Month: April 2014

The Philippines. (Phinally!)

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Our 20+hr odyssey in the air finally came in to land at the city of Legazpi. When we got off the plane, we were greeted above by steaming, Mount Mayon (in the background) and relentless humidity everywhere else.

After jostling our way out of the airport, getting hit by bags coming off the carousel from an enthusiastic crowd (and Rose returning the favour to one of the perpetrators), we fell in with two other couples who were arranging transport to Donsol – also our destination – and asked them to count us in to their, already, intense negotiations on a price with a driver.

While going back and forth with one van driver who insisted Rose and I could sit in his trunk and keep eight big hiking bags company for the 1.15hr drive, we decided to splurge, and treat ourselves each to a seat in another van.

I know. First a hotel. Now van seats? You’d think we were pampered celebrities.

It all worked out, and we hit the road to Donsol. But why you may ask?

It was a small fishing and farming town until 1998, when businesses, with guidance from the World Wildlife Federation, realized they could make money bringing tourists close to the many whale sharks that regularly migrate off their shores between Jan – May/June.

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Since then roads have been built, along with resorts and a massive increase in tourism devoted to the Butanding – Philipino for “whale shark”.

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But we’re just going for the food.

Kidding.

Though, I think that would be hilarious if someone were to ask: “Have you seen a whale shark?” and I replied, confused: “No, so far, I’ve only eaten snapper.”.

Driving on the way to Donsol, you pass homes and convenience stores put together by dried palm leaves, corrugated metal, and whatever else the residents can find, only to come upon a big church, dressed to the nines in concrete and sound building principles.

Rose read the insignia on the church as we passed, presumably because it stood out in such contrast: “Iglesia de Christo” (that white building in the picture above).

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Our van driver says: “Oh yes. Church is big business”.

But, it seems in Donsol, if you’re going on symbolism alone: the number of whale shark replicas, buttons, t-shirts, and other whale shark paraphernalia kicking around suggests the town has more than enough room for another idol.

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Next stop: putting it to the test by getting in the water, hopefully, with Butanding.

 

Travel Books: New Zealand

Good books I read about New Zealand on this trip:

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I didn’t get to a lot of books on our New Zealand leg, and I mainly blame this book. Why? It’s long. Clocking in at over a thousand pages, it’s no breezy bathroom read – however, I thought it was worth the effort. Set in the late 1800s during New Zealand’s gold rush it offers insights into the time, as well as different towns affected, like, Hokitika (I think my favourite NZ town name to say out loud). The books received some criticism for being too long without too much payoff, but I thought it was an interesting read anyway, particularly learning how and why different towns came to be what they are.

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A journal of one trekker’s time through all of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks – which are so designated by a government body – as well as some lesser walks through the country. His experience’s are really funny – from eating uncooked lentils at night then sitting in his sleeping bag at night while they expand in his stomach to some characters he meets on the trail as well as the conditions of the trails themselves. I thought it was a great primer to read about NZ’s trails before we went – helping us shape our own trekking plans. We both met him as well ahead of our New Zealand trip, so admittedly there is a bias. Regardless, for a travel book where the author isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating and avoids earnestness, I think it’s a good one.

Obviously, you can see, my list is painfully anemic. If anyone has any recommendations, fire away – I really liked NZ, Rose too, and would definitely like to read more about it, whether fiction or non.

Walking away in Kaikoura

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We spent our last two days in Kaikoura – a seaside town on the East coast of the South Island. Known primarily as a whale killing station over 100 years ago, Kaikoura has since put down its harpoons and cutters in favour of binoculars and photo shutters as a whale watching station.

From beast to beauty:

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But Kaikoura’s tourism isn’t formed only by one animal. It’s also home to seals, dolphins, albatross and other rare sea birds. So, we set out on our last stroll in New Zealand, along the coastline to see what we could spot. First up were seals in their natural habitat next to an SUV:

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Plus, some yawning the day away, as they lazed around near rocks:

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We then changed terrain on our designated walk, and moved onto a cliff to watch the whale watchers (the budget version of whale watching) and hoped to spot a tail or water from a blowhole in the distance. Sadly, no.

However, we had ringside seats to an abundance of seals (all those dots nearest the water):

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There were elements of the place that reminded me of Newfoundland, with an old boat or two laying around:

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And, the rocky shore with overlooking cliffs:

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In all it was a low key, relaxing couple of days and a nice way to finish our time in New Zealand. It’s a really amazing place, and for one that’s so small, in comparison to nearby Australia, there’s a ton of things to do.

Rose and I have both said independently that we’d like to come back to see and do more stuff. I found it really comfortable, and wished we could stay longer.

However, 28 hours, 4 planes, a tricycle and a taxi await.

We’re off to the Philippines. First stop: Donsol to hopefully spot Whale Sharks.

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Talk to you when we arrive.