Thursday, March 8, 2018

Two days in Manila

Our captain had advised us that we could expect our two days in Manila to be very hot and muggy, so as we approached the port I had mixed feelings about it. I had an all day tour set for day one that was "out in the countryside" visiting a volcano so I was envisioning the worst - noxious gases and flowing lava. Wow. Was I way off base. In fact, the countryside was at a higher elevation and it was much cooler with a light breeze! And, the volcano is not spewing any gases nor spitting out any lava. It is a rather small volcano and it sits in the middle of a lake. And inside the volcano is yet another little lake. Bahahahaha. I had to laugh at how my imagination could take me in such crazy directions!

The countryside area is called Tagatay and it's a very popular weekend destination for the locals. While we visited on a Monday in relatively light traffic, our guide told us that weekends there is near gridlock traffic. 

On our way to Tagatay we stopped at two places. The first was a little marina pond area with a section filled with thousands of koi fish. You could buy a bag of koi food and throw it to their waiting gaping mouths in the water below the boardwalk. It was quite a sight. 

The second place we stopped was at a bakery, where our guide ran inside and came back a few minutes later with pieces of coconut custard-like pie. It's a favorite of the locals and was yummy! 

At the top of the mountain is a 360 degree view. At the site there, is an abandoned unfinished building structure. In 1981, the wife of the current president, Imelda Marcos, had construction started on a lavish building compound that was to be guest quarters for heads of state from around the world, beginning with Ronald Reagan. However, there was a bit of political upheaval at the time, so Marcos just abandoned the project when Reagan's visit was cancelled. Today, it's a rusty old eyesore. 

After taking in the gorgeous views and enjoying a short jeepney ride, lunch was the next thing on our agenda. Jeepneys are old jeeps that were left over from WW2 and "extended" in the rear much like some limos are "stretched" today. They act as local taxis in Manila and cost the equivalent of fifteen cents per two miles. Inexpensive but totally claustrophobic. Sardines squished in cans is what I am reminded of. 

We ate lunch in a local restaurant sitting in a typical covered hut-like table, enjoying the cool breeze as we dined on fried fish, freshwater tempura style spinach, rice, vegetables and noodles. And beer. Non-drinkers had sodas and mineral water. Everything was delicious, especially the spinach. 

After lunch it was time for our boat ride across the lake to the volcano. The Taal Volcano last erupted in 1977 but it is considered to still be active. Inside the volcano is another small lake! Is it a lake within a volcano within a lake? Or a volcano within a lake within a larger volcano still? Gosh, that made my head spin a bit. 

We rode in a motorized outrigger type of canoe. A small shade canopy protected us from the sun bearing down, which was hot even though there was a cool breeze blowing. It took about twenty minutes to get across the lake. Once there, we got out and had a short walk about but there wasn't a whole lot to see. Unless you are going to take the hike up to the rim of the volcano to view the smaller lake, which takes about an hour, then there's very little around to support a stop. A small coffee shop and some old photos of the volcano during the eruptions during the 1900's. 

After a short time, we returned to the canoe and returned to the other side of the lake and then settled into the van for the Long ride back to town and the ship. 

Day two in Manila dawned bright and hot. I had decided to make it a relatively down day after the long day before, and so I joined Carol and Vinny and we got on the ship shuttle to a nearby mall. We all got pedicures at a nail salon, shopped a little and then had a nice lunch. We rode the shuttle back to the ship later in the afternoon. Sail away was at 5:00. 

My next and last stop is in Hong Kong. I will need to say goodbye to my friends - both familiar ones and those new ones I have made these past 5 weeks onboard. Kind of bittersweet. I miss my family at home but I love cruising and traveling so much that it's always hard on both ends. 


Monday, March 5, 2018

Philippines - Puerto Princesa

The Philippines are made up of about 7,100 islands. If you visited one per week it would take you about 135 years. Guess I won't get to see them all. 

Well. This trip I got to visit two of the islands - Palawan and Luzon. Our first stop was Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan. The city is struggling to develop and grow into a real tourist destination spot. About two hours outside the city is a UNESCO world heritage site called the Underground River. It's basically a river that runs under a long stretch of caves full of sleeping bats and stalactite formations. A number of our passengers went on a tour to visit it, but I was not among them. Maybe next time. Those that went said they enjoyed it but it was a long hot day. 

I chose instead to take a city highlights tour. One of the interesting draws for me, besides the obligatory cathedral (which are always pretty) was the Iwahig Prison Farm. Although there are two sections that are medium security, a big section is minimum security and the prisoners work in various agricultural jobs on the large farm. There are no fences. 

Our visit there included a short dance performance by some of the inmates and they even included three of the guards in one of the dances. We also got to see some craft products made by the prisoners as a way to make some money for themselves. 

Across from the church was a small memorial park called Plaza Cuartel dedicated to 144 American POWs massacred by the Japanese during WW2. There's a lovely dedication and sculpture in the center of the plaza for the soldiers. 

That pretty much ended the day in Puerto Princesa. Note - there's a picture of one of my friends on the ship - Kathi. She was taking the same tour as me but was on a different bus. We were having a goof through the windows at each other!

We enjoyed a sea day in between the Philippine ports. Next call is a 2-day stay in Manila. 

Puerto Princesa

Friday, March 2, 2018

Our two days in Bali

What does one say about Bali? The name and images I've seen over the years evokes a blissful and beautiful island. Green and lush, beautiful beaches with soft white sand. Blue-green-aqua waters with small waves lapping at your feet. Swinging in a hammock under a shady palm tree. 

Yes, it's all that and more. By more, I mean traffic. And sudden rainstorms. Oppressive heat and humidity. Gack!! But also, sweet and welcoming people. Smiles abound, everyone wishing you well and wanting to help. Unfailingly polite. 

Five of us - Bernd and Mieke, Patrick and Janice and I had preplanned an overnight tour for our two days in Bali. Our tour guide, Apple, ended up being a no-show, even after months of communication with Mieke. And he was not an unknown. They had used Apple twice before and had enjoyed tours with him. But somehow, this time he was nowhere to be found. Disappointed yet not deterred, we negotiated with another licensed tour guide outside of the terminal and were soon on our way towards the north central part of the island. Our resort where we had reservations was by Munduk, a small town high in the mountains, near two beautiful lakes. 

Having never visited Bali before, I could have toured the famous spots around the southern part of the island, but I know I will return again and can do that another time. This time I was happy to spend a couple of days with my friends. We have a good time together, I think. 

Lots of laughter!

Our first stop was at Taman Ayun, the royal temple of The Mengwi Empire. It used to be a secret Hindu  temple. It is set on pretty full of gardens and surrounded by a moat of fish ponds. 

The temples here in Bali are predominantly Hindu, unlike the Buddhist temples that I toured in Myanmar in January. 

After the temple we continued our journey north and stopped along some rice fields for a few minutes. So many of these fields are still maintained by hand. Very labor intensive! 

As we climbed into the mountains the weather cooled and rain threatened in the sky. We were getting hungry for lunch so our guide found a quiet and private restaurant situated overlooking terraced rice fields. Gorgeous site! 

No surprise, I had a noodle dish - Bakmi Goreng and a local beer. We had the place to ourselves. 

Before reaching our resort later in the afternoon we stopped to visit another temple, set alongside a huge lake. It is called Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The lake it is set at us Bratan Lake. 

While there, I was approached by a small group of students from another island who were there on a school tour. They had assignments to find people from another country and interview them. The kids were so polite and I let them practice their English by asking me my name, where I was from and how did I like Bali. Then they all wanted pictures with me. There was lots of giggling. I'm not sure I want to know why.......

We reached our resort about 4:00 PM. The place, Munduk Moding Plantation Resort, is a lovely eco- resort that includes a coffee plantation. The villa guest rooms were really nice and the views from the pool and restaurant area were stunning. It didn't take most of us long to don our bathing suits and enjoy the pool and jacuzzi. 

We changed and met up for dinner around 7:00. When you stay at this resort, you're pretty isolated so there really is just one choice for a place to eat and that's the resort. There are only 19 guest suites here and I'm thinking they were not full, as there were only about four other tables with guests. We had a leisurely meal and good conversation, as usual. 

After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast we said goodbye to the resort and had a lively conversation about the day's agenda. All aboard for the ship was at 7:30 PM but our guide insisted he was required to return us no later than 6 PM. Okay by me. I knew Jack was missing me and I was hoping to be able to make it back by dinner time. 

Everyone wanted to visit a nearby waterfall so that was our first destination of the day. We turned off the highway and headed down a very bumpy dirt road for about 3 miles or so. The sign for the hike

to the waterfall at the parking area said it was a 15 minute walk. Wrongo!! Try 30 minutes down and 40 back up. Yes. Down down down to the falls. Winding steep slippery path. Very cool and picturesque though! The tough trek was worth it as we were rewarding with twin waterfalls at the bottom. They are called the Banyumala Twin Waterfalls. I have to hand it to Bernd in particular because he was nursing a sore knee and it was no easy feat climbing down the steep and muddy steps. The rails (where they existed) were made from pieces of bamboo and lashed together with ropes from leaves. 

The trip to the falls obviously took us more than twice as long as we had budgeted for, but we still had time to stop at some markets for a little shopping, another temple and a community compound showing how many Balinese families live. 

I practiced my bargaining skills at the markets and feel like I did a pretty good job, as I got some nice batik material to take home and hopefully have made into a couple of tunics or dresses for summer. 

Our tour of Bali over, I was happy to  see that we got back to the ship at a little before 5 PM. It was a perfect two days!!

Bali pics day 2