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

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

2013-02-08, Arriving in Sipalay
I took the evening bus from Bacolod to Sipalay to join my fellow world leaders Martijn and Vivien who were already very busy at work.

Enthusiastic World Leader Martijn is never the one to stop working for a moment

2013-02-09, Discussing world problems over some snorkeling
We decided that the best way to solve the problems of the world was by looking deep into the problem to identify a solution. And, of course, the best way to look “deep” into anything is to snorkel. Hence, we decided to go snorkeling. Leader Martijn gave me a Snorkeling 101 session which I immediately grasped — after all, the world was relying on me. And, we hopped onto a boat and rode into a crystal clear part of the sea to explore the world below. I tell ya — solving world problems is a hard, hard life.

Preparing for the “deep” exploration

Check out the world below:

Coral reefs

Watch out — there’s a big Trail Running fish in the sea!

We were practicing our summit speeches on this curious starfish

And other fish too

Leader Vince wearing his problem solving gear

Leader Vivien was hard at work too

Our target audience – the reefs

And these fish

Leaders Martijn and Vivien addressing the distinguished crowd

I was practicing my speech on this very interested fish

This sea cucumber also seemed interested in listening to me

Leader Martijn approached me and reported a major breakthrough in negotiations

This jellyfish was our special guest of honor

It was a hard day I tell ya. The world owes us so much debt. Without us, the problems of the world would remain just that — problems!

Leaders returning to base amid tight security after a hard day at work

Of all things Swiss
In order to reward ourselves and recuperate after such an arduous day at work, we decided to have beers by the beach. Our host, a Swiss national, reminded me of our friend Hannes in Hong Kong. He sounded so much like Hannes that at one point, I thought this guy was Hannes’ long lost brother. He held the same Swiss standards that Hannes swears by. He told us that the guest experience had to be perfect — the spacious resort was restricted only to a mere 40 people; the food had to have the right touch — a special “international” chef was employed to ensure that guests were served the best food; there was even a neat looking bar right by the beach where contemporary music was being played. And, despite living and working in the Philippines for 15+ years, our host was every bit a proud Swiss national — just like Hannes. How do we know? Well, here, take a look at his swimming pool.

Maintaining Swiss standards and a Swiss flag

Our host also inquired into our travel plans. We told him that we were famous world leaders and intended to solve the problems of the world by not only snorkeling in his resort, but also by climbing and conquering Mount Kanlaon near San Carlos.

“Mount Kanlaon?” he asked, with a smile that took him back in memory.

“Beautiful mountain”, he continued. “You can get great views on a clear day. I was there 5 years back and it was very, very, very cold. It was 15 degrees centigrade!” he exclaimed.

That was the only time I thought that he had lost his Swiss touch. Since when does someone who is so much in love with Switzerland think that 15 degrees centigrade is cold??

“You will think of Sipalay, this beautiful resort and the warm temperature here when you are up shivering on Mt. Kanlaon!” he warned us with a wide smirk on his face.

Being such fearless world leaders, we thought better than to pay much attention to someone who thinks 15 degrees centigrade is cold!

So, after more relentless problem solving and saving the world (yet again) from endless troubles, or, in other words, after drinking several more rounds of beers by the beach side bar, we decided to call it a night and prepared for the car ride all the way up to San Carlos City.

Our parting goodbye shot after 2 days of hard work — dog’s life I tell ya

World leaders end Part 1 of the summit in Sipalay

2013-02-10, Taking the action to San Carlos city
After two days of hard and strenuous work, we declared Part 1 of the HKTR Summit a great success and bid goodbye to Artistic Diving resort. We then took a car all the way to San Carlos city to rendezvous with our Mt. Kanlaon expedition crew leader Liza and our other fellow adventurist, Tania.

Looks like HSBC has a San Carlos branch?

HKTR always gives back to nature
Ok, I promised “someone” that I would not post a photo of him showing off his good deed but I want to emphasize how Hong Kong Trail Runners strictly harbour the core value of giving back to nature. We certainly did our part for nature on the way to San Carlos by generously returning nitrogen to the soil, or, in other words, we watered the flowers — that too generously. I have evidence of this but “someone” wishes to remain modest and anonymous. Hence, I will leave this little episode depicting the generosity of Hong Kong Trail Runners much to your imagination.

On the way to San Carlos — rice plantations everywhere!

Five of us riding a “tricycle” to San Carlos bus-stop

Our humble abode for the night –a guesthouse in Kanlaon City– Tania is admiring the towel which is shaped like a swan

No hike can start without a sumptuous dinner

Martijn’s previous life
An emergency situation with our bathroom door gave us a scary look into Martijn’s past life. Our bathroom door somehow got locked from inside leaving the three of us with heavy bowels and lack of a facility to empty it. Just when I thought I had to run down to the Reception Desk to get a spare key, Martijn revealed his darkest secrets from the past. Allow me to break it to you without further suspense. He used to be a burglar. Yes, really. Back in Holland, he burgled several houses and even earned the title as the “Most Wanted” burglar of The Netherlands. “That’s how I made my first million!” he confessed.

And so, effortlessly, and with the mark of a professional, he dismantled the ventilation opening on the bathroom door with great ease and opened it from inside. His past experience, although tragic, proved useful for us that night. Otherwise, our room would have become a lethal gas chamber! (especially after that sumptuous meal…)

Martijn, showing off his burgling talent

2013-02-11, Clouds, rain, wind, slush and … singing!
We left the guesthouse at 5am in the morning and looked upwards at the beautiful sky. It looked like we were going to have a clear blue sky. The stars were twinkling and we were busy identifying the various constellations. I looked at Vivien and reminded him of the “horribly wrong” weather report he read out to us the previous night. He used the 4-letter word we dreaded the most. (Yes, that, and also “R A I N”). I pointed upwards at the clear sky and told him how a healthy dose of confidence and some faith was all that was needed to have a rain-free day.

We wore our HKTR tee shirts with great pride and set off on motorbikes to the start of Kanlaon trail.

5 of us plus 1 guide and 1 porter ridin’ in style to the starting point

The pickup and legroom on the motorbike was simply awesome. Moto GP1 should be considering a motorbike like this one.

That starting point was a highly secretive location only known to KGB agents. Fortunately, Martijn’s burglary accomplishments in his previous life got us all an entry into the KGB Shed House. There was even a KGB pig inside making noises that only agents could decipher — probably some sort of swine Morse code.

The KGB Shed House

Philippines Observatory is vindicated
Remember the beautiful sunshine I was expecting to witness? Well, let’s just say that it eluded us. Thick clouds filled the sky and it wasn’t long before the first raindrop gave us a gentle caress. I didn’t mind it too much. It was still only barely drizzling — or so I thought.

We passed by some beautiful vegetable plantations and saw A WHOLE LOT of cabbage. Tania was already imagining drinking cabbage soup. Vivien was educating me on volcanoes. He told me that the slopes of volcanoes are so fertile that they are used for growing all kinds of vegetables. The greenery was stunning.

Cabbage plantation

Then came the jungle trek. And boy was it jungly! The plants were covered in green moss and the terrain was full of roots and rocks. The drizzle made the terrain slushy and, on several occasions, we had to heave ourselves skywards while gripping onto shrubs for support. It reminded me of the trek we did back in Malaysia when we climbed Mt. Trusmadi.

Every time I said “in 20 minutes we’ll have sunshine”, the rain got heavier and our spirits were dampened! Tania also had to turn back as the climb, on many occasions, was too sharp for her (she was recovering from a surgery she had a couple of months back and did not want to cause any further damage to herself). But, before turning back, she offered me her sleeping bag and mat, which I graciously accepted.

Rain brings about my singing talent
The observatory might have been vindicated by the rain but the rain did bring about a very special talent hidden in me. In fact, Liz, Vivien, Martijn and the guide + porter must have felt truly fortunate and blessed for having me on the trail that day. I am not exactly sure what caused this sudden burst of hidden talent in me but, all of a sudden, I found myself singing tunes that put the likes of Axle Rose and Mick Jagger to shame! At one point though, Vivien did tell me that I was so out of tune that he had trouble recognizing what I was singing. But, I’m sure he was just jealous.

Martijn in the jungle — all covered up to protect himself from the rain

This is tree blood — no kidding

Liza in wonderland

The group

Liz cooked us noodles en route

We continued climbing wearing our rain jackets and ponchos (ok, I was the only one wearing a poncho), until we came across a French delicacy — a living snail. That immediately brought Vivien’s appetite to life! He was about to eat the live snail.

Vivien’s appetite is larger than a snail

The snail

Of course, being the vegetarian nature lover that I am, I heroically rescued the poor creature from Vivien’s hands and released it back into the wild!

Eventually, we reached the 1st summit from where we were supposed to get a 360 degree view of the old volcano crater. And, what a view that was! Completely stunning! The best we had ever seen! The ultimate as far as views go! Simply phenomenal! Here, take a look:

You’ve got to imagine the view under those clouds

Ok, so, yes, I was kidding. All we saw was a whole lot of white clouds. Well, but, that didn’t stop me from singing. And neither did it stop us from eating some of Liza’s gourmet peanut-butter banana mountain rolls! That alone made the hike worthwhile (although I could have had that at sea-level as well!)

Having a wet lunch

Descending to our first campsite

Vivien, wet and cold, but happy

Martijn’s golden tent rule
As we were trying to pitch our tents at the campsite, the howling of the wind intensified. And, the cunning wind brought its even more cunning brother to the party — more rain! The tents we were putting up to shelter us from the rain were already wet!

“Remember the first rule of tents?” Martijn inquired, looking at me, as he was putting up a tent.

“Don’t fart inside?” I shot back assuming that I had hit the jackpot. (The air in that small 2-man tent didn’t look like it could escape very easily which gave me the feeling that it could potentially become a lethal gas chamber!)

“Yes, that and ensure that the outer tent doesn’t touch the inner tent”, he explained. I didn’t even know what an “outer tent” and “inner tent” was. But, it didn’t take long before I learnt the hard way.

Martijn putting up a tent

Vivien enjoying a rare shiver-free moment

As daylight was running out, the cold and wet Kanlaon weather didn’t show any signs of abating. I dug deep into my wet rucksack and wore pretty much everything I had brought with me. Vivien, Liz and Martijn had so many layers on that they looked like Santa Claus.

Liz somehow managed to cook us some Risotto from inside a tent and also made us some hot coffee which helped generate some much needed warmth in our bodies.

Martijn and I relishing our hot Risotto

Martijn is marching like a solider to keep warm

After dinner, it was time to sleep. My “tentmate” for the evening was going to be Vivien. He wore everything he had brought with him, got into his sleeping bag but was still shivering. The ground was wet but, luckily, I had Tania’s sleeping mat! I refrained from using her sleeping bag for as long as I could but it got so cold that I had no choice! My body was shivering and my back was wet! As I moved a little to the right to gain more space, the “inner tent” (the first layer of the tent) touched the “outer tent” (the sheet that covers it) and surprise, surprise! I got even more wet! I learnt Martijn’s Tent 101 lesson the hard way.

Cold, wet but still in high spirits (at least for the photo)

Vivien and I trying to survive one night in the tent

I yelled out to Martijn from our tent — “yo, remember what the Swiss guy in Sipalay said?” His words echoed in our minds — “I warn you! You will think of Sipalay, this beautiful resort and the warm temperature here when you are up shivering on Mt. Kanlaon”. His 15 degrees centigrade felt more like 1 degree centigrade. On top of that, we were wet! The outer sheet of the tent was flapping so hard from the strong wind that we were scared we would be left roofless soon! The rain also kept lashing against the outer tent relentlessly and the noise it was making made us feel thankful that we were at least inside the tent instead of outside!

Whose bottle is it anyway?
“Is there a bottle of water just outside the tent?” Vivien asked me as he was cuddled inside his sleeping bag.

“Yes, I remember seeing a little bit of water in it. Do you want it?” I offered.

Then he said something that I least expected! He wanted the water bottle not for the water but for the container! He wanted to step just outside the tent to answer nature’s call inside the bottle!! He said it was way too cold for him to even venture a few meters outside the tent!

I somehow managed to convince him to drop the bottle idea and get out of the tent to do his business. (It was easy for me to suggest that as I was cuddled inside Tania’s sleeping bag myself!) He went outside, started swearing in French to raise the adrenaline levels in his body and rushed back inside after doing his business. Mission Accomplished. I saw what he had just gone through and hoped I wouldn’t have had to go through the same thing anytime soon!

It was too cold to sleep, so Vivien was telling me a story about how he spent a cold night in France in a tent which got blown off. (Hmm.. it wasn’t exactly the sort of story you wanted to hear under those circumstances). Our tent sounded like it was going to get blown off at any moment! We could also hear the guide and the porter yapping away from their tent to stay warm!

2013-02-12, Nothing lasts forever even cold Kanlaon rain!”
I got up at 6am and peeped outside the tent. It was still cloudy. I didn’t even bother with my “in 20 minutes, we’ll have sunshine” spiel. I knew we weren’t going to have any sunshine. I couldn’t sing either — the troupe forbade me from singing! They somehow believed that the chances of sunshine were better if I didn’t sing! Anyway, it didn’t matter because I was out of songs to sing anyway! The only line that came to mind was “some things last forever like cold Kanlaon rain!”

Liz, as usual, generously offered us “tent service”. We had our morning cup of hot coffee after which we dared to venture out of the tent. The weather still looked quite hopeless but, thankfully, it wasn’t raining, just cloudy.

We were lucky to have “tent service” — Liz made us coffee

Looking at Martijn and the clouds through the veiled outer tent

My singing disappears and the sun appears
“LOOK!” Liz and Martijn exclaimed in chorus as they claimed that the clouds momentarily disappeared giving way to gorgeous views. I first thought that they were just kidding to get Vivien and me out of the tent and into the cold, cloudy weather. But, the excitement in their voices sounded genuine! Their cameras also started clicking. Sparked by curiosity, I dared to venture out of the tent and caught a fleeting view of a lake in the crater.

The beauty underneath the blanket of clouds

So, that’s what there was under those clouds!

The clouds soon started to become brighter and brighter. It looked as though the sunrays were finally decimating the veil of clouds! I was excited but refrained from saying anything about the weather. I wasn’t allowed to sing either! Liz warned me to not jinx it!

And, then we had it! A clear sky!! I couldn’t help but singing one last line — “Nothing lasts forever even cold Kanlaon rain!”

The sunshine had us jumping with joy (literally).

Celebrating sunshine up in the air!

We then ventured up to the summit. One look around at the natural beauty of what we saw was enough to make us completely forget the cold, dark and rainy night we had the previous day. Nature finally took mercy on us and allowed us to have some of the best views of Mt. Kanlaon. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world on that morning!

The summit of Mt. Kanlaon

HKTR extends its reach beyond Hong Kong

Martijn developed super powers on the summit

but still not enough to impress Lois Lane..

This is the crater of the volcano

I am holding a volcanic rock!

Those little colored specks are our tents!

And, finally, came the moment of reckoning. Hong Kong Trail Runners wrote history by unfurling the HKTR flag on Mount Kanlaon! The Philippines Government now recognizes ownership of Mt. Kanlaon by the Hong Kong Trail Runners!

Unfurling the HKTR flag (okay, tee shirt) on Mt. Kanlaon!

Bum slidin’ our way back to base camp
After all the excitement on the summit, it was time to head back to base camp. The downhill trail (if you can call it that) was little more than a natural slide filled with tall grass and plenty of slush. Martijn lead the way and heroically fell on his bum in frequent intervals creating bum markings on an otherwise slushy trail. Vivien tried following him carefully but also fell exactly in the same spots and shouted out a French swear word with each fall. Then it was my turn. I knew better than to repeat those clumsy moves. I told myself to learn from “others’ experiences” and go slowly on those slushy bits. “Aiya!” was the result. I also fell down on exactly the same slushy bits. The pattern was unmistakable. THUD and Martijn went down. “Petant” (means something in French) and Vivien went down. “Aiya!” and I went down. And, no, Liz wasn’t spared from falls either. The longer she spent on that trail, the more she fell!

Vivien in a rare moment where he is actually standing upright on the trail

And there he falls! Right after Martijn!

Vivien showing us how it’s done

After several hours of bum sliding, our clean shoes were reduced to this:

Shoes consumed by slush!

It took us close to 4 hours to get out of the forest! We then passed by more vegetable gardens and saw Hannes’ BMW. I am not sure when Hannes was in the Philippines but his powerful BMW was parked right beside one of the carrot plantations.

Old McDonald hard a farm EE-I-EE-I-O

with an onion, onion here

and a rice, rice there

Hannes’ BMW imported from Hong Kong

And, finally, after spending one day of climbing & camping in cold and wet weather and several hours of bum sliding, we returned to base camp, tired and exhausted but with the glorious summit views of Mt. Kanlaon preserved in our memories!

Concluding hours of bum sliding

We then took a motorbike back to civilization and concluded our accomplishments over a sumptuous dinner.

Motorcycle diaries — too much comfort I tell ya

A well deserved celebration dinner in San Carlos

Of course, this story will be incomplete without me mentioning two important consequences of climbing Mt. Kanlaon. First of all, in Bacolod airport, I almost set off a scare when I had to remove my shoes and put them on the Security Screening X-Ray. My shoes were really a weapon of mass stink-tion. So much so, that the poor lady screening mobile phones and wallets had to close her nose as my shoes passed her by.

In fact, news of my stinking shoes spread quickly. When I had to repeat the same Security Check at Manila International airport, there suddenly appeared a sign that read “No need to remove your shoes”. My fellow passengers must seriously thank their stars.

Also, one of the other HKTR boys was, unfortunately, not all that lucky. (I am not allowed to mention who). Poor guy — his shoes and socks smelled so bad that he has been locked up in a Bacolod prison which is reserved exclusively for those who stink so much that they cannot be released back into the outside world.

Prisoner 116 in Bacolod prison built for the stinkiest of the stinky

The rest of us made it back to Hong Kong in one piece.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, this is how HKTR solved the problems of the world and conquered Mt. Kanlaon in The Philippines.

Special thanks to Liz for organizing the trip.