Tag Archives: travelling

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.:)

 

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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.

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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.

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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.:)

West Timor: Unchartered Territory

After Flores, we had planned to go to sumba – a small, traditional island to the south – however, the time and route to take us there was too complex. Looking at a map of Indonesia, we played with the thought of going to west Timor. Timor is the most easternly point of Indonesia – East Timor is now independent of Indonesia and thus we looked into researching west Timor. Finding little to no information about West Timor on the Internet, naturally, we decided to book a flight. On our arrival in Kupang, we shared knowing glances which spoke of concern and possible regret to our decision to come to this unchartered, non-touristy island. Time spent reading blog after blog in hopes of finding some information about this place was mostly in vain – we found snippets on blogs about tours to traditional villages but these were short extracts and seemed more to be thrown in for added value rather than the main attraction.

In Kupang, we stumbled across a bar near the shoreline where we stopped to hide from the clammy heat and found some solace in an ice cold beer. The locals sat on bar stools adjacent to ours, whispering loudly in Indonesian while their bulging eyes clung to our skin. Before long, one of the locals – who we later learned worked in Australia for a few years – spoke the words on everyone’s mind – and ones we would come to hear numerous times in the next week and come to smile at – ‘why do you come here? To west Timor? Why not in Bali?’ Over a few more beers, we chatted with the locals, explaining our extremely rough plan we had attained from the few blog snippets and looking at a map – to travel to Kefa, from where we could venture to a few traditional villages. At first wary – more so confused maybe – of us, their furrowed brows soon relaxed into broad smiles as they flung questions at us, all the while plying us with more beer. The young children lingered around us, watching us intently but giggling and turning away as soon as we returned their gaze. Passersby’s nodded questioningly to the locals in our direction, their mouths gaping open unselfconsciously, their heads turning as far as their necks would allow once they were past. Armed with the information the locals provided on when and where to get the local bus to Kefa, we started to feel a little more at ease in West Timor.

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Little did we know then, that Kefa – a small town in the midst of a, predominantly, unexplored island – would provide us with an unforgettable experience and memories we will cherish for years to come.

At 6am the next morning, we got on a bemo – traditional Indonesian public transport – to Kefa. The small bus was spray painted in bright colours and patterns, void of any windows, and seated 30 people, crammed into small crevices of the bus whilst nursing children, holding poultry in cages and securing boxes and bags between their knees. We squeezed into two seats at the front of the bemo, our long gangly legs immediately shouting angrily at our bodies as our knees became indented into the seat in front – turns out Indonesian transport isn’t made for tall people! Half an hour later, the small bus moaned as the driver – cigarette religiously in place – pulled onto the main road. Squashed against each other, we gazed sleepily out of the window just as the large speaker above our heads began jumping and blared excruciatingly loud, traditional Indonesian music into our ears. My first instinct – driven by my sleepy, grumpy brain – insisted I do something to make it stop, but as the bus driver turned around and grinned at us – whistling to the tune while bearing his teeth to stop his cigarette from falling out – and as I watched the other passengers – their laps crushed by small children, poultry, large bags – chuckle and hum along to the music, I could feel the sleepiness wear off and a small smirk begin to appear on my face. The bemo stopped at the sign of every individual on the side of the road – a young boy hanging out of the bus hollered in Indonesian, attempting to coax them onto the bus. About half way through the 5 hour journey, we stopped for lunch. During the stop, locals at the bus stop stared unapologetically at us – pausing their previous conversations, some hollered, some shouted ‘hello mam, hello sir’, while one man came onto the bus and – without any notion that it may make me feel uncomfortable – started taking photos of me with his phone without saying anything. I smiled and took my phone out in pretence of taking photos of him, he roared in laughter, thanked me and scurried off the bus to show his friends. While I sat awaiting the bus’ departure, a young family in front of me took out tupperware boxes, delving into a pre-made lunch of noodles and rice. Catching my eye and smiling, the woman proceeded to serve up a portion of their food on a plastic plate and hand it back to me over the seat. Of course – bound by my own cultural norms – I tried to kindly refuse, but she insisted and smiled back at me intermittently asking ‘Bisa, Bisa?’ which means ‘OK, OK?’ I felt humbled by this small act of kindness so inherent in the Indonesian culture and slowly came to think West Timor might just be amazing after all.

After finding a hotel in Kefa, we wandered around the small town, being followed wherever we walked by sets of questioning eyes. On that first day, we had the good fortune to meet Denny. Having come too far from our hotel, we were searching for the way back and Denny offered to give us a lift. Sipping on beers on that first night, Denny too asked, slightly baffled, ‘why are you in Kefa? Why aren’t you in Bali?’ – we laughed, and explained that we wanted to explore some areas which weren’t crowded with tourists. We had certainly found that – the whole time we were in West Timor, we didn’t see another foreigner. We explained to Denny that we wanted to go to the traditional villages, but refused to take a tour guide as they were too expensive. He pulled his mobile from his pocket and spoke fast paced Indonesian for a few minutes into his phone, and then hanging up, he turned to us and explained that he and his friends would take us. ‘Not as tour guide, as friend. We are friends’ he assured us with a smile and another slug of his beer. Even then, with the prospect of spending the next day immersed in local traditions with individuals – friends – from Kefa, we had no idea that the week to come would go well beyond that.

At the traditional village the next day, I felt at once uncomfortable and privileged; uncomfortable, for I have never been so immersed in another’s strict traditions and way of life – unlike a different country – where generally there is some room for compromise, for an understanding of your position as a foreigner and thus not accustomed to their culture – the village appeared so sacred to me, almost like a secret, and so different from anything I had ever immersed myself within. I was wary of disrespecting the villagers, especially the elder, in any way. Privileged, for being given the opportunity to witness such a culturally different way of life – one without a dependence on electricity, a dependence on government, one void of the multitude of objects and obsessions modern society depends on, fights about and dies over everyday.

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Our newly found friends – Denny, Ricky and Harry – liaised with the villagers in Indonesian and translated back to us in English, informing us about their way of life and answering any questions we posed to them.

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On route back from the village, Ricky invited us to dinner that night with his family.
Kefa’s climate reached its peak temperature first thing in the morning, creating a hot and stifling start to the day, which then gradually cooled throughout the day, easing to a comfortably cool temperature by the evening. Basking in the soft breeze of the evening, we sat outside of Ricky’s house meeting the many family members – it was reminiscent to me of large family gatherings, and yet this was a daily occurrence for them. Sipping on ice cold Bintang beers, the conversation grew between the group, intermittently changing from English to Indonesian and back again. Ricky’s mum and dad presented appetisers on the table, gesturing towards them with their hands and keen, excited eyes glowing in our direction. The fried banana with melted cheese and oat cookie appetisers had only just settled in our bellies before it was announced that dinner was ready. Moving inside, the round table was set with 8 places and a fast paced conversation in Indonesian took place as Ricky insisted for us to sit down and immediately passed us the rice.

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The table was set with a wooden, circular, spinning device where a variety of dishes were placed and thus each individual simply spun it towards them when they wanted more. We could not put our cutlery down for a second before one family member, quickly followed by a chorus of voices, insisted we have more rice, more curry, more soup, more duck. Over mountains of delicious food, the conversation flowed from exchanging histories of our respective countries, to musing over the differences in our cultural traditions, to opinions on movie stars. On that first evening at Ricky’s house, we flowed in and out of conversation, our laughter never far from the surface, and all of our eyes sparkling with a delight of learning of new cultures and ways of life – their constant bemusement that we had ended up in Kefa and our knowing smiles as the beginning of a friendship made its way into our views.

Over the next few days we were spoilt in every way possible – we were accepted firstly as their guests, and later as their family – and as we came to learn in the next few days, there was nothing we could do, nor nothing they would allow us to do to repay them for the unfaltering kindness which they showed us, and for welcoming us into a culture which we grew to love even more than we already did. Each day Ricky, Denny, Mel and Ivon took us to some hidden gem on the outskirts of Kefa; a beautiful beach, Ricky’s farms where we sipped on fresh coconuts, a river where the locals went to bathe and wash their clothes, and each night we dined at Ricky’s, served with a plethora of Indonesian dishes, rich in flavour and always varied.

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At first I felt uncomfortable with the lack of boundaries and the lack of personal space – in Indonesian culture no questions go unasked, no particular etiquette serves as an excuse to be “polite”. Over time I grew to love this policy and laugh at it. From freshly baked cakes brought to our hotel room, to homemade popcorn, to hours spent munching on delicious (and some suspicious) home baked delicacies, to days and nights spent chatting and laughing, we felt incredibly lucky to have met such kind hearted people.

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Unfortunately, I’m afraid that my words fall short in their ability to describe our experiences in Kefa, the kindness of these people and our undeniable love for Indonesia – a culture which stripped me to my core, challenged my beliefs and values and built me back up again to view the world in a different light.

 

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.:)