Thursday, January 24, 2008

The long way around.

Helllooo everyone!

Super-tired today, can't remember half of what I was going to write so will just wing it a little.
Where did we leave you last? Catching the plane to Cebu? Remember how I said the Sinulog festival was on and we may or may not stay for it? Well we didn't! Couldn't find a cheap enough room anywhere (in fact even all the expensive ones were taken) so we moved on a day later to Bohol Island with the express idea of gawking at Tarsiers. We stayed in a nice-ish guesthouse with an enormous terrace, good thing it was OK too because I managed to eat something which didn't agree with me; long story short I just hung around the guesthouse for a couple of days, pretty much, making daily trips to the shopping mall over the road to attempt to eat without throwing up (never did, just close), watching movies at the cinema (I am Legend, much better than I expected but very depressing) and watching the Local Karaoke Championship held in the centre of the mall. I am ashamed to admit it, but we ate at Pizza Hut 3 nights in a row [bows head] but honestly, food so far has been far from enticing and PIzza Hut was the best there was (nice garlic bread though, I'll give them that!).

We did see several tarsiers though when I felt up to moving about at length, at a local conservation park that although was only 14km out of town, took us a looong time to get there on a couple of jeepneys. For the exorbidant amount of about 50c each, we were taken inside a large fenced forest enclosure where we were shown the Filippino version of the kangaroo (in that everyone who comes here knows what it is, charismatic and cute tourism symbol considered worth conserving etc etc). Our guide clearly knew well in advance the favourite perching spots of the critters, which somewhat bizarrely and surely contrary to survivial instincts is located about 1.5m off the ground in clear view. Furthermore, these big-eyed brown balls of fur with a long tail just sat there and looked at us while we ooohed and aaahed and clicked madly away. No wonder they are endangered. I'll put up a picture later as I can't describe these little primates very well, or at least no better than our LP guide which calls them (paraphrasing) 'the illegitate product of an ill-advised one night stand between a gremlin and ET', will leave that to your imagination before I put up pics in a few weeks.

Um what next? We went back to Cebu for a night, not much to report except that to my view it seemed to be a singularly scummy city. To be fair we saw it the day after the year's biggest party, but it smelt particularly bad and we were reduced to trying out another fast food chain for lunch, Shakey's. And on Shakey food ground it was indeed, the pizza especially was a big disappointment and considering the last pizza we'd had was at Pizza Hut there's little left to be said.

Then comes our marathon journey; we caught the overnight ferry (read: ship) to Manila which turned out to be a very comfortable journey albiet slow (21 hours on the boat, plus 3 hours waiting time beforehand). We paid that little extra to share a cabin with 5 other people and one woman's luggage; 18 bags. Yes, 18. And she wasn't even staying in our cabin and had the nerve to imperiously move MY bag out of the way as if to say 'who's is this crappy old thing contaminating my bags?' Raised eyebrows all round. Beautiful night out on the water, people were entranced by the moon and the clouds, I suppose if they lived in Smog-swamped Manila they'd never have the oppertunity to see a clear moon. Also finally discovered a Filippino thing worth eating: Leche Flan, which is basically an especially rich and delicious creme caramel. It went a long way towards redeming the God-Awful sweet and sour squid I'd had to eat beforehand.

Anyway, we boated for 21 hours, jumped off at Manila at 6am, waited half a hour for a taxi which wasn't going to rip us off, went to the bus station, discovered it was the wrong one, caught another taxi across the city to anotehr bus terminal and was on a bus and away to the north by 8am, traffic jams and all! The bus took us as far as Bagabag (8 hours) then 1.5 hours on a jeepney to Lanawe, then another hour or something like that to Banaue, where I write to you from now.

This is the bit where I get tired, because today we went for a 'walk' with a guide (Elvis). Banaue is home to some of the stepped rice terraces this country is famous for. This is a very vertical country, straight up and straight down and yet people have ingenously managed to build and farm on it. We were taken via tricycle to the main lookout point which is a mere 10 minutes from the centre of town and then we walked back across the terraces. I say walked but the first part was pretty much extremely attractive, lush and green Hell-with-Steps. Lots and lots and lots of steps, down and down and down, then up and up and up and then repeat. There was a nice little waterfall at the bottom of one hill (precipice more like), then we climbed (hands, knees and hands) through the mud before we got to the easier part. Which was lovely, we wandered for ages along the edges of the rice terraces, sometimes on mud, sometimes on concrete a foot wide, quite a lot of it where people had been very economical with the concrete and it wasn't wider than my shoes, with a foot drop off one side into the ancient (2000 year old) irrigation system and about a 15m drop of the other side into a pond/field/mud. It was beautiful though, really was, but very very hard work, my legs hate me, I'm not sure I'll actually be able to walk tomorrow, my legs were shaking so badly and continue to do so if I hold them a certain way. However, I only fell over once and no one saw me so that's ok (oh and Dylan decided to 'help' me down one part and we were a bit uncoordinated and I was dropped into the mud, I got shitty temporarily but all was well a short time later, hard to stay mad in such a stunning setting and anyway I was concentrating too hard on not going arse over into a pond).

So tomorrow we're up early to go south again, we're not entirely sure where to next but will update you all when we get there.

Love to all, happy Australia day for 2 days time.

From Katie and Dylan, who can't be bothered writing his own email.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ooo Noice-Tripping to Palawan

I'm rewinding this post as part of the Weekend Rewind at the Pink Fibro, because travelling is one of my favourite things to do. I've left the text just as I wrote it in 2008 (?!), but I've added in the photos because I've been meaning to do that for months... oh, and altered my appalling spelling a wee bit, but left the grammar just for fun (I know more about commas and semi-colons now!)


Hello everyone!

Back in Puerto and the land of 24 hour power, it rocks. We've been on the north of Palawan in a weeny tourist village, El Nido (once it was a normal fishing village, then divers and snorkellers found it, it's bamboo huts, bars, restaurants, tour operators and souvenir gigs all along the shore line, they're building a paved road all the way and it'll all be downhill here from now on)
What's to tell? The snorkelling was fabulous, I went in water over my head and I didn't freak out or get eaten by a rampaging turtle!

It rained, our tour got cancelled once cause it got a bit hairy out there so we went out the next day after another intrepid Aussie was willing to brave the rain ('What?! Rain in the tropics? What kind of beach holiday is this?' Or so all the cancelling sods about the place seemed to think. Seriously, are you not out there to go swimming? Is not most of what you want to see underwater anyway? Think about it, people....)

So anyway, once we got out onto the water it was totally worth it. We spent two days island hopping, I'm buggered if I can remember which places were what but yesterday's lunch stop was the best. Awesome reef, not rough, loads of fish and even more beautiful corals. On the second day it cleared up a little bit so we weren't soaked before we were even in the water. Day one's boat was barely seaworthy, sort of a glorified surfboard made into an outrigger with bamboo and held together with bits of fishing line. Day two's boat was similar, but larger (although less comfortable, no cushions!) and used rope instead of fishing line to hold everything together, good thing too because the swell was quite a lot larger (like, freaking huge) and in a tiny boat would have been pretty scary.

So the good parts were: the gorgeous corals, the python we saw braving the sea (don't think it was sea snake). lots of clown fish (IE the Nemos everyone is so enraptured with), the turtle which poked it's head out of the water, the monkey's on the beach, warm turquoise water, flying fish etc etc.

Bad bits: broken corals, poxy cancelling Europeans, bad smells in El Nido, poor lonely abandoned pet monkey on one of the little islands :-(, sand all over the floor and feet constantly, world's crappiest water supply in the guesthouse (IE, absolutely none at times and had to wait to wash hands, fill toilets etc).

Oh and we are somewhat beaten, battered, bruised and generally in pain. This is due to:
  • Mosquito bites (me)
  • Ant bites (me)
  • Sea lice (both of us)
  • Jelly fish sting (me of course, rather dramatic all over my right leg but I think it will fade by tomorrow)
  • Bruises (The chairs on boat 2 weren't attached, so Dylan had his foot on the seat, I leaned on the back, D moved foot, whole seat swung away like seesaw and I crashed into it. We also landed the dreaded back seats on the bus on the way back to Puerto today. The road was bad, the suspension worse, there was only half an inadequate cushion available for our seat and Dylan got it, you get the idea. The road is written all over my arse... and knees...and elbows)
  • Sunburn (both of us, I started by accidentally burning my left arm on the way to El Nido on the bus. Added to it on day 1 snorkelling by neglecting to reapply sunscreen to my back. I don't recommend N!vea, even on a very overcast and rainy day it is shit. Dylan burnt his knees because, 'my legs never get sunburnt so I won't put suncreen on them'. Day 2 out on the water we did apply and reapply all day but as I said, N!vea is shit and our backs are testimony to this. Today on the way back down to Puerto on the bus I burnt my right arm even though I was more careful and covered up most of the way. Not enough I guess, what can I say? At least I'm even!).
It's worth it of course, but the bad parts are more fun to tell :P

Tomorrow we fly to Cebu where there is a festival on (didn't know about that until the other day), it may make us want to stay there or escape, who knows?! After Cebu, Bohol to see a tarsier, hopefully!

That's all for now, love to all, Katie

PS Icecream sandwiches are good, especially when they are three different types of icecream in a hamburger bun. Accidentally eating liver because it was a bit dark and you though it was beef is not so cool. Moral of the story is: try out everything, but only when there is good lighting.

[PPS Photos added on 17-06-2011, and a trip down Palawan's dusty memory lanes coming shortly{All done, look here}]


Midnight palm trees

Sleeping babe (look closely)

Sea turtle (actually snapped in Malaysia, because I could not find any kind of turtle emblem for love nor money in the Philippines themselves)

Salty sea beads and calamansi lime

Palawan roads. No more explanation needed.

We did see a tarsier on Bohol, after all.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Being security concious

I have now officially been frisked. Not very thoroughly, thank the gods. And I wasn't singled out; every single person entering manila domestic airport gets the personal treatment. In my case it was just a quick pat down and a gentle shove off the little podium I had to stand on. The airport was jam packed, shoulder to shoulder and long queues for the food (the first meal on the trip that I deemed totally inedible, mostly veg but heavily flavoured with dried shrimp). We arrived very early as we'd expected the traffic to be especially bad (it being a monday, according to the guest-house-guy).
Arriving in Puerto Princesa was a blessing. PP is quite a small town, lots of palm/banana/papaya/bouganvillea plants and all that is green and neccessary to make you feel like you're on a tropical island. Everything is in pretty reasonable repair, the main road is decent although I'm not sure the truck we saw yesterday that broken and fallen into a covered sewer would have agreed... The place is busy with hundreds of little blue tricycles (a moterbike with a sort of covered sidecar, look like big scooting helmets) and the occassional daring red tricyle.
But I was talking about security. It's a new experiance to get my bag checked and one of those electric paddle doflicky things waved over me on my way into the supermarket. Every bank has at least one guard with a shotgun, a lot of the shops have guards too. Hell, even the man at the door to Dunkin' Donuts had a handgun! It's not intimidating, not at all.... It's a bit weird because this seems a little like the last place on earth where they would have a problem with violent crime, but I guess they have a gun culture (like America).
This country seems to be a mis-mash of different cultures, the original plus a heavy smattering of spanish influences (the religion, language) and a lot of american stuff (language, food). You hear it as people talk, literally 20% of what people say and write is directly english, plus a lot of words that sound an awful lot like english (eg Excuse me is Iskus), same for spanish and a lot of young men in particular sound for all the world like they grew up in the US.
So anyway, moving on!
Yesterday we took a day trip out to the world's longest known navigable Subterranean River (world famous apparently, although I'd never heard of it until I read about it in our guide book....). It's pretty cool. We took a terrible road for a couple of hours out to the national park at Sabang, a very noisy boat across the sea to a gorgeous little cove (picture perfect tropical island postcard), we were hustled along a 2 minute walk to the river (beautiful teal and crystal clear) where we had to write our name in a book, all in a great hurry because it's 'first come first served'...and then we waited in the shadows of the rainforest while long-tailed macaques watched us warily and tried to pinch one guys water bottle... these monkeys were very cute, and quite small - much smaller than the pig-tailed macaques I'm used to - and all had pretty white eyebrow markings and mohawks.
After a long wait we donned damp lifejackets (one super-organised couple actually had their own fancy lifejackets, talk about thinking ahead!) and plastic helmets and hopped into our little boat to be taken under the mountain. Even though the entrance to the caves was only about 30m away, we made a stop halfway to be reorganised 'for the balance' and I had to carry the torch at the prow of the boat. And so we slipped smoothly under the mountains where we floated about 1.5km along a river in a tunnel underground. Pretty damn cool, like something out of Lord of the Rings. I would have enjoyed it more if our driver had stopped talking for more than 30 seconds and if I hadn't been the light-pointer (Right mam, right mam, up, up mam, slowly mam, down mam, that is the Mother Mary Formation, straight ahead mam, right mam...) but the caves were full of little bats ('fledermaus') which I adore so I I spent a lot of time looking at the little brown bodies arranged all over the ceiling (and keeping my mouth shut).
Back in PP we've done not much more than wander around eating. We feel like very fussy eaters all of a sudden, but a lot of the food so far really hasn't been all that appealing. Salted eggs are too strongly flavoured, a lot of it is super-greasy, a ginger soup tasted like it would cure my cold (Actually I think it might have!) and I gave half of the chicken I had for lunch yesterday to a starving dog that kept looking at me. The nicest local food we've found to eat is Pinakbet, a meat/veg concoction that's very tasty...once I pick out all the bitter melon (bleugh) and okra (BLEUGH), when you eat in outdoor restaurants at night it's very important to pick a table with decent lighting so you can sort out the edible bits from the inedible parts. We're going to tackle a 'lucky dip out of a dozen saucepans' type of lunch shortly and just hope it doesn't have any of the intestines in it we've seen strung along skewers for BBQ snacks. Anyway, we haven't starved yet although we have lowered ourselves to eat at Jollibees (it's Pilippino, so that's ok but the food is just as bad as the gigantum american chain it's copied).
The one last thing I was going to talk about was the supermarket, but what is there to say really about a shop which stocked a whole entire aisle of laundry powder, another aisle of dishwashing detergant, took up a quarter of the building for alcohol and where I could have bought Placenta Soap? ('with extracts of placenta! Healing Properties and Extra Whitening!'). The imagination runs riot...

Tomorrow to the north of Palawan and El Nido :-)

Cheers all, love to everyone,

Sunday, January 6, 2008

We've made it! 6-1-2008

Yup we're here at last, somewhat mentally battered but here nonetheless! The airports are the dodgy parts, otherwise fine.

Adelaide Airport: Dylan gets sent back out to check in his tripod because it's some kind of lethal weapon. I lose my boarding pass, have a hissy fit. We are the last to be on the plane (that we saw, family's might disagree!).

Melbourne Airport: Good old Jetstar has booked us onto a Qantas flight that doesn't exist, moved us to another one in the afternoon (no email mind you) which happens to depart to Sydney AFTER our flight from Sydney to KL. Lucky for us we had a very helpful girl at Qantas check in who moved us to an earlier flight and thereby saved the day.

Sydney Airport: Eat terrible chicken. Get snapped at by security over the 'too big' mossie repellant I'd handed over as per regulations... it wasn't too big and I got a brief apology. Have loads of time to get to gate and wait, bum our way along to hear over the loudspeakers about 10m before we get to the gate that the flight has been moved to another gate and is boarding, right now...we have a good 10 minutes panicked walk over to the other side of the airport and join the queue. The queue goes absolutly nowhere and after a while we sit down again to wait. By the time we get on the plane (about half an hour late so far) and sit down we wait again as someone is 'removed' (no I don't know why, but the nosy parker in me would love to!), they can't find this person's bags and I fall asleep and end up missing the safety demonstration (but then if we crashed I can't imagine I'd really be in a position to actually need my life jacket or know how to use it). We leave about an hour and a half late. Oh well, we finally got underway. The movie was StarStruck and I wouldn't recommend it.

Kuala Lumpur: I like more every time we pop in. I love the ease of the train system, I love love love the dirt cheap curry shops on every corner and the lemon drinks,the lights everywhere and the tropical downpours heralded by the air growing so heavy it's like syrup. I would have liked to stay a few more days but we have that at the end of our trip so that's ok. I'd insisted on booking a hotel with a pool (a real novelty for this pair of backpackers!) and so we even got to go for a swim while a little man went around dusting and polishing the leaves of the pot plants (I guess being a pool attendant gets a little dull).

KL airport: Totally our own fault by not paying attention, but we went to the wrong terminal. Whoops. Thankfully were very early because the correct terminal was a good 15 minutes away but the limo driver (yes, we had to take a limo!) whipped us away at 130km an hour and so we were well on time. LCCT (cheapo terminal) is basically a big shed with inadequate airconditioning and macdonalds which we regretfully ate for breakfast (only on holidays would I eat that).

Anyway, moving on! We arrived in Angeles yesterday and stayed overnight in Tack-O-Rama hotel (Actually La Casa). I'm not sure if it was the plastic flowers, the shell chandeliers, the plastic tomato salt and pepper shakers or the life size wooden cowboy out the front but somehow we felt compelled to move on quickly. Angeles was one of the towns swamped by ash when Mt Pinatubo erupted and even now there is ashy sand everywhere and a general pall of misery and dust over the place (when a man invited us into the Nasty Duck Bar; quack quack, I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. You could buy a drink for less than a dollar here, or a woman for $2.50). We had thought to go up to Mt Pinatubo but opted to head straight for Manila instead, maybe on the way back as we do have to pass through again.

Manila is extremely run down, lots and lots of rubble,mess, and cobwebs of wires hanging everywhere. Every corner seems to have a Macdonalds, KFC, Chow King or JolliBee's. A taxi driver tried to rip us off almost immediately but we are well versed in this and removed ourselves from the cab and flagged down another one (driver one wanted 600 pesos to take us here, driver 2 put the meter on and it cost us 75 pesos, we're not that green any more!). We're staying in an ok hostel, it has quite a nice communal area and a kitchen but our actual room is just an expensive bed and a window which looks out onto another wall. It's a reasonably quiet area though and not as desperate looking as some of the places we drove through on the way here.

We are flying to Puerto Princessa tomorrow (on Palawan) where we hope to find somwhere about a 1000 times more chilled out than this.

Anyway, that's all for now! This sounds more gloomy than it really is, I think we've just seen all the ikky bits of the country first but best to get them out of the way I think!

Love to all,

Katie (and Dylan)