A Travellerspoint blog

At long last...an update!

Silent Vipassana Meditation in California & Ayahuasca Ceremonies in Peru

all seasons in one day
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March 26, 2009
Since our return in February, I've sorely neglected my blog! ...my apologies. Lots has happened, and here are the highlights:

I've decided that, to better serve my future patients and clients, I'm going to double major at NCNM. (www.ncnm.edu) I'm now doing an ND deree along side a Master of Acupuncture. After my phone interview several weeks ago, I was accepted as a dual track student. This will increase my school to 6 years, plus one year residency afterwards. Mike and I are moving May 12th to Portland...yay!

I attended a 10-day silent Vipassana Meditation course in early February in North Fork, CA. (www.dhamma.org for more information) Looking at the forecast ahead of time, I prepared myself for precipitation. However, I didn't expect that precipitation to be in the form of SNOW! At one point, there was about a foot of snow on the ground. It was stunningly beautiful. The course itself was quite challenging - at some points I wanted to escape, and at other points I wanted to stay forever. That was exactly the point: through reacting blindly to craving or aversion, we create all the suffering in our lives. I've read and discussed this fact many times over the years, but never really got it - I never fully understood what it meant, until I experienced it within my own body, in silence, over time. As things - good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant - arose and passed away, I came to see the impermanence of these things, the impermanence of my mind, body, ego and self. During this time, I had no external input or distractions: no TV, no music, no eye contact with others, no reading or writing, and still my thoughts and emotions ran the gamut. When I was able to observe this, I learned how to be equanimous in their presence. Suddenly, I felt a weight lifted from me - it sounds cliche, but truly I felt - and still feel - different and changed. It was the most remarkable experience of my self-development journey so far. (That is, until I went to Peru and participated in Ayahuasca ceremonies!)

If you are at all interested in this, go to www.dhamma.org. The courses are offered all over the world, and they are free of charge. That's right, FREE! They house and feed you and teach you how to end your suffering - stunning. The entire organization is volunteer operated to protect the purity of the teachings. It is not geared to change your religion or convert you to Buddhism or any other religion - it is universally applicable to all humans. If you feel so inspired at the end of your course, you can donate according to your means and your volition.

We spent a couple weeks with my family in Illinois in late February/early March. The first three days were spent babysitting my nieces, Grace and Emma - they're 2 and 3 years old, respectively. Let me tell you, they are a handful! I don't think I ever had that much energy...they're little energizer bunnies! The first morning, we woke up at 5:30am - I felt a presence next to me there in the dark. I opened my eyes and there were two little shadows with HUGE eyes standing right next to the bed! I think I peed a little...they scared the life outta me!

At one point Marcy (my sissie) gave us a tour of the farm. She has a horse farm near St. Louis - lessons and horses for sale! You can find more information about her farm at www.trianglehfarm.com. She has an awesome place, and a really fresh approach to riding, training and teaching. I was really impressed by the health standards they require for all their boarders and farm-owned horses...for all the animals on the farm, for that matter. While I was there, I gave a mini-lecture on Vipassana Meditation as it relates to riding horses, and saw the horse dentist and the horse chiropractor in action.

The rest of our trip was spent between Mom's and Dad's. I could barely keep up with them - party animals! =)

Well, I think that sums up the past 2 months!

I'm now in Peru. I've been in transit for about 30 hours now. My latest flight left Lima, flew over Iquitos (my destination) and then flew back to Lima and dropped me off! The weather in Iquitos is very stormy at the moment, and it was unsafe for the plane to land there. Bummer. So now I have to wait 3 more hours in Lima, and maybe then the storm will have subsided enough for us to get outta here!

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Now in Iquitos.

The road to the center is paved until you reach the turnoff from the main road. After that, it's a sand path with lots of bumps and huge ruts. We got out of the mototaxi a couple times to push through the deepest ruts. The center, Espiritu de Anaconda, is gated, and located in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon Jungle. Brilliant. For more info, go here:

www.espiritudeanaconda.org

Joe met me at the airport and escorted myself and two other participants, Russ and Miguel, to the center. After our arrival and procurement of rooms, we promptly drank the vomitivo to "open our diets". This is an important part of the purging process, and makes your first ceremony much, much easier on the purging front. I didn't vomit, instead dry heaved and had a rather voluminous "download". We all seemed to be finished purging after a couple hours, but then my experience doubled back, with the sickness returning twofold. This sick feeling in my stomach, dry heaves and watery diarrhea lasted about 5 hours, into the night. I kept waking up feeling very very sick to my stomach - it seemed to come in waves.

Friday, March 27th, 2009
Feeling a little better but still green, I headed with the group to meet with Guillermo and Sonia - they are awesome people, and amazing healers. I was touched by the honesty of everyone in my group. It was difficult to disclose some of the reasons we're here - things that need healing can be ugly, and hard to admit. The food at the center is fantastic, and prepared especially for compatibility with the Ayahuasca. No salt, sugar, red meat, pork...we ate lots of fresh veggies, broiled chicken, baked fish, salad, apples, bananas and oatmeal. Oh, and the occasional omelet.

6pm
We just took our first doses of our assigned Master Plants. Based on our intake from this morning, the shaman prescribed different plants for each person depending on his desired outcomes. My plant is called Ajos Sacha, which is used medicinally for cleansing. Immediately I felt an opening of my heart, like a veil had been lifted. I suddenly felt very empathetic and compassionate, and felt a strong connection with all the people around me. It was remarkable.

8:30pm
In the maloca, we all lay or sat on our beds, waiting for our doses of Ayahuasca. When it was my turn, I vibrated over to the shaman...my insides were trembling and I was a little nervous and excited. The brew tasted like very strong espresso that's gone a bit off. When it hit my stomach, I thought I may be ill. Sitting on my bed, I tried to relax and avoid thinking about my tummy. My mouth was watering. We were all waiting for the generator to go off - all the lights were about to go out. It was already dark in the maloca, but outside there were a few lights still on. When I heard the motor winding down, my heart started to race. I felt very heavy on my bed, and knew I was about to be launched into space. It seemed like only 5 minutes after the lights went out, and I zoomed off the planet. The visions were undescribable and tough to make any sense of. I had a rough time this first ceremony. Everyone else in my group (there were 10 of us) was purging through vomiting, but I didn't throw up at all. Instead, my purging process was more bowel oriented. Joe mentioned before the ceremony that if we needed help to just ask for it. I called out a couple times, but he didn't hear me. It was really quiet, and I didn't want to disturb anyone else, but I finally said out loud, "I need help. I need help finding the toilet." Just saying the words out loud somehow summoned help from within. I was very wobbly, but somehow found the strength to get up. Then the next challenge was finding my flashlight and getting to the door, finding my sandals, and getting into the bathroom outside the maloca. This seemed to open the floodgates, and I was in and out of the bathroom for the rest of the night - my purging process. The visions I had were somewhat disturbing, but some were pleasant. My mistake going into the experience was that I expected to just be taken for a ride. The day after, we talked to the shaman, and discovered that we should have a single purpose when in ceremony. For example, when you start to feel unpleasant or uncomfortable, you should focus on your singular intention. The second ceremony I was better prepared, and my intention was this: "Please Ayahuasca, show me peace and love". When I said these words inside my head, it had a remarkable effect.

Saturday, March 28, 2009
Lots of rest, fasting through breakfast, more rest, a little lunch, and lots and lots of chatting. Jared gave me a fantastic massage to help my neck and jaw relax...he's truly a gifted healer. We were all very tired and experiencing low energy levels, so we mostly lounged in the hammocks outside our rooms, lazily puffing tobacco, listening to music and sharing stories.

Sunday, March 29, 2009
2nd ceremony day. We took a tour of the Amazon River and had lunch in Iquitos - a difficult task with our dietary restrictions, but we managed. We stopped at a little floating zoo and got to hold lots of cool animals: monkeys, an anaconda, sloths, a giant guinea pig and a big funky looking turtle. The monkeys were so loving and precious...one got attached to me and didn't want to let go of my neck when we were leaving. It was adorable. I loved holding the anaconda. It was checking me out with its tongue, getting my smell and figuring out who I was and what my intentions were. It was extraordinary. There I was, connecting with this animal by just being - communicating without speaking words. The snake was truly beautiful.

Coming back to the center, I started to feel a little nervous about the upcoming ceremony. Joe, as always, had some thoughts for us to consider. He said, "Think about how you feel, and think about how you want to feel." So I did, throughout the entire ceremony, in fact. Those words really helped me, and I had a profound experience. Stepping back a little in time: after taking our master plants around 4:30pm, we all took a rest and some time to focus our intentions for the evening. An hour before the ceremony started, several of us went into the maloca to do Qi Gong, led by Henry. It was quite lovely, all of us in a circle around a candle in the darkness in a beautiful moving meditation. I felt centered afterward, the nervousness had completely disappeared. I carried that calm feeling and strength into and throughout the ceremony. I did have ups and downs, though.

We got started, and I sat on my bed, heart pounding, thinking about how I felt and how I wanted to feel. I decided the best singular thought for me this evening would be "please Ayahuasca, show me peace and love." The onset was incredibly gradual this time around, and when Ricardo came over to my bed to sing an Icaro to me, I was happy and only having intermittent visions. I had tucked myself in about 20 times it seemed, feeling very comforted - enveloped in a feminine, warm nurturing energy. I was bathing in it. My master plant has a very strong feminine element, as does the Ayahuasca. It was enchanting.

Ricardo sang to me, and at one point I felt overwhelmed with love. I had my eyes open and could see a blue light coming from inside my right upper chest area. I could even see it with my eyes closed. I watched it pass through me towards my back and appear above my right shoulder as a blue bubble about 8 inches in diameter. It floated iridescently into the maloca and gently "pop!" and it was gone. Tears were streaming down my face - I felt tremendous joy, peace and love. I looked at Ricardo, and he had become a teeny dragon before my eyes, jumping in place to the rhythm of his Icaro. That made me giggle...everything was just love and light. Then Ricardo blew some Agua Florida (flower water) onto me after his song was finished, and even in the darkness of the maloca, I could see it floating down onto me in a glittery flurry. As it landed, plants started sprouting from my body - they were stalk-like and had red, orange and yellow berry like things on them. It was lovely - I felt like a child seeing the world for the first time. (Days later we toured the botanical gardens, and I saw the plant that was growing from my body - it was growing in the garden...it was actually real. It was shocking to see it again in the light of day.)

I could hear people's voices coming in and out of my consciousness, and suddenly loud and clear I heard Joe saying jubilantly, "It's a fart that shits!" (A shart, of course.) I was totally cracking up, and I briefly worried that Ricardo would think I was laughing at him. I remember feeling like I was connected to my feminine side in such an intimate way - taking care of myself in the maloca, moving around to get comfy and then tucking myself back in again. It was delightful. I felt a connection with my grandma, my mom and my sister, as well as Grace and Emma, my nieces. It was mystical to be connected to Mother Earth and the Fantastic Feminine.

I heard this question twice during the course of the evening, once from Joe and once from Russ: "Where's your hand?". My standard response was, "Uhhhh, at the end of my arm, I think." (Joe was trying to give me some Agua Florida, and Russ was trying to give me some tobacco.) Unfortunately, Joe missed my hand, and we had a bit of spillage in the village - there was Agua Florida everywhere. Spaceship Earth was in full effect.

A bit later, Guillermo sang to me. I went over to his mat and we sat facing one another cross-legged, knees almost touching. He held my hands in his hands, singing the most beautiful song I've ever heard. It touched my core, my heart and soul, and led me on a journey to full realization of pure love. Tears streamed down my face - I was deeply moved. It felt like he was calling up all my pain and sadness and releasing it through his song. He held my head, forward-tipped and bowed, in his hands as if I were a child. It was such a gentle and tender thing - difficult to express fully in words. Through Guillermo's Icaro, I could see a beautiful, empty, dark theater inside my body. Suddenly, all the lights started coming on, one by one at first, and then faster and faster until I was filled with light. I was completely overwhelmed - again, difficult to express fully in words. Through this medicine, Guillermo helped me clear out a lot of residual pain and sorrow, and helped me see my own light. Then the song ended and I was led back to my bed, totally floating, elated, transported and overjoyed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009
The 3rd, 4th and 5th ceremonies were very calm for me, and I even took a second drink of Ayahuasca during our 4th ceremony. On Tuesday the 31st was our 3rd ceremony. I was very connected with the spirit of the anaconda - I could feel it, like the muscular body of the snake itself, inside and all through my body, and I kept having visions of holding the anaconda from the zoo on the river tour. I had visions with lots of blue everywhere, and lots of butterflies. When the sun came up, some of us were chatting and starting to move around a little, getting ready to go to our beds and sleep for awhile. I looked up toward the screened part of the wall inside the maloca, and I saw a flash of blue. I thought I was having another vision, but no, it was a Blue Morpho, which can get a wingspan of up to 8 inches! This was one of the big ones...it was so cool. It flew in a circle around the maloca a few times, and then disappeared.

Blue_Morpho.jpg

During the 4th ceremony, Joe and I were talking about how big anacondas can get - up to 30-40 meters long! Their heads are about the size of OUR head! He drifted off to sleep and I drifted off the planet in a vision, and when I looked over, he had turned into a HUGE anaconda. The head was enormous - I reached out to touch it. Of course, it was really Joe's head, so what I felt in my hands was his hair - it was odd because I was expecting the cold skin of a snake, but it was warm and soft. It was touching to have such loving communication with this being.

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My last day at the center, I was lying in my hammock feeling sad...suddenly I saw a flash of blue. I looked over, and there was the Blue Morpho again, and it seemed to say to me, "Don't be sad, I'll see you next time." And then it was gone. I was heartbroken to leave this place, these people, animals.... I feel sad that our group may never get together again...impermanence, anicca. After such an intense experience together, I feel like I have 9 new best friends: Joe, Miguel, Russ, Andy, Jared, Dan, Henry, Brian and Skye...outstanding humans, I love them all.

Posted by kmpossible 15.04.2009 22:44 Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Port Barton by boat, Roxas by jeepney

…sketchy weather made the trips a bit treacherous.

overcast 26 °C
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Still on Cacnipa Island.... After watching several folks get drenched getting onto the boat to Port Barton, we decided we should follow suit. Not because it looked like fun, but because we thought, if we didn’t jump at our next chance, who knows how long we might be stuck on Cacnipa Island! Now I know how Gilligan felt.

The weather has been a bit bad, and the storms have made the sea very choppy. There’s no pier, so getting on the boat meant you had to swim out to it. The waves were much too big to get the boat anywhere near shore…I had the bright idea of rolling my shorts up, just incase I could time it and get on the boat between the waves. That was not the case. I started out toward the boat, after the German couple we had been sitting playing Uno with, only to get hit by the biggest wave yet. S*%T! I was completely soaked, and sat on the boat pouting. We took off, and I realized that we were all about to be soaked, as the waves came rolling right over the front of the little 4-seater pump boat. There was a lot of scrambling and bailing out of water in the back of the boat, but our 2 boatmen got us to Port Barton in one piece, slightly wetter than we were when we left Cacnipa.

We had heard reviews of Port Barton being “exactly like Sabang”, which was a horrific thought. It is NOTHING like Sabang – thankfully. It’s a very small village at the seaside, surprisingly with an internet café, which also served lovely Thai food. To get to the café, we had to cross this little bridge, which had seen better days. It was just a metal frame, about 4 feet wide, with a wooden hand rail along one side only. The floor of it was made of wooden planks, that bounced when you walked along them. We were too afraid to have any drinks, for fear of drunkenly falling off the bridge into the shallow water below, so we sat eating our Thai food and drinking frozen iced tea.

Our room was a lovely little concrete box with windows that actually opened, and a floor that I couldn’t see daylight (or scorpions) through. I never thought that staying in a concrete room would be my definition of luxury, but after the last couple weeks have shown me how bad bad can be! The toilet flushed, and there was a shower! The thrill of it! No hot water, though – this is usually not an issue for me, because when it’s hot, the cool water feels divine! Well, these days, it’s stormy and much cooler, so it’s challenging to get up enough energy to force yourself in there. It was like trying to dunk a cat into a bucket of water – all four appendages were locked onto the door frame of the bathroom. ….not going in….can’t….make.…me! I finally got Mike in there, and he calmed down.

Our hotel had “the coldest beer in town”, and that sounded like dinner to me. We had a couple there, played some Phase 10 (card game like rummy) and watched the 3 people who stole our original boat from Cacnipa, sitting there eating some fish and rice. We put a Jihad on them, and took off for some actual food. Funny, sometimes beer just isn’t enough.

Booking a jeepney ride is quite simple – we asked the woman at the front desk/bar of our hotel about getting a ride to El Nido in the north, or Roxas (which is on the way). She sent a text message, and shaazaam, we were in there. It was scheduled to leave at 7:30am the following day, so we arrived at the meeting point at 6:45am, only to see a full jeepney and about 50 people milling around the outside, as if they were trying to get on, too. Glad we booked! Well, come to find out, booking just lets the driver know how many people he has to cram onto this thing, and does not, I repeat, does NOT reserve you an actual seat. We mistakenly put our bags into a seat and ran to the shop nearby for a coffee and some eggs. As the food arrived, the jeepney started up and took off. I was mortified. Both our laptops were in our bags, along with all my clothes (well, my one change of clothes). The girl slinging the eggs told us it’s ok, they’re just going to pick up some people in the town, but they’d come back.

And come back they did, but by that time, the entire jeepney was packed to the rafters with people. They pack people on top of the thing too! There must have been a hundred people loaded on this thing, which consisted of about 6 rows of bench seats, and a little area in back, which I thought was for luggage. There was a stack of buckets back there for some reason. Well when they pulled up to the waiting area, I saw what they were for. Extra seating! I pried my way through the back of the bus, using my elbows to get through the tight spots, stepped over a pig in a rice bag, a chicken in a cardboard box, and finally landed with a puff of dust into my seat. I have no idea how Mike fit through there, but somehow he ended up next to me. Here we are, don’t we look cozy?

Mike___I_o..jeepney.jpg
On_the_Jeepney.jpg

I was sitting above the wheel well, so I had no leg room under my seat. My feet were on the same level as my butt – I was basically sitting in the fetal position. If you have back issues, you can just imagine how that feels when you hit very large bumps, with no cushion under your butt or back. OUCH.

After a few minutes on the road, I could see up ahead that the road became a real mess. It was mud, with deep ruts and lots of standing water. Along one side was a steep drop off, along the other, rock cliffs. The jeepney started rocking back and forth as we entered the rutty area, and I lost my stomach. I thought several times that we were going to tip over, right into the thick, deep, reddish brown mud. There were no windows, so that meant I would be buried in the mud if we tipped. If we tipped the other way, we’d go over the edge of the embankment and plunge to our deaths – I couldn’t decide if I’d rather suffocate in mud or plummet over the other side. I can just imagine the thoughts the people on top of the jeepney were having. I’ve only feared for my life a handful of times in an automobile, and this was one of them. (Another being in a Yellow Cab in San Francisco – take DeSoto instead! This concludes this Public Service Announcement.) Not due to the driver’s carelessness, but because of the unfamiliar territory coupled with my lack of understanding of just how safe (or not) jeepneys really are. Well, I’ve never seen a vehicle handle mud the way this one did. It had duel tires on the back, and must have been 4-wheel drive, because it chugged and belched and crawled it’s way through some areas in which I thought surely we’d have gotten stuck.

After a couple harrowing, tense hours, we arrived in Roxas, and were thrilled to get out and straighten our legs. The next order of the day was to procure an air conditioned van to get us the rest of the way to Tay Tay (pronounced TieTie), which was another couple hours, at least. There were several vans just sitting around, and when I asked one of the drivers if we could get to Tay Tay, he said yes, and it’d be about 30 minutes. Being familiar with the local lingo, I got comfortable for my 2 hour wait. That was about right, as a couple hours later, the driver scooted us up and into an empty air con van. It was the most comfortable vehicle I’ve ever sat in…relative to the previous ride. And there were no sticks and branches slapping me in the face as we drove down the road! I couldn’t believe my good fortune – that is, until we pulled up to yet another jeepney stop. I was ready for a fight. There was no way in hell I was: A) getting out of the AC van, and B) getting onto another jeepney that day. We sat, glued to our seats and holding our breath, only to have the driver pull away after a few seconds. He was just checking to see if anyone else needed a ride. Phew! After driving in circles a few times, we were on our way. The driver said he was going to El Nido (our final destination anyway) and we could ride all the way if we wanted to. Deciding we could manage the ride in the luxurious comfort of the van, we agreed to go all the way to El Nido. Our driver and his companion were great, and even changed the brake pads along the way after determining somehow while driving that they needed replacement. It took only 20 minutes!

The drive was long, but much more comfortable than the initial leg on the jeepney. The scenery consisted of dense jungle, hills, mountains, and quite a few farms with rice fields. It’s very green on Palawan. Most of the homes we saw were nipa huts, which are built of bamboo. Up on thick bamboo stilts, the woven bamboo walls provide shelter from wind and rain, along with the thatched roof. They are very simple structures that seem to house entire families, and seem to be the norm when it comes to housing.

I’m amazed at the simple lives the majority of the people on this island enjoy. My impression is that they live without electricity, or with minimal electricity delivered by a personal generator when needed, and they utilize well water, or water from nearby rivers or streams. The water buffalo is popular here; they’re used for plowing fields, pulling carts, and riding! I wish the windows on our van weren’t tinted, because I saw a really cool scene that I was dying to photograph. There was a water buffalo hooked up to a cart, with the whole family riding inside, except the dad, who was walking along side and driving the buffalo. Along the road at random intervals, I saw people walking – they were miles away from anything, just walking. Seems if you don’t have a buffalo or a moped, you have to walk, even if it takes you all day to get somewhere.

We arrived in El Nido, and it was immediately apparent that they need someone to help organize the development of coastal areas here in the Philippines. I thought it was possibly just a Boracay thing, but El Nido is well on its way to being the next Boracay. Singapore is a shining example of what is possible. The overcrowded coastline in El Nido has hotels and shops placed shoulder to shoulder, smack onto the beach, leaving very little sand for walking, and zero sand for walking during high tide. The view is incredible – there are small, green islands jutting out of the water all over the Bacuit Archipelago, as it’s called. El Nido is surrounded by limestone cliffs, which are particularly stunning at sunrise. Mike and I took a kayak out one day to explore the islands, which are farther away than they look! We were beat after paddling only half way to one of the closest islands. There are lots of tours you can take on the local tour boats, which is the easier route. We were excited about the possibility of having some peace and quiet, stopping when and where we wanted, and staying as long as we pleased. We saw the biggest sea turtle I’ve ever seen, just about 50 yards away from our kayak! I thought it was a sting ray – you could just see a blob in the water, but it was about the size of a dining table. It then stuck it’s head out of the water to get a breath of fresh air – his head looked to be about the size of a medium-sized melon. It was so cool. I paddled over closer as Mike got the camera out, but he was long gone. By the time we got to the island and did a little snorkeling, we were cold and tired, and wishing we had a boat!

Hotels:
The first night, we stayed at one of the more expensive hotels, the El Nido Beach Resort. It was $80/night, and really didn’t include much besides the room. They said they had wifi, but it didn’t work in the room. The town only has electricity from noon to 4pm and 6pm to 6am. Of course, when you try to get online, it’s during the hours when the electricity is off, so no internet! The hotel was a big rip off, for the area. It shouldn’t have cost more than $30/night, in my opinion, compared to prices/conditions elsewhere. They flaunt a “Japanese” restaurant – that night we tried eating there, but the had no shrimp or fish. Kinda hard to operate a Japanese restaurant with no fish. So we left and found a fantastic little place with tons of character, good food, and live music! Sea Slug’s was an instant hit – try the curries, you won’t be disappointed. We were, however, disappointed with the fish. It was overcooked, both times we tried. Seems incongruent that folks living in such close contact with the sea can’t cook fish properly.

The next day we found the Four Season hotel, which was located halfway up the beach, over the road. It was pretty basic, but had A/C and hot water during the hours the electricity was on. Well, luke-warm water that barely trickled out of the showerhead. I think this was the smallest bathroom I’ve ever seen. It was just wide enough for the door to scrape past the sink and toilet. You couldn’t really sit normally on the toilet because there wasn’t enough legroom, so you had to sort of do a side-saddle thing. There’s no separation between the shower and the rest of the bathroom, so as you shower, the toilet and sink get all wet – don’t forget to hide the TP! You literally have to climb over the toilet to get to the shower. One day, much to my dismay, we came back to find that the room had been “cleaned” and the dirty towels we had left on the floor had been folded back up and placed on the bed for us to use again! Other than that, the place was fine, and even included breakfast, which was edible…one fried egg, 3 triangles of white toast and a small banana. Oh, and Nescafe (the instant coffee), of course.

We found the Art Café, which had lovely coffee, tea, snacks and internet, and proceeded to check our email and surf the web for the next several days as it poured rain. After our kayaking day, the weather never did turn around, so we sat indoors most of the time as the rain came down.

We had plans to head to the island of Busuanga to see the African animal sanctuary, but upon further investigation, found the only attractions to be a zebra and a giraffe. We decided instead to go to Africa sometime, and promptly got the hell out of El Nido, back to Puerto Princesa. I can’t quite put my finger on the reasons why, but the Philippines is my least favorite of all the places we’ve been.

Posted by kmpossible 17.01.2009 01:13 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

How do you flush this thing?

…and is that snake poisonous?

29 °C
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I’m in personal potty hell. …more on this in a minute.

Trip to Sabang

Mike and I booked an air-conditioned van to take us from Puerto Princesa across to the west coast of Palawan to a “town” called Sabang. It has been thrown together to accommodate the tourists coming to visit the Subterranean River, and I do mean thrown together.

The van left our hotel at 7am, picked up a few other tourists – mostly Pilipino - and off we raced. This is the fastest I’ve ever traveled in a vehicle, I think. Or maybe it just felt that way after 5 days of putting around in a tricycle powered by a little 150cc motorcycle? Anyway, as we were hauling ass down the road, I kept wondering, is my life insurance current? …where’s the fire? …glad I have a spare pair of shorts, cuz I think I just shat myself. You know, things like that. The road was pretty good for the first half of the trip, after that, it turned to gravel/dirt/mud/flooded areas. I was really glad we hadn’t had time for breakfast before leaving - I was starting to feel green. The driver was trying to race the other tourist vans along the road, passing going around corners while going uphill…I had to clutch my oh-shit-handle and stare steadfastly out my window. Think happy thoughts, think HAPPY thoughts!

After enduring the gravel road for about a mile, we saw parts of a new concrete road being laid. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to where they were or how long they were, or if it covered both sides of the road or just one. Sometimes we’d be on the right, then the left, then slamming on the breaks as an oncoming jeepny (like a bus, but smaller, and open-air, with people sitting on top and hanging off all sides) flew by. At one point we were so far up the ass of the van in front of us, I couldn’t tell where our vehicle ended and theirs started.

Alas, arrival in Sabang, and thank f&*k for that. Looking around, I thought maybe we were just making a pit-stop. It was kind-of…well, a hell hole. We hopped off the van just to be loaded back on again, with the driver and some new Pilipino guy in the passenger seat – they were taking us to where the hotels were. After about 100 feet, the driver stopped and let us out. His friend, Elmer, or Elmo, not sure, was “in the know” about where the hotels were located. I can’t believe we fell for it! I stood there with my thumb in my ear for a second – shouldn’t have taken a hand off my luggage, cuz there goes Elmo with my backpack! Shit! We soon realize that all the hotels are within about 300 yards of the initial dropping off point. Elmo proceeded to help us ask the front desks of every hotel – all 5 of them – if they had a room for the night. Ok, that’s a lie. We didn’t even ask at the expensive hotel, Daluyon, although Elmo thought it was a highlight to point out that “they have electricity – for 24 whole hours!” Oh shit…what have we done? He kept asking us how long we were staying, and at seeing the state of most of the places here, the duration got shorter and shorter. Our time frame started out at near a week, and ended up at 1 or 2 nights. The next-to-last place on the beach, Mary’s, was the only one that had a room – 500 pesos a night (about $10 USD). Upon inspecting the room, I had mixed emotions, but felt compelled to take the room, as it seemed we had no other option than to sleep on the beach. In hindsight, that would have been preferable.

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We went back to the front desk to say we’d take the room – Mary grimaced at us and then turned away. No key, no instructions, nothing. Ok, guess I’ll just bust a hole through the sheet of bamboo (aka wall) like the Kool-Aid man to enter my hovel. It didn’t come to this, as the door was wide open when we got back to the room. It’s really a dismal place. Dark, with gaps in the bamboo where some light punctures the melancholy, sad little flamingo pink mosquito net, under which a slab holds a bit of hard foam up to make a bed. The floor is made of bamboo slats, lashed onto the beams underneath – you can feel them giving a little, groaning as you walk across the floor. Oh, and on top of that is some sort of contact paper – plastic sheeting stuck to the slats. I imagine that this is in place to keep bugs or mosquitoes out, or as we just found out in our new hotel, to keep the scorpions out.

You may not know this about me, but the extent of my toilet phobia is far reaching. I have nightmares about bathrooms, toilets in particular, and faucets & hot n cold taps are in there as well. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had these awful, terrifying, and very real dreams in which I’m in a dirty, broken down bathroom – and I GOTTA GO! So then you’re forced to touch things, and inevitably, something goes haywire and the taps break off the sink while I’m trying to wash my hands after…well….I think you get the picture.

I’ve seen squats before, and that seems to be no problem for me – the ones I’ve seen, anyway. The offending toilet happens to be located here, at Mary’s in our hotel room. The floor slants down away from the door frame toward the right corner, where there’s a hole to let the water drain. This floor is slippery and wet all the time as the tap near the floor leaks. There’s a shower head barely poking through the contact-paper-covered wall, with its tap just below it – it doesn’t work at all. The tap at the floor, like I mentioned, leaks and is just high enough to do it into the reservoir bucket, creating a sound not unlike what I imagine Chinese Water Torture to sound like. Hmmm…reservoir bucket? I’m gonna need a judges ruling on that one. What’s that for? Oh, and there’s a smaller scoop bucket inside it with a handle. Then I notice that the toilet is nothing more than a bowl perched over a hole in the floor…no reservoir tank for flushing. So now it all comes together, well, after Mike explains it to me. You have to dump the scoop of water into the bowl after you’ve used it – with enough force to drive whatever you’ve left in the bowl down through the u-tube. I immediately ran out the door. I was physically and emotionally distraught. Call me crazy, call me a big baby, whatever. I’ve no idea why I’m so sensitive to this. The only explanation I have is that I have a phobia of icky bathrooms. Oh, and the fact that I may have to use this one in the dark, because there’s no electricity here outside the hours of 6pm – 10pm makes it that much scarier to me. What if I slip, and slide right down the angled floor and out the side of the room, right onto the poo pile? At some point, Mike was trying to help me in there, and inadvertently pulled the tap off the wall and water started shooting out all over the floor. I was mortified, and almost vomited – I got really sick to my stomach and had to go outside to regroup. Yeah, it’s bad for me. =(

Mangrove River Tour

To cheer me up and help me forget about it for a while, Mike took me to the mangrove tour office and promptly bought us 2 tickets to ride in the canoe down the river to see the mangrove trees – I think it’s called Pouy Pouy River. We had two guides, the one who did most of the talking (and singing!) was a tiny older guy, Chris, who had more fingers than teeth. He was adorable, and told us all about the mangrove trees, what the male trees look like versus the females, kinds of pests that feed on their roots, and other environmental hazards to them.

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Paddling down the silent river, we saw several black and yellow snakes sleeping all coiled up in the branches overhanging the water. They pointed them out and said we could stop to take a picture on the way back. So we did. As we sat snapping photos, I asked Chris if the snakes bite. He replied, “No, not aggressive. Now, he’s hiding and sleeping.”

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I asked, if it happened to wake up and bite me, would I die. “Oh yes, deadly.” Mike expeditiously put the camera away and said “Ok, lets GO!” …not a real snake lover.

As we paddled away, I think Chris sensed Mike’s distress, and turned around to ask us if it was ok if he sang us the mangrove song. No freaking way, there’s a SONG, too? This I gotta hear! Chris cleared his throat and started singing in Tagalog and English. After the first few bars, he started a little beat on the side of the boat. I couldn’t really get a lot of the lyrics, but part of it was something about being here with all his friends - the mangroves, and thank you, thank you, thank you to all our friends. It was awesome. We joined in at the end with a little clapping finale. I think the kid paddling at the back of the boat was probably a little embarrassed. You know, the cooky older guy (or gal) who embarrasses other people at work, just by being himself? That’s probably Chris. He was priceless. We pulled up onto the sand and got out of the boat, and Chris told us that there was an activity as well to finish up the tour – to plant a baby mangrove! So we did. The staff poked 2 holes deep into the sand, and Mike and I each placed a baby mangrove in – they are actually seedpods that look like really big green beans. Just stick in the end that has roots starting, and voila! Mangrove!

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The trees are truly beautiful, and according to Chris, provide habitats for breeding fish and places for birds to nest, as well as providing the Pilipino delicacy, wood worms. No, we did not eat the wood worms, but hear they’re delicious, and taste like oysters. You dip them into vinegar and eat – Mike looked them up online, and they didn’t look very appetizing. I’ve had my fish eye for the year, so it’s someone else’s turn to take the plunge! Candy??? How ‘bout YOU!!??

We go out to the place with the electricity for dinner, and proceed to drink 2 bottles of nice, cold white wine. Mike had fried chicken with garlic noodles, and I had the putanesca pasta. We were (mostly, I was) delighted to find toilet paper and flush toilets at this place, so we forged a plan to come back to use the potty the next morning. I thought I just might be able to hold it all night and get there for breakfast and a download in the morning. I was wrong.

I woke up at about 2am, sweltering and hungover, and completely full of pee. Damn! I lay still, hoping it was just my imagination and it would go away. No dice. I made a deal earlier with Mike that I’d wake him up before I went out into the sea to pee – I’d rather do it out there than in our room. After opening our front door, I realized that getting to the sea would be a challenge. It pitch black outside because it’s cloudy – no light from the stars or moon, so I may run into a critter or something in the dark. As Mike graciously holds the maglight for me, I make my way to hover over the pot. He’s a trooper, and cheers me on to give me courage. I was so nervous and tense that it took about 5 minutes of dribble…stop…dribble, dribble…stop, spray like hell….dribble to empty my bladder!

Sunshine Cottages & Blue Bamboo Restaurant

The next night, we stayed at the Sunshine Cottages and Blue Bamboo Restaurant – the restaurant part must have been a metaphor, or maybe just a really mean joke – we didn’t see a lick of food. Barbara, the manager, is German, and very sweet. The room this time was 300 pesos (about $6 USD), a price we would have expected to pay the night before. The bed was equally uncomfortable, with foam pillows, and you could see daylight through the bamboo walls and floors, but at least there was air moving through the place, and the bathroom wasn’t nearly as scary, although it did have the same do-it-yourself flush toilet.

Since I wasn’t nearly as scared this time, I decided to “shower”. The floor was a reddish brown painted slab of concrete, and the shower consisted of a bucket of water and a little scoop so you can dump smaller quantities of water over your head. Have you been to Burning Man? If so, it’s like a playa shower, though not quite as fun, cuz there aren’t 10 of your closest friends there to help you! Anyway, I’m happy to be getting clean, finally. I had just flipped my head upside down and dumped the first 3 scoops of water on my hair, when suddenly something came creeping out from behind the water bucket! It’s the same color as the floor, so I thought I was just hallucinating. I screamed anyway, just incase. “There’s something crawling…a bug…..BUG…there’s a bug, some sort of crawling THING in here!! …it looks like a lobster?!” Mike came in and grabbed the scoop out of my hand and started swinging. I screamed, “Holy shit, it’s a scorpion!! Kill it, kill it!” Usually, we’d just shuttle the offender off outside, but since we definitely didn’t want to see this guy again, in our sheets, or in our shoes, we whacked him. This was my first scorpion experience. All business, I asked Mike how we go about avoiding these guys, to which he replied, “don’t stand on them.” Gee thanks, Mr. Obvious. What a turkey!

We each had 2 beers for dinner that night, since the restaurant was actually just a teeny fridge with beer inside. 4 beers for 140 pesos (about $2.80 USD)!

Subterranean River Tour

Earlier that day, Mike and I went on the Subterranean River tour. The boat from the pier in Sabang to the mouth of the river takes about 20 minutes. We hopped on with another couple and their tour guide – a couple of their participants hadn’t shown up, so we got their seats! This was a very good thing, because the boat dispatcher said they were on #31, and we were #61…we would have had to wait another hour, just to get the ferry over to the river.

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We arrived on a lovely little beach in a small cove, and hiked down the footpath for about 10 minutes to reach the paddle boat staging area. There were about 50 people waiting to get on the boats there, and the place seemed extremely chaotic.

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The tour guide we rode over with got us bumped up in the line somehow, and we only had to wait for 30 minutes to get on the 10-passenger boat to enter the caves. It was quite calm and quiet inside the cave as we paddled silently through the still water. Our guide had a bright spotlight that he used to point out landmarks – one of which was the cathedral, which had beautiful stalagmites in shapes of “the holy family” and “melting candle”. The structures are formed from the water dripping calcium salts onto the rocky surface below. There were others that looked like huge mushrooms, and ears of corn. It was stunning. I’ve never done any cave exploration before, and it was awesome. There were lots and lots of bats and swiftlets flying around, some dive-bombing our boat.

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1km into the cave, the guide pointed out the tallest opening in the cave: 65 meters high to the ceiling! He told us that the caves were carved into the mountain above when the water flowed through several cracks and dissolved the limestone inside. Incredible.

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As we were leaving, we saw a bunch of monkeys playing in the trees.

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Boat to Port Barton

We woke up the next morning bright an early at 6am and hiked up the coast to the pier. The place looked better than ever - a great place to leave, in my experience! The sunrise was truly beautiful, though.

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We even saw some people loading a moped on TOP of the jeepney...they hauled it up to the top with a rope and about 10 guys pushing/pulling!

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Our 7am boat to Port Barton left at 8:15am…we had to wait on three enormous Swedish guys to have their breakfast. They finally got on the boat, carting a case of beer, which they proceeded to down on the boat! They were funny, and I eventually forgave them for making us late.

Cacnipa Island

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The little boat stopped after 2.5 hours at Cacnipa Island, just off Port Barton. We stretched our legs on the beach, and started chatting with some of the guests at the only hotel on the island. They mentioned that Port Barton is just like Sabang (eeek!!!), and that they got there, stayed one hour, and came right back here, to the Coconut Garden Beach Hotel. At 650 pesos/night (about $13 USD), it can’t be beat. There’s still no electricity, but they have toilets that flush! =) It’s funny how your standards change, isn’t it?

We’re very happy here, the food is excellent, staff is friendly, and there’s truly nothing around but this hotel. It has a small beach with a few lounge chairs, a ping pong table, and a bar!!

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What more could you ask for? …well, a FAN would be terrific, but I really can’t complain. If you’re looking for a romantic, secluded get-away, this is a great place to be. There are sand flies here though, so buy the coconut oil, and use it BEFORE you get bitten! We learned this the hard way.

The snorkeling is ok here – there are lots of critters under the water to see, but it’s a little murky, so photos are tough. Yesterday I was almost eaten by an eel…I had unwittingly swum over his hiding spot in a rock near shore, and didn’t register him until he was about 6 inches from my hand. I started back pedaling as fast as I could, snarfed water up my snorkel, and came spluttering to the beach, winded, lungs full of salt water and bladder devoid of pee. Mike said he wanted to get a picture and headed out into the water a couple steps, then thought better of it. Neither of us really felt like getting bitten, so no pics of this guy.

While typing this, I had to jump out of bed and chase a chicken out of my room…I just can’t seem to get away from poultry. And here, there are 2 adult ducks as well, and their progeny: 8 fuzzy ducklings! They’re really cute, but elusive. I’ll try to get a photo of them, or some video for the upcoming movie. Stay tuned.

Here are some more shots from Cacnipa Island.
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Posted by kmpossible 05.01.2009 17:34 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Palawan, Philippines

…xmas and crocodiles…

sunny 30 °C
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Palawan (the dot at the end of the dotted line) is a beautiful part of the Philippines. We flew with Seair from Caticlan after the boat trip from Boracay. It’s lovely to check in and not have to prepare for an argument. Seair sticks to its policies, and simply weighed our bags, and charged us for the excess weight. Simple! The airport in Caticlan is about the size of a postage stamp, and was pretty full as we waited in the “free” terminal waiting area, which cost us 20 pesos each to get into. Of course, you have to go through the “free” area to get on the plane, so whether or not you use a seat in the waiting area, you have to pay. Seair doesn’t have the newest planes…my armrest was taped on with some clear packing tape.

The hour-long flight was lovely – flying over all the Pilipino islands and clear water. Some of the islands are no more than a thin, snake-like strip of sand poking out of the water. The airport in Puerto Princesa is equally tiny – a good thing for baggage retrieval. The staff of the Hibiscus Garden Inn met us at the gate, and carted us off to the hotel.

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At $30/night, the room is fantastic, spacious, clean, and most importantly, it has air conditioning! It’s about 10 – 15 degrees (F) hotter here than on Boracay, so it’s NECESSARY! There’s no bar or restaurant at the hotel, though they do serve breakfast – I recommend getting the eggs scrambled over fried, as the fried eggs were a bit undercooked for my liking.

We snorkeled all over Honda Bay, a 45-minute tricycle ride away. Our driver, Wang, is cheerful and knowledgeable of the areas in and around Puerto.

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We hopped onto the boat with 2 crew members and hit the choppy sea. Snake Island, Starfish Island, and Lu Li were the spots we stopped.

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For xmas lunch, we went to Shakey’s Pizza and consumed more spaghetti and meatballs than anyone should, and downed a pitcher of beer.

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We proceeded back to our room for a nap and movie, then headed out for dinner, more pasta! We ate at the Blue Marlin, a cute little garden restaurant, which also has an indoor seating area. I think that’s the first time I’ve eaten inside in the last 3 weeks! You may be thinking, sheesh, sounds great, eating outside all the time. Give it a try sometime, you may change your mind! Fighting off flies, ants, mosquitoes, spiders, and cold food, you try in vain to tuck your napkin (aka toilet paper) into your shorts leg so it doesn’t blow away, only to find that the bit of skin you’ve exposed is not covered with mosquito repellant, and you end up itching throughout the entire meal! ...I love eating indoors….

Folks here are fantastically friendly, almost everyone says hello, and lots of people wave as you’re driving by. It has a much more down-to-earth vibe than Boracay seemed to me. The night we arrived, we were looking forward to having some peace and quiet – all day every day, you can hear the cacophony of roosters cock-a-doodle-doo-ing where we were staying on Boracay. Of course, that night was the big night to have xmas parties – including the staff of our hotel!!! They had REALLY loud karaoke, and of course the home on the other side of us has a live band, that seemed to not understand what those little thingys on the neck of the guitar are for…and the drummer couldn’t count to 1, let alone to 4! They were truly horrible. The upside is that we were invited to join in the festivities at our hotel – they even had a whole pig on a stick!!! Now that’s my idea of a party.

The town of Puerto Princesa is a tidy little place with concrete streets – some of which are not in the best shape. It really has a small-town feel to it, even though there are 120,000 people living here. It seems the preferred method of transport is the tricycle – a teeny motorcycle with a big sidecar soldered onto its side.

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These are definitely made to fit a more petite Pilipino butt, as mine and Mike’s barely fit into a seat built for 2! Today we took one out to the Butterfly Garden (50 pesos/person) and the Crocodile Sanctuary (40 pesos/person). I even got to hold one of the babies! His name is Chopper.

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There were lots of other animals at the sanctuary as well.

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We head to Sabang tomorrow morning - Sabang is the location of the Subterranean River and lots of jungle hikes and beach front beauty.

Sending hugs!!! Life is good!!

Posted by kmpossible 26.12.2008 03:18 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Boracay

The little island with the big garbage problem

sunny 27 °C
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Arriving in Caticlan via Seair from Manila, I was hopeful. Hopeful that Boracay was not going to be as over-developed as I had imagined it to be. I met up with Mike and his dad for a brief coffee and breakfast across the road from the airport, and then Jim had to take off for Manila, and back home to the UK. Mike and I proceeded to the dock area where we were to catch the boat to Boracay. After buying 3 tickets each, boat ticket, terminal ticket and environmental ticket (not sure where that money is being spent), we strolled along the short bit of beach to the waiting boats. After a 15 minute boat ride, we arrived on Boracay and were shoved into a teeny little tricycle-type thing. It’s a little motorcycle plus a sidecar with a roof, and my huge kite bag was strapped precariously on the top.

We drove through the interior of the island, through lots of bombed-out looking building sites, shanty-type lean to buildings/homes, and garbage everywhere you look. Simple is one thing, dirty is another. There is building going on everywhere – you can see jagged bits of concrete and rebar jutting into the blue and cloud-spotted sky. On these building sites are piles of ‘stuff’…bricks in a big heap, logs in another, rebar in another, and trash strewn about throughout. On first sight, I was a little disgusted with this island, which was obviously once beautiful.

In my experience so far, the island’s only redeeming quality is White Beach, and even that bears the heavy scars of over development. The beach is wide, white, sugar-soft sand with a few sparse palm trees between the beach and the hotels and shops. The water is the clearest I’ve ever seen. So many trees have been thinned to make room for all the buildings that the tree line looks a bit manufactured and unnatural. It’s sad to see that this place has been destroyed by improperly supervised development.

Bulabog Beach, on the opposite side of the island from White Beach, is completely different, aesthetically speaking. The thin strip of brown sand is strewn with coconut shells, debris from the ocean, and lots of bottles, broken glass, fishing gear, and food wrappers and packaging. The beach is about ¼ the size of Mui Ne beach in Vietnam where we just came from, and there are just as many kiters. This makes for an intimidating kiting experience for me, and I have yet to brave the fetid waters to try it out. Ok, I don’t know if the water is ‘fetid’ or not, but Mike got a cut on his toe, and within 24 hours, it was infected. The water is brown looking, especially when compared to the pristine water on the other side of the island, though the water seems quite clear further out from the beach.

The food is good here – we’ve found that the food in the “D’Mall” area is much better and cheaper than the food along the beach. Samba, on the beach, does a nice margarita, especially if you’re a light weight and only like your glass half full. Order the pitcher of frozen margaritas – more bang for your buck. Watch out for the brain freeze! Our lovely little room is located near Bulabog Beach – Blue Bayou is it’s name. Our weekly rate is about $36. We’re totally stoked to have a kitchen and have been cooking breakfast in, and usually one other meal as well. Smoke is a fantastic place to get a little bowl that packs a big punch. One bowl of chicken curry and rice costs about $1.50, and I can hardly finish it. Very filling for such a small pile of food – excellent value, excellent flavors!

Last night while cooking pasta for our cold tuna & pasta salad, Mike accidentally spilled boiling water on his foot – the one with the previously infected cut, and a more recent scrape that’s still healing. OUCH! We alternated running cold water over it and soaking it in the frying pan (it was full of cool water from the fridge). It still blistered, and looks pretty red and burned today. The foot is having a hell-of-a two weeks!

On the 23rd, we’re heading out to Palawan, an island southwest of Boracay. I hear it’s what Boracay used to be before the over development. We shall see! There is a subterranean river there that is thought to be the longest in the world (8km), though one in southern Laos was recently discovered, and may trump this one.

Posted by kmpossible 17.12.2008 21:40 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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