The wait is as short as the digital countdown timer marked.
Punctual to the second, the small sky-blue composition Expresso Sentosa emerges from a closed curve of the monorail. Devoid of any human agent, it slides to the station.
A small multi-ethnic crowd enters the futuristic carriages in an orderly fashion.
There, he waits for the trip to start while the audio hostess transmits instructions and information in several languages.
The doors close with a spatial sound. The convoy advances over the sea from Harbor Bay.
At one point, it passes by the endless containers of Singapore's port, until recently the busiest in the world, only recently surpassed by that of Shanghai.
Some passengers are taken by surprise by the immensity of the surreal scenery and express their admiration.
Others – the already knowledgeable natives and those who keep an eye on their restless children – are limited to yearning for the arrival of what they have come to see as the island of salvation.
Singapore's government has been fighting for a long time to prevent the stagnation of the national economy and is trying to optimize the number of inhabitants by attracting talent from the four corners of the world to whom it offers salaries, housing, social protection and other benefits above average.
More than necessary, these baits are essential. Whoever arrives, realizes that the space and novelties to explore in small Singapore quickly run out. The socially semi-rigid Muslim world around – Malaysia and Indonesia – raises a barrier that even more Westernized Singaporeans complain about.
Sentosa emerged as a response from the authorities to this feeling of boredom and confinement. In three decades, the government converted it from military bastion hyperactive in the main playground of the region.
Sentosa's Military Past
During World War II, the island was fortified by the British who were waiting for an attempted Japanese invasion by sea. The Japanese traded them around. They first captured Malaysia from the north. Despite settlers boasting that it was impregnable, Singapore was soon to fall.
With the inversion of power, Sentosa was transformed into a concentration camp for British and Australian prisoners of war. There, too, Chinese suspected of anti-Japanese activities would be murdered.
With the turnaround and the victory of the allies confirmed, the 1st Royal Artillery Regiment made it their base. Ten years later, it would be replaced by Gurkha infantry units charged with defending the island against the threat of Konfrontasi, an Indonesian retaliation and sabotage action against the creation of the Federation of Malaysia (which grouped, for some years, the territories of Singapore and of present-day Malaysia).
Already in the 70s, the government of the independent territory considered that the desired stability had been achieved. It turned the island into a fun and vacation haven with the purpose of exhilarating residents and attracting visitors.
Sentosa: from Military Bastion to Peace and Tranquility Island
He also took the opportunity to rename it Sentosa, a term that means peace and tranquility in Malay. Since then, it has invested 319 million euros, in addition to 268 million of private capital. The place has undergone a long metamorphosis. As often happens in pragmatic Singapore, the goals have been supplanted. Today, about 5 million souls are entertained every year in Sentosa.
We leave the monorail at Waterfront station. We immediately find the benches erected around a beach volleyball field set up to host an international sport competition.
We skirt the structure and come face to face with one of the island's many artificial coves, built with sand brought in from other parts of Southeast Asia.
Elevated jetties, raised with piled stones, covered in dirt and a line of fallen coconut trees protect the pseudo-bay from the sea of the Singapore Straits. They also isolate it from a nautical view that is not idyllic and that the nation cannot afford to sacrifice.
Bathers wade into the almost still water. Others absorb the sun's rays lying on the high sand. The atmosphere is as bathing as possible, considering the circumstances.
Beyond the jetty, dozens of oil tankers and freighters with impressive drafts are moored or sailing, which, were it not for the barrier, would cause small tidal waves.
The offshore passage connects the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Otherwise, the passage from one ocean to the other would force a zigzag between the Indonesian islands. It is the busiest nautical passage to the face of the earth.
The Various Worlds of Entertainment on Sentosa Island
We went up to the false coastline, determined to contemplate the surreal scenery. We ended up sharing it with a family of Chinese who were also intrigued. Then we moved to the famous Underwater World Sentosa.
There, a moving walkway moves visitors around the gigantic tanks, on an oxygenated seabed that we explore under the gliding silhouettes of rays and sharks.
In addition to the colors of fish and corals, the saris of Indian women and the baju melayus of the Malaysian ladies. The mixture forms an unlikely ecosystem that we entertain studying while families photograph and film each other with their favorite specimens.
Back to the surface, there are other worlds to unravel: the butterfly park, the insect garden and the Land of Volcanoes, decorated with Mayan motifs and themes.
From time to time, some of these thematic domains wear out or suffer setbacks and are replaced by others. That's what happened to Fantasy Island, which, two deadly accidents later, closed its doors.
We also take a peek at the Tiger Sky Tower, which amazes us with a 360º panorama over Singapore, Malaysia and the jagged northern end of the Sumatra archipelago, the latter being the Asian stop we had arrived from a few days ago.
We were still recovering energy from the long Indonesian adventure, which, as far as fatigue was concerned, the heat and strong humidity of Singapore had only prolonged. Thus, we take advantage of several innovative experiences at an eccentric SPA.
Sentosa Fish SPA's Eccentric Podiatry
And we gave in to join a group of friends exchanging hysterical screams with their feet immersed in a tank full of fish Claw Rufa. Just to spoil their party.
At the entrance, we only see a place in the opposite corner of the tank. That's where we sit.
We started to dialogue with the natives until, unintentionally, we caused an unexpected injustice: “Oh, it can't be like that!! You are the ones who keep them all??“
Having been walking for months in walking sandals, our feet were sunburned. The fish preferred ours to the pristine whites of the teenagers. They moved to our side at a glance.
The day ends early over the Equator, and this Earth dividing line passes just below Singapore.
We left the building exquisite. We set off to discover other corners of the island, Fort Siloso, the homonymous beach and the Palawan which took its name on loan from a sub-archipelago south of the Philippines, who knows, also some of your sand.
There, the final of a boogie contest cheers up dozens of children who dance, in bathing suits, to strident music. It's more noise and movement than we're willing to take in and Sentosa's Malay meaning promised.
We move away from the competition. We watched the oil tankers and freighters against the sunset that painted the vast Singapore Straits.