we came to the campsite.
What were we doing here? Nope, not to camp. We had a room waiting for us at Bintan Lagoon Resort. We were here to fish! The boys ran excitedly towards the pavilion where Grace said she had caught a big fish the previous week.
The kids hung around watching for a big catch, but nothing happened.
Gua gua gua…. No fishes. Only swans.
So we moved on to another fishing spot to try out luck.
And WOAH! What a difference it was over here! The kids caught like four small fishes here!
Wahaha.. I loved this photo of MY posing with the catch as if he was the one who caught it.
We gathered back at the pavilion after fishing to learn about how to check if the water quality was suitable for the fishes to thrive here at EcoVillage.
I thought we would be using some high-tech equipment to tell how clean the water was, but it turned out to be pretty old-school. We were given a disc with the numbers 1 (faintest) to 5 (darkest). By placing the disc right at the bottom of the cup of water, the numbers we could see indicated how clean the water was. Because if the water was dirty and cloudy, we would only be able to see the darker numbers, whereas if the water was clean, we would be able to see the number 1. *snap finger* So simple!
The kids then went on to do a litmus test to check the acidity / alkalinity of the water.
And finally they also checked for dissolved oxygen in the water.
And that wrapped up our very fruitful visit to EcoVillage. I have to say that I learned A LOT from this EcoVilllage programme. Not too sure how much of the Science the kids understood (older children who do Science in school should understand much better), but imo it was not so much about the scientific knowledge. Coz well, I learned most of these scientific stuff during my 10+ years of formal schooling and returned everything to my teachers after the examinations. It was the experiential learning for kids that mattered. And instilling in them an appreciation for nature and joy for learning.
The boys had a lot of fun in spite of the slight drizzle. (I was told the programme could go on unless there is lightning). There were a lot of hands-on activities that kept them engaged throughout the day. It was particularly satisfying being able to plant their own tree, harvest the cloves and catch some fishes. And at the end of the day, they gave the outing a two thumbs up!
Information on EcoVillage Programme Bintan:
Programme Cost (per pax): $28 without lunch / $33 with lunch at Ayam Presto
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