Tag Archives: trekking

Tales from the Moluccas #3: Ibilihi’s Nutmeg

4 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We pick up Ibilihi from his home on a narrow strand of yellow beach, backed by jungle sprouting out of coral cliffs, where he lives with his second wife and her disabled child, on a four by six sleeping platform with a fanpalm roof and a lower shelf for food and guests.

Skulls of deer and wild pig accumulate under a palm with split coconut shells, a midden for future archaeologists like the scallop shell mound we saw on Mariquit in the Philippines. There’s some scrappy cassava, a couple of coconut palms, some banana, but essentially, Ibilihi likes to live off the land.

The walking, breathing epitome of dour, Ibilihi is from the Togutil tribal minority. He’ll be one of our guides to the jungle of Eastern Halmahera, where we are going in quest of those of his people who still live as nomads, hunting and gathering in the forests. Continue reading

Machete Lessons for Beginners

3 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It would be fair to say that watching one’s nine-year-old son improve his machete skills while 8-12 hours from *any* form of medical care, however basic, is not a relaxing activity.

And indeed, a perhaps unnecessarily large number of utterances such as, “Christ, Z, AWAY from your fingers, not towards them,” and, “F***sake, darling, do you really need to take such a big swing? Remember when the blade flew off in Laos?” have echoed through the jungles of Halmahera of late. Continue reading

When Travel Becomes Time Travel

23 Sep

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Tomorrow we embark for Pulau Halmahera, one of Indonesia’s Spice Islands, where we will travel back in time.

Our aim? To experience the nomadic hunter-gatherer life as it is still lived today, among unassimilated Togutil people.

And this is a journey almost as close to time travel as it is possible to get. A step right back into human history. Continue reading

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

14 Aug

Low's Peak casts a shadow and refracts the sunrise, Mount Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Dali would have loved the summit of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak between the Himalayas and New Guinea.

Granite towers, horns and cowslicks protrude improbably from a landscape of fractured moraines and curvaceous drops, polished clean by Pleistocene glaciers and decked with gleaming waterfalls.

And watching the rising sun refract around these surrealist sculptures and illuminate Low’s Gully, which falls dark and sheer for over a kilometre, is a memory that will last forever.

Unlike the thigh and calf pain, which I am told should be gone within the week. Continue reading

Ulp. It’s an Alp.

10 Aug

The flag of Sabah state, with Mount Kinabalu shaded in blue on the top left.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]When a mountain makes it onto the state flag, you know it’s a big old mountain. And Mount Kinabalu, which stands over 4000m above Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, is certainly that.

The nine year old and I will be climbing it on Wednesday and Thursday. (Well, hiking, technically, albeit with the odd bit of rope and head-torch action.)

And every time I see the bloody thing looming up, I wonder whether this is a good idea. Particularly since one part of Z’s incentive package for the summit climb is that I am giving up smoking.

Not for the first time, it has to be said, but hopefully for the last. Continue reading

Ecotourism? My *rse

21 Jun

Zipwiring through the canopy of tropical forest, Laos.

Zipwiring. Great fun. But not exactly green.


Monday morning sees us in Chiang Mai, for centuries capital of an independent state, sometimes Siamese, other times Burmese, now the hub of northern Thailand. If you’re Thai, it’s a city of culture and spirituality, of wooden temples, medieval monasteries, crumbling chedi, universities…

If you’re a tourist it’s the regional centre of those outdoor activities so bewilderingly bundled together under the headings “ecotourism” and “trekking”. Zipwiring. Whitewater rafting.
Rockclimbing… Erm… ATVing… Paintballing…

Now, I see how whitewater rafting could loosely count as trekking and perhaps be branded eco-friendly. But since when has zipwiring been green? And as for churning up the highlands with diesel-spewing quadbikes… Continue reading

Spirits of the Forest

18 Jun

Lichens form webs of green, pink and orange on the bark of a tropical tree. Nam Ha protected area, Luang Namtha, Northern Laos.

Tropical lichens spin their symbiotic web on a mature tree.

The sheer complexity of the ecosystem in protected, mature forest, from lichens spinning their symbiotic webs across old bark to the chaos wild pigs wreak on stands of giant bamboo, gives you a whole new perspective on the world and your infinitesimal place within it.

And when your guides are animists, who whole-heartedly believe in the spirits of the forest, the experience is deeper. When hiking in Europe you might lay a stone upon a cairn, as a good luck sign and mark of your travels. In the Nam Ha protected region of northern Laos you lay an offering of leaves at a sacred place. Continue reading

Here Comes the Rain…

28 Apr

View from the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Palawan, Philippines: jagged rock and turquoise water.

Not, actually, a waterfall. Just the rain beginning....

Maybe it’s El Nino. Maybe it’s climate change. Maybe we’ve brought the English summer with us. But it feels like the rains have come early this year. And Z is overjoyed.

We walked to the Puerto Princesa underground river yesterday — supposedly the world’s longest navigable river — under heavy skies and dripping leaves. And as we emerged from the darkness of the cathedral cave into the green of the coastal forest where the river meets the sea, the rain fell in great sheets, ruffling the waters and throwing up spray. It felt, for a moment, as if we were paddling out into a waterfall.

There was a thunderstorm last night. There is a thunderstorm now, with bugs sheltering from the raindrops and flooding the lights, the grass a vivid green, the streams swelling already, gouts of water pouring from the nipa thatch, and a blessed coolness in the air. There will be thunderstorms tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that.

Three days ago, this was the view from our beach hut. Continue reading

Virachey National Park

15 Feb

Virachey National ParkVirachey National Park sprawls across northeastern Cambodia, right up to the borders with Vietnam and Laos.

Within it is a fraction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the network of camouflaged roads along which North Vietnamese forces transported troops and supplies to the south during the American War, and deep in the unexplored interior are endangered species including cloudy leopards and black bear.

At the national park headquarters in the provincial capital, Ban Lung, an establishment whose grandiose scale belies the fact that salaries have not been paid since the development budget ran out, we pack up faux-US Army camouflage bedding and embark on the trip to the boundary. Continue reading

Poachers and Gamekeepers

5 Feb

young monk, bokor wat, bokor national park, cambodia

“You want beer party now?”

As we wandered the haunted hotel by torchlight, Saa’s invitation kind of broke the mood.

The Bokor Hill Station, a French colonial ghost town in Bokor National Park, Cambodia, is film-set spooky. Western explorers discovered the area in 1917, then a road and a beautiful art deco hill station followed during the 20s.

At the Bokor Grand Hotel and Casino, gamblers lost fortunes then threw themselves from the verandah into the ravine below.

As it happens, having hiked ten miles uphill with the prospect of more of the same tomorrow, I didn’t fancy a beer party. Z son did. But only if he was allowed to drink beer. Continue reading