a journal on hiking and traveling around the Philippines

Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Want List

Aside from the gadgets I want to acquire, for 2009, I want to:

1. Learn a new language - I'm still crazy over learning Hindi but I can't find any books about it. I saw some online resources though. My second choice is Arabic, third is Bahasa. Fourth is Spanish. Fifth is Chinese.

2. Be fluent with my Cebuano - hahaha..I'm a bit far from being fluent but I do understand some words - gamay lang.. I hope to learn more when I do my "Visayas expedition" this December. I'm quite excited about it. It's going to be another solo travel where I hope to practice my Cebuano, eat chicken Bacolod in Bacolod, find a great beach and see a lot of shirtless guys.

3. Do something different like sky diving, a new sport perhaps - like boxing or muay thai - just anything besides climbing and football.

4. Romance perhaps? hehehe! Only God knows.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Return to Pico De Loro

The last time I went to Pico De Loro in Ternate, Cavite was when we had an initiation climb for the newbies in my former mountaineering club in college. That’s about 10 years ago. We had a night trek, I think that was my first night trek as well and everyone was excited. The newbies even bought a replica of the mask they used in the movie, “Scream” and a gadget that alters your voice to scare the other girls. 

They were a bit noisy for a while but they eventually piped down because we were trained to be disciplined and responsible mountaineers – responsible and respectful to ourselves, the people around us and of course to the nature we love. So yeah, we had fun, but we try not to be disruptive. (Thank you sir Corro for the invaluable lessons!).

This particular climbing trip brought a lot of memories and though I’ve seen Pico several times, after 10 years, there were a lot of nice changes in the mountain where we used to train like more trail signs and different jump-offs. The summit, by the way, is still amazing and offers a 360-degree view of the world below it.

Highlights of this Trip : 
  • Aling Fely of the DENR gave us directions to where the newer, less-grueling jump-off trail was. The old one was steeper and makes you pant after 5 minutes of walking on it while the new trail is easier especially for those who do not have a lot of exercise
  • I am starting to get over my acrophobia. I just realized it when we went to one of the summits of Pico this morning. Anything above 10 feet, I usually feel cold all-over but for this particular instance, I felt nothing at all. Mind you, we were about 600 meters above sea level. I suddenly realized that things are much more thrilling if there’s an element of fear in it. I was like a little girl this morning asking for my acrophobia back. I just stood near the edge of the cliff and felt nothing! Agh! I enjoyed it more when I was feeling so scared. Haha, but it's still a blessing! 
  • When Jules insisted that Tristan eat the remaining food from our lunch, he retorted, “Walang masarap sa taong busog.”
  • Though there were only three of us on this trip (our original trio was supposed to be a bigger group – there should have been at least 7 of us on this trip), we enjoyed each other’s company and learned more about each other at a deeper level. The best thing of all was that we acknowledged each other’s goodness despite the horrific flaws in each one of us.





How to Get Here:
http://www.pinoymountaineer.com/2007/08/mt-palay-palaypico-de-loro-664_9808.html

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cebu Pacific Air Seat Sale..Etc etc

I'm off to Pico De Loro in about five hours and I don't feel like sleeping yet. I'm not that excited. I mean, I want to be with my friends (which is the exciting part) but it's about my 3rd or 4th time there. This mountain brings me fond memories of my college years, back when I alternate football training with climbing. Life was so simple back then. Now, I think of the future, of guys, of falling in love, of wanting more out of life. Hahaha..I'm getting a little dramatic. I guess, I just miss someone. Oh well, I have to move on.

What I wanted to share actually is about the seat sale of Cebu Pacific..so just login at www.cebupacificair.com for more details. There are some great deals like a round trip ticket to Busuanga (Palawan) for less than 500 pesos, all in - that's round trip (no baggage) already.

Another thing I want to share is that, I am excited to go skydiving. I don't have the full details yet but I plan to do it this November before my 28th birthday. Yipee! Should I die while doing this, don't feel bad, this is how I want to leave this earth. I'm acrophobic but the idea of falling down from a great height fascinates me.

HAPPY WEEKEND EVERYONE!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mt. Arayat Exploratory Traverse

I was excited and nervous when I agreed to join Jay-Z and Milmar on their Mt. Arayat day hike traverse using a trail which I haven't seen before. Both guys are friends from our office outdoor group and are currently addicted to climbing. They’re planning to scale whatever mountain they can climb this year, such as Mt. Guiting-Guiting, Mt. Ugo and a whole lot more. As for myself - I’m more into light trekking and backpacking these days but I still do outrageous climbs from time to time to satisfy my insatiable desire for adventure. I felt extremely nervous because I'm not as physically as strong as those two. I slipped on a bridge two weeks ago while trekking at the Kinabalu National Park and almost broke my back. It still hurts a bit and I'm scared to strain it some more, but this is another chance to go on an unforgettable adventure and there's no way I'm backing out from this because of a little pain.

I was also curious to see what the other trail can offer as I've read in lots of blogs that the views there are breathtaking. I've been there last year but climbed it from the other side - the notorious Mt. Arayat National park trail. I was amazed by the view which was about an hour from the jump-off. Its forest has a fascinating foliage where you can see different plants and flowers. It also has some interesting rock formations. There's also an amazing view deck where you have to do some bouldering and see Central Luzon from a great height.

The original plan was to go up using the Magalang trail and descend via the Arayat National Park. We started climbing at 3:46 AM with a guide and two other locals from Brgy. Magalang. It was a very cold Sunday morning. During the trek, I felt dizzy because none of us got much sleep. We left via Victory Liner Caloocan at 11:30PM and on the bus, we chatted with each other for around 45 minutes and slept the remaining hour. When we arrived in the place of our guide – Tatay Rey, we again chatted with him and his wife and abandoned the idea of napping before the trek. 99.9% of the trail was uphill and lasted for a little less than four hours. I tried as hard as I could to push myself to go on. Though it was cold, I was sweating like a pig.

At about 7:30AM, we finally reached the North peak of Mt. Arayat. Two white dogs greeted us enthusiastically, pouncing on each one of us. These were the pets of the armed guards stationed in the tower in the north peak. A fog hovered the entire peak obscuring the view which we came to see. Nevertheless, we made the most out of it by resting on a bench, talking and laughing about the two weird dogs who gnawed on wood and rocks.



The start of the exploration climb
After about 45 minutes, we resumed our trek and headed over to the South peak where I went to last year but when we got there, I realized they led us to a different peak. I guess the actual south peak was a few meters away but they didn’t know where it was.


I didn’t complain because the view here was amazing as well. After eating brunch and taking pictures and talking about Jay-Z and Milmar’s insights on love, we resumed our trek for the other trail - the Arayat National Park trail. Well, originally that’s where we intended to go but Tatay Rey and company decided to lead us to another trail  which we coined as the ReyNardo’s trail (after their names). They made us go deep into the woods with no established trails. It was obvious that no one goes there regularly and we suspected they didn’t know where the original trail was. We also had to go up a ravine where we had to use rope and cling to the roots of the trees for our dear lives. We were all getting cuts from all the plants we had to brush aside so we can get through. Most of the plants we encountered had thorns on it. No one complained because we were all enjoying it and we were actually getting along with Tatay Rey and his pals. It was a different level of mountain climbing – exciting though a bit agonizing.



At around 5:00pm, our ordeal in the woods finally ended and we got down in another barangay – different from the barangay we had intended to exit. It was better though because this barangay was nearer to the town proper. We had some snacks at a nearby sari-sari store and we took a bath at a resort. We capped off our climb with dinner in our official – “after day hike” food craving, Jollibee! We talked a lot about what we went through - how hard it was and how we enjoyed it a lot.

This was our group pic - taken after we had gulped some cold drinks. Now we can smile. You know, halfway down here, we stopped talking because we were all  very tired and hungry.
If you want information on how to do a traverse in Mt. Arayat, please visit – http://www.pinoymountaineer.com/2008/09/mt-arayattraverse-1030.html
Hiking Log:
Date : March 22, 2009
Entry Point : Magalang Trail
Exit Point : Brgy. Bitas, Arayat, Pampanga

GPS Coordinates by Milmar : 15.2119N, 120.7032E Entry Point15°12'18"N, 120°44'34.06"E - North Peak15°11'58.98"N, 120°44'33.94"E - South Peak 215°09'39.54"N 120°43'13.11"E - Exit Point (Brgy. Bitas)
Total Estimated Trek Time: 11 Hours






Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Arayat Challenge

I am climbing again! Me, JayZ and Milmar will be giving the Mt. Arayat day hike traverse a shot tomorrow morning. I think we will be starting at the North peak, otherwise known as the Magalang trail and go down via the South Peak, more popularly known in the mountaineering community as the Magulang trail because of all the fees they charge their visitors. Its proper name is actually the Baño trail or the Arayat National Park trail.

I’ve been to the “Magulang trail” last year and though the experience wasn’t good, it wasn’t all that bad either. We did encounter a lot of nice, helpful people. The lady in the barangay was quite accomodating and while waiting for her to print our permit, we feasted our eyes on the “missing people” posters pasted on the walls of the barangay hall. They were suspected rebels who were believed to have been abducted and tortured by the radical members of the military. The tricycle driver on our way there asked for extra pay when we got to the jump-off. He wanted to charge an additional 100% from the agreed amount but we haggled with him. Our guide left us in the middle of the trek because he told us he didn’t have his flashlight and he had to go back down. On top of that, when I got home, I got a text from him. He apparently thinks we can be good friends. Ha!

I’m not in 100% good condition though but I love a challenge. My most painful knee agony in Tapulao is still a bit fresh in my memory, my back developed some bruising from taking a fall in a bridge in Kinabalu, I have a running nose though I am managing well with some medication. I often wonder why I do these things and one answer always comes back to me –to see. I’m always curious to find what’s out there. I’m never contented with just stories. I need to see it for myself.

I’m going to have to run to the grocery later for my survival kit – Salonpas, Alaxan FR, Mr. Jiggles jelly for trail food, lots of mosquito repellant.

Tell you about it when I get back!

Read about the first time I went to Arayat here.

BIG BROTHER BIG SISTER Outreach - Trek to the Mountains and Give Out School Supplies

*reposting from the BBBS website:

This year's venue would be the community in Mt. Asog, Buhi, Cam Sur

It's a joy to watch children running around and playing in the streets. However, for many children in the Philippines who are in the streets, it is not a school holiday, but a harsh reality - their parents can not afford to buy them enough school supplies to send them to school.

The Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) Community Outreach Program, conceived in the year 2005, is here to fill that need for these children, especially those who live in remote mountain areas. Each year, sponsors and volunteers carry the school supplies and trek through mountain trails to give them to the children in person. On May 16-17 this year, BBBS will visit the communities of Mt. Asog in Buhi, Camarines Sur to distribute school packs to the children.

For only THREE HUNDRED PHILIPPINE PESOS (P 300.00) or approximately SEVEN U.S. DOLLARS (USD 7.00), a big brother or sister may sponsor one student's school supplies for one year.

FIVE HUNDRED children need big brothers and big sisters like YOU!

Now on its fifth year, BBBS owes its success to donors and volunteers who earnestly heeded the call for big brothers and sisters. Through their generosity, BBBS brought hope to 295 children in Itogon, Benguet in 2005, 535 children in Lacub, Abra in 2006 and 500 kids in Tanudan, Kalinga in 2007.

In 2008, BBBS went to two remote mountain areas in Benguet: Taba-ao, Kapangan and Palina, Kibungan, reaching out to 700 children.

Your pledge might just be what is needed for that little push in the right direction—to keep the kids in school. Kindle the flames of hope for a better tomorrow… Click here to know the details on how to become a volunteer or donor.

OR IF YOU DON'T WANT TO CLICK THE LINK..CONTINUE READING HERE:

Donations and Volunteers

Donations may be deposited to these accounts:

Account Name: ROBERT JOSEPH TORRES
Account No. : 6220088882
Banco de Oro, Sienna-Del Monte Branch
409 Del Monte Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines
If deposits will be made from outside the Philippines, just specify the Bank Swift Code: BNORPHMM

Account Name: JOANNE MAE DEL MINDO
Account No.: 3029-0176-61
Bank of the Philippine Islands, BPI Card Center
Ground Flr., BPI Credit Card Bldg.
8753 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City, Philippines
If deposits will be made from outside the Philippines, just specify the Bank Swift Code: BOPIPHMM

Important:
Please keep the deposit slip for reference.
Kindly inform us the date and amount of the deposit through:
helpbbbs@gmail.com

or contact:

Joanne Del Mindo +639163444404 or
Marilet de Guzman +639299684441


For volunteers:

To register, please send an e-mail with the following information:

  • Fullname
  • Nickname
  • Phone Number
  • E-mail Address
  • Home Address
  • Birthdate (year of birth optional)
  • Blood Type
  • Shirt Size (S-M-L-XL)
  • Are you a mountaineer?
  • In case of emergency:
  • Contact Person
  • Contact Number
  • Relationship
  • Preferred repacking date (April 25 or May 9)
  • Who do you prefer to be grouped with? (as a guide only, subject to change)

Please send those details to:
helpbbbs@gmail.com

Please take note of these dates:

  1. April 28, 8pm - briefing for non-mountaineers at Conference Room A, 4th Floor, Makati Stock Exchange Bldg., Ayala cor. Makati Ave., Makati City.

  2. May 5, 8pm - Team pre-climb meeting at the Penthouse Flr., Makati Stock Exchange Bldg., Ayala cor, . Makati Ave., Makati City. Attendance is a must! No preclimb, no climb! Reserved slots will be given to those on waitlist.

  3. April 25 or May 9, 9am - repacking of the school supplies. All volunteers joining the trek are required to help in at least one repacking session. No repacking, no climb! Reserved slots will be given to the waitlist. Venue is at 200 Danny Floro St. (formerly Canley Road), Pasig.

Registration fee for each volunteer is P2400.
The fee includes:

  • Transportation from Manila to Naga & Naga to Buhi
  • Climb-related fees
  • Transportation from Buhi to Pili
  • Lunch on May 17 at Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC)
  • Transportation from Pili to Manila
  • BBBS T-shirt
  • ID
  • Certificate
  • Sponsorship of one child.

You may deposit the registration fee to:

Account Name: SHARON D. R. PONIO
Account No.: 3769-0106-44
Bank: Bank of the Philippine Islands, Pacific Star

Important:
Kindly text Sharon at 09178010033 to inform us the date and amount of the deposit and please bring the deposit slip during the pre-climb meeting on May 5 as proof of payment

For other volunteer information, you may contact:

  • Sharon Ponio:
    sharon.ponio@gmail.com or +639178010033
  • Angel Constantino:
    angelamc23@gmail.com or +639175375276
  • Medi Nazar:
    meds511@yahoo.com

NOTE: All volunteers joining the trek are required to attend at least one of the two repacking sessions and the team pre-climb meeting.

No repacking, no pre-climb—no climb!

For only THREE HUNDRED PHILIPPINE PESOS (Php300.00), you will be able to sponsor one student’s school set which contains the following items: 1 knapsack, 7 notebooks, 4 ball-point pens, 4 pencils, writing pads, crayons, sharpener and ruler

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Nice Gift From Above

I encountered several aggravating circumstances this week, but I prefer to focus on the good.

I’ve been wanting to buy an MP3 player for some time now, but most of my resources go to athletic gear, traveling and household expenses. I know eventually, I would be able to buy one and so I focused on that – told my mind that I’m getting one this year. I even wrote a list of the MP3’s I wanted.

And you know what, just this evening – I finally have my own MP3 player without shelling out a peso.

My younger brother came home from an office conference and they were all given brand new MP3 players! Since he’s not into those, he just gave his to me – and I swear I didn’t use any form of force! On top of that, he gave me a new Victorinox Swiss knife to replace my old one, plus some pouch bags. I’m going to miss my old knife though since it has been with me to almost all my adventures. I gave my old one to my mother because she wanted one that had shears. Now, I have a new, shiny one to build new memories with.

Another good thing that happened to me this week is that I finally had the courage to disconnect from a friend of mine who is getting quite sadistic. That old friend of mine gave me bruises and a swollen lower lip and he thought he was just being funny. I’m going to miss him but I have tons of friends anyway who are far better companions than he was.

Lastly, let me share with you one of my favorite Bible verses. It’s from Proverbs 16:3.

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”

I love this, because I enjoy planning, but sometimes, I get scared in the course between planning and executing it. I realized though that every time I lift something to Him, everything just works out so wonderfully and so now, I face every opportunity that comes to me with a sturdy spirit. Well, I still get nervous from time to time, but I manage to shake it off with fervent prayers.

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 3 – March 15, 2009 – Discovering Sandakan

Sandakan is the second largest city in Sabah located in the island of Borneo. We decided to go here because of what we read from a travel brochure we got from the airport. It was filled with narrations and colorful pictures of what Sandakan can offer - beaches, rainforests, orangutans!


We went here Sunday morning after we did some shopping at the Gaya Street Sunday morning market in Kota Kinabalu city. It was a very uncomfortably humid day but a fab find - a beaded football coin purse cheered me up. 

Sandakan is 6 hours away from Kota Kinabalu by bus and we rode a cab for 20MYR to get to the bus terminal in Inanam. As an alternate, you can also ride a plane from Kota Kinabalu via Air Asia which will only take you about 45 minutes. Of course, it costs more.

The bus ride was uneventful. We passed by a highway with mountains on both sides and several times during that ride, I had to remind myself that I was not in the Philippines. With the exception of signboards in Bahasa and vehicles moving forward on the left side of the highway, everything felt like home.

Almost an hour away from the Sandakan town proper where we originally planned to spend the night, the bus made a stop to let out a few passengers. I saw a huge signboard of the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort at the left side of the road. Unconsciously, my eyes scanned what was written on it. I pointed the signboard to Mao. The bus started to move. After several short seconds, my mind processed everything - it mentioned the resort's amenities which I yelled urgently to Mao, one at a time - "Internet access! forest trail!" and what got Mao scrambling from his seat was when I yelled "Jacuzzzziiii!!!" ...and Mao yelled at the driver asking him to stop and let us off. It caused a tiny commotion inside the bus since Mao was yelling. Finally, after several seconds of struggling to communicate with the driver to stop, we finally got out of the bus.

We stayed for a night at the Sepilok Forest Edge ResortIt's a bed and breakfast resort at the edge of a rainforest. Our mouths hang wide open when our cab got there after 10 minutes of traversing the main highway. The place which was filled with several species of plants which took my breath away.




When we checked in, we had one Long house to ourselves. One long house has about 9 other rooms and is the ideal accomodation for backpackers. It costs 65 MYR a night (net)- with two single beds with private t&b and free breakfast. They also have internet facilities with fees- about 5MYR for 30minutes. Their meals range from 5 to 10MYR. Not bad for a posh-looking resort. Aside from that, they have very accomodating and warm staff. Me and Mao felt like royalty when we were there. I can't even afford to stay in one back in the Philippines.


Several minutes after we checked in, Mao tried the jacuzzi and paid 8MYR for it. To his disappointment, it never heated like a real jacuzzi should. 

The resort is also 10 minutes away from the Orangutan Rehabilitation center, where you can view the feeding of Orangutans.


That evening we had dinner at the resort's refreshing dining area. They served affordable, tasty food. Around here, your 10MYR - roughly less than 140 pesos, can buy you a good dinner which includes drinks and taxes. We also bonded with Nick – one of the jovial Malaysian staff who is a Liverpool fan.

Orangutan Rehabilitation Center:
Entrance : 30MYR for Non-Malaysians
*30 minutes of viewing the feeding of the orangutans. Recommended if you want to see the monkeys but there isn't a lot of them. We only saw 3. The path to the orangutans is nice if you're into nature. You get to walk in wooden planks situated in the middle of a forest. They have accomodations here as well.





Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day 2 – March 14, 2009 – Falling in Love with Mt. Kinabalu

Mao and I woke up around 6:00am to prepare our stuffs for our visit to the Kinabalu National Park. Ervin, the French guy was dead set on climbing the peak while we were just there to check out the park and walk around so we  wore our trekking shoes. Eamonn the Irish guy, who reminds me so much of my friend Erwin, also went with us.

Kuni, our Japanese host from Couchsurfing took us to the terminal near the city centre to catch the mini van to the Kinabalu National Park which is a world heritage site. Fare was 15MYR each. When we got in, there were only about 3 locals – most of us it seemed were headed to the park. The ride took two hours and as the van sped nearer to the park, we saw one of the summits of Kinabalu. It was amazing – mighty high and partially covered with fog. I fell in love with it and would definitely go back for its summit.



The Kinabalu National park is a World Heritage Site. We paid 15MYR each for the entrance. This pass is also valid for three days if you will be staying overnight.


This is also where climbers register if they are climbing Mt. Kinabalu – Malaysia’s highest mountain towering at 4,095 MASL.

Booking a lodge located four hours from the summit is required. It is recommended that you book at least two months in advance. There are lodges near the park entrance so even if you’re not climbing, you can stay there and savor the view. By the way, if you plan to go here, make sure you have enough Ringgit with you because the park has no money changers or ATM. The nearest ATM is about 15 minutes away by cab.


Ervin went ahead and booked a lodge near the entrance. Me, Mao, Eamonn and another guy we met – Luke from England decided to do some trekking. Luke is a fashion photographer back at his country. 

Aftter the park entrance – on your left side – there’s a small building marked Sutera Sanctuary Lodges and this is where you can ask for a map, register for the climb, book Laban Rata Lodge (the lodge located four hours from the summit) and ask for other information. The staff are so accommodating and cheerful. There are also cab drivers inside the park and you need to coordinate with their boss if you need a ride. He just walks around near the entrance and he usually approaches people to ask if they need a ride.

After securing a map, we decided to do some hiking around the park. Mao – who just got out of the hospital five days ago, bravely went with us. The rainforest reminded me of Mount Cristobal but with more established trails. There were even trail signs similar with the ones we use here – like the strings we used to tie in trees to mark the trail – the slight difference was the material and that it has some writings on it.





We found this nice wooden bridge covered with moss and this is were I slipped and fell. I fell so hard I blocked out for several seconds. When I opened my eyes, Eamonn was trying to help me get up but I couldn’t because the pain was so intense. When I fell, I hit my neck on the wood. Nevertheless, I felt so grateful that nothing seemed broken because I can still move, though it was a bit difficult.


We resumed the hike as if nothing happened. Well, I always slip anyway. It was nothing new. Hehehe! 

We hiked for about 3 hours and Mao had to retire early because he was feeling sick, cursing trekking once and for all. We went down and spent 2 hours resting while we waited for Eamonn and Luke. We stayed in the registration area and we saw the summit from afar – though we were told that it’s only one of the summits and not the highest point.


It was a good thing we were in the sanctuary of the reg area because it rained pretty hard. When Eamonn and Luke returned, they were soaked to the bone. Eamonn had a leech on his leg and Luke was laughing about his waterproof jacket which turned out to be not waterproof at all.

Travel Information:
Kota Kinabalu National Park is two hours away by bus or mini van from the KK city center. I don’t recall the name of the van terminal but it’s the one near Gaya street. The van fare was 15MYR per person – one way.

Entrance fee is at 15MYR for non-Malaysians over 18 years old.

To Book the Laban Rata Lodge – the lodge four hours from the summit, go to the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges Website.They also have an office at the national park and this is where you register if you want to climb Mt. Kinabalu. If you navigate through this site , you will find a lot of information if you want to climb Mt. Kinabalu.

And if you don't want to hike, there are helicopter rides that will get you there although you won't be able to land and experience the summit. Rates at 2,672 MYR.


Daily Reflection from St. Therese

"How great is my gratitude. What is He reserving for us in heaven if here below His love dispenses surprises so delightful?"

St. Therese of Lisieux

Sign up here for Daily reflections :

http://www.littleflower.org/

Five Days in Borneo

This is about my most recent trip with a friend of mine – Mao. We booked this trip last July 2008 when Air Asia had a seat sale. I got my ticket for a great bargain – 3,600 pesos net for a round trip ticket from Clark to Kota Kinabalu in the Borneo side of Malaysia. Mao and I used to jog together in UP back when he still worked in Manila and hang out in the mall, share stories and joke around. This was our first trip together and what made this trip more memorable was the people we met, food we ate, stuff we did and the things we learned about each other.

Day 1 – March 13, 2009 – Friday the 13th! My First CouchSurfing Experience

CouchSurfing from what I understand is a networking community for travelers. They have this site where you can meet fellow travelers, show them around or let them stay in your place. I’ve been hearing a lot of great feedback about it from my friends who are seasoned travelers. Mao is one of its active members while little me is the loner type of traveler who does not have a Couch Surfing account (well not yet anyway, but I’ll sign up soon). Weeks before our flight, he met Kuni online, a Japanese guy who is willing to host us during our stay in Kota Kinabalu – meaning, he will let us sleep in his house and share information about Kota Kinabalu.


After interrogating Mao about our host who he only remembers by his first name, I felt satisfied that he knew what we were getting into and I agreed to stay with Kuni. Couch Surfing has this feedback system – like the one you find in Ebay and from there, you can check out what kind of host or traveler the person is. At that time, Kuni had 140 guests who stayed with him and everyone gave great feedback about him.


Around 7:40PM, our plane kissed the tarmac of the Kota Kinabalu International airport. I checked my surrounding, some rain began to fall..and oh mother of nature, it was also raining cute guys! Backpackers from different nations, of different features and sizes were pouring from the plane and it’s not just the backpackers, even the Malaysian guys are handsome! From then on, I knew it was God’s way of telling me that this would be a great trip.


Going through the immigration was supposed to be a breeze had it not been for the guy who made time stopped for me. The guy in the counter was a hotteraazzi and I couldn’t resist but give him my “just ate the best chocolate cake look”. He smiled back. Oh my gosh. I didn’t know it was possible he could get any cuter. Then he turned all serious again, went through my documents, ask me my purpose of visit to which in my mind I could have said “You are the U in my PURPOSE.” Hahaha! Well, luckily, I was able to control the words coming out of my mouth and instead, I said “holiday”. I gave him another lingering smile and he smiled back and we parted ways. It kind of reminds me of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet in their balcony scene.


I joined Mao and Eamonn. Eamonn is an Irish couch surfer and we met him in Clark Airport. Incidentally, he will also be staying with us in Kuni’s place. We grabbed several travel information from the airport and then we met Kuni at the aiport exit doors. He is this tall, warm and friendly Japanese guy and instantly I felt at ease with him. We drove to his place, which was about 10 minutes away from the aiport, to drop our bags. When we got there, we met two other couch surfers – Tommy from Sweden and Ervin from France. They were both traveling alone. Not only was I the only girl, but I was also the only one who is not a member (just yet) of CouchSurfing. Nevertheless, I felt very welcome and though we were from different nations – of different cultures and values, we were united with our passion to explore.


This is the place where we stayed...



We walked to Grace Point to have dinner. It’s a very posh-looking food court which sells meals for as low as 5 MYR. They have a variety of food choices from Indian, Japanese and the local food. It’s also a great place to hang out and after eating, you can take a stroll in the park beside it. Mao and I haven’t had our pesos changed to Ringgit but Mao still has 20 MYR from his previous trip in KL so that’s what we used. After buying a decent meal with drinks – we still had 3MYR left and some coins. It was a huge change compared to spending in pesos. Back home, 10 pesos can only get you some crackers, candies or street food. It can’t even buy you an extra rice in Mc Donald’s.


During and after dinner, we talked a bit, joked around. Most of the guys have been to the Philippines and I got the chance to chat with Tommy who also loves the food in Sagada..ahh, a kindred spirit.


Here's a shot of the group. I'm not in the picture because I took the shot.


From L-R : Tommy, Kuni, Eamonn, Mao, Ervin (taking my picture..hehe)

It's like an ad for the United Colors of Beneton. There's Sweden, Japan, Ireland, Philippines and France...hehehe



We turned it before 11:00pm and Mao and I decided to go to Kinabalu National park the following day, which is the jump-off to Mt. Kinabalu.


Travel Information:


Flights to Kota Kinabalu (based from what I know)


www.cebupacificair.com – they have flights from Manila to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and Clark to KK

www.airasia.com – only has flights from Clark to either Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu


Places to Shop

1. Centrepoint Mall, Kota Kinabalu - http://www.centrepointsabah.com/Directory/directory_ground.htm

2. Gaya Street Sunday Morning Market – open only on Sundays (obviously), from 6am to 12pm (I’m not sure about 12pm though, may be until 1pm).


Kota Kinabalu has other shopping malls to cater to whatever floats your boat – be it posh finds or bargain stuffs.


Food Trips:


Night Market near Waterfront – for fresh, grilled sea foods and other local delicacies. You can also eat with your bare hands.


Grace Point –open air food court in Sembulan. Just a warning, not a lot of taxi drivers know where this is though. Here’s a funny blog about Grace Point - http://ssquah.blogspot.com/2008/04/grace-point-kota-kinabalu.html


Apparently, Grace Point has this amusing urinals where men can see other men do their business. Too bad, I’m not allowed inside a male restroom. ‘

Upperstar – this is where Kuni treated us for a beer. We tried the Tsing Tsao – a Chinese beer. It tastes a lot like San Miguel beer but with less after taste. I drank it with chocolate cake and finished it in no time. Yummy! They sell cheap, great food (like pastas, fish balls) and cheap great beer. Love it! The Tsing Tsao beer is sold at 4 for 14MYR. No dress code here either.

Location : Jalan Datuk Salleh Sulong (opposite Hyatt Hotel)


Kota Kinabalu Food review blog:


http://kkfood.blog.com/


Lost or haven’t decided where to go?

Just go to the Sabah Tourist Information center. This is where you can get a colored map of Kota Kinabalu, information brochures, hostels, bus schedules. The people here are very helpful and accommodating.


Address: 51 Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Website : http://www.sabahtourism.com/sabah-malaysian-borneo/en/

There are lots of Filipinos in Kota Kinabalu and most people speak English though not all speak fluently so just drop the articles and go straight to the point. Going around shouldn’t be a problem, lots of friendly people to ask for directions.


Other Sources of Kinabalu Travel Information:


1. http://en.arrivalguides.com/guide.php?dest=kotakinabalu&lang=en&part=barsandnightlife

2. http://wikitravel.org/en/Kota_Kinabalu


TO BE CONTINUED...


Day 2 – March 14, 2009 – Falling in Love with Mt. Kinabalu

Day 3 – March 15, 2009 – Discovering Sandakan

Day 4 – March 16, 2009 – Walking Aimlessly Around Sandakan

Day 5 – March 17, 2009 – Malling in Kinabalu city









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