Port Barton or Bust

Question: How many people can fit in a jeepney?

Answer: One more. Always one more.

This is another thing I love about travelling – noticing the similarities found amidst all the differences. Taking local transportation today has me thinking of this, and how that same wry joke is used around the globe, the only difference might be to swap out “jeepney” for “tuktuk” / “dalla-dalla” / “micros”.  We’re on our way now from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton, and technically in a van rather than a jeepney (though that wouldn’t have had the same ring to start out my post with) but the concept remains the same. After taking a tricycle from the hostel to the station on the outskirts of the city we bought our tickets to Port Barton for only 300 Pesos each and settled into wait for our ride to arrive. When the van did show up, it was already full. We hung back a moment to let the people out, but were instead ushered in. Everyone squashed over another inch and little homemade seats were placed in the aisle between rows. About five minutes of human Tetris ensue inside while luggage is stacked and tied to the top outside the van, but in the end another six adults and a child found a way in and off we go. It’s incredible, and that’s what I’ll keep my focus on rather than the discomfort and potential safety hazards of the upcoming 3 hour journey.

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Our Chariot “Recaro”
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I had a better seat than some – at least mine was cushioned!

The drive is beautiful and I am blissfully alternating between marvelling at the scenery and jotting down thoughts. I have headphones in and am so content I almost forget about the four other strangers sharing my personal space, except when one of us makes the odd comment to another. Between all the lush greenery I watch glimpses of day to day life; farmers working by hand in rice fields, children playing in yards. Or the hues of the blue sky, green palm fronds, bright pastel homes and more blue sea.IMG_0958IMG_7299IMG_7181

Nearly two hours into our journey we turn off the main highway and at the intersection is another backpacker trying to flag down our van. I chuckle to myself as the driver pulls over, expecting him to open the door and show the guy that we’re full. But I forgot that there’s always room for one more. One guy hopped out of his little half-seat and ran around to open the driver’s door, where he wedged himself in between the driver and door! So to keep track, that’s now 19 people in a van designed for 10.

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Playing sardines with strangers

Twenty minutes later and the humour I felt has ratcheted up to tension. The road we turned onto goes inland across to the other side of the island and isn’t paved the whole way, which means a rough bumpy ride across a small mountain range. And since it’s mid-afternoon, the rain has started. Sheets of rain torrent down on us and the road became a slick muddy river. So picture this with me: an overloaded vehicle navigating the rain on a nearly washed out single lane, two way road clinging around a mountain side. I’m almost happy I can’t see out the window anymore, as I’m sure the vision of the looming landslide above and below our little trail would really scare me.IMG_7146

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The road to Port Barton

I’ll distract myself now with thoughts of some other transport stories…. while in Puerto Princesa the best way to get around is on a tricycle, as I’d mentioned earlier. A metal frame just large enough for two people is welded to a motorcycle, often a small Honda trail bike about 150cc. (-ish…. I don’t know much about bikes so I’m guessing off what I might’ve heard Mike say earlier). Every time we’d step outside the hostel several of these tricycles would be waiting to whisk us off to wherever we needed to go for 40-60 Pesos per person. I asked once if I could snap a quick photo before we set off, and the driver nodded his consent, then kinda edged a bit closer in. I picked up on the hint and asked if I could take another with him in it as well and he flashed a huge smile as he posed, grabbed his friend for another photo, and by then the third guy ran up to be included as well. Young men mugging for my camera – I couldn’t help but give a delighted giggle before we set off on our way!!

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Tricycles in Puerto Princesa

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Sharing a moment with the drivers

Back to the present now, and we’re pulling up to a stop at our destination. I’m so relieved we made it on one piece, I don’t even mind that we now need to walk in the rain, with our backpacks, to the other side of the town searching for our next hostel.

All in a day’s adventure.

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Pouring rain when we arrived at the village
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Mike with Jimmy, who showed us the best stalls in town to wait out the worst of the rain

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Cebu City Faux Pas

Arriving at the hotel in Cebu City completely exhausted, I feel like I couldn’t stand up another second longer when the key to the room is handed over. We finally arrived around 7am local time on Friday morning, and considering the roughly 26 hours on the go and the 15 hour time difference I was ready to collapse the second my bed was in sight. But it’s worth it!

Two and a half hours later I’m wide awake again and buzzing with excitement to get out and explore. I think that may have been the deepest sleep I’ve had in recent memory, and I wake up after that nap feeling completely rested and re-energized. Unfortunately, Mike’s still sawing logs… not that I can blame him – he’s not used to lack of sleep the way I am. Trying to keep quiet and not disturb him, I distract myself with my emails and writing for as long as I can sit still, then tiptoe to my backpack and dig out my running shoes. I am convinced that a solid workout is my best way to tackle the jet lag, so off I go.

Our hotel in Cebu has a lovely little pool, and I chose here as our starting-off point exactly for this: it’s nice to have the first day of vacation free to lay around, and preferably on pool loungers basking in the tropical sunshine!

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This isn’t my photo – I took it from the hotel’s Instagram @questhotelcebu  (Somehow I was too busy enjoying the sunshine and a novel to take any photos!)

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It’s the next day now, and I’m back at an airport waiting for a domestic flight to Palawan…. the seemingly endless delays are handy, at the very least, for me to be able to jot down the day.

Cebu is in the middle of a party as we arrived – it’s the Sinulog festival this weekend and everywhere I look there are bright flags and artwork decorating the streets; a distinctive drum-and-xylophone song being played on a seemingly endless loop with costumed dancers weaving through the crowds. Speaking of crowds, we hadn’t realized just how much that would be when we set out to explore after breakfast. I guess our first clue should have been that the roads where we were headed were being closed to vehicles… but we didn’t know what we were getting into and set off anyway to see San Pedro’s Fort and Magellan’s Cross for a bit of local history.IMG_E0946

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Trying to get back in time for our flight was a bit of a challenge as well, as of course by then the streets were entirely closed to traffic.  Mike’s Google Map said it would be about a 35 minute walk so that didn’t seem too bad, and we set off.  Somehow, and honestly I’m still not even sure how we did this, we found ourselves walking upstream against the parade the whole time, even when we tried to veer off to other streets.  Actually, parade’s not even the right word – procession.  Which makes me feel even worse… we’re very sorry for any offence we might have shown.  We at least stopped and faced with the crowds when we noticed a holy image being carried.  It was beautiful, though, and a very humbling experience witnessing the devotion of so many Catholics.IMG_E0948IMG_0950

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That 35 minute walk took us almost an hour and a half; where we uttered sorry/pardon me/excuse us please/I’m so sorry probably about a hundred gazillion times.

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Cebu seems like a really great city, full of a very friendly population and some fun historical sites, but I’m really looking forward to getting out and on to the beaches of other islands!

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AirAsia from Cebu to Puerto Princesa late at night

Via 8 hours in Shanghai

Destination: Cebu City in central Philippines, departing from Calgary, western Canada. That takes a lot of travel time between the two, especially when one is travelling on extra cheap tickets that aren’t as direct as could be otherwise. But do I mind? Nope – not a bit! In fact, I’m rather pleased with how it turned out, and that was even before I realized we totally won the Economy Flight Seat Lottery. You know how when you’re walking up to your departure gate and just hoping that the person who sits beside you holds similar beliefs in hygiene & personal boundaries as yourself… that’s hoping for a win in modern economy flying. And somehow on these flights Mike and I scored the jackpot: a free upgrade on the first flight, then an entire row of four seats to ourselves where we could stretch out and sleep on the next flight, and the only empty seat on the plane next to me on the last flight. The whole time I kept thinking how grateful I was for these little perks!!

I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if some of that luck may have been due to the agent who first checked us in. As he flipped through my passport he commented on how full it was, and we bantered briefly about my expensive addiction, then his face changed to mock shock when he saw Mike’s empty passport. The three of us shared a laugh about the drastic contrasts in our experiences before he wished us a happy journey and we rushed off to clear security.

Our itinerary included a nearly eight-hour stopover in Shanghai before the last flight, and I was fairly confident that would give us enough time to escape the airport so Mike could get a little taste of China. I had been a couple years earlier, and loved Shanghai, so I was excited about showing that to someone new. Generally a tourist visa is required ahead of time to enter China, but select cities will permit travellers with confirmed onward tickets 72 hours to visit the city. Our luggage was tagged all the way through to Cebu so we didn’t need to worry about hauling that around with us, and there is a separate line in the customs hall for temporary transit visas that moved quite quickly.

The easiest way to the city’s famous sights from the airport is to take the Maglev train. The station connected to the airport has a display where I learned all about the Maglev – for instance, that’s short for Magnetic Levitation – and this train reaches speeds of 430 km/hour. I loved that we could skip an hour-long cab ride for eight minutes on the train! Mike loved the train.Maglev Mike

After the Maglev we transferred to the underground metro, and then up to East Nanjing and the hub of tourism in Shanghai. It’s a little like Times Square with the busy pedestrian streets full of towering shops and bright digital ads… but unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of this – so I’m supplementing with shots from the last time I was there to at least give some visual…

 

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(Pretend this is a night in January and not a day in June)

After some rubbernecking and shopping we continued to walk through the light drizzle to the Bund, along the river.   Such a beautiful area.  One side is lined with huge old colonial buildings, majestic and stately; the other side across the river is a dazzling contrast of playful ultra-modern skyscrapers. IMG_0938IMG_0935

Strolling several blocks along the Bund, dodging selfie sticks wielded by other tourists and stopping for our own photos (ok, and selfies) we soaked up as much of the city’s sense as we could in the short time we had.  Circling back to the metro we caught the trains and returned to the airport, just in time to buy more coffee and board our last flight to the Philippines.  Perfect.

Soaring Away (Happily)

My soul is tethered to a sail, I think. I feel a tug to follow the wind wherever it may go. There are times of course where that sail is rolled away and stowed, when I need to focus on people or life at home but that connection never severs; waiting, hibernating. And when my soul’s sail unfurls and that rush catches me I can’t help but want to seek out every edge of the earth.

Right now I’m in the Philippines on the island of Palawan, a place that easily lives up to its reputation as The Most Beautiful Island in the World. To say that I’m happy right now is such an obvious understatement it’s almost silly, but there you have it. I’m happy here.

I’ve been anticipating this trip for a long time, as months ago I’d found an incredible deal on flights and bought two tickets on the spot before my brain could tell me not to. I wasn’t sure who my travel companion would be but I was willing to bet I could talk someone into going with me; either that or I’d go alone again since the cost of two tickets was still less than I’d been expecting to spend on only one. And, again, I’m happy with how it’s worked out now that my boyfriend, Mike, decided to leap into travelling with me. He might not have been certain at first on the idea of being on the other side of the world with me but he’s been great – always up for adventure and willing to look for the positives in any situation.

It’s early morning as I write this post, and I’ve been sitting at a small table in the sunny courtyard of the hostel. A few minutes ago a little boy walked up to me to show me something. I smiled at him and was expecting to have to try to kindly tell him I wasn’t buying anything, but he just wanted to show me his toys. In a moment he was sitting down and playing beside me. Happiness personified in a sweet little face, even though he was more interested in playing with the camera than smiling for it. My new buddy, Zander

Yesterday Mike and I were able to see a little more of Palawan when we joined a day trip tour to an underground river. The scenery was spectacular, and while I sat in the canoe marvelling at the mangroves surrounding us the guide would point out something new to notice every few minutes. I loved how proud he was to show us a bit of his world. In fact, I was impressed all around with how well the community of Puerto Princesa has worked to develop sustainable tourism. I don’t know with any certainty but it feels like this area has tried to learn from its other SE Asia neighbours and avoid some of the problems that have plagued other top destinations. I think it’ll be successful, and I hope more people are able to come experience Palawan.Monitor Lizard crossing

How lucky am I that I’m able to soar away with the wind like this? To see the kinds of places filled with a kind-hearted population like this? This wind in my sails is calm and steady again as I contentedly coast along here in the Philippines.

Angkor Wat Again

It’s -26 degrees celsius where I live right now, and as if that isn’t horrific enough we have the distinct displeasure of a windchill bringing the feel of the temperature to -33.   Yes that’s actually true and not a typo.  I have a cup of tea, a big cozy blanket, and blinds over the window so I don’t have to see the wintery misery outside; I’m directing my focus solely to happier memories of warmer climates!  And my first trip down memory lane brought me back to Cambodia, which I remember being more along the lines of 30 degrees celsius above zero instead of below.   Ahhhhh, feeling warmer already….

But I don’t think I’m going to write much tonight since I’m feeling much more visual than verbal.  Instead how about a few more of my pictures from Angkor Wat out of the 250 or so I took that day?

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These women came to Angkor Wat to celebrate a Buddhist Holy day.
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Temples hidden in the Jungle
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Ta Prohm temple ruins
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Gentle Guardians
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Ancient Hindu carvings on a temple wall
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216 faces of Buddha carved at Bayon, Angkor Thom
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This sweet Buddhist monk
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Serenity
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Just past a “Beware of Monkey Attack” sign, this cutie appeared
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A tourist (me) with a shot of another tourist taking photos of other tourists
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Angkor Wat

Seeding Good Luck

I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about.  They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour.  I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city.  So why haven’t I written that?

As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating.  When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done.  Dull.  So I avoid it, and my blog.  Self-perpetuating non-motion.   To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.

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This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered.  My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…).  At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once.   I spent years defining myself by my job:  I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant.  When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around.  I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month….  Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago.  It fits here for me now.

Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck.  – Og Mandino

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I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future.  And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel.  It really is the best medicine for me!   The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there.  My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.

We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide!  It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.

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speaking of feet
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Ali and Corrie

Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre.  This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike.  I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything!  I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home!  Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on.  Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home!  And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating.  Which I love!

 

Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok!  I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway.  Thanks for reading along with me.

Stunning Koh Samui

If I ever run away from home (ok, if I ever run away from home again) and you need to find me for some reason keep this spot in mind as the first place to look for me.  And pack a swimsuit because chances are when you find me, you’ll forget about why you were so keen on dragging me back.  I’ll save a spot on the sand for you. 

Koh Samui, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of those places that’s probably on millions of screen savers as the perfect beach paradise bored workers daydream about.  And it’s even better in real life. 

Here’s a quick disclaimer about this post, though:  I spent a lot of time in a bikini and I’ll be including pictures.  If that’s going to be a problem you should probably skip this post, and return to my blog next week when I’ve returned to my modesty….  

I already mentioned in my last post that I spent a lot of time on the beach here; you may remember that I ruined my iPhone this way.  Tricia and I had 6 glorious days where the cumulative extent of our experience could be summed as such: brunch overlooking the water, beach, pool, beach, dinner overlooking the water, fall asleep to the sound of the air conditioner. (I wanted to say waves but I promised I’d be fully truthful in this blog!)   Oh.  If anyone is trying to plan a honeymoon, apparently this is what you should do.  Someone should get to experience this as romantic!! 

White powder sand beaches.  Crystal clear turquoise water.  Lush forest and dramatic bolders.  Teeny bikinis.   Yes. 

View of the beach
Feeling great!
Looking great!
Us in the sun
Is it more artsy (acceptable) to post without colour?

I shouldn’t say it, but sometimes I wonder why Tricia or I ever bother to wear clothes… (sorry, I did warn you that my modesty was on hiatus…)

There was one day we experienced more than just the beaches.  Good thing, because I’m sure there’s so much more to the island that one could see, if one were to drag themselves away from the perfect coastline.   For example, the Big Buddha. Living up to its apt moniker, this beautiful gold statue is a sight to see.  It’s not my religion, but I love visiting these temples and monuments.  I’m continually fascinated by other cultures; and learning about the way that religion, history, and geography has shaped the lives of the people around me never fails to amaze. 

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Smaller Buddhas surrounded the base of Big Buddha
Bells surrounded the temple complex
Ringing the bells
Temple top

After spending the afternoon with Big Buddha we were ready to get back to the water, and fortunately found a great restaurant right on the water.  The views bathed in late golden sunlight were equally as delicious as the meals – my kind of place for sure! 

Tamarina Bistro & Bar