Monday, June 28, 2010

Kuching, Malaysia

I arrived in Kuching after a miserable 15 hour bus ride. What made matters worse is that I became ill shortly after the bus departed for Kuching. My head hurt, my throat hurt, and my body just simply ached. I felt like death as the bus slowly transported me down along the coast of the country. I arrived in Kuching at 1:30am. And of course, the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. I mean for God's sake, you just drove 15 hours, do you think it would be possible to drive a measly 20 extra minutes INTO town??? Seriously.

But seriously, he did not.

So as I exited the bus and retrieved my bag, still feeling sick as a dog, I found myself alone in the dark, desolate streets of the city. As it was quiet, I could hear the friction of the rocks beneath my shoes as I began walking. I saw a taxi driver parked in the distance. And as I approached him and told him where I wanted to go, he gave me the "I'm stranded and all alone in the ungodly hours of the morning, and is in no position to negotiate" price. He had the opportunity to do the right thing, to perform a deed that would have been returned to him twofold. But no, greed had consumed this man's soul. And that's why he'll continue to wait outside, all alone in the middle of nowhere with no customers. I didn't say one word, but simply turned around and began waking.

But to where?

As I approached the road again I panned left to right, right to left. I had no idea where I was.

[Sigh]

I literally stood at the street for 5-10 minutes, gathering my thoughts while searching for the signs. A couple of cars would pass every few minutes or so, and the wind created by each passing vehicle would send littered pages of newspaper tumbling down the road.

My intuition was vising me NOT to walk down the main road, but to cross the street instead. So that's what I did. It was a bit disconcerting walking down the alley behind the vacant businesses. A dim street light casted a long shadow of me and my backpack as I slowly walked down the alley, passing a few onlookers who were sitting on the street smoking, gazing at me as if they hadn't seen a backpacker before on this side of the tracks. And as I approached the end of the street, out of nowhere an open cafe appeared before me, like an oasis in the middle of the desert.

One man was sitting outside, enjoying a smoke and a cup of tea. It couldn't have been clearer who I was suppose to speak to. So I approached the man and asked him if he spoke English.

"Eh . . . a little bit, " he responded.

"Okay, can you tell me where I am?" I asked him.

"Please, please. Take a seat," he told me, with a cigarette hanging off his lips while pointing to a chair. Afterwhich, he whipped out a phone with a GPS system.

"What the . . . ?" I thought. What are the chances.

When I told him where I wanted to go, he replied, "Ohhh . . . very far, very far."

"You wouldn't be heading in that direction would you?" I asked him, thinking I would take my chances.

"No," he said, as he put out his cigarette in the ash tray before letting out a puff of smoke, "but I can take you."

"You will?" I said, feeling ecstatic. "Hallelujah!"



"Sure. Come, come," he said to me, as he waved for me to follow him to his truck.

So I tossed my bag into the bed of his truck and hopped in.

I felt so tired and sick as he drove me to the hostel, that I felt as if I was floating along. My body at this point was running off of fumes. I had nothing left. Nothing.

I thanked him a million times after he dropped me off at the hostel. And I told him that he had some good karma heading his way. Damn good karma.

The 3 days I spent in Kuching I did . . . well, nothing. I really didn't feel well enough to do anything except a leisurely stroll along the waterfront. My friend, Remi, who I'd met in KK, gave me a list of things to see and do while here, as it's one of his favorite cities. But I didn't do any of them. I did, however, see that new Tom Cruise movie Knight and Day. And it only cost me $3. Nice. It's so flippin' cheap in Southeast Asia. I love it.

I had 22 well spent days in Borneo. I may not have seen as many attractions in Borneo as other people have, but I guarantee I had just as many great experiences, if not more. And I have many more adventures that await me just beyond the horizon.

[Singing] "This time tomorrow, where will I be...."



-Adam

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Miri, Malaysia


It took 2 hours to reach Miri from the capital of Brunei.

"Thanks, man," I said to the driver as I exited the large vehicle.

"You're welcome," he responded, "And the next time you come to Brunei, give me a call and we'll play some basketball."

"Sounds good," I told him before I hopped off and shut the door.

Once the 10 wheeler truck drove off and it's exhaust cleared, I found myself at a bus stop amidst many curious bystanders starring at me.

"Hey, how's it going? Good? Okay . . ." I received a few smiles from some of the women, but everyone remained silent.

I took off my bag and sat down. I'd called my friend Ghana from the truck driver's cell phone and told him where I'd be. So I sat and patiently waited for him to pick me up. As I was waiting, I noticed a suspicious man approaching me. I was picking up nothing but bad vibes from this guy, so I stood up and threw on my backpack. Seconds later, a security officer approached the man and inquired what he was doing, as if he noticed he was up to no good as well. It wasn't but a few minutes later that Ghana and his friend, Jimmy, pulled up.

"Hello, Mr. Adam!" Ghana said to me, as he exited the car, "How are you, my friend?"

Boy was I sure glad to see him. Perfect timing, really. I tossed my bag in the trunk of the car and got in.

"Adam, my friend, " said Ghana, as we drove off, "I have to go back to KK this afternoon, unfortunately."

"Aw, really?" I disappointingly said.

"Yes, but don't worry," said Ghana, "Jimmy and my friends will take care of you when I'm gone. If you need anything, ANYTHING at all, you let Jimmy know, okay?"

"Ummm, okay."

"I have a meeting in KK this evening, so I'm going to try to catch a flight back to Miri tomorrow. I must be back in Miri tomorrow! I must!"

They took me to a hostel called the Highlands, where I quickly checked in and put my luggage. Next they took me to a Chinese cafe for lunch. It was delicious. After we finished, Ghana had some business to attend to and said he would meet up with us in a short while. In the meantime, Jimmy drove me around the city, taking me to some temples, food markets, and a scenic view point overlooking Miri. Real nice. All of which I wouldn't have seen if I wasn't with a local. So go local. I recommend it.

We met back up with Ghana and his friend, David, who was in Miri on business from Kuala Lumpur, at Jimmy's cafe called the Ming Cafe. For the next hour or so I got acquainted with Ghana's friends at the cafe, where I would spend much of my time in the coming days. After we dropped Ghana off at the airport, Jimmy took me to my hostel. He told me to meet up with him and his friends later that evening at the Ming Cafe. Sounded good.

That evening I arrived at the Ming Cafe a bit later than I said I would, and was told that Jimmy and the crew had just left.

Darn it.

That's okay, I thought, I would just relax, eat and watch the World Cup at the bar. It didn't take but a few minutes for every woman in the bar to hone in on me. Seriously, I'm not exaggerating either. It was a bit overwhelming, really. And I began to feel suffocated. I looked around the bar and noticed that there were plenty of other westerners present. I clearly wasn't the only guy at the bar. Maybe because I was the only guy by himself that women felt like they could approach me the way they did. I realized that I found myself in a position that every man dreams about, but all I could think about, honestly, was Sheila, and how I wished she was with me. As soon as I finished my meal I went straight back to use the computer at my hostel, as I was anxious to speak to Sheila.

And she was online, too.

[Typing to Sheila in all caps] "HEY YOU!!!..."


I devoted the following day strictly for writing. That evening, however, I met up with Ghana, who'd just returned from KK, and his friends at the Ming Cafe (where else?). Ghana introduced me to his friend and business partner, Syed Shaffi. Shaffi was a wealthy business man and owner of Blue Spot, a multinutrient fertilizer. Shaffi, who wants to begin selling his product in other countries, began speaking to me about his fertilizer and how to begin selling it in the States. He gave me literature about his product, as well as his information, and told me to contact him once I made it back to the States if I was interested. I listened to him while women continually bought drinks for me. Geez.

The next morning I joined Ghana, Shaffi, and Jimmy on a business trip to Niah. I enjoyed listening to the 3 of them talk business with one another and with people in Niah. I particularly enjoyed watching Ghana, who always seemed to seal the deal.

"It's done!" Ghana said, while patting Shaffi on the back, "It's all taken care of! He'll be in touch."

It should be mandatory to observe and follow the 3 of them if studying business. It's quite the spectacle.

I went back to my hostel for some R & R before heading out again. However, as I was about to leave it began raining cats and dogs. I waited for awhile, but it wouldn't let up. I just went back upstairs and waited for Sheila to go online.

The following day at the Ming Cafe, I had brunch with Ghana and the crew. Ghana began talking to everyone about the night I'd hung out with him in KK. Funny stories. Good memories.

"You know, Adam," said Ghana, "the following day when you left, I didn't know what to do with myself. I was so bored." And he began to laugh as he gave my shoulder a smack.

Of course I spent my last night at the Ming Cafe. I'm gonna miss that place. It's always nice to go somewhere where everybody knows your name. I was beginning to feel like a character from the television show Cheers.



The next morning Ghana, Shaffi, and Jimmy drove me to the bus station. I was leaving for Kuching. And of course the bus station was miles and miles outside of town.

"What is this?" Shaffi said in dismay, "Why is the bus station so far from town?"

"Thank you!" I said, " That's what I'm saying." It was nice to hear someone else express the same sentiment for once. And especially from a local.

We arrived at the bus station just as the 10 am bus was departing. I quickly retrieved my bag from the trunk of the car, said my goodbyes, and hit the road.

It's amazing to think that my entire experience in Miri was the result of me asking Ghana if I could tag along with him to the laundry mat back in KK.

Next Stop: Kuching, Malaysia

-Adam

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Brunei

***All pictures were taken by Joseph Gatz***

Check out his websites here:

http://gatz.4ormat.com/5692-photography-portraiture-i

http://vimeo.com/gatz


After 2 weeks in Kota Kinabalu I was finally leaving. I was traveling to Brunei, a tiny oil rich country. I planned to stay only 2 nights as I had heard that there wasn't much to see or do in this strict Muslim country. Sheila arranged for me to stay with her friend, Joseph, who lives with his wife and daughter in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. To get there I took a 6 hour long ferry. It wouldn't have taken so long if it wasn't for the 2 hour lay over on the island of Labuan, Malaysia. From Labuan island it only took 45 minutes to an hour to reach Brunei. I was happy to cross another country off the ol' Southeast Asia list.

Brunei: CHECK!

Drug trafficking in Brunei is punishable by death only. Period. And when I walked through customs they interrogated me about whether or not I had any alcohol to declare, as the country banned the sale of alcohol in the early 90s.

"So what's in you bag then, sir?" the customs woman asked.

"Just books and clothes," I said.

"Books? What kind of books? she asked. "Show me."

Not even in Myanmar was I asked to reveal the books that I was carrying.

Joseph was waiting for me in the lobby as I exited customs.

"Adam?" he asked, as we only had met through Facebook.

"Hey, Joseph!"

We shook hands and quickly walked outside towards his car as his pregnant wife, Mavi, and daughter, Marga, were waiting.

"Thanks again for accommodating me, man," I said to him as approached the car.

"No problem, bro."

Since it was Joseph's last day off of work, he was able to show me around. He teaches at an international school, and the school's new session began the following day. As we were about to drop off his wife and daughter at a friend's house, he asked me what I wanted to see or do in Brunei. I told him that I really didn't have a clue as to what to do, and that I was pretty ignorant about the country. I usually research a country before traveling there, but I've been pretty much winging it lately. Just going with the flow, if you will. Luckily, Joseph had a number of things for us to do.

As we were driving I couldn't help to notice how different Brunei appeared than its fellow Southeast Asian countries. It's definitely the most developed country I'd been to in this region of the world. The roads were nicely paved and the traffic was noticeably absent. And it wasn't rare to have an expensive sports car pull up next to us while waiting at a traffic light.

It was really clean, too. I even saw people picking up trash as we drove down the highway. Shocking. People picking trash up in Southeast Asia? Now that's a first. Apparently there's a hefty fine if caught littering. Joseph told me that education and health care is free, and that they didn't have to pay any income tax. Wow. He said Brunei uses its oil revenue to subsidize many things.

I think I saw everything there was to see in Brunei on my first night. It must have been the quickest overview of a country ever.

The first place Joseph took me was to the Royal Regalia Museum, where, interesting enough, you had to walk through barefoot. It was pretty much a museum that the Sultan dedicated to himself. It just flaunted his wealth, which stands around 40 billion USD.

Moving on . . .

Next we went to the majestic Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. This white washed building with its golden dome looked like something straight out of the movie Aladdin. As we walked around the mosque, marveling at its architecture, I began searching for my magic carpet.

"A whole new world!"



Moving on . . .

After the mosque, we drove down the road to take a few pictures in front of the Sultan's absurdly large palace, called the Istana Nurul Imam. But I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised with this prime bit of real estate, as it was . . . a palace!

Moving on . . .

Next Joseph took me to the Empire Hotel, a 7-star hotel.

"A 7-star hotel?" I repeated, as I thought my ears were deceiving me.

I didn't realize that there WAS anything higher than a 5-star hotel? Shows what I know about the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Off the top of my head, the hotel had pools, art galleries, golf courses, man-made beaches, and its own hospital. Yes, I repeat: It's own hospital. I would like to be the doctor employed by that hospital. I mean, really, how many patients could he/she treat a day? It's got to be a sweet gig. Joseph and I strolled in and around the hotel imagining what it must be like to afford a room there.


Moving on . . .

For lunch we had some street food, which Joseph kindly paid for. We enjoyed our delicious egg-burger sandwiches while overlooking the beach, called Pantai Jer Tungku. While savoring every delicious bite of my sandwich, Joseph told me about his photography and multi-media work. He told me he'd show me some of his work once we returned to his house, which I was anxious to see. I told him how Sheila is a bit of a photographer herself, who takes millions of pictures.

"Yeah, she told me to make sure I document your trip," Joseph revealed to me, just reiterating what I'd just said. I laughed, as it didn't surprise me. And since we were talking about Sheila, I thought I'd show him some of the footage that I had of her on my camera from the night we went out to the comedy/karaoke club. He got a kick out of that.

Moving on . . .

After we picked up his wife and daughter we went to Gadong Mall, where I found my Brunei flag patch. I collect patches from every country I travel to. Next we bought some street food at the Pasar Malam night market, and we at our delicious meal at Jerudong Park, while his wife, unfortunately, waited in the car as his daughter had fallen asleep. While eating our meal at a picnic table under a gazebo, Joseph told me how Brunei is a great place to raise a family. Which led me to ask the question,

"What's it like being a father, man?"

"Well, he began, "your priorities change, bro. I can't travel like you travel anymore. But when I'm having a bad, stressful day . . . when I come home and see my daughter, all of my stress goes away."

I could tell he was a happy father just by the way he treats his daughter. His wife, Mavi, said that their daughter is a daddy's girl. This short movie he took of his daughter speaks for itself. Watch below.

Marga's Video from Joseph Gatz on Vimeo.



After 2 nights in Brunei I decided I would take a bus to Miri to visit my newfound friend, Ghana, who I'd met in KK - or so I thought I'd be taking a bus. As I was making noise about how expensive the bus fare was from Brunei to Miri, I mentioned how it made me want to hitch.

"Hitch?" said Joseph, "Wait, I have a friend who drives a 10 wheeler to Miri three times a week. Maybe you could hitch a ride with him."

"Oh, mama!" I excitedly thought.



And after he spoke to his friend over the phone, he delivered the news I wanted to hear.

"Bro, you're in," he said, giving me the thumbs up.

Music to my ears. And I performed a little Michael Jackson twirl in the middle of the mall. I hoped dancing wasn't illegal in Brunei.

Thanks again, Joseph and Mavi, for hosting me in Brunei. You both were so hospitable and accommodating. I can't thank you two enough.

The next morning at 7am Joseph saw me off. Once his friend arrived in his 10 wheeler truck and pulled off the side of the road, I tossed my bag into the truck and hopped in.

Ah, life on the road . . .



Next Stop: Miri, Malaysia

-Adam

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Week 2 of 2

I had successfully completed writing a number of blogs after a week in Kota Kinabalu (KK); however, there was more to be written. Unfortunately, due to the number of viruses that my camera's memory card had received, I was unable to upload pictures. Viruses are rampant in Internet cafes throughout Southeast Asia. It almost makes me want to purchase a small laptop, strictly for the purpose of uploading pics.

I was really enjoying writing about my travels in the Philippines. It brought back a lot of good memories. Too good, really, as I found myself yearning to go back more and more. Sheila and I kept in touch daily, writing and chatting to one another via Gmail and Facebook. I felt so far away from Sheila yet, really, we were so close as KK is only a 2 hour flight away from Manila.

"Hmmm. Should I stay or should I go?" I continuously thought. But nah, if we both wanted to see each other, the universe would provide opportunities in allowing it to happen. The both of us will just have to continuously look for the signs for when the opportunity presents itself. Because that's the thing, really, opportunities are presented to us all the time, it's just a matter of recognizing it and seizing the moment. And I feel as if this is one of the most important discoveries that I've learned during my travels. However, it's not as easy as someone telling you,

"Hey, man, opportunities are presented to you everyday. Look out for them."

"Oh yeah? Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."

But to REALLY "keep it in mind" is a difficult skill to acquire. Because as difficult as it is for us to make that conscientious effort to recognize the perpetual signs and opportunities which are presented to us regularly, it's even MORE difficult to follow the signs and to have that fortitude and unwavering ability to seize those moments. It is difficult for most to acquire such skill and knowledge, but they're also a small percentage of people who I've found to be innately disposed to such knowledge. These people tend to be the ones who I've described as having that "It" quality. I would postulate that even most of them are unaware of their inherent knowledge, and intuitively find their direction in life by following the signs and seizing the opportunities that arise. I don't claim to fall into the category of the latter; however, after 7 months of traveling, I'm now able to notice the signs more and more. Now it's just a matter of following them and seizing the opportunities, which is difficult because it takes effort. It reminds me of a quote from the movie The Matrix, where Morpheus says to Neo, "I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one who has to walk through it."

In any case, as I feel I'm beginning to babble, my second week in KK was slightly more eventful. Remi returned to the hostel after a few days of traveling, only to find me still in the dorm room writing.

"I can't believe you are still here!" Remi said.

I laughed as the first thing he did when he opened the door was poke his head around the corner to see if I was still writing in my bed.

"I was wondering if you were still going to be here, and sure enough here you are," he continued.

He sat down beside my bed and showed me pictures of his travels from the past few days.

The following morning I left for Kota Kinabalu National Park. I had met a Danish guy, Morten, a few days prior and told him that I'd planned to do some trekking in the park, and that if he wanted he join me he was certainly welcome. A few days later he came back to my room, as he'd left for another hostel, and said he was in. To get to KK National Park we had to squeeze into a jammed packed minivan. And what was only suppose to take 1.5 hours to reach the park, took us 3. Initially everything was going fine. I mean, we didn't have to wait long for the minivan to leave, and there was plenty of space to stretch our legs.

But we didn't actually think we would travel to the park without our minivan being completely full, did we?

So our driver pulled over and waited for more passengers before continuing. Then he had to do the usual . . . ya know, routine car maintenance. Yes, he actually took the vehicle to get some work done along the way. Again . . . you know, the usual. I mean, why would he have done this prior to us leaving? That would have been preposterous.

I thought Morten was gonna snap. And just moments before, Morten realized that he'd left his expensive camera back at his hostel.

Not good.

We settled for a hostel just outside of the park which had a restaurant and an amazing view of the mountains and country side. After we got established in our room he phoned the hostel in KK about his camera. As I was writing on my bed, Morten entered the room with unsettling news.

"Well, they couldn't find my camera," he said, sounding utterly depressed.

"No way, man," I responded. "Dude, I'm sorry. That's messed up."

He sat in silence for a few minutes before he quietly got up and walked out the room. "Son of a bitch!!!" Morten yelled, as the door shut behind him.

Okay, okay. So he didn't yell anything. But I could feel that that's what he wanted to yell. And who could blame him? He returned about 30 minutes later.

"Hey, man," I said, "Where did you go?"

"Oh, I just walked down the road," he responded. "It gave me time to think about what happened, and to calm down. And did you see that sunset? It was so beautiful."

I was really impressed with how he handled the loss of his camera. It revealed a lot about his character.

"You want to get something to eat?" he asked.

"Yeah, sure," I happily responded. And I enjoyed one of the most delicious bowls of chicken curry that I'd ever had. Wow. Yummy.

The next morning we got up early to do some trekking. The trek was a bit lame, actually. It wasn't scenic at all and there was a pipeline that followed our trail. Not something you want to see while trekking through a national park. I decided as we were walking out of the park that I wouldn't stay another night, and would go back to KK. I was missing talking to Sheila, too.

Good Lord, what was happening to me?

I realize that I didn't write much about Morten as an individual, but he was an extremely cool guy. I really enjoyed hanging out and conversating with him. He was a deep cat and I digged that about him. Plus he loved jazz, so come on . . . he had to be cool. As we parted ways, I thought, "How many people am I going to meet during my travels that could be my best friend back in the States?" Geez.

Back at the hostel in KK, I eventually finished my last blog about the Philippines. What a relief. Now I felt as if I could continue my travels. I needed to take care of some errands before I left, however.

As my hostel didn't do laundry, I began searching for some laundry mats that had been recommended to me. But I couldn't find any for the life of me. Even after some tourists told me where some were, I still couldn't find any. I was beginning to get a bit frustrated. And then . . .

Crack, crack, boom!

It began to rain. So I ran back to the hostel, not having completed one measly thing.

I'd had the dorm room to myself for the past few nights, so I was a little bummed to discover a new roommate as I entered the room.

"Hi."

"Hello."

After acknowledging one another I plopped onto my bed and layed down, feeling frustrated that I hadn't gotten anything done.

[Sigh]

"Okay," the man said, "I'm going to pick up my laundry now."

My upper half of my body catapulted upon hearing such words.

"Did you say that you're going to pick up your laundry?" I inquired.

"Yes," he replied, as he began to walk out the door.

Hmmm . . .

"Hey," I hollered, as he was walking out the door, "Would you mind if I'd join you?"

"No, no," he said. "Come along."

Follow the signs, right?

The rain lightened to a drizzle as we walked outside.

"What was your name again?" I asked.

"Ghana."

"Hi, Ghana. My name is Adam."

I thanked Ghana, a middle aged Malaysian of Indian descent, for letting me tag along as I'd been searching somewhere to have my laundry done. After I turned my laundry in, the employee asked for me to pay.

"Really?" I said, "Can I pay when I pick it up?"

"No, sorry. That's our policy."

"Hold on. Wait, wait, wait," Ghana interjected, "He'll pay once he receives his laundry back."

"Okay, you can pay when you pick up your laundry," said the employee.

"What the . . . ?" I thought.

I told Ghana that I liked his style, and thanked him.

Over dinner - which he paid for - Ghana told me that he lived in Miri but that he was in KK on business. He said he had a room already paid for at the Hyatt but that he preferred hostels because he enjoys meeting intelligent, interesting people such as myself (his words). Switching the topic to travel, I asked him what countries he's traveled to. He told me he's been everywhere. So I began to name some countries: Japan, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, France, Brazil, etc. He said he'd been to them all.

"Wow," I said, "You really have travelled everywhere, man."

"Everywhere!" he hollered, "I've been everywhere!" I couldn't help but to laugh.



Apparently, Ghana used to be an oil man - and still is, actually, as he owns his own oil related business. He also appears to have his hands full with many other projects as well. I couldn't keep track with all his involvements. He's a busy man, let's put it like that. His cell phone constantly rang as we were eating.

When I switched the topic to music he impressed me with his knowledge of so many different artists and music. He said that he'd opened the first music club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, called the Red Rooster from 1978-1983. Musicians such as Santana, Earth Wind and Fire, and Paula Abdul all jammed at his club. Impressive.

After dinner he said he had some business to attend to and that he'd catch up with me later. Some hours later at the hostel, as I was talking to another roommate, Ghana walked in with a bag full of food from KFC.

"Come, come, Mr. Adam!" he said, "Let's eat."

He didn't have to tell me twice.

After dinner he went downstairs to get a blanket. When the hostel employee attempted to charge him for the blanket - which, up to that point, he'd successfully done with every other guest - Ghana refused.

"No, no, no," he said, "I'm not going to pay for a blanket. Now are you going to let me take this blanket?"

"Yes," said the woman from the front desk.

"What the . . . ?" I thought again.

It was amazing watching him perform these Jedi mind tricks. I witnessed him do it about 5 times in total. He really did remind me of Obi Wan from the movie Star Wars.





That night, before we went to sleep, he asked me what my plans were for the following day. I told him that I'd been trying to find someone who could get rid of the viruses from my camera's memory card.

"Ahh," Ghana said, "I will bring you to a place tomorrow."

Nice.

The next morning the search began. Ghana had an amazingly strong presence about him. The force was strong with him. Off the charts, really. As we walked through KK's streets, malls, and markets, Ghana walked directly through the crowds without anyone touching him. It was as if people floated around him, while I clumsily bumped into everyone.

[highlight, copy and past the address below]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXQozTxQSiE

After the third attempt, he found a place that could clear my memory card of its viruses. I was ecstatic, as I hadn't been able to find anyone who could fix it.

"Everything can be done, Mr. Adam!" Ghana hollered, as we stepped onto the escalator, "Everything can be done!"

I was really beginning to like this guy.

That night I hung out with Ghana and his friends. I was the youngest and only backpacker in the group, as all of his friends were middle aged, wealthy businessman. I definitely stood out like a sore thumb; however, everyone treated me as an equal and I felt as if if fitted right in. Again, I didn't spend a dime. Ghana and his friends paid for everything. So nice.

Ghana also invited me to Miri, his hometown, and said he would show me a good time. I hadn't planned on visiting Miri but it sure did sound like a great opportunity. He gave me his phone number and email, and told me to contact him when I arrived in the city. I felt as if I had done pretty good for myself in the 2 weeks spent in KK.

You did good kid, real good.

Next Stop: Brunei

-Adam

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Week 1 of 2

After an amazing 3 weeks in the Philippines I found myself on a plane heading to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia located on the island of Borneo, an island shared by 3 countries: Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. If I had been traveling to the island of Borneo at any other time during my travels I'd be ecstatic. But my heart was in the Philippines as I had unexpectedly fallen for Sheila, and was feeling as if I was simply floating around, with no sense of purpose. Thoughts of flying straight back to the Philippines crossed my mind. But I had planned to meet my cousin, Jessica, in Hong Kong in about 6 weeks, and felt that since I was already here in this region of the world that I might as well see it before I leave.

Once I arrived in Kota Kinabalu, I took a taxi into town and began searching for cheap accommodation. I eventually settled for a hostel called Travelers Light, a rocks throw from Borneo Backpackers, a popular hostel in the area. Instantly upon arriving the hostel I connected with one of my roommates, Remi, a Frenchman from Paris. And like every other backpacker that I meet, he'd quit his job and went on holiday. Remi had traveled many times before to Borneo, a place known for its jungle treks, wildlife, caves, mountains, and diving; however, Remi wasn't drawn back to Borneo for its beautiful wilderness or wildlife, he'd been drawn back because of a beautiful woman. Yes, he'd fallen in love for a local - an intelligent woman for that matter - who's in the process of getting not 1, but 2 PhDs.

"Beautiful and intelligent?" I said. "Ah, man, sounds familiar."

It was nice speaking to someone who could relate and understand how I was feeling.

"It stinks doesn't it?" Remi said, "to meet a beautiful, amazing woman and for her to live on the other side of the planet."

"Exactly," I said. "Ugh!"

"I know, man. Trust me, I know how you're feeling."

That night I went through my options for things to do in and around Kota Kinabalu:
  1. To see orangutans: Nah, I had already seen them in Sumatra, Indonesia.
  2. To go scuba diving: Nah, I can't dive because of my ears.
  3. To see nearby islands with beaches: Nah, not something I wanted to do alone.
  4. To climb Mt. Kinabalu: Nah, too expensive for my liking.
Seeing that there wasn't many options left for me to do, I decided to stay low and write. I wanted to write about my travels from the Philippines while it was fresh in my head.

My first full day in Kota Kinabalu, however, I familiarized myself with the city by roaming its streets. It's a fairly small city that's scenically located between the mountains and ocean, which you can smell as you stroll past the markets near the waterfront. The city also offers a plethora of cheap, delicious eateries. My restaurant of choice was an Indian restaurant located near my hostel. You could find me there everyday consuming the same meal: nasi garang, roti and 2 cups of tea, costing a mere $2.50. Being a regular, I didn't even have to order as they knew already what I wanted. I never ate alone either as the employees, both men and women, would accompany at my table. I don't understand why they would always linger around my table, as other westerners ate there as well. The restaurant was also an excellent place to watch the World Cup. It was nice there. I recommend it.

Unfortunately, I was still having problems withdrawing money with my debit ATM card. I attempted to withdraw money from numerous ATMs but to no avail. Yes, the saga continued . . .


One night as I was walking back to my hostel, I attempted to withdraw some money one last time. The end result? Yeah, the ATM ate my card.

"Seriously?" I said, in disbelief. "SERIOUSLY?"

I waved the security guard over and explained to him the situation. In broken English he told me that I would have to come back to the bank the following morning to retrieve it.

Oy vey.

Because I was worried that the ATM might spit the card out in the middle of the night, I didn't know if I should cancel it or not. This sounded like a question for my secretary. Oops! I mean, my administrative assistant. That's right, this was definitely a question for . . . my mother, the GREATEST woman on the planet. Anyways, long story short: I got my debit card back, but it still didn't work. Ugh! Thanks again, mother, for coming through. You always do. I love you.

"Hey Mama,
Here's a song for you,
And even though these lyrics may not all pertain to you,
It's safe to assume,
That in one way or another,
It's about you being THE greatest mother"--Adam



Next: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Week 2 of 2

-Adam

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Philippines: Final Day...

I was back in Manila after an amazing week. Unfortunately, I only had one day left. I was having an unforgettable time in the Philippines, and with my newfound feelings for Sheila, I didn't even want to think about leaving. Speaking of which, she picked me up from the airport yet again. So sweet. I was really looking forward to spending my final day with her.

Before Sheila and I went out for lunch, I walked down to the local barbershop as I knew how much Sheila enjoyed seeing me clean shavin'. Now that my face was as smooth as a baby's behind, I was ready for some lunch. I told Sheila about a restaurant, called Casa Manila, that I'd heard about from the 'French connection' while I was in Banaue. They told me about its cheap, delicious buffet and that I had to check it out. And that's exactly what I intended to do. Casa Manila was located near the Intramuros, the Spanish old walled city, and was beautifully situated amongst Spanish colonial buildings, gardens, and cobblestone streets. It was a delightful place to have lunch. Quite charming, really. What was even more delightful, however, was to be eating with Sheila, who, I must say, was looking quite lovely. How did I get to be so lucky?

Afterwards, we went to the mall as I wanted to look for an electric razor. Mine had recently broken and I was tired of waisting money at the barbershop, as it is something I could easily do myself. I did find some, but all the battery operated clippers were too expensive for my liking. Dammit. I'm just gonna have to buck up one of these days and buy one. I'm such a cheap bastard.


"Hey, do you want to watch a movie?" Sheila asked.

"Yeah, sure!" I excitedly responded, "I haven't been to the movie theatre since Medan, Indonesia, way back in January."

"Okay, good. Because I wanted to see Sex and the City 2," she said, "Is that okay with you?"

"Hmmm...Sex and the City?" I responded, with a sudden curb in my enthusiasm.

"That's okay if you don't want to see it," she said, noticing my mood change, " I'll just see it with my friends from the office.''

"No, no, no. We can see it," I said, jumping into damage control mode, "I mean, it obviously wouldn't have been my first movie of choice, but if that's what you want to see, that's fine."

And it really was fine, as I was just happy to be going to the movie theatre and to be with Sheila.

We had an hour before the show started, so we sat downstairs at the food court. While killing time, we shared our favorite actors, actresses and movies with each other, while, at the same time, playing the game 'spot the white guy in the mall'.

"I like the movie Space Jam," Sheila casually said.

"Space Jam?" I responded, with a 'you have to be joking' tone in my voice.

"What?!" Sheila replied, "I love the Looney Tunes!"

"Yeah, and I love Michael Jordan, but I didn't think Space Jam deserved an Oscar or anything!"

We both began to laugh hysterically.

"Oh, another white guy!..."


It's safe to assume that Sex and the City 2 wasn't one of my favorite movies; however, I did enjoy myself. Afterwards, we grabbed a bite to eat at a pizzeria before heading back to Sheila's apartment. Not wanting the night to end, we layed down and talked for hours. We reminisced about the past 3 weeks and the future weeks to come. Life had been grand.

The next day was the day I had been dreading: the day I was leaving.

Because my flight was leaving from Clark Airport, located 2 hours outside of Manila, Sheila kindly drove me to the bus station. Upon arriving the bus station, however, we were told that the next bus wasn't scheduled to depart for another hour and a half. Since I had time to spare, Sheila suggested that we go inside the mall, located directly across the street, and have some breakfast. Sounded great to me, as I was going to be able to spend more time with her.

I still didn't have much of an appetite since I'd been cursed (see previous blog), so I settled for a banana shake. Over breakfast we had a thought-provoking conversation about life. After looking down at my watch I noticed it was about time for my bus to depart. Ugh! I wished as portrayed in the movies and books, when with a significant other that time would just stand still when I was with Sheila. But for me, time passed like that - Snap! - and what felt like just brief moments was, in actuality, hours spent with Sheila. Time moved too fast. But life generally does, doesn't it?

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could just miss it." -Ferris Bueller.

I dreaded getting up from my chair as I knew I couldn't change the ensuing events.

"Well," I said, as I began to throw on my backpack, "I guess it's time to become a highwayman again." And for the first time during my travels I wasn't looking forward to my next destination. As we began walking through the mall I heard the song "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls being played:

"...and all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breath is your life
Cause sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight..."

"Man, I love this song," I said to Sheila, now grinning as we approached the exiting doors.

Of course the bus didn't arrive on time, which, again, was fine with me. After we took some pictures of one another we sat down. Sheila clasped my hand as we waited for the bus, then began speaking about ways in how we could see each other again.

Out of the blue, I told Sheila how I loved the song that she sang the other week, and asked what the name of the song was.

"What song?" she asked.

"You know, the song you sang at the comedy club," and I proceeded to hum it, as it was in Tagalog.

"I can't believe you remember that song," she said, sounding astonished.

"Well, it was such a lovely song," I explained, "Plus, you sounded so pretty singing it."

I didn't tell her that I had a recording of her singing it on my camera, which I viewed daily. I just loved listening to her sing it.

She told me that the name of the song was "Para Sa Akin." Then I asked her if she could sing it for me. And without hesitation, she began to sing the song in front of everyone, regardless of who was listening. Oy vey, she made my heart melt. She sounded even better than the singer, Sitti - and it was Sitt's song!



The bus pulled up as she finished. I stood up and let out a sigh.

"Awww. I'm going to miss you, Adam," she told me, as she lunged in and gave me a hug, placing her head against my chest.

I gave her a kiss to the forehead and reluctantly entered the bus. After I got situated, I stood up from my seat and waved to Sheila goodbye.

As the bus drove off I sat in my seat, starring out the window.

The trail had taken a sudden, unforeseen turn - but for the best. Even though I was going to be in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia in a few hours, my heart was still going to be in Manila.

"Damn,'' I thought, "I think I'm lovestoned."

And I think that she knows . . .

.

Next Stop: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

-Adam

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Philippines: Cursed on Samar Island

It was an epic journey from Donsol to Samar island. I took 6 different forms of transportation to reach Erenas, the small village where Stephanie's family lived. This included 1 motorcycle, 2 minivans, 1 jeepney, 1 ferry, and 1 tricycle. Phew! The entire journey took me 7 hours. I didn't see one westerner during my transit, either. And I felt as if I was a million miles from Manila.

The island of Samar looked beautiful as I stood over the ferry's rail, now experiencing a pleasant breeze with my backpack on and hat backwards, marveling at the island's vegetation and blue waters. Many children near the dock dove into the sea, swimming up to the ferry as we approached the island. When the children noticed me observing them, they began giggling and hollering at me. I think they wanted me to toss them some coins or something, but I had nothing for them but a thumbs up.

I walked straight past the tricycle drivers who'd parked within the port and had pressed me for their services, and right up to the lone, silent driver parked along the street, figuring I'd get a better deal. Which I did, as the driver charged what Stephanie's uncle, Tontoy, said it should cost. As we arrived in the village of Erenas, the driver asked a random person standing outside as to which house Tontoy and his family lived. All he said was Tontoy's name and the person pointed down the road.

"Almost there." the driver said. "Just a little bit further."

I'm continually amazed by the amount of English that is spoken and understood in the Philippines. I thought for sure no one on Samar Island, way out in the boonies, would speak a lick of English.

As I arrived at the house, it had appeared that everyone had been awaiting my arrival as they were keeningly watching the road while sitting outside.

A man named Reyo greeted me and showed me to my room. There must have been 15-20 people living there at that time. Even though I learned everyone's name, I never did manage to figure out how they were all related to Stephanie. I figured they had to be either 1 of 3 things: a cousin, aunt or uncle. I wanted to introduce myself to all the women who were seated and gathered around, but Reyo was pretty adamant that we continued to the gazebo where the men were. So as I passed the women I made sure to smile, wave, and say 'hello'.

As we approached the gazebo, which was located literally a few feet from the sea, Reyo hollered at Tommy and Nonoy, both middle aged men who were asleep. Tommy didn't speak any English, so he sat there nodding and smiling as Nonoy and I conversed. Nonoy is living with Tontoy and the family until his house is finished being built. Nonoy and his family used to live in Luzon, but after he experienced a stroke a few years back, he has been unable to work. He told me he enjoys Samar island as it's cheaper and more conducive to his rehabilitation process, as he exercises in the sea regularly. Nonoy had employed many members of Stephanie's family to construct his house and was anxious to move in, which, he said, would be in about a month.

Soon after, I met Stephanie's uncle Tontoy and cousin Mabel. It wasn't before long that the rest of the family followed suit, making their way to the gazebo for a meet 'n mingle, curious to learn more about this mysterious traveler from the States who had found his way to their home. Some of Tontoy's friends from a few houses down, curious to see what all the commotion was about, also made an appearance. They were 5 young homosexual men - dare I say women? - named Erica, Sandy, and 3 other names that are typically associated with being a woman.

I got the feeling that Tontoy and the family didn't receive many visitors from the West. Everyone wanted to pick my brain, and I was quickly subjected to being asked a million questions. I loved being the "foreign object" (Read "The Philippines: Part 2" to understand the reference).

After I was offered some coconut juice, I found myself witnessing the best impersonation of Spiderman that I've ever seen, as one of the kids climbed the trunk of a tree (bare feet and hands) at about 20 feet above the ground and began to machete coconuts down. Every evening, everyone would gather around the gazebo and along the sea to enjoy the sunset. I was relaxin' and throwin' back coconuts. Life was good. I couldn't believe that I was actually hanging out with Stephanie's family in the Philippines. Who would have thought?

Every morning I found my breakfast waiting for me on the kitchen table, compliments of Tontoy. So hospitable. Tontoy was such a friendly, warm-hearted person. He worked for the mayor of the town and was in charge of finding the next tourist attractions, e.g. waterfalls, caves, beaches, etc. What a sweet gig. Unfortunately, the mayor that he worked for lost the last election. Thus, Tontoy was soon to be out of a job. He explained that elections are decided by which candidate hands out the most money, i.e. the highest bidder, sort of speak. Tontoy sounded sad as he explained to me that his boss had done a lot for the community but that people had been bought off.

"People only care about money," Tontoy said, sounding defeated.

I spent every morning under the gazebo, relaxing and enjoying my conversations with Nonoy. Speaking to him really reminded me of how fortunate I am to have been born in an industrialized country such as the US. He told me as a laborer he made 350 pesos a day. We're talking about $7 for 8 hours of physical labor. He said he made more though as a jeepney driver, making a whopping 500 pesos/$10 a day. Imagine. Again, due to his stroke which has inhibited him from working, they moved to Samar island where daily expenses are much cheaper than on the island of Luzon. He told me education is much cheaper, too. And for what it costs him to send his son to university every semester, I had in my back pocket. So when you think you have it hard, think again.

The family really began to warm up and take a liking in me. Which was great. One afternoon, they had a bit of a cookout and forced me to eat an ungodly amount of delicious barbecue fish. And to wash it down, Lilia - a cousin of Stephanie's? - pressured me to drink some sort of coconut alcoholic juice. It tasted like sour vinegar. Yeah, it was pretty gross. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to win the hearts and minds of the people. I realized it was a social gesture and Lilia really seemed happy that I was drinking it.

That night as I was sleeping, I was awakened suddenly by a piercing pain on the inside of my right forearm as if something had bitten me.

Slap!

I quickly turned on the lights to see what was lodged in between my hand and forearm, as something had indeed bitten me.

"Ah!" I yelped, and immediately released the insect that I'd wedged in between my limbs. It was a giant, grotesque looking centipede with hundreds of legs. It was quite a painful sting, and my arm instantly began to swell and turn red. Afraid that it was poisonous, I monitored myself with the lights on for awhile. I quickly wrote down in my journal what had happened just in case, God forbid, it was poisonous and I died or something. At least everyone would know what had happened. Just looking out. The pain, redness and swelling subsided by the morning. What a relief.

After breakfast, as I was relaxing under the gazebo talking to Nonoy's sons - Lawerence, Pedro and Winston - Tontoy approached us and asked if we wanted to go to Spice Beach. Sound great.

"Let's do it," I said.

Spice of Life Beach was located just 10 minutes away by tricycle. And, man, was it beautiful there. It had clear blue water and beautiful scenery of mountains and nearby islands. What a treat. Again, I was the only westerner on the entire beach. Spice was nice.

After we returned from the beach I took a much needed nap. After my nap, however, I began to feel a bit ill. After sitting outside under the gazebo for about an hour, now feeling worse, I mentioned that I was still feeling sick. The next thing I knew, I was being surrounded by the entire family, inquiring what was wrong with me.

"Adam, your stomach is upset?" asked Tontoy. "I'll get you something warm to drink."

"I really don't think my stomach can handle anything, Tontoy," I said, only to have it fall on deaf hears as he continued to walk to the house.

Everyone began speaking to one another in Tagalog. I knew they were talking about me.

"Uhh, we think that you may have been cursed," Nonoy said to me.

"Cursed?" I said, sounding a bit perplexed.

"Adam," Lilia chimed in, "Tell me exactly what's wrong. What about your ears? Are your ears cold, too?"

Before I could give her a response she quickly walked over and began feeling them.

"Oh, my!" she hollered, "They're cold!" And began speaking in Tagalog with everyone again.

"What's all the commotion about?" I wondered.

Lilia walked over and sat beside me. "Do you remember when you walked past a group of women earlier?" Lilia asked.

"Yes," I responded.

"Well, there were 2 women who commented on how cute and handsome you were."

I wasn't following.

"You see, they practice some sort of voodoo. And when they find a man attractive and look at him, they cast a spell on the him - which causes stomach pain."

A couple of voodoo queens had casted a spell on me? I thought. Oh, man.

Yes, I had a pair of Marie Laveaus on my hands. Not good.

"How do you feel? How do you feel now, Adam?" Everyone was asking me.

"Ehh . . . I feel . . . terrible," now feeling weak just to speak.

"We're going to try to heal you, Adam," I heard someone say in the background.

The next thing I knew, my shirt was taken off and people began mumbling words that I couldn't understand as they rubbed my head and slapped my back.

"How do you feel now, Adam?"

"Eh, still not good."

Next, people began spitting on their hands and rubbing them on my chest while, again, mumbling words I couldn't hear nor understand. I was so sick that I felt vulnerable for whatever healing remedy that was available.

I began to think about what Sheila's brother, Mark, jokingly asked me during my first night in the Philippines: "So, what do you think of the Philippines, man? Like, what about right now? What do we look like to you? Do we look like something from National Geographic?

Now if this isn't like something from National Geographic, I don't know what is, I thought, as I was now being smacked by tree branches over my head and back. Yes, tree branches.

They even brought back one of the perpetrators who'd casted one of the spells on me, and told her to undue the curse. She did her hocus pocus thing, and prayed over me.

"How do you feel now, Adam?"

I felt like death, really. But I didn't want them to feel as if their healing powers wasn't working, which they weren't.

"Uh, maybe a little better?" I said.

"If you don't feel any better soon, we'll try one more thing." Lilia said to me.

I was really feeling ill at this point. I was extremely weak, and felt as if I was about to hurl. I quickly stood up and walked over to the steps leading to the ocean, thinking that I was going to throw up. I stood there silently, leaning over. I took a couple of deep breaths through my nose as I felt a pleasant breeze come off the dark shores of the sea.

"That's it," Lilia shouted, "Give me your shirt."

Tontoy then guided me back to the house, now shirtless, as they washed it. Once I sat down, Tontoy (and someone else?) began bathing me with my shirt that they'd just washed. Afterwards, the other woman who'd cursed me entered the house and attempted to heal me. As soon as she finished I got up and darted for the bathroom.

"Blahhhh!"

For the next few hours I threw up profusely, followed by violent episodes of diarrhea. Such a night.

I hate it when I get cursed.

The following day I felt much better. I just had a slight headache and no appetite. I spent my last day lounging around and napping under the gazebo. I made sure, however, to get a family photo. I went around the house rounding everyone up.

"Everybody to the front of the house!" I hollered. "Picture time, picture time."

I had to take pictures of the fam. And everyone was such a good sport about it, too. Afterwards, Mabel turned on some music and everyone began dancing and acting goofy. A fitting ending to my stay there.

Stephanie's family were unbelievably friendly, accommodating and hospitable - humanity at its best.

I'll never forget my travels to Samar island. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I said Samar sounded like it was going to be an adventure. Man, I have never been so right.

"Got cursed?"



Next Stop: Manila

-Adam

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Philippines: Part 7: Swimming with Wale Sharks in Donsol.

Sheila kindly drove me to the airport as I had an early morning flight to Legazpi.

"Have a great time, Adam," Sheila said, with a hint of sadness in the tone of her voice.

"Thanks, I responded, "And I'll see you in a week."

After we exchanged hugs I exited the car.

I was waiting in line to enter the airport only a few minutes before I noticed Farid and Jennifer exiting their taxi across the street. I waved to them, signaling my whereabouts. Back in Baguio, I invited the both of them to join me to Donsol. They agreed. It's always great to travel with a camaraderie of friends.

"I can't believe you saw us from over here," Jennifer said, as we stood in line. "One of the benefits of being tall, I guess, huh?"

It was great to be back with the gang again. Too bad the French couldn't have joined us, I thought. But I'm sure they were having a blast in Boracay.

The flight from Manila to Legazpi was quick and painless. During the flight, Farid nudged me and said to look out the window as we were flying over Mt. Mayon, a 2451 meter volcano. It literally took me a few seconds to comprehend that I was starring at the side of a volcano. It was as if my brain couldn't register it. Weird.

After we arrived in Legazpi and walked outside of the airport, we were instantly surrounded by drivers who wouldn't leave us alone. As we really didn't have a plan, we decided to discuss it over breakfast at the local cafe. In the end, we hired a driver to take us to a pretty view point of Mt. Mayon, then drive to Donsol. I pretty much slept the entire way to Donsol as I was sleepy due to the lack of sleep I had received the previous night.

After we arrived in Donsol we began searching for cheap accommodation. We eventually found a decent place located up the street from the tourist information center, ran by a guy named June. Initially, I was a bit skeptical about June and his motives, but he turned out to be just an amazingly friendly and accommodating person. Shout out to Junebug!

Since we decided to see the whale sharks the following day, we had a day of rest and relaxation. That night, however, June took the 3 of us on his tricycle to view the incredible firefly phenomenon. We were simply awestruck as we watched thousands upon thousands of enchanting fireflies twinkling, which brightened the trees along the river. Definitely a highlight.

The following day was the big day: the day we would attempt to see the whale sharks. Initially, the water was a bit choppy as we headed out to sea. After about an hour or two without seeing any whale sharks, I began to get worried.

Just then . . .

"Over there! Over there!" our spotters hollered.

The boat began to accelerate and everyone began putting on their equipment, i.e. flippers and snorkels.

"Jump! Go! Go! Go!" our spotters shouted at us, as everyone began leaping into the wavy sea.

Because I was having difficulties with my snorkel I was the last one to jump off the boat, thus, I was playing catch up as I tailed behind swimming. As I approached the group, I noticed our spotter signaling to me to look down. When I looked under water, I noticed an enormous whale shark approaching me! It literally swam underneath me. And the giant beast was moving slow, too, allowing us to swim along side of it for a minute. It was majestic.

This happened twice! I felt so lucky to have witnessed such an amazing creature.

Back at the hotel that night, as I was reaching into my pockets for something, I pulled out a recipe.

"Hmmm...?" I hummed.

"What's up?" Farid inquired.

"This recipe was in my pocket, and I don't recall what it was for?"

"Let me see it," Farid requested. "It's a local bus receipt, I think?"

"That's weird. I've never used a bus on this date."

"Wait a minute," I continued, "I turned my clothes into the laundry cleaners that day. Usually I drop and pick up my laundry on the same day; however, the last time I dropped them off I didn't pick them up until the following night."

"Someone was wearing your clothes!" Farid yelled.

"Oh my God," I said, in disbelief. But that's a breach in laundry-cleaner's code, I jokingly thought to myself.

"It's like that episode of Seinfeld!" continued Farid. We all began to laugh hysterically. Man, I swear, everything always turns into an episode of Seinfeld.

The following morning I would leave for the island of Samar. My friend from the States, Stephanie, has family who lives in a small village there and said I was more than welcome to stay with them as her family would be happy to host me. Sounded like an adventure. I was in.

After I said my final goodbyes to Farid and Jennifer, I hopped on the back of June's motorcycle.

VROOOOM! Vroom, Vroom, Vroom, Vroom, Vroom, Vroom . . .

"Well, guys," I said, attempting to sound all dramatic, "Until next time . . ."

Immediately after I said this the engine went dead.

Wah, wah, wahhh.

"Dammit." I mumbled. Farid and Jennifer began to laugh.

June fired her up again.

"Let's try this again," I laughingly said, "Until next time . . ." And I drove off, waving.

Success.

Next Stop: Samar Island

-Adam

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Philippines, Part 6: A Day in the Life.

I only had one full day left in Manila before I would continue my travels to Donsol and to the island of Samar. I was really looking forward to seeing Sheila after she got off work and spending some time with her. I felt as if my feelings for Sheila were growing by the day. It just felt good to be in her presence. Sheila unknowingly has a quality in which I like to describe as the "it" factor. You see, people who have this "it" quality have a certain powerful, indescribable presence about them. I was beginning to see Sheila as a powerful luminous being of energy who has the ability to turn darkness into light. Just being around her would brighten my day and mood. She radiated with such positive energy that it just felt pleasant being in her presence. Yes, the force was certainly strong with Sheila.

For the past month I had been searching for any books written by Carlos Castaneda. I had read a few of his books before my travels and was yearning to read more.

I was laying in Sheila's bed as she walked into her room after getting home from work, and she placed a plastic bag next to me on the counter.

*WARNING! Reading Past This Sentence Will Risk Having Your Mind Blown. *
--Proceed To Read With Caution--

Three books fell out of the plastic bag once she layed it down. I looked over and noticed not 1 but 3 Carlos Castaneda books!

"No way!" I yelled, startling Sheila. "Get the hell out of here!"

"What?! What?!" Sheila responded.

"Ive been searching for books written by Carlos Castaneda for over a month, and you randomly purchased 3 of them?!"

Sheila seemed a bit perplexed by the whole situation.

"Have you have heard of Carlos Castaneda before?" I asked.

"No."

"Then why did you buy his books?" I pressed.

"Because they were on sale."

"So Castaneda," I said. "So, Castaneda."


Later that night, Sheila and I spoke for hours while laying on the floor in her room. Sheila eventually fell asleep beside me; however, I was completely wired and couldn't sleep a wink. Reflecting about my day and everything that had transpired, I was now certain that the trail had directed me to Sheila magnetically.

Just as I felt my body dozing off, Sheila's alarm went off.

[Sigh]

I felt as if I could have layed there forever. But we both knew we had to rise up, as today was a new day - a new beginning.



-Adam

The Philippines, Part 5: Banaue, Batad, Sagada, and Baguio.

Before I left for Banaue I needed to withdraw some money. Unfortunately, none of my cards, debit or credit, would allow me to withdraw any money from the ATMs in Manila. Finally, after 8 attempts, I found an ATM that worked.

After Sheila and I arrived at the bus station, we chatted in her car until it was time to depart. I was really enjoying my time with Sheila and was sad that she couldn't join me. Sheila walked with me to the bus. As I was storing my luggage under the bus, some guy yelled at me as I happened to be in his way while he was loading something.

"Hey, get out the way. What are you doing back here anyways?"

"What's it to you!" Sheila snapped back.

I loved her fire.

And before I left, of course, Sheila had to take a picture of me in front of the bus.

"Man, everybody is looking at us, Sheila, " I whined.

"I don't care what anybody thinks!" she quickly replied.

I couldn't help but to smile. :-)

"Awww. Have a nice trip, Adam." Sheila said, as I was about to leave. "Make sure to take a lot of pictures!"

She waited until I boarded the bus before she left.

Okay, now I've experienced my share of terrible bus rides throughout my travels before, but my trip from Manila to Banaue took the cake. I've never been so miserable before on a bus. And it wasn't because I was cramped or that I thought the bus driver was reckless, either. No. I was miserable because it was unbelievably cold. It was literally an icebox in there. I could have carried on some frozen pizzas and they wouldn't have thawed. In fact, the pizzas would have been MORE frozen by the time we'd reached Banaue. Seriously, that flippin' cold.

The bus stopped abruptly. And as I was half asleep with my shirt lifted over my ears and nose, I slowly opened my eyes and noticed a young man standing over me in the aisle. We starred at each other for a solid 5 seconds, silently, before he handed me something and exited the bus. It was a note. It read: "Hello, I saw you before at bus station. Send me message sometime. Here's my number..."

"Seriously?" I thought. Good Lord.

Once I arrived in Banaue I took a tricycle to a hotel. After I put my belongings in my room and registered at the front desk, I stepped outside onto the balcony and was amazed with the view.

"Hello, Banaue," I thought, grinning. "Wow."

I noticed 2 other guys standing outside enjoying the view as well. I introduced myself and inquired about their plans as I didn't have any. Their names were Joey (Filipino) and Farid (Swedish). They went to university together in Florida, and Farid came to the Philippines to visit Joey who lives here. They said that they had hired a guide and was going on a day trek to Batad. Not having any plans, I asked if they'd mind if I joined them. They didn't, of course, as the more people you have the cheaper it'll be.

As we were eating breakfast, we noticed a group of 4 sitting beside us. Joey asked if they would like to join us, too.

They were in.

Great, we thought. Now that we were 7 people deep, and our price for the trek significantly decreased. Our group now consisted of 4 French (3 of which from Morocco), 1 Swede, 1 American, and 1 Filipino.

Batad is an hour away from Banaue by jeepney. Joey, Farid and I rode on top of the jeepney giving us an amazing view of the rice terraces, mountains, and country side. It was simply gorgeous.

"This is what traveling is all about," I said, while on top of the jeepney, enjoying the scenery.

To ride on top of a jeepney......CHECK!

Once we arrived outside of Batad, the 7 of us began our descent to town and to the "nearby" waterfall. The locals tend to exaggerate time and proximity.

The scenery and atmosphere in Batad was heavenly. And as we approached the quaint town of Batad we found ourselves awe struck by the lush greenery goodness that engulfed us. A sensational sensory overload, indeed. As I walked through the rice terraces, I spread open my arms and lowered them allowing the rice to gently caress my hands.

Due to the trek's level of difficulty, however, everyone moved at their own pace. Thus, at times, we found ourselves spread out amongst the terraces. I can't stress enough how arduous the trek was. During one of many breaks, I began to laugh at the absurdity of it all as everyone arrived at different times, huffing and puffing. However, a member of our group, Dina, felt that I was laughing directly at her as if I was making fun of her. She didn't respond too kindly.

"It's NOT funny," she voiced in dissatisfaction, her face now beat red, gasping for air.

Farid and I exchanged glances as if to say, "Yikes!"

We were all exhausted. However, Dina did look as if she was about to keel over. Poor thing.

We all joked how this better be the most amazing waterfall EVER!

I was talking and laughing with Farid about how I would like to go on one trek - just ONE trek! - in Southeast Asia where it's an easy, casual stroll through the wonderful wilderness. You know, a trek that's neither dangerous or exhausting; just a nice enjoyable stroll. Is that too much to ask for? ;-)

Everyone took a load off once we made it to the waterfall. And it was so glorious. We spent a good while there, talking and relaxing. Nobody really wanted to leave as we knew we had to endure another painstakingly long trek back. Ugh! But time was of the essence...

Before we had our lunch in Batad, we stopped and enjoyed a few recreational games of basketball and volleyball against the locals. We laughed as we didn't know where the extra energy came from. I think the children re-energized us some sort of way. In any case, we had a blast.

We made it back to our jeepney just before it began to rain. We laughed as we noticed t-shirts being sold that had "I survived Batad" written across the front. We celebrated and enjoyed a cold beer, toasting to "our survival."

The next day we arranged for a jeepney to take us straight from Banaue to Sagada. We were 8 strong now as another person, Jennifer, a Filipino-American, joined the group.

Here's a funny story:

Pierre, from Paris, asked me "So Adam, you said that you're from St. Louis, right?"

"Yeah, St. Louis." I replied.

"Because I used to live in a city just outside of St. Louis called St. Charles."

"Wait! What?!" I said in disbelief.

"Yeah, I used to live in St. Charles."

"Get the hell outta here!" I hollered. "That's where I actually live, in St. Charles!"

Apparently his father had some work there for a short while so they had to move there. Strange, ey? Who would have thought I'd run into a Frenchman in the middle of the rice terraces, in northern Luzon, Philippines, that used to live in little 'ol St. Charles, Missouri. Too weird.


Sagada is a small, quiet town located in the Cordillera mountains. The main reason people come here is to view its caves and hanging coffins.

The town had a 9 pm curfew for tourists due to its history of terrorism. At the tourism (terrorism) information center there was a notice posted on the wall listing all and when the terrorist activity had occurred. This included incidences of shootings, grenade explosions, bombings, and ambushes.

"Ambushes?" we all said. We couldn't help but laugh at that one. How did the people report that incident? We began reenacting how the police report transpired:

Policeman: Tell us exactly what happened.
Victim: We were ambushed!
Policeman: Ambushed?
Victim: Yes, we were tricked! They made us go down a street that we really didn't want to go down. Afterwhich, we were surrounded by men on every rooftop.

Oh, man. We had some hilarious conversations. Good times, good times.

The next day we took a local bus to the city of Baguio, located at 1,450 meters in the Cordillera mountains. The city is nearly absent of any tourists so it must have looked strange seeing 8 backpackers walking in a single file line as we searched for cheap accommodation. None of us were too impressed with the city. It was really dirty and overpopulated. From our hotel we could see the city's slums scattered along the hillside. It reminded me of Brazil's favelas.

That evening we went out in a group of 8 for the last time, as Jennifer was taking an overnight bus that night and I was leaving the following morning back to Manila. I didn't feel like staying in Baguio for another full day then taking the night bus back. Plus, I was anxious to see Sheila again.

I had an incredible time with everyone, and I'm extremely grateful for the people that continually seem to enter my life during my travels. Big shout out to the French connection: Dan, Dina, Marine and Pierre; To my Swedish hommie, Farid; and to my Filipino friends, Joey and Jennifer.

Again, it always seems to amaze me how and when I seem to meet people. And always...always at the right place at the RIGHT time.



Next Stop: Donsol & the island of Samar

-Adam

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Philippines, Part 4: Taal Volcano, Tagaytay.

The next morning Sheila, Elaine and I left for Taal Volcano located in Tagaytay, a few hours south of Manila. Along the way we stopped for breakfast at McDonald's. I had a delicious Big Mac with fries and a coke. Breakfast of champions. As we arrived in Tagaytay the temperature was noticeably cooler than Manila. It was refreshing to escape Manila's miserable heat for a day.

Sheila took us to an area in town with a view point, nestled in between little boutique shops and restaurants. It was quite pleasant there. It had a laid back atmosphere that I enjoyed and with a panoramic view overlooking the lake and island. Again a pleasant escape from the manic streets of Manila.

To reach the island where the volcano is located, you have to hire a boatman. There are a number of these men standing around holding signs advertising their services. We pulled up to one and Sheila began negotiating. Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it negotiating. Here's how the conversation transpired:

"Yes, yes," the man said, "You want to go to Taal Volcano?"

"How much do you charge?" Sheila inquired.

The man, who had one hand on top of the hood of the car, leaned over and looked inside. He began to mumble, configuring the price in his head.

"Uh, I'll take you there for 1 million dollars," he said casually.

"Okay. Deal. Does that sound reasonable for you guys?" Sheila asked.

Okay, okay. I may be exaggerating here a bit, but it's safe to assume he was overcharging us and Sheila didn't appear to have any negotiating skills whatsoever.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I said. "Are you kidding me? That's way too much. It shouldn't cost THAT much to take a 15 minute boat ride. No way."

The man leaned over and began to negotiate with me, seeing that I was calling the shots around here.

"Okay, sir. How much you pay?"

I got him to come down well over half from what he initially charged us. I'd been traveling 7 months at this point and had a relatively good idea how much things should cost. So get the hell outta here; hommie don't play that. ;-)

Sheila, stick around with me kid and I'll show you the ropes. You have much to learn, young grasshopper.

The boat was a decrepit piece of "work" which splashed water on us the entire ride there. I sat in the front and held a large tarp to prevent all of us from getting soaked. Once we arrived at the island, we paid the entrance fee and guide fee. It was compulsory. I wasn't happy about that, but it only set us back about 1 USD. So whatever, I guess.

As we began our trek up the volcano, we noticed that we were being followed. Yes, we had about 5 people tailing us on horseback. We told them to go away, but to no avail. They just continued to gallop up the mountain behind us.

So annoying.

"Sir, sir." he repeated. "You want to take horseback?"

He continued to remind me how difficult the trek was and how much easier it would be for me (us) to rent a horse. As the 3 of us trekked up the mountain side by side, with the touts on horseback in toe, I couldn't help but to whistle the song "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" from the soundtrack to the movie Kill Bill.



Eventually Sheila gave in, as she'd recently injured her knee climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia. And since Sheila decided to get one, Elaine followed suit. But for me, it was a matter of principle now. I couldn't let these touts get the best of me. So I began to jog up the mountain; much needed exercise, anyways.

The view as I was jogging up the mountain was beautiful. I took a few breaks here and there to enjoy the splendid scenery.

The view at the summit was also breathtaking. I was so happy to reach the top, now exhausted and drenched in sweat. Phew! I quickly found a bench to sit on and enjoyed the refreshing breeze. The 3 of us took our time, enjoying the spectacular scenery. Life was good. ;-)

On the boat ride back, Sheila found an area in the very front where you couldn't get wet. There was something angelic about Sheila as she stood at the edge of the boat. And Elaine took a photo of the very moment I was thinking this.

After a delicious but unfulfilling meal at the Pancake House, we headed back to Manila. Sheila and Elaine got caught up on their 'girl talk' as I was asleep.

Sadly, the time had arrived in which Elaine had to part ways. It was great seeing and catching up with her. She said she would be in Las Vegas in the next few months, so maybe my brother will be able to see her too. Oh, Lainerzzz!

The next day I got a lot accomplished: I uploaded my last Vietnam blog, planned my route, and bought 2 plane tickets. I was doing work. I decided I would travel north to Banaue to see the rice terraces, to Donsol to see the whale sharks, and then to the island of Samar where I would stay with a friend's family. I was going to be busy for the next 2 weeks.

Because I was leaving the following day, Sheila decided to take me out for dinner. So sweet. She took me to a restaurant called Cloud 9, with an amazing view overlooking metro Manila. Over dinner Sheila opened up and we began to have a plethora of deep, stimulating conversations. She began revealing things about herself that were unknown to me prior to that evening. With Sheila, there's definitely more than meets the eye.

Next Stop: Northern Luzon (Banaue, Batad, Sagada & Bagiou)

-Adam