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, July 31, 2017

12 Useful things to Bring on your First Mountain Hike

Hiking has become very popular in the Philippines that it's now easier to find a mountain and come up with your own itinerary  or join an organized group. (Read 10 Tips on How to be a Good Climb Participant
Our group - bloggers and fellow outdoor lovers at Basekamp PH  at our campsite in Tarak Ridge, Bataan
If you're heading out to your first mountain hike and thinking of what to bring, here are a couple of tips. Note that this list was created as a guide and not a mandatory checklist. The items featured are based on what I observed to be  useful when hiking in tropical weather.

7 Hiking Tips for Beginners | 8 Essentials for Rainy Day Hikes by Basekamp PH

1.  Footwear
Footwear should enhance your experience outdoors and protect you from injury. There are shoes designed specifically for hiking but I encourage you to research the mountain  first before purchasing hiking shoes. Will there be sections where you need to cross rivers? How long will you be hiking? If the mountain has a clear and established trail that normally won't take more than 4 hours to complete, you can very well survive on any type of footwear. However,  comfort and safety might be compromised, making it challenging to get through the slippery sections.

Pick shoes with a good traction (one that can be used in steep, muddy trails which are common in the Philippines) and one that's comfortable enough that you can walk in it for hours and hours.  Shoes with a good traction have lug pattern  on the outsoles (the outermost part of the shoe which come in contact with the ground. (Recommended read -  Hiking Boots: How to Choose) Trail running shoes are also a good option so you can maximize your investment and be able to switch activities.

2. Backpack 
Don't sweat too much thinking about which brand of backpack you need to buy on your first hike. If you already have a sturdy  backpack (just check the straps and zippers before using it), that will do, as long as you're able to bring the essentials and use both hands when hiking. Once you've decided you really want to continue hiking, do your research and invest in a nice backpack. 
With my trusty backpack. Photo taken by Celine Reyes of Celineism
Packs designed for hiking have  special features that support your back and hips such as adjustable shoulder straps and hip belts.  Some also have a mesh back panel (that area in the bag touching your bag) for ventilation which prevents the sweat from your back from being absorbed by the bag. These extra features allow you to hike longer hours comfortably. A good backpack is  more valuable when doing extended day hikes - hikes that last 8 hours or more.

When hiking  especially during the rainy months, protect your stuff by storing it in waterproof dry bags or a resealable bag. A waterproof backpack cover offers added protection from the rain and helps avoid tears on your bag when navigating in the bushes. 

If you're ready to buy a backpack, check out this post for tips on what to look for in a bag. 

What I use : Osprey Sirrus 24, a pack designed specifically to fit a woman's frame. It provides good support on the back making it very comfortable to use on long hikes. I'm also a fan of Sandugo Pilot 15  because you can use it for trail running and you can carry a lot with it. Link to FB page here. Prices of hiking bags vary depending on the brand, specs and capacity. To give you an idea, Sandugo Pilot 15 (max capacity, 15 liters) costs 1,845 Pesos. 

3. Water bottle
Minimize plastic waste by using water bottles that you can reuse. I've invested in a durable water bottle because I tend to drop things a lot. :P Nalgene is one of the most trusty brands around, though the 1 Liter bottle takes up space (Price range : 525 Pesos-750 Pesos depending on size, available at Basekamp branches listed below) .There are also foldable water bottles around  such as Hydrapak (sold at Urbanize stores). 

How much water you need to bring depends on your needs and how long you need to hike. Also, when the trail has no forest cover and exposed to the sun, you may need to bring more. I normally bring at least 500 ml to 1.5 liters on a day hike. For long hikes (12 hours or more), I would bring hydration salt (you can buy at any drug store for about 11 Pesos per sachet) and mix it with water to make sure I stay hydrated. 

Before visiting a mountain, please read this short guideline from the Center of Outdoor Ethics on how to enjoy nature responsibly. 

4. First Aid Kit & Personal medicine 
An essential that you hope you don't ever need to use. I suggest making it as handy and as lightweight as you can so you won't feel lazy to bring it with you.

What to pack on your first aid kid? Check out this list from the Philippine Red Cross.

5. Trail Food 
Hiking can be physically demanding so eat a good meal before your hike and bring snacks with you so you can replenish your energy while hiking.  I usually bring something that's easy to carry (leave that jar of Nutella at home :P) and as nutritious as possible. I also suggest bringing food that you enjoy to help boost morale when the trail gets rougher.

Also check out this good read on Top 7 Food for Sustaining Energy on the Trail
A mix of cashew nuts and cacao nibs
What I bring to hikes : cacao nibs, dried fruits such as cranberries (this makes me feel full and energized), mangoes, pineapple,  nuts like peanuts, almonds and cashew, chia seeds in water. Whenever I can, I hydrate the day before the hike by drinking 500 ml-1 liter of coconut juice. 

6. Headlamp or flashlight
This is always in my  bag even if the itinerary does not involve hiking in the dark. It's best to be prepared in case you end up extending your hike until nightfall or if you find yourself exiting at a remote community that does not have electricity. Make sure you put the batteries in. You can also utilize the flashlight apps on your phone (just bring a power bank to charge your phone), though not as convenient as a headlamp which you can use hands-free.

What I use : I'm using a Black Diamond Storm and for back-up,  Sunree Ree headlamp from Basekamp (940 Pesos). 

7. Garbage Bag 
Help preserve the beauty of the mountain by bringing your trash back with you. If you see garbage around, pick it up as well for proper disposal. I never get why some people think it's okay to throw their trash in nature. When bringing a bag, make sure that it won't rip easily and soil your stuff. 

8. Emergency Whistle 
Ideally placed where you can easily access it - either in the straps of the backpack or on your neck. It can be used to communicate with the rest of the group you got separated from and takes lesser energy than yelling.  It is also  used in emergencies when calling out for help. 3 short whistle blasts is an internationally recognized distress call. Two blasts mean, "come here". If you get separated with the group and want to locate them, blow one short whistle blast. If the rest of the group can hear you, they should respond back with one whistle blast. (Source : Outdoor Life - Signal Whistle Codes

9. 
Mini carabiner
A mini carabiner  comes handy when you need to clip stuff together  so it doesn't fall off or for  hanging stuff. For example, clipping your water bottle to your bag, hanging your dry bag in the changing room. If you're visiting communities near the mountain, you'll most likely have to use spartan bathrooms with no hooks to hang your dry clothes. 

Where to buy : I get mine from hardware shops. Basekamp also has this cool whistle carabiner (100 Pesos).  Check out their merchandise on their Facebook page.

10. Head scarf/bandana
A tubular shaped bandana is easy to wear on your head, helps keep sweat and hair off your eyes and can also be used in a dozen different ways. It's a fashionably functional accessory, offers protection from the cold, sun, dust and can  be worn as an eye mask to help you sleep better while traveling to the jump-off. 

Where to buy : Basekamp (99 Pesos)

11. Slippers or post-hike footwear
After your hike, give your feet a break by changing into  slippers or sandals. Sometimes, your shoes get so muddy, you wouldn't want to wear them with your clean clothes and you end up having to look for a sari-sari store or market that sells slippers. Avoid the hassle and added expense by packing a pair.

12. Lightweight Travel Organizer
These handy travel pouches keeps your stuff organized and easy to find. I find those with mesh material more convenient to use because I can easily see what I've stashed in it. It's also a plus if it has a built-in hook so you can easily hang it.

Hammock Republic sells affordable travel organizers at 200 Pesos per set (plus shipping fee).

If you plan on getting any item on the list above, check out Basekamp PH for your travel and outdoor gear needs. Facebook Page link here.  The "Shop" tab on their page features some of their products including price and specs. 

Branches :
BaseKamp Market!Market!
BaseKamp Galleria 
BaseKamp Ali Mall 
BaseKamp Trinoma
BaseKamp Ligaya Pasig 
BaseKamp Gaisano CDO 
BaseKamp Star Mall Alabang 
BaseKamp Isetann Recto 
BaseKamp Gaisano Davao
BaseKamp Fairview Terraces 

Where to hike?
10 Hiking Destinations Near Manila (Note : Pico de Loro which appears on the list is currently closed to the public for rehabilitation)
6 Beginner-Friendly Hikes that Offer Spectacular Views around the Philippines

NOTE : Photos with watermark were taken by Jed Rosel aka Biyaherong Barat during our camping trip at Tarak Ridge, in collaboration with Basekamp PH.

Check out the posts of my fellow bloggers below : 
Travel Up : Guide to Hiking Tarak Ridge | Celineism : Of Implements & Second Chances (a nice narrative of our hike)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hiking in Kyushu, Japan (Plus travel tips!)

On a recent overseas trip, I traveled south of Japan in  Kyushu, the country’s third biggest island. It was the end of March, the beginning of spring, just in time to see some blooming cherry blossoms! Weather at this time varies from 10-16 Celsius, a comforting contrast to the tropical weather in Manila. 
View of Fukuoka from  Mt. Tenpaizan
Taking the only Cebu Pacific flight that day, I arrived at Fukuoka International  airport past 7:00 PM(Japan time).  Since I had to go through immigration, take a bus (it's free if coming from international terminal!) to the Domestic terminal to take a train to the city and navigate my way to  my accommodation in the outskirts of Fukuoka (thank God for offline maps!), I got to Sharely Style Hakata around 11 PM. 
Vendo machines everywhere! Hello Japan. :) 
By the time I checked in to my room, I was  drained. Thankfully, the room is  neat and smelled good. The space is small but had everything I needed, a toilet & bath and ample number of sockets. There's also a  balcony, not a requirement for me but it sure is nice to have. My view is facing a small quiet street, across a vendo machine and if the neighboring house across has its shades open, I get a glimpse of what's inside. :P  

Mt. Homan
After preparing my stuff, I took two trains to Mt. Homan (Itinerary here) in Dazaifu, a small city in Japan's Fukuoka prefecture. The nearby Tenmangu shrine and all the stores and restaurants around it attracts huge numbers of visitors but with my preference for quiet time and solitude, I moved away from the crowd and up the mountain. 
A shrine at the foggy summit of Mt. Homan
It drizzled a bit, making it colder than it already was. My face felt numb from the cold which was a nice experience since I've spent my entire life in the tropics. :) 

Fog began settling in, creating an eerie vibe but I kept my focus on nature. The beautiful huge trees were a good distraction. :) Though the trails are established, most of the signage are in Japanese so I relied heavily on the directions I downloaded online from Fukuoka Now,   a website which contains helpful travel and hiking info in Fukuoka. 
This was lunch. During my trip,  I got a kick out of hunting for interesting food at their convenience stores
which are everywhere! Lawson stores are common here.
As it was a weekday, I was pretty much alone the entire hike. The only time I saw someone else was when I  was going down from the summit, a fellow solo hiker. 
A section of the trail to the summit of Mt. Homan
On my second day, I vent to Tenpaizan (Itinerary here), another hiking trail with a shrine at its peak.

Walking from a train station, I got so lost trying to locate the entrance of the trail. Ironically, it's a popular place for tourist and hiking enthusiasts but I'm not really good with road directions. :P A lady  I met in the street, who didn't speak English, was kind enough to lead me to the jump-off which is 10 minutes away from where I was! I couldn't thank her enough. 

Check out my other hikes here.

I ended up following another trail that turned out to be more challenging from where I intended to start. There's less people on this side which I love. I eventually found the main trail and rejoined the crowd. From there, it takes less than an hour to get to the summit. Compared to most mountains which are at least 600 MASL (Meters Above Sea Level), its highest point is only at 258 MASL.
a view of Fukuoka from Mt. Tenpaizan
After going to Tenpaizan, I took another train and got off at Hakata station.  It is said to be where most of the action is. Hotels, stores, restaurants and other touristy places are nearby. Hakata train station is a tourist attraction itself filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, but after spending two days in the outskirts, I found it to be overwhelming and crowded.  It's funny because friends told me that it's a very laid back city compared to Tokyo . I guess I just  spent so much time in the mountains. :P 
Hakata area
With the cool weather and pedestrian friendly sidewalks, I found myself doing a  lot of walking. From Hakata train station, I walked 1.2 KM to Canal City, a huge shopping and entertainment complex. Think MOA (Mall of Asia). I didn't want to because there were so many people but I couldn't resist checking out Muji and a branch of Montbell, a Japanese retailer and maker of outdoor gear. 
Montbell branch at Canal City,a huge shopping & entertainment complex in Hakata
My last stop for the day was Ohori Park, another one of Fukuoka's top attractions. It's just a few steps from Ohori Koen station. After coffee at Boathouse, a cafe with a view of a man-made lake, I walked around and found myself in an area in the park with tons of food stalls! Here, I enjoyed takoyaki, a balled up street food made from a batter of cabbage and octopus. Some wouldn't enjoy its "fishy" taste but I really like the flavor,  generally salty with a hint of sweetness.
Food stalls at Ohori Park
I walked into some sort of street party - music was blasting from a speaker and there were many groups just huddled together in tables and eating, having a great time. I could see smoke from barbecue pits and other food stalls. I did feel a bit lonely for a second, standing  on my own and people watching, but then again, I was on vacation, I can't be sad! 

Hours before flying back to Manila, I did my 3rd and final hike in Fukuoka. 

View at Mt. Shioji
Popular to locals, Mt. Shioji is a scenic peak in Dazaifu offering views of the city, surrounding mountains and the ruins of Ohnojo Castle. With its easy trails, it welcomes hikers and visitors of varying fitness levels. Those who are not up for a hike can actually take a car to its peak while those who want to walk on a natural trail can cut through the well-marked forest trails to get to the top like I did. The forest trail is reminiscent of the trails in the Philippines with ribbons tied on to trees to mark the correct way! With the exception of seeing cherry blossoms and signage in Japanese, it actually felt like I was hiking back home.
Torii, a traditional Japanese gate found in Shinto shrines 
The short hike  gave me enough time to go around Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine and enjoy a lunch. 

By 5:00 PM, I was in a bus back to Fukuoka airport with 3 hours to spare before my flight back to Manila. (Travel tip : At Dazaifu station, there are lockers where you can stash your luggage and go around. The rental fee varies on how big your luggage is. I think I paid 300 Yen for my 33 Liter Osprey Nova.  There are also buses at the exit of the train station that can take you to  the entrance of Fukuoka International Airport)

FUKUOKA TRAVEL INFORMATION 
How to get to Fukuoka
From Manila, you can fly via Cebu Pacific,  a budget airline that has direct flights to Fukuoka. 

Where to stay 
I booked a  room at Sharely Style Hakata through Agoda. Click here to book. 
Rates : For a 3 night stay, I paid 4,706.89 Pesos
Description : Single bed, aircon room with a balcony, private t&v, mini ref, desk, tv, hair blower, (breakfast not included). This place is outside the tourist district, within walking distance from Ijiri station. It's located in a residential area. I suggest plotting it on a  map which you can access offline before your trip.

Solo Travel Tips 
- If you're taking Cebu Pacific, you will most likely arrive way past the normal check-in time. Just so I don't have to wander around in the wee hours of the morning, I paid for my accommodation on the same day I'm arriving then informed the hotel that I'll be checking in late. 
- The train station map I got from the airport was helpful. You can ask for one at the information desk. The staff were quite friendly! I also learned from watching a vlog that you can download an app for the train schedules. For more tips on traveling to Japan, watch the vlog here.
- there's decent cheap food (sushi, noodles, meals) at the convenience stores and the vendo machines
-  Watch out for sales on the Agoda website (or just download the app) so you can book your accommodation at a cheaper price.  If your flight is arriving late in the evening, inform your hotel.  I found it easy to get in touch with them through the contact page on their site.

- Pocket Money : 15,000 Pesos was enough for me to get me by on this 4 day trip. I mostly did hiking and a bit of eating.  This excluded the plane fare and Philippine Travel Tax (1,620 Pesos). Of course, budget varies depending on what you want to do or buy.
- Souvenir shopping can be done at the duty free at Fukuoka International airport. You can shop while waiting for your flight out of the city. There's also Starbucks here.
- Learn a few basic Japanese words. During my stay, the following words were enough for me to survive : 
sumimasen - excuse me (before asking a question) or sorry (when you accidental bump to someone)
kore - this (to point at things close to you, such as ordering an item from the menu you're holding)
kudasai - please
doko - where

wakarimasen - I don't understand (when someone talks to you in Japanese)

Here are some of the helpful resources I read while researching for my trip : 
How to apply for Japan visa for Filipinoshttp://www.thepoortraveler.net/2013/11/japan-visa-requirements-manila-philippines/
Japan Embassy in the Philippines - http://www.ph.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/00_000035.html
Japan Tourism Sitehttp://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/natuscen/index.html 
Getting Around Fukuoka - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2436.html 
Fukuoka airport official sitehttp://www.fuk-ab.co.jp/english/ 
Info on Fukuoka City Tourist Pass (train pass)https://yokanavi.com/en/tourist-city-pass/
Info on Bus pass -> http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4802.html 
I followed this YouTuber to get tips when traveling in Japan. :). (Thank you!)
Hiking in Fukuoka - http://www.fukuoka-now.com/en/2016/09/hiking-in-fukuoka/
Going to other prefectures in Japan? Check out their trails here at Japan Guide.

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