Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mount Rinjani, Part 2

Things that I couldn't squeeze in the last post:

1) How grateful I am to our guides and porters.

There were 8 porters who accompanied us. They carried our tents, sleeping mats, inflatable pillows, sleeping bags, our personal belongings, drinking water, cutlery, cooking utensils and ingredients to cook our meals. I think each porter carried around 15 kg and they navigated the arduous routes wearing only slippers!

I thought we would be eating simple meals like sandwiches and sardines but no - these men cooked for us fantastic meals. Some of the things we ate were: pisang goreng cheese, omelette, pancakes, maggi goreng, gado-gado and spaghetti. Not only were the meals delicious, they were also served in generous portions and artfully-presented! Their hard work made all of us try to finish everything on our plates. I even ate all my veggies for once!

A special shout-out to our extremely patient, kind and friendly guides: Pak Suni and Yannick (who speaks very good English and French). We wouldn't have made it without them. I am especially indebted to Pak Suni for helping me out on Day 1 when I was stricken with cramps. Meanwhile, Yannick was Nisha's saviour throughout the trip hehehe. Pak Suni can be reached at, while Yannick at

It's funny how us yuppies with our high-tech gear (from our watches that measure heart rate / calories burnt / distance and what-not, to our gaiters, hiking shoes, sunglasses, gloves, trekking poles, hydration bladders and Dri-FIT clothes) were of no match to these men who wear everyday clothes and slippers. If the weather's cold, they just use kain pelikat in lieu of a windbreaker. Even so, their strength and speed made us all trail in their dust.

2) Journeys are made by the people you travel with.

I've always loved that Malaysia Airlines slogan and in this trip I had the best travelling companions one could ask for. Thank you Nisha, Atiqah, Zulaikha, Sarah, Faizal, Umar & Hadi for making the trip so enjoyable by infusing it with your positivity, enthusiasm, sense of humour, generosity, kindness and adventurous spirit. Thank you for the laughter and for egging me to do things way beyond my comfort zone.

We've all been bitten by the adventure bug and now our next aim is to scale the Mulu Pinnacles. It's crazy what these trips do to your psyche. Hiking for 25 - 30 hours in the space of 4 days had resulted in some of us suffering from multiple blisters and blackened toes. All of us are now nursing sore muscles and everything aches from the waist down. Yet, our whatsapp group chat is now buzzing with plans for our next adventure. To borrow and edit Viper's slogan: Forget pain, worry about addiction. How true.

3) Ambil hanya foto, tinggalkan hanya jejak kaki

Sadly, some people do leave more than their footprints in Mount Rinjani National Park. It saddened me greatly to see the beautiful paths marred by candy wrappers, wet tissues and plastic bottles. Littering is already a despicable habit. But to do so at such a stunning location? It's almost criminal!

4) Some of life's lessons learnt.

To me, hiking offers some great lessons on life. First, you learn that its rewards are proportional to the effort you put in. As our guide said, "difficult routes lead to beautiful scenery". If we didn't hike for hours on end, we wouldn't have had the chance to see incredible views like this:

Second lesson: Life is not a race. You are not competing with anyone. Everyone wants to reach the final destination (i.e. the summit) and it doesn't matter how long one takes to get there. Don't compare yourself to others for your journey is unique. Further, though at times it can be exhausting, you have to be able to still smile and enjoy the journey.

Third lesson: لا حول ولاقوة إلا بالله
There is no might or power except from Allah. The strenuous hikes and getting lost in the woods have reaffirmed this lesson for me. I simply would not have made it if not for Allah's help.

Fourth lesson: We can have amazing conversations and make deeper connections in the absence of WiFi. Throughout the trip, we had a great time eating and socialising with one another but once we arrived at the hotel in Senggigi, we retreated into our own worlds, interacting more with our phones than the people around us. I was guilty of this too. I think we need to start putting away our phones when we have company because, in all likelihood,  whatever it is we are doing on our phones, it isn't more important than the person in front of us.


Selamat Menyambut Ramadan dear readers! May Allah help us to make the most out of this blessed month!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Mount Rinjani, Part 1

"Saya yakin semua orang boleh sampai puncak," Yannick, our guide said to me while we were trekking to the summit. Nisha and I were way behind our other group members. We had already walked for about 3 hours and we had yet to cover the toughest part so I replied, "Ye ke? Sebab saya tak yakin."

Yannick nodded and reassured me, "Ya, awak boleh. Nisha pun boleh". Until now, I still couldn't figure out how he could have known that all of us would make it. We had heard that most of the previous groups were unsuccessful. Though many reached the summit, some members of each group did not make it. However, miraculously, for unknown reasons, ours did.

Climbing Rinjani, so soon after scaling Mount Kinabalu was not on the cards for many of us. Somehow Umar and Nisha talked us into it. So we bought our flight tickets and booked the package with JomOutdoor (I highly recommend it!). We booked the 5D4N package (3 nights in the mountains) and anticipate Jun 2, 2015 with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

We approached and prepared for the trip differently. Zu did an extensive research on Mount Rinjani, Umar read up on a lot of blog entries, Atiqah bought a lot of hiking gear, Nisha organised a trip to Gunung Irau for some practice, while Faizal and Hadi were the fittest among us so they didn't need to do much. Me? I think I read one blog post and just drooled over the beautiful Mount Rinjani pictures on Instagram.

I had heard that Mount Rinjani is many times tougher than Kinabalu and though I was scared I did not get to prepare much for it because I was busy with work. Azmil, the co-founder of JomOutdoor told us not to worry and if we didn't reach the peak, "it's not the end of the world."

Bearing that in mind, we embarked on our journey. and below is my account of it:

Day 1 (Jun 3, 2015):

We started our journey at 9.30 a.m. after registering our names at the centre. Our group consisted 8 climbers, 2 guides and 8 porters. We were scheduled to hike for 8 hours or so that day (including lunch break). Everyone was in high spirits and the sun-kissed hills looked so lovely. The first half of the climb was very enjoyable. After lunch, the fog started to descend and the climb got harder and harder as we got more and more tired. Then tragedy struck: I pulled my calf muscle and my legs just buckled under my weight. Then cramps settled in. I just couldn't walk another step. I had to take off my shoes and massaged my legs and toes. This happened two more times. Each time it happened (at the aptly-named Bukit Penyesalan), I was convinced that I would never reach the campsite. But Pak Suni stayed by my side and led me up the hill for a good hour or so. He kept on saying "Nak dekat sampai dah" and I tried to squeeze every ounce of energy I had but after 7 hours of hiking, there wasn't much left. Finally I reached the campsite at 4.30 p.m., thinking nothing could be worse than today. Obviously, I was wrong.

Day 2 (Jun 4, 2015):

We started off for the summit at 2.30 a.m. It was a beautiful full-moon night. Again, the first half of the climb was manageable but the second half was "sheer madness" (as a Chicagoan we met put it). The last 300 metres was the toughest as the route was all sand and gravel. The shifting sand causes you to slide one step back for every one step forward you take. Thus, the journey seemed never-ending as you made very little progress. At this point, it was every man for himself. Our group got separated as each member had to ascend the torturous path at his/her own pace. I kept on thinking about the quote Zu shared with us "Berjalanlah, walau sambil menangis. Jangan sesekali berhenti". That kept me going though I could see many people resting (or giving up altogether) by the sideways. After 5.5 hours of battling strong winds and shifting sand, I actually made it to the top. I thought to myself yet again, nothing could be worse than this. And yes, you've guessed it! I was wrong again. But that story is for later.

Going down to our campsite after reaching the peak was a breeze as you only need to slide down the sandy path. After lunch, we headed to the lake for our next camping site. This was my favourite camping spot. Out tents directly faced Lake Segara Anak and the smoking volcano. The view was just unparalleled.

That evening, we went to a hot spring for a swim. Submerging my aching feet in its warm water helped to alleviate the pain. That night, the full moon was covered by some clouds so the stars came out in full force. It was a breathtaking sight that I wished I had marveled at for longer but I was too tired and slept early.

Day 3 (Jun 5, 2015):

It was a beautiful morning for another day of hiking. Breakfast was pancakes and banana fritters with pineapples at the sides. Someone commented that we might actually gain weight instead of shedding some because of the good food we had been having throughout the trip. We were scheduled to trek for another 8 hours that day. We left Lake Segara Anak with a heavy heart but the view along the way was spellbinding.

The tragedy I alluded to earlier happened later that evening. As usual, Nisha & I trailed behind the others. Pak Suni led the group in front while Yannick guarded the rear. I started to walk a bit faster, hoping to catch the others in front. But I never caught them. The forest got darker as the evening progressed. I was still feeling fine as I encountered other hikers and porters on my way but after awhile, I was hiking alone with no one in sight. Panic was starting to set in but I assured myself that I would stumble upon the campsite soon. I could see that the sun was about to set so I stopped and prayed Asar and Zohor. I was hoping that Yannick and Nisha would catch up with me after I had finished praying but they didn't.

After the sun had set, the forest got substantially darker. I checked the contents of my bag: I had very little water left, 2 energy bars and no headlamp (I had packed it in another bag that the porter carried). My phone had no signal and it was running low on battery. I contemplated whether to keep searching for a signal or to put the phone on flight mode to save on battery so that I could use its torchlight function. I decided on the latter.

By now, the forest was pitch black. To say that I was scared would be an understatement. I thought about turning back but Yannick had told me that there was only one path going down. How could I have missed a huge group of people? I must not have passed them yet. I must keep going. So I did. But for 20 minutes or so, I still didn't come across a soul and I couldn't see a single light in front of me nor behind me.

Could I have missed a turning? I remembered them saying our water supply was running low and that they might make a detour to a water spring. The possibility that I had gone too far caused me to turn back. Every sound and movement of the forest crept me out but I was still trying to keep calm. But after 20 minutes of retracing my steps, with still no one in sight, I just broke down.

I sat on a log and whispered Ya Allah, please, please, please help me. I let out a few stray tears. I had been making dua all this while but before, I was still feeling optimistic; I still thought I could find my way to the campsite or be found by someone. But by then, on that log, all traces of optimism and hope had left me. I was alone, I was scared and  I was feeling utterly helpless. When you're in that state, you make dua like you've never made dua before. And all your false dependencies vanish from you: You realised that your family can't help you nor your friends / wealth / possessions or any other thing or person that you normally put your trust in. The following verses encapsulate what I was feeling:

Surah Al-An'am, Verse 63:

قُلْ مَن يُنَجِّيكُم مِّن ظُلُمَاتِ الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ تَدْعُونَهُ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً لَّئِنْ أَنجَانَا مِنْ هَٰذِهِ لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الشَّاكِرِينَ

Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Who rescues you from the darkness of the land and the sea (dangers like storms), when you call upon Him in humility and in secret (saying): If He (Allah) only saves us from this (danger), we shall truly be grateful."

Surah Al-An'am, Verse 41:

بَلْ إِيَّاهُ تَدْعُونَ فَيَكْشِفُ مَا تَدْعُونَ إِلَيْهِ إِن شَاءَ وَتَنسَوْنَ مَا تُشْرِكُونَ

Nay! To Him Alone you call, and, if He will, He would remove that (distress) for which you call upon Him, and you forget at that time whatever partners you joined with Him (in worship)! 

And just as I wiped those tears away, I saw 2 flashlights in the distance. A HUGE sense of relief washed over me. I walked over to the source and met Yannick and Nisha who were alarmed to see me on my own. Yannick thought I had caught up with the rest while Pak Suni thought I was with Yannick. It was an honest mistake. I was also at fault for straying away from the group. Yannick called the people at camp and they sent two porters to help us get back. The porter carried my bag and I walked with him to camp. By the time I reached it, I had walked for 11 hours that day.

My friends were equally alarmed and wanted to know what had happened but I was just too physically- and emotionally-exhausted. I went into my tent, zipped it shut and had a good cry. Once Nisha arrived, we hugged each other and cried some more.

Day 4 (Jun 6, 2015):

Managed to recover from last night's event. I apologised to my friends for being uncommunicative the night before. They told me it was all right. That day, we were going to Tiu Kelep Waterfall. Once there, the others swam while I sat on the rocks, enjoying the view. But the water spray from the waterfall drenched me regardless.

On our way back, Zu casually mentioned that she had seen a video of people sliding down the irrigation channel like a water slide at a theme park. Faizal was intrigued. He volunteered to do it first. We watched in suspense. But his screams of delight managed to influence us. One by one, we all had out turn. It was super fun! Nisha and I even joked that today was such a happy day, it was worth getting lost and hiking for 11 hours for.

We changed our clothes at our guides' homes. They even treated us to some maggi-in-a-cup and coffee. We then said our goodbyes and left Senaru for Senggigi.

Some reflections on the trip coming up in Part 2! Photos from the trip can be viewed here.