Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pulau Sibu (Malaysia) - My first beach vacation !!

Well, here comes my first beach vacation. I have never thought I would ever attempt a trip like this but here it comes !!

Just like every other 'first' in life, this one too had its own charm...

Pulau Sibu (Sibu Island) is a remote island off the south eastern coast of Malaysia. Just the type of location I was looking for - not too many people and yet accessible. For starters, there is no public transport access to this island. There are a few options though (from Singapore):

1.Cross the border at Johor Bahru (Click HERE for details). Take a cab - Should cost atleast RM150 and would easily take a couple of hours. The taxi driver may not know the place - you may have to tell them it is near Tenggaroh Plantation.
2.Cross the border at Johor Bahru - Take a bus till Kota Tinngi. Hire a cab from there - should be an hour from there. Should cost between RM80- RM100
3. The easiest option - Book a resort with transport from Singapore. I did this - I stayed at Sea Gypsy resort. You can book a return trip for as much as RM100!! Being a finance guy, these numbers did make sense to me !

If it had been a regular backpacking trip, the entire trip would have been different - right from transport to the trip itself. However, this one was supposed to be a welcome break and hence i didnt think much !! And, that actually paid off. I had quality time at the resort.

Once you reach Tanjung leman by road, you take a ferry to Sibu island. It is a 25 min speed boat ride - good fun!
With Yus (Yus Lee like Bruce Lee !!)
The rooms at the resort are bare basic - which root you back to nature. It all adds up to a wonderful stay.

The first day was spent aimlessly trying to find reason by getting drunk. Beer and a beautiful beach - Life cant get better !! The next day was action packed. I went snorkelling in the morning. We went to a nearby un-inhabited remote island to have a look at corals. This was my first snorkelling experience - it was beautiful. You realize the amount that exists beneath the surface...
I bought an underwater disposable camera at the resort. I haven't developed the photos yet so I really don't know what is in the reel.. They will be online if they are worth sharing - i will find that out only when i develop the roll!!

Later in the day, I rented a Kayak and went exploring the seas.. It was good fun despite me not covering a significant distance. Again, this was my first time on kayak and probably that gave me the kick.. My left shoulder ligament tear kept reminding me that i should not stretch it too far - i had to listen and return back to the shore after a while!!

I met a Danish couple who were visiting Singapore - Had some really good conversations with them. They had travelled with me from Singapore in the same van. Really nice people with a cute kid called Carl.. We discussed Denmark, Indonesia, Malaysia and everything in between. It is these conversations that give an extra edge to my trips. Somehow I have been lucky to find great people on almost all my hikes and trips...

Cute Carl - he was very popular !!
Before i could realize, the trip came to an end. I got up early to witness sunrise. It was beautiful - just as is the case on any of the summits. Well, this is a new realization to me - Sunrises on beaches can be beautiful and beaches can be a good getaway too !!!

And of course, there had to be a closing video blog - which seems to have become a trademark of my hikes...

 UP NEXT: Mt Kinabalu (Malaysia, 13500 ft) in August 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hike of the year - Mt. Rinjani (Lombok, Indonesia)

If you would like to have a real time feel of events, you may want to have a look at my video blog before proceeding...

Mt. Rinjani was special - I have been waiting to attempt this one since i have landed in this region. This one is probably the most challenging hike in South Asia (if we exclude hikes involving mountaineering). Standing tall at 12420 ft, Mt Rinjani can be easily spotted from anywhere in Lombok - It is a prominent figure on the island of Lombok.

Just like most other hikes in the region, this one too is heavily regulated. This is one aspect which i have had to live with for almost all hikes in the region. Hiring a guide is mandatory. Porters are optional but since i had a beginner friend with me, i wanted to be safe and hence chose a package with a guide and porter. My should ligament tear was also one of the factors that lead us to hiring a porter. The shoulder is much better now but i would have risked recovery by carrying a heavy load.

So, everything was perfectly planned. Here was the itinerary:

Day 0:
Singapore to Jakarta - Night halt at Jakarta

Day 1: 
Early morning flight to Mataram (Lombok international airport)
Sightseeing + acclimitization of Lombok
Night halt at Senaru (near the trail head)

Day 2:
Start hike from Sembalun trailhead
Camp at Base camp

Day 3:
Attempt summit early in the morning
Back to base camp
Camp at Crater Rim Campsite

Day 4:
Crater Rim campsite to Senaru
Senaru to Lombok airport
Lombok to Jakarta

Day 5:
Jakarta to Singapore

The plan was perfect - with sufficient time for transfers. The hike was going to be hectic but that's where the fun is !! A 4D/3N is much more leisurely but I don't hike for leisure ! Hikes have to be challenging and if they don't stretch you - you lose the whole essence of it...

Day 0: Singapore to Jakarta

This was my third trip to Jakarta by an Air Asia flight - the flight that departs Friday night. And, the flight has been delayed on ALL 3 occasions. But, i have nothing to complain because that's what i get for what i paid them !! Madhav, who was to accompany me for Rinjani, was there to pick me up - just like every other occasion. While in the flight, I actually thought of sleeping at the airport itself considering the distance of Jakarta city from the airport. I had to dismiss it because i had no way of communicating it to Madhav...
We had just about 4 hrs of sleep before we start our journey the next day.

Day 1: Jakarta to Lombok; Lombok sightseeing + acclimitization

We took the early morning Lion Air flight to Mataram. Mataram is the new swanky international airport of Lombok. It has been beautifully built. The majestic summit of Mt Rinjani was visible from the runway as we got down from the flight. After having a look at this view, I just could not resist reaching the summit !

Mt Rinjani from Lombok airport (Over the clouds!!)
We were picked up at the airport by John's driver. We had contracted with John (Click HERE to contact him) for a guide,porters and transport. The package also included one night's stay at Senaru. The entire hike was professionally managed by his team. We didn't want to be part of a larger group so we had the guide and porter for ourselves so as to move at a faster pace...

Pickup at Lombok airport
For most part of the drive to Senaru, we could see the summit of Mt Rinjani - you just can't miss it... Senaru is a 3hr drive from Lombok. Once we reached Senaru, we were shown our lavish villa that we were to stay for the night. All we wanted then was a bed to crash and get some sleep. We went around to a couple of waterfalls nearby. They were good too..

Madhav and I at Fall no 1.
This is the second waterfall - much bigger than No 1.

At Fall no 2: You can't go closer - Water was falling down with force!

Day 2: Sembalun Trailhead to Base Camp

We started early and traveled for about an hour to reach the trailhead at Sembalun. The ascent to the summit can be made from both Senaru as well as Sembalun.

From John's restaurant: Leftmost peak is Mt Rinjani

Before we started: With our guide Adi
Full house at Sembalun trialhead

Those beginning the hike at Senaru mostly do not go till the summit unless you opt for a 4D/3N schedule.
For those attempting the summit, there are 2 popular options - a) Start from Sembalun and get back on the same side (2D/1N) b) Start from Sembalun and complete the full circuit to get down at Senaru (3D/2N). Since this might be my only attempt of Rinjani, I didn't want anything less than the full circuit - I started from Sembalun and got down at Senaru 2 days later.

After about an hour of hiking, Madav, who was accompanying me decided to drop out. I guess he was mentally not ready for this one. It is easy to feel dispirited when you look at the 3 day schedule. He decided to go back and spend some time at the beach instead !! The porters were carrying equipment and food for 2 people and we had no choice but to continue because the schedule was really tight. There was no way they could offload some of the stuff and come back on time for first night's camp.

I continued solo. In fact, nowadays i am more comfortable traveling alone than with a group..

The peak is always there in front of you to keep reminding you of the challenge that lies ahead. It pushed me even harder to reach the summit of this majestic peak.

It is always there in front of your eyes !!
With Suma and Sana, our porters.
There is a nice patch of grass meadows just as you begin hiking. It is a reasonably horizontal patch but it felt nice to walk among grass as tall as me (I am a shortie so i presume the grass was not beyond 5 ft in height !!)

The incline keeps on increasing as you cover distance. I was told the last patch before the summit has a steep incline so i kept reminding myself that the worst is yet to come...

We were doing good pace and were tracking to plan. There was a picturesque spot just before base camp. It was beautiful - we decided to spend some time there.

Adi, my guide and I

A quick chat with a Norwegian 

This is the first time i saw a full circle rainbow ! Awesome..
We reached the base camp on time and setup camp for the night. We had an early start @3 AM next day for the ascent to summit.

Day 3: Summit ascent and on towards camp @ Crater rim

I was under the impression that this day would be a smooth ride apart from the summit hike. I was in for a shock...

We started early and hiking at decent pace. However, the last patch was too steep and it slowed me down. We were about 45 mins away from the summit when the sun came up. Ideally, one would like to witness sun rise from the summit.

At Sunrise - The triangular shadow is of Mt Rinjani

The last patch was indeed steep. I realized that i need to work more on my fitness.

The view from summit was outstanding - i can't explain it in words. The view you get from 12000ft+ gigantic structures right next to the ocean had to be amazing. We had gained almost 10,000 ft from the point we started - that was a significant achievement indeed.

Crater lake from the summit - This view says it all !!
Coastal belt from the summit
I don't know what 'Askrida' means ! My guide gave it to me 
The nasty summit ridge
After spending about half an hour consuming views, we started our descent to base camp. In less than a couple of hours, we were back at base camp.

The decision !

However, we had a decision to make.. Almost all of the remaining groups were returning back the same route since most of us were delayed in reaching base camp. I knew that this might be my first and last attempt of Mt. Rinjani. My guide told me he would follow anything i decide irrespective of its consequences. That comforted me - I took a call to continue on to crater rim for the night.

The slope down to crater lake was steeper than i expected and took us more time than we had anticipated. We reached Crater lake on time for lunch and had a daunting 4 hr uphill on to crater rim campsite. We surely were not going to make it before sunset. Surprisingly, we did good pace on the uphill climb despite hiking for almost 15hrs the whole day. This was the toughest day in the whole itinerary.
I was happy i could stretch and the result was really satisfying. Got some great views of Mt Baru as well as the summit of Mt Rinjani from the campsite at Crater rim.

The summit of Mt Rinjani from Crater Rim campsite - Outstanding !!
Looking at the summit from Crater rim campsite gave me a feel of accomplishment. The peak is majestic and it displays itself only for a short while during the day.

Day 4: Crater Rim campsite to Senaru

This was an easy downhill hike where we would lose close to 8000ft of altitude. It certainly was going to take a toll on my knees. We did this downhill real fast and did the whole patch in less than 5 hrs. My guide and I were in fact running downhill in the dense forest. I was stretching my guide on this patch - I asked for breaks to be skipped and i could see that he was not expecting that!!
Finally, he convinced me to take a break just half an hour before completion - I had to give in. He wanted to treat me for one last time - He was a great cook. He was so used to my taste over the last couple of days - I gave him no instructions for the last meal. He made it exactly the way i want...

I was feeling a bit sad that this was coming to an end. But then, that is part and parcel of every great hike. You want it to continue forever. But, life goes on...

This is easily highlight of this year - I certainly can't think of anything better in this region.

UP NEXT: Mt Kinabalu (13500ft) in Malaysia - August 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Video Blog: Hike of the year - Mt. Rinjani (Lombok, Indonesia)

I have been waiting for this one for quite some time. Just like the 'arctic hike' was priority last year, this one was easily going to be the best this year. And, I must say, it is easily going to beat all other hikes in this region.

I do not want to spoil the storyline in the Video blog and hence would stop here !! (Detailed write-up is available HERE)

Enjoy !

Part I

Part II

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mt Rinjani Prep hike 2: Mt Ophir (Gunung Ledang)

It was time for one more challenging hike before attempting Mt Rinjani. Mt Ophir is located in Johor state of Malaysia and is accessible by road from Singapore. It is only 4187 ft high but the trail is quite challenging. Wiki states that there have been quite a few fatalities on this hike and since then they have made guides compulsory. I felt it was over-regulated and the guide did not add a lot of value.

Travel was more hectic than the hike!! Here is how it went:

MRT till Kranji MRT (40 mins)
Bus 170 till Singapore Immigration (15 mins)
Clear Singapore Immigration (Time depends on no of people)
Bus 170 till Malaysia Immigration (10 mins)
Clear Malaysia Immigration (Time depends on no of people)
Bus 170 till Larkin Terminal (Johor Bahru) (15-20 mins)
Waiting time at Larkin (3 hrs)
Cepak express bus till Segamat (~3-4hrs)
North west local bus till National Park Entrance (50 mins)

By the time I reached the trailhead, it was 5PM!! I had started at 7AM from Singapore. My guide was summoned and we finally started the hike at 530PM. We reached the base camp in less than 2.5 hrs.

By the time we reached base camp, it was well past sunset and the forest was indeed active. There were multitude of noises coming in from all directions - Gave us a sense of life in the forest...

The next morning, we joined a couple more groups at the camp and went to the summit together. We were slowed down because of the group size but we still made it before sunrise. Sunrise was beautiful - Johor on one side and Melaka on the other.

The return was quick and the park had transport till the nearest bus stop (Tangkak). They dropped me at Tangkak and I was told to try 'Mee Bandung', an indigenous Malaysian meal available in Tangkak (& Muar). I did try it - it was good...

The return journey was even more cumbersome. It was as if all of Singapore had gone into Malaysia that weekend. It took me 2.5 hrs to clear all immigration formalities on both sides. I reached home at 1AM!!

Nevertheless, this boosted my confidence for my hike to Mt Rinjani the next week...

UP NEXT: Hike of the year - Mt Rinjani - Lombok, Indonesia - 12420 ft