A Kick Ass Adventure to El Nido, Palawan

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: El Nido, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Philippines



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The origins of another “kick ass” trip
Dark, cold, wet, windy and cloudy. Those were the words that described Hong Kong’s weather in the beginning of March, 2014. Naturally, the only way to counter that was through beaches, sports and ample sunshine! And, thus originated the humble beginnings of yet another “kick ass” trip to the Philippines – the land of sunshine, turquoise waters, pristine beaches and plenty of buko juice. (That’s Tagalog for coconut juice as we learnt during this trip).

Before I continue with this photo blog to summarize our trip to El Nido in the Philippines, I will have to tell you what makes a trip truly “kick ass”. You see, the “kick ass” adjective can’t be used to describe just any old vacation. No Sir. A vacation has to be truly, and I mean truly, worthy of being given that description. It has to be totally kick ass. When you hear those words being ascribed to a vacation, you just know it’s going to be, well, kick ass! And, why so? Because, of the secret ingredients, of course! Namely, mountain biking, kayaking, motorbiking, island hopping, snorkeling and, the best of all, truly and outstanding “kick ass” company!

March 4th/5th 2014
Dom, Nora, Emilie and yours truly comprised of this high profile “kick ass” tour group to El Nido in Palawan Islands, Philippines. We caught a Cebu Pacific plane from Hong Kong to Manila and spent the night at a hotel in Manila before returning to the airport the following morning to board a plane from Manila to Puerto Princessa.

Our first of many days of eating/drinking in the Philippines – Hotel in Manila

Manila to Puerto Princessa

Smile sunshine – we’re in Puerto Princessa!

Dom’s all smiles

Then came a nice 6 hour car ride to El Nido. I was the DJ in the car and played a few Linkin Park/Green Day tunes. Not sure if my listeners enjoyed my taste in music as Emilie, Dom and Nora were largely asleep!

Embarking on a longish car ride to El Nido

After having lunch en route in a local Filipino place, we checked in into Juaqinn Hotel (pronounced ‘Wa-kin’) and inspected our rooms. This hotel and the service was very cozy. Their technology was also remarkable as they have found a way to convert pee into toothpaste. Yes, that’s right. One can brush his teeth using his own pee! Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.

Making the most out of pee by turning it into toothpaste!

We then went for a stroll in El Nido. We walked past beaches and beachfront restaurants until we came across a resort called “Hippocamper” which was for sale. Here’s where a million dollar idea struck me. I knew I had to buy this resort and organize an HKTR trip to the Philippines with a mandatory stay in this resort.

Going for a stroll in El Nido. Walkin’ by beaches and resorts

Hippocamper Beach Resort for sale – all mine!

Dinner was naturally had on the beach at a seafood restaurant

Dom and Emilie were surprised when I had yet another dinner. Veggie burger at a burger joint in town!

My powers of eating dazzle Dom and Emilie

And, we concluded the evening with a quality 8 hour sleep and woke up to warmth and sunshine the next day morning!

March 6th 2014, An Island Hopping adventure
It was time to process the first “kick ass” ingredient of this “kick ass” holiday. Island Hopping, snorkeling and swimming. (Well, for me, learning to swim).

Secret, what secret?
Almost all the couple of dozen tourist shops in El Nido offered similar island hopping tours. They called it “Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D”. (Talk about bland names!) We chose Tour C as we were going to explore part of Tour A on our own in a kayak the following day.

Tour C boasted of a “secret lagoon”. So, upon boarding the boat in the morning, my question to our guide was naturally this: “If everyone is taken to the secret lagoon, how does it remain secret?”

I was expecting some sort of longwinded, boilerplate answer to this question. But, he surprised me with a simple “It’s not secret anymore!” Hmm, well, I thought I’d be disappointed at the suggestion of a no-longer-secret lagoon but nature wouldn’t let me be disappointed! Instead, the beauty of nature came to sight gracefully in the form of emerald-colored waters glittering under the sunshine. The different shades of turquoise, green and blue were addictive to the eyes, never ceasing to mesmerize.

All aboard!

Our guide delivering the itinerary for the day

Welcome to Stop 1: Commando Beach

Time to go under water for some snorkeling!

Random lines make the water glitter under the sunshine

Isn’t nature beautiful?

The next stop was the “Big Lagoon”. (These guys obviously need a marketing guy to juice up all the names). In order to enter the Big Lagoon, we had to go through a little cave to reach the other end.

Getting to the big lagoon

The big lagoon

The next stop was Shmizu Island for lunch. Dom, Nora and I went for another swimming/snorkeling session while Emilie decided to sun bathe to recover from a little sickness. She soon ended up earning the title “Sleeping Beauty” as she proudly announced that she had managed to sleep at pretty much every beach we visited!

Shimizu Island – our lunch spot

The heroes of El Nido (Please note that I am just wearing the life vest just because I like the color red not because I can’t swim)

The underwater world is as beautiful as the world outside

No Island Tour can be complete without a BBQ lunch by the beach. This one included.

Lunch on the beach. Is this life or what?

Our fellow touring colleagues – Emilie fancied the Chinese guy – more on that later

Group photo op on the beach

Then we made our way to the third attraction for the day. The “Small Lagoon”. Yes, marketing isn’t one of the common expertise in El Nido.

The girls are happy

The boys lookin’ handsome as always

On the way to the “small lagoon”

Don’t we all look just awesome?

Look at the dazzling colors and the stunning Nora of course!

During all this excitement, Emilie somehow got the attention of a chubby looking tourist who evidently fancied her. And, Emilie readily reciprocated. (Think of her poor boyfriend back in Hong Kong…)

Emilie strikes one of her Titanic style poses (Her Leonardo Di Caprio is in the next pic!)

Emilie’s version of her chubby looking Leonardo Di Caprio. Don’t they make a great pair?

Then came the highlight of the day. The ultimate, not-so-secret “secret lagoon”. Hmm. I won’t tell you where it is – that’s classified. But, anyone can go there.

The beautiful waters of the Secret Lagoon

We concluded the day with more snorkeling in the secret lagoon.

Two big fish in the water

This is what two cool guys look like

Go Dom!

Heading back home!

Once back in El Nido, we headed to our new favorite joint – “The Art Cafe” which had some awesome live music from 7pm to 10pm.

Working up quite some hunger at The Art Cafe after a whole day of snorkeling

March 7th 2014, a kayaking adventure in El Nido
The next secret ingredient in our “kick ass” trip was a 15km self-guided kayaking adventure in the Palawan waters.

Dom gets a different pair of legs
Dom woke up, looked down and figured out that God had given him a new pair of feet. Feet with a spectacular bright red color – kind of like, let’s say, sun burnt feet. Here, take a look.

Dom’s new red pair of feet

To get our kayaks, we headed over to a relatively remote corner of the beach where a former triathlete called “El Gordo” ran an adventure shop. El Gordo means “fat man” in Spanish but Gordon (his real name) was far from that. He looked tall and well built and told us that a “series of events” now saw him in the Philippines (far away from his hometown in Canada) and “long story short”, he was now running a shop all the way in El Nido. He had a great sense of humor and took genuine pride in having the best sports equipment in El Nido. He told us that he was confined to his premises as his wife was away and we had to go on our own self guided tour of the islands which was never going to be a problem as we had the best navigator known to mankind in our little kick ass tour group. Me! There is no place I can’t travel to if one gives me a compass and a map. (And a GPS. Oh, and someone on the phone to give me directions). But, luckily, we had Dom and Nora too who were a tad better.

At El Gordo’s shop – he is the second guy from the left

And, away we go!

Sometimes while “navigating”, I “delegated” paddling work to Emilie

We had to give Dom a 5km head start as he was too slow on his kayak

We went on our on “Tour A” and reached a secluded island where Emilie continued with some beauty sleep whereas the rest of us went snorkeling.

Group pic on our remote island

And more snorkeling and beach fun

We then paddled our way to another island for lunch. We had stashed away some buns, biscuits and oranges in the watertight compartment of our kayaks. Emilie and I had most of the stash just in case Dom and Nora decided to ditch us! Better to have some food if you are stuck on some remote island!

Emilie paddles while I “navigate”

On another remote island for lunch

Say after me – She sells sea shells on the seashore

And, as always, we finished the day with sumptuous food, plenty of beers and live music at The Art Cafe.

A well deserved dinner (especially for Emilie) after our kayaking adventure

March 8th 2014, Let’s go motorbiking/
It almost goes without saying that any trip that has to be “kick ass” has to involve some sort of motorbiking. Motorbiking and/or mountaineering is one of the basic fabric necessary to stitch together a kick ass trip! And, in true spirit of this “Law of Kick Ass-ness”, we rented three scooters today to do our own inland tour. Naturally, of course, I was the navigator to ensure we could find our way back.

“Scooter Diaries” – I am sure Ewan McGregor will be proud of us

Emile is in safe hands

Nora scooting away…

Dom getting ready to do 200km/hour

Our first stop for the day was a waterfalls. We rode to the start and a guide who was lying down on a hammock told us that it was too dangerous for us to go alone as there were 8 different streams to cross. He strongly encouraged us to pay for a guide to get to the waterfalls which was only 45 minutes away! We took our chances. With me in the group, who needs a guide?

Dom and Nora showing us the way

These pigs for some reason fascinated Emilie who insisted on taking a picture of them

My new billion dollar idea – plucking coconuts from a coconut tree. 500 million coconuts, 2 bucks for each and I am a billionaire!

Emilie, Nora and Dom try not to get their feet wet during one of the crossings. Too late for me!

After making a mistake or two here and there, we reached the waterfalls!

We then rode on our scooters on a muddy trail which, on many occasions, tested the amount of cushioning fat we had around our rears. I clearly needed more.

Riding on rough roads

Our next destination for the day – Nacpan beach

No trip to the Philippines can ever be complete without buko juice. And, of course, each of us just had to take a photo of ourselves with drinking one!

Getting ready for more calories intake

It’s all about the buko


After having had another great lunch, it was time for lazing around on the beach, staring into the bluish-green waters and reflecting on life. However, as we endeavored to do just that, Nora wouldn’t let us! She went for an hour long swim making us feel very guilty about just eating and not exercising. So, I joined her briefly on the waters and invited Dom to running with me on the beach! We managed a 7km run and had blisters on our big toes!

Sporty Nora donning her swimming cap and getting ready to do mad laps

Riding the waves! You just don’t feel like leaving!

Inspired by Nora, we ran. Inspired by us, small children joined us!

Another “kick ass” group picture on Nacpan beach!

Reluctantly, we left Nacpan beach but we were more motivated to leave when we knew that we were headed for yet another pristine beach called the Las Cabanas beach or the sunset beach. Dom read somewhere that this beach was especially known for stunning sunsets. I have to say – he read right. Take a look.

Crossing another dirt road

Dirty Dom after riding through a lot of mud

Nora isn’t clean either

First glimpse of Las Cabanas – what a beauty!

Emilie gives her new “friends” to me – live sea shells

What a glorious sunset!

And more buko juice

As usual, we closed the day at the Art Cafe with plenty of food/beers and live music.

Is this life or what?

March 9th 2014, Time for a bike ride!/
Island hopping, snorkeling, swimming, motorbiking – we had done all that. The last missing ingredient of this kick ass trip was some good old mountain biking! And, that’s exactly what we had on the cards for today.

Off we went, back to El Gordo to rent mountain bikes. Emilie requested a French style bicycle while Dom rented the bike with the largest frame. Nora and I had medium frame bikes. Nora proved her expertise with bikes soon after we rented them. She gave Emilie a Gear 101 lesson delivered with the confidence and experience of a professional biker. Similar to the way, she gave me a swimming lesson the day before. “Don’t bend your knees too much”, she said. “Imagine there’s a pipe around your leg and use your ankle to kick as though you’re getting rid of a sock”, she explained. At least I moved after her lesson. Before that I was creating so much splashing that I probably spooked all the fish inside!

El Gordo telling us where to go on the bikes

These kids were happily splashing around in the water

Getting ready to rock n roll!

And, off we went.

Riding out of town

We soon reached our first “mofo” hill for the day. Here’s where Dom had problems with his bikes as it had hydraulic brakes and gear shifting issues. It tested his patience. Pleasant words emanated from his mouth as the cycle would just not listen to him.

We had 8km on paved roads before we went off road

Dom’s got bike issues!

These kids were “hello”-ing everyone passing by!

After 26kms, we reached the Caves!

El Gordo told us that we did not have to pay any money at the caves but, as usual, an “entrepreneurial” guy in the premises claimed it was “private property” and asked for 100 pesos per person. We told him no can do and agreed to pay 150 pesos for three of us. (Dom refused to go inside as he had seen enough caves in his life and wasn’t quite interested in witnessing a Chinese cobra inside one of them).

Getting ready to go in the caves

We had a déjà vu as we entered the cave and so a few guides who told us that it was “very difficult” to go into the 40m cave without a guide. Remembering that the guides at the waterfalls had claimed something similar a few days back, we told them that we were willing to take our chances!

Emilie inspecting the stalactites

Emilie explained to me that a bat is called “bald mouse” in French

100% pure limestone

We got out of the caves and made our way back to the bikes and stopped at a roadside stall for snacks. That’s when Emilie had her Prince Charming come to rescue her on a tricycle! She felt that 27km of biking was more than enough for her and decided to return home in a highly fashionable manner on a tricycle.

Eating after a 27km bike ride at a roadside stall

Emilie takes off with her Prince Charming (and his family) fashionably

Nora, Dom and I then continued on our way back to El Nido to cover another 27kms. We stopped on the way at a Hilltop hotel to witness the view from there which El Gordo recommended. We were also hoping to get a few beers but neither us nor the dogs that were barking at us could wake up the staff there who seemed to be slumbering tightly.

Group picture sans Emilie at the Hilltop Hotel

After we got back into town, we realized that our kick ass trip was soon going to draw to a close. That and cycling some 52kms called for some celebratory beers at a burger joint in El Nido.

All good things end with a beer

After the beers, we headed back to El Gordo and returned our bikes. He almost offered Nora a job after listening to her triathlon achievements. Then we went for a pre-dinner stroll and reminisced about our “kick ass” trip which was soon going to end.

The beach will be missed

This rooster too. (If it doesn’t get eaten before we leave that is)

El Nido words of wisdom. Quit your job, find a beach, take a risk, fall in love!

A toast to another kick ass trip and many more to come

March 10th 2014, Laziness comes to a crashing halt/
Days of waking up at 8am came to a screeching halt as we struggled to get up at 4.30am today to catch the van back to Puerta Princessa.

Goodbye El Nido

Luckily for us, our Cebu Pacific pilot knew where he was going. He had a huge map on the cockpit.

Always good to have a huge map in the cockpit window

And we bid goodbye to Puerta Pricessa and left for Manila

Trip Summary
Island hopping, snorkeling, swimming, motorbiking, kayaking, biking – all in 4 days. And, some kick ass style company plus eating and drinking. If this isn’t a “kick ass trip”, what is?



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HKTR’s first annual Summit in Sipalay plus capture of Mt. Kanlaon in the Philippines

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Mt. Kanlaon, Philippines, Sipalay, Travel



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HKTR’s first annual Summit in Sipalay plus capture of Mt. Kanlaon in the Philippines

All photos here.

Leaders to meet and discuss economic affairs of the world
We’ve all heard of the APEC Summit, Kyoto Summit, United Nations Summit and blah, blah, blah. Forget all that — an event far more important and exciting than any of the above –The Hong Kong Trail Runners’ Summit– was to be held in Sipalay, Philippines in February 2013. Key world leaders Martijn, Vivien and yours truly were expected to meet there to solve the problems of the world over some beers. And, all this while looking over the beautiful sunset from the bar stools of Artistic Diving Resort, Sipalay in The Philippines.

Leaders very busy at work solving world problems

Read about the Summit Achievements up ahead



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Trail running in South Island, New Zealand “No baggage” style

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: HIKIN' THE WORLD, New Zealand, South Island, Travel



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Trail running in South Island, New Zealand “No baggage” style

Me, my hand-carry backpack and my heavy-duty rucksack
Armed with one light hand-carry backpack and one heavy-duty rucksack, I set foot for what promised to be a great adventure in Kiwi Land!

13th December 2012: Welcome to Queenstown!
What a landing this was! I could barely take my eyes off the plane window. By the time we landed, I had craned my neck so much to the left that it started to hurt! It felt like we were part of a flight simulator video game where the plane has to carefully navigate through picturesque mountain ranges. One tiny mistake by the pilot and it would have been game over! Nature kept beckoning us through the airplane window. Each time the plane banked right, I could see glimpses of a serene greenish-blue colored river. As the plane descended, this river showed off more and more of her beauty. The snowcapped mountains we saw moments ago quietly disappeared into the backdrop while gently giving way to lush green grasslands. And, all of a sudden, a runway appeared out of nowhere and we were somehow in Queenstown, New Zealand!

What a landing! This is what I call a scenic flight!

All food stash goes to trash
Upon landing, the first human being I saw from the plane’s window in Queenstown was a customs lady flanked by two gigantic dustbins on either side. “QUARANTINE” was the mantra of the day.

Continue reading about trail running in New Zealand “no baggage” style!



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“Holdin’ it in” and practicing Putonghua in Northern Xinjiang during October 2012

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, China, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Travel, Xinjiang



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“Holdin’ it in” and practicing Putonghua in Northern Xinjiang during October 2012

All pictures here.

Holdin’ what in?
Read on and you will be enlightened. But until then, here’s the story.

Strange departure from the original plan
The original plan called for a trip to Vietnam in October 2012. The group was supposed to consist of 6 of us. That number first went down to 5, then 4, then 3, then eventually … 2. We could have still gone to Vietnam but then came one of our brainwaves. Why not do something MORE adventurous?

Enter Xinjiang in Northwest China. Picture Muslim music playing in the background. Then picture eating some nans (bread). Picture kebab and lamb. Picture thousands of square kilometers of desert and contrasting grasslands and majestic mountains. That’s Xinjiang. It occupies 1/6th of the total land in China. It’s home to several distinct tribes. It’s a mysterious land – a land far, far away geographically, ecologically and, of course, spiritually to Central in Hong Kong!

So, Martijn and I decided to be brave and explore Xinjiang. “Brave” because, of the two of us, only I could speak the best Mandarin. And my Mandarin was unfortunately largely limited to “Wo bu ji dou Potunghua” (I don’t know Mandarin). But then again, both of us could draw! Isn’t sign language the oldest form of communication known to mankind?

Then came the question WHERE in Xinjiang were we going to go to.

Enter Sandy Yiu, our expert Xinjiang consultant who has traveled to 40 different countries and rates Xinjiang as the best place she has ever been to. She spent 17 days there and yet didn’t find it sufficient. We had 7 days!

Sandy gave us a Xinjiang 101 lesson. She told us that the western part of Xinjiang is home to Kashgar (or Ka-Shi as the locals call it) and Karakul lake. The 7000m high mountain Muztagh Ata is also accessible from Kashgar after 1-2 days of road travel through the Gobi desert. The northern part of Xinjiang is home to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world – the Kanas lake. This area, which is quite close to Russia, is also home to some very dense and beautiful forests. Getting lost in one of those forests might result in an inadvertent trip to Russia! In late September, which is autumn, the colors of the tree leaves there change to a beautiful golden orange color. The different shades of red, orange and green give this place a truly majestic touch.

After her presentation, our minds were made up. Northern Xinjiang it was!

Beauty of Northern Xinjiang

Continue reading to find out what it takes to ‘hold it in’ in Xinjiang



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Relaxing, caving, biking and learning to spell in the Philippines – July, 2012

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Hiking in Hong Kong, Philippines, Siquijor, Travel



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Relaxing, caving, biking and learning to spell in the Philippines – July, 2012

All pictures are here.

Monday, the 1st of July. This date means a lot to Hong Kong. It’s the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. It is aptly celebrated by literally blowing up HKD 5M (yes, five million dollars) in the form of fireworks. It’s also a day when a large number of people dissatisfied with the government of Hong Kong take to the streets to protest. Some protest over serious matters like democracy in Hong Kong aka “Universal Suffrage” (I still don’t know what that means) while others protest over supposedly serious matters, i.e. things like too many mosquitoes on The Peak or the weather being too cold during winter, etc, etc. And, to me, that can only mean one thing – hiking, biking and relaxing in some remote destination!

And so came the desire to jet set to the Philippines for the weekend plus a day to do some hiking, biking, swimming and caving. Strangely, the first thought that always comes to mind when the Philippines is mentioned to me is not the white sand beaches or that hugely popular witty response by that famous Filipino beauty pageant. Know what I am talking about? During a Miss World or Miss Universe contest, a panel of judges asked this Filipino beauty pageant how many islands there were in the Philippines. Her response was, “during the tide or after?”

What instead comes to my mind when “The Philippines” is mentioned to me is … spelling! Tell me truthfully, how many of you can even spell the name “Philippines” correctly? And, once you scratch the “spelling” surface, there’s more super hard spelling!

My getaway plan called for taking a budget airline to Cebu on Friday night, and a ferry to Dumaguete on Saturday morning to meet my partner-in-crime Liza Avelino. Wait.. Duma.. what? (There you go.. hard spelling again). And, it doesn’t end there. From Dumaguete, the plan called for taking yet another ferry to the island of Siquijor. (No, I do not know how to properly spell that, much less pronounce that!) But, what I do know is that it’s supposed to be an island offering sparkling white sand beaches, pristine hiking trails, mysterious caves, a thrilling motorbike ride and much, much more! And, of course, thanks to all the inevitable lessons in spelling that one will invariably have the benefit of learning, it also offers the chance to win the next Spelling Bee competition.

Friday, 2012-06-29
I took a budget airline, Air Phil Express, from Hong Kong to Cebu. It wasn’t hard to say that it was a budget airline. The boarding gate was at the remotest possible corner of the Hong Kong airport (I almost needed another flight to get to the boarding gate) and the flight attendants were wearing quite ordinary looking budget tee shirts and shorts. (They surely need a lesson or two from Eva Air).

I stayed at a backpackers place Cebu Guesthouse. I arrived there at close to 11pm and spent the night in a dorm room at a nominal cost of 350 pesos (HKD 50) a night! The online reviews of this guesthouse were terrible. I thought it was going to be one of those keep-wallet-hidden-in-underwear kind of experiences but it wasn’t all that bad! Decent enough bed and friendly fellow backpackers.

The dorm in Cebu Guesthouse (about 15 mins from the pier)

Continue reading about the adventure and the witchcraft!



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Climbing/Trail Running/Motorbiking in Taiwan, June 2012

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, Hehuan, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Snow Mountain, Taiwan, Taroko, Travel



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Photos are here.

The Planning
They say that the US Military operation to kill Osama Bin Laden involved extremely sophisticated planning, immense coordination, tireless training and impeccable execution. Apparently, in a special operation codenamed “Geronimo”, Blackhawk helicopters carrying a team of highly trained US Navy SEALS were sent in the middle of the night into a walled compound in Pakistan. These SEALS bravely accomplished their mission and disappeared just as swiftly as they arrived.

I know what you’re thinking – what an incredible feat involving such meticulous planning, right? Well, big deal! My grandma could have planned that Osama attack. Talk about organizing a trip to Taiwan that involves motorbiking, mountain biking, hiking, running, chilling and climbing. Now, THAT’S real planning.
Read more…



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Discovering ass saving gel bike seats in Yangshao, May 2012

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, China, Guilin, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Travel



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Discovering ass-saving gel bike seats in Yangshao, May 2012

Geotagged photos are here (yes, I am showing off my techie skills)

Ridin’ with the crisis
” A crisis of epic proportion looms over the entire European Union”, screamed the newspaper headline. Financial “pundits” were warning of spillover effects all over Asia. They were forecasting plenty of gloom and doom ahead. Stocks markets were said to be poised for the biggest crash. Banks were predicting a crisis “far worse” than the 2008 crisis. Everybody was busy manufacturing reasons to feel worried.

There is only one thing that one should do in times like these. Go for a bike ride in Guilin!
Read more…



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Bum Slidin’, Stair Climbin’ and Army Watchin’ in Xian during Easter 2012

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, China, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Travel, Xian



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Bum Slidin’, Stair Climbin’ and Army Watchin’ in Xian during Easter 2012

Photos are here. Videos courtesy of Martijn Doekes.

I looked at the calendar. I saw April 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th in dark red color. So many red dates on the calendar could only mean one thing. It was time for a vacation!

The who and the where?
And so, Easter vacation 2012 was on the cards. Next item on the agenda was to decide on a kick ass destination. Enter Dominic Rigby, my well-traveled friend who aims to master the language of Putonghua (i.e. Mandarin) someday. Some seriously clever and intense boardroom like discussions took place between me and him. We eventually (somehow) heard the calling of several buried terracotta army soldiers all the way from Xian in China. They were beckoning at us to pay them homage.

There was also a more practical purpose to the visit. Dominic wanted to bring out the linguistic warrior in him to woo the Xian girls with his newfound Putonghua linguistic skills. He even enrolled himself in a one-month Putonghua crash course for this purpose. And as if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, we also decided to climb two of the highest mountains in Xian during the trip, i.e. Mount Huashan and Mount Taibei.

Then, like the climax of a suspense movie, it hit me. What if, during the trip, Dominic would end up finding the Xian woman of his dreams and refuse to return to Hong Kong? How would I manage to return to Hong Kong without the benefit of his Putonghua skills? Enter Vic So, my high-speed running teammate who has many great qualities, the most relevant one to this occasion being the ability to speak fluent Mandarin. And, like a clever politician, I concealed my true fears about Dominic and convinced Vic to join us on this trip by selling him solely on the beauty of Xian and its mountains and its women. It worked. Then I had a déjà vu. What if Vic would also end up finding the Xian woman of his life and refuse to return to Hong Kong? Enter Martijn Doekes and Maggie, my two other friends who speak the 3rd and 4th best Mandarin respectively (read: speak zilch Mandarin). But, that didn’t matter. My problem was solved by virtue of the fact that it was shared by 3 other people. Misery loves company and it was enough of a relief to know that there were other people who would have the same problem as me should my fears materialize.

The plan was this:
(a) 5th April 2012: Fly China Eastern to Xian at 2.30pm
(b) 6th April 2012: Climb all the 4 peaks of Huashuan in Xian
(c) 7th April 2012: Get to Taibei Shan from Xian. Celebrate my birthday 3000m above sea-level
(d) 8th April 2012: Hoist the Hong Kong Trail Runners flag on the summit of Taibei Shan
(e) 9th April 2012: Pay homage to the buried terracotta soldiers, climb Li Shan, visit the City Wall and end the trip with a kick ass sumptuous dinner in Xian
(f) 10th April 2012: Return to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong

Read more…



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Climbin’ and freezin’ my butt on the summit of Jade Mountain (Yushan, 3950m) in Taiwan over Christmas 2011

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Asia, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Hiking in Hong Kong, Jade Mountain (Yu Shan), Taiwan, Travel



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All pictures are here.

You better not cry, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is comin’ to Taiwan
They say “windows of opportunity tend to slam shut quickly”, so I acted immediately when I saw a 4-day window of opportunity to climb Mount Yushan (Snow Mountain) in Taiwan during Christmas 2011. I was going to do this with Vivien Ringuede – an avid hiker friend who also believes in celebrating Christmas 4000m above sea-level. Besides, this would give us closer access to Santa Claus, as he flies down from heaven on his reindeer-driven sleigh. In fact, Santa wouldn’t even have to bother doing his usual US-Navy-Seal style HALO jump into a chimney (I hear that the US military is reducing budget for these kind of jumps anyway). Instead, he can simply come visit us on top of Jade Mountain bearing all his gifts. (Dear Santa: please can you bring a BMW motorbike with ABS control for me? Don’t ride it though. I need it to be 1st hand)

Smile for the mountains :)
The groundwork was straightforward. I contacted Richard Foster of Barking Deer and he said he would arrange the permits for us. All he wanted was our names and -get this- a “picture of us taken on top of a high mountain”. No, he wasn’t interested in how cool we look; instead, he explained that this was required by the Taiwanese authorities as solid proof of our hiking abilities. Huh?! In this day and age where Photoshop, Photosynth, Picasa, etc, rule our lives, I could have very easily produced a photo of mine supposedly taken on the summit of Mt. Everest!

Flyin’ ain’t for kitties!
The flights were easy. We booked Eva Air through Zuji.com at a cost of HKD 2,500 to Taipei and back. However, once the flights were booked, I got a big scare from my colleague when I told him the name of the airline I was going to fly. He gave me a startling piece of information about Eva Air which made me highly nervous about flying them. No, this wasn’t anything to do with their safety record, it was EVEN WORSE! In fact, what he told me had the potential of permanently scarring me for life! There was even the chance that I could end up losing my manhood! He told me (my voice is shaking out of embarrassment, fear and anger even as I type this) that ALL their flights are newly decorated in a HELLO KITTY theme!!! He then painted a pretty disgusting picture in my mind: “flight attendants would be wearing Hello Kitty uniforms, the body of the plane would have the Hello Kitty logo painted all over it, even napkins, toilets, and all sundry items would have Hello Kitty stickers stuck all over them!”

My second colleague, who evidently has no consideration for my well being, partook in the conversation by rubbing more salt into my already deep wound: “Hey Vince, maybe when you are seated in the airplane, the Hello Kitty ears will stick out from the headrest!” she commented with a big smirk on her face. (I had to go puke just after hearing that).

A quick Google search revealed that they even have a name for this ugly eyesore – they call it the “Eva Kitty Jet!“. (God, please help!) As I grimly heard all this information, I felt like someone had just sent a 10,000 volt shock down my body! I was lamenting to myself that the cost of the ticket may have only been HKD 2,500 but the “hidden charges” were insurmountable! Who can put a price on mental anguish, loss of manhood, loss of ego and loss of self-esteem? How would I ever be able to explain to all my friends that a macho man like me once flew a Hello Kitty plane? Just thinking about it sent shivers down my spine.

Anyway, after visiting a psychiatrist and attending several stress-busting classes, I recovered from this Hello Kitty-induced trauma and continued to make arrangements to reach the top of Jade mountain.

The plan
The gist was this:

2011-12-24: Fly to Taipei and hope against hopes that Eva Air has planes other than that friggin’ Kitty plane (Mr. Eva Air CEO, if you are reading this, please note that you have alienated roughly 50% of the world’s population -i.e. males- with this stupid Kitty idea).
Once in Taipei international airport, get to Taipei High Speed Railway Station and take the next train to Chiayi. Spend the night there.

2011-12-25: Take a bus to Alishan followed by a cab or a hitchhike to Tatajia (aka Tataka). Check in into Shangdong Pu hostel and do some hiking during the day.

2011-12-26: Climb Yu Shan and see Santa Claus! (I am excited! BMW – here I come!)

2011-12-27: More hiking and trail running or simply chilling in Tatajia(woohoo!) followed by a return trip to Taipei

2011-12-28: Back to Hong Kong on Eva Air :(

And.. the execution
2011-12-24, Hong Kong to Chiayi
I got a ticket to ride but they don’t care
Christmas Eve celebrations started with a notice from the Hong Kong cops aka Hong Kong’s “finest” as they posted a huge traffic blockage notice by the area where my motorbike was parked. Hong Kong’s “finest” beat Santa Claus hands down in their generosity. No question about that. They are known for their charitable nature in handing out white tickets whether you want it or not! In fact, just yesterday, I received another one of their Christmas presents! It was a very thoughtful and specially wrapped white ticket just for me. It was also strategically placed right on top my motorbike’s handlebar to doubly ensure that it wouldn’t be missed. The white ticket demanded that I pay HKD 320 for parking my motorbike about 0.000000000000001mm shy of the actual parking zone. (Thanks guys! :) You’re the best!) The notice in front of my motorbike today demanded that I move it because of a road closure or else “it would be towed away!” (Guys, your gifts just keep getting better and better! What would I do without you?)

I figured it was Christmas so I would return the favor to my “finest” friends by honoring their move-your-bike-or-else request. I then decided to ride my bike straight to the airport. During the ride, I was contemplating two different contrasting scenes. Scene 1: Me, the macho man riding my motorbike to the airport. Scene 2: Me, (the macho man?) flying a HELLO KITTY aircraft!!! (Thank you Eva Air).

I got to the airport in heroic fashion, completed the usual check-in formalities and proceeded straight to Gate 60 to board. I breathed my biggest sigh of relief to date when I saw a normal looking plane parked at Gate 60. There was no cat-like monstrosity anywhere. This alone became my first Christmas present from Santa.

Normal looking plane at Gate 60

I boarded the aircraft and took a quick look around. Thankfully, it appeared to be neat and trendy looking. The flight attendants seemed to be very strategically chosen (know what I mean?) and there was even a first class entertainment system installed on all seats. I was going to say “keep it that way Mr. CEO, no need for feline features in the plane” until I opened their inflight magazine. This is when I realized that my first Christmas present from Santa was short-lived!

WARNING: the passage below may upset men of all races and ethnicities.
Here’s the opening page of their inflight magazine which is bound to set any real man running for the barf bag.

Revolting magazine cover complete with a “reader’s experience” (Pg 1)

This is what an “experienced” reader has said about the Kitty jet – “Since my last flight on the Hello Kitty jet three years ago, I have been wanting to travel with the Hello Kitty characters again. Now my dream has finally come true. The magical journey on the Hello Kitty Jet relieves stress and brings out the child in me. What a wonderful journey in the air”.

(Oh pleeeeeeeeese!!! That ain’t a dream lady, that’s a nightmare!)

And, here’s a lesson for all you boys and girls about Eva Air’s strategically chosen flight attendants. (courtesy: page 138 of their inflight magazine).

Zoe, the generous soul!

“Zoe, the deputy purser is a generous soul and passionate about her work. Reliable and attentive to details, she is the team’s No. 2 and is responsible for service procedures and schedules. She enthusiastically helps passengers solve their problems.”

(Hey Zoe, can you please solve my problem? I can’t take this torture anymore!)

Abby, the one with the beautiful smile

“Known for her beautiful smile, Abby is an assistant purser and is responsible for making sure that everything goes smoothly during meal time. During the flight, she ensures that each and every passenger is satisfied with their delicious inflight cuisine.”

(Looks like Abby will make a good wife!)

Nicole, the young and graceful one

“Young and graceful, cabin attendant Nicole assists passengers in purchasing duty free goods and helps out in many other ways around the cabin. She treats passengers as if they were family, bringing warmth and happiness to all around her.”

(Yup, always good to be kind to the one who pays ya!)

Liz, the tall and beautiful one

“Tall, beautiful and full of energy, chief purser Liz keeps a close eye on everything that goes on in the cabins to ensure that all passengers are safe and enjoy the flight. Liz has a clear, soothing voice and is responsible for making inflight announcements.”

(Looks like Liz is being sold on her sexy voice.)

And, ladies and gentlemen, here’s the biggest scare of them all. Here’s Eva Air’s very own teddy bear pilot!!

Hope this guy ain’t flying this plane!

“Eva Bear-Pilot dress up as a outstanding captain, he leads the crew fly to safety and amenity journey with the friendly professional services.”

(A pilot dressed up as a bear offering professional services???)

I couldn’t wait to get to Taipei!!

Upon reaching Taipei airport, we took a shuttle bus to the High Speed Railway station and boarded a super fast train to Chiayi. The train’s average speed was 250kmh! In less than an hour, we reached Chiayi and took our first breath of cold Chiayi air!

First breath of Chiayi air!

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s a friendly Taiwanese guy!
How often do you come across someone who volunteers to help tourists and be their guide? Yes, I mean for free! Imagine two backpackers land in Hong Kong with their big bags and cameras. They ask you for directions. Would you (a) give them directions and continue with your own business (b) volunteer to help them find hotels, take them to dinner and then go home after they are well settled (c) tell them to bugger off. If you choose (c), you are no longer my friend.

Well, we met a guy in Chiayi who chose (b). His name was Allan. We asked him how we could get to Chiayi main station from Chiayi High Speed Station and he not only gave us directions but volunteered to be our tour guide! He took us on a free shuttle bus to the main station and then the three of us roamed the streets of Chiayi trying to find a hotel for the two of us! We did see plenty of hotels but what we also saw were huge buses parked near every hotel we went to. It looked like the entire tourist population of the world had descended upon Chiayi. This also meant that we couldn’t get a room anywhere except in one place which offered us the only room they had – a “VIP” room! Initially, I thought that the term “VIP” in Taiwan was used in the same way that Hong Kong uses the word “mansion”. (In Hong Kong, every dilapidated, stinky, rickety old shanty building is called a mansion – like Chung King “mansion” in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui). However, we were in for a surprise. This VIP room which came at a cost of NT$4000 per night (the only available room in the city) was the most luxury we had ever seen in the longest time! My “luxury” usually means finding a proper toilet on a hiking trail. This one took it a world apart. 3000 square foot of decorated living area, sofas, multiple televisions, jacuzzi, saunas, king sized beds – it had it all!

Here, take a look:

The bathroom – 5 times bigger than my HK apartment!

The bedroom!

The living area

Having dinner with Allan

After the feeling of luxury sank in, we reluctantly left the room and took Allan out to dinner to thank him for all his help. Our plan for the following day was to take a bus to Alishan but, as riding motorbikes has always been a passion for me, I managed to convince Vivien that hiring a scooter was the way to go! (there were no motorbike rentals, only scooters). So, we ended up renting a scooter at a cost of NT$ 1500 for 3 days. After a sumptuous dinner filled with Taiwanese favorites, we bid good bye to Allan and returned to our luxurious room. Coming from Hong Kong, we still couldn’t get over the fact that we had so much of living space in a hotel room! We got delirious and even shot a video. Here it is.

Video of the VIP room at Yoyo hotel, Chiayi, Taiwan

2011-11-25: Merry Christmas and time to go to Alishan
Luxury meant laziness. Laziness meant a late start! We left our palace at about 10am in the morning after making full of use their “complimentary” breakfast. Then came the task of fitting me, Vivien, his bags and my bag in a 150cc scooter. We didn’t exactly look like the best advertisement for that scooter but it worked. The scooter sputtered to a start and off we went.

Off scooters, a mountain road climb and freezing butts
Reaching Alishan involved a 2500m climb on a mountain road. The scooter surprisingly behaved well despite all the load, but nature didn’t quite seem to like the idea of two dudes riding on a scooter loaded with all their bags.

Two dudes, three bags and one scooter

As I learnt in my geography class back in the day: as the altitude increases, the temperature decreases. Well, it decreased and it decreased big time. The oncoming wind brought the temperature down even further. And, before I knew it, my hands had trouble hitting the brakes because my fingers went numb from the cold. Soon, I discovered, as I was attempting to speak to Vivien, that my mouth was partially frozen as well. I then remembered my ill-advised sales pitch to Vivien the previous day. “We will be able to return the scooter whenever we want to and it is way more convenient”, I pitched to him the previous day and threw in more punchlines as well to make my case for the scooter hire. Today, I was thinking to myself: “convenient? My ass. My butt is freezing, my fingers are numb and all I can say is gibberish”. Vivien was equally cold. He was trying everything in his capacity to stay warm. Soon, we made an emergency pit stop and wore all items of clothing we had brought with us. We looked like we had just come from Antarctica BUT we still felt cold!

Freezing on the scooter!

In our desperate attempt to reach our final destination (Tatajia), we somehow bypassed Alishan! That meant shaving some time off and freezing a little less but it also meant that we had no food on us for the climb to Yushan as we were supposed to do our food shopping at Alishan.

We eventually arrived at a small place which seemed to only have three buildings – a visitor’s center, a police station and a hostel. Further inspection revealed this place to be Tatajia and the hostel (quite contrasting to Yoyo hotel the previous night) was our very own Shandang Pu Hostel. We “checked in” (involved telling an old lady that we were gonna crash at her place for two nights) and immediately gobbled up several packets of instant noodles in a last resort attempt at heating our internal organs which were on the verge of shutting down from the cold bike ride.

Shangdong Pu Hostel

The beds

After we were sort of warmed up, we headed over to the visitor’s center to register our names for the climb up to Mt. Yushan the following day. For the remainder of the afternoon, we decided to go trail running on nearby hiking trails. Vivien, the better navigator of the two us, led us to Mt. Lulin and a couple of other trails. The views were, let’s just say, white! All we saw were clouds cluttering up the sky and our views. The trails were fantastic though.

Mount Lulin

Admiring the clouds in Lulin Observatory

As they say, “man has no greater fury, then his stomach scorned” (ok, I say that) but after feasting on three packets on instant noodles when we arrived in the afternoon, I wanted anything else BUT instant noodles for dinner(even grass would have done). Luckily, the lady-in-charge of this fine hostel, agreed to cook us something special. With proper food entering the stomach once again, we were revitalized and energized to make plans for the next day. The plan called for waking up at 2.30am, leaving by 3am and making it to the summit of Yu Shan in time for the sunrise. The trail to the summit is 10.8km long with about 1500m of elevation gain. I boasted to a Belgian family that was also staying in Shangdong Pu hostel that given our past experience and superior hiking skills, we could easily cover the whole distance in less than three hours. After I said that, I did feel butterflies in my stomach (probably caused by the undeserved boasting) but I did the right thing and chose to ignore it (evil always triumphs).

We then hit the sack at about 8pm in order to get up very early in the morning on the following day for the summit climb.

2011-12-26: Yushan summit
The blind leading the blind in darkness
We got up nice and early at 2.30am and left the hostel by 3.10am. We started off with a gentle jog to an intersection where it looked like we had two choices. The first choice had something in Chinese written on it and seemed to be a continuation of the road we were on. The second choice read “Mt. Linglun” (or something like that). My sense of direction isn’t quite the best so we followed Vivien’s decision to go with Choice 1. His explanation was that it couldn’t have been Choice 2 as it was in a different direction, so it had to be Choice 1. WRONG. We ran for about 15-20 minutes when Vivien murmured “this can’t be right”. He pointed out that we were losing elevation quite rapidly while we were supposed to be climbing instead. Following this startling discovery, we retraced our steps back to the junction and took the second choice. The map was confusing. It looked like the same mountain had different names. All in all, Choice 1 cost us about 8km and 40 minutes.

Choice 2 took us to an elevation of about 2800m when we saw another startling sign. The sign indicated that the way to Yu Shan was actually back at the junction. We were confused for a moment. Vivien brought out his secret weapon – a 3rd map which was given to us at the visitor’s center while I decided to turn off my headlamp and look skywards for an explanation. We were in pitch darkness in every direction other than skywards. The sky was beautifully decorated with more stars than I had ever seen in my life. It felt as though as I was in a Hong Kong indoor planetarium gazing at a man-made roof illuminated with artificial stars. This was real. As I was admiring the stars, Vivien made the decision to return to the junction hoping to find what seemed to be an invisible Choice C. Apparently, the new map he referred to had indicated that the trail to Yushan was marked with stones.

We returned to the junction losing about 1 hour in the process. Then we really saw a Choice C! Under the darkness, it looked like a dead end earlier but upon careful examination, there actually was a stone marker with something in Chinese written on it. We took this trail and verification that this indeed was the right trail came immediately as we began to climb quite rapidly.

After all these navigation errors, we were sure to miss the sunrise. But that didn’t dampen our spirits one bit. We were proud that we had actually climbed an appetizer mountain during the early hours of the day. (Or that’s what we told ourselves to feel better).

Setting off at 3am for the summit climb

Viven explains our mistakes!

The higher you go the harder it gets (corporate ladder AND hiking)
The trail wasn’t particularly hard but we were like injured soldiers on a battlefield. We had little food (thanks to bypassing Alishan), we hadn’t slept well the previous night and we had just spent our energy and time doing a needlessly extra 12km or so. We were both fine until we reached Panyu lodge (3300m, 8km from the junction) but subsequently, both of us felt the effect of high altitude. Each step was followed by heavy breathing and the wind was quite strong as we were nearing the summit.

On the way to the summit

Near the summit

It took us a strenuous 1 hour to reach the summit from the lodge but when we did, all the pain of climbing about 2000m in elevation and 20km in distance sunk away in the beauty of what we witnessed. A crystal clear azure sky and a strong sun revealed the majestic beauty of nature’s creations. It was a picture perfect scene: rolling mountain ranges with unique features, a sea of clouds dangling beautifully above the valley, boulders carved by the forces of nature over several million years and a dense green forest in the backdrop. It looked like nature had her masterpiece registered in Taiwan.

Views from the summit

Mesmerized by the summit views

Jade Mountain Summit – 3952m above sea-level

I can stay here forever!

On Cloud 9!

Chicks come and go but memories remain
We had the summit to ourselves until a lady friend flew by and took special interest in us (yes, we can’t help our charming looks). She was particularly interested in our food. They say that “the best way to enter a man’s heart is through his stomach”. It looked like this friend was practising reverse psychology. She played around with us for some time and then flew away, never to be seen again. (Don’t they all?)

Our lady friend

She loves me (and my food)

Toilet is a man’s best friend
Vivien and I were particularly sleepy from the high altitude and lack of food so we decided to head down. After a couple of hours we returned to our beloved hostel where the lady-in-charge had some special food for us. I took a much needed hot shower and gobbled up whatever she had made for us. This is when Vivien pointed out that in life, one just needs three things to live comfortably: a shower, a clean bed and good food. I concurred but being the greedy bloke that I am, I’d say that one also needs a clean, western toilet and that’s priority my friend. This hostel had one of those squat toilets which is a cheap way of practising hardcore yoga executed in strict military fashion where there is absolutely no room for error. (And there literally is little room in a typical squat toilet but maybe more room than you’d find in a Hong Kong apartment). Anyway, so after doing one’s business, standing up again on one’s own two legs requires massive effort and several thousand calories. So, I say that each and every mountain hut and hostel in this world has to have toilets that aren’t just there to satisfy urgent human needs but also go one step further in actually MAKING you want to go! They say that great ideas that change the world are conceived in toilets, so imagine the kind of ideas that the world could benefit from by combining the ease and comfort of good toilets with the peace and creativity of nature. (In fact, this very idea was conceived in one such fashion – more details only for those who really want it).

The rest of the evening was spent partially sleeping and recovering from the Yushan hike. I had a productive section as well. You can very easily guess what it was from that little blurb on toilets above. (Nope, there is nothing like ‘Too Much Information’).

We decided over dinner to return to worldly pleasures the following day. Meaning returning to Taipei sooner and having a beer or two in the main city.

2011-12-27, return to city life
We had close to 9 hours of sleep and got up at a leisurely 8am. We bid goodbye to the lady-in-charge at about 9am and set for Alishan on our mighty scooter. Getting back on the scooter definitely brought back very cold memories from before. So, this time we were prepared – or so we thought. I was wearing so many layers of clothing that even a high speed bullet couldn’t have penetrated me. BUT, I was still freezing. The outside temperature was about 6 degrees centigrade but the wind effect on the scooter felt like it was minus something. Luckily, the sun was shining quite brightly so when we reached Alishan, we decided to have breakfast there and warm up in the sun. As I was rubbing my hands vigorously to revive them from the numbness, I saw several busload of mainland tourists sluggishly getting out of their Volvo buses and attempting to follow their flag wielding tour leader. It was an amusing sight. Old tourists were slouched forward under the weight of heavy cameras hanging around their necks and seemed to struggle to get out of the bus. They seemed to be taking photos of everything under the sun – rocks and stones and concrete platforms and stairs. They needed a break every couple of seconds. The tour leader seemed to have an impossible job. She was carrying a megaphone around and coaxing these slow moving sightseers to form a straight line. It reminded me of a mountain herdsman grazing his herd of cattle. It made me realize that health and fitness is the most important thing in life!

A herd of tourists being grazed around by the tour leader

We left Alishan after breakfast and made the trip back to Chiayi where we returned our beloved scooter. We then took the high speed rail back to Taipei. It was then time to indulge in the pleasures of the city. We went to a hotel called Shabu Shabu in Taipei where I discovered the hidden Gordon Ramsey in me. It was a hot pot restaurant and they had the best collection of food that I had ever seen in my life. I concocted my own special soup base which pretty much involved monkeying around with all options available. I added ginger paste, spicy sauce, peanut paste, onions, red chili and a secret ingredient to my soup base (you have to watch the movie Kung Fu Panda to know what the secret ingredient is). As they say, “serendipity is the mother of all inventions” and today, I think I accidentally came up with the most perfect vegetarian soup base. I was eating like a madman until the lady asked us to vacate the premises. The cost of the buffet was only NT$ 450 but I am sure I had eaten food worth at least two times that!

After that sumptuous dinner, we hunted for a bar with live rock music but couldn’t find one! (our navigation skills seemed to be equally bad on city roads). We eventually settled for 7-11 beers to celebrate a successful end to the trip!

2011-12-28
It was time to get up early again. We got up at 4.30am to make it to the airport in time for our 7am flight. I was back on my motorbike at 9am and rode straight to work to begin the start of a productive work day. Thankfully, Hong Kong’s “finest” had no more Christmas presents waiting for me.

Summary
Yet another fantastic mountain climb in Taiwan. Taiwan is topping my list as my most favorite place for travel. It gets my top vote for being the most friendly place for tourists and a paradise for hiking and biking.



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The Overland Track experience, Vacation – December 2011, Tasmania

Author: ltcommander  //  Category: Australia, HIKIN' THE WORLD, Hiking walk reports, Tasmania, Travel



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All pictures are here.

Ok, so I had done various mini-vacations before (hiking and biking in Taiwan, climbing Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, rustic hikes in China, etc, etc) but what I hadn’t done before was a long camping + hiking trip in true wilderness. And a family reunion in Melbourne, Australia presented the perfect opportunity to do just that. The idea was to spend enough “reunion time” in Melbourne and then disappear into the Tasmanian wilderness for about a week. Some Googling revealed The Overland Track in Tasmania as the place to go to. I started doing a bit of ground work and spoke to a friend of mine from Hobart called Keith. He told me three things during my first meeting with him which pretty much made me reconsider my plans:

a) Tasmania is home to some of Australia’s deadliest snakes and spiders

b) Doing a walk in true wilderness requires adequate preparation – carrying a tent, stove and all kinds of gear is a must. Tasmania is notorious for its weather and if you aren’t prepared, it’s goodbye baby! (Well, he didn’t say “goodbye baby” but you get the picture..)

c) People who attempt this walk without adequate preparation can potentially die of hypothermia, etc, etc. The track covers a large area and there is a good chance of not bumping into anyone else for a lengthy period of time

Actually, (a) on its own was enough to convince me to abort my first solo attempt at camping and hiking in true wilderness. The part about Tasmania being home to some of Australia’s deadliest snakes and spiders?? I like watching those creatures on Animal Planet but not in real life, thank you very much! I am no death-defying, snake-loving Austin Stevens or Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet. In fact, truth be told, I am ever scared of lizards! Also, the very idea of packing a huge rucksack, shopping around for gear, putting up a tent, etc was less than appealing to me. So, my decision was made. I was going to abort.

Then I called China Southern airways (I was supposed to be flying with them from Hong Kong to Melbourne via Guangzhou – the cheapest possible option). I wanted to check if I could return to Hong Kong earlier and do some trail running in China instead of spending two whole weeks in Australia. “No, this is a non-refundable, non-endorsable, non blah-blah-blah ticket” , came the swift response. So, there went my hopes of returning sooner to Hong Kong. So, destiny (and China Southern Airways) had decided that I was going to have another crack at organizing this trip in the Tasmanian wilderness.

I started reading up on the Overland Track online. The gist was this:

- I had to fly to Launceston
- I had to find transportation from Launceston to Cradle Mountain
- I had to book my walk with TAS (Australian Parks) and start on a particular day
- I had to find transportation from the finish (Lake St. Claire) to Hobart
- I had to fly from Hobart to Melbourne

The above steps sound simple BUT TRY IT!! I challenge you to try getting all this sorted out from Hong Kong in less than half a day! These steps sound so simple but that’s like saying that sending a man to the moon is very easy. You need a rocket, you need a man, you need some fuel and voila – you’re on the moon!

Anyway, somehow I got all this done in about 3-4 days! (Trust me, it does take that long for various logistics to align!) The next step was to come up with an itinerary for 6 days. I had plenty of help from these guys who helped me come up with a perfect itinerary.

And the hiking + camping gear… well, Keith Gelling and Dominic Rigby came to the rescue! Therefore, this trip report is brought to you by Gelling and Rigby productions! Dominic lent me his tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and gave me a much needed how-to-pitch-a-tent 101 lesson at his place. And Keith lent me his winter gear, rucksack, stove and gave me a much needed how-to-pack-a-rucksack 101 lesson.

In fact, I have a diagram. Here, take a look at what I call ‘Backpacking – the Gelling way’.

Backpacking – the Gelling way

Essentially, the sleeping mat and bag go at the bottom, dry set of clothes go immediately above, food stove, gas canisters go right above that and then finally the warm clothes, wet weather gear, coat and over trousers go at the top.

And here’s a schematic diagram of a fit hiker hiking in the cold.

Thermals, jumpers, wind stoppers and an overcoat keep the doctor away!

So, the modern (and warm) hiker has to wear polypropylene thermals, a light jumper, a wind stopper and an overcoat to stay a happy hiker in cold weather. The happy hiker also has to use the toilet adequately, so tissue rolls have to be kept dry and well within timely reach of the happy hiker; ideally, somewhere near the top of the rucksack. You just can’t have accidents when it comes to the bowels!

At first glance, the rucksack Keith had lent me looked like I could pretty much fit all my worldly possessions inside it. It seemed to have more space than my apartment here in Hong Kong! But, packing a rucksack has since taught me a very important lesson. I even made up my own saying based on it: “He who judges a rucksack by its space will never have enough!” Ok, that might be a little hard to grasp (I am still working on refining it) but you get the point! My advice to first time rucksack packers is this: pack well, practice packing and your rucksack will have enough space!

November 28th 2011, Hong Kong to Melbourne
I flew China Southern Airways to Guangzhou in the evening. It was the shortest flight I had ever taken in my life! Basically, the plane took off and I was looking through the window and admiring all the beautiful Hong Kong city lights below, and before I was done admiring, the plane made its descent into Guangzhou airport! In fact, within ten minutes of the flight, I started to smell the Guangzhou air pollution inside the plane!

Upon reaching Guangzhou, I had an overpriced, rip-off 150 RMB noodles before boarding the next plane to Melbourne. Big rip-off but a hungry man can’t eat his money!

November 29th 2011 to November 30th 2011
Family reunion time! Basically, it involved teaching my sister’s two young kids two important principles of life (a) don’t call your mom’s brother an “uncle” because it makes him feel real old (b) “Uncle” does not know much about Thomas the train or an Octonaut (?!) -the latest action figure for kids, I think!-

December 1st 2011
Pictures are here.

Me and my 17Kg rucksack landed in Launceston, Tasmania at about 8.20am in the morning. Paul Griggs of Outdoor Tasmania (a company that specializes in Transporting hikers to and from various remote destinations) was supposed to pick me up at 10.30am from the airport. I had two hours to kill, so I had some breakfast at the airport and received some very useful advice from the bottled water manufacturer called “Cool Ridge”. Here, take a look:

Advice from the bottle manufacturer

“It’s good to GET THINGS OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM, emotionally and physically. So, don’t keep a lid on your feelings, or your Cool Ridge Spring Water. Open up and let it all out. You’ll feel a whole lot better”

Maybe the CEO of that company watches a lot of Oprah Winfrey.

I exchanged pleasantries with other backpackers and walked around the airport until I eventually got picked up by Paul. He was like a walking or rather “driving” encyclopedia on bushwhacking in Tasmania. Three hours later, we reached Cradle Valley.

I was at the Visitor’s Center at about 2.30pm in the afternoon and the ranger there was a bit hesitant to let me start that late. However, Paul and I managed to convince him that I was indeed fit enough to be able to get to the first hut (Waterfall Valley hut) before sunset.

Paul then drove me to Dove Lake (starting point of the track). I was immediately captivated by the beauty of the lake. The water was crystal clear, the skies were blue and many mighty mountains rose in the backdrop. It was serene.

Paul’s Outdoor Tasmania

Dove Lake, Cradle Valley

It was supposed to be summer in Tasmania but it certainly did not feel that way. My watch said the the temperature was two degrees. The wind in my face said it was even lower.

The first stop for the day was Marion’s lookout. The terrain completely changed by the time I got there. There were now pockets of bright white snow everywhere. The views of the mountains and the lake were even more breathtaking. I felt like a little kid in a playground. I hadn’t seen that much snow in a long time.

Snow, snow and snow!


After walking for about an hour from Marion’s lookout, I reached a small hut called Kitchen Hut at about 4.30pm and met an elderly couple there. They looked like they were in their 70s. They seemed to be walking slowly and I mean very, very, very slowly but I was in admiration of their effort. They showed me their guidebook which mentioned a sidetrack to Cradle Summit from Kitchen Hut. It said 2.5hrs return (or something similar) but I decided to do it at full speed. I left my rucksack at Kitchen Hut and made a dash for the summit.

The ascent wasn’t much but the ever increasing thick snow cover made matters quite slippery. Soon, I lost the markings on the track as the signs were probably buried under the snow. My foot sank so much deeper into the snow with each passing step that my gaiters proved useless. I was alone and I took extra precautions. I took a photo of Kitchen hut and the “landmark” nearby to maintain my bearing (basically, the landmark was a small lake to the right of Kitchen hut which was visible from a much higher altitude). I kept climbing and then it struck me, it doesn’t just get “lonelier at the top” but it also gets “lonelier, snowier, scarier and slippery-ier” at the top! At one point, I decided that it was going to be too risky to find the official summit, so I stopped at “a summit” instead of “the summit” and named this summit after me.

Views from the “Natteri” summit


This is the way to the Cradle Mountain Summit and Natteri Summit (the white snow covered track)

Coming back down the snow covered track reminded me of kindergarten. Back in the day, I used to be a big fan of sliding down on my butt on those man-made slides in the playgrounds for kids. Today, the slides were all mountain-made. My butt was transformed into an instant ski (no, not because it is that big) and I slid down all the way from the top of my summit to the bottom while maneuvering my way around big boulders and jagged rocks.

Reaching Kitchen Hut again after that little sidetrack to Natteri Summit brought a big sense of relief. I was happy to see people again. And then, I continued my way along the track to the first “proper” hut for the day – The Waterfall Valley hut. The path was simply spectacular. This section of the track alone made all the effort of organizing this trip worthwhile.

The way from Kitchen Hut to The Waterfall Valley hut

The Waterfall Valley hut

Given my charming personality, I made friends instantly after reaching the hut. There were Brad and Hannah from Tasmania, Mitzy and friends from Japan, Frederick from Sweden, Scott from New Castle and Cyril from France. And there was also a very friendly and polite couple from South Korea who looked like they couldn’t harm a fly EXCEPT WHEN THEY SLEEP! More about that later.

It was about 7pm when I got to the hut and even by 9pm, there was no trace of that elderly couple I saw back at Kitchen Hut. Brad, Hannah and I decided to go look for them. We backtracked for about 30 minutes and met a ranger who was also trying to find them, albeit unsuccessfully. The four of us came to a conclusion that the elderly couple were well equipped and probably had all important survival gear. In the worst case scenario, they would have had to pitch a tent somewhere along the track, that is, if they were not able to get to the Waterfall Valley hut before darkness.

My first night in the wilderness seemed to be going great until the bed suddenly seemed to shake violently. I got startled. I thought we were experiencing an earthquake. I panicked and opened my eyes as fast as I could and I instantly heard the equivalent of a Boeing 747 jet taking off. That noise was followed by a sharp shrill and then there was silence – pin drop silence. And a few seconds later, this episode repeated. Bed shook violently, 747 took off and a sharp shrill accompanied the noise. One look at the source of disturbance below revealed that it came from my lower berth bunk bed partner – the guy from South Korea. He was snoring. And this was no ordinary snoring, it sounded like GODZILLA was snoring. Brad and Hannah were kept awake as well. I slept intermittently during the lulls before the storm, i.e. when the plane was simply taxiing instead of taking off!

View from my bunk bed

December 2nd, 2011
Pictures are here.

The sun was shining bright at about 6am. It was a clear blue sky. It turned from winter and snow to summer and sun overnight! I was repacking my rucksack and desperately trying to get my sleeping mat and sleeping bag back inside their original cases. I tried, tried and tried again but eventually resorted to violence. I put the sleeping bag inside my rucksack and gave it some nice Rambo-style punches (sorry Dominic) to get it to go in. Mitzy (the girl from Japan) who was also my bunk bed neighbor, probably thought I was crazy. I realized that those campers who really manage to repack their sleeping bags, mats and tents into their original cases every single day deserve my deepest respect. I think the manufacturers use some kind of ultra-high vacuum method to make them extra-compact before selling them.

This was also the first time in my life that I used a compost toilet. I was expecting some kind of design like the ones I had seen while hiking in villages in China.

Basically, when I was hiking in villages in China, there was a pigsty in the basement and on the immediate upper level, there was a carefully designed, strategic hole in the ground. While doing one’s business, the “human droppings” were meant to fall right through this hole and directly enter the pigsty basement. This was the cue for the pigs to go on a rave eating party. The pigs would have probably been looking up that hole towards “heaven” and would have probably been thanking God for all the gifts from above! Any human spending more than 2 minutes near that hole area would have died an excruciatingly slow death from foul smell.

In comparison, the compost toilets on the overland track were a world apart. Firstly, it didn’t involve squatting. So, getting back up on two feet didn’t involve a
high degree of fitness. Secondly, it did not stink even a fraction as much! There was some compost in a bucket by the side of the toilet. After usage, pouring a little bit of that compost into the toilet actually dried out the waste resulting in less stink.

Also, to keep the Overland Track hikers entertained during such visits to the compost toilet, there were poems written on toilet doors that were surely entertaining but probably didn’t do much to aid the “dumping” process. I’ll tell you why. On the door, there were some nice and rhyming poems about wombat poo. They say that many great ideas are conceived in the toilet. I thought of one such idea – basically, a great one line summary of this Overland Track toileting experience. It even rhymed. Here goes: “If ya want to use the Overland Track loo, you better take a lesson in wombat poo”. Apparently, a wombat suffers big time when pooing; each oblong shaped dump it creates is, in fact, very painful and a nightmare for the poor thing! Now, you tell me, would you really want to read a rhyming poem about a wombat suffering from constipation while you take your 6am dump in a compost toilet in the wilderness?

Speaking of wombats, here’s one I saw in the wild

Anyway, so back to the Overland Track. My morning breakfast was boiling water + instant mashed potatoes powder + oats. It was an instant appetite killer but nonetheless, it was much needed energy for the body.

I left a little late in the morning at about 9am for the best side trip of the day. It was called Barn Bluff. I could see the summit from the Waterfall Valley hut and it looked majestic under the clear blue sky. The views from up there looked very promising.

Barn Bluff

The good thing about leaving so late in the morning was that the ones who had left before me had left footprints in the snow on the way to the summit. I simply had to follow their footprints to reach the summit. But despite all that extra help, I got lost! I could not find the way to the top and so, I started to go back. But luckily, I met Mitzy and her friends a little way down below the summit. Together, (actually mainly Mitzy) we managed to find the right track that lead to the summit.

The views from up there were indeed splendid.

Footprints in the snow

View from the top of Barn Bluff

On the way back down, I met Brad and Hannah who had left Waterfall Valley hut even later than I did and they gave me some rather surprising news on the elderly couple from the previous day. Apparently, the two of them were too tired to reach the Waterfall Valley hut the previous day and had instead resorted to sleeping overnight somewhere on the Overland Track in one sleeping bag. They did not have a tent either as they had jettisoned it at Kitchen hut as it was too heavy to carry! They finally made it to Waterfall Valley hut today morning and were planning to stay there for 2 nights in order to recuperate.

After summiting Barn Bluff, I went back to the Waterfall Valley hut, spoke to the elderly couple and left for the next hut which was called Windemere hut. On the way to Windemere hut, there was a small sidetrack to a lake called Lake Will. I had the privilege of being introduced to a fascinating Overland Track bird en route.

Meet the Currawong

This bird looked just like any other crow but gave the term “bird-brain” a whole new meaning. She was like the Yogi bear of birds! She was capable of finding zips in rucksacks, opening them up and disappearing with any snacks she found! I found my rucksack’s zip opened up and the plastic bag which was inside the zipper bore marks of attack by bird beak! But, I was the one who had the last laugh as that plastic bag only contained my non-recyclable junk!

Lake Will was beaming of a bright sky-blue color and evoked a very soothing feeling.

Lake Will

Finally, before reaching Windemere hut, I passed through Lake Windemere (named after the one in Lake District in the UK). It was so calm and serene there that I felt I could sit there forever and read a book.

Lake Windemere

After reaching Windemere hut, as usual, it was time to unpack the sleeping bag and sleeping mat, have my noodles + oats for dinner and then, try and go to sleep by about 9pm. Brad, Hannah, Mitzy and the South Korean couple arrived much later. About one hour into my sleep, I could hear the South Korean Boeing 747 start his engines again and my sleep was interrupted by frequent and relenless takeoffs.

December 3rd, 2011
Pictures are here.

In two days, I had experienced winter + summer but Tasmania is really known for its rains. Someone told me that there is a one in ten chance of it NOT raining in Tasmania. We had been lucky the past two days but not so today! When I woke up, it was misty and there was plenty of drizzle. I usually like rains but carrying a 17Kg backpack in wet weather was a different story.

The destination for the day was New Pelion Hut. The signboards said it would take us five hours to get there but it always took us an hour or two less than what is said on those signboards.

I had seen snow, rain and sunshine in the past two days but today, I saw a combination of rain and tropical rainforests as I made my way to Pelion hut. And, I discovered that slush was the best friend of tropical rainforests. It continued drizzling and the way to Pelion Hut was adorned with tall trees and plenty of greenery on either side of the track. But, a rather unwelcome result of that combination was plenty of slush on the track. It didn’t matter whether I had worn the best brand of Goretex boots or the best gaiters in the world – it was pretty much guaranteed that I was going to have wet and muddy feet. There was no getting away from this slush!

On the way to Pelion Hut

The rain was heavy at times and my feet turned cold and wet. Walking the track for the most part was still very enjoyable. I could hear birds chirping and the air I was breathing in felt like it was cleansing my soul! About three and a half hours later, I reached Pelion Hut. I had originally planned to do a side trip to Mount Oakley from Pelion Hut, but on a notice board in the hut, we were warned about that route to the summit of Mt. Oakley. It said that the slush on the track to Mt. Oakley was waist deep! And, “waist deep” in Australia was probably more like “neck deep” for us Asians! I already looked like I had just come off working from a coal mine. The combination of not showering for days + rain + slush left me super smelly. I didn’t want to worsen that. So, I was more inclined to just sitting back and chilling in the hut.

Then we heard an epic speech from a tour guide in the afternoon urging us to climb Mt. Oakley. I can’t remember his exact words but his speech was enough to wake up a slumbering Scott and it also rekindled the adventure spirit in me. Scott and I were soon back on the trails and were armed with our gaiters. Unfortunately though, those gaiters weren’t much of a defense against the slush that lay ahead!

The jagged summit to the left is Mount Oakley

The track to Mt. Oakley went through a field covered with button grass and a creek ran through it. The rangers urged us to follow the actual track which had plenty of deep puddles of water. The track frequently felt like it was simply going to suck us in alive like a quicksand. However, one way to avoid being sucked in into this quicksand was to dance around the actual track – something we were discouraged to do as it could end up widening the track and destroying vegetation. So, the choice in front of us was simple. We could either (a) follow the actual track, risk sinking neck deep into slush and risk falling completely inside an unexpectedly deep puddle of muddy water OR (b) dance around the actual track thereby potentially keeping dry but risking destroying vegetation. Any normal human being I knew would have gone for choice (b) (yes, I have BAD friends). But, not Scott! Scott wanted to follow the actual track which, he explained later, was more because of “the enigmatic nature of the puddle” rather than actual care for vegetation. He liked the thrill of not knowing how deep a muddy puddle of water was before he risked putting his foot inside one of them. And, he certainly didn’t know! He reminded me of a determined and wounded soldier taking several hits to himself during a battle, but still gathering every ounce of remaining energy left in his body and marching on!

The deep slush and slush incarnate – Scott

We marched on in our attempt to reach the summit and went through a pristine rainforest. We saw sunshine and rain alternating every five minutes. The weather seemed as unpredictable as a woman’s mind. We were still hopeful of making it to the summit but as they say “hope is the last thing to disappear”. It wasn’t all that bad though because we almost did reach the summit but the views from up there were kind of white! It was cloudy. We retreated a little disappointed but then nature had a surprise for us. It cleared up and we saw a beautiful rainbow in the horizon.

Views of the valley from near the summit of Mount Oakley

Scott explained to me on the way back down that there was yet another reason for his unique desire to fall into slush. He wanted a free mud bath to feel rejuvenated.

We sighted a wild kangaroo on the way back (Scott corrected me and said it was called a wallaby).

Wallaby (not sure of the difference between a wallaby and a kangaroo)

Pelion hut was a newer hut in comparison and had about three rooms filled with bunk beds. Brad, Hannah and the South Korean couple arrived much later than we did. Brad and Hannah strategically switched their beds after they were sure of where the Korean 747 was parked. A Dutch couple, Gert and Caroline, took their place instead in the “danger” room.

The next day morning as Brad and Hannah saw the Dutch couple, Gert looked them in the eye and exclaimed “You rascals, you knew, didn’t you!” Brad and Hannah played dumb. Gert continued, “the whole bed and poles were vibrating!”

By then, the word of the South Korean couple and their snoring talent had spread!

I made the mistake of leaving my shoes outside overnight to try and get them to dry. It was a big mistake. When I woke up in the morning, we were back to winter + cold weather and my shoes were frozen! It took an extraordinary amount of work just to put them on as we were preparing to leave for the next hut – the Kia Ora hut.

December 4th, 2011
Pictures are here.

The destination for the day was Kia Ora hut. There was also an exciting side trip for the day. It was to summit Mt. Ossa. The track to Kia Ora hut was stunning, most parts of it felt like I was going through an unspoilt tropical rainforest. The only issue was with my feet as they were still frozen from leaving my shoes out in the open the previous night. There was also some fresh snow on the track.

On the way to Kia Ora – snow on the track

Rainforests

I reached the turnoff to Mount Ossa about an hour later. I left my heavy rucksack there and tried running uphill for a little while to “unfreeze” my foot and palm.

Turnoff to Mt. Ossa

Mt. Ossa

As I was climbing, there was heaps of snow and it got much, much colder. I could see Scott and Cyril below and I waited for them. Scott decided to retreat after a certain point as he thought it was too risky to continue in the snow. Cyril and I tried climbing to the summit. There was one exceptionally difficult part on the way to the summit. It was a steep vertical section and the only way to climb that seemed to be to stretch all four limbs to the maximum possible extent.

The snow covered boulders which acted like footholds were very slippery. Cyril, being much taller than I was had less problems. I struggled to get up that vertical section but eventually succeeded. Then a sense of fear overcame me. My right hand was also a little frozen and I did not have full control over my frozen right foot.

Cyril and I were the only ones at the top and the weather seemed as unpredictable as ever. My biggest fear was that the palm of my right hand and the bottom of my right foot would go numb from the snow and the worst part was that I still had to go down that awful vertical section!

On the way to the summit

I decided to stop there and Cyril didn’t want to continue on his own. So, we took a few pictures, barely 300m from the real summit and turned back.

View from the summit of Mt. Ossa (almost)

That hard vertical section we faced while going up felt even harder on the way down. Later, we were told by Mitzy and a few others who had made it to the top that there was a different way around that difficult section.

Anyway, I felt increasingly relieved and much safer as we started heading downwards. My frozen right hand and right foot were finally warming up once again. I was thinking to myself that Mt. Ossa was only 1600m high. I was imagining what the guys summiting Everest must be going through!

Upon reaching Kia Ora hut, we needed some much needed heat in the hut and Frederick, our residential hut heater expert from Sweden tried to start a fire.

Frederick trying the coal furnace

Possum

The evening was spent playing charades in the hut. By this time, we all knew each other and we all certainly knew about the South Korean couple and their snoring talent! So, as they arrived, a lot of us suddenly wanted to “experience camping in the wild” and started pitching tents!

December 5th, 2011
Pictures are here

This was supposed to be a big day. A lot of us wanted to skip a hut called Bert Nichols Hut and hike all the way to Narcissus hut which was the final hut on the Overland Track for us. We had 21km to cover.

On the way to Narcissus hut, we passed through three waterfalls.

Fergy Falls

The second waterfalls

And finally, the Harnett Falls which was the most beautiful.

Harnett waterfalls


Cyril, Frederick and I got lost on the way back from Harnett Waterfalls as we were trying to find our way back to the main Overland Track. We missed the trail we had originally taken. This resulted in one heck of a bushwhack. Cyril kept his ears tuned to the sound of the waterfalls and followed his nose to what he thought was the side track we had originally taken down to the falls. He was right but that little excursion took a toll on his leg muscles and left Frederick with some battle scars.

We reached Bert Nichols hut in the afternoon. It was the best hut we had seen on the Overland Track. It was a shame we were skipping this hut instead of one of the others. Hannah told me later that she had heard that the Park Authorities had spent AUD 1.4M renovating it!

Bert Nichols Hut

Inside the hut. It even had decorative items hanging from the roof

Important message for backpackers!

In the evening, we reached Narcissus hut which was probably the worst hut on the track. Bert Nichols hut, in comparison, was a world apart! On the way to the hut, there was a nice suspension bridge made of wooden planks. This bridge supported only one person at a time.

Suspension bridge

Narcissus Hut

Sophie, Mitzy, Cyril and Scott arrived a little later after I did and spoke about 1m long snakes they had just seen on the way! I was quite relieved that I hadn’t seen any!

We were all familiar with each other by the 5th day and exchanged contact information in order to keep in touch. We were soon going to part ways as four of us had to leave very early the next day morning for the final leg of the walk – the walk from to Cynthia Bay from Narcissus hut which was 17km long. The others on the group were going to take the ferry at 8.30am the next day.

The Group

The South Korean “Boeing 747″ snorer didn’t skip a hut like the rest of us did and spent the night at Bert Nichols hut. However, that, by no means, meant a snore-free night for the rest of us. That original snorer might not have been at Narcissus hut but he sure seemed to have passed on a legacy to many others! There was a snoring orchestra going on at Narcissus hut that night. I think everybody was tired from a long walk, bored from eating the same food everyday and smelly from wearing the same clothes!

Scott was also woken up in the middle of the night from indoor showers. Someone on the upper berth of his bunk bed seemed to have a leaking water bladder. Some three litres of leaking cold water was directly aimed at his sleeping bag!

December 6th, 2011
Pictures are here.

I woke up at about 4.30am and was ready by 5am. Scott, Cyril, Fred and I left then and had 17km of track to cover to reach our final destination on the Overland Track – Cynthia Bay from Narcissus hut. We walked through more tropical rainforests and plenty of slush. Glimpses of Lake St. Claire appeared beautifully on one side of the track. This section of the track was also beautiful but I had a feeling that we had seen it all already. The previous sections of the Overland Track had set the bar very high and these enchanted forests we were now seeing weren’t anything new. It took us close to four and a half hours to reach Cynthia Bay.

Narcissus hut to Cynthia Bay in Lake St. Claire

Fred was too tired to walk after a while!

Almost at Cynthia Bay

And finally at the Visitor Center at Cynthia Bay

That evening, it was time to get back to proper meals and a proper bed. I was relieved to know that I would be eating something other than oats or noodles for dinner!

December 8th, 9th 2011
In the comfort of my sister’s place back at Melbourne, I was enjoying man-made contraptions and delicious food. The bed was clean, I had sumptuous dinners and kept watching back to back movies on a large screen! Nature was sure beautiful over the past couple of days and, now, I had come to a conclusion that man can also make beautiful things like a PS3!

Summary
The Overland Track was a magnificent and surreal experience. I had never experienced summer, winter, spring and autumn, all in one long trek before. The transition from snow covered tracks and snow-capped mountains to blue lakes and green tropical rainforests was simply incredible! The company of people I met and stayed with in the huts was something that I will remember for a long time to come. This vacation gets an A+.



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