Christmas Dinner at Gordon Grill

We never thought of Gordon Grill as a date spot, but a series of events led DC and I there one evening during the Christmas season. The others in the group had for some reason cancelled on us and we decided to go ahead with the 6-course Christmas menu ($116 per person) anyway. We were well rewarded.

The first course, cold angel hair pasta with marinated king crab and farm caviar consisted of a refreshing few morsels of al dente pasta with sweet crab, sour lime, salty caviar and finished off with earthy truffle. I found that the black truffle oil they used a bit overwhelming. Otherwise, it was a great dish that was straightforward and easy on the palate.


The confit of ocean trout with avocado puree, sea vegetables and lime-soya vinaigrette was my favourite dish of the evening. I liked how each component was done just right on its own and complemented each other really well. The trout confit itself was wonderfully tender and juicy and I could taste a trace of the oil it was poached in. A nice foil to the fish was the lightly pickled daikon that was crunchy, salty and sweet at the same time. I liked the softness of the avocado and the strangeness of the bursty sea vegetables.


Then the roasted duck foie gras with caramelised Granny Smith and raspberry sorbet. I’d have liked this better if I liked sweet things more and if I liked extremely rich dishes more. This was obviously DC’s cup of tea and he thoroughly savoured the dish. The foie gras was well seared on both sides though I felt that it would have been better if cooked in a pan for more crispness than when roasted. It was nice and melting on the inside. Accompanying the foie gras was an array of dessert-like nibbles, a bit like a substitute to the sweet Sauternes typically served with foie gras. There was the piece of tart-sweet Granny Smith flavoured with apple and vanilla bean sauce that I liked, the raspberry sorbet with freeze-dried raspberry powder on it that I really like, and two very interesting additions. One was a strange green steamed cake that I found too sweet and odd for my liking and the other a nut-covered foie gras terrine. The smooth terrine went very well with the crispy toast slivers and was a nice take on the Almond Roca style candies that I’m quite fond of. DC sure isn’t complaining that my portion was too big for me as he got to eat the rest of my foie gras.

The final appetiser was the rich poultry consomme with black truffle ravioli and winter vegetables. I generally like consommes a lot and this certainly didn’t disappoint. It had the typical deeply savoury taste that I like so much and the winter vegetables were a nice, though unnecessary touch. I thought the black truffle ravioli was slightly overdone, but in the overall scheme of things it hardly made a difference. (Plus, have I mentioned that I’m a bit tired of restaurants using black truffle oil in practically everything in their menus?)


And now for the main course of reindeer striploin with porcini mushrooms, barley, savoy cabbage and liquorice sauce. While the reindeer didn’t have a red nose, it was gamey and tender. Very well done. I also liked the al dente barley and the slightly bitter cabbage. Surprisingly after the preceding small bites, I was feeling pretty full by now and still couldn’t finish my meat. I think the memory of my last deer dish was too strong for me to appreciate something good like this, but not sublime. Again, DC was the happy recipient of it all.

IMG_4818And on to dessert! The chocolate mille-feuille with cocoa sorbet and marinated forest berries wasn’t very special because they copped out and used chocolate layers instead of pastry. The cake base also wasn’t anything to shout about. Generally acceptable, but not exactly a very satisfying end to the meal. This is something that we notice quite a lot in these “fine dining” restaurants. The chef is normally very good with the savoury dishes but falls flat on the dessert. It’s obviously unrealistic to expect the chef to be an all-rounder, so at least hire a good pastry chef, right?

Now my dessert of mango creme brulee with armagnac ice cream was lovely. The rich custard was lightly scented with mango and its caramel topping was just the right thickness so I got enough crunchiness in each mouthful. I liked the short pastry blobs that crunch-dissolved in the mouth and found the ice cream a good foil for it all. It could have been vanilla flavoured though, I didn’t taste any alcohol in it.

Overall, I think Gordon Grill has a good thing going. The standard of cooking is generally very good, with some brilliant ideas like the trout confit and the foie gras “dessert”. Execution-wise, it sometimes stumbles a bit, but not enough to detract from a good meal. The Christmas menu was surprisingly good value for money. I think we’ll be back again to try more dishes!

Gordon Grill
Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scotts Road
Tel: +65 6730 1744


Merry Christmas Jam with Scones

Merry Christmas!

Today I share with you how a mistake led to lots of beautiful Christmas presents. A few months ago, I’d left out a bag of frozen cranberries by mistake and had to figure out what to do with with them and fast. A quick google showed up cranberry sauce and jam, but I was worried that jam making would be complicated and difficult. Luckily, I hit upon a recipe from (originally from Falling Cloudberries) that seemed easy. It was also convenient since we were having people over for breakfast the next day.

Anyhow, having people over was the perfect excuse to test out my new oven. Put freshly baked scones and freshly made tart cranberry jam together and slather with either clotted cream or butter for a glorious combination. Then have grilled mushrooms and crispy bacon as chaser and it’s a very satisfying breakfast.


Scones (taken from Nigella)

These need to be made fresh and eaten while still warm. If you have leftovers, they must be heated up in the toaster oven, otherwise will have an awful dense texture. Don’t keep them any longer than overnight because it just gets too heavy to eat then.


500g flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
4½ tsp cream of tartar
125g unsalted butter (direct from the freezer, oh you mean you don’t store yours there?)
300ml milk


  1. Preheat oven to 220°C.
  2. Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar together. If lazy, just sift the baking soda and cream of tartar into the flour and salt, that bit is the most crucial.
  3. Cut the butter into chunks and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour. Finish off the process by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers.
  4. Add the milk and stir quickly, kneading very lightly until it forms a dough.
  5. Press out (you can roll if you like, but I normally don’t bother) into about 3cm thickness or about as thick as one finger joint.
  6. Using a medium cookie cutter (5-6cm diameter), cut into 10-12 rounds. You’ll need to reroll for the last few.
  7. Glaze with some milk. I normally smear it on with my finger.
  8. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
  9. Eat as soon as you can!

Makes 10-12.


Cranberry and Apple Jam (adapted from 101 cookbooks)

I used a bag of frozen cranberries and added some of my own spices. The first round, I used cinnamon and star anise and the second time, lemongrass, lime and clove. Try various combinations and see what works for you. If you’re going to make a lot like I did for Christmas presents, don’t worry about the proportion of apple to cranberry, just make sure you scale the sugar with the cranberries and it should be all good. Another tip: don’t taste the jam immediately after it’s done. It’s somehow very sour and a bit unbalanced then. Let it sit for 30 minutes at least if you’re going to eat it fresh. The flavours will mingle and the sharpness will mellow, then it’ll be all good.


340 g cranberries (one bag frozen)
120g sugar
spices – 1 stick cinnamon or 2 star anise or 5 cloves or 2 lemongrass sticks, bashed
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped


  1. Rinse the berries and get rid of the spoiled (brown) ones. Drain and toss with the sugar, lemon rind, its juice and whatever spices you’re using in a bowl. The original recipe calls for a non-reactive bowl, so anything plastic, ceramic or stainless steel is fine.
  2. Leave overnight and stir a couple of times if you remember to. Otherwise just give a good stir before you continue to step 3.
  3. The next morning, load your clean empty jam jar(s) into the oven and set the oven to 100ºC. Leave for at least an hour until you’re ready to bottle the jam.
  4. Put the chopped apple into a saucepan.
  5. Transfer most of the sugary cranberries into another bowl, leaving most of the juice and sugar behind. Scrape that juice and sugar along with a spoonful or so of berries into the saucepan with the apples, then add the water and simmer till the apple is soft or about 10 minutes. Squish the berries till most burst.
  6. Add the rest of the berries and cook, stirring gently till the jam looks thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Get the by now sterilised jar(s) out of the oven and scrape the jam inside. Screw on the covers firmly, but not too tightly and place upside down on a tea towel.
  8. Leave to cool completely, then wash away any sticky mess and store in the fridge or a cool place.

Makes 1 standard jar plus some for breakfast for 4.

I scaled up the recipe with these proportions: 1.5kg cranberries (4 bags of 340g each added up to that much after washing!), 600g sugar, 3 lemons, 6 lemongrass sticks, 6 star anise, 3 apples. It took longer to cook the apples down in step 5, about 30 minutes or so and the mixture only thickened slightly. Then it took 10 minutes for the cranberries to cook through. It made a huge pot that ended up with 4 big and 4 small jars of jam. Here’s what they look like upside down.


Merry Christmas!


Quick Eats: Just Greens

DC and I don’t eat only meat. We do like our veg and we have the occasional fit of deceiving ourselves that any kind of vegetarian food is healthy. Thankfully our excesses are curbed slightly when eating vegetarian and we only ordered a few dishes when we went to Just Greens in Joo Chiat. The deep fried golden mushrooms were lovely. They were incredibly well-fried, being crisp and light and flavoured just right with salt and pepper. My favourite bit? They stayed crispy and non-greasy till the end. 10 out of 10!


The kailan they did very well too, substituting the usual garlic and onion (not allowed for Buddhist zai vegetarians) with lily bulb. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, with good contrast between the sweet red peppers, delicately crisp lily bud and robustly crunchy kailan.


I liked the sang meen the best. I think they made the brown sauce with lots of mushrooms because it sure was flavourful. The crispy noodles and crunchy vegetable topping really hit the spot for the vegetable lover in me!


Just Greens
51 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: +65 6345 0069

Two Fine Dining Restaurants on Sentosa

In a fit of generosity, DC decided to take me out for dinner at The Cliff on Sentosa for a nice meal. Given that it was a weeknight, the place was already fairly full, with all the coveted balcony seats overlooking the sea already reserved and enough people so that we had company at the next table. It was a very dimly lit restaurant, hence its reputation for being a very romantic place. I can imagine many a marriage proposal taking place at the balcony seats. Unfortunately, the dim lighting also meant that the photos came out at even poorer quality than my norm.

The warm bread was good: crisp and crusty on the outside and soft and yielding on the inside. I liked how they paired it not just with olive oil but also with a vaguely Arabian spice mix with paprika as the main spice. It was fun dipping our bread in the olive oil and then the aromatic powder.


We were given an amuse bouche that DC really liked. I’m not so keen on molecular gastronomy type bits and bobs, especially the bursty green blob on the spoon (it was a reconstructed olive), but I liked the toast with some experimental spreads on it. Can’t remember what it was, perhaps they’ll take the idea further and turn it into a bigger dish for the menu proper.


For starters, I had Belon oysters ($13 each). Belon oysters are one of my favourites as I love this particular blend of sharp minerality finished off with a good dose of brine. I wanted to order two because of the prohibitive price, but DC persuaded me that three made it right. And he was right, three is just right for enjoying the taste enough and not overdoing it. DC had an oyster soup that he said wasn’t worth mentioning, so I won’t.


My main course of barramundi with pickled fennel and prosciutto floss and broth ($68) was overpriced. The crispy skin was well executed and that was about all I liked about the dish. I found the fish a bit overcooked, which was a travesty considering this is a signature dish. Overdoing a $68 fish is a bit much. As to the rest of the dish, I felt that the flavours were oversaturated. The prosciutto broth that the fish sat in was too salty against the sharp briny fennel pickle. It made the dish off balance. How to fix it? First, get the fish cooked right, darn it! Then dial down the salt in the broth and moderate the pickle slightly.


DC’s pork dish ($62) was much better. They served the usual pork belly with crisp crackling that was perfect, which for a restaurant like this is merely a passing grade. To push for a better mark, they had to one-up the competition. They did. They were daring in serving the pork loin so pink it was almost red in the centre and this was tender, juicy and very flavourful. The piece de resistance was the savoury popcorn on the side, which I slowly picked from DC’s plate as the dinner progressed.


We shared a dessert of The Cliff Lemon Tart ($20). This is the one thing that I would go back for: the many presentations of lemon. There was lemon meringue, lemon sorbet, lemon cake, lemon everything. I can’t even name all the various textures, temperatures and tastes of lemon in that dish. It was a lovely way to end the meal.


Would I go back? Yes, with a reservation at the balcony seats next time. I would order the oysters, the pork and the lemon tart again. And I would enjoy the impeccable service. There’s something about this place where all the staff are invariably warm, gracious and inobtrusive. It’s the best service at any restaurant in Singapore.

The Cliff
The Sentosa – A Beaufort Hotel
2 Bukit Manis Road, Sentosa
Tel: +65 6371 1425
Opening Hours: 6.30pm – 12.00am (Last order at 10.00pm)

And the next contender is Osia. DC decided to pamper me for lunch. This was something like two months later, so please don’t think I eat like this every day. My first impression of Osia wasn’t that good. When we stepped in, there was this horrendous drilling noise from the renovation next door. This went on for quite a while until I asked if they could get the neighbours to at least stop for lunch. Our server at first said that they wouldn’t stop and I had to suggest that he ask them to do so before he trotted off. Thankfully, that worked and we had a much more tranquil meal after that.

On to the food. We had the set lunch ($35 for 2 courses and $45 for 3 courses). DC had the tuna tartare starter and was dismayed by the small portion. I liked the freshness of the dish and its bright flavours, enjoying the contrast of soft tuna chunks against crunchy vegetable. It was well executed, a classic dish.

The same could be said for my veal carpaccio. There was nothing to fault in the fresh produce and good flavours, yet nothing in the starters that took things up a level.

It was my barramundi that did exactly that. This is what The Cliff should have made of its barramundi. The fish itself was done perfectly – with silky, flaky and tender white flesh and nicely crisped up skin. The tomato salsa under the smooth potato mash was what made it soar. Aside from chopped tomatoes zinged up with chopped shallots, there were also little morsels of preserved lemons. The restrained use of tangy, salty lemon added an unexpected yet very familiar dimension to the dish. I also liked how the asparagus was presented not in spears, but in pretty yet practical, easy to eat rolls.

DC liked his hanging beef tenderloin with mushroom risotto but I was too caught up with my fish dish to thoroughly enjoy a bite of his. It was decent, that’s all I recall.

Then we shared a dessert of Valrhona hot chocolate soup, a signature dish. When it arrived, I had difficulty figuring out where the soup was, because it was blanketed under a layer of crust and icing sugar.

We had to break through the top to get to the chocolate below. It was more of a chocolately custard that baked into a crust at the top. Though it wasn’t quite as dark as I’d like it to be, it is definitely a crowdpleaser and goes well with the vanilla bean ice cream. What really surprised me was how after a few spoonfuls, the black pepper started coming through and it really made the dessert sing. No wonder it’s a signature dish.

8 Sentosa Gateway Resorts World Sentosa
Tel: +65 6577 8888
Opening Hours
Lunch: 12:00pm – 3:00pm (Daily)
Dinner: 6:00pm – 10:00pm (Sun – Wed, Last order at 9:45pm)
Dinner: 6:00pm – 10:30pm (Thur – Sat, Last order at 10:00pm)

Verdict? I like both, with The Cliff winning on the inventiveness, especially its lemon dessert, and on the wonderful service. Osia wins on its consistency in terms of fresh produce and well-executed dishes; it’s also much more affordable with its lunch time set menus. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Osia’s service, I just found that the staff could have been slightly more proactive at making sure we were comfortable.

The Leica and the Bespoke Cocktails

And we take a short break from Africa. Let me bring you something much closer to home:

Even though Yi-Ling was back in Singapore for too short a while, we made good use of the time and hung out when we could. After an indulgent day wandering around looking at interior design ideas and going for a spa, we ended up at Bar Stories where the bartenders make customised drinks. We got there early at about 5pm on a weekday, making it the perfect excuse for Yi-Ling to order the famed Apple Pie drink. Alas, I was but a n00b and needed some prompting from our friendly bartender (I badly quote him: “No s**t drinks!”). I asked for something sour and refreshing, with no mixed alcohol (needed to recover enough to drive, see). It turned out to be an easily made up drink made with fresh passionfruit, sours, simple syrup and vodka. Decent if in a regular joint because I do like my passionfruit, but kinda meh in a place like this. Friendly bartender later christened it Boring Passion on our bill and told me that I should say if I didn’t like my drink (but I did like it, it was just kinda quotidian).


Anyhow, I enjoyed my passionfruit drink and finished a good half of it while watching him make Yi-Ling’s Apple Pie. No wonder they only make it during off-peak: it took a good 10 minutes to make! First, he chopped some green apple and muddled it together with some cinnamon sugar. I didn’t catch what else he added, but there was this pretty spectacular bit where he took a blow torch and a spray bottle of angostura bitters and sprayed the bitters through the flame and into the mix. Very cool indeed. Then there was a bit more prep work with rimming the glass with more cinnamon sugar and finishing off the drink prettily with apple slices. It was a lovely drink, tasting very much like baked apple pie filling. Excellent stuff!


We sat for ages at the bar enjoying the ambience and the decor. Check out the ceiling lights, I really liked how they hacked hanging lights into something a little more interesting. I think it helps a lot that the shop downstairs has the same sort of furniture for sale. In fact, the comfortable seats we sat one were for sale too.


Then the exciting bit started. A photographer from Club Snap was testing out a camera. To be precise, it was a Leica S2 on loan from Leica’s distributor in Singapore. He’d arranged for one of the bartenders to make cocktails with plenty of blow torch action and took numerous shots like below, just from a much better angle and with infinitely more skill.


By then, I was ready for my next cocktail and asked for something herbal and complex. Not to be outdone by the other guy, our friendly bartender pulled together some rosemary, plonked it into a tumbler and poured on some gin. He then nonchalantly lit it with a blow torch and walked away.


When the flames died down, he came back and poured in a mixture of flamed angostura bitters, sours and simple syrup. To finish, he pushed in some crushed ice et voila! And my drink was served. I am not exaggerating: this is the best drink I’ve had. My first impression was that of bak kwa. While many think of sweet-saltiness first when they describe why they like bak kwa, most of bak kwa’s allure really comes from the smoky, mouth-filling flavour of charred food. It was this same smoky, mouthfilling flavour that somehow permeated each sip, even down to the last diluted drop (I was trying to conserve my drink and also not turn redder than I already was). This truly lived up to my request for something herbal and complex. Two thumbs up to the talented bartender for making my Rosemary Cooler work.


Yi-Ling’s second drink was a complicated blend of mascarpone cheese, raspberry, butterscotch, frangelico, and goodness knows what else. It tasted like raspberry cheesecake and was promptly christened that. Slightly tart and rather sweet – a girl’s drink.


This is when we got to handle a $45,000 camera and of course we have the evidence to show for it (photo below is courtesy of Dream Merchant Photography). Our photographer asked Yi-Ling if she could hold the camera to model it…

PC070792 46v

… and here she is! Huge isn’t it?


He also very kindly took a few more pics of cocktails and our friendly bartender (and us) and created this lovely quadtych in sepia for us. Again, credit goes to Dream Merchant Photography.

IMG_0088 6235copy

Way past it got dark, we were finally ready to call it an end to a lovely chillout day, but not without first a visit to the pretty outdoor garden loo!


Conclusion? Bar Stories is a lovely place to visit, especially in the off peak period. The cocktails are generally decent, and when they’re good, they’re very very good. Having said that, it’s not everyone’s cup of (long island) tea as the drinks are pricey at upwards of $20 each and I can see how it could be seen as pretentious. Nonetheless, I had a great time, partly because I was in fabulous company to start with, and partly because of the great staff. Being part of a Leica photoshoot of course added to the fun. Let’s hope we can squeeze in another visit before Yi-Ling flies off again.

Bar Stories
Level 2, 55-57 Haji Lane
Tel: +65 6298 0838

Into Africa: The Big Four and Beyond

Isn’t it the Big Five? Of course, but we didn’t see the last member of the Five, so Four it is. The most obvious member of the Dangerous Animals of the Safari Club (yes, it’s really a listing of the most likely animals to kill you while on safari) is the lion. We witnessed quite a few sightings in the Masai Mara, and so did many other tour vans too. As you can guess by now, the Mara is a much smaller and far more accessible and well-known reserve, hence the concentration of tourists.

But we were focussed on the lions and not tourists, and were delighted to come across this young lion (look closely to spot his mane) and his harem so early on in our trip. Here, he was enjoying an evening sip of water while the women in his life frolicked while waiting for him. Francis didn’t want to wait and soon we were part of a convoy looking for more lions.

Francis’s efforts in following the pack paid off and we soon sighted a mature male lion, most likely in search of either food or a harem to take over. He had a far more majestic mane than the younger one we saw earlier and he very calmly walked past the convoy, later choosing to pass between the cars in front of us! How lucky we were to get so close to the pride of the Mara.

Our lion adventure wasn’t yet over. Yet again, we took off in search of more interesting sights. This time, we turned a corner and suddenly saw a litter of lion cubs lounging in the shade of some bushes. They all looked up expectantly as they saw our vehicle, making me very glad for the protection of the van. The Masai Mara is definitely not a place to explore on foot!


Luckily for those who would dare to go on foot, they seemed to be very drowsy from the evening sun and soon lolled over to have a snooze. I’m surprised they managed this despite all the flies on their snouts.

And as our van went in closer, they looked up again.

But still succumbed and fell asleep, paws and ears twitching as they dreamed their leonine dreams.

The next member of the Big Five was the elephant. We only saw one family of elephants in our the Mara. Francis told us that we were lucky because it had been raining a far bit, meaning that the elephants wouldn’t bother going to the usual watering holes. They were pretty far away from the van and quite spread out. I wasn’t too impressed because at that distance, I couldn’t really appreciate the difference between them and the Asian elephants that I’m more familiar with. All I thought was that yes, they seemed big, they had tusks and they had very leathery wrinkly skin.

The reason why they make the Big Five is that they are highly protective of their own, particularly the babies. Heaven help you if you end up between an elephant calf and its mother, or worse, the entire herd.

So we move on rapidly to the next member of the club, the cape buffalo. Don’t laugh at what looks like a silly double combover hairstyle, that’s its horns. I like how gracefully they curve, but I’m sure the buffalo itself likes better how gracefully the horns impale a threat. Cape buffalo are supposedly very paranoid and adopt a “strike first, ask questions later” approach. A worthy member of the Big Five.

The next member of the Big Five was also the hardest to spot on our safari, no thanks to the fact that it is critically endangered. This was the only sighting we had of the black rhinoceros, or of any rhinoceros at all. We spotted it in the evening, an auspicious time for us to spot the animals.

It was ambling along on its way, probably thinking of what yummy twigs and leaves it ate today when a van decided to go offroad and click lots of photos of it. Poor guy.

Francis decided to stick to the trail and avoid the US$100 fine if caught by the park marshals. We contented ourselves with taking pictures from afar, glad that the evening rays came down beautifully near our rhino.

The last member of the Big Five is the leopard and sad to say, we weren’t able to spot one in the Mara. Francis’s tactics of following the convoy and rushing to whoever’s reported a sighting over the radio while paying off handsomely for the other animals simply didn’t work when it came to the famously shy leopards.

I decided to add the hippopotamus as a stand-in member of the five, as they are pretty dangerous too. If faced with a threat when wandering around away from its pool, a hippo would adopt a very similar strategy to the cape buffalo: chomp first, ask questions later. Here’s the only time we saw hippos, in the Mara River. Check out how they surface and blow out spray. Cute eh?

And soon it was time to leave the Masai Mara. Bigger adventures in the vast plains of the Serengeti beckoned. We travelled there by the same van on potholled roads winding round the tea plantations of south Kenya.


It was a very green detour round as we weren’t able to choose the same path as the animals. Unlike them, we had to respect international borders and take the long, scenic route round.


Into Africa: The Scavengers and the Predators

On to the scavengers. First, the birds. There were several large birds of note, the ugliest of which must be the Marabou stork. This specimen wasn’t as bad as the others of its kind we saw. Its bald pink head was at least smooth and naked, unlike others which had tufts of wispy feathers attached, as if attacked by some wasting disease. While they generally behave as scavengers, they are also known to pluck swallows right out of the air!


Then there was the Secretary Bird, a really badass bird that eats cobras. Its long scaly legs protect it from the snakes it eats and it gets its name from its black and white colouring that looks like the black robes secretaries apparently used to wear in colonial times.


And if these two birds didn’t seem a great deal like predators, surely the vultures made us feel like prey. When they spotted us stopping for lunch in a plain away from other predators hiding in the bushes, they immediately wheeled round, landing close by in hopes of a good catch.


Luckily, they weren’t actually going to eat us, but were more opportunistic in going after the crumbs we left behind. While waiting, they sunned themselves languidly, watching to make sure we weren’t getting away.


And here I am nervously sitting on the edge of the picnic rug, trying make sure that I had the picnic boxes in close proximity lest undeserving beasts get hold of them!


And yet another scavenger is the warthog. While they don’t actually hunt other animals, they are known to eat carrion. I guess that’s how pigs got started on their “eat anything” diet.


And now we start talking! Finally we get to a proper predator, the cheetah. We were very excited to see a few of them together resting in the evening light and were sad not to get a closer glimpse.


But not to worry, it turned out that cheetahs aren’t very hard to spot at all. The very next day we came up very close to this handsome fella. Francis our guide pointed out the characteristic way of sitting up very straight and staring all round to scan the territory. Seemed like it was on to something.


Then it got up. I thought it was just walking away, but it suddenly broke into a run and before I realised anything, let alone set my camera to video mode, it had spotted and hunted down, in a quick burst of speed so fast that my eyes could hardly follow, a baby Thomson’s gazelle. It was then that I felt the contradiction and the almost horrific reality of being on safari. At first I rooted for the cheetah, chanting “go go go!” in my head. Then I realised that the baby gazelle was dead and felt guilty for wishing its death. Such is the circle of life: one dies to sustain the life of another.


Our cheetah didn’t immediately gobble up its kill. It sat in the long grass resting for a few minutes, then hurriedly gnawed at the tenderest part of the gazelle, its rump. Then it sat panting, waiting for itself to recover before continuing with the rest of its meal. Cheetahs spend so much energy on the chase that it often runs out of energy to eat. Many times, it gets chased away from its kill by other animals. Being rather weak at fighting animal to animal, the cheetah normally slinks away when other carnivores arrive.


A good example being the hyena. Hyenas are much stronger than cheetahs and even leopards, if in big packs often walking straight up to the kill and chasing the original hunters off.


And they end up scavenging most of their food in this way. Much later, we chanced upon this hyena elsewhere eating what looked the remnants of a baby wildebeest. Poor wildebeest and lucky hyena.

Into Africa: A Day with Prey

The days we spent in the Mara were beautiful, complete with the typical fluffy white clouds and blue skies that heralded good weather. The plains were verdant, signalling plenty of food for the herbivores.


One of the mornings, there was even a pretty rainbow welcoming us on our drive out.


And this was when we spotted the giraffes. It’s one thing to see one in captivity, but quite another to see its tall figure distinguish itself from the background vegetation and come nonchalantly closer to our van.


Soon, it was joined by its friends. This pair even walked side by side as if headed for Noah’s ark.


Goodness knows where they were going as a group. Soon they formed beautiful silhouettes against the horizon, miniscule against the herds of wildebeest in the foreground.


Despite its grave, bearded expression, a wildebeest reminds me of rather a silly and faintly stupid gnu (not that I know any clever ones).


Their herding instincts are strong, and if anyone of them starts running, the rest soon break into gallop too. Even the route they take is pretty much fixed. Check out this video of them jumping over a little depression in the road. It’s not until so many have crossed that one smarter one realises that there isn’t any need to jump, really. Silly creatures.

Yet these silly creatures are the reason for visitors flocking here in this period, some even equipped with the biggest telephoto lenses I’ve ever seen!


These huge lenses would definitely come in useful to get close up shots of places we can’t easily access, like this islet in the middle of the Mara River. We didn’t have the good fortune to witness a herd of wildebeest crossing the river in huge throngs. A highlight is to witness this spectacle and to watch how the herds nervously come up to the banks of the river, and wait expectantly till one stumbles in, whether out of leadership or misstep. Then the whole horde crosses as one, trampling over the unfortunate who stumble and fall. Many a wildebeest loses its life to the river, only to be fished out by the waiting crocodiles and laid out in the sun. Only when its gory remains are nicely tenderised by decomposition do the crocodiles come in for their feast, like this poor specimen below.


Yet, it is a rule of nature that one forgets the sacrifice of a single animal as it gives up its life only to sustain the life of another. We remember the teeming herds and marvel at the millions that live in the great expanse of the Masai Mara and the neighbouring Serengeti.


And the zebra caught our attention. It was clear that they were far more intelligent that the wildebeest they hung out with. They cleverly realised that wildebeest startle easily and rely on them to be watch-outs. In return, zebras chomp down the tougher plants, making them easier for the wildebeest to feed on the tenderised parts.


I never got tired of looking at zebras, they always looked so pensive, as if hiding a secret.


Except, of course, the baby zebras who looked so fuzzy with their brown stripes. Their main aim in life is simply to look cute.


Aside from the more common wildebeests and zebras, we saw some lesser known and lesser seen animals, like the eland. It is a large antelope-like creature weighing up to 300 kg. They tended to be quite shy, mainly because their size restricted their running speed. It is easier for them to move away when they see threats, whether real or perceived, in the distance rather than wait for them to come closer before deciding to run.


And outside the reserve, there were also these gentle looking wild donkeys. Their long ears and flippy tails made me realise why Winnie The Pooh’s Eeyore is so cute!


And then it was time to return to our strange little safari tent. It was hardly real camping as it was essentially a tent erected on a concrete base, complete with plumbing (there was a separate bathtub and shower area as well as two sinks in the bathroom!) and electrical wiring. Neither did it truly qualify as a room because there was a double layer of netting and canvas letting in plenty of air (and sound), and insects if we were not careful. Nevertheless, we were very impressed by the four poster bed here.


Into Africa: First Glimpses of the Masai Mara

We knew we were close to the Masai Mara when we started seeing Masai villages on the way. First, the herds of cattle caught the eye. It was amusing to see the tribesmen accompanying the herds invariably talking on their mobile phones, a nice update to their traditional ways.


After seeing a couple of Masai settlements, we started to recognise the characteristic huts: ramshackle dwellings held up by sticks and held together by a mixture of ashes, cow dung and earth. We didn’t get many pictures of these places, even though we’d passed by a traditional market and many Masai on the way to there. Our guide, Francis, cautioned us that Kenya had privacy laws protecting the Masai. That in itself wasn’t as big a warning, it was the next tip that made us put away our cameras: watchful tribesmen would fling rocks at unsolicited camera lenses poking out of tourist vans.


The only candid picture I have of Masai tribespeople was at the gate to the Masai Mara Reserve. Here, I was trying to take a picture of the gate and was very pleased to have the brightly dressed ladies selling their wares in the picture too. It was a pity that I didn’t buy any souvenirs from them because it was the cheapest in the area. If you end up going too, do yourself and them a favour and get whatever souvenirs you need here.


Then we passed into the reserve proper and started going crazy taking pictures of whatever life there was, such as these wildebeest. We were wildly excited that they were the first animals we saw as we’d decided to come here in July to see the Great Migration of millions of wildebeest to the greener plains of the Masai Mara.


Next, we were beside ourselves when we spotted a baby zebra.


And even more excitingly, necking zebras! We were told that they do so to rest their weak backs and to have a 360º view of the surroundings to guard against predators.


After a while, we realised that it was incredibly common to see wildebeest, zebras and the various antelope-like creatures in the Mara, like these topi below. I guess we were entitled to our noob moments!


We were canny enough to realise that there wasn’t going to be any shortage of Thomson’s gazelles any time soon. It was almost impossible to point at camera and not get one of these in the viewfinder. Their fluffy bobbing tails and bouncy gait were cute though. For an animal of such ubiquity, it was strange that we didn’t have that many pictures of them. They were skittish, making it hard for close up shots. Makes sense to be skittish if you’re the favourite prey of cheetahs.


We also took time to admire the scenery, going from the typical tree and cloud shot…


… to two trees and sky…


… to the same two trees and sky with water! It does rain in the Mara, just not as hard as in the tropics. When it rains, the potholes fill up and make things difficult for unwary drivers.


But on a fine day, the road meanders along and the puddles are easy to spot. Onward to our next animal adventures!


Into Africa: Heading to the Mara

We left bright and early the next morning, with our driver pushing as fast as he could in our little pop-top van so that we could get some sightseeing in on the first afternoon in the Masai Mara Reserve. But first we had to pass by the Great African Rift Valley. Its wide expanse soon disappeared into the plains leading to the Masai Mara, a testament to the vastness of the land we were passing through.

IMG_2408 Stitch (click through for larger image)

We stopped several times for petrol and were deeply dismayed to find that we had inadvertently supported Gaddafi’s dictatorship (this was while he was still in power) at the local OiLibya station.


At another petrol stop, we were glad to note that our driver wasn’t the brand loyal type and marvelled at how cheap petrol is in Kenya (116 Ksh is about S$1.70 per litre).


To get to our prize, we passed through many small towns, largely made up of shacks lining each side of the road. In the main towns, the shacks gave way to actual concrete buildings, still looking rather ramshackle. It was a wonder to me that a wee building like this could be called a plaza!


There were odd little monuments in some of the towns, like this one of some kind of oil-extracting structure with a rhino statue in front. Still, it was a nice place for the neighbourhood boys to hang out.


And there were yet more petrol stations, here complete with a safari truck that dwarfed the rest of the not-small offroaders. Check out the large specimem of behind clambering in. No wonder the locals were staring.


After a good seven hours on the road, we finally saw scrubland, and with it our first sighting of gazelles. To be specific, Grant’s gazelles.


We were almost there.