Beaming in Port Barton

Note: I’m behind on my blogging – again.  I wrote drafts of several posts while I was travelling, but wasn’t able to post them all during the trip (limited wifi!!).  These next few posts are arriving online late, but were mostly written on the road.

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Getting to Port Barton was fun, (well, until it wasn’t… you can read about that in my previous Post) but being in Port Barton – that’s the real story.  I found this area accidentally; I’d never heard of it until the day before setting off to get here, and it has me wondering.  I wonder to myself  “In this modern age of travelling with Google Maps & Instagram Influencers & Bloggers galore who have been everywhere & the Hostelworld app at my fingertips, could I REGULARLY find myself arriving in towns I’ve never heard of until I was almost there?!”   Who knows, maybe!  After all it’s still a huge beautiful world out there.  And I guess I’ll enjoy ‘sometimes’ even if ‘regularly’ doesn’t happen.

I had been sitting around the bar at my hostel in Puerto Princesa looking for a place to stay in El Nido, and not having much luck at all.  I was surprised to find that almost everywhere was already fully booked up, and I was beginning to wonder why I was spending all my time on my phone scrolling through places to stay instead of being out doing something more fun.  I made a comment to that effect to a traveller next to me, and he said “Oh! You should go to Port Barton before El Nido! I just arrived from there, you’ll love it.”   As it turns out, Port Barton is a tiny little town on the cusp of adventure.  (In my opinion, both literally and figuratively.)  The stunning beachfront with soft deep sand is so inviting, sparkling with the promise of a great day regardless of if you choose to be busy; boating or snorkelling or paddleboarding; or lazy lying on the sand or in a hammock and soaking up the sunshine.   And there definitely are signs of tourism catching on.  While it still can’t be found on the hostelworld app(*), there are several great options for backpackers to stay.  And more being added all the time to keep up with the demand!  We stayed in a couple new hostels and were really impressed with the rustic comfort and unique vibe of each place.  So lets backtrack again a little so I can relive all the best times.

* At least, not found on the app as of this post.  I suspect that changes before long!

 

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The town’s main port

Take a walk along the beachfront and you’ll see fishing boats gently jockeying for space, their anchor ropes cast out to the beach as they hope to reel in tourists now more often than fish I think.  Strolling across sand and drinking in the atmosphere is up there among my favourite simple pleasures, and this place doesn’t disappoint!  All along are friendly people suggesting options or activities; and yes, I know they’re hawking their businesses but it never felt pressuring or irritating (like I’ve found in some other countries).  This felt more like they were suggesting an option to a friend, something I might enjoy if I felt like going, but only if I wanted.  I’ve commented on this before in the Philippines and it’s true in this town as well – I got the impression that the locals were just genuinely excited to show the world how great their home is, and as a whole are not trying to just squeeze a buck out of the tourists.  I recommend taking up one of those suggestions and booking an island hopping tour, as there are some incredible reefs for snorkelling here.  Bright coloured fish darting around the coral, schools of silver fish like a mist passing through, giant sea turtles paddling lazily past, fat starfish settled in near sandbars, and so much more!!

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When I’m not busy being deliciously un-busy at the water, I meander around to eat.  Everywhere I turn I seem to find another new place serving tantalizing options, from traditional to traveller-trendy.  For such a small town the options are vast.   One of my favourites in Port Barton is Mojitos Restobar.  It’s not on the main street, not on the beach, (though both are full of great places!) instead it’s a gentle hike up through the village and into the jungle.  Less than 15 minutes of walking at a leisurely pace, following the signs they have up along the way, is rewarded with Mojitos Restaurant and Bar.  I call it a “Tropical-Zen-Party Zone” which sounds like such an oxymoron but somehow still really works.

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Mike and I spent a whole afternoon here, chatting with the owner and snacking on incredible fresh pub food.  Sounds like another oxymoron but somehow it’s true!  And of course, sampling our way through the menu of specialty mojitos.  I’m partial to the passion fruit calamansi mojito…. and I’m salivating again just remembering that drink!

Back in town again, the streets transform to a night market, and it’s clearly the place to be to mix with the locals.   We watched a high school basketball tournament, shopped for trinkets, and were delightfully bemused with the popup gaming stalls.  Like an arcade for kids at a summer fair, but instead of tossing rings to win a plush toy these children were gambling centavos like pros!   Reading this, it could sound negative and like the kids are being taken advantage of, but I never got that sense.  It seemed like a safe and fun way for the kids to play with their candy allowance.

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The next morning Mike and I decided a slow start with breakfast on the beach was just what was needed, and yep, we were right.  I think I might have gotten a little sneak-peak of heaven with my mouthful of mango topped pancakes.

All this to say:  Don’t be surprised if before long your Instagram feed is FULL of #PortBarton from the travel bloggers and Influencers.  This is one spot that will be having a major moment on the tourist trail before long.  It’s incredible as is, seems to have room to develop and sustain tourism, and has such a special charm that my days here will forever make me smile.   You should definitely plan to be here if you’re anywhere near the Island of Palawan!

 

Grouchy in Paradise

Note: I’m behind on my blogging – again.  I wrote drafts of several posts while I was travelling, but wasn’t able to post them all during the trip (limited wifi!!).  These next few posts are arriving online late, but were mostly written on the road.

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People talk about getting away from everything, leaving the city and all the noise. I’ve had people ask or tease me about wanting to live in the downtown core of my city at home, saying, “how do you sleep with all that noise?”  In our minds, busyness and bustle equals noise.  So a retreat in some cozy eco-lodge in the absolute middle of nowhere, with limited electricity even, might seem like a silent paradise.

Well that might be half true.

I’m in a paradise, no doubt about that, but it has been so stinkin’ noisy All. Night. Long. that in my insomniac state has me almost missing my city hum and sirens.  Almost…. but as soon as I roll out of bed to engage my other senses – seeing the island’s beauty, tasting fresh fruit and smelling the fragrant flowers growing here, feeling the sand under my toes – I’ll remember how amazing this is to be here.  And have a coffee!

I’ve experienced jungle noise before, but I always forget at first how loud the nights are. It’s a whirling swirl of cacophony from the animals all around.  Where I am now we have insects buzzing and lizards chirping, birds squeaking and singing and crowing and cawing, dogs barking, monkeys calling, and even the occasional water buffalo lowing.  And my own grouchy grumbling.  Honestly I’m a little embarrassed at how irritable I’m being.  Good thing Mike is sound asleep still and therefore not noticing this scowl I’m wearing, because I don’t have the energy to fashion my face into a smile quite yet.

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Might as well get up to catch the sunrise

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Mike’s photo of me taking photos.  He came to join me for the sunrise

 

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Some members of the noisy orchestra

It’s a couple hours later now, and I feel like a new person; or rather, the old me again that’s easily happy about everything.  I saw the sunrise over the other islands across the water, went for a walk to explore this enchanting edge of the earth, and am now sitting sipping my first coffee.  And I realized again why I always forget the irritation of the noisy nights when I travel to locations like this – because the daylight’s joys overwrite the night’s negatives.  Always and every time.

So now properly caffeinated and ready to gush about this location I can’t contain my enthusiasm for Tribal Xperience.  Take a look, and I dare you to disagree with me on the perfection of this place.  (At least during daylight hours!)

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Simple huts as Home Sweet Home

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Miss Monkey in a rare capture of calm. I think she likes Mike

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Paradise has won me over again, and I’m already feeling a bit sad to leave tomorrow, which is quite the departure from my feelings while I was lying awake in my bed earlier.  If I ever get so lucky as to return, I’ll re-read this post first so I remember to pack quality ear plugs!!

Snapshots of the Canadian Arctic

Next week I’ll be jetting off to South East Asia so pretty soon I’ll have all sorts of new posts, but right now I want to run back through my archives and write about some old experiences.  I missed #ThrowbackThursday… how about #FondmemoryFriday ?  Can that be a thing??  #Way-back-whenWeekend ?   Whatever we’re calling it, I’m taking you along as I reminisce on my time North of the Arctic Circle.

My memory was triggered last week when I visited the National Gallery in Ottawa and viewed the Inuit Art exhibit.  Beautiful collection, by the way.   I think I’ve mentioned in this blog that my previous career took me to all sorts of locations, and one of those was the Canadian Arctic.  This is a unique world unlike anything else I have ever experienced and I consider myself spectacularly fortunate to have had the chance to be there.

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This map is from the Inuit Art Exhibit.  I added in the stars at the communities I’ve been to

In 2007 and 2008 the company I worked for had a contract with one of the airlines serving remote Arctic communities, and I would spend two weeks at a time on rotation up North.  Dramatic landscapes, extreme temperatures, different languages, new foods – there were many times I had to stop and remind myself I was still in my own home country!  (At least until I started talking with someone again: I found Canadian Inuit people to be very generous and friendly!)    In summer the sun doesn’t set, and 24 hour daylight is something that takes some time to get used to.   But that’s a much easier adjustment than winter, where the constant darkness is made even worse by the incomprehensible temperatures.  (Negative 45 degrees Celsius in not uncommon during winter!)

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A 10 minute walk in Yellowknife left me frosty
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Beautiful Spring day in Yellowknife
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Cambridge Bay, March 2008
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Glaciers and mountains
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Glaciers, lakes and mountains
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Flying over glaciers and mountains
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Pond Inlet Airstrip
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Pond Inlet in Summer
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Kids of Clyde River
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This shop always made me giggle – I love the irony
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Iqaluit, Baffin Island, in August.  Notice all the icebergs in the bay
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An Inukshuk marking the way
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Something magic about the Arctic

 

A traveller not travelling (much)

I wrote most of the last post while I was en route from Cartagena to Santa Marta, so I’ll pick up my narrative again from there.  I had planned (and I of course use that term loosely) to start a trek into Colombia’s mountainous jungles the day after arriving in Santa Marta.  This trek is Colombia’s version of the Inca Trail in Peru, an intense 5 day hike to the “Lost City” of an ancient civilization.  Since I’m reasonably fit, and happened to have running shoes, first aid kit, flashlight and insect repellent all my in my bag I deemed myself ready to tackle whatever would come my way.   However, as soon as I arrived at my Santa Marta Hostel I saw a sign informing travellers that the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Trek was closed for 10 days.  Ugh.  Maybe if I had done some actual planning I would have known that, but it came as a surprise to me, and of course just after I had spent 3 days getting excited about it.

I think that should actually be the theme of this post: Things I Didn’t Do in Colombia.  Starting off with this trek, I also managed to miss seemingly all the other highlights.  Whenever I would chat with people I would inevitably end up having to weather the surprised looks from them as they learned how little of the tourist trail I was experiencing.

  1. I didn’t get to Medellín to take the Pablo Escobar tour.
  2. I missed Salento and the stunning scenery there.
  3. Skipped the National Park Tayrona where people camp in a hammock on the beach to see the bioluminescent algae at night.
  4. Never made it to the Pacific side of the country, nor the South at all.
  5. Even touring a coffee plantation somehow got knocked off my to-do list, and that really is surprising considering how much I had been looking forward to learning about (read: stocking up on) those magical beans that I rely on to kickstart my brain every morning.

Looks like I need to get back to Colombia, pronto!  I still want to experience it all!

So, sensing that I might be in danger of losing my Travel Blogger Badge after that list I think I’ll launch right in to what I actually did experience….  Which is in short the rejuvenation that comes from meeting great people I really click with at a hostel that I didn’t want to leave.  A special shout out here to the New Zealand kids that kept things entertaining, Victoria from New York, and Marc from Zurich – you guys were exactly what I needed this week!

Victoria and I took a day trip to a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains called Minca.  We had heard about a hike to a waterfall near there and decided to see for ourselves.  After negotiating a ride in a shared Jeep up the mountain we were dropped off on the Main Street of town where local teens were waiting to take tourists up further on the back of their motorbikes.  We came to hike, so we declined and set off on our own.  

By early afternoon our destination revealed itself to be shimmering pools at the bottom of a small series of waterfalls, and we both happily plunked ourselves in the cool clear water.  As it turns out, I learned later that night that “the” waterfall of guidebook fame was actually in the other direction… so chock that up to another item I missed!

We knew we were in the rainy season so we’d need to start back down before long, but I’ll admit we took our time, naïvely assuming that a little rain while we walked after already being wet from swimming wouldn’t bother us.  Wrong again – but it did bring in the adrenaline portion of our adventure when we realized we needed to get to town ASAP to avoid drowning in the torrential rain.  Only one motorcycle was still up there, so both of us squeezed on a tiny bike behind our young driver and hurried off down the steep muddy and rutted trail.  I was just hoping that when we crashed the worst injury would be scrapes and bruises, but I’ll give credit to his skill and admit that it was actually fun.   Needing a place to wait out the deluge, Victoria and I agreed to have a late lunch at the home of this driver – he assured us his mother’s cooking was better than any restaurant in town.  Agreed!  The very traditional meal of vegetable soup followed by chicken with coconut rice and fried plantains was amazing!

The view whille we ate
Still flooded, more than an hour after the rain stopped

Well. For a post on the 5 days I stayed put in the Santa Marta area, this is really getting long.   The rest of my time was beautifully busy being lazy; alternating the beach, pool and hammocks with occasional walks to explore the area.   Full of reading, laughter and conversations, and great food.  I mentioned already I loved the hostel but I need to reiterate: If I could have moved permanently into Hostel Calle 11 Santa Marta I think I would have!  Rumour has it the building was a former drug cartel mansion, but the new owners have created the perfect space for lounging. I think I’ll always smile when I think of this part of Colombia.  Plus, the tranquil atmosphere was the perfect prep before arriving in the extreme chaos of that is the city of Bogota! 

A few days in Tamraght 

The past few days have been really great, if I do say so myself.  I’m in a little town called Tamraght right on the coast and have spent my entire Saturday as a beach bum.  Now, just before the sun sets, I’m sitting in the common room of the hostel watching the Germany vs. Italy soccer game with 5 other people while we wait for dinner to be served.   

Here’s what caught my eye in town:


Yesterday was much more action packed than today’s low-key lounging. It started out Thursday, when another couple at this hostel mentioned they were planning on going for a hike and invited me to join them. I would have said yes regardless; as an added bonus Lexi and Cody turned out to be a ton of fun and it’s easy to be friends with them!   So anyway, Friday morning after our second cups of coffee (Lexi and I have that in common) the three of us and another 2 Italians made our way to Paradise Valley.  The name sums it up nicely.  A 45 minute drive from here through arid foothills is the start of an easy hike into a vibrant valley full of banana trees, argan, and lavender.   A few kms later brought us to the most stunning series of natural pools.   We saw a few other people early on, but we kept hiking and ended up at our own secluded oasis. 


 
Sunshine, clear warm water, and daredevil dives from way too high.  Thankfully everyone walked back out again without the need for a neck brace, but I have to admit the safety nerd side of me had a few internal panic attacks.  For the record, though, I need to let you know that even I jumped off the rocks!!!    No big deal….  🙂

Friday evening finished off with us on the rooftop back at the hostel, swapping stories and laughing until long after dark. So good!

(not quite) Fearless

After a few days getting my bearings in the city, it’s time for a change.  I booked a day trip to hike Cascade Ouzoud. 

Careening along the Atlas mountain range on our way to the second largest waterfall on the continent. I’m trying to figure out when I became such a scaredy cat. I remember being 21 and backpacking in Bolivia I was on the official “World’s Most Dangerous Road” curving down a mountain. I actually sought that out and thought it was hilarious. Now almost 12 years later I’m envisioning the worst while I watch the wheels of our van send gravel flitting down the cliff side from a road that feels eerily similar. Maybe it’s because the shape of this tourist van strikes a mild resemblance to an overgrown golf cart, all boxy and with a high roof, that’s increasing my heart rate. (As I learned a couple weeks ago, those things tip over when you least expect it!!) 
Still in one piece, my little group of 8 other travellers and I began the hike to the waterfalls. We met a local guide, a leathery man named Rashid that could scamper up and down the mountain in circles around the best of us. Along the way he would stop at a tree here and there to tell us in French what it was and how old. I know it was just to give us a chance to catch up with him, but I did appreciate learning that there are 800 year old olive trees here.
And then the falls came into view. Incredible. Our stunning oasis complete with little swimming hole was even better than promised, and I couldn’t wait to get into the water. 

 Now here’s where the Fear part comes into play again…. Just as I was getting to the water’s edge I saw a commotion. Two local teen guys on a homemade pontoon boat were trying to fish something out with a plank from their boat – a WATER SNAKE. This is seriously my #1 fear and you’ve probably heard me say that before. (Any old snake is bad enough, but a snake in the water is just so much worse for me! They can slither up so fast and your whole body is at risk not just an ankle or something!)

I saw them get it out and flick it to the rocks nearby, so I knew that one was gone, but there could be countless others out there….      Surprise ending, guys: I still jumped in the water!! I almost can’t believe it myself, and am stupidly proud of that little feat. (So I maybe stayed in and swam only 2 minutes, or less, but it still counts!!) 

The rest of the day was pleasantly uneventful, dodging macaque monkeys on the hike out and persistent vendors back in town.