Rinjani trekking companions

Somebody said, “When you want to travel with others, start by looking for congenial companions, not for desirable destinations.” In my case it was relatively simple. I have been traveling with this group of mature, congenial friends of different backgrounds for years. Two common threads holds us together. One is a shared interest in trekking. The second is the pleasant memories of past trekking trips dating as far back as a decade. I like this bunch. They are wonderful people and I feel relaxed with them, even though a few new “trekkies” joined in recent years.

Zoe and Linda (the organizer and leader)
Zoe and Linda (the group leader)
Vincent and Judith
Vincent and Judith
Nellie
Nellie
Yu Ting and Judith
Yu Ting and Judith
Eric and Vincent
Eric and Vincent
Michael and Jane
Michael and Jane
Kenny and Jenny
Kenny and Jenny

These folks typically plan for 4-5 trekking trips a year. This year they have plans to go to the Everest Base Camp and to climb the Pinnacles near the Mulu Caves. I usually join them for at least one trip a year. This Rinjani trek was the big one for me this year. I have missed out on quite a few interesting ones in recent years because the planned dates clashed with church priorities. Hopefully next year I can make it for at least one of the big trips.

Heading for Mt Rinjani

Packing is as tough as the climb
Packing is as tough as the climb

I am still packing. Packing is always a chore that has to be done. A list of items. Searching for some rarely used items in the storage. Buying some stuff. Organizing which goes into the bag that the porters will carry and which goes into the bag in the hotel and which goes into the bag you are carrying. From miners torch, to woolen gloves, to camera and energy bars – you want to be sure everything you need will be inside.

Tomorrow at dawn the MaxiCab will take me and four others to the Changi Airport Terminal 2. From there we fly to the island of Lombok, east of island of Bali, in Indonesia. There is a challenging climb up the volcano called Gunung Rinjani (literally mount princess). I will get to admire my Father’s world. Marred by sin, His world is still beautiful and wonderful and awesome. Imagine the new earth and the new heavens!

As usual the ascent of the peak is a challenge. And so is the overnight camping in tents for three nights. However when I look at some of the photos and videos of the crater lake and the volcano, the pleasure and delight ahead outweigh the hardship of weeks of training, and of the trek itself.

So here I go for a whole week. I hide under the shadow of the Almighty – and that is a very big shadow, like a huge mother ship in the sky, watching and backing us up. Praise God.

Trekking Pulau Ubin

Boats at Changi ferry point awaiting passengers
Boats at Changi ferry point awaiting passengers
A pleasant 15 min boat ride to the island of Pulau Ubin
A pleasant 15 min boat ride to the island of Pulau Ubin
Trekker friends: Michael, Y.K., Nellie, Jane
Trekker friends: Michael, Y.K., Nellie, Jane, Judith

The last time I went to Pulau Ubin, I was a teenager. With a few friends we took a boat across to the island and walked across the small holding farms and orchards and forest to a small beach front. We swam an hour or two and then made our way back. All I remembered was feeling weary from the long hours of walking and taking the public bus from Bukit Timah to Changi.

Now it is so much easier. We drove to the car park next to the Changi Village hawker center. The ferry point is just in front of the car park with electronic meter so there was no need to worry about the number of coupons to use.

When there was a load of 12 people, the boatman brought us aboard a boat and brought us across to the island. The boat ride took about 15 minutes and we paid $2.50 each directly to the boatman. Soon we were on Pulau Ubin and walking on bitumen roads.

On bitumen roads
On bitumen roads
Pitstop with a beach view
Pitstop with a beach view
We came across many Muslim tombstones and this is one of them
We came across many Muslim tombstones and this is one of them
Can we really call it a "wild" boar?
Can we really call it a "wild" boar?
Standing in front of what was once a chief surveyor's colonial house
Standing in front of what was once a chief surveyor's colonial house
The Chek Jawa boardwalk
The Chek Jawa boardwalk
On the boardwalk
On the boardwalk
Atapchee - sea palm
Atapchee - sea palm
Looking down at friends from the tower at Chek Jawa
Looking down at friends from the tower at Chek Jawa
At the herbal garden
At the herbal garden

We walked from 9am to about 1pm. At the ferry point on Pulau Ubin was a small village where we had a seafood lunch at one of the restaurants. The highlight of the walk was an encounter with “wild” boars that seem very used to human encounters, and the boardwalk through Chek Jawa, one of Singapore’s conserved ecosystems, a coastal walk, “a unique natural area where six major habitats meet and mix”. It was more an enjoyable excursion than a trek. Cycling would be more fun, and there were many shops with all kinds of bikes for hire. Maybe the next time, that is what I will do.

Pulau Ubin circled
Pulau Ubin circled


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.

Mt Kinabalu Youth Adventure 2

Nostalgia hit me today. We climbed Mt Kinabalu in March 2007. Agnes and I led a busload of youth and some of their fathers or mothers to climb this challenging but beautiful mountain. It was the second climb we organized for the church young people. It was almost disastrous, but the Lord in his grace and power, intervened and made it possible for everyone to climb. You see, permits to climb were given to quite a number at the Park HQ at the very last moment. The local tour agency had not booked sufficient beds but we had already booked our budget air tickets. The Lord was good and helped us through. Some miracles come only at the very last moment after you have kept faith in Him till the very end. I unearthed old photos from 5 years ago today and did this video for pleasure of nostalgia.

Trans Gopeng Cameron trek: what a wonderful world, what a wonderful God

The Trans Gopeng Cameron trek

It was planned a year ago and booking began in January. It was far from the two videos we saw on YouTube.  The Trans Gopeng Cameron trek looked like a long walk in MacRitchie Park merely requiring endurance and a steady pace. Yes we were going to stay overnight in an “orang asli” attap hut deep in the jungle and that was touted as the only hardship.  The trek was anything like the videos – and we soon found out why.

Gopeng Rainforest Resort

We flew from budget airport by Firefly to Ipoh. The hundred-seater propeller-driven plane got us there is just over an hour. We were served peanuts or cake and some juice. The Ipoh airport was small but it was being renovated. David and Janice Foon welcomed us there and we went to town for timsum and bought some supplies for the trek before heading for Gopeng Rainforest Resort.

Do not be fooled by the name. It was no resort. Basic facilities in what was once a durian plantation. However the hospitality and the food made it feel more like a home stay. Warm, friendly, helpful and patient and close attention to everyone’s needs, David and Janice did their utmost to make the stay as pleasant as possible.

Trek began at dawn

The next morning we woke with the dawn, got ready, had our breakfast and headed out in the dark to the orang asli settlement from which we would begin our trek. It was about 6am and each of us had our headlamps on.  We would begin early with the first day’s trek of about 18 km up and through the Kinta jungle so as to reach the hut before it gets dark.

The Kinta jungle

The trek is not a well traversed one so the tracks were not well marked out. Without orang asli guides we would definitely have appeared in the Sun’s morning papers, SINGAPOREANS LOST IN KINTA JUNGLE, or something like that. More than once we lost sight of faster team members ahead and had to stay where we were, and wait till the guides who were behind with the slower ones reached us. Most times we re-grouped to keep all 14 together.

Bamboo groves, streams and leeches

At times it felt like Bukit Timah Hill, but for a few differences. One is that there were many streams to wade or step across. Secondly, there were many giant fallen bamboos across our route and we had to bow low with our haversack to get under and through them. If we had known we would have done more duck-walking for our preparations. Third, there were leaves, bushes, branches and grasses  stroking and brushing against your arms and legs as you walked through. Fourth, there were leeches. No matter how we prepared ourselves against them, no defence worked: leech socks, salts, tobacco leaves, covering yourselves thoroughly. Everyone yielded some blood to those thirsty Kinta leeches. We feared them before the trek began; we no longer feared but hated them by the time it was over. Fourth, whenever we came across bamboo groves, we smelt the pungent urine boundary markers of wild boar.

We had been training on Saturday mornings for months with several prolonged outings which I usually missed because of ministry commitments.  This preparation helped everyone. Quite a number of us have crossed the 50 mark. Others are in their forties. And just one in her thirties and one in his sixties. We have been together for some years so we were harmonious. We trekked regularly so we knew how to listen to our bodies and maintain a comfortable personal pace. We called ourselves “Easytrekkers” because we were kiasi, kiasu, kiabor and were easy with each other’s differences and peculiarities.

Back to basics in overnight stay

Reaching the orang asli hut at about 6 pm while still daylight was important as there was no electricity at all. A bulky solar power machine was meant to provide electricity but now stood sentry next to the entrance, a silent testament to miserable Malaysian maintenance. There were no proper toilet and bathing facilities. Toilet was anywhere in the bushes where you can find privacy. Bathing were two taps at knee height out in the open. One was made into a temporary hut with temporary walls from plastic sheets, so that sanitized Singaporeans who must bathe, can bathe. I just wiped myself up with a wet towel, and powdered myself generously army-style, and got ready for cup noodles and eggs for dinner, and got into my sleeping bag on the bamboo floor. Tired as I was after 12 hours of trekking in the forest, I could not sleep as well as I had thought I would. It was the same for others. I was later to appreciate the exquisite comfort of the bed and the warm showers in Ipoh’s Regal Lodge hotel.

Second day of trek – two steep hills

Dawn came but too slowly. Breakfast was two cups of cereals for me -those convenient 3 in 1 packets. Then everybody got ready. My socks could not dry in time and were still drenched (and I had forgotten to pack that extra dry pair),  so I was thankful when someone lent me her black knee high football socks. Too bad it wasn’t Arsenal; but any pair of dry socks, even Man Utd’s one is better than a soggy one.  By 8 am everyone was ready to go.

The second leg of the trek was devoid of leeches as it was cooler and higher.  But the steep gradients of the two major slopes we had to clamber were challenging. One hit us immediately after we began. It was a clear path the orang asli used to get to civilization to buy their supplies but it was a steep 70-80 degree gradient and went on and on like a staircase to eternity. Then it was down again and an awkward climb upstream using both hands and feet to negotiate up a rocky stream for about 1-2 km. The final steep climb was sandy and required all our hands and feet and trekking sticks and the hands of others. We felt such a sense of relief, joy and accomplishment when we finally reached the top: marked by a concrete cement boundary stone and a sign showing directional arrows of the two states of Perak and Pahang. We lazed there for close to 45 minutes, just enjoying the scenery, the cool breeze and fresh air, and chatting about the tough trek and nice weather. I was praising God and just eating energy bars and nuts and chlorinated stream water for lunch. I thought, The worse must be over. It should be downhill from now on.

What a wonderful world, what a wonderful God

After a good rest we moved on or rather downhill to a more developed Kampong Ubi with nice low cost housing along a road that led to the Bharat tea plantation. We would trek all the way to the teahouse atop a hill offering splendid panoramic views of the tea plantation. When we reached the tea house it rained heavily. We gave thanks to God – it was not co-incidental that the two days trek was marked by wonderful weather; nor that two persons, Dave and Choong, iron man and  trail runner, were there to join the trek and be such a help to us all.  We had a nice cup of tea, were picked up by David and Janice, who then took us to Tanah Rata for a delayed lunch of banana leaf curry rice and naan. Then it was to Ipoh where 3 star luxury awaited us. Frankly, after the hardship of the trek, any hotel would be a luxury.  Any warm shower would be a bath in Paradise.  What an enjoyable and challenging trek! What a wonderful world and what a wonderful God.

Annapurna base camp trek

Just came back from Chiang Mai on Monday night. It was a prayer retreat that allowed me to predispose myself more fully to His grace and love and spiritual liberty. God willing, more will be written about that later.

This trek was in 2009. I couldn’t go, but my wife did. Viewing it reminded me of a similar trek I did to Poon Hill, an easier one. Nepal has beautiful, affordable trekking trails with views that money cannot buy. Your heart sings His praise and you have a glimpse of what is meant by “his glory fills the earth”. Cannot imagine what it was like in Eden.