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Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Malaysia is the capital city of the state of Penang. It is also the second largest city in Malaysia. Georgetown was established by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786 and was one of the first British settlements in South East Asia. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was occupied by the Japanese during WWll before being reclaimed by the British at the end of the war. The Malaya attained independence from Britain in 1957.

Georgetown Malaysia has to be one of my favorite towns that I have been in Asia! Just for every day living. There is no amazing waterfalls or world class beaches but this place is not to be missed!

Many come for the street art that fills back alley ways and sides of coffee shops. I was no different, that was what had brought me to Georgetown for two days. The brilliant hostels, good wifi and amazing food is what kept me there for almost two weeks!

(this piece is one block behind Antarabangsa)

I flew the hour flight into Georgetown from Singapore via Air Asia. From the airport you can exit the terminal and out front there is a bus stop. From here you can take the 141 bus that will take you to Georgetown. It is about an hour bus ride from the terminal, I don’t remember the exact price, I just know it was not much and they do not give change! So if all you have is a big bill and want to get on that bus, it just turned into a $20 bus ride.

The bus will drop you off at Komtar terminal which is next to the Komtar mall on the outside of downtown Georgetown.

I booked two nights at the Container Hotel in a dorm for 31 ringgit ($7) per night. This place is brilliant if you value comfort over the party. Pod dorms with your own light, plug and a table that folds down with a mirror behind it. Big locker space under the bed and amazing wifi. There is no breakfast included but there is three brilliant coffee shop/bakeries within a block of the hostel. (I don’t know why but the rate is much better per night on booking.com instead of hostelworld.com)

The China house is the oldest Cafe in Georgetown. It is made up of three separate restaurants in one long skinny building. The cafe in the front has about 20 different cakes on display at all times and really good coffee and tea.

The Black Kettle is one of my favorite places in Georgetown if you want a big breakfast. (Hangover breakfast) They have french toast out of this world! Big sliced French toast with chocolate spread between, strawberries, almond slices and lychee on top and corn flakes on top. Dry chocolate crumbs and a scoop of ice cream, a plate of bacon and a latte. If you are still singing the blues after that then you need to re evaluate y0ur drinking.

Lavish is another cafe that is worth checking out. More of a French bakery with a good coffee and tea selection and a case full of fresh breads and pastries. And when you have a sweet tooth they make amazing shakes! About 8 different choices and every one looks like a home run!

As for dinner there is only one place that you need to know about and that is Kaptain’s. It is on the outside of Little India on Chulia Street and they have the best Indian food that I have ever had in my life! One of the best meals I have had in a long time anywhere for that matter. The Tandoori chicken and nan set is unbelievable. It comes with three different sauces, a lime and I get a side of rice to go with it. There is always a short wait after about 7pm so I always try to get there before then. Trust me kids you will not regret it!

As for the Street Art most of it is on or near Armani street. Many of the pieces were commissioned by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. And many of these pieces are deteriorating due to the weather and time.  I would reccomend downloading the app Maps.Me. Most of these pieces are on the map with a star next to them.

(this piece is in the ally on Chulia Street near the docks across the street from the Container Hotel)

(this piece is on Armenian Street near the end)

I just happened to be in Penang for the start of the Chinese New Years. Streets lined with Chinese lanterns and decorations. Georgetown is made up of almost half Chinese people so this is as good a place as any to celebrate!

If you happened to be in Penang during the Chinese New Year you must make it to Kek Lok Si for the lighting ceremony of the temple. It is unbelievable! For 30 days this entire temple is light up at night to celebrate. They gave Clark Griswold a run for his money for sure! There is almost not one part of the temple that isn’t decorated or wrapped with strands in this sea of lights.

There is a few beaches on this island but unless you are on a short trip I would suggest you just hold off until Langkawi. You can rent a scooter for 35 ringgit per day ($8) and you can take the 40 minute ride to the other side of the island where the Hard Rock and a few other resorts are. There is a beach and a National Park where you can take the hour hike to Monkey Beach. It looks to have been once just a fishing village but tourism is taking the shores over.

Where to stay-

Container Hotel- 31 ringgit per night. ($7)

Food-

Kaptain, The Black Kettle, Lavish, The China House

Booze-

Alcohol in quite expensive in Georgetown. The cheapest beer by far is found at Antarabangsa. Its a small store with coolers full of beer and plastic chairs out front. You will not find a cheaper beer on this island.

Gym-

There is a gym across from Komtar Mall called 24-M. It is 18 ringgit ($4) per day and that includes a protein shake. Weekly rates are a bit cheaper.

Philippines

Palawan, The Philippines

The last frontier as they call it. This was it! The reason I absolutely had to go to the Philippines. For the last two years Palawan was named the number one island in the world by Travel & Leisure and many other travel magazines. I had to come see what all of the fuss was about!

Getting around the Philippines is almost a science in itself. If you improperly plan your trip (as I did) you will end up spending a fortune on flights backtracking all over the country to get to your next destination. To get from Boracay to Palawan is only about 95 nautical miles. But to get those 95 miles was one of the most ridiculous days of traveling in my life!

I woke up and packed my bags like any other day, hopped onto the tricycle and headed to the port. After a short ferry ride and I was to the mainland. That was followed by a 2 hour mini bus ride to Kalibo. (There is a much closer airport but the bus ride saves you a cool $75) From Kalibo I had to fly to Manilla for a 7 hour layover. The international terminal in Manilla are amazing! The domestic terminal is not so pretty. There is not much to do, the food choices are burnt pizza or pot noodles. I made the best of it and walked laps around the waiting room and watched the Chicago Bulls game on the television with some local guys. Basketball is kinda a big deal in the Philippines. I was then notified that my flight was delayed an hour. Its pretty standard in Asia. I don’t think I have had a flight leave on time yet. That hour went by and we started to board the plane.

After we all loaded the plane they then informed us that we would be delayed again because of runway traffic. Another 45 minutes later the captain came on the intercom to say those three magic words. Prepare for takeoff. After about 45 minutes in the air we began our decent for what seemed to be our landing. Another hour of the plane jerking side to side and the engine jets boosting and then not making noise I knew something was NOT right. The plane at one point was nose up in the air and you could just feel it float in the air. After two more unsuccessful attempts to land the captain gets on the intercom and tells everyone that the weather was to bad in Puerto Princessa and that we would be returning to Manilla!

By this point I thought I was going to have an actual heart attack! We turned back and half way to Manila he turned off the autopilot and we flew the next 30 minutes at the hands of Mr. Captain. The planes wings turning side to side for the rest of the flight. At this point I came to terms and realized that this guy had absolutely no clue what he was doing. After thirty minutes of this nonsense and the plane dropped to the runway like a skid of bricks and screeched to a stop. Everyone on the plane got up to get their bags and I needed to figure where I would sleep that night now that I was back in Manilla again. The stewardess advised us that they wouldn’t let anyone off of the plane. As you would expect that went over very well with the people on the plane.

A guy sitting next to me was speaking English to someone on the phone in Puerto Princessa and they said that not only was there no weather but there wasn’t even any wind. Another 30 minutes went by and they announced that the flight crew would be giving us some food. Their idea of food and mine are a bit different but they brought us all some kind of chocolate snack cake and water. Another 30 minutes passed and I see the pilots and the entire flight crew leave the plane. As the pilot was leaving I said “hey buddy, first time?” He just put his head down and walked off the plane. I got a chuckle out of that. A few minutes later an entire new flight crew and captains entered the plane and announced that we were going to Puerto Princessa. At this point all I could do is laugh hysterically in disbelief.

Another hour went by and we successfully landed to a beautiful summer night in Puerto Princessa. So 16 hours and $300 later after Air Asia put my life in jeopardy for what should have been a 90 mile boat ride (that doesnt exist) I finally arrived. This want going to be my last run with problems from Air Asia. And they are supposed to be the “good” airline! But it was in the past. They say the adventure getting there is half of the fun. That day I had enough adventure..

That night I stayed at the Airportside Inn. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t clean, it was quite run down but it was close to the airport and it was almost 12pm at night at this point. I had a 12 person dorm room all to myself with no locker so I spent most of the night waking up to see if my computer and camera were still next to me. I have a cable lock that I used to locked my small bag to my arm. The next morning I took a tricycle to the bus terminal to get the mini bus to El Nido.

It is a 5 hour ride in a cramped mini van local people trying to get across the island. Some of them transporting huge sacks of rice and spices. One girl had a lap full of picture frames. The AC worked and to me that was all that mattered. English is one of the recognized languages in the Philippines but you will see that the further you get from the cities the less and less English was spoken.

El Nido itself is a very small populated town on the ocean. The magic of El Nido happens in the sea! I stayed one night in the town at the Austria’s Guest House to get a feel for the town. Its a nice place a block from the beach and only cost 500 pesos ($10) for a private room with a fan. There is also a legit fruit and pancake breakfast with coffee included and a restaurant on the property to purchase lunch or dinner.

I spent the next three days aboard the Palawan Secret Cruise boat. This was a bit on the pricey side of a backpacker budget but it was really worth it!

The cruise included three meals a day, a tour every morning and afternoon, and a sunset cocktail. I slept in a bunkbed on the sea overlooking Snake Island. There was kayaks to use and a beach bar on land at the end of the sand bar of Snake Island. Other then that we were alone in paradise! During the day a few tour boats would visit the bay to see the island.

The first day we took a tour to snorkel some of the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life! I saw sea horses, parrot fish and my first puppy fish.

The evenings were filled with fresh seafood and cocktails with my new friends.

The morning we woke up to breakfast and a tour of the big and small lagoons. As we entered the small lagoon local guys brought us out kayaks to rent for —- pesos. Inside of the lagoon was truly a sight to see! Rock walls on both sides. Deep green waters underneath of me.

As I was paddling into the lagoon I started to see jellyfish. Big ones and lots of them! They looked exactly like the stingless jellyfish I had seen in the photos. The only place on earth I am aware of these things exists was in a lake in the island of Palau and on the island of Surigao in the Philippines. The lagoon in Surigao had recently been shut down because the population of jellies was almost completely gone in a few short years by tourists swimming in the lagoon. So maybe these guys migrated from there. I bet there was 100 of them I saw swimming near the surface. It was unbelievable!

When I reached back to the boat a spoke to the captain about what I saw. He said he had been to this lagoon many many times and he had never heard about any jellyfish there so I felt pretty lucky!

After arriving at the large lagoon if you arrive at low tide you have to walk down a valley of rocky shallow water to get to the lagoon. I swam in with a snorkel and paddled out to the middle of the lagoon. All was well until I put on my mask and looked down. I couldn’t see the bottom, not a fish, not a thing! Just the dark abyss. It was a really erie feeling!

I wrapped an amazing day up with a Coconut delivered to the boat by a fella on a raft for 50 pesos.

The following day we took a tour of Papaya beach. If you book tours on the mainland they all leave at the same time and they all arrive at the same time. The beauty of staying on this cruise was they were determined to get me to see the sights before anyone else arrived! We had the beach to ourselves.

 

I even got a game in with some local kids working on our boat. Im not real sure what the rules were but everyone got two shots and you didn’t have to dribble unless you wanted to.

There was one bamboo hut that someone lived in and another that they sold coconuts and rum out of. Two bucks for a coconut full of rum? Ill take two.

Im not sure if there was a school somewhere in the jungle or if the kids that lived in that hut had to take this boat to school but what a way to grow up!

Because coconut.

I would highly recommend staying on this boat for a couple nights when you make it to el Nido! It was the highlight of my Palawan trip!

After returning to land I spent one night again at the Austria’s Guest House and booked my ferry boat to Coron. From there I woke up at 5 am for the 3.5 hour speed ferry to Coron.

It’s not often you get the pleasure of seeing the real paradises of the world before they have been taken over by hotels and bars. I spoke to one gentlemen from the USA that had been living there for 13 years. He told me about a time when there was no streets and almost no travelers because no one knew about the place. Tourism will in time kill a lot of the beauty of El Nido but if you get the chance you must see it for yourself..

Getting in and out-
-Flight to Puerto Princessa from Manila plus 5 hour mini bus ride. From Boracay I paid almost $300 and spent a whole day traveling to get to Palawan. Don’t do what I did! Plan your flights properly.
-Flight to El Nido from Manila.

Where to stay-
Austria’s Guest house- $10 per night
Palawan Secret Cruises- $130 per night.

Where to eat-
Art bar- Really good food a bit on the pricey side and the best wifi in El Nido. (I promise you will pay $1 more for a chicken with good wifi)

Philippines

Boracay, The Philippines

Condé Nast Traveler readers choice recently named Boracay the number one Island in the world! To be completely honest with you in my opinion it is pretty far fetched but I have a few photos from there that say differently. I arrived to Boracay before Christmas and was just looking for a good beach to relax on and celebrate the holidays. Boracay is a place that you can spend as little or as much money as you would like. If you aren’t into partying then you better do your homework about where you are going to stay because this place knows how to do that very well! Boracay also has no shortage of things to do. From diving, snorkeling, helmet diving, sailing, day trips, island hopping, parasailing, sunset cruises to cliff jumping, there is something for everyone.

After arriving to Caticlan from Cebu upon arrival to the airport I grabbed my backpack and got onto maps.me (which I must say has completely changed the travel game! Its an offline map that operated from your location. It is completely brilliant!) So there was tricycles (Moto taxis) outside of the terminal picking up people to take them to the ferry terminal for Boracay. But after looking at my map I saw that the terminal was only a 5 minute walk away. When you arrive to the ferry terminal you have to pay three separate fees that add up to about 150 Pesos ($3) to board the ferry boat. A 10 minute boat ride will take you to the port in Boracay. From there you have to take a tricycle to your “Station.”

The beach area in Boracay is split into 3 stations. Station 1 is a bit quieter with ocean front hotels and guest houses. There is also many good higher end restaurants and bars here. Station 2 is where the party is at. This is also where you will find most of the hostels and the walking streets. And Station 3 is probably the most relaxed of the three. I stayed at the Boracay Backpacker which is right on the edge of station 1. It is close enough to the party and there is a bar on the property but you can also rest in the evening. It is a minute walk from the beach and lots of good restaurants. The walls, the sheets, the towels, everything is white. There is a tiki bar in the courtyard and bamboo cabanas to relax on.

(Photo- Hostelworld.com)

White sand beach is the main Beach in Boracay. It is the finest example of paradise lost I have ever seen. You can tell that 20 years ago this was one the best beaches in the world! One of those beaches where the palm trees go all the way up to the sea and thats followed by white sand and amazing aqua water. If you happen to walk the beach at sunrise while everyone is still sleeping you can get a good look at what it once was.

By 9:00 in the morning the entire beach is full of dive tanks and boats loaded full of people going to take day trips and soon after comes the guys selling sunglasses and tours. My first stroll down that beach I remember thinking man, I could live here. I think a day or two later that opinion had faded but at the right time of day it is still a sight to see.

I spoke to some local women about the island and they told me how sad it makes them because as children, they knew everyone on the island and it truly was paradise but now many businesses are owned by people from other counters and with that came big price increases. And now they do not know their neighbors. But there is still many amazing places on Boracay to visit!

After a good rain if you take the 5 minute walk to cross the island, on the other side Bulabog beach is good when the crouds aren’t there. When the weather is good the entire beach will be filled with kite surfers and wind surfers as far as you can see. This beach also has many hostels and hotels lining it but most are geared towards the wind surfing.

In my opinion the best beach I saw was Diniwid Beach. While I just so happened to be in Boracay I was watching a video of the top 10 bluest waters in the world and Diniwid Beach was on that list! A few minutes after watching that video I packed up my camera and started walking down white beach to do some exploring. After you walk north past the stations is when Boracay starts getting good! A beautiful beach and a few resorts in the distance. You will walk past the occasional tiki bar with a few locals and tourists hanging out. At the end when it looks like you can not go any farther follow the path and you will walk around a cliff face to a small shore of colorful fishing boats. Another 10 minute walk and you will arrive to Diniwid Beach. Women drinking tropical cocktails sun bathing on a white sand. The water is so turquoise its hard to believe its real.

If you keep walking past the beach and follow the trail will lead you to the Spider House. This has to be the coolest bar on the island! Levels of seating over looking the ocean, a giant raft in the sea to swim out to and a plank for diving. The Spider house is one of the best places in Boracay! You can grab lunch or a beer, take a swim, lay in the sun and watch the sun.

I had to move hostels before New Years for three nights because the Boracay Backpackers was booked. I moved to the W Hostel and I have to say, this was one of the best hostels I have stayed in many years of traveling! Pod bunks with curtains, your own plug and light, big lockers, All day AC, hot breakfast and good wifi. Those things might not mean much if you’re reading this and you aren’t a backpacker but to us those things mean the world! By this point I had been in Boracay for 8 days, which for me was about 5 days to many already but the flight prices were outrageous to leave because of the holidays. And after talking to people they told me that Boracay was the best New Years party in the Philippines so whats a few more days. New Years Eve was a blast though! I joined some friends in a pub crawl of three bars, two night clubs and a firework grand finally on the beach! It was one of the biggest firework displays I have ever seen! It went on for a solid hour from a pier, the shore and a barge. The whole sky was full of explosions in every color.

 

 

Getting to and from-

-From Caticlan it is just a short ferry boat ride away.

-From Kalibo you must take the bus 2.5 hours to the port in Caticlan and then the ferry. There is mini busses and taxis at the port when returning to Kalibo. The mini bus does not leave until it is full so if you are in a hurry the taxi is the way to go.

Where to stay- 

-Boracay Backpacker- 500 pesos per night ($10) Prices here seem to change by the day.

-The W Hostel- 700 pesos per night. ($14) I believe this is a fixed price.

What to eat- 

-Army Navy- Amazing hang over food. Burritos, steak sandwiches, burgers and french fries. Its owned buy a guy from the USA so you know its good and terrible for you.

-Cheaper local food, go to Munchies on Bulabog street. Good food fast and cheap.

-For cheap booze go to Coco Mangas in Bulabog. Basically a store in the back to buy convenient store priced booze and seating in the front to drink it! (make sure you go to Coco Mangas in Bulabog. The other one is a dive bar down the street)

Philippines Travel

Cebu, The Philippines

I have had a strong urge to visit the Philippines ever since the first time I saw a Photo of the Kawasan Falls. Every photo I see of the Philippines from fellow photographers looks like a post card from paradise! Recently Condé Nast Traveler recently ranked Cebu the number 5 island in the world!

I had a few concerns about traveling to the Philippines though. Muslim extremists in the south, Pirates on the seas and the new President that recently took office. The first two we will get to later. As for President Rodrigo Duterte, he wooed the people with promises of cleaning the streets of drug dealers and crime. He took office on June 30th and boy did he keep his promise!

By the time I had left for the Philippines there was reports of over 2,000 people killed from Dutertes “War on Drugs.” A few weeks later those reports were over 6,000 people dead. 2,000 by government officials and the rest by unknown gunmen in return for a bounty. The stories I was hearing sounded less like the present time and more like something from a John Wayne movie!

Here is a link to Time Magazines recent article. http://time.com/philippines-drug-war/

So I had a lot of thinking to do but the more that people told me I may not want to go there right now, the stronger my curiosity got! You can ask my mother, I was never one for listening. I do not use drugs, but me being a guy with tattoos and piercings, I was concerned that I might end up on the wrong end of this war. And then I looked at a few more photos of Kawasan Falls and that was all I needed to know that I had a flight to book.

That week waiting for the flight had come and gone and 30 hours of traveling later I had landed in Cebu. I grabbed my backpack and left the airport looking for the cheapest most raggedy taxi I could find. There were fresh clean white ones all lined up in front of the airport with men in proper uniforms. I knew that wasn’t for me. Then I saw local people around the corner standing in a line to get into these beat up yellow Nissan sentras. After waiting my turn I hailed my cab to the Pacific Cebu Resort on the Island of Mactan. The price seemed more than fair but of course I hired the one person in the country that doesn’t speak English! I got a laugh out of that.

I knew traveling to the other side of earth was going to take a toll on my clock so I booked a nice room for the first two nights in Asia. The first day by 3pm I couldn’t function any more. I rested my eyes for a moment and the next thing I knew it was 1am! After stalking the internet for photo ideas in the Philippines until sun rise I went to the onsite 24 hour convenient store and bought a few beers. The staff didn’t know what to do when I walked into the breakfast with 2 bottles of San Miguel in my hand.

This resort is definitely not the nicest I have ever stayed but the ground are full of views. Three pools, one of which is used for dive training, a small beach, tennis courts and a small gym. The breakfast though.. Now that was incredible! Everything you could ever want in a breakfast and many things that had no business being there but it was impressive. A table of food fit for a king! In front of the restaurant there is also a long pier that you can walk. At low tide there are local people scavenging the shores looking for anything that they can sell. “Hello sir. Would you like some souvenirs?” This gentleman asked me. That was one of the first things I realized about the people of the Philippines. They all seemed so polite! Even if they were trying to talk you into something they knew you didn’t want they were polite and did it with a smile. I also remember thinking this was one of the only places in the world that if you didn’t want something, no meant no. They give you a smile and let you go about your day. This fella spent hours sitting on the pier cleaning shells to sell. We talked about his shark tattoo and I showed him my shark tattoo. He told me anything that I needed from snorkeling, to boat tours, to advise, he was my man.

After a few days of relaxing by the pool it was time for the real journey to begin. I learned two lessons very quickly after leaving that resort. One don’t ever travel in Cebu City anywhere that you don’t have to during business hours! It took me about 2 hours to get three miles from Mactan, over the bridge to the mainland. The sun beating on my face the whole way to the bus terminal. And number two, just because you ask the taxi driver if he has a taxi meter does not mean that he is going to turn it on! A half hour into the trip I realized that the meter hadn’t changed. I asked what was wrong with the meter and he said it was broken. After refusing to pay the 500 peso he asked me for and tried to get out of the cab in traffic his tune changed real fast and we agreed on about half that. You always have to keep your eye on the cabbies. I think I have seen every single trick in the book done by these guys while traveling around the world. Its their job to make money for dinner and usually your job to keep them honest.

From the South Bus Terminal to my next stop of Boljoon, the ride from the city to the south of Cebu was about two hours. This was the first time traveling in almost 30 countries that I could sit on a bus with local people and have a conversation! That was really something special for me. I talked to a local girl about her growing up on a farm on the island south of Cebu called Negros. We talked about the local political situation, good places to hike and the mountains on her island. It was really nice to be able to travel a place and properly communicate with the local people. While we were talking, I showed the drivers helper a photo of my hostel and two hours later they dropped me off at the Noordzee Hostel. Now this place seemed less like a hostel and more like a resort! A swimming pool overlooking the ocean, cabanas on the shore, a restaurant bar with a view and even a koi pond.

The property had two armed guards on the grounds at all times which I thought was a bit much but hey safety first. That was my thought until I read about the travel advisory put out by the USA advising no one visit the cities of Dalaguete and Santanders. Advising against travel because of muslim extremist threats of kidnapping. I just so happened to be in between those two towns and I guess that explained the two armed guards at the hostel. But I walked these towns with my own two feet, got lunch and a haircut. Nothing seemed out of the norm and the people were exceptionally nice! Every person that I talked to about this travel advisory all seemed to know nothing about why it was issued and even the Philippine government asked for any evidence that there was a reason for concern. As for me I had no problems. I got a hair cut on a bucket in front of a chicken coupe on the side of the road for $1! Whats not to like about that.

From Noordzee Hostel you can organize your trip to Oslob to swim with the whale sharks. I have been chasing these majestic creatures for years. In South America I went to coastal towns hours out of my way just for the hopes that I could see one in person. I went to an island in Mexico that is a big part of their migration pattern during the mating season but of course I arrived a few weeks to late. So I figured this is one of the things that the Philippines is known for. I have to give it a try!

Oslob is only a 30 minute bus ride from the hostel and they drop you off right at the entrance. (Well they actually drop you off at the hotel next to the Whale Center and the hotel charges you 100 peso extra to do the exact same tour.) I left at 6am to make sure I beat the crowds of people I had earlier heard about. After arriving though I was really a bit disappointed at what I saw. They took me out in a boat about 30 meters from shore and there was another guy sitting on his boat dumping what I assume is some kind of plankton into the water. I did not feel good about it but I was already there so I jumped into the water and from there I have to be honest I was amazed.

There were five whale sharks swimming around me. They were so big and beautiful! One swam towards me with his mouth open and right when I thought my arm was going in, he turned away. This went on for about 20 minutes and then I looked to the shore and saw more and more people showing up. I really didn’t feel good about this at all. In my opinion any animal being fead by humans isn’t doing its job in the wild and this was no different. Though this was not a zoo, they do have the option to stop being so lazy and swim away any time they want! It just didn’t seem right. Then I went back to the hostel and read about how this is a terrible diet for the whale shark and it is going to cause reproductive issues for them. I also read that whats happening in Oslob is stopping the proper migration patterns for mating as well. I later found out about many other places in the Philippines that you have an excellent chance to see them in their natural habitat without doing more damage then good. The Miss Universe candidates went the there the day after I was and many were outraged at them for this as well.

From Boljoon I took the bus to Santander and switched to a bus going up the opposite coast for Moalboal. This town is a good starting point for many tour opportunities. Its a 45 minute tricycle ride to the Kawasan Falls, you can also do canyoneering here, the sardine run and there is also many good restaurants and bars in the vicinity. I stayed a few nights at Chief Mao Hostel. Nice beds, AC and a good breakfast. (Not included) It is also a 1 minute walk from the ocean.

After a long night of “exploring” all of the bars that the town had to offer until the early morning, on a few hours of sleep I woke up to go fetch a snorkel and mask. I rented one for 100 pesos ($2) for the day. I tried snorkeling a few spots off the shore with no sardines in site. Then I saw a local kid swimming and asked him where he was hiding all of the fish. He waved me to follow him. We walked a minute or two down the beach and he dove into the water. I followed him swim out about 10 meters as the earth began to drops off a giant cliff. As I swam out over the deep water I started to see the ocean light up like glitter!

Before I knew it I was completely surrounded by walls of sardines. They were everywhere! Local people said that a few years earlier they didn’t have the sardines in Moalboal. I don’t know where they come from but it truly was a site to see! If you have a bit more time and want the truly epic photograph you can go diving here directly from the shore and get a photo from underneath the sardines to get the true effect.

The next morning I was up early with one thing on my mind. The mighty Kawasan! And I really wanted to beat any crowds of people. I flagged a tricycle (rickshaw Moto taxi) and negotiated a price to take me to the Falls. They told me that 700 pesos ($14) was the standard rate to take me there and wait for the return trip but I talked him down to 500 pesos. Its amazing how far a smile and a couple of jokes will get you in the world. 45 minutes down the winding coast later and I arrived in a church parking lot. I didn’t know where to go so I just started walking down a path into the jungle. A beautiful green river lined the trail and a few bamboo huts with women selling fruit on the opposite side.

After about 15 minutes of walking I got to a little village and was starting to have my doubts if I was on the right track but it was so beautiful I wasn’t turning back.

Another five minutes around the bend and I started to hear the crash of water in the distance. Local kids with huge sacks of rice passed me and smiled. A few steps later and I arrived..

To be honest the falls themselves weren’t as big as I had imagined especially after already seeing some of the biggest in the world but I have NEVER witnessed water like this! There was just a few people here and most of them worked at the nearby restaurant. It was just me, this gal, a bamboo raft and the sound of the water crashing.

I don’t know how I got so lucky because I had heard stories of this place crawling with people but I just sat and admired the nature around me. This was what I came here for..

If you follow the trail on the left of the falls up you can get an unbelievable view from above!

After admiring the view from above for a while a police officer that was walking the grounds told me to follow the trail up another 15 minutes and there was another set of falls. I think lots of people come here and don’t know about the second falls. They also told me that if you have proper shoes another 20 minutes up a muddy trail there is a third set of falls that are meant to be really beautiful but I didn’t go that far.

Getting to and from-

Buses leave the south bus terminal every 30 minutes or less heading south to Santander. There is a bus also on the other side of the island that runs every 30 minutes. Prices depend on the pick up and drop off point. From Boljoon to Moalboal took about 2.5 hours. I took a mini bus from Moalboal to Cebu City and it dropped everyone off in Mactan. You can also take the public bus but takes about an hour longer.

Where to stay-

Boljoon- Noordzee Hostel- 500 Pesos ($10) Does not include breakfast but has great options to buy.

Moalboal- Cheif Mau Hostel- 400 Peso ($8) Also no breakfast but ala cart breakfast menu is good and cheap.

Mexico

Bacalar, Mexico

The Lagoon of Seven Colors as they call it. This place is unbelievable! This tropical paradise is actually a lagoon 50 miles long and far from the ocean shore.

During the first stages of Piracy in 15th century Bacalar, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres were targets for Pirate raids. During the second stages of piracy of the 16th century they set up hideouts here for better attacks on larger towns for greater plunder.

This was also during the time of the slave trade as well as the coffee, cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations. After Britain gained power of present day Belize, with this trade agreement England, France and holland gained entry to the American market.

  
In 1670 “The treaty of America” was signed between Spain and England and from that day forward they decided to combat piracy. Now I am one of the only ones left…

 

I only had two days to spend in Bacalar because I was on the fast track to Cuba for the Rolling Stones concert but I wish I could have gave a few more nights to this beautiful lagoon. The food was very cheep. Not many people spoke English, the sun was hot and the water was cool. Just how I like my Mexico journeys to be.. If you have time check out the water park/swimming area. There is also a reserve near by.

 (View from the hostel)


Where to stay-

I stayed one night at the Posada Lulu La Bruja. A newer hostel owned by a really nice French guy. Vegan food, yoga, very quiet place to relax for a night or two on the lagoon. Free fruit and coffee for breakfast. Good beds, AC -180 peso per night ($10)

Where to eat-

Pizzeria Bertilla has the best pizza in town. Authentic Italian for a very nice price!

Kai Pez is a nice restaurant within walking distance with water side dining. I had 4 tacos, nachos and 4 beers for $9 us.

Getting here and away-

From Belize- I took the boat from Caye Caulker to San Pedro for Immigration. Then to the Port of Chetumal, Mexico. From there you can negotiate a taxi to Bacalar for 200-300 pesos. It’s a 30 minute cab ride.

To Tulum- The bus terminal is on the south side of the town on the corner of Calle 30 and Calle 19 Libramiento. The ADO bus is the best. It wil have you to Tulum in 3 hours.

Guatemala

Semuc Champey- Lanquin, Guatemala

There are two reasons why you are going to ever go to Lanquin, Guatemala..  The first reason is to visit Semuc Champey and the second reason is to swim in this pool!

The Zephyr Lodge is a well oiled machine. When you arrive you are greeted with a free beer. If you stay here 3 nights, the 4th is free! The 5th day you have happy hour drink prices all day.

Dorm rooms, private rooms, tours, two bars and a full menu of food. Zephyr is a one stop shop for all of your needs in Lanquin. Or is it?

They have a tab system that is a brilliant way to take the money from your pocket and put it into theirs. It took me a couple days to realize why they give you free nights and cheaper booze for more stay. Because your second night there is spent sober planing for a tour the following morning and you start to notice the spiders as big as your hand and the cockroaches all over the rooms. (Keeping in mind that you are in the jungle and bugs definitely do happen. Big ones!) But I have been in rainforests in Thailand, Laos, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, jungles in Panama, Peru, and the Amazon jungle and never saw a single roach!) You begin to see that this place is just someone’s piggy bank. It was never geared towards your comfort. It’s just an unbelievably awesome pool in the jungle surrounded by lots of tricks to get you to buy overpriced drinks and spend money. Free beer when you get there? To get you to buy 6 more beers. 4th night is free? To get you to buy $35 of food and more booze. 5th day happy hour? Turns into a 6th day hung over. If the place was nice and comfortable they wouldn’t have to trick you to stay longer.

(If you could sleep outside in a tent this place would be paradise!)

Now if I could do it all again, I would stay at the newly built hostel on the next hill over called The Oasis. It will soon be 6 new bungalows with river access and you can walk to Zephyr for a day of pool drinking and lunch. (I only wrote about the negatives because if someone would have warned me my Lanquin trip would have been much better!) Now to the good stuff…

After an night of boozin and a day of laying by the pool you can book your Semuc Champey tour. Your morning will start with a 45 minute drive through the jungle in a 50s lifted Dodge monster truck. When you enter the park you will be greeted at 10am by a few local kids introducing them selves and trying to sell you beer.

After locking up your goods in a lock box you enter a cave on the side of a mountain! You will light a candle and walk with your shoes on through an underground river for a couple hundred feet until you are neck deep! Walking and swimming through the river wile keeping candle light above water but it was one of the craziest things I have ever done! Repelling up waterfalls with a candle in your mouth. It was all so wild! After exploring for a bit we reached a cliff with a small pool at the bottom. People climbing the walls of the cave to jump in!

After exiting the cavern we did some rope swinging into the river and then grabbed some tubes and floated down the river wile the local kids follow you on tubes with a cooler of beer for sale. They keep a running tab for everyone wile remembering the names in their head! Then those with the sand to give it a try jumped off a 30 foot bridge into the river.

It was time for more brews and lunch. A Mayan woman set up a buffet style barbecue on the side of the road for us and the little boys did their best to talk us into drinking 2 beers at a time. The girls sell home made chocolate. Pretty good actually! After that we hiked up the side of one of the mountings to get the view I came here for! Semuc Champey..

It’s a system of limestone pools along the river that have every shade of emerald water you could imagine!

Fish swimming around your feet and the water is literally the perfect temperature.

Such a peaceful place..

After an 8 hour day of adventure you can still make it back to the hostel in time for a game of strip Jenga!

A little recent history about the village of Semuc Champey. (Told to my by my guide) The owner of the land of Semuc Champey for many years lined his pockets with cash without doing anything to help of his local village. So they basically overthrough him, kicked him out of the village and took over Samuc Champey. He and his family fled to Guatemala City. The money earned by the park is now used to do repairs the the park, pave roads, put more villagers to work and build schools for the children. I don’t know if it’s all true but I like that story..

Where to stay-

The Oasis- $12 dorm beds, river access, clean

Getting there and away-

-Panahachel to from Lanquin has a direct shuttle service for 200 quetzal that takes between 9-11 hours. Lots of dirt and gravel roads.

-Flores, there is a shuttle service with two prices- 130 or 150 if you prefer AC. It takes 8 hours. I would pay the extra buck or two. When you get to the lowlands it is extremely hot!

Good luck!

Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

It’s official El Salvador is now the murder capital of the world. After a few days of traveling from Nicaragua through Honduras and spending a day in El Salvador I was about an hour from San Salvador, the worlds most homicidal city. I thought it didn’t look so bad at all actually kinda beautiful in the hills and along the sea side. But apparently the gangs the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 are the main gangs averaging 18 murders per day in El Salvador.

 (photo insightcrime.org)

Now the gangs are coming apart at the seams and they are not only at war with police and each other but internal wars within the gangs. The conflicts and blood are spilling over into Honduras and Guatemala. Most of them are covered from head to toe with tattoos including their faces. Apparently I have some of the same styles and tattoos on the same places as one gang and the other will murder you if you have an “M” tattooed on you. So I thought traveling through this region may not be the best idea. But a few days and a few busses later and I wandered through the most of the crazy parts and ended up in Antigua, Guatemala.

This place is unbelievable! The culture that I have been lacking all of Central America with great food and all of the history that you can handle! Surrounded by volcanos there are 360 degrees of photo opportunities in Antigua.

The Kingdom of Guatemala once was made up of current day Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Capitol of the Kingdom of Guatemala was destroyed by earthquakes or abandoned a few times.

Antigua was named the Capitol in 1543. It became one of the richest capitals of the new world! For 200 years it was the Military seat of the Spanish colony. It too was destroyed by earth quakes and by 1776 it was abandoned.

In the 1770s the population of the city peaked at over 60,000 people. Compared to the present day 34,000. (Probably because the hostel owner told me that a small house in Antigua goes for over 1 million USD!)

 

If you are lucky enough to be here during lent every weekend there is a celebration and a parade. The streets full of these rugs made of grass, flowers and colored saw dust. Parades of people, smoke and men wearing purple robes fill the street. It truly is a sight to see!


Antigua has cuisine and accommodation for every budget. As for me I stayed a few nights at the Hacia El Sur Hostel. It’s not the prettiest place but the location is great, showers are hot and the beds are good! The owner is a great guy as well. There is a rooftop restaurant above the hostel, Italian food next door, and a middle eastern restaurant two doors down that has big plates of really good food for $4. There is also a laundry service on this block. This photo of Volcan Fuego erupting was taken from the roof of the hostel! (While eating chocolate cheese cake.)

Antigua is also home to one of the best pizzas I have ever had (EVER)! Do yourself a favor and visit the San Martin Bakery. Baked goods, great coffee and deserts and the pizza is the best I have had by far in Central America!

 (Photo revuemag.com)

On Sunday check out the local market. Stalls packed full of hand made Mayan crafts and souvenirs. Mayan women wearing entricitly woven traditional dress, hand made shoes and many with smiles full of gold teeth.


There is also a great local market near the arch ran by a very nice Guatemalan man with a pony tale. He walked me around and showed me art, told me I was welcome in this country and that it was nice to meet me and then told me that my lip ring is very sexy.



Where to stay-

Hacia El Sur Hostel- Dorm bed $10 per night. Good beds, rooftop restaurant, good wifi, Excelent free breakfast!

Getting to and from-

From Leon- The shuttle from Nicaragua takes about 16 hours. Leaves at 2 am and drives through Honduras, El Salvador and takes you to Antigua for $55.

Lake Aritlan- Shuttle is direct and takes about 3 hours. Cost-$11 (80 quetzal)

Nicaragua

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

The once fishing village and shipping port of San Juan del Sur is now a popular surfing destination. In the 1850’s it was a resting spot for prospectors on their way to and from California during the gold rush. They filmed four different seasons of survivor near here as well. There has been many proposals to build the Nicaragua canal connecting Atlantic it Pacific through San Juan del Sur. One of my favorite spots in Central America so far!

After a couple weeks of Costa Rica prices I had enough! I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and was pleasantly greeted by San Juan del Sur! The land of $1 beers and $1 tacos! Where have you been all my life.

This is another one of those places that can be done on any budget. The hills are lined with 5 star resorts and infinity pools and the town is full of budget hotels and hostels. Lots of really decent food to be had here. The view from the Mirado del Cristo de la Misericordia is pretty amazing!

The hike to get to get to this giant Jesus statue throwing two fingers is pretty much straight up for 15 minutes but definitely worth it. It’s $2 to enter and closes at sunset.


The night life on the weekends is pretty great! The streets are filled with lots of people, late night restaurants and bars. One of the best brick over pizzas I have had in Central America at La Vecchia Signora Pizzaz. Late night bars you can find everything from $1 beers to fancy craft cocktails.

There is also many of really good beaches with great surf that you can get to by shuttle bus if you aren’t laying by the pool hung over every day (because the beer is so cheep) like some real dirt bags I know..

Where to stay-

I stayed for 4 nights at the Hola Ola hostel. It’s a new place on the outskirts of town away from all the crazies. It’s ran by a guy that grew up in Nicaragua and studied in the states for years so English is no problem here. There is no public kitchen or AC here but the 4 person dorms, pool and the view make up for it for $13 a night. (The photo above was taken here)

Getting to or from-

-From the border of Costa Rica you can take a taxi to San Juan Del Sur for $10 per person.

-From the docks of Ometepe. I did the reverse trip from the hostel to the docks in a private cab for $20 with two people.

Costa Rica

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

I was to the point that Costa Rica had worn my budget thin quickly but I figured we could make time for one more stop on the way out. I actually took the ferry boat across from Manuel Antonio to the bottom of the peninsula and spent a week in Santa Theresa. Many people told me about how amazing this place was but I was extremely not impressed. The beaches were ranked some of the best in Central America (I don’t know by who but I don’t buy it. I have seen better in Florida.) Anywho I am skipping any more talk about this place all together. So with one stop Left I decided that Tamarindo looked like a viable option on the way to Nicaragua.


Many people in other parts of the country called it Tamagringo and told me how it is full of Americans and Canadians. So expectations were low. A friend of mine told me about coming here 12 years ago and having to take a horse to the good surf breaks because there wasn’t much of a town.

The times they are a changing. It is a bit touristic but all and all I dug the place! It’s like if a ran down cancun and key west had a baby. A surf baby town with middle aged Americans on 4 wheelers. The surf here is good. The sunsets are better. You can travel here on a stretch of the backpacker budget to ocean front condos for $400 a night.

If you are on the long term travel plan like me then there are a couple of local restaurants called “Sodas” where you can still get a meal for $5. The night life here is not to shabby either! You can go to Sharkys Thursday night for ladies night where they drink free and all of the Ja Rule and Tone Loc you can handle. If you are lucky enough to be around on a Sunday night please do yourself a favor and go to the Pura Vida Hostel. They have a big common area and two local guys come play Spanish guitar and drums. It was unbelievable! Seriously some of the best live music I have ever seen, ever!

Where to stay-

I stayed one night a Pura Vida hostel waiting for my booking at De Botella de Leche. The night there was pretty good. AC in the rooms all day, two kitchens, beers $2.

I then had booked 3 nights at the De Botella de Leche Hostel which has a kitchen, AC in the rooms all day and a nice pool for $17 a night. I would definitely recommend this place. 

Getting to or from-

-To get to Nicaragua take the local bus from the bus stop on the side of the road in the center to Liberia. From here you switch busses to the Frontera de Nicaragua (border of) After you stamp out and in to Nicaragua there will be taxis on the other side waiting to take you to San Juan Del Sur. $10 a head is the most you should pay.

-Coming from Santa Theresa we took a private shuttle to avoid about 4 busses one of which you have to know where to get off on the Pan American and a ferry boat. The shuttle took 4 hours direct and costed $50.

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

 


The journey from Puerto Viejo to Manuel Antonio. If I can give you any advise about this journey you do not want to do this trip with a hang over! After a long night of eating pizza and drinking beer in Puerto Viejo I woke up for the 9:00 bus. 4 hours of driving through the jungle and we ended up in San Jose. I immediately knew this was not a place I needed to stay and a guy at the terminal told me the bus drivers were about to go on strike so I could be stuck here for two or three days. The next bus was leaving for Manuel Antonio in 30 minutes and it was in a different bus terminal. I somehow managed to get a cab there, puke my brains out, eat some chicken and rice and still make it on that bus in time. Another 4 hours later and we ended up in the town of Quepos. At 10:00pm on a Sunday night you get the impression you are in a run down shit hole in a dirty neighborhood in Costa Rica. And that is because you are! Haha Well not completely but there was nothing much there for me. After one night stay at the not so nice super hot Smiling Monkey Hostel confused to why I was there in the first place, we took the bus up and down the windy road to Manuel Antonio.

We booked a couple beds at the Hostel Que Tuanis. This place only opened a couple months ago but was brilliant! There is three bungalows on stilts with private bathrooms, white sheets and air conditioning in the jungle of Costa Rica for $18 a night! Sounds good to me.

Monkeys hung out in the gardens, parrots fly from tree to tree every morning. Manuel Antonio is a great little town with lots of things for the week traveling gringos. High end resorts are spread throughout the jungles with restaurants to match.

 (Photo taken at the 1965 Boeing 727 hotel room Costa Verde in the trees of Manuel Antonio.)

If you plan to go to the Manuel Antonio National Park do know that they are closed on Mondays. And Tuesday morning there is a stampede of people waiting in line in the hot sun to enter the park. It took us about an hour and a half to enter. It is the most visited National Park in Costa Rica and also the smallest. So they limit the amount of people inside. The park has some great look out points, a few different beaches, sloths and monkeys! (The cute little black faced ones. Not the ones in Asia that steal all your shit!)

There is also a hostel you will pass wile exiting the park that has a restaurant in front. It was the cheapest food I found in Manuel Antonio, and good! If you want to spend a few more bucks stop by the US Army plane shot down in Nicaragua by guerrillas in the 1986 now turned bar and restaurant.

And the $4 milk shakes are amazing!

  

Where to stay- 

Hostel Que Tuanis- $18 a night for a hostel bed. AC, private bathroom, kitchen

Getting to and from- 

From San Jose if you are coming from San Juan Del Sur you need to take a cab to a different terminal about 10 minutes away for Quepos. Catch the bus there. Colectivo is 5 hours. Directo is about 4. 

Leaving you take the local bus to the terminal in Quepos. From there you can book a shuttle to San Jose, Uvita or Punta Arenas to catch the ferry to the peninsula. 

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