A day in the life of a refuelling ship

Hong Kong is one of the biggest world harbours. As such, it is one of the huge transiting places for container ships. On the way, these ships need to refuel. It was thus that I had the opportunity of sharing the life of the crew of a refueling ship for a few hours, during one of their shifts.

The life of this ship is shared between refuelling the ships which transit through Hong Kong and taking in oil to fill its tanks. There are two crews of 5 people who share the grueling 12-hrs shifts.

Captain at the helm
As two o’clock ring, the captain gives the departure signal and heads into the sea

As we got closer to the container ship we had to refuel, the crew took its positions.

Crew in position
Crew in position as the refueling ship nears its client.

A strenuous work

While interspersed with long periods of inaction, the work aboard the refueling ship can also take its toll, because of the long periods of work. The crew ensures continuous shifts between filling its tanks and refueling, which go up to several hours, with just two or three hours to rest.

As we were nearing the container ship, the workers started hoisting the heavy buoy to separate both ships.

Preparing for boarding
The crew prepares a buoy to isolate from the ship they are about to refuel.

Despite their hard work, all the men of the crew were extremely welcoming for the photographers and very helpful in guiding us.

Refueling a ship

This day, we were to fuel a Japanese container ship, the “Hyundai Harmony“, with Panama flag. Initially, this all started with having to moor both ships together, to avoid any issue during the delicate refueling operations.

Loaded rope
A crewman of the “Hyundai Harmony” throws a loaded rope to the refueling ship.

This also involved crews of both ships throwing loaded ropes to reach the other ship and pull the heavier ropes.

teamwork to moor ships
The crew of the Hyundai Harmony, pulling on a cable to moor both ships together

The crew of the Hyundai Harmony then started pulling the ropes to secure both vessels together.

On the refuelling ship, Two heavy motors started pulling a very old and fraught rope and brought the two vessels together.

The mooring operations on the refuelling ship: two heavy engines pull the mooring ropes
Rope on the ship
Mooring rope on the ship

After mooring alongside the ship, several of the crew members of the refuelling ship boarded the “Hyundai Harmony” to help them to connect the hoses for fuel resupply.

Crew preparing hose
A crew member prepares the hose for connection onboard the container ship.

This also gave way to some exchanges near to the connection pipes. Interestingly, the Hyundai Harmony was using maritime diesel for propulsion in China, and heavy fuel for propulsion out of China. It also tells how regulating maritime energy consumption might help to solve the pollution problems which keep affecting our planet.

Crew exchanging
The Chinese and Filipino crew of both vessels exchange around one of the diesel entry vents.

Once the business end of the transaction initiated, we started exchanging with the (very friendly) Filipino crew. They soon warmed up to us, and offered us some coke (with actually a Vietnamese package!)

A big family

The beautiful part of that trip was that the welcoming nature of seamen. We were quickly integrated in the group and were even invited to share the dinner of the crew of the refueling ship.

Sharing a meal in the mess
Sharing a meal in the mess

The ship’s mess was really a men’s room, complete with pinup on the wall.

Pinup on the wall
Pinup on the wall of the refueling ship’s mess

To give an idea of the ship, I did film a walkthrough, starting with the first mate’s quarters.

Walking through a refuelling ship.

Despite their hard work, the crew also knew to smile, and this allowed me to get this lovely portrait of a member of the crew.

Crew member
A member of the crew of the refueling ship

The moments of happiness were also present among the Filipino crew who joked playfully among them.

Filipino crew
Filipino crew of the refueling ship

Soon, and after some hesitation, as there was no proper gangway to reach the other ship, we decided to head to the container ship and see closer our new friends.

A common practice, yet a whiff of danger

Both crews jumped very easily from one ship to another, the frequency of the maneuver probably inoculating them to the inherent danger, but for my friend and me, it was the first attempt. We however benefited from the friendly advice of one of the crew members who gave us some tips on how to cross the most safely possible. As the sea was calm and the ships were quite close, the danger was limited, except for the grease present everywhere on this fuel ship, which made metallic surfaces quite slippery.

Crossing between ships seen by GoPro

In the end, we managed to set foot on the other side. On our request, the crew accepted to accompany up topsails, to the bridge of the Hyundai Harmony.

Climbing up on the Hyundai Harmony

We took a selfie at the top.

Selfie on the top bridge
Selfie on the top bridge of the Hyundai Harmony

Drone views of the refueling: taking off from a ship, a challenge for the compass!

This refueling operation was an occasion for me of testing takeoff and landing on a reduced space, namely a ship. For a drone pilot, taking off from a ship spells great trouble, as everything is metallic… So the compass becomes just crazy. The key is to master the “hand launch” (which can be pretty easy, if you go through the route of the automated launch). The key here, being to use the on-screen “launch instruction” rather than the remote control. Indeed, when using the on-screen launch program, the drone automatically rises to 1 m 20 above its launch point (your hand). This minimizes risks of getting hit by the propellers, but you should clearly raise your hand well above your head.

While I took also a number of shots in horizontal perspective, I believe the portrait mode of the Mavic Pro allowed to get the best impression of the length of the container ship.

Container ship by drone
A view by drone of the container ship “Hyundai Harmony”

Other shots shop the refuelling ship in operation next to the container ship.

Refuelling operations
Refuelling operations on the Hyundai Harmony.

Returning to port

After the refuellng was completed, the tanker ship unmoored and started heading to refill its tanks with more fuel for the next shipment.

A crane operator lifts a buoy
A crane operator lifting back the pipes into the ship

One the pipes were back on board, it was time to bring back up the heavy buoy that avoided our ship creating friction with the container ship. The interesting part was that they did this while on the move. I decided to use a tripod and long exposure to show the movement, while keeping the ship in focus.

Moving away
The refueling ship moves away from the container ship

We could have remained with the crew until 3 AM, the time at which the ship’s tanks would be filled again. However, anxious of getting some rest, we opted instead to hitch a ride on a fast boat which was carrying one of the HK technicians sent to assist the Hyundai Harmony. But this was not before taking a last parting shot of the ship.

Return to the “Calm Morning” land

Last December, my family and myself went back to Korea. For me, it was a return to the “Calm Morning” land, for my family, it was their first trip.

If you remember, my first trip to Korea took place in early December 2017. This was the occasion of discovering some amazing places such as Busan and the wide variety of places in Seoul. Korea and Japan are often compared and contrasted, but, per se, the experience is quite different. Where Japan is a land very much imbued with animism and hence every inch of landscape is infused with spirituality, Korea is more of a familiar terrain for Westerners. Christianity permeated Korea and makes its people also more relatable in various manners. This was very clear when my family expressed a feeling of being welcomed into the country, compared to Japan – where you cannot shake off that feeling of being “gaijin”.

Landing in the “Calm Morning” land at dawn

For logistic reasons, we had to take red-eyes flights from Hong Kong to Seoul. My wife and daughter flew Cathay, while I flew with Korean Airlines. It was actually my very first experience flying with them.

View from terminal one at sunrise
The view from Terminal 1 at Incheon airport in Seoul.

As I flew Korean Air, I landed at terminal 2, whereas most airlines take off from terminal 1. I thus had to transfer terminal with my luggages, in the cold and furthermore, with two times more luggage as my wife had charged me with the gifts for our friends (Check photo below!).

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia at the airport

Our plan had been of showering at the airport, dropping the bags at hotel and rushing off to make the most of our time in Seoul. Alas! What sounds great in theory is not always in practice. We ended leaving the airport only at… 11! The Limousine bus of KAL took us pretty near to our hotel, namely the Novotel Dongdaemun. It however took pretty much close to 45 minutes!

Dongdaemun, a lively area

Dongdaemun may be a bit far from the historical center of Seoul, yet it is an extremely lively place. It has quite a number of department stores (shopping is thus one of the most important activities over there), but it also has the very photogenic museum of design.

The design museum of Seoul
The design museum of Seoul

This museum is very interesting, not only for its photogenic aspect, but also because at some locations, you can find a piano made available for people to play on.

Piano at design museum
These piano are made available for anyone who wishes to play and offer a performance to the public.

We thus had the occasion of assisting to a four-hand performance by two young Koreans, playing Christmas carols (which I, of course, streamed live on Periscope).

Beyond the design museum, the Dongdaemun area has an extraordinary vibe.

A little photographer

This time around, Maria-Sophia was documenting our trip with her own camera, a small compact Nikon.

Me shot by MS
Maria-Sophia managed to shoot me, as I was photographing her and her mom…You can admire the blue sky behind!

Maria-Sophia also understood perfectly the concept of being close to the subject in her picture of the two pianists.

Design museum piano
A live performance of Christmas carols by the two Korean pianists at the design museum

Later, we moved on to the Gyeongbokgung palace, where Maria-Sophia insisted to take a few shots of Mitchy and me. I have to say she did a pretty good job of it.

And, of course, Maria-Sophia demonstrated her keen eye by catching a snapshot of a lady in hanbok inside the courtyard of the palace.

lady in hanbok
Maria-Sophia captures a dynamic pic of a lady in Hanbok inside gyeongbokgung palace

An unusual encounter

Sometimes around the world, you have some weird coincidences. Here, it was my encounter with a scooter sporting a… Monaco plate!

A surprising sight: a scooter with a Monaco plate in Seoul
A scooter with a Monaco plate in Seoul.

I could not find any explanation as to how such a scooter was allowed to ride in Korea, nor why it had a Monaco plate… But it was the interesting sight of the day.

The following days, we were to visit Nami island and then head to Busan.

A business trip on 747

My company’s headquarters are located in Southern France, so occasionally, I can be asked to head to Europe for business. This happened last December. It was the occasion of both sampling the business class of Lufthansa (and its Boeing 747), and, at the same time, of admiring once again, the beautiful city of Nice during this business trip to France.

A 747-800 for the flight

The 4-reactor jumbo jet is much less in favor nowadays, as airways do prefer more economical bi-reactors, such as the Boeing 777 or the Airbus A350. I flew extensively on the B777, and sampled the A350 thanks to Finnair.

upper deck stairway
upper deck stairway on 747-8

The B747-8 of Lufthansa, although it has the pretension of being one of the latest models, still suffers a lot of its age. Indeed, on the upper deck (admittedly, the most private setting for the business class), window side seats are established with a two-row setting. This means that if you are sitting near the window, then you have to jump over your neighbor to go to the restroom. In my case, pretty delicate as there is no place to hold yourself when the seat is reclined and this bed is fully flat.

Business class Lufthanasa
Business class seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8.

Entertainment

The 747-8 has one of the latest screens, but managing to connect the noise-cancelling headphones can be difficult. I even had to ask the assistance of the cabin crew to find the connecting port. Beyond that, the movies choice is pretty updated, but of course, when you download, you are necessarily a bit frustrated by the offer.

Business class screens
Business class screens on 747-8 of Lufthansa

One of the more quirky sides of Lufthansa, is that they provide you a mattrass to be deployed on your seat when you want to sleep. Funny and not necessarily very convenient.

Food: uninspiring

Most people like business class for the food. I have to confess I have a low interest for food, except that I can tell choices are uninspiring.

Dinner on Lufthansa
Dinner on Lufthansa

You might call my choice very “German”, as it comes complete with the potatoes!

At any rate, it was sufficient to nurrish me and keep me satiated until arrival.

One hour before arrival, we were served breakfast. Although the beds are lie-flat beds, I am afraid my back does not allow me to sleep comfortably in the rather Spartan airline seats. Breakfast was a welcome awakening.

Breakfast on Lufthansa
Breakfast on Lufthansa

Once again, it looks VERY German, complete with saussages and eggs.

Arriving in Frankfurt

Of course, when flying from Asia to Europe, you are always bound to arrive at dawn. It was not yet 6 AM, and hence quite dark outside as we landed in Frankfurt after an uneventful flight. I managed to take a few shots of the cabin and the Christmas decorations on the upper deck, before deplaning.

Christmas decorations on 747
Christmas decorations on 747-8

You really get a measure of the majestic plane once outside. In the night, the 747 has still a majestic and royal presence which fills the whole berth.

B747-8 in Frankfurt
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its bay in Frankfurt

Layover in Frankfurt

Unfortunately, being a hub for Lufthansa, Frankfurt’s business lounge gets quite crowded in the morning. And, of course, there is a quite a queue to use the lounge’s showers. After shower, it was the time to catch my connecting flight to Nice.

By that time, it had started raining and we took off in an Airbus A320 “neo”. Short plane, with winglets at the end of the wings, the A320 neo is the short range Airbus solution (something of a competitor to the B737 of Boeing).

A320 neo
A view of the A320 neo at its gate. Notice the winglets at the end, fuel-saving feature.

We took off in the rain, but not before seeing a streak of sunrise coming through the clouds.

Sunrise on the airport
Sunrise while waiting to take off to Nice on the A320 neo.

Short haul business class

Obviously, the short haul business class on Lufthansa, just as on Finnair is pretty spartan. Breakfast comes through as a typically German breakfast (again!). Cheese and cold cuts and bread…

Business class breakfast
Business class breakfast on Frankfurt-Nice

The flight was quiet and uneventful, but as the plane flies over the Italian alps in its approach to Nice, the views from the window were quite spectacular. A reminder of how beautiful it is to fly during day time.

View on Italian alps
The view on Italian Alps from the plane

Nice: a classical city

Obviously, I am not going to talk about my work here, nor what I did in Southern France in relation to business.

No, I instead wanted to talk a bit about the city of Nice: although slightly fresh, it was not yet the real cold and dreary days of December down south. I enjoyed a beautiful sun during my stay and, contrary to Asia, the skies were a magnificent blue.

My hotel being located next to the Notre Dame Basilica, I managed to visit this beautiful neo-Gothic church – deserted as about every church in these days and times.

Notre Dame de Nice
The beautiful Notre Dame de Nice Cathedral at night.

The Basilica itself, is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture… brought down to scale! In fact, ths basilica was built around 1864, after the city of Nice was returned to France from the Kingdom of Sardinia. So, quite new as a church, but still it maintains a certain intemporal beauty.

Inside the Basilica
Inside the Notre Dame of Nice Basilica

The whole area of the center of Nice is a bustling area of promenade and of animation of the Southern city. Cars are excluded from circulating, so the main transportation is the tram and bicycle.

Biking in Nice
A lady bikes on the tram rails in Nice

A missed sunrise

Sadly for a photographer, I was unable to stop and shoot a picture of the beautiful sunrise on the mediterranean coast near Nice. I did manage to grab a snapshot from my car’s window, though.

A famous social media symbol
A famous social media symbol for Nice.

Later, on the same road, I managed to see a fiery sunrise.

Sunrise in Nice
Sunrise in Nice

Return flight

The return flight to Hong Kong was as uneventful as the going. I flew again on a 747-8, but this time, I took the precaution of getting an aisle seat to avoid having to hike above my neighbors…

And when I arrived in Hong Kong, it was time to say goodbye to the 747 after two flights with Lufthansa.

Boeing 747-8
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its gate in Hong Kong after the night flight from Europe.

In the “Golden Prague”

Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.

Reaching Prague

There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.

Business class of finnair
Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in the business class of Finnair

It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.

Meal on finnair business class
Meal on Finnair business class

The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.

Landing in Prague of flight AY 1224

The “golden city”

Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.

Pretty Czech girls
A snapshot of a couple of pretty Czech girls in Prague’s historic center

We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away

The Prague Castle

The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Maria-sophia before St. George basilica
Maria-Sophia before the St. George basilica in the inner courtyard of Prague Castle

While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.

View over rooftops of Prague
This gorgeous view over the rooftops of Prague is available inside Prague castle

The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.

Photo ops

Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.

Maria-Sophia over the ramparts
Maria-Sophia posing over the ramparts of Prague castle

We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.

Asian prenup pictorials at Prague castle
Asian couples often come for prenuptial pictures at Prague castle

Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.

Two Asian tourists in Prague castle
Two Asian tourists in Prague castle

Heading to the Moldau

You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.

Wenceslas vineyards
Maria-Sophia on the path of the Wenceslas vineyards

The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists climbing stairs to Prague castle
Two Chinese tourists climb the stairs to the Prague castle

Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.

Maria-Sophia before the Prague castle stairs
Maria-Sophia poses on the stairs climbing to the Prague castle

Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.


The Charles Bridge

The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.

As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.

Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.

Maria-Sophia at the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk
Maria-Sophia pays respect to the statue of Saint John Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.

The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge in Prague

Along the Moldau

I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.

“The Moldau”, by Smetana
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau

Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.

A golden city… with disagreeable people

After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.

The Monastery of Monserrrat

During our trip to Barcelona, we took advantage of having a car to drive all the way to the Monstery of Monserrat. A beacon of Catalan culture since the IXth century, when it was founded, this Monastery survived one millenium of upheaval. The most serious threats to the monastery being the depredations by the Napoleonian troops in XIXth century and the Spanish civil war in the XXth century (23 monks were killed by Republicans). Today, it is a place of pilgrimage, of tourism and also of hiking due to its magnificent views.

Driving to Monserrat

The first part of the drive is pretty much boring, as it involves taking the highway C-58 out of Barcelona for about 45 kms. Ordinary drive, ordinary traffic, so not much to say about  it. It starts getting interesting when you reach the area of Monserrat, as you see high gorges arising and the road starts making twists and turns.

Driving in Spain
Driving in Spain

The gorges of Monserrat

As you arrive near Monserrat, the twisting road starts being surrounded by high gorges, which prepare you to the elevated position of the Monastery.

Gorges of Monserrat
The gorges of Monserrat seen by drone.

As we were around, we managed to take a “dronie” in those gorges.

Dronie in Monserrat
A dronie in the gorges of Monserrat

The beauty of those gorges cannot be stressed enough. It is a wild and beautiful area.

Monserrat river
Monserrat and the local river seen by drone


Monserrat as haven for Catalan language

Besides being an important monastery, Monserrat was also one of the first places where Catalan language was born and developed. In that respect, one of the most beautiful hymns in Catalan is “El Virolai”. While I did not get the chance of hearing this hymn during my visit, you can have a rendition below. It is absolutely profound and moving.


El Virolai sung by the boy’s choir of Monserrat

Taking the Cremallera

The monastery of Monserrat is built on the top of the mountain. To reach it, you can either take the cremallera, or you can also climb a hiking trail right to the top.

Monserrat tram
The monserrat tram passing above one of the earlier models near the station

The views from the cremallera are just gorgeous, so make sure you are sitting on the left side of the train for pics.

Mitchy in the Cremallera of Monserrat
Mitchy poses in the cremallera of Monserrat

The Cremallera goes all the way to the top of the mountain, near the Basillica.

Cremallera of Monserrat
Cremallera of Monserrat

The Basilica of Monserrat

Mitchy at Monserrat
Mitchy on the esplanade of Monserrat

The basilica of Monserrat was originally built according to the Gothic style. However, it was heavily damaged during the Napoleonic wars, and thus had to be rebuilt towards the end of the XIXth century. Today, it is thus not really the IXth century monastery and basilica that you will be seeing but something more recent, with the facade built in 1904.

Mitchy before the Monserrat basilica facade.
Mitchy before the Monserrat basilica facade.

The church itself is very beautiful. After WWII, a new area was built to hold the Black Madonna statue of Monserrat.

The Black Madonna

Mitchy praying at the Virgin of Monserrat.
Mitchy praying before the Virgin of Monserrat

This “Black Madonna” is not black by design, but the wood in which it is sculpted darkened with age. Thereafter, successive restorers painted the statue black. Originally, legend had it that it was sculpted in Jerusalem, in the early days of the church, some 2000 years ago. Although not as old as that, it seems the statue must be dating back to the late XIIth century. There are very few Black Madonna statues in Europe, the other most famous one being in Czestochowa in Poland.

Its importance in the Catholic religious history cannot be understated, as it is before this very Black Madonna that Ignatius de Loyola lay down his weapons, before creating the Company of Jesus or the Jesuit order as it is known nowadays. For Catholics, it is an important moment and something to be thankful for.

The Ave Maria path

After you exit the statue display area, you arrive at an area known as the “Ave Maria camin”. It is a long path alongside the exterior of the Basilica, where you can light candles (which my wife did, of course).

Mitchy and her candle
Mitchy about to light a candle in the Ave Maria path in Monserrat

The area is also interesting for some atmospheric pictures. Candles always have something warm, both in their light and in the symbol they represent for us.

Candles on ave maria path
Candles lit along the Ave Maria path

The multicolor view of the candles allows you to take a quite colorful picture of the area.

When you come out again in the main area, do not forget to look upwards to the funicular taking you to Saint Jerome, the highest point in Monserrat mountains…

Saint jerome, in Monserrat.
The vertiginous climb to Monserrat’s Saint Jerome.


Cony and Brown in Monserrat

Before leaving, we did take a picture with our alter egos, Cony and Brown in from of the Monastery. It was a way of expressing both, our appreciation for the place and our personal love stories with those lovely characters of LINE.

Cony and Brown in Monserrat
Cony and Brown in Monserrat

In conclusion, if you are in Barcelona, the Monastery of Monserrat is too unique to miss. The views and the location of the monastery are just amazing. The spiritual experience is also wonderful in this place, and you can understand the appeal of this monastery for so many centuries.

Barefooting above the abyss: second barefoot hike on suicide cliff

A little less than one year ago, I had started my history of barefoot hiking, by electing to climb suicide cliff. Since then, I climbed several other times on Kowloon Peak, some times by night, other times with my daughter… But I did not go back on the Southern ridge, climbing the steep walls that lead to suicide cliff… Until now! In October, I started my second barefoot hike on suicide cliff.

An early start

As suicide cliff can get quite frequented later during the day, it is preferable to climb in the morning. I thus prepared myself to start my hike around 9.30 AM, and obviously, even if not recommended, I climbed alone. Early departure allows also to skip the issues with sun beating down on the mountain later in the day.

I started off barefooting from home. While initially, it was uncomfortable doing so with the guards at my condo, with time it got easier as I tend now to run and hike barefoot quite regularly.

What changed from one year ago?

To be honest, no huge changes affected the trail this year. There were however two noticeable differences: a small tree fell across the trail at the beginning, consequence of the typhoon Mangkhut, and there is now a stark warning about climbing to suicide cliff.

warning board on suicide cliff route
Warning board on the Southern ridge route to suicide cliff.

These boards are also affixed at the other main entrance to Kowloon Peak, namely the stairs. Besides these warnings, the hiking conditions on the path have not significantly deteriorated from one year ago, so hiking is still very practicable.

Despite this, it seems hikers get regularly stranded or even disappear on this mountain. It is thus not an endeavour to undertake alone. I provide a walkthrough in this post, but please do not climb the mountain alone if you are unfamiliar with the place.

The initial climb

As this time, I had a gopro camera with me, I filmed the main parts of my climb, mainly to give a feeling of what it is to hike on this route. I would invite you to watch the climbing videos in order for you to better understand the challenges, especially if you plan on climbing for the first time.

The start is taking place in the forest as starters.

The start of the climb on Kowloon Peak

The beginning of the climb is not really serious. Most of this path takes place within the forest, and you can grip to rocks or branches to secure your climb. The real technical part of the climb starts once you are out of the forested lower part of the mountain.

The fork

At a point, you are going to reach a fork in the path. To the right is the most challenging path (which eventually joins the first one), but I do not recommend using that path. One of the reasons being that I never took it, the second being that it is way more sandy than the other side. At any rate, I filmed the passage across the small stream, but be aware that the ropes which have been placed there are used and should not be relied upon.

The passage of the fork leading to the second half of the climb.

Rock scrambling

The second part of the climb, once you are out of the bushes is something of a rock scramble, more than a hike. You need to use all of your body to pull yourself up. This is a quite physical effort, which means that you can easily be drained after climbing the rock for two hours.

The second half of rock scrambling on Kowloon Peak

Open Air

View from Kowloon Peak
First stage, where you come up, above the bushy part of Kowloon Peak.

After all the rock scrambling, you will arrive to a plateau, where there is sufficient space to ensure that you can rest. The view on the city is also quite gorgeous at that point, and it is where you will take a breather after the intense efforts. This is where I flew my drone too, but had to land it quickly, as the wind was threatening to fly it against the mountain or have it escape my control. For being short, this video does a good job of providing a contextual view of the mountain.

I then resumed my climb, as it was the final leg towards suicide cliff.

The ledge to suicide cliff

Before getting to suicide clfif, proper, you must walk a tight ledge. Explaining how it looks does not help much, and you will only feel the thrill when you walk it yourself.

The final ledge to suicide clif

Needless to say, while looking very risky, this ledge is large enough to be walked along comfortably. Nevertheless, it is best to be slightly slanted towards the mountain, in order to avoid any loss of balance tipping you cliffside.

Obviously, on suicide cliff, the necessary selfies must be taken…

Selfie on suicide cliff
A selfie on suicide cliff
On suicide cliff
On suicide cliff

Scrambling upwards

Rock scrambling does not end with the suicide cliff. Not in the least. To get away from suicide cliff, you can only go down by the same path you came up (very steep) or continue climbing upwards (and that involves some more rock scrambling).

Rock scrambling

While not terribly technical per se, this involves however passing on a narrow ledge giving on a ten-meter cliff. Here again, unless you are scared of heights (in which case you should not even be attempting this climb!), no real issue. Just remember that taking your time and advancing prudently is key to hiking safely.

Once you get over that part, then, you must still get around a huge boulder, and it is not obvious unless you have already been there (although you can just follow the trail in the vegetation).

Getting around the boulder

Once at the top, you end up with big stones and rocks that can be a bit technical to navigate barefooted, but perfectly feasible. Here is an example:

Resting on Kowloon peak
Resting bare feet on the top of Kowloon Peak

Ending the hike

The final leg of the hike involves both getting around a communication tower with barbed wires and climbing to the radio tower and the helipad.

The final leg climbing up to the helipad

The last part of the hike is going down the stairs. Under no circumstances think about taking the “shorter” way down on Jat’s incline side! That route is treacherous and extremely dangerous, please always take the stairs, they present no risk at all.

Climbing down the stairs

As a conclusion, my advice is once again, to be very careful. It is always prudent to start a hike on a new route with someone who already knows the route. And if you wish to start a hike barefoot, make sure you recognized the terrain beforehand and that you pack a pair of shoes (there is no shame in adapting to the terrain). Finally, don’t think you need to prove anything by taking the most dangerous routes when there are less dangerous ones available. Kowloon Peak is a famous mountain, but it stays a mountain. It must be respected and handled with caution. Safe climbing!

A barefoot hike on Tai Mo Shan

Tai Mo Shan is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, culminating at 957 m. Despite being in Hong Kong for two years already, I had not visited Tai Mo Shan until recently. It must be said that it is a bit out of my way, and I already have the famous suicide cliff near to my place. I even went back there recently, but that will be the object of another post.

A photography meetup

I went up Tai Mo Shan with the members of a photography meetup, the PASM meetup. We went the day before the Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city, because prior to the typhoon, there is always some marvelous atmospheric effects in the sky.

Having missed the bus to Tai Mo Shan, we caught an Uber to be on the safe side. The side benefit of taking an uber was that the driver took us up about halfway up.

A windy start

Being on the side facing Yuen Long, we faced strong headwinds. An attempt to take off with my drone ended in a crash-landing that created some damage to the gimbal, although that damage was not immediately apparent.

Despite the wind, we managed to take some pictures on a rocky outcropping.

Bailey at Tai Mo Shan.
Bailey shooting pics on the protruding rock on Tai Mo Shan.

Climbing up

Although we had come halfway up on Tai Mo Shan, we still had halfway to walk, and so, we started climbing. Along the way, there is a viewpoint over the town of Tsuen Wan. While it is just the habitual cityscape of Hong Kong with high rises and some view of the sea (read: unremarkable), it was interesting to play with the drone around that area.


Bailey and Grace and Tsuen Wan
Bailey and Grace with Tsuen Wan in background

Of course, since the scene was there, I did take a dronie… Barefoot of course, as I was hiking the whole mountain barefoot.

Dronie on Tai Mo Shan
Dronie on Tai Mo Shan

The most fun was when another Mavic Pilot came down the mountain with his own drone, while he was actually riding a scooter. We then exchanged dronies capturing each other with our respective drones.

Two drone pilots in a dronie
Two drone pilots taking a dronie

The sunset over the mountain

Finally, after having climbed even higher, we came to an ideal position to see the setting sun. We were blessed with some angel lights shining through the clouds which made the sunset quite spectacular. Despite the proximity of the typhoon, and despite being on the exposed side of the mountain (again), there were no gusts, so the drone managed to be quite pliable.

sunset over Tai Mo Shan
The sunset over Tai Mo Shan.

Despite the lower dynamic range of the Mavic Pro, the picture is quite similar to the picture shot with the Nikon D 750.

View of the angel light through Nikon
A view of the angel light through my Nikon D750.

The reason for the absence of reddish sky is due to the wind which dispersed the pollutants which habitually diffract the blue part of the solar light. Habitually, Hong Kong and Bangkok are gifted with quite spectacular sunsets due to the high presence of pollutants in the sky. An approaching typhoon, obviously disperses these pollutants.

Going down

Once the sunset over, we started going down, also to get home on time to shelter from the typhoon. Nevertheless, that is when the sky started showing some spectacular hues.

Barefooting down the mountain
Bailey going down the mountain barefoot.

It was the occasion for me to shoot a pic of Bailey who, after a lot of prodding, finally decided to take off his shoes and start barefooting down the mountain.

Obviously, I took it to the next level, when I decided to jog down the mountain with my heavy backpack, still barefoot… But that is how a barefoot hike can be as much fun as a barefoot run!

Getting to Tai Mo Shan

We took it the easy way, as we hired an uber which took us up to halfway the mountain. Nevertheless, if you wish to climb Tai Mo Shan more “classically”, you must first head to the Tsuen Wan West MTR station. From there, you grab bus n° 50 and alight near the mountain. From there, it is impossible to get lost, as the path to the top is straight and paved until the end.

Barefoot hike on a volcano

In the series of pushing the envelope on barefoot hiking, this time, I tackled the Taal Volcano, a caldera located some 55 kms from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Taal Volcano

Taal Volcano is a caldera, a super-volcano that is estimated to have culminated at 18,000 feet in prehistoric eras, before collapsing and making it today the smallest (311 meters) volcano in the Philippines. Originally, the crater was filled with sea water as there was a channel opened between the volcano and the bay near Cavite. Since then, the channel closed, making Taal volcano a large freshwater body.

Although it was quite calm when we visited, the Taal Volcano is not a dormant or extinct volcano, it can be quite active, with a huge magma chamber below. In fact, my first visit was in 2012, and at the time, steam was hissing through some vents in the ground.

Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in 2012 on Taal Volcano.

Since then, the authorities have restricted the access to the crater of the volcano island as there have been episodes of boiling water projections down there, or toxic gases. To explain why, it is good to know that in 2012, some people even went canoeing on the crater lake!

From Manila to Tagaytay

The one big inconvenience reaching Tagaytay is transportation. Although it is only 30 kms from Manila, it takes almost 3 hours to reach by car.

Car from Manila to Tagaytay
In the car from Manila to Tagaytay

We took it the lazy way, and just called a Grab car. You must be aware that the app will provide a very low price for the transfer to Tagaytay, which makes it uneconomical for drivers to take you there. So, what we did was to negotiate a price for full day hire and cancel our booking. In all, this costed us 4,500 PHP, but the driver stuck around, hence avoiding us having to roam around finding transportation back to Manila. One caveat however, there is an incredible number of toll fees between Manila and Tagaytay when you take the highway (called “skyway” here).

Finding transportation on the lake

Once you get to Tagaytay, you must find a boat to carry you over the lake. Typically, this would cost about 300 to 500 PHP per head two ways. Since 2012, it seems most of the locals have been replaced by resorts who offer well-organized transfers across the lake, mainly for Koreans.

It was thus no surprise that our driver recommended us a Korean-operated resort. The resort operates an “all inclusive” package which includes boat crossing two ways, horse ride up and down the mountain and (if you wish) Korean buffet. Prices go from 1300 PHP per head to 1420 PHP with meal included.

Boat Crossing

The boats used on the lake for the crossing are those typical “barca”, made of a central hull and two balancers. The lake being originally the crater of a volcano, there are often algae that can get tangled around the propellers. In our case, the pilots had to jump in the water to release the propellers.

Family on boat
The family on the barca crossing the lake

Horse riding

There are a number of villagers living on the volcano itself. Namely some impoverished locals whose only livelihood is around having tourists riding their horses up and down the volcano’s crater.

As we were hesitating about who would take our daughter on its horse, Maria-Sophia announced determinedly that she would ride her own horse! It was thus that she got to climb on her own horse, with the guide taking a ride behind her.

Maria-Sophia and horse
Maria-Sophia looks at th ehorse she will be riding

The climb up is not very strenuous and the cliffs are not that steep. So, riding a horse seems a bit too much. Nevertheless, many tourists fall into the trap, but it is extremely uncomfortable to ride.

In my case, it seems my heavy photo backpack was causing the horse to have some issues with balancing, so my guide kept on telling me to keep my balance. I rode the horse barefoot, but later, when they needed to rearrange the saddle (a close way to the top), I dismounted and carried on on foot.

Barefoot hiking on the volcano

Strangely for people who keep climbing the volcano with mere flip-flops, the guides were a bit scared and surprised to see me hike up barefoot. Nevertheless, most of the terrain is sandy, with some edgy stones in some places. As such, I would not deem it as one of the most challenging hikes I did.

The crater

I mentioned earlier, the Taal Volcano is actually a caldera, a sort of super-volcano. This explains why there are actually two craters: a first, the largest, being the calderas’s main crater, and a second one which appeared later in the center of the lake. This gives the volcano that peculiarity of having two lakes in its midst. The best way of having an idea of the gigantic nature of this volcano is through drone views. Here, below, a view of the observation deck set up on the rim of the crater.

Taal crater seen by drone
The Taal volcano observation point and crater seen by drone
Taal volcano and the lake
The observation deck and in the background, a glimpse of the main Taal lake.

This video also probably gives you an idea of the beauty of the place.

A very touristy place

Taal being this natural curiosity, it is also one of the main touristic attractions for the area. They did quite some nice work to make the crater’s surroundings likable for tourists, like planting flowers.

Flower on crater
A flower planted on the rim of the crater brings a touch of color to the greenish tone of the water.

Similarly, a bit further, they planted red carnations, again, providing some color in the otherwise greenish tone of the crater.

Red carnations on the crater
Red carnations on the crater

The whole family then took a dronie and a selfie before the crater. Our daughter was rather disappointed that she could not see lava or magma as in a “real” volcano. But this volcano is quite active. All the more as since our last visit, it is prohibited to walk down to the crater’s edge.

As I walked along the crater, a Filipino seeing me barefoot took out his flip-flops and started walking barefoot too, giving me the thumbs-up.

Hiking down barefoot

After having suffered with the discomfort of the horse ride, I decided to go down the mountain barefoot. As the path was downward and furthermore, I was walking on a terrain that was mostly dusty, I arrived to the end point at almost the same time as the horses that departed with me. And this is only logical, as the horses can only ride as fast as their guides let them.

Once again, the views going down were absolutely gorgeous.

A hike worth the while

Japanese say that only fools attempt to climb mount Fuji twice. In this case, it was the second time I climbed Taal Volcano, but this time, I did it mainly on (bare)foot.

It was nice to come back to the place several years after my first visit, and more particularly to bring back my daughter who had visited the place as a baby.

Street Food in Busan

One evening, on returning from my excursion up a mountain, back in December 2017, I decided to do something differently, and have my dinner outdoors at one of the roadside stalls of the place. It was my first experience of street food in Busan.

Roadside stalls with hygiene

Contrary to what you would expect in Thailand, for example, the Koreans do take hygiene at heart. So, vendors do use plastic gloves when handling food and all of their dishes are single-use.

Busan street food
Busan street food

Rice cannelloni

Most of the dishes were simply some form of rice cannelloni as can be seen on the pictures. The sauce was pretty good and in the cold evening of Busan, it did provide a refreshing change from habitual food (although I must say I tried also some delicious kimchi).

Most people just eat standing.

Atmosphere

Indeed, one of the lovely things about street food in Busan is also the atmosphere around. The night lights, the stands and the street’s setting combine to give it a homely atmosphere. Eating out should be done more for sharing in the atmosphere of locals. One local student helped to translate for me my order and was quite curious to know from where I was. Koreans have always been welcoming and helpful everywhere I went, and Busan was no exception to the rule.

Atmosphere in Busan
Atmosphere in a street where roadside vendors have set their stands

Finally, if you prefer eating in a restaurant, there are many places where you can eat kimchi or a full set meal for a very reasonable price.

For once, I truly enjoyed “going local”. But then, Korea is a place where even foreigners are gladly welcomed to share the local life. Probably one of my best experiences traveling around Asia. Busan, itself, has a more “rough” feeling to it, but locals are quite friendly and nice.

Barefoot hike on the Ancient Trail from Tsuen Wan to Yuen Long

I tackled a fairly easy (ok, just because it is paved, but the effort required is tough at the start) trail barefoot. The Ancient trail from Tsuen Wan to Yuen Long which I hiked barefoot, was built centuries ago, to connect two of these localities in Hong Kong’s new territories by land. Today, they have become a hiking trail, mainly paved and generally requiring some extensive walk.

Tsuen Wan: doors open to the large

Tsuen Wan being on the Western edge of Hong Kong is also, in some way a door open to the large. From its surrounding mountains, you can see the container harbor, as well as the Tsing Ma bridge. And what’s more, it is an excellent plane-spotting point. Towering at 458 m, the highest point of the hike allows to see from quite close the underbelly of the planes on their final approach to the airport.

View on the Tsing Ma bridge
View by drone on the Tsing Ma bridge.

A steep climb

When you get to Tsuen Wan (if that is the direction you elect to hike, many people go the other way, starting in Yuen Long), you start the hike just opposite the Adventist hospital. The trouble is that you are in for 500 m steep climb for about one kilometer or two.

While on the hike, I crossed many trail runners tackling this trail.

Start of the trail
The start of the trail opposite the adventist hospital of Tsuen Wan.

Although the path is cemented, it climbs relentlessly for at least 1 km. Under the harsh sun and heat of that Sunday afternoon, it was grueling with my 12-kgs camera bag on top of it. It must be said that the floor was also close to scalding as I was hiking barefoot and it was sunny that day. Difficult not to be discouraged when seeing the endless climb.

Endless climb
Climbing is ok, but demands quite some effort.

I tried to fly my Mavic Pro here, but the metallic bars in the paved road kept giving wrong feedback to my drone’s compass, so, for safety, I decided to wait and get to a more open area.

The gorgeous views over Tsing Ma bridge

The Ancient Trail is an ideal place to obtain a great view on the Tsuen Wan and the three bridges.

Views on Tsuen Wan
Views on Tsuen Wan

The ancient trail itself is mainly composed of big stone pavements. They are very easy to walk upon, except when it is very sunny, as it can quickly scald your bare feet.

Tsuen Wan Ancient trail
Tsuen Wan ancient trail

Obviously, as it was getting late in the afternoon and it was a bit cloudy, the trail was still walkable. On the side of the trails, you could see the traces left by feral cattle.

Walking on the ancient trail
Walking on the ancient trail

Drone views over the trail

It must be said that flying a drone safely is not possible over the whole trail. Although a significant part of the trail is exposed, in some places, the iron rebar in the trail confuse the compass, in others the tree canopy makes it impossible to take off.

But when you can launch your Mavic Pro, you are greeted by majestic views.

A view from the trail on the three bridges.

Similarly, photography is just as interesting, except that the distance and the wide angle of the drone do it a disservice for the spectacular views.

View on the Tsing Ma bridge
View by drone on the Tsing Ma bridge.

Looking back on the city of Tsuen Wan is more rewarding in terms of photographic effect.

Tsuen wan from the ancient trail
Tsuen Wan, seen from the ancient trail

At any rate, once you arrive at these viewpoints, you are merely at the beginning of the trail. The trail continues then for several kilometers, always through paved roads. In some places, however, the paved road is damaged (or more exactly, they are in the process of repaving it). While technical, the trail is quite doable barefoot (at least at my level of training) and here is the video to prove it.

And then, of course, the habitual dronie on the trail:

A dronie on the Tsuen Wan ancient trail
Dronie on the Tsuen Wan ancient trail.

As the evening fell, I only managed to reach the halfway of the trail, namely Sham Tseng, which is the only earliest exit short of returning on your steps. If you are interested, there is a famous roasted goose restaurant, just near the exit of the trail.

From Sham Tseng, I grabbed a minibus to Tsuen Wan, where eventually I managed to catch a MTR towards my home to the other end of the city.