14 Housesitting tips

Housesitting Tips from Mallorca, Spain

housesit petsit

Porto Cristo is stunning

Housesitting tips to travel solo cheaply

 

Do you want to know what Mallorca and Silence of the Lambs has in common?? Read on…

 

Imagine going to a country where your family heritage resides, add the fact that you’re reading about a sea worshipper, you’ll understand how much this soul was looking forward to this Mallorcan Island trip.

Porto Cristo is heaven, surrounded by salty aqua, secluded empty beaches and white limestone cliffs over looking the Mediterranean Sea, living virtually for free, looking after 2 dogs and a cat.

The dogs; Puppy (Pronounced Poopy) – a very lucky Mexican dog, that only speaks French, living the life of luxury on Mallorca; Iria – a stunning wolf-cross whom only speaks Spanish and did her utmost to ruin my sanity; and Margot – a cat whose head is too small for her body.

housesit petsit housesitting tips

 Iria

housesit petsit housesitting tips

Margot

 

I’m not a newbie to this housesitting gig:

For a self professed “Animal whisperer” like myself this housesit was going to be a cinch… Or was this petsit just to prove to me that my ego was too big?

My fluffy, freedom-seeking, soul-sister proves how alike we are by choosing lambs as her favourite meal. She would disappear for an hour or so, initially, and I’d just live in hope that she’d return after she had finished whatever it was she was doing (this was on numerous occasions before I was able to discover exactly where she went on her expeditions). 

The sheep of Spain wear these beautiful wind chime chattering bells around their woolen necks – which, in normal circumstances, sounds like something from a guided meditation by Buddhist monks, but hearing the chaotic rush from those bells after being chased by Iria, I now have flashbacks to Silence of the Lambs. (Insert mental image of Clarice Starling trying to catch a serial killer).

 

housesit petsit housesitting tips
Iria after her first of many Houdini acts

 

 

So, if you’re contemplating doing a housesit / furry-beast-sit for anyone, here are some things to consider and questions to ask the owner before you say yes…

 

 

Porto Cristo - Housesitting tips

Porto Cristo Boat Harbour

Housesitting tips

 

1. It’s possibly mid-winter or high-summer where you’re going to housesit. 

If you’re ok with chilly or cooked bones then by all means sign up for everything and anything.

My most recent housesit I was incredibly enthusiastic about going to Spain (from Australia) and having spoken to my incredibly kind and seemingly relaxed homeowner, I anticipated a super laid back 2-3 months with 3 beasts and all the time in the world to myself to explore my mild wintery island home (I say mild due to Melbourne’s Antarctic wind-blown, frosty comparison), complete some study and travel blogging. Boy was that far from reality.

Thankfully Mallorca’s version of winter is a humid balminess – On average, temperatures were around 15-20 degrees celsius.

Porto Cristo

What’s open?

Find out whether supermarkets, restaurants and other basic necessities are operational during winter or if you’re going to be bombarded by tourists before your decision too.

Discovering that just about every town shut down for 4 months upon my arrival in early November was a slight surprise. Insert tumbleweeds being the only traffic through the small, crispy breezed, ghost towns with closed, multi-colour shuttered doors and windows contrasting the endless terracotta stained buildings.

 

housesit petsit housesitting tips

“Ready for a walk, Iria?” Uhhhhhh….

 

 

2. Find out what training the furries have had.

Dare I go into detail about how important it is to train your dogs? Even something as simple as being able to walk them on a lead and recall should be mandatory but isn’t always the case – so I painfully discovered. Humans spend all this money on educating their children, why do animals miss out? 

In my not-so-humble opinion – humans need more training than domestic pets. What makes you think you can house a wolf-cross, another elderly Mexican dog and a cat, who is the reason “ball of fluff” became a real explanation, in an apartment with very minimal backyard? 

Tiniest backyard (I have a well, cute dog and a murderous looking white van – Silence of the Lambs ref #2)

 

How to combat a tiny backyard:

I’ve walked these animals on average 18kms per day. It’s not anywhere near enough. Poor Iria needs to roam free on acreage not be trapped in a townhouse with a bedroom sized yard day after day.

Due to the beasts neediness / separation anxiety, leaving the house for more than 5 minutes – without something in the house being attacked – was a tough ask.

Chaos by the pesky varmints:

Numerous books selected individually from the full bookcase, then ripped to shreds;

Tea towels mauled, swallowed and vomited up in a pea soup looking liquid days later – inside the house;

The box of masticated materials is currently too small so a new, larger shipping container is required now.

Although I appear miffed at Iria, I know the problem lies in ownership.

It’s cruel keeping this stunning creature locked up and without any training what-so-ever. 

To put it simply; Make sure you’re fully aware of each of the animals’ idiosyncrasies.

 

Looming beasty

 

Housesitting tips

3. Meet and talk with the owner and animals before you take on the petsit. 

Personally, I think you can tell a lot about domesticated animals behaviors by their owners personality. In this case, I believe that my host creates these needy relationships where she is depended upon to warrant her own existence. This is why all three animals required constant attention.

If you’re overseas then I suggest a few Facetime/Skype calls to see how all parties involved are behaving. Find out all behavioral patterns before agreeing because you may find that your usual natural ability to talk to and understand animals is pointless.

 

Porto Cristo
Mallorcan house

 

Housesitting tips

 

4. Ensure all the basic house stuff is operational during your housesit. 

i.e. Wifi, hot water, electricity etc

The first month I spent without wifi – that caused absolute boredom and crabbiness because I couldn’t do any of the blogging and study that I had planned.

Also, the hot water disappeared for a week. I believe I was advised that the gas bottle would last a good couple of months, so I didn’t think to check that initially. But after being frozen solid each morning in the shower for a week, during winter, I thought I’d better see if it was a lack of gas. Of course it was. 

Housesitting tips

See below regarding receiving detailed notes on how things operate within the household.

I tried not to use the heaters too much as my host told me how much previous house sitters cost her in electricity. Well Love, perhaps investing in something other than electric blow heaters is a cheaper option. After 1 month of being cold and fully man-flued – even whilst wearing a rainbow coloured dragon onesie for warmth – I decided that heating was an absolute necessity.

housesit petsit housesitting tips

Wedged in tubby cat

 

5. Do you know enough of the language to get you out of a tough spot?

Say your wolf-buddy disappears for hours at a time – how do you put up signs or ask neighbours if they’ve seen the missing fluffy when your native tongue is English and everyone else speaks Español?

Or wifi doesn’t work – how do you call the provider to work out the issue and have it fixed?

When you n need to replace gas bottles, where do you go, who do you talk to?

 

6. Check which neighbours are besties with your host. 

I say this for 2 reasons; 

1. Who is going to be informing your host what you’ve been up to? 

2. Who can you call on for help?

housesit petsit housesitting tips
Where shall I sit?
housesit petsit housesitting tips

 

Housesitting tips

 

7. Are you physically and mentally strong enough to do all that is asked of you?

During this petsit walking the beasts for 18kms per day over rocky, limestone cliffs beside the Mediterranean Sea wasn’t enough to stop chaos in the household. Plus, being in my 40’s I’m not that well equipped physically to do much more walking every single day. And not being prepared for the three most needy animals I’ve ever met was one of the most mentally draining experiences I’ve had to deal with. 

 

housesit petsit housesitting tips

 

 

8. Check the beasties for any health issues. 

I’d suggest even taking before and after photos to ensure you’re not blamed for problems once the owner comes home. (Like when you hire a car, go over the critters checking for any scrapes and bumps).

Yes, I was partially blamed for 3 different problems that were not within my control.

 

 

Murderous white van – Silence of the Lambs ref #598

 

Housesitting tips

 

9. Is there a car for you to use for your housesit? 

Are you confident enough to drive on the opposite side of the road and car?

You know I’m a sucker for large, salty aqua, outlined with rocky limestone cliffs and hills, so I’m incredibly grateful that the lady I’m housesitting here for, for 2+ months, has allowed me to use her criminal looking van so I can visit such quiet and pretty coastal towns.

Driving on the opposite side of the road, sitting on the opposite side of the car and changing gears right handed in the white, serial killer appearing, VW van is amusing. 

Attempted gear changes with left hand: 19

Wipers on instead of indicators: 1 (true, only once)

Trying to find seat belt with right hand: 12

(Insert rainy day – wipers and indicators both going for nearly the whole drive)

 

 

10. Know what your host expects of you.. 

..and what you expect from your host.

Being able to use the heaters when you have icicles hanging from your nose is an important query.

Will you be paid for your services? Or do you have to pay?

What tasks are you asked to perform on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? Like putting bins out for collection. Bill payments so you’re not left sitting in the dark at night without electricity. Worming the pets. Taking pets to the vet for check ups. Will they leave you enough food or money for supplies and emergencies?

Housesitting tips

If it’s a decent length housesit then ask if it’s ok to have friends visit. Super handy for those sits over the Christmas/holiday period. Surely you don’t want to spend Christmas and NY with furry, needy beasts alone.

 

My friends’ separate arrivals couldn’t have been timed any better. I was at my wits end after 6 weeks in my nightmare. Thankfully they each helped walk Iria and Puppy to give me a break from being dragged along the street. Along with resting my temporary Tourette’s – I don’t think I’ve ever sworn this much in my life.

Just for old times sake I took Iria for a toilet break where I was lucky enough to score some more animal induced skin loss and bruises. Ugh! Get me out of here.

No, that’s not my knee.

 

Housesitting tips

11. Ask for detailed written instructions of how to run the house and pets.

If you’re anything like me, the memory can be a bit of a sieve sometimes, so having everything in writing helps you recall what’s expected. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with my hosts before they left for overseas, however, one can’t be expected to remember everything.

 

 

12. Know the dates of your homeowners travel plans. 

In other words; ask for a copy of their itinerary just in case of emergency contact. Because knowing where they are at certain times can help when you are trying to contact them – especially when you discover that they had lost their phone in their country of tour and you have no idea where they are.

The fact that my host was travelling with her young daughter and not having any real plan was music to this solo travelling female’s ears… initially. 

After a month from hell I started asking the question as to when she will return home, only to be met with “I don’t know” too often. This same person contacted me almost on a daily basis as to when I was arriving in her country about 3 months out from my arrival. 

For instance, it’s important to get all the information ahead of time so you know where you stand and can book your own route out. 

 

 

  • housesit petsit housesitting tips
  • housesit petsit housesitting tips
 
 

13. What to do if you want an invite back for the next holiday.

Do a big house clean at the end of your stay, make those floors and kitchen shine like the sun. I pride myself on this clean up – thank Ma for being the hospital grade cleaner for me to learn from.

Give the beasts loads of love so they actually want you back. Buying their love with treats also acceptable – unless you’re dealing with an obese critter.

Take LOTS of happy phone snaps and send to the host on a regular basis. Those images that show how much they’re enjoying themselves are best.

 

Housesitting tips

 

14. Learn the lessons of yourself if you have had the housesit from hell.

Iria and I are alike – we don’t like being tied down and in a small environment without escape options.

As a result of all the chaos I learned that even after my whole India-Yogic experience – only recently prior to this housesit – wasn’t enough to help keep me calm in very stressful situations. Something to work on, personally.

Neediness is not fun, 

Warm secluded beaches are my thing – not this winter caper,

My Español is average.

Friends and family have previously dubbed me the Dog Whisperer because I have an innate sense of what a dog needs and train them pretty well. So I was always confident in these natural abilities when invited to any housesit.. This time the ego has been shot down.

 

In conclusion; This was a worse case scenario. Every other housesit has been an absolute breezy dream, so please don’t be deterred.

 

Still want to housesit after hearing this worst case scenario? Here’s the website I used to score this gig; 

www.trustedhousesitters.com

This website requests supporting reviews on your previous housesits, which is important reassurance for the homeowner that is allowing a stranger into their private world.

They also charge you an annual fee for the privilege.

 

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit…. and, above all else, getting the hell out of crappy situations immediately.

 

For more images and entertainment from this petsit head over to my YouTube Channel here.

I’d love to hear your travel house-sitting stories and will happily add them to the blogs here so comment below or send me an email. https://blinkedtravel.wordpress.com/contact/

 

 

For super cheap and extensive travel insurance;

  1. They feature your unique Refer-a-Friend link: https://www.1Cover.com.au/?raf=1546193
  2. Your friend clicks on your unique link and buys a 1Cover policy from our website. They can also buy a policy from our Call Centre, quoting your unique code: 1546193
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14 things to consider before housesitting

House-sitting Havoc – Mallorca

Do you want to know what Mallorca and Silence of the Lambs has in common?? I’m about to tell you…

Imagine going to a country where your family heritage resides, add the fact that I’m a sea worshipper, you’ll understand how much my soul was looking forward to this Mallorcan Island trip.

I’m in heaven, surrounded by salty aqua, secluded empty beaches and white limestone cliffs over looking the Mediterranean Sea, living virtually for free, looking after 2 dogs and a cat. The dogs; Puppy (Pronounced Poopy) – a very lucky Mexican dog, that only speaks French, living the life of luxury on Mallorca; Iria – a stunning wolf-cross whom only speaks Spanish and did her utmost to ruin my sanity; and Margot – a cat whose head is too small for her body.

Margot

For a self professed “Animal whisperer” like myself this housesit was going to be a cinch… Or was this animal-sit just to prove to me that my ego was too big?

The sheep of Spain wear these beautiful wind chime chattering bells around their woolen necks – which, in normal circumstances, sounds like something from a guided meditation by Buddhist monks, but hearing the chaotic rush from those bells after being chased by Iria, I now have flashbacks to Silence of the Lambs. (Insert mental image of Clarice Starling trying to catch a serial killer).

My fluffy, freedom-seeking, soul-sister proves how alike we are by choosing lambs as her favourite meal. She would disappear for an hour or so, initially, and I’d just live in hope that she’d return after she had finished whatever it was she was doing (this was on numerous occasions before I was able to discover exactly where she went on her expeditions). 

Iria after her first of many Houdini acts

So, if you’re contemplating doing a house and furry-beast-sit for anyone, here are some things to consider and questions to ask the owner before you say yes…

Porto Cristo Boat Harbour
  1. It’s possibly mid-winter or high-summer where you’re going to housesit. 

If you’re ok with chilly or cooked bones then by all means sign up for everything and anything.

My most recent housesit I was incredibly enthusiastic about going to Spain (from Australia) and having spoken to my incredibly kind and seemingly relaxed homeowner, I anticipated a super laid back 2-3 months with 3 beasts and all the time in the world to myself to explore my mild wintery island home (I say mild due to Melbourne’s Antarctic wind blown, frosty comparison), complete some study and travel blogging. Boy was that far from reality.

Thankfully Mallorca’s version of winter is a humid balminess – On average, temperatures were around 15-20 degrees celsius.

Find out whether supermarkets, restaurants and other basic necessities are operational during winter or if you’re going to be bombarded by tourists before your decision too. I discovered that just about every town shut down for 4 months upon my arrival in early November. Insert tumbleweeds being the only traffic through the small, crispy breezed, ghost towns with closed, multi-colour shuttered doors and windows contrasting the endless terracotta stained buildings.

“Ready for a walk, Iria?” Uhhhhhh….

2. Find out what training the furries have had.

Dare I go into detail about how important it is to train your dogs? Even something as simple as being able to walk them on a lead and recall should be mandatory but isn’t always the case – so I painfully discovered. Humans spend all this money on educating their children, why do animals miss out? 

In my not-so-humble opinion – humans need more training than domestic pets. What makes you think you can house a wolf-cross, another elderly Mexican dog and a cat, whose head is too small for its body (obese), in an apartment with very minimal backyard? 

Tiniest backyard (I have a well, cute dog and a murderous looking white van – Silence of the Lambs ref #2)

I’ve walked these animals on average 18kms per day. It’s not anywhere near enough. Poor Iria needs to roam free on acreage not be trapped in a townhouse with a bedroom sized yard day after day.

Due to the beasts neediness / separation anxiety, I couldn’t leave the house for 5 minutes without something in the house being attacked.

Chaos by the pesky varmints:

Numerous books selected individually from the full bookcase, then ripped to shreds;

Tea towels mauled, swallowed and vomited up in a pea soup looking liquid days later – inside the house;

The box of masticated materials is currently too small so a new, larger shipping container is required now.

Although I appear miffed at Iria, I know the problem lies in ownership.

It’s cruel keeping this stunning creature locked up and without any training what-so-ever. 

To put it simply; Make sure you’re fully aware of each of the animals’ idiosyncrasies.

Looming beasty

3. Meet and talk with the owner and animals before you take on the role. 

Personally, I think you can tell a lot about domesticated animals behaviors by their owners personality. In this case, I believe that my host creates these needy relationships where she is depended upon to warrant her own existence. This is why all three animals required constant attention.

If you’re overseas then I suggest a few Facetime/Skype calls to see how all parties involved are behaving. Find out all behavioral patterns before agreeing because you may find that your usual natural ability to talk to and understand animals is pointless.

Mallorcan house

4. Ensure all the basic house stuff is operational. 

i.e. Wifi, hot water, electricity etc

The first month I spent without wifi – that caused absolute boredom and crabbiness because I couldn’t do any of the blogging and study that I had planned.

Also, the hot water disappeared for a week. I believe I was advised that the gas bottle would last a good couple of months, so I didn’t think to check that initially. But after being frozen solid each morning in the shower for a week, during winter, I thought I’d better see if it was a lack of gas. Of course it was. 

See below regarding receiving detailed notes on how things operate within the household.

Unicorn onesie for warmth

I tried not to use the heaters too much as my host told me how much previous house sitters cost her in electricity. Well Love, perhaps investing in something other than electric blow heaters is a cheaper option. After 1 month of being cold and fully man-flued – even whilst wearing a rainbow coloured dragon onesie for warmth – I decided that heating was an absolute necessity.

Wedged tubby cat (in litterbox)

5. Do you know enough of the language to get you out of a tough spot?

Say your wolf-buddy disappears for hours at a time – how do you put up signs or ask neighbours if they’ve seen the missing fluffy when your native tongue is English and everyone else speaks Español?

Or wifi doesn’t work – how do you call the provider to work out the issue and have it fixed?

6. Check which neighbours are besties with your host. 

I say this for 2 reasons; 

1. Who is going to be informing your host what you’ve been up to? 

2. Who can you call on for help?

Where shall I sit?

7. Are you physically and mentally strong enough to do all that is asked of you?

In this case, walking the beasts for 18kms per day over rocky, limestone cliffs beside the Mediterranean Sea wasn’t enough to stop chaos in the household. Plus, being in my 40’s I’m not that well equipped physically to do much more walking every single day. And not being prepared for the three most needy animals I’ve ever met was one of the most mentally draining experiences I’ve had to deal with. 

8. Check the beasties for any health issues. 

I’d suggest even taking before and after photos to ensure you’re not blamed for problems once the owner comes home. (Like when you hire a car, go over the critters checking for any scrapes and bumps).

Yes, I was blamed for 3 different problems that were not within my control.

Murderous white van – Silence of the Lambs ref #598

9. Is there a car for you to use? 

Are you confident enough to drive on the opposite side of the road and car?

You know I’m a sucker for large, salty aqua, outlined with rocky limestone cliffs and hills, so I’m incredibly grateful that the lady I’m housesitting here for, for 2+ months, has allowed me to use her criminal looking van so I can visit such quiet and pretty coastal towns.

Driving on the opposite side of the road, sitting on the opposite side of the car and changing gears right handed in the white, serial killer appearing, VW van is amusing. 

Attempted gear changes with left hand: 19

Wipers on instead of indicators: 1 (true, only once)

Trying to find seat belt with right hand: 12

(Insert rainy day – wipers and indicators both going for nearly the whole drive)

10. Know what your host expects of you.. 

..and what you expect from your host.

Being able to use the heaters when you have icicles hanging from your nose is an important query.

Will you be paid for your services? Or do you have to pay?

What tasks are you asked to perform on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? Like putting bins out for collection. Bill payments so you’re not left sitting in the dark at night without electricity. Worming the pets. Taking pets to the vet for check ups. Will they leave you enough food or money for supplies and emergencies?

If it’s a decent length housesit then ask if it’s ok to have friends visit. Super handy for those sits over the Christmas/holiday period. Surely you don’t want to spend Christmas and NY with furry, needy beasts alone.

My friends’ arrival couldn’t have been timed any better, I was at my wits end after 6 weeks in my nightmare. Thankfully they helped me walk Iria to give me a break from being dragged along the street and resting my temporary Tourette’s – I don’t think I’ve ever sworn this much in my life.

Just for old times sake I took Iria for a toilet break where I was lucky enough to score some more animal induced skin loss and bruises. Ugh! Get me out of here.

No, that’s not my knee.

11. Ask for detailed written instructions of how to run the house and pets.

If you’re anything like me, the memory can be a bit of a sieve sometimes, so having everything in writing helps you recall what’s expected. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with my hosts before they left for overseas, but still, I can’t be expected to remember everything.

12. Know the dates of your homeowners travel plans. 

Even ask for a copy of their itinerary just in case of emergency contact. Also, knowing where they are at certain times can help when you are trying to contact them – especially when you discover that they had lost their phone in their country of tour and you have no idea where they are.

I loved the fact that my host was travelling with her young daughter and not having any real plan… initially. 

After a month from hell I started asking the question as to when she will return home, only to be met with “I don’t know” too often. This same person contacted me almost on a daily basis as to when I was arriving in her country about 3 months out from my arrival. 

So, it’s important to get all the information ahead of time so you know where you stand and can book your own escape. 

13. What to do if you want an invite back for the next holiday.

Do a big house clean at the end of your stay, make those floors and kitchen shine like the sun.

Give the beasts loads of love so they actually want you back. Buying their love with treats also acceptable – unless you’re dealing with an obese critter.

Take LOTS of happy phone snaps and send to the host on a regular basis. Those images that show how much they’re enjoying themselves are best.

14. Learn the lessons of yourself if you have had the housesit from hell.

I discovered that Iria and I are alike – we don’t like being tied down and in a small environment without escape options.

I also learned that, even after my whole India-Yogic experience, only recently prior to this housesit,  wasn’t enough to help keep me calm in very stressful situations. Something to work on, personally.

I despise neediness, 

I need secluded, warm, swimable beaches,

My Spanish is average.

My friends and family call me the Dog Whisperer because I have an innate sense of what a dog needs and train them pretty well. So I am always confident in my abilities when I go to any housesit.. This time my ego has been shot down.

Still want to housesit after hearing this worst case scenario? Here’s the website I used to score this gig; 

www.trustedhousesitters.com

This website requests supporting reviews on your previous housesits, which is important reassurance for the homeowner that is allowing a stranger into their private world.

They also charge you an annual fee for the privilege.

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit…. and getting the hell out of crappy situations immediately.

For more images and entertainment head over to my YouTube Channel here.

I’d love to hear your travel house-sitting stories and will happily add them to the blogs here so comment below or send me an email. https://blinked.com.au/contact/

For super cheap and extensive travel insurance;

  1. They feature your unique Refer-a-Friend link: https://www.1Cover.com.au/?raf=1546193
  2. Your friend clicks on your unique link and buys a 1Cover policy from our website. They can also buy a policy from our Call Centre, quoting your unique code: 1546193

Softly Spoken Sri Lanka

Guest blog written by my very talented friend, Nigel.

Hi Nige

Side note:

I’m posting this Sri Lanka blog before my Euro trip because our wonderful guides have had nearly all of their tourism bookings cancelled due to the recent turmoil in their wonderful country.

You’ll find their contact details at the bottom of this blog. I cannot recommend these beautifully kind gentlemen and Sri Lanka enough. Don’t let the media dictate that it’s not safe, do your own research and go book with these sensational humans that will give you the best travel experience you could have ever hoped for.

And yes, you will need a guide if you want a stress-free version of Sri Lanka travel. Their transport system is pretty average, although, not impossible. I just imagine that most of us over 40’s travellers prefer a little more comfort than non-airconditioned, overcrowded buses. (The train ride between Ella and Nuwara Eliya, as you’ll see below, is absolutely sublime though.)

Negombo

Accomodation: The very acceptable Paradise Beach Hotel with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Turns out the Colombo airport is really in Negombo – or so it seemed in hindsight.  After a few turns out of the bouganvillia-lined airport access road, the environment is a strikingly low-rise, well-kempt residential one dotted with markets, temples, and churches and cut through with surface railroad tracks.  This tidy, pleasant everyday neighborhood gives way quickly to sandy sidewalks, hotels, espresso bars and views through alleys to the sparkling Indian ocean. Less than $100/night is plenty for a beach-front 3.5-star with generous sea-view balcony, nicely-maintained pool with manicured lawn and coconut palms and complete with a Pirate Bar, serving the “standard” plus-size Lion beers with their golden hues and mellow vibes.  If you want to have smoke with your beer in Sri Lanka, be prepared to buck the system or have to go to great lengths to purchase a pack. None are allowed to be brought through customs. None. But rumor has it that a few packs strategically stowed away in luggage are extremely likely to get through undisturbed.

A seventh-floor rooftop bar dwarfs its surroundings and beckons with opening-night-style searchlights.  The music is as conservatively house-pop as can be but gets some head bobs from the well-heeled local crowd as they surmise the lavish dessert bar. On to Rodeo bar where there might be a band.  It’s Friday night. No dancing here. No metal. No live music. No ping pong show. Just Soft-spoken local highschoolers drinking beer and munching on club sandwiches while watching the cricket. Better to stake out a balcony chaise and watch the moon play on the surf.

Sigiriya – Lion Rock (or is it iron rock?)

Sigiriya / Dambulla

Rolling out of Negombo, the sandy beach-town grid gives way to shady 2-lane (oh, sorry, 3-lane for those vehicles game enough to create their own path) roads that carve through agricultural land spread out in front of the inviting hills of the North Western Province and the first big town, Kurunegala, that sits squarely at the intersection of flat and hilly.  Here a snack of roadside Rambutan fuels a scorching midday stagger around a blindingly white 100’-tall buddha that sits high above the town looking placidly out over it and whose sarong and repair scaffolding provide shade for a family of feisty macaques (evil monkeys) and a few lazy young lovers taking in the view.

The local small scenic lake and surrounding park are another welcome oasis from the punishing sun and here more white-school-uni-clad teenagers jostle gently around holding ice cream pins flashing brilliant toothy grins at each other and giving the occasional love punch to keep it casual.

The cultural religious stop of the day is the Dambulla Cave Temple. A white-washed vaguely Western arcaded façade a few hundred meters walk up from the car-park covers the seam between cliffs above and a human-enhanced, terraced plateau. Step through the arcade and into the dimly-lit cave rooms beyond and you’re met with a massive, full-reclined Buddha lit ethereally by beams of daylight sifting through the doorway.  Flanking the reclining Buddha are a host of smaller seated ones, some serene, some seemingly perturbed. They get along though, and the white, orange and purple flowers left for them seem an essential relief from the otherwise eternal and somber scene. There are other rooms, some larger, some smaller, all hosting buddhas and all with intricately painted natural stone (cliff underbelly) ceilings. It’s as if the ceilings have been hung with taut, beautiful woven fabrics.

Next stop, a couple of more hour’s drive up into the North Central Province, arriving as the shadows lengthen, is the vendor’s grass-roofed roadside hut to sign-up for our first Sri Lankan Safari at Ritigala Nature Reserve.  With a beefy, black, 8-seater, plush-seated, roofless, roll-barred off-roader to ourselves with windscreen down, we tear off at high speed in pursuit of sun bears, leopards and ellies.

Once in the park, the red-dirt roads are well rutted and the African safari massage starts.  Our guide/driver knows what he’s up to and with efficient precision in stopping for and pointing out some colorful fowl, he subtly passes leading Jeeps and gets us beautifully teed up at a stream where a family of magnificent elephants is sauntering out of the shady woods, scraping their tough hides on the tree trunks and prancing slow-motion into the golden late-afternoon sunlight.  They take turns munching the tender grasses and cooling their toes in the water. And then a couple of the elephants, a Mom and daughter I’m guessing, think it’d be cool to come check us out up close. Breath-held, camera noises turned off, we can hear their teeth grinding on grass, see their spotted lips and irises, and smell their sun-warmed skin.

For me, a safari newbie, this is magic and pure bliss.  Looks like my safari-vet buddy is a bit impressed too. After more than half an hour of this beautiful encounter it’s time to back up and move out. A quick stop at Lion Rock (do all nature preserves have one?) where it’s easy to picture Simba and the gang lounging about, it’s a tear back to the hut and a hour-plus drive in darkness to the hotel in Dambulla (Thilanka Resort), a gorgeous, low-key, soft spoken eco-lodge resort with a fantastic campus of breezy, well-planned new buildings that nod to the vernacular, all set in a mango grove with a pool that stretches out into the rice paddies in the direction of the sunset.

Next morning, we’re up and out on the early side to beat the heat and crowds to climb Sigiriya rock to the Lion Fortress upon it.  This is a big tourist draw for locals and foreigners alike. If you’ve not seen a helicopter shot of this one, imagine a rock shaped like an upside-down iron the size of 6 cruise ships (2-wide, 3-high) sticking prominently out of a dense jungle and supporting a sun-deck of fortress ruins.  It even seems to have a bow and a stern and the iconic shots are from just off the bow.

We didn’t make it up.

The density of the sweaty, curry-tooting, out-of-shape, hopelessly over-ambitious climbers and the patter of geriatric medical conversations, paired with the narrow steepness of the stairs and resulting tortoise-on-morphine pace of the climb was enough, after about 40 minutes and a quarter of the ascent, for us to look at each other, shrug, smile and reverse course, weaving our way, very gingerly but persistently back down through the crowd to smiles and comments of “had enough, eh?”.  A fainted woman being tended to with ticket-stub fans and label-less water bottles (check your single-use labels at the gate, please), was a pretty good convincer that we had chosen wisely. Base camp is beautiful – a shady compound of vendor huts surrounding a makeshift, tree-filled tourist-village green. We hung out here, admiring a resident tree sloth and chatting on a bench until pink moist huffers emerged from the exit trail and our trusty, very soft-spoken guide, Taronga, greeted us with his heart-warming genuine hospitality smile.  Perfect morning in my book. “Uhhhh, no.” is a complete sentence apparently.

And an even more perfect balance of the day.  

A quick pretty drive back toward Dambulla is a small village where we were treated to a cursory village tour by ox-drawn cart and then a leisurely private shaded, pontoon-boat ride across a small lake the waters of which were teeming with fish and dragonflies as well as lotus flowers that were pulled up and fashioned into necklaces for us to wear and a bouquet for us to hold while posing serious-faced like 19th-century newlyweds. The ultimate destination for this little side-journey, which featured a tramp through what seemed like a family-sized subsistence farm and past a micro fish market, was a traditional open-air, thatch-roofed Sri Lankan farmhouse for lunch. We watched and took part in the grating of coconut and pounding then grinding of millet (?) for flour. After some non-participatory grinding of herbs and super-heating of coconut oil and furious wood-fired stove-top stirring, our lunch was served in clay pots and tasted phenomenal.

We spent the rest of the afternoon poolside at the hotel, befriending a puppy and her Mom, sipping the house-special mojito-esque cocktail and Lion beers and soaking up the fading rays of sun while sharing stories of past glories and defeats.  A predictable buffet dinner was made lighter and more fun with a visit to the pasta bar and a bottle of South African red. Then a cricket watching lesson, invisible tennis class, Bruce Willis dive roll practice and balcony climbing.

Next a final Dambulla-based day is spent exploring the ancient Hindu city of Polonnowaru.  This vast complex, warmed up nicely before we hauled our beleaguered butts out of the Honda Fit, is characterized by nested layered compounds of ruined temples and stupas.  The requirement that we de-shoe before entering the sanctum of each of these sites, at spots commonly demarcated by three steps up from a round lotus-flower medallion paver, leaves tender soles scrambling for the scant shady spots to avoid 2nd degree burns and the need for immediate back-seat amateur skin grafts.  The sites are in turn majestic, sublime, humble, ruined, nicely restored, crowded and deserted.  Skip the lotus pond. It’s a smallish ancient tiered hot tub shaped like a lotus and sunk in the ground.  Maybe more impressive if not led up to with a 3 km drive down a dusty track into an otherwise vacant wooded area.  The common denominator at Polonnarawu is hot and sun-scorched. If you could catch this place really early or late in the day, or on one that offers a preponderance of cloud-cover, then by all means, do it. Duran Duran filmed the video to their 1982 single Save a Prayer amongst the ruins here.  Woo hoo!

Avurvedic Massage – oiled, seasoned, basted and steamed…. reeelaaaxed.

Kandy

Next morning it’s time to say bye for now to our stylish Dambulla eco-lodge.  Now its off to Kandy, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka nestled in its geographic center of gravity. On the way we stop at a spice garden, tour the grounds, learn some interesting facts about the ayurvedic medicinal characteristics of plants I thought just tasted nice and are treated to an express version of the same massage noted above minus the steaming.  First impression of Kandy is traffic jam. It takes us over an hour, once we make the city line, to creep to the other end of town (walkable in 30 mins) to a 4th floor tourist buffet lunch and another hour to return the same distance and park in a downtown shopping mall parking garage to visit the famous Buddha Tooth relic museum and adjacent Museum of World Buddhism.  These sites suffered a terrorist bombing in the early 2000’s as part of the civil war and unfortunately that tragedy has left a low-energy pall over the otherwise quite stately and beautiful grounds adjacent to Fake Lake.  To complete the buzz-kill we’re scolded for PDA by an olive-suited police officer who judges our casual hug to be on the far side of the tact/taste line in Kandy.

We’re the only guests at our hillside hotel (Cassendra Hotel) opposite side of the lake from the sites visited that afternoon.  The perks of this fact are a few, including having clearly the highest corner room with nicest balcony and fantastic view of the lake and city below and mountains all around.  I get my groove finally in the card game 500 that I’ve been taught only a day or two earlier. Sorting and keeping track of a hand of 13 cards is a big tax on my frontal lobe, nevermind having any idea what to do with them or how. A 2-hour blackout puts the valley in near darkness but for the lights powered by diesel generators that kick on and add a droning baseline to our side game of Spotify playlist limbo.

Next morning’s gem factory tour leaves me with the impression, backed up with further casual study, that Sri Lankans, Kandyans anyway, like to keep their water for sipping/hydrating through the day in top-shelf Western booze and wine bottles.  It was a little disconcerting at first glance to see the gem shapers and polishers reaching for and slugging back Grey Goose and chardonnay. This is also a trend/fashion with tuk-tuk drivers who keep their liquid comfort right by their knee in view of passing traffic.  Wondering if this is a hiding in plain sight move for some? Hmmmm. After gems we have a meander through the Kandy Botanical Garden. Its big, really nicely planted, clearly been around for a long time, and very well maintained. Beautiful stands of massive bamboo and peeks through to the river outside the garden are highlights, as are the feelings of calm and contentment that this place evokes with a wink.

After battling traffic again back into Kandy, we plead our gentle Tharanga for an impromptu drop-off shy of our destination.  It’s really nice to be out on foot and after we stumble through a fetid house of horrors wet market hung with carcasses large and small, we’re out into the bright hot bustle of weekday lunch-hour Kandy.  We grab some lunch items from a storefront cart – fried veggie roti, savory donuts and a mandarin, score a sim card, make some turns dictated by coin toss, buy some $3 Ray-Dan sunglasses and duck into an unairconditioned but really hip and tasty little tea shop.

The crescendo of the day is the traditional Sri Lankan dance show at a pavilion by the lake.  Our great seats (thanks Tharanga!) offer an up-close view not just of the smiling acrobatic dancers spinning, back-flipping and sliding gracefully across the stage in colorful costumes accompanied by on-stage drummers, but also of the sudden and catastrophic structural failure of the rigid plastic injection-moulded chair of the spectator directly in front of us who ends up between my legs in a spray of shattered plastic and errant popcorn kernels.  The performers are amused by this and by their own occassional flubs at pulling off some of the more challenging stunts they’re trying. Their smiles and joy are definitely catchy and their humility very endearing. No apparent injuries on-stage or off.

They open the hotel kitchen again for an encore version of their signature succulent bbq chicken and healthy stack of crispy shoestring potatoes – this time just for one, not two, and delivered to the room. It’s another evening of smiles and balcony beauty and a reasonably early-morning version of stuff the backpack.

Ramboda Falls / Nuwara Eliya

Next heading south and east, takes us deep into the deepest blue of the Bunsen burner flame of the Sri Lanka map. Luckily for us, and tip of the hat to uncle Nigel (thanks, Nige!) we have an old-school fold-out paper map to trace our route, circle stops and appreciate this graphic flame often and at our leisure. So that deepest blue means altitude! And we spend the morning gaining some of it pretty quickly. It’s about 2.5 hours of up into the mountains before we have to ditch the car at a turn off and are shuttled down an immensely steep switchback drive to the lobby of the Ramboda Falls hotel.

The casual hostel scruffiness here gives way quickly and magnificently to the surroundings – a south facing overlook on a wooded ravine flanked by a powerful nearby double waterfall on the left, a taller, slender, silent one straight ahead in the distance and a crinkle of mountain range spanning out to the right. It’s hard to describe the excitement when the guy helping with our packs and showing us our way to the room leaves the main dormitory style building and leads us out to the furthest-most cottage perched right at the steepest and most nicely shaded spot where the view is nothing but Sri Lanka’s finest.

An afternoon of waterfall and sun bathing, dog-befriending and balcony music happy hour sunset give way to an evening of buffet, wine, table-side Sri Lankan happy-birthday guitar and tambourine quartet (not even close to my birthday, but very nicely played, Ali!), a few hours of 8-ball billiards in the hotel bar with self-soundsystem and finally, a flat-on-our-backs-in-the-grass star-gazing cosmos ponder that fills us with a knowledge about us that’s newer, deeper and incredibly exciting and soothing at once.

Next day, awakened by a small platoon of caffeinated monkeys on the tin roof of the cottage, it’s off through the tea plantations, into a tea plantation (where our guide reinforces my hunch that most commercially available black tea bags are filled with the dust swept off the factory floor) to the nearby town of Nuwara Eliya.  This place is too cute. Much cooler temperature-wise given its altitude than anywhere else we’ve been, NE is full of storybook brick and stone Tudor architecture inspired by the English countryside.

Apparently, the British colonialists found this to be one of the best spots to set up a home away from home complete with a golf-course, plush resort hotel and downtown with banks and a post-office just like back in merry ‘ole.  Taking a walk a few blocks north of downtown though and the bus terminal, fruit markets, roti cafes and shops selling SIM cards, milo, hardware, bridal hairstyling, stiff-billed Stussy caps and elephant pants – say, nah, this isn’t the Cotswolds – you’re in SL still, its just a little less hot. But then a walk by the adjacent recreational lake feels again like somewhere else altogether – maybe Sweden? Who knows. It’s nice though, and our guide there, a smiley yellow dog that trots up and puts his paws in Ali’s seated lap, stands tall to signal his approval of her, makes sure we leave town with a profound appreciation for its welcoming and carefree spirit.

Another light-agenda day is just right, and after a breezy windows-down drive back through the tea plantation switch-backs, we spend the rest of the day near the hotel luxuriating by a natural pool in glittering dappled sunlight, bouldering and building Zen rock piles.  The evening is about a village walk, another riverside waterfall scamper to get the bpm’s up and then a fantastic night of watching Makila, a local dude with big plans, and his buddies laugh uproariously and tweak each other gently about not *quite* getting the cue ball up table, around a coin and back to home in three shots, no cushion or coin to be touched – a game that Ali knew somehow would be all it takes to start a party like this.  ☺

Ella

This morning we’re met by our second driver/guide, Nisha.  He’s a lithe, handsome guy who looks quite a bit younger than a 43-year old dad of two teenagers. He’s got an easy smile, gentle demeanor and the same confident flow behind the wheel as Tharanga. I’ve learned from Ali that Nisha is the engineer and artist behind our itinerary and he’s got the presence you might expect from a mastermind.  We make a stop back in Nuwara Eliya for a little breakfast and coffee before heading over to the train station to catch the 12:15 to Ella.

The train is only half an hour behind schedule and when it does pull in it’s interesting to note that it takes about five minute of Nisha and his colleagues trailing other guides and their disembarked clients before they return hurriedly holding tickets for us to board. First impression, after lots of hype is “Oh. OK. Cramped commuter train through the countryside with other underwhelmed, snacking Eurameristralians” Ali even picked up a dark vibe in her foursome across the aisle from me – which, thankfully, made us move to a better location in the carriage.  

But then.  End of Car. Open doors.  Full-face lean-outs over seated leg hangers.  

“Tika-taka, tika-taka, tika-taka. Ta-tak; ta-tak; ta-tak.”

This was the dialog between the steel wheels, the carriage, the tracks, the sleepers and the earth as we coasted past a grove of silvery gum trees bathed in dappled sunshine that punctuated a view of green mountains through them and blue ones beyond. It was only another bend before the train was enveloped in a passing cloud, bringing a cool misty ghostliness to the emerald grasses and fiery flowered bushes that brushed our outstretched toes.  

Here and there a face would drift by, one with a whistle, softly but firmly blown to signal something like “I’m here”, another squinting through a sunbeam to gather a glimpse of the far paler faces aboard looking back through open windows and sunglasses. There was nothing loud or abrupt or forced or splashy about this afternoon train ride, billed as the most beautiful in Sri Lanka, between the quaint Britishy-feeling tea and scones resort town of Nuwara Elia surrounded by some of the country’s most prolific tea-producing plantations and the not-so-nearby ayurvedic backpackers’ beer/tea/shisha/massage basecamp called Ella nestled in the crook of Adams Peak and the 9-arches bridge.


About an hour in, after a station stop in a sunny siding, an opening for a side-by-side seated leg-hang of our own, albeit on the less scenic, less sunny side.  

But then, almost instantly, a big right-hand bend and the valley of the gods opens up to us through ghostly gum trees and we’re there, floating, clicking, clacking, grinning and breathing involuntarily deep breaths.  Next through a cloud, then whipped at the toes by sun-warmed grasses, then past small farms and houses bathed in late afternoon golden glow. Please don’t let it stop. And it doesn’t. Seeming hours (and it was) of fragrant sun-dappled woods, 200-km views to distant mountains, wooshing tunnels and smiling faces at stations and between. THIS is the Sri Lanka I brought with me when I left. Mountains, colors, tea, train, mellow sunny fragranced fields, patient tuk-tuk travelers stopped at crossings and gentle breezes.

At our destination, Ella, high in the central province mountains, all pile out and it’s apparent that more than half of the passengers are 20-30-something crunchy back-packers, tatted, dreadlocked, tanned, ankleted, pony-tailed and equipped for trekking. The town itself is small and caters to this contingent – hostels, bars, shisha joints and lots of little mom-and-pop ayurvedic massage emporiums.  After a pot of street-front, people-watching tea, we book into a massage place. Relatively early to bed at another deserted hotel after some amazing homemade pumpkin soup.

The following morning we make quick work of Mini Adams Peak – a brisk vertical endeavor that rewards with an incredible panoramic view of surrounding mountains cast in stark atmospheric relief by the brilliance of the mid-morning sun and offers a nice glimpse in the direction of the next chapter of our tour, south toward the ocean.  A family of mountain dogs and their pups show us around the summit and are treated to Haiwaiin cookies care of Nisha, much to the delight of a pair of Aussie ladies who Ali pegs as being from Brisbane.

Yala National Park

We spend a good part of the rest of the day making our way back into the flatlands and toward the east coast to Yala.  Along the way, we stop at Buduruwagala where we make our way through an alley of mature gnarled trees to a field in front of a magnificent trifecta of Buddhas carved into the side of a small cliff. This place has a real feeling of place, sacred place, and we learn from Nisha that the buddhas represented here include one that will return in or around the year 7500 wearing a lotus blossom on each shoulder. YES.

Shortly after and almost to Yala we stop at a roadside Sri Lankan curry place for their lunch buffet.  This is officially the buffet that puts us both over the edge and I don’t think we went to one thererafter – too much food, meagerly heated, always the same.

At Yala we get a peek at of our safari-style hotel before being whisked off in another 4-wheel off-road machine, this one with a roof, into the vast oceanside nature reserve there, where again we’re on the lookout for sun bears, elephants and leopards.  A couple of hours revving past other tours, spying many peacocks, a gaggle of water buffalo and a couple of alligators, and after not quite making it in time to see a leopard that’s been spotted by other groups, we finally do glimpse one lazing in a tree.  Ali and I surmise that it was probably just some dude in a leopard suit.

I cant remember the details of the dinner menu, but it was an extensive, fixed, 5-course type of deal and after being regaled by our very friendly nurse maître-de and some more dog and cat shenanigans – including sending one with a mad case of fleas back into his pack stinking of peppermint oil (much to the howling consternation of his fellows) – we take a swim in the pool under the stars, all the while smiling into the cctv camera and expecting the hotel overnight guy or local militia to show up in force at any minute.

Mirissa / Weligama / Galle

Down at the broad, rounded base of the Sri Lankan bunsen burner flame is the surf coast. It’s also where you’ll still see fishing boats fitted with tree-branch-supported pontoon outriggers and guys standing on wooden poles in the sea by the shore, fishing.  According to Nisha, this is now done only as a photo op for tourists and the fishermen are after Instagrammer tips rather than a bait nibble.

Our place at Weligama is a casual beachfront hotel with palm trees growing up through it that frame perfect views of the sunset from the mosquito-netted canopy bed outfitted in white, turquoise and navy.  The balcony is huge and comfy chaises are just the thing for after-dinner lounging. And what a dinner. The darty (day-party) starts early at lunch with grilled crabs, Lion beer and plenty of French fries with mayo. The darty continues at the pool with a game of sink the beachball and on the beach with pineapple cocktails, pesky bugs, body-surfing and a pretty spectacular sunset.  The darty becomes a narty and involves another visit to the neighboring crab place, though this time for club sandwiches and fries and mayo and a discussion of folk/rock/blues/country taxonomy and a near brawl over same and finally a howl at the moon over the surf.

Our last full day in Sri Lanka (or mine anyway) consists of barely making it out of bed for a whale watch, barely making it onto the whale watch boat, barely seeing whales and almost not making it to the pod of minute, frolicking speeding spinner dolphins that bring us nearly to tears with their spastic ‘look at me’ spin dives with belly flop landings. They’re smaller, darker and goofier than I expected.

We spend the afternoon in Galle with a meander around the Dutch fort there, but for me, all I’m seeing is the fast-approaching end of this incredible journey.  The end-of-trip sadness is real and achy. Nisha knows the trick and hosts a seafood feast for us at the same crab place next door where it turns out he is buddies with the owner. We hear about his experience falling out of his family’s graces for marrying a Christian girl and compare notes on the vagaries of careers and travels in AU, US and Sri Lanka.

Final words on Sri Lanka

There was nothing loud or abrupt or forced or splashy about Sri Lanka as far as I could see.  From the virtually deserted miles-long stretch of sunset beach at Negombo (an easy 20-minute ride from Colombo airport) to the solemnly majestic and massive charcoal-colored stupas at Polonnawaru, the calm and quiet are tempered by heat, breezes, monkey chatter and lots of coconuts — King coconuts macheted open to drink through a straw from a road-side vendor, fluffy finely-grated coconut called sambol which is infused with ground chilies, lime, and onion and must translate to “perfect accompaniment to everything Sri Lankan served at breakfast lunch and dinner’’, deep-fried sugar-dusted coconut fritters, and most importantly, the base ingredient along with the 100+ others in the oil that’s drizzled rhythmically on your forehead and applied body-wide as a basting before you’re set to steam-cook in an Ayurvedic coffin/dumpling basket designed specifically for serving thoroughly relaxed humans.

To say Sri Lanka is low-key and humble is like saying mid-town Manhattan can get busy around the holidays. But it’s not deadly quiet. And it’s not boring. The unmarked, unofficial middle lane traffic, ruled by careening, phantasmagorically-painted busses tooting their ring-tone truck horns and the fire-walking, balletic-spinning acrobatic dancers provide the staccato accompaniment.

Goodnight, Sri Lanka – I love you and your gentle soft-spoken warmth.

Nisha (organised the WHOLE trip for us):

WhatsApp; +94 77 626 4733

Tharanga (did most of the driving & educating):

WhatsApp; +94 70 363 6046

For discounts on accomodation through Booking.com, click HERE.

Have you been to Sri Lanka since the recent turmoil? I’m interested in your thoughts on this stunning, warm and loving country, so please leave your comments or queries below.

Mesmerising Myanmar

December 2016 – January 2017

I know a lot of people were included in my original emails for this trip, but for those that haven’t seen all my photos this is a good place to start.

Myanmar was only reopened to tourism back in 2011, so things are still being set up for us foreigners.

Also, an ex partner of mine was on this trip, so I’ve just called him TP (Travel Partner). There’s no hiding the fact he was there with me and helped make it fun.

 

Yangon

Weather: warm, approx 31 – underpants not under too much strain

Accom: Best Western Chinatown – good location, clean, acceptable

Weight: +1.5kgs in 2 days

Tan: grey brown look, possibly smog

Massages: 1 out of boredom.. kinda hard but necessary 

Hotel car forgot the airport collection, include no phone service for Aussie phones = slight nervousness. Outcome: local taxi for 1 hr = $9AUD. Me thinks this turned out super.

Yangon is a crazy, smoggy/smokey, busy city with lots of new buildings appearing amongst many wonderfully old – some rundown, some restored – colonial buildings. 

Singapore really are leaders with their huge car taxes and excellent public transport which helps to reduce pollution drastically, hopefully something Yangon can learn in future years.

So many markets! The fish market, consisting of women squatting on the road with plastic tarps showing off their catch of the day. No refrigeration and surprisingly not too many flies. Needless to say I avoided any local fish dishes.

Loads of explorative steps again, a Stupa (temple), many markets and the highly recommended chicken biryani at Nilas was enough for this city visit. 

“Somehow” we followed our ears and discovered a KTV (Karaoke TV) place after dinner at Black Hat Burmese Tapas and $5 Long Island iced teas (yes, plural) on a rooftop bar.

What an odd experience having just two of us karaoke-ing in a private room with two of our very own Burmese helpers clapping at our awesome tone deafness. A first for me but my well Asiatic travelled partner in crime a veteran KTV specialist with his rendition of Brittney Spears’ “Oops I did it again”, complete with dance moves – I’ve heard many a tale about this singing marvel, but now it cannot be unheard or unseen.

 

 

Yangon to Inle Lake

Weather: a mild 26 – what underpants?

Accom: 81 Hotel Nyaungshwe – simple and comfy

Weight: +1.2kg in hangover food

Tan: too hard to judge from inside airports and plane

Massages: why choose a $60 massage over the usual $16? No Idea. Enjoyed it plenty anyway.

Note to self: stop playing up the night before a bumpy flight. Every. Damn. Time. (I think a new ‘Swear Jar’ scenario is required for the amount of times I’ve thought this)

In the land of many curry eaters, it seems unfair to place us all in the small, propeller driven tin can, 17,000ft above sea level without aircon. (Yes Ma, another little plane that survived)

Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery was visited on the way into Nyaungshwe.

Sensationally smiley, fun and caring staff at 81 Hotel. Can I keep ‘em?

Nyaungshwe, a relatively quiet haven – almost completely surrounded by many treed hills (or are they mountains? Really large hills perhaps) – has narrow streets, most of them dirt, lined with tin sheds or wooden, stilted, open air places with a majority either offering food and happy hour drinks (avoided that evil trap today) or touristy attraction visits. With only two sets of traffic lights, I’m happy with the lack of car traffic and pollution. Most people on foot, bicycle or scooter. The town reminds me of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, but with an Asian twist and about 2,990 mts closer to sea level. It’s possible the backpackers own this town already.

Food highlight here so far is the tea leaf salad, a Burmese staple.

Inle Lake

Weather: need thermal underwear when the sun isn’t around

Weight: ugh! Why is it necessary to order so much every meal

Massages: no time for that shenanigans

Tan: I was wrapped up in a granny blanket in the boat therefore sunglasses tan only. Dust also a factor, tan may wash off.

Awake at 5am thanks to the disco lit pagoda across the road and the sheer curtains in the hotel room – oh, and my eye mask sliding up the expanse known as my forehead, as per usual.

Out onto Inle Lake, in our water Harley, by 8:30am. 

Inle Lake, you’re stunning, diverse and fun to explore.

The boat; a larger, motorised version of the Okavango Delta mokoro (alright, more like a Thai long boat, but what I initially thought sounds way cooler) with only my Travel Partner (TP), myself, our exceptionally skilled boat driver, along with our kind, English speaking guide. Let’s not forget to mention the few hundred other tourists in their boats buzzing around us like flies with Harley Davidson exhausts.

Too much to see, do and photograph around Inle Lake – and she’s super large. My camera certainly had a workout on this part of the trip. So many perfect reflections of stilted houses on completely settled and glassy water.

Boat through tight canals, under narrow babmboo bridges and around wooden stilted houses on water really shows how skilled these long boat drivers are.

Fishermen using their leg to paddle an oar whilst dropping fishing nets  into the water incredibly fascinating to watch – famous for this region/country. This really needs to be experienced to gain the appreciation it deserves. 

Long necked Paduang Tribe women wearing gold ringed neck braces, of which every 20-something years they gain extra rings to stretch their necks further. These gold neckbraces are apparently to stop tigers attacking their necks. A regional occurrence, yet it’s only the women who are possibly attacked by tigers? Me thinks it’s an excuse to wear loads of gold. 

Pagoda ruins and already tourist-ised kids requesting money after showing us around (or following rather) at In Dein hopefully not a sign of things to come for the whole lake region. 

Silver smiths; Watching the silver being melted then pounded by 3 men with Thor like hammers in unison to create everything from swords & knives to more intricately detailed jewellery is mighty impressive. 

Weaving of lotus plant was interesting to watch and to buy a basic scarf is triple the price of silk.

Inle Lake continued..

Weather: Very comfortable 26-30 degrees – underpants only ever under threat during bike ride

Accom: 81 Hotel Inle still

Weight: -5kg in sweat and possibly a mildly shady curry

Tan: avoided sun with long sleeved shirt & hat – I must be maturing

Massages: 90 mins of bliss

Shwe oo min cave with 8,000 gold Buddha statues varying in sizes was fascinating. Heading there with only a brief understanding of what to expect helped us truly enjoy this gold, cavey phenomenon. The hour and a half drive to Shwe oo min provided us with an appreciation of local village life – ox drawn wooden wagons, patchwork cultivated & nutrient rich red land, old MASH style jeeps with exposed engines, many scooters, sugar cane fields in flower, field workers wearing conical hats sharing lunch in the shade, banana & avocado trees, women carrying heavy loads on their heads, heaps of puppies & chickens trying their hardest to be squished by traffic – a true step back into simple life.

Each breakfast (consisting of local spicy Shan noodle soup – definitely one of my top five favourite travel meals ever) at 81 Hotel whilst I watch young monks walk past on their way around town to collect donated food from street vendors. It’s such a beautiful, giving culture here.

Bike ride around the lake, incredibly bumpy and well potholed road. Actually it was smoother on the dirt beside the bitumen. Stopped at natural HOT (damn hot!) mineral springs where there are 4 steamy pools (yes, steamy in 28 degree weather) – One of these pools I couldn’t even dip a toe without melting a toenail. Felt refreshed afterwards even if these springs attempted to turn me into human soup. Now I’m mineralised & revitalised… until the climb up to the Forrest Pagoda and monastery in the heat. Too steep to ride all the way up so the bikes were pushed for a gruelling forty-five minutes or so all the way to the top but the way back down was over in a brief few minutes – which tested my noisy, almost non-existent, brakes. To get across the lake to above mentioned Pagoda one must find a trusty boat driver. It’s funny buzzing across the lake and cutting through the ‘highway’ of other boats like playing frogger.

Decided to live it up for Xmas lunch at a lakeside resort – first average meal in Myanmar. 

Winery up on a hill overlooking Inle Lake and surrounds to watch the sunset a highlight.. the wine not so much. Not even adding Sprite helped some of the wines – Cab Sav most acceptable out of the few tested. 

The bike ride back home on the bumpy roads, in the dark, dodging puppies and with an injured TP (after slight bike, hill & road altercation) was surprisingly fun. Made friends with Alex & Tom at the winery and discovered not only are our names similar, but that our bikes are from the same hire place. The ride home was like a scene from BMX Bandits! (For my non-Aussie buddies; BMX Bandits is an average Australian ’80’s movie with a young Nicole Kidman riding BMXs in gangs). Approx total of KMs ridden: 40

Ngapali Beach

Weather: Summery weather that Melbourne dreams of – swimming attire only and not under too much strain

Accom: Jade Marina Resort – it’s the usual resort with all the mod cons

Weight: -2kg from hours swimming and inability to eat too much seafood

Tan: Local Burmese man asked if I was a local because of my skin colour

Massages: best Myanmar massage and on the beach

It doesn’t take long to figure out that flight times are a guesstimation only – Plane already delayed by 3 hours so far, apparently this is normal. All this sitting around not helpful after hard bike seats and bumpy road biking. Need soft seat donut right now.

Next stop Ngapali beach where I can practice kayaking for the Rottnest Island (Perth) channel crossing, plus some swims with the fish = happiness.

This fishing village is a beach lovers paradise – crystal clear salty expanse, whitest and clean sand surrounded by coconut palms and not too many people, even if it is peak season.

Due to the flight delay there was really only time for a little street meander then off to the Green Umbrella beachside restaurant for seafood. Even the 2.5hr wait for food ended up surprisingly worthwhile. Even through a substantial hangriness the seafood here was very tasty and fresh.

Organised a boat to take the two of us snorkelling for the day. 3 locations and a seafood spread which could have fed a small army – all for a measly sum of $80AUD (for both, not each).

The snorkelling locations provided us with plenty of little fish and some really healthy coral. Visibility was like nothing I’ve experienced previously, it’s so clean and clear here. One of the reefs I found mesmerising because when you first jump in the water it was cooler than previous locations and I’m guessing there’s less saline compared to other locations because buoyancy was very minimal. And whilst swimming around I could feel a big rise in temperature. The heated water was even visible to the naked eye! You know when you’re driving a long road and look into the distance and see that fuzzy mirage? That’s what it was like under water. When you dive deeper the water warms even more.. In my experience, it’s usually the opposite.

At one point I was so entranced by the coral and fish that I didn’t realise that I was in the path of a long boat – who possibly shouldn’t be driving through this reef. If it wasn’t for the people on my boat screaming at me to “LOOK OUT”, I could be typing this from a not so safe hospital bed. It appears that an urgent scream from TP caused me to pull my body from horizontal to vertical and when I turned to look for where the yelling came from there was a boat so close to my nose I could smell the paint. Possibly even have a paint graze on my nose. 

So, here we are; 3 decent snorkelling swims in and a seafood feast in the belly, sitting on deck chairs only surrounded by water, reefs, coconut palms, the quiet chatter of just a few locals, some cute fluffy puppies, a cloudless sky, TP gently snoring beside me and I start to imagine this as my new meditation happy place… until out of the corner of my eye I see something moving pretty quickly across the sand.

It wasn’t a big snake by any means, but I slapped TP to wake up just as this slithery friend reached our feet. Snakey slightly hesitated as I first moved, then came straight at us! Eeeeeeeeeeekk! I stood up on my chair and leaped as if I was in the Olympics doing a mix of long jump and high jump. TP, not so lucky as his chair collapsed in the panic. Snakey didn’t seem that fazed by us and continued under our chairs, past us into the dried out coconut shells a few metres away. We had the nervous giggles for a while afterwards and our antics amused the locals. (Ma, stop panicking.. I survived it all and were rewarded with plenty of amusement). Back onto the boat not long after this little encounter.

Poolside for the arv and the usual dusk cocktail as the sun disappears in a spectacular fashion over the Bay of Bengal’s horizon. 

Dinner at Minh Thu – roadside, not beachside – lobster with a fresh garlic & chilli sauce, green tea salad and veg tempura are worthy of a mention.

Lazy day of beach walks, swims and beach deck chair reading whilst sipping fresh coconut water straight from the coconut and eating tasty little bananas. Too relaxed to make any decisions.. other than I’m still not coming home, Ma.

Then the last day at Ngapali Beach (sadly) was spent kayaking, swimming, walking, being massaged and eating. 

Shwedagon Pagoda (Yangon)

Only about a half hour flight delay this time.. I’d call that on time.

Back in Yangon so decided to meander along the lovely Asian looking, wooden boardwalk around Kandawgyi Lake (Accom: Kandawgyi Hotel – huge). The boardwalk must have been built back in 1734 because it’s in absolute ruin! At some stages TP would stand on a wooden plank that would almost catapult me over his head and into the lake. Other times I’d stand on a plank that would move the “safety” barrier. It’s pretty to look at, but wouldn’t recommend walking on it. 

Off to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda for the afternoon (aptly named Sweatygon by my well travelled Wisconsin friends because of humid heat – not a good day for underpants). Crossing the crazy busy streets with a little more confidence too (usually being shepherded by locals). I’d say traffic was similar to Vietnam, except pedestrians appear to have no right of way here. At least in ‘Nam you can confidently just walk across the road and traffic dodges you, not here I’m afraid… although I did test the theory a couple of times and escaped unscathed.

Shwedagon Pagoda is a very large golden conical beacon atop what appears to be the only hill (more like a large mound) in Yangon. She’s big, she’s bright, she’s hot and she’s busy.

Appropriate attire must be worn here; women covering up arms and legs, men in skirts. Ok, they’re called Longyi (pronounced “long-ghee”)- traditional clothing for the majority of males anywhere in Myanmar. They’re similar to a sarong, being tied at the waist or lower than my TP’s ample belly. Yup, TP is in a skirt and he’s loving it. 

The whole surrounding tiled grounds are substantial and having to walk it in the heat plus being barefoot slightly tiring, but nothing will stop the admiration of this large golden place of Buddhism. With numerous and varied places of worship here – all of them being used in the midday heat, we appreciate the Myanmar people’s love and kindness towards everything.

Buddhism has a plenty of positive things to answer for. Lots of young monks meandering between Buddhas and giving thanks by pouring water over the statues shoulders along with fresh flowers, another beautiful cultural reminder. 

A much needed rest and some fluid replenishment in order, another stop at one (of hundreds, possibly thousands) of Myanmar’s traditional tea houses. This one under a tin roof with grandma perched on her comfy banana lounge barking orders at her not so young sons and grandsons; the ‘chef’ barefoot and bare chested only wearing his longyi with a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth; many older longyi wearing men sharing pots of tea over handmade, well worn, wooden tables and squat stools; cats and dogs meandering through the tea house (Dept of health would love this place); all to enjoy the strongest and sweetest tea EVER! Strong black tea with sweetened condensed milk could be my new drug. Such a big buzz from a tiny cup, I think I now finally understand coffee drinkers.

Burmese Teahouse Boss-lady

Dinner time was a little less of a Burmese feast by going fusion style at Rangoon Tea House. Nothing like aforementioned tea house by the way, very restauranty and a slight break.

Bagan

Weather: Toasty warm 31-34 degrees – all clothing under threat from sweat & dust

Accom: Yardanabon Hotel New Bagan

Tan: Looking local still. Although not including untanned patch under mouth where only one chin used to reside

Weight: Pfffft! Forget about it, it’s holidays – food too good to worry about weight 

Massages: 0 (too busy templing)

Another half hour flight delay only, still acceptable.

Checked in at hotel and straight onto E-bikes. What fun! Electric scooters, in dusty traffic on the opposite side of the road dodging puppies, chickens, people, horse & carts, herds of goats & oxen and potholes… couldn’t wipe the grin from my dusty face.

First afternoon is spent on a reconnaissance mission looking for best temples and sunrise/sunset location. 

Oh geez.. I don’t even know where to start explaining these incredible and numerous ruins. There are big temples, little temples, medium temples, big pagodas, medium pagodas, little pagodas, big payas, little payas, medium payas, monasteries, Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nuyang U… you get the idea. There’s nearly as many individual places of worship as there are bus loads of people making their way to the biggest sunset watching location – nearly! 

Personally, my feelings towards the restoration of these ruins are a little torn. I know they use the original bricks but seeing some of the temples looking almost shiny and new leaves me feeling slightly empty. I can’t explain it entirely, other than I’m not sure whether I prefer them all run down or fixed. I’ll figure it out eventually.

Also I do understand that restoration was required after a nasty (apparently not global news worthy) earthquake measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale in August 2016.

Without trying to go on about this place too much: there are LOADS of places to visit and three and a half days wasn’t near enough. Thousands of  temple options in fact. Not that you really need to see them all, but more time is needed to travel from place to place and explore as many as possible because everything is well spread out. There are a few different modes of transport; horse & cart, bus, taxi, e-bike, bicycle and on foot. As much as there was the want to try the cruisey horse & cart, time and distance between them all didn’t allow this luxury so it was e-bike and bicycle all the way.

Highlights in Bagan

Hot air ballooning over the smoke hazed temples at sunrise was breathtaking. The serenity of floating through the sky silently, coupled with the hazy view above ALL the ruins is something to cherish forever. The 20-something year old Aussie girl beside me (no, not TP) was completely overwhelmed by the experience that it brought tears to her eyes – I think she summed it up perfectly without any words.

Also cruising over a local village that houses their animals (because fields are used for food growing not grazing) and learning that this village received electricity only 12 months ago makes one appreciate some creature comforts we have.

Finally locating a temple high enough to view all the temples at sunrise and sunset where we didn’t have to jostle for position well worth the scratches and bruises bush bashing our e-bikes and bodies. I’m a tad concerned about TP’s biking abilities though, considering many previous triathlon completions; he had yet another bicycle, sand, bush altercation. I wouldn’t be surprised if his girlie screams were heard globally after I suggested putting Dettol hand sanitiser on the open scrapes. Hmmm, this could explain why I’m now single. 😉

The last morning in Bagan – up early to watch a cloud shrouded (non-existent) sunrise at a quiet location that still did not disappoint. Just the two of us sitting atop our temple, watching the balloons silently rise and listening to monks chanting at nearby temples was the most serene experience. I could have sat there forever. Another addition to my happy / meditation places list.

Once again, I’ve found myself in a location where I doubt photography will do any justice. The expanse, quantity and intricacy of pagodas in this place was too hard to capture on camera. So, just get your butt over there ASAP.

If I haven’t said it enough already; the gorgeous, smiley people of this country are worth the visit alone. Seeing those not-so-toothy, red (red due to beetle nut leaf chewing highs) grins every time you even looked their way is delightful. The world would be a MUCH better place if everyone was like these ever peaceful and giving Burmese souls.

Hired a very warm and kind taxi driver (who drove from Mandalay to Bagan at 4am just for the return trip) to take us from Bagan to Mandalay via Mt Popa (nickname: Mt Monkey Poopa) – a high castle like monastery on its own shard of rock with lots of monkey poop covered stairs, of which you’re not allowed to wear shoes on. It was on the drive to Mt Popa that those monkey poop words of wisdom reminders came screaming back at me from my Wisconsin friends. Luckily there are now stair cleaners, which were tipped as thanks for a (relatively) good job.

Mandalay

Weather: A touch cooler, but still a wonderfully warm 24-30 degrees

Accom: Yardanabon Hotel Mandalay – Suite room very comfortable. Well, had any time been spent in there it would have been better appreciated

Weight: Attempted weight loss through food poisoning by eating from street carts and dodgy BBQ places – no luck

Tan: Fading. Nearly as quick as my happiness due to pending home time 

Massages: 0 (will make up for it in Bangkok)

Arrived Mandalay late afternoon and decided to try squeeze in the Royal Palace visit. Turns out she’s not as close as anticipated. PLUS, the grounds are 2km x 2km x 2km x 2km.. entrance approx an added 3km after our 3km walk there. Too late for opening times anyway, but now I have an appreciation for the enormity of this place. 

Up and at ’em early to fit in as much as possible before leaving this peaceful country.

Places of interest: Inwa, U Bein Bridge at sunset (pics below), the worlds biggest book made from marble, world’s second largest operating bell, teak monastery, pagodas pagodas pagodas, HUGE ruins, Mingun, Ava, the very low but still large Irrawaddy river, Sagaing, Mandalay Hill.. yup! Fit all that into one day.

Up early again to try capture images of Buddhist monks receiving food from the street markets (more fun than Pokemon) and tried gastritis looking eating venue – I’m so confident now because it’s nearly hometime.

I know I mentioned the Burmese tea houses before but they’re so much fun. This morning I even tried the local churros looking, non sweet, fried donut with the super sweet tea.. loved it. 

FYI – my heart rate before tea was about 62bpm – after tea 92bpm. Wicked stuff this tea bizzo. Who needs exercise?!

Bangkok bound now and I’m looking forward to a slight change in curries. 😏

 

 

Summary

I believe you can tell a lot about a country by how they operate on their roads; In this case I suggest that Myanmar drivers are ever courteous, in a hurry but not in a rush, helpful and communicative. The fact that they will do anything to avoid running over any of our planets creatures proves just how thoughtful they are. The ox and horse drawn wagons, herds of animals, scooters, trucks, walkers all have their turn and have a place on the roads, another reminder of the ability to keep things simple and go with the flow without anger or frustration. Drivers appear to only look at the current situation and not look further up the road is like an old saying “deal with today, don’t worry about tomorrow as tomorrow may never come”. (Or something to that effect). Even all the bumps and potholes along the way don’t seem to worry them. A truly wonderful nation of peace loving and happy people that I have fallen for.

It’s a sleepy, no rush, peaceful, fascinating country that feels like a step back in time. I couldn’t be happier with this chosen destination and would recommend a visit from travellers that don’t expect the usual western service or creature comforts but love kindness, smiles and fascinating ruins. I don’t think I have ever felt safer anywhere else in the world than I did in Myanmar.

All this Buddhism makes me feel the need to be kinder to my fellow humans… However, if the person behind me on my Air Asia flight to Bangkok coughs and sneezes into the back of my head once more, they may find a red travel pillow lodged in their mouth and nostrils.. yeah, you’re right; I’m not happy about going home. 

 

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit…. and eating too much sensational Burmese food and buzzing from tea drinking.

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Filippine Frenzy – Philippines solo travel

Here’s how solo travel in Philippines went down…

Manila

Pollution madness

International arrivals – the Smart (local sim) people were so darn helpful, they even organised my Grab taxi (like Uber) to my hotel. This taxi ride took about 45 mins to travel 6kms. 

Traffic almost permanently gridlocked. Traffic here in Manila is officially putting Bangkok and Vietnam cities to shame. The excessive volume of cars is forcing the Grab/taxi drivers lose a lot of money, so I’m told by my drivers.

A very poor public transport system adds to the chaos.

 

Discovering I still want to live:

So here I was, busy editing photos in the room when all of a sudden there’s an almighty siren that was reminiscent of WW2 Air raid sirens (I’m not that old but I’ve seen movies). From my little balcony I watched two large street blocks of businesses and appartments being evacuated.

Surely, not again?!

Plenty of emergency services turned up, enveloping the blocks, however, I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. I can only assume it was a bomb threat. Thankfully I wasn’t too close, but I was wondering how far a bomb blast would reach as I was only a block away from the action.

Poor Ma, I keep texting her when these life threateners happen.

All these “events” are becoming a big joke to me now. There will be a blog on the chaos I’ve had along my travels.. Amusing (now) stories – let me say that I’m one hell of a lucky solo traveller.

 

 

Domestic travel

Terminal 4 is possibly THE worst airport I’ve encountered so far.

What makes a bad airport?

Long fucking queues – there’s even a queue to get into the airport.

Slow operating personnel at check in, security checks (there’s 3 of those), average food stalls, the waiting area… blah! Many of us sat on the floor due to lack of space and delayed flights.

 

Puerto Princessa

Puerto Princessa

Palawan – Puerto Princesa

Exit plane, big sigh of fresher air and relief from chaos..

..that was until the herd of sheep all decided to stand on top of me whilst I awaited my backpack. Whyyyyy?

There was one man, a non Asian, who desperately tried to push in right beside me and 50 of my close friends. I suggested standing on the other side of the conveyer belt where the luggage was actually coming from and no people were standing.. but nope.. it was a necessity for him to be where it was most inconvenient.

Lucky my strong suit in basketball was defence. I kept blocking that dude but he wasn’t giving up that easily.. so I moved.

Is this an Australian thing where we are used to having plenty of space? I don’t understand the need to push and shove when there’s more accessible space close by.

 

Accomodation Puerto Princessa

Palawan Seaview Resort is pleasant. I feel it’s pricey for such simplistic rooms although I’m convinced that’s because of being spoilt for choice and quality at decent rates in Indonesia. The staff here are forthcoming with incredibly helpful travel info. 

I was very sweetly sent a note to go out for dinner with an older gentleman that is residing at the hotel. Very old school letter invitation.. quite rare these days and very thoughtful.

Dinner  in the local food court at the local shopping centre (no chuckles – he paid). A really interesting man – he’s a law professor in Japan and predominantly deals with people (mainly women) whom have been wrongly incarcerated.

FYI, he thinks there’s no doubt Schapelle Corby was innocent. I’m still not convinced.

 

Anyway, this guy (and numerous predecessors) prompted my new disclaimer that needs to be signed by EVERY male I meet…

 

Solo female travel disclaimer

 

True story, I am travelling solo.
No, I’m not interested.
Yes, I DO love being on my own. Lots.
Seriously, I’ve never been married or had children.
Because I’ve never wanted to, simple.. no, you won’t change my mind – google menopause.
I truly am 46 (mentally 26).
Just because I’m travelling solo doesn’t mean I’m desperate to find Mr Right or Mr You’ll Do.
Yes, I’m happy. Very!
Please don’t take my compliments or kindness as a green light.
I am a positive person and believe others (male or female) should be made aware of their positive traits.
This still doesn’t mean I’m interested in forming an everlasting relationship with you.
If you need viagra, you’re too old for me.
If you don’t need viagra, you’re too young for me.
Nope! Still not interested.
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be told to back off – you are making me uncomfortable and I will throat punch you – Read my warning signs. 
Please don’t tell me how good you are, I can figure it out for myself.
You are taking your life in your hands if you call me babe, bae, honey, darling etc etc….
Chew with your mouth closed or expect another throat punch.
Thanks for your kind offers, but just NO!
Still want to talk to me? 
Sign here ______________________________________

 

travel Philippines

 

 

 

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Away from Puerto Princesa city

Once again, it pays to talk to the locals. I was given directions to Nagtabon Beach and the beach was perfect. All the way over on the west coast of the island (I’m sleeping east side) and it’s more of a surf beach with only locals hanging out eating Sunday picnic lunches and squealing with pure delight while playing in the waves. Watch out for the sand flies though.

Thanks Jerrold, you get a mention in the exclusive blog called Blinked Travel – just because he’s a hottie and gave me loads of insightful info about Philippines travel. 

 

As I return closer to home I noticed more big black clouds and that the roads were wet. Somehow, this time, Mother Nature wasn’t trying to kill me and I avoided all storms out on scooter.

2 hour Asian combination massage at the hotel was kinda brutal but feeling better for it now.. especially considering it only cost me $25 AUD – WIN!

I’m noticing lots of basketball courts around this island. For once, an Asian country that isn’t obsessed with football (soccer). Seeing Cavs and Warriors singlets are happiness to my basketball brain. I’m tempted to go play with some of these young fit basket ballers – only because they’re shorter than I am and I (wrongly) believe my body is still 26.

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Underground River

No solo female travel in the Philippines would be complete without visiting the Subterranean River.

I joined a tour group to visit the underground river and whilst I was waiting for all the young softies to do a mangrove boat tour I jumped on the 750mt zip line across the crystal clear water. 🤘🏽

Surrounded by perfect azure beach on one side and lush green forest the other – we arrive at the underground river via boat just before the brief tropical downpour hit.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River – a more recent addition to the natural wonders of the world and listed under UNESCO Heritage. Established/discovered in 1999, this underground river is its own eco system. She covers around 22,000 hectares but not all of it is accessible – mainly due to lack of oxygen further inland. Filled with marine life, bats and snakes (saw one swimming and eyeing me as its next victim) and some of the highest cathedral-esque ceilings complete with water carved statues of Mary and other Christian “mythical” creatures.

 

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Puerto Princessa’s Subteranean River now makes it 4 (out of 7 listed) natural wonders visited… but really, countless numbers yet to be seen and some that should be listed. 

 

Kay’s Hot Springs – only one pool that wasn’t going to cook flesh within in seconds. Do people actually have no feeling in their skin and use those stupidly hot pools? Who doesn’t love the smell of boiled skin?!

 

Philippines travel / solo female travel

Off the beaten path and safety

When you’re met with surprised looks and smiles everywhere whilst on scooter and it’s delightful. I confess that being gawked at in most countries has taken a while to get used to, but it’s entertaining now.

Safety is always important when you’re a solo female traveller. I can confirm that your security will rarely feel threatened here, consequently, make sure you smile at everyone as you will be met with such sweetness you won’t want to leave… ever.

Out in town with locals – playing pool (potting balls from 1-14), drinking Red Horse beer.

Include the tequila shot from 65 yo Rod, the Filipino visiting from Chicago (with his wife back in his hotel room), offering his services because he has needs not being met. Rod, please see above disclaimer!

 

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El Nido – I love you

Stayed at Lally and Abet… Location and breakfast great, large room with patio – simple accommodation. $70 AUD p/n. 

Nacpan beach – another perfect white sand and turquoise liquid filled location. A few more tourists than other beaches, but you won’t have to fight for space in the water. Although, there was an entourage following to palm shaded spots on the sand. (Insert eye roll – personal space is a fictional barrier apparently)

Snorkelling trip with a group of divers, instead of doing the tourist island hop tour with one small snorkelling opportunity, was the best decision. Note to self… pack sunscreen, dufus. My already noticeably large forehead looks like a red-light hookers beacon now.

Sava Beachside Restobar for beachside, sunset viewing includes 2 for 1 cocktails. Pina coladas served in coconut shells, both delivered at the one time. Nobody likes to rush these things, but when it’s this warm one needs to ensure drinks stay cool during consumption. My excuse, don’t judge.

 

 

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Local humans are wonderful

Filipinos/Filipinas can SING! Have seen many of them in Thailand, however the staff and just about every local you walk past are sweetly singing and it’s fabulous to hear.

Thanks to Al for introducing himself to me to enable some of the best island hopping and local experience I could have hoped for when I travel Philippines.

There’s no requirement for eating utensils when you’re taught how to eat like a local, using hands only. As thanks I gave Al some swimming lessons.

All beaches secluded and empty.. except for some grouper, turtles and a vehemently protective fish – whom bit me twice (he even drew blood – dude, you’re no mosquito, I can’t help you with babies). I googled him.. it appears swimming near his house is tempting fate. It’s ok, buddy, I understand personal space. 

The food plentiful and ever so delicious during this solo travel expedition. Wonderful Adobo spices (which I have just learned actually derive from the Spanish!) – in the sense of many flavours, not heat – is to die for, as was their bbq chicken that sat marinating in Asiatic spices for hours.

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Once more the giving Al showed his true kindness by organising his friends to escort me and my bags to the airport on motorbikes. Sorry Al, as beautifully charitable as you are, you also need to read above disclaimer. (Al is the one wearing the white t-shirt below)

If you ever travel Philippines make sure you head to El Nido, I promise you that Al, Gregg and Regie will take the best care of you. By the time you get over there hopefully their operation will be even better once they buy their own boat to run these sensational private tours.

 

Live music at Pukka Bar was great. A two piece ensemble – acoustic guitar and female singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice singing alternative tunes which could melt even the coldest of hearts.

 

solo female travel

Cebu City

Its quite the industrial hub and substantially bigger than anticipated. Lots of traffic plus dilapidated housing for the happy and friendly locals.

Great thunderstorms here.

Didn’t get out much due to monsoonal rains therefore I ran back to Palawan instead.

There are many places to go on Cebu Island, but it’s just that wet time of year, sadly. I will have to come back just to visit the other islands.

 

Palawan again

Why come back to Palawan? Because I love it and Cebu had relentless rain. The rain is so heavy I’m contemplating popping home for a week or two. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Clearly I was THAT bored… I went home)

Estrella falls – a substantial 90km motorbike ride away (each way) from Puerto Princesa, but well worth it. Fresh, warmish water filled with slippery rocks and, I’m pretty sure, those little dead skin eating fish you see in tanks around Thailand and Bali. Cheeky buggers liked my feet.

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Ala Amid Bed & Breakfast – don’t be fooled by the “buffet” breakfast… its pretty dismal. But if you order a separate meal from reception it’s really tasty. Great, clean and comfortable corner room with handy undercover balcony over looking the pool – perfect for playing cards on those humid rainy days.

Sesakot falls – too cold to swim this day, but still enjoyable relaxation sitting in a broken down hut listening to tunes and sipping Red Horse beer with my buddy, Jerrold.

Hanging with locals again out in town… STOP PLAYING THE NIGHT BEFORE FLIGHTS!

 

travel Philippines

 

In conclusion:

There are many reasons to love the Phillipines: 

It was once ruled by the Spanish – so many words derive from espanol, making signage and language possible to understand.

The women are stunning here.. Insignificance is my new favourite feeling. 

Even the boys and lady-boys are hot.

The importance doesn’t lie within how good a house looks, it lies within just having a roof over their heads. Happiness in simplicity.

There are many places to visit that are crowd free. So you have jungles, waterfalls and beaches all to yourself.

Perfect beaches that the locals care loads about. One of my local friends posted today on FB that El Nido boats aren’t allowed to carry plastic water bottles any longer! 👍🏽

solo travel

A basketball obsessed nation.

Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Mostly perfect weather… well, you know, besides the biggest typhoon Asia had in recorded history.

Red Horse beer – meaty and evil! 6.9% alcohol content is a bit of a panty dropper. And at $2.50 AUD for a litre, it’s asking for trouble.

E-Republic Bar, where the locals go, is waaaay better than the touristy Tiki Bar. Some funny lady-boys and a live band, along with Red Horse Beer makes for a chuckle a minute… even if I didn’t understand most of the words.

One month is not anywhere near enough time to explore all these pristine islands. I’m going back. Sorry Thailand, I have a new favourite.

Escaping the destructive typhoon by 3 hours – Yes, I’m still that lucky solo female traveller.

travel Philippines

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit… ok, maybe not so much education here, but the island hopping is sublime.

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Filipine Frenzy

 

Manila – Pollution central

International arrivals – the Smart (local sim) people were so darn helpful, they even organised my Grab taxi (like Uber) to my hotel. I think it took about 45 mins to travel 6kms. 

Traffic is almost permanently gridlocked. I think the traffic is officially putting Bangkok and Vietnam cities to shame. The excessive volume of cars is helping the Grab/taxi drivers lose a lot of money I’m told.

A very poor public transport system adds to the chaos.

One day I was busy editing photos in my room then all of a sudden there’s an almighty siren, that was reminiscent of WW2 Air raid sirens (I’m not that old but I’ve seen movies). I go out to my little balcony to watch two large street blocks of businesses and appartments being evacuated. Surely, not again?! Loads of emergency services turned up surrounding the blocks, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. I can only assume it was a bomb threat. Thankfully I wasn’t too close, but I was wondering how far a bomb blast would reach as I was only a block away from the action. Poor Ma, I keep texting her when these things happen. All these “events” are becoming a big joke to me now. There will be a blog on the events I’ve had along my travels.. it is funny and I’m one hell of a lucky solo traveller.

Domestic airport – terminal 4 is possibly THE worst airport I’ve encountered so far. What makes a bad airport?

Long fucking queues – there’s even a queue to get into the airport!

Slow operating personnel at check in, security checks (and there’s 3 of those), food stalls and the waiting area… blah! Many of us sat on the floor due to lack of space and delayed flights.

 

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Palawan – Puerto Princesa

A huge sigh of relief as soon as I exit the plane.. that was until the herd of sheep all decided to stand on top of me whilst I awaited my backpack. Whyyyyy? There was one man, a non Asian, who desperately tried to push in right beside me and 50 of my close friends. I suggested standing on the other side of the conveyer belt where the luggage was actually coming from and no people were standing.. but nope.. he just HAD to be where it was most inconvenient. Lucky my strong suit in basketball was defence. I kept blocking that dude – but he wasn’t giving up that easily.. so I moved. Is this an Australian thing where we are used to having plenty of space? I don’t understand the need to push and shove when there’s more accessible space close by.

Palawan Seaview Resort is pleasant. Again, I feel it’s pricey for such simplistic rooms but I’m guessing that’s because I was so spoilt for choice and quality at decent rates in Indonesia. The staff are forthcoming with incredibly helpful travel info. 

I was very sweetly sent a note to go out for dinner with an older gentleman that is residing at the hotel. Very old school letter invitation.. quite rare these days and very thoughtful.

We went to dinner in a food court at the local shopping centre (please try not to laugh – he paid). Interesting man – he is a law professor in Japan and predominantly deals with people (mainly women) whom have been wrongly incarcerated. FYI, he thinks there’s no doubt Schapelle Corby was innocent. I’m still not convinced.

Anyway, this guy (and numerous predecessors) prompted my new disclaimer that needs to be signed by EVERY male I meet…

 

Yes, I’m travelling solo.
No, I’m not interested.
Yes, I DO love being on my own. Lots.
No, I’ve never been married or had children.
Because I’ve never wanted to, simple.. no, you won’t change my mind – google menopause.
Yes, I am really 46 (mentally 26).
Just because I’m travelling solo doesn’t mean I’m desperate to find Mr Right or Mr You’ll Do.
Yes, I’m happy. Very!
Please don’t take my compliments or kindness as a green light.
I am a positive person and believe others (male or female) should be made aware of their positive traits.
This still doesn’t mean I’m interested in forming an everlasting relationship with you.
If you need viagra, you’re too old for me.
If you don’t need viagra, you’re too young for me.
Nope! Still not interested.
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be told to back off – you are making me uncomfortable and I will throat punch you – Read my warning signs. 
You don’t need to tell me how good you are, I can figure it out for myself.
You are taking your life in your hands if you call me babe, bae, honey, darling etc etc….
Chew with your mouth closed or expect another throat punch.
Just NO!
Still want to talk to me? 
Sign here ______________________________________

 

 

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Away from Puerto Princesa city

Once again, it pays to talk to the locals. I was given directions to Nagtabon Beach and the beach was perfect. All the way over on the west coast of the island (I’m sleeping east side) and it’s more of a surf beach with only locals hanging out eating Sunday picnic lunches and squealing with pure delight while playing in the waves. Watch out for the sand flies though. Thanks Jerrold, you get a mention in the exclusive blog called Blinked Travel – just because he’s a hottie and gave me loads of insightful info. 

I decided not to head straight back to the hotel, instead in search of more secluded locations.. headed further North only to be met by big black rolling and thunderous clouds. I did a quick u-turn and flew like the wind. I even got up to 80kmph on my little 110cc scooter. I know! Such a speed demon.

As I got closer to home I noticed more big black clouds and that the roads were wet. Somehow, this time, Mother Nature wasn’t trying to kill me and I avoided all storms out on scooter.

2 hour Asian combination massage at the hotel was kinda brutal but feeling better for it now.. especially considering it only cost me $25 AUD – WIN!

I’m noticing lots of basketball courts around this island. For once, an Asian country that isn’t obsessed with football (soccer). Seeing Cavs and Warriors singlets are happiness to my basketball brain. I’m tempted to go play with some of these young fit basket ballers – only because they’re shorter than I am and I (wrongly) believe my body is still 26.

I joined a tour group to visit the underground river and whilst I was waiting for all the young softies to do a mangrove boat tour I jumped on the 750mt zip line across the crystal clear water. 🤘🏽

Surrounded by perfect azure beach on one side and lush green forest the other – we arrive at the underground river via boat just before the brief tropical downpour hit.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River – a more recent addition to the natural wonders of the world and listed under UNESCO Heritage. Established/discovered in 1999, this underground river is its own eco system. She covers around 22,000 hectares but not all of it is accessible – mainly due to lack of oxygen further inland. Filled with marine life, bats and snakes (saw one swimming and eyeing me as its next victim) and some of the highest cathedral-esque ceilings complete with water carved statues of Mary and other Christian “mythical” creatures.

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Now I’m at 4 (out of 7 listed) natural wonders visited… but really, countless numbers yet to be seen and some that should be listed. 

 

Kay’s Hot Springs – only one pool that wasn’t going to cook me in seconds. Do people actually have no feeling in their skin and use those stupidly hot pools? Who doesn’t love the smell of boiled human flesh?!

 

Travelling back roads and met with surprised looks and smiles everywhere on my scooter. It’s taken a while to get used to being gawked at, but it’s fun now. I feel safe and if I smile at anyone they grin back and usually wave.

Out in town with locals – playing pool (potting balls from 1-14), drinking Red Horse beer.

Plus the tequila shot from 65 yo Rod, the Filipino visiting from Chicago (with his wife back in his hotel room) and offering me his services because he has needs not being met. Rod, please see above disclaimer!

 

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El Nido – I love you

Stayed at Lally and Abet… Location and breakfast great, large room with patio – simple accommodation. $70 AUD pn 

Nacpan beach – another perfect white sand and turquoise liquid filled location. A few more tourists than other beaches, but I didn’t have to fight for space in the water. Although, I had an entourage following to palm shaded spots on the sand. (Insert eye roll – my personal space is a fictional barrier apparently)

Snorkelling trip with a group of divers, instead of doing the tourist island hop tour with one small snorkelling opportunity, was the best decision. Note to self… pack sunscreen, dufus. My already noticeably large forehead looks like a red-light hookers beacon now.

Sava Beachside Restobar for beachside, sunset viewing PLUS 2 for 1 cocktails. Pina coladas served in coconut shells, both delivered at the one time. Nobody likes to rush these things, but when it’s this warm one needs to ensure drinks stay cool during consumption. My excuse, don’t judge.

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Filipinos can SING! Have seen many of them in Thailand, but I’m talking about staff and just about every local you walk past. They’re always singing.. and it’s beautiful to hear.

Meeting the lovely Al and having a private island hopping tour. Being taught to eat my rice and chicken like a local, using my hands as utensils, plus teaching Al to swim. All beaches secluded and empty.. except for some grouper, turtles and a vehemently protective fish – whom bit me twice (he even drew blood – dude, you’re no mosquito, I can’t help you with babies). I googled him.. I must have been too close to his house. It’s ok, I understand personal space, buddy. 

Food plentiful and ever so delicious. Wonderful Adobo spices (which I have just learned actually derive from the Spanish!) – in the sense of many flavours, not heat – is to die for, as was their bbq chicken that sat marinating in Asiatic spices for hours.

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Again, the giving Al looked after me by organising his friends to take me and my bags to the airport on motorbikes. Sorry Al, as beautifully kind as you are, you also need to read above disclaimer. (Al is the one wearing the white t-shirt below)

If you ever head to El Nido, I promise you that Al, Gregg and Regie will take the best care of you. I can’t wait until they have their own boat to do personalised tours.

 

Live music at Pukka Bar was great. A two piece ensemble – acoustic guitar and female singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice singing alternative tunes which melted my heart.

 

 

Is it only an Asian female thing to be that scantily clad and over friendly to entice the foreign men to buy them drinks and eventually marry, then take them back to new countries? I’ve seen it all too often in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar – and have asked why. It’s all about the perception of what fat, bald, western men offer. Money. Who cares if the ladies are unhappy – it’s easier selling your body to the same man each day, right? 

 

Cebu City

Its quite the industrial hub and waaaay bigger than I anticipated. Lots of traffic plus dilapidated housing for the happy and friendly locals.

Great thunderstorms here.

Didn’t get out much due to monsoonal rains. Ran back to Palawan instead.

There are many places to go on Cebu Island, but it’s just that wet time of year, sadly. On the upside, I will have to come back just to visit the other islands.

Back to Palawan just to be hauled up in my hotel room for days on end due to more rain. It’s that bad I’m contemplating popping home for a week or two. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Clearly I was THAT bored… I went home)

Estrella falls – a substantial 90km motorbike ride away (each way) from Puerto Princesa, but well worth it. Fresh, warmish water filled with slippery rocks and, I’m pretty sure, those little dead skin eating fish you see in tanks around Thailand and Bali. Cheeky buggers liked my feet.

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Ala Amid Bed & Breakfast – don’t be fooled by the “buffet” breakfast… its pretty dismal. But if you order a separate meal from reception it’s really tasty. Great, clean and comfortable corner room with handy undercover balcony over looking the pool – great for those rainy days.

Sesakot falls – too cold to swim this day, but still enjoyable relaxation sitting in a broken down hut listening to tunes and sipping Red Horse beer with my buddy, Jerrold.

Hanging with locals again out in town… STOP PLAYING THE NIGHT BEFORE FLIGHTS!

 

 

There are many reasons to love the Phillipines: 

It was once ruled by the Spanish – so many words derive from espanol, making signage and language possible to understand.

The women are stunning here.. I truly enjoy being insignificant. 

Even the boys and lady-boys are hot.

The importance doesn’t lie within how good a house looks, it lies within just having a roof over their heads. Happiness in simplicity.

Many parts of these islands are untouched, so you can have jungles, waterfalls and beaches all to yourself.

Perfect beaches that the locals care loads about. One of my local friends posted today on FB that El Nido boats aren’t allowed to carry plastic water bottles any longer! 👍🏽

A basketball obsessed nation. I believe Steph Curry was in Manila during my stay on Palawan. Had I known he was coming I would have stalked the poor boy.

Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Mostly perfect weather… well, you know, besides the biggest typhoon Asia had in recorded history.

Red Horse beer – meaty and evil! 6.9% alcohol content is a bit of a panty dropper. And at $2.50 AUD for a litre, it’s asking for trouble.

E-Republic Bar, where the locals go, is waaaay better than the touristy Tiki Bar. Some funny lady-boys and a live band, along with Red Horse Beer makes for a chuckle a minute… even if I didn’t understand most of the words.

One month is not anywhere near enough time to explore all these pristine islands. I’m going back. Sorry Thailand, I have a new favourite.

Hopefully dodging the super typhoon. Yup, just escaped that nasty, destructive beast by only a few hours.

 

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit… ok, maybe not so much education here, but the island hopping is sublime.

Lombok – Lucky to be alive

After the recent Bali trip and meeting the locals at Gili Air – whom actually live on Lombok – I couldn’t wait to go test this island out.

What an excellent decision. 

Admittedly I went to the touristy spot to start with, Senggigi. It’s a far cry from the mega Aussie locations on Bali. It’s quiet, clean, peaceful and has the best view over to Mt Agung.

I hired a scooter and did some exploratory work. There’s something about cruising a tropical place on a bike with the warm wind through the helmet. Not being bound by any timelines or dictated to by a travel buddy.

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After a couple of days in Senggigi the lovely Sahrul (from Colour Cottages – Gili Air) came to collect me and take me on a real local Lombok experience.

Travel with Sahrul

There’s no better way of discovering that your nostril hairs are too long than being on the back of a scooter blasting through villages and tropical jungle.

Wednesday morning we jump on Sahrul’s scooter and head to his village, Taman Narmada, to meet the family. As someone who normally tries to learn some local lingo before travelling anywhere, I’m disappointed in my lack of learning Bahasa. Meeting Sahrul’s family made it evident that I’ve been lazy. A few awkward silences and a few charades, we got by. The hordes of kids and I had a ball playing games, even though we didn’t speak the same language there were loads of laughs.

Left my backpack with my new family and set off to gawk at some of the famous beaches around the island. Selong Belanak, Kuta, Mawun beaches were clearly normally surfing destinations, but today it was wild! Huge swell successfully stole 3 fishing boats and we witnessed one large fishing boat snap in two just from the shore breakers whilst the locals were trying to save it from being taken out to sea.

Lombok Wedding

After the beaches we headed back towards Narmada and landed in Sahrul’s village just at the right time to see everyone celebrating a wedding. What a beautiful way the Muslim Indonesians celebrate too. The streets are lined with everybody from the village wanting to have a look at, and perhaps have a photo taken with, the bride and groom.

As you can imagine, I kinda stood out… dressed inappropriately for a wedding in my shorts, thongs and singlet… oh, plus the blonde hair and only mildly tanned skin was a bit of a give away that I wasn’t from around these parts. I received LOADS of attention, all of it extremely positive. As I was trying to take footage and photos of the ceremony so many people were running up to me to say hello instead of focussing on the wedding party.

The happy couple come out of one house and walk together, a hell of a long way, to the bride’s house – all the while being followed by a massive entourage of villagers, photographers, a full rock band – complete with many drums, electric guitars, singers, keyboardist (yup) and dancers. There is a very large trailer that holds speakers even The Rolling Stones would be envious of, a generator to power all the instruments and everything one would need for a mobile rock band. It was AWESOME!

Sahrul and I walked most of the way with them, mainly so I could take photos and play with the locals. I think we got caught up in the spectacle for about 2.5 hours (and the Bride and Groom still hadn’t reached their destination by the time we left).

Kindest hosts

Finally leaving the ceremony, I was taken back to the family homes to share a magnificent beef noodle soup with most members of Sahrul’s large family. I know these kind people don’t have much in the way of money, but geez, they looked after me like I was royalty.

I was even given my own house to sleep in – whilst Sahrul and his brother slept outside like my body guards. Gawd that was awkward. I felt terrible, but they insisted that I get a good night’s sleep. Which I truly did!

The toys on the newly laid sheets was a gorgeous touch… my heart melted.

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A few new friendship bands added by Sahrul and his loving family.

Up early on Thursday morning – because it’s about 20 steps to a mosque and we know they’re up at stupid o’clock (4:30am) each day to chant through their crackly loud speakers.

Water parks

Sahrul and I walked back to Taman Narmada Water Park (which is where the Indonesian bottled water of the same name derives from) from the house – the same waterpark we had visited briefly the day before. This place is serene. A large, green, naturally filtered Olympic sized swimming pool – complete with lane lines – a big pond, a hindu temple, a bathing house that holds a fountain of youth, rectangle pools full of lotus lillies.

Back to the house for breakfast – an omelette cooked by Sahrul followed by a cooking lesson for his sister, Linda, of banana pancake (with condensed milk) plus fresh, organic, sweet, locally grown watermelon & pineapple. 

Sesaot Forest Water Park not too far from Narmada for a bathe / swim in the chilly waters. What a way to start the day! Lunch provided by more of Sahrul’s family whilst we were at the water park consisted of traditional sate’, nice ‘n’ spicy, with sticky rice cooked in banana leaf.

A bit of jungle riding and bush bashing to get to Air Terjun Lantan – a tall waterfall completely vacant of other humans. A great meditation location. 

Dropped in on a kind lady (a wife of one of many of Sahrul’s friends) whom had the coconut trees that Sahrul raided for our thirst. A new treat for me was to have the juice mixed with fresh lime, also picked at the time, and natural palm sugar… then scoop chunks of young coconut flesh and place them into the juice. Hello nirvana!

Peresean Fight

How on earth do I explain the next few hours… Peresean is an Indonesian traditional stick and shield fight in a gravelly boxing ring – which, by day, looks like it poses as a carpark.

There are a couple of entertaining men in the ring (doing some practice moves – of the fighting and dancing kind – sounds like a country bloke’s night out in town) that try to convince kids to give this fighting activity a whirl. To start the afternoon’s activities there are young teens that have to pretend to be macho in front of their mates by duelling unknown contenders from the opposing side of the ring. These opening bouts were short due to bruising welts and tears, (scarcely) being held back from the boys trying to be men. The real fighting begins by asking the fit (and sometimes not that fit looking) men to step into the ring against an unknown opponent.

It was a battle of South Lombok vs West Lombok.

It was a battle of two minds.

It was a dance mixed in with violence.

It was mesmerising.

It was captivating.

It was brutal.

I think a wet tea-towel flicking contest would be like a gentle massage compared to this altercation.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Thanks Sony A7Rii for making me look like a pro. photographer

These sportsmen are given rupees when the occasional individual from the hordes of onlookers enter the ring and drop money at their feet. Somehow, Sahrul convinced the organisers to allow me in the ring to do this… I was the very first and had no clue whatsoever on what I was supposed to do with the notes I was clinging to as a security blanket in the middle of the ring – all whilst being cheered at by the crowd. A kind man saw my dilemma and came out to show me how it’s done – proof that not every super hero wears a cape.

We head back to the family home for some dinner and photos before saying sad goodbyes and heading back to Senggigi.

Earthquakes

I’m sure by now most of you are well aware that I was in Lombok when the first earthquakes hit this peaceful oasis. Possibly the most terrifying experience I’ve had. The initial “what is going on?” lasted a split second, before that “faaaaaaark” realisation and running out of the hotel (naked – no time to consider my options at this stage), then running back inside my room to put clothes on. All whilst the 2nd floor wobbled like a leaf in gale force winds – then include the sound of an army of trucks blasting through the hotel – frightening stuff. Bolting downstairs to an open area away from buildings and watching the buildings and pool distort, creating decent waves, all made for some serious adrenaline action. I’m always impressed at how people react in certain life situations..

There was another lady staying at Cafe Wayan, Lucie, she also came flying out of her ground floor room in just a tshirt and undies. The initial response when in life threatening situations is to “save yourself”  and “who cares what you look like” and “leave everything you thought you REALLY needed in the room”! I can’t help but wonder if Mum would put her best black frock on, pearl necklace and hair manicured into a beehive bun in similar circumstances? 🤔 (insert mental image of Audrey Hepburn gracefully flitting about, delicately dodging falling buildings)

Lucie, one Cafe Wayan staff member and myself had a nervous chuckle about it by the warped, wavy pool… until the next tremor.

They say a bond made through terror will last a lifetime.. Lucie and I are still in touch.

Then the large aftershocks hit. I believe there was a total of 100 of them. By the third major tremor I started researching my escape route out of Indonesia.

Check the heart rate and the size of the aftershocks – no wonder I was a nervous wreck!

To explain what these aftershocks were like; to any sufferer of motion sickness, it’s like that. The feeling of the earth moving even after you have completed that bumpy mode of transport – but an army of trucks are still heading for you… yup, that’s it. I felt ill – do I need to reiterate my inability to snorkel without my ginger drug of choice – travelcalm?

For those that don’t understand motion sickness… imagine surfing what you thought was perfectly stable ground, without a surfboard.

Would you believe I decided last minute NOT to hike Mt Rinjani that first fateful weekend… and for no real reason either. You all know how much I love a good hike in nature so it was an odd choice not to go – even at the time of invitation I questioned why I kept saying no – hindsight proves that it was the correct decision.

My poor Mum, Aunty Rena and Aunty Carol had to read my messages, as I was going through this and lived every tremor with me. They kept me calm plus constantly checked on me and I thank these three pillars of our family for being there for me (as they always are for any of us, without hesitation, any time)… and convincing me to get the hell outta there.

My nerves were completely shot for a couple of weeks. And even now, away from Lombok, any sudden loud noise makes my heart jump. I had downloaded an earthquake app after the first quake – which gave me up to the minute info on the quakes.. I had to turn the notifications off because I was in tears and covered in goosebumps each time one came through on Lombok, this was due to knowing my friends and their families couldn’t escape the trauma… and there were a terrifying amount of tremors for them to deal with.

Having given you my take on the events, nothing will ever compare to the absolute devastation the next two major quakes caused these remarkable people. I know my buddies are safe but are sleeping in tents in rice fields with their children and older family members due to the fear of more tremors (even still as I edit this they are sleeping in tents). It’s distressing to know these giving souls are out of work, money and food right now whilst I had the ability to fly away. So terribly heart wrenching.

Both accommodations I stayed at; Colour Cottages on Gili Air and Cafe Wayan Cottages in Senggigi are both closed due to collapsed buildings. And the friends made at both places are now out of work.

Perhaps we can pool some money together and send a care package to 
the kind people of Lombok? Who’s in?

OR

Maybe we can help set Sahrul up with his own tourism company to show the ‘real’ Lombok? What are your thoughts?

Tell me about your earthquake experiences. Just that constant living in fear and not knowing what will hit next is terrifying and taxing on the nerves.

….. just like that, I’m back to positive Ali and truly appreciating how freaking lucky I am. Note to anybody considering travelling with me… check Ma Nature’s movements before booking any flights… or just avoid the places I go!

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Timor Leste

Hmm.. not even sure if this is worth a blog post to be honest.

Firstly; I only came here to visit a friend… whom isn’t here at the time I said I’d be arriving.

My yogic mind told me that I’m supposed to be here and that my friend’s invisibility was for a bigger, better reason. That became evident only on day 2.

Staying at Timor Top Cottages through Air BnB, I discover that my neighbours, Julian and Ame are the people that helped organise my residence. They’re not the owners of Timor Top Cottages (David and Mena are) but are implanting themselves into the community really well after only 3 months.

They have looked after me as if I was one of their own, and for that I can’t fully express my gratitude. They’ve given me detailed directions, fed me numerous times, allowed me to practice teaching them yoga, taken me on excursions and chatted with me like long lost friends.

Had I actually caught up with my so-called friend, I wouldn’t have had the absolute pleasure of my new friends’ company.

Ame, Mena

Ame, Mena and Mena’s granddaughter

Proof that everything happens for a reason.

There’s a possibility I’ll be back here to open up a relaxation retreat well before this place takes off as a tourist destination. And boy, does Timor Leste have a long way to go.

It’s EXPENSIVE! Using USD – due to back in the day when the UN/NGOs were helping with the retrieval of the land from Indonesians and Japanese and only had USD to pay with… now that situation has changed, but the prices haven’t reduced and they still use one of the most expensive currencies around.

COST EXAMPLES 

Hiring a scooter to ride yourself: $30 per day – which I’ve been warned against due to tourists on motorcycles being targets for robbery.

To hire a self drive car: $100 per day

Small Bintang: $3.50

1 day snorkelling trip $130

Ferry ride to Atauro Island range between $4 and $45 – dependent on which day or mode you select.

Dragon Star ferry runs every day from 7:30am for $15 (tourist class) and is the fastest option (usually takes 1 hour). Dragon Star is actually a river boat that’s out in the rough seas… what could possibly go wrong here? And how many people need to barf before the captain gives up?

The main ferry only runs on Saturday $4

Compass divers water taxi $45

Kayak hire $10 p/h (for those that know my paddling prowess, I was a long way from shore when it started sinking)

A 2.4gb sim at the airport $10

A 14gb sim on the street, that is surprisingly legit, $10

Peanut butter $4.50

Vitaweet $5

Have I mentioned that it’s all USD??!?!

I’ve come here from other asiatic countries that are a quarter of this pricing… so it was a big shock to me. 

ACCOMODATION

Accomodation prices are maaaad! For the simplest of places – a stone built cottage, with cold shower that is as weak as a fly punching the air, leaky roof (because I bring rain to every country I visit, even when they haven’t seen it for 9 months), LOADS of mutant roaches and a toilet with ill fitting seat = $70 AUD per night plus $28 cleaning fee. 

Timor Top Cottages – simple accommodation

A three star accommodation would set you back around $180.

Even a shared backpackers dorm will cost you $30 USD per night.

TRANSPORT

 A microlet – communal mini bus – is only $0.25 per trip. And they love their music LOUD! Huge sub-woofers under the bench seats in the back, whilst riding along the occasionally tarred roads makes for a vibrational ride. I wonder if I can convince them to stop playing “Despacito” and play something from Queens of the Stone Age instead?

FOOD

Caz Bar has western food, a pool table and AFL, plus it’s walking distance from Timor Top… surrounded by the best beach in Dili that I’ve seen so far. Sadly, western food doesn’t mean good food. Order what the locals know how to cook properly… Nasi goreng or mi goreng. Apparently if you find the right places to shop you can locate Portuguese delicacies like decent bread and cheese.

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Caz’s gentle dawg

ATAURO ISLAND

Atauro Island – accomodation is REALLY difficult to organise due to lack of internet and people not answering calls, emails or texts.

The only businesses willing to respond – Compass Diving and Belio Resort on Atauro replied and tried to make my trip worthwhile with different options. Unfortunately due to my quick exit their options didn’t work for me.

My kind neighbours took me on the Dragon Star Ferry, across 36kms of high seas, to Atauro Island for the Saturday market. Turns out this river ferry is kinda flexible in the rough sea, but had to have some fixing done upon her return. Glad I wasn’t on that return trip.

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I’m with you Sweetie – get me off this rollercoaster

A big shout out to TravelCalm, ginger (and Ashy for being my dealer in Bali). For someone that gets motion sickness from snorkelling, I truly love these little ginger gems and shared them with my ill friends. Only 4 tabs left… someone needs to visit me and bring more, please!

Note to self… stop taking ferries! No, really, just stop it. 

Atauro Island is really simplistic with a beautiful eco feel, which is a wonderful start. Barry’s Place, looked the best accomodation option and apparently he does a lot to preserve the island… but he doesn’t like responding to calls, texts, emails or new visitors it seems. 

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All the locals from Dili catch the larger ferry over on Saturdays to pick up fresh, organic produce to bring back to the mainland and sell for triple the price. 

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It’s quite picturesque here… I even stalked the local vendors for photos. In return I was asked to pose for photos with the locals.. ahh, I feel like I’m back in India. 

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It appears that Timor Leste is yet another place that is screaming for tourism, but in a gentle way. I know locals aren’t a fan of change, but truly, I think Timor Leste and Atauro could use some financial help from tourists.

There really is a huge untapped market for something extraordinary here tourism wise, but the prices are completely off putting. From my understanding there’s a big wig guy from USA government (specialising in tourism) here to fund tourism in Timor… starting with creating a proper starring system. 5 Star here equates to 2 Star in Aus, and just about every other country I’ve visited. But he has an open cheque book and the knowledge on what needs to be done. 

Do I jump on board the Timor train before it becomes popular? It’s the currency that is making me decide not to, but I’ve got the feeling I’ll regret this decision in the not too distant future.

And how do the locals afford to live here on their average wage of around $150 USD per month? No wonder they only eat rice and are lacking nutrition.

It’s the most dilapidated Asian country I’ve visited, with a price tag that belongs in New York.

I’m surrounded by corrugated iron and natural palm thatched roofs that look like they came from Soweto in South Africa. The main beaches and streets are sadly shrouded with rubbish… mainly single use straws, plastic bags and water bottles. It’s really sad and, quite frankly, offensive.

The most bio diverse reefs in the world, with happy coral.. it’s a diving haven, but so hard to find your way around, especially for the budget conscious.

Land. Ocean. Beaches. Mountains. Very few inhabitants. What more could one ask for?

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Look at that water ❤

I tried to give this place a chance, but instead of staying 14-30 days I’m outta here after only 7.

Maybe it’s harder because I’m a solo female traveller, but at this stage I’m not willing to risk too much in order of adventure. Yeah, I’m disappointed in myself as well. I can’t believe I sound so negative, especially after the whole yogic experience, but, fuck me! Bye Timor Leste!

I’m not your usual traveller that enjoys being a pretentious Aussie in these cheaper countries, but to be brutally honest, I feel sapped of positive energy. Maybe I feel the negative energy surrounding the recent turmoil.. maybe I’m getting old.

Naaaah! I’ve met Rose, an Aussie from Perth who is 72 and has been travelling on her own on and off since 1993… life goals right there. She’s employed by the Aus govt and has seen so many countries. Rose is fit, a knowledgeable chatterbox, soooo well travelled, inspirational and full of life! What an incredible enigma to have the pleasure of meeting.

I want to love this country. I wish I’d given it more of a chance. I want it to be successful. I want the people to be happy… oh, yeah, they already seem happy. Whenever I smile at them they grin with the widest smile showcasing gorgeous white teeth contrasted against their pristine brown skin. But there’s something lacking. Are they still recovering from years of trouble? The country’s soul seems to missing in action and it appears to have stolen some of mine.

It’s about education or the mind, body and spirit… and not letting negative energy affect you.

MALAYSIAN BORNEO – Nature lovers paradise

Finally, another destination bucket list tick! There’s only one thing on my mind… ORANGUTANS (and more recently, thanks to my buddy, Molly… the sun bears)

Left scary Lombok for chilli crab in Singapore for 3 days.. now I’m here.

Started in Kota Kinabalu.. thankfully it rained lots so I finally edited some of my 21 folders full of images.

 

KOTA KINABALU

City is named after the local mountain.. which is a beautiful sight when it’s not covered in cloud. Surprisingly much bigger than any other mountain I’ve come across here in Borneo.

Meh, KK – it’s a small city… more like Geelong but with skinny, tanned people and less visible butt tattoos.

The waterfront could use a revamp, but there are some cool restaurants and bars over looking the water and islands. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset.

I was “stuck” in bar because the rain came in horizontally, so being undercover outdoors wasn’t going to keep me dry.. inside I go and I think the rain stopped around midnight.. well, let’s stick with that guess. Chatted to another Aussie who had just come back from Uncle Tan’s Wildlife trek – (Bee (my bro) had only just mentioned this very same trek earlier that day) so after that chat I was sold and booked my tickets the following day.

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Breakfast of champions – substantial weight gain in Malaysia, the food is spectacular!

 

Uncle Tans Wildlife trek

Being covered in sticky, smelly and pointless bug repellant – the fuckers even attack through clothing and two layers of repellant.

The catfish jumping in the water around the huts sounded bigger than they actually were.

The tree roots that look like they’re shrouded in a greenish sheet and pretending to be ghosts at Halloween.

The birds! So many exotic, chatty, colourful birds.

Evil macacques, lots of evil monkeys.

ORANGUTAN in the wild.. not a rehab centre behind glass.

Probiscus monkeys – they look like someone stuck a penis on their faces

Squirrels – black ones and brown ones. Saw one in the camp’s resident cat, Putut’s, mouth and taken into someone else’s hut.

Mutant bugs that sound like airborne chainsaws.

The night noises so much louder than during the day – mainly teeny tiny frogs.

Being the only person in my tour ‘group’ – this place can hold up to 80 people.. I’m currently the only one here during the 5 hour transition of new and old groups.. so I get undivided attention and extra long safaris

Iddy biddy Bats dive-bombing you at night as you and your low battery torch find your way back to the hut or bathroom along the rickety, wooden, large gapped footbridge/track over water.

Being impressed by the guides that can spot an inch long frog in the dark (with torch) from 50mts away in a moving boat.

Bugs. So. Many. Bugs.

Learning which tropical plants are edible and which are topically medicinal.

Butterflies that float and actually glide in the breeze-less, thick tropical air as though they were eagles searching their prey whilst using the thermals to use less energy and keep their high vantage point.

No shower for 3 days – all weight gain from here was purely sweat, mosquito bites and repellant.

Bright starry skies at night without light pollution and no moon.

No rain starting from the day I arrived – finally Mother Nature’s weather isn’t trying to scare me off – just her mutant tropical bugs tested me.

Singing karaoke whilst the staff play drums – drums being the loose floorboard in a certain spot at the table along with the table top and tambourine – acoustic guitars and more tambourines.

I SAW A SLOW LORIS! Big hi-fives and even a hug in excitement from Otto for finding this little beasty.

Everything is damp. I mean clothes, but those parts of the body that don’t see much daylight didn’t see dryness the whole time as well.

Mosquitoes absolutely smashed my calves on my morning trek.. and I was wearing full length pants with one layer of repellant underneath and one on top. I’ve recently found out that it’s the female mozzies that bite and that blood extraction is purely to produce children. I can officially say I’m an egg donor and have children all over the world. On top of this new knowledge, these blood suckers have a thirst for beer swilling blood providers. Basically, I’m screwed.

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Fireflies. Little dancing fairy lights in the darkness.

Bioluminescent fungi! These little mushrooms, unassuming by day, lit the pitch black forest at night like Christmas trees

Honestly, I’m unsure if there’s anything that makes my soul happier than being in nature.

Is there anything Peppermint can’t do? This little oil has stopped itchies from mozzies in every country, and it is immediate relief.

The palm oil plantations… everywhere! Something like 80% of Borneo (Indo and Malay) was logged and turned into palm oil plantations. Now there are only 3 primary forests – but currently 10 secondary forests that were rebuilt starting in 1987 and hopefully more to come.

My hero, Otto, used to work in conservation and with the WWF, so he’s helped a lot in Malay Borneo to rebuild the forest and save the animals from extinction. A very knowledgeable man.

 

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Simple accommodation – usually shared, but I had this to myself. 🙂

 

THE ROAD TO SEMPORNA

An hour boat ride out of the jungle to the port we saw a few crocs along the river banks. The Spanish couple with me were so excited about 1-2mt crocs.. 😏 As we Aussies know, they’re just little ‘uns!

The Spanish couple had organised a car pick up so it’s just me to travel in the 22 seater bus alone (again) with the driver.

It’s an hour and a half trip to do the 100+kms into Lahad Dahtu. Pretty uneventful trip so I spent a lot of time frowning at all the palm oil plantations that have successfully ruined 80% of this island’s forestry.

I arrive at a petrol station to meet with my next bus. My driver, I’ve named Uncle Noddy, has been waiting just for me. There are only 5 of us making the journey to Semporna.. a measly 150kms away.

I’m given more royal treatment by being allowed to sit up front with Uncle Noddy and there’s a young Malay man who sits in the first row of the back of the bus and chats non-stop most of the way. Thankfully his English was pretty good so he acted as a translator at times with Uncle Noddy – whom spoke very broken English.

The chats turned to me being a solo traveller and not having a husband or children on so many occasions along with offers from him (36yo) and Uncle (60yo) to be my boyfriend. Uncle Noddy made sure I was aware of his.. umm.. stamina and power by using hand/arm actions!

After about 70kms, which has taken about 2hrs thus far due to the old bus’s ability to travel at approx 40-50kms p/h – any faster she’d overheat – the conversation has dropped off and I’m grateful for not being in the spotlight. That is until I see Uncle Noddy drifting off to sleep at the wheel.

There are only so many fake coughs one can do to help keep him awake and the rest of us alive. I offer lollies in the hope a sugar hit will liven him up.. nope. So I employ the help of youngin in the back to keep Uncle awake. A few slaps on the arm and more talking were starting to fail. Next option?

“Hey Uncle! Let me drive and you sleep.” Using charades and simple words to get my point across. He seemed keen on the idea so I waited patiently for him to stop and let me drive. After some time I kept pestering him and my translator to pull over and let me drive but the damn translator wanted to be dropped off before he’d allow a woman to drive.

Finally, we’re 60kms from destination and translator gets off. I take my chance – after the selfie request by translator – and jump into the bus’s drivers seat.

It seems Uncle Noddy has changed his mind and is nervous so we discuss for about 5 mins whilst I reassure him I can drive a manual (didn’t tell him that I’ve never driven a bus before).

Uncle gets into passenger seat after much reassurance from me and we’re off!

The remaining people on the bus (we had collected a few more along the way by this stage) were all wide eyed and staring at me in a nervous panic. The smoothest gear changes (I’ve possibly ever done) convinces the passengers and Uncle that I know what I’m doing.. all is well with the world.

Uncle kindly shares his snacks with me on our road trip – which I’m grateful for due to tight schedule and missing lunch. He’s much better as a passenger.

I do all the pick ups and drop offs, including into Uncle’s narrow laned village to drop nappies and snacks off to his family.

As I dropped one of the original passengers off I asked for his $35 ringgit – he found that extremely amusing.

Many people in cars, buses and on the side of the road clearly know Uncle and his van as he does this trip every day (and at that pace) so when they saw me driving there would be huge smiles or clapping.

Each time new passengers got on board their eyes popped when they saw who was driving.. until I take off.. then Uncle ever so proudly turns to the new passengers and gives them the nod. I think he’s proud of me and showing off a little!

After my 60kms we arrive at the bus terminal around 4:30pm and receive lots of smiles and hi-fives. Even an older female, original passenger, shakes my hand and says thanks.

I ask if I’m to catch a taxi to my homestay from here but uncle wouldn’t hear of it. He personally drove me in the bus to my accommodation.

Win! Although, I was still charged full price $35 ringgit.

And damn funny. I am now the latest of Marvel’s superheroes after the lives I saved.. they call me Blonde Bus-lady. Wonder Woman is envious I’m sure.

 

 

 

SEMPORNA

Even though this a tourist location I still seemed to be the only blonde wandering the streets. I finally understand what Tom Waits meant when he sang “I’m big in Japan”.. I’m so tall here!

Not much to the town. It’s dilapidated with many homes and shops scantily covered in rusty corrugated iron sheets and plastic.. and boasts a substantial amount of seafood eateries by the water. Makeshift markets taking up narrow laneways making the walk to certain areas longer than necessary due to the bottleneck of people shopping or trying to pass through.

Homestays seem to be the go.. maybe because most of Semporna is booked out with Chinese tourists – surprisingly something the locals don’t like. They prefer western tourists from what several of the locals have told me.

Hosanna Homestay was quite simple yet pricey for just a room with a bed with aircon.. bathroom was shared with 3 other rooms. The hosts very helpful and were in the process of prettying up the place.

$70 AUD p/n. Dependant on the type of solo traveller you are, there’s a room to suit your needs and budget with these homestays.

Kampung massage – Bayu Spa & Beauty – yesssssss!! More perfect SE Asian Massage. They tried to turn me away, but upon seeing my sad face they decided to look after me. On top of the awesome massage the very kind therapist gave me a small Aura Seri Spray to help with my stress. (May have something to do with Mother Nature trying to kill me… or the bus drive). More selfie requests from the staff made me feel special.

 

Officially THE worst “toilet” in SE Asia so far.

 

THE WATER

Went out for a day snorkelling trip with Borneo Speedy Dive tours and once again, this lucky solo traveller was assigned a guide all for myself. The lovely Victor was so sweet, kind, helpful and just as excited about finding the biggest turtles I’ve ever seen. If he had front teeth I’d consider being his wife #2. (Never mind the fact about becoming a Muslim)

I swear the more I snorkel the better the reefs and diversity of marine life… We swam with huge turtles that would have been close to my height – that’s if they were actually ninja turtles and could stand.

Saw a multitude of fish – tuna, crocodile fish, all the usual tropicals, angel fish as big as my head, a moray eel and the really punk (spikey) lion fish.

My super guide, Victor, took control of my new GoPro Hero5 – it’s friggen AWESOME! – and gained a lot of exceptional footage because he’s a free diver that can hold his breath much longer than my piddly 30 seconds.

What a day! They had to force me out of the water (Total of about 3 hours swimming over two locations) because all my Chinese counterparts wanted to go home. I suggested just leaving me there – this water is home to me.

The reefs are in great condition around these islands. Brilliant and bright colours showcased against the aqua expanse. These Malay people are wise enough to not allow people to wear sunscreen (other than a natural one), no standing on or touching any coral – even though I’m told it’s hard to control “so many stupid Chinese”! Not my words.

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I really wanted to visit Indonesian Borneo, but, due to my hasty exit from Lombok and not having time to research, it was too hard to get from Semporna – which is stupidly close to the Indo border – into Indonesia without going all the way to KL first. Madness I tells ya.

Overall I found Sabah kinda pricey for a SE Asian country that didn’t have the usual perks – like decent accommodation. But as usual all the locals are super friendly, kind and the guides I had went above and beyond to make sure my solo butt was well cared for.

A big shout out to Otto and Eim at Uncle Tan’s and for Victor at Borneo Speedy Dive tours. These guys all made me feel well looked after.

It’s funny how one day out in the ocean can make you change your mind about a place. Maybe, because I’m a water lover, my want to never leave the pristine coral and marine life made this place special.

 

 

What are your thoughts on Malaysia? I have a ticket to fly back there, but into Kuala Lumpur, and would love more feedback on where to and what to do… off the beaten path of course.

 

Its all about education of the mind body and spirit…. and being a water baby.