What Is and What's Not in Calaguas

Here's a little guide to help you manage your expectations on the island. Knowing what to expect, and not, will help you make the most of your trip to this paradise!

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Beauty Born Out of Destruction

As soon as I emerged from the trail, a magnificent beauty greeted me. Exhausted after a 1-hour-45-minute trek, the view was a pleasant reward. Who would have thought that this beautiful landscape was ironically created by destruction? It was simply beautiful.

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What is BRATpacking?

Everyone's familiar with the life of a backpacker -- those who live on a backpack to travel the world for long months, even years. They have the reputation of being grungy, spontaneous, friendly.

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Picking Our Way to Pico de Loro

I am not (yet!) a climbing enthusiast. In fact, this is my first real climb, as I consider my first two experiences of mountains as "treks" (Taal Volcano in 2005 and Sagada to Bomod-ok Falls in 2007). This is also my first camping trip as an adult, and I was worried that I wouldn't like it because of the absence of a toilet, shower, soft bed, nice linens, and all the other things that make life comfortable.

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

It was love at first sight. That kind of love that makes you feel lost, and yet you know you're home. That kind of love that overwhelms you with emotions, and yet you feel serene. That kind of love that makes you feel like a fool, and yet you don't care. This is my favorite spot on earth, where the place is enchanting and the people are endearing.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Goodbye, Robbi...

This brings me profound sadness. RIP, Robbi Sapinggi. You were amazing.

Photo Courtesy of Coalition Duchenne
Photo Courtesy of Coalition Duchenne

When I climbed Mt. Kinabalu in 2012, alone in a sea of people, I gave up just a quarter of the way towards the summit. I don't know if it was out of fear, exhaustion or sheer lack of determination, but I just couldn't push myself any longer. I was crying, and I never felt so alone. I was with a hundred strangers.

Robbi was one of the guides of our group. When he learned about my doubts in proceeding to the summit, he didn't encourage me to go on. He said there will always be a next time, and if I was not emotionally ready, we should just head back to Laban Rata. He also didn't proceed to the summit, and stayed with me instead. I felt ashamed of myself for being a failure, but he assured me that there's no shame in prioritizing health and safety.

I was shivering from the cold, and my gloves were wet from grabbing onto the rope. My fingers were almost frozen. Without hesitation, he removed his gloves and gave them to me. He kept me warm in a hut while waiting for sunrise, and calmed my nerves with his antics.

On our way down, he got my camera and took really good photos of me. We talked about Manila, Filipinos, and the Filipino TV drama series "Pangako sa Yo." Apparently it was shown in Malaysia, and he was a big fan! I told him I will come back to Mt. Kinabalu to reach the summit, and I will get him as my personal guide next time. Here are some of the photos of me that he took:

It is sad to learn that one great soul was claimed by the mountain during the earthquake yesterday. Robbi was a good man, and his passion to keep climbers safe and happy is unquestionable.

Robbi, you were a great man. Please know that you've touched so many lives. I'm sure that when I decide to climb Mt. Kinabalu again, I will hear your laughter resonating through the mountains.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Don't Tell My Mother...


I decided to celebrate my love for travel with a new ink -- this is Ganesha, the deity of wisdom in Hinduism. It is only proper to put it on my foot, because being a wanderer and BRATpacker has enriched my mind and brought me wisdom!

Below is the original design by sophiabaughan:

And this is the revised design made by my tattoo artist, Juanlou Enconcado (he also did my first tattoo):

I should have researched better before getting it, because apparently, the foot is one of the worst parts to get a tattoo! I tried distracting myself by watching a movie, but it only sounded gibberish. I was writhing in pain, but I tried not to move excessively or else my tattoo would be busted. The pinky toe was the worst: if only I could will myself to faint, I already did! But I guess the pain is part of the process, because after the gruelling 3-hour session, I was so proud I survived my second ink! Cheers for tats! :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sun, Sea, Sand and CATS: Seaside Travellers Inn

I love cats. I adore them. I'd go crazy if I am not living with one, but then again, I am already going crazy living with two wonderfully mischievous kitties, Qish and Rue.

Whenever I travel, I always have someone stay with them. If it's just a weekend trip, I hire a catsitter. If it's a week-long trip or longer, I ask my mom who lives in Oriental Mindoro to come to my apartment in Mandaluyong and care for them. She does so well in her job that whenever I come home, my cats are fat, spoiled beasts who would, by then, prefer asking food from my mom.

The hardest part for me when I am away is missing these sweet babies. So I taught my mom how to Skype and Whatsapp so I can see my cats all the time. You can imagine how happy I was when I got to my accommodation in Kota Kinabalu: Seaside Travellers Inn.

I read good reviews about this place on Trip Advisor. But nowhere did I read that it is such a paradise for cat lovers! It's teeming with herds of sweet, cuddly, friendly felines! I must be in heaven!

My room was big, a little tired but still homey. The staff was also very helpful and friendly. This place has so much character that I'd rather stay here than in a 5-star hotel.

The place has a restaurant by the sea, which serves good meals at friendly prices. I love having breakfast here -- they serve simple continental fare (bread with homemade jam, butter, coffee, tea and fruits), but the feeling of eating your meal slowly as you stare into the commanding view of the sea and nearby islands is truly a moment to cherish. 

Sunrise is beautiful:

As well as the sunset:

The beach is not exactly clean, and there's a warning about jellyfish but if you really want to swim, there's an outdoor pool. There are also benches by the sea, and this is my favorite spot:

The resort provides free wifi, and you can access it from virtually all corners. Now for the BEST FEATURE: kitties everywhere! There's one that looks like my Siamese, Qish, and another that looks like Rue in black and white. And she was my best friend there! Seriously, I hardly missed my cats because these kitties took good care of me!

There were a LOT MORE kitties, but I wasn't able to take photos of everyone.

Seaside Travelllers Inn is about 20-30 minutes from Kota Kinabalu City. It is located in Kinarut, and can be reached by getting a cab (RM50) or getting on a Mini-Bus (RM3). Mini-bus trips from Kinarut to KK are frequent, and you can just wait at the main road outside the resort. From KK, get to the bus terminal in Wawasan Plaza and board the mini-bus from there. By the way, it may be called a mini-bus, or bas mini, but it actually is just an L300 van (or something that resembles it).

The owner, James Ong, is very nice and pleasant to talk to. Here are their contact details:

Seaside Travellers Inn
Km. 20 Kota Kinabalu/Papar Road
Kampung Laut, Kinarut 89600
Papar, Sabah, Malaysia

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I Took A Thousand Steps to Mt. Kinabalu

...But I didn't get to the top.

With a heavy heart, I started hiking down without reaching the summit at daybreak. Good thing Robbie, the guide who brought me down, has such an infectiously funny personality. In the background is Sayat-Sayat hut at Km. 7, the last pit stop at 3,668 meters above sea level before the summit. It also served as my temporary shelter while waiting for sunrise.

There. I said it. It was emotionally painful for me to admit to myself and to the rest of the world that I failed in my quest to sit on the granite face of Mt. Kinabalu as I patiently wait for the colorful burst of sunrise at the highest peak in Southeast Asia.

I joined Coalition Duchenne's Mt. Kinabalu Expedition Climb, an event that helps raise awareness on a debilitating and degenerative muscle illness that afflicts boys worldwide. We were a big group composed of 62 climbers from different parts of the world, with two goals in mind -- reach the peak, and speak for the boys with Duchenne. I was the only one from the Philippines, and I met great people there. And yet, as I was holding on to the rope for my dear life on the last part of our climb at 3:30 AM, I felt alone. And scared.

My close friends and family know my aversion to heights. I suffer from acrophobia -- fear of heights -- and it's an extreme one. I can never cross a hanging bridge. I've never ziplined. I dream of bungee jumping, but I will probably faint if I do it. I only reached 1/3 of the steps going to Batu Caves in Malaysia, because my legs froze in fear. I have forgone so many chances of experiencing something new due to this. Because even if my mind wants to, my body reacts aversely -- cold hands, shaky legs, distorted view of surroundings. I lose my balance, make mistakes, and my legs just wouldn't move anymore.

I have hiked a few mountains in the Philippines (Pulag, Pinatubo, Pico de Loro), and I have managed to do so because I was never put in a situation where I had to be on a cliff, where a little mistake can make me plunge to doom. 

Needless to say, I didn't expect a vertical climb when I signed up for Mt. Kinabalu. Of course I read blogs, and everyone was saying how tiring it is to get to Laban Rata. Perhaps no one with acrophobia attempted to climb, because nowhere did I read how scary it is to scale the granite rock with only a rope to guide you and support your weight, and a strong faith in your shoes not to slip on the damp rocks.

I was really excited that morning when I woke up at 2:00 AM. Getting ready for the ascent to the summit, I was surprisingly full of energy despite the tiring 6-hour hike to Laban Rata (our shelter for the night) the previous day. We set off at 2:30 AM, armed with a headlamp and a trekking pole. We climbed steps, steps and more steps, until we reached the granite face. Everyone slowed down as we stowed our trekking pole away, and prepared to grab the rope for the last part of the climb. 

The guide instructed us to hold the rope with both hands, and to never let go because it was dangerous. As I kept on climbing up, the only thought that was in my mind was how the hell am I going down. Knowing my fear of heights and the steep view at daybreak, I started getting scared. It didn't help that there was a woman with two male companions who kept on screaming, "Oh, my God, it's a sheer drop!" She was almost crying. Somewhere along the trail, when I reached a big rock, I stopped. I wanted to go back down, but I don't know how. Besides, there was a steady stream of people going up and there was no way that you could use the rope at the same time to go down. In fact, people were on single file. I was waiting for a guide to come rescue me, until a guy named Simon rested on the same rock. He encouraged me to go on, and I did.

When I finally reached the final checkpoint, I really had no motivation left in my body. I was shivering from the cold air and my wet gloves, and I wasn't sure if I can still continue. As I started holding on to the rope once again after the short stop at Sayat-Sayat, I just froze midway and broke down. I was too freaking scared. Two guides caught up with me and brought me back to Sayat-Sayat to comfort me. They asked me why I was crying, and if I was having a headache (sign of altitude sickness). The truth of the matter is, I was okay physically. I wasn't tired. I didn't have altitude sickness. But I was mentally drained, and too f*ckin' scared. They advised me not to push myself anymore. And amidst the darkness in that humble hut, I cried my frustration out. I've been preparing for this trip for five months, and I didn't expect it to end this way. I've been dreaming about the view at the summit, and the photos I will be taking to immortalize the moment. I wanted this so badly. But at that moment, I felt so alone, so lost, so scared. I was such a failure. A loser. I was in the middle of nowhere with no friends, and I didn't know how I could get down. 

The view from Sayat-Sayat hut, 3,668 MASL. The roof below is the final checkpoint (you have to present the climb ID that they gave you the day before).

Robbie, the head guide of our group, entered the hut and he saw me silently crying in the dark, shivering and cold. He talked to me and told me he'll bring me down. He lent me his dry gloves (mine were wet from holding the ropes) and advised me to try to go to sleep until daybreak. We started going down as soon as daylight enveloped the mountains. Watching the sunrise from Sayat-Sayat, I brushed my frustration aside to take in the beauty around me. Not bad, not bad at all. The scenery was still breathtaking, even if I was 1.4 kilometers away from the summit. If it were a flat road, I'll get there in less than 10 minutes. 

Now that I can see how high the drop is on the cliff, I was getting nervous. But Robbie was there, every step of the way. He instructed me when to go down sideways and backwards while holding the rope, and he guided me where to put my feet. Everytime I look down, I lose my balance. So he entertained me with his funny musings and "Pangako Sa 'Yo" rendition (apparently, Jericho Rosales and his soap opera is popular in Malaysia!). He even offered to carry my DSLR for me so he can take photos of me! To say that I owe him my life is an understatement. 

Laban Rata as seen from above
Laban Rata as seen from above

My guide made me pose LOL

Looking back, I know that even if I pushed myself to the summit, I would have crumbled on the way down. Without a guide to help me out, I wouldn't be able to get down on my own. So I haven't ticked Mt. Kinabalu yet off my bucket list. I am keen on joining Coalition Duchenne's expedition climb again next year, but I will make sure that I will have my own guide to push me.

To know more about Duchenne muscular distrophy, please watch the video below. It makes you appreciate life more -- because muscles of boys with Duchenne deteriorate instead of develop, they get deprived of the most basic activities that we seem to take for granted -- walking, eating by ourselves, and hugging our loved ones.

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