Klutziness on the high seas and a resort review

So, now Roman is in Switzerland and I am in the States. Here in Connecticut, it’s the coldest week we’ve had all winter. We’re talking optimistic highs of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with lows much lower than that. The skies are clear and the sun is out with full force – everything outdoors is beautiful: frozen, brittle and glittery in the glare of the bright light. I’m happy to observe it from indoors and to let my mind wander back to the warmer climes we enjoyed in the Philippines.

Coral Bay: a retreat from the world

My last post on our time in the Philippines was about its capital city, Manila. We had a great few days there but our main objective in the Philippines was to get some beach time in, do some diving and r-e-l-a-x after our jam-packed time in China.

So our next destination after Manila was chosen very specifically with those goals in mind. We were heading to Coral Bay Dive & Beach Resort, an intimate, rustic resort on a wee island in the midst of an archipelago surrounded by beautiful blue ocean.

Back when we were actually there, I did a quick illustrated post on how to get there: Getting to Coral Bay

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 9.01.34 PMThis place is in the middle of nowhere; the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was a cast away on a deserted isle. Popototan Island, where Coral Bay is located, is inhabited only by the resort staff and by one seclusion-loving European in a private home. Most of the islands in the area are uninhabited.

Here’s the link to the map – you can click and zoom out to see just how small this island is!

Being so far from anything, the resort is by necessity – and by choice – a bit rustic.

DSC_0115Accommodation is in the form of simple bamboo huts furnished with the basics – a bed with mosquito netting, bedside tables and lamps, a basic bathroom, a balcony with a hammock. There is a generator that supplies electricity from 6 at night to 6 in the morning. Water for showers is not heated. Hearty, home cooked food is available, buffet style, at prescribed times in the open-air restaurant. WiFi is available in the resort’s office only: the goal of this place is to provide its guests with a chance to unplug and appreciate the spectacular surrounding nature.

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Aside from spending all day in a hammock by the water, Coral Bay offers activities: snorkeling, kayaking, island hopping and diving. The snorkeling is one of the place’s best features. Grab the gear from the dive center, hop off the pier, swim a few yards and you’ll be floating above the resort’s private and pristine reef, where thousands of beautiful creatures make their home. Roman and I did this nearly every day we weren’t diving. Floating peacefully just above the fish, clams, anemones and corals all doing their thing – it’s just magic!

Not a great shot, but this is one of the resident lion fish hanging out by t he dock

Not a great shot, but this is one of the resident lion fish hanging out by t he dock

For my personal preference, the cottages could have been a bit better furnished – the bed and seating weren’t as comfortable as would have liked. And the food was a bit on the stodgy side for my taste – very carb and meat heavy and a somewhat limited selection. But this was the case for us everywhere in the Philippines. This country is NOT known for healthy eats… On the balance though, the minor discomforts were well worth the chance to spend time surrounded by so much beauty!

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Moments I want to remember

It’s been a walk down memory lane going through my photos from our stay at Coral Bay. Since these things fade over time I want to make sure I get them down in writing now. 🙂

– We arrived from Manila at Coron, the only town on the big island “closest” to Popototan. We had time to kill before our boat for Coral Bay was leaving, so we got to wander the town, have a snack at a cute little restaurant, and check out the local marketplace. Always one of my favorite things to do. Coron was teeny tiny, sweet and welcoming in the warm sunshine. I wouldn’t mind going back some day to get to know it better! 🙂 Here are some of my favorite photos from our short visit there.

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– One of our first nights at the resort, Roman and I went to the dock to look at an inky black sky strewn with a thousand stars. Suddenly, the hotel’s generator broke down, and everything was cast into total darkness except the glimmering stars above. Looking at the water below, we noticed that there were little lights flitting about – fish with phosphorescence no doubt! We ran our hands through the water below the dock and little specks of glowing lights trailed behind our fingers. Nature lighting up the heavens above and the waters below!

Coral Bay's mangroves at night

Coral Bay’s mangroves at night

P1050721– We were on the island for Thanksgiving. One of my friends emailed and suggested we share photos of our turkey-day grub with each other. So me, my friend in Atlanta and my friend in Poland were together in spirit. And that day, the buffet had roast chicken and potato on the menu – probably as close as I would have come to Turkey and mashed potatoes anywhere in the Philippines anyway. 🙂

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– I loved the silence on the island. No traffic, no TV, no machinery, meant lots of space for the sounds of nature. Every night, once the sun had set, there was a slow-paced concert put on by the local geckos which was just awesome. Check out what it sounds like in this post: Interlude from the Philippines: Sounds of Coral Bay

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No pictures of this memory, thank God!

We did a bunch of dives while we were at Coral Bay. It was my first time ever wreck diving. Things seemed pretty relaxed in the Philippines; I’m not sure we were technically allowed to do wreck dives with our open-water certification. The dives could have possibly been a bit more professional, but we still had a great time and it was a good experience.

Batfish lingering around a wreck

Batfish lingering around a wreck

I had some challenges with the diving (I did a post about it when we were there: Paradise surrendered: lessons from the sea) but once I got past those it was a great time – aside from my klutziness, one more my less admirable characteristics that comes to the fore from time to time.

Somehow on the day in question I had equal parts luck and klutziness going with me which was definitely a good thing or else I may have gotten swept out to sea!

During the first dive of the day I managed to somehow dislodge one of my flippers. The thing disappeared and no amount of searching the area around the wreck was able to produce any trace of it. So I spent the dive swimming lopsided and wondering what sort of insane fee we would have to pay for losing the hotel’s gear. Happily though, the flipper had floated to the surface just next to our boat and one of the crew had rescued it. Win number one!

The bigger fail/win came on the trip back to the resort.

We were on a small boat. It was simple but I assumed it was pretty sturdy. After a day of diving, we were relaxing, watching the horizon as the sky changed colors in advance of the sunset. I borrowed Roman’s camera to take a few snaps. I walked to the prow of the boat for a better view. Trying to get the optimal angle, I leaned against a beam – not realizing that the piece of bamboo was being held in place only by the canvas roof bracing it against the bottom of the boat.

Was the shot worth it? Awesome storm clouds over an island

Was the shot worth it? Awesome storm clouds over an island

I guess I leaned too hard, because the next thing I knew, I was toppling over. My feet flew above my head, my torso plunged over the side towards the water speeding below, and my hands grasped! In some sort of divine instinct, they found their marks, and I managed to grab hold of Roman’s tumbling camera in one hand and a bit of thin rope that – thank God – was securely attached to the ship in the other. The camera and my head stopped thanks to my hold on that rope about five inches above the water and the crew ran forward and hoisted me back onto the boat.

My sarong had dipped into the salty brine, I had a rope burn on my left hand (I still have a slight scar from it today, over a year later) and my dignity might as well have been flung overboard too. The sarong that I’d been wrapped in flew over my head as I fell I have an awful mental image of my pale, flabby body in a bright green bikini flopping around for all the crew to see – poor guys!! But I escaped an unplanned dip in the ocean, or worse, and I even managed to save Roman’s camera. So I guess that’s a fair trade off for being embarrassed to the point of utter mortification!

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Memories of Manila

(written back in Big Sur but I’ve only had the chance to post now…)

Since I’ve got the luxury of free time today, I’ll do some catch-up blogging. Where I’ve left off: we were just leaving Taipei for some beach time in the Philippines. It’s over a year ago now that we were at this point in our trip (First of all, MIND BLOWN. Second of all, ack, I have soooo much catching up to do!).

As I’d mentioned in my last post on the topic, we’d decided to stop in the Philippines for a bit of easy down time after two jam-packed months of shuttling all over expansive, intriguing China.

The easiest way to gain access to this archipelago was via its capital city, Manila. We’d heard other travelers’ advice and opinions about the place, which were pretty much, get out as fast as you can and the place is a cesspool (actually, more colorful language than “cesspool” was used in this case, but I’m trying to keep this blog rated PG).

Our guidebook didn’t disagree with this perception, but did a decent job tempering city’s negative aspects:

This is the sort of city you leave, fellow travellers tell us, immediately after arranging your ferry ticket out. To a degree, Manila’s earned its rough-around-the-edges reputation. After all, this incredibly huge metropolis is home to well over 11 million souls, with scores of hungry transplants from the provinces arriving each day. In other words, this is exactly the sort of place in which there’s bound to be a good bit of chaos…

For a city that’s not known as a major tourist draw, Manila sure has a lot to see. Because of its hugeness and its traffic, you’ll likely never see it all. As you explore, you’ll get an appreciation for a city that has been at the pinnacle of Asia – and almost at the nadir as well. And you’ll get a feel for the soup of cultural influences that combine to make Manila the free-wheeling metropolis it is today. Much of what’s best to see isn’t always at a traditional sight , but rather can be found in the life of the varied neighborhoods.

…If you’re a traveller who likes to get a feel for the pulse of a place just before the rest of the world storm in, it’s quite likely that Manila may just be the sort of town you’ve been looking for.

(Lonely Planet Philippines)

We are not such savvy travellers that I would claim we managed to read Manila’s pulse, but we did decide to spend a couple days exploring the city before heading to the country’s idyllic beaches. Even though we were happy to have a break from exploring culture and history after all that we’d taken in in China, I’m still SO glad that we gave Manila a chance.

Yes, it’s rough. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s grungy. Yes, I saw more human feces on the streets of the city than I saw on the whole rest of the trip (heartbreakingly, it seemed there were more homeless in Manila than in any other than in any other metropolis we’ve visited on the trip).

But there was a lot more to Manila than its roughness. May of the sights we visited were beautiful and fascinating and nowhere else in the Philippines were we more readily able to tap into the sense of this complex country’s history and culture.

First impressions

Exiting the airport, my first impression was that we were someplace VERY different from the rest of Asia.

The air was warm and muggy but with a different feel to it than the tropical countries we’d visited in Southeast Asia. Our cab driver spoke English easily as we navigated through the traffic of, to my American eyes, well-known makes of cars and trucks to our hotel. Somehow everything felt nearly familiar to me, even as we entered our Spanish colonial style hotel. If I relaxed my senses, I could just about convince myself that our short flight from Taipei had landed us somewhere in the Caribbean, Mexico or Florida somewhere. This was a surreal feeling to have, knowing full well that we were still in Asia and not at all that far away from countries that had felt very exotic and foreign to me during our months of exploration.

The strange sensation of familiarity – and how at odds this put Manila to all the other places we’d visited in Asia – made me eager to see more of the city. All things considered, we managed to get around a decent amount in our limited time there.

Bits and pieces of Manila

We stayed in historic Intramuros, the walled neighborhood in Manila that was once the strong point of the Spanish colonists, where today one can still feel the echo of the conquistadors’ presence in the style of architecture; in fact “many of the buildings still have Spanish-tile street names” (LP Philippines).

We wandered a bit, exploring aspects of Manila as diverse as its rough but interesting Muslim quarter to it’s massive, overly air-conditioned and pristine western-style shopping malls. I hope the photos below can help give a sense of the diversity found within the city…

Photo impressions of Manila

DSC_0955The church of Saint Augustin in Intramurous
The oldest stone church in the Philippines. Completed in 1607, the structure has survived quite its fair share of disaster – from earthquakes to invasions by the British and the Japanes and the Spanish-American war in 1898.

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Beautiful massive doors and Spanish architecture in Intramuros.

DSC_0958Manila graffiti

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The Manila Cathedral

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Fire truck

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At Fort Santiago. Aside from its general historic significance, the fort holds a significant place in the Filipino psyche as it was where Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was imprisoned prior to his execution by firing squad at the age of 35. A quick overview from Wikipedia:

He was a proponent of achieving Philippine self-government peacefully through institutional reform rather than through violent revolution, and would only support “violent means” as a last resort. Rizal believed that the only justification for national liberation and self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people, saying “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” The general consensus among Rizal scholars is that his execution by the Spanish government ignited the Philippine Revolution.

For more on Rizal, please click here. 

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Filipinos walking Rizal’s steps towards where he was executed

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Pedicab driver taking a nap between jobs

DSC_1000I loved the Jeepneys!

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Reading the paper as a bus rolls by

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Outdoor market 

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Walking to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The bridge we’d just crossed was clearly a place to sleep for a lot of homeless people, with many corners having obviously been turned into outdoor bathrooms. Not the most pleasant walk…

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Selling flower garlands outside the Basilica

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Devotion at the Black Nazarene

DSC_0044In Manila’s Muslim quarter

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Homeless; possibly trash pickers since the child was in a dumpster

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Manila

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A homeless man surveys golfers inside the Club Intramuros golf course

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Indoor skating rink at one of Manila’s insanely huge, western-style malls

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Getting ready for Christmas

Cultural fondue

I love me a good melting pot.

Visiting locations where dramatically different cultures, histories, languages or traditions have been thrown together (voluntarily or otherwise) and have stewed (sometimes at a pleasant simmer, sometimes a roiling boil) for long enough to produce something that still tastes of the original elements yet still is different, new and unique have been among my favorite experiences of the big trip.

India, with its exuberant jumble of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh temples, holy places and practitioners, with traditions of Jain, Zoroztrian, Judaism and Baha’i faiths thrown in for good measure.

Xinjiang, where historically disparate regions flowed into each other along the Silk Road. Xinjiang, today the province in China that over ten different “minority” groups call home, where you can walk down a street and see signage in four different scripts: Arabic, Chinese, Roman and Cyrillic.

Places like this are fascinating and captivating to me.

Introducing the Philippines

I didn’t know it before we decided to travel there as a respite from all the cool, grey weather we endured in China, but the Philippines has a cultural mix to rival the best of them.

Technically it’s a part of Southeast Asia, but it sure feels like unlike any place we traveled in that region.


(What looks to me like) a Chinese-style statue in front of the exterior of a Catholic church in Manila

I suppose it’s understandable when you look at the major historical and cultural influences on the archipelago: Indigenous, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, Spanish and American (of the United States persuasion). Comidienne Lisa Lampinelli lovingly described Filipinos as a “weird mixture… the Swiss Army knife of minorities.”

It’s a pretty eclectic mix and helps to make the Philippines and the Filipinos a country and a people like no other! (this site has some really interesting perspectives from Filipinos on the topic in case you want some extra reading: http://www.interaksyon.com/whats-a-filipino; this article in particular provides an interesting overview for folks who are less familiar with the country’s history)

Arriving in Manila felt like entering a completely different world after all the months we spent in Southeast Asia and China. The countries we had visited, while welcoming, always definitely had an air of the exotic and foreign for me. After adjusting to cultures so different from my own over all those months, it was a bit of a shock how familiar the Philippines felt by comparison while feeling at the same time equally exotic.


A jeepney – the ubiquitous form of public transport in Manila. “Maldito” is definitely Spanish as far as I’m aware

Over 170 languages are spoken across the islands, but we mostly got to hear Filipino spoken. To my naïve ears, the language called to mind Spanish with its cadence and lilt. Even though I couldn’t, I felt like I SHOULD understand at least some words here and there, like I do with Spanish. This was a unique feeling after being in completely unknown linguistic waters in all the other countries we’d visited. And when Filipinos spoke English with us, the accent was just as familiar – I felt like I could be listening to a speaker from somewhere in middle America.

The Philippines is also the second largest predominantly Catholic country in the world. 90% of the population is Catholic and it was trippy to see churches (distinctly Catholic AND Filipino at the same time) and their influence in such prominence after months of visiting Buddhist and Taoist temples and the occasional mosque.

It was funny for me to see the flower garlands on the wrist of a Catholic saint – till then I’d only encountered these in Buddhist and Hindu places of worship.

And even though there was nothing I could quite put my finger on, somehow there was a good amount of America in the air (in the cities at least). I think Lonely Planet can explain it better than I:

“Describing the country is like trying to pick up a bar of soap in the bath: you may come close to grasping it, but it always seems to elude you. The Americans have something to do with it. Ruled by the United States for 45 years, the Philippines maintains a close spiritual bond with its former colonial master… The US legacy arguably looms even larger than that of Spain, the Philippine’s original colonisers who ruled the country for 350 years.”

And with all this influence from far-flung corners of the globe, the Philippines still have something intrinsically Asian about them.

We went there for the nature and the beaches. These were great, but what for me remains most vibrant in my memories of our time in Philippines is its odd-man-out-in-southeast-Asia essence and the tenacious, effervescent nature of its people.

We didn’t spend enough time – most of our interactions were just fleeting but as well, most of them involved a smile if not a laugh. I usually find it easy to fall in love with the people in a new country. It was easier than usual in the Philippines though, and I hope some day I can return and get to know this special place in greater depth.

Quick current events post

Roman and I arrived in Chicago last night. Our weekend in Pittsburgh was perfect – full of comfort, good food, exploration and discovery, and best of all, reconnecting with an dear high school friend of mine who I hadn’t spent time with in years.

I truly feel so blessed and lucky to have this amazing chance to visit loved ones all over the US. I love living abroad; I love all the travel. (At this point, it’s coming up on eight years since I left home. How and when did that happen??)

But nothing can replace good friends and family. The fact is that I do suffer being so far away from those people that matter so much to me. I can handle it no problem and even enjoy myself, but THIS aspect of this portion of the trip – time with long lost friends – makes my heart happy and my soul sing!

For anyone concerned, we had a soggy first bit of the ride west, but we mostly managed to stay ahead of Sandy, and so far Chicago is windy but fine, as my family back in Connecticut are also fine. Another thing to be grateful about. 🙂

Roman and I are making today an admin and catch up sort of day. We have post-Chicago to organize and Evanston, a northern suburb where we’re staying, to explore. We’ll get started on Chicago proper tomorrow. And I’ve got blog-catch-up to get to!

So, without further ado, I’ll be picking up with our last stop in Asia – the Philippines. I actually wrote this next post while we were still in South America, but haven’t had a chance to post until now…

Can I get a snap: The Philippines edition

After that last whingey post, here’s something, before I get back to posting about China, to highlight one of the things I loved most about the Philippines: Filipinos!

Just about everyone we interacted with was so friendly, smiley and welcoming.

And a lot of them were also camera hogs. 😉 It’s been a while since I’ve had people stopping me to ask to take their picture. I don’t think anything will ever compete with the snap-happy Indians, but Filipinos are strong seconds for hamming it up in front of the camera. Here are the “snaps” I took during our time on the islands.

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The parade in Dumaguete remains one of the highlights of our month in the Philippines. I wandered around the area where the students were setting up and got called over to snap some shots. This one is musicians on a truck (being on a moving vehicle is no barrier to posing for the camera!).

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Gotta love the glitter!!

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More poses from mid-drive. 🙂

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Young Christmas carolers

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This was at the lovely church in Dumaguete. The woman on the left tweaked my nose while telling me I was pretty and grilling me about when I was going to start having babies with Roman.

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Friendly fishermen in Dauin

Just in time

It’s my last day in the Philippines today!

The past week and a half here has been both rough and wonderful. The tropical flu that I caught really knocked the stuffing out of me. I haven’t been that deliriously, miserably sick in a while.

Even now I’m still not feeling 100% but I’m so much better and thankfully well enough to travel.

I’m grateful too that I was well enough on our last full day in Dauin to finally go diving at Apo Island – the whole reason we came to Negros in the first place. It happened to be my birthday that day 😉 and so feeling well again, being able to eat and enjoy food and going for three super dives was especially wonderful and I felt especially grateful!

Really I have loved the Philippines but somehow I also feel a bit beat up here.

I fell on the boat that last day at Dauin (again – this is after nearly falling overboard back in Popototan) and really hurt my toe. It’s currently turning all sorts of black and blue but at least I can walk now with not much problem.

I’m in Cebu now and my stomach is still complaining about some really sub-par Thai food we ate two days ago. (Gross.) I’m getting a cold sore on my lip and my skin (probably responding to all the crap food I’ve been eating?) is breaking out like crazy.

On the emotional side, I’ve got a bit of the travel blues. (I may have caught that from Roman.)

I feel like if I have to search for another hotel online any time soon I may start screaming and ripping my hair out. I’m usually really good with long flights and lots of travel, but I have a huge trip coming up tomorrow morning and, having spent most of the last week bored in bed, I am actually rather dreading all those hours of airport/airplane limbo.

The good news is the reward for the two days’ worth of travel is going to be exactly what I need: Home.

I’m traveling to the States to be with my family for Christmas, and at the moment as much as I’m dreading the trip I’m SOOOO excited to see them all so soon. Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday and it’s been years since I’ve been able to spend it with them. It’ll also be my first Christmas with my nephew Martin, so this is really special for me.

And I’ll be getting plenty of things to counteract the effect of the travel blues: My own bed (my same totally comfy and comforting old twin bed from my childhood), my parents’ clean and cozy and familiar home, my mom’s amazingly good cooking and best of all, lots of time with family and friends. My heart is starting to feel better just thinking about it.

On the down side, I’ll be celebrating the holidays without Roman. He doesn’t want to break the travel momentum; I couldn’t convince him to come with me (and there’s no way he could get away with visiting MY family in the States without also visiting HIS family in Switzerland, which would get complicated…).

I had to say goodbye to him today – he’s already flown on to Malaysia – and it was awful. I know with my brain that everything’s fine; the time apart will pass quickly and I’ll be so happy with my family, but as much as my head gets it, my heart couldn’t and I spent today fighting back tears. Saying goodbye just never gets easier.

(I wonder if on some level I’m still traumatized from the time early in our relationship when I got transferred to London for my job, and we spent six months flying back and forth to visit each other. I was pretty miserable and depressed in London, and that period of time involved a lot of tearful airport goodbyes.)

Maybe it was also extra tough because this is a big goodbye in some ways. Roman will travel in Malaysia and Indonesia while I’m home. Our plans beyond that are totally unformed at the moment. I don’t know exactly where he will be when, so I don’t know where I will be meeting him. I’m pretty sure this is my goodbye to Asia as well; likely is that I’ll meet him in Australia or New Zealand next, although I don’t know when precisely that might be. It’s kind of a funny feeling to leave things so vague – “goodbye love, I’ll see you on some continent at some unknown point in the future”. And finishing Asia… Well, I don’t know what the rest of our trip will look like, but this is certainly at least a significant chunk of it done for me now. Which is interesting to say the least.

I wonder too how I’ll feel at the end of my time at home. I can’t imagine those goodbyes will be any easier than today’s… Roman often accuses me of being greedy and I will readily admit that it’s contradictory – I miss home and family even as I love traveling and exploring the world. But I’m ok with that. I’d rather feel this heartache because I love too many things, I’d rather struggle to try to fit conflicting things (life on the road, life with the people I love who are often on different continents than me), than… well, than not have that pain and struggle, I guess.

Anyhow, for now I will focus on the positive, which is that I am soon going to have the magic of Christmas with my family, just in time to sooth my travel blues. And that at some point after the holidays, Roman and I will get to meet up somewhere out there in this big, incredible world. And I will try not to think about the three flights in two days and the fact that I have to get up for the first one in a few hours… 😉

Interlude from the Philippines: Sounds of Coral Bay

** Before I begin this post, let me make it clear that I am by no means an expert on lizards! **

At this point we’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, and I’ve discovered that the place basically has two kinds of geckos.

The first is the Little Geckos.

These guys show up basically any place that’s hot enough. They have cute inquisitive little faces and range in color from what I’d describe as flesh tone to dull greyish brown. They hang out anywhere and everywhere but especially around lighting fixtures at night where they ineffectually stalk bugs and occasionally bomb unsuspecting sleepers with little pellets of poo (ok, this happened to me only once in Thailand, but I’ve been paranoid ever since!). They make their little tsk-ing noises to each other and from time to time get into minor scuffles over bug-hunting territory.

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Then there’s the Big Geckos.

These are less common and more shy – therefore harder to spot. While we have on occasion seen, and more often heard, them throughout Southeast Asia, it seems they may have it tough going there.

Apparently they are used in traditional Chinese medicine and will fetch quite a price for anyone who manages to catch them. Indeed, I saw dozens of the things while we were in Hong Kong, dead, splayed and drying in rows in the sun on the sidewalks in front of medicine shops.

Coral Bay seems to be a safe haven for the little guys. No place else we’ve been on this entire trip have we’ve heard SO many of them. They get active at night and have a wonderful and distinct call that makes it clear why they’re called geckos. We have one who’s taken to hanging out on our porch. Here’s a picture, and click on the “Gecko” link below to listen to what he and his friends sound like. 🙂 (Apologies for the sound quality – or lack thereof; this was recorded with an iPhone)

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Getting to Coral Bay

Just to give you a sense of where we are and how we got here… 🙂

Start off in urban Manila

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Hop in a plane, fly over amazing, verdant islands and deep blue seas…

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…Until you approach Busuanga Island. Note the lack of urbanization

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Land on the island’s little airport

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Drive to the island’s one proper town, Coron

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From Coron, drive the bumpy path through the jungles to an isolated little dock

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Take a boat ride for about an hour…

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…until you arrive at Coral Bay’s dock

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Find yourself a hammock – you’ve arrived. 🙂

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Paradise surrendered: lessons from the sea

It feels like ages since I’ve done a post and China is already starting to recede – a dream fading to the bright light reality of a sunny morning here in the Philippines. I’m determined to pick up though where I left off – with all we did and saw after leaving Xinjiang – but first I want to share where we are now.

We arrived in the Philippines nearly a week ago. After what felt like endless grey, cold, foggy and smoggy weather in China, we were ready for a change – and so far the Philippines has definitely been delivering!

We spent a couple of days in Manila before traveling to our current destination: a small, simple, secluded beach resort on a tiny island called Popototan, part of the Calamian Group of Islands, which clusters to the northeast of long, slender Palawan Island, the “most sparsely populated region” of the Philippines. (Lonely Planet)

The resort is simple but lovely. Power is on from 6pm to 6am every day. There’s no music, no traffic, no TV. Not much to listen to besides the gentle slap of the surf on the beach, the wind through the palms, the twitter of birds and whir of insects, the evening communications of a thriving community of geckos.

The beach is small but spotless. The real treasures lie under the water though, with plenty of reefs and wrecks providing a home to some amazing sea life. Kayaking, snorkeling, diving; it’s all possible here and the resort makes it easy to get into the water, how ever you prefer to do so, at a moment’s notice.

Basically, it’s paradise.

That is, if you happen to be an ocean person. Looking back at China I’ve been noticing how totally excited I get about mountains. The frosty landscapes of Xinjiang. The rural, Swiss-like peace of the rice terraces around Dazhai. The hike through the steep ridges of Tiger Leaping Gorge. These are the places that make my pulse quicken and my heart leap.

Beaches, I’m beginning to realize, are not my natural habitat.

Perhaps it’s down to exposure over a lifetime to apparently effective marketing which has led me to believe that upon arrival at a tropical beach, I should instantly transform into some tan, sleek, gorgeous and totally relaxed sort of island goddess.

Thanks to my dad’s mix of northern blood (Irish, English, Scottish, German), deeply tan is something I will never be. My options are limited to pasty white, bright pink or increasingly, disturbingly freckled.

Salt and wind do not agree with my hair or skin; the boat ride here for example left me feeling not unlike a greasy French fry.

Beaches don’t make me any more pretty than I already am or am not.

And, apparently, with all these expectations riding around in my head, they don’t instantly relax me either.

Oh, and I also have some small but irrationally lingering phobia of the vast unknown-ness of the ocean and the possibility of drowning or getting sucked down into it by something with sharp teeth, tentacles, or sharp teeth and tentacles. I am deeply impressed, fascinated even, by the mystery and power of the ocean, but towards the core of those feelings, there is also fear, which potentially also doesn’t help with the whole relaxation thing.

I’m working through it though. With the help of the ocean no less.

The diving we did back in Thailand was such a wonderful experience, and a chance to dive again was one of the main reasons we decided to come to the Philippines after China. We went snorkeling our first day here; we went diving yesterday. I’ve forgotten some of equipment details since our course in Thailand, but the general technique, feeling and lessons of diving are coming back quickly and they’re helping me a lot.

  • Don’t panic.
  • Remember to breathe. And make it as deep and slow and calm as you can.
  • If your mind can master your blind and frantic instinct to want to shoot desperately to the surface, then a whole miraculous and amazing world will open before your eyes.
  • And as soon as it does, you will be fully present – breathe and awareness and intention melding into one as you find yourself effortlessly floating in a wonderland – and any fear and panic that seemed so huge and important will melt away without you even noticing it.

Roman, unlike me, has always loved the ocean. His eyes are the color of a warm sea lit up by golden sunlight, and they started to sparkle as soon as we got into the tropical heat in Manila. He is also a master relaxer. (Oh, and he tans easily and looks darn good when he does.)

We’ve been talking about, among other things, my difficulty in relaxing. He’s been encouraging me to surrender – surrender more to the “what is”. Of being here on the beach, of the realities of the trip, of the fact that I can’t predict, let alone control the future (along with expectations about transforming into that incredible beach goddess comes all sorts of stuff like shouldn’t I have figured out X,Y and Z about what happens after “the big trip” by now?? (not that we even know yet when that will be…)). All I’ve got to work with is the present, so I may as well be there for it.

Letting go of expectations – becoming more present with what is here in the moment, rather than what I think should be here (or what I think I should be here) – I find I’m feeling better in my own skin (even if it doesn’t tan well) and enjoying this beach break more and more with every passing day. And I’m getting to see some pretty awesome aquatic life along the way!