Gallipoli

This morning I had my heart broken a little more again. You’d think I should know by now, expect it even, as it’s not the first time. But I can’t seem to steel myself and each new experience has my eyes well with tears.

These war memorials get me every time.

Today we’ve just left the area of Gallipoli, now more famous as Anzac Cove. All the Australians on my tour knew of this already, it’s one of their culturally defining moments in history, but this particular battle from WWI was missing my from knowledge. It’s funny how I used to just assume that everything I learned in school was pretty much all there was to know about major world events. Now I know so much more, and am just aware of how clueless I still am.

Difficult terrain added to the troops’ problems

Back in the midst of the war, The Allied forces had a plan to take control of the peninsula and waterway, which would allow them to transport goods to Russia. They assumed if they could take Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman Empire would leave the war and it would have the double effect of allowing their safe access to the Black Sea while weakening the German forces. So the Australian and New Zealand armies, newly formed and training in Egypt, came in to reinforce the British. They landed on a cove near Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. This wasn’t the simple success envisioned, though, and the soldiers were stuck in a tragic torture for months. To make a long story short, it was finally in January 1916 that the remaining Allied fighters were able to be removed to safety. Thousands lost their lives.

Graveyard after graveyard, memorials and tributes march across the land as an emotional contrast to the bright scenery. Lest We Forget feeling even more poignant here, where if it were not for the carefully tended markers the landscape would feel cheery under the bright Mediterranean sunshine.

Hushed and reflective, our group read the names of the soldiers. The epitaphs engraved spoke of bravery, of love, faith, honour, and family; this mixture of pride and devastation did me in and I was thankful for my dark sunglasses to hide my liquid eyes.

At the crest of the hill stands a memorial complex for the Turkish army, who also sustained significant loss of life despite ultimately claiming victory in the months-long battle. On the way up there’s a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier to safety. It shows simple human kindness and the respect soldiers had for each other even across the battlefield, though I suspect some might also see it as a subtle testament to the locals’ mastery.

The Turks are very proud of the outcome, and while they acknowledge the horror of that time, their course of history was improved by the Battle of Gallipoli because this is what developed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a revered leader. Atatürk ultimately brought reform and independence to Turkey, and was the country’s first president.

Paying respects

While at this memorial, I walked through the recreation of the trenches. Whether from some lingering sense in the air or from Hollywood, I could feel the young soldiers as they walked those same footsteps. Again as always when I’m in locations such as this I am so grateful for the peace I’ve grown up with.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore Rest In Peace. There is no difference to us between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

– Atatürk, 1934

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.

Moving Forward

Forget Your Past.  I hear well meaning people say things like this a lot, and it’s generally really good advice, in the context it’s meant.  Or, it’s hard to spend 10 minutes online without seeing some variation of this as an inspirational poster:   Don’t Look Back.    Yes, yes. By all means, do not get so tangled worrying about your past mistakes that you tie up today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving forward again lately, so of course I’ve heard heaps of this.  I appreciate the advice, I do.  I’m just feeling contrary right now.  There’s so much still that I want to be able to remember with a smile, or tears when they come; and I think I may even be in a phase where I need to look to my personal history in order to figure out my best next moves.  Some of this I mean tongue-in-cheek, too, like how I need to look back at my past travels in order to sustain me through this current flightfamine I’m in.  Travel is my personal nourishment, and I’m fading away – my malnourished sense of adventure dwindling daily while I drudge to my desk.

So my next few posts will be all about looking back in order to move forward.  First step: Get deliciously lost in my memories and daydreams of previous trips while I look to start writing here again.  Second step: Gain back some momentum with my travel blog, thus inspiring myself enough again to find a way to convince my employer I’m due for a week (at least) off.  Third: Pounce on that time off and zip away to explore some more of this big beautiful world, camera and laptop in tow for the blog!     And in that happy frame of mind again, I fully expect to be able to sort out all these other life details I need to get to.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  I can’t wait to tell you about my time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

 

 

Phuket Island

Finally arriving at Phuket airport, back in Thailand to explore the South part of the country and bask on beautiful beaches, I breathe in a lungful of ocean air.  This is going to be good!  Standing outside, late at night, waiting for the shared shuttle that will take us to our hotel I just keep breathing in and smiling.   It’s also partly an effort at self-distraction to keep myself from being irritated that my backpack arrived on the luggage conveyer with zippers open.  Again…  Five flights on this journey, and every single time my bag has been rifled through or little things taken from pockets that I was unable to lock.  Thankfully I never travel with anything of value in my checked luggage, but still, it’s maddening.  Tricia suggested my bag has been targeted because it looks so girly, and girls usually have good stuff with them; I think she might be right.  

But no matter.  I’m in a place famous for some of the most beautiful beaches the world has to offer so nothing can ruin my joy!   Patong Beach, where our hotel is located, is more of a party town than I’m currently in the mood for but at least I can still appreciate how fun it would be…. hopefully that means I’m not entirely old yet!  While walking around the street stalls and markets next to the beach it’s impossible to avoid the sales pitches from vendors selling day trips, and by the end of our second day here we stopped and chatted with a woman about our options.  After a bit of negotiating, lots of smiles and some friendly banter, she “remembered” that the trip we were most interested in had a promotion – tomorrow the last day! – and we could book it for 50% of the cost printed on the brochure.  She was really sweet, despite my scepticism of her prices, and we were happy to book our excursion from her.  

So bright and very early the next morning Tricia and I set off to explore some of the limestone islands around Phuket, along with a few hundred other likeminded adventurers.  (The surprising thing, really, is that I can still be surprised by what a massive machine tourism has become.  I’ve not only witnessed this over and over, I’m also a part of it – so why do I always hope I’ll be the only one out??)

Our full boat; and about 6 more just like it

Crowded, sure.  I guess the takeaway for us travellers and tourists creating this demand is to do our best to choose companies that are careful in sustainable and ethical operations.   Now with that soapbox spiel out of the way, without further ado, the best parts of a very great day!

We were offered coffee, tea and fruit on the boat during the hour it took to reach the first island we stopped at, and I think we were all happy to be out on the water.  When we stopped it was to hop into small canoes with experienced guides who would take us into caves (bat caves!) and through lagoons deeper around the islands. 

Inside the first cave
Islands of limestone cliffs
Perfect lighting for selfies – can’t pass that up!
Phang Nga Islands
We had some admirers taking photos – I’m trying to consider it sweet instead of creepy. This is one he shared

We were taken to a tiny remote beach and given free time to swim before returning to the big boat.  A delicious lunch was served while we made our way towards the “James Bond Island”  famous from a movie scene and countless photos on  Pinterest.

The guides waiting while we swim

While very toursty, the stop to view this jagged rocket of an island was a lot of fun.   I can’t tell you have many photos I have of myself in various fake-sultry Bond girl poses…  Seriously I can’t, it’s too embarrassing.   So instead I’ll post some of the shots I got of Tricia, she pulls it off much better than I.  In fact, if the right person sees this, she’ll probably be cast in the next remake! 

We had one final surprise on the way back to the harbour before finishing the tour, and it was pretty impressive.  Our guide had told us all day he could finally call the eagles to the boat, and it had taken him 24 years to learn how to do it.  As our boat passed the right spot, he had us all begin to clap and shout “up up up”.  I don’t generally consider myself a cynical person, but I was 100% sure there wouldn’t be an actual bird swooping down to join us.  My guess was a rock formation in avian shape, or maybe a plane high in the sky above us.   But I saw something entirely new to me; childlike awe and wonder erasing every trace of dubiosity.  He wasn’t joking.

Photo by Tricia

Sighing over Singapore 

Today’s post is starting out with an early morning airplane selfie… the shine in my eyes showing my excitement to be flying again after so many bus journeys lately!  (Well, that, and also I think I had a grease smudge on my camera from my breakfast croissantwich.  Tempted to leave the smudge – who needs a fancy beautifying app when a fingerprint over the lens hides wrinkles?!) 

Said flight was on JetStar Pacific, taking us from Ho Chi Minh to Singapore.  The final destination of the day was actually Phuket, but we broke up our travels with a long layover – just enough time to get a feel for the city highlights.    

With 6 hours to spare, the first thing we did after clearing customs in Singapore was drop our backpacks at the Left Luggage lockers and bought a train ticket to get ourselves downtown.  (One little asside I’ll mention here: even though the individuals we met in Singapore were all very lovely, customer service staff seemed less inclined to be helpful.  At the airport and again at the station we would get to the front of a line only to be told in a disinterested voice to “go to the counter there”.   This happened about 6 different times!)

Finally on the train I alternated between idly people-watching the commuters and reading the notices posted on the walls.  I wanted to show you, but one of the first signs I saw said No Taking Pictures.  While on the train it’s also important not to talk loudly or obscenely, don’t carry strong smelling food, no eating or drinking ($500 fine), no smoking ($1000 fine), no flammable goods ($5000 fine).   The effort to create a utopian state seems to work from a quick glance by an outsider; but later in the day our cabbie seemed to hint the control went a bit to far.  He said there are people out to watch all the time and will report anyone for the slightest infraction.  I’m curious, but I don’t know enough about the freedoms or lack thereof in the country to question for further comment.

This may seem strange after the previous sentence, but I couldn’t help but love Singapore while I was there.  I felt like I could easily live in the bustling downtown as an expat for a year or two, near a beautiful harbour and world famous gardens.  I just might google job opportunities in Singapore when I get home…. 

When Tricia and I first left the train and began walking around Marina Bay I couldn’t stop ooohing over it all.  I saw joggers on the boardwalk around the bay, and busy business people taking their lunch breaks on outdoor patios.  The gardens, of course, and the museums and the skyscrapers with cranes and cruise ships docked in the distance.   It was love at first sight for me.   Like any new love, in my besottedness I made some bad decisions; namely ordering an $18 drink just because I wanted a Singapore Sling in Singapore.  I could feel the bartender rolling his eyes at me from my table outside, but the waiter was happy!  I didn’t even like the drink, now I’m the one rolling my eyes at myself….

Skip the Sling

And without further ado, my shots from a quick walk around between flights.

On my way to pose nicely, but I ended up liking this shot best. Thanks Tricia
These are real – not plastic! photo credit to Tricia
Enjoying the sky gardens
Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion
Marina Bay Sands hotel


I wish I had captured more photos, but I chose to leave my camera behind and walk around lighter for the day.    So you might not know it from this post but I still remember:  Singapore is a beautiful place!