My trekking friends had planned this as training preparation for the Mt. Rinjani climb in end of April. Since they were in Kluang, Johor state, they also hoped to do some Chinese New Year shopping and take advantage of the weaker ringgit.
There were 16 of us. Some arrived in cars, others on the KTM train. It was Friday late morning and we checked into the hotel and had our usual lunch at the nearby popular Star Restaurant. We enjoyed their specialties at a price that heightened the pleasure. The rest of the day, we shopped, caught movies, had the hair done, ate and bought snacks and isotonic drinks for the next morning’s trek.
Some of us had to hitch a cab while others went in their cars. Gunung Lambak was a mere 15 minute drive away. It was a Saturday morning and there were many locals around and some stalls selling fruits and drinks. The elevation is only 510m or 1673 feet which is about three times the height of the highest hill in Singapore – Bukit Timah Hill. We estimated a four or five hours trek. The initial path was bitumen and cement and reminded me so much of the main path of Bt Timah hill. The latter three quarters to the first peak were slopes at inclines of 40-70 degrees with occasional ropes, steps and tree trunks for support. There were no flat plateaus, no break from the monotonous and challenging slopes.Going down was thankfully a different gentler route.
My wife was nursing strained thighs and that slowed us down. Vincent, Jeffrey and Goh were the rear-guard and having them around was a comfort. Before we felt tired, we reached the first peak. We rested a while, had our snacks and went on to the second peak. Along the way, Goh twisted his ankle. A few of us decided to head down. The others went on to the second peak. They later realized they were on the wrong path, and tracked back to the fork and took the correct turn, delaying their return to town by about 45 minutes. By which time the five of us who went down earlier had returned to town, and ate delicious char kway teow in three forms– the traditional kway teow, and one fried in wanton noodles, and another in mee sua. We washed all that down with yong tau hoo soup. After a relaxing bath and rest we later re-united with the rest of the trekkers for the famous beef noodles of Kluang. The way we ate you would have wondered whether we came to prepare for April’s Indonesian climb, or simply to stretch our gastronomic muscles. On both nights, we went to two different hawker centers and ordered almost every available dish for sharing and tasting. Burp. These Malaysian hawkers are simply better than their Singapore counterparts.
It was disappointing that we could not buy much pineapple tarts, love letters or other CNY goodies due to quality issues and lack of variety. However many had their massages, hair treatment, pedicure and manicure and we had a good stretch of our muscles, both legs and gastronomic. And all this without blowing a hole in our pockets. It was fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.