Thursday, May 4, 2017


Lessons and Stories from the Mountaintops


I was shaking when I set my right foot on the next step. One more step indeed and I would be able to shout to the world, “Hey I was able to reach a summit!” That mountain’s summit has a 360-degree view and for a “first-timer” like me, it was like a whirling sensation that I felt like I would have a tendency to fall. My knees almost got fainted upon reaching such peak. Oh, I did it! I sat in a huge rock perched at that top and bowing down, I breathed deeply for a while. Slowly, I started to observe around. Everyone’s face was painted with a genuine smile… or perhaps sensing an inner joy owing to achieving of such sweet success. Eventually, I was looking at the mountainous views. They were awesome! The sunrise, the rugged slopes, the view of the faraway city and the birds flying freely – what a great masterpiece to the eyes! The roaring sound of the wind gently touching my face and the singing voice of the birds --- what a sweet music to the ear!

Now, that was a vivid memory of my first ever climb.

After such courageous heart that brought me to that summit and five years later, my life was never the same. I have brought myself into many adventurous climbs and reached numerous summits beyond what I have imagined. I experienced an almost non-stop, lengthy and hopeless trekking that really tested my patience. I encountered a trail that looks like a wall in front of me where I had no options but to assault, survive and complete the climb. I’ve experienced to be soaked many times like a wet chick and get stuck in a village because of an inclement weather. I met the mountain leeches with one of them just enjoyed sucking and staying inside my nose overnight (well, that sucking is an isolated case, it can only happen to a reckless me). Crazy it may be, I have managed to climb three peaks in one day, four peaks in one weekend and even eight peaks over three days. Yes, that's possible! I’ve seen varieties of magnificent mossy forest like those appearing in the movies. I have marveled at the formation of the pine trees. I have witnessed the different magnificent angles of the sunset at the mountaintops and eventually be more in love with it. And for the first time, I was able to touch and walk on the snow. I experienced a winter season not in any famous and prestigious cities but instead at the top of a mountain capped with snow. Furthermore, I have witnessed the kind of living that that locals are having as well as the culture that they keep. If I may add, the laughter and interactions with these wonderful people are priceless. Listening to their funny stories and insights as well as their sentiments is heartwarming and indeed a great experience. I reached different destinations that are really unknown to many. Most of them are really remote and cannot be easily reached. I learned and craved to travel more because of this eagerness to climb more mountains.

Macchapuchre Peak (Annapurna Region, Nepal)


To some people, it may sound cool. But to others, they find it weird. No, it isn't an addiction. I keep on telling a friend of mine. It’s passion! So I would cross the seas or fly to the other side of the country just to reach the target mountains. See? I would spend my remaining leave or use my long weekend just to tire myself. Yes, sweating myself has been my way of life for the past five years. Many are asking me why I am doing it to myself – making myself sweat and tired instead of having a fine, relaxing weekend at home. Why am I risking myself? What am I trying to prove? And so I say, I’m also tired repeating my reasons to every person asking why I’m doing this to myself.

Can you think of the things that you enjoy the most, be it sports, a business, a painting, a pottery activity, a noble service or outreach and the like? Still you keep on doing it over and over again, right?

If I could just lend them my eyes just to see what I see or my heart to feel the fulfillment and the inner joy I get.
Mount Halcon (Mindoro, PH)

While posting in social media is quite amusing and it feels amazing to receive many likes, indeed the experiences gained from travel and mountaineering are far more valuable than anything. For me, these experiences carry valuable lessons that I never learned in school nor did I realize in any usual circumstances in day-to-day living. They can only be appreciated when experienced in a special way. I realized that mountaineering are more than picturesque views that you can be amazed of nor the bragging right when one is able to reach the summit or complete a climb.

Mountaineering is never far different from the journey of life. It mainly entails passion. One cannot complete the entire trekking if your heart is not for it. You could resent doing it and give up if you are not determined about it. Just like in life, the summit represents one’s dream. You are going nowhere and achieving nothing if you are not firm enough to pursue such dream.

Climbing requires focus. It can distract you to many things that can lead you to harm. I remember doing a major climb, the terrain was sort of technical and slimy and because I was annoyed at someone during that time, I was too emotional and disturbed while descending. I almost twisted my knees when I lost my balance and fell off a descending trail. Same goes with life, when you lose your concentration to the things that matter, you can get out of track or cause you into trouble.

Climbing entails faith, patience and positive disposition. There are lots of obstacles in the wilderness. Anything bad can happen - when you encounter strong winds and non-stop rains causing much inconvenience; when you keep on trekking with your feet swelling and yet you just can’t get to the target destination; when your fully loaded backpacks just keep on pulling you down and causing backaches; when ascending trails are unforgiving and it feels like there would never be no flat terrains anymore… ever! Oh, it’s so easy to be disheartened. Just like in life, it will always squeeze you. It will always test you. A lot of circumstances would seem to bring you down. But you can always choose to patiently wait for beautiful things, stand firm and believe that you can overcome challenges. It depends on you alone if you want to remain resilient.

Climbing entails humility. When you are that strong, when you are getting everything you want, when you have such an adventurous spirit it feels like you can survive anything – more often than not is there an existence of pride that you don’t need the help of others. We’ll guess what? Along the way, surely you’ll come to realize the need for others. Much more if you’re on the thin line between life and death. Wouldn’t you call the Higher Being who gave your life in the first place? Now, it doesn’t matter how many mountains have you been to. At the end of the day, still it doesn’t matter. If you have all of these and all of that, and then what? Your existence doesn’t’ matter if you are alone in any victory.

I tell you the journey is way no easy. Again, very similar to life. Climbing a mountain has always been tough. There’s always a risk.

Lastly, travel and mountaineering have brought me back to my unconscious childhood dream. That is, to write, tell stories and share my experiences. I am glad they lead me back to my pen through blogging. For me travel/mountaineering and writing go hand in hand in my life. And these would lead me to a purpose. Well, that could be my purpose. And part of that purpose is perhaps to inspire.

Purgatory mountain (Benguet, PH)


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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wandering Juan in Vietnam

I wonder what my life would be like had I made different choices... or what my approaches in life would be had I never learned to travel. I wonder what I would become had I continued to hide myself and become overly introvert. I wonder. Travel changed me a lot. My restless feet and passionate heart have taken me to somewhere not only physically but spiritually as well. My soul longs to experience the realities on the road; the daily life in another part of the planet; and the uncommon lessons and wisdom.

Here is my wonderful travel experience in one of the countries in mainland Southeast Asia, a beautiful and memorable voyage to Vietnam. I was a wandering "Juan" in Vietnam! (Juan is the common name to refer to or represent a Filipino)

Captured a normal day in one of the busiest streets in Hanoi Old Quarter

Everything's ready:
Valid and unexpired passport. Itinerary. Pocket money including Dollar bills to be converted to Dong (the currency of Vietnam) once we reached Hanoi Airport. Wow, I became a millionaire instantly! Haha! Of course, that is because of the currency equivalent.



Just to note: No Visa is required for almost Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines.


One of my main reasons for traveling abroad is to climb a mountain. If you have followed this blog for quite a long time, you might be aware of that. Well, it's still about hiking and it happened that the highest mountain in the Indo-China Peninsula is in Vietnam, almost crossing the border of China. Indo-China is the mainland Southeast Asia which is literally named as such because the countries like Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Peninsular Malaysia lie between India and China. And there also lies, Mount Fansipan, at 3,143 MASL, is dubbed to be the roof of the said Indo-China area.

We were able to get a cheaper airfare for a 5-day Vietnam trip. The climb was the highlight, of course, but due to some practical reasons, we opted to just have an overnight climb at Fansipan and the remaining days to be spent on visiting other Vietnam areas. In this regard, we have explored the following places:

1. Hanoi
2. Lao Cai (a province wherein Sa pa town is located, the entry point to Fansipan)
3. Halong Bay, Quang Ninh province
4. Ho Chi Minh City





Not bad, right?

Day 1 - HANOI (22Apr 2016)


We landed at Noi Bai International Airport to get to our first stop, Hanoi. Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and the second largest city in the said country next to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The hotel that we booked is located at Hanoi Old Quarter giving us the advantage of the place such as reasonable nearness to the airport and train station as well as being able to explore and witness the richness of its culture and historical features. Hanoi Old Quarter is the main destination for tourists wherein colonial architecture and commercial business are what you can primarily find. Streets are jam-packed with lots of vendors of various commodities, coffee shops and other places for Vietnamese dining.


Taking a 7-seater car, as arranged by our  hostel, the five of us were able to explore some of the highlights of the Old Quarter including the Hoan Kiem lake (Oh, I forgot to take a picture  of it because I only got to view it from the car, no more time to drop by). Raining in the morning and due to limited time, we were only able to visit a very few destinations. Nevertheless, having toured by a private car, we were still able to witness a normal day in Hanoi.

A place of garden or similar to a park, a venue for memorials and pagodas -- that is the  Ho Chi Minh Masoleum Complex where we managed to visit Ho Chi Minh Museum and One Pillar Pagoda.






Due to heavy rains, we got stuck in the said place. But the brighter side was, we met a very kind vendor couple to whom we bought Hanoi bia hoi (beer) and these vendors gave us a lot of fruits and other kinds of local food for free. They even gave each of us free raincoats. Imagine that?  Refused to accept payments, one of my travel companions, Qitter, just offered his newly bought discounted wrist watch as a sign of thankfulness. Truly good things come even in the most unexplained and unfortunate events. Hehe!




We headed to the Temple of the Literature when the heavy rains stopped, making us see for ourselves some other temples for Buddhism which is part of the Vietnamese beliefs.










For lunch, the hotel staff recommended to us to dine in A New Day Restaurant located in one of the busiest and narrow streets of the Old Quarter. They serve satisfying Asian food, of course including Vietnamese cookery.



Convinced that we were able to have almost a complete picture of Hanoi, we opted to go back to our hostel to prepare for our check-out, get some rest and prepare our things for our climb.

We were given a privilege to leave our things at the hostel while waiting for our train ride schedule in the evening, We took a short walk at the nearby streets. There I felt the nostalgia. True enough, being a blend of Southeast Asian custom, Chinese influence and beautiful architectural designs obtained from colonial period, Hanoi is truly where you can travel back in time. 

To cap off the slightly tiring day of tour, we looked for Cafe Giang and experienced their famous egg coffee.







I was particularly amused at the coffee shops in Hanoi. Aside from its large number in most of the streets, it seems like you simply need to sit down and drink your order with their unique set up that comes with small tables and chairs that really portrays a good hangout for friends and fellow tourists. It is also very homey.

I thank one of our friends who had been to Hanoi for recommending us B & B Hanoi Hotel & Travel. The staff are very warm, accommodating and helpful. Breakfast is already included in our bookings. More than anything, they kept our things safe while we were in Lao Cai province for Fansipan climb. I became convinced with their slogan saying, "arrived as our guest and leave as a family." Kudos!




With Ms. Lisa, the hotel manager who patiently assisted us with all our needs
I would also highly recommended this hostel particularly to the backpackers. It's worth the money paid for the accommodation plus the kind and trusted people as mentioned. They also provide tour services for convenience. For booking and inquiries, please email: info@bbhanoihotel.com. You can also browse their website: http://www.bbhanoihotel.com/

Still part of our Day 1 was the portion of 8-hour long train ride to the Lao Cai province as we gear up for our Fansipan climb. At 8pm, the hotel staff hailed a taxi to transport us to the Tran Cuy Cap Station. Our time of departure was at 9:40PM. Speaking of time, Vietnam is ahead of us by one hour by the way.

Day 2 to 3 - LAO CAI PROVINCE FOR THE FANSIPAN CLIMB (23 - 24 Apr 2016)

Details of the climb are separately posted. You may go to this link:


Day 4 - HALONG BAY CRUISE (25 Apr 2016)

Due to tiredness from the climb, almost of us had a very deep sleep during the train ride from Lao Cai to Hanoi. At 6AM, we were able to come back to B&B Hanoi Hotel. We availed in advance of our free breakfast as we should be going to the airport early next day for our trip to Ho Chi Minh. For this particular day at 8AM, we were picked up by the Halong Bay tour guide and took us to the bus going to Quang Ninh province where Halong Bay is located. Together with the other foreign tourists, we geared up for the 4-hour trip to the said province.

We had a short stopover in a shop in Hai Duong that sells and houses various embroideries, sculptures and other artistic handicrafts made by disabled local people. Each piece of finish embroidered product is amazing like a painting. Very creative.






And because we were looking forward for a lunch on board at the Halong Bay Cruise, here's what I've got during the long bus travel -- a Vietnamese version of a childhood favorite, "Marie!" Haha!



After enduring some pain to our butts due to that lengthy ride, we finally reached Halong Bay. Tourist na tourist ang dating namin because we belonged to a tour group. LOL! For a USD40 worth of money, at least we had the convenience of just getting on board, dine with a sumptuous meal, enjoy the scenic bay views while having the cruise and explore the Dong Thien Cung (Thien Cung Cave).






Here's what we explored at the Thien Cung Cave. The cave is huge and just like the caves in the Philippines, there are amazing natural rock formations. Colorful man-made lighting was also added, I guess, to make something lively inside the cave.










But of course, the tour had to end. I believe it is more worthy of time if two or more days are allocated for this tour. One day cruise, though, is enough if anyone just wants just to have a reasonable glimpse of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

I emphasized this as the land travel is more than eight hours for a round trip and the one-day cruise package would only take about four hours. I believe a lot of activities await for a stay of more than one day



Day 5 - SHOPPING AT HO CHI MINH CITY (26 Apr 2016)


Yeah, you've read it, right. That was the only reason why we intended to fly to Ho Chi Minh all the way from Hanoi. We took the domestic flight via Viet Jet Air in the early morning of Tuesday, April 26. The flight was rescheduled two hours earlier due to some technical reason. But we're up to that! What we were so annoyed of was the cab driver dropping us off at the wrong airport despite repeating to him that to take us to the domestic airport. Do that to the people like us tired of a major climb and lack of sleep because of travelling for the past few days. How are we supposed to react to that? (Oh my! Our blood pressure were rising. Haha!) And so we're a bit rattled of becoming late. According to one of the few wide-awake persons in the dark, quiet and closed airport, the domestic airport is just a walking distance from there. However, instead of walking, as that is not advisable because we are not familiar of the airport, we called a taxi cab for a few dollars. The line at the counter was long when we arrived and the process was a bit slow.

Whew, fortunately we were able to board on time! Now, you would expect sleepy traveler-climbers like us who instantly fell asleep and dwell on respective dreams upon taking the plane seats. Thank God we had a smooth flight. After almost 3 hours, we landed on the city in the southeastern part of Indochina. Still Vietnam though. Hehe!

Thanks to the Grab kiosk at the airport for giving us an information that we could actually book a car transfer right through our fingertips.

In a few minutes of short travel to our hotel, we were given a picture of Ho Chi Minh. It's pretty much different from the setting at Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh is busier and noisier. Add to that the popularity of motor vehicles as common way of transportation.



I was so wrong at the thought that Ho Chi Minh is the capital city of Vietnam, rather it’s the largest city of that country. And Hanoi only comes next. After finding our budget hostel, we took a few minutes of rest and then we went out for breakfast. Shopping at the Benh Than Market came to the scene and actually occupied our day significantly. Just to note: be mindful and alert as some vendors are really aggressive in selling. They will really insist you to buy their stuff (we also experienced similar situations in Hanoi).






 And yes, that's the only destination that we had. Sadly, we were not able to see the Cathedral. By the way, some people in Vietnam are Catholics.

We crossed the streets, walked and saw a portion of the city. Aside from fulfilling our mission of shopping for coffee, outdoor backpacks and other pasalubong, all of us agreed to make time for rest and sleep at the hotel instead of wandering around the city. Hahaha! Our time of departure was at 1 AM of 27th April and we just made use of the remaining time to rest and pack our things up until leaving the city at 10pm.

By the way, shopping outdoor gears at the Benh Thanh Market, in my opinion, is tantamount to "buying at your own risk" You cannot always be assured of the items' authenticity. Two of my companions, though, bought long backpacks. As for me, I bought small and big The North Face body bags (VND 100,000 each) from the stores with discounted items as they put it. Haha! I didn't shop for some more because I had no baggage allowance in our flight back to Manila.

As noticed, we were sort of mobile on this trip. Time is always of the essence. Just like an amazing race. Haha!

To conclude, here's a copy of our actual expenses -- five days traveling four destinations, bulk  of which is from the airfare and Fansipan climb:



P.S.

We haven't tried Bún chả, a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle. However, we were able to taste Banh Mi from the meals served before us. Banh Mi is a common Vietnamese bread. Well, there's a reason to go back. Plus I want to go back to Hanoi and experience again the "feels" of traveling back in time. Oooops, and re-visit the Cafe Giang! <wink!>
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Fansipan Climb: An Epic Way Up to the Roof of Indo-China

Apr 23-24, 2016
Location: Lao Cai Province, Vietnam
Entry Point: Sa Pa town
Mountain Range: Hoang Lien Song
Elevation and Prominence: 3,143 masl / 1, 613 masl
Difficulty: 3.5/5

I've always wanted to reach the so-called roof of Indo-China with the side intention to travel Vietnam particularly Hanoi. That roof is of course a mountain and it is called Fansipan (Vietnamese: Phan Xi Păng), the highest mountain in Vietnam and Indo-China which is just a bit taller than the Philippines' highest peak called Apo. My excitement was doubled and I became more thrilled when I learned that getting to the mountain would mean taking an 8-hour sleeper train in order to get to the place where the trailhead is located. It's like you've got the "feels" of the real traveler or backpacker. LOL! For a person like me originating from an island country and only experiencing the metro train transit with a one way trip that lasts only up to 20 minutes or a little longer, isn't that exciting and worth forward-looking?



The practical climb preparation went out fine despite the fact that my companions and I only got to book flights one month before the travel dates. Thanks to the hype of low-cost airfare which seems to always tolerate the hunger and passion of Filipino millennials for travel.

The mere excitement was not enough though. Just the sole passion that I brought did not keep me throughout the climb. I honestly did not have a good physical preparation for this climb because I was too proud. I thought that doing mountaineering as my hobby for quite a long time guarantees a lasting strength and that I am strong enough. Yet, I was wrong. Fansipan mountain is no ordinary climb. That said, this mountain gave me a fair lesson to humble myself. Yeah, I was humbled and learned it the hard way.

Climb Preparation

Call me less adventurous but I prefer to always seek the assistance of a group which can facilitate and assist the climb than do it on my own and be regretful in the end if something went out bad because I wasn't in my home country. But I also considered DIY, huh. :-P Anyway, I want to do it conveniently so that what my groupmates and I would only think of is how to survive the climb. For this particular event, I patiently canvassed and asked around through the internet for the best tour agency that can help us make the climb possible. Majority of the companies I encountered and inquired with gave me expensive quotations. I also saw the cheap ones but it is the customers that should arrange and book for the round trip train tickets. I know it's still quite costly but I guess the USD135 fee including meals and transportation train tickets plus car transfer, is not that bad. I guess Asian Tours and Travels did not fail us. Here's the overnight climb package that was offered for the five of us.

Inclusions: 
  • Private Airport transfer service in Hanoi to train station and pick up and droff off at Lao Cai train station to Sa Pa by shuttle bus
  • All meals for two days except for dinner on Day 2
  • Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
  • English speaking local guide
  • Entrance fees for all visits as mentioned in the program
  • Train tickets, 4 berth cabin, soft sleeper
  • All fansipan equipment to climb
  • Homestay to do shower before and after climb
Exclusions
  • Any kind of drinks
  • International airport departure taxes
  • Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip)
  • Travel insurance Fansipan
What they prepare:
  • Rucksack
  • Waterproof Blue bag (for your baggage)
  • Plastic rain coat
  • Water-bottle
  • Cooking-gear
  • Plates, cups, forks, knives, spoons, and chop-sticks
  • Beddings at the bunk house
  • First-aid kit

Everything was delivered well and anything needed was given proper assistance. We are quite satisfied with their service. They also support the ethnic minorities and make these people as their local ethnic team to accompany the climbers. For inquiries, you may email: climbfansipan@gmail.com and visit their website: climbfansipan.com.

Journey to the Trailhead

Day 0 - 22 April 16

As pre-arranged by the above-mentioned tour company, we headed to the Tran Quy Cap station through a cab in Hanoi. It took us about 15 minutes from our hostel. The scheduled departure time was at 9:40 PM, although I believe they give a grace period for the passengers or perhaps due to other technical reasons as we only departed from Hanoi at 10 PM. The first step upon arrival at the train station is to look for the train man, normally somewhere outside the designated gate, to reconfirm the bookings and get the round trip tickets. It is advisable to be there at the station 45 minutes before the departure time but I highly recommend (the first-timers in particular) to be there earlier as much as possible to provide time allowance for any problem that may be encountered.




The waiting time was over and we were finally on board. Excitement really filled us. The sleeper train are lined up with air-conditioned and well-lighted cabins or rooms with provided comfy beddings as well as complimentary water and biscuits. There is also an area for lavatory and toilet. Of course, don't expect too much on the toilet; just good enough to pee and release your waste, hehehe! I think there's also a part of the train that offers typical seats only, probably much cheaper but I guess the sleeper cabins are way better and more comfortable (Well, I am used, though, to a long bus ride going to the north of Luzon island in the Philippines).



After much amazement of this first time experience, we decided to settle down and sleep. We really needed enough rest and sleep in preparation for the 2-day trek to Fansipan. And so I thought it's a good idea to keep on glancing at the window. Hey, it made me dizzy. Even after deciding to lie down on the bed never freed me from that woozy and shaky feeling. Oh, it's a little like riding and sleeping at the ferry.


The Climb Proper

Day 1 - 23 April

I moved a little in my bed. My phone was annoyingly alarming. A few seconds before I realized that I was currently on the train. Wow, that was an amazingly uninterrupted sleep. Too deep, but I guess that really helped a lot. Hanoi tour from yesterday was quite tiresome. I looked into my watch and it was 5:45 A. Not adjusted with the local time, it was only 4:45 A.M in Vietnam. I was a bit regretful because I set the alarm forgetting that I should consider the one-hour difference. I felt myself moving again. Oh, how I wished I could fall back to sleep right away. I did, but the nap was too shallow. In my next waking up time, somebody was shouting outside and offering a coffee. We ordered some cups believing they're complimentary also. Haha. Unfortunately, they were not. 

Stripping out the curtain and staring at the window, I realized that we were indeed already in the province. It was a foggy morning. Thoughts were filling up my mind, "What if we took the wrong train? How are we supposed to make up for the climb for the time spent [and wasted]. It's an 8-hour train ride, remember." I laughed at myself. Sometimes, I thank myself for being too skeptic. I always ensure to question and confirm everything. Similar to last night, even though there was a signage and tickets were checked before boarding, I still approached the staff/crew there and asked for a confirmation if that train is really bound for Lao Cai province

After a few minutes, the train stopped and it was announced that it's time to alight. "This is it!," I secretly uttered. It was cold already. Finally reaching the Lao Cai Train station, a person from our tour agency carrying a piece of paper with my name was not difficult to find. 




We were led to a van that would transfer us to Sa Pa town. It was approximately 2-hour drive. We passed by a lot of cliff highway. Just like when you're travelling to the Cordillera region in the Philippines, except that more pine forests can be viewed in our country.







A Vietnamese owning the homestay (where we could freshen up) met us upon arrival at the town. He also accompanied us to where we could eat breakfast and afterwards, we prepared our backpacks, had a quick shower and left some of the things which will only be used when we're back.





We met the trekking team (the local ethnic team) including the guide and the porter which carried the necessary equipments, gears, food and water. After everything was settled, we were transferred to Silver Waterfall Tram Ton pass, the highest pass in Vietnam where climbs to Fansipan start. We were shivering at that point. It was very cold.



The climb is expected to be more or less than 8 hours up to the bunk house in Camp 2. We passed by large woody forests and streams. Just walking a few minutes and we forgot the cold temperature already. 






The first part of the trail comes with various assault portions blended with some steady trekking. The trail is actually "up and down" so you would imagine that the backtrail is definitely not a pure descent. Do expect to still dread on those assault parts on your way back.






I was amused at the presence of great number of roots in the forest. Some find them annoying but for me, they help me a lot to prevent me from sliding. They are what I could rely on when I look for something to hold on to especially during assaults.




The sad part? A huge amount of garbages along the trail.I hope this gets to the attention of the authority to take necessary actions.

After two hours, we stopped for lunch at Camp 1 and where we could shed ourselves inside the bunk houses.



So here's the sticky rice for lunch. Very appealing to the hungry climbers but beware! Brace yourself for a great struggle in eating, I'm telling you, haha! This lunch meal, however, restored our strength.


At around 1PM, we continued the trek. It's no way an easy trek. As we moved along the forested trail, you could feel that the difficulty is gradually increasing. Finally, we reached the open and grassland part. 






And whew! Welcome to the stairways! In my opinion, the steep trails range from 70 to 85 degrees. Just when everybody was encouraging each other while struggling to breathe, saying it's only a few minutes remaining to reach the camp site, the truth is, after reaching and continuing to scale, you would know that it's really not over. We were trekking together with  other groups and majority of them were local people, i.e. from a big group of Vietnamese students.

I almost cried not because I couldn't do it anymore but because I regret not having enough training and regular exercise. What more if I did not have at least Makiling climb prior to this. I could not tolerate continuous assault anymore, unlike the old days when I was still active in climbing and had time for running. I still have the ability to do the challenge of that continued and seemingly endless climbing but this time,give me a favor of removing the time pressure. So, my journey way up was "slowly but surely."

Caught in the Act! Oh no! This is a candid shot of myself portraying a not so easy way up. Haha!




It was 5:30 PM when we reached the bunk houses where we would stay for a night. If I'm not mistaken, that portion is already at 2,800 MASL. And that explains the too much cold temperature. Everywhere was foggy as well.

After being sent out to the assigned room inside the bunk house (we shared the room with other group of five Vietnamese), we started to fix our things, changed our clothing to some warming gears and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner - soup, tofu, veggies, pork meat, rice and bananas. They were served hot and exactly what our stomachs long for. We really enjoyed the food they prepared for us.



I didn't mind going outside as the surroundings were terribly cold. I only got to bear the cold temperature when going to the toilet because it's necessary. I must say that the bunk house were noisy not only because of too much people but they were actually having fun with their fellows. We were initially informed about this and our tour agency asked us to understand it.

At 8 PM, we're ready to sleep. Military-printed sleeping bags were provided for us but they were quite smelly so we decided to just put it on top of our insulation mat. Anyway, all of us have brought our own sleeping bags. Feet to feet with the Vietnamese climbers (yeah, that was the position of the two groups inside the room. LOL), we finally called it a day.

Day 2 - 24 April 16

As the night progressed, I could feel that the coldness was getting tolerable. I don't know if it's only me that my body appears to be getting used to the temperature. I could really feel  that I could manage the coldness. It's bearable as compared to Snow Mountain or Mount Kinabalu or even if compared with some other highest mountains in the Philippines, like for example, Amuyao where you would also stay in a bunk house. What bothered me the most was the rain. Oh, I did not have a decent sleep because of the thought that "what if the rain didn't stop and we're obliged to go down without reaching the summit?"

Anyway, circumstances favored us and finally at 3:30am Vietnam time, we woke up, had a very hot noodle meal for breakfast and started to prepare for summit ascent.

We started ascending at 4:45 A. We were cautious in trekking because of both darkness and thick fog. We all felt the cliff to our left. As we went along the trail, we started to get sweat.



meeting new friends from the U.S.



Continuously progressing, we gradually had high hopes that there would be a good clearing at the top as we were able to see the sun slightly cracking and glimpsing behind the clouds. It was very beautiful. 





After such momentous view, some of those climbers ahead of us and now descending, told us that we were close already. Howeve, enduring the assault struggle, that was definitely a lie. Perhaps, they were just pushing and encouraging us. It takes about more than an hour of endless upward trekking. 

We reached the concrete and cemented stairways and by the looks, everything around is a work in progress; a pagoda is likely to be built plus the fact that a cable car is already up and operating. Well, it's their tourism. Sooner, the roof of Indo-China will be completely easy and accessible to everybody.




At this point, the fog was becoming thicker that we could not see where the stairways are leading us. Every climber around was catching his breath. Everybody was left with no choice but to continue. Some paused for a while others kept on keeping on but they could not give up because of that hope that after a few seconds, they may finally had a glance of the top.




I was determined at this point but I would not deny the excessive tiredness that I felt. It was like a crazy attempt of reaching the top. It was driving me crazy because I kept on doing my best to lift myself and ascend but still, I could not reach the top. It seemed endless. 

Finally, the patience and resilience paid off. We reached the platform. I saw the triangular pointed steel bar and the red flag. Summit at last!

This was another triangular steel bar which I would say, a newly built landmark

So, we're already at the 3,143 MASL. From the pictures that I saw in Google, its summit is not photographed with a platform. Perhaps, it's built for the climber's safety as the top is used to be just piled with a bunch of rocks allowing the climbers with a 360-degree view.  These days, there are also fence around the said top of the peak.



 I pointed the mountains at the back because the guide said, "that is already China!"

Fog rain poured us just in time when we finished taking pictures and so we decided to descend. After a few minutes, the rains already stopped and we thought that there must have been clearing as the risen sun had glimpsed for a while. Very untimely for us, though as we had already gone down.

We had an early lunch, although bread, meat loaf and veggies only upon arrival at the bunk house in Camp 2. By the way, I finally realized that this is how our bunk house looks like (taken in the morning of our second day after summit ascent)




After preparing our things, we endured the knee-wrecking descent. But ooops, it's not all descent as mentioned earlier as we still had to face various assault-type trails. As I meditate while enjoying the descending trail, I could vividly remember the sweat that we shed when we climbed the same trail. Impatience haunted us even during the descent. 

That range is already China. Whoah!





After almost 5 hours, we're back at the Silver Waterfall Tram Toss and the guide gave us our certificates.
Dennis, together with the guide and porters.

We were then transferred back to the homestay and there, we tidied ourselves up. We waited for the car that would transfer us back to that Lao Cai train station. We were able to have a sort of quick tour around Sa Pa town proper while picking up other passengers. Unbelievably, the place is almost occupied by tourists and the livelihood of the local people is mostly from tourism.

Back at the train station, there were no more amazement of  the sleeper train because what was much awaited at that point was the long sleep until we get back to Hanoi -- a sleep that probably kept and stored beautiful memories not only in our dreams but in reality as well.

In one way or another, new places, new experiences and new people that we meet bring us new realizations and a quick check on ourselves. That's how this travel and climb have taught me. As for me: I shall never [literally] underestimate any mountain. Perhaps that is also true in real life, that I must not underestimate or take things for granted, including people, that we have in our lives. And when challenges are finally there to test us, I hope we all don't learn the hard way  nor too late to say,  "I am humbled."

Thank you, Fansipan!


Credit to Dennis and Qitter for the some of the photos above that I borrowed from them.
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