Sarawak/ Mulu Trip (Part I) - Day 1-5: The Pinnacles Trek
I had to overcome a lot of inertia writing this post because seriously, how do I even begin to START?
Ok so we embarked on our journey by flying to Miri on 7/12 to spend a night before flying off to Mulu the next day. The moment we reached the Mulu Park Headquarters, i was struck by how liberating the whole place made me feel. Little huts and cabins connected by boardwalks mushroomed out between tall trees and grass. So contained yet so connected. I so loved it.
The highlight for the trip was supposedly the Pinnacles Trek, which took us months of indecisive planning and physically involves climbing the low peak of Gunung Api (about 1200m) to view the picturesque (I only quote) limestone pinnacles. Many travel books give stern warning about it being uber strenuous, with steep climb and sharp limestone blahdeblah. They say something like Only fit people should attempt the climb, but people with perseverance and determination usually make it. And keiko and I thought, whaddahell. Well, other than climbing INexperience, love for food, laziness, and ample storage of body fats; PERSEVERANCE, my friend, is the only thing we have. So we jumped on the bandwagon.
We were scheduled to start the trek on 9/12, and it was going to be a 3 day thing. The first and third day involved jungle trekking to and fro the starting point of the climb. The soonest we had all the registration settled, we kinda went cold and then spent the rest of the week intensively psyching ourselves, trying to mentally resurrect our bodies, which at that point of time felt absolutely sluggish and had acquired a glob-like consistency after months of bumming around.
We were SO going down.
Anyway, we had 2 days before the Pinnacles Trek and we took it easy visiting show caves, swimming in the river and whatnot. On the first day we visited Langs Cave and Deer Cave, which is apparently the largest cave passage in the world. It was absolutely humongous and the soonest we got to the middle of the cave our nostrils were attacked by the pungent smell of guano - years worth of bat poo from the 5 millions of bat hanging upside down above our very heads.
The people walking through the caves looked like ants. Madness!
I love this picture the most. Thin streams of water were cascading down from the roof of the cave. It was breathtaking!
On the second day, we took a longboat to visit Clearwater and Wind Cave.
That is keiko posing for a shot while secretly checking out the boatman sitting at the back.
The next day, armed with backpacks and 3 days worth of quick fixes (think instant noodles & biscuits), and with much trepidation, we started the Pinnacles Trek. The first day was easy enough - a 1 hour longboat journey, followed by a 3 hour trek across leech-infested muddy terrain to Camp 5, where we spent the night curling up in our sleeping bags on a thin mattress and being feasted on by a battalion of mosquitoes.
In the evening, we had a briefing session with our guide, Jerry, a very nice Penan guy who really took care of us during the whole trek. In retrospect, the RM 90pp that I spent on guiding fee was probably the most well spent ringgit in the 2 weeks I was in Malaysia. No seriously, after you get to the end of this post you will know. Anyway, he gave us a lot of warnings, even saying that the journey was harder than Mt. Kinabalu, because of how steep it is and also the sharp limestones. By that time keiko and I were starting to get really antsy and asked gazillion questions to calm our nerves. How steep is the terrain? Has anyone died there before? What if we don't make it?
I thought that this couldn't be much harder than Mt. Warning in Australia. The altitude is about the same and I thought maybe the terrain was just going to be steeper. Heck, at most I would just break a leg. The terrain spanned a total of 2.4 km, which seemed dismal enough compared to Mt. Warning, which was
8.8 4.4 km.
BUT MAN, was I in for a rude surprise. The next morning we set off at 7am for the climb. Our guide had already gotten downright technical with all the figures. Fit people normally take 3 hours to climb up, and maybe 4 hours to descend. The not-so-fit would take slightly longer, up to 10 hours for the whole thing. The 2.4 km terrain consisted of 200m of more or less flat grounds, 300 m - 1800 m was to be the most challenging part of the ascent, and 2 km onwards was near vertical with 14 metal ladders to assist the climb.
By the time I got to about 400 m, I was starting to think, OK THIS IS SO NOT FUNNY. The terrain was steep beyond belief, and instead of rather well-constructed steps like Mt. Warning, this one was so steep, we literally had to pull ourselves up every single step of the ascent.
Ok you know what, I am not even going to attempt describing it. Whatever image you have conjured in your mind up til this point of time, it is WORSE.
I got separated from keiko at around 900 m, and for the next two hours trudged the most lonely 1 km of my life. I was huff puffing my way up while trying not to think about how THIS IS SO NOT FUNNY, and focusing so hard on the numbers on the markers that for every 100 m down, I felt like I had reached another level of heaven. It was so agonising. After 1800 m, the terrain changed drastically. A lot more rocky, with insane boulders of rocks (which we were supposed to climb), sharp limestones and vertical metal ladders with ropes.
At 2000 m, I decided to sit down and wait for keiko since the other 6 climbers were way past me anyway. Half hour later, Jerry, who stuck with keiko earlier, emerged from some bushes below, bearing the bad news that keiko made her own way back after the 1800 m mark. I was alone, no more crap to sustain me through possibly the next 6 hours! NO!
For the last 400 m, I ploughed my way through insanely steep limestone rocks, half wishing that I had gone back with keiko and just forgotten about this whole thing. There was a time when Jerry tried to be funny, and waited until I successfully scaled a series of rocks before he then made a gesture to get me to look down on my right. And OH MY GOD it was a deep hole wedged by two tall limestones that I didn't notice earlier. Shit, I could have fallen in there WHAT AM I DOING HERE? I lost count of the number of times that I stared at the jutting rocks and it occured to me that I could actually physically get myself killed if I lose my footage or grip. Why am I paying money to jeopardise my life when I could be staying home making pancakes?? But the over-achiever side of my consciousness was nagging at me like a pesky fly. It was only 400 m more. Too near to let go. So I thought, bugger it. The only comfort I had was the thought of sitting down to catch my breath on flat grounds at the top. Going down was another story I didn't want to think about. Yet.
I eventually reached the top at 12 noon. Rested for half an hour and then foolishly thought, Alright! Now I'm going to take a nice stroll down this thing and then take the rest of the evening being horizontal.
Caught up with the other 6 people after 400 m down and from then on, it was downhill all the way. Our knees were so worn out after the intense climb that by then, every downward step was pure torture. Apparently because of the hard and rocky limestone soil, it intensified the impact that each step made, putting tremendous pressure on the knees, or so Jerry said. All I knew is that I sure as hell wanted to get out of that freaking mountain with my legs intact.
All of us were so drained. Me and another malaysian guy had it the worst because of our weak knees. From about 1500 m onwards, all of us were struggling so hard just to bend our knees, and by 900 m, we were literally inching our way down, taking absurdly long periods of time just make a 100 m progress. At one point I started to get delirious (in retrospect, i think it was lack of food) and was really starting to panic about the possibility of not being physically able to walk down. You know you always hear people casually say, maybe after a shopping marathon, I can't walk anymore. Not that I want to be over dramatic, but it was only until that day that I had a glimpse of what not being able to walk would feel like. Jerry actually had to hold on to one of my hands the whole time to support me while many times I fell forward from not being able to bend my knees. Curling up and rolling down the mountain actually sounded remotely tempting.
For the record, we took 13 hours in total to do the whole Pinnacles Trek. Arrived back at Camp 5 slightly after 8 pm. Needless to say, we made the last 500-600 m of the descent in darkness, with the help of two torch lights. We survived an attack by a colony of red ants too. The soonest we got to our bunk, the only thing I could manage was lie on my back and zoned out for 15 minutes totally zombified.
I am quite proud that I made it to the top and back down, albeit unglamorously and way out of time limits. Lesson learnt: Bumming around is not good enough a preparation to climb a mountain. Any mountain, for that fact.
The next day, keiko and I were idly flipping through the guest book filled with doodlings and scribblings from the past climbers. And boy, we should have read them before the climb, maybe then, we would have known better. There were reports of all sorts of bodily malfunction up there. Major retching, nausea, dislocated shoulders, and one guy who claimed to have climbed Mt Kinabalu five times actually said that the Pinnacles Trek was a shocker. Of course, when I told Wayne (who recently climbed the former) this, his mammoth-sized male ego refused to stomach this piece of information.
Oh well. So the only thing I got out of this agonising and near-death experience, the only thing I could keep, is a photograph.
There you have it. The Pinnacles. Not worth it if you ask me, but OH WELL, it may just float your boat. Especially if your favourite past time happens to be climbing all sorts of vertical surfaces.
And oh did I tell you, after this trek, my shoes had to retire. Half the soles on both sides came flapping, there was plenty of abrasion from repeatedly getting wedged between rocks, some stichings came off, and there was NO WAY I was going to wash off all that mud.
Labels: Malaysia, South east Asia, travel
Out of Sync
You know that you have really been MIA when familiar numbers start looking like calculus.
F: Hi, just to confirm with you, later I will be coming at 11 am. May I know if your house number is #06-30 or #06-31? I've been away for so long that I've forgotten!
Tuition kids' parent: Hahaha... busy girl... my house number is #06-40.
For the benefit of the clueless, over here I am talking about my thrice a week english tutor stint. The kids I am taunting are two very adorable taiwanese siblings. Only 7 and 9 yo. After not having seen them for 3 weeks (when I was busy getting dirty in some rainforests), I actually kinda missed them.
Today I walked into the house and the first thing Tiffany did was shove a box into my hands. I stood there looking blank for a second before the mum brought me back to earth. She wanted to get you a Christmas present. And that was when I realised that what I was holding was a box of potpourri fastened with gold ribbons at two corners.
An hour passed while we got lost in a tornado of spelling words - treasure, difficult, kitchen, thunder, hippopotamus. I convinced her that the plural of hippopotamus is really hippopotami, much to her disdain. "We can just call them hippos", she said. And then she hoisted herself onto my lap while doing grammar, trying to differentiate These and Those. After my time was up, she decided she wanted to do an essay, all because of the big Betty Boop sticker that she had been eyeing. Kids and stickers. They work wonders. So I stayed another hour and we wrote about My mother's birthday. This is the same girl who exclaimed "But why???" when I told her I wouldnt be coming for three weeks, before I flew off to Sarawak.
I trudged home past lunch time, and caught my own reflection on a particular glass door, looking like I just crawled out of bed, among other things. And for a split second I couldn't help but wonder, what is there to like?
On another note, Mt. Ophir trip coming up! Everything is still vague but at least now I have something to look forward to. I feel so restless when I have no trip to plan for. haha.
At the end of the day, we are just doing whatever it takes to make ourselves happy.
Labels: mumble jumbles
mood downright miserable
listening to You're Beautiful by James Blunt
It's not you, it's me.
I am still halfway with my Sarawak trip post Part I, and every day eversince I came back I have been literally dragging myself everywhere and being an absolutely rotten company to everyone. Everyone except keiko, and whenever we hang out, all we could do was look at our retarded photos and talk about all the things we miss.
Rudy says I have to deal with it. It is not sustainable to come back for a week, feel miserable and then zips off again to some obscure corner of the globe. But it's hard dealing with it, because dealing with it is like forcing my mind to think that this intense longing is a figment of my imagination, that good memories are like a fly one can simply swat away.
Afer barely a week of observation, Wayne very casually mentioned that my mood is proportional to my distance away from Singapore. And it made me have an epiphany. Bingo, that's it.
I feel so helpless. I think I am going to explode.
Was I supposed to read between the lines?
Labels: emo, singapore
Can't Get Enough
As we miserably trudged back to Singapore this evening, keiko and I pondered upon a very peculiar thought. Only two weeks have passed ever since we embarked on the trip, and it feels like an ETERNITY has gone by. Pre-trip and post-trip are like a lifetime apart. If only we could live everyday with such intensity and blithe abandon, life would be so, very glorious.
It was such a golden nugget of enlightenment that we actually paused mid-stride for a dramatic hug. haha.
I really just want to sit here and replay everything in my head, savouring it all until everything else is a blur.
So very good. And then I will forget..
Labels: emo, travel
I am back from Sarawak! More specifically, Mulu. And I sorely miss that place already! Was there for a grand total of 8 days doing everything that I imagined I would, and more. Climbed a mountain (and nearly died there), clambered over bat poo-covered rocks, swam through caves, frolicked in the waterfall, and woke up everyday to the serenity of greens all around. It was so awesome. Caught up with Wayne there, who flew in from Kota Kinabalu after 2 weeks of touring around Sabah and climbing Mt Kinabalu. It was great! Will talk about the trip in greater details when I rip all the pictures off Wayne.
I have been back for 3 days now but barely had the time to sit down and breathe. AND recuperate from all the muscle aches. Wayne is in town for 4 days and staying at my place. It is so weird to see him in Singapore. SO WEIRD to see him taking trains, queueing for stuff, and walking around Ang Mo Kio (!!!?!?!?!?!) with me. So not used to seeing him so LOST. haha. There were many times when I saw him, did a double take, and then had to punch myself in the stomach to stop myself from laughing. Well you see, after Gold Coast, this is kinda surreal.
Anyway, tomorrow we are all going to Malacca. Yes I know. AGAIN! Third time in 6 months and just a blog entry apart.
Will be back on saturday, and that is when all the grudge begins.
Travelling keeps me sane.
Labels: mumble jumbles, travel
Off with my backpack.
Wokay, so I've been MIA for a while. And in the 2 week gap between the last entry and now, I have finished exam, nearly depleted my savings on frivolous and not-so-frivolous things, eaten a great deal of food, finished Heroes season 1, been to Malacca for 3 days (again!) and back, bought a hugeass 55L backpack, and packed up to go to Sarawak TOMORROW. woohoo.
Will be MIA again, for good reasons :)
Excuse me, and have a great holiday y'all!
Labels: mumble jumbles