First exercise in Taiwan. Navigation exercise called Exercise Longstride.
I googled about it recently and it is said that it is a 3 days 2 nights exercise. Though I don't remember the exact days and dates, I don't remember it being that short. Mine was 5 days 4 night. Or rather it was 4.5 days with the 5th day being a half day. Maybe I got it wrong but I really don't remember it being a short 3 days.
Early morning and we took a truck to the navigation area. We took a truck that was called a 2 and half tonner. It was just slightly smaller than a 3 tonne truck in Singapore. The 3 tonner is already phased out by the current bigger 5 tonner.
We already have the map of the navigation area. It was a topographical map so there weren't much civilian details on the map. But it was good enough for us to navigate. What annoyed me was, I still had no idea where our PuWei camp was. My PC just said that Taiwan is very big. He pointed the navigation area map to us and said our camp is “down here”. He pointed his finger into the air below the map.
The truck moved on as I looked at the Taiwanese countryside. I was apprehensive and worried and already missing home. Most of us were excited when we passed by booths that sells betel leaves and nuts. There were ladies in sexy attire sitting in the booths selling them. I was told that Taiwanese like to chew on betel nuts and leaves and these booths are by the roadside to be sold to drivers on long drives. These ladies were called “Pinang Girls”. Then I realised that Pinang is also the Malay word for betel. Sorry no photos of these ladies. You can google. I just did as I typed this to see whether they are still around.
We reached the starting point. It was quite a sight. We were surrounded by mountains. Well technically they were hills but for us they were all higher than Bukit Timah so we called them mountains.
From the starting point, we had to look for our checkpoints which will slowly lead us back to the end point of the exercise and we have to reach it within 4 and a half days. We were all separated into groups of 4 and all groups had different checkpoint allocations. We might bump into each other but no 2 groups will have the same order of checkpoints. Warrant Sim (if you remember me mentioning him in the earlier post) said, “head to the big Buddha”. The big Buddha will be near or endpoint. But he said it in an almost literal and spiritual manner as we separated and dispersed into the forest. Cool.
The walk was scary as we trudged along an unknown forest. We are not talking about Singapore nature reserves where we are bound to hit some roads or civilisations. This is a foreign forest to us. But we soon found the pattern of the forest. We try to walk along the ridges of the mountains and skirt along plantations so that we will feel safer in case we get lost. There were also tracks along the higher ridges compared to the lower ground. Apparently the locals like to set up their plantations on higher ground. The forest were also less dense than our tropical rainforest and it was easier to walk through. Once we reached higher ground, we realise it wasn't as scary as we thought. There were a lot of plantations and tracks. Most of them oranges and betel plantations. Once in a while we will spot tea plantations. The view was also nicer on high ground where the hills looked less imposing and more scenic.
A day's adventure soon came to end. Night fell and we had to look for a place to spend the night. We all had sleeping bags with us and we can sleep anywhere in the forests but it was cold. We had parka jackets too. We tried resting on the mountain ridge but most of it were to narrow. They were so narrow like a one man's width and we had to walk in a line with steep slopes on both sides. (There was once when all 4 of us slipped down a a steep slope and we slid down unable to stop all the way down to the bottom. We tried grabbing onto vines and roots and branches and tree trunks but we couldn't. So you can imagine how steep it was. We only stopped when we were at the bottom and we had to climb up again.) Plus it was really cold at night. We tried to rest on the slopes but they were to steep. It was really a long walk just to find a suitable place to rest for the night. I remember this. It was quite stressful as it was dark and cold. Legs weary and eyes sleepy.
Then, we saw a shed. It was like those farm sheds. We went to have a look. There was no one there. We wondered if the owner would find us and charge us for trespassing. We thought for a while and decided to give it a rest. If the owner comes, we will just leave. At least we have a few hours away from the cold.
It was a peaceful sleep and no one disturbed us. We woke up in the morning feeling refreshed and moved on with our walk. When the light came in the morning, we found out that the shed was used to store oranges. We never felt so tempted to eat oranges before until that day. I myself am not a fan of oranges. But we respected the place and its owner for providing us shelter so we left the place as it is.
The day moved on pretty much like the day before. Once in a while we will bump into other groups and we exchanged information. We completed our checkpoints and looked for a place to sleep that night. With the previous night's experience, we looked for a similar shed. We kind of know how the terrain is like by now and which areas might have plantations and sheds.
Day 3 was the same too. More walks. On this day, on one of the mountains, we saw the big Buddha in the distance. We were happy and were very sure that we will reach the end point before day 5.
As we headed southwards towards the end point, we noticed even more "civilisation". There were more houses, buildings, sheds and roads.
One moment that I cannot forget is; we were bashing through the trees and we heard sounds like some music and chant. That part of the forest was dense so we couldn't make out how far that sound was. We just continued walking and at this particular part, we bashed through some dense trees and it opened like a curtain where we faced a clearing. There was where the music and chant came from. We came head on to a burial ceremony and the grave hole was just behind the “curtain” tree. The group mate who was in front almost fell into the freshly dug hole. I kid you not. We were really facing it. We were shocked, the funeral procession was shocked to see us appearing behind the trees. They stopped playing and looked at us. It was awkward. Especially when they were literally lowering the coffin into the grave. Thinking back now, it was funny. We apologised, skirted around the grave hole and walked while this procession and grieving family members just stopped their business (including crying) and looked at us in silence as we walked away.
That night as we looked for a place to sleep again, we walked through a village. This time it wasn't just a plantation but a real village with people. The children called us “Ah Ping Ke” as we walked past their homes. Some of the residents even invited us to spend the night at their houses. It was a nice gesture but we were told to not accept their offer.
One group walked past us and said they were from a house who served them grilled duck. They said another group is in one of the house to spend the night. How true were these. I have no idea.
By now, we were “experienced” enough to locate sheds to sleep in.
Day 4. We completed our checkpoints just before noon. The endpoint was nearby and we were at the big buddha already. There were a set of time for the trucks to ferry us back to camp. Maybe about 3 trips a day. Something like one in the morning, noon and late afternoon. We definitely could catch the noon ferry but we decided to rest and soak the atmosphere a bit more. Plus we knew that if we were to be back in camp before night time, we would not be able to rest. Surely we would be asked to do “Sai Kang” (Literally means shit hole. In the army, sai kang means labour work that everyone dread. Like clean toilets or wash jerry cans or carry things or whatever.)
So we found a good spot where we rested and enjoyed the cool afternoon in the forest. We deserve that rest. Late afternoon, we walked down the slope to the end point where we boarded the 2.5 tonner back to camp.
What started out with apprehension and worry turned out to be one of my most fun life experience ever. 4 days in a foreign forest. 3 nights in the cold. Beautiful views, nice people. It felt like a 4 day hiking trip. But then it was tiring and we also looked forward to be back in camp to have a good shower, cooked food and sleep in our bunks.
NEXT WEEK : Exercise Warrior
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).