Friday, March 13, 2020

See You In August

I have my eye on a new job in Mongolia. Liftoff is mid-August of this year. Mongolia. Just saying it gets me excited. I have spent the better part of 3 years in Asia and Mongolia would be a great addition. Plus, I am thinking it will be my gateways to the "stans" but let's not get ahead ourselves. I will be happy when I have my visa processed, in my passport and I am on the flight there. Until then I need to find some work for the summer.

This will be my last blog post for a while. I find my self succumbing to the global hysteria that is the Corona Virus. I think the smart decision is to head back to Canada now. The media is driving this story to a fever pitch and people are buying into it. Countries are shutting thier borders, airlines cutting back routes and some have defaulted. Sporting events are played with no fans and other large scale events are being canceled. Shit, the Governor of NY State just called in the National Guard to oversee a "possible hot zone". People can come and go as they please is the message but they are just taking precautions. The FUCKING National Guard for an area that might have the infection but "nobody panic". Not only are celebrities are wearing full hazmat suits in public (Holy WTF) they are posting it on social media. Everyone is overreacting because that is what they think they have to do. Anyways, I do not want to be trapped anywhere or worse yet quarantined and be trapped. That is the nature of our world right now. My thinking is that as much as this is NOT a pandemic of epic proportions I have to get out in front of the world's over-reaction. I decided to come to Bangkok for a few days to wind down in a comfortable hotel, sit by the pool and read, drink some beer and eat as much Pad Thai as I can find. The TV on the wall will stay off and I will not read any news sites. I am shutting down and unplugging. 

This has been a great trip. I have made some mistakes along the way because I have become a lazy traveler. It was mostly lack of planning really. I will remedy that on my next trip. The countries I visited were diverse and eye-opening. The daily lifestyles, cultures, the kindness of the people and the immense amount of history did what it always does. It has inspired me to keep going. 

Spending time in Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysian Borneo, Brunei, The Philippines, and Thailand again did more than color countries on a "country visited map". I embraced each place without any trepidation. My ability to enter a new country confident and ready to explore is solidly in place. I guess I will have to get out of my comfort zone in the future and find places that get me a bit nervous again like Pakistan, Lebanon, Kurdistan Iraq and maybe Russia. All in due time.

I have changed as a traveler. I also feel that I have changed as a person. I think Bangladesh opened my eyes quite a bit. I will embrace all that change and see where it takes me. See you in Mongolia 💪

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


For most Filipinos, Siquijor is an island filled with witchcraft and the island is filled with mountain-dwelling "healers" who brew traditional ointments for modern ailments. For the non-traditional believes it is a small island filled with cheap accommodation and great diving and snorkeling. Renting a scooter is a must here and you can easily cover the island in a day. Take two or three and head into the mountain region. It is full of small villages with smiling and waving locals, incredible jungle roads and no traffic, except for the odd passing scooter, local or tourist.

The Monkey Republic was a great place to stay. My single room with a bathroom was $10 a night. There was an onsite message, a kitchen that I could use to cook or make coffee and a huge open common area. The staff was great and they arranged my scooter rental, which I kept for three full days. Finally, it was less than a five-minute walk to Last Frontier Diving. Are you seeing a pattern on this trip to the Philippines?

I stayed in San Juan and from what I gathered the entire island is this chill. No pushy touts trying to sell tours or scooter rentals. It was as laid back a place as I have been in a long long while. There was very little traffic. In fact, scooters outnumbered cars by quite a bit. In fact, there were more tricycles than cars. Last Frontier Diving was right on the beach and we could walk out to the boat. I have four dives with them over two days. The dives here are famous for turtles and I was not to be disappointed. My Dive Master was excellent at pointing out so much interesting reef life. As per usual, I was more infatuated with the fish. We played a great game of "who can piss off the clownfish". They actually attacked my mask a few times. 

I sat at the local bar, I sat at the local bar, Get Wrecked (stupid name for a bar), on a few nights This one afternoon this chatty older Dutch dude started talking. He taught me about Jimmie Nicol. A drummer who replaced Ringo when he got sick with tonsilitis. He was with the Beatles starting on June 4, 1964, in the Netherlands. Nicol played a total of eight shows until Starr rejoined the group in Melbourne, Australia, on 14 June. This was the height of Beatlemania and I suspect that not many people, aside from insane Beatle fans know this little fact. He was telling me this bit of trivia because he was at the concert in Copenhagen that first show. It was such a great conversation.   on a few nights This one afternoon, this chatty older Dutch dude started talking. He taught me about Jimmie Nicol. A drummer who replaced Ringo when he got sick with tonsilitis. He was with the Beatles starting on June 4, 1964, in the Netherlands. Nicol played a total of eight shows until Starr rejoined the group in Melbourne, Australia, on 14 June. This was the height of Beatlemania and I suspect that not many people, aside from insane Beatle fans know this little fact. He was telling me this bit of trivia because he was at the concert in Copenhagen that first show. It was such a great conversation.

Some various waterfalls and caves can be visited and explored. I had no interest. I just got on my scooter and rode. I did a full loop of the island a few times, stopping at various places to just take it all in. However, it got really interesting when I went inland. I crossed into the highlands where the views were incredible. The people of the small villages were all smiles. I stopped to buy water or snacks whenever I could. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Each stop was a 10 to 15 minutes conversation about Canada and my life.

It was in between the coastal road and the highlands that I found the most gorgeous. Well maintained roads running through protected jungles and parklands. I passed very few other scooters and a couple of people who were walking I offered rides. One guy took me up on it and I dropped him off about 15 minutes down the road in a small village. The locals looked a bit bewildered to see him jump off the back of my bike and give me a high five. There was a bit of rain on a couple of days with the scooter but that did not deter me, or anyone else. Something is soothing about stopping on an isolated jungle road and hiding under a coconut palm while it rains for 20 minutes, with nobody else in sight.

Finally, Siquijor is all about the sunsets. The main beaches of San Juan face South West which is perfect for viewing. Paliton Beach seems to have evolved as one of the main places to be but anywhere along the coast is great. I went to Paliton but I found it just as nice to walk to the beach at the dive shop. The staff was great and I had a beer with them on most nights, even on days when I was not diving.

I have no antidotes for Siquior. I stayed a few days longer than I had planned and I could have easily stayed for a few weeks. I guess more than one person has come for a week and stayed for 6 months, or moved here permanently. I loved it, but I think it has a shelf life. I extended here because my trip is winding down. I was going to make one more island stop but the world is becoming hysterical, and I want no part of it. It is time to take that big bird home.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020


Travel between islands that I went to in the Philippines is all about the Super Cat Ferry. As an aside, I read a great book years ago that I make reference to once in a while, The Lunatic Express by Carl Hoffman. In one of the chapters, he addressed why so many people die when ferry boats run into trouble throughout the world. Passengers get into the seating area and there is only one door in, usually at the back. There is no escape. I thought of that when I climbed aboard my Super Cat Ferry to Bohol from Cebu. I went down the flight of stairs, through the door and into the seating area. It was his observation becoming very real. I ignored it, as you do.

From Cebu to Tagbilaran City on Bohol takes about two hours. As tourism is way down right now you can just walk up to the Ferry Port and buy a ticket an hour before you leave. When I arrived it was not busy at all. The ticket, the port fee, and the fee to check my bag totaled about $12. The terminal was near empty and with time to spare I grabbed a coffee and prepared for my first Philippine Ferry ride. Much like a plane, there was a safety briefing that nobody listened to followed by a safety video that most people also ignored. I just wanted to know where my life jacket was and where the exits were. There were actually four, not one. Two at the front and two at the back. I put my headphones on, put my head back and fell asleep. The trip was quite uneventful

In Tagbilaran, I was greeted by various touts of every shape and size but they were easily ignored. I was on the hunt for coffee and there was a MacDonalds within walking distance. The easiest way to get to Panglao Beach, my ultimate destination was by tricycle. A Motorcycle with an attached covered sidecar. Here is a Google Image Search so you know what I am talking about. The bumpy and noisy ride was 300 Pesos, or about $8 Canadian. I am sure for the locals it is much cheaper but that is just how it goes sometimes. They dudes at the Ferry Port were charging 400 so it was a bit of a moral victory.

Panglao Beach is another one of those overrated Philippines beach towns. I was here for the diving and the touristy bullsh** was easy enough to ignore. Now that being said there were lots of coffee options which is a big plus for me. The beaches were really nice and the water was the beautiful blue that one comes to expect in SE Asia. As we passed through the town on the way to my hotel the options for food and drink were not limiting and I had not even gotten out of the tricycle yet. I wondered what the beachfront would bring.

Sometimes when I am using I don't pay attention as much as I should. This time it cost me. I survive as long as I do on the road because I find reasonably priced hotels and take advantage of them. I am not going to stay in dorms any longer regardless of how attractive the price is. I can usually find something in the $15 to $30 a night range, depending on where I am. I have found $10 rooms and $8 bungalows in various places and will "treat myself" to a better hotel once in a while.

I was headed to Panglao Beach on Bohol with an eye on diving. I knew this was a busy beachy tourist place so I wanted to stay a bit out of the main part of town. Nothing a 20-minute walk, or 5-minute scooter cab could not cure. With that in mind, I found the Kalachuchi Inn. I thought I read US$35 a night, but it turned out to be US$55 a night, oops. Plus there were various taxes including the dreaded room tax per night. Fu** I hate tourist towns.  It was really a great place. The pool was clean and I used it every day. The small restaurant had basic but delicious and reasonably priced meals and the staff were great in every way. They figured out pretty quick that I was a coffee before anything in the morning kind of person. My big mug was on the table as I walked the outside corridor every morning to the restaurant. With happy singing voices..."Here is your coffee sir". I paid with my credit card and figured "screw it". A bit of real comfort for a change will be nice.

This town had more dive shops than I could count. I had three shops in mind. Tropical Divers, Seaquest and Haka. They were at the top of various lists of reviews. I walked down to the beach and checked in with SeaQuest first. The shop was busy which is always a good sign. We had a great talk about what I wanted to do but they were all about the "upsell". I wanted five dives, they pushed for ten for a good discount. They lost me. Next up was Tropical Divers which was at the very end of the beach. The ladies were great. I said I wanted to try them for 2 dives and they were happy to help. The price was good and I could go out the next morning. I filled out all the forms, geared up and found all the equipment in really good shape. I had the rest of the day to wander and explore.

The next morning I headed to the dive shop for 9:00. I got there at 8:45 and was greeted with a big "There's Ken". It was weird but nice. My dive would be with 4 Russians. The Dive Master, his daughter, and two other comrades. Their English was terrible and my Russian consisted of about five words I picked up here and there. However once on board to break the ice I used a few of them to which we had a good laugh. They spoke to me when it was important but other than that it was all Russian. That was fine, I just enjoyed the boat trip. Naturally, the predive was in English and as we were diving as a group we made sure our hand signals were clear.

We dove two reef walls and got to a depth of 30 metres on both dives. I felt good and focused on my breathing and buoyancy as well as enjoying the tranquility the diving provides me. The corals were brilliant and alive. However, it is the fish that garner most of my attention. The colorful reef fish are fun to watch. The funny clownfish (Nemo) who will attack your mask if you get to close so naturally, I do that whenever I can. The Dive Master pointed out small crabs, shrimp, and a small moral eel. What I learned what that the moral eel is a scary looking bugger as it sits there opening and closing its jaw. This is not a defensive mechanism to scare you or a threat they will bite. This is how they breathe, pushing water through their gills. They still look scary no matter how small. We say a turtle in the distance swimming along doing its turtle thing and that is always exciting. Again, no camera as I am focusing on becoming a better and safer diver. Photos will come. In the end, both dives lasted 60 minutes which is excellent on a 200 Bar tank.

I liked Tropical Divers. They were friendly, safe, professional and the equipment was new. What I discovered was that HAKA Diving was a ten-minute walk from my hotel. Tropical Divers was 30 to 35 or I needed to jump on the back of a motorbike cab. It was Haka Time!  The guy who owned the shop was Filipino but he grew up in New Zealand, so HAKA diving. The Haka is a traditional ceremonial Maori dance made famous by the New Zealand Rugby Team. I liked him and his shop immediately.

He did not want to be on the beach with the other Dive Shops when he opened his business about a year ago. Remember this is an island and there is beach access everywhere. His gear was brand new and his questions were testing me to see if I was lying about my diving. The staff was great and I immediately signed up for 3 dives the next day. In the end, the day went great. There were six divers on the boat and we were divided into two groups, each with an experienced divemaster. They were young but skilled and very safe conscientious divers.

When not diving I found a food cart that served really good burritos, a couple of beach bars that were full of EXPAT drunks by noon. I had a few beers and minded my own business. The beach and the town were nice to wander around but I had a nice hotel room with a great pool that was paying for.

Sunday, March 1, 2020


I finally finished Burmese Days by George Orwell. It was his first novel and I picked it up in Bagan, Myanmar. I knocked it off in 4 days and as reading goes I am feast or famine. I will now dive into Pablo Escobar My Father by Juan Pablo Escobar. It should be a light read.
Now the Drug Kingpins son, Juan Pablo Escobar has written a moral trainwreck of a memoir of the life and times of  his father - The Washington Post

After 5 great diving days in Lapu Lapu did I continue on my diving journey, keeping my spirit filled with excitement and wonder? No sir, that would only make sense.  I decided that a 3 days visit to Cebu City was in order. It was not an awful choice but it was a moment killer. I took my GRAB from Maribago and headed to the Kiwi Hotel if only because it was clean, cheap and the reviews were decent. It bills itself as the Cheapest Hotel in Cebu City. I thought about that as we neared the place and wondered if it was the choice and if I was heading to a "Love Hotel".  Thankfully it was fine. The neighborhood was a great old area that lacked any tourists except for those of us in the hotel, who I only saw in passing.

There was enough history here to keep my occupied for a day, including learning about the explorer Ferdinand Magellan from the 1500s. He was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe which I did not know. He arrived in Cebu in March of 1521 and immediately set upon trying to convert the locals to Christianity. Those who did conform he burned down thier homes. (Yup, convert to my religion or suffer/die.) Ultimately there was an uprising and Magellan was killed at the Battle of Mactan in early April of 1521.

It is in Cebu that Magellan's Cross is located. It was brought and set here when the Spanish arrived. It has its own little protective housing sits in the dockyard area of Cebu. It is impressive for the historical value alone but unimpressive otherwise. Naturally, it is surrounded by tacky souvenir shops and touts offering a variety of services.

I like old forts and Cebu his home to Fort San Pedro. It was built by the Spanish and is located in what is now called Plaza Independecia. It is actually quite small but solidly built. It protected the inland waterways into Cebu and still stand strong and stately after 500 years.

I also found a few great old churches along the way. Old and battered on the inside but as religion goes, ornate and over the top in the inside. The Philippine people are devout Catholics thanks to the Spanish. Again, historically they were impressive but as you know, religion itself does absolutely nothing for me.

Finally, there was the Mango District. This is the place where Cebu and most foreigners hang out. It is filled with modern shops, restaurants, and bars. In the end, I found what I came looking for, Marshalls Irish Pub. I needed an afternoon in a pub as you do. I ended up having a good time. The bar was friendly, especially once happy hour arrived. I had enough about 9 and walked the 30 minutes back to the Kiwi Hotel. The next time in Cebu I would certainly stay in the Mango District.

All told, three days and nights in Cebu is plenty. It is not a pretty city by any means but it has its charms. I did spend quite a bit of time walking around and exploring mostly in and around the shipyards and dock works. It also has the airport from which you can launch anywhere in the Philippines and that is exactly what I was going to do. It was time to get wet again and I was off to Bohol Island.