Takaka: A Home for my Heart

While venturing through the world, now and then I come across places on my travels which I find it difficult to put down on pen and paper. Even though the yearning to write about these magnificent places is so strong, I cower away because a fear takes hold of me – a fear that I won’t be able to do these beautiful places justice with my words.

Takaka is one of those places. Nestled within Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island, Takaka emits a warmth unknown to me before now. Surrounding Takaka are waterfalls, trekking routes in the nearby Abel Tasman and an abundance of idyllic beaches stretching from one end of Golden Bay to the other. For two months I lived in this little hippie haven without noting down all the wonder I saw before my eyes, and I scold myself each day for delaying it. But now, I must write, before I leave this beautiful place and my memory starts to trick me, as memories often do. So, where do I begin?

As I wander down the main street, hippies dance around my steps while their bare feet lick the ground beneath them, large grins taking over their faces as they pass, but not without shouting a greeting in my direction. Concrete gives way to green spaces as nature and man made developments collide and I wander into the communal gardens just off the main road. Here groups of people lie baking in the afternoon sun, soft words flowing from their mouths and laughter kissing their lips. A guy with a rugged beard sits in the shade under a towering tree strumming softly on his guitar. The people nod in my direction as I walk past, their infectious, carefree vibes passing into my soul without them knowing.

The community is brimming with creativity which is showcased every Saturday at the Village Market. Locals make necklaces bearing beautiful, locally sourced stones, or tapestry they have crafted with their own hands. Many sell fresh, homegrown fruit and vegetables for a reasonable price – encouraging locals to support one another rather than the corporate supermarket. Some individuals showcase their wood carving talents, selling anything from large tables to small, intricate decorations. Others venture around the world during the winter months, buying handmade goods from Nepali and Indian tribes to sell to Takaka locals or travellers passing through.

In the dull light of the evening sun people gather in the park to slackline, to practice yoga with just acquainted friends, or come together for a jam session on digeridoos and guitars. An incredible flow of infectious energy bounces from one person to the next. There are no barriers in communication here and everyone is always welcome, emphasising a yearning for the collective community which used to dominate our cultures. People wave, smile and shout greetings in your direction, they urge you to join in with whatever they’re up to – to live communally. A world without strangers, a world where every stranger is simply a friend you haven’t met yet.

Takaka is a cosy bubble of individuals who care; about issues bigger than themselves, about the wider world, as well as about one another, and who project that in their everyday lives. People are passionate about the environment, about living off of locally, if not self grown, produce, about caring for one another and maintaining a welcoming and happy atmosphere for others to be a part of.

We created something special here – a pocket in the world where people gather after work to play music, to chat, to interact and connect with other like-minded humans rather than separate from each other and choose a TV screen as their companion instead. Takaka, for me, has been a breath of fresh air. Away from the constant competition and rivalry so often at play in Western societies, and rather a shift in focus to what is important – connecting with like-minded souls, experiencing life with them and in turn reinitating that laughter and sense of belonging which we all desire.

To conclude this incredible experience, I went with these beautiful people to Luminate Festival – a 7 day festival heavily focused on caring for Mother Earth, natural healing and stripping back the hardships of life to genuine connection and a whole lot of love!

I cannot tell you with words – for I do not have the words – but this experience changed the way I see life, opened my eyes to so many incredible paths and made me passionate about what I know to be important in this world. The connections and bonds I made there are indescribable – a safe haven of people whose energy constantly bounced off each other and in turn offered a home for my heart. A group of people who inspire me to take what we experienced in that environment out in to the world and spread the love, energy and knowledge with everyone I meet. I feel passionate to share this with others – to show them that we can live a fulfilled life without feeling the need to be part of a system which encourages competitiveness, stressful routines and vetting ourselves against our fellow human beings. Our energy is only strengthened by connecting with others – we must not segregate ourselves. I feel honoured to have been part of such a beautiful journey with these incredible, passionate souls who continue to inspire me everyday.

Takaka and my experience in this beautiful, eco-orientated town has instilled an important shift within me – one which, if you let it, New Zealand as a whole encourages within everyone. It is a passion to step back from the direction which most Western societies are heading towards – by that I mean obsessive consumerist tendencies stemming from corporate businesses manipulating our desires – and taking a step back towards the ways of our ancestors. Thus, becoming re-affiliated with nature, exchanging some of our precious time spent using technology with valuable human interactions from which we can learn and grow.

Takaka emits a magic from its core. A magic which, if you give yourself the time to pause here and immerse yourself in all which it has to offer, will stay with you long after you leave its gentle streets.

17571064_10156043239219368_1899278054_o

GOPR3503.JPG

16731520_10208697707863385_1146930722_o

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful. 🙂

Advertisements

Welcome To The Weirdness You’ve Been Hiding From

Since we each became part of this crazy, wonderful, heartbreaking world, we have been trying to squeeze ourselves into these awkwardly shaped, uncomfortable boxes – like the feeling after an alcohol fueled night – we are constantly on edge, pretty disgustingly sweaty, with just a touch of anxiety to finish it off. This image I’ve riled up in your mind – never a pleasant one, I know – is what I envision all of us to resemble when we are stuffed into our individual boxes. In other words…striving to be what society has told us that we should be, and being pressured into being something almost criminal – something other than ourselves.

These boxes I write of are identical and I can see them now stacked up next to one another – mirroring each other in size and shape. And here in lies the problem…ah good old societal norms. We are never all going to fit into the same shape and size of box because we are so beautifully and wildly different from one another, and increasingly, in recent years, this has been looked upon as negative. Society has drilled it into our brains that we should mirror each other, both physically and mentally. Why? Fear; fear of our brilliant minds, fear that we might want something different to the path mapped out for us, fear of a higher form of consciousness.

The concept of a norm is something which has puzzled me for as long as I can remember. A concept which I ultimately questioned and challenged through my University dissertation in the form of mental health. I won’t go into that side of it as you wouldn’t thank me for those endless ramblings. But food for thought – who are we to call an individual crazy because they don’t conform to a set of normative values dictated by society? I indicated in my dissertation that, perhaps, it is the structure and regulations within society in which the sickness lies – one which insists that our minds must all work in similar ways – rather than at the fault of those individuals who refuse to conform to such absurd assumptions.

This normative set of ideals has long dictated the everyday desires of individuals in Western society. With a life ever more focused on screens; phones, TVs, laptops – we are always distracted by one of them – we are in turn ever more aware of what normative behaviours and ideals we should be chasing. We are plagued daily by unrealistic body images, by advertisements which dictate what materialistic objects we ‘need’, what we should invest our money towards in order to be considered sexy, happy or successful.

Consumerist advertising and obsessive consumption, in my opinion, is one of the leading causes of insecurity and unhappiness. We are constantly being told, in Western society, that we are not enough – that simply being ourselves is not enough. Why? Because happiness doesn’t sell. If you are happy living a minimalist life and perhaps have a deeper understanding of what brings you inner peace, then how would businesses sell anti-ageing cream, or the latest sports car, or a new, expensive lipstick? Happiness doesn’t sell, and that is why I urge you to step away from the monotonous background noise of the TV and, instead, step towards places and people and activities which make you feel alive.

The problem is that we have been conditioned to consider difference as weirdness instead of as amazing. But weirdness is amazing, and it is a struggle in this life to find your weirdness and be OK with it. Because people judge you – they judge you for NOT being like them, for stepping out into the unknown and screaming, for no other reason than because it feels good to scream. Whenever I start to fall back into a monotonous routine, I remember that the world needs people to come alive – it doesn’t need you fall in line with everyone else, it doesn’t need another 9-5 worker who wears pretty dresses and says all the right things, no..it needs someone who steps out of line, someone who is so amazingly different that people stop and stare.

It is difficult to break down the walls on your box of normality and finally become yourself. But you must. You must question everything – everything you believe to be right – and instead, search for your own voice, rather than an answer which you have adopted from a lifetime of being docile to societal norms. You have to strip back the layers and search for what makes you shine, because this life is about so much more than just getting through the day. It is about breathing fresh air, it’s about adventuring, experiencing other cultures and finding that thing which makes you come alive.

So please, bulldoze down those walls of your box, step out into the blinding sun, feel the grass between your toes and be truly alive. Find your weirdness and chase it to wherever it may take you. And when people question what you’re doing, and give you strange looks, just smile and nod…for they are only jealous that you are comfortable in your weirdness, and they are still stuck in the box.

Rock on the mad hatters and crazy cats of this world…and thank you for making me see that most days should be spent covered in glitter and hanging in hammocks.

You are more than a label. You are more than a box. You are more than the latest product you are told to buy.

You are you.

So go, be weird and wonderful, and unapologetically yourself.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful. 🙂

10411248_10206662286494023_5048921805517124165_n.jpg

Stewart Island

Stewart Island is a truly magical area of New Zealand situated only an hours ferry ride from the south coast of South Island. As we approached the island by boat, the dazzling colours of the surrounding forest paired with the harmonious sounds of a plethora of wildlife ushered us into a hidden paradise – immediately we felt we had ventured to an, almost, sacred place.

Renown for its bird life, the island attracts many bird watching enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Oban township itself is the only residential area on the island, which is
otherwise dotted with DOC huts and tramping routes through the magnificent wilderness. The local boozer in Oban is an old fashioned hotel which boasts a stunning view across the shore. The pub is constantly alive with the warm hum of chatter and gleaming eyes of the locals who are on their 5th pint of the day. Donned with black and white photographs of Stewart Island from decades past, the pub emits a welcoming atmosphere, creating a harmonious space for locals and visitors alike. To top it off, they serve the best Blue Cod and chips we have tasted in New Zealand thus far..so it’s worth a visit, if only for that reason!

The 3 day Great Walk around a small portion of Stewart Island ranges from beautiful, golden beaches to day long tramping through the thick forest which is populated with a wide range of native bird species. At every rustle within the forest, we found ourselves pausing, searching for the unmistakable shape of a Kiwi. We weren’t so lucky on our 3 day tramping expedition but, on our last day, we took a boat over to Ulva Island – a protected
wildlife sanctuary. There is no accommodation on Ulva Island and no humans reside there – the island is purely for the array of bird life and other wildlife who inhabit the forests and beaches. Void of any pests, the islands wildlife live a luxurious life and prosper there. It was within these forests we heard a loud rustle in the trees beside our path, and turned around to see a large brown kiwi pecking into the ground in search of his next meal – the Kiwi wasn’t bothered by human presence and carried on for the next 5 minutes in close proximity to us.

Stewart Island is one of those very rare places left on Earth which is yet to be ruined by humans. The magical atmosphere, which encompasses you while you’re visiting, stems from a knowledge that wildlife and nature continue to rule the roost of this beautiful island. It is, as of yet, much too isolated to be a target of commercial building, despite its attraction for tourists. I would urge anyone visiting New Zealand to witness the phenomenon of Stewart Island, and maybe as you do so, you might notice how magnificent the natural world is, void of any of our own fine tunings.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful. 🙂

GOPR3241.JPG

GOPR3237.JPG

GOPR3246.JPG

Wanaka – A Pocket of Paradise

Wanaka is a little slice of paradise in the South Island of New Zealand. The idyllic town is situated on the lakefront and away from the hyper buzz of Queenstown. If Queenstown is your Friday night, Wanaka is your Sunday morning – slow paced, calm, and bubbling with an infectiously homely vibe. The scenery truly is second to none and the community is a tight knit group of families who welcome newcomers during the winter season. It’s peaceful here, and it’s the kind of place where you can always hear the birds chirping over the sound of car engines.

It’s not surprising Wanaka is so popular. In the winter months, the quaint town is crawling with seasonnaires spending their days up at either Treble Cone or Cardrona Mountain, and their nights either serving or enjoying drinks in local bars. Comparatively, throughout the hotter months, Wanaka is a fleeting  breath of fresh air for travellers experiencing New Zealand through the means of Kiwi Experience, or something similar. Fleeting it may be but, for many, its impression will be ever lasting.

Nestled among a valley of mountains, Wanaka boasts scenery which makes it difficult not to stop and stare. For a town with no traffic lights and where traffic is a rarity, venturing anywhere usually takes longer than expected – for no other reason than it is breathtakingly beautiful. It feels rude not to take a minute out of your day to stop and appreciate the beauty of nature. There are dozens of spots surrounding Wanaka itself where you can escape to, and chances are – as there are so many tranquil and hidden spots – they won’t be crammed with people, in fact more likely than not you’ll end up basking in your own solitude.

An unrivalled paradise for the outdoors fanatic, there truly is something for everyone – on a casual Saturday afternoon  you might witness para gliders landing in the centre of town, jet skiers and kayaks on the lake and people paddling out to Ruby Island. It is a constant hub of activity  with bars lining the lakefront where people huddle after their days to grab a cold beer, while soaking up the last hour of the days sunlight. In a nutshell, Wanaka allows you to spend the day skiing up at the glorious nearby mountains, to then return to the lake side and enjoy a BBQ with some beers in the evening sunshine. It is a bubble of activity coupled with a chilled vibe.

Naturally, the individuals who decide to build a life here all have a passion for nature and the outdoors. With such immense beauty and the opportunity to try numerous, exciting new sports, why would you want to stay indoors?! The people who have built a life here create and reflect the towns chilled out bubble. Rather than the common sight of people in suits heading to work, it’s much more likely to witness people wandering around barefoot and in shorts – even in winter. There is a distinct lack of competition in terms of consumerist items, and in its place a passion for second hand goods, for sharing and passing on, for lending a hand when you can – a beautiful community outlook which is getting rarer and rarer to find.

Living in Wanaka is a lifestyle choice – for most, it’s not the place to chase your dream job, but it is the spot to secure the dream lifestyle. Wanaka means having the ability to take powder days off work when the mountains get a big dump of snow. It’s the place where, for your kids, school skiing is pretty much compulsory for one day a week throughout winter. Wanaka is a much needed breath of fresh air – one away from obsessive academic pressure often put on kids, and in its place a redirected emphasis on the importance of lifestyle, and balance. The mountains, the lake, the beautiful hikes…they are all calling you, and it would be rude to say no.

So yes, living in Wanaka may mean sacrificing a fast paced career but, I have found, that living in this pocket of the world inspires individuals to go beyond the rat race, to take their own ideas and creations and release them into the world. In my eyes, Wanaka reminds each person to step back from that consumerist lifestyle we are all too easily caught up in, connect with nature, and take a minute for yourself. Go on an adventure, or simply sit outside and enjoy the beautifully peaceful place the lucky people who live here get to call home. On a hot, sunny day at 5pm, there are few places I’d rather be than sat at the lakefront with an ice cold cider!

An endless playground for the adventurous souls. A nonjudgmental haven for the dreamers of this life.  A roaring fire for those harboring that creative spark, just waiting for it to ignite.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful. 🙂

14646848_10155481924324368_932963440_o.jpg

GOPR2995.JPG

Eely Point.jpg

13931512_10155292076209368_1448877696_o.jpg

Adjusting to Reality

So our four months of travelling through South East Asia came to an end…and our New Zealand adventures are only just beginning. But, as is life, before we can continue on our wanders through the world, first of all we need to stop and collect ourselves again..surrender to routine, get saving up those pennies and accept the slower pace of life for a while.

For anyone who has ever travelled anywhere for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know how I feel right now. It is simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable to return to ‘real life’ – as humans, we instinctively look for security of some nature and for some of us the feeling of being secure is enough. As you may have guessed, I am not one of those people. Naturally, it is difficult to settle back into a strict routine after travelling, but the difficulty stretches further than that, for your mind is forever altered from all that you have encountered and experienced, which is near impossible to explain to those who have been on an alternative journey to yourself. This is what makes it incredibly difficult to simply settle back in to real life.

In saying that, like slipping on an old favourite pair of slippers, I immediately feel at home in this world where supermarkets have replaced the authentic street markets full of unrecognisable fruits, and where I simply blend into every day life rather than my white skin morphing me into a walking attraction. Before too long I am conscious of my mind slipping back into the Western way of life, and yet there remains a quiet voice who – just when I think she has disappeared – whispers to me every morning as I get up for work, ‘this isn’t what it’s all about.’ I have to remind myself everyday to stay true to that simplistic way of life I so admired in Asia.

It is so easy to get caught up in superficial wants and needs in Western society but when I drag my mind back to days spent surrounded by large Asian families, I try to embody their genuine happiness. In my opinion, it comes down to materialistic desires – the people I met didn’t own many material goods but they were content, for what they lacked in materialistic goods, they more than made up for in spiritual contentment. Stepping back into a world where our definitions of success and happiness are morphed by our consumerist attitudes, I am trying to embody the values and outlook of the local people we met on our travels who continue to inspire me. I have to remember the things that matter – the minimalist life so many families in South East Asia live by.

After living and breathing South East Asian culture for 4 months, I reveled in such small, minuscule details of western life – things you would never think about in day to day life, but which alter when you immerse yourself in another culture. I was ready to walk down the street and not be hassled; not be shouted at ‘TAXI, MISS, TAXI TAXI’, to be able to buy a bottle of water from a shop and not have to barter for it. But by god I miss it. I miss the way of life. I miss learning something every single day just by watching how individuals go about their lives. I miss the people, and their good-natured souls. During my 4 months in Asia, my idea of the ‘norm’ was reassessed, and then reassessed again and although I have always questioned this concept of a decisive ‘norm’ even in Western culture, I now have no set answer to what I trust to be a normative way of travelling through life.

I’m fortunate that I haven’t hit complete post-travel depression because I’m not home. Although New Zealand is yet another new adventure and there is so much we have yet to explore, western societies have a much closer overlap than developing countries and thus those notions of culture shock I experienced – and loved – in Asia don’t apply. I don’t walk down the street and stop and start and stop and start while I gaze at women of all ages carrying long sticks balanced on their heads, or baskets of fruits, or children shrieking as they run down the street bare footed with large, gaping grins taking over their sun kissed faces.

The quiet here is strange. Typically, S.E.Asians have large families and obviously because of the beautiful weather, they spend a lot of time outdoors so we always heard them. Big family dinners – shouting across the streets at each other, the general hustle and bustle of day to day life which to me, is so enchanting to witness. The families we met and witnessed didn’t hide away, they weren’t private – that is one of the many things I adore about their culture. We tend to hide away in our houses and are often all too concerned with what we should look like or should do. In comparison, the culture we experienced was open and loud, and unapologetic in every form.

It’s strange now – stopping – being in one place for more than a few days and being inside for at least 8 hours a day. They say sunshine and nature is good for the soul and by god do I believe that – who would’ve thought that sitting at a desk is difficult? After basking in the world’s beauty for 4 months and spending everyday outdoors, being inside for that long every day pretty much feels like I’m crushing my soul. I have to remember to engage my mind and not just sink back into the routine which so easily numbs. It’s peaceful to settle, it’s good to have a base but those feet are getting itchy again and so for now I have to remind myself to breathe – to get outside and experience all that I can – before I lovingly haul that rucksack onto my back once more.

The transition back into real life is never an easy one and with it comes questions which many of us aren’t ready to answer – what will you do for the rest of your life? How will you make money? These are questions which we manage to avoid when we’re hauling our backpacks around Asia, sipping on 20p rum and cokes. The silent assumptions that you’re ready to settle down – now that you’ve got that out of your system – come hard and fast. Smile and nod at these people…the ones who are too comfortable in their routines to even dare to dream to do as you have done, for they will never know the wonders and delights of the world which you have experienced.

For now, my soul remains with those beautiful people in those beautiful countries. But I think the thing I’ll try to focus on for now is to continue to integrate the practices and ways of life I learned and loved in Asia into my day to day life…because isn’t that what’s important? In a world where we are constantly being pressured to divide and to shut out others in need, it is so important to spend time exploring these countries and fall in love with ways of life so amazingly different to your own.

It is a good life. It is a damn good life.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

East Coast; Cebu, Apo & Malapascua

Across on the East Cost on the island of Cebu, we ventured south down the Filipino archipelago to catch the ferry across to Negros and then a further ferry South East to the island of Siquijor.

At first suspicious of Siquijor as an island, we soon fell in love with it. There is a certain charm to this unsuspecting island which we couldn’t quite put our finger on. The island was dotted with – what we might call – pop up restaurants. During the day the shoreline was quiet and empty, but as night fell multiple small trailers and wagons appeared on the roadside with a variety of home cooked meals to choose from. Our personal favourite came in the form of a beautiful vegetarian buffet style wagon – vegetarian food being extremely uncommon in the Philippines, I was pretty damn excited – which had a delicious variety and romantic yet simplistic setting as each table was lit only by a candle by the shores.

GOPR2401.JPG

Old tales of witchcraft and healing potions swarmed the island and the locals welcomed us as old friends, sharing their precious corner of paradise with us – inviting us night after night to share a bottle or three of rum with them, to scream karaoke until first light with them and to revel in the beautifully peaceful overlap of our cultures, our worlds – even just for those few days in which we shared their way of life.

GOPR2390.JPG

After a few wonderful – and mostly drunken – days immersed in Siquijor’s unassuming and infectious vibe, we carried on south to Apo Island. Apo Island, unfortunately, was a bit of a disappointment after coming from somewhere so full of being and life such as Siquijor. Apo truly did pale in comparison and, for me, had been converted into such a tourist hub that it had lost much of its culture and local charm sadly. However, it is host to a healthy population of turtles who reside just metres from the shore. If, for nothing else, it is worth a visit to swim along side dozens of these majestic creatures.

GOPR2540.JPG

Conscious of the small amount of time we had left, we got on a 6 hour bus/2 hour ferry to take us back to Cebu city which is situated in the centre of Cebu Island. From here we travelled north still and across the waters to Malapascua; home of the thresher shark. My memories of Malapascua are somewhat contradictory to one another. On one hand I loved the vibe, yet on the other hand the heat by this stage had become stifling and was reaching 45 degrees daily.

GOPR2599.JPG

Until you acquired your bearings, the island was an unforgiving maze, but it was incredibly beautiful. The sandy lanes of the island intertwined with each other, bearing both tourist hostels and locals’ homes in such close proximity. We stumbled across a few yummy eateries which again, in classic island style, were scattered along the beach.

However, our experience diving with the thresher sharks was an experience which cannot be underplayed or undervalued. I could write for pages about the diving company who were incredible, our dive instructor who was inspiring, or my tendency to replay the events of that morning when I now sit at a desk every day – to remind myself that one day soon, I will feel that rush again. But what I really want to do here is use this as some form of platform, because surely that’s what writing is? A creative form in which to express ourselves yes, but more so to communicate the beautiful and heartbreaking things of the world – to desperately try to encourage others to feel what we have felt through our words in order to somehow make a difference.

GOPR2603.JPG

In this case, I cannot begin to hope to communicate to you the immensely grounding feeling of witnessing a creature so incredible, but I hope to try. Immensely grounding. Why? Because if and when you see something of that beauty in its own environment, you will realise that we – as human beings – are so small. We are minuscule beings who have somehow gained control and power over this poor world, and we are ruining it, and there are issues and creatures and whole worlds which are so much bigger than us.

So I urge you please – dive in that ocean, go on safari, jump out of a plane. Make yourself feel small because when you do you’ll realise that what we’re doing to this world is not OK, and it is not so easily fixable. These creatures, these beautiful amazing animals are suffering because of what we’re doing. So please next time you think you’re too far removed, next time you think your day to day habits and routines don’t matter – that they don’t impact the world – go and witness these animals in their natural habitats and see that we must bare the weight of their future generations too. We have a responsibility for those who can’t speak up.

The common thresher shark is considered at high to very high vulnerability of extinction from over fishing. I don’t want my children to grow up in a world where they don’t ever have the opportunity to see a thresher shark, or a manta ray, or an elephant in their natural habitat because I promise you, if people could just see how beautiful these creatures are that they are destroying, they would stop. They would have to stop.

This is the way I see it – the more each individual encounters the beauty of these many wonderful creatures, the more they will see them as treasures of the Earth, rather than a humans plaything.

GOPR2614.JPG

We spent our last day in Malapascua in a little bar by the beach where a triple rum was cheaper than a single and drank the day away on large cushioned seats. Bliss. The Philippines is insanely beautiful and their culture is enchanting and inclusive – they want you to drink bottles of rum and sing karaoke with them.

An endless playground for avid divers and equally so a haven for those sun worshippers. For us, we spent a lot of time under the sea taking in the beautiful creatures which call those islands home. I was ready to leave the Philippines but that was more so due to those Western comforts – like a needy friend – pulling me back, and possibly something to do with the unbearable heat. So much left still to discover in the magnificent Philippines, but isn’t that part of the joy of travelling? To leave some rocks unturned in a wanderers hope that it gives us an excuse to one day return.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)

 

West Coast; Busuanga & Palawan

From Manila we boarded a 14 hour ferry to Coron town on Busuanga Island. Unlike the Indonesian ferries – wooden benches crammed full of people, chain smoking throughout the journey and a lack of air conditioning – our first experience of a Filipino ferry was surprisingly comfortable in comparison. Primarily due to the strong American influence in the Philippines, we found over the next month that many western practices had been incorporated into day to day life there.

What greeted us on our departure from the ferry was a town which, had it been western society, would still very much have been asleep. Yet as we arrived at 4am, the hustle and bustle of the day ahead had already begun – numerous tuk tuks (taxis) met us at the ferry port and local families were rising to commence their daily routines before sunrise. Coron predominantly consists of one main street laden with restaurants, shops and a few scattered dive shops. The charm of Coron lies in the fact that – although it is an ever developing tourist hub – it retains much of its local atmosphere. We spent almost a week here getting acquainted with Filipino life and diving some of the 8 magnificent wrecks which are sunk there.

Outwith Coron town, Busuanga Island is a maze of differentiating terrain which changes from steep inclines over dirt tracks to sandy beach paths in a matter of minutes. We ventured through this maze of terrain one day in the hopes of finding a deserted beach much spoken about by our hostel owners. The journey was magical – away from the main touristy town of Coron, local life plods along at a happily relaxed pace.We passed through many communities on our way, each consisting of 10 to 12 houses aside the road. Children ran after one another as the intense sun bore down on their skins in the stifling midday heat. Children, families and whole communities gazed in our direction as we rode over the bumps and waved in passing. Outside one particular small, rickety shack, locals of all ages were gathered and roared with laughter as a bottle of rum, followed quickly by another bottle of rum made its way round. As we drove past them, they shouted in our direction in Filipino, while waving rum bottles and sending large gaping smiles towards us.

The beach was deserted – bar a few local kids splashing in the sea – we had 4km of white sanded, blue watered paradise to ourselves and yes, it was as blissful as it sounds.

DCIM101GOPRO

After a week spent reveling in the beauty of Coron and the surrounding Busuanga, we got on a boat to Palawan. The boat was lined on either side with wooden benches and white, plastic chairs lined the middle providing multiple rows of seating for the journey. Locals and tourists alike piled onto this boat which looked like it could hold 10 rather than 50 passengers (always reassessing those western normative ideals). Both hanging pretty badly, we folded our limbs on top of each other and closed our eyes, all the while wishing the wild waters below away from our churning stomachs. Thankfully, the 6 hour journey passed without much sickness from either of us!

El Nido was a picturesque town to welcome us to Palawan. Narrow lanes are laden with western delights – anything from burritos to crepes. The shops – instead of holding small, intricate gems from surrounding areas – were stocked with western attire and prices to match. We wandered to the beach for dinner where many BBQ’s were roasting the local catches of the day and the sand was laden with plastic white chairs and tables – the beach alive with the buzz of a true tourist hub. Naturally, sitting in the midst of dozens of tourists, we decided to hire a moped the next day and escape to Nacpan beach to camp out in a beach hut.

DCIM102GOPRO

Sadly our days of lazing in hammocks and escaping the tourist buzz were cut short as my sinus infection – which had been slowly creeping in on my mind – was now having a wild party in my head. We headed back to El Nido so I could get some painkillers and lie in a fanned room rather than a stifling beach hut. After a few days of my head constantly feeling like I was smacking it against a wall, I ventured to El Nido Doctors – this being a ram-shackled house with a broken, handmade sign saying ‘drop-ins’ and pointing to a back door. Thankfully the doctor knew what was going on and, prescribing me some antibiotics, sent me on my way.

In my opinion, travelling through different countries one after the other provides you – or it definitely did for me – with a forever altering mentality. Just as you think you’re getting the hang of it – and by this I mean that you’ve learned enough words to barter at food markets, you know what is and how to get the local public transport, you’ve spoken to enough locals to know how to have a joke with them – you’re thrown into another culture completely. Yes, there is a certain overlap within South East Asian countries in terms of culture but if you really come to terms with the ways in which their society functions, they are all so widely different. That is the beauty of travelling – just when you are starting to feel comfortable, you voluntarily through yourself into another awkward, uncomfortable ball of fire which you’ve got to figure out all over again.

Our time spent on the West coast of the Philippines was us trying to experience the true nature of the country. To desperately try to wriggle free of the tourist hubs which are all too easy to comfortably slip into, and instead search for those hidden gems.

 

Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

Be weird. Be wonderful.:)