Hiking in the Cordilleras

getting there

The northern part of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, promises some interesting hiking. Only one little challenge: it takes over six hours by car to get there from Manila, the capital of the Republic. Early March 2017, I joined a group for a hike up Mount Ulap (loosely translated into “mountain of the clouds”). Beyond Outdoor Adventures has proven reliable and professional last year, when I joined them for the Pico de Loro hike, so I was comfortable that they would do a good job this time around as well.

In practical terms, this meant leaving the hotel before 01:30 (this is AM ….for the citizens of Trumpistan) to reach the meeting point by 01:45. I went to bed around 20:00 the night before, so at least 5 hours of beauty sleep. This screenshot of my mobile phone lock screen suffices as proof…. (btw the background picture is a Herzog DeMeuron designed staircase in Colmar, pic by www.jrbc.net)

After four hours on the highway, breakfast stop at 06:00 in a fast food joint. “Gourmet Burger with Coffee” for PHP 55, which corresponds to CHF 1.10 at the time of writing, isn’t exactly my choice of breakfast, but the alternatives were significantly less appealing.

Another two hours later, we reached the park entrance, the massive Ampucao Barangay Hall. Registration, introduction and prayers – at 08:30 we were good to go 🙂

the hike

(the right moment to change to present tense…)

Our local guide, a mother of four at the age of 24, tells me that she needs to walk for one hour from her village in case she or her kids need to see a doctor. Her two youngest kids spend the peak guiding-season with their grandparents in a village that has yet to be connected to electricity. Mucho trabajo señor presidente D.

We walk over the Ulap ridge, a moderate uphill hike through a pine forest. Clean fresh air, a comfortable 20 degrees and blue sky. The trails are well maintained and the visitors and guides do a splendid job keeping the place hyper clean. No technical difficulties and no real cardio challenge, about 9 kms with a few hundred meters climb and a steep decent into Santa Fe hamlet is the program of the day.

Nine kilometres… one might assume that three hours should be sufficient inclusive of photo stops and a lunch break. But oh no oh no: our group, five tweens and myself take almost 9 hours to complete it. Endless (and I really mean it…) selfies, cardio-challenges and apparent technical difficulties for some group members stretch the whole affair into a full day event. Im totally worn out after the hike, my body is not used to snail-walking……

Courtesy of GoogleEarth and my new Polar M200:

the sights

 the dark side
the bright side

the people

well…. its the local guide and myself. Note the fashionable hat, costing me a full CHF 2.5 (last minute panic purchase at a local shop).

the dinner

Hypothetically, purely conceptually and theoretically we could have left the hiking area at 17:00 and drive back to Manila to reach the capital by app 22:30, but a stop over in Baguio to sample delicious local chicken rice, was too much of a temptation.

 

the return

well… getting there took us a good six hours, so why should getting back be any different? To cut a long story short: around 00:45 I was back at the hotel. Close to 24 hours for a 9 kilometre hike – a new record is set!

The Annual Beijing Ritual

Beijing fascinates me. Choosing my journey anywhere between the ultra-ancient and the ultra-modern remains incredibly seductive to me. The icing on the cake are the good company and sumptuous meals with friends and acquaintances every time I return.


This is the third trip to Beijing after we moved away from the capital city in June 2012.


The overnight flight from Singapore is on time; with the airport express and the subway I neatly beat rush hour traffic. By 09:00 I’m checked-in and ready to roam and ramble. Let the day one ritual begin: I wander through Central Park, Ritan Park, The Place and other familiar spots and concomitantly “mind-surf” about (mostly) good old memories and check out what has changed since last time and what remains. Restaurants and other shops come and go, a few perennial favourites (such as Annie’s…….) remain, last but not least the hairdresser in Dongdajialu, whom I used to visit frequently, still goes strong.


Comparatively heavy snowfall sets in after lunch. Snow on ancient structures, but which one to visit? Tripod, Nikon Df, ND filter and the GoPro, which has become one of my favourite travel cameras recently, packed and I’m wrapped up in Goretex, I ponder where to go: Tiananmen, Beihei, Ritan Park – nope, I take the subway towards Guangjisi, a small temple housing the headquarters of China’s Buddhist society. It’s relative petiteness, the quiet atmosphere, the paraphernalia shop and probably as a truly unique feature, no need to buy a ticket. Likely the only notable temple in China you can enter without purchasing a ticket (just to mention in case the Lonely Planet web crawler finds this site…).


  


The next morning brings yukee air and an urgent matter from Singapore to attended to, so I transform instantly into a Gen(Y) migrant IT-savvy, roaming worker: I waddle to a Western Coffee Shop, order the mother of all Megatallgigaventilattes, pull an Apple Laptop, notabene a 2009 Macbook Air 13″, which to this date works perfectly well, out of my bag and settle in. This antiquated machine immediately outs me as an outdated GenY-model. The Costas and Shinbakes appear to be flourishing even more than before, maybe Xidada’s disruptive anti-corruption policy drives people form the Abalone cum Ch. Petrus snacks into the Coffee Shops for meetings? One looses, the other one gains.


Day three – what a miracle: cold winds from the North drove all the pollution out of town, I join Beijing hikers (www.beijinghikers.com) for a hike on the Wall. A perfect day: blue skies, panoramic views, the wall covered with a bit of snow, which accentuates the “dragon’s” back making it more visible on its journey over the mountains bordering Hebei and Beijing. A small group of hikers and two funny and competent guides, plenty of photo stops, conversations and laughter.

I stand in awe on the wall, cannot stop gazing around and soaking it in. In the to-be-published Asterix in China, Obelix will certainly say: “delirant, isti Cinesi”.

Check my youtube channel HERE and HERE for some stunning scenery.

Local kopi and coffee shops

If you want to go fully local….It needs a bit of experience, expertise and language skills to order a coffee or a tea in Singapore… The choice is all yours !!

kopi = coffee (easy ey…..)

teh = tea (also rather trivial)

si = with condensed milk

o = with evaporated milk

Kosong = no sugar

Peng = ice

==> so an ice milk tea without sugar – teh si kosong peng.

 

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If this is too complicated, there is an increasing number of sophisticated (aka the REAL continental european bread…) bakeries and latte shops

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 la vita e bella