Scouting Trip to Langkawi

My plan for this week was to spend Monday – Thursday on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. I could have flown there but it was cheaper to take a bus and it allowed me to see Malaysia’s countryside. On Monday, I caught the 10am bus north to the port town of Kuala Perlis. My online research informed me it would take 7 hours. The last ferry to Langkawi leaves at 7pm each night. That’ll give me two hours to play around with time in case something comes up during the bus ride. Oh, how I was wrong! 9 hours and 47 minutes later (the bus had a visible stopwatch), I arrived in Kuala Perlis. Almost an hour after the last ferry arrived. I’ve already paid for my hostel for the night in Langkawi. Guess I’ll just sleep at the bus terminal. Nope… the bus terminal was a large scale open-air hut… not the safest choice. Ok… how about sleeping in the jetty/ferry terminal? Nope… that was locked for the night. Ugh. Looks like I’ll be paying double for accommodation tonight. Let’s see what’s on Expedia. Nope… “No properties located in your area.” How about Agoda (Asia’s version of Expedia)Nope… “All properties are sold out during your dates.”  Well this is going to be an interesting night. The next ferry doesn’t leave until 7am. Where the heck am I going to post up for the night? After walking around the small town that is really just there to transport passengers to/from Langkawi, I found a hotel with an available room. The downside? They charged per hour. I feel like such a prostitute… these sheets are probably filled with diseases… Is this really a safer option than the bus terminal? The door does have a lock… not sure how secure it is. After deciding the per hour hotel was the lesser of two evils, I filled out the paperwork. The desk clerk asked me if I was just arriving. I replied, “Yep. My bus from KL took almost three hours longer than expected.” He smiled and said, “Happens every day.”

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My only food option Monday night after checking into my per hour hotel was KFC. I chose the regular-sized mashed potatoes as my side. It was gone after three bites! No wonder Asians are tiny.

As you can imagine, I got very little sleep that night but was able to catch the first ferry out in the morning. One hour later, I had arrived on the island of Langkawi! For the next few days, when I wasn’t soaking up the sun, I was being a travel agent… scoping out lodging, meals, and activities which I can’t go into detail about. Barb knows that I’m taking her to Langkawi for part of her 2 week trip here over Christmas but she is unaware of all the details. For whatever reason, I really love planning out trips when Barb visits me but leaving her in the dark until it’s too late to turn back.  🙂 As with when she visited me in Australia, all I’ve given her is a packing list and the expectation of hopping on the plane.

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These are the signs posted around when you are in a Muslim country. No alcohol and no kissing??? No touching of the opposite sex??

The one meal I will share details about is the Mexican restaurant I went to. I was really craving Mexican food and was stoked when I saw they had one there. I ordered a beef and been burrito and a mango margarita. I’m on a tropical island. The sun is out. This mango margarita is going to hit the spot! It. Was. Awful. They must have used the tequila equivalent of Hawkeye or Karkov vodka in the drink. I can throw back some cheap tequila, but this was on a whole new level. That was disappointing, but can you really blame them for poor cocktails? Alcohol is pretty taboo in Malaysia as they are a Muslim country.  Up next was the burrito…. which should have been labeled enchiladas. The beef was chewy and probably a Grade E. The guacamole was chopped up onions and tomatoes with watered down avocado drizzled on top. The worst part? My bill was $14! I’ve been spending about $3/meal in Malaysia. The one day I splurge on Western food and it wasn’t even worth it. Definitely won’t be taking Barb here! Southeast Asian fail for sure.

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The mango margarita that looked so much better than it tasted.

On Thursday before I caught the 5:30pm ferry back to Kuala Perlis, I laid out at a pool near the beach. A Malay man struck up a conversation with me and eventually offered me one of his beers. “Yes please!” Free beer is my favorite, even if it’s a Heineken.  After I finished the can, he asked if I wanted another one. “Sure!” After he grabbed his wallet, he said, “You watch my kid? I go buy more beer.” What?! You’re going to leave your kid with a stranger.. in a pool?! “Uhh… okay…” Thankfully the kid stayed within my eye sight and where he could touch (he was maybe 5) and the man brought me another beer within 10 minutes. A short while later, his wife came to the pool and did not look pleased. Needless to say, that was the last he interacted with me.

That evening I took the night bus back to Kuala Lumpur. Did I mention earlier that these buses are double deckers and sleepers?! When I first bought these roundtrip tickets, I had mentally prepared to sit on a cramped charter style bus for multiple hours. I was pleasantly surprised when I boarded Monday’s bus. There are only about 30 seats on the upper deck and are arranged in a 1-2 order. I selected a single seat both times so had some of my own space. The seats reclined back around 80% and came with an attached foot rest. Basically a recliner you’d find in your average living room, just on a bus and not as cushiony.

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The upright position of the sleeper bus seats

About an hour into the ride back that evening, we stopped to pick up more passengers. I noticed they had parked their scooters oddly close to the bus. Then I saw the driver pull out a ramp and walk the scooter onto the lower level. Turns out, the upper level is for passengers and the lower level is for scooters and baggage! I had heard about people putting scooters on buses in Vietnam, but had just assumed it was similar to where bicycles are placed on the front of public transportation buses in the US. Mind. Blown.

Friday I picked up groceries at a nearby grocery store. What I loved… Honeycrisp apples being the second cheapest kind. What I didn’t love… 1 cup of shredded cheese costing $5. Keep in mind, I purchased 24 items and my total was only $20. That one bag of cheese was 1/4 of my bill!

Saturday and Sunday were spent at the house with the dogs and planning out this week’s trip to the island of Penang. Rachel will get home tomorrow (Monday) morning and I’ll catch another sleeper bus up north to Penang. This time, I’m prepared for a longer bus ride than advertised and since this island is located a few hundred yards away from the peninsula, I don’t have to worry about catching a ferry as they built a bridge to connect it. I will spend the week on Penang (Aunt Nancy, you’ll be getting another magnet to add to your collection!) and then come back to KL for my last stint of dogsitting for Rachel.

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This is Carlos Broccoli. He has a skin-condition that makes him rather scraggly looking.

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Lazy Week

I spent Monday and Tuesday laying in my hostel bed, watching Netflix and sleeping so I could get over this 2 week long cold. I did venture out at night to grab some dinner but that’s really all that was accomplished the first two days.

Wednesday morning I awoke to three new bunk mates. As with everyone I met in the hostel except staff, these three were supposed to go to Bali but got rerouted to Kuala Lumpur due to Bali’s volcano situation. I may be the only person selfishly happy it’s erupting because that means I can go back! I’ve been tracking the volcano activity since summer. At the time, scientists said it would erupt but could between 2 weeks and 7 years. That’s as far as you could narrow it down? A time frame up to 7 years?! Because of that, I put my return to Bali on hold so yay that I’ll be able to head back there! The area of Bali that I plan to spend my time at is 70km from the volcano and hypothetically shouldn’t be impacted.

While we were having the same beginning conversation all traveler’s have with each other (What’s your name? Where are you from? How long are you traveling for?), one of the girls put her glasses. Oh my gosh. I’ve seen her before on my travels. This is going to sound really mean/judgmental, but this blog is all about sharing my honest thoughts and experiences so here we go. Back in the Philippines, you might remember I took a ferry from Cebu and Bohol. After arriving in Bohol, I waited about 20 minutes to claim my backpack. Three girls were standing in front of me and one stood out because her glasses gave her bug eyes. Of all the styles of glasses and lenses out there, those are the ones you choose?! I’m blind as a bat but strategically choose a combination where you can’t exactly tell just how blind I am. Also, all three were wearing fanny packs which is humorous to most Americans. My mother, Barb, thinks I should rally a fanny pack while traveling. “You can keep all your valuables in front of you. You’ll be able to see if someone tries to pickpocket you.” I would rather wear my backpack on the front of my body than a fanny pack. This isn’t the 80s. Plus it’ll be pretty obvious if someones tries to get into my drawstring bag while I’m wearing it. Back to my hostel room in Kuala Lumpur….

L: “This is going to sound really creepy but did you guys take a ferry from Cebu to Bohol two and a half weeks ago?”

Girl: “Yes…”

L: “You guys were totally on my ferry.”

Girl: “What a small world! How did you know it was us?”

L: “Because you…” (you can’t say she has bug eyes!)”… were all wearing fanny packs.”  Phew! Good save. 

That evening, I took the train out to the suburbs to start my dogsitting gig. I planned to walk the 2km from the train station to Rachel’s house (dog owner). When I told Rachel, she immediately said she would pay for my taxi because the streets are not pedestrian friendly. 1) There aren’t sidewalks. 2) Cars don’t stop for you in the cross walk, even when you have the green walking man. I hopped in my Uber and the first commercial that came on was how the announcer felt totally safe using zebra walks (their phrase for cross walks) in Australia but has a lack of confidence in Malaysian drivers while he’s crossing the street. Wow. She wasn’t joking.

Thursday morning, I woke up to my 5:30am alarm to walk the dogs. There are two reasons why I have to walk them under the cover of night (sunrise is at 7am). 1) The roads get hot during the day which burns the dogs’ feet. 2) Dogs are considered haram (forbidden) in Islam and Malaysia is a Muslim country. Therefore, I have to walk the dogs before others are up for their morning prayer. Muslims pray 5 times a day. A call to prayer sound comes on the neighborhood loud speaker when it’s time. Upon some research, I learned dogs are haram because the Muslim prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever keeps a dog, except a dog for herding, hunting or farming, his reward will decrease by one qiraat every day.” He also said, “If a dog licks the vessel of any one of you, let him throw away whatever was in it and wash it seven times.” As with most religions, it’s up to the individual for how they interpret this. For example, Rachel’s vet is a Muslim but she takes extra precaution when cleaning herself after tending to a dog.

Thursday morning’s walk was good. I was greeted by Julian and Carlos’s girlfriends. Rachel rescued both Julian in 2015 and Carlos in 2016 from the streets. On one walk this past June, two female dogs followed Rachel, Julian, and Carlos and they haven’t left since. Rachel, along with two other families in the neighborhood, all take care of Honey and Badger. They walk with Julian and Carlos in the mornings and eat breakfast at Rachel’s. Yes, I have the unfortunate responsibility of welcoming two street dogs into the house every morning for breakfast. During the day and in the evening, Honey and Badger stay at the next door lady’s house. A Chinese Muslim paid for them to get neutered and pays for their shots. While she doesn’t interact with the dogs, she does care for them deeply. Again, all in the interpretation.

Friday morning, I woke up at 4am for no reason so I decided to Facetime Eleanor. Colleen, the nanny I trained, had told me Eleanor was on the verge of tears one day, talking about how she missed me. The parents had also mentioned they think Eleanor is realizing I’m actually gone because she’s been mentioning me frequently. Eleanor and I had sent birthday videos to each other as she turned 5 the day after my birthday. So when I Facetimed her, she thought I was a video at first and wouldn’t respond back to me besides a smile. After Colleen explained I was in real-time and she could talk back and forth with me, then Eleanor just went wild. She chatted my ear off for 45 minutes (“Look at my rock pile. Isn’t this rock beautiful, Laura?!” “Look Laura! I’m balancing on the ledge while I talk to you.” “Here’s my scarf. It has pink which is my favorite color and blue which is your favorite color.”) and I loved every bit of it. I feel very fortunate that between the parents and Colleen, I get daily pictures or videos of the kids.

After Facetiming, I got the dogs ready for their morning walk. For whatever reason, Honey and Badger weren’t there in the morning. So the three of us took off on our walk. About 10 minutes in, we were approached by a pact of street dogs whose barking scared the life out of me. Maybe because we were alone on the street in the dark. Maybe because most street dogs are aggressive and known to bite. Either way, I was terrified and immediately turned around, wishing Honey and Badger were with us as they acted as our guard dogs on the previous morning’s walk. Plus, they have a lot more street cred than Julian (Miniature Pinscher) or Carlos (only barks at people and not other dogs).

Saturday and Sunday’s walks were uneventful as I found a route that didn’t involve encounters with street dogs, knock on wood. Honey and Badger didn’t show up again so I’m wondering if A) they were picked up by Animal Control or B) went off on an adventure.

I’m happy to report that my week of doing nothing and barely leaving the hostel/house has paid off as my cold is gone! Rachel comes homes tonight and I leave for the Malaysian island of Langkawi tomorrow morning. I will be back at Rachel’s house on Friday to dogsit over another weekend.

Facetiming with Eleanor

Facetiming with this awesome little girl. I don’t know who was more excited.

Black Friday

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Cabagnow Cave

Monday started off bright and early with a 6am alarm. Curl (Filipina) and I rented a scooter and drove two hours to the north side of island. Our first adventure was cliff jumping into Cabagnow Cave. The opening in the ground was no more than 10 feet wide with the drop being about 12 feet. Our early arrival paid off as we had the place to ourselves for the first 45 minutes. After we jumped to our hearts’ content, we made our way to Anda White Beach so Curl could snorkel and I could soak up the sun. After lunch near the beach, we drove to Combento Cave which, like most of the Philippines, had crystal clear water. The rocks you can see towards the back of the picture below are actually 5 and a half feet under water. Our final destination was Can-umantad Falls. Unfortunately, the road leading to these waterfalls was less than ideal and we chose to turn around with 3km left. What is it with all these waterfalls having the worst roads?

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Combento Cave

We arrived back to the hostel around 5pm and after grabbing some dinner, I boarded my 8pm ferry bound for the island of Siquijor. For this ferry, I was given a seat on a bench while most others had reserved a bed. After setting sail and having tickets checked, I moved to an unoccupied bed. As I was drifting in and out of sleep, I heard the words “white girl”, “alone”, and “Laura”. Am I dreaming or is somebody talking about me? Again, I heard the same words – “white girl”, “Laura”, “alone”. Come on, Laura. Wake up! You need to find out if that’s in your dream or reality. You don’t want to be caught in a real-life Taken situation. After I sat up, I head the phrases for a third time, coming from one Asian and two European girls. Usually in a fight or flight situation, I am flight, 100%. Get me out, run as fast and as far away as I can, etc. Although there is only so far to run on a ferry. For whatever reason, my brain chose fight for this one. “Why are you looking for a white girl by herself?” I asked. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken a word to these girls before. “Oh”, the Asian replied, “because apparently there is a girl on here who is also staying at my resort. The hotel owner just emailed me saying we should share the cost of transportation and his description of her is a white girl named Laura who is alone.” Phew! That turned out much better than I anticipated. “Well in that case, I’m your girl!”.

Tuesday was a lazy day for me… as in the only time I left my room was at 5pm to walk into town for some food. I had developed a cold and figured a day off would be good for my body.

I was back at it again on Wednesday as I headed to Salagdoong Beach for another bout of cliff jumping. This is addicting and might just be my new sport! The jump was another 10m (30 feet) and similar to the other ones, I could see the bottom. It really messes with your psych when you can see the bottom but know you’re not going to come close to touching it. To be certain, I had  a Canadian be my guinea pig. After he successfully completed the jump without touching the bottom, I then had a hey day for the next hour and a half.

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Salagdoon Beach cliff jump

That evening, I drove 45 minutes to the other side of the island to meet up with Adam (UK dude from my Bohol Birthday Entourage) and two Irish girls he met earlier in his trip. After dinner on the beach, we made our way back to their hostel for an evening of cards and laughs. Who knew rummy in the UK is different than rummy in the US? 

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Wednesday’s sunset on Siquijor Island

Thursday (Thanksgiving) was my travel day back to Cebu. When a bottle of rum is $1, the mornings after tend to be a bit rough. One motorbike, two ferries and an Uber ride later, I made it to my hostel near the Cebu airport for the night. Friday morning I headed to the airport at 5am to catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur. The day went all downhill from there.

When I got to the ticket counter, the agent asked how long I was planning on staying in Malaysia. “I’m not sure yet…. at least 44 days, but maybe the full 90?” He asked for my onward ticket (flight out of the country) and I explained to him I hadn’t bought one yet as US citizens don’t need a flight out before entering Malaysia. I showed him the US Department of State’s website as well as the Malaysia website, trying to explain the rules are different for citizens of each country. With no progress being made, my flight leaving in 30 minutes, and him saying he would not allow me on the flight without an onward ticket, I booked a random flight through Expedia with a free 24 hour cancellation policy. I made it onto the flight, tired and less than happy.

Upon arrival in the KL airport, I stopped by the Hotlinks counter within the terminal to purchase a SIM card and data package. Their smallest data package was 35GB! I barely go through 1GB in a month. With a price of $12, I merrily went on my way to baggage claim and customs. As expected, the Malaysian customs didn’t ask for an onward ticket. They didn’t even ask where I was staying or how long I was planning to stay in their country for. The customs agent literally took my passport, stamped it, and said thanks.

After grabbing my baggage and heading for the scanning/x-ray part of customs, I realized the weight on my back was lighter than usual. No… no… no, no, no, no. I couldn’t have. Did I?! When I was buying my SIM card, I had set my stuff, including my laptop, down by my feet. I had also set my stuff down when waiting at baggage claim. So sometime between the SIM card and then, my laptop was gone. After explaining to a customs agent my situation, they allowed me to go back through customs and check at the Hotlinks counter. No sign of my laptop. I went back to baggage claim and again, no sign of my laptop. I checked with the airlines lost and found. Nothing. I made my way to the airport lost and found. Nothing. I filed a claim with them – wrote what happened and my contact information down in a notebook. Disheartened and frustrated with myself for being so careless, I abandoned the hour and a half train ride and instead called an Uber to take me to my hostel.

After getting checked in, it all hit me. If my laptop wasn’t turned in within an hour, the chances of getting it ever being turned in were slim to none. My pictures and videos weren’t backed up as I was planning on Barb bringing out my external hard drive. I had just bought the laptop one year ago to the day. All my travel notes and charts were gone. Purchasing a new laptop would be a big unexpected expense out of my travel fund. My cold was getting worse as it had turned into a deep, scratchy cough. I laid in bed and replayed that morning over and over in my head. Sometime that evening, I noticed one of the bites on my body was swelling and hot to touch (Back story – I got 17 bites on my body during my two and a half days in Siquijor). When I looked in the mirror, the bite area had swollen to the size of a softball. I can’t catch a break. Today is just not my day! I went to the pharmacy and was prescribed Clariton. I headed back to my hostel and was so mad at myself that I literally cried myself to sleep that night. Just an awful day.

While still disappointed in myself but starting to come to terms with the situation, I headed back to the airport for one more check before buying a laptop online while it was still Black Friday in the States. After checking on her computer for ten minutes, the elderly lady working the airport Lost and Found admitted she didn’t really know what she was looking for. “You can look through these pictures of things we found yesterday though.” After scrolling through pictures of purses, watches, and clothing, out popped a picture of my laptop!!!!!!! “This! This is my mine! This is my laptop!!!! This is what I’m looking for! It’s here?! Oh my gosh!” The lady smiled politely and went into the back to find it. When she brought it out to me, my smile was bigger than any time I was on a scooter, and again I shed some tears. When did I turn so emotional?! I don’t even care. My laptop is back!!!!! God is good! I wanted to hug the elderly lady, but I wasn’t sure if that was acceptable in their culture. I have no idea who turned it in or where they found it, but I hope the person wins the lottery or a new car or something because they have loads of good karma coming their way.

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Pure joy getting my laptop back!

After locking up my computer in my hostel locker, I headed to the mall to buy an external hard drive. That afternoon, I gleefully backed up all of my files. I chalked the day up to a win even with the bite swollen to more than half my bicep and began researching things to do while in Malaysia. Saturday evening, I met the owner of the dogs for happy hour on a functional heli-pad in the day and converted to a lounge with fantastic views of the city at night .

Sunday was spent in bed at the hostel all day as I fight to get over this cold and regain my energy level. But I don’t even care because my laptop is back!!!!!!

Things I learned in the Philippines

  • Different license plate numbers are restricted on certain days due to massive amounts of traffic in Manila. For example, on Mondays license plates ending in 1 or 2 are not allowed to operate. This is enforced for cars, taxis, and jeepneys.
  • Filipinos are very hospitable. They want to tell you all about their country and give recommendations on where to go.
  • People sit on banana leaves on scooters when the scooter is wet.
  • It is confirmed… Filipinos eat dog… if you have a good chef, you don’t know if it’s dog or goat. I think I’ll refrain from ever ordering goat.
  • Brand new motorbikes cost $1,000.
  • Electricity is a luxury here. Port Barton only gets electricity from 6pm-midnight. El Nido was promoted to 24 hours of electricity within the last year, but still experiences black outs. Boracay experiences black outs nearly every day around 5pm.
  • Kids go to school Monday – Saturday.
  • Frank Sinatra’s My Way song is believed to have a curse associated with it when sung in a karaoke bar.
  • An eagle is their national bird.
  • Seaweed tastes good. Squid tastes delicious. Bitter melon tastes disgusting.
  • When a bottle of rum cost the same as a bottle of Coke ($1), life gets a bit out of hand.
  • 29 days in the Philippines was not nearly enough. I will definitely return one day.

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    Sunset in the Philippine Sea during my ferry ride back to Cebu

 

Birthday Week in Bohol

On Monday, I caught a two-hour ferry to the island of Bohol. I had read about the unique ice cream flavors from Bohol Bee Farm so I decided to check them out. I had fourteen options, five of which were local flavors that to me didn’t really have a taste. I settled on one scoop of avocado (where else serves avocado ice cream??) and one scoop of salted honey. While the flavor of the avocado ice cream was spot on to the real thing, avocado is just not an ice cream flavor. The salted honey, on the other hand, was excellent! It was the perfect mix of sweet and salty. So much so, that I ended up indulging on it three more times this week.

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Bohol Fee Farm ice cream flavors

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Chocolate Hills

On Tuesday I rented a scooter and explored half of the island. First stop was Chocolate Hills. I wasn’t really expecting much because it was just a lookout over hills. I only went because it’s what Bohol is known for. I was pleasantly surprised with just how cool it was to look at these giant mounds for as far as the eye can see. Next I headed up to Anda Beach. The beach was white and pretty empty which was great. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time there because it was already 4pm and I had a little under a 2 hour drive back to my hostel.  The sun sets around 5:30pm and I had been warned it wasn’t exactly safe to drive a scooter at night (no street lights, animals and humans frequently crossing the road, poor road conditions, etc.). I turned my iPod on, found a road that hugged the coast for the whole return trip, and sang my little heart out. About 20 minutes into the trip, I caught myself unable to wipe the smile off my face. The immaculate views, fantastic tunes, and the wind in my hair – it was all so great! While I wasn’t able to make it back before dark (they were right, driving at night is awful), I was able to catch the whole sunset and it was so gorgeous!

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Tuesday night’s sunset

Wednesday was my chill out day. While researching some things I wanted to see during my time in Bohol, I started to chat with a lady from Chicago. She quit her marketing job two and a half years ago, rented out her apartment in Wrigleyville, and has been traveling the world ever since, solely on the money she makes from her apartment. It came up in conversation that she had hiked the Anapurna Circuit so I spent the next two hours dissecting her experience. It was nice to hear first-hand accounts of the trek as well as confirm some of my thoughts and research on what Flynn and I are about to get into.

My plan for Thursday was to chase waterfalls around the island. First stop was Mag-aso Falls. I knew the last part of the route was going to be on some back roads. While driving, the road started to get dicey…. As in sharp rocks practically cemented into the ground. Should I keep going? Maybe I’ll ask the next person I see if I’m on the right path. Just when I was about to turn around, I made it to the entrance gate! After descending 197 slippery concrete stairs, I made it to Mag-aso Falls! While it was nice to only have to share the destination with a family of four, the waterfalls weren’t as majestic as I was expecting.

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Mag-aso Falls

20171116_135515Next up was Ingkumhan Falls. Again, I was prepared for the last bit to be on back roads. And just like before, the road started to get dicey. Just keep going. All roads to waterfalls must be this way. Then, five cows emerged from the country-side and started walking on the road I was trying to drive on. Well that’s interesting. I wonder how they react to scooters. I’m either going to spook them or they are immune to these things. As I started to approach their backsides, a man emerged from the same spot as the cows. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was their owner or a homeless man. After coming to the conclusion that he didn’t speak English, and him giving me a blank stare when I tried to motion if it was ok for me to drive around the cows, I forged ahead. Turns out, the cows are desensitized to scooters.

As I continued along, the road turned really dicey. Sharper rocks, part of the road eroded away, a hefty drop off over the edge…. Do I keep going? I really don’t like where this is headed. Should I turn around? That man back there clearly won’t be able to help me if something happens. I think I’ve reached my stress level for the day. Yep, chalk this one up to a failure. After reaching defeat, I turned around, drove past the cows and the odd man, and then noticed my scooter wasn’t driving the same. After a quick inspection, I saw that my back tire was flat. With the exception of that weird dude, I haven’t seen another human being in quite some time. Looks like I’m going to have to walk the 8km back into town. After walking maybe 20m, two guys on a motorbike came around the bend. I frantically waved at them. “Help me?!”  They asked how long my tire had been flat for and then said one would drive it into town while I rode with the other one. Staying true to Filipino hospitality, they stopped their day to help me, waited until my tire was fixed and I was safely back on the road (even after I insisted I was ok and they could get back to their day), refused the money I offered them as a token of my gratitude, and offered to take me to the waterfalls on Saturday.

I was a beach bum during the day on Friday. That evening, I met some really awesome people at my hostel during the meet-and-greet activity. There was nine of us – two guys from the UK who were traveling together and then seven of us solo travelers who all just clicked. We went out on the town that night and my birthday was kicked off by a shot at the bar when the clock struck midnight.

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My Bohol Birthday Entourage

Saturday… my birthday!!! I was up and on the road by 7am to meet Ago, the local who helped me with my flat tire. He took me to both Ingkumhan Falls and Twin Falls. Again, Ingkumhan Falls wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be thanks to over-edited photos online. Twin Falls was much better than expected and we had both places to ourselves since it was so early in the morning. That afternoon, I met up with my Bohol Entourage (our hostel group of 9 people). We went cliff jumping into the Philippine Sea and swam in Hinagdanan Cave. Yay for other thrill-seeking travelers! We caught the tail-end of the best sunset I’ve ever seen. Colors of orange and red light up the horizon and then turned into deep shades of ruby and purple. My birthday ended with another night on the town with my Bohol Entourage.

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Saturday night’s sunset. 

By Sunday afternoon, everyone except Curl and I, had left to continue on with their individual Philippine journeys. It was crazy how much we all connected over the 48 hours together… you would have thought we had all been friends for 10 years. It was mix of nationalities spanning the whole world – UK, Germany, Brazil, Nicaragua, Philippines, Spain, and the US. Thank God, everyone (besides the UK boys and myself) were bilingual with English!

After saying the goodbyes, I sat down to write my blog. I was really struggling to put words on the page. It hurt my head to think… my thoughts were confusing and didn’t make sense. Something is not right…. Am I lethargic? That’s when I realized I was lacking sleep (I had slept a total of 6 hours the last two nights), fluids, and nutrients (I hadn’t eaten for 36 hours)…. you know… the basic necessities to life. I was having so much fun that taking care of these three life necessities never crossed my mind. I inhaled a pizza (yay for a nearby Italian restaurant!), slept from 5-9pm, made plans for the next morning with Curl (Filipina from my Bohol Entourage), and went back to bed from 9:30pm-6am.

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Jumping my way into the Philippine Sea and 29th year of life!

Bohol - Hinagdanan Cave (1)

Our little photo shoot inside Hinagdanan Cave

Adam’s First Southeast Asian Experience

 

Adam arrived late Sunday night. Prior to his arrival, we had decided I would meet him in the airport, near where drivers hold signs to pick up their passengers. When I got to the airport, I was told I couldn’t go inside because I didn’t have a visitors pass, which I was supposed to get three days earlier. That’s weird. People were allowed to walk freely into and out of Terminal 3 when I arrived. Guess things are different in Terminal 1. I wasn’t even allowed to be right next to the building. For those of your familiar with the Eppley Airport, it would be like having the security guards make you wait on the island between the parking garage and the airport. After explaining my brother had no phone access and he only knew to wait inside for me, I was able to sweet talk my way past barrier #1 (Eppley Airport island equivalent), but was shut down when I tried to get past barrier #2 (actually going inside the airport). There were two exits coming out of the airport so I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Fast forward an hour later, Adam comes strolling out! In that hour, he waited for me in our designated meeting spot, went out of the exit that I wasn’t standing at, back to our designated meeting spot, and then found me at the other exit. Later we realized all the delegates for the ASEAN conference were arriving in town that night so security was on high alert and a visitors pass is not a normal necessity. I should probably pay more attention to big events that are going on in each city that I’m in. 

Manila (3)

Our Manila AirBNB

While giving Adam the tour of our AirBNB, we got to the bathroom. I explained to him toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet and that he needs to use the sprayer to clean himself. “Are you kidding? That is just disgusting!” Fast forward to the next morning…

L: So how was your first bathroom experience?

A: That was pretty nice! It was like using a kitchen sprayer to clean dishes.

L: I must have spent too much time in Asia because that is a perfect description of the amenity, but it has never crossed my mind!

Monday was pretty relaxing as the only goal for the day was for Adam to beat jetlag. He hadn’t slept in 36 hours, but managed to go to bed and wake up at his usual time. How do you do this?! Jet lag hits me hard about 3-4 days in when I sleep for right about 24 hours and you knocked it the first night.

Manila 4

Our redemption dinner

For dinner, Adam requested a Filipino restaurant. We found one 100 meters from our AirBNB and ordered pineapple chicken with rice. This should be a good intro meal to the Filipino cuisine. It. Was. Awful. The chicken was shaped like meatballs, but had about 25% meat and 75% bone shards. This was my second time ordering chicken in the Philippines and both times there were bone shards in it. Safe to say, I will not be ordering chicken while in this country. After giving up on the chicken and lack of pineapple, we gobbled down the rice but were obviously still hungry. On the walk back to our place, we stopped by a Hong Kong restaurant where I had eaten lunch the day before. We ordered Shanghai Rolls with rice and served with an orange duck sauce. Holy delicious! Yes, we both had two dinners and it cost us $12 total for the four meals.

El Nido (7)

Trike from El Nido airport

Tuesday morning we caught an Air Swift flight to El Nido on a 48-person prop plane. Air Swift is the only airline that flies into El Nido and the experience was great! We were given a goody bag in the Manila airport which consisted of ice cold water, ice cold orange juice, peanut butter bar, ube croissant (ube is a local root whose flavor is used in sweet recipes), and mixed nuts. The seats on the plane were spacious and comfortable. Our luggage was hand delivered to us.

After catching a trike from the airport to our hostel in El Nido, we left our bags with the receptionist and rented scooters to check out Nacpan Beach for the day. Adam was a bit nervous as he hadn’t driven one before. “Don’t go too fast until I figure this thing out.” That lasted all of 1km when we stopped to fill up our gas tanks. “This isn’t too bad. I’m ready now!”

El Nido (3)

Adam rocking his pink scooter

We were warned ahead of time the last part of the road to Nacpan Beach was dirt and with the recent rains, pretty muddy but not impassable. We definitely underestimated the road. It was like a Class B dirt road in Iowa after three days of nonstop rain. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of it so my descriptions and your imaginations will just have to suffice. The road started out with just some muddy holes which were avoidable. That turned into the entire road being underwater but only for a few feet. Next up was a 50 degree downhill straight into a 60 degree uphill which was rutted out but still managed to have giant rocks in it. With 2km left to the beach, we encountered the worst part. The road was completely underwater for 40 yards. Um… should we just turn back now? This is getting ridiculous. We encountered two English girls who were walking back to their abandoned bike after spending the night on the beach. They gave us pointers on the best way through the water and assured us the beach was worth it. We successfully made it through the water and to Nacpan Beach… and it was so not worth it. While the beach was secluded, the waves were too strong for swimming, the sand was nothing to write home about, and the views weren’t spectacular. Maybe my expectations were too high because I just came from Boracay? After a quick lunch, we headed back to El Nido, checked into our hostel, and went out for dinner on El Nido Beach.

I ordered pancit which is a Filipino noodle dish and Adam ordered seafood pasta. He asked the waitress what kind of seafood was in it. She said “shrimp and squid” to which he replied, “I’ll take it.” Then he turned to me. “Last time I had squid was over 10 years ago and I got food poisoning. It’s probably safe to eat it again.” After dinner, we participated in the hostel’s beer pong tournament (aka shot pong with rum and coke) and went to bed early as we had a full day island hopping tour the next morning.

During breakfast, Adam said, “So let me tell you about my night…” Oh this should be good. I thought it was a pretty quiet night but maybe I slept through something??? Turns out, Adam is allergic to squid. He spent three hours in the communal bathroom, purging the squid out of his body. The communal bathroom which has both showers and toilet stalls. The communal bathroom which both guys and girls use. The communal bathroom where other hostel guests were brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. It’s safe to say, he will never consume squid again.

DCIM100GOPRO

Small Lagoon

Our excursion Wednesday was island hopping around El Nido via boat. The scenery was phenomal. We went to three lagoons and two islands. Our first stop was at Small Lagoon. We were given the options to either kayak or snorkel/swim the lagoon. It’s been 11 years since I tried snorkeling. Let’s see if it still freaks me out. I snorkeled about 20 meters from our boat before confirming snorkeling is not for me. I’ll just swim the rest of the way. Wow, this is beautiful here. Ow! What did I just run into? Ow!! That hurts! While looking above the water, instead of down into the water, I managed to swim into a massive rock that had some coral on it. After swimming around Small Lagoon, we boarded our boat and I checked out my body. I cut up the inside of my ankle and had small abrasions on my upper thighs, wrist, and hand.

El Nido - Shimizu Island 5

Shimizu Island

Next up was Secret Lagoon. While helping one of our new friends over the rocks and towards the lagoon, Adam scraped up his shin. After boarding the ship and checking out his battle wound, one of our captains rushed over and gave him the 5-star First Aid treatment. They dried, cleaned, and put iodine over his wound. Where was this treatment 30 minutes ago?! Don’t worry, I only attempted to clean my wounds by rubbing on them in salt water. We ate lunch on Shimizu Island, boated through Big Lagoon, and grabbed some drinks on 7 Commandos Beach before heading back to El Nido.

Port Barton (2)On Thursday, we took a 12 passenger van to Port Barton. We turned off the main road and onto another dirt, more like mud, road for the last 23km. The road had short patches of pavement dispersed throughout. It had a hefty dropoff on one side for most of it. Some parts had eroded away to just a single lane. There was a lot of mud due to the recent rains. Something bad is about to happen. I can feel it. We’re either going to go over that dropoff and die or we’re going to get stuck. Sure enough, I heard a CLUNK and then we were stuck, high-centered in the mud. After 20 minutes of the boys rocking the van, putting rocks and pieces of wood near the tires to gain traction, our knight in shining armor arrived…. a Coca-Cola truck coming from Port Barton. The truck hooked their tow rope to our van and pulled us out.

Port Barton (3)

Coca-Cola truck to the rescue!

We all piled back into the van and that’s when it hit me… Adam and I just exposed our open wounds to standing muddy water that had who knows what in it. Bacteria…sewage runoff… whatever diseases the stray dogs carry….

While checking in to our beach cottage, I asked the front desk to use their First Aid kit. After showers, I played nurse to both of our wounds. I used their isopropyl alcohol in place of our hydrogen peroxide and iodine in place of our neosporin.

A: Who knew we needed to pack a First Aid kit while backpacking?

L: First aid kit….hmm…  Wait…. I did pack one!

A: Are you kidding me? We’ve been needing one for the last 24 hours and you just now remember you have one?!

To be fair… I had only packed it with the intent of needing it while Flynn and I hike the Anapurna Circle in April. More on these future plans later.

In the morning, we asked the front desk what we should do for a few hours before we were headed out that afternoon. They recommended Papawyan Falls and to arrange for a guide by talking to the man in the bamboo hut on the main road. Uh… every structure in town is a bamboo hut. We walked into a random bamboo hut and secured transportation. While waiting for our driver, we chatted with the man. He was the most hilarious Filipino I’ve met. The best part of our conversation was this:

Man: If you need entertainment while you wait, I can get my mother for you.

Adam: (laughs nervously)

Man: Haha. I’m olding you, I’m olding you! You know, like kidding, but you’re old.

Unfortunately, the road to the waterfall was impassable due to the previous night’s rainfall. Instead, we spent the morning being beach bums. There wasn’t much else to report on Port Barton as we only spent 21 hours there. We used it as a halfway point from El Nido to the Puerto Princesa Airport. It’s not a top tourist destination and the town only gets power from 6pm-midnight. No, that was not a typo. They only receive power for six hours a day. Our accommodation had a generator that provided electricity from 7am-6pm.

That afternoon, we took a 16 passenger van from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa where we caught an evening flight to Cebu which, aside from Manila, is the major hub of getting in and out of the Philippines. We checked into our AirBNB and headed to bed as we were getting picked up at 5am for our canyoneering excursion.

Saturday. Canyoneering excursion near Moalboal. Best. Excursion. Ever! Adam and I were fully prepared for another cramped 12 passenger van for the two hour drive from Cebu City to Moalboal and then a big group excursion. So we were blown away when we were picked up in a private SUV and had a private tour guide. After getting outfitted in our helmets, lifejackets, and aqua shoes, we hopped on the back of motorbikes and were driven about 10km into the countryside. From there, we had to hike 2km to the jump off point and then down into the canyon. There were other groups here, but we skipped ahead of them as they were moving slower. This made the experience even better because no one was hindering our speed and the water wasn’t kicked up. Over the next two hours, we swam, jumped off 10 cliffs, and hiked through the canyon. The tallest jump was 10 meters (30 feet). The scenery was remarkable; the jumps were a thrill; our guide was great and basically our personal photographer.

DCIM100GOPRO

Our final jump at 10 meters

That night, Adam boarded his plane back to reality and I started research on where to head to next. In reflecting on this last week, I would say Adam had a successful first backpacking experience. He claimed he would stay in a hostel again. He now realizes backpackers go out in t-shirts and shorts so there was no reason for him to pack polos and dress sandals. I think he may even convert all his toilets to sprayers, he enjoyed it that much. He became an expert at strategically packing his backpack for easy access on our one night accommodations. He quickly learned the lingo of meeting other backpackers – what’s your name, where are you from, how long are you traveling? Similiar to AIM’s a/s/l days (age, sex, location), I like to view this as the modern day traveler’s n/l/t (name, location, time).

So what are my future plans? Tomorrow (Monday), I am taking a ferry down to Bohol and Siquijor islands where I will spend my remaining 12 days in the Philippines. I will take a ferry back to Cebu City and catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on November 24. I secured my first international dogsit in KL and will be watching two dogs from November 27 – December 4 and then again from December 14-January 2. Barb will visit me in Malaysia over her Christmas break from December 23 – January 6. My January and February are unplanned. If I like Malaysia, then I will stay for the full extent of my 90 day visa. If I’m over Malaysia in those 44 days, then I’ll head someplace else. On March 8, I will meet up with my friend, Flynn, in Cambodia. We will spend two weeks in Phenom Penh and Siem Reap before heading to Nepal to trek the 140km Anapurna Circle for three weeks.

Boracay

I am so happy with my decision to take a side trip to Boracay this week!!! Sunday and Monday were spent in a new hostel researching Boracay. My initial hostel in Manila was SUPER cheap… as in $2.38 per night cheap, but I just wasn’t feeling the vibe there. Everyone kept to themselves and I felt like more locals were using it as a place of residence rather than travelers on their way through. So I switched to a different hostel which was MUCH better. I actually felt like I was at an all-inclusive resort. There were doormen, bell hops, and you loaded up an RFID bracelet as your way of payment at their bar and restaurant.

I stayed in an 8-bed mixed (coed) dorm. My late 40’s bunkmate enjoyed walking around in just his whitey-tighties. One roommate thought it was somehow appropriate for him to pee with the door open, in full view of others (we had an ensuite bathroom). I hate to break it to you fellas, but you’re not impressing myself or the other girl in this room.

Tuesday afternoon I began my journey to Boracay. I should preface this by saying I easily could have flown from Manila to Boracay. But where’s the adventure in that?! Instead, I chose to take an Uber to the bus station, a 3 hour bus ride to Batangas Pier, a 10 hour overnight ferry to Caticlan Port, and then a 5 minute pump boat to the island of Boracay. All of this cost me a mere $25.89 where as the flight would have been over $100 for the last minute booking.

2GO Ferry 12

2GO Ferry

The bus ride was quite comfortable. It was an air conditioned charter-style bus that made random stops along the road. The roadside passengers were forced to stand or sit in the aisle for the duration of their ride whereas the passengers that boarded at the bus terminal were given a seat. The ferry experience was much better than I expected. It was like a cruise ship, but a hostel version. On board there was a karaoke bar, restaurant (we were served one meal), convenience store, air conditioning, and a doctor. But rather than a 2 person room, I was in a 192 person room. I was fortunate to have a relatively quiet room and got about 8 hours of sleep.

 

 

2GO Ferry 7

My 192 person room

Boracay - White Beach 2

White Beach

Since I wasn’t able to check into my hostel for about 3 hours, I headed straight for White Beach which is what Boracay is known for. And it did not disappoint! The sand was white and powdery. The water was crystal clear. There were views of other islands in the distance. I felt like I was looking at a back drop. I sat down on a log, digging through my bag to find my camera. I was approached by a late 20s Filipino lady who was very concerned that I was there by myself and asked numerous times if I was sure I was OK before going back to her husband and kids. I later found out, it is pretty uncommon for a solo female to be on the island. I think Barb appreciated this lady checking on me more than I did.

Mad Monkey Hostel - Wig Wednesday

Wig Wednesday

The evening was spent indulging in alcohol thanks to free hourly shots and a beer pong tournament at the hostel. Oh and it was also Wig Wednesday. Now this is my kind of hostel!

All thanks to the previous night’s imbibing, I was pretty worthless for most of Thursday. I spent the day in bed chatting with my bunkmates while the rest of the hostel partook in the Thursday Session…. aka free hourly shots and happy hour pricing from 8am-6pm. Yes, you read that right. At 8 in the morning, I was awoken to “Attention ladies and gentlemen of Mad Monkey Hostel, there are free shots at the bar!” Excuse me while I go throw up.

That evening started out with more beer pong and ended with a late night trip to McDonald’s so you could say it was a another success. Did I mention Boracay is known as the party island of the Philippines?

Friday. Oooo, Friday was a good day! While trying to figure out transportation to Puka Beach, two German girls who I had met the previous night, mentioned they were also headed there so we all went together. Puka Beach was recommended by a fellow American at the hostel and it was amazing! It was WAY less crowded than White Beach and the water was clearer which I didn’t think was possible. After taking numerous pictures and videos of the gorgeous scenery, we rented an inflatable flamingo and unicorn and spent the day in the water. Just picture perfect.

The evening was spent sober back at the hostel with the Germans. I had to catch my ferry back to Batangas the next day and the thought of being hungover on a 10 hour ferry ride was incomprehensible. My ferry was originally supposed to leave at 8am, but was delayed to 4:30pm due to tropical storm RAMIL moving through the area. The typhoon that hit Japan two weeks ago? Yep, it also started as a tropical storm in the Philippines.

Again, the ferry ride was pretty uneventful. This time, my ticket was in the Super Y class (read as the cheapest ticket possible) so my bed was right next to the all night karaoke bar with no air conditioning. Imagine sleeping on the top deck of a cruise ship. Open air and no real room. That was my situation. So I was extremely confused when I shaken awake at 2:30 in the morning by the cleaning staff. “Ma’am? Sorry to touch you, but you weren’t responding to my voice. We’ve arrived in Batangas. You need to leave so we can clean.” Yep, I was THE last passenger off the ship. Apparently, I’ve adapted to sleeping through noise. I boarded the bus back to Manila, only to wait an hour and a half for the ferry staff to hop on. I arrived in Manila at 6:30am and just hung out until my AirBNB was ready at 1pm. After taking a long and peaceful nap, I wrote this blog and am now headed to the airport to collect visitor #1… Adam!

This week should be rather comical…. Adam trying to live like a backpacker for a week…   🙂

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See ya, South Korea!

This week started out with three days exploring Busan. It was my kind of town! I should have left Seoul earlier. Busan is where it’s at! The best way I can describe Busan is where the mountains meet the beach along a jagged and steep coast line.

Monday afternoon was spent hiking Geumgang Mountain. Its summit is a mere 2,630 feet… quite different than the mountains of Colorado. The signs leading to the trail head were dual signed in English and Korean. The trail head was also dual signed. 200 yards into the hike, I encountered a three way intersection that was only in Korean. You couldn’t just continue with the dual signs?! Well… the sign back there said North Gate was 1.6km away. Sign one has .4km so that can’t be right. Sign two indicates 1.2km… No way have I gone .4 km. Sign three says 1.8km… did I miss something? So I did what any person hiking in a foreign country would do…. I sat at the intersection and waited. Twenty minutes and three people later, I came across a local who could speak enough English to direct me onto the correct path. Apparently, the 1.8km was the winner and I would later find out Korea is notorious for incorrect mileage. Would it be kilometerage since their unit of measure is not miles? Yeah, we’ll go with that. While the hike was relatively short and easy, the view from the top was beautiful! Busan was smack dab in the middle of their autumn so different colored tree tops ran right up to my views of the sea.

Geumgang Hike (3)

Geumgang Mountain

Gamcheon Culture Village 3

Gamcheon Culture Village

Tuesday morning I headed out to Gamcheon Culture Village which is nicknamed the Santorini of the East and for good reason. I Skyped Adam to show him the awesome view. His first response? “Are you in Europe?!” I could have easily spent a whole day looking at and walking around the village with all the pops of color. The village reinforced my desire to go through Greece on my way back to the States, whenever that may be.

Up next was another hike… this time on the coast. Again, very loose definition of “hike”. A more accurate description would be coastal walk. It was about a 2km undefined route from the bus station to the trail head. Again, I came to an intersection where I wasn’t confident on which way to go. Two elderly ladies, dressed in their obnoxious neon hiking attire, made a sound similar to “you who!!!” from across the road and waved me over to them.  “Is this the way to the Igidae Coastal Hike?” They responded with a smile and a string of Korean sentences that I couldn’t even pick out one familiar word. “I speak English and have no idea what you’re saying.” They gently rubbed my arm, pointed at my legs (pretty sure I was the only person in shorts that day), and spoke some more unknown Korean to me. Well, they’re headed in this direction and I can just wait for them if I come across another intersection. Lo and behold, I made it to the trail head without needing any other assistance.

Igidae Coastal Walk 4

The start of Igidae Coastal Walk with views of Busan and Geumgang Mountain in the background

I really liked this coastal walk as the trail surface was constantly changing. Boardwalks to wooden stairs to pedestrian suspension bridges to dirt in a forest only to emerge back to the edge of a 50 foot cliff. Again, the kilometerage was unreliable. According to the signs, I’d walk for 5 minutes and cover 1km, yet also walk for 30 minutes and only go .3km.

On Wednesday, I took a train to Daejeon as a friend’s mother from Denver had recommended spending a day in the town. I didn’t have high hopes for my hotel as it was another $35/night accommodation which last time provided me a box spring of a bed and a shower connected to a mirror. Was I floored away when this room had a plush queen bed, bathroom separated from the shower, mini-fridge with two bottles of water, and a desktop computer on the desk! I got the best night of sleep in that room since my arrival to Asia.

Thursday I had planned to complete a 14km barefoot hike on a red clay trail which is their claim to fame. I mean, they even had a barefoot festival every May! The night before, I had done rather extensive research on getting to the trail head. It was going to take me three buses and about an hour and a half with all the transfers. Things started out less than par when I got on the correct bus…. but in the wrong direction. After two stops, I realized my mistake and hopped off. I then got on the correct bus in the correct direction, but the bus wasn’t following the route listed out on Google Maps. That’s weird. Maybe they changed their route? It’s still going in the general direction I need to get to though. I hopped off at a stop that was only a block away from the one listed on my directions. When I got to the stop, bus 74 (per my research) wasn’t listed on the signs. Maybe there’s another bus that will take me toward where I want to go? After whipping out Google Maps and formulating a new plan, I hopped on a new bus and yet again, the bus didn’t follow the route listed on Google Maps. I ended up essentially crossing the city but never getting closer to my destination after two hours. This is ridiculous. I give up! Defeated, I made my way back to my hotel, collected my luggage, and hopped on a train back to Seoul.

Air Asia flight 2

First hand view of nonexistent leg room

I stayed in Seoul Thursday night and caught my afternoon flight to Manila, Philippines. I flew with Air Asia and wow, they really take to heart the word Asia in their name. The seats were tiny and had practically no leg room. When my knees only have an inch and a half to the seat in front of me, you know it’s cramped! Oh no… Adam and I are flying Air Asia when we’re in the Philippines… he’s not going to fit! Unable to contain my giggles, I Skyped Adam while others were still boarding. We concluded not only does he need to stop eating from now until he arrives, but he’ll also need to chop off about 4 inches of his legs. Let’s just hope our Air Asia flight isn’t full that day!

My initial arrival to Manila was glorious. I walked off the plane, collected my baggage, and cleared customs within 20 minutes. And that’s about where the gloriousness stopped. I found the taxi service the hostel recommended on taking. I told them where I was going and they motioned for me to take a seat. I noticed that traffic wasn’t moving…. like at all…. every 20 minutes or so, traffic would move forward about one car length. About an hour into waiting for a taxi, I chatted with an older gentlemen next to me. After bonding over Australia (where he’s from), farming (he raises cattle), and the absurd wait time for a taxi, he decided it would be a better idea to go up to Departures and grab one from there. We were both going to the same area of town so I tagged along and shared the taxi with him. Fast forward three and a half hours later, I arrived at my hostel… a mere 6km from the airport. That’s 3.73 miles… that’s moving at a speed of 1 mile per hour. I could have walked faster! I asked the receptionist at my hostel if there was something going on in town. Her response? “Nope. That’s just Manila traffic.” Adam isn’t going to like it here! He can’t even stand traffic going to the mountains which can take three hours to cover 70 miles. 

Saturday was spent walking about Manila (no was way I getting in a taxi again!) and deciding that I will go crazy if I stay here for the next 8 days until Adam arrives. Too many people. Not really anything to do. I felt confined with the sheer amount of traffic and nothing really being accessible because of it. So instead, I booked myself a 4 day trip to Boracay (Philippines #1 tourist destination)! I will leave Manila Tuesday evening and arrive back Saturday night so I can welcome Adam in on Sunday.

Things I learned in South Korea:

  • Escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left (opposite of Japan)
  • Dirty toilet paper must be put into the trash can, but there aren’t any sprayers here. This really grosses me out. At least in the other Asian countries, you used a sprayer to clean yourself and toilet paper to dry yourself.
  • Google Maps and South Korea do not get along well. Google Maps will only give public transportation directions… no driving directions or walking directions.
  • Seoul is expensive!
  • Walking to the curb is not enough to get a bus drivers attention. You must walk into the street for them to stop for you.
  • Aloe juice is not nearly as disgusting as I thought it would be! More of a lime taste than an aloe vera taste.Aloe juice

Hostel Life

Life in hostels has been quite the experience. When I arrived at my first hostel, the reception desk was closed as it was 11pm. They kindly left my name on the outside door and written, clear as day, where my key was hidden. Quite the security they have here. I had booked an all-female 6 bed dormitory. Upon entering the room, the lights were all turned off and all five other beds had their privacy curtains drawn. Is everyone sleeping or are they all out on this Saturday night? What’s proper hostel etiquette? Would I be an awful person if I turned the lights on? I can find my bed with the lights off, but not my locker. I decided to play it safe. After heaving my 70 liter backpack onto the top bunk, I crawled into bed and snuggled up with it for the night.

Sunday was spent getting settled into my hostel (found my locker!), getting my Korean SIM card to work, buying groceries and a public transportation card, and familiarizing myself with the area. That night, I found one of my roommates passed out on the couch in the communal area on my 1am bathroom break. Should I help her into her bed? Nah, she’s a big girl and she made it back into the hostel. She’s fine. At 3am, I awoke to her phone ringing off the hook. Two staff girls, that occupy beds in my room, found the phone (had fallen between the bunk and the wall) but were unable to silence it because it required a password. They couldn’t wake her up (tried shaking her, turning the light on, talking to her). When they answered her phone, it was her dad and they tried to explain the situation. He wasn’t understanding because he spoke Korean. One staff girl called her friend who knows Korean, placed the friend on speaker phone so she could explain the situation to the dad through two phones. After an hour of all this, I figured they could use some help and told them to just throw water on her. Sure enough, she came to but wasn’t even phased about the water on her. I feel like I’m back in college again!

My next accommodation was a hotel for two nights. The mattress there was about as comfortable as a box spring. But it’s your own space with nobody waking you up! The shower was attached to the mirror so the faucet had a knob. Turn to the right for water to come out of the faucet. Turn to the left for water to come out of the shower. In the morning, I went to brush my teeth. I turned the faucet on and got a blast of water in my face. Turns out, I forgot to turn the knob back after taking a shower the night before. Bet I never make that mistake again.

Next was a hostel that smelled like a dirty hippie and had numerous mosquitoes in the room. I was so grossed out I didn’t even unpack anything. Good thing I had only booked one night there. I briefly chatted with one of my roommates upon arrival. She left for about an hour and when she came back, she was off her rocker. As in, legit crazy. What happened to her?! Did she take drugs or something? Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

My current hostel comes with two out of my nine roommates who enjoy talking as loud as they can across the room from each other until 1:30am with the lights on and then getting up at 6am and starting all over again. This morning I was Skyping with Barb down in the lobby. She made a comment about how she could hear the people in the background talking. I gave her one guess as to who it was 20 feet away….. This is why I’m sleep deprived and cranky!

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Poopoo Land

Outside of hostel life, I was able to see three really cool things in Seoul this week. On Monday, I visited Poopoo Land. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is…. A museum dedicated to poop, farts, and the digestive tract. Best $5 and 30 minutes I’ve probably ever spent! On each step in a set of stairs, a different fart noise played. The way out was to go through a digestive tract… cramped curvy space, obstacles to overcome, and a 70 degree drop slide as the finale.

20171019_100956On Wednesday, I toured the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA). The DMZ is on the 38th parallel, stretches coast to coast of Korea, and has a “peace area” two miles on either side of the line. I was able to go into the 3rd tunnel, out of 4, that South Korea has found built by the North as a way to invade. They estimated this tunnel had the capability to move 30,000 North Korean soldiers into the South within an hour. While they have blocked this tunnel off from the North via three cement walls, there were still gas masks hung on the wall every 100 meters. How confident are they in their security measures? I went to Dora Observatory where I could see into North Korea.

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Joint Security Area (JSA)

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Inside the Military Armistice Conference Room

After lunch, I toured the JSA which was so cool! The JSA is where meetings with North Korea take place, specifically in the Military Armistice Conference Room. We have an army base at the JSA so two US soldiers were our tour guides. The rules were much more stringent here. 1) Stay between two South Korean soldiers at all times. 2) Do not wave or gesture towards the North Korean soldiers. If you do, they will interpret that as a reason to attack. I know I will abide by these rules. But what about these 30 other people?! Please let there not be an idiot in this group! We were given about 10 minutes in the Military Armistice Conference Room. Here, I was able to technically stand in North Korea. It was a little unsettling but so awesome at the same time! Our US soldier, on the other hand, opted to stay on the South Korea side.

Saturday, I took the English Language Tour at the House of Sharing. I don’t remember exactly how I originally found out about this place, but wow, that was an eye opening experience! House of Sharing is a museum about and houses comfort women. Comfort women were young girls taken by the Japanese military and sex trafficked during World War II when Japan had control of Korea. These women were forced to service up to 40 men a day but only given one condom per day. The rank of the military men determined what hours they were allowed at the comfort stations.  These women were inventoried under Recreational Supplies. How demeaning! The first and second-hand accounts of these women’s testimonies were graphic and disturbing. We were allowed to interact with 3 out of the 9 women at House of Sharing for about 45 minutes. Our tour guides were all bilingual so they were our translators. The Japanese have offered some money but the comfort women refuse as they want a public apology and for Japan to acknowledge they knew about comfort stations and women.

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Map of the known Comfort Stations

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… either we weren’t taught about this in our history classes or I wasn’t paying attention. Probably a combination of both. I really hated History in school and only memorized enough to get through the tests. But wow… am I getting an education here! I know more about Korean history (World War 2 and Korean War) now than I ever have from all aspects:

  • The comfort women – World War II time frame
  • The US’s perspective – Truman entered the US into the Korean War under the UN because he thought World War 3 would break out if he didn’t
  • The North – China backed the North so no wonder they are communists
  • The South – they would have been taken over during the Korean War if the US hadn’t stepped in

I have now arrived in Busan (city on the southern coast of South Korea) where I plan to spend three days exploring the coast and some hikes.

On the road again

Mary Poppins’ Adventures is back and on the road again! After spending four months in Denver, I boarded a plane on October 12 and headed back to Asia. I’m currently writing this post during my 10 hour layover in Taipei. Yes, 10 hours in an airport can be awful, but I had time on my side. Hello cheap flight! Also, this airport is awesome! Free showers with complimentary shampoo, body wash, lotion, and towel for any transfer passengers. Yes please! I smell horrendous. Plush leather recliners near the gates. Free WiFi. Not a bad a place to spend half a day.

This summer, I spent the days with Eleanor and Theo and the weekends with my friends, usually in the mountains. As I had hoped, camping and hiking took up majority of my weekends. I put a lot of miles on my car since returning mid-May…. 13,764 to be exact (insert shocked face here).I checked another 14er off my list (my lifetime goal is to hike all 54 of them), completed my first backpacking trip, and went to Estes Park for the first time.

Eleanor and I had a great summer filled with hilarious conversations, some untimely comments, and life lessons.  Here’s some of the highlights:

While at the very quiet library and loud enough for everyone to hear– “That lady has a big bum bum!”

While at the swimming pool, she lifted up her shirt, and touched her nipples –
Eleanor: These are mine!
Laura: They sure are!
Eleanor: Um, what are they?
Laura: Those are your nipples.
Eleanor: Does Theo have nipples?
Laura: Yes, everyone has nipples.
Eleanor: Can I see them?!
Laura: Sure.  Please don’t ask to see mine!

While painting a picture –
Eleanor: (sniffs)… That’s stinky!
Laura: What is?
Eleanor: When I fart, it kind of stinks!

While walking to the car after swimming – “I wish you were a kid.”

While at the library and within earshot from an obese male whose belly was hanging out from under his t-shirt– “That man has a big belly!”

During a playdate, Van, a 4 year old boy, had been sent into timeout a few times. The other nanny mentioned that he was being naughty today. –
Eleanor: I’m nice because I’m beautiful.      Um…. I don’t think that’s how it works.

While eating lunch, Theo lets one rip –
Eleanor: Hahaha! Theo is a little stinker!
Laura: Why’s that?
Eleanor: Because he farted! Hahaha.

While making lunch –
Eleanor: I want an apple.
Laura: We don’t have any. We’re all out.
Eleanor: That’s ok. We can go to the Apple store and buy some.
Laura: Um, the Apple store sells electronics like computer and iPads… not apples.

We went to a new storytime and another kid had already chosen letter E to sit on. Eleanor had a major meltdown about it. I told her she doesn’t always get letter E and there are plenty of other letters to choose from. Fast forward 3 weeks, I brought the new nanny (she trained under me for the last week of my employment) with us to storytime. We were the first ones to arrive so I told Eleanor she could pick out a letter to sit on. “Ten bucks she chooses letter E”, I said to the new nanny. Eleanor comes back with letter S. “Eleanor, what letter did you choose today?” She replied as proud as can be, “S because I don’t always get letter E.”

Life lessons I taught Eleanor –
how to pee in the woods, how to milk a cow, how to bake cookies, muffins, and Apple Crisp, curse words are for grownups, how to write her name (has the ELEA part down, not so much on the NOR part), how to paint and carve pumpkins, how to wipe her own butt, how to check out books at the library, what happens when we don’t treat our library books with respect (RIP Clifford book that was left outside in the rain and found 5 days later), how to introduce herself to a new friend, and the ever so hard lesson that she doesn’t get everything she wants in life.

Don’t worry. Theo was with us during these times. He just isn’t talking yet so conversations with him were pretty one-sided…. Me talking… him staring at me or blabbing back. He definitely understands the English language though. For example, I could say a variety of sentences meaning he needed his diaper changed (did you poop?!, we need to change you, are you squishy, etc.) and he would walk into his room and stand by his changing table.

My last day with them was pretty bittersweet. The mom wrote me a very touching letter and gave me a bottle of wine. She sure knows the way to my heart. I spent two weeks back in Iowa seeing family and friends and getting things organized.

My plan is to travel through Asia until my fun money runs out. I will be in South Korea for two weeks, head to the Philippines where I will meet my brother, Adam, for a week, and then who knows after that. If I like the Philippines, then I will stay there for the entire length of my visa (30 days). If I don’t, then it’ll be onward to the next country. I plan to stay in hostels and when available, house/pet sit.

I joined an international house-sitting website this summer and completed four with the goal to build up my profile and online reputation. Let me tell you, those house-sits were less than ideal… Sit #1: Elderly 65 pound dog whose back legs no longer worked so I had to carry her around the house and outside for the bathroom. You know what’s not fun? Cleaning up a dog after she poops on herself because her back legs can’t hold her up. Sit #2: Rescued mill dog with so severe of anxiety I had to give her dog-friendly Xanax just so she wouldn’t pee on me when I carried her outside to relieve herself. The whole process of giving Xanax, waiting for it to kick in, and then carrying her outside took at least an hour. Sit #4: a cat with diarrhea for 7 out of the 10 days I was there. Sit #5: Three dogs and two cats who ran the house (scratched up all the interior woodwork of a beautiful log home, pooped on the counter, destroyed a pillow, ate the cat poop, etc.).

I can only hope the house/pet sits I do in Asia are better than the ones I completed this summer. My reason for continuing to do house/pet sits is that I get free housing which cuts down on my costs. Keep telling yourself the free lodging is worth it!

I frequently get asked if I’m scared to go by myself. Honestly, no. I feel like I’ve taken all the necessary precautions – purchased insurance, set up check-ins with Barb, limit the amount of alcohol consumed at the bars, and enrolled in the STEP program. The STEP program allows you to submit your general travel plans to the US Department of State. They will in turn give that information to the nearest embassy. The embassy will then notify you of any travel warnings in your current or upcoming destinations as well as account for you should a major incident occur near you.

Another frequently asked question is how I can afford to travel. Asia a pretty cheap place to travel after you get there, hence why I’m starting there. Lodging in hostels is between $5-$20 per night. A month-long furnished apartment rental can go for as little as $250. Food costs around $1-$3 per meal if you eat the local cuisine. Beer is $.40 – $1.50 per bottle. Uber rides are anywhere from $1 – $10.

I also worked my tail off this summer. In addition to nannying full time, I babysat for other families on their date nights. I drove a 3-year-old from her overnight sitter to preschool three times a week before heading to nanny. I drove a 4 year old between two parents who had lawsuits against each other.  I worked three weekend Kick It events. As mentioned earlier, I pet sat. I cut down unnecessary expenses. I only allowed myself two nights out at the bars. Quite an impressive feat if I do say so myself! I have some pretty fantastic friends that allowed me to stay at their houses for free or dirt cheap. I moved between 8 different houses over the four months. I can honestly sit here today, in Tai Pei awaiting my flight to Seoul, and say it was all worth it. I accomplished my three goals for this summer: make money, save money, and spend all my free time with my friends.

Let the adventures begins!

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Back to Reality

After living the dream through five countries and 165 days abroad, I headed back to the US on Tuesday, May 16. Monday evening was spent with the parents and I reflecting on our journey. While we were in the same cities, our experiences were drastically different. This was due to a combination of how we spent our days and our different interests. For five days a week, I had the kids and integrated them into the children’s culture so I got more of a local feel for things. Whereas the parents spent most of their five days behind a computer in a co-working space and interacting with foreigners. My days off were spent doing adventuresome things and enjoying the night life whereas their interests lie in being foodies. Our motivations for taking this trip were also drastically different. They were tired of trying to “keep up with the Joneses” and being materialistic so they wanted a full break from American society. I, on the other hand, was motivated by an overwhelming desire to travel the world.

Now that I’ve been back for a week, I’ve noticed some things are coming back easily while others are taking a bit more time.

Things that came back easily:

  • driving on the left hand side
  • turning right on red
  • using toilet paper instead of a sprayer
  • drinking tap water and not bottled water
  • American driving laws
  • cooking
  • planning out my summer schedule to maximize my time with family and friends

Things I’m still working on:

  • hitting my turn signal instead of the wipers
  • saying thank you, hello, and goodbye in a language other than English
  • getting my sleep schedule on local time
  • using my phone to call people instead of Skype or Facebook Messenger
  • finding food that I like. My taste buds have changed drastically. I now enjoy spicy foods and foods that have an abundance of flavor. So long bland taste buds.
  • wearing more than the four sets of clothes. Why do I have 60+ t-shirts?!

And now… for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… What are the plans now that I’m back in the US? I will spend my summer back in Denver, living with friends, and nannying for this same family. We will now be on more of a set schedule and I will have weekends off. Since graduating college, I’ve always worked summer weekends and never had the same two days off from my friends. The possibilities are endless! I plan to spend my weekends with lots of hiking and camping in the mountains. I will be done nannying mid-August, spend my last days in Denver with my brother Adam at a Sam Hunt Red Rocks concert, and then head back to Iowa. I’ll take a few weeks to downsize and get things organized. Once that is complete, I will then head out and solo travel the world for an undetermined amount of time! While I will take the summer off from blogging, I will start it back up when my world travels commence.

Per usual, after departing a country, I will leave you with this:

Things I learned in Japan

          Toilet experiences are great here! Heated toilet seat, warm water coming out of the sprayer, option for loud music to play so you can have some privacy

          Tokyo is expensive!

          The fashion here is…. Interesting….

          The proper way to eat ramen is to slurp your noodles so they slide right down your throat. I, however, prefer to chew mine.

          When riding escalators, stand on the left side and walk/pass on the right side

          Smoking is not allowed on the streets, but is allowed in restaurants

          Remove shoes before going inside houses. Some restaurants require this before entering their facility and even some dressing rooms require this before you try their clothes on.

          Cabs have automated back doors which the driver controls

          You can use your commuter train card to pay at grocery stores, convenience stores, and even some taxis

          Yellow cabs cost the same as black cabs, yet drivers must earn the right to drive a black cab

          Parks and playgrounds are dirt-based

          There are 924 train stations in Tokyo. The have got this public transportation system figured out!

          Man purses are EVERYWHERE

          For how technologically advanced Tokyo is, I’m surprised credit cards are only accepted about 40% of the time.

          Japanese read their books backwards from us. The spine of the book is on the right for them. So do they read right to left then?

          Japanese value cleanliness. I never saw a single piece of trash on the streets. This was even more surprising because trash cans were few and far between. I’ve concluded that everyone just packs their trash and disposes of it when they get home. This would also explain why the reason for man purses. They need to have somewhere to store their trash.

          I never ordered from a waitress at a restaurant. It’s been a full two weeks and all my orders have either been submitted through a machine/iPad or directly to the cook/chef.

          People walk so slow here and everyone is on their phones! We have signs for texting and driving. They have signs for texting and walking.

Texting and Walking Sign