Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Local Encounters

I remember when I used to hike national parks and wild places in my travels, there was always a thrill of encountering wild animals. (My last hike overseas was something like 15 months ago *gasp*!!) Sure, there would be always a small fragment of fear, but more often than not, excitement prevailed. The feeling was extra acute when I went Alaska - I would fervently wish that I would encounter a bear, knowing full well that the danger was real. But my wildlife encounters were pretty mild - an Ezo deer in Hokkaido Japan, some sort of elk in the Canadian Rockies, a mountain goat in Spain etc.

Well, now that travel would not possible for the year or more, I had to content myself with local hikes and walks in Singapore. Sure, there are unexplored parts of Singapore, but I hated the hot weather conditions and the memories of my army training in our humid jungles didn't exactly leave good impressions. And encountering wild boars seemed not very exciting somehow. But hey, still better than circuit-breaker stuck-at-home right?

So there I was walking along a trail in the Central Catchment area, listening and looking out for birds - a relatively recent interest. "Birding" allowed me to have something additional to do aside from just walking/hiking, and I'm learning something new every week. And suddenly, there was some serious rustling sound ahead of me. I stood stupidly looking at some sort of animal foraging across the vegetation. I happened to have my mobile on-hand and quickly tried to take a video. It... it looked like a ... deer!

That got me really excited. But of course, the rest of my walk was quite uneventful. Until late evening when the light was really dim and I was hurrying along the trail. Again, there was sudden rustling and this time, I activated my mobile quickly, but the animal was quicker, so everything was really blurry. It looked like a hare hopping away. 

Back at home, I scrutinised my videos, and it looked like a *family* of deers. Googling revealed that we have Sambar deers in our forest (though the search results are all sad news of our deers being killed in accidents). In fact, a few days later, there were news reports on the Sambar deer sightings as well (including very nice videos!)

So the following week, I went back again, hoping for another encounter. And guess what? I caught a glimpse again, but yet again, my reaction time was just retarded. So week after week, I went again, hoping to stalk the deer. But alas, it was super uneventful, not even any birds spotted.

My last trip though, did yielded something. I was dejected that it was another uneventful walk and the light was getting really dim. A sudden rustling sound alerted me to something in the shadows - the "hare" from several trips ago but this time though, it didn't bolt. It stayed where it was and I slowly activated my camera(s). It was actually a Lesser Mousedeer!! Unfortunately, the light by then was really low, and I dared not move too much to take out my tripod and torchlight and frighten the mousedeer away. So I took what I could.

There are two kinds of mousedeers in Singapore - the Lesser and the Greater Mousedeer. Looking through the videos, I believe it's the Lesser. This was probably my most exciting encounter reminiscent of my travels, which was so lacking in the past year. Needless to say, photos and videos wise leave alot to be desired but hey, actual travels is still a long way off yah? *snicker* . Hope to capture the Sambar deers next!

Friday, November 20, 2020

New Pillow for a New Sleep

It's been one long year since my last trip out of the country and with covid still lingering everywhere, I think I would still be sleeping in my room, in the same bed, for a long while more. Funnily enough, I was contacted by Best in Singapore, an internet media company, for a review of a premium plush pillow and I thought why not? At least I could rest my head on a new different pillow!!

The pillow is the Origin Superior Coolmax® Latex Pillow from Origin Mattress. I'm sold on the word Coolmax already. I have several apparel using Coolmax® material and it's a welcome in humid hot Singapore. Off I go to their website to order the Origin Superior Coolmax® Latex Pillow (you can click on the link) and at the time of writing, it is $129, off from the original $159. The price includes free same-day shipping, and payment can be made using credit card, secured via payment service provider Liquid Gateway. There is also a
7-Day Free Return (self-return to Origin’s warehouse) and even 2 years of warranty!

Well, while the same-day shipping offered a time-slot for your shipping, it did not quite "deliver". I chose a 1pm-6pm slot, and the pillow arrived at about 8pm, so it did inconvenienced me a bit. But deliveries post-covid for me had been generally a hit-and-miss affair. Anyway, the thing that caught my eye on the box when it arrived was the words "Designed in Germany". As a photographer, I had known that German optics and engineering are well-known but now, it seemed applicable for pillows! Apparently, they had infused latex with a cooling gel formula and THAT, is German engineering!

"Designed in Germany"!

The pillow also comes with a removable pillow case made with Tencil fabric, a luxuriously soft fabric that is also machine-washable. A thing to note though, is that the pillow is not contoured or recessed in the middle like some other pillows that offers "ergonomic" shapes. The design is such that their responsive latex foam already provide full support for the head and neck. Finally, the latex foam has hypoallergenic properties, so it is anti-dust mite, which is a very important point for me (yes, I am allergic to dust mite).

Non-contoured pillow

Pillow include a soft luxurious-feel pillow case

Well, after using it for the past few days, it had to be said that most of the points are delivered. The feeling on the head is luxuriously soft, but I have to point out that it is not those "feather soft" in the sense that after being compressed, it stays compressed kind. Nor does it slowly return to shape like those memory foam. It is actually springy, and firm on the head so your head don't sink all the way into the pillow. This helps support your head/neck. I think some people may have quite specific requirements on this aspect. For me, it is definitely comfortable and more preferable than those "super soft" pillows that I had in some hotels, where after a while, my head has literally almost sunk to the mattress level....

Unlike a lot of Singaporeans, I do not sleep with the air-condition on, so on hot humid nights I do perspire on the pillow. While the past few nights that I tried the pillow had not been hot, it really still felt quite cooling on the head. So I guess the cooling gel that was fused in may really had helped. Also, just for the record as it is probably too short a time be "tested", but I never had any dust mite allergy reaction flareup!

In conclusion, I am pretty pleased with the pillow. As to whether it is worth the price, it all depends on your budget and requirements. You can also check out this article for more ideas about the pillows in the market : The Best 8 Pillows in Singapore.

Again, my thanks to the Best in Singapore and Origin Mattress for this collaboration. Their websites and social media can be found below. Check them out!

Best in Singapore
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Origin Mattress
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Friday, December 27, 2019

Traveling Deep...

While I like to get myself immensed in a place or country's culture, what I meant traveling deep is quite literal - traveling deep underground. And when you are deep underground, getting up and down takes time, which is what this is all about ;) 8D

I remember when I was in Moscow and St Petersburg 8-9 years ago, there were some metro stations that took forever when riding the escalators. And now I found myself in Kyiv Ukraine, where well, they have the world's (2nd) deepest metro station.

Situated 105.5m underground, one needs to travel through 2 sets of escalators to go up/down Arsenalna station. It takes a good 4min 26s on these escalators (including the short walk between the 2 escalators). 4 minutes doesn't sound like a long time, but when you are on an escalator, it sure is (and when you are running late, it is eternity). And there are actually signs in the stations that says "No sitting on escalator"! Of course, I've seen a few (youths mostly) that do just that - sit on the escalator step while it chug along.

For the record, the longest single metro escalator ride is actually in one of Moscow metro station. It was 3+ minutes I believe (and there are actually quite a number of stations in Moscow, St Petersburg & Kyiv that take close to that amount of time as well). And if you have noticed, there is a parenthesis on the word "2nd" in my statement above. Arsenalna may well be the deepest metro station but DPRK's Pyongyang metro is said to be 110m deep. Well, I'm not entirely sure we could take Mr Kim's word for it, and I'm also not very sure if it had been "independently verified".... ;)

So how did I know its 4min 26s? Well, here's a sped-up timelapse of the time taken going up on Arsenalna station.... Sorry it started at 3+s because I fumbled on the recording phone, and that its so dizzying - thats why I'm not a vlogger ha. And its dizzyingly sped-up because you don't want to be looking at a 4min 26s video of a riding escalator..... :) :)

PS. rem you still need additional time to get from escalator to train platform and station entrance/exit...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Gadget for the Digital Nomad

Technologies are moving fast, and coupled with today's access to mass market funding, innovative products and solutions are gaining momentum in reaching consumers like us. Sites like kickstarter and indiegogo have helped pushed products out faster than before. Needless to say for digital nomads, there's bound to be plenty of stuff out there to capture this market.

It was not long ago when I tried out virtual SIM solution for my travels. Before that, I've also had mobile portable routers for my travels. Of course, many of us still bring powerbanks during our travels. Plenty of gadgets for the digital nomad indeed. Now, check out Nommi at Indiegogo.

Nommi is slated to be a 4G hotpot portable router with virtual SIM technology, provide dual wifi, act as a powerbank, as well as a Qi wireless charger! Talk about convergence and squeezing everything into one! (There is another version without the powerbank/charger ability). Aside from making the gadget a all-in-one thingy, there are two features inside that I found intriguing.

Squeezing multi-functionality into a portable device

One is their dual wifi feature. Essentially, the Nommi has a database of wifi passwords around the world. This database of wifi passwords is not a new thing, but what Nommi does is to seamlessly integrate it so that when such wifi is available, it will use the wifi network instead of your mobile data. This will help conserve your expensive data. Actually for me, I have been doing this manually on my own, and this device is supposed to just do everything for you seamlessly (according to specs lah). Oh, it can also act as a wifi extender...

The other feature that caught my eye is that VPN is inbuilt into Nommi! So, a VPN client is already installed/configured within to connect to preconfigured servers around the world. This works nicely when connecting to public Wifis, and is in fact the default behavior for the dual wifi feature. If you have your own VPN already, you can configure it in too. I think that's an awesome addition to such a gadget because well, VPN in today's world seemed to be a necessity!

Anyway, the good thing about Nommi is that, as a multi-function device, you can choose to utilize the necessary part of its feature only. The global data is relatively expensive, and so if you are going only one country for a length of time, it is probably cheaper to buy a local SIM card. However, you can insert this local SIM into Nommi too, and then use it like a normal mifi device with VPN support. For iPhone users who have only one SIM slot, this is a nice device to have around! As for multi-country travelers, many in Singapore are using M1 and Starhub's excellent data roaming plans. However, if you are going to countries not in their roaming country list, then the Nommi can help too with its 140+ roaming countries in its virtual SIM. So do read up on the details of their capability and prices to determine what works for you, when it works for you, or even whether it works for you! :). Go to their Nommi Indiegogo project page to find out.

Looks to be a great device for a digital nomad

I've joined their affiliate program, and when you back/order their product using this link, you and I will get 500Mb of free global data. Nommi has actually reached its target funding and has in fact, hit almost 200% over its goal. I guess there are really many people who really needs their internet when they travel... :O The end of the campaign is just few weeks left, though you can still get the product after that, it's just that you do not enjoy the discount of the early backers. However, the 500Mb free global data would still be valid when you get it through my affiliate link.

It is scheduled to be shipped in June 2018. So obviously the reviews of the actual product will only be available then. But their solution is certainly sound, and for the hungry digital nomads, certainly worth a look!

Hoping for more travels in 2018!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Salmon Run

Seward (and Alaska) is shutting down. I know things would be slowing down, but I didn't expect things to be literally shutting down.

I had rushed from Fairbanks to Anchorage so that I could catch the last Alaskan Railroad train of the season from Anchorage to Seward on 17 Sep. It is reputed to be one of the most scenic train rides, and I am very glad I managed to catch it. I was impressed.

But on reaching Seward, I found that the train was not the only thing that is "last". The free city shuttle was also running its last day, and of course, more than half of the train passengers on the train were catching the last cruise ship sailing out of Seward. A lot of the tourist facilities were also not operating, like the shuttle to the Exit Glacier, one of the main attractions of Seward!

In any case, Seward is a great place to chill in. I enjoy the walks along the waterfront, with the mountains right in front, and the otters cruising lazily in the waters. And I saw a number of the locals whisking their fishing rods on an inlet from the sea into the streams. What a strange way of fishing! I ventured closer.

Local "fishermen"

After looking at the scene for a while, I finally realized that there were salmon wriggling upstream from the sea into the inlet. The fishing rods had a 3-pronged hook with  no bait, and the "fishermen" were literally whisking the rods and lines to hook up the salmon! September is the last of the Silver Salmon (one of the species of salmon here in Alaska) run where they are returning back to Seward to spawn.

Next day, I again took my walk along the waterfront. I went near the harbour where hundreds of empty boats lay anchored. On the dock, rows of water hoses hung loosely from a rack like some forsaken manufacturing plant. I would imagine just a few months ago, this would be filled with people washing and filleting the salmon brought in by the boats. And breaking the silence and monotony of the harbour, a man was systematically washing and filleting a salmon.

Water hoses on the dock for washing/filleting fish

Local resident Dwayne, like most Alaskans, was really friendly and I quickly got into a conversation with him even as he continued his washing and filleting. He has a boat which he brings out to do his fishing, and the morning catch saw him net just four salmon. It was really the tail end of the salmon run, and he actually had to throw away one of his salmon because the fish meat was "white and not good" already. The salmon was actually already dying even before being caught. Every resident is entitled to catch only 6 fish a day, and for foreigners, a permit/license is needed for fishing. It costs us$25 for the permit which would be valid for 24 hours and entitled the same quota of 6 fish.
It was quite an interesting and educational talk. I do not know if these numbers are for Seward only or Alaska-wide, but it is a form of sustainable fishing and food policy. And as many may already know, the salmon spawns in inland rivers, and they would swim out to the open seas to spend their adulthood. Then, when reaching maturity, they would uncannily swim back to the exact river(bed) where they were born, and lay their eggs, and thus the cycle continues. This order of Mother Nature have been cleverly used by humans, as they would harvest salmon eggs and milt, and "plant" them in rivers of Alaskan communities. The resulting spawn would get their "imprint" of their birthing riverbed and thus began their biological cycle. And when they return, the communities would be ready to harvest them, and with proper policies to ensure enough salmon get back in to spawn, it is a wonderfully sustainable practise.

Dwayne with his filleted salmon

And then Dwayne asked,

"How long are you staying in Seward? Do you have access to a kitchen?"

My eyes lit up.

"Oh yes, I am staying in a hostel for a few days and they have a kitchen!" I said somewhat pensively, not daring to get my hopes too high.

"I could give you a fillet if you want." The magical words came out.

"That would be awesome! Thanks!" I exclaimed!

The delight didn't stop. Imagining what a fillet of salmon would be in Singapore, I was hoping for a generous cut. Instead, he just handed me one-half side of the entire salmon!!

"I don't have an extra bag though" He said.

I didn't mind one bit. And it was not long after when one can see a figure in bright red jacket scurrying along the road with a bright pink piece of meat on his hand...

My gift of wild-caught salmon that will last me 3-4 meals :)

Travel in Alaska is expensive - transport, accommodation and food are expensive. But these little experiences not just add colour to my travels, but saved me quite a bit of money too! Wild caught salmon is not cheap, even in Alaska!!
And with my 25c instant noodle (cooked dry) with soy sauce, super-sweet cherry tomatoes, and my wild-caught, homecooked, pan-seared salmon, it was one of my tastiest meals in Alaska!! :) :)

I am happy! :)

Pan-seared salmon with "instant noodle"

More glorious salmon - pan-fried with crispy skin..

Salmon easily caught

Many of the locals throw away the roe!!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Quest of the Ice Cave II

The day was beautiful as forecasted. I started on the West Glacier Trail. The trail would bring you to a mountain ridge on the west side of the Mendenhall glacier, which would provide a wonderful top-down view of the glacier. Somewhere one-third on the trail, there is a split, which heads down towards the Mendenhall lake. This is the "unofficial" trail that would bring you right to the glacier itself, and is the trail to the icecave.

When I reached the split in the trail, there was a group of tourists led by a guide who was briefing them. She was apparently leading them to a glacier hike, which means they would be heading down the trail. I asked the guide if it's safe or difficult on the trail, and she replied convincing

"You'll be fine".

Boosted by that, I plunged headlong onto the trail. The icecave may have collapsed, but at least I can stand right beside a glacier. And I guess I wanted to just "complete" my planned trek to the "icecave" since I had researched on it for a while. Armed with the GPS tracks on my mobile, and reaffirmed by the trail markers, the trek was easier then I had expected even though there were quite a few climbs over rocky terrain. But one thing was certain - if it had been rainy, the trail would have been a different beast, and possibly too dangerous to attempt.

Up-close - Glacial Hiking

Instead, the trail had surprising amount of traffic, no doubt due to the excellent weather. Online information put the trek as a 7-8 hour round-trip trek, so I upped my pace to make sure I had enough time as I knew I'm a slow hiker. But I reached the base of the glacier in 2 hours.

Entrance of cave

And I found a group of people in front of a cave entrance. I hastened forward, heart beating fast (hey, I was hiking fast). And round the corner, there was this surreal weird-greenish "wall" that greeted me.

I was ecstatically mind-blown.

I suspected I had a maniacal look on my face when I entered the cave. My camera and my iPhone went into overdrive, and I wished I had more hands. It was difficult though. The whole "cave' was dripping. Icy glacier water was dripping all over. And I realized, it was not exactly a "cave" (anymore). Further in, there was another opening, but littered with huge chunks of ice. It dawned on me that, that must had been the "back" of the cave when it "collapse", essentially opening up the cave. So now the cave had 2 openings! (so is this still considered a cave?)

Cave wiith two openings

This changed the entire look of the icecave. With 2 light sources, the photographic compositions, mood etc also changed. But I cannot complain. Ice caves come and go, and after all that had happened, I am SO glad that I still had the chance to see it in person.

It was cold beneath the glacier. It was completely wet with water dripping overhead, and flowing on the ground.

But now, I am very happy. :)

Surreal blue and colours

Surreal blue and colours

Even with the "excessive" light, the colour vaariation is surreal

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quest of the Ice Cave

I don't remember exactly when it was when I first came across the surreal image on the internet, but it was around 2012 after I came back from my big trip. A man inside a bizarre-shaped-icy-walled blue cavern of some sort. Naturally, I didn't think it was real. But I dug abit, and was intrigued that this was possibly a real thing. The image(s) of the ice cave were taken in Kamchatka Russia. These caves are essentially found beneath glaciers, and so it was really a cave within solid blocks of ice!

I told myself that I needed to see this in person. And then, out of the blue (pun unintended), a friend seemed to be arranging a trip to Kamchatka! What a coincidence I thought! But the trip was arranged through a Russian agent on a pre-arranged itinerary. It was difficult to liaise in Russian on a customised itinerary. So I gave up the thought of seeing the icecave in Kamchatka.

And then I discovered that icecaves are one of the attractions in Iceland! And Iceland had always been in my radar for travel. So in Sep 2015, I finally went on a drive trip with friends to Iceland. I had not researched it detailed enough though. As it turned out, the agencies and guides only start bringing clients to icecaves only in late Oct, where it's safer to visit. I was deeply disappointed that yet another chance to visit an icecave had gone up in smoke.

So 2017 is the year. The year that I visit Alaska, where yes, there is also a well-known icecave in Juneau in Southeast Alaska. It was confusing though. I contacted some agencies, and generally, most tours seemed to operate only in summer. I thought about going in winter but logistics and travel in winter in Alaska is frustrating. So again, I decided to go in Sep where the tours to the icecave are still running, and more importantly, I found that one can visit the icecave on our own! I found GPS tracks that people had shared online, and in the worst case scenario, I would trek to the icecave on my own.

I arrived in Juneau on a wet dismal evening on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. It had not been the best start of a trip. In the short 5 days prior to Juneau, I discovered that Southeast Alaska had one of the wettest seasons in recent years. I caught a flu and cough during my 25-hour ferry ride. I spent half of my 3 days in Haines recovering in my cabin. And I also realized that travel has a new dynamic for me nowadays. I lost my progressive lens, and I felt so handicapped!! :{. Reading maps, brochures and supermarket labels posed new challenges....

Cloudy days on the ferry, but you get glimpses of the scenery

The weekend signaled a turning point. My couchsurfing host advised that according to forecast, Saturday would be mostly sunny, and Sunday a full sunny day! This was after weeks of rain! I was buoyant. I arrived in the excellent Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre early in the morning. This is where most tourists come to to see the famous glacier. The trail to the icecave beneath the Mendenhall Glacier is in another location, which I planned to go next day.

The Mendenhall Visitor Center with direct views to the glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier
The tourists (and locals) and out in full force. I've certainly seen glaciers before, but I never get tired of seeing them. It's a great feeling seeing the ever-changing blue of the glaciers... together with the tons of tourists. The park ranger was having small-talk with a tour-leader, and I couldn't help hearing part of their conversation......

"..yeah, yesterday, the icecave collapsed, and there were a couple of people inside. Yeah, they came out ok, but shaken. I would be too you know...." the park ranger went on...

I froze, and something in my chest collapsed too. I was not being unsympathetic, but the only thing that resounded in my head was "...the icecave collapsed..."

I stood stunned for a while, still grasping with what I heard.

"...the icecave collapsed.." continued to reveberate around my mind.

I went back to the visitor center and casually asked about the icecave from another park official.

"Oh yes, yesterday, part of the icecave collapsed. You know, the icecaves are unpredictable, and sometimes new caves formed. The guys are badly shaken up, that's why we always warn people who wants to go there...."

The voice slowly faded away, like a closing music piece on the radio....

The weather that day was great, as forecasted. I hiked a couple of beautiful trails. The glacier glowed blue.

But I was depressed. Am I destined not to be in an icecave under a glacier?

Beautiful hiking trail within the Mendenhall visitor center area.
Old forest and streams in the East Glacier Trail