Relishing and being present

Its vineyard country we have entered, following one of the journeys of St Ignatius.

Vineyards all around us
The Jesuit priest leading us eating the fruit of the land

We walked 15km on Saturday and about 14km today. The only difference to me was that the former was quieter and hardly anyone crossed paths with us, while today, many who were walking the Camino Santiago walked past us, including locals exercising on Sunday, a few every seven minutes.

The weather was windy, cool and sunny yesterday, but cloudier and less windy today. In both cases a short sleeve T shirt and long pants sufficed. The jackets we wore earlier in the morning had to be removed by 10am because the day grew warmer.

We walked through the town on Sunday
We got our Camino Passport stamped.
Our hotel was formerly the medieval palace of a duke whom Ignatius visited

I felt that two of my goals were being achieved as I relished the long walks in cool weather and lovely scenery. I also needed to simply rest, eat, exercise and keep my mind freed from church matters, and be fully present with the physical world, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch.

My wife decided to fly off with St Ignatius

Walking 19km with “broken bones”

The camino led us through shop streets and apartments.  People have yet awakened. We began our walk at 7.30am in silence after a meditation on scriptures that evokes awareness of sins, but from God’s eyes of love.

Cool fresh air and sunny skies
With Kae and Corina
Through many former train tunnels

We walked past factories, past offices, markets, onto a railway track converted to new uses. Some locals cycled past, some jogged and most were brisk walking. We were immersed in forests and meadows, the tunnels and factories and farms, the bridges and streams, the darkness and sunshine, the birdsong and hum of machines. These comprised the sanctuary in which we pondered over our life’s journey, over scriptures and what we have been moved by thus far as we walked. And all this in silence and peace.

The route of Camino Ignaciano is identified by orange markings

I was pondering over a scripture from Psalms 51, “let the bones you have crushed dance”. My bones have been crushed on the altar of ministry and his promise to me  is a redemptive dance and rejoicing, something I have experienced, and still do today, and will in future. He never fails.

It ended up being a 5 hours walk covering 19km, before the bus picked us up and brought us to a charming, rustic, beautiful,  family farm home converted into a hotel catering to pilgrims. Gorgeous rooms, dining areas, great food and family hospitality.

Lovely charming rustic hotel that was once a family farmhouse

Beautiful modern but elegant church

Magnificent Diocesan shrine of Aranzazu

Eucharist in side chapel

The evening ended with eucharist, a siesta, dinner and a session titled, “Loved Sinner” to prepare us for the next day’s walk.

We retired totally spent.

Backpack on Sale – Thanks, Lord!

Quechua 20 L backpack from Decathlon

I am thankful to God for this timely sale at Decathlon. I had been eyeing this good quality backpack for my upcoming Camino Ignaciano. I was not prepared to pay the $70 original price a few months back. So I waited and occasionally peeped the website. A few days ago, I saw that it was on sale at $50! Was I seeing things? Was it only available on line?

My wife and I were going Decathlon anyway to change a hiking pants that was too tight. So what a joy it was to see the backpack on sale. Bought it immediately with joy and thanksgiving.

In todays world of consumerism, waiting is a struggle for many. Why wait when you can have it now? Enjoy now with credit card and pay later. We want what we want now. Instant gratification is the rule of the day.

To wait requires holding back gratification of our demanding desires (often as demanding as Arsenal football club fans). What I found was that patient waiting is worth it.  I experienced God’s fatherly love and great timing ( I fly off this Sunday). It is so sweet and special. Whenever I carry this backpack, it will remind me of His meticulous provision and evoke thanks and praise for his kindness.

MONDAY HIKES

I have been hiking regularly again. It has been a few years since I have been this regular hiking the Bukit Timah Hill.

After the Hill was closed for works for about two years the trekking group continued with hikes all over Singapore. I wasn’t keen on those kind of flat ground and hot sun hikes. I had my eyes turned: cycling. So I cycled in those years when the Bukit Timah was closed for renovations and restoration works.

I was pleased when the Hill was reopened and for a while I hiked there but ministry demands on Saturdays meant my outings there were erratic and occasional.

Hiking on Mondays with my wife and her brother Kenneth Poh

This has however changed recently when my wife and I started doing the hikes on Mondays, the day off for pastors. So I use the Monday mornings and relish these hours of breathing fresh air, under a green canopy, in quiet and with less hikers around. Furthermore, I don’t have to worry about parking as there is free parking in the vicinity of the Hillview MRT.

I usually walk from there to the Dairy Farm trail, along the Jungle Fall path, up the Summit steps, down to Rengas path and circle back to the Hillview MRT, a good two hours of perspiration and sometimes inspiration and thanksgiving.

On my sabbath, it is always good to do something I relish, something that nourishes me.

Cat Cat Village

A misty and drizzly morning foiled our plans

I feel so thankful today for how the day turned out. We had planned to take the cable car to Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain. However it was very misty and we decided to change plans and do a hike to the Cat Cat Village – a Hmong village about an hour’s hike down and two hours’ hike up on the return leg. As we walked down the street the drizzle steadily became more intense and we went into a cafe to wait the rain out. After an hour of waiting we decided it would be better to return to the hotel and rest while my daughter went for a shoulder and leg massage.

Scenic views of valleys and mountains as we hiked down to the village

At about 12 plus the rain all but stopped and we decided to resume our planned hike. The air was pleasantly cool and fresh and there were many lovely views of the valley and its rice terraces and the mountains with their summit clouded by mists. We took many photos and about halfway down a kind Vietnamese couple signed to us if we wanted a lift to the entrance of the Cat Cat Village. We went in happily and though they did not speak a word of English, they signed to us their intentions. Ten minutes later we were at the entrance and paid about SGD $6 to enter this Hmong village. We were praising God for this was not incidental but God’s provision.

Happily we entered the village
Rice terraces and corn fields
Elaine near a field of flowers
Numerous photo spots make it fun to look around
There were many stalls selling Hmong traditional crafts
Going down to the waterfalls
Mini falls in the background
The bigger waterfall carried brown muddy water
They used this for irrigation in the old days

It was a route of 2 to 3 kilometres that brought us past a school, village homes, stalls selling similar tribal products, and gardens, waterfalls, a theatre with free Hmong musical and dance performances. It was interesting, engaging, and with the mobile and photo taking opportunities, the minutes passed very quickly. By the time we covered the loop it was about 4 pm and it began to drizzle again. We took a cab for SGD$6 and it brought us back to our hotel. Along the way we passed many tourists who hiked up back to Sapa town. We estimated it would take us 2 hours to hike up, with the level of our fitness and a  4 out of 10.

This was a happy day, a happy Sunday, as we saw the Lord guiding and providing for us. However what disturbed me is to see little children as young as four or five selling sourvenirs with minders, sometimes the mother or grandmother several feet away to watch them. There is obvious poverty. I would have thought that the collection of fees and tourism would have made the lives of the villagers better. It probably does but I wished more education, affordable medical care, and marketable skills could be given to the Hmong people so that they don’t have to be tourist attractions the rest of their lives.

Hiking Mt Kinabalu at age 11

I was solemnising the marriage of two faithful members of the church when during the course of the dinner, I heard a unique name called out that triggered my memory.  It was, “Mao Siang” (spelling uncertain).

Years ago, in 2005, I led some young people from the church on a hike to Mt Kinabalu. it included adults for sure. However, the youngest of them was eleven year old Mao Siang, one of our member’s nephew.

Mao Siang, Rachel the cousin (who got married).Peter Lim and Eunice, the aunt.

It was remarkable that at that young age he had the motivation, discipline and endurance to go through the rigours of weeks of afternoon training at Bukit Timah Hill and finally to summit the mountain. I was amazed. And with such a unique name, I simply could not forget.

Mao Siang (second from left, lowest row) at the Loh’s Peak, summit of Mt Kinabalu.

So I asked the mother to introduce him to me and I learned he was studying in the second year in the National Technology University of Singapore. I could not resist taking a wefie and blogging about this.

With Mao Siang at the wedding of his cousin Rachel

If you are interested in hiking Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia have a look at the blogposts below:

Kinabalu 1 – where Mao Siang hiked with us.

Kinabalu 2 – church youths to Kinabalu and God’s intervention

Kinabalu 3 – the last church hike to Kinabalu

Hiking Mt Hallasan, Jeju Island

I looked up some videos on YouTube about climbing Mt Hallasan on Jeju Island, South Korea’s highest mountain at 1, 950 m. It seems most agree that it is not an easy climb. The ascent and descent together is about 18 km in total and the average person would take an estimated 10 hours.

The ascent map shows your progress

My first reaction was surprise at the elevation. Korea has many mountains yet their highest is only 1,950 m. This cannot be compared with Mt Kinabalu in East Malaysia which is 4,095m high and I have hiked there several times. By comparison, Hallasan should be doable.

However, as the day drew near my anxiety increased. I hardly could train as I had originally planned. Saturday church ministry meant I was available for training intermittently. Thus, I tried to squeeze in some training on days and times different from the rest of the Saturday hiking group. I did make sure I had at least one endurance training which went from 7.45am to about 12.45pm. I remembered how a lack of training ditched one of my earlier group hikes in Hong Kong on the MacLehose trail. And I was not as young as before when I did my earlier hikes up Mt Kinabalu. What made things worse were weather forecasts of cold weather! That worried me as I hated cold!

When the group gathered together at the airport most of us knew each other. Some of us had hiked together for years. Others were new. The oldest was Jenny Teo, 75, the leader’s elder sister. The youngest was Eunice Lian, about 23. Most of us were in their 60’s including me. With mixed ability and levels of training, the challenge was obvious, “How can we keep the group walking and summiting together?”

We stayed about five nights in Forest Hostel (photo: Yenny)

It was good we had a few days in Seoul to relax and carbo-load before the climb. I will blog about our days in Seoul in a later blogpost. We took a Jeju Air one hour flight to Jeju island and settled into the Forest Hostel. The weather was often on our mind, so we flashed our requests up to God about this.

The light of dawn revealed the beautiful autumn colours of Hallasan
At 1,200metres
Our hiking group leader Linda Teo with her elder sister Jenny (age 75) (photo: Jeffrey)
Jessie (who surprised us) and her strong husband Jeffrey who carried her backpack!

We decided to take the difficult Gwaneumsa trail (8.7km) up, and the easier Seongpanak trail (9.6km) down. We started our hike early at 6.45am. We wanted all in the group to be able to make it by the time fixed by the park. For safety sake, they turn back hikers who cannot make it to the three quarters point by a certain time. So the leader, Linda Teo, appointed Brian to be at the front and nobody was to overtake him. He would pause and regather the group at various points up the route. She took the rearguard. The route was straightforward and no guides were required.

Steps – wooden, cement, stones, rocks, mud. Be prepared to step up!
The vegetation gets wiry the higher we go
It was cold as we got higher and there was melting frost on some parts

As light gradually shed its rays on the forest we saw how beautifully the valleys were dressed in their lovely autumn colours, set in the midst of grey rocks and dried stream beds. Taking our time to enjoy the sights and take photos, the hike seemed quite leisurely during the early part of the hike. And I was thanking God for the fine weather: it was not as cold as weather reports predicted! The terrain and vegetation changed as we hiked up the route. We paused to drink, snack, take pictures, use the toilet and to regather the group.

The rangers offices and resting and toilet area where people are turned back at a specific time.
Hong Kwen and Brian 
Eunice the baby among the seniors (photo: Eunice)
Nellie and Tan Jee Lian (photo: Eunice)
Bibi (photo: Hong Kwen)
Plodding the upper stretches before the summit
A few bridges but this was the most impressive near the summit

The last stretch was deja vu for me. It felt like that last stretch before we reached the Laban Rata rest house at Mt Kinabalu. All of us made it on time except for a lovely couple who did not meet the time requirement. They were advised to go back down the same route. Later, when they heard stories of the rest of our hike, they were glad they were turned back. It would have been impossible for them to ascend to the summit and down the trail without great difficulty. By the time they were turned back, the rest were already hiking the last uphill climb to the summit. It would be another hour and a half before we reached the summit at about 1 plus. Someone brought a Singapore flag and we took photos and looked around the summit, peering down the crater lake (more of a pond), and the cotton clouds below us.

Another mountain nearby. Good thing it wasn’t Hallasan.
Another unknown mountain. Is this the Hallasan?
The summit area
Joy Lian (photo: Yenny)
Yenny and Y.K. (photo: Yenny)
Kenny, Jenny and Beng Chai (photo: Yenny)
At the summit of Hallasan with the clouds below eye level
Looking around at different directions at the summit. Some were on the way down.
The crater lake or should we say “pond”
Filled with excitement, satisfaction and relief at the Mt Hallasan summit with a Singapore flag. (photo: Linda)
Descending was difficult for the first kilometre
This was what 5.37pm looked like near the end

Then the mountain ranger hurried us off. We were at risk of hiking in the darkness if we did not hurry. Darkness fell early at about 6pm. We raced down even though we carried LED torches with us. If we could, we would rather not hike in the dark on uneven stony paths. By 5.30pm it was already dark. We reached the car park at about 6.45pm. Others in the group returned later. I thanked God for Beng Chai and Brian, who helped one of the hikers, who sprained her ankle at the summit area, down the trail at her pace. When all were in the bus, we were happy to return back to the hostel with a great sense of satisfaction, and exhaustion. I was so thankful to God during the climb for the fine weather and the strength to summit and descend safely.