Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mexico of the East

Ahhhhh the Phillippines. I knew precious little about this large smattering of islands except that the beer was cheap, the women possessed a fiery spirit, my buddy college has set up mercury testing in a fish plant out here, and the indomitable Filipino warriors of old warranted the US government's invention of the robust .45 caliber handgun round because previous calibers had proved ineffective in stopping them. I ended up not seeing to much of Manila as I was pretty much bed-ridden for the first 48 hours we were there but Pat relayed some valuable information from his forays into the wild. "It's hot, there's people sleeping everywere, people want money from you, weird 1/2 jeep/bus things driving around, bar girls are aggressive, I've never had more girls say they "like" me, I met two crazy Filipinos, are you ready to go out yet?". I got the basic was hot, but with very little humiditiy which was a welcomed relief from Thailand and Indo. We decided to leave after 2 days as we wanted to see some of the beaches and maybe get some diving in so we booked a flight to Boracay further south and peaced out. After an hour in the air, we negotiated a tricycle (scooter attached to a carriage with another wheel added on) to a ferry, and then another tricylce to the "White Beach" 3 kilometers long where all the hotels and restaurants were. Boracay is a pretty small island with its western side entirely devoted to tourism. Given that, the long beach was still very clean and the water looked epic (colder than anywhere else we'd been though).
After wandering with the "travel agent" who'd attached himself to us (this happens in Asia) we found a legit hotel with a nice pool and settled in. The next 4 days consisted of living the touristy beach life: quart-sized Long Islands served in jars, reading by the pool, late breakfasts, Pat got in some dives, dinners on the beach, outdoor club drinking with young Canadian doctors on some kind of philanthropic mission, some great Indian food, making sure that happy hour was observed religiously, watching cockfighting on tv set to the Enter the Dragon soundtrack, and counting the number of older (50+) white men with younger (less than 25) Filipinas. There was a lot. We made it to a couple pretty deserted beaches, found an actual deli that served actual sandwiches (almost impossible in Asia), but still decided to ignore out return flight to Manila and seek out Puerto Galera instead. We thought we would be checking out the Calamian Islands to the west and their legit wreck dives (lots of Japanese ships sunk during WWII) but after talking to a Spaniard who'd just been there late one night in a club, we decided against it.
Turns out it wasn't as easy to get to Puerto Galera as we'd first thought. Ferry, van, & sketchy night tricycle we arrived 8 hours later at 11pm to a few circuitous streets filled with restaurants, stalls, dive shops, and bars (I've been to worse places....). After promptly finding a hotel and settling in, we decided that the rest of our night should be judiciously spent in the bars. We were well received, had an enjoyable time, and took it as a sign of things to come.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Though this is madness, yet there be method in it.....

After leaving the Rajat Ampats, Pat and I decided to make our way to the Phillippines while Josh elected to return to Thailand. We flew from Palua to Makassar to Jakarta to Singapore (in one day) which allowed us to spend some quality time in the Jakarta airport bar with a Belgium guy who was adamant to explain to us how/why/etc beer from Belgium was by far the most superior of beverages known to mankind. We landed in Singapore around 10pm and were immediately taken aback by the quality of the airport. I'd known Singapore was very modern, English-speaking, exceptionally clean, etc but we just weren't prepared for it. Brilliantly lit corridors led us to baggage claim where our bags were already on the carosel (never happened to me before) and was a stark contrast to arriving in Palua where we were informed that Pat's bags hadn't made the flight because it was too full and that we should return the following day to collect them. This is standard practice when flying to Papua we were told..........

After using the free internet at the airport McDonalds as well the the automatic hand santizer dispenser in the elevator, we grabbed a taxi and headed for town. After a couple tries, we found a small hostel and decided just to crash. By far the worst accomdations we'd stayed in so far as it was simply a room with two small beds and AC but we passed out pretty fast. As an aside, many hotels in Asia will ask you how long you need the room for and are often surprised when you say the whole night due to the prevelance of the sex trade here.

As we had a flight to Manila in the afternoon, we spent our few hours in Sing wandering around by the river the splits the city in two, had lunch with a good friend of mine (Paul Candy) who is currently working for my old company in their Sing office, and Pat finally found an underwater housing for his camera to take some pics of our next dive. Like parts of Indonesia & the Phillippines, Singapore has a large number of malls and is a shopping destination for many tourists as two Swedish girls told us as they were buying an extra bag in order to hold the shoes they were about to buy. Sounds familiar.

Now one of the main reasons for us to visit the Phillippines was to discover (as the guide book said) if they truly did have some of the cheapest beer in the world. Allegdely, San Miguel (the pride of the Filipino Nation) can cost as little as 50 cents US and by God we were going to confirm or deny. The flight in was uneventful except for an hour from arrival in Manila I started getting ridiculously cold chills and began shivering. This was not good. I didn't have anything I could put on as my everything was in my checked bag and so I suffered through the next hour until we landed. Upon landing, I even had difficulty walking as I couldn't control my shivering and luckily was able to pull it together enough to make it through customs where everyone was promptly handed an H1N1 Virus notice which pretty much described my symptoms........awesome.

After putting on a longsleeve and asking the cab driver to turn off the AC, we made it to a decent hotel where I suffered a long night of feverish sleep and awoke in Manila, Phillippines.

Constantly Asia

Couple things I've noticed during the last few months that are present in every country and city I visit.

Hammering - yes that's right, everywhere I've stayed there is some sort of hammering going on throughout the day/night. It's like the this entire part of the world just discovered their dad's tool box and are convinced that everything can be built/fixed with a hammer

711 - omnipresent, these green bastions of familiarity & comfort are even more prevelant than in LA.

Soccer - at least 2-3 channels in every place that we've stayed (that had a tv) are devoted to soccer 24 hours/day. I'm definitely a fan of the "beautiful game" and being able to watch Premier league at all times is most entertaining, but local Filipino teams floundering around on a brown field might not need to be televised.

Akon - yep, he's worldwide

Where have all the trash cans gone? - I really don't know but they've hidden them somewhere. With trash strewn about in many countries in SE Asia, you'd think a simple answer would be get some trash cans, but then I guess you'd have to figure out how to collect the trash, etc and municipal services are not this part of the world's strongest attribute.

Some random observations....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It Continues.........

A 12 hour overnight ferry from the Togeans to Gorontalo in the north of Sulawesi followed by a 6 hour car ride finally got us to the "major" city of Manado. I think one of the reasons the diving in the Togeans is still so good is that it takes you at least 2 days of uncomfortable travel to get there, thus keeping out the rif raf. Now Manado is primarily used as a jumping off point for diving in Bunacan & has a fairly decent airport but no one really comes here to stay, but we needed a break. We were pretty beat by the days of travel, diving, hut living, & decided to treat ourselves to the nicest hotel we could find......The Quality. Think of a 4-star hotel in the States where people open the door for you, pull out your chair at breakfast, are super helpful and friendly, free internet, amazing free breakfast buffet, and with very nice rooms & bathrooms (this was huge after no hot water for a week), all for the very reasonable cost of $55/night. The next 3 days where spent enjoying all the comforts of the Quality, exploring Manado's huge number of malls (of all things), $4 haircuts that included a shampoo & scalp massage (que ganga!),Indo teenagers posing with me so they could take pictures, & except for a random night out with 3 sisters in some weird smoke filled club, we generally took it pretty easy while planning our next move. Jake took off for Cambodia leaving Josh, Pat, & I to figure out how to get to Papua & the Raja Ampat Islands next to Papa New Guinea.
We had heard the diving in the Raja Ampats was not to be missed as some scientist had set the record last year for greatest number of different species of fish recorded on one dive, 283, and that parts of the area are a protected national park which helps as well. Upon further research, we learned that many people that visit Papua usually charter a live-aboard boat for at least 7 days in order to access the outer islands and more remote areas you wouldn't be able to do from a land-based dive operation. The cost was a little out of our price range ($3K minimum) so we decided to just go and figure out where we would stay on the fly (pretty much our MO so far). The flight over was pretty amazing as you get to see all these tiny green islands set in the middle of the ocean, some inhabited & some not. One small island even had a volcano smoldering with a town built directly at its base. You really get a sense of how vast Indonesia is with its 1000s & 1000s of islands spread out everywhere and one could easily spend a year exploring as many as possible.
A quick nights sleep, another ferry, & a short boat ride found us at Raja Ampat Dive Resort and another bungalow. Now this bungalow was a little nicer than those in the Togeans but still with all the familiar characteristics of an Indo island bungalow: mosquito nets, limited eletricity, insufficient fan, toilets flushed by pouring a lot of water from the tub next to it, cold water/no water, set 20 feet from a small white sand beach on a fairly deserted tropical island in the middle of nowhere. We arrived and immediately set off to squeeze in a sunset dive as it'd been about a week since our last submersion (heaven forbid!). Saw some cool fish and reef sharks but it was getting a little dark as we came up at the end and we were fairly close to small island & cave from which small, dark, shapes kept exiting. After a few mins we realized that the hundreds of winged-creatures were bats coming out at sunset to start hunting. We had a goddamn batcave on our hands & these things were all headed straight to the main island (our island) to wreck havoc for the rest of the night.....perfect. Our dive guide was unfazed and didn't really even seem to notice and I couldn't help but think, "Poor bastard, wait till he sees those goddamn bats."
Anyway, we were only sharing the resort with one other guy, a Swede in his early 40s so we had plenty for dinner and the food was better here than in Togeans. Its a little weird to actually have to wait for dinner or lunch and not eat when you want to but you get used to it and they were very generous here as we were pretty much the only guests. 2 more dives the next day saw a school of 15 devil rays, some sweet eels, 6ft reef sharks, lunch on an awesome tiny beach on some random island, & stories from the Swede about diving in & out of cages with Great Whites in South Africa and being on a mission to swim with schools of Hammerheads (guy was gnarly). Now the nights here were similar to those in Togeans due to the fact that there is some shit going on. Basically there is always something falling and hitting your roof or some aninal shrieking or fighting with something else. A bright yellow lizard fell out of a tree and almost landed on Pat's head as we were heading back to the bungalow one night. The locals blame most of the noise on something they call "Couscous" which they described as "a monkey, but not a monkey".....way to clear that up. We asked about the possibility of setting up one of these "Couscous" to take a break from its busy, nocturnal, fruit-throwing regiment to fight a couple of the bats we'd seen earlier but the locals didn't seem to get the appeal.
We dove Manta Point the next day and, you guessed it, there were Manta Rays! We chilled on a sandy bottom and watched 3 big Mantas (maybe 7ft across) slowly "fly" around us. They got about a 1ft away from Josh and he was able to get some pretty amazing video. Very majestic and just so cool to watch especially when you're so close. There are also smaller "cleaner" fish that swim directly next the Mantas & remove dead skin, parasites, etc. Because we were so close, they also started messing with some of the divers......the Swede got bit twice in his ear and Pat swears one of them shot air into his ear & messed it up for the next dive, haha. We also found a decent sized octopus and chased him around for awhile until he squirted a couple clouds of ink at us, changed colors from purple to black, and peaced out under some rocks. Another animal that is fairly bizarre looking and really fun to watch. We surfaced to a decent rain storm and took refuge on an island to do our safety spot between dives, lunch consisted of cookies (pretty standard really), and then back in the water. The next site had huge schools of decent-sized Jack & Barracuda mixing together, always impressive, as well as some big eels swimming around which was very cool as they are usually hidden in rocks and only a small part of them is visible. Pat also found some weird looking type of frog fish which we really couldn't find in the Fish Book and so dubbed the new discovery the Sultan Dong Fish.....look for it soon in National Geographic.
It was still raining on the way back and as luck would have it, we ran out of gas about 3 mins from the resort. The dive guys didn't bring enough gas! We had to sit in our wetsuits, trying to stay out of the rain, while they attempted to reach one of their guys on a cell phone (reception is horrendous out here & half the time people don't pick up anyway). Luckily it only took them an hour to get it figured out and send out another boat with gas and we chocked it up as just one of the travel experiences.........stuck on a tiny dive boat, at sunset, with no gas, no food, in the rain, praying some guy picks up his phone. That night at dinner, one of our dive masters told us he'd seen 3 smaller crocodiles swimming in front of the resort about 2 months earlier as well as a diver the previous year at another resort having a croc bit his head while on a dive and his buddy having to stab it in the eye until it left! I guess there are worse things than running out of gas.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Togean Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia

We wanted more diving. We wanted it to be good. So why not go to the middle of nowhere. That's what we did. Flew from Bali to Makassar at the bottom of the weird "K" shaped island of Sulawesi and spent the night after a fairly authentic fish dinner involving: choosing your dead fish from a tub (gotta pick the fresh ones), having a rat charge you while choosing your fish, ordering random sides from a menu you can't read, realizing by the dish of water they bring that you're supposed to eat with your hands, being unable to finish the massive bbq'd fish (I even got the small one) they bring you for $3. A quick flight to Palu in the center of the island the next morning and then we hired a van to take us to the small town where you catch the ferry to the Togeans.
Sulawesi is definitely off the beaten track for tourists as there's not too much here to interest most people. There's some diving in the very south and at the very top of the island, but not much else besides the Togeans (which are such a bitch to get to) that attracts travelers. We were a bit of a spectacle as people in most parts of Sulawesi don't see a lot of white people from what I can tell. After consulting the Lonely Planet & the opinions of various cab drivers and locals we determined that the drive would take anywhere from 6-10 hours. Oh boy! 9 hours of RURAL driving, some of it in the rain, on less than reputable roads, eating nothing but weird cookies & chips, we finally made it our jump off point around midnight. Up at 8am we were able to catch the 6 hour ferry to the Togeans.........
There are only two "resorts" in the Togeans, Black Marlin & Paradise. We opted for Paradise as we'd heard it was a little nicer and run by a crazy Swiss-French dive master who'd been there for 15 years. Now "resort" is an interesting word and can have a variety of meanings. Here, it means wooden bungalows with lots of cracks, leaky roofs, power from 6-11pm, mosquitos galore, spiders, rats, random noises all night, lots of rice & fish, but it also means insanely gorgeous terrain & epic diving. For one thing, the water here is so calm & warm its insane as the Togeans are located in the very center of Sulawesi & are proctected from most swells & storms. We'd come up from dives in shallow water sometimes where the water temp had to be mid 70s at least. We did 7 dives over the next few days but our most memorable ones were the 2 at the Atoll & the island of Una Una.

ATOLL- an atoll is an island of coral that encircles a lagoon and in this case it was a straight wall of coral about 10 stories up from the sea floor. At about 25 meters you would look up a sheer cliff & feel as if Dale Chihuly (or maybe Jerome Baker) had affixed glass-blown vases of every color to it. Huge, huge coral fans, "vases",fish everywhere, large overhangs you could swim under and even a small cave to swim through. Also a sick narrow canyon we got to descend through to start one of the dives. The coral here is the real star and I've never seen anything like it in terms of size and sheer numbers. Amazing

UNA UNA- The next day our 2 dives were at this island about an hour by boat. On the way we saw Marlin breaching & flying fish looking like they'd just been thrown out of the water. If the star of the atoll was the coral, the star of Una Una is the fish. Lots of really big fish. We swam with schools of Jack & Barracuda (700-800) about 3ft long swirling around us. You could look up and see the Barracuda forming a kind of huge, silver, shimmering funnel to the surface. It was really something to see, all these fish moving together in perfect unison forming these crazy forms with light streaming down through the water. Also, 6 gigantic Napolean fish and some big Grouper as well. Very cool and a perfect compliment to the beautiful coral of the atoll the day before. Probably my favorite dives of the trip

Link to some facebook pics.......

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back to Bali

Arriving back in Kuta/Legian (via speedboat this time thank god) we set up 2 dives in Tulamben (northern Bali) for the next day with one of Goreng's dive master friends. Both beach dives & one of them is a sunken US ship (The Liberty) torpedoed & beached during WWII. After toning down our life for the last 4 days on Lembongan, it was back to business as usual in the tiny alleys (streets they call them) of Kuta. Within 50 yards of our hotel one could find: 2 internet spots, 4 dvd stores (50 cents each, including new releases), 3 bars selling mushrooms, infinite amount of guys trying to rent you their scooter, and upon further investigation (300 yards) a burrito shop! Now I know what everyone is saying, how are we going to go all the way from San Francisco to Bali and eat burritos.......the answer is, quite easily. Despite the white rice & lettuce, they were quite enjoyable and the cooks got to know us quite well over the next 5 days (Shawn's flight was in a few days, so we decided to beach & party until then instead of trying to make it to another island).

Now, a couple things about is the tank tops. Its an Aussie "Spring Break" location for sure (Aussie girls have been known to puke after piggy-back rides, fyi) and Aussie guys are easy to spot as they ALL sport the same Bintang (pretty much the only Indo beer) tank tops everywhere they go. I'm talking about 15 Aussie guys all wearing pretty much the exact same shirt. We even made a drinking game out of spotting them, but you get too drunk too fast so we had to put a freeze on that. Another thing you'll grow quite accustomed to is having an Indo guy yell "transport?!!!) at you every 5-7 feet or so. They're trying to rent you their scooter for the day or at least take you somewhere around the city. They also take the same approach for selling clothes as EVERY street here is full of tiny shops selling the same t-shirts, boardshorts, hats, etc. Yelling, grabbing,pointing & even blocking the sidewalk so you can't walk past their shop are all common practices for the Indo entrepreneur (can't hate the hustle) but there are a couple ways to to interact with them. When they try and sell you something, you reply by trying to sell THEM something, they point at their store, you point at the store across the street, they say "transport?!!" you say "transport?!!" (this confuses the hell out of them), the stutter step has been known to work as well. Balinese phrases that also helped included: "I have no money" (singa da piz), "Bankrupt" (banrup), & "Massage scandal" (massage scandal), these will articulate that now is not the best time for you to buy their wares. My new idea is to market t-shirts that say "No Transport" and then you could just point to it every 10 seconds and be all good.

Honking is also an issue here. From what I can tell, you're supposed to honk when someones ahead of you, behind you, passing you (or vice versa), and whenever you see a tourist. This pretty much means all the time but is brutal when you're hungover and just want to get a burrito down the street. Anyway, the dives the next day were definitely legit (despite the 2 1/2 hour drive) and we saw a ridiculous octopus, huge Grouper, great coral and broke our longest dive time of 70 mins. The wreck was pretty cool to see as well. The next 4 days saw us pretty much at the beach, the pool, the burrito shop, and the bar. Highlights below:

-one of our Aussie friends bdays, amazing live salsa bar, lead singer serenading Pat from 2 inches away, Shawn salsa dancing (if you know Shawn, this is amazing), starting a congo line, huge video screen at next bar that mixed music videos (Rick James/Guns & Roses/MC Hammer)
-Geger Beach (the greatest beach on earth)
-Indo tourists having me pose with them for pictures
-Shawn battling mosquitos in our room with a pillow at 4am
-biggest prawns & ridiculous grilled snapper at Gosha
-Pat asking the bartender for umbrellas for the girlie drinks Jake & Shawn ordered and her bringing us a real umbrella
-Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girl" is played 500 times per day minimum
-my all blue Bintang suit (hat,tanktop,boardshorts,koozie) courtesy of Pat for my birthday

Thanks for the memories Bali

Lembongan Island

Left Kuta early to try and catch the speedboat from Sanur to a little island off the east coast of Bali called Lembongan. There is some sick diving there and its super mellow and relaxing after the madness of Kuta. We arrived late (huge surprise) and were forced to make use of the "slow boat". Didn't think too much of it until I actually saw the glorified canoe w/ wooden pontoons on either side held together by zip ties or something with bench seating for 20 that I started to worry. Not so much about the sea-worthiness of this particular vessel but more about how sick I was going to get on the 1 1/2 hour journey. As we clamored aboard with some other passengers & their chickens, I took up a position nearer the front & along the side that would provide the best view of the horizon and hopefully facilitate any violent puking if necessary. For the next 90 mins, I didn't really talk, kept my eyes ahead, & replayed entire episodes of The Wire in my head as the streets of west Baltimore were about the furthest place I could think of...........for the record, Pat also considered puking & Shawn was fairly convinced the boat was going to come apart as the seas did get pretty rough for awhile. Never been happier to see the shores of Lembongan.

Small beach full of fishing & dive boats as well as sea weed farmers. They pull is out of the water, "riverdance" on it, & then dry it in the sun, fetches about $3/kilo which is legit money over here. Our divemaster, Goreng, who Josh had dove with a year ago, shuttled us to some sweet bungalows on a cliff overlooking the harbor for $14/night (hahahaha). Sweet views and an infiniti pool sealed the deal. Headed out for a pre-dinner snack in "town" which pretty much consists of one street with a couple tiny stores, few places serving food, & every single house on the island looks like a Hindu temple with offerings scattered everywhere. Fried noodles & beer were interrupted by a rain storm that progressed to torrential fairly quickly. This caused the electricity to go out of course & we quickly realized that there was no way it was letting up anytime soon. Cameras, shirts, even Pat's shorts (who doesn't wear boardshorts on a tropical island?) go into plastic bags from the restaurant and we make a dash through the flooded streets, slipping, losing sandals, & getting rain in my beer! As there's not much to do on Lembongan except dive & the electricity was out on the island anyway, we felt the most useful activity we could engage in was underwater lap contests in the pool (record is 9) with rain so hard you could barely see & lightning lighting up the clouds. After dinner & some bbq fish that the dive guys brought us, its lights out.

Early morning dive (gets light at 6am here) Goreng & his dive master-in-training, Black Monkey (literally the only name he gave us) picked us up and we did two warm up dives over some sweet coral interrupted only by one of the worst chicken sandwich lunches ever. Over the next 3 days we did another 6 dives including some "drift" dives which included a 3-4 knot underwater current in which you literally feel like you're flying. Both the Superman & the Heisman pose look sick 40ft down, fyi. Some highlights: 5 ft sea snake, Black Monkey drinking a bottle of water at 30ft, flying over amazing coral surrounded by fish who matched the coral looking up to see the sun streaming down from the surface (I was inverted), hanging on to a rock in really intense current (will literally rip your mask off) looking for the Mola Mola, and the general sensory overload of tropical diving. Just too much going on, you could spend 10 minutes looking at a 3 x 3 foot area and be completely satisfied. We also started trying to complete with Goreng and the Monkey regarding air usage, but couldn't even get close. We'd do a 50 min dive & come up with 20-30 bar left and these guys would still be at 120 bar. Ridiculous how relaxed they are under there, using about zero energy. You'd look over and the Monkey would be floating upside down about 2 inches off a coral garden like he was sleeping.

2 dives each day for 4 days & pretty mellow nights except for a impromtu pool party with some Aussie friends followed by some horrendous pool games in which I and the pride of Newcastle, came from the brink of defeat to seize a seemingly guaranteed victory from Jake and her friend. More impressive than the win was my partner's post game gloating...."Jake, turn around, is your lip quivering?!!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


or check my facebook

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Indo Brah

The famed, fabled, legendary island of Bali. Who doesn't love this place or thinks they would love it if they ever made it here, seriously. One of the "fun" parts of traveling Asia, now that most of Europe is on the Euro, is figuring out currency rates. The Indo Rupiah is currently at 9,200 to the dollar (Huddleston, try working that FX rate into a forecast). Withdrawing 3 Million anything from an ATM is cool, so with stacks of 100,000 bills we departed for the shit show zone of Kuta.

We considered staying a little farther north in an area called Legian where the vibe is a little more mellow but then realized that we might as well experience what Kuta had to offer for a night or two. Picture drunken Aussies in matching Bintang Beer tank tops marauding the streets, bars bumping music, scooters & cars whizzing by on impossibly narrow one-way streets, Indo taxi drivers trying to sell you Ephedrine, tiny Hindo offerings everywhere, 4 story clubs, & a memorial to the 200 + people that died in bombings here in the last 8 years and you'll have a vague idea of Kuta.

Beers in hand we meandered along we stopped for dinner at a small spot serving Thai food (still in Thai mind) where a crab cracking shrapnel incident prompted Shawn to change his shirt we ended up in Sky Garden (multi-floored club) which boasted cool fire dancers, go-go girls on the bar, & a super-tanned old white magician who looked like he'd been on Bali for 50 years but whose sleight of hand tricks were definitely entertaining. After enough house music & Bintangs (Bali beer served everywhere)we called it a night.

The next morning found us at a super sick Geger Beach, about 30 mins by taxi from Kuta. Amazing water, chaise lounges, & coconuts completed the tropical island scenario as wells as a pretty large reef break about a quarter mile off shore. After a couple hours, the taxi we'd hired for the day took us to Dreamland Beach further south for some more sun time. Dreamland was definitely more crowded with tourists(smaller too) and water with trash floating (they haven't quite figured out proper waste disposal on Bali yet) but Shawn still braved it to catch some waves on a rented board. Pretty much every beach around here has massage ladies who actively try to give you massages whether you want one or not. They'll sneak up on you from behind and next thing you know they've started massaging your shoulders even while your yelling at them to stop but also having trouble resisting as it feels so good.

Next stop was the "Food for the Monkey" temple near Ulu Watu. The temple is set on the top of a huge sheer cliff above crashing waves and might be one of the most picturesque places I've seen on the trip. You put on a purple sarong, Pat bitched about the color but got over it, buy some pineapple chunks from a grizzled old lady.............."Foooooooood for the moonnnnkeeeeeeey" and start running into the little fuckers. The monkeys are pretty small but wiley and are not scared of people at all. Like longshoreman, they'll steal anything not nailed down including sunglasses & cameras. They'll run up to you and pull on your sarong until you give up some peanuts or pineapple & some of them have gotten downright fat. Anyway, the area surrounding the temple is gorgeous and we got some awesome pictures. At one point, Josh threw away a Gatorade bottle about a quarter full and a monkey jumped into the trash, grabbed it, and pounded the whole thing (aggressive electrolyte replenishing). While taking a picture of the cliff I even had one jump on my back but was able to defend the rear naked choke correctly but couldn't help thinking of the Dave Chappelle skit "You know how STRONG a monkey is......"

Back to Kuta and then to Legian for dinner at a locals house we'd met on the beach. The woman and her 4 daughters were so nice it was ridiculous. I mean, who meets 5 gringos on the beach for 10 mins & then invites them to dinner at her house the same night where they bbq'd 3 whole fish, 3 kinds of curry, and rice. We contributed 12 large Bintangs but the food was amazing and the family extremely accommodating and gracious. The meal ended with some sort of "dessert meat" dish that tasted like a saucy ground beef mixed with nutmeg & cinnamon. That kind of hospitality is what really makes traveling worthwhile and we stayed for over 2 hours.

One of the funniest parts of the night was our cab driver home who could only say two lines from a Gun's & Roses song "You know where you are're in the jungle baby!" and "Don't antagonize me muthafucka.......see you in the ring!"


The Long Road to Bali

After leaving Koh Lanta and making our way back to Phuket (4 hours)and a heated debate with Pat regarding the pros/cons of Die Hard 2 (he's not a fan, idiot) we stayed in modest rooms 5 mins from the airport as we had an 8am flight to Bali via Kuala Lumpur. Dinner at the nearby beach was probably one of the worst meals as they couldn't figure out the difference btw curry & noodles as well as Shawn fishing out a huge hair that had curled around the corn and chicken on his plate (gross), haha. But what can you really expect from a place that has a sign reading "Broken English Spoken Perfectly, 100%" They did have some GIANT prawns that were actually good and we turned in pretty early and set up a cab pick up for 6am.

With 5 of us (and our bags) jammed into a tiny taxi we make it to the airport with plenty of time to enjoy Thailand's take on donuts. Quick flight to Kuala Lumpur where we had a 3 hour layover. The airport here is super modern and looks brand new. Couldn't resist a stop at Starbucks for a latte or laughing at the ridiculous billboard picture at McDonald's of the "Double Prosperity Burger" haha. On another note, the weapon of choice for cops in the Kuala Lumpur Airport is the H & K MP5 assault rifle (an excellent choice in my opinion). After grabbing another book (finished two already, 1300 pages, yes I have free time) the flight was delayed for an hour which we judiciously spent in the sports bar.

Next stop.........Bali

Friday, February 5, 2010

Upon Leaving Thailand

some thoughts of the country.........

-bargain, bargain, bargain
-Singha Beer
-no DMV
-cobra tatoos
-I'll do anything for 50 Baht
-amazing food, ridiculously cheap
-Kap Oon Kap

Didn't spend as much time as I'd like in Bangkok and some of the islands in the south, but will probably be able to swing through again before I come back

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Monday Morning

I realized some things were different last Monday in Koh Lanta. My Mondays have changed dramatically, so much in fact, that I needed to actually compare the past and the present.

7am - Alarm....wake up to foggy, dark, Marina apartment 500 yards from freezing Pacific, 48 degrees
8:30am - Wake up to sunny, bright, bungalow 50 ft from gorgeous warm Andaman Sea, 72 degrees

8am - Arrive ServiceSource, answer emails in cube, check voicemail, deal with any "fire drills" that occurred over the weekend
9am - light run on the beach, dip in the water

8:30am - Latte with Jill in the park

9:30am - reading on porch (would still prefer latte w/ Jill on this one)

12pm - sandwich to go at Brannan St

12pm - ride pink tuk tuk to awesome beach for amazing pad thai plates next to the water for $3

My day is definitely different

Lunch - Beach Style

3 chicken pad thai plates
2 yellow curries
1 chicken w/ cashews
3 tempura shrimp plates
2 mango lassis (fruit + yogurt shake)
3 mixed fruit lassis

served 15 feet from the water on a sweet beach by a hot french girl

$30..................weeelcoooome to thaaiiiiiilaaaaaaaand........

Koh Lanta, Thailand

We decided to take off the next morning as Pi Pi was a little too nuts and crowded. We catch a hour long ferry to another island, Koh Lanta, which is much more mellow with clean beaches and epic water. After touring the island a bit via cab/truck/rollcage we settled on some reasonable rooms 50 ft from the beach with a nice pool to boot.

Dinner on the beach & then Pat and Jake retire as they'd been out till 5am in Pi Pi while Shawn and I had kept it mellow for sanity's sake. Couple more beers on the beach and we all call it a night. And then the trouble began............

I'm up at 3am with ridiculously painful stomach cramps unlike anything I've ever experienced. After about 6 hours of that, they dissipate mostly but Pat and Jake are both feeling shitty. Flu symptoms, fever, etc. Pat blames the air conditioner in our room and the bed, which has been dubbed "The Torture Chamber" (Falzone might remember from Buzios) & Jake placed blame on unclean dive regulators. Either way we were all eager to find different accommodations in which to recover.

Josh comes through with the Lanta Long Beach Resort. Nice bungalows with AC and solid bathrooms (toilet still in shower) 50ft from the beach, a good restaurant, and sick pool in addition to massages. Exactly what we needed after the last 5 nights of paryting (poor us, I know). We spent the next 4 nights here, chilling on the beach, swimming in super warm water, getting hour massages for $9, slaying mosquitos with an electrified racket, and roosting around in our rented tuk-tuk, in pink of course. We also made it to a nearly deserted, tiny beach, which was one of the most picturesque places I've ever been.

Pics to come, as soon as I find a decent internet connection.


Beep Beep! This is what you get used to hearing on Pi Pi as the little Thai guys running up & down the tiny streets (no cars) yell at you to get out of their way. 2,000 people died here during the Tsunami in 2004 but the island seems to have recovered as its a huge tourist destination. Josh told us that some of his buddies at the dive shop were on dive boats when the wave came and didn't even notice it until they came in and saw everything destroyed and everyone dead.............sooooo gnarly. FYI - death by falling coconut is a concern in Thailand.....Shawn bought a helmet.

Make it to the dive shop by 7:45am on about 3 hours of sleep and settle in for the 30min boat ride. Boats have definitely been a concern of mine leading up to the trip as I used to get VIOLENTLY sea-sick when I was younger (highschool). I'm talking about being on a boat and contemplating the feasibility of an air rescue bc I felt so bad. Luckily, I seem to have outgrown it as there were no issues this time (thank god)

First dive for me in about 10 years (last place was Kauai) so I got some refresher tips from Shawn and Josh and all went well. Just getting used to the whole experience of being underwater while breathing took up most of my dive time but saw some cool fish and coral. The 2nd dive everyone was more relaxed (Shawn had a ridiculous mask problem on the first) and we got to enjoy diving and seeing a sweet reef shark, sea turtle, Lion fish, etc. All in all, a good use of our morning and we even ate lunch on the boat overlooking the beach from "The Beach" which was pretty packed with tourists but made worse by remixed, techno, dance songs our boat played...................brutal.

Midday in Thailand (11am-4pm) is really best spent in the water somewhere or definitely out of the sun. It gets sooooooo hot here its ridiculous & the sun is absolutely stronger than anywhere I've been before. Those of us with ancestors hailing from Scandinavia do not always possess complexions that take such strong rays easily. Sunscreen and a straw "Cabo Wabo" hat (thanks Shawn) are a must.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Koh Pi Pi

7:45am - Woken up by Josh knocking on the door and informing me our taxi is here to take us to the ferry to the island of Koh Pi Pi. Felt as if I'd slept for about 20 mins but within 10 we we're all in the "taxi" a pickup truck that has a roll cage & cover over the bed with bench seating. We speed to try and catch the ferry that leaves in 30 mins.

Thailand, the nation of innovation that it is, has managed to turn a 2 lane road into 3 by ingeniously devising the "middle lane". Slower traffic in both lanes move to the outside of their respective sides while the space in the middle is used for aggressive passing from both directions. They've also broken the record for number of people you can fit on a scooter (5). We make the ferry to Koh Pi Pi and post up on the front to catch the views during the next 2 hours.

On the way, you feel like you're in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon going to Han's tournament. Huge formations of limestone jutting straight out of the water covered in vegetation with sheer cliffs like a Mortal Combat movie or something. Koh Pi Pi is a picturesque island with sloping cliffs and a beach full of Thai long boats.

As soon as you hit the dock, if you didn't realize it on the boat, you're surrounded by tourists getting hammered and wandering around. After some rough room searching (its hot as hell & we're hungover) we score a super nice spot with two rooms and Josh takes a diff spot a little ways off. "Nice" means a smallish room with two twin beds, cable tv, decent bathroom, & good AC. In this toursity island, this runs about 2,000 Baht or $60 split two ways. Another interesting thing about Thailand is that in all the bathrooms the shower is not separated at all from the toilet or sink. There is no partition, curtain, or anything like that...just the sink, toilet, & shower all right next to each other which means Pat can fulfill his dream of showering on the toilet at last!

Dinner at Josh's favorite Thai spot (he was a dive master here for 3 months a year ago) excellent curry, soup, & fried shrimps.....Pat "I'm gonna order 3 more of these plates......who's gonna stop me?!!! You?!! You?!!"

We left a little abruptly as the cook set something in the kitchen on fire and it felt as if you'd been hit with pepper spray (Thai chilis are no joke). Bar hopping for a few hours finally ending up at a roof top near our place called Banana Bar. Picture Cabo Spring Break....beers, dancing, glo paint, & "buckets" which are quite literally buckets filled with 6-7 mixed drinks & cost about $8. Also, a short Thai guy walking around with a huge beer bong, ladder, & a bunch of beers. We declined (who knows where that thing had been) but definitely watched some people get torn up by it and Shawn caught some foam sharpnel in the chest.

Eventually ended up at the beach around 3am where the party was still going very strong and people were pissing and puking in the water and just passed out on the sand.....goddamn Aussies. Make it to bed by 4am, which is crucial as we have to be at the dive shop by 7:30am, haha. Welcoms to Koh Pi Pi


After a couple days in Bangkok, everyone was prett eager to get to the water in the south. We hopped a quick flight to Phuket (no corkage fee for the beers we drank in the airport restaurant). Taxi to Rawai, the southern tip of Phuket island, where Jake has a buddy from college named Davis. After chcking out his spot, we grabbing a taxi to find lodging for us (they aren't marked here, just some guy who pulls over in a random car, negotiate pricing, and off you go) we had dinner along the water, sitting on cushions on the ground at a low table.

Food was excellent, fried shrimp & whole baked white snapper where highlights. Then to the bar. The waitresses and bartenders (all thai girls) were waaaaaaaaaay too good at the assorted bar games (connect 4, Jenga, etc) and even at the super crappy pool table with the smallest pockets I've ever seen. These girls will call their Connect 4 win 3-4 moves ahead of time and no matter what you do they always win.

Connect 4 also not the best game to play against each other for shots of weird Tequila as they only last about 5 mins and after an hour you're fairly hammered.
Place just bumped popular US hip hop (which is fairly consistent of every other place I've been in the world) so Pat got his fix of Akon he so desperately needed and Shawn almost lost it to Lady GaGa. The only exception was the "Welcome to Thailand" song and dance that thai girls perform when they meet visitors to their country.

To sum it up, 5 hours of extreme boozing, games, dancing, & Jake feeling it necessary to ring the bar bell that buys everyone in the place a drink. Took me back to the SB Yacht Club......"He who rings the bell in jest, buys a drink for all the rest". A 9,400 Baht ($270) is pretty ridiculous for Thailand but well worth it.

$48 in Bangkok

6 22oz Singha beers
2 large bottle of water
3 street vendor spring rolls
1 plate street vendor pad thai
1 pair fake Pradas
1 handheld green laser (perfect for warding off aggressive hawkers)
2 Bankse print t-shirts
1 plate Panang Curry w/ rice (excellent)

And this is the touristy part of Bangkok, haha

Friday, January 22, 2010

Shawn Wilt Ladies & Gentlemen

" Costa Rica"
"Maybe it's Ramadan" on why the nightlife in Bangkok might be slow
"I don't care at all, everywhere's awesome" on the bar scene in Koh Pi Pi

High Kick

2nd night in Bangkok and we're at Lumpinee Stadium. Obviously no one is going to Bangkok and not seeing a Muy Thai fight, especially since Jake trained Muy Thai for years and I'm a huge MMA fan.

To back up a bit, our group has changed already. Pat's cousin and buddy have gone down to Krabi in southern Thailand to rock climb and we've been joined by another one of Pat's friends from SF, Josh. Anyway, we arrive at the stadium via cab and grab some street curry for a quick bite. In Thailand, you ALWAYS need to ask/specify/insist on the spiciness of your food. Thai people can handle a ridiculous amount of spice and they will test you here if you're not careful. After hearing that this particular curry was "a little" spicy, we knew we were screwed but just ate it anyway.

I pretty much spent the next 20 minutes with my mouth open, hoping that the air would make the burning go away. Beer didn't work either. This was pretty much the reaction around the table while the Thai guy next to us dumped whole chilis on his curry and took it down without flinching. Lesson learned.

1700 Baht later (about $50) we had seats 6 rows back from the ring. The stadium is not particulary huge and we had an excellent view of 8 fights. These guys are vicious and just beat the living shit out of each other. Liam would have been so stoked being the Fairtex fanatic that he is.......

All the fighters were lightweights, bantamweights,etc (not too many heavyweights in Thailand, everyone's so small), but they really put on a show. We also got to see the fighters warm up as they do it in the area in front of the bathroom where our seats were. You're standing at the urinal and next to you is some short Thai boxer taking a piss before he goes and kicks his buddy in the head. Pretty sweet


wow.....I can't believe I left almost a week ago. Seems like an enternity as there's just been so much going on. One of the parts of traveling that I really enjoy is how much longer the days seem when everything is new every day.

I'm currently in Koh Pi Pi, a gorgeous island in southern Thailand but I'll start with a quick re-cap of Bangkok as we spent a couple pretty hilarious days there.


Being that there ended up being 6 of us (met up with Pat's cousin and buddy) we made our way to the super-backpacker strip known as Khao San Road. It's a complete shit-show and we figured we might as well participate for a day or two. Essentially, it's a couple hundred yards of everything you could ever want to buy (knock-offs), massages (including a one where fish nibble at your feet), restaurants, bars, clubs, food vendors, etc.

Anyway, we got some rooms at Khao San Palace (sweet roof-top pool)and grabbed food and beers. You have to bargain for EVERYTHING here. Any price vendors quote you is 3-4 times more than for a local. Pat has pretty much mastered the haggle, walk-away, and even when they agree, just keeps walking.

The city is just so busy, cars, scooters, motor-bikes, tuk tuks, are everywhere and going soooooo fast. People hassling you to buy whatever they're selling (you get used to this), food everywhere, music blasting, and its 85 degrees out at 9am.

Needless to say, we sampled a fair number of bars ended the night laughing at Pat and Jake grubbing on a variety of fried bugs. All in all, it's a huge tourist scene but pretty fun for a night or two.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Drove down to SB today with Pat & Thor (a regal british bulldog) and unloaded everything at my parents. I've gotten rid of my SF apartment and stashed everything but a couple bags of clothes in Pat's garage in the Sunset in anticipation of a return to SF eventually. It's definitely weird to leave SF after calling it my home since 2006 but at the moment I'm still planning on moving back.

Dinner with the parents and a couple drinks downtown with Pat and Jake (both coming with me abroad) and then home to figure out the long list of crap I have to accomplish tomorrow before we leave on Saturday from LAX.

All pretty boring stuff, but there's more to take care of before you leave for 3 months than one might think. Tax extension, haircut, travel notification to B of A, hold on my cell phone, hold on my gym, new sunglasses, procuring "sleep" aids for the plane, travel insurance (which one might need if one is so inclined to participate, willingly or unwillingly, in some aggressive activities, which has been the case so far in life).

Also, there will be a fair amount of scuba diving in Thailand, Indonesia, & Australia so it pays to be insured in my opinion. Anyway, lots to take care of tomorrow before dinner and lots of drinks with all the boys in SB.

Bring on the East