Saturday, December 15, 2012

Going solo...

I've been thinking about this for the longest time and finally, the day of reckoning is here. I am in the Manila airport, 7 hours into my first solo trip for 2 weeks and a bit over. I've been nervous, excited. It hasn't fully sunk in, but its good.

I've read of a lot of people traveling by themselves on forums and blogs... But after moving to Singapore, I feel like I've met and heard of lot of people's experiences... Be it few days or weeks and months together. Some love it, and find it liberating and for many its not their thing. The only good way to find out is to try it and here I am. On that journey of discovery. And I have to say that my younger Sister's solo trip in Europe probably kicked the inertia out of me :). (Really, I still don't believe it.)

Past couple of weeks have been a rush... All self inflicted of course. Wrapping up work. Getting ready for the trip. I realised while I am usually good at being prepared ahead of time when I travel with others, I've left a lot of things until the last minute. It wasn't until 2 weeks ago that I booked my flights. Through this last week, I've been busy getting accommodation sorted. And, till 5 days ago I hadn't looked up exact visa requirements...I knew Philippines had allowed visa free entry to Indians recently, but only 14 days, it seems. Even after figuring this out, and had some time to apply for a longer visa, I decided I was going to risk convincing the visa officer ( really, how often does that work? Yes, I am likely overstaying a few days! Beat that!). And I still only have first 10days of the trip sorted.

But, figuring out as I go is just what I've always wanted to do and seems to be just the thing to do on a lazy beach vacation. And its nice how tips/ideas have come along the way while speaking of this trip to friends...things I usually miss. It was a friend who brought the storm that had hit Philippines to my attention, luckily I hear Palawan wasn't as impacted. Like the friend who told me to check on the visa me or the one who reminded me of travel insurance since I am diving (well, she actually told me a total scary story of a freak accident and made me promise I would get it in the airport. That's the other thing I learnt, u can buy travel insurance from the ATM)... And one friend has promised to keep a check on me every few days, just in case!

Anyways, no expectations and taking it as it comes. And I have a loaded kindle to keep me company, and if nothing else, home is just a flight away.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

On a masochistic errand on Rinjani

Boy, were we glad to see the end!

The finish gate at Senggigi

Lounging on a couch, enjoying a fresh watermelon juice, watching the blue blue sea just a day later, Rinjani already seemed far far away. I was flipping through the Lonely Planet or some other guidebook on Indonesia when I glanced upon these lines or something similar – ‘to try and climb the Rinjani summit and go down to the lake and back in 3 days is definitely a masochistic way of seeing the mountain’. And, guess what, a masochistic itinerary was what we had picked up, unknowingly. Thinking back, it was more than a bit frustrating that several of the trek organizer’s offer a 3 day trek (summit and lake) as a standard option, without a hint of the challenge it actually entails.  

The first day was hard and I already had a feeling that I may not make it to the top. In fact,  we were all wondering if we should just head to the lake instead. Anyway, we decided to go ahead with the  summit  ascent. To our luck, we also had very strong winds almost threatening to blow us of.  Halfway to the summit, I lost heart - there was no way I was walking another hour, only to decide to turn back. So all 3 of us ended up turning back at different points.  And for the fun part - the descent to the lake involved a lot of scrambling and crossing big boulders - and without poles or sticks, I messed my knee.  Anyway, our itinerary ended up going for for a toss as our progress was much slower than what had been planned. We didn't have enough time to make it back to the crater from the lake. What that meant was that we had to start pre-dawn to make up for lost distance. We ended up waking up at 3.30AM to climb up from the lake to the crater and then proceed back to the base. My knees were shot on the climb down, and one of my friend’s back condition worsened. I was wondering how it was that we seemed so unfit compared to some others. To top it all, the 3rd friend in the group was constantly comparing and contrasting the Everest Base Camp trek (which I had recently done and Rinjani)… I suspect, I had somewhat disappointed her!

The summit mocking us!

Notwithstanding that Rinjani was one of the most difficult experiences by a far milethe mountain is beautiful and the views make it worth the hard work! I hope to go back once again, and may be this time I will make it all the way to the top.

Views on the way to the Summit

The crater lake from above

Anyway, a few things that is good to know about Rinjani, especially if you are an amateur  - 
1) Although Rinjani isn’t very tall with its 3000-odd metres, it is a difficult mountain to climb. On the first day, you nearly ascend from close to zero to around 2400m, which makes it a steep and intense climb. And obviously, choosing the right itinerary makes all the difference. Everest Base Camp trek is hard, but a lot of the challenge is also in battling altitude. I found the EBC itinerary very well laid out giving time for trekkers to ramp up into it and also acclimatize very well. And most importantly, if you’ve done a few of these, you will know – every mountain is different. So prepare to be surprised. If you are looking to do both the summit and lake, a 4 day itinerary would give you a decent amount of time at the summit and also flexibility, if you take more time than originally planned at the summit. A friend recently did a 4 day trek and also mentioned it was still hard work.

2) The trek agencies didn’t feel like the best (I have come across) in terms of being able to advise trekkers about things like the level of difficulty for example. Our guide for example was quite casual when we asked him about things like a trekking pole, which turned out to be quite important.

      3) You can either start the trek at Senaru or complete at Senggigi or vice versa.  If attempting the summit, the Senaru option may be easier as you attempt the summit on day 2 and are not tired out.
      4) If it’s a big group, there may be a chance that some would want to turn back on the way to the summit. It would be good idea to check if one or 2 porters can act as guides on summit day. This way no group is stranded without someone helping them.

      5) Our itinerary said 3 hours to the summit – but on average, it takes much much longer. So, better to be mentally prepared for a longer summit ascent.

     6) The descent into the lake and ascent involves a fair bit of low-grade rock climbing type moves (no need for equipment, but you will be using your hands and legs to pull yourself or scrambling on your butts)
      7) Trekking poles are a must – the summit is very slippery and on the way down to the lake, the boulders are of very different heights and you could end up messing your knee (which I did).   Think gloves and wind proof jackets are quite important too. On our summit day, we had one of the worst winds that was threatening to blow us of
      8) The nights can be quite cold (even when you come down to the lake), so pack accordingly.
The first view of the lake

Camping by the lake

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stop and start. Again.

I have always wondered why people all of a sudden stop writing. Especially the one’s who were such regulars, seemed passionate about what they were writing and also made blogging/writing seem very effortless. After a very slow (blogging) spell myself, I am nowhere close to the answer. Life happens seems to be the reason to hide under, but it also seems to be quite a simplistic one.  Anyway,  like I said I am nowhere close to the answer and having to write it all down doesn’t seem as important as it once did.  But what I do miss is having my mind occupied in thinking through what I wanted to write about (each of my trips and experiences) rather than spending every spare minute agonizingly analyze every aspect of my life. It was cathartic to say the least. Of course, there was also one point while ALL I was thinking was what I would say in my blog...  I first saw this comic at a fellow blogger who too has dropped off the blogging universe!


Its going to be terribly hard to get back on to this horse (a similar lack of motivation is afflicting me even in work writing), but I’ve recognized the need to start again. So here goes. Baby steps.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Where the mountains come alive...Everest base camp

I've been writing and re-writing this post over and over again, on paper and in my head, in a want to re-capture the moment into a perfect flow. Truth is, the moment was a whirl of emotions and thoughts all hitting me at the same time. So it is probably right that I leave this post loosely knit I suppose, as I work through it - more for myself more than anything else.

Everest base camp

Hope! It was this word on flag that caught my eye first on reaching the milestones wrapped in prayer flags and dedications that mark ‘you are here at the Everest base camp’. A simple message, yet such a powerful, and moving one and especially to find it here, in what feels like a remote, hostile, no-man's land. Isn't that what makes us all tick at the end of the day? the hope for a better day, hope for love and happiness, hope for money which we think could lead to happiness, hope for a better world even maybe, hope to be a better person, hopefully? It was a dedication to 2 climbers who lost their lives... not a message of glory or achievement or ambition or courage...just hope! It was beautiful and moving.

We had been seeing dramatic mountains all along the trip, since we left Namche at some 3000-odd metres; but somehow, just there, at that moment, they seemed even more dramatic, even more harsh, yet even more glorious and most of all, alive. Like a breathing presence you could feel. Like a force to give in to. Many of us make our pilgrimages, sometimes in search of something greater than us. And for me this place, that moment, these mountains have been the closest that has come to that. I felt insignificant, not in a bad way, but in way that throws larger perspective on some of the smaller trials of lives I suppose. Everything before this was worth it, to have simply gotten to this point.

I am not entirely sure why it was this charged or intense. I remember feeling exhausted and questioning my sanity when I got to the crater top of Kili. I had to get off the mountain to realise the joy of the climb. And here I was pondering on the philosophical and profound. Maybe it was the height catching up with me after all.

Around me, people were elated... everyone was taking turns with rocks to get photos with the base camp site in the backdrop, another memory to lock away for the future. There was that girl who I had seen struggling up, holding up messages on placards for her photos, probably to send to her family and friends. We had fared the altitude and had made it after 8 days of trekking through sun, rain, painful-freeze-us-to-the-bone winds, cold and even snow. Of course, there were those for who this was just the prelude. They would be spending the next 30-40 days here and in even higher altitudes and worser conditions as they attempted to summit Mt.Everest. Part of me was awe struck by them, but part of me doesn't fully understand. I thought of some of those whom we met on the trek - some traveling by themselves to explore these mountains, some 50-60 year olds I wouldn't have imagined in these parts if I had met them on the road on an ordinary day, but still with dreams and to-do lists. Some families with kids to share this experience together. I thought of my family, of life and very many random things which come back to you in the oddest of times I suppose. But it felt good. It felt damn good to have made it here.

Everest base camp

Saturday, January 28, 2012

To the roof of Africa... Climbing Mt.Kilimanjaro

The view of Kibo peak, Mt Kilimanjaro from the clouds

‘It was excruciatingly spectacular’, she said. Her group had just ascended to the top – some made it, and some did not.

And EXCRUCIATING it was. Especially the last 100 or 200metres or so, when the goal post is in sight, so close, yet so far, and requiring you to squeeze every ounce of your will power. The challenge with the Kili is mostly on the night when you attempt the summit – depending on the route, you needed to climb at least 900m in altitude at a stretch to get to the top and none of the preceding days truly prepare you for it. The distance of 4Kms is one of the shortest distances on the trail, but ends up being the longest. You climb less than you think you have and there is more to go than you think should be. Physical endurance is key, but it is also very much a test of mental strength and will power to keep going. I recalled the girl saying, ‘you will think you can go no more, but push, and push. Crawl if you have to’.

When I got to the top, all I could think was, ‘the view is ok! but oh god, I still have a 2-3 hour descent in front of me’. Low oxygen and tiredness together can play havoc on your spirits. It was only a day later, when we were done with the whole trail, and seeing the outline of the Kilimanjaro against the evening sky, that it hit me – Yes, I had climbed the Kili!!! I had actually been to the top of that daunting, gigantic mountain!!! I couldn’t stop smiling silly for a long time.

The Kilimanjaro has 6 routes to get to the top of the mountain, which is a crater. Depending on the route, you will hit the top at Gilman’s point (5681m) or Stella’s point (5756m). Walking along the rim of the crater from these points, you can reach the highest point of Kilimajaro at Uhuru peak (5895m). Machame is considered one of the most scenic, but we had chosen Rongai as it is considered slightly easier.

Cold, runny-nosed (I was), and thoroughly exhausted, but we made it to Gilman’s at around 8AM in the morning. Getting all the way to Uhuru was a personal aspiration, but when I did get to the crater, I knew I wouldn’t be going forward. Just the thought of coming down alone seemed arduous and I just didn’t have the will to push myself. My friend A however, did plod on and made it to Uhuru.

Climbing Kili has been a fulfilling experience in a way I never expected it to be. Some times, when I need to push myself - may be for running the extra mile a day or even trying new interests, I find myself asking the question what’s the point of it all? (that is my excuse for laziness). WELL, may be the point is simply in the challenge and the thrill in accomplishing something beyond your existing abilities, rather than any larger than life revelation from the activity itself . I didn't set out on this trek as a way to challenge myself, but there was a satisfaction in pushing myself. And in all this, I’ve re-kindled some forgotten love and probably found new aspirations for the future too, and for that I am thankful!

A lot of people, after the trip ask you if will come back to climb the Kili again. It was hard to answer truthfully at that point (ha, ha I still was wondering what madness had possessed me to it), but I do hope I will sometime again, and may be this time will reach Uhuru too.

At Gilman's point
photo by Raven

Defying definition...

... somewhat like state of life at the moment. Love this line from Monalisa Smile. Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image.

Been obsessed with un-focused photos, the lack of definition adding a hint of mystery, I think. Singapore ablaze in night lights on the walk from work to home. Can you place them???

Bridge over the Singapore river, near Fullerton

From Boat Quay to Clark Quay

Clark Quay with bungee jumping on the right

View across Clark Quay

At the signal opposite to MICA

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunset in Zanzibar

Walking back slowly from Stone town along the water front, navigating through the evening crowds, recording every moment of this last evening, her only aim being to get back to her hostel before it became too dark, what with all the hostel warnings about it not being too safe at nights.

And once again, she was struck by how much the scene in front of her felt like home – the sharp smell of the sea in the air, the waves rising high and splashing spray all over the pavement, families, friends and lovers sitting along the waterfront, in the park seats and under the trees, in conversation or just watching the sea, a bunch of young boys appearing to have some contest in jumping off the pavement into the water, vendors in the Forodhani market peddling food of every variety for the stomach willing to chance it...

As she waved through the crowds, watching the scene ahead of her, it suddenly struck her the time for the sunset wasn’t far away. Putting aside her fear of getting late, she raced to find a spot to catch the first one for the year.

There is something about being in a place so far removed from the regularity of everyday life, lost in the anonymity of the crowds, where you could suddenly be anyone, anything you wanted to be. The vacation was coming to an end, but the memories would stay. There was hope in the air, and a feeling that anything was possible… a sense of new beginnings. New year or not. ;)

Catching the sunset at Forodhani water front, Zanzibar

Stone Town