Tag Archives: Outdoors

Patagonia.

The land of raging winds. Vast, open fields that go on for miles. Clear streams and lakes with colours unknown. Endless glaciers and peaks that suddenly appear out of nowhere as the clouds part.

Where the weather always has a mind of its own and you may see four seasons in a day. Where the summer brings days that almost never end. A place that remains frozen for a good part of the year, where only a handful of hardy souls can thrive.

And a cliche it may be, but I think I left a piece of me behind.

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Tales from Java: Middle of the night Madness on Mount Merapi

‘Why am I doing this to myself’, I almost muttered out loud as I pulled myself up another steep section on my creaking knees.

It was 3.30 AM and pitch dark with an unwanted drizzle as we continued on our mission to scale Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia (literally, ‘Fire Mountain’ in Bahasa Indonesia). Eight trekkers from different parts of the world, with our three guides – all so diverse, we’d look like a Benetton ad in daylight.

We had landed in Yogyakarta that afternoon and decided to trek up Mount Merapi in the night to catch the sunrise at the top. So, after a short(ish) snooze of a a couple of hours in the evening, we were picked up by our travel agent at 9.30 pm to ferry us to the starting point of the trek (about two hours away, including a a bone-jarring last 20 minutes off road).

The first half an hour of the trek was actually a pre-trek, steep walk up to New Selo, the launching point of the trudge up the mountain. The trek itself is an even steeper climb in the dark, with 4 sections of 0.6 km to 1 km, each of which take about 45 to 60 minutes – the killer stretches being the 700 m ones that take 45 minutes to an hour to traverse.

Coming from flat and sea-level Singapore that very morning presented an additional challenge – we weren’t used to altitude and found ourselves panting much sooner than warranted; but things got better as the night progressed and we adapted. The trail soon gave way to loose gravel and rocks and every few minutes we would hear a ‘whooosh’ as someone lost their footing for a bit and slid a few steps down. ‘Are you okay?’, one of the guides would call out and once established that everyone was still in one piece, we would continue our slow ascent; ‘small steps, small steps’, I’d tell myself.

A total of 4 hours later, we found ourselves on the ‘Plateau’ –  a stretch of almost-level ground where hikers pitch up their tents to spend the night. The real summit is another 200 to 300 metres above this – an almost vertical climb with no safety ropes or supervision. Most hikers go up to the plateau and are highly discouraged by the guides from going further. Deciding that the final ascent was much too adventurous for my wobbly knees, we called our climb successful at the plateau as we braced for the strong and chilly gusts of wind that crossed it non-stop.

After what felt like an hour of shivering in the mist, the sky began to be painted with hues of pink, orange, red and the sun finally muscled through the dense clouds to the horizon.

Coming down was a lot more painful than going up, of course – especially on our already-weary legs – there were more than a handful of times that each one of us landed on our bottoms and slid down; but it was a lot quicker too. We were back at New Selo, with its ‘HOLLYWOOD’ like sign, in just 1.5 hours.

Was it worth it? There isn’t another answer to that but a ‘Yes’. Were there times that I felt like giving up – Yes; but I’m glad I made it through – anything else would’ve been a heartbreak.

If you’re planning to climb Mount Merapi:

  • It’s easy to book your tour through your hotel or the multiple agencies in Yogyakarta – rates are pretty standard at about 400 – 450k IDR (~ 35 USD) for the whole deal.
  • You leave Yogya at 9.30 – 10 PM for the sunrise trek. Takes about 4 hours to climb up, 1.5-2 hours to come down.
  • The trek is harder than your average walk-in-the woods. No technical skills needed but you need to use your hands to pull yourself up or lower yourself down in quite a few stretches, closer to the peak.
  • Shoes with a good grip make life easier – running shoes are okay, as long as they have some kind of grip. A jacket / fleece is essential – waterproof is better. A warm cap and gloves can be precious at the top as well.
  • The volcano is very active, so check activity levels online before you book your tour.
  • Carry your water and snacks along with you – it’s a long night and you will feel thirsty and hungry.

Been to Central Java or Mount Merapi yet? Planning to go? Let me know!

More connections to nature here.

 

Climbing Volcanoes in the Dark

‘Do we really have to go?’, I grumbled through the sheets, struggling to pry my eyes open.

I fumbled around for my phone for the time; it was the unearthly hour of 2:30 AM and soon to be time for us to leave for our sunrise trek on Mt.Batur, near Ubud in Bali. In half an hour, we would be off on the 45-minutes drive to the starting point at the base. Wanting to catch the sunrise atop the mountain, which, incidentally is also a live volcano, means leaving Ubud at 3 AM and starting your 1.5 – 2 hour climb uphill before 4 to get to the top in time for sunrise.

Keeping up the tradition of my fantastic luck with the weather for outdoor activities, it had rained just a few hours before we started and we were afraid we would just end up seeing clouds rather than the sun at the top. The trek is a little tougher than your average walk in the park, with a couple of steep stretches of slippery volcanic rock in the second half. After a bit of a mad dash in the last minutes to make sure we reached the top before the sun did, we found ourselves in an envelope of mist.

The despair didn’t last too long as the sun dispelled the curtain of fog to reward us with these sights. I’m no Early Bird, but some days are worth it.

In Pursuit of the Elusive One…

This was one work trip that I was looking forward to.

We were headed to the dry forests of Ranthambore in Rajasthan. Rajasthan – the land of brave warriors (of the past), grand palaces and rich cultural heritage. Rajasthan is the stuff of postcards – it’s the place that you see most often when your mind conjures up images of India (other than the Taj Mahal, which lies in another state, Uttar Pradesh).

But here I was, headed to Rajasthan for none of its grand palaces and monuments or its music, dance or festivals – I was headed to the quiet, nondescript village of Sawai Madhopur, bordering the wildlife reserve of Ranthambore. I was here to try my luck, yet another time, to spot the elusive Bengal tiger, that most majestic of Indian wild animals. And one that had eluded me on 3 different past trips to three different national parks (Corbett, Nagarhole, Bandipur). My hopes were high; someone I know had sighted tigers twice on their safaris in the month of December in Ranthambore (and that isn’t even prime spotting season). Continue reading In Pursuit of the Elusive One…

This Valley or That Valley? – Hiking in the other-worldly landscape of Cappadocia

We were in Turkey in April 2013 and Cappadocia (with Goreme as the base) was our second stop in the country. After a cloudy, stormy first day in the area, we were absolutely thrilled when the clouds began to clear on Day 2.

Having received very strong recommendations, we headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum as our first sight for the day. Maybe we had the wrong expectations, but it turned out to be a bunch of ancient cave churches with long, snaking queues of senior citizens and high school tour groups. After an hour of under-appreciation of the place, we decided to cut our losses and head to the next thing to do on our agenda – hiking in the valleys of Cappadocia. On a recommendation from our pension’s front desk staff (lovely place that cave pension, but a post on that later), we zeroed in on the Rose Valley. A personal guide and a drop and pick-up came for a nominal price (when split across four of us) that I fail to recall. Continue reading This Valley or That Valley? – Hiking in the other-worldly landscape of Cappadocia