Friday, 15 May 2015

A volcano within a volcano?

Rinjani is one of the very few or probably the only place in the world which has a lake within a volcano and in the middle of the lake yet another live volcano!We were lucky the weather was on our side throughout the 4 days and was treated to a spectacular sunset at the Summit. I'll leave the description of the mountain to the pictures but even the most beautiful of them just can't replace the experience of being there yourself. 

Ahmed's trekking centre

Quick briefing by the jovial boss, Ahmed

Right after a quick lunch at 3pm, we kicked off from Senaru village, scurried up the initial steep slopes the moment we set foot on trail. Our initial plan was to camp at 'POS3' one of the checkpoints towards Senaru crater but due to the time we started, Ahmed's suggestion was to camp for the night at 'POS2'

The initial part of the hike is in deep vegetation which provides shelter from the merciless afternoon sun. Most parts of the path are barren and can only imagine how muddy it will turn out during the monsoon seasons

After about 4 hours of continuous trekking, we reached POS2!
The porters were ahead of us and when we settled, hot piping food was ready to tame our growling stomachs. The last thing we wanted was to have a bad meal to end the day. When the food was served, what was presented before us was way beyond our expectations! The presentation and taste was just superb, never have I had such a good meal in an outdoor setting. We were also given a choice of coffee, tea and hot chocolate. The items in our tent like the sleeping mats and bags were nicely set up together with a small air pillow. I have always been skeptical about the sleeping bags provided by trekking companies as they were either not warm enough or damp because of inadequate waterproofing.
But after using theirs, I was very much assured!

Second day, we woke up at 6am and ended up setting off a little later at 730am. The path up to 'Pos3' wasn't particularly difficult. Along the way, Alan caught sight of several black monkeys with long limbs and tail (resembles spider monkeys) above the treeline, at first they were curious and stopped to look at us but quickly scattered when I tried to take a few snaps on my camera (this explains the absence of the photos!) About 5 minuutes walk away we came across the more common grey haired macaques which according to the guide are more aggressive and brazen compared to their shy cousins which we saw earlier.

The main problem about the increasing brazen behavior of these monkeys is not on the monkeys themselves but rather on us humans improperly discarding food and waste which attracts these animals. The monkeys have gotten too dependent on our food that they choose the easy way out rather than look for food on their own.

Big props to environmentally friendly guides and porters like these who ply through the mountains looking for discarded recyclables.

This is the 2nd volcano I've ascended in Indonesia and the first one was such a disappointment it didn't leave me satisfied with the experience. Rinjani turned things around 180 degrees, especially with Ahmed's Expeditions. As a really stingy traveller, I made sure I wanted to get the best deal out of the price I pay and at the same time expect quality service. Seemingly hard to believe, I wasn't disappointed at all.

Upon recommendation by Ahmed we took a 4D/3N package because not everyone in the group was experienced. Ahmed's crew gave us the freedom of time without a single time rushing us. The porters were always at the front no matter how early we set out first making sure our latrine, tents and food were ready upon reaching camp. The crew were always in a jovial mood, never once seen any of them express discontent by our fussy requests. Adi my guide was especially helpful, I remember vividly there was one time my glove was blown to the edge of a steep slope, and without consideration of his safety reached out a couple of meters to get it back for me! Truly blessed to have him looking over our welfare. Warm food is a luxury on a mountain while good food, a scarcity. At the end of a long day, all we wanted was a hot meal enough to fill our stomachs but we got more than we expected. From spring rolls for starters to explicitly garnished Nasi/Mee goreng and finely cut fresh fruits. What more could we ask for!

Having said so much good things about this mountain, there is however one major problem. If gone unresolved, it definitely will bring this #1 attraction all the way to the bottom. Beyond the beautiful pictures, what people rarely take notice are the rubbish and human waste scattered throughout the camp sites and along the trails. Almost every square inch of the camp site is badly littered. Even Segara Anak has been polluted with trash, oil and swill from the washing of utensils. It is saddening to see such a beautiful place transformed to such a state and my guess is that it will only get worse if no action is taken. Although there are few companies taking the Eco initiative to clean up the area which they have used, it is definitely not enough without the local government's intervention and social consciousness on everyone's part. For anyone visiting, please help to make this place a more beautiful place :)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

6 foot trail, Blue Mountains Sydney, Australia

This is the 2nd time I'm traveling alone and also the furthest I've gone. Coming from a traditional family and a conservative society, it was hard for my friends and families to imagine that I'll be traveling to Sydney myself and furthermore camping in the wilderness for a few days. Without hesitation I booked a ticket through Scoot and was there a month later. The last time I was in Australia was more than a decade ago and couldn't remember much of the details except for the farm stay in Brisbane and theme parks in Gold Coast.

First impression of Sydney is that everything seems bigger than in Singapore like the buses, the trains and even the food! Weather was perfect as it had just transit from to spring. Temperature was about 20 degrees odd. I stay at this trendy hostel for 2 nights just opposite Central station, it was the perfect location to stay in the city as it is the interchange for most of the city and suburban lines.

The third morning I was up early and got the first train to Katoomba which is the Blue mountains area. The temperature was significantly cooler there, people were also much warmer than in the city. I stocked up on butane gas and other supplies at the local outdoor store. The very friendly owner who offered to leave my bag at the shop while I head to the police station down the road to register, which I politely declined. Bad mistake. Apparently the police station rented out all their emergency beacons and the only ones left were at Echo point which is 20 minutes walk away. The view from Echo point was beautiful and it didn't take long to realize that this is the most scenic part of the town. The view from Echo point was stunning! Under the blanket of the mid afternoon sun, it highlighted the vast greenery across the canyon floors of the blue mountain range.  Couldn't resist a few pre-hike snapshots from around the visitor area before grabbing the emergency beacon from the visitor centre. The staffs were also bewildered that I was doing it alone and they were particularly concerned that I couldn't make it back from the end point alone. The track which I intend to take is a 43 kilometers straight road which will start from Katoomba ending all the way to Jenolan caves and there was only 1 way back which is by the visitor bus which has only 1 trip back everyday at 3pm! Looking at my time, it was already late morning and neither have I had my lunch nor am I remotely near the start point. A harsh lesson learnt not to take things for granted for the 2nd half of my day.

The start point was quite a walk from Katoomba town and it was not a clear path as I had to walk along the expressway at times on the edge of traffic. Figured out later that there was a public bus to the start point. It was already 2pm when I reached the start point, the walk was relatively easy as it was down slope for most of the part, it was a steep and narrow path down the Nellies Glen canyon walls. There wasn't much to see until I came upon the private ranches, some of the paths intersect these private property along Megalong road and I could see cows and kangaroos roaming the pastures. With the afternoon sun setting shining rays across the meadows it was a sight to behold. A small pond by the fence shimmered glitters of light off its surface behind a backdrop of hay basked under the sun.

It was already 5pm when I reached the midpoint of my first day and I still another 7 kilometers to go. As I increased my pace, the sky got darker with every step. Putting on my headlight I could see ahead of me tiny eyes staring back at me from the illumination. Realizes the 4 pairs of eyes staring back were baby spiders and they were littered all over the ground ahead of me, I moved forward careful not to agitate any of them. My water had run dry and I was tired from moving the whole day. Finally reached the Cox River after an hour and by then it was pitch dark. Turning on my headlight, i see 8 eyes peeking back from their reflection. i suddenly realised there were dozens of them strewn all along the track. at the back of my mind I tried not to focus too much on the thought that Australia have the most poisonous spiders in the world! After much of the careful treading through the path, I came past this bridge called the "Bowtells swing bridge"

image from

Side story, the bridge was built and opened in 1992 by the Royal Australian Engineers. The bridge is named after a fellow soldier of the builders, Corporal Bob Bowtell, who suffocated and died in foul air whilst attempting to clear a tunnel of the VC during the Vietnam war [ref isbn=1865088234 page=37]. Bowtell grew up in Katoomba and is now buried in West Malaysia. After a short walk from the bridge I reached my first accommodation for my first night at the Six Foot Track Lodge. Was dismayed to know from the owner the previous day that I'll be the only person living here tonight as most of her guests come in only during the weekend. Probably it was the wilderness, darkness and loneliness but I was quite spooked by the eeriness of the night. I filled up my water, unpacked my stuffs and went straight to bed. It was 7.30pm, I slept till 8 the next day

huge room, double decker beds 

cabin in the woods

The next morning I cooked up a breakfast too big to finish to compensate for yesterday's dinner. They had a stove but I chose to use my own as I didn't know how to operate, embarrassing. Moving towards Cox River campsite, from here the dirt road winds moderately steeply uphill for about 2.1km. The sun was as merciless as the slopes up and I had to take a 10 minutes wink by the slope to get back my energy.

The roads wind up to about a kilometer upslope through vast green pastures. The thing about the 6 foot trek is the freedom to walk through private ranches with the occasional cows grazing under the lazy afternoon sun. Certain parts of the trek however is spare and given that it is early spring, most of the plants and trees are barren. It can be pretty spooky walking alone when the sun is down. The rest of the second day is pretty bland, just lots of uphill walking and panting. Learnt my lesson from my first day and cut down on the photography just to focus on getting to camp early. Along the way I met a couple of hikers and everyone told me they were heading to the next camp but upon reaching. There was not a single soul. I went as far to the end of the camp site just to make sure but there was nobody! Supernatural concerns were the last of my priority, feeding my hunger was more important. Quickly set up camp and cooked dinner before ending my arduous second day.

The last day was the shortest but the most arduous. After a snappy breakfast, I set off on a mostly flat and down slope path. Had a little sharp pain in my right ankle while I was going down and couldn't wait to end the walk. The more I hurried the more painful it was. After a while I just took things in stride and enjoyed the scenery while taking a slow stroll down the hill. After going past a highway, I came upon a cluster of holiday chalets and I knew that I was reaching. Keeping in mind the timing of the ONLY bus from Jenolan caves back to Katoomba, I made sure I reached an hour before. To my surprise I hit Jenolan Caves town 2 hours prior the deadline and managed to do a short tour into one of the limestone caves!

The journey back to Katoomba gave me time to reflect on this memorable adventure I had embarked alone on the 6 foot track. Few points I've learnt from this track:

  • preparation is half the battle won: if I had not brought enough food, water, fuel things would have gone way south
  • over analysis leads to paralysis: although preparation is important, an over preparation and consideration would probably have impeded me from travelling 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hiking Essentials

Important lesson learnt from my XueShan hike is to always stay dry and stay warm.

-Insulation layer: Synthetic material shirt
-Thermal shell: Fleece Jacket/ Soft shell Jacket
-Waterproof layer: Waterproof jacket/pants (preferably goretex)
-Hiking boots (waterproofed not only on the outside but also on the inside)
-Waterproof gaiters to prevent water from seeping into the shoes
-Sockliners to prevent blisters from long distance walking
-Hiking socks
-Sun cap/Beanie
-Lingerie and everyday wear

-Hiking backpack (>40 litres for 3- 4 days) with rain cover and waterproofed on the inside with trashbag!
-Hiking stick(s) (I have reliable and affordable sources ;))
-Headlamp (preferably 3 LED)
-Quickdry towels
-Sleeping bag (<10 degrees Celsius)
-Waterproof bag for documents and electronic items
-Sewing kit/ Glue for sealing holes

Please let me know if there are any additional items to include!