A Travellerspoint blog

Boracay

Everything in Asia, it seems, runs to own on its own time. The bus that is scheduled for an hour takes 3, your flight that is meant to leave at 1 is delayed by 4 hours, your interview gets rescheduled twice… it’s just a fact of life. Unfortunately, we had to experience the delayed flight option in the world’s worst airport: Manila’s domestic airport. You know that you’re going to be in a pretty second-class airport when you realize you made it through security with full-size aerosols in your carry-on, but it isn’t until you’re stuck there for 5 hours that you truly appreciate the airports you have previously experienced. With no wi-fi, no plugs for laptops, and the most limited food selection known to man, your spirits are dampened with each unintelligible intercom announcement about your delayed flight. Did she just say the flight is re-scheduled for 5 or we shouldn’t expect to get out of this alive?

Eventually, our plane boarded and departed, and from there we got a bus, then a boat. However, all the headache was worth it when we caught our first glimpse of Boracay’s legendary White Beach. Even on a slightly clouded over day, the sand is still a clean white and the water still a clear, crystalline blue. White Beach is the more touristy side of Boracay, while Bulabog on the other side is more popular with kite surfers and locals. The main tourists that frequent the island are from China, Korea or Russia, and there are many restaurants, goods and bars tailored to their specific needs. I would have never guessed how big of a part I would take in that until I was employed (on my first day, thank you very much) at a Chinese dive shop.

Please allow me to preface the following with this one fact: I am quite possibly the least-racist person in the world. If you were to ask anyone if they have ever heard me being racist, they would be hard pressed to think of an occasion. Therefore, I went into this new job with excitement and little trepidation, even with the fact I would be using a translator for the majority of my courses.

Now, I love diving, and I love teaching diving, but the minute you back roll off of a small boat into 23 degree water and spend the entire dive trying to keep your students from destroying everything on the dive site, it starts to hurt your heart a little bit. Not being able to communicate directly with my students to explain to them the importance of coral preservation and proper buoyancy was hard enough, but when you have one who floats near the surface the entire dive, while one is kicking and hitting every bit of coral they can see and one who disappears mid-dive in bad visibility, your levels of frustration hit previously unknown highs. It takes every bit of self-restraint not to try to explain to them just how very ridiculous everything about their underwater behaviour is, but knowing they will understand so few words, there is just no point.

I spent my days teaching unwitting Chinese tourists how to dive, with the occasional day off spent on the perfect, white beach and swimming in the (thankfully much warmer) waters. Nights were spent experiencing the nightlife and cuisine Boracay had to offer, with each purple, pink and gold sunset more beautiful than the last. Eventually, we decided that while we had enjoyed our extremely long vacation, it was time to return to our favourite home: Dublin, Ireland.

Posted by bgriffs 09:42 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Manila

After a month in Bali and the Gili Islands, we departed for Australia where we spent a lovely Christmas holiday with Tommy’s family; while 40 degree weather is a little different than what I’m used to on Christmas day, we had a beautiful holiday relaxing, indulging and planning our next move. We decided to give the scuba instructing one more go, and head off to a new South East Asian country: the Philippines.

Our first stop was Manila, the capital city of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands. To give you an idea of how densely populated it is, Manila has 12 million people – in 38.55 square kilometers. Manila is absolutely teeming with people, and, to be completely honest, it is downright terrifying.

Plagued by corruption, poverty, violence and drugs, the city of Manila is armed and dangerous. Even with Tommy I still felt uneasy in certain parts, especially when the young man on the bike taxi, who was clearly out of his mind on some sort of chemical, trailed us asking us for a fare for 3 blocks. Children as young as 6 walk around sniffing bags of glue, their vacant eyes bulging out of their still-developing heads, while everyone imaginable has a gun. A family vehicle cruised past us with photos of firearms taped to their windows – an arms dealer, perhaps? A thick layer of smog constantly hangs over the city, and the buildings, old and new alike, look run down and decrepit.

We took a visit to Bayleaf Hotel’s Sky View Deck Bar, and were greeted with an uninterrupted view of how massive Manila truly is. In every direction there is a combination of high-rise buildings, run-down hotels and endless streets. To the east, there is Manila Bay, a slight glimpse of the beauty that tourists to the Philippines expect when they step off of the plane. But Manila is no paradise, no white beaches or crystal blue waters: it is a city burdened with the constant threat of violence and natural disaster.

Our time in Manila was blessedly short, and soon it was time to access a far more picturesque part of the Philippines: Boracay island.

Posted by bgriffs 09:30 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Gili Trawangan

Unfortunately, none of the places I seem to visit are easily accessible, and Gili Trawangan was no different. After a bus to Padang Bai and an unstable boat ride, I stepped onto the soft sandy beaches of Gili T for the first time. The Gili Islands of Indonesia comprise of three extremely small islands, including Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, all of which have beautiful, long stretches of beach and a diverse marine system that allows for some excellent diving. Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the three, and even then, it composes of one small strip littered with dive shops, restaurants and bars, and some hotels and other accommodation one road back. It is, by all means, tiny.

Unwilling to carry my 27 kg backpack very far (it had become increasingly heavier as Tommy added numerous possessions to it) we went with the first tout who offered us a bungalow at a good rate and were pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the room and the friendliness of the staff. We ended up staying there for our full two weeks on Gili T, enjoying the free breakfast brought to us every morning and the convenient, but quiet, location.

After it was revealed that there would be no freelance dive work for quite some time, we decided to treat our time on the island as a vacation instead of a working holiday, and spent most of the days snorkeling, walking on the beach and going for dives. The diving in Gili Trawangan was some of the best I had come across in my short diving career. The water was a beautiful light blue, the visibility was excellent, and we got to swim alongside my favourite underwater creature: sharks! Not the giant and menacing bull sharks I have seen before, but smaller, friendly black and white tip reef sharks, which came so close we could see their beady but intelligent eyes. There is nothing quite like diving with a shark. They are so graceful, so intelligent and so interesting; they are merely curious about us as divers and do not view us as prey or a threat. They accept our presence and coast along beautifully until they are out of sight.

We were also joined on the dive by a dozen or so turtles, some that were both longer and wider than myself, as they swam slowly and contentedly through the water, munching on coral. Turtles are unbelievably calming to dive with, and being surrounded by them for the majority of the dive was wonderful. There are so many turtles in the Gilis we even saw one a meter away from the shore while we were snorkeling, although it very quickly disappeared into some deeper, more private, waters.

Our time on Gili Trawangan was short but altogether very enjoyable, and soon it was time to head back to the mainland of Bali to meet Tommy’s older brother and his girlfriend for a few days of wine and good food.

We boarded the shaky, slightly unstable boat, and were once again on the road.

Posted by bgriffs 19:01 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Bali Road Trip

After a brief stop in our old home of Koh Tao, Thailand for our friend’s wedding, we caught another flight to a familiar place: Bali, Indonesia. We were on the hunt for work as dive instructors, and Indonesia’s crystal blue waters and challenging dive sites were calling to us. After the customary meet and greet of the local dive shops, we decided to take a road trip up the East coast to properly explore the country – a privilege robbed of me last time due to my hospitalization due to extreme dehydration. We debated motorbike vs. 4x4, a battle eventually won by the jeep due to the ominous clouds threatening a storm overhead. We packed our bags and, after a few false starts in the wrong direction (Bali’s street system is flawed, to say the least), we set up off the East coast.

Driving in Bali – or any South East Asian country, for that matter – is nothing short of terrifying. The only courtesy shown to other drivers is a honk if being overtaken, but besides that, all bets are off. Daring motorcyclists weave between speeding cars and semi trucks, cars overtake each other on blind corners, and indicating turns is nonexistent. The pedestrians that are brave enough to attempt to cross the road usually end up dodging oncoming traffic in a matter reminiscent of the 90’s computer game Frogger, and most of the street signs indicating direction are either broken or obscured by overgrown trees.

After our brief but frustrating tour in the wrong direction, 8 hours later we arrived at our first overnight stop up the east coast. Exhausted and hungry, we allowed ourselves to be led to a nearby hotel that was run down and eerily empty. Too tired to care, we ate an unsatisfying meal at a nearby restaurant and collapsed onto the thin mattress, watching an episode of Family Guy where Brian infects the whole house with fleas, Tommy absent- mindedly joking that this hotel room was probably flea-ridden.

The next day that joke would not turn out to be quite so funny as after a few hours of being awake, numerous welts began to appear on Tommy’s arms. We were back in the car on our way to Amed when we first noticed the itchy, red bumps, even more confusing by the fact that I seemed to be untouched. In mere hours they had swollen to a point of great discomfort, but, never one to complain, he soldiered on. We would soon discover they were the bites of the hated bedbug, and due to his sensitive skin, his reaction was similar to an allergic one. I had escaped scot-free merely because I had no sensitivity to their saliva.

We had planned to dive Amed and Tulamben due to outstanding reviews from friends, so we parked the car outside the recommended dive shop and went in to plan our dives for the next day. We found a nice, wonderfully clean bungalow in which to spend the night, so after dinner we treated Tommy’s wounds and prepared for the next day of diving with our guide. We were the only two fun diving and therefore got the choice of which sites to visit, so we chose the US Liberty wreck in Tulamben due to the possibility of sharks and the Seraya House Reef in Amed. Note to fellow divers out there – once you see an Indonesian woman carrying your tank and equipment on her head, you will never again think you had it rough during your DMT!

The 120 m wreck in Tulamben has become virtually unrecognizable as a boat, and instead had progressed into a fantastic artificial reef. The diversity of marine life was astounding, and we had our first encounter with the Bump Head Parrotfish, a giant, goofy fish with a protruding forehead and buckteeth. Looking very much the doofus of the aquatic world, these fish are surprisingly graceful and interesting to watch. Unfortunately, no sharks paid us a visit on this dive, but the abundance of soft and hard corals as well as marine life kept us happy and entertained. Our second dive on the reef was equally as diverse, and this time we were lucky enough to cross paths with a few turtles as we coasted over the coral-covered ridges. However, the end of the dive was unfortunately marred by ascending into a massive cloud of garbage that had been thoughtlessly discarded into the river. I constantly find the lack of respect for the oceans astonishing as well as how little they understand about its importance to our human survival.

We decided soon after our dives that we would return to our starting point of Sanur before soon heading to the Gili Islands. The farther east we went, the more run down the roads became, and my carsickness was at a very uncomfortable high. So after a fun few days of beautiful views, excellent dives, and delicious local cuisine, we headed back down the coast to prepare for our next adventure.

Posted by bgriffs 18:22 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Madrid & Marbella

or, may I move to Spain yet?

I find that most of my journeys I have a bit of a sense of trepidation and anticipation; most of the time this is due to arriving at a new place, unaware of what lies beyond the safety of the airport’s sliding glass doors. This trip however, my nerves were slightly on edge because I was about to meet my boyfriend’s parents for the first time. While I had been continually reassured that they would love me (by both boyfriend and my own mother), I was keen to make a good first impression – sadly, something I don’t think I accomplish on most first meetings. We landed in Madrid mid-day after a long flight and had several hours to wait until the arrival of the parents, so we checked into our hotel (it had a gym on the 50th floor with an amazing view, couldn’t have been more pleased) and relaxed until it came time to hop into a cab. Having chosen my best outfit for the occasion – my 4” nude stiletto heels and little black dress from Dublin – I managed to give myself a bit of confidence.

As it transpired, as one would have expected – being as Tommy is such a wonderful person – Mr. and Mrs. Corr were absolutely lovely people, extremely welcoming and with a good sense of humour. Mr. Corr seemed delighted that he had “finally met a Canadian with a sense of humour” and we had a very enjoyable five days with them. We had a wonderful find in the Mercado de San Miguel, or San Miguel Market, which was an indoors farmer’s market housing everything from fresh produce and groceries to perfectly sculpted desserts and mini sandwiches. Tommy and I were delighted in the 6 kinds of cheese and two glasses of wine for 10 euro deal, and I tasted the best cooked peppers and asparagus with sea salt and seasoning I’ve ever had. We browsed scarves and bags, sushi and fine baked goods, and made several return visits to the market in later days.

Madrid is a wonderful city. It’s the epitome of European culture and I fell in love with it very quickly, enjoying our long, exploratory walks and frequent stops for glasses of wine. The city is alive in a way that is both exciting and homey, and much more reasonably priced than I expected. On the day I opted to sit out of watching the bull fights (my moral compass was pointing towards a very decisive NO) the Corr family discovered a little café up the road from their hotel that offered cheap (honestly, 1 euro) and delicious sandwiches, ice creams, and most importantly, wine and beers. It was a great experience to sit and enjoy their company, hear stories of Tommy’s childhood and just learn more about the people who raised the man I had fallen so much in love with.

After Tommy’s parents left to continue on their European adventure, he and I ventured down to the south coast of Spain. Unfortunately, due to my motion sickness, I can’t say I enjoyed the scenery as much as I would have normally, but once we arrived in Marbella, we were greeted with beautiful sea views and a whole new kind of Spain I never would have expected. It was a more touristy area but so beautiful you could forgive it, and the weather blessed us with sunshine every day that we stayed on that gorgeous coast. The locals were incredibly friendly, the food excellent, and all too soon, it was time to board yet another plane, heading east to our friend’s wedding in Koh Tao, Thailand. My time in Spain had been filled with sunshine, love, and more wine and cheese than I thought possible, and I sincerely hoped I would find myself on it's sunny coast again soon.

Posted by bgriffs 03:55 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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