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Joy of the Journey

by becca on February 7, 2010

Someone asked me recently how we’ve been traveling, as in: How do you get from point A to point B? Using every mode of transportation available, usually the cheapest, is the real answer. But traveling is more than that, and as an example I’ve described in detail a trip we took a few days ago between two cities in the Philippines.

The journey to Moalboal seemed relatively straightforward once we’d arrived safely in Cebu City. Get to the bus station, take a bus for three hours and then hire a “tricycle” to Panagsama Beach where we would stay. And the trip was exactly this straightforward but still such an adventure.

In the taxi to the bus station, we learned that our driver’s family lives near Moalboal and would drive us straigh there for a discounted 2000 pesos ($40). This seems like a good deal considering we’re going to a city nearly three hours away, but with bus tickets at 85 pesos each (under $2), we had to refuse. Our driver’s spirits weren’t damped by this and as we left he introduced himself as Jack and gave us his mobile number in case we changed our minds. He was also fairly pleased to meet us as he said that it was a fact that America is number one.

Upon entering the station, we each paid 5 pesos (10 cents) for tickets to enter, which were to be redeemed for our seat numbers on the bus. If you don’t go through the station, you aren’t guarenteed a seat, which leads to the overcrowded buses we’ve heard horror stories about. The bus station was bustling and we stocked up on the necessaries to keep us from getting sick on the bus: crackers, water and anti-nausea tablets. It was here that I used my first public toilet in the Philippines. Because running water isn’t always available, there is one scoop and giant water bucket for all the stalls (instead of in each like in the other countries we’ve visited), making for an awkward experience when someone stops you from going so they can go back and forth to flush their waste.

Boarding the bus was quite civilized. A uniformed guard called out seat numbers, then those ticket holders boarded through a gate, like at an airport. There are three seats to a row on the driver’s side and two seats to a row on the passenger’s side. Our seats, numbers 4 and 5, sat together on the passenger’s side at the very front of the bus where we could see everything the driver could. It began to rain as we boarded and pulled out of the station onto the busy streets of Cebu City.

I was up high above the pople on sidewalks and crowded inside jeepneys, the Philippines answer to public city buses. The windows are very big and open, and as we chugged through the city I made eye contact and shared smiles with people below. The route took us south through the city, into the outskirts and then the country. We followed the West coast of the island of Cebu for some time before cutting through the mountainous interior then hugging the East coast down to our destination of Moalboal.

There was a driver and a man taking money. When the money guy would softly blow a whistle or tap the metal bar running the length of the interior, the driver would stop to let someone off. Once they were off, another whistle and we would start going again. When someone wanted to get on, he or she just frantically waved at the bus hoping to be seen. Hawkers hopped on and off to sell pork rinds and rice treats for a few minutes. As we snaked through the roads, I got a glimpse of the Philippines: mountains, palms trees, rain clouds, sun beams, fields and goats, chickens with rope tied to one foot, children walking home from school, women with goods to sell, people trying their best to stay dry under overhangs of roadside huts. I was so curious about everything that I left the giant window, which spanned from my chest past the top of my head, all the way open until the rain was properly coming down, soaking me and the man behind me.

The whole experience was beautiful and even though we were on our way to a well-known diving destination, Nate and I were the only Westerners on the bus. As I sat cramped next to Nate in the front seat of this overcrowded bus barreling around blind curves, honking constantly, and grinding to a hault every few minutes. We could only hope that someone would let us know when it was our turn to alight. I remember thinking that despite the uncertainty, the rain, the deafening honking, and the stop-and-go of the bus, I was exactly where I wanted to be.

When we arrived in Moalboal it was dark and raining. A guy helped us with our bags and charged us roughly three bucks to drive us in his tricylce (a motorbike with a covered carriage attached to the side) to the beach. Our journey was nearly complete as our driver left and we tried to check into our bungalow, only to find out our reserved hut had been given away. A young Filippino, Larry, works at the dive shop we booked our reservation through and he lead us through the rain to a few accommodation options nearby until we found an open room that fit our budget (not bad either, facing the ocean with a private bathroom). Thus, our adventure ended. We were a little muddy and very wet, but really excited to be back on the beach and in the Philippines.

I could have done more here, and actually started from Kuala Lumpur, where we began the two day journey to Moalboal. The part I left out included a 3am wake up call, then a taxi-bus-flight-bus-taxi-[taxi-bowling-taxi]-flight-taxi combination just to get from KL to Cebu City. And even though we met some really cool people along the way that day, I felt that they leg of the journey from Cebu to Moalboal vividly illustrates why we love to travel, showing that even a day in transit has so much to offer the curious and adventurous traveler.

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Boating Across the Tonle Sap

by becca on November 15, 2009

From Battambang we took a 5-6 hour boat ride to Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap, which in Khmer means roughly “Great Lake.” The boat was small, with about eight rows of wooden benches under an aluminum roof. It rained in the morning, which was actually nice because it kept the air cool for a few hours. We stopped at a floating house/restaurant where in addition to a few connected houses forming a floating neighborhood, they had pigs and chickens on the floating platforms. I used my first over-the-river-toilet, which was… interesting, squatting on two wooden planks, over the river… don’t fall in. After the stop, the clouds dispersed and most of the western passengers braved the sun and the heat on the roof of the boat.

The scenery was amazing. Sort of more of what we were seeing in Vietnam… vast expanses of wetlands, floating villages, fisherman making their living. But the Tonle Sap lake is a really unique body of water. The lake rises and falls significantly during the wet and dry season. In the dry season it shrinks and then in the wet season totally swells. This shrinking and swelling causes the lake to change direction: flowing into the Mekong River during the dry season and overflowing to the point that it flows into the Tonle Sap Lake during monsoon season. The change is celebrated in Phnom Penh with the Water Festival that we just missed by two days. Damn.

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Hello Cambodia

November 9, 2009

We’re in Cambodia now. We crossed the border at Ha Tien, a newly opened crossing basically on the coast where Cambodia and Vietnam meet. We took a mini bus with a few other folks to Kampot, a small town near the Gulf of Thailand with vivid architectural reminders of French occupation (and progress). My favorite […]

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Mui Ne… meh

November 3, 2009

After 11 blissful days in Nha Trang, Nate and I took the five hour bus ride down the coast to Mui Ne, another beach town in Central/Southern Vietnam. The hotels, resorts and restaurants are really spread out in Mui Ne and we found a nice little bungalow at a place with “beach front access.” Our […]

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Vietnam: Rules of the Road

November 3, 2009

1. All parties are allowed on the road: buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, playing children, various goods drying on tarps (shrimp, fish, coconut shells, incense), food stalls, and animals (cows, chickens, ducks, dogs, etc.) 2. Any part of the road is fair game. This includes any shoulders and dirt paths that may be connected […]

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Buses in Vietnam

October 25, 2009

Buses in Vietnam are the cheapest and likely the easiest way of getting around the country. Similar to classes on a train, there are levels of bus to choose from as well. A normal bus is pretty normal, like a charter bus in America, though never with a toilet. When I have the choice, I’ll […]

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Two-day Motorbike Trip

October 13, 2009

What’s the best way to see Vietnam? To really see and experience Vietnam? You hop on a motorbike and make your way through the country. Now, we would be doing more of this if renting a bike for more than a day weren’t so outrageously expensive. But luckily we met Quy and Ty, two Hue […]

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Hanoi (and getting there)

September 25, 2009

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