Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Goodbye Siquijor. Wish we could stay!

Happy and relaxed

Day 6, Friday
Friday we decided to kill 2 birds with one stone.  We wanted to visit the fanciest resort on the island, Coco Grove, to try the food.  And it's fun to go somewhere swanky for a change of pace now and again.  We had also heard last night about the sport of pool-crashing and wanted to give it a shot.

Pool-crashing, like gate-crashing or party-crashing, is swimming in a pool you're technically not supposed to swim in because of silly rules.  If you've been a frequent reader of mine, you'll know what I think of silly rules (no taking pictures of Michelangelo's David, no taking pictures in Versailles, etc).

So with these twin purposes, we stopped by for lunch.  The food was ok, the dessert much better.  The atmosphere was too ..... sterile for my tastes.  It was a nice place but too uptight and overly fancy to suit me.  The pool (which sternly read: Guests Only!) was nice though.

The Coco Grove pool

The rest of the day consisted of doing what should be done on a beach island; relaxing!  Sunset, dinner, walk on the beach, laying in the hammock, you get the idea.

Stunning!!!  And the beach is nice too.

This is my new happy place

Thank goodness for good cameras

Day 7, Saturday
Saturday was much the same as Friday night.  With only one full day left before returning to our cold, cloudy island, we spent the day enjoying the warm air, cool water and blue skies.  We also met the man who made and runs basically all the resort websites on the island.  Interesting guy by the name of Gary. Lots of great stories to tell.  Shockingly he didn't have a Philippine wife.  Doesn't get paid for running the websites either.  He just loves it there, tries to promote tourism to bring in more money to help the people of the island and lives there about half the year.  Lucky stiff.

I believe I can fly!

Vicky in her hammock

Looking straight up from in my hammock

Our last sunset

Day 8, Sunday
Our last day started with a couple hours worth of great conversation with some of the people we'd met over the week.  Then we packed up and headed for the ferry.  Recalling my previous ferry experience, we opted for the much larger and faster ferry.  It still wasn't much fun but it produced mere anxiety rather than actual sickness.

Much better than before

From there, we caught a quick flight up to Manila where we had about 5 hours to kill but were constrained by carrying our large travel backpacks.  Given that restriction, we headed for the Mall of Asia, a huge mall near the airport.  There we found excellent security (i felt safe even while carrying everything around), cool Chinese New Year decorations and best of all to a wayward Texan .... a DAIRY QUEEN!!!!!!!!!  Which means one thing to me ........  BLIZZARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!   Thank you Lord moments = infinite.

Joy!  Much Joy!  We're talking Joy here!

I did a happy dance in front of DQ when we found it (literally.  it resembled Gangnam Style).  After feeling angels dancing upon my tongue with each bite, we wondered around and just took the place in.  They even had a Wal-Mart clone called Hypermarket.  It's a place I dearly wish existed on Jeju.

Before we left we had one last adventure/scare.  I almost lost my wallet (major Why God why moment).  As we got out of the taxi at the airport, I realized my wallet was gone.  Fortunately the reason I knew it was gone is because I have a habit of checking my pockets when getting on and off all means of transportation.  So i noticed it was gone while the taxi was still there.  I also knew i'd had it in the taxi.  We removed the back seat and found it nestled in the metal frame underneath.  I don't even want to think about how bad it would have been if i'd lost my wallet in Manila.  Thank you Lord moments = infinite + 1.

= Infinite + 2 because of Vicky

From there it was just a matter of getting home and readjusting to the cold (picture me getting off the airplane in Seoul in shorts and the polo from the picture above.  It was 22F.)  Now we've settled back into our normal routine, teaching, planning our next trip, etc.  With one small change.  Whenever we're cold or tired or angry, we just think back a little and let the memories of the warm Philippine sun melt our problems away.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Siquijor, Philippines (waterfalls, sunsets and stars, oh my)

We look happy for a reason :)

Day 4, Wednesday
As you can recall (or can go back and read) we left off last time after making friends with a lovely Belgian couple.  Sadly, they had to depart the next day because our resort was completely booked and they had reservations on another island.  Fortunately we still had time for lunch before they left.

Random house on the way to town

Despite our friends leaving, this was the start of two of the best days of the trip.  It began with us heading into the city of Larena to the only ATM on the island that accepted foreign debit cards.  We shared a tricycle with an older gentleman named Mark who had been coming to the island for over 15 years.  He was interesting, friendly and immensely helpful.  He told us the prices we should be paying to go various places around the island.  It was naturally a good bit less than we'd been paying up to that point.  That kind of inside information plus a strong knowledge of international affairs made him a fascinating conversation partner.


On a side note, we had Thank you Lord moment number 5 that the ATM was working when we went to use it (apparently you've got a 50/50 shot of finding it functional on a given day).

After getting back and having lunch, we got a massage through our resort.  It was a little more expensive ($11 instead of $7.50) but much more comfortable and relaxing.  And in a case of beautiful timing, our massages finished just before the most breathtaking sunset of our stay began.  In fact this is one of the most beautiful sunsets i've ever seen anywhere.  Words (and pictures) don't do it justice but here's my best attempts to capture it.

And the splendor didn't end at sunset.  After the sun was properly down, the stars came out in numbers i've rarely seen.  Vicky and I had taken a walk down the beach during sunset but the starlit sky demanded a second one.  It was that kind of evening.

Star Light, Star Bright

I didn't realize how much I missed seeing stars until I saw them again

Thank you Lord moments 6 (the sunset) and 7 (the stars).

Day 5, Thursday
This day was all about the trip to the waterfalls.  After all, this had been a relaxing trip so far.  So we figured, what better way to spice it up than to go jump off of a waterfall or 3.  To do this we took a tricycle about 40 minutes around the island and up to the mountain in the middle.  The trip was really fun and the Cambugahay Falls were beautiful (as you can see).

 Cambugahay Falls

 Good timing


And the best part of was the jumping.  First we jumped in while doing goofy stuff in the air.  Then we found a vine that's used for swinging.  You can see the effect on distance below.  The whole thing was definitely Thank you Lord moment number 8.

Muscles of Might!

Swinging on the vine really effects distance traveled as you can see

Click to enlarge

After that we headed back for a cheap local lunch, some more swimming around the resort and then relaxing for dinner and conversation with our new friends Mark and Alex (an adventurous German who hosts couch surfers at his place South of Munich.  He also offered to let us stay with him during a Europe trip).  A good end to a great day!


+ Vicky = Prettier

Friday, February 15, 2013

Siquijor, Philippines (or simply wow!)

Does anyone still wonder why I loved it here?  That roof on the top-left side of the picture .... that's our bungalow.  That water to my right ... the ocean.  Everything in between .... perfect!

In my last update I tried to show some of the ups and downs of traveling.  It isn't fair to only remember the best parts.  You've got to accept that there will probably be terrible parts of even the best trips.  And speaking of best trips, we've now made it to the good part.  The part about why this was one of my best trips ever.

The first and biggest reason this was one of the best trips I've ever taken was Vicky.  Having someone I love there with me to share the experience improved everything.  Add to that that this was our first big vacation together and it becomes extra special.

Enjoying the evening

The second reason it was one of the best trips I've ever taken was the resort we stayed at.  If I was a little older and had the money to open my own tropical paradise resort, this is exactly the kind of place i'd open.  It was nice without being ostentatious, well maintained, full of beautiful plants and loaded with atmosphere.  This clearly wasn't a strictly commercial venture.  This was a resort made by someone who loved traveling and set out to create a place that they'd want to stay in.

Our beachfront

Part of the Coral Cay Resort's restaurant

We met the owner, an ex-Army American with a Philippino wife who'd dreamed of opening his own place since he was 10.  Both are hardworking, friendly and seemed determined to make the best possible place to go and relax.  They succeeded.

When you throw in nearly perfect weather, a bungalow literally on the beach (with a new hammock right in front of our door that they installed a month before we arrived no less!) and very cheap prices, the situation becomes almost impossibly wonderful.  When a few mosquito bites are the worst complaint you have for most of the week, it's a GOOD week.

Day 1, Sunday
Our first day there was spent just taking it all in and trying to stay awake.  We were tired but we wanted to go to bed around 9pm so we could be up at 7am and not waste these gorgeous days.  Some good food, a little swimming, a lot of picture taking and a beautiful sunset helped us accomplish this goal.  Thank you Lord moments = 3.

Day 2, Monday
This day was for exploration.  We neglected to bring sunscreen, figuring we could buy it nearby for cheap.  Turns out we needed to go to the main town on the island to pick some up and do a little shopping.  Sunscreen of course is important to me and an absolute requirement for my beautifully fair-skinned (read: vampire) girlfriend to even consider going out in the sun.

So we caught a tricycle into town, found some sunscreen and picked up a pair of t-shirts and some sunglasses for Vicky (also a necessity).  Dinner was spent at fancier place nearby, the Danish Lagoon, with a great view and good food.  We went for a massage after, which was good but we were resting on wood beds with no padding which was exacerbated by the massage going for too long (i know, i didn't think it was possible for a massage to be too long either but it is).  Still it did help relax us and we slept well that night.

The Danish Lagoon Restaurant

The sunset view from the Danish Lagoon

Day 3, Tuesday
Since the previous couple days had been full of traveling, shopping and just generally doing stuff, we declared Tuesday a chill day.  Thank you Lord moments = 4.  After a leisurely morning, we took a 2 person kayak out to a floating raft a few hundred yards offshore for some exercise and fun.  Some swimming and relaxing followed and then we headed for dinner and dessert at the Danish Lagoon.  It was once again very good.

Clearly we took this seriously

"V for Victory!"

The highlight of the day though came that evening when we returned to our resort.  We met a really awesome Belgian couple that evening who we hit it off with immediately.  What began as an exchanged of pleasantries ended up becoming a wonderful 5 hour conversation that culminated with an invitation to stay with them in Brussels when we come to Europe next (hopefully this summer!)

We were especially impressed since they were conversing in their 3rd language with us and doing it well.  The man, Igor, told us a joke that made everyone laugh.

What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?
What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?
What do you call someone who speaks 1 language?

We laughed and admitted we were guilty as charged.  I'll stop here and get to jumping into waterfalls, starlit walks on beaches and such next time.

Me, Vicky, Jennifer and Igor

Enjoy the pictures and don't forget to click on them to make them bigger (and therefore prettier)!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Getting to the Philippines (it's harder than you'd think)

Profound quote goes here

As you know if you read these updates, you know Vicky and I just got back from the Philippines.  This was one of those trips with a lot of "thank you Lord" moments and a few "why God why" moments.  Fortunately the former outweighed the latter.

The trip began before it even began with a conundrum.  We wanted to travel light.  Backpacks only.  Checking bags is expensive, annoying and a waste of time if avoidable.  Plus we had to walk all around Manila and a few other places with all our stuff.  The less the better.  The problem was this: the temperature was below freezing in Korea while it was in the 80s in Manila.  And packing a huge, bulky winter coat is not conducive to traveling light.

The solution? Layers!  Lots of layers.  I mean 4 shirts, 3 pants, 3 socks worth of layers.  This turned out to be enough for us to enjoy a great Mexican food lunch in Seoul before our 7pm connection to Manila.  We reached the Philippines capital around 11pm and promptly got completely lost.

The airport has 4 terminals with no obvious connection between them.  We finally found a bus that went between them, only to discover en route that it had a 20 peso fee per person (about $0.50).  No problem except we hadn't visited an ATM and had 0 pesos.  After much embarrassment and attempts to pay in Korean Won (the looks we got were none too happy), a kind woman paid for our tickets.  We thanked her profusely.

She also saved us from another serious scare immediately after this.  We were going to terminal 3 and after Terminal 2 we arrived at a building that i'll generously term a rats nest.  To quote a movie I love, "I think i need a tetanus shot just looking at it.  The only things holding it together, are the bird droppings."  As we contemplated a series of unattractive options (getting a hotel room, sleeping in a McDonalds, burning the building down as a public service, etc) the same woman told us, this is terminal 4.  Terminal 3 was the brand new, modern building we came to next.  Thank you Lord moments = 1.

Philippine Tricycle Taxis

We then spent the next 7 hours trying to sleep in a noisy, bright, uncomfortable environment.  I actually slept a little but it was rough on Vicky.  Sleep deprivation plus jet lag isn't fun.  Why God why moments = 1.

We flew out around 7 and arrived in a town that was a 1 hour ferry ride from our island of Siquijor.  We were tired but excited.  We caught a tricycle (pictured above) from the airport to the pier and arrived just in time to catch a ferry at 9am.  I will say this slowly and clearly.  I.  WISH.  WE.  HADN'T!

I have a bad feeling about this

The ferry was easily the worst part of the trip for me.  We were sitting below the water level, with water leaking in the windows, in some very rough seas.  We found out later that there used to be 3 of these type of ferry boats but 2 sank in the last 6 months.  At the time I almost wished the 3rd one would sink with us on it.  I've never been seasick before (or even close to it) but I spent the entire hour (or in my personal time, 37 year) trip right on the edge of throwing up.  About half the boat actually did (repeatedly) but I was able to stay in the hot-flashes, cold sweat, shaking-limbs almost throwing up sweet spot.  I've never been so happy to get off a boat in my life.  Why God why moments = 2.

As you can guess, a combination of sleep deprivation and seasickness left Vicky and I in rough shape.  We caught another tricycle to take us to the Coral Cay Resort where we were staying.  We were just looking forward to getting there so we could relax and hopefully feel better by that evening.  Those plans went out the window when we arrived and were greeted by this sight.

Suddenly all our sickness, exhaustion, worries and cares lifted away.  We were filled with a deep sense of happiness, joy and relaxation.  And we KNEW this was going to be a great vacation.  Thank you Lord moments = 2.

In the next update, I'll explain how the people, the resort and the island itself worked together to pile up the "Thank you Lord" moments and produce a fantastic voyage.

PS.  Bonus points if you can name the movie I quoted/paraphrased in this post.