Sunday, 23 April 2017

Santa Marta and Paso de Mango

Our group split in Cartagena with one person heading home and three of us going on to Santa Marta, which is like a cut price version of Cartagena but with an excellent museum. I spent a night in a hot dorm while the others opted for private and in the morning they were off to the Lost City trek, which I don't have time to do.

Instead I went to Finca Entre Rios a guesthouse owned by the same people as the Santa Marta hotel and located in an area called Paso de Mango.

To get there I took a bus to a place called Bonda, which was hot and dusty with ugly breeze bloc buildings. From there it was a motorbike taxi up a dirt road. As we climbed it got greener and cooler but also more humid till the place itself which was deep in forest.

The guesthouse turned out to be two buildings. I was put in the one by the river, which was a self contained little house. I had an ensuite bedroom, sitting room and a terrace overlooking the swimming hole in the river. There was also a kitchen but that was locked to me and used by the staff,  who provided lunch, dinner and breakfast.

I swam a bit in the river but it was mostly full of locals. Including a young boy who rode his bike deep into the water doing a wheelie until the seat was submerged then turning and pedalling back out and a group of old ladies who walked in fully clothed till the water was up to their shoulders and stood chatting.

I walked up the hill to see a pre Colombian stone staircase and terrace and in the morning it was time to leave.

Back in Santa Marta now at a hostel that has a pool and aircon in the dorms.

From here it is basically moving all the way. One night Santa Marta, one Cartagena, one Bogota, one Miami and one on a plane. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017


Flying in Colombia is interesting as the airlines don't  translate anything to English, or do safety demos, or any of the other things you might expect.

We landed in Cartagena around 10pm and I knew at once I was back in the tropics. The hotel was in a narrow alley and I was a bit bothered by the half naked old man shouting in the street but everyone else was friendly and he was inaudible from my room.

In the morning we wandered around the old city more or less aimlessly, doing a large section of the walls. Then found a museum in the old Inquisition building. Most of it was in Spanish but one translated section listed their targets as Heretics, witches, Jews and solicitors. Obviously practicing law was a serious matter.

In the afternoon we went to the fort of San Felipe. This is basically a hill that has been built over so much with fortifications it looks like a giant building. It is riddled with tunnels some of which are open to visitors. In the longest one, returning from deep underground I found my way blocked by a man with a laugh like a cartoon villain. "Bwahahahaha" he bellowed on seeing someone in his way. I squeezed against the wall and he led a small group past before breaking into a high pitched cackle this time.

Ate dinner on a rooftop enjoying the view of people dancing in the square below.

Today was a boat tour to a nearby island. Nice symmetry with the boats in El Nido at the start of the trip.

I had expected to visit several islands but instead after a long wait at the port it went like this. We were jammed into an oversized speedboat, it took a large group but bounced over the waves spraying everyone the same way. After an hour we approached a beach and a woman shouted something that sounded like "Princess Alma", which resulted in her getting off the boat. Ten minutes later we were at another busier beach and the captain made a long speech in high speed Spanish. Some more people got off.

The boat sped on for another 30 minutes and stopped by a building on a rock in the middle of the sea. We could see a group of people swimming in the distance - another speech but this time no one got off. Then we went to what turned out to be an aquarium, where there was finally a rough translation of what was happening. That we had the option of a dolphin show or snorkeling. I opted for snorkeling so went with the, now nearly empty boat, back to near the building on a rock. Where we hired snorkels from the captain and jumped in. The fish were colourful but the reef was mostly dead and not a patch on El Nido.

Finally we returned to the second beach now even more rammed with people where a lunch of fried fish was served. There was a rumour we had to stay for three hours but it turned out to be only two (still at least 45 minutes too long). After lunch I walked to the end of the beach and tried to remember some climbing moves on the rocks. Swam a bit and then had to wait.

It wasn't even sunny but the crowds still did the classic, let's pay to lie on a plastic lounger and do absolutely nothing.  I was reminded why I don't do normal beach holidays.

Now back on shore.

Monday, 17 April 2017


On the first day we walked down a muddy track to find an organic coffee farm. The tour was almost too good as I can't remember most of the details but basically they are trying to recreate an older system of coffee growing. The Arabica coffee they grow needs shade, for which they grow native trees and they use other plants to fix nutrients instead of chemical fertilisers. The coffee was good too, I bought two bags.

Today we went to the Cocorra valley. Starting with a half hour jeep ride, which so full I had to stand on the back board - great fun winding along the mountain roads. Then it was a five hour hike, up a river valley crossing several times  on hanging bridges with gaps in them. Up to a hummingbird sanctuary where you can drink hot chocolate while watching hummingbirds on the feeders.

From there we descended to the valley and climbed again through the cloud forest to a viewpoint before following the route down. This was a wide track with a gate at one point to stop cars getting up and sweeping views of the valley and surrounding mountains. The route passed several groups of wax palms, the tallest palm trees in the world. Before eventually returning to Cocorra village and the jeeps. This time I got to sit down. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

To Popayan and Salento

To get to Popayan you need to book a taxi, or navigate several bus changes - we took the taxi.

The road was surfaced at first before becoming a dirt track for a couple of hours. It climbed up and up into a national park. Cloud forest on either sides, the only other sign of humans a sign warning of possible tapirs in the road. Eventually the road crossed the high point and started going down and traffic appeared again, including several large tankers that really didn't belong on such a road. Then we emerged to a surfaced road again and through small villages to the city of Popayan.

In our one night in Popayan we saw the parade there which is apparently second biggest in the world. It certainly took a long time. Not just floats and marching bands but a man in a pointy hat, police, firemen and at one point the string section of an orchestra were wheeled past on a kind of trolley.

Next morning I was crossing the road on the way to the bus station when I suddenly found myself on the ground with my rucksack under a motorbike. Obviously my first thought was how angry the driver must be for my getting in theway but luckily she was fine about it. There then followed the arrival of a policeman, ambulance and a man with a bottle of whisky he wanted to pour on my grazed leg. All successfully waved away.

Despite all information suggesting it was impossible we found a minibus from Popayan to Armenia. Driven by a man who drove fast and talked faster. We went down and down to a flat hot plain with sugar cane plantations then up again to the city of Armenia.

From there it was a taxi to Salento. A process which required my passport number, a special permit, which the taxi driver got from an office and refuelling where we had to get out in case the car exploded. It didn't.

Salento turned out to be a hillside village perched on the edge of a huge valley. More tourists than anywhere else in Colombia and more restaurants. The village was crowded with Colombians and foreigners. I was reminded that by far the quietest place in Colombia so far was the capital.

They didn't have easter parades but a bonfire lit by throwing burning lights from the church tower (with a guide line).

Saturday, 15 April 2017

San Agustin

We flew to Pitileto landing on a narrow strip of tarmac in a field before waiting in an open sided hanger for luggage to be individually delivered. From there it was a taxi past coffee farms and steep mountains to Hotel Imperio Cococababa. This was family run and very friendly but if I had to criticise I'd say the sloping ceiling that meant I could only walk to one end of my bed and the way the noise from the street carried.

In the afternoon we had a walking tour of two sites with rock carvings, one overlooking a deep river gorge.

Walked into the town of San Augustin for dinner and found an easter parade going on. The floats had plastic statues that could be called tacky but the overall effect was amazing. Something about the drumming that filled the air and the way the whole town joined in a chanted Ave Maria made it very powerful.

The next day was spent viewing more sites starting with the archaeological park then in the afternoon a car tour of outlying sites and a waterfall.

Little is known about the San Agustin culture, except that bthey carved a huge number of sculptures some of which were found on or in the entrance of tombs. Archaeology suggests the statues stopped being made about 300 years before the Spanish conquest and the people who were there at the conquest denied all knowledge of who had made them or why.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Last day in Bogota

Today we started with a walking tour that took in the colonial area and the central square. We were given chicha, which was not nice. To get an idea get a can of sweetcorn and blit in a food processor to a kind of mushy soup, pour in about half a teacup of beer and a squirt of lemon juice.
The tour finished with a game of tejo. Imagine quoits but instead of getting a hoop over a stick you have to hit a small piece of dynamite with a stone. No one managed so the guide stood over the target and dropped a stone to demonstrate.
After lunch we went to the Museum of Independence, which had very few English translations. It did say however that the war of independence started with an argument over whether a vase could be lent to a Spanish official or not.
Thenwe visited the oldest church in the city and the emerald museum, neither of which allowed photos.
The emerald museum is on the 23rd floor of an office block and you need to give a passport number to get in. It starts with a walk through an imitation emerald mine then a selection of green stones in various shapes and finally a shop where you can buy emerald jewelry priced in US dollars and going from $50 to $10,000. The mine was my favourite bit? 

Salt Cathedral

On Monday we went to the salt cathedral at Zipaquirá. This required getting the transmilenio - a kind of bendy bus to a terminal. The journey was improved by the buskers including a woman who carried a full size harp onto a crowded bus and played for ten minutes.
From there it was a regular bus to the town of Zipaquirá and a walk uphill to the entrance. The cathedral is separate from the working mine, which is now done by what sounds like fracking  (water is injected at high pressure and the disobedience salt pumped out). The actual cathedral is part of a much larger complex including an underground shopping complex, a light show (not worth seeing) and a 3D movie about the history of the mines.
Had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the main square, which was excellent value as they kept bringing extra things that were included so it ended up as a three course meal plus coffee. While we were in there the heavens opened so we sat watching the horses in the square nearly drown until it dried up a bit. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

First day in Bogota

For the final three weeks I'm travelling with friends. It makes a nice change so I've largely let the others make decisions.

This morning we joined the crowds walking up to a church on top of Cerro Montseratte, which sits above the city. About 500m ascent all on stone steps and with the air getting thinner at every stage. We took the funicular railway down.

From there we walked all about the city, seeing the house of independence leader Simon Bolivar, the gold museum and the historic areas. The skill of some of the gold work was incredible, life size insects and flowers.
Failed to see the changing of the guard, which from what I can mak out is off limits to visitors - makes you wonder why they do it.

In the evening we confirmed that eating out in Bogota is near impossible. Most food options are cake shops or takeaways and they close around 4pm. We found one place, which reluctantly did meals. The portions were large but my chicken pasta seemed to be chicken and spaghetti boiled together and served in the cooking water with no seasoning. 

Saturday, 8 April 2017


I took yet another bus to Rio de Janeiro.The bus station was full of warning signs in multiple languages about the dangers of taking unlicensed taxis or public buses so I booked a taxi from a stand to my hostel in Ipanema. The hostel itself was pretty much as expected except for the roommates who took napping to extremes. When I arrived at 6pm they were going to bed. As I went to bed at 11.30 they got up. They then returned about 5am and presumably slept most of the day, though they weren't there when I got back at 4pm.

With only limited time I booked on to a city tour that covered the main sights. The Christ statue, a historic area called Lapa, the cathedral and Sugar Loaf for sunset.

The second evening I made a point of finding the recommended local food, feijoada. This was on the menu for two people but they assured me there was a one person option. I think they mixed it up though because the meal was huge. A giant pot of bean stew, another of the same with six pork chops and a piece of bacon in, crackling, fried manioc, manioc flower, rice and salad. Then desert was included as well. I doubled in size over the hour or so I was in that restaurant.

My second day I was recommended to see the museum of tomorrow. This is in a great location by the sea and a weirdly shaped building, which they seem to love in Brazil. It started with an imax type film, which was completely in Portuguese so I have no idea what it said but there were lots of exploring stars, space scenes and wildlife footage. From there it was a series of interactive screens covering subjects like medicine, climate change and robots. Very well done but I didn't really think it was distinctive to Rio.

Portion sizes continued to defeat me. A 'snack' of cheese and chips came in a foot long oval bowl with chopped pepperoni. Tasty but I must have had about a quarter.

Overall impressions.

  • Despite the reputation I never felt unsafe anywhere in Rio.
  • The landscape is absolutely stunning but is let down by the buildings, which range from standard commercial box to favella shack.
  • They have a huge mountain rainforest around the Christ - right in the city. This alone makes me want to go back sometime. 
  • I never saw the famous dance clubs, probably because I was in the wrong place. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Sao Paulo

This trip seems to be accelerating as I go. Another day on  bus delivered me to Sao Paulo. With a day to see the city I joined a walking tour led by an overenthusiastic guide.
The tour focused on the less obviously tourist areas with lots of street art. One negative was the tendency to stop at a junction and announce that there was something worth seeing ten minutes that way. Only to then lead us in the opposite direction. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Into Brazil

I crossed the border to the country that inspired a haircut you can't show off at work easily enough. Warned that the buses tend to drop you at passport control and drive off I took a taxi all the way through to the long distance bus station in Foz do Iguaçu and spent 12 hours on a bus to Curitiba. Luckily Brazilian buses turn out to be very comfortable and the roads are good.
Curitiba is something of a show town with lots of grand architecture, although the sheer number of apparently homeless people going through the bins was distressing. There is a local bus service with odd bus stops that are enclosed pod like platforms. When the bus arrives it puts out a kind of ramp to the sliding doors of the pod.
I visited the historic centre, which was largely shut apart from a street market and found the museum. This might have been very good but with signs only in Portuguese I had no idea.

  • From there I walked up past some kind of cycle race to the Oscar Niemayer museum, which the man at the hostel said was one of the top 20 in the world. The numerous rooms of abstract art were largely wasted on me but I can't deny the eye on a stalk building was a landmark - just a shame it was empty. The most distinctive thing was the foyer was full of groups of teenagers each of which had brought a small radio and we're practicing various dance moves.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Iguazu falls

The first thing to say is wow!
The area around the falls may be a bit of a theme park but that is completely lost in the sheer scale of them.

Two huge horseshoes of waterfalls, one above the other then further back a third waterfall called the Devil's throat.

I got a shared taxi from the hostel then explored as many paths as possible. There were there broad areas. Round the entrance,  with little view, the lower path and upper paths and the Devil's throat walkway, which went out across the river.

Walking between these seemed to be forbidden but there was a little train included in the entrance price.

I saw everything by 3.30 and spent an hour establishing there were boat trips in my price range before waiting for the pick up at 5, which turned out to be 5.30 as two of the passengers went awol.

Tomorrow, I should cro

Esters de Ibera

The Esteros de Ibera are the second largest wetlands I'm south America after the Pantanal in Brazil and not the easiest place to visit.

First you need to get to a small town called Mercedes. Coming from Buenos Aires the only buses run overnight. Then wait.

At about 12 a dirty yellow bus marked Crucero del Norte leaves for Colonia Carlos Pellegrini in the wetlands. After 30 minutes the tarmac stops and for the next three hours the road is made of sand. Eventually the road crosses a wooden bridge and arrives at Carlos Pellegrini, where I was dropped at my guesthouse.

Very little of the wetlands is accessible to the public. There are a series of walkways that take 2-3 hours and boat tours of the one lake nearest the town. Even in this small area I saw lots of capybara, caiman and some marsh deer, which if I understood correctly are endemic to the Ibera wetlands.

Getting out was a stroke of luck. The only way by public transport is back to Mercedes, which for my plan to get to Iguazu falls would have meant at least four different buses and 18 hours on the road. Instead it turned out a Belgian couple were going the same way so we split the cost and paid the guesthouse owner to drive us to Posadas to the north. Again this was a long, straight sand road. This time for five hours. The landscape gradually changed and we came out of the wetlands and passed huge farms and stands of woodland that seemed to be pine.

Then quite suddenly we came to a junction with a busy surfaced road running into the suburbs of Posadas. From there it was easy to get a bus through to Puerto Iguazu. As I walked out of the bus station there was a place called Tango Inn opposite so I checked into a dorm.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Buenos Aires and on

I landed in Buenos Aires four and a half hours before taking off, which is a useful trick if I could work out how to use it.
The immigration officer decided to question me about the design of my passport, which had me wondering if there was "must know obscure shit to enter" rule but eventually he let me go.
Once through I headed for the official taxi desk and was accosted by a man offering to take me to the city centre for US$45. I waved him away and booked at the desk, where they gave me a slip of paper with the cost in various currencies, it was $14!

The hostel struggled to find my booking at first but eventually decided I was the Matteo Leban someone had put in their system and I was shown to a bed on a kind of mezzanine reached by a ladder. I promptly went to sleep for an hour, got up to have a pizza then went back to bed.

Food portions are often ridiculous, I ordered what was on the menu as café con leche, tostadas, y jamon. Apparently it wasn't worth mentioning that the ham came with two fried eggs, or that I also got a glass of orange juice, a fruit salad and a slice of cheesecake.

I was pleased to discover I did remember enough Spanish to navigate the subway to the bus station and book an overnight bus to Mercedes.
Less pleased to find that Monday is when every museum and tourist site in the city closes so I spent a long time wandering the streets. The city seems very European, if I didn't know and was told I was in a suburb of Madrid or Barcelona I would have accepted it.
My bus seat was what they call suite meaning it could be laid flat and I had the best sleep I have ever had on a form of transport and got to Mercedes at 7am. Now waiting for the onwards bus to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, which might be at 8.15,  8.50 or indeed 12.30 depending on who I ask.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

What time is it?

Due to my own stupidity I ended up with a little over a day in Auckland, not enough time to do much let alone adjust to the time zone before going on.
Overall impressions, a bit like home but there are definite echoes of Australia in the culture. Both are what you get if you try and build a copy of England fast, on top of a completely different place and people.
Yesterday I visited the Pasifica festival and saw dancers and music from around the Pacific. I was disappointed that what was on offer as typical Po3lynesian food seemed to be chop suey - I was looking for a change from east Asian cuisine. I did try the taro, which turned out to be the blandest food ever. Think plain boiled potato with a drier texture and less flavour.

In the evening lookingfor somewhere to eat I was taken aback when I had my bum pinched by a man wearing a feather boa in rainbow colours, speedos and a big grin. Not something that would have happened in ruralSumatra I think. Plus that bar didn't even do food!

Today I wanted to go to Rangitoto island but with it being a Sunday decided not to risk being trapped or delayed by a lack of public transport. Instead I walked through the city to the highest point at Mount Eden, which turned out to be an extinct volcano, complete with grassed over crater.

Now already back at the airport.

Yours in exhaustion

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Once there were tigers

Singapore always comes as a shock. The high technology, English road signs and cultural diversity - it could almost be London or New York if not for the climate.

The streets are not as clean as I remembered but otherwise it is all ultra modern but withtiny patches of natural vegetation. It's hard to believe Wallace was stalked by tigers here - so much gained and so much lost.

Singapore zoo is worth seeing,  despite my doubts about polar bears in the tropics and whether they can really describe orang utans on a small island with a climbing frame as "free ranging in the treetops".

In the evening I found somewhere to try the famous chilli crab, which required some navigation as the Chinatown train station seemed to only have exits into a shopping centre, not to outside.

From there I went to the Gardens by the Bay. I know there are many bits I didn't see but the supertrees alone were worth it with incredible views.

Woke up in the morning to a panic. 24th is meant to be the date I land in New Zealand, not the date I set off. Currently ar Changi airport, they can get me on tonight's flight but I need my travel agent in the UK to organise it. Really hope he starts work early. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


In the absence of any obvious surface route between Medan and Singapore I flew to Penang, setting off far too early. Malaysia feels so much richer than Indonesia, it's hard to imagine the roads here being unsurfaced or getting random power cuts. No more 5 star accommodation though, I slept in a pod bed that was like being in a box.
In Penang I went to the top of the tallest tower on the island, complete with glass walkway and laughed at the people concerned it was too cold and rainy (it was like a warm mist).
On the way down I passed several bizarre floors including a replica of a Japanese street, a room where children rode robot dinosaurs and a 7D cinema  (any ideas?).
Then I visited the nearest museum, which turned out to be an upside down house.
In the evening I met up with Hannah from the Orang utan project, who was in town to sort out a visa and we had dinner.
This morning I got up too early again and walked down to the free ferry to the mainland to catch a train to KL and eventually, via getting off in the wrong place and a lack of signs found my guesthouse and promptly fell asleep for an hour. I know I should try and see something of the city but I really don't feel like it so will try and save my cash for Singapore. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

And now for something completely different

For the midpoint of my trip I decided to break from backpacking to try out a bit of luxury. The five star Marriott in Medan has bed and breakfast for  £70 a night,  a lot for budget travel but in the range of a two or three star travelodge or Premier Inn at home.
So I've been enjoying the huge buffet, roof top pool and views from the 28th floor. The real luxuries for me though are a powerful shower, a toilet where you can flush paper  (if you don't understand this you don't want to) and the quality of the aircon, which keeps my room at 16 degrees without a big noisy box on the window. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Orang utan Orang utan!

Just got back from five days jungle trekking with a total of 17 orang utans, 11 of them fully wild?
On the first day we visited the edge of the national park to see the semi wild Orang utans,  who were released from a rescue centre. Then we followed the river about four hours into the forest and set up camp on the banks. It was very basic, the toilet arrangement was "here's a stick, dig a hole and bury everything, washing was in the river and food was cooked over a campfire.
The second day we went up a very steep, very muddy hill and along the ridge. As we were descending we found our first truly wild Orang utan a young male. After a bit he was joined by a mother and baby, then another male arrived and the first left. Finally as we were returning to camp a male and female crossed in front of us.

Day three saw us back at the same fig tree by a shorter route , where there was a different mother and baby
 Later joined by the mother and baby from the day before. We stayed until we had a faecal sample  (this is research) and then headed back.
Day four and instead of crossing the river we stayed on our side and climbed the hill behind camp. On the other side we saw a dominant male and another mother and baby. We headed back via a waterfall.
Today was walking back along the river followed by lunch in Bukit before returning to Coconut Island, sweaty, covered in dirt and insect and leech bites but very very happy. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

To the forest

I stayed a night in Medan before being picked up for the Orang utan project.
The base is a small bamboo house in the middle of rice fields. There is electricity and wifi but no mains water so we shower with rainwater and flush the toilet from a well.
Today we did a practice trek of four hours. We passed through rubber plantations before wading across a river, then headed uphill into the forest. No orang utans today but we did see a nest.
The down was steep and slippy and then we walked along the river, crossing loads of times. At the final crossing everyone stopped and we sat down in the water for a bit.
Then we walked back to the tourist town of Bukit Lawang for lunch. The river by the town looked very fast and rough but we still saw people rafting on it.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Indonesia -a review

The last couple of days have been pretty much covered by my photos, tomorrow will be getting to Medan and then I'm off to the jungle, so I decided to review a whole country. Because why not?

1. Do not travel by road, you will have worked this out from my previous posts but seriously just don't. Getting anywhere takes about a day, roads are bad and driving worse and let's not even mentioned what pass for vehicles. Take internal flights it will be worth it.

2. Food is highly variable. I had some amazing meals especially in Ubud, but I also had some terrible ones. In Java the sauces tend to be watery and in Sumatra many places think food counts as fresh and hot if it has been cooked the same day. On the other hand Sumatra also provided Jemny's on Samosir, where I just ate freshly caught and fried lake fish, which was great. If in doubt go for the fruit, there is lots often straight off the trees.

3. English is rarely spoken and even people who think they speak it will struggle with questions like "What time is the bus".

4. If you can interact with an Indonesian in a non commercial setting you won't find anyone more friendly and helpful. If they are in any tourist related business you can trust them only after you have paid and even then expect to be given the hard sell for something extra. The big exception bizarrely is actual shops where they seem content to leave the door open and be somewhere in the neighbourhood rather than actually sit behind the counter.

5. Despite being the largest Muslim country in the world an awful lot seems to be non Muslim. Bali is Hindu of course but so is the area around Bromo and the lake Toba area seems to be mostly Christian although with traces of another religion that involved ghosts, magicians and sacrificing bulls.

6. In hotels you will find proper toilets, elsewhere, I was very glad that as a man I don't have to touch anything except with the soles of my shoes. Squat toilets are common and the flushing and washing arrangement is usually an open tank and a small bucket so you can pour the water from it.

7. On the subject. One of the oddest things has been the way so many places like petrol stations have a prayer room in with the toilets.

8. The landscape can be truly amazing.

9. The adverts include the bizarre Pro Mild. Which I think are cigarettes, although that makes the use of the English language slogan never quit all the more questionable. Which brings me to.

10. No I don't smoke and actually yes I do mind if you do, especially in a confined space like a minibus.  

Thursday, 2 March 2017

I might have broken

That last journey was pretty horrible. Six hours in a minibus on terrible roads.
I got to Parapat around 9 last night and to my surprise was dropped at the police station. I explained my situation and was taken to a travel agent, who sold me a ticket for Medan on Sunday, before showing me to my hotel.
By this point I was exhausted and dehydrated so I downed some water and collapsed.
In the morning, with my head still pounding I got a ferry to Samosir Island. Got upgraded to a 'deluxe' room because the standard ones are being rebuilt but I'm not sure what the difference is. Anyway today I am mostly sleeping,  reading and avoiding people.
Feel a bit better now so fingers crossed for tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Nothing is true

"Everything we were told in Indonesia turned out not to be true. Sometimes this happened at once. The exception was if we were told something would happen at once, in which case it turned out not to be true over several hours" -Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See.

The claim that buses out of Bukittinggi only run at night was wrong. There was a 1pm bus and it was full size and surprisingly comfortable. Although I could have done without the pink mood lighting and ballads. The first bit of the journey was very twisty and slightly nauseating, like accidentally turning on a TV when Piers Morgan is on, but after that the roads got straighter.

The views were breathtaking with limestone hills covered in jungle, rice terraces and fast flowing rivers. I tried to get a few pictures from the window but not sure how well they will work.

We arrived at Padang Sidempuan at 10.30, it would have been 9.30 but there was an hour break for the driver to have his tea. I was put in a tuk with instructions for "hotel, hotel" and delivered to Hotel Natama, a basic place where at least one receptionist spoke a bit of English.

No one else did though. I had to deal with them 'thoughtfully' turning on the TV and removing the toilet paper.

I was woken first by the middle of the night prayers, which seemed to go on for about a year. Falling back asleep I was woken by a knocking on the door. A boy who looked about ten was standing there with two breakfasts, each consisting of a cup of black tea and two slicesof untoasted white bread with strawberry jam.
He struggled to place it all down on the tv stand as I tried to explain I was only one person. Eventually I picked up one meal and handed it back to him.
I spoke to the receptionist who almost understandsEnglish and he told me to take a tuk tuk to the ALS bus station and wait two hours. However at the station my attempt to buy a ticket to Parapat was met with "Parapat, no bus" so I returned to the hotel and after finally making it understood where I wanted to go was told a minibus would pick up from there at 2pm. So now pretty much trapped here hoping it comes.
The good news is that all the indications are that it will only take 5 hours. Which by Indonesian standards is barely time to find a seat

Monday, 27 February 2017

Jakarta to Bukittinggi

I can't say Jakarta was very impressive, though I did like that there are commuter trains, saving me from the chaos of the streets.
I visited the historic centre, now called Kota, which was once the Dutch colonial city of Batavia. Sadly all that is left is a square and a few streets. I looked in a rather bizarre museum of puppets and then in the history museum.
This had two rooms with old maps of the city and intermittent English signs. The rest was taken up with rather plain wooden furniture. This was presumably historic but there were no signs indicating how.
After lunch in Cafe Batavia on the square I tried to get to the historic docks but gave up in a maze like light industrial area with sacks of metal bits and sheets of canvas all over the streets.
In the morning I flew to Padaang in Sumatra and took a blue bird taxi to Bukittinggi.  This turned out to be way up in the hills and so cooler than I've seen so far. Checked in to the De Kock Kafe and guesthouse, which I would probably like more if I hadn't been told all onwards transport runs overnight. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017


So, to solve my visa conundrum I went to Kuala Lumpur for a night. The first pleasant surprise was that there are decent taxis, no fighting off a scrum of drivers, no arguing over the price. I simply walked up to a row of blue taxis, gave my destination as Gambir station and he turned the meter on.
From Gambir there was a bud to the airport and then I was temporarily back in the first world, enjoying such luxuries as signs in English and shopkeepers who stayed in their shops, confident in the price tags doing their job, instead of chasing down the street shouting "For you special price".
I saw virtually nothing of KL taking a train to a small guesthouse, which had to my amazement UK plug sockets. I was so shocked I nearly forgot where I was completely and ordered half and half for dinner. Remembered in time though and went for the roti with dahl.
Rested and back in Indonesia I find myself liking Jakarta more than I thought I would. The streets are surprisingly walkable and there is less hassle than many places.Tomorrow I will have more of a look around. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Yogyakarta to Jakarta

I woke feeling much better and booked an afternoon trip to the Hindu and Buddhist temples at Prambanan. Then I strolled to the train station, enjoying the fact no one shouted at me and booked a train to Jakarta, because I really had enough of minibuses.
I waspicked up by a car with one other passenger, a lady in a hijab who turned out to speak good English and we discussed where I had been. It was nice to have a conversation with an Indonesian that wasn't about them selling me anything.
Prambanan was amazing, not that I understood all of it. One highlight for me was when they called the afternoon prayer from several mosques, while I was looking round. Yes I know it's a completely different religion but it just seemed to fit.
Afterwards I had an iced tea in the café and followed the signs for exit. To my surprise, instead of the carpark they led me to a side street, but the carpark entrance was clearly visible so I headed towards it.
Then as previously mentioned I was surrounded by four large men demanding that I go in one of their taxis.
Anyway I survived, and the original driver showed up at the hostel around 7pm to apologise for not realising there was more than one exit.
Bisnis class train travel is certainly better than a bus for eight hours, even if the aircon kept breaking. Then I took a motorbike taxi,  which was terrifying in the traffic to Six Degrees hostel.

Java is proving to be more of a challenge than I had hoped but at least now, apart from my visa hop to KL I have one base until I go to Sumatra. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

No Sleep till forever

No sleep till forever
That may be the most exhausting thing I have ever done.
First I had to take a minibus back to Kuta, which all transport in Bali apparently goes through. Then I was put in a car, no idea why I had to have a private car but it was all that was on offer. I started to nod off a few times but each time the driver would shout "Sir, sir you ok" so no rest there.
After two and a half hours we got to the ferry where I apparently needed a man to hold my tickets and point to a seat. In Java I was made to sit in the front because "aircon he broke" and the windows were open. The seat was that special plastic that sticks to skin and someone had thoughtfully fixed a handle on the door in exactly the right place to jam into me.
We stopped at a restaurant and then again after three hours when a new driver and a group of Germans got on.
An hour after that we left the coast road and began to climb steeply up numerous switch backs. The air got cooler and it began to rain. The driver experimented with turning the headlights off a few ti
Another hour and we were finally in Cemoro Lawang. I had to distract the driver after he scared a young woman by trying to follow her to her hotel. He responded by producing a single croc from under a seat and asking if it was mine. One of us was clearly crazy but I'm not sure which by that point.
Up for 3.30 to get a jeep, which of course arrived at 4 to a viewpoint for sunrise. No point really in the fog but the other few hundred people seemed to like it. One good point it was cool enough to wear a coat at least till the sun was up.
From there we drove to a large flat area of sand with a ridge above it. There was an option to walk to the ridge but I was feeling lazy and took a horse to the bottom of some steps. The steps were not high but I was out of breath almost instantly, maybe altitude?
My promised 9.30 bus never showed up so I jumped in a random minibus promising to get me to Probolingo, the nearest town on a main road.
From there it was a tortuously slow nine hours in a minibus that at least had aircon but was still nowhere near comfortable enough.
I arrived in Yogyakarta, checked in to what turns out to be a European style hostel, found my bed and lost consciousness.

Feeling much better this morning but I have definitely concluded that Indonesia is simply too big and slow to see much this way.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Ubud and Batur

I took a very hot minibus to Ubud in the middle of Bali and immediately liked it. There are still lots of tourists, if anything the proportion may be higher than in Kuta, but it feels less like a tourist town. The tourists are in ones and twos rather than packs, the shopkeepers actually let you walk past and there are temples all over. I looked at one before getting an early night ready for a 2am start to see sunrise from the volcano at Mount Batur.
The views were stunning and the hike not that hard,  completely flat for the first 20 minutes but then steep scree. I became a little annoyed at the way the guides assumed all tourists are lazy and need constant stops and to be pulled up anything where you need to balance but it was worth it.
We saw a sacred cave and learned that once a year there is a sacrifice that involves drowning a dog in the lake at the bottom of the mountain. Not sure about that one.
Back in Ubud I realised how little time I have and how hard it is to book anything as a single traveller when I tried to arrange onwards transport to Java. It will take most of tomorrow and cost double the normal price to Bromo. Still the alternative involved a lot of waiting around bus stations being shouted at by taxi drivers and a lot more time.
Tonight, with any luck I will see the traditional dancing at the palace. 

Friday, 17 February 2017


I've been in Kuta for three nights now, which is enough as it's a bit too touristy for me. I did make the most of the experience though by trying a surfing lesson, which was really hard and visiting Sky Garden for the all you can eat and drink night. The venue was really large and impressive in its way. Shame about the music but what can you expect from a place that advertises having the 82nd best DJ in Indonesia.

I have decided the only way to deal with touts is to totally ignore them as even a quick "Hello, no thank you" seems to end in someone chasing me down the street shouting "Very cheap". The funny thing is that when I've gone into actual shops or cafés the owners are usually absent or busy with something and want me to wait. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Country 41

I was up at the crack of dark to wait for a pre booked taxi,  who proved yet again that no taxi drivers in Manila actually know their way around.
From there it was a matter of multiple queues to get through and a mad dash to my gate, only to find the flight to Singapore was late.
I spent most of the day wandering around the surreal environment of Singapore airport, no I didn't get to the pool, which was in the other terminal.
Landing in Bali I had a traditional argument with taxi drivers about the fare before finally reaching my hostel. First impressions are that Kuta is very crowded, the streets are very narrow and everyone wants to sell something.
Thismorning I attempted to sort out a visa extension, however it required a reference from an Indonesian, then a wait of at least seven working days so I gave up the idea and solved the problem by booking a flight to Kuala Lumpur from Jakarta and back. Reducing the time involved to two days and freeing me up to actually see some of the country instead of having to return to the same office.
After that I've been mainly just trying to get my bearings and explore on foot. This isn't as easy as it sounds with motorbikes everywhere and people jumping out shouting offering everything from taxis to massas (massage).
I found the beach but in the rain wasn't that impressed then made my way to the memorial to the Bali bombing and back to the safety of the hostel.
Tomorrow, with any luck I will get a surfing lesson, then it's time to explore beyond this corner of one island. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Mount Maculot

Today for my last exploration in the Philippines I went to a nearby mountain called Mount Maculot. Information on it was hard to find being mostly based on tours from Manila but I decided to take a chance and get a jeepney to the town of Cuenca below it.
Luckily there was a roadside stall where you could hire a guide and sign in. The woman warned me that it would take 5 to 6 hours.

After walking up an increasingly steep road we struck off into the forest. For about 45 minutes it was relentless. Steep, humid and slippy, I used up nearly half my swear words. Eventually we emerged onto a more open ridge by a couple of wood and tarpaulin shelters my guide declared to be "Campsite".

Then it was a stroll along the ridge to the base of what they call The Rockies, a small rock outcrop with views over the lake, and an easy scramble to the top.

Returning to  the Campsite my guide asked if I was going to the summit, I said yes of course and we set off the other way along the ridge.

The way to the summit was like the first part of the hike but far more pleasant thanks to a breeze blowing. The summit itself, I'm sorry to say, was not spectacular. A muddy clearing in the woods, higher than the surrounding ground but without any views to speak of.
After that I was led onto the traverse and it got interesting.
For an hour and a half we descended ridiculously steep and muddy trails through the trees, slipping and sliding down. Well I slipped, the guide strolled casually down 45 degrees of wet mud with sandals on his feet and his handsin his pockets. In places the only option was to go hand over hand on a rope tied to trees and use it to lower myself down.
Eventually we reached the end eof the traverse at a grotto - a small statue of the virgin Mary in a little stone shelter. From there it was mostly steps down to the road.
I was about to apologise for being so slow when I looked at my watch. The 'six hour' hike had taken three and a half.

Taal heritage town

I spent today exploring the town. Several old houses are open to the public, mainly ones owned by people involved in the rebellion against Spanish rule in the late 19th century. There was a lot to take in but a few bits stuck. Mainly that the town was once where the lake is now but was moved about 300 years ago when the volcano erupted.  Also at least some of the moving may have been quite literal as apparently wooden houses were picked up by gangs of men and carried to a new location.
I also found out that it is nearly impossible to look at a Philippines museum without a guide, and that they really can't cope with the idea of a single person travelling. Judging by the museum guestbooks Philippinos who visit Taal never come in groups of less than eight and every conversation today at some point included "How many are you?"

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tagaytay to Taal

Today was another test of endurance as I made my way from Tagaytay on the north side of Lake Taal to Taal on the south. The two towns are under 30 miles apart and linked by a lakeside road but despite that it is impossible to get between them directly by public transport.
Instead I had to get a bus to a town called Balayan, which as far as I could tell contained nothing but tyre shops. Then a tricycle across town to where the bus for Taal left from,  then another tricycle to where it actually left from. Finally a few hours in a cramped minibus. I amused myself by working out when Philippino drivers use the horn. Very roughly - If they see someone they know,  if they see someone they don't know,  if overtaking or being overtaken, if there is a junction or bend in the road, or if 60 seconds have passed and they haven't used it for any other reason.
On arrival Taal instantly joined Port Barton as one of my favourite places in the Philippines. The town is mostly old Spanish buildings or copies of them rather than the usual mix of concrete monstrosity, American mall and bamboo shack that is more typical. The Spanish influence goes further with a central square giving the town an actual structure. Something I hadn't even realised was missing in the other places I've been. Even the streets are called calles.
Other positives are the climate is mild again, numerous short flights of steps make much of the town effectively pedestrianised, and the fact I'm staying in a place done up like a stately home.
Even the street food is better. I've been disappointed that so many roadside stalls had ready cooked offerings sat congealing in the sun but here they seem to cook everything fresh. I had a beautiful vegetable spring roll and some small fluffy pancakes for a late lunch and went to look at the largest Catholic Church in Asia.
The cathedral was decorated for a wedding, which I assumed must have been earlier in the day due to the number of people wandering in and out with cameras so I went in.
There was a priest at the front muttering away, which I assumed was some sort of prayer of the hour. Until he switched to English for one phrase "You may kiss the bride". I'd walked into someone's wedding!  I left before anyone asked any questions. 

Friday, 10 February 2017

Around Tagaytay

Today was for exploring local sites and sorting things out. First I went to find a laundry, which turned me away because they had no price for less than 3kg of washing. From there I took another 'safety' tricycle to the People's Park in the Sky viewpoint. I rather liked the fact that this one had fixed prices on a laminated sheet so there was no need to haggle.
The park turned out not to be much of a park just a hilltop with a short steep road leading up to the structure at the top. The road was closed to traffic except a couple of jeepneys carrying school children but oddly despite being basically pedestrianised also had the first pavements I've seen in the Philippines.
At the top was what I can only call a structure. A large concrete thing that might have been a building without walls or a multi storey carpark. It had clearly been abandoned for some time and then recolonised by several small stalls selling t-shirts and baseball caps. The views though were spectacular, with the sea, two large lakes and a few mountains visible as well as the edge of Manila.
I got back to town on a jeepney,  which is like a cross between a bus and a jeep. It wasn't fast, at one point we were overtaken by a small terrier, but it was cheap and I enjoyed seeing the outskirts of Tagaytay as the locals do without anyone trying to sell me anything.
It stopped in the centre, where I found the second ever pavement, and a laundry that would take my small bag. Other than that the town seemed to be mainly fast food joints, both McDonald's and KFC and several Philippino imitations. Eventually I found a small stall selling fried rice, which was more to my taste especially as they cooked it in front of me rather than producing it from an unseen kitchen.
Overall though there is not a huge amount to see here so I returned to the hostel to relax and continue enjoying the milder hill climate that actually means I can sit outside without being drenched in sweat. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Volcano island

Today three of us from the hostel went to volcano island, which is a  volcanic island in the middle of lake Taal.
The first surprise was what the driver described as a safety tricycle. Instead of the usual motorbike with a sidecar the layout was like a Thai tuk tuk and the colour scheme was New York yellow taxi.
It took us down a steep winding road to a small office where they tried to sell tour packages but we held out for just the boat fee.
The island itself proved bigger than I expected with a village on the shore and a lot of horses. The walk up only took about 35 minutes but was hot, dusty and for much of the way viewless as the horses had turned up the path into a deep trench.
The view from the top of the path was worth it though with the crater below containing a smaller lake and then an island in an island in the middle of that.
On the way down the clouds actually appeared so it was slightly less roasting. Then it was just a matter of explaining to the boatman that we had paid return and no we wouldn't pay again, or give him cash as a 'souvenir'.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Moving on

Flying from Puerto Princessa proved a confusing experience. First you have bags inspected by a guard at the front door, then you take all your bags to a scanner. Next go back out past the scanner to check in and finally go back to the scanner again, this time only with hand luggage.
Once inside I was grateful there were only four boarding gates as the only information was on the printed signs next to them. There were tvs all over but showing what seemed to be adverts with the sound off, or at least random shots of people followed by a logo. With all this I didn't realise my flight was delayed until after it was meant to have left.
This time the hostel pickup in Manila worked so I avoided dealing with taxi drivers or the worst of the city and spent the evening in the gated village, which turned out to have a restaurant just round the corner. I went for a dorm room for the first time this trip but the other two occupants were permanently asleep so it was quiet enough.
Today I moved on to Tagaytay and after being mobbed by tricycle drivers found my way to Mountain Breeze hostel.
The city sits on a hill overlooking a lake and there is a cooling breeze. I think I'm going to like it here. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

The last of Palawan

In the end I did have to go out as nothing nearby was open for food. I ended up at a place called the bay walk,  which completely changed my perception of Puerto Princessa.
With a view across the harbour families wandered up and down two rows of outside cafés. It all felt welcoming and peaceful.
Then I got to sleep in an aircon room, I'd forgotten how nice it is to actually have a bedroom cool enough to lie under a sheet without drowning in sweat.
Today I did the underground river tour.  Apparently it's the longest cave river known that can actually take boats. To get there, first get to the launch point, wait for someone to explain what's take happening and finally take a boat across the bay. Then walk through the jungle, watch out for monkeys, to the river.  Wait some more for another boat, which will do a 45 minute circuit in the cave. The actual experience inside is carefully controlled, right down to the audio guide with headphones so the noise doesn't disturb the bats.
On the way back we stopped for photos by a limestone cliff towering over rice fields.
As it's a week day now the restaurants in this mall are open so I'm enjoying going for dinner without having to go anywhere. 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The first set back

I was planning to go to Sabang for the underground river. As there was no direct route I was advised to book a minibus going to Puerto Princessa and get out when it stopped at the Salvacion terminal. It didn't stop or go near anywhere that looked like a terminal until reaching Puerto.
The bus station at Puerto Princessa was dusty, hot and above all a long way from anywhere. I got a tricycle and tried in vain to explain to the driver that I wanted to go to the city centre, where there were lots of hotels. He asked repeatedly for the address of City Centre Hotel. Eventually I got through that I didn't have a booking anywhere and he took to pointing at the widely separated hotels we passed. Eventually I gave up and settled on one by a quiet shopping arcade. I still have no idea what the centre is like or even if there is one rather than long roads lined with warehouses and what look like diy stores.
In fairness I seem to have fallen on my feet since they book underground river tours here and I got a large aircon room for the same I paid for a smaller fan room in El Nido. The bungalow in Port Barton was cooled by neither as the electricity goes off at midnight but instead had a sea breeze that was more than adequate.
The experience has left me a bit drained and I don't plan to do anything more today. 

Port Barton

 The journey alone is an adventure. You have to take a minibus, which drives round El Nido, apparently at random picking up people until it is full. Then it's off along the main highway, before turning onto a mud track that leads through the jungle. There are a few concrete sections along there but just enough to remind you what they look like and most still under construction.
I instantly liked Port Barton more than El Nido  (sorry holly) from the moment instead of getting off the bus into a crowd of touts we were delivered to a local official who gave everyone a free map of the town. Not that it is a town as there only seem to be three streets.
In El Nido the streets are packed with tourists, motorbikes, tricycles and booking offices. In Port Barton they are dirt tracks and dogs sleep in the middle of them.
The first place I tried was full and on first asking so was the second so I asked where might have space. The woman looked me up and down "You are one?" "Yes" "Ah wait" I sat down,  after a couple of minutes a man came out and offered me a beer. Ten minutes later he was back again "The room is clean now" so in about 15 minutes the situation went from no space to a bungalow room in a garden.
The boat tour the next day was another highlight. No guide with a prepared spiel "Hello mamsirs..." just the captain and a small boat. We visited two reefs, a beach, mangroves and an area with turtles. I just managed to see one swimming rapidly away.
The final stop was an island /sandbar about the size of a double bed above water with lots of large starfish in the water around.
Back on shore everyone getting off the boat was greeted by a group of tourists sat at a beach bar and offered a shot of their coconut rum. The food in Port Barton is also excellent, at least at Gacayan, where they do quality fresh Philippino dishes.  I could have stayed a good few more days but had to move on.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

More El Nido

After the boat tours I decided to spend a few days on land. First I did what was advertised as a via ferrata and turned out to be a metal staircase with a hanging bridge in the middle. Great views from the top though. Tuesday afternoon, I then walked along the beach for an hour or so out of town until the hotels gave way to forest and there were no people about.
Yesterday was yet more exploring on land. I was up by 6 for Taraw cliff, which was probably my favourite activity. I didn't know what to expect as descriptions ranged from 'hike' to 'serious rock climbing' but it turned out to be a very nice scramble up the hill to a view from some pointy rocks and back down the same way,  including being roped for a short section of down climbing.
Sweating my way up in the heat knocked me out for a couple of hours but in the afternoon I joined Holly who had directions to some 'really good rainforest'. We never got as far as the deep forest but did find a little village away from the road and a viewpoint and shelter that she described as a 'prayer mountain'. Then we went to see her boat  at the non tourist end of town before I finally got to try a Philippines dish that wasn't meat and rice - a pork stew called silagong (?).
Today I hope to visit some waterfalls and then tomorrow I finally move on.

Overall impressions of El Nido. Lots of tourists and lots of rather disorganised tours. Stunningly beautiful but they really need to do something about the smell from the drains. It's hard to remember what it was like not to have sand in everything and hot weather, even when it rains.

Monday, 30 January 2017

At the beach

It seems strange to think I've been here less than a week, as I'm getting so used to it.

The best thing has definitely been the zipline over the sea but I also did several tours of the nearby islands and lagoon.
Tour C involved snorkelingand two hidden beaches. One in a narrow inlet and one I actually had to swim through a small cave to get to. On the way out from that I found out just how strong the currents are and had to be dragged back on course.
After a day on land when I did the zipline I went out on tour A where we got to kayak in two lagoons and camp overnight on a beach. Then in the morning, tour B including beaches, caves and a viewpoint on top of an island that was maybe 50m up.

Doing two tours with a night camping on the beach was great fun, though I very quickly missed being able to wash in water that wasn't salty.

The weather is far more overcast than you'd expect for a tropical beach resort and I was actually cold in the rain yesterday. I don't mind that at all as it's helping me adjust to the heat.

Friday, 27 January 2017

To Palawan

Internet is a bit slow here so updates may be sporadic but here goes.
Wednesday I flew from Manila to Puerto Princessa on Palawan. We boarded the plane early in order to have more time on board when take off was delayed and flew away from the city to a genuine tropical island. 
Landing it was instantly clear this is a much less rushed place and so it turned out. I got a minibus who started by driving round Puerto to find more passengers then stopped for petrol before starting the long haul north, with an hour break so the driver could have dinner. 

Arrived in El Nido in the dark and met up with my old workmate Holly.
On Thursday, Holly showed me a beach along the coast with even better views,  especially of the sunset. Then today I did a boat tour, including a beach you can only get to through a cave.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017


The first thing to say is that Manila is not a city, it's several cities jammed together. So far I've made out four distinct types.
The first is the private subdivisions, like the one my hostel is in. These have guarded security gates, new range rovers with tinted windows and big houses. Next comes what I think of as the in between, which is basically a giant gridlock scattered with buildings made of breeze blocks.
The most interesting part is definitely Intramuros, the old walled area with Spanish architecture and museums. Which is where I spent most of the day. The fourth type of city I saw only from a distance but unlike the others it has skyscrapers. 

Getting in and out of Intramuros is an endurance challenge due to the gridlock and the fact no one knows where anywhere is resulting in taxis and buses doing U turns across the traffic, which really helps the traffic. 
I first looked at the cathedral, which seemed disappointingly modern. This turned out to be true since it is the 7th on the site and was only built in the 1950s. After that I decided the best way to see the sites and minimise hassle was to pick one guide to protect me from the others. So I got a three and a half hour tour in a kind of bicycle sidecar. This included the Augustinian monastery, which was much more what you expect from an old Catholic Church, Casa Manila - a replica of a 19th century house, and several parts of the old fortifications. 
Afterwards I ate at a road side café and chose the first thing on the menu. This turned out to be a pork bone with some meat and a lot of skin left on it, but it was authentic.
Next came the challenge of getting back. I started the journey in a motorcycle version of the sidecar taxi. Driven by an entire family complete with baby and able weave through the traffic. This would probably have been terrifying if it wasn't for the limited view. After 20 minutes or so they gave up and handed me over to an actual taxi. He of course didn't know the address and spent a couple of hours asking everyone if they recognised the card with it on. I'm back now and don't think I'll risk going anywhere for the evening. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Too much awake

So here's my first attempt at a proper blog post for this trip. It started easily enough with a train and bus, followed by a very comfortable nights sleep in the Ibis Heathrow.
In the morning I was taken to the airport by a Turkish  (?) taxi driver who seemed to keep forgetting he had brakes, usually as he was approaching a bus and had to veer round it at high speed with inches to spare. Check in was mthen made interesting by a computer that couldn't cope with my flight number but then I was on my way. The plane to Singapore was half empty leaving with four seats to lie down on,  though I still didn't seem to actually sleep and spent a lot of time playing with the on board wifi and the tv. Incidentally how can they have a programme like Game of thrones on a plane?  The tvs would be easily visible by a child in the row behind or a couple of seats along. I did check and there wasn't but still surprised they get away with it.
Singapore was cooler than I expected and raining, not that I got wet of course, Changing as ever is like a commercial version of the starship Enterprise. I had to get a shuttle bus and walkway to my gate then find coffee to allow me to function.

By the time I landed I estimate it was 28 hours since I'd actually slept. There was no sign of my pickup so I risked a taxi,  who ripped me off outrageously and stopped about ten times to ask directions.
He also gave me an introduction to what passes for taxi driver banter here. Telling me that President Duerte is a great man, very humble, who only kills bad people. There was a bit of interest Asian racism, which I hadn't expected, when he told me 'bad people' means mostly Chinese.

On arrival they were not pleased and wanted to know why I had not gone to the pick up point they told me about by email. Because  I hadn't even turned my phone on assuming that if it worked at all it would be extortionate! Still on checking via the hostel wifi,  there it was.  Sent of course while the phone was off.

I managed to get a free upgrade to an ensuite room and sleep for a couple of hours.
The location is fine, very close to the airport, not that the taxi driver knew, and in some sort of private estate where you have to pass numerous security guards to get in.
Tomorrow it actually gets interesting.