Traveling is Weird Sometimes - The Funny, the Odd, the WTF

Over the course of about 11 months, I’ve had the opportunity to visit roughly 15 countries. I don’t say this to brag, I say this to give you an idea of just how many different types of people I’ve come across in this short period of time, and how many times I’ve had the privilege of going through various airport security checks. This equates to a whole lot of unexpected weird shit, especially when you’re dealing with me. 

I recently removed the portion about Costa Rica. Maybe someday I'll setup a "B-Side Stories" blog about some of the more crazy things that transpire in my life. 

Brazil

We were on the beach in Uba Tuba, Brazil, and we had a whole lot of candles that needed to be lit. The sky was turning darker and the clouds leered at us threatening to shed some extra water weight on us. 

We were there for my friends’ re-wedding; they were already married but were doing the ceremony in Brazil for her family and friends.

Nothing too crazy happened up to that point, save for Jaidev and Mikey almost drowning out in the great zealous South Atlantic. Jaidev truly thought it just might be his last day on earth before getting pulled in by someone. We were staying in a house owned by an ex-Playboy model, and it was a sexy place, if I may use that adjective to describe a place. There was a pool in the middle of the house, one outside the house, a sauna, and a bunch of awesome Brazilians. 

Make no doubt about it, those Brazilian friends and family will always hold a special place in my heart. And not just because I got really drunk the night of the wedding with them and proclaimed myself to be an honorary Brazilian. They’re just incredibly accepting. Sometimes I wonder if by some freak genetic anomaly someone slipped 

My friends, perhaps in a moment of insanity, decided that I was to be the one to officiate the re-wedding. I had never done anything like that, had no spiritual license obtained from the archangel Gabriel, and wasn’t in the slightest bit religious. It didn’t matter, I was in. 

The candles just would not light, and we had a small number of matches. The ceremony was going to start soon, the candles wanted to stay in the nether-world, and my friend was wearing shorts and a tank top (a singlet for you international readers). His grandmother approached, and with a voice bordering on anguish pleaded that he at least put on a shirt that didn’t look like it had been worn by a trucker for 5 days on a cross-country trip. 

He refused. 

Soon the bride would be approaching in a resplendent white dress, and people were worried. A breeze subtly snuck in and blew out a candle, and a drop or two of rain started to appear on all of our faces like the sky was playing a game of gentle paintball without the paint. We scrambled to get the music going, which was by the group Explosions in the Sky. She appeared from out of the foliage at the outskirts of the beach, and upon seeing her husband, paused with a look of utter bemusement on her face. 

If only the photographer could have captured that moment. 

She was a tough woman, however, and continued down the sand aisle that we had created. The ceremony was to begin, but before it got completely underway, Josh ripped off his pants and shirt. 

No, he didn’t suddenly go crazy and decide to join a nudist colony on a remote Micronesian island. 

He had on underneath his shorts a tuxedo speedo. A friend handed over a nice pair of shorts and a crisp white dress shirt for him to don. It was all planned. After much laughing and sighs of relief louder than the rumbling of a volcano from those present, the ceremony went on. 

It was beautiful, and at the end, we all took a shot of tequila which was the start to a pretty amazing night in at an ex-Playboy model’s house in Uba Tuba, Brazil. 

Argentina

My notable experience in Argentina is outlined here.

Philippines

Taxi Drivers:

There are a few things that really stand out about the Philippines. The beautiful islands, the warm people, the old expats with young Filipinas, Justin Bieber, and crazy taxi drivers. Oh, and the fact that tampons aren’t sold here, divorce quite literally doesn’t exist (at least in a semantic sense), and like the rest of SE Asia, there is skin whitening cream in every 7-11. Yes, there are myriad 7-11’s in the Philippines and other SE Asian countries. 

Following are a couple of real scenarios. The first one happened in Manila, and the second in Cebu. 

Scenario 1: 

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. 

I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. 

All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point, I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. 

He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

 

Scenario 2: 

I had just gotten off the ferry that took me from Bohol to Cebu and needed to get a ride to my hotel. After negotiating a price or somehow convincing the guy to use his meter, the taxi ride began. For the 349th time in a span of a month, the opening question was: “where are you from?”

So I told him I was American, and then the fun began. 

“Good, Americans don’t smell.”

“Huh?” I murmured. 

He then proceeded to go into a politically incorrect diatribe that would make Donald Trump blush. 

“The Africans and Chinese smell.”

“What the…” I stammered

Unfettered, he continued on. “It’s because of the spices. Seriously, ask any taxi driver and they’ll tell you. They smell. Americans and Canadians don’t smell, so I was glad to know you were American.”

“Well,” I carefully worked out, “that’s something I’ve never heard in my entire life.”

He then flipped the topic completely to gender, misogamy, and some other crazy shit that I’ve forgotten. This was one conversation that I wish I had recorded but didn’t. “Most of the guys are gays here, that’s why there are so many women. Filipino women will stay at home and take care of the house for you. American women don’t do that. They work right? It’s better having a Filipino woman.”

I had to put on my figurative liberal hat and make it known that the idea of women having to stay home and not work is a social construct and that women can do whatever the fuck they want. Of course, I didn’t say it in so many words. The guy was stalwart in his opinions, like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. It was just damn interesting. He dropped me off, and I got my supposedly non-smelling ass in the hotel. 

Additional Quick Notables

  • Divorce doesn’t technically exist, and tampons aren’t sold there. 
  • What is sold there is the ever-ubiquitous whitening cream, which I soon found is everywhere in SE Asia. 
  • To board the ferry that goes from Tagbilaran to Cebu you have to go through 3 ticket booth lines, qualifying it as the most inefficient ticketing system in the history of the world. I still love the Philippines. 
  • You can ride a bike suspended 1 mile in the air on cables on the island Bohol. 

Bali, Indonesia

  • I got a tattoo from a tattoo artist without a sketch. I just let him roll. 
  • When I went to Padang Padang beach, it was beautiful but pretty disgusting. While swimming out it felt like I was literally swimming through a landfill. You could probably find things you may need like I don’t know, toothpaste, used underwear, half used aerosol cans, oil filters, every candy wrapper known to man and alien, etc. 
  • The Indonesian authorities will kill you if you try and smuggle drugs: http://mashable.com/2015/04/28/indonesia-bali-nine-australians/#NZ2hZAWZ5kq4

New Zealand

I don’t really have any weird stories from NZ. Even if something weird happened it was overshadowed by the sheer beauty of that place. 

Australia

I wrote about some interesting times in Australia in the following posts:

Vietnam

Same with Vietnam; here are a couple of posts:

Malaysia

Nothing too crazy here, though I did hang around with one of the craziest people I’ve ever met one night. Maybe I’ll tell you all about it sometime. 

Thailand

Thailand is awesome and depending on where you go, can be very chill or extraordinarily crazy. Phuket can be like a joint, a 5th of whiskey, and a couple lines of cocaine all rolled into one adventure (I’m being figurative here people). On the flip side, Koh Lanta or Chiang Mai can be chill like a bourgeois white picket fence. 

Cambodia

Nothing really notable here with regard to WTF moments. 

Hong Kong

There were two things about Hong Kong that threw me for a loop:

  • I saw a number of old dudes walking around shirtless, one of which was giving a haircut. It was just interesting seeing this very old and dude with a buddha belly giving someone a haircut without a shirt on. I mean, I just can’t imagine it would be very comfortable for the person getting the haircut. 
  • It’s a beautiful place with a lot of cool trails and beaches. 

Lombok, Indonesia

I love Lombok. When I first arrived I hired a driver to take me to the place I was staying on the southern end of the island. The following conversation ensued, which will be Lombok #1:

Driver: “Oh you’re from America?”

Me: “Yes.”

Driver: “Is it true that you have a lot of aliens there?”

Me: “You mean like immigrants…people who are in the United States either legally or illegally?”

Driver: “No, I mean aliens…from outer space.”

Me: “…oh…no, we don’t. That’s just stuff on the television that isn’t true.”

Driver: “Oh.”

Lombok #2 is the best quote from a German friend of mine who said this while we were trekking up Mount Rinjani:

“Who needs sex when you have tea with sugar?”

Lombok #3:

Ben Affleck is posing as a German for an up-and-coming role. Well, not really (that I know of). It’s just that this dude I met staying at the same place as I looked exactly like Ben Affleck. 

Singapore

Gum is illegal.

Germany

There was nothing too unexpected here, but there are a few things worth mentioning. 

1. In Munich, there are many naked people who sunbathe along the river Isar.

2. A friend of mine from Munich took me to a spot where we could climb and get the best possible view of the Neuschwanstein castle. Evidently, it was “illegal” for us to be there, and there were about a million signs saying the equivalent of “stay the fuck out.”

On the way up and down, my friend made some pretty hilarious comments. Here they are: 

Friend: “You know what I mean when I say "dangerous" right? It means if you fall you'll probably die.”

Most of that trail fell under the "dangerous" designation

Friend: “If you see a lot of rocks falling, just run to the side. I'm serious. I have no idea what may happen with all of this loose rock. It's not a real trail. 

It's very illegal for us to be here.”

Vienna, Austria

A discussion with some very awesome dudes from South Korea at a hostel:

Awesome dudes from S. Korea, talking about the general height difference between Koreans and a lot of people in Austria:

“Maybe we're shorter because gravity is stronger where we're at. 

Me:

“I’m pretty sure that's not scientifically sound.”

So there you have it; a taste of the interesting I experienced while on my global journey. 

Siem Reap is Tyler Durden and I'm Peter Gibbons

Siem Reap, Cambodia is a living dichotomy. It’s like a mind split in two, the differences breathtaking. OK, maybe not breathtaking, but at least worth noting. I have to admit I wasn't in the best state of mind when I visited this city, so like every other post by anyone, it will only provide my limited 4-day mentally questionable perspective (as a side note I plan on writing a short article on how perspective influences life and travel).

So there I was... one moment I'm playing shuttlecock with some awesome locals after a ridiculous rain and sweat-soaking run, the next I'm dealing with:

The Tuk-Tuk Mafia

"Tuk-tuk?" 
"Tuk-tuk sir?"
"Where you from"
"Where you going?"
"What you looking for"
"You want girl?"

This happens every 2-5 seconds while walking the streets of Siem Reap. As a lone traveler, I'm especially singled out as a target (at least it feels that way). I may as well make a costume with the body portion a dollar sign, and the headpiece with a loudspeaker attached that yells "please assault me with a barrage of goods and services, for it is pleasing!"

Can someone please make a cartoon drawing of that costume? I'm just not good with that stuff. 

WTF is a tuk-tuk you may be wondering? It's a motorcycle with a carriage. Or, a taxi. 

It's almost as though the very act of walking is some sort of atrocious social faux-pa, or maybe gravity is considered to be a nefarious entity to engage in battle with. Whatever the case, many have a hard time accepting the fact that one would rather walk than ride in their chariots of immaculate motorcycle emissions. 

Even on the way to Angkor Wat the tuk-tuk mafia tried to get money from me. I rented a bicycle to bike out to the temples. For some reason, this was considered to be some sort of feat that only Olympic athletes should attempt. I was wished good luck a number of times, as though there was a good possibility that I just wouldn't make it. 

From my hotel, it's only 4.2 miles. That's 6.76 kilometers.

On the way, there is a "ticket checkpoint," where people wearing purple shirts blow a whistle at you and tell you to stop (while those on or in motor vehicles whizz past). 

Officer: "You have a ticket?"
Me: "No, do I need one?"
Officer: "Yes, you need to go all the back to town. Leave bike here and tuk-tuk will take you."
Me: "No, I'll ride my bike. It's not far."
Officer: "No, you should have known about ticket, leave bike here. It's far, tuk-tuk take you."
Me: "No."
Officer: Same stupid bullshit
Me: Same answer

I start pedaling off.

Officer: "It's too far, you should know about ticket, tuk-tuk take you."
Me: "I DON'T CARE, I'M RIDING MY BIKE"

"What a fucking asshole," I thought. 

It took me about 30 minutes to ride into town and get an overpriced ticket to see the temples. $20 for one day. They offered more expensive tickets for 3-day and week visits, etc. but I'm glad I opted for the 1-day thing. Don't get me wrong, the temples are cool, but I guess you have to really be into them to get a lot out of it. I know I know, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and it should induce a state of awe and wonder that will give you mind-boners that last longer than a real case of Viagra overdose. 

Can I be honest though? I could care less if it's the biggest religious monument in the world. It's cool but let's not get carried away here. 

I also realize that Cambodia has had an extremely rough history, which is probably still a ridiculous understatement.  And like I've said before, you can't judge a nation based on narrow anecdotal experience, but I'm going to shoot straight with my narrow anecdotal experiences in Siem Reap. 

Before moving forward, I have to say that I've met some really awesome, super-genuine, kind, AWESOME humble happy people here. Also, I know the tuk-tuk drivers are just trying to make a living, so they're out there doing it ya know. I get it, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. Most are nice and cool, if annoying. Or really fucking annoying. 

My Best Night in Siem Reap

I figured it out. I had an incredible night walking through the streets of Siem Reap. Before I get to that, let me paint a picture of this place for you. 

  • There is a stagnant river that runs (?) through it. It's still kind of cool
  • It almost seems as though someone is paying people to just drive through the streets at all times so that there is never a moment when there isn't an insane amount of motorcycles and cars cruising along the roads. 
  • There are around 1 billion massage parlors (this is a rough estimate)
  • There are some hotels that look like they were made for Mariah Carey and an entourage of somehow-rich B-movie actors, and right next to them are shacks where people are trying to hawk goods
  • There are always many Chinese tourists. They are everywhere in SE Asia, and I think I'd be freaked out if I didn't see them at a particular spot. *I met and made friends with some very awesome Chinese people on this journey. 
  • There are always backpackers who look exactly the same. They are usually very white and many wear billowy pants. 
  • There are many middle-aged couples of varying nationalities. They are usually staying at the same hotel as I. 
  • You can buy prescription drugs like Zoloft over the counter
  • They have restaurants with names like "Herbal Pizza Happiness." This means they serve weed pizza.
  • There are dubious looking bald lone travelers like me who one day may look lost, confused, and dazed, and the next calm and uncaring. 
  • There are locals who earn income from selling goods and services to tourists. These people talk at me all day long everywhere I go. Incessant is too weak a word to describe it. 
  • There are families and friends hanging out in parks
  • There are a lot of temples 
  • There are the friendly shop owners. 
  • There are stray dogs. 

How I Had An Awesome Night in Siem Reap

I had a lovely night tonight in Siem Reap. How? I'm so glad you asked! First, this is what you need:

  • Headphones
  • Something to plug the headphones into so that sound is produced
  • An umbrella if it's raining

Before heading out I recommend you do some sort of physical activity to induce clarity of mind. Or if drugs are your thing to induce clarity of mind, do that. Whatever works for ya. Maybe hypnosis. Whatever helps you achieve that state akin to what Peter in Office Space attained, that's what we want. 

OK, now you're ready to go out. Before stepping outside, it's vital that you have your earbuds in your ears with music that you love playing. It's best if you have the music loud enough to where you can't understand what people are saying to you, but you can still hear cars and motorbikes. 
 
Now arm yourself with a dreamy smile and walk. Breathe in the air (or hold your breathe if you happen to be right beside a bus or a gonzo CO2  spewer), look around, and just be. You may notice peripherally that people are vying for your attention. Here you can just walk on, ignoring them peacefully. Or, you can smile at them and keep walking. I stopped a couple times and looked the tuk-tuk driver in the eye and proclaimed "it's a beautiful night my friend! It's perfect!" Or, in the same vein, I would state with pithy, "what is wrong with walking my friend, for it is a marvelous night to be walking!" 

I walked through streets lined with pubs and seedy massage parlors. A whole gaggle of masseuses literally got in front of me on the sidewalk with posters showing low prices for a massage. I simply smiled, raised my umbrella high, and walked through and around them, enjoying a song by Deafheaven or some other band. 

I did this a number of times, simply ignoring, raising my umbrella, and walking. 

I walked through the night market where I know every shop owner called out with not only their voices but every cell in their body, willing me to look at and purchase the goods at their stall. But I was immune. I was in heaven!

Sometimes I would stop and talk with the shop owners. When it was apparent that the conversation was not real, but only words spewed to obtain cash, I simply smiled, said nothing more, and walked on in bliss. 

It was an incredible night, and I finished it off by watching Fight Club. 

Happy Water, Coffee, and Bloody Knuckles. A list of Vietnam Do’s and Dont’s

Following is a quick little list of do’s and dont's while in Vietnam. 

First, let’s start off with things that you should avoid doing. 

1. Avoid trying to open shuttle van doors yourself when they come to pick you up to take you to Halong Bay. 

The very nice guy whose name I don’t recall came to our amazing hotel, HM Boutique in Hanoi, and let us know that our van was waiting for us. Lo and I walked over and stood at the door for a few seconds. As the door did not automatically open I decided to take the initiative to try and open it myself. I took the initiative because there have been times in the past when I’ve missed stops or stood at doors for long periods of time only to find that I could’ve pressed a button or just opened it. 

At first, it wouldn’t budge. I was grabbing onto one of the iron handles that spanned one of the folding doors. Then, it began to open easily…far too easily, and then far too quickly. 

Suddenly my hand was being crushed by the doors folding into one another automatically. It was a weird feeling, and I reacted with complete cool; that is I started fighting with that damn door. 

Man vs. Uncaring Automatic Machine

In any case, it closed either because the driver pressed the button to close it, or the machine took pity on me. Only the bus driver association of Vietnam really knows what went down. *I don’t know if such an organization exists, but I imagine it probably does, and that they have keg parties and initiate new members in weird cult-like ceremonies. 

When we finally entered a couple American girls were like: “are you okay?” Evidently they witnessed the whole thing. So I had some bloody knuckles and a tiny little scrape to the ego. After about a minute I told the ego to fuck off, and then I felt pretty awesome, I have to admit. Sometimes I like a little bit of pain. It wakes me up a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll see a shrink one of these days. 

Halong Bay

2. Avoid trying to run around the entire circumference of Westlake in Hanoi in an hour, unless you have a high tolerance for opening all of your pores to strong air pollution, traffic dodging, people dodging, high humidity, and can run very fast for a very long period of time. 

When I worked at Apple, my colleagues came up with a phrase where they use my surname as a verb. It’s called “Nickeling It.” “Don’t Nickel it” became a common phrase, at least while I was there. What does it mean? Well, I have a tendency to be extremely optimistic about things to the point of delusion. It started with a project we were working on, and I recall saying something like, “well that’s it, that’s all we need! It’s fantastic and nothing more needs to be done!” Then it would all fall apart, we’d find things wrong with it, people would cry, nations would fall, stars would quietly lay down to die, to depressed to explode like normal stars.

Well, maybe nothing so dramatic, but I did this enough times where the term “Nickeling It” came into existence. What did I do with Westlake? I Nickeled the fuck out of it. It was about 45 minutes or less until sunset, and I remember looking at this somewhat beautiful man-made lake and telling Lo: “I’m going to run around it.”

She was incredulous but knew that I liked to do crazy things so just accepted it. After about 2 hours later I realized a couple things:

- There was no way in hell I was going to run around that thing unless I took another hour or 2 or who knows. 
- If I continued on I would need to figure out how to not pass out from extreme dehydration
- I completely underestimated the number of roads I would have to navigate by the lake just to stay close to it. In other words, there isn’t a steady trail for runners all the way around it; just in certain parts. 
- I had no way of contacting Lo so I should try like hell to get back to our designated meeting point. 

So I decided to hail a taxi. 

It’s worth noting that at this point in time my clothes were not only saturated with sweat, it looked as though there was a constant invisible shower of water running over me. My clothes were more than drenched. There wasn't a nanometer that wasn't completed and utterly awash in my sweat. My clothing and my sweat were one. 

I could barely get my phone to function because the sweat was so profuse. I remember reaching into the first cab to try and get the map going of where I needed to go and seeing drops of sweat just pounding into the passenger seat. We couldn’t agree on where I needed to go, so I decided to try for another one. He drove off with a couple of shot glasses worth of sweat in the passenger seat. 

I hailed another one with one of the trusted taxi companies (Mailinh), and unfortunately for the back seat, sat down and let the sweat continue to reach out to everything around it. I am truly sorry to whoever got the taxi after me. Anyway, I finally got back to Lo, and she honestly thought I looked skinnier. 

So that night I ate a large and great meal, then ended up puking it up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why that happened, I just know that it kind of sucked. 

3. Lastly, avoid leaving your passports with the hotel after you checkout

This is pretty obvious. It happened to us in Muine, but thankfully I remembered when we were only about a mile out. The hotel sent a driver to meet up with the bus with our passports. We also had a really cool lad from the UK who had been working in Vietnam for 4 years and offered to call up the hotel and speak with them in Vietnamese to confirm. 

Now for things that you should check out. 

1. Watch a Game of Foot Shuttlecock

If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, be sure to check out a good game of Foot Shuttlecock. No, this is not a pornographic game, though there may be something out there with that kind of name in the adult video world. This is where people use a shuttlecock kind of like a hackey sack. It’s really just badminton without the rackets. They're really damn good. I'll have a video soon showcasing their talent. There should seriously be a Foot Shuttlecock championship. If there is one, someone please let me know. I'll go to it. 

I suck at Foot Shuttlecock

2. Check out the sand dunes in Muine

If you’re there, do it. It’s rad. The sleds are just ok. I recommend just going and chilling, or rolling down the hill without a sled because that's pretty much what happens anyway. I was covered in sand that day. 
 

Muine:

3. Experience In Hoi An and the Surrounding Area
Check out the lanterns at night, run through the fields outside of town, then the next day go to Marble Mountains and Monkey Mountain on a motorbike that can be rented for $6 USD.
The lanterns are ubiquitous here, and it’s really rad at night. If you’re into running, biking, or motorbiking, make sure to take a junket through the fields outside of town. There are paved paths through the fields, and it’s really peaceful. 

Hoi An pics:

Marble Mountain:

Monkey Mountain:

4. Drink Happy Water in Ta Phin with Pham
https://sapatourswithpham.wordpress.com/about-me-2/

The homestay is situated outside of the village of Ta Phin on the side of a mountain. It’s stunning, and you should definitely go. Her husband is a very rad super energetic and slightly crazy guy. The absolute best food I had in Vietnam was at Pham’s place. No joke, it was just phenomenal. Before the meal, her husband breaks out this enormous jug of clear liquid that looks like it has some sort of plant life in it. 

With no hesitation, he proclaims “This is happy water, it has opium in it!” Now if that’s not a party starter, I don’t know what the hell is. He pours the happy water into bowls, then passes around shot glasses about half the size of standard shot glasses that one would find in the States. He just dips the small shot glasses into the bowls and passes them around. To me, it was like a nice little mix of vodka and tequila, in a very good way. It was a bit mild and easy to drink, and it went really well with the food. I honestly had between 5-7 shots each night, just felt loose (not drunk) and felt great the next day. 

Hooray for happy water!

5. Lastly, drink the coffee in Vietnam

It’s the absolute best that I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Hands down. I know many Australians pride themselves on their coffee, but to me, Vietnam takes the proverbial cake. It’s just so good…so damn good. I’m going into a dream just thinking about it right now as I drink “meh” coffee here in Kuala Lumpur. 

A few more pics:

Sa Pa

 

 

I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

My female friend Lo who I was traveling had her period while we were in the incredible area of Tả Phìn, Sa Pa, Lào Cai, Vietnam. Don’t be grossed out. At this very moment, approximately 334 million women are on their period, according to one Quora user. Credit: Quora

We had just gone hiking for a number of hours in Tả Phìn, crossing rivers and going up steep inclines. I had just gotten done with about 6 weeks in NZ and AUS, and had done a fair amount of hiking, so I was a bit more prepared to continue on. She did extremely well, though by the end we both knew she needed some rest. 

The only problem was that she needed to go into town to buy some maxi pads. So, being the noble gentleman that I have the capacity to be, I offered to walk to town and grab some.  I was feeling spry and wanted to catch the sunset anyway, so I set out to accomplish my mission: Get Maxi Pads. 

What I hadn’t thought through was the fact that I had no internet whatsoever (Vietnam isn’t part of T-Mobile’s international coverage plan), and there was no wifi close by that I knew of. So I decided to wing it. 

I got sidetracked by some pretty incredible scenery along the way:

 

Then I resumed my search, which I've detailed below. 

Shop 1:

My first try turned out to be a miserable failure in communication. I just had no idea how to say menstrual cycle or maxi pad (maybe I should've tried saying maxi pad?). 

I couldn't just start grabbing my chest to try and say I'm talking about people with boobs here. In the same vein of thought, I couldn't just grab or point at my crotch. That could've resulted in:

1) Someone trying to betroth me
2) Someone taking me to a village brothel (I'm pretty sure there weren't any there)
3) Me getting my ass kicked
4) Getting laughed at as the new foreign idiot in town

I'm usually adept at accomplishing number four without grabbing my crotch.

Shop 2:

My second try was also a failure, but I gained an ally. One of the  Red Dao tribe ladies who try to sell foreigners souvenirs was talking to me in English and trying to help. Undoubtedly she was going to pitch me in the end, but I just didn't have any need for the awesome stuff they make. Here's a picture of Lo wearing the full regalia:

Red Dao Lo

 

I would try and say I needed something "just for girls" and they would grab a bag of Cheetos or the Vietnamese equivalent. This went on for a while when my new Red Dao friend just said: "you look around and see if you find." 

Shop 3:

It was at shop 3 where I was successful. It started off the same: huge abysses of misunderstandings and bags of potato chips being offered. I really didn't think potato chips would help with a period, so I pressed on. Then I saw it. 

Toilet paper. 

I grabbed some rolls and emphatically stated "for woman, for girl!" 

After saying "for woman, for girl!" a few times a sudden light seemed to shine in their eyes, the light of understanding and confusion. The understanding of what I was asking, and the confusion over why I was asking for it. 

The shop lady walked over to the Menstrua-Shelf, and pointed to the most expensive item there as if to say, "is this what you are looking for and please buy this one with the carrying case if it is." I nodded ecstatically but refused the Gucci-looking-maxi-package, opting instead for a simple box of good old fashioned maxi pads. 

I'd never been so happy to buy a box of maxi pads. Plus, I got to negotiate the price. I love Vietnam. 

So there you go dudes. Point to some toilet paper and say "for woman, for girl!"  and it just might work for you too if you need to do the same. Oh, wait, are you too "manly" to buy maxi pads? 

You can't use that weak shit as an excuse for your outdated misogynistic fears. Go out and give it a try.

Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnastics

The overnight budget sleeper buses in Vietnam can be pretty alright, especially from Ho Chi Min to Muine, and from Muine to Na Trang. However, going from Na Trang to Hoian can be an interesting experience. 

It started off almost normal: The bus swung by our hotel and picked us up. There were other Westerners there. One kept laughing with an odd sporadic laugh reminiscent of the laugh Dax Shepard affected in Idiocracy, probably watching something similar to what Dax's character was watching in the film. 

At one point a few Vietnamese were either yelling or speaking very passionately to one another about something for a good 15 minutes. I couldn't tell which. Maybe they were acting for us, doing an impromptu drama? If so, the acting was excellent; I could feel the heat from their fiery shouts. 

This was all normal. The first thing that was not normal, at least for me, was the fact that they put all of our stuff at the back of the bus instead of under it. 

What was under the bus? Cocaine? A dance party for HATH (hobbits accustomed to heat)? Used socks? Another dimension? No-one knows except for the bus people. That was okay. I was ready for the 12-hour ride.  

Then it got a bit weird. And not weird as in people started morphing into cartoon drawings because someone slipped some ground peyote into my fun dip. 

It got weird because suddenly it seemed as though we were stopping a lot and picking up more people than the bus could hold.  

Stop, pick up. Stop, pick up. 

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I’m no mathematician, however by counting the number of available beds against the number of passengers boarding I wondered how the hell it was going to work. 

No matter. Just as I didn't concern myself with annoying chuckles and fighting Vietnamese, I didn't concern myself with this either. I've never been very good at math anyway. 

I went back to my computer. My travel buddy asked what the sign said at the back of the bus. I told her it said “No Smoking.” Note: I found out later that she wanted to know if it was a bathroom. I knew that it was a bathroom, but I didn’t know that she didn’t know that, and thought she was just curious about what the red sign said. Sorry Lo!

About an hour later I realized I should use the restroom before I tried to get some VBS (VietBusSleep), however, when I looked down I noticed that the floor had people sleeping on it.

So this is where they were putting all those people. Well, fuck. 

I hadn't yet mastered the art of floating at that time, so I was essentially stuck. I was on a top bunk, every bed was filled, and the floor right under me had sleeping humans on it. I was stuck. 

So what did I do? Did I just say “fuck all of these crazy societal norms, I’m pissing my pants!” No. Not yet. I'm still hanging on to the fundamental societal customs, especially when it comes to personal hygiene. 

As I'm still in my semi-sane years I decided instead to just become a Vietnam Sleeper Bus Gymnast. That's a thing, right?

I pretzeled my body and deftly (I’d like to think) maneuvered my way between beds until I could gain access to a part of the floor that didn’t have sleeping humans on it. I'm not sure how I did it without climbing over a lot of people, but I do know that if I had not succeeded I would've have made someone either very unhappy or happy, depending on whether they needed some physical contact. 

Other than that it was bearable. I mean, it was uncomfortable as fuck, but I expected as much in certain places. 

I'm telling you this story so that I can say this: I would rather be in an uncomfortable-as-fuck bus in Vietnam with annoying Westerner laughs, fighting Vietnamese, dancing hobbits in the storage, people-sleeping-on-the-floor-making-me-become-a-gymnast-just-to-use-the-bathroom, rather than being stuck in a cubicle. 

No joke. No offense to those who love their jobs and work in a cubicle; that's actually beautiful as long as it isn't slowly killing you emotionally and physically. 

Next up: I'm Just a Guy Trying to Buy Maxi Pads in a Remote Northern Vietnam Village

Is New Zealand a Real Place?

I'm pretty sure they just give you acid when you arrive in New Zealand.

I say this because so much of it is so awe-inspiring, vivid, and fantastically scenic that I wonder if I was just on an acid trip the whole time I was there. 

I wonder if maybe I never left the airport, and I was just wandering around with other tourists in a big multi-colored tourist room where we could think that we were seeing incredible vistas, climbing summits, or seeing a pristine reflection in a lake that you thought could only be found in the imagination spurred by fantasy books. 

You should definitely check it out, especially if you appreciate nature things. 

When you visit New Zealand, the following are some things to know about. 

Driving

- drive on the left side of the road
- If you get an exceptional deal on a car rental, be prepared to drive something with 200-400 thousand kilometers on it, no joke. I got one beat up son-of-a-bitch but she got to where I needed to go. 
- Be prepared for many roundabouts instead of traffic signals. It actually works rather well.
- You can take your car from and to either island by way of ferry. It was about $180 one-way.
- When parallel parking be careful, it takes a bit of time gauging distance on the left side of the car when you're not used to parking on that side. 
- A lot of people (backpackers on a budget mainly) hitchhike. Just an FYI. It's accepted and you can delve into the world of hitchhiking culture.
- Be prepared to hit the windshield wipers at least 1000 times when you meant to hit the turning signal.

Internet

- it basically sucks in most places

Safety


- I would feel confident leaving my laptop on the sidewalk and returning to find it propped up nicely or turned into the city's lost and found department. 

Cities and Places


- Auckland is okay, but really it's just another city to me. When I arrived there from Bali I felt like I was a parallel America where the steering wheel was on the other side of the car and people said mate a lot. 
- I didn't go to the Hobbiton film site because it felt like a major ripoff. People who went said it was magical. That's some magic I can do without, thank you. Someone is getting crazy rich off of that.
- Hamilton is quaint. There's a nice river that runs through it, and evidently they have a good botanical garden (I didn't go).
- The Tongariro crossing is a muuuuuust do. If you are fit, climb Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom). It's pretty interesting because there are no clearly marked paths. On the way there, our Maori bus driver just said that we'll know where to start climbing when we see it and if it seems like the volcano is going to erupt to get the hell out of there. The whole way up is primarily loose tephra, and it's wicked steep.
- Wellington is rad. Go there and make sure you do some hiking in Victoria park. 
- Nelson is. Hmmm I don't know, I guess it's okay. It's close to the Abel Tasman coastal walk, which is very cool. 
- Don't go to Greymouth. 
- Lake Tekapo is incredible
- Wanaka is awesome and had great hiking around it
- Queenstown is a must do. Climb the Ben Lomond summit. Seriously, it's amazing. Just make sure you're in decent shape before you do it.
- Christchurch is cool, specially Hagley Park and Godley Beach Park. 

As is the case with every country I visit, I just scratched a few surfaces. A guy told me that a couple from who-knows-where planned on staying in New Zealand for a few months to travel all around the country, but ended up staying for 7 years and are still trying to capture all of it.

Sydney Drug Dealers and Sky-High Pubes

I love Sydney, despite the fact that it felt like I was in the middle of a huge gambling session where I was the one losing a ton of money and the casino (Australia) was getting all of it. It's beautiful, has as many beaches as there are stray dogs in Costa Rica, and people say mate a lot. 

I'm not a backpacker, and after staying in Sydney I'm even more not a backpacker. That last sentence has to be grammatically incorrect, but whatever. As stated in previous posts, I usually do the Airbnb thing. If I'm in a place like Bali I'll just do a hotel/homestay. However, because it seems to require years of high-end prostitution work to be able to afford a place in the city for a few nights, I opted for a hostel. Yep, the place where I would share a room with about 6 other smelly but often very cool people. It was still about $40 a night there, which is a ripoff, especially since they charged for wireless internet. That was an insult because their wifi, just like the rest of Australia's wifi is only slightly better than wired internet from 1997. I'll probably rant more about that in another post.

In Sydney, the noteworthy thing that happened to me was on a Friday night. Though I hadn't been going out to the bars or even drinking much for a time, I agreed to join my flatmates for a drink. 

We couldn't get into the first place because they found a beer bottle in the purse of a girl that was with us. She was already drunk so was fairly indignant, saying that everyone should be able to drink everywhere, and so on. Anyway, we then proceed to walk a good 2 or 5 kilometers to some bar that an English dude knew well, where yay, we only had to pay 10 dollars to get in. 

No offense, or maybe yes, some offense is needed here, they should be paying people to go there. From there we headed to another place, where I got bored and left. 

It got interesting when I got back, and not in a good way.

I was lying in my slept-in-a-thousand-times bed when all of a sudden a newcomer enters and starts blabbing about drugs. 

I soon found out that I had a drug dealer bunking with me. 

Well, this is just fucking great I thought. 

He tried to sell me something I couldn't even identify, and when I kindly turned him down he proceeded to tell me how jacked out of his mind he was. He kept moving around. This was at around 3 in the morning. At around 3:30 or so my hostel-mates come back feeling good and slightly wasted from the club. I really got along with them so didn't mind asking them how things went, then they all kind of stopped and noticed the extra body in the room. The new guy (self-proclaimed drug dealer),unabashedly said he was a drug dealer and that he was told by a friend to stay there because hostels are great places to sell drugs...at 3 in the morning.

When everyone had more or less settled down in their respective places, the drug dealer, we'll call him Dylan, started either masturbating or playing a video game violently. It was fucking early or late or whatever, and I was tired. So I said something and that stopped, thankfully.

I then drifted off into a dirty smelly drug dealer sleep and woke up about 3 hours later. Thankfully I had a great view when I awoke. 

Two of the hostel flat-mates had become mating mates and had left the bottom halves of their naked bodies uncovered for the world to see. It was apparent that Brazilian bikini waxing was not a thing either subscribed to, as the only thing that really popped out, seemingly almost to the ceiling, were the monster pubes.

In conclusion, I'm now officially done with hostels. I've met many amazing, crazy, fucked up, intelligent, idiotic, arrogant, kind, loving, stupid-as-fuck, clever, old, young, alcohol loving hostellers, but I feel too old for most of it now. 

This may change within a week, who knows.

Australia Is Like an Expensive Hotel

I really like Australia; it reminds me of a really nice hotel to splurge on. It's comfortable, things are generally very clean, I can only afford a night or two, and the internet sucks. 

I'm honestly still processing Australia and trying to figure out how I can love a place so much but still feel this underlying gut feeling of kind of almost not liking it. What does that mean? 

I met some super cool people there, and didn't run into any major problems, so I don't know what my problem is.

Maybe I spent too much time in the business district or tourist sections of Melbourne. Maybe the exorbitant price of EVERYTHING just got to me. In any case, it really is a phenomenal place to visit for numerous reasons. I'll try to leave my jaded fragmented psychological babbling out of it, but no promises.

First, it's clean. It's almost suspiciously clean.  You will not find stray dogs, and the homeless dudes probably make more dough than the average fast food worker in America. I'd bet money on it. 

Let's narrow some things down. 

Melbourne
I went to Melbourne based on many recommendations to go to Melbourne.

Some things:
- The Victoria State Library is awesome. They have workstations all over the place, and in the quiet areas, it's really hard not to fall asleep even if you did just have a strong cup of coffee at Mr. Tulk. The wifi can be okay.
- The wifi in Australia generally sucks more than ...I dunno, it just sucks.
- The botanical garden and tourist spots around that area are definitely worth visiting.  
- The Prahran area is pretty cool, and has a bunch of cool shops and eateries, specially' along Chapel street. There was one place that had a sign that read something like "no suits and ties allowed. Dress code enforced." This was a relief to me, because walking around downtown Melbourne feels like you're constantly surrounded by good looking male and female Mr. Andersons from the matrix. I almost wondered if the Melbourne CBD had been them controlling me for the past nine years and felt the back of my head for an opening, hoping that I too could learn karate like Keanu Reeves in a simulated matrix environment. There was no opening, but my head was shaved, so I guess that was something.

A friend of mine once told me that Australians are Americans in the making. I don't know if that's true, but I can certainly see Sydney or Melbourne as Wall Street's not so little brothers. 

Sydney
Ah, Sydney.
- it's beautiful and has a lot of beautiful spots that you should see. 
- There is a multitude of incredible beaches
- It can get weird in hostels (I have another post about this)
- The Sydney Opera House looks like an alien ship that decided Sydney was its destination for a while. 
- Check out the big bridge over the harbour. Oh yeah, it's the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- Don't just go to Bondi beach. Check out the north beaches like Manly, Freshwater, etc.  
- Speaking of beaches, when it's nice out everyone tends to congregate by the beach in the pristine lawns. Families, people playing guitar, etc. it's just freaking cool
- The surf is gold here yo
- There seems to be a high concentration of good looking people here. Maybe it's because a vast majority seem to be on the very cutting edge of fashion.
- The internet sucks and everything is too expensive. 

I rented a car from Sydney to Melbourne, and it was okay. The highlight was Keppel Lookout Trail in Marysville. The Yarra hilly region is pretty cool. I'm pretty sure I missed a lot of awesome things along the way. Oh well!

Jetstar Made Me Hide My Laptop in My Pants

Jetstar, you anal retentive bastard.

I don't like Jetstar and I love Jetstar. Why do I usually love Jetstar? Because they're cheap. Why do I now have a loathing for Jetstar? While purely anecdotal, I despise the fact that they made me put my laptop down my pants.

You may be thinking, "well, we have scanners and what not, and quite a few things that don't make sense like not being able to carry a container of witch hazel that's over 3.4 oz or whatever the limit is, so maybe this is their thing." 

Allow me to elaborate. 

They only allow 7 kg as carry on for economy passengers like yours truly, and they actually take that shit seriously when they weigh it at the Avalon airport. Btw, you should totally check your airports when you book. The Avalon airport is far away from Melbourne and the trip ended up being an expensive and boring Uber ride. 

Anyway, my carry on's weighed in at around 12 or so kilograms. So I had to jettison some stuff because God knows the plane would probably fucking go down because of those extra kilos. 

Even after I threw some things out and stuffed my coat pockets with chords, tablets, typewriters, leprechauns, accordions, etc, I was still over the limit. I wasn't going to just give my laptop up to the anal retentive Avalon airport gods.

I decided then and there to stuff the laptop down my pants. It was my only recourse. 

I looked around to see if the personified Orwellian airport staff could see me. They appeared to be assisting passengers and not noticing me just 2 or 3 Jetstar check-in counters down. 

I looked behind me at the line of Aussies getting ready to go to Sydney but didn't really care if they could see me putting a laptop down my pants. I would probably never see them again...well, after we landed and got our bags in Sydney that is. 

Then I took a normal breath and nonchalantly (kind of)  wrestled my rectangular aluminum MacBook down the front of my pants. It's good that I hadn't gotten fat on the trip, otherwise who knows how it would've gone down. 

I walked gingerly, for lack of any other word at the moment, back to the counter where I waited for an entire family to check-in to their flight. Then I plopped my luggage on the weight machine again and came out at pretty much just 7 kilograms.

I thought it was over at that point, but it wasn't. My guitar almost always goes in the oversized luggage compartment, but I usually don't have to do anything to get it there from the check-in counter. I was asked to follow a representative to the oversize bin with my guitar. So I did. I walked with my coat pockets weighing a good 7 kilos themselves, and of course with a laptop in my pants. I suppose it may have looked like any one of the following: 1) a very odd and outdated chastity belt, 2) a very short but incredibly wide erection, 3) there was a laptop in my pants.

Somehow I made it there and out without her noticing. Or maybe she noticed and decided it wasn't worth asking about because what if it was one of those super sensitive things that one shouldn't ask about. 

Anyway, I didn't keep the laptop in my pants for the flight, in case you were wondering. So yeah, just in case you book a flight with Jetstar, you may end up having to put your laptop down your pants. I recommend the 13 inch Macbook. I can't imagine how the 15 would work.  

Things You Should Know About Bali Before Going

Remember, when you’re in a different country, you’re essentially in someone else’s house. Sometimes their house rules don’t make sense. For example, let's say a young guy by the name of Jimmy goes to stay with his uncle Jarvis in a town somewhere between Portland, OR and Landing, MI. He hasn't seen his uncle in a few years but needs a place to stay because he's looking for a job in that approximate area. 

So, in the same way, though I don’t agree with all the laws of Indonesia, I gotta respect them because it ain’t my house. This is not to say I would obey a law if I thought it was morally reprehensible to do so, e.g. treat others like shit because of the color of their skin, gender, sexual preference, etc. But just like there have been asinine rules in the past in the U.S. (and today I assume) so there are similar asinine rules in other countries.

It's kind of amazing how much we let those no more intelligent, or rather, much less intelligent, dictate what we can or cannot do with our lives. Why? Because they are confident to a fault and not afraid to tell people how they should behave in life in all aspects? Because it's easier to let someone else be the master and us the puppets or sheep? I suppose that's a diatribe for another day.

Before I go down a cavernous rabbit hole, here are some things you should definitely avoid while you’re in Indonesia.

Things to Avoid in Bali

  • Avoid trying to score, smoke, or even think about marijuana, or any drug (the current perception of what a “drug” is) for that matter. They DO NOT play around when it comes to this shit, so don’t do it. I’m not being facetious when I say that people have been executed here because of attempted drug smuggling. See: http://mashable.com/2015/04/28/indonesia-bali-nine-australians/#8tuWssW.IPq1 
    • Ironically, Gusti number 1 told me that while pot is a huge NO-NO it’s okay to drink and drive. I don’t know if this is true, but to me, this conjures up an image of someone taking a baseball bat and bludgeoning Logic to the point where it isn't recognizable. It also made a couple fuses totally blow the fuck up inside my head, so I tried to tactfully give my opinion that “WTF THAT’S FUCKING ASS-BACKWARDS DUDE.” 
  • Try and avoid getting “Bali Belly,” as an English dude put it. Don’t drink that tap water. Try and eat at places where it’s fairly obvious that things are prepared hygienically. How the fuck do you do this? Don’t ask me. I had Bali Belly for about half my time there. 
  • Don’t have your debit card information stolen. I did. Cover your debit cards when you pull cash out. I got robbed again, but it was just my two debit card numbers. Luckily I’m not rich and have fraud protection. 
  • Don’t get killed and don’t kill anyone else. This one can be applied anywhere you are. 

I found an interesting article on About.com about the Indonesia drug laws in case you're curious: Drug Laws in Bali and the Rest of Indonesia

Things That are Good to Know

  • The yellow liquid you see in yellow jars at convenience stores contain gasoline for your motorbike, not pee. So if you don’t see a gas station for a while, if you see jars that look like they have pee or mountain dew (or a weird mixture of both), know that it’s gasoline and you can buy some on the cheap for your motorbike (obviously not for cars). 
  • Use these guys for your transportation needs if you want a safe and air-conditioned ride. 
    • Gusti #1: +628123927711
    • Wayan’s contact info:  +6281337834230 or +6281933032268
        • These guys are completely trustworthy, and make sure you don’t lose your stuff. The prices are reasonable, though not exactly cheap (expect to pay 300,000 Rupiah to get from point A to point B) or $30. 
  • Navigating the Roads
    • Drive on the left side yo
    • Maps.me is awesome. Throw in an earbud while you’re motorbiking if you don’t feel like getting lost
    • Wear a mask, because there is a whole hell of a lot of exhaust. 
  • If you are from a wealthy country where the currency is high, be grateful. We can travel. We get weekends off. I’m pretty sure Europeans get half of their lives off for holidays on top of parental leave on top of who knows what else. 
    • Allow yourself to feel humbled by the experience. 

A Nickel For Your Thoughts:

  • Times I was offered a taxi: 1,548
  • Everyone I talked to in Bali knows:
    • That Barack Obama is the current president (I had no idea that Obama spent some time in his youth in Indonesia, which my driver Wayan educated me on).
    • That Trump is an idiotic sociopath (most of the world knows this, how is it that so many people in America don't get it?) Check out The Oatmeal's #DONMOJIS
  • I didn’t go to Mt. Agung, but you probably should because it looks awesome
  • Bali has a day of silence. Every business is closed, no-one drives anywhere, and shit is just kept chill, silent, and reflective. I, unfortunately, missed this by a day or two, but I think EVERY country should practice this. 

Best quote from my time in Bali:

“In Bali we are religious, but we are not extreme, and accept everybody. You wanna dress sexy? If you are ok with that I am ok with that. Okay if I just look?”

Places in Bali That Are Not Ubud

Bali is rad, and there are obviously some great places outside of Ubud. Though I didn't see everything, I've put together some notes on places I did get to experience. 

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

Simply put: do this if you're in Bali. I highly recommend taking a motorbike out there. Even if it rains (like it did for me), it was well worth it. I'm pretty sure the restaurant I went to gave me a good case of "Bali Belly" while I was waiting for the rain to subside and my clothing to dry a bit. Again, totally worth it. 

Kawi Temple

This place is cool, mainly because it’s so damn old, 11th century old. Otherwise ya know, it’s just ok cool.

*Tip: when you arrive at the parking lot where the taxi drivers park, and where (everyone?) pays 2000 Rp for parking, there may be a couple ladies that will wrap a sarong around you saying that you absolutely need a sarong to enter into the temple.

I was thinking, hmmm, I guess I need one and this is what happens right here in this part of Bali. 

That was the wrong thought process.

They were just hard-core pushy sales ladies. I bargained them down a few hundred thousand Rp, though I'm pretty sure I still overpaid by Bali standards. I wonder if it was just sheer laziness why I didn’t just take the thing off and move on. Or maybe I was "Assertive-Deficient" at that moment. 

In any case, when I got to the temple itself I found that they provided sarongs for free to wear while you’re in the temple. Shiiiiiiiit. 

Btw, if you want to enter into sacred places you gotta wear a sarong. Don't worry guys, though it's a bit like a dress you'll still feel beautiful and masculine. Maybe we can get that asshole Trump to come to Bali and wear sarongs, take a few yoga classes, and become a semi-rational human being. Yeah, I know, there's a better chance that the planet Mars will turn into a huge floating supermarket with advertisements that we can see but can't comprehend here on earth. Hell, that guy probably practices torture methods on the revived Sauron eye, sticking tiny Trump needles in them.

Mount Batur

Driving up and around Mount Batur made me feel like a part of my brain destroyed by alcohol in earlier years was suddenly restored. I could remember my full name and where I'd been for the past 48 hours! It definitely afforded incredible views of the Batur lake and then some. Once again I totally recommend taking a motorbike through it and going on toward the coast.

Fyi: it’s pretty steep and windy for a while, so if you’re not comfortable on a motorbike, maybe sit that part out. I would also make sure that you have plenty of gas. I was speaking with an English dude before I embarked on the journey who turned back because he didn't have enough fuel, and it sounded as though his motorbike had horrible gas efficiency. I ended up riding through a cloud on the way up and over the small mountain/big hill, then when I emerged on the other side there was a wide open view of the sea. 

Also, be careful when you're riding up that mountain. It's beautiful, but you need to pay attention to the incredibly windy roads that have no guard rail. If you fell off the road, well, the outlook wouldn't be good (you'd probably die or be very very mangled).

Padang Padang

This is a very small beach with amazing views. You have to walk down a number of steps to get to it, and will in all likelihood encounter some macaque monkeys along the way. The surf is good there too, and you have to swim out a ways to get to where the waves are.

FYI, there is an abundance of trash that you have to swim through. It’s pretty disgusting, but you could probably find things you may need like:

  • toothpaste
  • used underwear
  • half used aerosol cans
  • oil filters
  • every candy wrapper known to man and alien
  • the full wardrobe as you may have imagined it in Chronicles of Narnia

Tanahlot Temple and Norman

I went to this temple during the Kuningam ceremony, so this place was filled with both traditionally dressed Balinese and tourists. We couldn’t go into the temple, but it didn’t matter. It was well worth going. I met Norman and his family there who are pictured in the black and white photo below. They were super cool and kind. Though I had Bali Belly, I accepted some of the fruit that they offered. 

Despensar

So, Denpensar to me wasn’t much of a place I wanted to stick around in, however, you do fly into the city, so you'll likely see it unless you are in a coma or something on the way out of the city to Ubud.

Thoughts on Dispenser:

  • If you need electronic stuff you can go to Rimo. It's a pretty nondescript place, and when you walk in you'll be wondering if you're walking into an asylum where they'll rename you and tell you your whole life has been a lie and that you've always been there. Luckily that didn't happen. If your iPhone needs to be fixed, there is a dude there who is supposedly the best of the best. Sorry, I don’t remember the name of the store. This is what it actually looks like:
  • You know how in those travel show scenes where you see a ton of people on scooters, bikes, motorbikes, weaving between cars, trucks, people, etc., and you think, “geesh, that looks a bit hellish.” Well, it’s not sooooo bad, though it can be pretty bad at times. We’re talking all of us on scooters hopping up on sidewalks and god-knows-what-else to get through the packed-sardine traffic. I really wish I had mounted my camera for some of it. You get really close to fast moving heavy things while your a fast moving lighter thing.

Canggu

Canggu is a hip little beach town with great surfing and yoga. It’s beautiful, not rushed like other places, and has some great places to eat. It also seems like it could win the award for being the hipster capital of the world (you have competition Austin). Check this place out, it’s worth it. The beaches are pretty dirty here too, unfortunately. 

Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua is the opposite of Canggu. It’s a resort area, and the kilometers of sandy beach are gated. Every time I ride in there to get to the beach I had to go through a security checkpoint. It was beautiful, though, and had some decent surf while I was there. The beaches were kept pretty immaculate. They oughtta be because other people pay a whole load of cash to stay at some of the places close to it. It’s definitely has more of an upper-class vibe to it, and the surfboard renters seemed to be surprised when I wouldn’t pay their normal exorbitant prices. 

Kuta

Kuta sucks.

Just kidding, it just mostly sucks. I mean, there are great people there as well, but damn it’s just commercialized as hell and the shop people are waaayyyyyy too hungry. The beach is large and trashy. I’ll probably never be back in my lifetime unless I’m part of some beta teleportation machine test that goes awry. It has some cool history to it, though. 

Green Bowl

Green bowl is this very out-of-the-way beach. Contrary to what many claim in blogs, though it may have been true at the time of writing, it's not a hidden beach. Though it certainly wasn't crowded when I went either. 

Balingan Beach

This place is awesome and has some good reef break surfing. The views from atop the hills behind the beach afford some really great serene views. 

Ubud: The City that Sleeps but is Still Ultra-Rad

My first and last stop was Ubud, which is a hotspot for many things, including but not even slightly limited to:

  • Designer clothing (more for women than men from what I could tell) 
  • Yoga
  • Great restaurants
  • Cheap, great lodging
  • Taxi drivers
  • Westerners...lots and lots of Westerners
  • Massage Parlors
  • 1,246,397,201 scooters
  • Monkeys

Following are a few things I can speak to, though just like everything I write, I’m only scratching the surface of things. Good thing there are real writers out there doing this kind of thing. 

Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

If you get a chance, check this out. It’s riveting, with really cool dancing, chanting, and a dude who dances on burning things near the end. I went twice, and both times someone from the audience got freaked out when the guy starting kicking smoldering coconut husks. I would go again, and I've already been twice. 

Campuhan Ridge Walk

Level 3 contributor (whatever TF that means) from Tripadvisor wrote a great review which pretty much sums it up: 

The walk is not long and it suits everybody. On the way you can see a temple and the ricefields and at the end you have cafes where you can have some lunch. Its a great area where you can go walkibg, running, breath or even just take photos. CR: Tripadvisor

Best Wifi/Food/Ambience/Service Combination?

I used a list from the super cool site Trip Canvas (formerly Meh the Sheep) to find decent wifi: https://indonesia.tripcanvas.co/bali/fast-wifi-in-ubud/. In the process, I discovered the best one, which is not on the list, but should be now. The Taksu restaurant, which is a place for yoga and other things, won the Ubud Internet race for me. The service is outstanding, seriously. And the food is truly delicious. 

Getting a Tattoo in Bali

The artist at Bali Bagus is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of getting my old sun tattoo removed, or asked friends, family, other tattoo artists what could be done with it, to no avail. The problem turned out to be with me: I didn’t know exactly what I wanted; I just knew I wanted it to look better than it did. 

Finally, I came up with a general background that I sent to an artist, which was more than I gave to other artists, but still, in this case, it was a resilient, “hell yes we can do this.” It was a “shot in the dark” ya know; it could have gone very very badly. I stumbled across this place because I was looking for an iPhone case at the iStore across the street (yes, it’s called iStore, not an official Apple thing ya know). Other than that, I would have never even thought to come here. In fact, when I got back into town to have my skin drawing done, I went to the wrong studio because I lost his card. There is a Bali Bagus Studio 99, which is not the one I got my piece of work done at. Google Maps is no help either, as it only pulls up the 99 studio. So I will do my part for the tattoo world and show you where it is:

Location of the Bali Bagus tattoo shop:

This is right across the street from the Ryoshi Japanese restaurant: Jl.Hanoman No 68, Ubud, Kec. Gianyar, Bali 80571

A number of people ask me if getting a tattoo hurts. Now, I’m sure you can Google for some awesome insightful answers to how you go about conquering the pain, but I’m still going to throw down my thoughts here. For me, this is how it goes: For the first hour or two, hubris is by my side saying things like “we could do this all day buddy, no problem!” I can read and daydream a bit during phase 1. 

Then comes phase 2, which is the pain phase. Ahhhh pain. It’s where the skin starts to get really raw, and the nerve endings feel as though they’ve decided to become streakers and expose themselves all over the place. For me, phase 2 is when the artist starts hitting more sensitive areas. So what do you do?

After a couple hours, you really do feel like saying “okay, stop, stop stop stop. STOP THAT SHIT.” But, my artist was on fire. He was going at my skin as if possessed by the god of tattoo art. I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t want to interrupt his flow, and I thought maybe it would just be worse if we stopped and continued again. I also kept remembering what a friend told me regarding a culture where when a person (I think just dudes, not sure) gets an old school tattoo as a rite pf passage, they can’t show any signs of pain while getting it done. Otherwise, they’re a pussy or something, I dunno, I need to listen better. 

In any case, I set out to do just that and didn’t allow myself to so much as grimace. At least, I don't remember grimacing. 

How the hell did I do this while it felt like someone was repeatedly driving an ice pick into my chest and between my neck and shoulder blade? 

  1. I stopped resisting on all levels. I didn’t clench my muscles in response to the pain (well, I did but then remembered to try and unclench them). I didn’t keep thinking “stop stop stop motherfucker” even if that particular thought came around more than once. I just acknowledged and accepted what was happening. 
  2. I closed my eyes and tried to just meditate. Don’t get me wrong, thoughts do come, but you just let them come and go. 
  3. At times, focus on the pain, at other times, stand outside of it, as an observer of something that’s going on with your body.
  4. I’m pretty sure I also had the thought that it was a form of torture, and that I must not give up my secrets that the government has implanted in my brain!

Anyway, I’m really happy with how it turned out. Check that off the ever-expanding bucket list. 

Here's how it turned out:

Accommodation

As mentioned in my first post about Bali, Lilicita Inn is pretty damn amazing. It was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and it was $18 a night. The customer service was outstanding, the room was huge, the bathroom was huge and awesome. Seriously, it was just….freaking great. 

Yoga

I’m pretty sure I sweated out 10 pounds of water weight with each yoga session there. 

Conclusion

Ubud is awesome. 

15 Initial Impressions of Bali

Where and how do I begin with this stupendous island. It feels like a universe unto itself. Its geography is remarkable, its people beautiful (most of the people I met anyway), its culture rich, its religion ever-present, and its taxi drivers omnipresent. While Indonesia is primarily Muslim, Bali is primarily Hindu. “There is a temple for every household,” Gusti (Gusti number 2) my driver explained. “Every thing has a god. We make offerings everywhere…in the temple, in the street, many places. 

It keeps us busy.” 

Indeed as you walk the streets of Bali you will see offerings on the sidewalk, with incense burning (they have some of the best smelling incense). 

Without further adieu, here are my 15 Initial Impressions:

1. There are incredibly ornate statues EVERYWHERE. It's possible there are more statues here than there are Starbucks in the U.S. The numbers are too high for me to do the math. 

2. Wait, why are we driving on this side of the road and why is the steering wheel over there? Yes, they drive on the left side of the road. You get used to it. 

3. How are all these beautiful people not sweating like crazy wearing their awesome traditional accoutrement?

3. Most people seem to be genuinely rad and happy to talk with you. 

4. This culture embodies excellent customer service in many areas. In restaurants and hotels, you’ll find yourself being treated like a king, queen, prince, or princess, and it feels absolutely genuine in most cases. 

5. Taxi drivers and massage parlors are apparently mass produced and are available every ten seconds of your waking life. To put it another way: Just as there are an infinite number of dogs in the Philippines and Costa Rica, there are an infinite number of massage parlours and taxi drivers in Bali. There are probably more massage parlors and taxi drivers in Bali than there are grains of sand on earth, more than there are planets in the Andromeda Galaxy, more than…ok, I’ll stop with the hyperbole. But for real, a lot. 

6. In my math-deficient estimation, at least 1 million motor vehicles seem to take up a radius approximating a city block in Denpensar. *This is totally an exaggeration as an initial impression, but a reality when going into Denpasar on a scooter.

7. You can find awesome hotels on the cheap (one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in in my entire life of 39 years was Lilacita Inn, which was $18 USD a night). 

8. There are many wooden replicas of male genitalia of varying (I'm talking the difference between a smart car and a yacht) sizes available in gift shops, and these gift shops are almost as ubiquitous as massage parlors and taxi drivers. That means that there is an almost infinite number of wooden replicas of male genitalia in the country. I haven’t looked into why this is, and I don’t mind being ignorant about it either. 

9. There are a lot of people from Europe, Australia, and the states EVERYWHERE. I wouldn’t be surprised if I went to the most remote part of an island and was suddenly in the midst of a “Yoga and Dreadlocks Session for Tourists.” That’s not a thing yet that I know of, but it very well could be someday. 

10. Many locals wear really awesome traditional Balinese accoutrement, especially during funerals and ceremonies. See point 3. 

11. Many of the beaches have a shitload of garbage floating around in the water. Nusa Dusa is an exception, though I’ve heard there are more that are clean. Padang Padang was exceptionally disgusting and rubbish-filled. I swear it was like some very drunk city planner was in charge of creating a new waste site and was like: “fuckit, let’s throw all this shit in Padang Padang, I’m tired and want a taco.”

12. “Where are you from, “Where are you going,” and “Taxi” seem to be the 3 main opening sales lines anywhere on the island where tourists visit.

13. Much like the Philippines and Costa Rica, there are whole families cruising on heavily trafficked roads on nothing more than a small scooter, while wearing their awesome traditional garb. 

14. When I say I’m from the states, after a while they determine I mean American, and say Obama! They know about Barack there, as evidently our Commander in Chief lived in Indonesia for a while when he was younger. This was a fact that I did not know, but Gusti number 2 did. Gusto number 2 was my second driver named Gusti.

15. This is rad...this is just truly rad.

Palawan: A Spectacular Island to Visit Even if You're Violently Ill

When you look at a map, it looks as though Malaysia decided to cut off a sliver of itself and throw it over to the Philippines. If so, was it a gesture of good will or because of a lost bet? Only the geography gods know unless they’ve had too much to drink. 

Palawan Map.png

This post shouldn’t be long though I suppose it’s already in the TLDR category. I don’t have too much to say about Palawan, but I have put together a video which includes a bit about my kayaking experience off of El Nido, which was the highlight of my time on the island.

A quick note about my videos: I’ve decided to put my efforts into photos and writing. What this means is that I’m ok with the videos being of sub-standard quality. I’ll be posting them so that you can get some glimpses into what I’ve experienced, but don’t expect anything within a 7 million kilometer radius like the work of J.J. Abrams. 

Palawan is cool, and I imagine I may have found it a lot cooler if I wasn't consistently experiencing some illness or getting rained on. Maybe not, though, maybe I needed to be “down with the sickness,” as the Disturbed singer said long ago (I have no idea what he really meant by this, and I’m not looking it up). 

Initial Impressions

Puerto Princesa

I flew into the Puerto Princesa airport, then rented a bike from Palawan Days. It was a red beauty and looked like a badass bike though it basically had a scooter engine. 

Puerto Princesa is just kind of…eh. It has too many people packed into it, and really isn’t that cool. I did enjoy the Robinson’s Shopping center though. 

Tip: If you’re riding your bike through rain, invest in a rain coat. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t have one, and for the life of me, I couldn’t find one anywhere. For some reason I was more fixated on finding something to cover my bags that I attached to the bike behind me, so was asking around more about something to cover up my gear with. It was like a collective conspiracy by the city to make sure I didn’t find anything. People would tell me they had no clue, or that “maybe that shop over blah blah blah has one.” I even stopped at some shops where they had laundry done and the like, and asked if I could buy a big plastic bag they use for clean clothes. Nope. Not for sale. It was fucking weird, but whatever, I know persistence. 

Then I ended up at Robinsons. I was going into every shop that could conceivably have anything. There was a luggage compartment in one of the stores, and they had rain bags but they only came with expensive bags. Everyone said no, there wasn’t anything, or to try a different store. 

Then something dawned on me. 

Shower curtains! 

They used shower curtains in the Philippines right? I was in a store not unlike Macy’s or Target, and headed to their bath section. Lo and behold, I found myself a beautiful cheap shower curtain. I was proud. I was practically high-fiving the young ladies that were working there, who looked at me like I was part lunatic, half-crazed madman. I ended up using that thing extensively because I drove around in the rain A LOT. By the end of the trip, it looked as though someone wore it in a tough mudder race.

The Roads and Countryside

What can I say? Gorgeous. Despite the rain, the tour van drivers driving a million miles an hour, the big trucks spewing out plumes of exhaust that put the Lost monster to shame, the loss of hearing in one ear, the construction on narrow windy unpaved mountainous roads, the food poisoning, and the extra portion of rain, I loved it. Seriously, it was awesome, even if sometimes it was pretty uncomfortable. Here are some of the roadside views:

Port Barton

I spoke with a lot of people who made Port Barton sound like a long lost paradise, filled with chilled out leprechauns and magical dragon dust. Usually, when I get that kind of strong advice from more than one person, I feel the need to check it out. In this case, sorry, I wasn’t impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool and all, but the place I stayed in was overpriced and overall it was lackluster. I was able to capture some cool shots, though. 

El Nido

The town itself isn’t much. It has a lot of shops and people trying to sell you things. What’s AMAZING about El Nido is the natural beauty of the place. Check out the Wikipedia page for some good info on this beauty. 

For me, kayaking for a day was the highlight of my Palawan trip. You can find beaches that you can have all to yourself, and row past breathtaking rock formations jutting out of the sea. It’s best just to see pics of what I’m talking about:


Things to Know About and Possibly Avoid

  • If you are traveling domestically and have a flight transfer in Manila, know that you have to exit the airport and go to the entrance of the domestic terminal cuz the two ain't connected in the building yo.
  • If you go on an island hopping tour, be careful with the food. Well, be careful with the food anywhere on the island. When I first arrived the front desk person at my hotel told me a lot of foreigners were getting sick. I was feeling fine at that moment so of course arrogantly thought: “Hah! Those other Westerners with weak stomachs. I feel sorry for them, that they do not have a robust gastrointestinal system that exudes the very essence of ballast!”

Then I got violently ill 3 days later. I’m pretty sure it was from the meal they cooked on the island hopping tour. Some sea creature I ate just did not sit well. I’ll spare you the details, but my body was trying to use every available orifice to get rid of what felt like an alien invasion in my stomach.

Anyway, I have some footage of my kayaking experience in the following video. It starts at 2:24 into the video if you want to skip the other stuff. 

Thank you for reading my friends and family. 

Plan on Visiting the Philippines? Here are 10 Things You Should Know

I have a limited experience with the Philippines. Out of 7,000 islands, I went to a number I could count on my fingers and maybe include a toe or two. I was in Manila for a couple days, spent most of my time on Panglao and Bohol Island, and 1 week in Palawan. That’s not enough for me to give you the most comprehensive list ever, but I'm still going to dish  some knowledge out. Ready? Cool, let's do this. 

1. Make Sure You Know Your Visa Requirements and Book Your Flights Accordingly

I say this because it’s what I completely failed to do. 

If you’re American you get a 30-day visa stamp on your passport when you land in this great country. This varies from country to country, so check out your own government site to make sure you know how much time you have. If you don’t plan on staying past the initial 30-day visa (or whatever it is for you), then make sure you don’t book your flight 2 days after your initial visa expires. This is what I did, so I had to cough up $60 and go to one of their immigration offices. At least, you don’t have to wear pants at the immigration office in Puerto Princesa, which is where I went to get my extension. I was initially going to try and get it in Cebu and read that you had to wear pants. 

So I went in nothing but a loincloth, which raised some eyebrows and made some people vomit. Just kidding, I wore pants because I thought maybe you had to there as well. When I say "you have to wear pants" I mean that in some immigration offices you can't go in wearing shorts. In Puerto Princesa they just don't give a _______, in more ways than one.

Anyway, my mistake was something you’d expect a 2nd grader to make (or not, I really don’t know, they’re probably more advanced in math than I am). You can see my error by examining the dates below. Evidently I thought I could change the number of days in January. 

 

I guess it can be a pretty bad deal if you try and leave the country and they find out you’ve been there illegally for a while. Here's a good tip: never do something that could get you in legal trouble in another country. Ever seen "Locked Up Abroad?" Just check out some TripAdvisor info on the subject. 


2. Be Assertive and Bargain

With most things, unless you’re in a mall or a grocery store, you can bargain for the price of a product or service. If you buy something from someone on the street, get some offer counter-offers going. If only I could have bargained with the clerks at the Tarsier Botanika by Alona beach for their yoghurt. It was the equivalent of $1.50 per small container of not-that-great yoghurt. That’s what happens when Ronas runs out of yoghurt. I was at Ronas pretty much every day, which is a convenience store across the street. They only charged 38 pesos or so per thing of not-so-great yoghurt. That equals about 80 cents, which is much better. Hey, I’m on a budget ok? 

3. Transportation: Have an idea of how you'll be getting around

Manila

In Manila, I recommend taking Uber to get around, though there are a number of other options: the rail, Jeepneys, trikes, taxis, walking, floating (if you know how to do it), etc. 

Cebu

In Cebu, you can take Uber as well. Because I didn’t have a cellular connection there I had to rely on cabs a lot. Here're my two cents regarding cabs in Cebu as a foreigner: have them run the  meter. Otherwise, they’ll ask you at the beginning of the ride how much you want to pay. Or worse, some guy on the street will ask if you need a taxi, and when you say “why yes, I do indeed kind sir,” he goes and finds a taxi that will overcharge you like a mofo (because he'll get a cut from the overcharge). Thank you very much, kind sir on the street, but I can hail my own taxi thank you very much. 

The Ferry

Taking the ferry between Cebu and Bohol can be pretty cool, but the ticket lines can be confusing as hell, especially from Tagbilaran to Cebu. I always took the “fast ferry” with Oceanjet. I wish I had taken pictures to help explain, but that ship has sailed. Once your taxi, trike, helicopter, or whatever, drops you off, you’re going to go to the first of three lines outside so that you can enter the ferry terminal. First you go to the middle line to purchase your ticket. Next you go to the left line to get your seat number. Then you go to the far right line to pay the terminal fee. 

On the way from Cebu to Tagbilaran, there aren’t 3 ticket lines, but there’s usually a pretty hefty line to get your ticket. You then go to the terminal across the street, pay the terminal fee, then get your seat at the desk within the terminal.

Motorbike/Scooter Rental

Renting a motorbike is pretty easy. In Alona, you just need to walk down the street and someone will offer you one. You’ll find either automatic scooters or semi-automatic scooters, for the most part. I didn’t see any normal sized bikes for rent, but I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find one. 

In Palawan, I looked online and found Palawan Days. Their rates are very reasonable and they gave me a cool Yamaha YBR125G with knobby tires. Granted, it wasn’t powerful at all, but it was cheap and it got me through whatever terrain I needed to get through (which included dirt, mud, rain-slicked streets, and many long winding steep roads. 

You can totally bargain with the guys who rent their bikes on the street. I paid around $7 a day for 3 weeks. With a shorter time you will probably pay a bit more, but not necessarily. 

Private Transport

Private transport on Bohol Island is awesome with Ms. Lilette and company if you need it. You can book here: http://www.boholtravelbuddy.com.

Using Maps Apps

If you're like me, your brain just doesn't retain all the turns that you need to take on your journey. In fact, I would say that my brain has weakened in that area substantially, as I'm ridiculously dependent on either Google Maps, Maps.me, or (rarely) Apple Maps. Maps.me is rad because you use it offline. Just make sure you download the map before you go out on the road. How to use the maps while on a motorbike? You can use some sort of attachment to have your phone visible with the road, or what I've been doing recently is just use one earbud to hear the audio directions. 

4. Toilets

Sometimes there is no toilet paper, and sometimes there is no handle, button, automatic sensor, etc. to flush the toilet. Who doesn't like a challenge right?

When I first experienced the absence of any mechanism to flush the toilet was at a restaurant in Panglao, and I had no idea what the hell to do. Not to mention it was hot and humid, and I was already sweating in there. 

I lifted up the toilet lid…nope, nothing that was going to help me there. There was a large bucket filled with water that had a small bucket inside it next to a faucet on the wall, so I kind of just thought I’d try and dilute the pee-water with the water from the wall faucet. As it turns out, this is almost what you’re supposed to do. Evidently you’re supposed to fill the bucket up with water and pour it in so that gravity takes care of the flushing. I never did get the hang of it so as some other blogger put it, I mainly just ended up diluting my pee-water. 

Now, the main use for the toilet bucket is to wash your starfish after you poop. I never did have to do this, but the people from the following blog explain how to do it pretty well: http://www.wowasis.com/travelblog/?p=347.

Don't worry, though, most touristy places have toilet paper. Oh, and my friends from the Philippines, please correct me if I'm wrong about any of this.  

5. Mismatched Couples and Ladyboys

This isn't exactly pertinent information, but I'm including it anyway.

You will see plenty of very Mismatched Couples. By plenty, I mean enough to make your mind spin a bit. Don’t get me wrong, anything that goes on between 2 consenting adults is totally cool. It's their business as long as they aren't messing with anyone else's life. 

[Begin Diatribe Digression] To digress a bit, when I hear about people comparing gay sex or marriage (between two consenting adults), to bestiality or pedophilia I'm astounded at the utter lack of logic associated with that line of reasoning. Is having sex with a rabbit something the rabbit has consented to? Can a barracuda agree to marry some guy? It’s just idiotic. Get over it. [End Diatribe Digression]

What I mean by mismatched couples is that there are more than a few instances of indeterminately aged old men with very young Filipinas. Usually these dudes have a double buddha belly as well, for some reason. I believe it was a taxi driver that told me that it had something to do with money, but who knows. Maybe it’s true love. Just be prepared to see it when you go. 

Another phenomenon that is ubiquitous in the Philippines is “ladyboys.” They're male transvestites, and yes, even if you're heterosexual or whatever, there's a good chance you'll catch yourself with a thought like this: "Oh, wow, what an attractive young woman...wait, is that an Adam's apple?" 

6. Wifi and Cell Service

The Wifi In Most Places Is In No Rush to Load Your YouTube Video

Wifi will be somewhat elusive and slow for the most part. It’s just how it is, though there are some exceptions here and there. Consider it a practice in patience.

Cell Service

I was still able to text and call from pretty much wherever, but I had no data outside of Manila. It just wasn't working, so you may want to get a prepaid sim if you experience the same thing. I read about others who ran into the same thing, and they had the same model of iPhone. 

7. Many Things are Inexpensive Compared to London

Stuff is pretty cheap, but it depends on where you go and what you buy. See yoghurt example above. It’s pretty easy to convert dollars to Philippine pesos, with one dollar equal to roughly 50 pesos. At the time of this writing, it’s 47.64 pesos to the dollar. This is much more manageable than the Indonesian rupiah which is 13,430 to the dollar. 

8. English is an Official Language

English is one of the country’s official languages, so that’s cool. Just like anywhere in the world, including countries where English is the primary language, some speak better English than others. Cebu is pretty phenomenal because a lot of people speak excellent English. 

9.  Not Everyone is "Out to Get You"

You don’t have to worry about being swindled all the time. Just use common sense and assert yourself when you need to, and protect your belongings like you would being a tourist anywhere. Not everyone is “out to get you.” My friend from the Philippines was telling me about someone from a European country who had a complex about getting swindled all the time by everybody in the Philippines. I won’t say his name here but it rhymes with bantonio. He was also extremely judgmental against the Filipino people, putting his country above the Philippines in a condescending manner. 

Do not do this.

This makes you a complete asshole. Look, I have some critiques of the Philippines, just like I have critiques of every damn country including my own. 

But I don’t go into someone else’s house and talk about how much better my house is. That's what this guy was doing, and that’s the essence of douchebaggery. When you go to someone else’s house, you respect their house rules, even if you don’t agree with all of them, and you don't insult the family who built it. Got it? Rule number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5: don't be a condescending asshole.

How Are The People Really?

Most Filipinos are very warm and accepting. Some Filipinos are also assholes. Sorry, this is the bitter truth about every nation or group of people everywhere. I get tired of reading blogs that sugarcoat everything saying that every local is like a unicorn with poop that smells like butterscotch (wouldn’t that be cool?).

That’s not reality. There is NO country out there that doesn’t have its share of assholes. If you believe otherwise, then you are completely delusional and need to stop taking ecstasy for a while. 

So go there expecting a ton of exceptional people who are kind and giving, but don’t be naive and think that everybody just wants to pinch your cheeks and make sure your stay is a field of rainbows and unicorn kisses with free butterscotch candy. 

10. Drive Safely

This is one of those no-brainers, but hear me out. 

The reason I included this is because at any point in time on the road there may be a dog, schoolchildren, a whole family on a scooter, a truck coming at you, or anything under the sun. I can’t even tell you how many kids waved and said “hello!!!” as I passed. A LOT of people walk on the sides of the roads. Sometimes a group of school kids will take up half the road. There are tons of schools along the main roads in Bohol. Unless you're a complete sociopath, I'm sure you don't want something like running someone over on your conscience. 

One thing that I’ve gotten adept at is making sure to honk my horn to alert other drivers, people, or animals on the road to my presence. 

Seriously, the dogs know to stay on the side of the road at the sound of a horn. It’s almost comical. If I spotted a dog starting to wander onto the road I would honk and he or she would go back to the side. On that note, there are many dogs that will just sleep on the side of the road. 

I first experienced the honking phenomena in Costa Rica, and wondered why in the hell people were doing it all the time. Now I get it, and do it all the time. It really works, and you should do it too. 

Bohol Belieber: A Bohol, Philippines Review

Just what does the Canadian pop-star J. Biebs have to do with this blog? Nothing, that is, until I came to the Philippines.

Maybe this is a worldwide phenomenon, but during my ENTIRE time on Panglao Island/Bohol, I heard the song “Sorry” every single day. 

When I think back to that time now it seems as though that song never stopped playing. It was like a jettisoned chapter from 1984 where Orwell's government decides to play some pop song over and over again until even the hipsters (some of whom normally start despising bands when they achieve a modicum of success) start bobbing their heads and mouthing the parts.

You don't need to look the song up…it will probably invade my brain somehow by a quasi meta-transitive effect. It seemed like it was a religious thing after a while. The House of Bieber! Even when it wasn’t playing it was as if some airwave somewhere in the world was being picked up by my brain. Or maybe the song just played in my head. Near the end of the month, I even started to wonder if I was beginning to like it.

Yes, I began to experience the musical version of Stockholm Syndrome.  I really don’t have anything against Bieber, though I don't subscribe to his musical creations; it could have been any song and it would have ended up seeming like someone was taking a drill to my head and injecting an ooze of pain in my head because it was just played so damn much. Don’t worry, this post isn’t about Justin Bieber, it's just that whenever I think about my time there that @#$%@#$ song comes to mind. 

Do I like the song now you may be wondering? I honestly don't know. I'm super confused and need a therapist. 

Initial Impressions

The Tagbilaran Airport

It's a small airport, and there is no long winding air-conditioned tunnel leading to cushy airport hangars with tons of restaurants from the airplane. They place some stairs in the front and the back, and you walk to the airport on the tarmac that would probably blister your feet if for some odd reason you decided against shoes that day. 

As is the case in many countries at small airports you will be immediately bombarded with offers for taxi rides, tours, and god knows what else once you exit the airport. I wouldn't be surprised if someone offered me a kidney at a "special price just for me." It's just how it is. Be prepared to ignore a lot of people. 

The Weather

The nice thing is that on the way to my apartment the air was cool, as though an air conditioner was caressing my skin.

Of course, that was the taxi ride in, and it had air conditioning. 

Otherwise, it was usually hot like a couple of suns making sun love (you're welcome for that odd fiery mental image). When I wasn’t in air conditioning, I could feel the UV rays smashing down on me, browning my skin as if getting me ready to be dished up to the gods as an appetizer. 

So yeah, it was hot and sunny most days; perfect beach weather ya know. By the end of my Philippines trip, I had a nice head-to-toe tan…except for my midsection. So I guess you could say I looked a bit like a very elongated Oreo. I can’t think of a better simile at the moment. 

Another day on the beach - the rough life ya know

Another day on the beach - the rough life ya know

The Air

After a couple of days, I rented a bike from a guy named Winston. His friend also had a cigarette brand name, but I don't remember what it was (it would have been awesome if it was Virginia Slim). As I drove my 125cc cool-as-hell Yamaha scooter through town and around the island it smelled as though people were burning things. This happened in town too, as I was walking, running, or standing there looking lost. 

I found out that it’s because people were burning things. I mean, they were burning everything. I wouldn't be surprised if someone just decided to say "fuckit', let's burn this car, it doesn't work anymore anyway."

The trash burning thing is kind of a turnoff, probably because I wasn't burning things along with them. After a couple hours of inhaling acrid trash pollution combined with the vehicle exhaust that is never-ending you start feeling a bit like cheap cigarette chain-smoker. So my advice is this: when you rent your motorbike make sure to wear a mask, bandana, or even clean underwear (or dirty if you're kinda freaky) around your face, because you don’t want to be breathing everything that is in the air as you cruise around. I think it would be kind of funny to see someone using underwear as a breath mask anyway. Please send pictures if you do this. 

Seriously, please do this and send pictures.

TIP: Unless you like breathing in exhaust and acrid rubbish fumes, cover that schnoz up.

 

It's cool renting a bike because you never know what you may see along the way, even if you do inhale a football field's worth of C02 emissions.  

It's cool renting a bike because you never know what you may see along the way, even if you do inhale a football field's worth of C02 emissions.  

Things Seen or Experienced

Alona Beach

I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Alona Beach, but overall it's pretty cool. 

The Good

  • The sunsets are incredible. Seriously. They just don’t quit, and every 30 seconds or so change colors. Just when you think it’s about to get dark, WHAM! more color and plenty of light. It’s almost eerie. More than once I thought to myself: if only orgasms lasted this long, people may be happier...but probably not.
At the Bohol Bee Farm restaurant. 

At the Bohol Bee Farm restaurant. 

  • The snorkeling can be decent. When you hit the beach from the main road in just go left all the way to the end. You can swim out to where an area is roped off (if you go in the roped off area like I did you’ll get yelled at from a person with a megaphone while sirens go off). I guess it’s a protected area. I just thought it was a misplaced swimming area.

Side note: I have some video that I need to get around to editing, so maybe within the next 5 years or so I'll get something out there so you can have some cool POV Philippines action. (Wow, that just sounds wrong.)

  • It’s pretty safe as far as I could tell. 
  • There are some decent roads to run on if you're into that sort of thing. 
  • Generally, people are pretty cool
  • It's a good place to find some good food, have some cheap drinks, and listen to old grunge covers by a Filipino dude with a seriously good voice. Just hang a right from the main road during dusk and you'll hear it. It's right before the Thai restaurant called "Isis." Yes, it's a rather unfortunate name, but I assume they, like the band Isis or the fictional International Secret Intelligence Service from the ultra-rad show Archer had it before the murderous terrorist organization. Oh, and as my friend Lo pointed out the original name attributed to an Egyptian goddess.

The Not So Good

  • It gets annoying as hell walking around there because every other person is trying to sell you something. I can ignore people, but damn, these guys can be relentless. Used car lots should make this prime scouting territory. "No" is not really part of their vocabulary. “Sir, motorbike sir, sir, island hopping tour sir, sir sir sir sir sir sir sir sir.”
    • You will be offered everything from sunglasses (even if you are wearing a pair, have a couple strung around your neck, are selling them too, they’ll still to try and sell you some), drugs, motorcycles, massages from the massage ladies on the beach, “massages” from girls or ladyboys at night, shoes, taxis, island hopping tours, etc. It gets really old really quick though I try and maintain a respectfully indifferent disposition, politely declining or pretending that there isn't an incessant and annoying human trying to extract money from me.

Recently I've taken to just saying "HI!" really loudly with a half maniacal smile plastered on my face when someone tries to sell me something, or when I can tell they're trying to engage in "sales foreplay." 

What is sales foreplay? Following is an example: 

Person on Street: "Where are you from?"
You: "Norway"
Person On Street: "Ohhhh! Norwegian Wood. You want girl?" foreplay has officially ended and it's selling time now
You: "Ummm, no."
Person On Street: "You need taxi?"
You: "........."
Person on Street: "Where you going?"
You: "HI!"

I've found the "HI!" method to be both fun and 67% effective in deterring them from pursuing anything further. 

  • It's a bit of a party place, which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your particular disposition.

The Whatever

  • There is a lot of coral and sea urchins once you go a few meters in on the beach, so pack your coral shoes. 

White Beach

I was here for a day. It’s cool enough, and is wider than Alona. Don’t try and walk in a “resort only” zone; the guards will stop you. I kind of felt like straddling the free beach zone with the resort beach zone just to see if I could make an eye twitch, but I don't think I did. I guess this beach just didn’t have much allure for me overall. 

Danao Beach

I’m not sure about the parts of the beach where people actually go swimming. The only part I went to was where sunsets are incredible, but trash is everywhere. It was a terrible beach and a wonderful beach. It was beautiful and it was disgusting. 

danaobeach

 

Bacsilag and Virgin Islands 

These are the main hop islands, that is, they are usually offered together as part of an island hopping tour. Don’t worry, you don’t need to ask around about them. By the time you actually make it to the beach you will have been asked about 20 times if you want to buy one. Be ready to negotiate. I got pretty lucky in that an English couple offered to take me along in their tour that they had already negotiated the price on. Score for me. 

Bacsilag is great for snorkeling. I saw some pretty amazing things out there in the deep blue, however I really wanted to be scared out of my mind by a large sea creature. I was disappointed, but there is still plenty of time!

The Virgin Island is actually a really cool little island for snapping pics. 

The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary

These little mammals are nocturnal and sensitive. They are incredibly small, (about 4 inches tall) one of the smallest primates on the planet in fact, and can be found only in a few SE Asian islands. Supposedly (I’m going off of this Huffington Post article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/12/tarsiers-threat-humans_n_1143915.html) their eyeballs are as large as their brains and they can rotate their heads a full 180 degrees. Pretty crazy eh?

To be honest, it was cool seeing them, but you really only need about 15 minutes and you’re good. I have to say that I felt like I was encroaching on their territory a bit, and that there were just entirely way too many white westerners wandering around there snapping photos. Evidently it’s gotten a lot better, but something about it all still felt a bit off. 

Evidently some places used to have the Tarsiers in cages, or tourists could be loud and demanding of them. This in turn was a catalyst for the Tarsiers to commit suicide. Yes, they do not like the stress of tourist demands, nor do they like being in a cage. Can you blame them really? 

Loboc River and Nuts Huts

The Loboc River is located on the main island. It’s so lush around there I wouldn’t be surprised if I threw a pumpkin seed on the ground I wouldn’t have a pumpkin in an hour. After I saw the little Tarsiers I was speaking to a Swedish couple who told me about Nuts Huts. No, it’s not some weird sexual thing, but the name is rather unfortunate. Pretty easy to remember though. 

They told me about swimming up the river to a waterfall, which was about 600 meters up from Nuts Huts. I thought, what the hell, sure why not. So I cruised over there and got out the go pro and my waterproof thing with my iPhone. I asked some others who were swimming in there about doing it, and they said they had just been swimming there and to be careful…with a “I’m kind of fearing for this bald white guy’s life right now.” So I swam and soon discovered that I was going against the current. 

About 3/4 of the way there I noticed a group of people just hanging out on a dock. They were just chilling, but they were all dressed the same. I said hi and asked them how much further it was to the waterfall. One dude told me to come on up, and I was grateful because I was a bit tired and could use the break. Then a boat came to the dock. This is where things got awesome. 

You see, Loboc river is renowned for its boat cruises, and it turned out that this is one of the stops some of them make. All those people that were dressed the same on the dock? Well they were performers, and I felt really lucky to be part of it. I was filming it when a lady gestured for me to join the stick dancing while she held the camera. Why not?

It was kick ass, but I had to move on. I had a waterfall to see, and my body wasn’t swimming with me out of the water. This is where the current started to get pretty strong, and I noticed that just my average swimming strokes were barely getting me anywhere. Boats passed me. Two Canadian women passed me on kayaks. I spoke with 2 German dudes who said they did the same the other day, and that the current starts to get pretty damn strong. I couldn’t give up, so I kept going, and going, and going, until I finally made it to an outcropping of rock that I stayed on for a bit. It was like my own island, and boy did the tourists get a kick out of seeing me hanging out on my little island. There has to be a number of “crazy bald guy living on rock” pictures out there in a variety of Asiatic languages. They were super cool though and I invited some to join me. There were no takers, and I was okay with that. It was an exceptional workout, and I’m pretty sure I got an earache for about a week because of it. Totally worth it. 

Oh yeah, the waterfall itself? I’m not really sure it qualifies as a waterfall. That part was anticlimactic, but in all other respects that was just super cool. 

Here's a short video (not the best quality) with the Loboc River Performers:

Super cool...

A taxi tryke swooping past above the Loboc river. 

A taxi tryke swooping past above the Loboc river. 

Sagbayan Peak

Nothing much to say except it’s pretty cool. I didn’t see any other Westerner along the way to and from the place, which was pretty nice. Don’t get me wrong, nothing against my own western self and crew, but it’s always good to have more of a solid cultural experience. 

The view from Sagbayan peak

The view from Sagbayan peak

Chocolate Hills

I’m guessing this is what Bohol is most known for. During the dry season these hills turn brown, hence the name Chocolate Hills. When I went they were more like Avocado Smoothie Hills, which was fine by me. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Avocado Smoothie Hills

Avocado Smoothie Hills

 

Loboc Eco-Tourism Adventure Park

This is a fun place to go and zipline 1 kilometer above the Loboc river. My super cool hot geek friend Lo and I checked this place and CHAP out.

The view from the tram

The view from the tram

Chocolate Hills Adventure Park

You can read up on it, but CHAP is the adventure park with zip line bikes. Yes, you actually have to pedal across a steel line, though it’s not as scary as it may sound. If you want to bring your GoPro you need to have a head strap, which I didn’t have so I left my Session behind. You’re secured really well on the bike, and really all you have to do is pedal. There is no steering involved. At about halfway across I had the sudden impulse and strong desire to go really fast to the other side. It was a whim, but the boys on the other side felt the need to do some polite reprimanding. 

“Regular speed sir.”

“Enjoy the view sir.”

“Remember, normal speed sir.”

I’m pretty sure they told me to go a normal speed about 10 times. On the way back I played nice, but made sure to stop halfway through because my friend Lo was on her way and I thought it would be fun to do a nonchalant “hallo there lovely, fancy seeing you here. What are you doing so high up, I thought you were going to be at your cousin’s fundraiser…” 

When I got back to the other side I believe I received a few more “regular speed sir”s or "you go fast sir”s. There was a Korean couple that were laughing their asses off as they mimicked how fast I was going. They were pretty funny as they were describing it. Evidently it was a bit of a spectacle. 

They have some other things there too like hanging bridge walks and stuff. That was my favorite part because my friend Lo kept on yelling at me thinking that I was making the whole bridge shake on purpose. I was laughing my ass off. For whatever reason there was a group of people below us all dressed the same watching the spectacle. I guess they thought I was doing it on purpose too, according to Lo.


Hinagdanan Cave

Well, I was expecting more. It’s a cave, and it’s pretty cool, but not really all that cool. I think I was in there for 5 minutes max then jetted off into the sunset on my scooter. 

Bars and Restaurants

This isn’t really my forte, but I’ll throw in my 5 cents nonetheless. For the top pics you’re better off just TripAdvisoring, but if you want to escape all the beach bars and just go somewhere to have a chill beer with amusing people, there’s a place just down the road from the Wok Bar. For the life of me I don’t remember the name, and it’s possible I never knew the name in the first place. 

This is where I encountered the following one night: Hans the German who liked to balance glasses on his head, burn his arm hair, arm wrestling other patrons, sing German opera, and generally be awesome. Tom is a good ol' English boy who has an affinity for Belvedere and bought me one with Coke even though I had 2 drinks in front to me already. Then there’s the incredibly crass owner Bob, who will definitely say something that will make you cringe, but I think he’s really just a stand-up comedian on duty at all times. Plus he does not shy away from buying drinks for the patrons (I had to walk home that night). Then there’s Bob’s girlfriend Geraldine, who is calm and collected. There are 2 servers there, Karen and Cherry Mobile. Karen is very nice and cool. Cherry (obviously not her real name) is a jokester and has very absolute thoughts on God. Anyway, at the end of the night, I paid 2 dollars, that’s it. Go there, it’s cool. I wish I knew the name of it. They have reggae on Thursday nights. 

Oh, I definitely recommend checking out the Bohol Bee Farm restaurant as well.

Interesting Tidbits

Tally

How many times I heard the word sir: 4,352

How much car exhaust inhaled: the equivalent of 459 cigarettes, though that's probably being modest.

How many stray dogs: infinite

How many times I was offered a massage: 139

**these calculations were done by writing down the first number that came to mind, which is of course 99% accurate.

End of Post

OK, that's about it for now. I really wish I could adequately describe all my experiences, but until I have a full-time camera crew who knows how to use decent equipment, this kind of thing will have to suffice.  I'm going to put together another post about essential things you should know when traveling to the big PH, as well as a review of Palawan.  

Thanks for reading!  

Can Anything Good Come Out of Manila?

This is my first post from a series on the Philippines. There is just too much to write about, so I'll start with my first destination in this amazing country, which only lasted about 2 days: Manila.

Can anything good come from Manila? Ask anyone from Panglao island and they would either say no or "how the hell should I know I can't afford to fly there."

I think Manila is worth visiting, but only for a day or two. Believe me, it does have its own beauty, but there are thousands of islands to visit, so it doesn't make sense to stay unless you have a ton of time, are enamored with the place, or decide that your true calling in life is to be a Manilian (I have no idea if they call themselves Manilians, but it sounds cool as hell).

Initial Inpressions

It reminds me of Juarez, Mexico mainly because of the traffic, but also because of the smells and abundance of people. It does not have a kind smell generally speaking, at least where I stayed and ventured to, and  the air was warm with smog. *Note to my Filipino Manila friends: I don't mean to offend, I'm offering my honest impression of the city. I spoke with a very kind, intelligent, and gorgeous Cebuana (a Cebuana is a girl from Cebu) recently who informed me these things can be taken the wrong way. Much love to you and your country.

The place where I stayed is called La Verti residences, and it was pretty decent, especially at around $30 a night. It's an upper middle class (I think) high rise smack dab in the middle of craziness. Walking around that area could be somewhat of a nightmare with so many buses. I think there are just as many buses in Manila as there are dogs in Costa Rica, which may as well be called infinite. I had a pretty great view of the skyline. The ocean was usually obscured, though you could make out the outlines of boats in the distance through the oft orange-ish haze. Once I walked outside of the high-rise, reality and the way of life for many living in the city always struck me. There is strife and 7-11's. Yes, 7-11's are abundant in this city, for better or worse. American commerce knows no bounds, and neither does strife. Hi America! I love ya but damn you're everywhere son. 

The view from my Airbnb balcony

The view from my Airbnb balcony

I was surprised to find that the time change is not completely unpleasant, though for a couple of days it seemed as though I kept falling sideways to the left. Maybe my body was confused about being on the other side of the planet. The change in time induces a sort of haze, and taking a nap at any given time becomes the norm for a few days.

My other view, facing the sea

My other view, facing the sea

Shotgun Arm

What the hell does this mean? This is a note that I made while in Manila, and I have no idea what it means. You would the phrase "shotgun arm" would be a powerful enough mnemonic device.  

The Streets

There is a lot of poverty in Manila. Infants can be seen sleeping on cardboard a meter away from a sleeping homeless dog. There are quite a few homeless individuals and families scattered throughout the city. It's not the same type of homelessness that we often see in major cities in the states, if I may be so bold as to classify homelessness. In U.S. cities we get used to seeing many homeless persons in rags emanating a sewer-like smell and talking to no one in particular (yes there are exceptions and I'm generalizing/stereotyping here). In Manila, like other cities in developing nations there are many people of all ages lying around inert, sitting quietly as a family, or begging. This is not to say that every square inch of the city looks like this. Quite the contrary, however, it is substantial enough that it's worth noting.  

I won't sugarcoat it; much of the city is dirty, and no, children should not be sleeping on the sidewalk.

There are some things that I feel a city just shouldn't ever do without. One of these things is having trash cans made available to the public, trash service, and no infants sleeping on cardboard in the middle of a hot day. 

I spoke with a few native Filipinos later and found that, surprise surprise, many of the problems in the Philippines are a direct result of action or inaction by greedy corrupt politicians. I'm merely an outsider looking through an admittedly distorted lens. I would love to do a deep dive akin to what Tim Urban does in his ridiculously awesome site waitbutwhy.com, but I know I won't anytime soon. I have a very limited knowledge about all of this, including the social-economic state of things, as well as political. So take my initial impressions for what they are: fragmented, real, narrow, honest, and likely out of context.

Some things aren't easy to see while you travel. Questions enter your mind like: "should I stop everything that I'm doing in life and try to do something about this crazy shit?" In the end you become an Observer Of Society, an OOS if you will. One of the great things about travel is that it can open your eyes to things, and can act as a catalyst to get you involved in positive social change.

Okay, enough on that subject. I'm not ready to be a revolutionary just yet. Anyway if I did it would more closely resemble Don Quixote as opposed to a Che Guevara or [insert revolutionary of choice here]. 

Road Transportation

*I didn't try out the rail system, so maybe that's a better way to get around, I don't know.

In any case...

The buses are these little trucks called Jeepneys, which are very antiquated looking, but also cool in a cartoonish kind of way. They are ubiquitous in the Philippines, and especially so in Manila. There of course trikes and taxis, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. 

Uber is available in Manila, which is the way I recommend getting around the city. The ride rate is always going to be reasonable and you can trust the drivers (more than the taxi drivers anyway). Independent of the type of road transportation you use, know that it is going to take a while to get to your destination. The streets are just too congested AT ALL TIMES. This leads me to my next point, which is: fuck taxis in Manila. I just had one experience so it's purely anecdotal, but it certainly was asinine enough to stop me from ever taking one again the this city.

The Taxi Ride

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

Filipinos are awesome, don't get me wrong, but there are always a few questionable characters anywhere you go. Evidently the taxi drivers are somewhat notorious in Manila for being a tad batshit crazy. It worked out though, as I found a cool restaurant to chill at, after which I used Uber. Thanks old smelly crazy taxi guy!

The Sights

To be honest, I just picked a few of the top Tripadvisor attractions and went with that. This included Rizal Park, Paco Park, and Intramuros. It was definitely worth seeing these places and exploring them. You can read up on them, but I'll relate just a couple things from my time at these places.

Paco Park

Paco park is beautiful, though the experience is somewhat sullied by the loud music playing through PA speakers around the entire little place. There were a couple nooks in the back that I decided to explore. When I went into one there was a group of schoolchildren hanging about. They started chanting "selfie, selfie, selfie." So the first selfie shot in the Philippines turned out to be a group selfie.

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Rizal Park

It's a big park with cool things, and tons of people go there to hang out. 

Rizal park at dusk

Rizal park at dusk

Intramuros

From Wikipedia: Intramuros (Spanish, "within the walls") is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, it was the original city of Manila and was the seat of government when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Districts beyond the walls were referred as the extramuros of Manila, meaning "outside the walls".

This is a must see if you're going to be in Manila. It's fun to wander around there and just soak it in.

When I'm traveling I usually end up talking with a number of different fellow travelers at tourist destinations, but that day turned out to be a bit different.

As I was walking out of Intramuros yet another group of school kids appeared. Instead of chanting for a selfie they asked if they could interview me.

I told those kids to scram and get a job or something, and work on Christmas in a coal mine.

Not really...of course I said yes. 

When I said "sure" they were ecstatic. I could tell right away that this was for a school project, and was happy to provide my uneducated answers.

They asked me a number of different questions about social and cultural differences between my country and theirs, you know, the kind of questions you'd expect from a homework assignment. They recorded the whole thing from a tablet and took notes. They were very kind and respectful. It was really really cool.

At the end of the interview every single one of them shook my hand and thanked me. They told me that I was the only one who even acknowledged them.

This is sad and kind of messed up.

I get it, you can't really trust anyone, and a lot of times anyone of any age might be trying to sell or steal something (read about how I got robbed in Buenos Aires). But come on, you can use some discernment and common sense. If a group of schoolchildren in uniform ask to interview you, don't be a douchebag. 

Isn't that what the golden rule really is? Don't be a douchebag, that's it. World problems solved. Ha! 

I have so much more to write about, but for now I've got an island called Palawan to explore.

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, many good things come from Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing how this scruffy giant of a city turns out in a couple years. 

The school kids who interviewed me

The school kids who interviewed me

Paco Park entrance

Paco Park entrance

Baluster de San Diego

Baluster de San Diego

St. Agustin church

St. Agustin church

Philippines flag in Rizal park

Philippines flag in Rizal park

If You're Heading to New York, Don't Stay in New Jersey

Some Helpful Tips if You Plan on Visiting this Great Place that Arthur Dent Never Truly Believed Existed

New Jersey is not New York. It sounds obvious, right? Let me be very clear on this. New Jersey is not New York, so if you plan on visiting New York, stay in New York. 

This is what I didn’t do. 

To give you a bit of context, I was on a brief hiatus from my foreign travels to visit family and friends during Christmas. For those of you just reading this blog, I’m one of those “I quit my cozy corporate job to travel the world” characters who are becoming more mainstream.

I found a spectacularly cheap flight to Manila, PH out of JFK (it was $399.80), so I thought I’d spend a few days in NY before hitting the sandy beach islands of the Philippines. I’m a fierce advocate of using Airbnb pretty much anywhere in the world, and NY was no exception. 

So I poured my coffee that had the hue of intensely dark chocolate and began to search. There are a few key factors that I consider when looking for a place: 1) it has to be inexpensive 2) it should be located a reasonable distance from where I want to spend most of my time, and 3) it can’t be a dilapidated uninhabitable 4-wall nightmare.

Pretty simple right?

The problem this time is that I got point number 2 completely wrong. I would have loved to stay in Manhattan, as that’s where I was going to be spending my time, but it was a bit too pricey. In retrospect, and of course after being advised/berated (rightly so) by a friend who lives there, I should have stayed in Brooklyn. To be honest, I should’ve stayed in any one of the 5 boroughs where I could skip over to a subway station. 

Instead, I stayed in a place that I believe to be in a separate dimension called North Bergen, which is in New Jersey. If you look at it on a map, it looks as though it’s just a quick swim across the Hudson and voila, you’re in Manhattan. Okay, fine, no-one should be swimming across the Hudson, winter or summer, but still it just looked so close. And the place I booked looked so cozy and nice. “Only 15 minutes to Manhattan” was somewhere in the description. I could deal with that. I could swallow some pride and show some love to NJ. 

I quickly found out that in North Bergen surreal bourgeois suburbia pervades the air like a quickly proliferating mutating virus like the one in 12 Monkeys series. Maybe it was just the weather. It’s just my take on the scene; I’m sure a lot of people love it, like the people I stayed with. 

The people I stayed with were great, a Columbian couple that I was able to practice my Spanish with. I love em’, but they’re more comfortable outside of the city. The city freaks em’ out a bit. That’s okay, I get it, there are a lot of people, and many of them are batshit crazy. I do have to say though, compared to Los Angeles, New York is pretty damn sane.

Anyway, let’s first talk about the transportation situation. This will help you if you still decide that you would like to have a nice surreal bourgeois suburban setting to come home to at night after New York hip styling.  

You have the following options if you want to head over to New York:

Uber (don’t do this): there is a $15 charge to cross the Lincoln tunnel (I assume it’s the same for the others). Talk about fucking expensive. When the Uber driver handed the toll person a $20 only to get $5 in change back, I thought wow, that’s fucked up. I also thought, damn, I better tip this guy. So I Googled something about Uber tipping recommendations for NY.

This was the wrong search, which I’ll explain in a bit. 

Uber is cashless. The drivers want to add the option for tipping in the app like Lyft. I personally love the idea of not having to consider a fucking tip, though I want to be sure that the people that are driving me the fuck around are taken care of (which Uber damn well better be making sure of). Anyway, I didn’t think that toll fares were included in the Uber fare, so I gave the guy a $20 as a tip. 

Then as I walked away I saw the charge, did another Google search (the correct search) and found that Uber includes the toll fares. Son of a bitch. Well, that was my good deed for the month. 

Bus: There are small buses that run every 10 minutes between NY and NJ. This will be your main mode of transportation. There is usually a dude speaking loudly into his earpiece in a language that I can’t ever seem to place. That’s fine, I can handle that. It costs $3 one way, so not bad I guess. They’re pretty shitty buses though, and sometimes the drivers get into yelling matches. One time a driver told a passenger “DO NOT PUSH ME, DO NOT PUSH ME MAN” because the dude made some comment about getting a move on. I found that kind of awesome and amusing.  

What I didn’t like at all about taking the bus is that it took way too long to get there and back. When I went into the city, I knew that I had to stay in the city until I wandered back home at night. One thing to note about Airbnb places. If they say that it takes “15 minutes” to get to some awesome destination, check the facts on those kinds of statements. I get it, it’s kind of a marketing ploy, but no, let’s all be real here. Here's what you have to consider: 

  • Walking to the bus station in NJ takes time
  • Waiting at the bus station in NJ can take time (though it's supposed to be every 10 minutes)
  • The ride seems to vary between 30 minutes to an hour (yes, I know, it's not really that bad)
  • Once you get into Manhattan there's no use in riding it out to the final stop, cuz traffic starts getting intense. 
  • You then walk or take a subway somewhere, which can take a while.
  • Total time to a specific destination can get to 1.5 to 2 hrs, especially if you get lost a lot like me; lost in a location sense, as well as in thought. 

Your Own Car: I sold mine, and I didn't get a rental, so I can't speak to this. I imagine paying a toll both ways would suck, though. Anyone have any insight into this?

Taxi: I didn’t do this because I assumed it would be a ton of money.  

Plane: This option is probably cheaper than using Uber or a taxi. It may be a bit inconvenient, though.

Walk/Swim: I imagine this would be the cheapest option, but I haven’t looked into whether some person pops up out of the water in the middle of the river and charges some sort of toll. So who knows?

My message is simple:

Stay anywhere with a subway line, no joke. Brooklyn. Stay in Brooklyn. Manhattan can be expensive, but if you’re a baller stay there. God, I didn’t know I had so much to say on that topic. 

Once You’re in New York

Grab yourself a Metro card at any of the kiosks spread throughout the city in the myriad subway stations and be whisked away in those lovely underground carriages. They’re really not too bad, though during peak times some can get a bit crowded, and in one car I remember the distinct smell of something produced by the human body pervading the space. There is also a thing every January called “No Pants Subway Ride” day. This is a real thing started years ago by a comedy improv group where people where their coats, scarfs, gloves, shoes, socks, ear mittens, turbans, etc. but absolutely no pants. They wear underwear though, so don’t get too worked up. This year I didn’t see anyone doing this, but I hopped on a train pretty late in the day, so people must’ve decided to don pants once again. I found this to be pretty entertaining:

 

I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you about the awesome places to go in New York; there are plenty of articles about that already, and I was only able to experience a small sliver of what NY has to offer. However, following are some of my recommendations while you’re in this great city:

  • For a great view, instead of going to the Empire State Building, go to Top of the Rock at the 30 Rockefeller Center. It’s a hefty $32, but pretty much worth it. 
  • The New York Public Library. It’s free and the historical significance is pretty awesome (yes, I’m primarily talking about Ghostbusters here).
  • Central Park. If you like to walk/run/people watch/pretend-to-read-while-pondering-the-universe, visit museums, look at statues, pretend to be a statue, then go here. 
  • Times Square. Even though your senses literally get saturated with advertising from ALL sides, and you suddenly feel the urge to buy a Vogue magazine and invest in some quasi-kitsch brand of clothing, it’s cool to check it out.
    • There are a lot of people all the time here. According to the official Times Square site over 300,000 pedestrians can be seen walking around on this concrete per day. On busier days it gets to be upwards of 480,000. Now that is a lot of selfies. I would think that at least 50% of the people striding along in the square are taking selfies, and more than just one. If I’m right, then that means about 150,000 people are taking selfies per day in Times Square alone. Let’s take a modest number and say that each person takes an average of 5 selfies. That’s 750,000 selfies per day in Times Square alone. This is not based on anything but my “not very informed” conjecture, but I’m pretty much right. 
  • Though I didn’t do it this time around, I hear that seeing a Broadway show is pretty much a “must do” thing. Good thing I’ll definitely be going back to NY.  
  • For a more somber experience, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is totally worth visiting. 
  • Want a cool ferry ride for free over to Staten Island and back? Check out the schedule here: http://www.siferry.com/schedules.html. Doing this affords some really incredible views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. 

Just remember: If you’re going to New York, please stay in New York. You’re welcome. I’m more than happy to make a ton of mistakes so you don’t have to. Also, New Jersey is in a different dimension. 

I leave you with a not very relevant, but still cool quote from the late Douglas Adams.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.”

Buenos Aires: You Remind me of a Beautiful Pufferfish

Ah, Buenos Aires. I loathe you and love you. You’re like a beautiful lover who stole my wallet in the middle of the night, but because you’re just so charming and beautiful I barely minded and asked you to stay. You’re a Shakespearean tragedy waiting to happen. You’re a luscious wine with hidden spores. You’re a…ok, I’ll stop. 

When I first arrived in Buenos Aires I was head over heels in love. Seriously. The weather was impeccable. When is weather impeccable? Well, it was that day. The city is teeming with gorgeous parks and aesthetically pleasing architecture. The obelisk in the middle of town is a great sight and is in the middle of the widest avenue in the world. I remember sitting there just enjoying the weather, watching people, and listening to great music. 

It was pure bliss, but don’t worry you schadenfreude lovers, it didn’t last long. You can read about me getting robbed in Buenos Aires here

Before entering the ever-so-beautiful Argentina, you will need:

  • Your passport

  • Reciprocity fee paperwork

  • A dash of snobbery and a slight frown occasionally (love ya BA but you have a few uppity douchebags)

To enter Argentina, you have to pay a "reciprocity fee." I had no idea I had to do this, so thank you Steph Amrite for pointing that out while we were in Brazil. So what the hell is a reciprocity fee? I asked the same question. Here ya go: "U.S. ordinary passport holders visiting Argentina for tourism or business must pay a "reciprocity fee" of US$ 160. This "reciprocity fee" is not a visa. This amount is equivalent to what Argentine citizens must pay when requesting a visa to enter the United States.” http://www.embassyofargentina.us/en/consular-section/reciprocity-fee-for-us-citizens.html

After you buy this result of country-to-country dick-swinging, be sure to print out the form from the website which has a barcode. At the airport in Sao Paulo I had to use a printing shop a few times before I scored the right one (evidently having electronic confirmation doesn’t suffice). It will look something like this, though hopefully with your name on it instead of mine:

From the U.S. Passports and International Travel site: (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/argentina.html)

"A valid passport is required for U.S. citizens to enter Argentina. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for visits of up to 90 days for tourism or business. Argentine law requires that, prior to arrival in Argentina at any entry point, U.S. citizen tourist and business travelers pay a 160 USD reciprocity fee by credit card online at the Provincia Pagos website. For English instructions, check Online Payment brocuhureOnce paid, travelers must print out the receipt and present it to the Argentine immigration officer at the time of entry. The fee is valid for 10 years from the date of payment and for multiple entries. It is advisable to keep multiple copies of the receipt, as it must be presented every time you enter Argentina. The fee applies only to bearers of tourist passports. Travelers bearing diplomatic or official passports are required to get visas prior to arrival in Argentina but are not charged the reciprocity fee, nor are travelers transiting and not entering Argentina.

Is it Safe? Will Anyone Try and Steal my Belongings, my Soul, or Box of Expensive Protein Bars?

The answer is: maybe! Ya gotta be aware of what’s going on and take preliminary steps to preclude theft from happening. My friend Henry thinks I was a target because I was wearing a Marilyn Monroe shirt. I don’t think so. 

Do a Google search and learn about the latest scams going on in either country. The following Infographic has some good tips: Lifehacker Travel Scam Infographic.

Also, Bankrate put together a handy little travel guide for female solo travelers here: Solo female travel: How to keep you and your finances safe

Will you see anything that will boggle your mind? Yes! Well, probably, unless you just stay in your motel and watch The Simpsons. I’m still boggled by something that happened there. 

I was walking down a sidewalk near the Congreso, when all of a sudden a little girl was walking alongside me. She couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, but there were no parents around whatsoever. I was freaking out a little bit and asked her “done esta tu mama hija?” She said nothing. 

There were a couple of guys walking next to me so I told them, hey, guys, this little girl is just wandering with no parents. They didn’t really say anything, but with body language, they basically just waved me off.

WTF was going on?

So I kept walking, hoping to find someone who wasn’t a fucking zombie, when I stumbled across a couple who were coming out of a restaurant. When I asked them about it, they were incredibly nonchalant and basically said it was normal after 10 pm. Huh?

“You’ve never heard of the colectivo?” they asked.

No, I had not. Nothing so far in life had prepared me for everybody being cool with solitary children roaming city streets at night. I just didn’t get it, and you know what? I still don’t get it. 

Can someone please explain this shit to me because Google is failing me here. 

Following are some specifics regarding the city:

  • Free Bikes: evidently you can use city bikes for free though I never got around to it. This blog post has some good information: http://www.discoverbuenosaires.com/buenos-aires-tourist-bicycle-rental

  • Good transportation system.

    • The best thing to do is to go and get a Subte card, which you can use on the trains buses.

    • When you hop on a bus just tell the bus driver where you’re headed, he’ll punch something in, and then you swipe your card.

    • You can get Subte cards at convenience stores throughout the city. If you try and take a bus without a Subte card you need to have change. No bills are accepted.

    • The subway gets crowded as fuck

  • This city has some beautiful people and a lot of dogs. Watch out for dog poo on the sidewalks.

  • It has a real cool European feel to it.

  • Recoleta cemetery is awesome.

  • The Biblioteca Nacional is pretty rad if you need a space to just chill and get some work done.

  • If you go to Buenos Aires before one of their national holidays, make sure you pull a shitload of cash out of the ATMS before the holiday starts. Why? Because when the holiday hits suddenly you can’t get cash anywhere, which can be problematic in a place like Buenos Aires where many restaurants don’t take credit cards. On the day after a holiday be prepared to wait in an ATM line to get some cash. Seriously, Square needs to expand down there.

  • When you go to a restaurant ask if they take cards before you eat a whole meal there without cash. Yes, this happened to me.

  • Many people can come across as condescending pricks here, but there are also quite a few really rad people as well (one guy went to great lengths to get the name of a tattoo artist for me). Don't ever let douchebags stop you from going somewhere and having a great time. We all just need to remember that no one is above or beneath anyone else: we're all very fragile finite beings wandering around making up titles for ourselves.

  • Apple maps seems to be just as good if not better in Buenos Aires.

Taking everything into consideration, I'd go back to Buenos Aires in a heartbeat. It's a great place to visit, even if it has some pufferfish poison coursing through its veins.

Pics of Buenos Aires:

A Taste of Brazil (I feel like we kissed and separated too soon)

I don't feel qualified to write about Brazil because I was only there for a wink, and only visited an incredibly small area of it. I suppose you could liken it to renting a car and just sitting in it, or perhaps paying for a prostitute and just holding hands with him or her. 

I'm going to write about it anyway, because internet. 

For those of you who don't know, Brazil is the only country in the Americas where Portuguese is the official language. 

Things You Need Before Kissing The Great Green Earth of Brazil

  • Passport
  • Tourist Visa
  • Speedo

To enter Brazil you (US citizens anyway) need to have a tourist visa, which is around $160. You can start at the US government site http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/brazil.html and go from there to get your visa going. What it boils down to is you need to fill out some paperwork, prepare the paperwork with an oddly cut picture (it can’t be an 8-year-old passport photo), set up a meeting at the embassy, and go to the embassy and get that visa. My friend and I didn’t have our itineraries printed out, but it turned out ok with just having the itinerary on the smartphone. Feel free to hit me up if you have any questions, and I can give you my two cents.

Initial Impression of Brazilians:

  • They are Accepting, as in, after a few minutes of hanging out you’re pretty much a part of the family. 
  • They are Fun. They are hands down just fun people. I like fun. I love fun. Brazilians know fun. 
  • They are Energetic. They do things, they work hard. They know how to party. I like to think that my vibe is like their vibe. 
  • They don’t mind when an American like myself proclaims to be an official Brazilian during a U.S. vs. Brazil drinking game. 
  • They are Totally Fucking Rad

First stop: Itamambuca

We stayed at this really rad house owned by an ex-Playboy bunny (not really relevant but an interesting fact). It’s a pretty isolated but nice little community. In fact, as far as I could tell it was just about as safe as Kansas though I can’t prove that. *Not including the part of Topeka where Westboro Baptist savages are. It's extremely dangerous to be in close proximity to them because there is a high probability that you'll become unfathomably stupid. 

I was there for the wedding of my friends Josh & Carol, who gave me the opportunity to say things and lead the thing in a very non-traditional way. When the video comes out, you gotta watch it because it’s pretty awesome. Josh pulled off something that only a handful of people could. It involves a Tuxedo speedo in case you were wondering. 

A word of advice: if you go to this beach during the week they don't have the standard "perigo" signs up. On the weekends, they have signs up warning beach-goers that the tide, in certain places, is as dangerous as walking into a Westboro Baptist church. A couple of my friends had some close calls out there in the merciless blue, to the point where one legitimately had the thought "so this is how it's going to end..."

Some pics from my time there:

 

Second and last stop: Rio de Janeiro

I honestly wasn’t planning on going to Rio de Janeiro, but then decided that since I was only 2 hours away that it would be morally reprehensible not to. So my married couple friends Jaidev and Steph and I took an overnight bus from Ubatuba to Rio. Ubatuba is the closest city to Itamabuca. There were some concerns from our Brazilian friends about taking an overnight ride, cuz God bless em’ they didn’t want us to get our stuff jacked. It turned out alright though. I’m pretty sure the clothing I wore the next day was mine. 

Like any city Rio has a decent transportation system and has allowed Uber to operate there. I used Uber a couple times and it was exceptional in both instances. For those of you who are worried about the safety of using Uber in Rio, worry no more! I mean, always use common sense and all that, but it’s pretty damn legit. The subway is pretty great too, and most of the time plays a cool little song after the words “mind the gap” are spoken. When I tried to record that little tune they didn’t play it, so if anyone can record that and send it to me I’d appreciate it.

It was too cloudy for me to catch Christ the Redeemer, but it was still rad doing the other standard sightseeing things like Sugarloaf mountain and all that. If you’re short on time like I was, just do the TripAdvisor top ten and you’ll catch some cool stuff. When I was there they were already setting up some Olympics stuff on Cococabana beach. 

So that's that. Next up: Buenos Aires.