Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Travel Advice

Putting our fate in dumb animals
A friend planning to visit Greece in July - no, he is not one of the ministers rumored to be clearing annual leave for fear of being ousted in the next GE - asked if it was safe to ascend the 300 steps from the port of call to the cliff top village of Oia, Santorini, to catch a glorious sunset. Unlike Fira, there is no cable car alternative. He had read many of the “don’t ride the donkey” online posts on which keep harping on links to 5-year-old articles from The Daily Express about animal abuse.

The Greek lady selling the cruise package was a bit on the heavy side but looked stout enough. For all we know, she has lineage tracing all the way back to King Leonidas of Sparta. Going up is okay, she advised, but going down can be hairy. But even ascending was a nightmare, as the donkeys, prodded by their master in the rear to speed up, veered perilously close to the tiny brick wall on the left preventing us from going over the cliff, or towards the right to smash against the uneven cliff side. And there was this awful account:
"The men organising it were very abrupt and rude, but the danger was when we came to get off at the top and they started turning the donkeys round before we had a chance to get off! I ended up with one leg in the stirrup and one on the ground and then fell into someone else and we both dived into the side as the donkeys came running back down! The men just told us to hurry up and get out of the way!!"

By now we know that the Mount Kinabalu trek is not without its dangers, earthquakes notwithstanding. The Ministry of Education (MOE) must have swallowed their travel advisor's pitch, hook, line and sinker, when they claimed that it is not a challenging climb. Even for 12 year olds, hanging on for hours to a rope diameter designed for larger hands. The positive experience, to borrow the insensitive phrase of some horrible person, is that parents are now more aware of what risks they are signing off on the indemnity form. No parent should have to see their offspring crushed by falling rocks (Warning: Do not click on the link if you are faint hearted).


  1. Someone made a good suggestion. Anyone who says its not difficult, send him/her to climb it.

    1. next year program 150% over subscribed.
      many who are very supportive of TKPS and MOE will support one.

    2. It's not just the earthquake. The jump-off point to reach the Mount Kinabalu summit has been hit by mud and landslides, cutting off access between the towns of Mesilau and Kundasang. Two bridges also collapsed on Monday. That should be challenging for anyone looking forward to a walk in the park.

  2. If someone asked me what is the accident rates on Mt KK, I would not be able to make any informed guesses. Why? Because other than the 6-10 high profile foreign cases where deaths have occurred, there is surprisingly very little readily accessible data about local accidents or interventions that happened up there or post-climbs due to AMS.

    What more, Sabah has been trying to market Mt KK (4000m) mountain as a "very accessible"place for families. Add to that, you have a brand new but highest (3200) Via Ferrata in the world, build near the mountain tip with relatively young track records, they let it get to their heads that it is all right to send young children for such trecherous climb. People fail to realize "safe" and "mountain" is an oxymoron. That very two words string together by adults or educators are evidence that their disrespect or dismissal of nature or potential mishap is ready recipe for disaster.

  3. Group of us - 4 fit adults did KK for first time several years back. 3 made it to summit, 1 did not because of altitude sickness. On descend, one had to be carried down - yes, piggybacked all the way from Laban Rata by the guide.
    We were all physically wrecked for the next few days.

    KK takes a lot out of you because you have to ascend rapidly from 1560+m (base) to 3200m (HQ) within a single day. There are no places to camp between the base & HQ ergo there is no way one can invest in acclimating higher up, leaving little to no acclimatizing at all, thus exposing to AMS.
    Your physcial fitness/stamina is also independent of AMS.

    All seasoned climbers will tell you not to scale >500m per day for height up to 2500m. Unless one is advocating to medicate everyone. Is a common saying among them that it is easier to climb to Mt Everest base than KK as there are few days of acclimatizing.

    Imagine after a 6-8 hours climb, the kids get up early to do Via Ferrata when they need to push further on a 2-3 hrs walk on ropes, with their aching and exhausted bodies. How do you expect them to even have anything left to react swiftly to raining rocks? There is also simply no way to duck.

    Those who are neither parents nor climbers can go walk-the-torq themselves instead of advocating for other people's children.

  4. We are always ever so trusting towards authority.
    It is ingrained into all Singaporeans to believe, and trust authority.

    This is one reason why we are not street wise.
    Despite being educated, having the means to the internet, social circles.. we lack the inertia to research, anaylse, and come to our own conclusions. Daft indeed.

    And about Santorini and the donkey rides:
    Just walk and enjoy the views.. rest when required... take the slow boat back, stay the night, whatever. Its a vacation.
    Of all times to ride an animal? geee.

    1. Thinking, much more questioning and doubting the truth of what the authorities tell you, has not been allowed in Spore for around 50 years....

  5. Do you think children from PAP families should be allowed to continue climbing Mount Kinabalu?

  6. Don't put our fate in dumb animals. Good travel advice, indeed good advice all round. Besides the donkey, there are other dumb animals like the cows, mahs, hens, chickens, one eyed dragons, we must be dumb and dumber to put our fate in them. Time for change. Vote wisely.

    They say Santorini is the remnant of formerly the Kingdom of Atlantis, destroyed in a super volcanic eruption. So you see, kingdoms or dynasties don't last forever. Nature or man will bring them down.

  7. In so many ways, this latest and saddest episode of cock-ups is just like all the earlier ones such as SMRT train breakdowns, ponding, overcrowded hospitals, little india riots etc. A bunch of incompetent senior civil servants and ministers sleeping in their jobs, interested only in reading the lips of bosses, and knowing full well in today's regime, failures will be rewarded with promotions and salary hikes. After all, no problem, where got chance to go on more study trips? No cock-ups, where got chance to increase garmen spending to boost GDP? Sadly the civil service is the source and root of almost all of the problems we are facing.

  8. Should have skipped those donkeys. The climb is very doable. I lived on the rocks near OIA where the harbor awesome restaurants were. Was also my first encounter with a 5.3 quake that left me with jitters. Luckily it was not 3000m like KK, and I would have dived into the sea water had it all collapsed.

  9. I would categorically NOT recommend going up to Fira by donkey. It costs €5, which is the same as the cable car. The risk of serious injury is very real indeed. It is not "fun": it is a lot more dangerous and stupid an activity than it looks at the outset.
    A final tip: don't even think about walking up or down the donkey steps. They are covered in crap, urine, are slippery, and the path is very long and steep with zero shade. If you can't afford €5 for the cable car each way you shouldn't really be visiting the island from your cruise ship.

  10. Do you know how government make decisions whether it's regarding what to teach, interest rates, defense, welfare all the stuff that impacts you? Middle management hears a fart from a minister and tries to guess what he means. Doesn't want to ask in order not to look stupid. He doesn't know what to do, so he asks the most junior guy to write a paper. The junior guy does his best and the paper floats up to his head, it bounces back an forth a few times between them, then it bounces to a director then a few times with another higher up. There are many layers. By then, it is morph into something completely different and it gets implemented. A senior guy once told me that writing papers and second guessing your boss correctly is key to success. Practical experience, actual care for serving the interest of Singaporeans actually a detriment.

    1. Totally agree. I worked in the civil service before.
      Singapore needs a reboot.
      And it's not going to happen under a PAP government.