traveling

Climbing Mount Kinabalu (On A Budget)

So you’re one of those outgoing types and want to climb the tallest mountain in the Malay Archipelago?  Well if you’re prepared to get your ass handed to you to see one of the most breathtaking and beautiful sunrises ever – continue to read this post.  If not, read it anyways, you’ll learn a bunch!

(Quick Very Important Note Dated March 7, 2015: The mountain is INSANELY booked right now.  If you’re seriously thinking about hiking Kinabalu anytime in the near future, read all of this, and RIGHT NOW.  You’ll be lucky if you can find yourself a spot.  Read on, trust me.)

Hiking Mount Kinabalu has been something I’ve been wanting to cross off my bucket list since I heard about it from a fellow backpacking nomad sometime during my first SEAsian excursion years back.  Since then it’s been in the back of my mind and finally this year I made it over to Sabah mainly for this reason and to go diving in the Semporna area.  Not being used to the way things work around here in Sabah just yet, Jess and I showed up and rented a motorbike and started off on our journey not really thinking too hardly about booking in advance and such.  Five or so days into the journey we were starting to plan a bit about the mountain and started doing some research.  I randomly went to the travel agency outside our hotel and asked about pricing for hiking the mountain.  The woman came back at me with prices ranging from Rm1350 ($369.99) all the way up to Rm2000 ($548) and beyond!! (Quick Note: Rm = Ringgit Malaysian, the currency of Malaysia.)  These package deals, which I personally can’t stand, will include everything from transport to and from Kinabalu Park, way too many meals, and probably a bunch of other bells and whistles you don’t necessarily need and/or want.  We had already rented a motorbike for weeks in advance, didn’t need all that extra food, and mainly didn’t want to spend $400!  Beyond that, she also told us that hiking the mountain was basically booked until sometime in July.  Fail.  Epic fail.

A bit flustered, we took off from KK (Kota Kinabalu) for a five to seven day journey realizing that we would need do some serious research into booking this experience as we were here now and absolutely needed to make this happen.  I hopped on Google and came across an absolutely wonderful blog titled Notes of Nomads written by fellow travel addicts like myself that had brilliantly spelled out how they got around the insane prices and climbed Kinabalu on a budget (if you’re reading this – thanks again Jessica and Hai!!).  From their advice and the comments on one of their posts about it all I started seriously digging.

On their recommendation I first ended up contacting Sutera Harbour‘s Sanctuary Lodges, which funny enough, is a side business of a 5-Star resort based around Kota Kinabalu and more importantly – the exact company that the package deal from any travel agency is going to sell you on, without telling you who it’s through.  From what I could now tell, this company is basically the only way to tackle this incredible feat.  If you contact Sutera directly (which I don’t recommend) you’re looking at the following packages and prices:

Sutera Packages

Rm835 is still $230 per person.  The catch is this: all that is without the guide and park fees.  Add another Rm175 or so and you’re going to look at a grand total of about Rm985 ($270)!!  They also only offer the 3D/2N package.  You may or may not have that amount of time, or even want to do that.  The reality of it is that you’re more than likely going to be insanely sore after the hike and you will probably want the extra night once you’re down from the mountain to get a good night’s rest and rest your legs which will be absolute jello.  You’ll see again though on the above list that they also include SEVEN meals.  You really just don’t need all of them.  You’ll barely want to eat much for any of the three hikes, as hiking on a full stomach is really just a good way to ask for an uncomfortable side ache, or worse, a decent vomiting session somewhere along the trail.  Regardless of all this, I contacted them because I really wanted to hike this mountain.  They got back to me with the same news as the package lady in KK did – they’re fully booked until July.  Fail again.

Reading further into the comments section on the Kinabalu post from Notes of Nomads I started to notice the author and commenters mentioning something about a possible option through a company called Jungle Jack Backpacker.  Having a Malaysia SIM card already with 3G on it (Rm30/800MB) already I looked up Jungle Jack at his Facebook page and noticed his phone number 010 947 7509 (or +6 010 947 7509 from out of the country) and gave him a call.  Jack himself answered the phone and gave me simple details on what was up for climbing the mountain through him.

Jack offers all the way up to 4D/3N, though you can rock the 3D/2N or 2D/1N package, without all the extra bells and whistles from Sutera and for the lowest price I’d heard yet: Rm630 ($172).  You can stay with Jack out at his property 1km away from Kinabalu Park the night before your 9.30am climb and the night after your 2.30am climb, and honestly probably the night after if you wanted – Jack is about as sweet of a man as it gets.  After Jack explained this and also let me know that the mountain is basically full non-stop these days, I asked him when was available – he said get here Sunday, you can hike Monday the 2nd (of March).  Perfect I said.  STOKE – this was going to happen!  Jess and I got back to KK in time to repack our smaller bags with the gear needed for hiking and took off to find Jack’s place.

Jungle Jack’s Backpacker Hostel is located on the left side of the road on Route 22 which runs from the Tuaran area past Kinabalu Park to Ranau and beyond.  Here’s where Jack’s place is on the map (the red marker – click to enlarge photos):

Jungle Jack Location 1

Jungle Jack Location 2

Jess and I had our own motorbike to get around (as we’re not much into being shuttled around like cattle), but if you don’t have your own transportation, I’d say the best way to get there would be to either hitchhike, or take a bus get dropped off at Kinabalu Park like everyone else, and then carefully walk the 1km back to Jack’s – WEST of Kinabalu Park.  Most of the locals around the area know who he is, so ask around if you’re not sure where you are.  (Quick Note: We stopped in at Jack’s today and asked how most people get to his spot.  He said by bus.  Just tell the bus driver you’re going to Jungle Jack and they should know where to drop you.)

If your eyes are seeing a view of this from the road – you’re at the right place:

Jack Entrance

Once you arrive at Jack’s, be prepared – the man comes off a little more forward in a crazy way than you may be used to at first from a Malaysian man, but you will hilariously get used to it and love it.  The man is a hoot!  He’s really incredible.  You’ll basically pay Jack the Rm630 right when you arrive at his place (don’t forget to ask him about the Rm55), and he goes and takes care of getting all your details for hiking the next day in order (license, insurance, guide, etc.).  He then tells you to chill out and relax a while before he’ll take you out to a fantastic local dinner.

(Quick Note: Do yourself a favor – DO NOT ask Jack too many questions until you get there.  The man is fairly busy and has somewhat of a short fuse in a humorous way, and he doesn’t want to deal with loads of empty questions for no reason.  Ask him when you can climb, when to show up, and let him to the rest of the talking.  He’ll confirm with you and then you’re set.  From there, just show up with Rm630.  He’ll take care of the rest.)

All that said if you’re attempting to climb Mount Kinabalu anytime soon – you better have a date in mind and be ready to hit up our friend Jack for a spot, as it is insanely booked through July 2015 at the moment.  Do yourself a favor and don’t book through the monopoly of Sutera (I’ll explain more about this in another post).  Book through Jack, get a real Kinabalu experience, and learn a bunch of history about it all from Jack himself.  Also, not to get your hopes up, but if you’re here in Sabah reading this right now and everything seems to be booked, there’s still a chance if you call him you could potentially have the opportunity to jump into a cancellation spot.  Even with the crazy wait list, people do still end up not showing, so if you have the patience and time to maybe wait a few extra days it’s possible you can still get up to the summit!

Again here’s Jack’s info:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/junglejackbackpacker
Phone:  010 947 7509 (Inside Malaysia) or +6 010 947 7509 (Outside Malaysia)
Remember – it’s best to call him!

I’m working on my post on the actual Mount Kinabalu climb currently.  As soon as it’s done, I will link it right here!  Happy hunting and climbing everyone!  Tell Jack Shawn and Jessica say hello when you see him!

:ps: To give you an idea of what you’re in for, this is what Jack will reply to you via Facebook:

Welcome to Jungle Jack’s! Located just 1 km from the entrance of Mount Kinabalu National Park, Jack’s place is ideal for both young travellers and families Impressum 630 Long Description Situated less than 1km from Mount Kinabalu Park, this is the ideal location for the budget backpacker endeavouring to climb Mount Kinabalu. The all-inclusive package offers comfortable accommodation in one of the 6 bed dorms, home cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner and full access to the outdoor jungle kitchen with unlimited tea, coffee and tropical fruits. There are also modest bathrooms with a hot shower.

Surrounding Jungle Jacks’ is an area of natural beauty, with wild Orchids, untouched jungle and a stunning view of Mount Kinabalu. During your stay you can rent a scooter for just 30rm (including petrol) and visit the nearby Poring Hot Springs, local markets and farms.

Jungle Jack is a welcoming host with a warm heart, willing to go the extra mile to make your stay a memorable one. As well as being a great chef, he can help you to climb Mount Kinabalu at a great rate so for further details contact Uncle Jack on: 010 947 7509

How do I get there? Jungle Jack is located on the A4 highway near Mount Kinabalu. When coming from Kota Kinabalu, it’s approximately 1 km before arriving at the Mount Kinabalu Park Entrance. To get there from Kota Kinabalu you can take the bus towards Ranau and ask the driver to drop you off Jungle Jack. The bus from Kota Kinabalu should cost about 20 MYR and take approximately 2 hours.

How much does it cost? The cost is 630 MYR. This includes 3 nights accommodation, 2 at Jungle Jack’s hostel and 1 at the base camp on the mountain, climbing permits, a guide, food at Jungle Jack’s and 1 dinner at the restaurant on the mountain. For lunch and breakfast on the mountain you can take as much food and drinks as you want from Jungle Jack and bring it up there. I.e.: sandwiches, packaged noodles, etc. There is a water boiler up there to cook the noodles.

What do I need to bring? Aside from the basics, you’ll want to bring warm clothes as the summit and higher altitudes can be quite chilly. As rain is very likely, you’ll definitely want a rain jacket and/or a poncho as well as a way to keep your backpack dry. You’ll be trekking to the summit in darkness, so you’ll want a headlamp to light the way. Gloves will come in handy for holding onto the ropes leading to the summit. Snacks high in sugar and protein are good fuel for the long hike up. Make sure you have good hiking shoes that grip well since the trail can be slippery. There may be some clothes you can borrow from Jungle Jack.

How long will it take? You should plan on at least three days, but may want to leave a extra day just in case. You should plan on arriving the afternoon before your climb. In the morning you will climb the very steep 6 km to a hut partway up the mountain and spend the night there. The following morning you’ll wake up very early (like 2 am early!) and climb to the summit in time to see the sunrise. You’ll then descend the entire way and arrive back at Jungle Jack’s mid-afternoon. You’ll likely want to spend the night after your climb at Jungle Jack’s, but you can leave that same afternoon if needed.

How difficult is the hike? The hike is not technical, but you should be in decent physical shape to be able to make it to the summit (and back). The trail is 8.7 km each way and ascends about 2200 meters (that’s a lot!).(MAKE BOOKING ONLY IF YOU ALL HAPPY WITH RM 630pp)

If your question wasn’t answered here, DON’T come or call 0109477509.

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A quick glace look at what goes into a rucksack for globetrotting…

Salamat Datang!

That’s ‘Welcome’ in Malay/Indonesian.  I’m currently in Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia.  It’s hot.  It’s sticky.  It’s gorgeous.  Thought I’d pop off a quick post of this video I took right before hitting the airport in Seattle to take off on this walkabout…literally.  Here’s a quick look at what goes into my rucksack (usually – if I was headed to India this would be a completely different story) before taking off on one of my wild globetrotting experiences around SEAsia:

Not mentioned in the video (in bag or whatever): Leatherman, vitamins, a simple first aid kit, random assortment of power adapters for different countries, pack towel(s), 5 liter dry bag, and last but not least Socks (not really needed…EVER almost – I mess this up every year).

Here’s link’s to a few of the products seen in this video:

KEENS
www.keenfootwear.com

Aqualung Favola Mask
http://www.aqualung.com/us/gear/masks/item/79-favola
(You can get these cheaper on eBay.)

REI Siesta Sheet
http://www.rei.com/product/808848/rei-siesta-sheet
(Apparently these aren’t available anymore, but they have similar items.)


Kelty Red Cloud
http://www.kelty.com/p-844-red-cloud-90.aspx

Space Bags
https://www.spacebag.com/

All that said, once I arrived I already realized I overpacked – AGAIN.  Mainly I did not need the socks and that many T-Shirts – it’s just too hot!

Boom boom, it’s hot out, we’re eating Mee Sup Tom Yam Seafood for breakfast and then off to a waterfall!

Loves!

A Safe & Portable Clean Water Solution For Your Travels.

Okay, so you’re going traveling abroad to a country that is particularly known for not having the cleanest drinking water and you’d like to do your best to not get sick.  For the fairly cheap price of around $125, you too can have a safe and insanely portable solution to cleaning your drinking water on your next trip.  All you require is two products:

~ Steripen Freedom ~

This amazing little device is a bit smaller than the length of the average male hand.  Not only is it incredibly small, but it is USB powered for any of you tech travel geeks that may have your laptop.  The device comes with a USB driven wall charger as well, but you’ll need to find your own adapters for whichever country you’re headed to.  The Freedom charges full in just over an hour and lasts up to 40-50 half liter treatments on one charge!  It packs a powerful UV Light that treats water for a wide range of things you don’t want to drink such as: E. Coli, Hepatitis, Salmonella, and Giardia.  I personally didn’t use it all that much, but if you twist the Freedom in your hand 3 times, it also has a fairly bright LED flashlight that pops on for about 2 minutes.  All in all this device is small, light, easy to carry anywhere, and only $99.95 at Steripen’s WebSite: http://www.steripen.com/freedom/ , OR you can click this little link to probably find it for about $75 on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1qyGXfM .

794.151071_e

~ Camelbak Groove ~

This BPA free plastic water bottle isn’t your ordinary water companion.  The .6 liter/20 oz bottle houses a plant based carbon filter straw system that’s good for around 3 months and/or 300 uses.  For a small fee of $20 (or $30 if you want to purchase a few replacement filters from the start), this lightweight and easy to clip onto any backpack water bottle can be yours for $19.99 at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1qyKuuj .

You may think ‘Why is the water bottle necessary when I probably have plenty already?  Good question.  Well, just because you’re cleansing the water of bacteria doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to taste that great.  The carbon filter in the Groove gives your hydration that extra filtration to make it taste just fine.

So you’ve got your two products. Simply follow this insanely high tech video I just shot and you’re good to go!

This was not an original idea by the way.  It was recommended to me by my dear friend Dawn (World Class Traveler, check out her photography here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/playapixie/sets/) when I met up with her traveling through India.  I took it upon myself to try out her suggestion the next trip I went on, and was sold instantly.  Thanks again Dawn!

The Catch-22 of Traveling…

Narita

(Click for an enlarged view.)

It’s days like today that really remind me of the whole Catch-22 of traveling.

Will start with the weird.  Riding through the spectacular hills around the Solan and Shimla area in Northwestern India today on my way to Mandi, the Endfield Thunderbird 350cc started acting up again, as it had the previous night.  When throttled to a certain point the bike starts spurtering.  Knowing a bit about bikes I had an idea what was wrong, but wasn’t sure.  Thankfully, I made it safe to Solan last night, and hadn’t broken down in the middle of no where.

Today after making it through the crowded Highway 88 through Shimla, the bike started to spurted again while driving.  At this point I was a good 30ish clicks outside of  Shimla, and there was not much around in sight except the grey-purple-bluish hills and greenery everywhere.  Then, Narita (she, the bike gave herself a name yesterday) just decides to putter a few spastic times while slowing down in 3rd, and comes to a halt, and shuts off. Ahem.

(Quick insertation to note that about twenty minutes before this I had just pulled over for almost an hour to fix it a first time, replacing the spark plug, fuel line to the carburetor, and cleaning the carburetor itself for 100 rps,  I tipped the man, who really knew his stuff 40 rps.  Narita seemed like she was fixed…)

I’ve had plenty of issues with bikes traveling in the past years from the obvious flat tubes in the tires to bald tires to crashes to beyond crashes to fuel lines bursting to driving into a restricted area and spending the night at military barracks to…having your bike decide to completely quit on you no where near a shop, and especially an Enfield shop (which are politely enough placed around India, but mostly in larger towns/cities).  Trying a few quick fixes put me no where.   Next step: find someone and see if they know anything about bikes.

There just happened to be this odd, decently sized building about a fourth of a click back.  I walked over to find a few security guards hovering around, one of which spoke decent enough English to have a conversation about what was going on.  He tells me to roll the bike over to attempt to get it going near the shop and off the road.  After pushing it over, a few tries of the same sort were gone over, and the fuel was checked, as for some odd reason, they were convinced I’d been given kerosene even though I’d told them I’d gotten petrol at a real station.  Strange.  Through this process, I noticed smoke coming from the carburetor, obviously not a good sign.

Narita would not start whatsoever, she’d give a few turns of the engine and that was it.  Next step: see if they know anyone they can call for me to pick-up truck the bike back to the Enfield shop I’d seen in Chakkar, right before Shimla, for a fee.  A little chat between the guards, and they decide on a number, give it a call, and the guy agrees to come out and take me where I need to go.

By this time, the usual crowd of watchers and/or participators has happened.  This is a phenomenon here in India that can happen anywhere at anytime as a traveler.  You can be going about your merry business of whatever, and this action easily could turn into something that will have a few to a load of spectators just staring you down silently, or asking you in broken English where you are from and what is going on.  If something is wrong, a few of these people may help you out in some way.  The case today was that the 6 or so men that happened to come out and check out the issue all helped out, which was great, as it required all of us to lift the bike into the back of the truck.

Loaded and strapped, Narita sat in the back and I gave many handshakes and said many thank you’s to them all, then took off for the Enfield shop.  The driver spoke no English, so the ride was mostly silent except for a random call from a friend traveling through Thailand, which ended up being a perfect little dip out of what was going on to chill out for a moment while driving through the hills.  Being around half past six or so, you never know if whatever destination you’re going to will be open unless it’s a hotel or a restaurant – and even then…places just close whenever they want out here.

Pulling up to the Royal Enfield shop, we can already tell they’re packing up for the night and shutting down.  The driver explains in Hindi what’s up from what he knows, and I give my version in English.  Turns out one of the mechanics speaks the language rather well.  He takes off his gloves and and sets down his backpack and we grab the bike out of the truck and double wheel it upright inside the garage.  Two gents quickly get to work on taking apart the carburetor and fuel filter assembly.  The fuel filter is basically black, and the carburetor is cleaned, and the bike reassembled.  The main guy (can’t remember his name) takes it for a spin, comes back, and isn’t satisfied it’s working.  At this point it’s either the carburetor, or they’re not sure.  A second-hand carburetor for a Thunderbird is found, implemented and she’s driven for another test.

Success.

This is great news, even though at this point the day is basically a wash.  You never know if the shop will have the part, how expensive it will be, or a multitude of factors, though you can pick up how much some items are after a while of buying them over and over.

The whole process ended up taking about five plus hours and costing somewhere in the 3000 rps range (the shop also did not charge me labor fees, while the two gentleman and lady were working after hours), which in reality is only around $55, though in travel talk that is a day’s worth spending, or when speaking to the right person, four or five days worth of budget.  At this specific moment in time I’m a bit tight, so I wasn’t too excited about all this.

Begin the Catch-22 of traveling.  I’m traveling around a foreign country, literally half way across the world, riding a gorgeous motorcycle that most Indians would dream of owning once in their life time, eating wherever I want, doing whatever I want, and living it up the fullest.  Those around me, besides the occasional other backpacker, are mostly earning anywhere from 100-400 rps a day, with your exception every so often depending on their line of work.  Today I spend a month or more‘s worth of someone’s income just to deal with fixing my motorcycle so that I could continue on to meet some travelers from Isreal and the UK that I clicked with well in Rishikesh days prior.

Right.  Perspective.

I notice while traveling in developing countries this notion of a Catch-22…the in-between point of being so overwhelmed with emotions of the positive nature, while plowing through neighborhoods of very poor human beings, who only many times, have this idea in their head that coming to wherever it is that you come from is a much better place than where they reside.  In some cases, this is absolutely true.  I’ve seen slums so humbling out here in India and other countries in Southeast Asia, that I was silent for hours.  Coming from white, middle-class America in Edmonds, WA, places of this nature were as unknown as walking on the Moon until I saw them, breathed the air, and felt the energy of their people.

This notions will always remind that while my country, the United States of America, is not perfect by any means (mostly due to the government and the people paying the government), it is a country where you more than likely are driving a car, saying whatever you want, own a laptop and an iPod, go through smartphones all the time, and hey, you even have a shower head and a toilet to sit on!  So many in Westernized countries forget that most of the world does not have these leisures that many would freak out if they did not have.

I am extremely fortunate for what I have been able to see and witness in countries far away from where I am from, and usually reside in.  Tell the larger percentage of Indians or Southeast Asians how much a plane ticket costs to the States, and you just get a smile and laugh, with the vibe that they know they’ll never be able to afford it, or afford the trip with enough space to be able to take a ‘holiday’ or even better, live and work in instead.  I am humbled a thousand fold by this, and when the travels get tough for whatever reason, need to remind myself exactly what it is that I am able to do because I was born in the United States to a loving family with a solid income (thanks Mom and Pop for everything!).

Tomorrow I will ride on towards the Dharamsala area and continue to smile heavily towards every single sentient being wherever it is I decide to stop or stay.  There is reportedly 7.1 BILLION humans on Earth, and we are all special in our own way.  The views and the beaches and the motorcycles and the food (gulab jamun!!) and the ashrams and the temples and the backpackers and the lifestyle of traveling are exciting, stunning, and breathtaking – but being able to meet human beings that have a different set of beliefs and lifestyles through the planet – this is life changing, and I will forever take to heart how massively unique this our rock flying around the Sun truly is.  When we figure out how to unify as a planet, as a species, something magnificent will take place.  I have hope.