Sigirya dominated the landscape. A two-hundred metre high rock, jutting up from the flat landscape like a fist. More than just a stone monument, a climb to the top reveals a stunning revelation – the ruins of an ancient kingdom remain on the summit.Read more
We were the last ones in the bus, sitting in the back seat with our backpacks still on. We craned our necks to find any kind of sign as to where we were, but night had already fallen, and there were no streetlamps on this zig-zagging mountain road. It reminded me very much of the bus stop scene in My Neighbour Totoro – a cold rain drumming on the roof of the bus, the dark and eerie forest climbing over the mountains, the squeaky old bus, occasionally a weathered street sign in Japanese characters.Read more
The quest took place in the Osa Peninsula, a jungle region sprouting off the south west of Costa Rica’s slender frame. Cindy and I arrived in gateway town Puerto Jimenez; getting here took two buses from coastal surfer town Uvita, a 3 hour stop at a petrol station (where we ate some kind of cold roadside fish soup), and a many hours sweating it out with the locals on their bumpy bus routes.
However, when National Geographic dubs a place as ‘the most biologically diverse place on earth’, you know it’s going to be worth it.
The hostel was Celvante Jungle Hostel, 5 kays out of town, surrounded by rich, green jungle, drowned out by the string instruments of insects and throating squawking of birdlife. No bedroom walls, just mosquito nets. A large, relaxed common room brought travellers together over communal dinner as pet cats hunted psychotic, dive-bombing cicadas. The cicadas were crazy, yes, but in the jungle I knew there was even more lucrative wildlife to be seen…
The sun set on just our second night in Costa Rica. The air was cool and peaceful, but something dramatic was happening to the treeline. A fiery crimson sunset had set the sky ablaze, darkening the surrounding clouds and turning them to plumes of purple smoke. The highest peak on Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo, cast it’s intimidating shadow upon the base camp town. Tomorrow, we would attack it head-on.
We were three; Cindy, myself, and Rachel, a solo-travelling Canadian from Montreal who we met at the bus stop the previous day. She spoke Spanish and helped us find the right bus. From San Isidro de el General, the local bus painstakingly crawled uphill to tiny, dusty San Gerardo de Rivas at the mountain’s base, barely a town, more a loose straggle of houses along a stretch of dirt road. Here we bought permits and reserved our base lodge accomodation.
We began at 5am. Our torchlight played tricks in the trees and shadows danced and stretched on the hard clay ground, whilst tropical birds performed their morning songs from unseen stages. The world was pitch black. The way was steep but I was so full of energy I barely noticed. Crestones base lodge was where we were headed, a 15km hike away, 1350m to 3400m in elevation. As the sun rose and the mountain ranges revealed themselves in dark shades of blue, we saw just how brutal the incline actually was. The first few kilometers ribboned upwards through hillside farmland, cow pastures and past barbed wire fences, eventually giving way to gigantic jungle trees, blotting out the mountain views and sunlight. Read more
I laced my boots in my hotel room in Kathmandu, and stood up. My feet felt indestructible. They were rentals from a trekking shop in Thamel, bulky leather constructions that looked antique. This district was popular with trekkers, a labyrinthine beehive of muddy, splashing potholed streets, sleeping cows, Hindu shrines and vegetable carts. As cars, sport bikes and bicycles wriggled past each other, displays of coloured jackets and backpacks faced off against traditional woollen beanies, pashmina scarves, and leather bags. It was 7am, and time to leave. I brought my huge black backpack, only half filled and strapped down absurdly so that it was almost folded in two. It was heavy, but manageable.
The official start of the Langtang trek was the small Himalayan town of Syabrubesi, nine hours from Kathmandu by local bus, overcrowded, smelly and with plenty of roof-riding passengers. Twice we disembarked from the bus and hiked for near an hour to the next bus, in places where catastrophic landslide events had destroyed the road. Boulders from football sized to the size of houses littered the slope. I was with Nava, my guide, a young Nepali man who knew the mountain well, my companion for 8 days.
I ticked an item off my bucket list in Chiang Mai. I rode an elephant. It felt strange to step on it’s great grey head as I boarded it, but once the docile pachyderm lumbered lazily along the path, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I admired it’s ancient face and envied it’s cheeky child-like attitude. Its rough skin was the shell of a coconut spotted with sparse wiry hair, it’s ears were huge, overcooked pancakes. The betel-chewing driver hit it on the head with a cruel spiked stick now and then; controlling it around the short jungle path seemed hard work, but the animal eventually and lazily complied. The curious trunk would occasionally unroll backwards, presenting us with two pink floating nostrils, noisily sucking in air as it demanded treats of sugar cane. Read more
Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of it’s association. Stone statues of cat families and sculptures of proud bronze felines overlook many of the city’s roundabouts, and adorn it’s manhole covers. Kuching has a cool charm, an easy magnetism centered around it’s riverside boardwalk and surrounding markets and restaurants. At night the boardwalk melts into two halves, an elongated, shimmering twin of coloured night lights floating carelessly in the reflection of the river. Kuching reminds me of Sydney’s Darling Harbour on a quiet weeknight. I had ten days to spend there but thought it a bit long. So I changed my plans.
The plane’s propellors whirled to a stop one by one as the pilot parked at Mulu National Park terminal. The landing had been bumpy, swerving nervously in response to imperfections on the tarmac of the jungle airstrip. ‘Jungle airstrip’, I smiled to myself. It was my childhood of Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Talespin and Tintin. Mulu National Park, in Sarawak’s far north, was an entirely different beast to Bako N.P. I liked Bako for it’s wildlife and ‘do it yourself’ trekking. Amazing natural formations were Mulu’s claim to fame, boasting some of the world’s biggest caves, tour guides a nessecity.