Uncategorized

Siargao and the sunrise 

I woke up just after 5am, got reluctantly out of bed and walked to the bathroom. On my return journey to the warmth of my mattress something made me pause and pull back the curtains of my little beachside hut. There, across the water, was the beginning of the most spectacular sunrise I had ever seen.

All thought of sleep instantly vanished. I threw on my clothes, grabbed my camera and headed out of the door. Only to realise as it closed that I had locked myself out. I slipped on my flip flops, headed across the brown sandy wood decking towards the beach, tripped, fell and scraped my knee. I think I was still half asleep.

I dusted myself off and headed towards the water. The sky was an incredible mix of red, purple and orange, seeming to change every second. Silhouetted against the dawn were dozens of small fishing boats, zipping across the horizon on their way to hunt for their morning catch. 

I took hundreds of photos, at one point holding the camera as low as I dared to the water to see if it could pick up the fishmerman a little better. It was at that point a freak wave appeared from nowhere and pushed me back and on my arse in the shallows. I saved the camera, but now I was bleeding from my earlier fall, cold, wet and locked out of my room.

The things you do for a photo. 

Bohol, Swimming with turtles

“Turtle! Turtle!” 

Our kayak captain, pointed down into the water with surprising excitement, considering he must take tourists to swim with turtles hundreds of times a month. 

Snorkel and mask on, I leaned backwards off the boat and felt the warm water wrap around me. I turned over, looked down at the green tinged sand deep beneath me and searched for a turtle. 

My first experience swimming with turtles occurred in Malaysia just off the Perhentian islands in 2009. Up till that point I had never been in crystal tropical water or seen in person the incredible colourful creatures that call it home. I was in awe looking down at clownfish, rainbow fish and squid all zipping between homes of brightly coloured coral. Before we set out on my first snorkel experience, the owner of the beachside hostel gathered everyone together for a briefing. He was a big Malaysian Muslim man and the hostel and boat was his family operation.

“Rule number one!” He boomed, “Do not harass the turtles!”

We all laughed, somewhat nervously. 

“Do not touch them, do not swim down to them, do not annoy them, if they swim up for air, fine, but give them space”.

“Rule number two!” He continued, “do not step, touch, damage or move coral, shells or sand”.

“Rule number three!” He banged his fist on the table for emphasis. “No littering”. I liked this guy, you knew where you stood and you could tell that he cared.

My attention was drawn to a turtle gliding across the seabed and I found myself switching back to the present. I knew it would surface for air eventually, and that a good photo would be the result, so I contentedly followed its journey across the seabed. Minutes later another crossed its path, a little larger, with small blue fish following along beneath it. I switched and took up the chase. Except it turns out that turtles can hold their breath for longer than I expected. Gradually I found myself swimming deeper and deeper, further away from shore and the rest of the swimmers, so I made the decision to turn back, content that I saw two turtles, even if it was not up close. 

Just as I was nearing the kayak our guide shouted again “Turtle!” And pointed down. It took me a few seconds to see it as it was swimming with some coral as a backdrop, but there, almost below me, was a massive turtle. I followed, and within minutes it gradually began to rise for air. I made sure my camera was on and then watched as it surfaced no more than a meter away from me. It seemed to stare at me for a moment through its black left eye before raising it’s head, taking a gulp of air and plunging down below the surface.

Turtle spotting complete, it was time to return to our small boat. “Stand on the coral”, our captain explained after some in the group had difficulty climbing aboard. 

I thought back to the big Malaysian boat owner, he would not have been impressed.

Alona Beach, Bohol day 1

I woke up early on the 19th December, grabbed my swimming shorts and went to the roof for a swim. It was raining. Not the most ideal start, but it wasn’t particularly heavy rain, so I got into the water and began to swim some laps of the fairly small pool. I had the entire rooftop to myself, probably because no one else was stupid enough to go swimming on the roof of a tall building in a storm. The reward for my idiocy was a rainbow beaming across the green mountains surrounding the back of Cebu City.

Robyn, Nikki and I met for breakfast then headed to the ferry for Bohol. Traffic in Cebu is insane and although the ferry was close to the hotel on a map, we were advised by reception to leave 45 minutes to reach the pier. 40 minutes later we arrived, paid the driver, got tickets and were sat on board ready for the couple of hours journey to paradise.

Except when we arrived paradise was somewhat overcast and wet. 

Another 45 minute taxi took us from the ferry to Alona Beach, a strip of white sand to the south of Bohol lined with palm trees and beach resorts. We were staying at Alona Vida resort, I had stayed there once before and it was fairly basic but reasonably priced for the few days we were booked there, and the food was pretty good. We checked in and then went to the restaurant for lunch, and, thankfully, the sun began to emerge.

That afternoon we booked a boat trip for the following morning, as it was Robyn’s birthday and we wanted to go exploring. We then grabbed our swimming stuff and went to the far end of the beach towards the cliffs where we sunbathed, swam in water so clear it was like being in a bathtub and watched the sunset.

Bohol beginnings 

You can tell a lot about a person by their office computer desktop background. Some people never change it, these people are either technologically incompetent or too awesome to let their personal lives seep into their austere halogen lit office cubicle. Then there are the people who change their desktop background, but stay within the standard Microsoft menu of escapist idealism. Tired of the Windows logo on a blue screen? Here! Have some green fields or a lake with some mountains. These types enjoy change, but only within set parameters.

My desktop background was the view from the rooftop of the ‘Best Western Plus Lex hotel’ in Cebu City. I had stayed at the hotel a couple of times before during Easter holidays to the Philippines. It was not a particularly great hotel, or a particularly great picture, but I was due to return to the hotel at the start of my year long adventure around the world, so at the end of a mind numbing meeting I would sit at my desk, look at the picture, and smile safe in the knowledge that I would be there soon.

Nikki and I arrived in Cebu City and headed to the hotel, checked in and then went straight to the rooftop. I swam for a while and then sat at a table overlooking Cebu City whilst drinking a cold San Miguel beer. The street below was teeming with motorcycles and the sounds of honking horns drifted up to the roof, in the middle distance were high rise buildings that were being built two years ago when I had last visited and now remained unfinished and derelict, and in the far distance you could just make out the sea, with ships zipping across the water. I could feel the tension of work drifting away as I looked out at my real life desktop background, or perhaps that was the beer. 

Traveling to the Philippines 

“Do you have a ticket showing your outward journey from the Philippines”? The lady at check in looked up at us expectantly. 

“No..” came my reply, “but we are traveling round the Philippines for a few weeks backpacking and have plenty of internal flights”.

The check in lady looked at me like I was drunk, which was not true, I was merely a bit hungover. My friend next to me was totally drunk, you could smell alchohol seeping from her skin and she was surprisingly jovial at the news we couldn’t board the plane. 

“You can’t enter the Philippines unless you can show your intent to exit the Philippines, you have thirty minutes to purchase a new flight out of the country otherwise you you can’t fly”. And with that the lady at check in turned her attention  to the next customer in line. 

Which is how, hungover and drunk, we found ourselves purchasing a flight from Manila to Shanghai on Monday 9 January 2017 on an iPhone with 2% battery.

My last weekend in Hong Kong was spent in a hotel on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai. The hotel was on the intersection between Typhoon Bar and Carnegies and seemed an appropriate place to end my time in Hong Kong. Rewind ten years and my first night out started on Lockhart road and ended with me dancing on the bar in Carnegies. It was where I once kissed George on Halloween dressed as a pirate and it’s where I once vomited into a nearby posh hotel fountain after an absolute vodka promo party where Russian models insisted on pouring shots of vodka down my throat. 

All good and bad stories often seemed to connect to Lockhart road, so as I gathered my bags and stood outside waiting for a taxi on the morning of Sunday 18th December I was happy and ready to go. It was time to close the chapter of Hong Kong, a decision both good and bad.

Leaving Hong Kong

The practical process of departure, with its gradual completion of a seemingly endless to-do-list of goodbye dinners, membership cancellations and final bill settlements creates a useful distraction from too much introspection and reflection about what is being left behind.

Because leaving Hong Kong, or anywhere you have called home for a significant amount of time is not easy. You become bound to a place, you develop a myriad of threads that connect you, and the process of cutting those threads, of creating instability, feels unnatural and counter intuitive. 
But I’m going to make a conscious effort to not let the practicalities of departure overtake my enjoyment of Hong Kong in these final days. Because if I don’t make time to look up from my to-do-list and back on my time in this incredible place, then I know I will regret it. 

Sailing round the Greek Islands

I sat on the deck of the small sailboat drinking a mug of green tea in the dark. Jetlag from Hong Kong had finally caught up with me, so I climbed from my cozy cabin to sit outside in the cool morning air. It was 5.30am, and the only sign of life was the occasional light being turned on in the Greek fishing village across the harbour.

It was day four of my seven day sailing trip round the southern Greek islands. I had never sailed or slept on a sail boat before, and I found myself enjoying the freedom it provided. On the one hand you had the claustrophobic life below deck, where you only had room for the essentials, and on the other you had the ever changing and endless expanse of incredible scenery up top.

It was a family trip, and I could hear dad beginning to move around below. Dad knew how to sail, but he approached sailing in a pretty haphazard manner. Other boats contained serious skippers who had attitudes, attire and an aura of sailing prowess, whereas dad tended to put two fingers up at such stuffiness. There were special gadgets you were supposed to use when plotting your route for example, dad just used an old water bottle and rolled it across the chart.

Dawn was beginning to break over the mountain behind the village, revealing the orange tiled houses, fishing boats and tavernas on the waterfront that only moments ago had been hidden by darkness. The night before I toyed with the idea of unhooking the stand-up-paddleboard and going for an early morning adventure, but now I was a little too content and warm to bother trying. I had used the paddleboard extensively the day before, we had dropped anchor in a small secluded cove and ate spinach and cheese pies, drank beer and swam off the back of the boat. The water was cool and crystal clear, with silver fish flashing around chasing crumbs of bread mum would throw into the sea.

Dad popped his head up from below to offer a top up of tea. We sat for a while together before deciding to walk into town to get some food and drink for lunch. We had more coves to explore, beer to drink and fish to feed.