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Monthly Archives: September 2009

IMG_0339The motto of this tiny island 8 kilometers off the coast of Cebu Island is simple. Forget Family Planning, just focus on Family Planting.  Ben and I decided to take a 4-hour bus ride up the coast of Cebu to the town of Maya. With no air conditioning we actually had an enjoyable ride that I will not forget for some time. The driver was good, really good at his job and drove fast through the windy coastline. The windows down we hung out the open windows watching everything we passed. Never has 4 hours gone by faster. Leaving the dirty cityscape of Cebu and driving by the huge municipalities we eventually came to more jungle and coastline.  It was a really nice day out too, something we had come to value in this typhoon season, and the palm trees forests covering mountains and beautiful coastline made the plastic seat covers seem almost comfortable.  Arriving in Maya just before dusk, we argued a little with a local boatman to take us the 8 km to Malapascua. It was low season and the strait was rough water, something we hadn’t read about in the rough guides to South East Asia.  However we made it, and I fell in love with another beautiful tiny island surrounded by white beaches this one in particular looking like a Boracay 10 years ago.  Paradise again, how could I be so lucky?  We spent a couple days here, and rented a motorbike to tour the island. It took us 45 mins to ride around the perimeter. The locals in the interior were 4,000 strong with 10,000 including their children. Every family has approx. 8 kids. So family planting does win when NO ONE has heard of family planning.  Malapascua is a lovely island, filled with people willing to share their stories, Filipino stories that I will always remember.  After all the experiences I have had so far I still consider myself a simple person with a bubbly personality, but I do have many little quirks, which I like to think set me apart from the rest of everything I have seen. I am right when I say I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.IMG_0279

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My sickness overlapped with our travel plans to Cebu Island, a more southern part of the Visayas. I don’t remember much of the plane rides, or better yet the delayed cancelled and rescheduled plane rides that took up most of a whole day. Thank you Ben for carrying my bag and everything else. You saved me that day and the next.  Upon arrival to the 2nd largest city in the Philippines, Cebu City, we crashed at the Elegant Inn Circle in a cheap air con room for two.  The next day was mashed with women selling puppies at least 20 different puppies from different litters and going in and out of the air conditioned super malls surrounding the area we stayed in.  I have to admit the nightlife has nothing on Boracay, but we came to experience what the city has to offer.  So with that in mind we walked by hundreds of beggar children, bbq stalls and eventually the largest ‘Mandaue’ cock fight in a coliseum known in this country.  The latter was disturbing but at the same time exciting I have to admit. I wanted to be apart of local culture, and betting on cockfights was high on their list.  Almost a thousand people crammed into a wet lit arena that circled around a sand ring of cocks and their trainers. This may sound like complete chaos, but it was magically organized with signals and sounds from the men betting. No foul play was in sight, as every man was straight up as hundreds of rolled up pesos were tossed back and forth.  The cocks themselves were not forced, and their deaths rather quick. I’m not condemning, or condoning, simply being. Their hocks had small knives taped to them with sea snake poison, killing them much quicker and less bloody than I had anticipated.  The real thrill was watching the people, the Filipino men betting and yelling and eating chicken on sticks in between.

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With Manila miles behind, sitting in a 19-seat propeller I was on my way to Boracay Island a small (7 by 1 km) island in the Visayas.  It was still early September with only days until my 25th birthday and I was beyond excited to visit this holiday hotspot that so many Asian & European tourists had claimed as having the most beautiful white beaches and equally nice sunsets.  I don’t know if I have mentioned but we are traveling the Philippines during the rainy season aka Typhoon central. So this plane ride was nonetheless terrifying and something I will mark down as a cautionary and necessary experience. There in no exaggeration in my words the plane was literally bouncing around in the rain and wind, soaking our bags in the process even though we were riding shotgun behind the pilot and co pilot. We ended up staying a whole week in this paradise, and regardless of the daily rain showers we had a blast. Boracay is a non-stop party. Jack Johnson cover bands, drinks for $1.50 Canadian and music pumping until the early morning.  There were hundreds of fine restaurants and many bars and dance bamboo sheds.  I read that one of the northern beaches ‘Puka’ was made famous by Elizabeth Taylor’s fascination with the white Puka shells littering the beach.  We stayed on White Beach a long 2km stretch of white sand with views of mountains on the neighboring island of Panay and red sunsets on the other side.  We saw only one nice sunset, but I can’t really complain as the typhoon created magnificent dark skies that complimented the turquoise waters below.  However the most memorable part of visiting Boracay has come from a local family inviting over for breakfast, the Filipino way. The story goes after a couple days on Boracay we established a favorite hangout Nigi Nigi Bar and befriended one of the bartenders Nolly.  He invited us back to his house to have a breakfast with him and his wife Joy who was also the cook at the bar. Taking him up on his offer we left the next day at 6am to make the trek onshore to Caticlan. After a short ferry across the water Nolly took us in his own tricycle (think batman and robin) and we set off to his ‘castle’.  We briefly stopped at the local market to pick up fresh tuna (caught a hour before we arrived) and pork. Driving through the poverty in the streets my standards were low and I wondered what his home would look like. To my shock we left the main paved road and continued into the jungle, and a different picture was beginning to come clear. Driving by the greenest rice fields I had ever seen, local school children waving at us and farmers doing what they do we finally arrived at a fresh water river and left the tricycle to journey by foot.  We hiked further into this amazing jungle and up a huge hill to where his ‘castle’ was.  Flowers of all colors, a tree full of Kalamantci (baby limes that are ubiquitous in the philippines) and strange plants with huge leaves surrounded his house. A small concrete 1-bedroom house with pink interior and stuffed animals for decoration. The roof still not finished, but made of strong lumber that Nolly was proud to discuss.  Nolly and Joy introduced us to their 2 boys (7 and 4) I only remember James the older boy’s name.  Nolly told us he recently moved here to get away from the bustle of Boracay and I couldn’t have agreed more with him. His place was small, but by the town’s standards it was a castle and one on top of a hill.  Both Nolly and Joy refused to let us help cook the breakfast of pork and rice, so Ben and I chilled on the front porch drinking coffee and listening to the sounds of the jungle. After a huge eating session, another Anthony Bourdain would be jealous of; we walked down the hill to the most amazing fresh water river where his family bathed every day. It started raining slightly but it didn’t matter, it felt amazing. The cool water about 4 feet deep in places and the trees overhanging parts of the rocky beach made this seem like Nolly really did have his own paradise here in the middle of the jungle a couple kilometers from the busy city of Caticlan. I will remember this experience for a long time, as I’m sure Ben will too.  Returning to Boracay later that day, I was proud to experience this local Filipino family’s only time off with their kids a mere 6 hours every morning before they headed back to Boracay.  But I was back to partying the night away on Boracay, it was my birthday after all.  Something else I had noticed and come to learn about was the Asian tourists who dominated the beach and surroundings of Boracay were different to one another. The Chinese were more independent, and the Korean usually came with tour guides who ripped them off. I guess they felt unsafe or something, as they almost all had these guides who would instruct them on everything from eating to adventures.  I did go snorkeling in Boracay and really enjoyed the blue starfish and angelfish that littered the shallows.   Before I close my Boracay chapter I have to mention that I did get really sick towards the end, perhaps from drinking water somehow I will never now.  And I thought death was near, I was freaking out and delusional -puking non-stop around 4am. The rest I will spare you.  Boracay is beautiful and I don’t want to ruin it.  I will return someday, hopefully things stay the same although I doubt this as I’m typing it.IMG_0237

Thank you Jet Star for your cheap flights! But I will give you back your onboard mystery meat & cramped seating. A funny thing happened to us in the airport in Singapore.  We met a stanford graduate who went by the name of Nat, and was in the business of Medical Tourism.  (Later I would find out many people come to Bangkok and Manila for medical procedures that cost way less then their home country and offer the same quality of service).  We starting talking, and discussed many things about Manila, Canada, and the U.S.  When it came time to leave we followed Nat through to the baggage claim. A women from his company had been hired to meet him and walk him through the airport customs. I know this sounds sketchy as HELL but you had to be there.  You see I have my macbook with me, and Nat had about 3 macbook pro’s he was bringing to his boss in Manila.  And the custom officers in Manila are corrupt as hell, like their government. Nat explained its easier for his company to pay someone to help him through, as he made trips to Manila weekly. Instead of the risk of the officers taking the laptops for whatever reason they choose. Call it airport assistance. We walked with our bags through customs, only the lady helping us showed them her pass and we were through.   We say our goodbyes, and exchange cell numbers. After spending too much money in Singapore, our gateway city, we are finally in the Philippines and it is cheap. Manila is the first place we land 3 hours later, and far off the typical south east asia backpackers trail. Moments out of the airport and its intense,  the traffic congestion, blazing humidity and the poverty. People are everywhere and begging for money.  Children are taught to beg before they can walk or talk. Maybe this is why so few backpackers in Singapore hadn’t crossed Manila off their list.  In the ride to the Manila Bay area our cabbie tells us the slums of Manila to the east (just slightly) are home to 70,000 people per square kilometer. Their homes are just built up and up until they collapse in the rainy season (which is considered to be now Sept). We are dropped off somewhere in the enclaves of Ermite and Malate (old red light district go go bar leftovers are still around and working) just east of Manila Bay.  This city is dirty, the shining opposite of Singapore.  And lacks any kind of organization. The only exception to this would be the one sign and set of traffic lights I saw at the intersection on Roxas Blvd (no lights, road lines) , the sign of course referring to the zone as a ‘traffic discipline’ area where people had to slow down I guess? Silly enough there was an actual typhoon above, which responsible for the rain and wind was my first of the kind.  Within a hour or 2 we find a hostel, drop our bags and head out to explore.  Regardless of the filth and poverty I am excited.  I know we will reach Boracay’s white beach the next day, so spending the afternoon in Manila is not so bad after all.  After seeing a little girl almost molested on the street, I start to feel sick to my stomach. I want to cry, I am only a tourist and cannot get involved with helping anyone today. The are beggars, prostitutes, women nursing their babies while lying on the dirty street, kids from every direction yelling money, money. And dog fights around the street, one in particular stays with me where the smaller dog was trying so hard to get out of the circle of men and onslaught of bites from the bigger dog.  The streets are covered in garbage, and shit, literally. I break my shoe, and head into the malls (all guarded by armed police with shirts labeled ‘shooters’.  Funny enough, I’m considered a giant here. Finding a size 9 flip flop is impossible for a small while, I eventually splurge $2 on a fancy pair. Most of them were running 40 to 50 cents Canadian. While on the topic of giant, we decide to grab beers and cover from the monsoon rain at the Hobbit House. This is what is sounds like. A pub run entirely by a staff of filipino midgets. The owner himself looks like J.R Tolken, well what I would assume he looks like –old and white and american.  The imported beer list is exceptional, my dad would of been pleased. We start to talk to the wait staff and one of the friendliest midgets, Monet (no not like the painter she says) explains to us the problems in Manila, and the crazy expensive electric bills which cause almost the whole population to suffer with no fan or a/c in 40 degree weather.  Leaving the Hobbit House to Ben’s dismay, we head out to sample Jolibee (the equvilant to Mcdonalds) and find its nasty sauce to be slightly edible.  We leave to the beautiful beaches of Boracay tomorrow, but before I close my chapter in Manila I have to mention the people and how they put their horribly dangerous and dirty city aside to greet us at every chance they got. This is what made the city remarkable in my eyes. People every five feet would ask your name, your home country, and more personally questions were quick to follow. Are you married? Why not? They were so excited to talk to us, and happy to answer our questions back.  The rough guide to Asia I have been reading is very misleading in the Manila section. It mentions nothing of the scale of poverty, and even calls Malate fashionable. I want to see more more chicken adobo (filipino dish) and adoring people within the pages, as that’s what I took from this city.  I have had my eyes opened in this city.  The world is a big and scary place, and one that I don’t want to miss or hide from.IMG_0017

We made it to Singapore! I am half way around the world. My life is about to change. And this is only the first stop of our tour around South east Asia.  After a wonderful 15 hour flight from NYC to Hong Kong ( I slept for 10 hours, while Ben walked the aisles and watched episodes of Heroes), and another 4 hour flight from HKG… we arrived in Singapore a small city state island south of Malaysia. Backtracking for one moment I have to revisit the NYC scene. I have never been, and was amazed at how friendly the people are regardless of their ‘gruff’ accent. We spent the day walking Broadway, touring the fashion district, and snoozing in Central Park. The next morning we left around 5 oo am and witnessed the most beautiful sunrise driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to JFK Airport. It was a moment in many to come. Fast forward to Singapore, a gateway city to South East Asia. If you should know anything, I want to address how clean this city is. I mean you could eat breakfast off the subway (called the MRT Mass Rapid Transit) floor. The rules here are strict, no spitting, no gum chewing the list goes on and then some.  If I could use one word to describe the city it would be ‘organization’. Every thing is orderly and safe. I didn’t see one police car, there doesn’t seem to be a need to constantly remind people things. I later hear the reason for this is the bat, or the method of sticking people who get out of line (ie spit or chew gum). It is who there are, and what they know Singapore to be. We stayed in a hood called Little India at the Inn Crowd Backpackers Hostel, smack in the midde of any curry lover’s paradise. They have a hotel across from us called Madras Hotel, and even curried chicken in Burger King. We spent a total of 3 days here mainly because its so damn expensive. The Singapore dollar is only slightly off the Canadian dollar, but to backpackers its a waste of money that could go way further in Indo and Thailand. Meeting people is not a problem I see, on our first night we met Dave an Aussie whose parents are chinese from Singapore. You could almost consider him a local, as he knew his way around town offering to escort us the next day to the infamous “Eating Houses” and  food stalls where the locals dine. He spoke fluent Cantonese and ordered us many different plates ranging from duck to iced coffee served in plastic bags. Anthony Bourdain would be impressed. The next day, also Ben’s 26 the birthday! we took a gondola ride to the southern tip of Singapore to the island of Sentosa.  If you could imagine Canada’s Wonderland but a weird foreign one. Sentosa is nice and hot and we swim at every opportunity. I am starting to fall in love with escaping my 9-5 job, and traveling the real world.