Archive Page 2

07
Dec
13

thrilla in manila

On our last day in the Philippines local boxing hero, and number one Filipino sportsman, Manny Pacquiao, captured the hearts of the nation in a victorious bout over in Hong Kong.

Manny is big news here, even knocking earthquake and typhoon victims off the front page for a brief time. Boxing in general is a big deal here, no doubt thanks to the legacy of that fight several decades back.

We had our own battle going on though. During the back end of the trip we found ourselves entrapped in a battle for the coveted prize (there’s not an actual prize, just bragging rights) of Uno Champion of South East Asia. After several matches ranging from ten through to forty games at a time, we found ourselves all square after Bohol. Sadly for me the better player won out in Manila, so congratulations to Naomi who takes over from the old dear who won out in a bar in Finland earlier in the year as current Uno Champ.

The Philippines were a great experience, but perhaps not as inspiring as other Asian countries I’ve visited, for varying reasons from slightly indifferent service to average foods across the four places we spent time in. I dunno’, perhaps I’m getting slightly spoilt but the country didn’t quite win me over as say a Cambodia or parts of Vietnam or Thailand have done in the past.

I’d recommend a visit to Boracay to anyone that loves a bit of beach life. Diniwid beach was a lovely spot. Cebu was alright and Bohol, well let’s just leave that to the previous entry.

Anyway, this is the end for now once again as work takes over for a few months. Next stop in the spring are return trips to Barbados and Prague, then, well who knows? They say part of the fun is in the planning……wherever that maybe.

DSCN2179

DSCN2186

DSCN2211

Advertisements
30
Nov
13

the people make the place

I like to think that this blog over the years has given off mainly positive, if sometimes slightly sarcastic, vibes. I haven’t gone out of my way to portray a vibe or a tone, though the one principle I do stick to is to make it as honest as I can. If something is great, then I’ll say so. Likewise if something is crap, disappointing or overrated, I’ll not be shy in telling a few home truths.

So the first part of this entry is for all those people that read this and enjoy hearing that travel isn’t as glamorous as I sometimes (often?) portray –

– Our hotel, the small nine bedroomed Cliffside Resort, kindly ‘upgraded’ us to a gem of a room that had a building site located a matter of feet away from our bed. Work, involving hammers, cement mixers and shouting tradesman started at 7am.

– The free automatic scooter on offer from Cliffside turned out to be a full driver license required manual geared racing motorbike. After all the resort was three kilometres away from civilisation, down the worst potholed, non tarmacked, loose stoned, dirt track of all time. A bike was a necessity. The need for a license a first in Asia.

– No internet for large periods of time. No big deal. No electricity for larger periods of time. Pretty big deal. No water for even larger periods of time. Very big deal. I got the shits meaning we couldn’t really leave the resort, no doubt due to the terrible sanitation caused through the resort because of this.

– The female staff seemed uninterested in anything other than flirting with the single French bloke that hung round the bar. Once they’d taken your order (after lingering over you whilst you decided, too much hassle to go away and come back, you know) they completely forgot about you. So that meant taking the dirty plates up to the staff yourself to avoid being eaten alive by the various flies / ants that littered the half a dozen tables. Oh, and want a second beverage to cool off from the lack of water / electricity powered fans ? You’ll have to go up yourself and interrupt the poor buggers from charging their mobile phones / hiding in the kitchen / watching the basketball on TV / trying to gobble off the French bloke.

We had arrived on such a high after a brilliant ferry crossing from Cebu. Our friendly tricycle driver located the resort straight away, this despite the rocky side road mentioned above. The resort was signposted every once in a while with great humour. One read ‘Paradise in 800m’ another said, ‘300m to go, we can here you already’ a third joked, ‘Almost there, we hope you are enjoying the road!’ before the last one commented, ‘Only 100m, your welcome drink awaits!’

I turned to Naomi and said ‘This place could be wicked, it should have some top staff!’

I had high hopes for Cliffside before reading this style of humour and was loving the place even more when I was handed a my welcome drink as promised as our bags were whisked off to the ‘upgraded’ room. With no warnings of potential issues with water, electricity (other than the broken air-con – overrated anyway just give me a fan) we sat down for a well earned sunset San Miguel, after our eight hour door-door journey from Moalboal over on Cebu.

The views were magnificent. As the name of the hotel suggested we were high up on a Cliffside overlooked the sea. The swimming pool, swim up bar and all, was perfect.

We were soon joined by the enigmatic leaseholder of the place, a typical sociable, confident, Australian chap called ‘Dutchy’ and were made to feel welcome by all. We discussed the recent earthquake that killed over 200 people on Bohol island, as well as the typhoon that whizzed through the island less than a fortnight previous. ‘The thatched roofs of the rooms were so close to being ripped off in the winds’, Dutchy told us….We’d also noticed a number of huge, loose white rocks down in the sea, just three feet to our left and down from the table we were chatting at. Dutchy laughed nervously, ‘Those were attached to the cliff when the quake struck, the restaurant and pool were a matter of feet from joining those rocks!’

Dutchy then said his goodbyes as me and Naomi discussed whether we should move table or not! The night was ended on a further high as we enjoyed a late night dip in the pool.

Even the noise of the generator outside the ‘upgraded’ room didn’t stop me from having a decent kip. What did wake us was the unmistakable noise of hammers, drills and cement mixers at some ungodly hour right beside the wall our bed was against. Still never mind, nothing a quick shower won’t fix. No water. I rushed outside to find out what was happening. All the staff, so attentive the previous night when Dutchy and the hotel day-to-day manager were around suddenly lost the ability to talk any English as I asked what was going on and whether there was complimentary bottled water due to the issues. Still never mind, nothing a quick motorbike ride to get some water won’t fix.

‘No motorbike, Sir, you need full license.’ That’s a first in Asia….

I asked again about the need for bottled water, again no reply. My patience was running thin. If you can understand and project the need for a full driving license, then what is so hard about understanding the need for water, arm actions portraying drinking and all?

About to strut off to find a scooter and some non rip-off water, I was stopped by the day-to-day manger (amiable enough but hardly ever around) He shouted in a panic that, ‘Water would be back on soon!’ When I asked when he looked blank. I asked about complimentary water again….you guessed it – blank looks. I nearly lost the plot, but convinced him to follow me to our building site of a room and he agreed to move us down to a quieter room. Thank god for that.

After getting that sorted I walked the few kilometres to nearby Alona beach and sorted a automatic scooter out for £5 a day. When I arrived back at the resort the electricity was off as well as the water. We opted to eat out, getting back on the scooter to Alona. The service was just as bad here. No water no electricity, just blank looks and crap, ‘I can’t be arsed’ service.

The pattern over the next three days continued. The service got worse, the power and water situation became even less stable. We became grumpier as I got the shits and Naomi partly broke her near £1,000 camera when we tried escaping on a scooter trip around Panglao and we got caught in a even bigger rainstorm than the one on Cebu.

I know what you are thinking. Poor service can happen anywhere in the world. But what disappointed me most about this lack of interest is it is so soon after the earthquake and typhoon hit. Surely this is the time to offer exceptional service? Now more than ever this is the time to communicate clearly any issues with basic amenities at the moment at check-in. An email assured me everything was ‘fine’ at the resort. A welcome drink with the leaseholder backed up that everything was running with no issues. Clearly this wasn’t going to be the case.

Take the hotel in Boracay. We arrived under the impression there would be zero power on the island and that our showers would actually be baths in the deep blue sea. Food would be restricted to fruit, bread and rice cooked on gas. Meat would be fish caught fresh that afternoon. When we arrived we were surprised to find generators working, producing electricity between set hours in the day and clear messages through the hotel telling us the set hours power would be off.

Our room in Moalboal at the Asian Belgian was rustic at best. It was hot and sticky, slightly run-down and the stained bed sheets were the kind you’d expect in a £4 a night hostel in Indonesia or India. None of this mattered though thanks to the warm, kind service offered by Monique and Roland that made our stay so welcoming.

There was none of that service on Panglao. Just regular, unscheduled blackouts for sometimes hours on end with no communication, candles or interest from the lazy staff. But perhaps what was most worrying was the lack of backup plan to provide hand gel in the absence of water. Even more worrying was it was often me, or one of the other guests having to point out to the staff that again the water supply had ceased. No wonder I got the shits, I cannot believe the chef or the staff were washing their hands with regularity – especially as they were often unaware of a water-outage. A few groups of people seemed to check out from Cliffside, including several Korean families that only lasted one night.

But just as disappointing was the last night when we came to settle up. For the first time in three days the miserable French loving female from behind reception welcomed us with a great big, false, ‘Evening Sir, Eveing Ma’am!’ as we walked to take photos of the sunset. She even offered us drinks (quite ironic given we’d often sat for hours on end and non been offered a drink for days, let alone been greeted so ‘warmly’) Strangely enough Dutchy was stood nearby for the first time in days…..

All the staff were busy working, all looking attentively for any basic requests such as ‘Can I have a drink / order some food / have the bill’. We’d seen none of this for days. As we settled up I was surrounded by as many as five staff, all having a cheeky look at how much cash I had in my wallet. Yet when Dutchy headed minutes later, moments before I was going to give him some feedback? You guessed it….back to basketball on TV, mobile phones and daydreams about the French bloke.

We didn’t get out to see the Chocolate Hills or the Tarsiers (little critters, housed only on Bohol) partly because of my dodgy belly and partly because of the inclement rainfall that kicked in most afternoons. After Naomi’s camera all but broke on the one main scooter ride on our penultimate day, we lost the ‘love’ for exploring this particular part of the world – not helped by the issues outlined above at both Cliffside and Alona Beach.

Luckily we had a nice final night in Manila to finish our Filipino adventure. Now you’ve heard of Ali V Frazier…..

DSCN2158

DSCN2165

DSCN2168

DSCN2189

DSCN2195

22
Nov
13

sunsets, storms, scooters and san miguels in cebu

Our next stop on this mini adventure across the Philippines has been to the island of Cebu. A much larger island than Boracay, our destination of choice was the sleepy seaside town of Moalboal some three hours by taxi from the islands airport.

Our departure from Boracay wasn’t without a little bit of drama. We had a mix up with the hotel when booking transport to the airport which saw us storm out after finally finding out we’d have to wait for the shuttle to come in about half hour after already being kept in silence for ten minutes holding all our bags. I’d understood that we could turn up in reception whenever and we’d be able to get straight on a bus / tricycle to the ferry terminal the other side of the island. This wasn’t the case. So with an hour a forty five minutes left till our flight departed from the mainland, we were faced with two tricycle journey’s and a ferry that we hadn’t even booked. Still, with a little bit of luck we got to the airport with a few minutes spare before check in closed.

The drama wasn’t over there as we went to check in I was told by the airport manager (yes, very small airport where the boss assists with check in!) that they had no record of our e-ticket on their pre-printed manifest. As the internet was down they had to ask us to wait to one side as they rather frantically tried to find a working mobile phone to call their headquaters in Manila. Fifteen nervous minutes later she handed back my passports with some hand written boarding passes and waved me over to pay excess baggage charges as we were 1.6kgs over our 20kg total limit! I tried bargaining but she said there was nothing she could do as they were worried the plane might be overweight. Fair enough, so I paid up the 300 peso (£4.20) fine.

As our flight was called we boarded. Watching a baggage handler go by with about four bags (including our two) we took our seats on the near empty plane. Excluding me and Naomi there were grand sum of 9 (nine!!) passengers! And they had the cheek to charge for excess baggage because an overweight plane…..

Anyway that’s this entries moan done with nice and early.

The drive from the airport on the north west of the island to the eastern centrally located village of Moalboal was at times a cracker. Once we’d fought through the Cebu traffic we turned to travel through what turned out to be some of the most poetically clichéd rural South East Asian villages and towns. Passing through the municipal towns of Carcar, Ronda and others, I was reminded of previous road trips through other unspoilt areas of the world such as Cambodia and central Vietnam. Its a joy to watch the kids running through the fields whilst the families prepare the food on open fires in the open countryside.

All the little towns seemed to be very well maintained. They all had a bustling Central Market, a smartly kept Elementary School, a state-like Town Hall and of course plenty of tricycles, buzzing the people up and down the high-street! The middle part of the journey saw us travel round winding mountainous roads, giving the odd glimpse over acres of paddy rice fields through the countless palm tress that hugged the roadside. On the descent from the mountains we were greeting by sweeping views across the crystal clear seas, watching the numerous little fishing boats go about their business. There was even the odd strip of untouched golden sand to put the cherry on top of what was a superb route through Cebu.

All a tad gushing I know, but some of it had to be seen to be believed.

Moalboal itself is located about 10km away from the area we were staying, just off the latest place that refers to itself as White Beach. Sadly it turned out not to be that white and a little uninspiring. (especially the 10 peso entrance charge, what is that all about?) Still, we didn’t expect this to be a big place for swimming in the sea in a traditional manner as Moalboal’s reputation is a scuba divers paradise as opposed a beach bums.

Our resort, the Asian Belgian, was run by a lovely couple called Monique and Roland. We were made to feel incredibly welcome at the resort despite not being divers and spent the first two of three days chilling in the resorts bar and restaurant area, racking up bills galore thanks to iced fruit shakes, San Miguel beer and tasty home cooked food. Well, watching more sunsets, talking about life and playing games of Uno is thirsty and hungry work, you know….We were assured by Roland, and the half a dozen other people that we here to scuba that this was a great place to see plenty of turtles and tropical fish, plus the off chance of witnessing some whales if willing to take a day boat trip away from the coast. The resort also gave a great panoramic view over the sea to the neighbouring island of Negros. Perfect for those sunset views that rivalled the one we witnessed over at Boracay.

On our last day in Moalboal we played irresponsible travellers and hired a scooter. As regular readers of this blog will know I’ve developed quite a taste for buzzing around those above mentioned clichéd Asian villages and towns over the last few years, riding in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand previously. In fact it was last year that me and Naomi spent happy days riding around Koh Samui – this was a must do here given our resort was a good 10km away from ‘civilisation’ in the centre of Moalboal.

We set off confidently, no doubt thanks to last years experiences, and soon found ourselves smiling away and waving as we passed the Filipino villagers that dotted the roadsides on our journey to Kawasan Falls. Kawasan was about 30km away from our resort and we arrived without dramas until the inevitable tour guides ran out in the road in front of the bike trying to get us to use their services. I tried driving off quickly up the path up towards Kawasan to get away from their catcalls, but was stopped by a friendly car / bike park attendant who calmly explained we must walk from here to the waterfalls of Kawasan.

We escaped the offers of pointless tour guides (it’s a straight fifteen minute walk, you cannot get lost) and took a slow walk beside the ridiculously clear river that led from the main waterfall. We had read up quite a bit about this place and were excited to be here. The main waterfall itself was sadly cornered by restaurants, cafés and reasonably pushy boat operatives that at first wouldn’t leave us to take a few photos and take in the impressive site that was Kawasan. Dozens of tables were empty due to the lack of tourists (we counted about 10 in total whilst we were there) but we couldn’t use one to sit down, buy a drink and have a chill without paying 300 bloody pesos. We happily took some snaps, bought a drink and chocolate (Cloud 9, great Filipino chocolate bar) and took in the site stood up away from the hawkers. It was all a bit run down, with graffiti and rust on the signs, a shame when you consider the natural beauty of Kawasan. Still it was a great site and well worth the visit, but charging for a table when there is hardly anyone here?

We headed back to Asian Belgian and all was well, this despite the storm that had quickly closed in. Naomi made a great call to carry on with the remaining 15km or so as the rains didn’t relent for a good few hours after they started. It was pretty exhilarating to ride the bike in the rain and it gave me a great deal of confidence handling it in the pouring rain safely. When we got back we were absolutely soaked from the storm.

Our final night was broken up by me heading back into Moalboal to find an ATM. I set off by myself as dusk fell, as the roads and surrounds were soon plunged into darkness, minus maybe twenty yards in front of me from the bikes headlamps. It became apparent pretty quick to me that this wasn’t a great move. A foreign learner driver on a reasonably powerful bike playing Russian roulette with flood-waters, potholes, kids, dogs, bull frogs and fellow drivers not using lights to no doubt save on fuel costs. The roads were all pretty windy and the only light around the surrounding area was the dramatic lightning in the distance. It felt like a crazy computer game. Still, riding along at times like Driving Miss Daisy, I managed to get back in one piece.

Oh, and for the record the ATM didn’t work and I again got absolutely soaked in another storm walking the last few minutes back to the Asian Belgian after dropping the bike back.

It’s not all sunsets and San Miguel’s, you know…..

———————————————————————————–
Postscript – pre-warning about moaning blog to follow from Bohol. It’s not quite gone to plan here (he says typing in-between power cuts, water shortages, countless trips to the toilet and more storms!!)

DSCN2120

DSCN2114

DSCN2096

DSCN2115

19
Nov
13

a birthday in boracay

I had massive expectations about visiting Boracay.

All the pictures, videos and stories I’d heard of this island told me that despite huge redevelopment over the past decade here, the island itself was still just as postcard perfect as it was before it became ‘mainstream’ (not that mainstream in that it still takes a minimum of 3 flights and over twenty four hours to get here from the UK, but mainstream thanks to the whole of South Korea and their iPads, iPhones, iPods and iRons (sorry) – seemingly being on Boracay when not in immigration queues back in Manila) Seoul must be a ghost town….
Anyway…..

So the super typhoon last week had maybe slightly lowered my hopes of finding a new favourite island in that perfect crystal clear sea, white sand, beach bar, friendly local cliché kind of way. After all I’ve been fortunate to spend varying amounts of time on some cracking beach isles – Gili Trawangan, Koh Samui, Antigua, Langkawi, Barbados – to name drop a few. Boracay has strong competition is what I’m trying to say.

Several days into our stay here and you could see Boracay is getting back to its postcard picturesque best. Aided by two near-perfect days of bright sunshine, warm temperatures and minimal winds, I can confirm after a sunset swim (whilst Naomi had a beach massage – tough life) that the sea waters on Diniwid Beach are now as clear as we’d hoped. They weren’t particularly ‘murky’ before, oh no. Just slightly cloudy from the debris that had blown about last week. Our hotel pool, out of action and emptied of its water on our arrival, is now clean and full again. The neon lights are back up on the palm trees, the hotel restaurant is now softly playing music again and candlelit tables and chairs are being spread back onto the beach, ready for those perfect evening meals with the sand between your toes. Even the numbers of tourists seemed to grow by the hour.

You can of course see the effects of the storm across the island. In particular the small shanty towns that are located behind the many hotels here all look slightly battered and bruised. A few days ago we had a massive rainstorm here that left little to no marks on the ever recovering hotels and beach fronts. Getting a lift to and from D’Mall (the slightly overrated, noisy, touristy main area of the island) you cannot help but notice the state of some of the locals homes, flooded again after the latest rain storm, and feel slightly guilty about the fact all we have to go without is the internet for the week and a few hours of power in the afternoon.

On the other hand we need not feel guilty. People in this part of world do seem to have a more ‘roll the sleeves up and get on with it’ kind of attitude than we do in western world. Also just by being here so soon after Yolanda, on such a small island that is driven by tourism, we are doing our bit. The friendly tricycle drivers in particular seem to be making a roaring trade shuttling people round the isle. As do the many tour boats that line the magnificent White Beach, located a short, rocky walk away from Diniwid. Life is getting back to normal very quickly for the people of this island.

In the same way it has taken Boracay a couple of extra days to get back to somewhere near its best, me and Naomi also took till Wednesday to finally acclimatise and start making the most of our precious time here. Sure we had our morning breakfasts, walks to White Beach and swims in the sea. We had a lovely first evening out at D’Mall watching a characteristically cheesy, yet strangely decent live local band on the beach. But weighed down by the jet lag driven desire to have (five hour!) power naps in the afternoon, our time here was in danger of not being hundred per cent fulfilled.

That all changed on our fourth Filipino morning as we woke on Naomi’s birthday. Within an hour of waking up we’d had the wonderfully friendly staff sing happy birthday to her (recognised thanks to the ma-hoo-sive 21 badge I’d kindly bought her to wear) and were on our way to White Beach for a half day of ‘island hoping’. Not really having any pre-conceptions about what might lay ahead, we were pleasantly surprised when we were beckoned to paddle out to sea in order to board our personal boat. I thought we’d be on a boat with maybe a dozen others, all battling for the same photo opportunities and doing nothing but getting in each others way. For the next few hours we were taken up and down the west coast of Boracay, stopping a couple of times to try some snorkelling. The first time wasn’t overly successful as we were quite far out at sea, meaning the water was pretty choppy. I managed to dive down and take a few decent up close and personal shots of the colourful tropical fish before we jumped back aboard our boat. The second time out was great fun. We managed to settle into it pretty quickly, helped by the fact the sea was calmer and we could get a bit further away from our boat. I’ve not snorkelled since I was a kid – I enjoyed the hour or so I had in the sea so much that I’ll hopefully get another chance before we leave for home. Having the fish swim literally right by your nose in such crystal clear seas was exhilarating.

We spent the first part of the evening back at Diniwid up at the fantastic Spiderhouse bar. It had been a perfectly clear day, the first since our arrival. The reason for choosing this particular venue for Naomi’s birthday sundown drinks was mainly due to the incredible panoramic view that the elevated bar gave of Boracay. The sunset was pretty epic and will stay with me for some time. It’s one of those words cannot do it justice moments so I’ll just let you look at the pictures at the bottom of this entry. Without being too soppy it was a magic moment to spend the last moments of sunlight on her 21st watching the sun go down, supping a cocktail. Memories we will naturally have forever.

Talking of making memories – the next morning I broke the bank in treating myself to eighteen holes of golf at the only course on the island, Fairways and Bluewaters. The lure of passing the resort every time we got a tricycle or shuttle to and from our hotel was simply too much – I had to play a round here. I’d packed a dozen balls, my shoes and some tees and was delighted when I smashed my first drive 200 yards down the middle on the opening par 5 hole. It nearly got better, I chipped from just off the green for par, hit the flagstick and the ball finished less than an inch from the hole. My caddie, a lovely lady who’s name I won’t attempt to spell, was in rapturous as I started bogey, par, bogey, par. Things went well, as I shot 13 over par 49 on the front 9 and ended with a score of 104 (par was 72) It should have been better but I was thrilled with my ball striking, playing as well I have all year on that front nine holes. I’ll put the slip on the back 9 down to the incredible views of the sea from the elevated tee position 😉 Mind you I did smoke that drive miles as well so perhaps we’ll just put it down to the inconsistencies of being a 20-something handicapper! The course was in good nick, especially if you consider the back 9 holes were only re-opened the morning I played due to the typhoon damage suffered. Naomi enjoyed her day, taking on the nickname of ‘Mrs Schumacher’ thanks to her skills behind the wheel of the golf buggy!

As you can tell the majority of our time on Boracay was extremely positive.

The main downside we found was D’Mall, which was a bit of a disappointment. By the sixth and last day walking down the magnificent White Beach was becoming slightly hard work due to the constant heckling from the countless hawkers selling everything from boat trips, scuba diving, sun hats, DVDs and sunglasses. Don’t get me wrong, these blokes are just trying to make a living. But when one has seen you say ‘no thanks’ to one of his mates trying to flog you sunglasses (when you already have a pair on) yet he still walks over to you and offers the same item just seconds later, it becomes tiresome. Give us a break, lads.

Also the nightlife in D’Mall was all a bit much. Perhaps we are old before our time, but quite why you need four DJs in a beachside club playing ridiculously loud music to about three customers is beyond me. More quiet beach bars please like Spiderhouse, please Boracay.

All the moaning aside I’ll take positive memories from time on Boracay. Its not made it to the top of the island charts with me but I’ll always cherish the time we had here. Whether it be chilling out on the two beaches, eating and drinking, snorkelling, golfing, celebrating a special birthday and of course enjoying the fantastic Filipino hospitality. In particular at our hotel bar, Mama’s Fish Restaurant, where the staff kindly likened me to ‘Jason’ as in actor Jason Statham (!) whilst enjoying a tequila sunrise cocktail on our last night. For an island so close to being devastated just days before our arrival, I’m thrilled that it is moving on so quickly, returning to its postcard best.

Thanks for the memories, Boracay. See you again one day!

P1010302

946046_10201843205897161_1419323094_n

DSCN1900

DSCN1919

DSCN1999DSCN1901

17
Nov
13

calm after the storm

Well we have arrived in Boracay, Philippines!

In fact we have been here all of three days, and by the time you read this we would have likely have been here a week.

For all the worry about getting to this marvellous country so soon after Yolanda we need not have concerned ourselves. The only thing we have had to do without since leaving Manila after a quick Sunday night stopover in a hard to find B&B is a lack of internet access across Boracay island and a few hours electricity in the afternoon in our hotel. Other than that, life, with the aid of many generators, is moving on as ever on the isle.

Our arrival in Manila was simple enough – minus a quick tussle at immigration with what seemed like the whole of South Korea getting their passports stamped at the same time as us, our bags were located straight away and even success with Santander letting me access my own cash without having to assure them of my presence outside the UK.
That was until we stepped out into the humidity of arrivals and our Casa Joaquin B&B driver being noticeable by his absence. Never mind, a quick dive into the back of a cab and a strangely confident young cabbie called Ramon assured us he’d find our B&B, located off the beaten track in a gated community a few kilometres away.

What should have been a twenty minute ride away (as we discovered the next morning when Ramon picked us up with his missus in tow) turned into a a google map assisted, booking.com written directive, walkie talkie marathon with Ramon’s HQ that lasted a good hour and a half. Still, our hosts Tessie and Emma were brilliant at the B&B, kindly upgrading us to suite larger than my first flat. Even the noise of the low passing aircraft, next doors version of Battersea dogs home and several vocal cockerels nearby didn’t stop us getting a few hours kip after the twenty seven hour door to door trip.

Next morning we jumped aboard a flight to Boracay. It wasn’t even our scheduled flight as ours was delayed a couple of hours. I enquired when the flight would leave given the lack of departure boards in the terminal. Before I could worry about the possible implications of missing baggage, another walkie talkie loving lady was busy re-booking me and Naomi on a flight due to leave in the next fifteen minutes. Boarding passes were hand amended, our names were shouted over the walkie talkie (which I assume was a baggage handler confirming he’d located our bags) and we were soon boarding the plane with 58 (tiny plane) other excitable tourists that were mainly, you guessed it, Koreans.

After waking up on the plane to an incredible view of the passing Boracay, we were soon shovelled onto the back of a tricycle (think motorbike with large sheltered side cart) to the nearby ferry terminal. Before we knew it we were slightly frustratingly rushed through the terminal building as a bloke ran off with our bags trying to get us onto the ferry as quickly as he possibly could – despite not asking if we needed a hand naturally he hung around like a bad smell looking for a small tip. As I handed 20 pesos (33p) to get him out of our faces he looked at me in disgust and stormed off, ready to ambush the next jet-lagged, slightly caught unaware tourist. Nothing like being able to take it all in…..never mind, we were soon on a second tricycle and transferred to our hotel on the lovely Diniwid beach here on Boracay within an hour of landing so it wasn’t all bad!

DSCN1866

DSCN1862

DSCN1860

08
Nov
13

entering into the unknown

Mumbai, November 2008. The iconic 5 star Taj Palace hotel in the Colaba district of the city comes under attack from Islamic militants. So does the main railway station, Chhatrapati Shivaj, as well as Leopolds café, a favourite drinking haunt of many a western tourist. Hundreds of people are killed.

Colombo, 2007. The fierce Civil war between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers is building towards a crescendo. A lone suicide bomber attacks the main railway station in the capital city, causing obvious carnage, murdering many innocent Sri Lankan folk.

The reason for this cheery post?

Well in 2008 I was literally days away from flying into Mumbai on a England cricket tour when the above atrocity took place. I was undoubtedly going to be drinking in the Café Leopold and had previously dined in the Taj Palace in 2006. A train was already booked and paid for a trip to Ahmedabad from Chhatrapati Shivaj station the following week.

In 2007 I had just returned from a month on the beautiful isle of Sri Lanka when the Colombo railway station news broke. I’d been stood on that same platform weeks earlier and caught the same Kandy-Colombo train that was targeted.

Fast forward all these years and it seems I’ve dodged another bullet, albeit this time a proverbial one.

For tomorrow we fly out to the Philippines. That’s right, that will be the country that has just been hit by typhoon Yolanda today. This hasn’t just been any old typhoon though, oh no. That would be boring. This has been described as ‘the strongest typhoon to ever hit landfall’. Winds of up to 235mph have been reported and not happy with being called a ‘super’ typhoon’, it is now being described appropriately as a ‘monster’. The tiny paradise island of Boracay has been closed off for over 24 hours now as boats and ships have been cancelled by the coastguard for obvious reasons. We are due to arrive here on Monday morning. Hmmmm…..

If this wasn’t enough to make you think it might be time to start holidaying in Cornwall then it’s a good time to mention we have already dodged one bullet when it comes to this Filipino adventure. Just over a fortnight ago the islands of Bohol and Cebu were hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that killed 140 people and hit many of the tourist sites we planned (plan?!) on visiting. Guess which two islands we are spending the second half of the trip exploring? You guessed it….

We have been waiting for over six months for this trip. Minus a weekend in Bristol, me and Naomi have been working and saving non-stop since our last trip to Amsterdam way back in April. I know that sounds terribly selfish to say that given the awful pictures on the news plus the first hand accounts surfacing on twitter from the people over in the Philippines going through Yolanda. Our potential holiday plans being uprooted and changed for an extra few hundred quid pales into insignificance given what millions of Filipinos have been through this past month. Still, I’m sure you can appreciate the frustration felt before the guilt takes over.

Being stuck in the unknown yesterday as the storm approached was difficult. Twenty-four hours on we are still in the dark if it is at all possible to get to Boracay on Monday as flights to the nearest airport have been cancelled. Just as importantly we still don’t know the true extent of storm damage because the power has been out for many hours on the island. What is looking more and more likely is we will be able to fly into Manila on Sunday night as scheduled. That didn’t look likely this time yesterday.

Rewind to 2008 and after much deliberation we still got on that flight to Mumbai, changed our itineraries around to meet the cricket boards needs (Chennai to Chandigarh is a bloody long way) and had a fantastic, and crucially safe time. We need not have worried. The hundred or so of us that followed the cricket in India so soon after the country was written off as being grossly unsafe were treated like heroes and kings by the locals. We were often thanked for coming to their country, supporting them and helping them move on with their lives.

Would I still go to Sri Lanka today and ride public transport despite that ‘near’ miss? Of course I would. I would have done whilst the Tigers were still an active threat. It’s one of my most favourite countries I’ve experienced; full of some of the friendlies people you could imagine.

OK, so this time maybe slightly different given it’s an ‘act of god’ as opposed to a human created problem. But the one thing that rings true in my mind is that now more than ever the Philippines will need travellers, in the same way both India and Sri Lanka did during those darker days. We might not be able to do all the things we wanted but we are in a fortunate position – lets see what happens over the next few days and go from there.

If there is one thing I have learnt though from travelling across wide parts of Asia is the incredible resilience of the people. Lets hope we can play a small part in bringing some normality back to the place.

photo 1

photo 2

17
Mar
13

boozing in be(e)rlin

Trip number two of three of spring 2013 has been and gone; Naomi and I found ourselves in the historic German capital city of Berlin. We booked up four nights here for no other reason than Naomi had a few days to book off work and I’m never one to turn down a chance to visit somewhere new.

I’ve been to Germany before on what can only be described as ‘one of the perks of the job’ – a week at an Aerospace Exhibition with work to the marvellous Bavarian city of Munich. Incredibly this was some four years ago, and was around about the time I had been well and truly bitten by the travel bug. I’d had a month in India a few months before and a Caribbean double header a few weeks before me and my boss took off for a week of, ahem…….business.

Anyway, enough of that before I get sacked.

Berlin is the favourite city of one of my travel buddies that has appeared many times on this blog – Fred. For someone as well travelled as him to announce this is at the top of his tree means it must be good. I’d go along that this seems a very decent spot to spend a few days.

Our first day was spent chilling out – a long beer fuelled lunch at the imported ‘Hofbrahaus’ (a Bavarian beer hall that’s a bit of an institution in Munich) that has opened a secondary home in Berlin. It proclaims to be the biggest beer hall in Europe. I can’t testify to that but can agree that the one litre beers they serve in extremely heavy glass tumblers bought to you by women in traditional Lederhosen is all a bit of good fun. Chuck in some traditional German live music and you get a cracking spot to while away a few hours on a Tuesday afternoon.

After we’d finished off our lazy lunch we ventured round the corner to the 326ft high ‘Fernsehturm’ – or TV Tower. For just 12 Euros and a half hour wait you can get a lift up to the observation deck some 203ft above the city and gaze over the expansive skyline over one of the world’s most famous cities. From both the inside and outside Berlin’s tower was almost identical to the one I’d visited in Kuala Lumpur called the ‘Menera Tower’ – though a quick look back through this blog tells me Berlin’s tower is a good 100ft shorter than Malaysia’s effort.

We went up at a time that would ensure we would see the sun go down – which would have been all the more magical if some locals wouldn’t have been blocking the view by standing at the front of the observation area, clicking on their facebook and changing songs on their ipod as opposed looking up and watching the sun go down. Wonders never cease sometimes – spend 12 Euros to go up during sunset and not actually watch the big orange thing in the sky disappear because you’re more bothered of what your mate Dietmar is doing down the local pub thanks to your facebook or twitter news feed #idiocy

That’s the first time a hash-tag has made it onto this block in some 77,702 words but I’m thinking now is as good a time as ever to introduce it.

Our second day was spent hiking round the touristy sites that make up a big part of this city’s history. The remnants of the Berlin Wall just down the road from the Brandenburg Gate were, for some reason, covered in chewing gum. I didn’t notice this but Naomi, photographer’s eye for detail and all, spotted this idiosyncrasy straight away. A quick stroll to the Brandenburg Gate was interrupted by a look round the 2000 odd concrete pillars that make up the cities Holocaust memorial. It would have been a better place for reflective moments were it not for an Irish tour guide sitting down on one of the pillars, giving a lecture to his tour party about the ins and outs of the Holocaust. It just seemed a little disrespectful to us to be sat down on one of the memorials whilst telling tales of the atrocities.

After a walk round the impressive Reichstag building and a few snaps of the Gate, we headed south on the brilliant U-bahn underground tube to the cheap and cheerful part of town called Kreuzberg. This was my kind of borough – plenty of ‘real’ bars and restaurants with a spit and sawdust feel to the area. We ironically ended up in a Thai restaurant for lunch (you can take the girl out of Asia etc) after the place I found online was closed until later that night. It was actually quite difficult to decide where to eat in Kreuzberg because there were so many options.

We came to Kreuzberg in the evening and had a cracking traditional German feed at a restaurant called ‘Max und Moritz’ – the Viener Schnitzel (OK I know, that is Austrian) was superb, as was Naomi’s roast pork. If you are ever in Berlin make sure you come to this part of town, I wish we had a few more days to explore Kreuzberg and its nightlife.

Our last day was a bit of a non-event until the sun went down. We jumped on the tube to try and find a big palace called ‘Schloss Charlottenburg’ which was a good fourteen stops away from our U-bhan station of Spitlmarkt. We were both a bit tired and grumpy (hey, these things happen sometimes even when travelling) and ended up having a pastry and a cup of tea in a local café. After a half-hearted walk up and down the main road we declared ourselves ‘lost’ and deciding to head back to the hotel! Spirits were soon picked up by the presence of a man selling German sausage outside Spitlemarkt U-bahn….simple things etc!

The last night was awesome though – back to the Hofbrahaus for some Friday night beer drinking along with what seemed the rest of Berlin. I reckoned there must have been over a thousand people in the bar, all sat on the shared wooden tables drinking litre beers and eating fine German grub! It was a great atmosphere to be in, the band were playing and spirits were high all round.

Berlin was a fine city – as ever, when rating a city I simply ask the question would I recommend it to others? The answer in this case is a big fat German sausage of a ‘yes’!

DSCN0351

DSCN0330

DSCN0307

DSCN0377

DSCN0381

DSCN0382

DSCN0401

DSCN0426

DSCN0427