Exercise to me is the equivalent of green vegetables to children. Everyone insists they are good and healthy but the only way you can get those green buggers down the hatch is with plenty of ketchup and the promise of dessert. Simply put, I hate exercise. To make it more palatable I often try to combine exercise with my passion for travel.
Over the years I have done a lot of outdoor hiking trips throughout the world. My favourite hiking experiences have been in from the U.K., Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. Hiking in Southeast Asia is tough due to the excessive humidity. It can also boring as the terrain tends to be flat and monotonously green. Nonetheless, I was looking for a cheap, new adventure I could get to easily from Singapore and I soon discovered that hiking Gunung Bintan was not for the faint hearted!
Singapore to Bintan
Bintan is a small Indonesian island that is one-hour from Singapore by boat. The island is much larger than Singapore but has no public transport. I booked a Bintan Hiking Challenge package online, which included ferry tickets from Singapore, transport to Gunung Bintan and a hiking guide. Gosh, am I glad that I booked a tour! I am doubtful I would have been able to make it without the guide.
Our driver picked us up from Bintan ferry terminal and drove us directly to Gunung Bintan, which was a 45 minute drive. The mountain is only 400 metres high and we were advised it would take three hours to climb up and then down again. It sounded like a piece of cake.
We met our guide at the base of the trek. He was a very tanned and wrinkly old guy with legs so skinny, they looked like brown matchsticks. He didn’t say a word but handed us a bottle of water each and some mosquito repellent before commencing to walk through the dense, green scrub at a fairly brisk pace. We quickly rubbed the repellent on our arms and legs as we walked, rushing to keep up with him.
There was little discernible pathway as we made our way through the green. At once point we had to walk through some gushing water over slippery rocks, and at other times the guide had to pull back broken branches that were obstructing our way.
Within twenty minutes my energy levels began to fail me. The walk was entirely uphill with no respite and my thighs were burning with pain. There were no flat walking surfaces or natural spots to stop and have a rest. The weather was also hot and humid, and my baggy elephant pants were saturated with sweat; uncomfortably sticking to my legs. As we got nearer to the top, the ascent sharpened and there were some grungy ropes nailed to trees that we could hold on to for added support. Fortunately it had not rained recently, so the terrain was dry and we didn’t lose our footing.
Reaching the top
It took just over one hour of persist uphill hiking to reach the top of the mountain. When I saw that bright blue sky and delightfully flat yet muddy surface, I was elated. As I collapsed to the ground with fatigue and breathlessness I started to doubt my own fitness levels. My tomato-red face was dripping with sweat and it took a good five minutes to catch my breath.
The view at the top was not the breathtaking mountain vista I was expecting. The best description that comes to mind is “derelict”. There was a rusty and graffitti-ridden viewing platform that was way too shaky to be considered safe and unruly bushes and tall trees were blocking most of the views. However the journey to the top was sweetened by a personal sense of accomplishment.
They say that going down is always easier than climbing up and I wholeheartedly agree. We made our way down the opposite side of the mountains and since we were not struggling to catch our breath, we actually enjoyed the walk and took the time to appreciate our surroundings. There observed giant-sized black ants gathering twigs and leaves and we also came across a lizard and a black and yellow snake. We concluded there were probably not a lot of visitors to these parts, which enabled the wildlife to really thrive.
As we neared the bottom we came to a small waterfall and a few half-rotting wooden huts that must have served as resting spots or picnic points once upon a time. When we finally reached the end, our guide quickly disappeared without so much of a goodbye. We quickly scurried into the air-conditioned car waiting for us. Our driver took a look at his watch and exclaimed, “Incredible! You did the hike in only two hours. It takes most people at least three hours.” Well, I guess I am not in such bad shape as I thought!
Bintan Gunung may not be the prettiest hike in the world but it was excellent exercise and a chance to see some Southeast Asian plants and wildlife. It helped whet our appetite for an incredible seafood lunch at Kelong Ciuyong Seafood restaurant afterwards. Check out the Bintan Holiday site for hiking and other packages.