All posts by Ayan Villafuerte

figuring out life since 1984.

10.rupee.boy

10.rupee.boy

He greets everyone he sees with “only 10 rupees.”

He sells yellow flowers with candle on a small paper saucer to pilgrims and tourists in Pandey Ghat. The flowers are then offered and floated in Ganges. 

I always shy away from sellers whenever im traveling. Aside from i avoid lugging around additional baggage, i avoid unneccesary expenses too. I always brush them away with a smile. 

One time, as i was walking around the ghats, he ran to me with my lost bonnet on hand. I left it at the Chai place the day before. He handed the bonnet to me. He said he remember seeing me wearing that bonnet and he was kind enough to get it from the Chai shop so he could give it back to me. 

More than the bonnet, its his smile that made me smile that morning. It was sincere. Most of the time sellers only want to get money from you. Travelers are their prey. Its a bit difficult at times to distinguish a tout from an innocent who is just doing his job to make both ends meet.

I bought one of his flowers. We offered it in the river. He smiled. This was his smile on the photo. I tried to have a conversation  with him but the english he knows is only “only 10 rupees.” 

 

i die. Udaipur

the Monsoon Palace or Sajjan Garh is perched on top of Bansdara peak  along the Aravalli hill range . it towers above the city- which lays on flat land- at more than 3000ft. it has sweeping panoramas- Udaipur city on the east and the Aravallis on the west.our first day in Udaipur almost became our last day there too. we did not like it. im not saying the city is not nice. actually, i think the city is very nice, too nice for our liking. its too clean, too fancy, too touristy. But since we only have 3 days to kill before Holi Festival. it will be too short to travel to another town.we thought of heading outside the city the next day. explore the outskirts on bicycles. it might shake off our first impressions of Udaipur.we rented rundown bikes in Heera Cycle shop( 50rps). it has clunky wheels and brakes. its the best ones they have though. conquering the hills on these tacky two-wheels seemed quite a challenge. yang got the fitness of ironman. and i got the will and arrogance of Tony Stark. so, we should be good.we kick-started the 7.5km road around 4pm. anytime earlier than that and we should have gotten our skin toasted. the sun rays were piercing even at 4pm. it was a hot day. the first 2.5kms is concrete highway. we breezed through it easily. we reached  the electric substation and continued to the small rough and dusty road leading to the main gate. the palace is inside the national park.  from afar the palace started to appear high and imposing.

its a few hundred meters away from the gate and we hit the slopes. the park looked dry with nothing but shrubs and bushes. we took our first stop for a water break. the sun was still scorching and the heat was oppressive. 4:30pm. as per Yang’s gps, we finished a little over half of the total distance and a few meters of the 3.5kms assault/climb to the top where the palace is.

 

we pedalled on but we’re forced to take another stop. the heat was unbearable. the unpaved dry road started to feel harder to trudged onto. the gradual slope turned to full-on ascent. it felt almost impossible to kick on the pedals as the bike chains might break. we gave up on riding the bikes and started pushing it forward.

 

after reaching what-could-be the first 500meters of the whole 3,500m, i wanted to stop. i was panting. heat and exhaustion got the better of me. we drank almost 3/4 of our water. cotton shirt was sweat soaked. i should have bought some dri-fits. im checking out Zalora once i get home. it was around 5pm.

 

i stared at the palace and it was so damn distant and high. it was a long shot  to get there before sundown. i asked Yang if we should continue, he said yes in a heartbeat. and my heart just fell. i was tired. it was not biking anymore, not trekking- it was suicide. but, yeah, im too cocky to back down.

 

time constraints, heat, exhaustion, water, distance and that fukcin bike (which felt as heavy as a motorcycle)- good thing im stupid at times. i never bothered analyzing if it was indeed possible to reach the palace under these conditions. i followed the chinese and trekked on.

 

sun dwindled down and casted a shadow to the side of the hill where we were at.

 

2kms is a short distance. but it was uphill so it felt like 2bazzilion kms. tourists with puzzled looks on their faces in air-conditioned cars occasionally passed by. my motivation was to get to the palace and order some fancy, expensive food they serve because i fukcin deserve it.

 

they had to make the road zigzag because it was just too steep.

 

i have no idea how we did it, but, yeah, we reached the palace minutes before sunset. the palace was no fairytale- castle-like inside. as it is dilapidated; rundown like our bicycles; beat-up like our bodies. the real gem of this palace is not the palace itself but the spectacular views from the windows.

 

i had my fair share of trekking and mountain biking in the past. but never trekking with mountain fukcing bikes.

but all-in-all, i am glad it happened. i am glad Yang said we should continue. i am glad that im cocky at times. i am glad i was able to take some good photos. it is one of the more memorable experiences from my trips.

and there is no tired, aching body a cold bottle of beer can not soothe.

*bottles =)

Silhouette of Sapa: en route

stunning SaPa – makalaglag panty ang SaPa( tagalog translation)

Julie & I initially planned to travel to SaPa independently. But after checking the fare at the train station, we decided to drop the do-it-yourself plan and just go with a package tour since it was significantly cheaper. Package tour apparently cost a lot less. One of the few things I don’t get with Vietnam.

Train from Hanoi to LaoCai is around $58; a few dollars for the  bus/taxi from LaoCai to SaPa on top of that. Package tour was $70 and that included transportation (all the way to Sapa and back), accommodation, meals, and treks (tours).

It turned out be a good move. Not only did we save a couple of dongs but we also met travel buddies who, later on, became good friends.

Randy tagged along last minute. I met him and Julie at the backpacker dorm in Hanoi, May De Ville Backpackers, some 8 days ago. We shared the same room.

It took me a couple of days and a bloody nose to adjust to these two native English speakers, especially Julie who happens to be a scot. Damn thick Scottish accent. I find it cute though.

The bus picked us up at the hostel at around 8 pm. Bus was 30 minutes late. So, to make up for the tardiness, the driver drove like a maniac. He could pass for a lead act in the next Fast & Furious franchise. He swerved and honked our way out of Hanoi’s busy rush hour traffic. I was smiling at first since I found his driving familiar and “cute” but after a couple of life-and-death swerves, I got scared. I noticed myself mumbling “oohs” and “ahhs” and my grip on my sit tightened. For someone to scare a Filipino- who grew up riding jeepneys(patok) in Manila- with his driving expertise, he must be some badass. Just saying.

The ride to Sapa was a smooth one but that’s for Cordilleran standards. I’m used to long bus rides, bumpy roads and zigzag highways in the sky. I guess when you tried riding on top of a bus traversing a single-lane rough road on the edge of 50 feet high cliff; it will have to take something special to scare you. Right?

The bus was comfortable. It was a sleeper bus. There’s a plenty of legroom for a comfortable stretch. Cozy for Asian standards (height-wise). (Yao Ming is not Asian, he is Chinese. lol) so German dogs Max and Steffen has to lie down with their feet on the head of the passengers in front of them.

It was a scenic ride especially the final stretch to Sapa. From LaoCai, where the final station of train is at, the drive shifted from easy ascends to a steep uphill jaunts.

As the bus’s engine struggled and roared, we sat back, relaxed, enjoyed and waited as the night gave way to the day. Stunning sceneries started to unravel from the thick fog that blanketed the place. The mountains began to reveal its shape and greens. Sunrays pierced through the clouds.

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The listless provincial town was slowly waking up and so did the eager travellers. All eyes were glued outside. Cameras were drawn out and everyone snapped away to their hearts content.

We arrived in SaPa and alighted to a nippy midmorning. Air was crisp and fresh. Sun peeped out but not fully. It’s a perfect day for a walk or bike around this little charming town tucked in the mountains of northern Vietnam.

We checked in at Sapa Summit Hotel (part of the package). It was our home for the next 3 days. It was a lovely hotel perched on a cliff that overlooked SaPa’s stunning stairway-to-heaven’s rice terraces. On the backdrop was the mighty Fansipan. It is the highest peak in mainland Southeast Asia. The silhouette of the towering mountain ranges that lead to Mt. Fansipan was equally arresting as the rice paddies. We stood dumbfounded in the balcony.

The hotel was not too shabby either. It is fairly new, neat, and homey. The hotel’s restaurant has a patio perfect for al fresco dining. It leads to a garden nicely landscaped and coupled with tables and chairs and swings. Its perfect for lazy afternoon reads while sipping a hot tea or coffee. Factor in the sweeping scenery in front and the cool temperature and I bet any bookworm who chooses to stay here will find their selves holing up for days on end.

Julie and I settled into our room. We then met up with randy in the patio for a sumptuous lunch. I forgot what I ordered though I remember enjoying it. I guess, with this setting, they can serve me egg and rice and I will dine delightfully every time.

After lunch, we rented motorbikes. It was time to discover this hilly paradise that is SaPa.

*Next post: The Sonnet of SaPa

Dustland Fairytale – MuiNe

High Road to Mui Ne

Last Minutes in Hoi An

I  went back to the hostel 30mins before the scheduled bus pick-up time so i can take a shower and share one more round of beer with my swedish triad crew Peter, Jakob and Max. only to find out that the bus was ready to go, ahead of time. i asked if i can pull a 3minute quick shower( its a looong 12-hour bus ride i wanted to be fresh, clean and comfortable the least,ok don’t judge me if my idea of fresh and clean is a 3minute shower). but the driver said NO, we have to go.

so, with sweat from whole day of biking under the sun and some salt particles left on my hair/skin from swimming in the beach, i grabbed my backpack and hopped into the sleeper bus.

its time to leave the swedish triad in Hoi An and head to the Dustland Fairytale that is Mui Ne. at 6pm, we hit the road.
***
High-Fiving with new buds

in the bus i met Maggie & Adrian and Manfred- the german franks and the spanish bread meet pinoy pandesal.

the scenery in the bus window was totally changed. it looked like a different country altogether. from the thick forest mountains of Dalat to the dry deserted dunes of Phan Tiet. from the nippy chill to humid, warm atmosphere.

i am in sheer amazement of how varied Vietnam’s topography. theres just no two place(at least to where I’ve been)similar landscape-wise. Sapa is mountainous and all but not a tad similar to Dalat.

sun was up. mid day. the thousands of pine trees that divides the highway and the beach were motionless. no wind from the sea. tall pine trees were as still as a lampost.

bus was at least faster than the ones i took in Northern Vietnam. but of course it was still slow when it comes to Negros’ Ceres bus lines standards.

***
High-Rolling in Mui Ne

How does Lacoste for Dinner sounds like? high-rolling, eh?
i know its hard to picture that. me and high rolling just can not belong to one sentence. but this is a fairytale.

our accommodation was a PRIVATE room. on the topmost floor, make that a penthouse.
and…
and…
we had Lacoste for late-dinner.
posers wear that….us, it was our entree for dinner that night.
juicy and tender. soft to the bite.
almost-melt-in-your-mouth
so unreptile-ish of it.

maybe, its the wagyu of the crocodile world. now thats high-rolling, right?

after dinner, we headed to this bar to taste its premium offering which happened to be a draft beer; San Miguel. the place was neat, a sports bar by the beach. it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they serve San Miguel. and it was the priciest among their beers. which my latino friend insisted that it is a spanish import. he was so damn sure about it that even me who grew up on this beer made me harbour second-thoughts(thanks to google, i, now, know it is a Philipine brand).

***
High-Balling in Mui Ne

we rented motorcycles to better explore this vast deserted plain.

a hearty serving of Pho was obligatory before we headed out. so a healthy, filling and cheap at 20k dongs was the best way that kickstarted our long day of dustland adventure.

the Fishing Village harbor is along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street or Ham Dien; which is pretty much the highway where all the happenings in town..errr.. happens. Its a long stretch where the hostels & hotels and bars are located. It is on the northern part of Mui Ne bay.  it was dotted with hundreds of traditional colourful wood vessels which were moored at the bay. it was a splendid view. it reminded me of old quaint european fishing villages( as per Game of Thrones)- very picturesque.

it was a hot-bike-ride(literally) going to the white dunes. its a little far from the town center.  but the roads were well-paved and the view was scenic. the endless sand banks on the left and the infinite sea on the right.


we had so much fun running around and tripping down foolishly in the dunes. we were like hansels and gretel left in the house of sweets, fun. the sweltering heat was only noticed when our skins started to turn as red as the Vietnam flag. the view of the sea from afar was equally stunning.

tumbling down the dunes

we made several stops on our way back to Ham Dien. rock island. fairy stream, red dunes etc.

at night, we capped off the day’s oppressive heat with cool big slices of watermelon, the best watermelon. it was refreshing. nights were usually spent on the sports bar by the beach over beers and billiard games.

***
High-Flying in Mui Ne

Mui Ne is the watersports capital of Vietnam. para-sailing and windsurfing can be a wise alternative when the sun rays get really harsh for biking to the dunes.

there is nothing extra-ordinary about the beach but it does the trick. on a blue-skyed day when roaming around and playing watersports become too hot(literally) to handle; grabbing a good book and a cold beer on the beach can be a delightful option.

***
Dustland Fairytale

these famed dunes and harbor are dreamy and stunning. they make striking subjects for photographs. I’m sure even non-photography enthusiasts would admire the lovely landscapes and seascapes.

in this fairytale, there is also a witch. the witch was the girl in Hoi An who sold us bus tickets for HoiAn-NhaTrang & MuiNe-Saigon(HoChiMinh). we paid for sleeper bus rates but she tricked us by issuing ordinary bus tickets as per advised by the booking office in Mui Ne. information on the tickets were in Vietnamese. we were subjected for extra dongs to upgrade for sleeper. witch bitch.

and just like any fairytale, theres a prince -charming and thats me( lol).

sharing the adventure with these nomads made the this trip more fun. as the maxim goes: we all start as strangers. later on the trip, me and the spanish bread travelled south to Saigon then east to ChauDoc etc etc then Bangkok. til he eventually visited Manila. the german franks still keep in touch.
this dustland story and just like all the other fairytales, it ended up with a happily-ever-after.

*dustland fairytale is a song from The Killers. fave band.

Vientiane: V.W.X.Y.Zzz

PhiPhi paradise

friendly warning : this is boring. its not you Vientiane; its me. lol

Pre-Vent
i woke up in a beautiful island named Phi Phi. and as usual, i woke up late. that morning, i was bound to Laos; Vientiane.

that day, i was supposed to take the boat to Phuket then a plane to Udon Thani then a bus, or whatever, to cross the border to Laos. i was not following any strict itineraries at this time of the trip. one of the perks of long travels. the plan was  to wake up early before 6am to take pictures of sun-up along the beach. walk around. jog a little( lol). then, breakfast. a subtle plan for a somber morning.

but due to my defected body clock- it has something to do with the brain i guess- my brain was buzzed 3 hours later. at 8:30 i was still curled up in bed in a room at the foot of the hill 1 zillion miles away from the port where my boat ride awaited.  so i skipped the whole-somber morning plan, instead i was forced to a mad-frantic-dash. i flashpacked all my stuff, showered, got to the pier at 9am.  one minute later and i shouldve been subjected for rebooking charges for my ticket.
****

Crossing to Vientiane

the plane arrived in Udon Thani Airport early. the van terminal bound for Thai-Laos border- the Friendship bridge- easily. they are in the right just outside of the arrival area, conveniently situated. once i was in the van i started figuring out how to reach Vientiane since i have no itinerary, no map, no plans yet.

i was lucky to have ridden in the van with some helpful though shady characters. theres this lovely woman who was very kind enough to elaborate on how i can reach Vientiane and how to go around and enjoy the Lao Capital. she was beautiful and poise like a beauty queen. there was a certain grace in how she spoke and moved.. i carried her styrofoam box full of seafoods as we alighted the van down to the Thai immigration, passport stamped, then took the bus that crosses the friendship bridge to the Laos border.  we  met some people she knew in the bus which was good because that meant additional people to split the taxi fare with. From the friendship bridge, it is still a fair distance to Vientiane.

one of the guys appealed a little shady to me- literally and figuratively lol. he wore sunglasses inside the van and it was already past 6pm, past sunset so it was already dark. he and his friend are from Udon and they are headed to Vientiane just for a night out. an out-of-the-country night out, technically. beer is cheap, theres a casino, girls are cheaper compare to the ones in Thai, and hotels are cheap too he said. we decided to meet up later that night.

the guys in the van were kind enough to argue on where is the best accomodation for me. lol. they dropped me in Mixay.
****

Vientiane = Beer Lao

no-traffic town

Mixay is a good option in Vientiane. rates are on the cheap side($5/bed). friendly staff. free breakfast. great location.

I met Mike and Jake, both Aussies who happened to be in the same dorm. they were travelling south east Asia riding in bicycles. from the looks of their soiled backpacks alone, they sure had been to a lot of rough and rugged roads. i share the same passion in two-wheels.

i rented one for myself to explore the place. Vientiane is the national Capital but with a small town feel. most probably, because, uhm, it is small.

its a mellow option to kickstart a backpacking trip around the country.

bike rent is less than two-dollars. its a perfect way to explore the neat and laidback urbanscape. though it gets tricky maneuvering it in the highways. the leisure stride suddenly becomes like one traversing an obstacle course. motorcycles and other vehicles seem not be fond much of traffic rules. they run in high speeds and tend not to stop in red lights at times. i almost got run over in several occasions.

i love the food scene in this city. streetfoods are in abundance; cheap and clean( for my standards). come mealtime, i always go for places crowded with locals.  and 90% of the time its these noodle houses that attract lots of patrons. i love Pho and they have good versions of it here, though i try to shy away from soups for lunch since its humid but i found myself chugging down bowls nonetheless. and it would end up with bowl of sweat everytime.

i love their barbecue, subtle flavors. it goes well with their sticky rice.

and of course the best part of Lao… is Beer Lao. its not because the place is not beautiful, its just that the beer is really good. it has a good resemblance to Gold Eagle beer( my official beer when i was still living in Boracay)

**met Alex & Paeson on this trip which became good friends.

***no misadventures on this trip. it bores me a bit to look back on experiences with no hassles/drama. though, its also good, for a change =)

Golden Stuppa

CW: free breakfast of Mixays; sticky rice; barbecue chicken
Patuxai
IMG_1746
a bowl of happiness
IMG_1626
best beer

since its a boring a post. i am going to try to be helpful at least. lol
-there are vans from Udon Thani that goes to Lao border. terminal is just outside of the airport arrival area.
-there are buses that cross Thai border-Lao border. 20,000 kips
-you can share a ride with fellow travellers in the taxi ride from Lao border(friendship bridge) to Vientiane. there are local buses but not available late afternoon onwards.
-Mixay dorm room rate(2011) is less than $5 USD
-Bicycle daily rent is 8,000 kips(around 1USD)
-there are vans/buses that go straight to Chiang Mai. travel time is roughly 12hrs. bus exchange at the border

BASILAN: YODO – You Only Die Once

real.deal

there goes the story of the fake ticket, fake ID and THE one real, palpable, so-near-i-can-breath-danger  type of D.A.N.G.E.R.
Prequel of this story here (anong sinabi ng twilight may prequel prequel pa ako nalalaman.hehe)

I arrived in Zamboanga City safe and sound. Flight went smoothly, and none of those  shady-armed-men-terrorists showed up to welcome me in the airport- to my delight. *Though they were very much present in my nightmares for several days prior to the flight; whew!

Zamboanga City is the jump off place for people coming from Manila to Basilan- the main destination of this whole backpacking trip. There are no direct flights from Manila to Basilan Island. i am not sure if theres an airport even.

the plan was to spend two days in Zamboanga before heading to Basilan. just enough time to settle and calm myself down from the whole idea of braving Basilan single-handedly, flying with fake identity and the thought of simply just being in western Mindanao.

since i am not the type of traveller(person in general) who is good with plans, i got stuck in Zamboanga for 7 days not because i was scared of Basilan(ulol) but because i enjoyed getting drunk and looked down to every night with new-found friends.lol

Jeez, chavacanos(not all) are a bunch of condescending bitches. Not a night of drinking passed by without them reiterating their superiority  amongst other pinoys(its the whole Spanish thing they say). in this case, i am the only “other pinoys”, i guess, since i am the lone non-chavacano in the drinking table. i, actually, did get their point the first time they explained it to me. i mean, all three of them took a shot in incessantly explicating the matter. just saying.

one night, while in the middle of a drinking spree, out-of-the-blue, they bursted into a chorus of Zamboanga’s anthem-patriotic much. But, hey, as long as theres free beer, theres no issue with me- i succumbed my lords(*on a game of thrones tone).

finally, after that night of drinking when i tried so hard(argh) to convince them that we are all equal(chavacanos, tagalogs)-which i failed miserably- i decided to stood up and be brave(Kalinga tribe reprezeeent! lol) and pursue that daunting task of travelling solo to Basilan.  YOLO. uhm. YODO. You Only Die Once. yeah, none of them wanted to cross to Basilan.

i woke up at 4:30am. Benj( friend/ host) walked with me to the jeepneys heading to where the port is. He wasn’t allowed by his partner to travel with me.

the jeep brought me down to the street next to the port. it was a looong walk-not sure if its the distance or the scare that started to well inside me.

this, back then, was the most sensitive trip i have gotten myself into. Basilan is pretty much known to all of the Philippines as the island you would not want to bring yourself to. heck, you wouldn’t even want to get near to( of course, unless a rifle is being poked at the back of your head then you should not fight back and just go) lol.

it is believed to be the home of local terrorists(aside from Jolo i think). this is one of those don’t-tell-my-mom’s destinations.

so breaking in to Basilan was like a top secret  agent’s mission-
critical,
sensitive and
insanely stupid.
yeah, what can i get from doing this aside from bragging rights? yeah, none. lol.

i wore worn-out shirt, basketball shorts and slippers. totally the vibe you get from your typical neighbourhood hobo. which happens to be my look even when dressed-up. =)

i arrived at the port 45mins ahead of what Benj told me was the boats scheduled departure time, 6am. yeah, am i excited or what!?

then a man approached me to my surprise horror bearing news that there was a fast craft/vessell thats about to leave and that its only 50pesos more expensive. (well, its very warm of Basilan to come up with these circumstances just to meet me ASAP.)
Aaah the warmth of friendliness… left me froze with terror. lol. i said to the man “uhmmm yeah, sure, why not chocnut”

i told myself,  if theres one time that i shouldn’t be exhibiting fake bravery then this is it. this is it pansit. but, yeah, my mind was already afloat, i said I’m taking it.

with utter carefulness- more like paranoia- couple of rules i made and observed: never make eye contact to anyone. no speaking. if asked, talk only in my broken bisaya, short and sweet in a hushed tone. always stick with group of people. no going to toilet. no camera. no phone. and DO NOT MAKE ANY SCENE(as much as i love attention, this was apparently not the place and time.)

i ran to the boat- ran pa talaga- because it was about to board and sail. i went straight to a vacant seat in the corner. there i seated( honestly i wasn’t really sure if i would sit, or jump out of the boat- my brain was confused. but, yeah, my heart on the other hand, was so sure to jump out of my body)

since this was a secret mission, my priority(for my dear life) was not to attract any attention. be discreet, blend in and play it cool.
failed.
hence, i stood out like a sore thumb because i sweated like a pig.

i tried earnestly to composed myself. and i did it by listening to Snoop Dogg’s Young, Wild and Free. i listened to it a couple of times. though i restricted myself from breaking to a Hip Hop swaggin dance( which i am prone to do whenever i hear it blasted on the radio)

“Livin’ young, wild and free” i hummed. it worked like a charm. =)

it was a smooth sail. sea was placid. sky was clear. sun’s soft morning rays felt warmth to the skin. it was a subtle morning(of course that is we discard the case of my then-troubled-heart which almost jumped-out not only from my body but from the boat altogether.)

an hour passed and from afar, the outline of the famed and feared zone started to take shape. it was mostly flat terrains. the sleepy island’s silhouette was accentuated with fine gloomy streaks of fog.  the sight was serene and tranquil. least words one would associate Basilan with. there was a definite calmness in the air.

shady silhouette

i started to contact Basilan’s Tourism officer that was assigned to meet me in the pier. we had a lengthy phone conversation the night before and that actually sealed the deal. it is safe he guaranteed and that he will be inside the pier waiting for me the next day.
i phoned him.
no answer.
the.guy.did.not.answer.my.phone.call.

*my most feared scenario is, actually, to alight from the boat, walk to the arrival area and have no one to fetch me. if this happens in a different place i will not even be bothered but this is Basilan. that would make me feel like im a meat thrown inside a cage of mad dogs with thick saliva drooping from their mouth.

you know how it is the arrival area, all eyes on you. in this case, even terrorist eyes could be on you. even terrorist eyes hunting down for their next victim could be on you. even terrorist eyes hunting down for their next victim wearing dark glasses, sahal, belt of ammo and an ak-67 could be on you. ohboy, my wild imaginations fukced me straight up with a devilish grin.

my then-calm composure brought about by the cool Sulu Sea air, subdued summer sun, and the landscape that has peace written all over it was suddenly unrattled again.  i decided i will not alight the boat unless i received a text or call from the tourism guy. id rather stay in the boat and go back to Zamboanga City and just lie about travelling around Basilan altogether. haha. but the tourism guy, Jason, finally texted.

and it was all good vibes from then on.
*well, except for the lady guide who hinted was expecting a treat because apparently the previous visitors were of affluence. they feasted on thousand worth of seafood  etc. i said, the only seafood she can expect from me is a fancy fried fish(daing na bangus). very fancy, eh? (yes, they are my good friends Nik and Ton. its not their fault that they are rich. and its my fault that im “under-privilege” lol. yes, i know that. demmit)

it was a rollercoaster of feelings this travel experience caused me. the high highs and looow lows were so extremes. from disturbing to delightful.

the beach in Malamawi Island is definitely amongst my top beaches in the Philippines alongside El Nido’s and Babuyan’s Sabang. Though i must say Malamawi has way more “ooomph” and ANGAS(not sure if theres an english translation).  I mean, the lifeguards here don’t carry rescue cans, they carry rescue guns! and by guns… i meant those things that fire.

Basilan(Isabela) is a city marred with terrorism and violence. A place condemned with a long history of bad press which is utterly wrongful/unjust for the friendy people and the stunning island place. Its a shame that Basilan graces frontpages of newspapers wherein its more suited for travel magazine covers.

Come on Mindanao, let’s give peace a chance!
Visit this side of the country if you can. its worth it. and because YOLO – you only live once( and that once can end here. lol)

*this trip was mid 2012
*the Zamboanga peeps are good friends. well, unless they change their minds after reading this. bunch of fun, cool people. hehe
*Nik and Ton are not your typical rich conyo travelers. hehe
*the guy from the Tourism office Jason Arcan is a very cool guy. everyone travelling to this island should look for and get him as guide.
*and you should give generous tip.
because, i did. generously. of course, but thats on  my standards. lol

that ass is me. adjacent is catholic church bombed several times already.
pristine sands
white sandy beaches

before.sunrise


yes, i am a big fan of Ethan Hawke’s “Before” series. and, i guess, i experienced my own version of it. the night i bumped into the sexiest Thai girl i ever met in this City of Angels.

the day before…

the mid-day buzz of this urban jungle that is Bangkok woke me up. and with the sweltering heat of the summer sun, i woke up with sweat-soaked shirt.

clock ticked a few minutes after 12. high noon. my head was still buzzed from the alcohol binge at PostBar the night before, my go-to place in Bangkok for hang out. it was quite a fun night. food was flowing and it was free. it sure is true that best things in life are free. lol. it was the birthday of one of the bar’s patrons and he brought in some serious thai dishes. it was free for all. nothing beats spicy food and cold beer. to sum it all up, it was an awesOOOme night.

afternoon was spent contemplating on whether i should go out and see as much of Bangkok as i can since it was my last day in the city or should i just keep it down-low. i opted for the latter and did some writing, just chilled-out and relaxed in the apartment.

all the afternoon heat was gone by night time. i knew i can not pass on the chance of dropping-by PostBar on my last night so i pulled my ass off and headed out. i intended to just dropby and finish 1 beer as i have an early trip, and its a long 13-hour ride. i took the 505 bus to Samsen rd.

the night before…

i approached the bar and ordered a big bottle of Chang. a girl across the bar caught my eyes. she wore casual clothes and a megawatt smile… and with that thai-sun-kissed skin… she glowed.

she had her hair down and was clearly enjoying the lazy sunday evening with her friends which occasionally broke to burst of laughters every so often.

the bar was scarcely filled. i chatted with two of the owners and other regulars. i frequented this watering hole in the last one and a half months so i knew and became friends with a couple of hippies here. *separate post for PostBar.

the sun-kissed girl would occasionally go and sit outside for a smoke.

i was sitted outside with Pul when she went out again. i striked a conversation with her- a quick one- then we headed back inside to our respective tables.

i knew there was something in that first dialogue. so i waited, spotted and joined her next time she went out for a smoke. we talked, and talked. she did not bother going back inside immediately to her peers this time around, to my delight. that was a feat for someone who is torpe.

the night went on spontaneously. i drank with my guards on since i have an early trip to take. i was leaving the city and Thailand in general early the next day.

before midnight

conversation spun around travelling, and islands, and other things. other beautiful things.

it was past midnight when the sexiest thai girl and i decided to leave the people and her friends in Post Bar-coolest bar in Bangkok( i should get Changs for this next time i go there.)

we walked to Khao San rd. strolled in this street of battered backpacks, hippie wanderers, perpetual youth and padthais.

after midnight

she is a nature lover. she spent two weekends in an island in Andaman coast a couple of months back. a remote retreat that is Similan island. the beach is divine, delicate and bewitching. just like her.

it was getting late. 1:30am. morning was nearing and so was my departure.

we walked to Burger King in Khao San rd intersection. she said i can crash her place for my remaining hours in Bangkok if i want to. she hailed a cab and off we went to her place, her apartment in Silom.

i was drawned to her. the way she spoke with her thai accent was endearing. the way she moved, way she flipped her hair, way she smiled, her gaze, her supple sunkissed skin. charming.

moments would go slo-mo but not time. it raced. like my heartbeat.

***

before sunrise…

it was already 4am when i took notice of time. i was still at the sexiest thai girl’s place and we have not slept yet.

i can not bring myself to say my goodbyes for we only have started. it was bittersweet. i was glad to have met her. but sad that i met her on my last night in this city. this city of angels which was my home for 40 days.

it was 5am.

finally, i got up, bade goodbye, and sped off.

took a taxi to bigboy’s apartment in Pratunam, my home in Bangkok. i only have 1 hour to rest, gathered my stuff and got ready to hit the road again, onwards to Malaysia.

that night, i stayed out longer than i intended to. no, i am not complaining. it was beautiful.

aaahh the romance of being on the road. the hellos and goodbyes and those fleeting blissful moments in between. life’s surprises. i live for those =)

banged.up.abroad. lol

*absolutely not the banging that i was hoping for

how did this image brought me joy and peace and, almost, tears?lol

it was officially my last night in Bangkok. Malaysia(Penang)-bound the morning after.

its past midnight and i was still chugging beers in the coolest bar in the city with newfound friends whose names are as long as traffic in EDSA on a rainy friday payday. seriously, whats with the undeniable romance of thais and the alphabet. long names.

pre-schoolers must have hate their culture for this. lol

it was my last day in Thailand- whether i like it or not. unless, i pay the fine for overstaying. which i am not considering, i mean, i can no longer afford it.

Bangkok did live up to its name as the City of Angels. on my last night, that night i met the most beautiful Thai girl-itago natin sa pangalan Angel. i guess i just had my “Before  Sunrise” experience (lakas makiuso showing na before midnight.) i got home at 4am in high spirits. what a way to end my stay in this urban jungle. *separate post.

The day…

i woke up after two fateful alarm snoozes. it was almost 6am. all my blood and adrenaline shoot up in shock. my bus leaves at 7am and its still far from my place. i packed briskly my more than 30-days worth of belongings( all scattered in room) in 3mins (that’s talent my friend since i have taken the word “disorganize” to a different level).

my friend’s girlfriend was awakened and pulled out mom’s why-are-you-only-packing-now-you-have-no-more-time-you-will-be-late card. off i continued to hustle and pretended i heard nothing. not a good way to start my day =)

so i tossed all my stuff in the bag. pulled out my magic and in less than 5mins i was done with my bag, brush, and bath. with time not on my favor and the cloud in my head caused by lack of sleep and hangover, i skipped the mushy-goodbyes and stormed out. i flagged down the first taxi on the street.

apparently the driver was in a bigger hurry than me. lol. after some skids and swerves i was in the bus station 30mins ahead of time. i picked up some crackers, chips and water from the grocery.

The ride…

i was tired, sleepy and buzzed. people poured in. it seemed like i was the lone backpacker taking the ride.

the bus conductor approached and i asked him where in Hat Yai can i catch vans for Malaysia later that day. “no more trips at night” he said. i repeated my question, pronouncing the words slowly this time assuming he didnt get it the first time.

then a flat out resounding “no” again from the man. i settled onto my seat for some shut eye. my body was calling for it but my mind was thinking of something else.

its only 7am, its a 12-hour ride, at 7pm there has to be people crossing the border considering it is open until 10pm, after all, it is the main highway that links Thailand and Malaysia.

i composed myself. contemplated.

all the sleepiness, hangover, fatigue had flown out the bus window. all thats left was anxiety. I CAN NOT AFFORD not to cross the border that very day. what i have left is just enough money( no fines/extra expenses) to cross to Penang where  i have friends waiting for me.

i  frisked my bag, purse, pockets to check my money. one 500 and three 100 notes and some loose change.

if what the bus staff said was true that there will be no more public transpo plying that route at night(8pm onwards). then, these will be the expenses:

    • 200 baht fan room accomodation

 

  • 350 baht fare from Hat Yai- Penang

 

 

  • 500 baht one day fine for overstaying to be paid in Immigration Office

 

 

food allowance was not even included and im already short. even if i spend the night in the bus terminal, still, there is no way my 800plus baht can get me through the day/next day and the border.

reality kicking in…

clammy hands. sweaty palms. sharp headache.

this is, actually, my most feared travel nightmare. be broke in a foreign land and deal with corrupt immigration officials. Banged Up Abroad anyone!@?

panic started to get the better of me around midday. i still have some idle time, whole afternoon, to come up with a resolution. at the back of my head, scenes of Banged Up abroad played incessantly.

the bus tore off  the north Thailand highway.

it was 5pm. sun was going down, and so were my hopes. i was wishing the driver would pull over and say “we’ve arrived” but he kept dead mum.

the bus continued to race. and so did my, then, flustered heart.

at 7:30pm it was completely dark. night has come but not Hat Yai. if theres one time i wished i have powers to freeze time, then that was it. it was getting late, chance of getting in Hatyai in time for the last buses/vans was dwindling down.

the bus parked in a nondescript lot. 9pm. we’ve arrived. i hurried to get my bag in the trunk and dashed to the ticket counters with hushed hopes. everything tumbled down when the woman said “only tomorrow for Penang.”

i stood infront of the counters dumbfounded. theres only 800bahts in my pocket. i needed atleast 1100 to get through Thailand. i knew no one in the city. my card still refused to shell out money. the nearest person i knew i can borrow money from was thousand kilometers away.

The breakdown…

my fear had come and it stared coldy straight to my eyes. i was fukced. big time. alone. nightmare.

i knew im going to get fukced up in the immigration next day for overstaying, and with not enough money to pay the fine im doomed.

“its going to be  a long night, im short on money but i better find a room ” i said. my mind was in utter chaos and the bus terminal was just too muddled for some serious strategizing.

with no appetite i skipped dinner. i swung by the internet shop and related the whole story to my friend/host in Bangkok, Eric. he said he will moneygram 1,500 the next day.

sadly it was hard for me to count on moneygram in Thailand. i dealt with them the past week and it took me 2 days just to get the money(my friend from Phuket sent me money to buy her diet pills.) they had trouble locating the branch where i needed to withdraw money from. apparently, you can not withdraw from any branch and unfortunately it took them hours to figure it out. language barrier has something to do with this. and its 500baht per day for overstaying. it had to be fixed, i needed to exit Thailand the soonest possible time.

still in dazed, utter confusion, and a looming mental breakdown i rested in my 200baht fan room.

i would’ve loved to go back to Bangkok as i have lots of friends there but there were no more trips that night. and my then-600baht was not enough to buy a ticket.

having watched a number of NatGeo Channel’s Banged Up Abroad episodes made it worst. i started to worry about the immigration officers i need to deal with and so on.

plus a gazillion of other thoughts. all scary, negative. because, apparently, there are no positive things that could happen to you in this type of situation. =)

it was past midnight and my anxiety heightened. i did everything in my book to calm my nerves down but to no avail- i smoked all the remaining cigarettes, showered twice, mastubated twice… nothing worked. as if the no-sleep night before, whole day locked up in a bus, and all the day stresses, plus masturbating twice werent enough to tire me down to sleep.

i wished i had someone to talk to. the thought of someone talking to me would be most comforting. but i had no means, i dont bring phone when i travel. and i had no laptop.

the romance of being in a foreign land. should i say horror.

if only there is a switch of my brain i would’ve turned it off. it continued to race relentlessly. my body was dead tired but my mind was like a rollercoaster that kept on furling.

i knew if my brain continued to be stressed out like that for a few more minutes, i would’ve snapped out. i would’ve gone insane. first time in my life i had clear understanding of how people fall for mental breakdown/insanity/lunacy and how close i was from that.

i remember the last thing that ran through my head before i slipped to a deep sleep was i talked to God and made a deal with him that if he let me get through the situation, i’d happily go back home and never do backpacking ever again.

5am. passed out.

The big day…

i woke up at 7am on a lighter note, resigned from all the things that troubled me the day and night before. “i will take whatever comes” i said. i had no choice anyway. so there’s no use of worrying or fighting it out. i am all ready to get fukced up.

since Eric has work he asked her girlfriend to go to the bank and do the moneygram. 9am. she got there at 10am but they wouldnt allow her to make any transactions without her passport. ID wasnt enough. she went back to the apartment.

i waited not worried. it felt like i was on a trance.

it was so difficult locating the bank. i asked 3 people for directions and got lost 3 times. its hard to walked around Hat Yai since its a big city.

and then things started to turn around on my favor.

The big change…

i got the money from the bank at 12 noon. i tried buying ticket online using my card and it worked. the trip was scheduled at 2pm. i had 2,200 in my pocket.

van picked me up at 4pm( the only setback that day.) i met some 2 other backpackers in the van whom i eventually became friends with. we got to the thai immigration office at 5pm. as expected, i was ushered away from their line, in lieu of my overstaying, to an office. everything went well though, i just paid the exact amount of 500baht. they stamped my passport. i joined the other backpackers and headed to the Malaysian immigration office. got stamped. rode the van again all the way to Penang. relieved.

back on the good old happy road. it was a familiar feeling, like home. comforting.

79days after i left home.

it was an exhilirating experience to be finally on the Malaysian side. i was sitted in the van with a plastered smile looking at the horizon and thanking god big time. the other travellers in the van kept talking to me but i was only half-listening. i just smiled. i was speaking to god in my head.

from the most pressured experience, tables turned, as i got pompously pampered in Penang. =)

*my Alisan Golden Couch experience was bad. thats the first and the last time i will deal with them.

**my before sunrise experience. infront of Post Bar with my Celine.
if i travelled that night. all these drama shouldve been skipped.
but…
still…
i would’nt
have it
any other way
=)

Pimped Up in Penang

2:50am.

Balcony

sitting on a couch waiting for sleep to take over. the Killers playing on the background, blasted from a nice sound system.

on my last can of beer. the king of beers as written on the tin can- Budweiser.

of course, its not only the beer thats breathing the air of royalty this moment. i am currently crashing my indian’s flat for three days. my bed is the couch in the living room of this 3-bedroom corner unit condo, pompously perched on a hill. premier real estate sh*t. the living room extends to a balcony that dons a sweeping 180 degree view of Penang, an unobstructed, commanding view of the island.

so, yeah, i am enjoying this splendid, grandiose treat- savoring every bit of it.

and yes, i still am on a backpacking trip- tail end. day 78. writing down those numbers gave me good shake and a sober grasp on how long it has been since i started to hit the road. its been a while, a long while- no i am not complaining, just stating a fact. =)

i arrived the other night unfresh from the border crossing from Thailand which happens to be the most nerve-wracking, mind boggling, stickiest situation i have gotten myself into on this trip, heck, or even in my life in general. mind-boggling is an understatement. i was a hairline-thin away from snapping out, losing my sanity, succumbing to the call of a mental rehab. it was bad. (writing this in a separate story)

so arriving here was absolutely a welcome/much needed treat. i was greeted with shots of rhum and tonic. my indian boys-Sree & Karthik apparently know what hospitality is all about.

i thouroughly enjoyed the alcohol, and the conversation with Karthik– hmmm… i will be perpetually puzzled by these educated indian friends in Penang. they are like Stepford wives meet Jeopardy.
intellectual.
disciplined.
future-oriented.

it seemed like they pretty much figured out what to do with the rest of their lives. it left me a feeling of stupidness, since i don’t even know what to do, say, 3 days from now, heck, i dont even know what to do after breakfast tomorrow- ah yeah, maybe il nurse this hangover and sleep til noon. lol.

my mind lagged apprehending what smart-ass Karthik was saying. for crying out loud, i was backpacking in the last 70 days so i was mostly stuck in buses and dorms with backpackers. my intellect- has also been on the road… only that its on some other road. or beach. my brain’s current comprehension status is low. underwater low. lol

i am not saying that being with backpackers tend to dull your intelligence since you will not be using much of it when around them. or even if now i remember how often most backpackers always say they want simple life and i am not assuming they only stick with simple things because they can’t comprehend complex things like math, appreciating wine, keeping a 9 to 5 job, or retaining a healty relationship with a girlfriend( yeah, sexual relationship is only a PART of it). just saying.

good thing, i was drunk and was clever enough to made it appeal to him like i was getting what he was saying, and that learning-all-the-skills-involve-in-your-career-while-you’re-in-your-20’s is the most interesting realization to us, twenty-something zombies.

we ran out alcohol. we abandoned the conversation and the cricket match, Indian Premier League, in the boob tube and stormed out. Karthik called it a night.

Sree drived the Pogo Pegot  Pugot Pugote ahhhh…the sedan, the brand new shiny black car to 7-11; Peugeot. we grabbed some Tiger beers and drove to this clubhouse on a cliff. it is a private property and at 3am they are closed.

we drank our beers in the parking lot over some conversations. ordinary babbles my backpacking-brain can easily comprehend and actually, without trying much, enjoy. lol.

it was nice catching up with Sree who’s about to go to India for his wedding next week. he has been uber-stressed out lately with tons of adult-things like marriage, career and visa stuff. you know, matured-people stuff.

he got so drunk he passed out on his wedding oops birthday suit. haha. good grief.

earlier today i took the bike for a leisurely stroll on the confusing/maze-like streets of Penang. it was an easy ride until i started getting lost and biking the way back which was a long gradual uphill. sweated profusely while huffing and puffing like some 70 yr old white man.

we had a sumptous indian dinner in an elegant restaurant ornated with carved and painted ceiling illuminated with fancy lamps somewhere in Little India. good food. real good food. Chicken tikka Massala. Roti. just zesty.

Sree
dinner

*its 5:03 and sleep is slowly creeping in. this ass will lay now on his couch leaving the giant sliding doors wide open. i should have this stunning Penang night skyline as my headboard tonight. awyeah. high-rolling shit.

night skyline

**felt so good watching my pee fell from the balcony to 6 floors below. haha