I was warned that getting anywhere in the Philippines is taxing even for the most patient of people. After another delayed flight (3 different airlines and not one of my flights have been on time this trip) we arrived on the largest island, Palawan at night. Unfortunately the airport we flew into left us with a 6 hour minibus ride on a mountain road to our final destination, “The Last Ecological Frontier of the Philippines”.
El Nido, Palawan is known for the limestone cliffs that surround the clear blue water of the many uninhabited islands. Palawan is an archipelago and many of the islands are a short boat ride from town. Here for $21 you can take a boat tour of the caves, lagoons or some of the over 100 white sand beaches. All tours include a hearty and delicious meal of fresh fish, pork, rice and fresh fruit.
At first glance this town where trikes (motorcycles with a side car) rule the road seems unappealing but with every step this town because more enchanting.
The charm is found in the ease of having everything you could want from a beach town, including a nice clean place to stay for 26 bucks a night, and the people. “Be Honest” the local campaign that can be found on signs throughout town seems to work. The people are nice, helpful and you don’t feel like you are being had. A dollar will take you up the mountain to one of many places where you can watch a spectacular sunset. If you are anything like me the sunset may be the only thing to extract you from that incredibly warm and beautiful water.
Our bags were packed and our plan, well it was not really a plan at all, we were going to the Manila airport to hop on the first flight to one of the 7000+ plus islands in the Philippines. We never made it to the airport but we did make it to a beautiful beach resort on the mainland. Before heading to the airport we stopped for a brief visit with a Filipino friend. Before we knew it we were being transported to a beach resort about 6 hours northeast of Manila. My friend’s son had opened Cote Resort just outside of the town of Baler. The resort is set on a placid beach surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Philippine Sea.
Cote Resort was a few clicks from Baler, which has a reputation for surfing that started when the crew that shot the surfing scene from “Apocalypse Now” left some surfboards behind. A beautiful simple resort that pays attention to details that enables the traveler to show up with just a swimsuit in hand. (Flip flops, beach towels, toothbrushes, surfboards) The property is a coconut plantation and it sits right on a beach with soft sand, warm ocean water and palm trees that line the coast for miles. During the early mornings fisherman take to the ocean to troll the shoreline with their nets. Not wanting to overstay this generous welcome after a few days at this beautiful tranquil part of the Philippines mainland it was time to start island hoping. Next up Palawan Island.
It’s that time again, my bag is packed and my passport is full of empty pages. I am starting this trip spending the month of June on the islands in the Philippines. In July I fly to China for a trip to Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Siberia Railway. Then there’s August where anything goes. I do want to make my way to Spain to see my nephew and friends who live there. Before heading home I will stop in London to help a friend celebrate her birthday.
If I will not have the pleasure of seeing you during my journey I hope you will join me virtually. Wishing you a safe and enjoyable summer!
Even after spending six months on the road I still managed to return home with a long list of “Places To Visit.” I love traveling because of the exposure to different cultures and customs which enhances my perspective on people and events. I truly believe there’s no classroom learning that can compare to a trip overseas, gap years for everyone!
As for my trip I was fortunate to meet many wonderful people who will remain in my life forever. I also caught up with old friends I rarely get to see because they live in faraway places such as Guatemala, Kenya and South Africa.
This journey of a lifetime started on a boat with dear friends sailing
up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and into Belize. It was a highlight of my travels. Months later I was back in Guatemala to end my trip while celebrating another friend’s birthday. The months in-between were active.
I went Diving in the cheapest place in the world to get certified, Utila, Honduras. (housing & meals were inexpensive too) An island I arrived on alone but thanks to “Tony on Utila” I met many friendly people who invited me to dinner
parties and local gatherings. One of my favorite days was spent with new friends snorkeling then enjoying a beautiful sunset. It was a day when I felt like I was 15 again. (Translation: the ultimate feeling of freedom nary a worry in the world) The ruins of Copan were also worth seeing, the quaint town has a wonderful positive vibe.
More expensive was Costa Rica yet I enjoyed it so much that I spent over a month there. Surfing with my niece, seeing sloths as I road my bike to the beach and road-tripping with my hostel homies were just a few of the many highlights. Click the link above for a comprehensive trip report on this country.
When I finally left Costa Rica I started the journey alone. It was 5am when I boarded a public bus heading toward Nicaragua but hours later, by the time I crossed the border, my group included two new Dutch friends, a German and an Italian.
Every year I look forward to meeting my San Fran sister
for a week of play. This year was no exception I was thrilled when two months into my trip she showed up in Bocas del Toro, Panama. We enjoyed the island known for good surf and beautiful beaches a boat ride away. It’s also on the backpacker’s route with easy access to and from Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast.
Three months later it was goodbye to Central America but hello to Micronesia. We had no plans but pre-purchased a ticket into Guam and a return ticket months later from South Africa.
Yap, Micronesia was a nice small island where I went diving everyday and sat with the locals as they spit red from their beetle nut while watching the local basketball tournament.
so much to offer. Getting us off to a good start was a friend who took us to his favorite pub in Jakarta. Then it was the train ride past the rice paddy fields, the Hindu and Buddhist temples in Yogyakarta. Ending up in a place I loved so much, Komodo National Park, we went for four days and stayed for ten. The diving was the best I’ve ever experienced.
From there we spent a week in the Maldives and a few days in Dubai. (Email me for information on these places) We made a quick stop in Kenya with plans to visit Malawi but after dinner with a friend he told us to go to Ethiopia instead.
After an amazing week in Tanzania, watching millions of wildebeests cross the Mara River, we went to Ethiopia. Just talking about the stone-hewn churches in Lalibela leaves me in awe. I was disappointed that I didn’t see more of Ethiopia but the rain sent us on our way.
A last minute decision was a country I had never considered , Namibia. Sitting in the bush around a campfire with lions roaring in the distance, two fellow travelers were raving about Namibia. That’s when we decided we needed to go. It was one of the best decisions of the trip. Namibia is everything one could want and more when wanting to experience “Africa”. Driving around the country was easy and exciting whether it was the coast, culture or wild animals crossing the road Namibia is a diverse place that has something for every traveler.
From there we drove to South Africa where once again the best was saved for last, spending time with friends before the long journey home. Now that I’m home I ‘m trying to decide where to go next, I am thinking I need to finally see the San Blas Islands in Panama. But if you have any suggestions please let me know. I hope everyone had a wonderful summer.
Hands down it was the best fishing trip of my life, but that had nothing to do with a rod and reel. At our first fishing spot on Namibia’s Kwando River we could hear but not see the hippos as we cast our lines. I even made the comment, “this is pretty cool fishing with the hippos.” After an hour and with nothing biting we decided to move on and that’s when we saw a lone elephant on the river’s bank. I took a picture and made a mental note that I was going to tweet it to my pal Mark Potter (The NBC reporter who loves to fly fish and where I was the fly fishing is awesome, so I was told.) I knew Mark would appreciate that not only was I fishing but how I wished he was with me because I bet he’s never been fishing while watching an elephant. It was one of those times when you think it doesn’t get any better than this and then…well yes as the saying goes…. it does.
With no fish tales to tell we moved on to spot number three and that is when it happened: not only the highlight of the fishing trip but a highlight of my life. A huge herd of elephants were making their way from Namibia and swimming across the river to the banks in Botswana. My guide admitted what we were witnessing was rare because the elephants would not have crossed if they saw us before they started the journey. Thankfully we came upon them while the move was in progress. It was so incredible (click her to watch the video) to sit in our small open-air boat just a few feet away witnessing this unexpected and awesome sight. I was so overwhelmed by what I witnessed it silenced me but I know my eyes twinkled and the smile couldn’t be replaced if I tried. We went to another fishing spot after see the elephants crossing but at the time I could care less about catching the big one, I had my fish tale to tell and my catch didn’t have any fins.
How can’t you love a country where the roads have signs warning of elephant, warthog and antelope crossing? All of which, including ostriches, we’ve seen while driving down a main road.
The one that was really impressive was a huge kudu that crossed in front of our car only to find himself in front of a 4 foot fence. I readied my camera thinking it would turn around and I would get a great shot of its face. Effortlessly this beast, in one move, gracefully jumped the fence and continued its stroll. Not only did I miss the shot but I then wished I had the camera in video mode.
The one area of the country that we didn’t see any wildlife on the road was the drive up the Skeleton Coast. Not only did the barren and isolated coastal road lack animals you can drive for hours without seeing another car.
If you stop in Cape Cross there is a fur seal colony (or eared seals) where up to 100,000 seals can be seen lounging on the rocks and playing in the rough sea. But while on the main road the only thing to be seen in the water are shipwrecks, which add to the eerie isolated feel of this famous stretch.
The landscape changed drastically as we drove inland toward the central part of the country. The mountains in the area are where the ancient rock carvings can be found sharing the area with the desert elephants. When we arrived we were disappointed to hear that we were just minutes too late to join the elephant tour. So we set off to see some sights and then found a place to photograph Africa’s huge orange ball as it dipped below the horizon. Then we got lucky, returning to the lodge with photos of another beautiful sunset to share, we ran across a desert elephant. I was told these elephants are different because they have bigger feet from walking on the sand and they can survive long periods of time without water. This particular elephant saved us. We had planned on taking an organized tour for $100, but thanks to our spot we didn’t have to.
Driving Namibia is easy and there’s always something to see. Whether it’s a person selling handmade crafts, animals along the road or just the beauty of the ever changing landscape. One of the least populated places in the world offers a warm and wonderful experience.
Thanks to a fellow traveler we met in Tanzania, who convinced us that Namibia was worth adding to our itinerary, we are here. What an interesting country with beautiful scenery. The nice thing is that we were able to rent a car for a self drive around the country. From the architecture to the food, the German heritage is obvious in the capital Windhoek and the coastal town of Swakopmund. Who would have thought I would have the best schnitzel ever in Namibia?
Just a couple miles outside of Windhoek we saw a baboon crossing the highway and a warning to watch out for warthogs. Those were the first signs that this was going to be a fun adventure. Yesterday we spent the day checking out the Welwitschia Plains in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It’s Africa’s third largest conservation area. Unique to this area is the Welwitschia, a desert plant that grows two large leaves, survives on water from the fog and can live over 1000 years. There’s also the impressive “Moon Landscape” which are mountains made up of Damara Granites that pushed up through the earth’s crust 500 to 460 million years ago.
After the park we headed to south to Walvis bay and what a treat that was. As we drove towards the lagoon we saw pink all across the water: there were thousands of flamingos. It was a stunning sight!
I never thought spending two days visiting churches would be a highlight of my trip but it is; these aren’t ordinary houses of worship. In Lalibela there are 11 rock-hewn churches and most are monolithic. Each church was carved from the top down from a single piece of rock. It is said that it took about 40,000 craftsmen using chisels and hammers 23 years to complete these structures. The top windows were the entry point used to hollow out the inside of the church. The roofs of these churches are at ground level so you must go down in order to enter. For security reasons they were connected by an elaborate underground tunnel system. Our guide said these churches, still used as places of worship for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians, were the vision of King Lalibela after he returned from a visit to Jerusalem.
A few miles outside the village another King is credited with building his church, Yemrhane Kristios, during the 10th Century A.D. Unlike the churches in Lalibela this one was constructed with not just stone but also wood and mud. Aside from age, the unique feature is its location, built inside of a natural cave. The King is buried here and on October 19th, the date of his death, a tradition still exists which involves holding a rock on one’s shoulder and walking 3 times around the King’s casket. Followers believe doing this has healing powers.
This is another place (Havana the other) where I wished my friend Eric B. (an architect) was here with me. Considering how in awe I was, I know he’d greatly appreciate these incredible structures.
Life in Lalibela is simple. In this small village in the country, mountains make up the landscapes and donkeys and mules rule over any type of machinery. The culture seems to date back to the time when the amazing stone-hewn churches were built. The Saturday market brings people on foot from miles away. Here three main things are sold: agricultural products, livestock ($15 for a goat) and plastic shoes.
From the countryside to the city, Ethiopian coffee is everywhere and the best part is the way they brew it: over a small wood stove. After it has been brewed, the tiny cups of coffee are presented with a side of popcorn and a type of burning incense. This traditional ceremony is worth the maximum cost of a dollar for a good cup of coffee. Here in Lalibela the history is rich, people are nice and the prices are right. (Especially if you need a goat)
There’s nothing like falling asleep to roaring lions, laughing hyenas and hippos grazing the grass around the tent; where for some reason the plastic enclosure makes you feel safe. These sounds and the light from the gazillion stars in the sky are the upsides to camping in the bush.
During day trips in Tanzania’s Serengeti Park we were privileged to be just a few feet away from lions mating and a cheetah munching on its catch of the day, a rabbit. (I captured this on video so I could share the experience, just click on the green links above ) Of course we ran across some herds of elephants and as I watched a mom take special care of her baby I wondered why anyone would buy ivory. Killing this animal just for its tusks is just senseless. On a lighter note the giraffes were my favorite to watch: the way they walk across the plains standing so erect taking gentle steps with their long legs. They seem so elegant. We also saw hyenas, jackals, gazelles, toppies, elands and so many colorful birds it’s no wonder the world is filled with birdwatchers.
I did fear for my life at one point during our camping trip but it had nothing to do with the lions or hippos outside our tent, it was fire. As we were driving from the south to our new campsite in the Northern Serengeti we were told by some men on the road that a burn had taken place earlier in the day but the fire was out. Not only did we run right into a live fire, but the three men down the road who told us it was out had just started a fire behind us. So there we were in the middle of thigh-high dry grass with flames on two sides of us. We were told not to worry the men knew what they were doing; it was a “controlled burn.” A “controlled burn” here means using a box of matches to light a competing fire while fanning the flames with a big leafy branch. Needless to say I worried our way right out of there.
Fortunately we were unharmed but unfortunately that was not the last fire we encountered while there. We were told that fires are set to eradicate the high dry grass so that new green grass will grow providing food that will keep the wildebeests in the area longer. Fires are set but not maintained therefore staff at the tented camps must start their own fire to create a line that will protect their camps. One was set about 50 yards from my tent. (note the picture above where I am brushing my teeth outside the tent) I was told the wind wouldn’t switch and we would be fine. I still packed an evacuation bag and my “favorite” material items suddenly became insignificant.
The fires were a bit stressful especially one that we drove through but overall they did not put a damper on our incredible trip. There’s nothing that can compare to seeing all these animals in their own habitat. I will be posting more animal videos on YouTube in the next few days. In the meantime you can check out the Facebook page’s album Animals in Africa for still photos.
Now my trip focus has changed from wildlife to history and culture, and I have arrived in the perfect place to take it all in, Ethiopia.
This quote sums up my thoughts on this part of the world: “”If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa, twice,” R Elliott.
Thank you to our friend Simon at Intrepid Expeditions, LLC for setting up another great trip to Africa for us!