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Magnificent Mount Rinjani – Part 1

As you might have read in my previous blog, this Mount Rinjani trip has been in the 2013 pipeline since November last year. As time drew closer to the trip, I didn’t exactly train like how I did when preparing for Mount Kinabalu. For one thing, I didn’t do as many hikes in a week this time, but I did other types of training. I ran once a week & swam 2-3 times a week. On top of that, I was more physiologically prepared this time around. To avoid my knees hurting in the middle of the trek, I had been taking glucosamine religiously everyday for the past 2 months. Also I visited a physiotherapist who taught me some exercises to strengthen the muscles around my knees, which I had been practicing everyday too. Then I’ve also been building my body’s immune system by taking the Chinese herbs, Pak Chan, 2-3 times a month, to avoid falling sick after the trip. All I can say is, it all paid off. Phew! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Mount Rinjani is an active volcano situated in Lombok & the second highest mountain in Indonesia outside the Irian Jaya. The summit may only stand at 3,726 metres (a little short of Mount Kinabalu) but she demands triple the stamina, physical endurance & mental strength to whoever that wishes to conquer her. However if you dare take the challenge, she promises an array of breathtaking sceneries from the start to the end of the journey.

And promise she did.

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So together with Sharon & Fairuz, we arrived at Lombok International Airport on 7th June morning on Air Asiaโ€™s direct flight from Kuala Lumpur. Our guide, Ady, greeted us at the airport & took us on an hour drive to Senggigi for lunch. We proceeded to Sembalun after lunch, which was another 3 hours drive away. Here, we stayed a night at Lembah Rinjani, a budget hotel at the foothill, before starting our trek the next morning. At Sembalun, we were already at 1,150 metres above sea level. It was raining when we reached, making the night chilly at around 20 degrees Celsius.

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Lembah Rinjani

The next day, it rained again before we started our trek. So much for a dry season in June! Nevertheless, we went ahead as scheduled & started off from Sembalun Lawang at 8.15am. We were well prepared with our raincoats, though little did we expect that weโ€™d need them at such an early stage. The first half of the day was an easy stroll along the open plains. We walked pass a few herds of grazing cows and the view of the volcanic range along the way was most captivating. We stopped for lunch at around 11am. At that time, the rain had also stopped & it was all bright & sunny. Our guide & porters cooked us a hearty meal, much to our delight. In fact, every meal we had throughout the journey was actually quite appetizing & delicious.

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We continued the 2nd half of our trek at around 1pm. Then it rained again. This time, it was much heavier and lasted for about 2 hours. We got our raincoats out again but our shoes were completely soaked, as water gushed down the trails. Iโ€™d admit that the rain did break our spirits a little, and to top that, the trails turned much steeper with narrow steps (Wikitravel reported that the uphill gradient was about 50 degrees), marking the final 3 hours a pretty tough cookie. We finally reached the Plawangan Sembalun campsite at about 5pm, which wasnโ€™t too bad. That was probably the average time itโ€™d take a normal hiker too – 7 hours, excluding lunch break.

Lo & behold, the view that greeted us at the campsite completely took our breaths away. It was a spectacular view of the caldera, which is partially filled by the crater lake known as Segara Anak, surrounded by the volcanic range. One word – awesome!

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Our porters had quickly set up the tents for us for the night. The most amusing part was the temporary toilet. Basically they dug a hole in the ground and set up a square-ish tent made of fabric as cover. Initially, as a first time camper, I was quite squeamish about the whole toilet business. After awhile, practice makes perfect, aiming the hole got better & going to the toilet seems less of a task. The eecky part is pooing on top of other people’s poo in the hole. But thank God this temporary toilet was only for our group, i.e. 3 of us. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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The temporary toilet

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Our tents

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The Plawangan Sembalun crater rim, where we camped on the first night, stood at 2,639 metres altitude with the temperature dropping to below 10 degrees Celsius at night. As we laid on our backs gazing at the pitch dark sky painted with gazillion of stars & shivering to the freezing night, we caught glimpses of at least 3 or 4 shooting stars. It was around this time also that our guide, Ady, came to have a little chat with us on our programme for the next day. It seemed that our 3 days/2 nights package will need to cram the summit, lake AND the 2nd crater rim (Plawangan Senaru) into 1 day or 12 hours of trek, which may be quite challenging for average hikers like us.

Basically the trek to the summit starts at around 2.30am. The ascent typically takes 3 hours, in time to catch the sun rise at the peak, and another 1.5 hours to descend. This is the most difficult part of the whole trek that requires a good level of stamina, because the loose volcanic gravel will cause one to slip a step backwards for every 2 steps forward. Descending is another challenge, where most people would slip & fall, and some will have their pants torn during the fall.

He also warned us that there could be a possibility that we might need to forgo the lake & 2nd crater rim if we return from the summit later than 11am. So after a long discussion among ourselves, we decided that we were probably not conditioned enough to do 12 hours of trek in a day, as we had never done anything longer than 8 hours before. Whatโ€™s more, the climb to the summit may already consume a big chunk of our energy for the rest of the day. Besides, if we donโ€™t make it on time back from the summit, we will also lose out on the lake, hot spring & the view at Senaru crater rim, which was supposedly more stunning than at the summit. Therefore we decided unanimously to skip the summit this time around.

To be continued….

Panoramic view of Plawangan Sembalun crater rim

Panoramic view of Plawangan Sembalun crater rim

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Go Eco, Go Cycling in Bali

Company announced that my division’s regional meeting this year will be held in Bali. As usual, I decided to extend a few days on my own, this time I went 2 days earlier (i.e. arrived on Fri night for the weekends). So I had the whole of Sat on my own. My initial plan was to go diving…contacted a few dive centres there…spoke to a few diver friends…then decided that 1 day is not worth the travelling time & money to do it. Then there was a lot of ding dong-ing on what else to do…googled, emailed, called…activities on the list – surfing, sightseeing to the lakes around Bedugul, cycling, hiking, back to diving…everything just didn’t seem right. Until the day before I flew off, I was still ‘activity-less’ for Sat, so I looked at the list again & decided to do more research on the cycling tour, which ranked one of the top things to do in Bali on TripAdvisor. I brushed it off earlier because it sounded a bit touristy and from past experience with the island-hopping thingy in Phuket, I learned that tours designed for westerners are ‘not really that great’. They get excited over small things…like seeing monkeys. So I was quite hesitant about the cycling tour at first. So I searched for more reviews on it, especially by Asians, and finally I read a Malaysian who reviewed the Bali Eco Cycling Tour & said that it was good & worth it. OK, so I wrote to them on Thurs late evening. Within minutes, they replied to say that they could accommodate me for Sat. And the price was pretty reasonable too (around RM110 per pax), everything inclusive. So I confirmed & we made arrangements. All done. Finally. Within minutes. Woohoo!!!!!

So they came to pick me up from my hotel (I stayed at Tune Hotel Kuta) on Sat at 7am. They picked up a few other people in the group too…there were an American couple, an Aussie family (dad, mom & son), and 2 Shanghainese girls. And me, of course.

First, they brought us to Kintamani for breakfast. This was my 3rd time there already, so I wasn’t exactly all that excited with the view. But it was an awesome view, really.

Then they brought us to the Luwak coffee factory. If you search on it, you’ll learn that Luwak coffee is made from the luwak (civet cat)’s poo. ๐Ÿ™‚ And it’s not cheap at all. Then we had some coffee & tea tasting session. As I don’t drink coffee, I just took the teas. This visiting part, I thought, could have been skipped. I mean, the main thing that we signed up for was the cycling part, so we should just get on with it right after breakfast. Anyway, tours being tours, I suppose they just had to slip in at least 1 touristy site for us.

Luwak (civet cat)

Roasting coffee beans

Coffee & tea tasting session

Coffee has genders too!

After that, we went to their base to start the cycling tour. Yay, finally! ๐Ÿ˜€

So what do I have to say about it? Well, to sum it up, I think it was a very interesting experience indeed. I’m glad I ended up doing this cycling tour.

It’s something for the semi-adventurous. “Semi” because it’s still designed for tourists, you know. It’s good for people like me who haven’t cycled for more than 10 years…and for families who are looking to do some activities together too. The whole way was almost a downhill trail (so very little pedalling required). Each group consists of max 8-10 people only, with a guide in front, middle & the back. Any time when one of us stopped to take photos, the guide at the back will stop to wait. So it was good that it was quite flexible. And they even had their van following us from behind most of the time. Haha. If we had finished the water supply on our bikes, hey they had more in the van! So they made sure that everything was in control.

They brought us to the paddy fields, though I was hoping that it would be the terrace paddy fields, but they were all just the normal ones. It was still OK…managed to get some nice photos there too. They also took us into one of the family compounds & explained to us how a typical Balinese family lives, their culture & values. That, I thought was quite insightful. I learned that:

  • In a Balinese family, it’s the youngest son who will be heir to the family’s throne…unlike the Chinese, where it’s normally the eldest son.
  • Everybody must be married before they die. If they die as a single, they will perform a wedding ceremony after the person is dead…and he/she will be married to…a wood! Goodness gracious me!
  • ย And a whole lot of other stuffs. ๐Ÿ™‚

The whole cycling thingy took about 2-3 hours. We ended almost to 2pm. We had an option of continuing to do an uphill trail for the more adventurous. Initially I thought I’d do it…but by the time we ended the tour, I was hungry like crazy…and the guide asked…to do the uphill trail which will take another 45 mins, or go for lunch which will take 10 mins by van from where we were? The choice was obvious.

The lunch was pretty good. I read so much great reviews about the lunch. Well, I wouldn’t say it was fantastic but it was good. Worth the sweat & all. Haha.

All in all, the cycling tour was worth spending a day on. And I thought these guys were quite professional too. But of course if you’re an avid cyclist already, you will find this tour pretty boring. But I think if you want a customised tour just to bring your group to other parts of the island, they’re able to do that too. I found out later from my big big boss that he once took his kids on a cycling tour from Kuta all the way up north to Lovina over a course of 2 days, with a guide. So I think these guys could do this sort of stuff if you ask them to. That would be something I’d love to do the next time in Bali. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyways, if you’re looking for something different to do in Bali other than the usual driver bringing you sightseeing, you may want to check them out.

Bali Eco Cycling –ย http://baliecocycling.com/

The Conquest to Mount Kinabalu

I know this post is extremely late & outdated. But better late than never, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Below is my account of the trip. I will also include some first-hand tips along the way, which is highlighted in red.

The preparation started when we booked the flight tickets to Kota Kinabalu…sometime in Aug 2010…though in actual fact I was already training in the hills before that when we decided to go for it. So let’s just say that it was 9 months of training for me – 2 to 3 times a week at Bukit Gasing & some weekends at Ah Pek Hill, plus tennis once a week. I think the worse was the last 2 months…because I started to get all stressed up over it. Then, it didn’t help too when everybody kept asking me when I was going to climb Mt K…and blah blah blah. Then, I got loads of advises from people who have been there before…and even those who haven’t. Sigh. Too much info can sometimes make you feel even more confused. Then, I was also stressing myself up because I was worried that I couldn’t reach the peak…and I kept feeling that I wasn’t fit enough or hadn’t trained enough…etc. Oh I just couldn’t wait for it to be over soon!

So finally, the day came. We flew into KK on Mon, 18 Apr 2011. Our driver met us at the airport, took us to KK town for lunch, then we went to pick up Tze Ching & her friends. In total, there were 7 of us – 5 girls & 2 guys. Then, we went to Kinabalu Park where we stayed a night before we started our climb the next day. We stayed at Rock Hostel, which was very clean & quite nice, much to our surprise.

Our beds in the dorm room. We paid RM100 for each bed – pretty expensive for dorm beds. Good thing we managed to get 2 rooms completely to ourselves. Each room had 4 beds. They were clean & nice but the blankets were too thin…I woke up freezing in the middle of the night & had to put on a jacket & socks.

This is the hallway to the rooms & common toilet. They provide towels for every bed but no toiletries. So remember to bring your own shower gel & shampoo.

This is the common rest area. It was really cozy & looked like some foreign hostels. When we were there, it was very quiet as there were not many other guests, so we had the whole rest area for ourselves. ๐Ÿ™‚

Then, the next morning came. We woke up at 6am, hoping to be able to start ascending by 7.30am. But by the time our driver came to pick us up to have our breakfast & get our tags & etc, we only started our climb at 8.45am. We went via Timpohon route, which was 6km from the gate to Laban Rata.

The Timpohon trail started with descending steps, which led to a nice waterfall. After that, it was all staircase to heaven! ๐Ÿ˜›

At 3km, it is recommended to pop in 2 tablets of Panadol. I was told that most people start to develop headache after the 3rd KM.

We stopped at Pondok Layang-Layang (at 4km) for lunch. 4 of them in our group had already finished their lunch & was about to start off again when Tze Ching & I reached…that was 11.30am. The lunch pack was pretty huge…sandwiches + apple + banana + 2 hard boiled eggs. At that time, I was too tired to eat, so I think I only managed 2 pieces of sandwiches & the apple. I carried the banana & threw away the rest. I was just glad to get rid of the lunch pack which I had to carry all the way with me. Then we continued our climb at 12pm. OK, 2km more to go.

After Layang-Layang, the air became thinner and you’ll know it because you’ll feel more tired now & your steps become much slower. The weather became cooler too, so I had to put on a thin jacket along the way. The vegetation changed as we climbed higher…with more shrubs & ferns. I felt that the last 2km was quite difficult…maybe because I was already tired…plus the air was thinner…I stopped more often now…and every step was an effort. I just couldn’t wait to reach Laban Rata.

Finally, we reached Laban Rata at 3pm.

Shaaron & Steph had already reached at 1.30pm and May at 2pm. So I felt I was pretty slow. Most people take about 5-6 hours by Timpohon, I took 6 hours & 15 mins. But I was just glad to reach in one piece. Right after we reached, it started to rain. Phew.

Then came the most challenging part. Shower.

It was probably like 15 deg C, and they DIDN’T have water heater! And the water was icy cold! Imagine climbing for 6 hours & we were expected to sleep with all our dried sweat?!?!?! OMG. I couldn’t do it. So, I had the quickest shower in my life! Haha. Not only that, I even managed to wash my hair!!!! Woohoo! It was terrible. I wish I don’t have to do it ever again in my life! ๐Ÿ˜›

Oh btw, they don’t have any electrical power point there, so forget bringing anything there to charge…or a hair dryer (which I brought!)…make sure you have extra batteries for your camera.

Then we had our early dinner at 5pm, walked around Laban Rata, took some photos with the awesome view. Then I was so tired that I slept at 6pm! The rest couldn’t sleep but I just dozed off like a pig….until 1.30am! Haha.

Before sleeping, you should pop in another 2 tablets of Panadol. I didn’t, so when I woke up, my head felt kinda heavy. Don’t worry about overdose, the max dosage for an adult is 8 tablets in 24 hours.

So at 1.30am, we woke up, dolled up for the next big challenge, had our supper….and started off to the peak at 2.30am.

It was cold. I was told the temperature can drop to 3 deg C at the peak. I wore a quick-dry sleeveless inside, with a long-sleeved t-shirt on top, followed by a winter sports jacket (fleece-laced inside). You can replace the long-sleeved t-shirt with a fleece jacket if you’re just wearing a wind-breaker on the outside. The point is not to wear 100% cotton as the first layer or a long johns because you will be perspiring as you climb…a 100% cotton will dry very slowly, making it wet & cold…wherease the long johns will trap the heat as you perspire…making you feel very hot & uncomfortable inside. So it wasn’t an easy solution to know what to wear best for the 2nd part of the climb…I had to read & talk to experienced hikers to finally decide on what I was going to wear. Gee. The point is to wear a few layers so that you can quickly remove each layer as you descend because it will get hotter when the sun rises…and trust me, you will be stripping off one by one in the morning!

OK, the 2nd part of the climb is the most important & exciting part of all. It was pitch dark, so everybody had to wear a headlamp. In the beginning, it was all climbing stairs again. Then it became rocks & there’ll be a rope to guide you the right direction to the peak. For most parts, don’t bother holding on to the ropes because you’ll feel more tired holding on to it. Only at times when it’s very steep that you’ll need the rope. Make sure you wear proper hiking shoes…not the RM6 ones you get from the market…but you don’t exactly need a Timberland either. Any mediocre ones, like Axel or Admiral or Bata hiking shoes will be fine. The reason is you’ll need to have a good grip on the rocks.

There’s a final checkpoint at Sayat Sayat, which is slightly before 7km, where you’ll have your last toilet break before ascending to the peak. We reached at about 4.30am. At that point, it was so cold that I couldn’t feel my nose & lips anymore. When I talked, I felt like I was just mumbling because my lips were totally numb. I was wearing ski gloves & even then I could feel my fingers were stinging cold. So you can imagine how cold it is up there.

Going further to the peak, the air gets even thinner. Some people couldn’t go any further from Sayat Sayat due to altitude sickness. I was still OK. But I was just going quite slowly…breathing slowly.

Take deep breaths…and breathe slowly. This will help you avoid altitude sickness.ย 

I must say, the weather was perfect on that day. It didn’t rain. It was a full moon & clear sky. I was told that the sun rises at 5.45am. Looking at my watch, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the peak on time for it. True enough, as I was still struggling on the rocks, I already saw the sky becoming brighter. I stopped to watch the sunrise. It was simply awesome. As it became brighter, the view of all below & beyond became clearer…and you’ll just marvel at the scenery in front of your eyes.

I could see the peak already. It didn’t look that far but I struggled…with each step I took…it felt like forever. That’s when you’ll be challenged by your mental strength. Imagine…the sun is already up. You’ve missed the sunrise on the peak. It seems like there’s still a long way to the peak & you’re feeling out of breath. Then you start seeing people who have already reached the peak coming down, passing you by. Are you able to tell yourself that you can still do it?

Having come this far, you have no choice but to continue the journey & keep psycho-ing yourself that you can do it. Actually, for me, there wasn’t even once that I thought of giving up. I just kept going & going & going…coz I knew I must reach the peak…no matter what. Shaaron & Steph were already way ahead of us. May had also gone ahead. I was with Tze Ching, Jonathan & the guide. The last 500 meters was the worst. Every 2 steps, I had to stop to catch my breath. Felt like an old woman. Hehe. Then you can see the peak just right above you right now…so near yet so far. Everybody we met on the way up (who were coming down) were going like, “Yeah, you can do it! Just a little bit more…!” Haha.

Finally, we reached the peak at 7am. Woohoo!

Then, the next challenge was coming down. Tze Ching started to vomit shortly after we reached the peak. The guide was with her & the sun was blazing by then. So I quickly ran down, literally, to avoid sun burns. But much later when we were back in KK, Tze Ching told me that she was already having altitude sickness way before reaching the peak…and if I had not been with her & continued on & on & on, she would have given up long time ago. Wow, I was so proud to have motivated someone. Hehe. ๐Ÿ˜› Anyway, descending was a totally different challenge than ascending. It was scarier because I could see what’s below me now and how steep the cliffs really were. Anyway, after another long hike which felt like forever, I reached back at Laban Rata at 9.45am.

After breakfast, we packed our bags & started descending again at 11.30am.

If you’ve heard some people telling you to wear sandals to descend from Laban Rata to the ground because your toe nails might injure if you wear hiking shoes, well, DON’T listen to them. Seriously. I bought a new pair of Teva sandals for this purpose & right after I got out from Laban Rata, before anything, I already fell down. Even though my Teva is a hiking sandal, it’s not suitable for Mt Kinabalu…ascending or descending. The trails are just too rocky-ish. A hiking shoe is still the ideal.

Descending to the ground was quite a nightmare for me because my left knee became painful quite early. So I had to go very slowly, with my left foot down first…at every step…for the whole way! Gosh…good thing my right knee was still able to withstand the pressure.

Finally, May & I reached back at Timpohon Gate at 3.45pm. And that marks the completion of our conquest to Mt Kinabalu! Phewwwwww.

Some additional tips from me:

  • You’ll need to train for it. No shortcuts. But I can tell you, no matter how much you have trained, either by jogging or hiking or doing any other cardio workouts, you’ll never really be able to prepare for what you’ll encounter in the actual climb. Nothing comes even close to what you will experience here. But still, you’ll need to train up your stamina…that’ll take you through at least 60% of the challenge. The other 20% is your mental strength, 10% your physiological ability to withstand the altitude & 10% luck (i.e. the weather, etc.). Basically, just be prepared for the unknown. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • If this is your first time & your main objective is to reach the peak, take the Timpohon trail…because the Mersilau is 2km longer, and trust me, 2km ascending is no joke. Even with Timpohon, every 0.5km seems like forever. And you’d want to reach Laban Rata as early as possible so that you have enough time to rest before ascending to the peak again. With Mersilau, you could reach Laban Rata at 6pm. By then you’ll be damn exhausted. So go Timpohon.
  • Take your time. Go at your own pace. Don’t hurry coz you’ll panic easily…and then there’s higher chance of you giving up halfway. Just relax & enjoy the journey. ๐Ÿ™‚
* You can find the full set of our Mount Kinabalu climb photos in the album. Click here.

Tioman Tioman!

So I went to Tioman (my 3rd trip) during the Malaysia Day weekend…16-19 Sep. I was so looking forward to it because I’d be diving again after 2 years of absence. And, of course, the fact that it’s all sand, sea & sun. Ahhhhhh….

The trip was good. We left KL at 9.30am…stopped at Kluang for lunch, and reached Mersing before 3pm. We took the 4pm ferry and reached Tioman at 6pm. It was just nice for sunset, then we had dinner and hanged out a bit for some card games – mahjong & chor tai tee. This was the first time I saw mahjong set on playing cards. Interesting.

The next morning (Fri), it rained until afternoon. I set out for my refresher at 2pm, only went for 1 dive at the house reef because it was already 4.30pm by the time I got out and the sea was very choppy. Gosh, I just realised how much I had forgotten, especially on setting up the BCD. The dive as OK, nothing exceptionally exciting to see but good to practice before going out to the mid-sea again. That night, we litย up the lanterns that we brought from KL…ate our mooncakes…and drank Hoegaarden that they bought from Nazri’s Place, another resort at ABC (Teluk Air Batang), earlier that day. Beers here were cheap coz this is a duty-free island…a bottle of Hoegaarden was only RM8 or 3 for RM20 during Happy Hours. Unfortunately the place we stayed, Panuba Inn Resort, didn’t really sell much alcohol. They only sell Tiger for RM5 per can.

The following day (Sat) was much better. The sky was all clear and sun was scorching hot. I woke up earlier than the rest to go for my dive at 9.15am. The first dive was at Golden Reef. I did a real boo boo during the set up…arggghhh…anyway, I don’t wanna talk about it. So as we went down into the waters, Marten, my divemaster was signalling a turtle sighting…BUT I couldn’t see it because my mask was fogged up. In fact, for the whole dive, I didn’t know if the visibility was bad or due to my mask. Sigh. So before my 2nd dive, I spitย into my mask, as suggested by Marten & other divers….we went to Labas…and this time, it was great. I mean, the visibility. At least I didn’t have to keep clearing my mask during the dive. But…alas, no more turtle to see. Sigh.

After my 2nd dive at Labas, we came back to the resort and it was already 3pm. I had a quick lunch and then trekked through a short stretch of jungle to other parts of the island…to join the rest for dinner at Nazri’s Place. The beach in front of Nazri’s had very soft sands and I couldn’t resist a swim in the sea. It was fantastic. I was satisfied. Dinner was good. We had BBQ seafood. Yummy.

The next day ย (Sun) we headed back to KL…I reached home around 7pm & dead tired. I don’t think I’ll be going to Tioman again soon…as this is already my 3rd time to the island in the last 4 years. Besides, there are so many other nicer diving sites that I haven’t been to. Anyway, it was a good trip. A break I definitely needed.

Check out some of the photos in the album here – Tioman (16-19 Sep 2010).

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