This is the second of a series of blog posts I plan to write about all the hiking, trekking, and tramping I’ve been doing these past few months, in between work and graduate school.
Succeeding posts will be about climbing: Mt. Kinabalu; Tarak Ridge; Mt. Batulao; Mt. Ugo; Mt. Daguldol; Mt. Maculot; Mt. Pulag; and Pico de Loro.
Lesson #2: STRANGERS COULD BE FRIENDS WHOSE NAMES YOU JUST DON’T HAPPEN TO KNOW YET
I’m a lucky, lucky girl. I went to KK thinking I’d be all alone and end up lonely, lost, starving, and suicidal (EXAJJJ), but from my first day there, I met some very cool, fun, and kind people that I became friends and trekking-mates with. Some of them I still talk with over email, Facebook, and CouchSurfing!
I am not a very friendly person and in my day-to-day life I tend to be wrapped up in my own thoughts and concerns, but these people made me realize, again, the importance and value of courtesy, kindness, thoughtfulness, an open mind, and a willingness to go out of one’s way to help other people and make them feel more comfortable in one’s presence. If they hadn’t been as nice to me as they were, I don’t think I would have enjoyed my visit in KK half as much. This section, really, is my thanks to them.
Vee was my Canadian roommate in Lavender Lodge and was the first person I met in KK after Ate Lena at the front desk. When I arrived at the Lodge at almost 8pm, all I felt like doing was washing up, crashing on my bunk, and reading the brochures I got at the airport and at the lobby. But Vee invited me to go with her to the night market, and I was glad I tagged along.
The market scene wasn’t new to me as it’s very similar to the ones in the Philippines: goods wet and dry piled in the open air, tropical fruits, various glutinous rice cakes (kakanin) with fillings, live fish shown in aquariums to be served later on, grilled meat and seafood stands, buko juice… they even had halo-halo! But it was interesting to see those things with Vee because they were all new to her, and to realize that what is ordinary for one could be fascinating to another.
We bought coconut juice in the shells, shared our seafood meals, and talked about our jobs and family, travelling and hiking, and, of course, love (can’t say I contributed much to that topic, though, haha!). Vee had a lot of interesting stories and photos about her travels. She was the first person who got it in my head to go to Chiang Mai in Thailand (other travellers I’d meet would also urge me to go there—I’m sold!). She also wanted to climb Mt. Kinabalu, but we were set to climb on different dates, so we had to part ways—but not before we added each other on Facebook! :D
Ada, from Hong Kong, was also one of my roommates in Lavender. I spent my second and last days in KK roaming the city center and beyond with her.She was the perfect travelling companion because, like me, she didn’t mind walking miles and miles, rain or shine. When travelling I try to walk as much as I can, to get a richer sense of the place, and to save up on fare, haha. Ada and I walked all over the city center and visited all its tourist attractions in the morning. We went to the Atkinson Clock Tower, the Signal Hill Observatory, the city park and the British North Borneo War Memorial, the local mosque, the tourist center, Suriah Sabah, Wisma Merdeka, and KK Port. She also accompanied me while I went shopping for hiking gear in Tech City Outdoor Shop in Jesselton Point Warehouse. In the afternoon I took her with me to Tun Fuad Stephens Park in Bukit Padang. We ended up hiking Tun Fuad Hill’s circular and interconnecting trails for hours, and I’m glad she didn’t end up pushing me off the hill for tiring her so. :p
On my last day in KK, we visited the Puh Toh Tze Chinese Temple along Jalan Tuaran near Kolombong. It is, I think, the largest Buddhist temple in KK. It was, indeed, very beautiful, with its murals and lamps, statues and giant reclining Buddha. Ada showed me the proper way of offering prayers, incense sticks and all. I also took a few free booklets and leaflets about Buddhism, which I intend to read when I find the time.
Ada taught me some things about travelling, like:
- Take pictures of landmarks, signage, important places, because if you ever get lost you can just show the pictures to people if they don’t speak your language.
- Don’t buy stuff in tourist shops, they’re guaranteed to be more expensive. Instead go to the wet market or the grocery.
- If you want to know the place and the culture better, sample the food.
- Greet the locals. Greet fellow travellers. Always be courteous and considerate.
- Not all of the travellers you’ll meet will end up being your friends. So if you find a travelling companion you get along splendidly with, cherish them. Of all the people in the world, you met each other—such luck is a blessing.
When we parted, I gave Ada the keychain of my apartment keys (a wooden carving of a cat) as a gift—my way of saying that my home would be open to her should she ever visit the Philippines. :)
Fiona, Jinny, Jules, Raymond, Tom, and Paola, I met on my second night in KK during the weekly social meetup of the local CouchSurfing group at the historical Borneo 1945 Museum Kopitiam or Borneo Café. Paola, from Spain, was a visitor like me and had been backpacking all over the world (so awesome!). The others were locals, though Tom and Jules were originally from someplace else.
I was late for the meetup because Ada and I arrived in the city center from Bukit Padang post-sundown, and I still had to wash up and stuff, haha. I’m glad those guys didn’t leave me! From Borneo Café, we went to this food place in Damai, where I got to sample Chinese and Malaysian food. Of course we talked about travelling and CouchSurfing, but what’s funny is that we also ended up chatting (very passionately and animatedly, I must say) about books, since Raymond, Fiona, and Jinny read a lot too (I still owe you guys ebooks, I haven’t forgotten! Sorry I haven’t had the time to dig through my virtual library yet and pick out titles, but I promise I’ll get them to you!).
I’m new to CouchSurfing, and that was my first CS meetup. I’m glad it was a positive one. Jules is such a smart and funny guy; Jinny, one of the most thoughtful people I’ve met; Fiona is super helpful and a cheerful person; Raymond, a most enthusiastic bookworm; Paola is a lovely girl with interesting stories about her travels; Tom was a bit reserved and left kinda early but not before giving me tips for climbing Mt. Kinabalu! (There was another guy in the group, a traveller, but he was quite rude and I forgot his name. Props to Jules for keeping his cool and being a gracious host) Because of my CS experience in KK, I’ve become more active in my local CS group, and though I still can’t host travellers because I also move around a lot and—with work, grad school, and hiking—always have a busy sched, I’m open meeting up and participating in CS events. Meeting a band of friendly locals willing to guide you in a strange place and open their world to you enriches the travelling experience!
Steve was a fellow lodger in Lavender. On the morning of my third day, I went down early for breakfast and found neither Vee nor Ada in the dining area. Steve was the only one sitting solitarily at a table, cup of orange juice in hand, while the others were occupied with working or chatting with their friends over toast, so I asked if I could take the seat opposite his. He remarked on my shirt (featuring the statement “Mentally correcting your grammar” haha) and we got to chatting about what we did, where we’d been, why we were there. It turned out that we booked a Mt. Kinabalu climb package under the same company, and that we were both waiting for Downbelow to fetch us from the lodge and take us to Kinabalu Park. During our ride to the park, our pre-climb hike around the many trails there, and our stay at Laban Rata, we shared each other’s company and some interesting conversations.
Steve was an Irishman who had lived in UK, then moved to the United States, and finally settled in Australia. He’s a runner, cyclist, mountaineer, backpacker, reader, engineer, and graduate mathematics student—and thus he had a lot of stories about myriad things. I loved listening to him talk about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and backpacking around Indonesia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
He recounted how, after endless hours of trekking under difficult conditions, he’d told his guide in Mt. Kilimanjaro that he felt like giving up. The guide just stood there and said nothing, did nothing, waiting for him to move toward his choice: go back down or climb on up? Give up or plod on? And that’s when he realized that it’s really not the mountain you conquer, but yourself.
We also got to discuss the widespread poverty in the Third World. He observed that though Bangladesh was the poorest country, they were also rated the happiest. We figured that it’s because everyone was uniformly poor—unlike in countries like the Philippines or the United States, they experienced no great economic gap, which leads to desire, envy, and frustration (how would you feel, for instance, if you lived in the squatters right behind a gated subdivision?). The people of Bangladesh make do with what they have, and despite the harsh conditions of life, find and make their own happiness.
Yap, Yipyip, and Kit—the three Malaysian Chinese gentlemen! I met them in Mesilau Park on the day before I climbed Mt. Kinabalu. They’ve been friends since they were children, and though they live far away from each other now (Kit, for instance, is based in America), they still find time to see each other, like in that trip. They sort of adopted me into their group because they felt sorry for the solitary traveler, haha! Plus they worried for me because I’m a girl (it’s not in their culture for young women to travel alone, apparently). Kit even gave me a long, fatherly lecture about the dangers of going solo and trusting strangers (like I did them, haha). I did imbibe the lesson “don’t talk to strangers” very well since childhood, but I went with these three anyway because I instinctively felt that they were good people and had my best interests at heart. I am very grateful to them for their company and for all the care they showed for me. I shudder to think how awkward I would have felt that first night in Mesilau, eating dinner alone in the great hall of the Renanthera Restaurant!
Kit, especially, looked out for me when we climbed Mt. Kinabalu (Yipyip and Yap stayed in Mesilau) and made sure I took all the thinkable safety precautions. He even shared the payment for a porter to carry our stuff (the bulk of it mine) so we wouldn’t have such a hard time climbing the steep trails of the mountain. He also told me a few things about the history of Sabah and its people—the indigenous Kadazans, the Chinese, the Muslims, and other migrants. Like Vee and Ada, he also encouraged me to visit Chiang Mai someday, and to save up for the cultural-historical climb of a lifetime: Machu Picchu. Chiang Mai, I think I can manage to visit within the next three or so years. Machu Picchu sounds like a dream, but it’s on my bucket list!
Safrey was my mountain guide, and with thirteen hours’ worth of trekking and conversations between us, we became friends. I have him to thank for my life, haha! The final assault to the summit was super-cold, super-steep, and at some points super-slippery—I stumbled and lost my footing a few times and would have fallen if he hadn’t managed to catch me every time. I also have him to thank for my pictures of the wondrous sights at the summit! I’d brought only my Bell&Howell BF45 camera, and when I ran out of film, he let me borrow his own digicam and also took pictures for me.
Aside from being a mountain guide, Safrey is a skyrunner (the very title sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Haha). Skyrunning is a kind of extreme sport that involves running up a mountain exceeding 2000 MASL, with an incline above 30%. Safrey competes in races in his native Sabah and abroad (including Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, and recently, the Philippines), and usually places within the top 5 or 10 runners in the annual Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon. Last year I think he ran up and down Mt. Kinabalu in under three hours (quite a feat I assure you!). I’m quite proud of him and am glad I got him as a guide, though I couldn’t call my climb in Mt. Kinabalu leisurely because of him! He set a very challenging pace, and I tried to keep up with him instead of asking him to slow down.
Keng and Yu Jin were part of a group of Chinese Malaysian youth that I met in Laban Rata. I felt a little jealous of them because their whole barkada (circle of friends) went travelling together, and they looked like they had a blast, despite all the teasing among them! :p I really enjoyed hanging out with them because they were such a funny, jolly lot! I hope their plan to visit the Philippines pushes through, I’d be happy to show them around.
Being reserved by nature, I’m surprised that I made so many friends in my short stay in KK. I guess there’s just something about travelling, about uprooting yourself from home and all the comfortable, familiar situations and persons attached to it, to wander in a place where you’re never quite sure what to expect, that makes you more open to new experiences and people. After all, people, especially travelers, can be infinitely interesting, and what do you travel for but to open your mind and learn?–about places, people, and–though some journey to leave it–the self.
Lesson #1: HOW TO PLAN A TRIP
Lesson #3: THE JOYS OF SOLO TRAVEL
Lesson #4: THE TRAVEL FLING
Lesson #5: I LOVE THE PHILIPPINES!