Thursday, May 14, 2015

Seven Lessons from Akiki Trail

Steep. Extremely steep. Long hike.

You do the Google search and these are the famous descriptions unanimously used to portray Akiki. It was my seventh time in Mt. Pulag and I don’t want to make this post a venue for reiteration of such popular adjectives for the said trail.  That’s seemingly a cliché especially for a mountaineer who have journeyed a lot for some time. For the first timers, it could obviously be a total challenge. And yet, whoever does the trekking, that doesn’t change the image of Akiki, it’s still a long, steep journey. So there, I have no choice but to use those words again.

Situated in the municipality of Kabayan in Benguet province, Akiki remains to be the most popular among other possible major and difficult trails to get to the Luzon’s highest peak, Mt. Pulag. It was my seventh yet it was neither my first time to put my feet on its elevated grounds.  In 2011, we did the Ambagiuo- Akiki cross country traverse, that’s from Nueva Vizcaya to Benguet, and from the title itself, our descent took place through Akiki. I may have the idea of the trail already but it didn’t stop me on the desire to experience how it feels to ascend on that trail.

The Participants

It was a fine morning in March 2015 when we were transported to the jump-off point where DENR is also located. Apparently after almost four years, it has changed a lot. The premise is now well-painted and all concrete. We had the best weather on our start of the trek and this perfect beginning along with new acquaintances and companions led me to feel the good vibe of the whole trek.

They said you'll find some sort of solitude in climbing a mountain. And I did, despite climbing in group. I was able to contemplate well.

Let me share with you some of my simple realizations. These thoughts/ideas are not new to us. But because of this climb, I was gently dragged and reminded.

1. It feels great when you are carrying light.

I anticipated a tiring trek particularly that it will be done on a 2D1N itinerary with an overnight stay at Marlboro campsite and resuming the trek very early the following day. This is contrary to the usual itinerary of three days. I only brought the necessary stuff. I admit I am not a heavy loader. I believe I could not stand carrying it for a long hike. Good thing, I have a buddy where I can share some stuff with as our gears are distributed to both of us.

Just like in life, the more you carry a load and a burden, the heavier and the more inconvenient it gets. This is a reminder for me not to carry heavy stuff in my heart, it can only get worsened. So take it lightly and pack light. Just bring in your life whatever is truly essential.

The presence of a good and true friend to share with would always be a relief, an assurance, someone you can rely with and get some help... and just pure happiness.

2. That in this life, you would continue to encounter new people.. and we have to accept that some of them would not be able to stay

If you allow yourself to explore, you’ll meet new people, learn amazing things about them, hear their stories, enjoy company with them even for a short period of time, share laughter, but at the end of the climb event, it’s time to part ways.

Think of any of the closest friends that you had before.  You were once close to each other, but now you feel like strangers and you cannot hear anything even hi or hello from him or her. The point is, in your journey and in the reality of life, people just come and go. Some are only able to play a short role and eventually they are not bound to stay. It seems that their significance in your journey only covers the current moments in your life. And only few people will stay.

But the good thing is, you meet him/her/them. And the memory remains.

Who knows, you’ll bump with him or her someday and you’ll know in your hearts, "hey, we’ve got memories together, right?

3. Life is like a traverse climb, you have to start from one point and end in another point for you to consider that you have successfully completed it.

You have no choice but to move on. Otherwise, you’ll stay from where you are and nothing leads to progress. You may go back from where you’ve started but you would not be able to complete anything.

Just like in life, once you've started your endeavors, you cannot stop, you must continue until the end of the line for you to accomplish and reach you goal.  And yes, brace yourself for a traverse full of challenges. That’s the thrill of the journey. 

4. You will question at least once in your life, “Why am I doing this?”

Life is not a smooth-sailing journey. Undeniably, there are chapters where hardships are inevitable. Life is going to test your endurance and resilience. It will test how strong you are as you climb the ladder towards success.  It’s like a mountain full of steep trails. You have to go through it. And when you reach that moment that you are tired and weary and having difficulties climbing particularly when it feels like you are not going closer to the endpoint,  you seem to just stop and question, why are you doing this? Is this worth it? You hope that you just stay somewhere and never ever attempted to do this shit.

But with such act of questioning determines your next steps. You know from your heart what to do next after overcoming it.

5. Life is a bitter-sweet journey.

They call it Unlimited Assault. Oh yes, that’s Akiki! On an average steady pace, it’s 11-12 hour trek to the summit and 90% of it shall be vertically pushed.

But hey, look at the fine pine forest... the fresh air... the green surroundings... the laughters you shared during “take-5 rest.” They compensate with the difficulties, aren’t they? Much more if you successfully reach the summit and witness the majestic views atop the mountain?  Much more if you experienced the sea of clouds?

Just like in life, there may be obstacles, but if you dig deeper and see the positive side, you’ll see how sweet too is what you’re going through. It's a humbling experience not being able to experience the just finest parts. I guess, it'll make us more human tasting both the bitter and the sweet.

Hey, look at this beautiful creature? It looks beautiful and yet try yourself to get close to it and you'll be alarmed in the itchiness you can get. Beautiful yet dangerous. Well, similar to "sweet yet bitter."

rampant/scattered "higad" along the pine forested trail.
6. It is more victorious if you reached the success as a team

I was one of the first to reach the summit. I think we’re around five to witness the earliest freshness of the morning and the actual rising of sun at the mountain top. Majority of the team weren't able to arrive by 6 or 7am. Perhaps because of the heavy longpack they were carrying and the fact that most of them were relatively new to do a long hike and major climb. But I pay a salute to them! They pushed themselves to their limits and they were able to make it. Only after we’re together in the summit did I experience the pure joy. That we’re all in this success together.

Happiness is at its best when shared.

Wait, here's my seventh! "Always remember that you're one small, wonderful being in this big, wonderful world."

I know, we all have our own share of struggles and difficulties. Problems unsolved. Dream unrealized. You may never be aware of it for now, but the Higher Being above sees the whole picture ---  a beautiful soul in a grand journey to a promising destination.
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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Taiwan Touched My Heart!

Targeting more mountains to conquer with the hope of doing extra traveling around the place where they are situated is one of the great things I am delighted the most. I have always been saying that. Perhaps, I would not travel that much if it weren't for mountain climbing. Oh yes, I may do some sort of travel but I guess it could have been selected destinations only. And here I am again, finding myself to the place that I have never imagined before. And the best thing about it is that it allows me to enter into new discoveries. What I’m trying to say is that, I am simply thankful to this found passion, because it pushes me to continuously learn and explore.

One of my dream destinations in Asia is Japan. I could instead go there and chase this dream right away. Yet for now, I decided not to prioritize it as learning about Snow Mountain in Taiwan, for some reason I could not also explain, was more convincing for me to pursue for the meantime. True enough, I didn't regret it because getting into Taiwan is one of the unforgettable trips I've ever had.

But there are also disadvantages of climbing and city tour at the same time. Particularly if you only got limited period of stay, your strength is divided. That is, you cannot do an all-out tiring tour prior to the climb and also if you opted to do the tour after the climb, your strength may already be limited if not totally deteriorated. But of course, the great thing is you still had the chance to do some tour and pay some visit. In short, unless you adjust the number of days that you’ll be staying, you will never maximize the tour.  Well, take note that the main purpose is still to climb the mountain, right? So I guess, that’s still fine. Getting a side trip is just a bonus.

And there you go, I just had a memorable Taipei tour before and after our Snow Mountain hike!

Tamsui as a New Discovery and The Cherry Blossoms Experience

The original itinerary of ours dictates to have our first day in Taiwan as also the Day 1 for our climb which should start in the afternoon. However, due to some reservation issues, we just had to start our trek the following day. T’was still great! We got a chance to roam around the city and get familiar with the transportation particularly in riding the bus and the train. I believe, the hostel that we stayed at (Socket Hostel) is very reasonable and convenient being accessible to many landmarks and train stations in Taipei. We decided to go to the Yangmingshan National Park as they say, we might find cherry blossoms there in this season. It was February and the place was exiting the winter season and welcoming spring anytime soon. It’s a long week Chinese New Year celebration and cherry blossoms normally coincide with it. We were so excited!

But this excitement would not equate witnessing of it that easy. Maybe we’re not used to the place and we were first timers. Maybe there’s just a language barrier. Or maybe the Google Maps just couldn't give us the exact directions. I was a little vexed on the Google Maps that I wouldn't like to rely on it in the future. Whew! We were more than 30 minutes waiting for the bus, asking and asking. But they could not help us even if we were keep on showing these results in Chinese characters. It says we must ride a 204 bus and then a train going to Dangshui. Where the hell is Danshui? And from Danshui we should ride another bus.

Please, Google Maps, be reliable!

Before wasting one hour with nothing being accomplished, I suggested to walk to the nearest MRT station which is Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall and from there, look for Danshui station. It was near yet too long for a walk. Only to discover that the Dangshui we were searching for is actually “Tamsui” station. Like a joy in the face of a child, we impatiently continued and departed for Tamsui reviving our excitement to get there. It was the last station of MRT red line. 

At the MRT
I admired the organised transportation in Taipei particularly their subway station. It’s as organized as that in Hongkong, only that the latter’s people seems to be rushing and in a hurry. I was amused at the crowd of Taiwanese people going to Tamsui, perhaps they will also visit Yangmingshan, I said to myself. 

Tamsui, being the last station, made the trip quite long. More than 20 minutes I guess. We finally arrived at the said station and from what we saw, the place looks like an amusement park good enough for family time. We asked the small tourism office upon arrival. Ooops. There you go! That’s not the place where we can ride a bus to Yangmingshan. We were instructed to go back to Beitou Station where shuttles leaving for Yangmingshan are stationed. Before we left Tamsui, we decided to take advantage of the time and wander around to enjoy the place. It’s a new destination anyway. 

Roaming around!
Oh, what a giant kropek!
We rode the MRT and travelled back to Beitou. It took around less than 10 minutes. 

Close to the park itself, we can already see the undeniably astonishing pinkish cherry blossoms. Upon arriving, we immediately went to the area where there are richer cherry blossoms. 

Wow, seeing them for the first time was unbelievable. It was dreamlike. 

And hey, these ones are in Taiwan. In Asia, it’s more popular in Japan, right? Even in Wikipedia, it doesn’t mention that there can also be found in Taiwan. :))

I googled what cherry blossom is and found it in Wikipedia.

"A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is called sakura after the Japanese."

We moved to the other part of the park and viewed more beautiful flowery areas and gardens. It was just so nice. Not only that we see pinkish or reddish sakura, but the whitish ones as well.

For our lunch in Yangmingshan, found a small eatery near the entrance.

Stinky Tofu on set!
Now, because it was Chinese New Year and a lot of people was going out. We found it hard to go back to our hostel. Buses were full. So we walked away from the park until luckily we’re able to get a cab and transported us to the Shipai MRT station.

So tiring! So I say, good luck to our feet and legs! On a positive note, we could consider it as warm up prior to the climb the next day.

The Unexpected Challenge and New Found Friends

It was our Day 4 in Taiwan and we just got back in Taipei from the successful 3D/2N climb at Snow Mountain in Taichung just in time with the set schedule in our itinerary, certain that we would still have an ample time to do some city walk and even food trip. By 3pm we’re back in the hostel and we were gladly received by the owner, Danny, telling us that our things were kept safe and unmoved.

With the only problem informed to us that one blanket, one comforter and a pillow case were stained by something reddish, most likely caused by a fabric, we just had to face and resolve the issue. Following the hostel’s rules, any damaged thing should be paid NTD800 per piece. It’s as if you will be buying the whole thing. Wow, so what should we do with such things plus the fact that they will be additions to our baggage during our flight back to Manila? Danny, in his opinion told us that based on experience, it’s something that cannot be easily removed, worse comes to worst, it could never be removed. On the other hand, he gave us another option – to wash it and remove the trace of the stains. Then it would be fine with him.

We rushed to any laundry shop that we could ever find around the area (even in malls where laundry shops could not obviously exist). Unfortunately, the stuff weren’t accepted telling us that it’s impossible to remove the stain. Qitter and I decided to go back to the hostel to confirm if we could instead pay though credit card, but it was unreasonable as using the card overseas has a corresponding taxes to be paid. Our remaining companions, Bev and Pau knocked at the antique shop called VD Studios owned by a couple that Bev met in her first day in Taiwan asking if they know any nearby laundry shop where we can ask to wash our stuff. When Qitter and I got back at the antique shop, they said, this couple, Daniel and Lucia Ketter, was offering their washing machine and detergent inside the shop. Only that we had to buy a Clorox! What a blessing! And what more blessing is greater than meeting this two beautiful, kind people n the middle of this challenge.

(L-R) Lucia, myself, Pau, Qitter, Daniel)

Oh the Clorox! – the only thing that could probably solve our problem at this time. We rushed again to the nearest grocery store, Wellcome. Tenen!!!! We, of course, would opt to pay for this NTD99 worth of Clorox than break our pocket in paying such “NTD800 per piece” thing.

The memorable perfect solution! :-P
So here we go! Pau and I led the washing of the stuff while Bev and Qitter  Can you imagine that these things would ever happen to us? We could have resumed our tour in Taipei instead of washing these things abroad? I wished it could have been a joke or a bad dream, but it’s not. It was a reality, it was a reality that I was washing these fabrics! Haha! 

Oh my! "Washing Galore!

We left the machine for an hour. We decided to give some treat to the couple but  they refused saying that a beer will do. After buying some foodies and beer (Taiwan beer) we had a great time of chats and laughters. We learned more about the couple. I wonder how they were convinced to help strangers like us. From my understanding in our conversation, there was one time in Daniel’s travel when he also experienced to receive a help when we needed it the most. Daniel is an American. Lucia, on the other hand was a simply nice, native Taiwanese. The couple was very  accommodating in every way. It was nice talking to them.

When we checked the washed stuff, amazingly the stain vanished. I would say it’s a miracle! Again, what could be more considered miracle than receiving God’s protection and provision  through this couple as an instrument to help us.

Night Market in Shilin

Learning and reaching the Shilin Station (red line), I first thought of the authentic Taiwanese cuisine in the Philippines deriving its name from here. Shi lin is one of the largest night markets in Taipei and where street foods and eateries are found. 

To be honest, since we headed to this area from our washing moment (apart from the climb itself of course), we were a bit tired already that we could not accommodate extended time of walking anymore. Our stay in Shilin was not that maximized but we were able to make our tummy full. Frankly, I could not take their famous stinky tofu (although I tried it in Yangmingshan in our first day). Waaah! I always tell myself that I won't always be able to make the most of my travel if I am too sensitive in trying the local foods.

Fried Squid and Milk Tea

Elephant-shaped hotcake (This is only one of the shapes that are available)

But well, if you want to taste the flavours of Taiwan, this place is a must-see. Other nearest MRT startion is Jiantan too (also in red line).

Last Day in Taipei and a Relaxing Walk to Taipei 101

Who would leave Taiwan without visiting this famous landmark?

Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, is a landmark supertall skyscraperin Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan. The building was officially classified as the world's tallest in 2004, and remained such until the opening of Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. In 2011, the building was awarded the LEED platinum certification, the highest award according the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, and became the tallest and largest green building in the world. (source: Wikipedia)

We decided not to take a train but instead walk from our hostel to get to Taipei 101. I was amazed at how the city is too quiet, serene and organised and people are seemed to be disciplined. The parked bicycles and motorbikes, the clean surroundings --- I was surprised because they just leave these things in the designated areas and no one is attempting to steal them.

Finally we reached the Taipei 101. 

We looked for an authentic Taiwanese restaurant called Din Tai Fung where the famous Xiao Long Bao can be found. 

with a giant Xiao Long Bao :)
Our other option was actually Modern Toilet restaurant but we would not want to miss the Taipei 101 which is on the other side, so we just decided to eat at Din Tai Fung.

I was convinced not to take the Conservatory and sightseeing at the top. Being able to get to the once highest tower in the world is enough. Perhaps it’s not my choice to spare some bucks for it. Besides, we should be able to arrive at the airport for our flight back to Manila in the afternoon.

As you may see, we only got the chance to visit few places in Taipei but still it’s worthy of our time.
Cherry Blossoms. Successful climb in Snow Mountain. Good weather. Taipei 101. Taiwanese food. Good people. Chill weather. I would say the trip is worth it. Taiwan truly touched my heart. 

A touchscreen TV in my seat during the bus ride to airport.
And it has many choices to view from! ;)

Just like what one of their tourism logos trying to convey to its visitors and tourists "Taiwan: Touch Your Heart" --- I felt the warm home in this island, the welcoming atmosphere, the joy in drinking tea and chatting, and the sincere desire of this country to touch any visitor's heart.

Would you also like to add Taiwan in your travel bucket list?

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