Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Best Holiday in the World!

So, what did I do on my amazing adventure in Australia...
Below are the highlights, but please check out all the detail I couldn't be bothered to type out again here:

Day 1: skyrail cable car over rainforest & gorge, mountain biking, stay at Pepper's

Day 2: scuba diving off Port Douglas 3 dives, stay at Thala Beach Lodge

Day 3: Eco-tour of Thala Beach rainforest & plantation, crabbing & spear-fishing with aboriginal dudes, flying fox in Daintree Rainforest canopy, then we missed the croc-spotting tour. Stay at ferntree lodge

Day 4: helicopter from cape tribulation to Cairns, scuba diving, stay at Shangri-La

Day 5: helicopter from Cairns to Cobbold Gorge & gorge boat tour up close & personal with freshwater crocs, heli ride from there to The Undara Experience in the outback. Met by good ole country boy: über Aussie cowboy, very cool guy who runs the place. Had the coat of arms meal: kangaroo, emu, steak, croc, sausage, soup, salad, delicious! Sleep & tour of lava tubes in the AM

Day 6: lava tubes, heli ride over the outback to a beautiful waterfall & wicked gorge tour via helicopter-wow! Lunch at some ridiculously nice hotel, and transfer to Dunk Island via amphibious watercraft. Jet skiing & kayaking. Stay at Dunk Island Resort

Day 7: Luxury boat transfer back to mainland, whitewater rafting! Nearly killed myself falling out on a grade 4 rapid. Tour of Blue Sky Brewery in Cairns, stay at Gilligan's backpacker.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Summiting Mount Kinabalu

Yeah, I know, I've been living in Singapore for 4 years now and I've only just made it to Borneo... worse, I was only there for a few days. As many people can confirm, including some of the travellers Iet there, you could easily spend 2 months just hitting the highlights. GO! ENJOY!
Being a bit of a slacker in my travel plans, I didn't research anything about where to stay in Kinabalu City, so when I arrived I just hit the airport's tour stand.
I was pleased to find out several of the peeps running the place are Christians. Despite my later realization that they make 20ringit (S$10) comission on hotel bookings, they were great. In fact they saved me 20ringit on a cab fare by taking me directly to the bus station. But not before taking me to their favorite restaurant for lunch. After hoppng into the car with three complete strangers I realized my mom definitely wouldn't approve.
I love that feeling: what in the world have I gotten myself into here? Is this really happening? It's so surreal and lately I've become rather accustomed to it. I wonder if that's a little closer to how God would have me live my life - completely at His mercy and trusting Him fully with complete control of my life.
Well I arrived safely at the bus to Kinabalu park. My favorite line that came from the bus jockey was in response to my inquiry as to how often the bus goes (yeah, I did very little research beforehand). He said "Full house, OK!"
I got shotgun in the 10 person van, and all seemed to be going well until we stopped at what I was positive was NOT Kinabalu Park. Turned out we were just picking up one passenger's wife and kids.. I love the way these things work when people aren't stuck in rigid "must do it this way" mindsets.
Arriving at the park I checked in and all was well with my reservation, the one thing I did plan. Next up: shower and dinner!
I sat down with 2 other travellers, sharing travel stories and excitement for the climb in the morning over a rather large buffet. Chris and Viv were fun.
In the morning we hooked up with Tom & Rachel and met Martyn. Let me digress for a moment and tell you that Martyn is a Scotsman if there ever was one. Picture William Wallace's red-haired friend in Braveheart, funny and hard as. I was glad to share a guide with him as we challenged each other to push it and go hard.
Speaking of the obligatory guides, if possible, make your reservation with some mates and share one. They don't really do much except report to someone if you get hurt and you need one to get past the 2 checkpoints on your way to the summit.
What else do you need? Winter hat, warm coat, an impermeable, light longsleeved shirt, tshirt, 2 pr smartwool socks, shorts, hiking pants, waterproof hiking boots. 2 pr underwear, long underwear, winter gloves-waterproof if possible, trekking poles, head lamp, sunglasses, sunscreen. If you can: flip flops, panadol, moleskin, band-aids. You might also want a small waist pack so you can summit with just a few little things whilst leaving non-essentials behind at Laban Rata, but I've gone way off course now.
Martyn and I reached Laban Rata in 3 hours and were pretty soaked and cold by then. I'd refused to put on my fleece as I didn't have much more than a worthless rain poncho to keep it dry. That's the unfortunate end of leaving winter stuff on another continent, lesson learned.
The afternoon and evening were spent warming up with tea, scrabble, cards, and great conversation. That's what you get at 3,300 meters.
2:00am wake up so we were early to bed. One poor bloke was altitude sick. Remedy: lots of water, paracetomol, and rest. We 6 were fine. 2:30 breakfast. If you want to move quickly to the summit, get out before the crowd as the trail is narrow and it only takes one to slow down 80 in single lane traffic. We were able to pass here and there and at the checkpoint Martyn & I were the 3rd & 4th climbers through. Passing #2 in short order we set our sights on first. As the air grew thin so did our chances. In the end, Barney prevailed and we settled in as the 2nd group to summit that day, after just 2 hours climb (Barney took 2.5!).
No complaints though as we had it all to ourselves for a while and took amazing photos of the mountain landscape as the sun rose.
There few things that have quickened my soul like reaching a summit and just absorbing as God paints an ever-evolving tapestry across the sky all the while revealing His earth below bit my bit. What a beautiful metaphor of His relationship with each of us. As we pursue Him with our all, He responds by slowly revealing Himself and His beauty to us. What an amazing God we have!
All good things must come to an end (else we wouldn't appreciate or recognize them when they come) and we had to make our way back down once again.
A phone call to mom at first sight of the cell tower, a stop for breakfast at Laban Rata, and down we came. This is where trekking poles are essential... If you value your knees!
7hours down hike and a lovely bus!
So, 5.5 hours up and 7 down... Did I mention the annual race? The record holder did it in 2hours, 37minutes - that's up AND back. 21km, and don't forget the nearly 2.5km up/down!
Needless to say I was WRECKED! Food, shower and back to KK City.
I was meant to take the 15ringit bus, but I stumbled upon a car hoping for 20ringit & a passenger heading back, plus he'd drop me right at my hostel. Thank you very much!
Not much exciting at the end... Massage, dinner, sleep, ill, rest, fly back to Singapore. What an amazing few days!
Next stop - the Best Holiday in the World in Tropical North Queensland courtesy of Toursim Queenslan!
Check out my facebook (gregreynen) for photos of Kinabalu

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 8th Wonder of the World

I gotta be honest with you; the 10 hour bus ride from Manila to Benaue wasn't exactly luxury. I was wishing I'd brought some Xanax with because sleep didn't really happen. But upon our arrival we were treated with crisp, fresh morning air and beautiful mountain views. The 2 hour jeep ride was pretty interesting as it wound us around the edges of the tree-covered mountains with homes and villages sitting rather precariously on stilts alongside the road. The only hiccup was a rather large landslide that almost left the road impassable. Fortunately we just made it. We found out later that an empty jeep could not make it, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We were dropped at a picturesque high point and started another 2 hour journey - this one on foot – and we finally arrived at Batad. It's known to some as the 8th wonder of the world and, indeed, the 2000 year-old rice terraces are a sight to behold!

Old habits die hard and I felt compelled to count the levels. I counted over 130 strong losing them behind trees down the mountain. That’s absolutely amazing. Apparently what makes these rice terraces so unique is that their walls are made completely of stone with mud cement, rather then just a rock façade.

Our biggest day there began with a little hike up to the top of the terraces... 2hours later we reached the top. But what amazing views from there! Even in the middle of nowhere, prime realty comes with a price. Here the price is one heck of a climb every time you need to visit friends, family, or the village.

After some photo ops we hiked down the back of the mountain and around the side to even more breathtaking views as we headed down and followed the noise of a raging river.

It turned out the river wasn't raging nearly so much as the waterfall. Try as I might, there just wasn't any way to swim into the falls. It’s just as well, hindsight tells me it was a bad idea. But I did manage to scale the rock wall leading around & behind the falls. Now I've had some awesome showers in my life. I've even stood underneath a fire hose shower once. But this is something completely different! The icy drops of water bit into my skin and leeched my body heat so quickly that I had all I could do just to hang on to the wall after about a minute. Scaling slippery walls above sharp rocks lurking just beneath the water with ice-cold hands and bare feet, all the while shivering to keep warm is officially a bad idea. But I've never let that stop me before so why start now? We had a nice picnic and nap there by the waterfall before making our way back to the village. It was a big day so we finished with more naps and early sleeps!

The following day brought us sore legs and a 2-hour hike back out. Expecting to see our jeep transport at the top, we were all a little surprised to hear is wasn't coming. Doh! This was when I learned that empty jeeps don't handle landslides as well as laden jeeps. At least the 1km hike was downhill.
Just a short ride back to Benaue... Oh and another 8 hour ride back to Manila.

My utmost gratitude goes to Joyce Fong and her family for their hospitality and the use of their guest house for a lovely nap and HOT shower! It's the little things in life, really.
I'm glad to have met Jidesh, Junie, and Vicki on this trip. Joyce was a wonderful hostess and made the trip loads of fun. Muchas Danke Shein, Joyce!

If you want some photos - check out the Rice Terraces album on my Facebook