Bali Impressions

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Here I am now in Bali. While traveling through South East Asia, I’ve only heard the most amazing things about Bali. So I had high expectations when coming here. But I have to admit that once I got here, I thought what’s the big deal with Bali? The following are some of my impressions of Bali.

1. My first destination was Kuta Beach and the beach was absolutely filthy. The beach is a dumping beach and known for good surfing.  However, there was so much garbage in the water that you couldn’t enjoy a swim without a plastic bag getting caught on you legs with every wave.  I was told that since this is rainy season, the wind blows the garbage in from Java. In the summer months, the beach is clean and the water blue and it’s actually a really stunning beach. But for now when you go in the water, it’s not the fish nibbling at you that you worry about, but the garbage that gets tangled around your legs. Disgusting..

2. Walking down Legian St, the main thoroughfare, can be an exhausting mission even when only going 100 meters. “Massage,” “nails done,” “braid hair,” “transport,” “money change,” “taxi,” “tattoo,” “mushrooms,” “cocaine,” and “marijuana” are the things whispered or called out to you as you pass many of the locals who spend their day sitting on the side-walk trying to make a buck.

3. Changing money can be even more exhausting until you know exactly where to go.  Authorized money changers are advertised everywhere, but be careful because most of them are trying to rip you off. They will use slight of hand tricks to skim off some of the money after you’ve counted it. If you don’t allow them to touch the money again, then suddenly there are new taxes and fees that need to be applied or the rate was yesterday’s and surprise surprise, today’s rate is significantly lower. All a bunch of crooks!

4. There are nice beaches even in rainy season, but it seems that the nice beaches tend to be home to 5 star resorts. I went to Nusa Day, which is 30 minutes away by taxi from Kuta, and the water was shades of blue. There was calm water for swimmers and surf for surfers and no garbage.

5. Bali felt more like a holiday island than anything else. Independent travel was not at all promoted. Tours were expensive. If traveling on your own, you almost felt discriminated against because you’d have to pay extra money as there was always a two person minimum.

6. But not all my impressions were falling short of my expectations. When I went 1 hour north to Ubud, a different world awaited me. This town oozed with culture. You could see villagers in cultural dress. Everyday, women would go out with their woven baskets of flower petals, rice, incense and other objects and place them in front of store fronts and shrines. Every night you can take in some form of cultural dance. All over the town, there were Hindu temples and shrines, it was a bit unreal. The natural beauty of the area was stunning. Tropical forests with ravines and rice fields all over the place. I could’ve given up the beaches of Bali for this paradise.

7. If you continue further outside of Ubud, more nature and culture abounds. There are splendid views of terraced rice fields, volcanoes to climb, mountains, lakes, adventure sports and temples. I finally was able to see what it is that people must be referring to about Bali. The interior of the island is just gorgeous and breathtakingly beautiful.

8. Massages. Being a message junkie, I had only had 2 in the Philippines because I was still tainted by my Vietnam experience. Here, in Bali, I succumbed to the massages. Being trained in anatomy and possessing some basis massage techniques, I’m very particular about my massages. I prefer it when someone works out my knots. If I feel like someone doesn’t know what they are doing, then I stop going. So the massages in Bali have been alright, some better than others, and so far professional. Even  had a guy massage me and it wasn’t awkward. I’ve been pretty much going everyday for one. Why not, they are only 5 bucks.

9. Monkey Sanctuary: in the town off Ubud, there is a little area where monkeys live and you can go in and see them. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to this shameless exploitation of monkeys but I’d read that the forest was worth the money, 20000 IDR (less than 2 USD). When you get to the gate, there is a sign that says please help keep the monkey sanctuary functioning. Buy bananas. These ladies sit at the front gate with a stick to keep away the monkeys. The monkeys have learned to fear the stick. But once someone has bought bananas, they attack. They will grab from your hand, jump on you and even bite. Somehow people find this entertaining. These monkeys are well fed. They have potatoes to keep them satisfied, yet they still feel the need to be teased by tourists waving bananas at their face to then move it away quickly at the last second. This was the only thing with Ubud that I didn’t like. They shouldn’t be encouraging wild animals to rely on humans for food.

So Bali was an okay experience. Ubud was where I enjoyed myself the most. If I ever came back I’d try to do it in the dry season and see if Kuta Beach is any better and explore more of the islands beaches.

Sanur Beach

Sanur Beach

Statues everywhere

Statues everywhere

Balinese Cultural Dance

Balinese Cultural Dance

Terraced Rice Fields

Terraced Rice Fields

Full Moon Party Balinese Style

Full Moon Party Balinese Style

Sacrificial Offerings

Sacrificial Offerings

Monkey being head butted after it jumped on this man's head for a banana

Monkey being head butted after it jumped on this man’s head for a banana

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s More Fun in The Philippines

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As my travels in the Philippines continued, it seemed that they were becoming more adventurous. My next location was on the island of Palawan, specifically El Nido. El Nido is this small rustic town, more like a village, used as a base for island hopping to do some spectacular snorkelling. This is a town without electricity between 6am to 2pm, no ATMs, no hot water and shops and restaurants that don’t necessarily cater to tourists.  Other than the island hopping there were other activities that could occupy your time.

Wonderful beaches

Wonderful beaches

One of these was cliff climbing. There should be no need for explanations as to what cliff climbing is, however, I sometimes don’t process things properly. At this point in my travels, I’d hijacked a German. He didn’t have proper shoes but true to Filipino standards of health and safety, he was told flip-flops were fine. For solidarity, I wore mine too. Being in a beach town, I also wore my bikini under a sun dress. So cliff climbing is climbing on cliffs, not along, around, beside but on cliffs. It’s like rock climbing without the rope and harness. The plan was to climb up to get a view of the town and to do it in the late afternoon to avoid the midday sun. The cliffs were like jagged limestone. There were times when the hand holds and foot holds were large and sturdy and the climbing was easy. Then there were times when the cliffs were narrow and pointed, the hand holds scarce and the drop off steep. We made it up and the view was definitely worth it. Now for the journey down. There was no secret dirt path that would lead us down easily. We had to go back the way we’d come up. I always find descending harder because chances of slipping are higher. But now remember we went up late afternoon. So as we started our descent, the sun started to descend taking with it our visibility. It was so scary going back down. It was like the cave connection in Sagada, but you couldn’t slide on your butt because the cliffs were too jagged. Our guide was there more to show us the path than to help. I had to call out for him sometimes to tell me where to put my foot exactly. My anxiety levels were so high that I was sweating so much that my face moisturizer was dissolving in the beads of sweat running down my forehead and blinding me. So on top of lack of visibility, my eyes were being blinded by perspiration. Then the clothing choice came in handy as my dress kept hooking on the cliff’s edge above me. Then finally, my foot slipped and my flip-flop broke. Thankfully it was fixable and we were literally 2 meters from the end.  I was so worried we would lose visibility on the cliff. At one point, the guide asked me if I wanted to rest, I responded with an emphatic no!

A view of the cliffs

A view of the cliffs

Look how sharp the edges are!

Look how sharp the edges are!

Look how sweaty I look!

Look how sweaty I look!

A view from the cliffs

A view from the cliffs

Then I said goodbye to my German friend and was reunited with my Russian friend for the next adventure. There is a hot spring in the surrounding area. This is an actually boiling pond of water that you can’t enter. It was a quick walk in from the road, at first through seemingly benign rice fields. Then the terrain changed. It became muddy with little streams of water that were from the hot springs. We had to cross these areas of runoff water, plus pits of mud that would eat our flip-flops and not return them. In order to cross over the water, the health and safety board of the Philippines felt that pieces of wood and decaying palm leaves would provide a sufficient barrier between us and the boiling water. Well in flip-flops, I can attest that the water was extremely hot. The tricycle driver who doubled as our guide, had to help us get over the rickety bridges as they were not stable or placed in logical positions. We finally made it to the hot spring, felt its heat and still have the skin on our feet, thankfully.

Waterfall

Waterfall

Smouldering pot of sulphur

Smouldering pot of sulphur

D’Talipapa- A Fish Lover’s Paradise

 

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After the north, it was time to head to the beaches and see what all the fuss was about the Philippine beaches.  First I headed to the small island of Boracay.  This island was so unbelievable touristy.  People from all over South East Asia fly here to just have a week of relaxation, partying, clubbing, water sports, whatever you may like, there is something for everyone.

Although a bit too touristy for me, it did have its little charms.  One in particular for me was the small fish market tucked into the alleyways known as D’ Talipapa.  Here you can peruse the market of freshly caught or still alive fish and seafood.  You can buy the fish or seafood and then take it to one of the many restaurant stalls, who will cook it up for you with a choice of different styles.  You can also get some vegetables, which can be quite sparse in the Philippines, and have them cooked up as well.

I came here twice and these were probably the best meals that I had during the whole trip in the Philippines.  Combined with the experience of choosing my dinner, it ranks quite high with fish market experiences.  As I entered the market aisles with my friends, we first went up the less frenetic aisle of the fish.  Some fish were swimming around in buckets, while most laid on ice.  The vendors who were definitely in your face trying to get you to buy, would sometimes hold the fish up to your face for inspection.  Then we moved away from this aisle to the crustaceans.  Live crabs and lobsters.   The lobsters were huge and multi-coloured.  The vendors really enjoyed lifting the lobsters out of their buckets and shoving them in your face as the lobster’s tentacles and long antennae waved in your face.  My anxiety levels started to rise.  I could feel my stomach in my throat.  They say that lobsters are like cockroaches of the sea, and at that moment, I started to see why. The antennae were freaking me out.  I had to exit the market.  I couldn’t take it.  As much as I would have loved to order lobster that night, I couldn’t bring myself to go down the aisle and look at them.  So for the first night I ordered squid and the second night prawns.   The squid I had done in an adobo sauce.  It came out in a black sauce that was absolutely unappealing to look at.  However, it tasted amazing.  The second night, the prawns were covered in a coconut sauce flavoured with an assortment of spices, it was either called goto or gota, I can’t remember.  So good.  One of the best eating experiences ever.  I’d go back to Boracay just for this.

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Trekking, Caving, Climbing- I love the Philippines!

 

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As much as I loved China, it was time to move on from the coldness there and onto some sunshine.  To the Philippines I headed.  The Philippines, an archipelago, has many beaches but I decided that I would venture north into their “mountainous” region first.  I highjacked a Russian, who would keep popping up in my adventures in the Philippines, and escaped the diesel scented, traffic jammed city of Manila.   I’m glad I did this because it was up here that I noticed some South East Asian customs that I didn’t take note of elsewhere.  For example, the orange stained teeth and red splotches on the ground from the betel leaf chewing, and the not so pleasant spitting and snot bombs.

People travel north to Banaue to discover the rice terraces.  Banaue or Bagiou are the entrance points into this region.  Although, not the rainy season for the province of Luzon, Banaue was experiencing quite a lot of rain for this period of the year.  But we took a risk and ventured up there anyway.  Initially, we bypassed Banaue due to rain, but did come back to do the trek through Batad famous for its amphitheater style stone rice terraces.  This village has no roads to it.  You have to trek down 45 minutes into a valley to reach the upper most part of the village and then continue to trek through the vastness of the rice terraces.  As the terraces are made of stone, you have to marvel at the work required to make these terraces without any roads leading to the village.  The views were absolutely stunning.  Some of the terraces were empty and some had crops in it.  I was so happy that I  had returned to see Batad, as the view and the experience were definitely worth it.

We had also visited this sleepy town named Sagada which was 3 hours from Banaue.  This town was a gem with its cozy guesthouses and quaint cafe and it was the gateway to adventure.  Famous for its cave connection, this was so much fun and a must for anyone that visits the Philipines.  I have always wanted to go spelunking and this was my first opportunity to do it.  Of course, because it was in the Philippines, our only equipment was the gas lantern that our guide carried, and our only instruction was the rocks are slippery when wet.  We spent 3.5 hours climbing through caves, or rather on our butts sliding across the rocks.  We were sliding, climbing, hanging on ropes and traipsing through water.  It’s called the cave connection because you pass between two caves.  Fortunately because it wasn’t the high season, we only had to wade through knee high water instead of shoulder high.  As we entered the second cave, we were serenaded by the sound of bats.  I can’t put into words how exhilarating these 3.5 hours were as our nerves were high as we were noticing the drop offs on the other side of the rocks, should we not take the path or our guide.  To add to the adventure, our lantern started to give out toward the end of the trip, but our guide was able to keep it going long enough for us to reach the light of the final opening before it went out completely.

I also had my first attempt at rock climbing.  I climb indoors, but have never tried the real thing.  The real thing is so much harder!  It wouldn’t be so bad if someone would go and colour the stones to lay out the path that you must take.  Fortuantely, I was given climbing shoes to help grip the stone better with my feet and I was given stretched out gloves as well.  This helped but didn’t help because they started to slide off my hand.  I’m not sure how high the climb was but I somehow managed to do it in one go and the guide was impressed and said that I did it in 5 minutes.  It felt like eternity while i was doing it.  I was overusing my grip because my feet didn’t feel as stable as they do on indoor walls.  So after a rest, I attempted to do it again, but for some reason, there was a spot on the surface that was giving me trouble.  I kept losing my grip and falling off.  The guide and I were both perplexed at why this spot was giving so much trouble as I had done it before.  As I was battling the surface, a group of Aussie’s passed by and at first started giving words of encouragement.  Then one guy’s encouraging words turned into heckling.  “Come on already, get up the wall!”  This was not helping: tired, slipping, being watched and heckled was not the recipe for success.  They moved on and I eventually figured out how to get past this area on the wall and I made it up the wall again.  Back  on the ground, the group returned and the guy asked if I made it up.  So he decided that he would put his money where his mouth was and try climbing up. His first attempt saw him get up 1.5 metres before he stopped and asked to come back down.  His second attempt, he got up higher, 2 metres and again came down because he was tired. He tried one more time and got higher, to the area that had caused me problems, but here he quit for his third and final time stating that he was just too tired.  After being humbled, he returned to the ground and gave me praises for being able to go up the wall twice.  Although, he filled me with pride, I still felt defeated by the wall, as I was so tired after those two climbs.

The north of Philippines is definitely a place to go and visit.  Don’t just head for the beaches, but get a taste of all that the Philippines has to offer.

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