Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Gringo Trail

One of the best pieces of advice for our journey came from our friend, Phil Crossley.  Unfortunately, we have found it very difficult to follow.  Phil urged us to get off "The Gringo Trail" whenever possible, to explore the corners of the earth that see few tourists and which just might be representative of the people and place in that area.

Such is challenging for two novice world travelers. These are the places with little or infrequent public transport where walking and motorbikes may be the norms but buses and taxis are rare or non-existent.  People are less likely to speak any English in these corners of the world.  Food may be less likely to be prepared in a hygienic way that helps keep us moving fluidly rather than moving fluids.

The Gringo Trail also tends to exist because there are terrific sights and sites to behold.  Think Grand Canyon, Rome's Coliseum, Swiss Alps, the Great Wall of China, etc.  So for much of our first year, we have tread firmly in the footsteps of others on the often slightly polluted, always full, and clearly described tourist tracks in Lonely Planet.  We have tried to ask locals for ideas of things to see that most tourists rush by, but such has been limited to a few hours in a few places...until recently...

In the last couple of weeks, we have begun to find special sites and sights off the beaten track.  On the small island of Bohol in the Philippines, we walked a road for miles where locals
emerged to grin and wave, many asking us "where you going?"  We have taken the time to listen to a local children's choir practice to find to our astonishment it was the world famous, internationally traveled, Loboc's Children Choir.  We stayed a few extra nights to catch the performance of the Loboc Youth Ambassador Band.  Both groups are the inspired vision of music loving locals who mortgaged their business and sacrificed their time to give these children a future.  On Siquijor, we are practicing our motorbike skills (Jess for the first time) and touring smaller, only locally known roads.  We have not seen another non-Filipino tourist in a week.
And soon, we plan on returning to Indonesia.  We loved Bali. However, 80% of Indonesian bound foreign tourists visit only Bali.  There are 17,507 other islands in the fourth most populous country on earth.  These are the islands that helped Alfred Russell Wallace co-develop the theory of evolution as his contemporary colleague, Darwin, pondered his findings from the Galapagos archipelago.  They are the islands where Komodo Dragons roam, living "Hobbits" exist, and the birthplace of spices gracing our kitchen counters.  And...places far from the normal tourist trail.

Images are of our first motorbike ride on Siquijor Island, three young ladies from the Loboc Children's Choir, and typical river transport in the Philippines.  Posted in Larena, Siquijor Island, Philippines

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hon, My Hat is Mildewing

One morning this week Jess exclaimed "My hat is mildewing!" as she looked in dismay at her relatively new hat purchased a month ago in Malaysia.  While many things differ between our native Gunnison, Colorado and places during our travels abroad, humidity is one of the most significant.  In Gunnison, new arrivals generally have a nosebleed before their first night has passed given the arid and often frigid environment.  Ever since we were in Northern Australia, we have endured a swampy, hot environment in which clothes (and people) never fully dry out.  Add to the mix our penchant to hang out on the beach in these environments, and our non-synthetic clothes begin to rot!

One such place has been the Philippines.  The Philippines are comprised of over 7,000 islands with a varied people speaking over 70 languages.  The primarily Catholic Southeastern Asian country had an interesting mix of first Spanish then US rule during the past four centuries and the smiling, welcoming, resilient people have elements of those as well as other Asian cultures in their everyday life.

As we have described in earlier posts about other places, our time in the Philippines is a series of contrasting experiences.  We may have days in which we are lounging in a resort environment, drinking fruity, happy-hour concoctions and nursing sunburns from too many hours of glorious, snorkeling adventures.  Then there are days like yesterday....

We began the day as we had the previous ones on Malapascua Island without Internet as a storm had knocked it out almost a week earlier.  We walked across the island following young men gracious enough to carry old ladies' backpacks to a small port.  Really, it was a place on the beach where a half dozen sea captains of local bangkas designed to ferry passengers across the sea lounged about waiting for passengers.  Our captain squeezed two dozen of us onto the wood platforms of his trusty banga and set off for the distant shore just under an hour away.  Nowhere were the common sights of fluorescent life jackets on this boat, perhaps attesting to the unique skills of the teen- and preteen- age boys assisting our captain by pumping out water almost, but not quite, as fast as it entered the engine compartment.  The captain and his crew chain-smoked their way across the Philippine Sea with indifference to either the gasoline fumes or hastily tossed propane tanks piled behind them.  Across from us we watched as two young girls picked lice out of each other's hair, a frequent sight on the island with two thousand residents but no doctor or real health care.  A young tourist joined in the grooming, and as they all flung their invertebrate finds into the air we could only hope we were not directly downwind in our nearby seats.  We arrived on land to clamber aboard a local, non-air-conditioned "chicken bus" as we like to call the busses on different continents that transport people and other assorted goods and farm animals.  These busses stop frequently as drivers compete to see which can get the most people squeezed into a small, humid, hot space.  Sharing seats with several others is common.  As we eyed the girls from our boat ride in their nearby seats, we could not help but check the heads of the variety of children placed adjacent or within our laps.  We almost burst out laughing when we heard from the back of the bus a rooster crowing as dusk approached.

Around seven hours after we set out, we arrived in Cebu City to air conditioning, hot water and a nearby mall.  Somehow the easy access to electricity and water was disappointing after days of rationing each and paying for each kilowatt used after the first one at our lodging on Malapascua. Health care and resources are challenging to acquire on most of the inhabited islands in the Philippines and it is so easy to forget that when we arrive at a place where they are at our fingertips.

Whether we are wet or dry, it is the incredible contrasts of our daily lives that educate us on this global journey.  While we could pay more and travel in relative luxury, we often choose the more local route for the experiences and conversations it affords us.  Our stated goal is to learn with humility (and give with grace) and such is hard to do from a fancy, air-conditioned, tourist transport.

Images are from the Philippines and include our most recent "porch" on Malapascua Island, a typical bangka ferry, and the luxurious Sea Dream resort in Dauin, Negros Island.

Posted in Tagbiliran, Bohol Island, Philippines

Saturday, June 8, 2013


We cannot believe a year has passed.  Each day has begun with a prayer.....not generally FROM us, but FOR us and other passengers in the myriad of transports we use.  Whether the drivers are male or female, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic or Hindu, they pray for a safe journey for themselves as well as for all of their passengers.  And Allah, Buddha, Jesus and Mary must be listening!  We have traveled by banga, jeepney, tricycle, ferry, raft, tube, kayak, canoe, bus, motorbike, and the more conventional planes and autos.  Travel is one of our greatest risks.  The Association for Safe International Travel calculates that we are more than 50 times likely to die of a motor vehicle accident abroad than in the United States.  Walking is not so safe either.  Almost a fifth of all global auto related deaths are pedestrians.  We appreciate all of those prayers and have flung a few skyward ourselves as we teeter on the precipices of roads or wonder why our driver likes to play chicken with large buses and trucks.

The memories from the year are rich beyond our greatest hopes or aspirations.  We have never felt more intensely alive and filled with daily wonder.  Traveling for us has been like a child's first trip to Disneyland.  The characters are bigger than on the little screen and the adventure more divine.  Like Disneyland, there is a wait for the ride, but once it starts, the rules of everyday life are suspended and wonders beyond belief appear at the next turn.

People often ask us what our favorite place has been.  The question is complicated as it is often the people who make the place.  Mate would never have tasted so good unless we were downing a gourdful with Lisbeth, an old acquaintance and new friend.  The spicy, pungent taste of fiery Balinese sauce would have been flatter and less delicious without the company of Wayan and his family; the quiet glory of the dawn kayak less splendid without Irene's face glowing calmly in the early sunrise.

Places speak to our hearts as well, whether we are alone or surrounded by others.  Who can forget the feelings inspired at the first sighting of Machu Pichu?  The tears of emotion were enough to make us realize the place had touched us deeply.  The sheer "hugeness" of the Perito Moreno Glacier, even after having seen magnificent and breath taking glaciers in Canada and Alaska, has stayed with us throughout our travels.  The fact that the glacier is so accessible, talks to the visitors, and frequently calves football field sized chunks of ice all contribute to its special place in our memories.  As a vast, primitive, alpine arctic landscape that makes one feel remote and alone with nature, nothing can top the Dempster Highway in the Canadian Northern Territories.  It teems with wildlife, though viewing any of the creatures is a combination of weather, season, and luck.  The opportunity to swim with creatures as large as three or four trucks lined up end to end has been a highlight of our Philippines travel.  Images of snorkeling with these whale sharks, often referred to as the "gentle giants," will be etched in our memories for the rest of our lives. Whether large as an elephant's, tiny as a baby gecko's, or glowing golden like those of the platypus, it is the eyes of animals that captivate us.  And of course, it is Tamar's eyes, our hitchhiker, that we remember best.

As we extend our visa for a longer stay in the Philippines, we look to the west.  Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are nearby and the call of Everest strengthens each day.  Summer is hot in Southeast Asia.  We will seek the cool nooks and crannies full of new experiences, unmet friends, and opportunities to learn and grow.

Posted in Moalboal, Philippines.  Images are of our tricycle driver who blessed our trip in Dugamente, our friend Irene Grave, and the two of us moments before we jumped in with whale sharks in the Philippines.