Sunday, September 1, 2013

Some Pictures to Show Off Evelyn

Hi All,

Been a while since we posted to this page. But the world tour is over and we are entrenched in the suburban world of house and daughter. For those looking at this page (Yes you Helen) here are some recent pictures and videos of Evie.

Better Form than Dad

Babycino is best faceplanted

Love the horn daddy
What do you mean look at the camera?

Ooooohhhh, that's what you mean

Breakfast before uni

What's Dad doing behind the glass mummy?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Malapascua Island - last stop in paradise

We flew into Cebu city from Palawan easily enough. But when we found our hotel I realized that I had made a mistake. I booked Allson's hotel over the internet on reasonable reviews, but was greeted by an inept and sleepy clerk who actually asked me how much the room was. And it didn't improve from there. We were happy to get out.

Malapascua Island is off the northern tip of Cebu Island. To get there you have to take a bus to a town called Maya and then get a boat. The 5 hour bus ride was an experience. Our driver was a certifiable nut case who was hell bent on starting and stopping the bus as quickly as possible. It did not take long before you could smell the unhappy brakes. When we arrived in Maya, there was no one around. The price board said 50 pesos a ticket ($1.25, not bad), or special trip 1200 pesos. Just then a Swedish couple turned up, and the boat drivers started to sell. Oh you need special trip, there are no more passengers. We need 26 passengers before we go. We aren't allowed to drop people off on Bounty Beach (the main beach with all the resorts). Red flags for scam were going up all over the place. We eventually agreed on 800 for the boat. Out of nowhere a few Philippinos turned up and jumped on, one with a motorbike. Our polite enquiries as to their fares were greeted with "they own the boat"(hmmmmmmm). We don't mind paying a little extra for a trip, this is a poor country after all, but come on guys!

Having arrived and found nice accommodation, it was time to relax on the beach. And what a beach it is. The sand is a brilliant white colour, and the water is mind bogglingly clean, clear and blue!

The main reason Malapascua comes onto the radar is the quality of the diving here, especially the chance to see a deep water shark with an enormous tail called the Thresher shark. We were unprepared for the hard core dive groups that seemed everywhere. All doing at least 3 dives a day, some 4. Eye opening. Us amateurs had to do an advanced deep water dive (30m down) just to go out shark spotting, but came away without seeing one. They are very shy and there were at least 40 divers there. Any wonder most people didn't see one.

We also did some great diving at Gato island. We saw our own sharks, 2m White Tipped Reef Sharks. Magnificent! We also saw a cuttlefish (very cool), funky shrimps, deadly Scorpion fish, poisonous Lion fish and all sorts of soft and hard coral. Tash also saw a very highly venomous sea snake swim past her face (which I bloody missed, dammit).

All too soon reality hits and its time to head home. After a year on the road, with so many varied experiences, its with mixed feelings that we make our way back to Australia. Its going to be nice to see family and friends again, and enjoy a few home comforts. But eventually we have to head back into home life again........... before the next adventure begins!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Palawan Island - P is for Paradise

Palawan Island is only an hours flight from Manila. The first stop is Puerto Princesa, the island's capital city. Puerto is a clean (very unusual for Philippines) little town, it doesn't have alot going for it, but it does serve a very good base for the area. We stayed at Manny's Guesthouse a lovely old converted dutch house. Manny was a good host, producing coffee in the mornings and discounted tours. Our only problem was that at 3am it sounded like it was in the middle of a rooster farm with canine fencing.

We decided to check out the Underground River in Sabang which is in the running to be one of the Natural Wonders of the world. Eons of water erosion has produced a 8km long cave complex. You can catch a small paddle boat 1.5km into the cave. The cave was very cool, but with only 1 light per boat (operated by clueless lady up front) the tour was only ok. Formations that look like corn (?!), mushrooms (ok) and the Virgin Mary (it is a catholic country after all) were pointed out to us.

The next day we headed to Honda Bay for our first dose of island hopping. And a nice dose it turned out to be. The water around Palawan is like that of the travel photos, a clear azure blue. We saw some cool fish while did snorkeling on a submerged reef, had a lovely lunch on snake island where the mangroves burst with life, and finished the day with a sunbake on a "private" island.

The following day we headed by bus to El Nido on the north tip of the island. With the poor state of the roads, we had an 8 hour (actually considered a good time!) slow and bumpy ride. The bus stopped every few moments to let locals crawl over chickens and boxes to any available seats. When the seats were full, people just climbed onto the roof. But the journey was well worth the effort. We found a reasonable beach surrounded by majestic limestone cliffs. Ha Long Bay eat your heart out. The first day it rained so we just sat on our veranda reading.

We booked an island hopping tour (the one thing here), hopeful of the brilliant sunny day that greeted us as we awoke. For the rest of our time in Palawan, the weather gods turned it on! We saw a couple of hidden lagoons, Umbrella island, the boatmen BBQ'd fresh fish on a secluded beach for lunch, and we snorkeled our little hearts out. A great day.

We followed it up with another tour to hidden beaches and great little lagoons. Lunch was fresh fish again, although this time it had been chopped up with a cleaver. Quartered fish anyone? Unfortunately the coral wasn't in the best condition, making snorkeling a little less rewarding than other spots. Dynamite fishing and Crown of Thorns star fish taking their toll.

We hired a scooter and headed out to a long quiet beach. The road was such a rocky monstrosity that a new term was coined for our frequent stops: stretching the bum. We found it after about an hour in the saddle. The local village kids took a great interest in us, asking our names and getting their photo taken. I had to shoo them away to get some peace (and a swim). We sun baked blissfully unaware that the local sand flies were making merry with our exposed legs. For 3 days Tash made a great effort at removing her entire skin from the itching, while getting annoyed at Greg's lack of bites!

With the recent bus ride still fresh in our memories, we hung around for another day to share a banca (local boat) ride to our next stop, Port Barton. Ear plugs proving essential on our 5 hour ride on one of these growling boats. Port Barton is a fantastic place to relax. We had an A-frame detached beach front room, metres from the water for the equivalent of $15AUD. Its a place to read relax and watch sunsets. It is also home to a wonderful little place called Jambalaya.

Jambalaya only has 3 small tables for 2. Its been inspired by Zydaco music, from the deep south of the USA. Old album covers are everywhere, Zydaco music coming from the speakers. Little hand written signs with homely suggestions and requests hang on the walls. Loads of books wash around the shelves, the beach is an arms length away! All of which would count for less were it not for the food and service. We had to the entire planet's most polite waitress (you're welcome, thank you, you're welcome, is everything ok?, you're welcome, thank you etc.). We feasted on the best bowl of special cornflakes in the world. It contained: Cornflakes, bran flakes,
choc cereal, white and black sesame seeds, coconut (caramel and normal), cashews, dried apricots, banana and loads of fresh milk. Quite a Bowl!

We decided to go back for dinner and get garlic (GARLIC!!!) bread, succulent cajun tuna and jambalaya rice. Followed by an awesome choc banana crepe, a top ten meal. All to soon we had to say goodbye to this paradise and head to Puerto once more. We took a jeepney (think half old army jeep, half bus, painted as bright as possible), squeezed in with the locals who looked bemused. The following day we said a sad goodbye to a fantastic place, but its time to move on once more..........

Manila - A CIty of Contrast

Manila is a big, dirty, gritty city. Its quite in your face. We landed at Clarke, unaware its a 2 hour bus ride north of the city (worse than landing in Avalon instead of Tulla). We got to our hostel (called a pension house here) in Malate & were immediately struck by the number of armed guards. Every one of them with shotgun or pistol close at hand. The other thing to notice straight away was the poverty. Across the road from our accommodation was a family living on the street. Unfortunately not an unusual occurrence.

We had to stay in Manila a day longer than planned because of a Typhoon (called Ramir). It was to be the third one in about a month, and predicted to make land in northern Luzon just when we were meant to be in the area. Even though the travel agents in Manila were pretty apathetic about the whole thing, we decided it would be pretty stupid to get caught out, so we brought forward our flight to Palawan. The rice terraces of northern Luzon would have to wait.

To kill our time we went to the Chinese cemetery on the local elevated train. The security checked my waist and our bag for weapons (for a train!). The cemetery is massive and has grand monuments with second stories, toilets and kitchens for the dead to use in the afterlife (or for the living to use during celebrations). Morbidly interesting.

While known in the past as the Pearl of the Orient, we didn't stick around long enough to try and experience the other side of this intense city. Essentially we were impatient to head off to the island paradise that is Palawan......

Sunday, October 11, 2009

KL - That's Kuala Lumpur

Once we had gathered our bearings we realised our bus from Melacca had dropped us 8 mins walk from our hostel - sweet intro. Ashamed to admit, but the first activity we did in KL was go shopping mall....Careful to avoid the international brands (Top Shop, French Connection, Next etc) which seemed a similar price, we managed to get some killer bargains and some beautiful Malaysian clothes. The next day we headed out earlyish to the Petronas Towers to get tickets to the viewing platform. But we arrived too late and tickets were sold out... fortunately there was another shopping mall at the base of the towers!

We did do some sightseeing. We caught the Hop-on, Hop-Off Bus which does a handy circuit of the city. We checked out the beautiful and light National Mosque. Before we were allowed in we both had to put on purple - jedi like gowns to cover our heads and legs.

We visited the Islamic Museum where they have very cool mini replicas of mosques from all over the world. We walked through Chinatown and got accosted with loads of fake designer handbags, DVD's, purses and watches. Little India was cool, Tash got another henna tattoo for $4.

Now for a change of scenery.........

Melacca - Or is it malaka

We arrived in Melacca/Malaka/Melaka with Tash feeling a bit poorly (well ok, she had food poisoning, the both ends kind, and from bloody Spag Bol!), it seemed that the Cameron Highlands decided to leave a lasting impression. But she fought through.

Riverview Guesthouse gave us (me) a brilliant welcome and Tash escaped to the bed. The guesthouse itself is a converted warehouse. Beautiful dark wooden floors, high ceilings and a great feeling. With Tash still out of action I found a great Indian Tandoori place for dinner that was so good I brought some takeaway (forrrr Tash, yeah, well that's my excuse anyway). But on the way home the heavens opened and I was stuck. Well, until the owners came and found me in their car.

Melaka old town is world heritage listed and with good reason. With Tash up and about, the next days were filled with walks amongst the old buildings. Harmony Street has Chinese, Muslin and Christian temples/mosques/churches on it. The Dutch were the main settling colonial power here and for some reason they painted the town a pinkish orange. Quite a striking colour. There is a thriving artist community and plenty of antiques. Junkers Street has a great little restaurant that did a luscious laksa and a local sweet called Cendol. Its loads of finely shaved ice with Cendol (which is a green jelly thing), red beans, coconut and palm sugar syrup. Its absolutely delicious, if a little difficult for fragile stomachs. We went on a river cruise that showed plenty of water monitors (large lizards) living in the estuary and finally the skeleton of St Peters church where there's a great view of the straits.

Another great meal we had was at a local institution called Capitol Satay. Here the satay sauce is brought out to the table and kept bubbling hot by a gas stove. You choose your sticks of meats/vegetables and cook them in the sauce. Its famous and there was a wait on the street to get in. We had 23 sticks, 108 for the single record holder- kinda pathetic). Our last breakfast we had The Tarik, a Malaysian version of tea that is sweet and poured between cups to get a creamy texture, and vegetable marsala flat bread (buggered if I can remember it's name).

On to Kuala Lumpur.................

Cameron Highlands - Tea with cool comfort

The Cameron Highlands is a vast area of rolling green hills, tea plantations and forest. Keen to escape the heat and get a good cup of tea, we headed for these lush surroundings. We stayed at Father's Guesthouse - lovely, clean and friendly. Just what we needed after our accommodation horrors in the jungle.

As usual, we decided a scooter would be a great way to explore the area (they are useful little things). We set off, stopped at a butterfly farm, honey bee farm and of course a tea plantation. As we sat on the veranda overlooking the rows and rows of tea hedges, the clouds rolled down the valley. 2 hours later, the rain finally cleared and we headed out to the scooter to finish our exploration. The scooter however, had other plans. Half way out of the car park the chain broke. After another 2 hours and every spare male and his tool kit, we were on our way. By this stage it was getting dark and cold so we stopped for some tasty night market food. Wild mushroom tempura, Yum!

The next day dawned bright and clear and we (read: Tash) decided it was time for some more walking. (Greg may have been suffering from a bit of travel night runs) We headed out on trail 9A - a lovely walk though the sub-tropical rainforest. Strangely, at one point we found 5 dogs barking madly at a small pack of monkeys in the trees. At the end of the trail we headed up to the BOH (Best of Highlands) tea estate. The Lonely Planet mentions the walk is only 45 minutes. It does not mention however that the walk is completely up hill. An hour later we finally reached the top, hopeful that the place served food as well as tea. Thankfully we were rewarded with tuna and cucumber sandwiches, followed by tea and scones with strawberry jam.

Eventually we persuaded ourselves to set off on the 6km walk back to the main road. When we got there (downhill is so much easier!) the signs told us we still had 9kms to go. But before this information had time to settle in our minds, a beaten up old land rover (and there are hundreds of the things around here) pulled over with the offer of a lift, which we gleefully accepted. Being used to Thai hospitality we were amazed that our saviour asked for nothing more than conversation.

Next stop Melacca.........