Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hong Kong (14.10.2015 - 01.11.2015)

Having missed out on Hong Kong until now this was the perfect excuse to stay here some nights on our way home. We had a little (ok ok, all apartments are little in Hong Kong) flat rented over AirBnB right in the trendy (read: expensive) neighbourhood of Soho.
From here we ventured all over this crazed island and its peninsula.

I was amazed over how few traffic there is! After reading up on it I also understood why there were so many expensive cars around. Because there are heavy taxes nobody owns a car. Except the super rich which then don’t drive the next best Toyota but a German brand or some super sports car (yes we saw McLaren, Lamborghini & more for hundreds of thousand dollar worth parked in front of rundown Chinese restaurants…). 
Anyway, nobody drives themselves around but takes either the superb metro, the super cheap tramway (okay, not the fastest way but you get there), one of the many busses or one of the abundant and fair priced taxis.

So we headed over to the mainland into Kowloon and Mong Kong to visit the flower market street (street full of flower and plant shops) and the gold fish street (you guessed it, a street full of aquarium fish stores). Especially the fish stores were a crazy sight: the outsides lined with little plastic bags with tiny fishes or huge aquariums bursting with fish...
A thing you shouldn't miss is the horse races on Wednesday evening. Huge crowds gather to drink, chat and maybe have a look at the race ;). Because every other kind of gambling is illegal the locals go crazy about it. The betting shops all over the city are always full...

To relax from all the city troubles we spent an afternoon on the southeastern side of the island. A tiny bay and beach to relax and forget your just around the corner of a giant city. 
Speaking of giant, the shopping malls...! Every luxury brand in the world seems to be here. With shops big as grocery stores at home. And even more so the Apple Store: two huge floors and still long lines at the entrance. Everybody wants an iPhone... On the street we saw vendors selling them by the dozen like they were candy. And not fake or cheap ones, the prices were more or less the same as in Switzerland. All because the mainland Chinese come for shopping to Hong Kong to avoid the huge luxury tax they have at home. 
Generally, the money we saw people throwing around was crazy o_O. 
Luckily (for us ^^) we found stores for "normal" people as well and could indulge in a bit of shopping without going bankrupt!

The time passed way too fast and it was time to leave... :(

Bamboo scaffolding all the way!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tao company & foundation

To get from El Nido to Coron in style we booked a trip with Tao. They offer different tours from day trips, private tours and the expedition style we did.
All together we where 23 on the fully booked and just recently renovated (overhauled?) ship. Sounds like much but you have to keep in mind that we didn't sleep on the ship itself but on so called base camps on some lonely islands. These camps, scattered all around the route, consist of some huts, an outdoor shower and toilet, a little kitchen and a communal area.

The day before departure we got briefed and had the chance to buy some beers, rum and pineapple juice for the general drinks pool, so we wouldn’t die of thirst on the remote islands ;) This way nobody had to count beers or hide a stash of rum somewhere. 
Also there they warned us beforehand that we all would gain weight, so true! The food the guys cooked in the little kitchen either on the boat or on the islands was just extraordinary! The best food we tasted in our whole trip (yes, shame on you Hong Kong)!

Also worth mentioning is that most of the food came either from their own farm or got supplied by locals from the islands. Tao company has a foundation which it supports to develop, help and support the local islanders by giving them opportunities to earn a buck and help preserve their tiny islands for the next generation. 
We stayed one night on their farm and had a chance to look around. They explained the different plants they grow, the newly build pig pen (the little piggies get distributed around the islands and then bought back once they are fully grown), the duck and the fish pond.
The foundation tries to spread ideas and techniques like using rice wash for doing the laundry or leaving dead plants over the soil and roots instead of burning it, so it would retain moisture. Because one of the main problems for the islanders is the few fresh water they get, so everything which helps to save and reduce is welcome!

This fusion of old and new ideas is best seen in the huts and buildings they are now building. With new plans is mind (to resist the yearly typhoons) these constructions get built by using local resources (mostly bamboo) and local techniques employed by the fisherman since generations to build their boats.

All in all a good cause! So lets go and have a holiday! :D

Mango Tree - Fish Pond - Papay Tree - Duck Pond

Friday, November 6, 2015

Palawan (29.09.2015 - 08.10.2015)

A mini bus took us up north to El Nido. This (once) laid back village is the entrance to the limestone rocks out in the bay and home to dozens of dive shops. Booming but still small and nice enough we spent some pleasant 6 nights here. During the day we were busy out on or under the sea. Enjoying the amazing landscape (waterscape?) and underwater world. The reefs were still mostly intact and literally swarming with fish!

Our next destination was Coron, 200km north on the island of Busuanga. There is also an island called Coron (right next to it), but the town city is on the other one, don’t know why…

Anyway, after reading some horrible stories on TripAdvisor and hearing first hand from my brother about the crossing from El Nido to Coron we were looking for a more respectable way to do this trip. The little boats need 10 hours and upwards for the crossing. Depending on the motor, weather and if the hull doesn’t leak (too much)… o_O

A bit of googling later I stumbled upon Tao which does the trip stretched over 5 day island by hopping from island to island instead!
Luckily they had a boat going north right when we needed it and I immediately applied for it. Yes there is no direct booking, they want to make sure everybody knows what they are getting into. This is not a cruise ship and accommodation is rather basic. So to avoid any negative reviews in hindsight they discourage anybody which is looking for luxuries like air conditioning and power outlets ;) 

But the following days passed like in a blur! 

Great breakfast was followed by some snorkelling by a deserted island - then some killer snacks - some more snorkelling - a bit of lounging in the shadows - stare out on the sea - have an awesome lunch - more snorkelling - do some reading, more snorkelling - have a nap - get a beer - arrive at the basecamp for the night - get set up - have an outdoor shower - get a pineapple rum drink - eat a killer dinner - have some more drinks by the beach fire and go to sleep in the little huts!

Sadly the time passed way to fast. Coron already in view we stopped a last time for a swim in the Barracuda lake on Coron island. This closed off craters upper layers are fresh water and below it is salty. You can’t imagine how hard it is to swim in fresh water after spending days in the ocean!
So it was time to say goodbye to the crew and head into Coron were we spent another 5 nights. 
Close by a Japanese WW2 support fleet, tasked to build airstrips and so forth, was sunk. In a single day two america aircraft carrier destroyed the whole fleet, resulting in a dozen wrecks scattered in the area. This makes Coron the world capital in wreck diving, wohoo! 

As Melanie isn’t into bad visibility, deep and wreck dives ^^ I had to go alone but it was totally worth it! Most of the wrecks were in quite good condition, considering they are now over 70 years old… All in all I visited six of the twelve wrecks, super dives!

Again time was running out and we flew further up north to Manila. We spent a single night in the old walled city, called Entremuros, literally "behind walls”. It was weird to see the same architecture as in our trip through latin america. Also funny is how still many filipino words have their roots in the Spanish language. For example counting is done in spanish (now slowly getting replaced by english) and there are many Spanish words still in use like abuelo (grandfather), etc

Next stop Hong Kong!