Gunung Belumut trek: challenging and enjoyable

overlooking Kluang, Johor from Hotel Anika
overlooking Kluang, Johor from Hotel Anika

Kluang, Johor

Hotel Anika had seen better days for sure. Its old. But its reasonable room rate and convenient location was the reason why I stood overlooking a part of the second largest town in Johor state. This hotel was just a ten minutes walk from the Kluang train station. We had arrived from Woodlands by KTM train before noon on a Friday morning. My favorite part of the hotel was the bathtub. Soaking in warm water with bath oils before and after the trek was a ritual I enjoyed. For lunch we ate Chinese food next door at the famous Star restaurant. Their signature dish was their duck and their pork knuckle. After lunch, we bought what we needed for the trek from the supermarket next door and we had our dinner at the Ritch, a Western food joint. By nine, I had packed and was ready to go.

At the entrance of Gunung Belumut trek
At the entrance of Gunung Belumut trail

The beginning of the trail

We hired a van and it took 45 minutes for us to get to the park entrance where we would begin our trek. The large car park, playground, camping grounds and official buildings around were reassuring. The male toilet was dominated by a huge black circular cistern filled with water up to knee level. Must be for trekkers to clean up with spring water. We had obtained our climb permits but our guide was late. We decided we had to go without him as we were doubtful of our ability to reach the summit before 1pm. He would be able to catch up. So off we went in a trek that reassuringly reminded me of  the Bukit Timah trails. At least for the beginning stage.

Kenny and Jenny
Kenny and Jenny

My wife and I

We have been trekking together for many years now. Its one activity we share together that we both enjoy. At 2 km we were still fresh. We carried about 2 litres of mineral and isotonic water in 4 bottles to distribute its weight. In the back pack were also a torch, our lunch, energy bars, a raincoat, and an additional T shirt and socks. By mid-morning we were walking along a straight ridge. The morning breeze was refreshing as we followed the clear trail. Then it got markedly more challenging: with slope inclines of 60-85 degrees most of the time. The trails were marked by knotted roots that snaked across the path. We had to pull ourselves up with the help of trekking sticks and grip sized tree trunks on both sides of the path. We rested at a shaded clearing before the false summit to have our standing lunch. I had a Kluang bak-chang (rice dumpling) and a fragrant pear and a banana. Even simple food tasted great after strenuous physical exertions. There was the usual banter and sharing of food before we started off again for the summit.

L to R: Vincent, Goh, Joy, Helen, Roger, Simon, Jeffrey, Christine, Linda (leader), Zoe,Jenny, Nellie, Eric
L to R: Vincent, Goh, Joy, Helen, Roger, Simon, Jeffrey, Christine, Linda (leader), Zoe,Jenny, Nellie, Eric

Fourteen trekkers

There were fourteen of us from different walks of life and religious persuasions. Most of us were in our fifties. Some had trekked regularly in different countries. Treks that never needed technical knowledge or skills. One Tan stayed behind at Kluang for he had recovered from flu, so he relaxed and enjoyed Kluang while we trekked. We were together for lunch, but then there would be a faster and a slower group as we trekked, with a leader in the leading pack that no one was to overtake; another leader in front of the slower group and one leader at the rearguard. On the way back down the trail, the groups would become three: one fast group; another at medium speed, and the final one, the “take your time” group.

We made it to the summit
We made it to the summit

It’s all about the journey

Somehow that photo at the summit is the proof that your trip had been worthwhile and money had been well spent. This is very Singaporean, perhaps universal. Everything is a cost benefit analysis. Its a groove we have been stuck in for too long. It’s all about the journey not the destination. As we grow older we need to eject ourselves out of that mentality to an inner freedom that also appreciates the process not merely the almighty outcome. I remembered on my first Kinabalu attempt I did not reach the summit. At that point in time it felt okay. But back in Singapore I felt tak shiok (dissatisfied). I went again and made sure I conquered the mountain! What conquer irony. Actually the mountain conquered me, and I kept returning, and still wish to do so. I need to discard all this conquer and tak shiok mentality. Be fully present all the time and enjoy the process as much as the outcome (if you do reach it). All the while listen to my body. The mountain will always be there. If my body tells me to forfeit the summit, I must learn to forfeit it. However, young people can afford to delete such cautiousness. call this a cop out if you like, but this is my philosophy for this stage of my life.

Vincent and Eric
Vincent and Eric
Zoe and Christine
Zoe and Christine
Helen, Christine, Linda
Helen, Christine, Linda

We spent about 30-45 minutes at the tiny summit clearing with other trekkers mostly taking photos and “un-leeching” ourselves and more energy loading. Until the skies warned us of possible

showers and we began to make our way back. Indeed there were showers and for the first time I used the throwaway raincoat I have been carrying in all my treks. A slight drizzle for about 30 to 40 minutes slowed us down as we had to be careful as we went down the steep slopes. Most accidents took place on the way down. At the same time we felt an urgency to cover as much ground before the rain got worse. The drizzle stopped, and after an hour or so, it rained more heavily. In the end, we trekked down. One group arrived an hour before the rest. The other two groups with a twenty minute gap. It was around 6 pm if I am not mistaken when I trudged back and washed up and warmed down. Where were we going for dinner? was the question on everyone’s mind. We ate at BatCity, an open air coffee shop, followed by dessert.

Back in Kluang
Back in Kluang, a Sunday morning bak kut teh breakfast

The winding down

The warming down was not of our limbs alone. We feasted. I soaked myself in the bathtub with bath oils. Some had massages. Pedicures and manicures. Shopping. The men went on a mini food trail: bak kut teh, followed by you tiau and coffee in two breakfast locations; famous beef kway teow for lunch, and I cannot remember what we had for dinner. Most importantly, in whatever activity we engaged after the trek, we teased and laughed and talked about various incidents and observations during the trek and all that sparkle and fizz increased the enjoyment of the trek, and deepened the bonds of friendship. 🙂

For anyone interested in doing a climb there, I recommend a Malaysian blogger’s detailed entry of her trek to Belumut as it helped me prepare myself mentally for the climb. Go HERE.

Preaching at Care Community Church camp

Care Community Church Camp
Care Community Church Camp

Care Community Church camp at Pulai Springs, Johor

Pulai Springs, Johor is a good resort for church camps. We arrived there from Singapore within two hours or less. We had ice breakers and orientation and settled into our rooms. The haze however spoiled what would otherwise have been an ideal place for relaxation, seminars and meditation. The food was excellent and the rooms were above average. So was the service.

The Care Community Church is a warm and loving family church. Their welcome quickly put us at ease with them. Meals were pleasant as we got to know different members of the church. As they responded to us warmly, we in turn enjoyed a growing rapport with them. When I am relaxed and feel at home with an audience, I find I can preach and teach more effectively. I found the church to be friendly, unique, and blessed with many talented and faithful people. You could tell they have been cared for and loved.

Small group discussions increases learning
Small group discussions increases learning

Pastor Amos Yap has been their pastor for more than a decade. I got to know his family better: Juliet, his wife who gives tuition with a twist – counseling and guidance! and his son and daughter. They are a lovely family and all are serving the Lord. The theme was about personal renewal and rebuilding the church. I dealt with the common symptoms of an unhealthy spirituality.

Pulai Springs, Johor
Pulai Springs, Johor

Pulai Springs, Johor is a lovely hotel with good service and food. I adapted some ideas I got from Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” and filtered them through my experience, and shared 8 symptoms with them over two nights. Detecting some of these symptoms will help people unlock some of the hindrances to the Christ life in them. I also did two morning workshops on the spiritual disciplines of the “Examen” and “Lectio Divina” – fancy Latin names for a review of the day and devotional reading. Short explanations and 25 minutes of actual prayer, followed by 20 minutes of group sharing and prayer. I kept the practices brief and manageable so that the young people can enjoy a taste of these spiritual practices. These are disciplines that will position them to receive and experience more of God’s grace and love on a regular basis. On the last night we had a wonderful ministry time praying for the sick, prophesying and blessing people in the name of the Lord. The presence of the Lord was among us.

There was more hunger and faith among them than I had assumed from the first session. In the final morning session, I encouraged them to rebuild the church together, doing a bare bones expository message of Haggai’s second prophecy.

Euclid Tan was my room mate, a young man who had been in Bill Johnson’s school of the supernatural in the US. He was a great help. He gave me input on the messages, helping me to angle it to young people and contributing stories as well as trimming off unnecessary fats. May the Lord raise a new generation of ministers who will excel in faith, hope and love.

Pardon my rambling all over the place. This is a symptom that I need to slow down, slow down.