Mountain Paradise – Destination: Buscalan

We all need a relaxing vacation more often than not, right? I already know the answer to that question, so I’ll propose a country most notable for the crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, and an overload of pork dishes.

The Philippines.

The Philippines offers beauty inside and out, from the aesthetics spanning over 7,000 islands, to the smiling, always helpful (regardless of their situation) men, women and children across the country.

Like most, I decided this time around to try out a place new to me, but definitely not to tourists across the world – Boracay.

Beautiful beaches?

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I’d say yes. But….

Call me crazy if you want, but I got bored of Boracay. The beaches are stunning, but the island reminds me of a Kuta in Bali, Cancun or Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. It is packed with drunk tourists getting rowdy at all times. The island is small, leaving little room to escape the party scene when the day ends.

Maybe I should admit… I didn’t necessarily try to escape it, just couldn’t hang after three days! The thought of living that life for 10 days straight quickly turned my relaxing vacation into a potential shit show. It’s not for me. So I got to thinkin’, thinking about another paradise I have fond memories of. A little known area in the mountains of Northern Luzon, where the rice is native, the pigs are wild and the sounds are natural.

Buscalan.

This remote village is accessible by Jeepney from Bontoc. After roughly 2-3 hours of unnervingly fast driving on the winding roads through gorgeous mountain tops, rice terraces and waterfalls, you’ll have to trek an hour or so up the mountain.

Depending on the time of year, you’ll encounter some landslides…

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These become bonding experiences though, like when the old woman asked me to carry her bags up and over the mound so she could carry her baby worry free. I always end up the jackass.

Throughout the journey the views captivate you. But its extremely refreshing to get outside of the Jeepney and begin the hike. (The drivers know the roads so well, they drive fast. Real fast. So for five plus hours it can get a little exhausting.) It starts with a unsuspecting trail on a flat grade… but quickly goes downhill and then straight up!

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The beginning of the hike up

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Clouded beauty

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I’ve done this before…

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Rice terraces all along the path up

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Their native rice terraces feed the whole village.

Past waterfalls where the old men of the village bathe and the young men cool off from the strong mountain sunshine you traverse. Up and over rice terraces, which grow the “native rice” as they call it in Buscalan, that supply the whole village for the year. Only for personal consumption, none of this deliciousness makes its way out of the mountains.

After hundreds of butt burning stairs, the village shows it’s face. Ahhhhh simplicity. A year ago this village taught me the lesson of want versus need. I hadn’t seen a village quite like this before, living off the land, working together to build a tight knit community, where everyone is your mother, brother, sister and the like.

As advised last year, I brought gin for the men and candy for the children (really the mothers, but I won’t tell their secret). I met my guy AmBoy who along with his family would host me for however long I wanted to stay. The hospitality across the whole of the Philippines is quite amazing, but up here in the mountains it is a real lesson in care. Interested in your stories, in improving their English abilities, and gaining new friends from across the world, these guys and girls are so engaging.

The days are long and slowly paced here. We sit and talk, smoke, go see the legend Apo Whang-Od, and her skills that are holding on by the seemingly invincible thread of her weathered hands. There is much to this village I don’t want to divulge here, because I hold it close to my heart, and do not want to blow it up for all to see. Just know if it is true relaxation you want, a mind clearing moment away from modernity, and a lens into those people and lifestyles forgotten by modern politics and city dwellers, then Buscalan is the place for you. Its a special kind of paradise. It’s my kind of paradise.

I’ll leave you with pictures, and hope to hear your stories from this village in the future, if you choose to make the trek.

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Elephant Mountain

Took a late afternoon stroll up Elephant mountain yesterday with some friends. To get here, take the MRT, or bike, to Xiangshan station at the end of the red line. From there walk through the park and up. Easy to find, as many go here. You’ll be greeted with a temple and stairs going up the mountain. Truth be told it isn’t much of a mountain, more of a short, very steep, stairway to the viewpoint where so many go.

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The beginning

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Stairs on stairs on stairs

You can continue, however, up and up the “Four Beasts,” the name they give the four peaks in the area. Separately they are Elephant, Lion, Tiger, and Leopard. Looking back, I’m not sure we made it to the next peak, Tiger peak, but I can’t be sure seeing as I don’t read Chinese.

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Beautiful orchids

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Do you see it?

We did find a nice trail with ropes to climb up boulders, and ladders bolted into the face of the rocks. All a nice change, and an added sense of adventure, from the monotonous stairway to heaven feel of the mountain trails. We took these up to Juiwufeng Peak, which even on a hazy day in Taipei, provided excellent views just before dusk.

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The view just after the bouldering rope ladder section

From the radio towers

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Radio towers

Beware of gnarly giants spiders during your climb up and down the mountain! They sneak up on you and are surprisingly low to the ground! I was almost devoured by this one…

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Peering down at me.

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Looked up at the last minute

The rest of the hike down is difficult, if only because your legs are heavy and its all stairs of varied width and length. Take your time, keep your knees bent, and give it a go! It’s an easily accessible hike right in Taipei, and an incredible escape from the smog and buzzing of motorbikes. Plus, 80 year olds are doing this at 6 am…so, what’s your excuse? I’ll leave you with the rest of my pictures from the day. Let’s call it 50 Shades of Taipei (101): DCIM107GOPRO DCIM107GOPRO

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Back on the streets, looking up again

GO! GO! LAMIGO!!

If you think baseball is boring, I’m thinking you need to find your way to a Taiwanese ball game.

I love baseball, and have for as long as I can remember. My dad brought the sport into my life at an early age, my first memory was at the since torn down Stick, when the Atlanta Braves came to town to play our Giants. I can’t remember how it ended, because being 5 years old or so, I fell asleep from boredom. BUT, it grew on me over the years. Grass stains and dirt filled raspberries were a major part of my childhood. David sunflower seeds and the smell of a worn down leather glove still get me going.

The point is, I get it. Baseball can be boring to the filthy casual, and that’s why teams in the US go to great lengths to give you attention grabbing options at their ball parks. Walk around AT&T Park in San Francisco and you’ll find a giant slide, carnival like games, bars and pubs, and who knows what else since I left the states.

But tell me, where have you seen flame throwers though?

At the Taoyuan Lamigo Monkeys ball park, that’s where.

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This baseball experience was like none other. Smoke machines and disco ball effects on the field. Cheerleaders getting the old men wild behind the dugouts. Some sort of airplane that rose up behind home plate. Fans never sat down, constantly sang songs and chanted loudly in Chinese, so what they were saying was beyond me, but of course I tried my hardest to sound them out and dance like they did! Because this was a title clinching game, there were fireworks to close it out, as well as streamers for us to all throw on the field.

And did I mention the flamethrowers??

This was a full on experience, with not a moment to even think about boredom. The passion is alive and well here in Taiwan for their four team league. The parks aren’t fancy, they don’t cost billions of dollars to build, and if you look around the seats you will not see one person unengaged. That’s success. You’d think it was a European soccer, sorry, futbol, match!

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The Lamigo Monkeys had a hot start in the first, driving in three runs, but couldn’t close out the game. Eventually losing to the Brother Elephants 5-3. As you can see, their names are pretty awesome as well. They were able to clinch because the Rhinos beat the Lions, or visa versa…

The score didn’t matter to us, we weren’t there with any bias. The atmosphere engulfed us however, and like my friend put it – We may become filthy casuals after all.

Linda the cheerleader has me feeling like a filthy casual for sure!

Cheerleaders calling you handsome will help as well

The Taroko Teaser

All right, I’m intrigued.

A work event brought us English teachers down the East coast of Taiwan, the scenic route, through five hours of winding roads to end up in beautiful Hualien County. The coastal drive was littered with black sand beaches, fresh looking waves and beautiful cliff sides. A drive definitely more fit for a scooter than a big bus. Noted for the future.

We spent one morning at Taroko Gorge, which is absolutely beautiful. However, “one morning” is quite the stretch. We spent maybe 2 hours in Taroko Gorge, amongst the other tourists along the main path.

I even did the unspeakable… I … was in a tour group following a flag-wielding leader. Runs to wash my hands after typing that.

 This time around there wasn’t much adventure, just a trip I have deemed the Taroko Teaser. So, for now I will leave you with some pictures I took with my handy dandy GoPro, and the promise that I will be back to really explore and hopefully camp out in the gorgeous Taroko National Park.

Enjoy the crystal blue water, towering marble gorge faces and the trippy river rocks!

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The Battle of Man vs Mosquito


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Forgive me, I’m a little delirious. My body count is somewhere around 40 or 50 now. My ears are ringing, no, buzzing, to the tune of those high pitched table saws hovering around my face. I haven’t slept in almost 24 hours. They wouldnt’ let me.

Its just that time of year again. They come too often in these humid, tropical environments. Skeeter killin’ season hits you first every time, but in my room? I hit last. The skeeters in Borneo know, and now they’re learning in Taipei.

It started two nights ago. I had maybe two solid hours of sleep, but in between nightmares of dentists drilling into my gums and buzz saws next to my ear, I was standing on my bed swatting mosquitos out of mid air. It didn’t feel so at the time, but I had it easy. No obligations the next day made sure I could catch up on time lost sleeping in the afternoon.

But last night. Last night was brutal.

They kept me up until 5 am, and at exactly 5:02 in the morning I killed eight of them. EIGHT, in the span of one minute. I’m not sure if there has been some sort of infiltration and they laid a nest in my room, or what, but they are coming in a dozen at a time.

I try to sleep, covered in my blanket with a hoodie on over my head. Hands tucked into the sleeves, trying not to leave anything exposed but of course, they find a way. I wait til they’re close, and buzzing in my ear until I turn on the light to expose three or four at a time, I swat them out of the air, sometimes snatch them mid flight, and crush them on the ground. Sadly, I was up all night doing this, for they just kept coming and coming and coming…

As I type this I see one, slyly peering at me from the ceiling. If I had the energy I’d get up there and Hulk smash him, but he’s going to live until he comes a little further down, closer to home.

……

I managed to see the sun rise, and realize my day is shot. My students will see before them a coffee fueled zombie who looks like he caught the chicken pox.

I can’t let this happen again. Its time to bring in the reinforcements.

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Even if I’m bound for a future of cancer from this mosquito killing poison, I can at least get my sleep in the present.

New Country? Scared? Me Too, But Don’t Worry

It’s a funny thing, although all too real, how self-made fears manifest while traveling, or moving, to a new country. Funny but its all too real. I say that again, because I take myself as someone who is socially adept if you will. I find myself not bothered with a new location, new people, or new experiences. I’m a go with the flow type of guy. But, I just moved from the sleepiest city on the outskirts of the wildest jungle in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, to a real life city in Taipei.

And I feel lost.

I’m surrounded by tall buildings and fashionably conscious men and women. This is a far cry from my everyday fit of tank tops and flip flops.

Granted, it’s been less than a week. I know there is plenty of time to fall into my groove, to truly explore all that Taiwan has to offer. I’ll be hitting the mountain biking scene, live music scene, and more in no time. Shit, I don’t even have a place to live yet. I can’t worry too much.

So in the midst of my self made worrisome garbage, I decided to go out to the bars by myself. Usually I won’t do this, I find it awkward, especially when I go talk to someone and have to respond, “Oh yeah, no I’m just here by myself!” Over the loud music. So fun.

I sat at a table for two, solo, for a few drinks, luckily, during the earlier hours of Saturday night in Taipei (basically 9pm) and watched rugby. The place starts to fill up as the time passes. Two beers in and its full, and I’m the asshole drinking alone at a table for two while I am MAKING CONSTANT EYE CONTACT with a couple five feet away, waiting for a place to sit.

I decided to break out of this funk I put myself into and offer my seat to this couple. I couldn’t stand sitting there any longer and watching them look and look and look for a spot to open.

They were a little shocked, sure, but not hesitant to take the table. And for me, it was the best decision I made all night.

Maybe ten minutes passed before they came up, feeling bad themselves (which I didn’t understand) for taking my table and asked to buy me my next one. I told them it really wasn’t a problem, but they insisted and I ended up joining them for more than a few rounds.

We laughed, got to know each other, and drank. I felt normal again. That feeling of being lost was vacated, replaced by my normal state of mind. Holy shit I was social again!

So, I’ve clearly let the Jack Daniels and Carlsberg flow tonight, but I swear there’s a moral to this story. Whenever you find yourself in a big bad world of new, don’t worry. Most of the time these fears you fill your head with are nothing more than just that, filler. That filler is easily replaced, just find it in yourself to get up and break out of that funk. Before you know it that overwhelming feeling of being in a new city, town or country will be replaced with the want to explore more, to look for the opportunities instead of the self made roadblocks.

Get up off that thang, and dance til you feel better!

Ok, that was the shots singing James Brown, but I hope you get the picture.

Aint No Party Like A Tarsier Party

Do you know what a Tarsier is?

No??

Maybe you’ve seen this.

You should really see this photo, and the rest of Charles Ryan’s photography on Instagram Then, check this out, two nights ago this happened: tarsier I snuck around in the jungle, quietly tip toeing around dead leaves and leeches, trying to get side by side with this little fella and take a pic. As you can see I was pretty damn happy about this.  You can also see that this little guy is way more keen than I expected, and saw me from a mile away.

Once he spotted me, he took a leap from that tree like a frog, springing himself directly over my head! I thought for sure he was after my face. He hopped away into the darkness, never to be seen again.

Lucky for us, this was a fruitful night hike. Five (!!!) tarsiers in two hours! That’s easily a personal best.

It took me a while, and many hours of night hikes to be able to spot one on my own. Like all animals, tarsiers give off eye shine, in their case its this reddish orange glow. Unlike most animals, once they get the light in their eyes they wisely turn their heads away. Most animals, I’m looking at you Mouse Deer, just stare at you, dumbfounded, blinded by the light. Tarsier Aren’t these tarsiers a trip? Adorable as they are to us, many locals won’t get close or hunt them because of their “worldly features.” They live in different worlds, with the head of an owl, tail of a rat, claws on their hands and the legs of a frog. I see cute tree hugger that joyfully hops from tree to tree. Others see demon. Fine with me, for that I can see FIVE IN TWO HOURS.

Going on a night hike in the Borneo Rainforest is one of the coolest activities in this world. You could see absolutely nothing, and you will still have the experience of a lifetime. The jungle never sleeps. Lizards, frogs, and who knows what else are constantly making noises to keep your mind on full alert.

But most of the time, through that little beam of light on your head, you will see something. The jungle is flush with wildlife. Civets, mouse deer, countless reptiles and amphibians, the list goes on and on.

Every once in a while you will have one of those spectacular nights, where you crash a tarsier party.

And there aint no party like a tarsier party, when a tarsier party don’t stop.

Photos taken by Atteh, my jungle trekking partner in crime this last week and guide for Sticky Rice Travel

My Arch Nemesis, the Pig Tailed Macaque

On the eve of my last jungle excursion in the Borneo rainforest, at least for the foreseeable future, I feel like I should tell the story of my arch nemesis.

Danum Valley Field Center is a two hour drive through wide dirt roads and lush rainforest from the nearest city of Lahad Datu. The field center sits on the outer parts of the 409 square kilometer pristine rainforest of Danum Valley. I remember my first time heading in, I gave myself a sore neck from cranking my head upwards like a first timer in New York, instead of skyscrapers I was zoning out on Mengaris trees. All 200 feet of those giant white trunks shooting into the blue. My eyes were glued to the window for the whole two hours, because I was told of the good chance to see Pygmy Elephants on the way. It took more than a few times to finally spot one, but it was amazing nonetheless.

There was one particular guy I spotted crossing the dirt road one of these first days driving in. A stalky, grey Pig Tailed Macaque and his troupe of female monkeys. As I watched it avoid the van and jump into the brush I could see a glaring set of eyes staring deep into my soul.

Oooohh look at that Mengaris tree!

I forgot all about it. Until one early morning, when I was trying to eat some breakfast before a long day of trekking… Those eyes met mine once again.

It’s about six in the morning and I’m casually strolling to the eating area, about five minutes from the hostel beds, wiping the cold out my eye, trying to wake up. When all of the sudden I hear some wrestling in the bushes, which is very common with all the wildlife in the area, so I take a second to look around. Nothing. I take just a few steps more and BAM! this large male pig tailed macaque jumps out of the bushes about 20 feet in front of me.

I stop in my tracks, thinking “OK just let him pass, he probably wants nothing of this anyways.”

He stares me down, rapidly lifting his eyebrows like he was a long lost brother from Night at the Roxbury. Any other situation one may feel flattered about that, but those weren’t eyebrows of seduction, those were killin’ brows. Next he begins showing off his pearly whites, another terrifying situation.

I can’t turn around, that would be suicide. He would jump me the second I wasn’t looking… And I was kind of hesitant to continue forward, because you know, fangs and stuff.

Instead I stood my ground and picked up a sizable rock. Making sure I wasn’t making eye contact I started to take steps forward to my delicious breakfast of chicken heart nuggets.

I see the monkey also takes a few steps, and bursts into a sprint towards me! I stand still with my rock raised as he closes in and jumps at me, landing about 10 feet away. Once he lands I chuck that rock right at his feet. — Because this is a conservation area, even if it’s self defense I would get arrested for harming a wild animal.

The rock made him retreat to about where he started, so I move closer. He turns right around and runs straight at me again, and again another rock whizzes by his head.

This back and forth happens for 30 damn minutes, and I only gained about five feet. I decided I wasn’t all that hungry anymore, and my life was more important than those chicken heart nuggets that morning. I slowly backed away to the chatter of female monkeys in the bushes and went back to bed.


My next deadly encounter would happen a month later, this time IN the jungle, his domain, where the trails are narrow and the jungle thick.

I was trekking with clients to Tembaling Falls, this beautiful waterfall with a nice natural swimming hole at the base. The trek there is about 3km, and we were halfway when we hear a noise coming from the bushes. “ooOOO oooOOO.”

My clients behind me spot him, 10 feet off the trail at most, with his clan of female followers perched in the surrounding trees, staring angrily.

Now, Im no GQ model while I’m in the jungle. I stink. I’m rather hairy in general, in Malay they’d say “Kamu ada banyak bulu.” My untrimmed beard grows and grows by the day, and I have the shoulder set and long arms to have my friends call me a gorilla in high school. So its no wonder this male pig tailed macaque gets all defensive when he smells me coming, he thinks I’m a monkey and he’s worried about his females groupies leaving him!

I wish I could tell him to quit worrying, they’re all his. Unfortunately I get nothing but flinching eyebrows and fangs flashing my direction.

However this time was a little more worrisome, as my clients wanted badly to sit there and photograph as he advanced, I had to make sure they understood how not to get eaten alive. We start walking backwards as he emerges from the trees, he’s bobbing his head up and down, another tactic to get me to back the F up.

Clients behind me, we get to a section that’s a little more exposed and higher up. As the pig tailed macaque hangs back 40 feet or so, bobbing his head and flashing his teeth, I pick up a giant branch that had fallen from a tree.

My aim in this was to smack that branch so hard against the giant dipterocarp tree, it would terrify him, make him bow down and accept me as his master, and I’d be on my way.

Unfortunately, everything on the jungle floor is deteriorating. When I went for this manly gesture of making a thunderous noise to make any monkey weep, I came out with a crumbled tree branch all over the ground, and a rotting nub in my hand.

Shiiiiiiit. He’s going to kill me.

Instead of hanging around and letting him close in on us, I pretend like that was supposed to happen and we keep moving. Luckily to have never seen him on that hike again.


These are two of the three encounters I’ve had with this same pig tailed macaque and his lovers. I keep thinking the next time I see him, its either him or me, and like the movie, there will be blood.

Well that next opportunity happens to be tomorrow, and the following week while I spend my last week in Borneo trekking around my favorite place, Danum Valley. Who knows if I’ll see my arch nemesis again, but I know I kind of hope I do.

It would really be some full circle shit if we ended up meeting on a trek, and who knows, maybe even making up over some durian and rambutan.

But man, it’s come to this? I never thought my arch nemesis would be a pig tailed macaque.

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That One Time China Denied Me

Damn you, faulty information online! Damn you!!

I choose to blame that information from the website belonging to the Chinese Embassy, on why I was denied access to China via Shenzhen. I had read there, that I could attain a Visa on Arrival, as long as I went overland.

So I spent my first three days enjoying Hong Kong and all the tourist attractions it had to offer. I wanted to make sure I checked everything off before I stepped foot into China, where I had these elaborate plans to train it to Xiamen, take a nine hour bus ride to hike Mt. Wuyi, and on my way back stay in some 12th century earth houses.

Hike to Victoria’s Peak, check. Ride the Star Ferry, check. Hike Dragon’s Back Trail, check. Check out Wan Chai, Walk of Stars, and the Occupy Central, did that. Stuff my face as if I was a chipmunk preparing for winter with dim sum? Maybe like 5 checks there.

Perfect, Im off to China, ready to leave behind the English language and really explore a small fraction of that mammoth country!

I hop on the MTR to the last station, Lok Ma Chau, exchanged all my Hong Kong dollars to Chinese Yen, and proceed to get into Shenzhen… I’m not too sure where to go so I ask a nice girl working at the station.

Wrong stop. Dag Nabbit.

Im supposed to go to Lo Wu. Off to a great start, I take the train back one stop then connect onto the right path. After all that I find myself standing in a very long customs line, not exactly sure when I will buy my Visa on Arrival. Is it the first customs checkpoint? Apparently not. I cruise through that with no hassles, and onto the next customs check, which holds a similarly long queue. The line dwindles down, and as I approach the man behind the counter, I realize I have already made it into Mainland China. Seems funny, but I had crossed the imaginary line dividing Hong Kong and Shenzhen inside the train station, without  a visa on hand. But because we live in the modern, divisive world, I still had to approach the man behind the customs counter to officially “enter.”

“Sir, where is your visa?”

“Yeah I know, where can I buy my visa?”

After getting so close, I was turned back to go upstairs and purchase my visa on arrival. I walk upstairs, to find a relatively empty room, which looks great! No wait time. Before I can even get my passport fully out of my pocket, the guy behind the glass tells me I cannot get a visa here.

“Wait wait wait, the other guy said come here.”

“Citizens of the United States are not allowed to purchase a visa on arrival here, you must go back to Hong Kong and the office in Wan Chai, where the processing time is four days.”

Well, isn’t that something. Apparently we are one of a handful of countries that are not allowed to do this. At this point I only had six days left, so I decided to bypass the visa process. Getting back into Hong Kong took a little longer, as I had to pass through each customs stop, then get held up while they process my passport to make sure I’m not endangering the country. Then check my bags to make sure Im not smuggling anything BACK into Hong Kong.

All in all, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. I can’t complain though, I had a blast in Hong Kong, it truly is one of the most lively, beautiful cities in the world. As it was, checking off the touristy stuff beforehand left me with my finals days to explore like a local, which is how I always want to explore.

I’ll accept this rejection from China as a future invite to come in and explore. Can’t keep me out forever!

Exploring Hong Kong

Eleven days here. Some might say that is way too many. In many ways I’m of the same sentiment, however I have enjoyed this city so much, and the locals who have shared it with me.

Hong Kong is so electric, in the literal and the figurative. Neon signs flash just above head level while the streets are swarmed with locals and tourists – all with their face attached to their smartphone.

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The countless markets with no room for those unequipped to bargain, regardless of the language being spoken, will send you into a feel for old China. Actually, it was here I learned the term “lah” is not from Malaysia, but China! Ok lah. For such an expensive city, you really don’t have to look far for a deal on knock off gear. The Ladies Market, Goldfish Market, and Stanley Market are just a few of the better known markets within this city, with countless others to peruse.

I’ll admit though, I’m not a big city person. I’m more keen on spending my time in the forest, on the beach or in the jungle. Not so much the concrete jungles of the world. This is one reason, as a tourist, eleven days may have worn on me a bit. Through my first experience with Couchsurfing I learned from my awesome host that Hong Kong is only 26% urban, which was music to my ears. Luckily Hong Kong is so efficient and impossible to get lost in, so making it outside of the city was a piece of cake. I found myself at the end of the MTR line, looking for a cemetery to hike through so I could get to the trail head. But… I got kind of lost. In this efficient, impossible to get lost in city. The further outside of main Hong Kong city you go, the less English you hear. So out came the hand signals and big smiles! After a few semi productive interactions with random locals, I found my mark. Up 400 stairs or so, through tombstones, I made it to the Dragons Back trail head which I took down to Big Wave Bay. Shirt off, beer open, a nap ensued. Peace and regeneration at last.

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Within the city you can hike up to Victoria’s Peak, and take the scenic loop around, enjoying the classic, stunning views of Hong Kong. Just don’t get lost like I did, and end up on some other peak where apartment complexes sit, fenced in by barbed wire. Good thing my hand signals are on point, and I was able to get back on track here too.

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During my first few days here, I decided to check out Occupy central. The Umbrella Movement is real. It is inspiring to walk on the main highway thats been shut down as if it were the apocalypse, littered with tents, medical stations, makeshift restaurants, and libraries. They have turned this highway into their own community. The contrast between the towering sky rises, worth billions, standing tall above the young men and women fighting for the CHANCE to vote on their future, is powerful. I know the government ordered the shut down of this center a few days before I left. I hope they continue to fight against a system designed to keep them on the outside looking in. I think the world can learn from the situation here. Peacefully making moves against corruption, one umbrella at a time.

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“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be BETTER”

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I’ve gone this whole time and I haven’t even mentioned THE FOOD! As a recent lover of dim sum, I can say the best in the world sits right here in Hong Kong. I’m positive there are wonderful 5 star restaurants here, but that’s not my style. I look for the hole in the wall. The place where I get all sorts of strange looks when I walk through the door. I want to be the only foreigner in there. I’ve devoured shrimp, pork, shanghai, and veggie dumplings like a garbage disposal. Pork buns free flowing through my body at all times. Spicy beef brisket noodle soups for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Unashamed as I slurp away, blow my nose and wipe the sweat off my brow. I truly love the food here. In fact, writing this has me starving again, even though I just inhaled enough dim sum for three. 5-2 odds I stop for a spicy soup dish on my way to the bus stop.

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You know what? I’ve changed my mind. Eleven days was not too much time to spend in Hong Kong, it was just right. Hong Kong has been good to me, the people have shown me incredible hospitality and the hidden gems this international hub has to offer, whether its losing money betting on Horses at Happy Valley, hitting the countless hikes, or just wandering the streets on the prowl for good food and cheap suits.

I’m going to cruise the waterfront one last time before I head to the airport, and may or may not get some grub on the way. (I think you know where to put your money)

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P.S. look what I was going to write initially:

For all its efficiency, Hong Kong sure is exhausting. Granted, I am coming from Sabah, where the winter clothes consist of tank tops and flip flops, and the hustle and bustle of the city is confined to the two major shopping malls. Hong Kong is another animal all together. A dim sum filled, handrail grabbing animal with its eyes glued to its smartphone.

Oh how time changes all.

The Terribly Gorgeous Trek

What the f— is glamping??

I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I do know is the real deal meat of camping lies in between the sandwich loafs of discomfort and natural wonder.

This last weekend, for my birthday, I definitely ate that sandwich. It was terrible, and amazing all at the same time. I think you know the feeling. I had the fortunate opportunity to make a guest appearance guiding for Sticky Rice Travel, as we took some clients on a two day, one night, 12 km trek through the Crocker Range, ending at Mahua waterfall.

We started early Saturday morning, driving up to the range, wiping the cold out of our eyes. When we arrived there was a cool breeze to combat the deep heat Borneo always pelts you with. The forest up here is stunning, we traverse through ultramafic forest type, with pitcher plants, mossy gardens and orchids all around, through bamboo skyscrapers tunneling overhead, and down through your typical lower montane Borneo rainforest.

Alright, so we began our trek around 9am, myself with the whole campsite on my back. I’m about 180 lbs, and I think I know now what it would be like to trek if I was Lebron James. (He’s about 280 lbs? Right?) We took three hours to get to our first stop, a makeshift hut at the 3km mark where we could stop and eat. I pulled out the rice and sardines from my pack and we cooked up. Crocker_Range_BorneoCrocker_range_malaysia gunung_alab_crocker_rangeDCIM106GOPRO It being only 1 in the afternoon when we finished, the decision was made to keep trekking, and campout at the 6km mark. Even with the time taking roughly one hour per kilometer, it seemed silly to stay there the remainder of the day and night, when there was another shelter three hours away.

Oh, wait… there wasn’t?

Damnit, not exactly what you want to hear from the ranger after you’ve already put in an hour of that three hour trek to the “campsite.” I only say this though, because rain was a guarantee. Up that high on the range, we were pretty lucky we hadn’t been hit with it yet, but I knew without a structure to string the hammocks under, it was going to be a wet night. Regardless, we moved on.

Through bamboo tunnels we cruised, keeping our heads to the sky, on the lookout for giant pitcher plants hanging from the trees above. Every once in a while a window to the outside would poke itself through the forest enclosure, letting us know how beautiful of a day it was just beyond the moss covered towers overhead.

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Three hours later, we arrived. And he wasn’t kidding. They were in the process of building a camp, which meant there were some wooden stakes stacked around a semi-cleared area of jungle. While I set up the hammocks for everyone, Azriel (my coworker) started the coffee and tea and prep for dinner. Our camp turned out alright, the trees were kind enough to be spaced just perfectly so our clients could sleep side by side. I threw up a couple tarps up for them, hoping it would be enough if the rain came hard and heavy in the middle of the night. My hammock was strung up on trees spaced a little ways away, which meant I would dip down leaving the tarp cover too many inches above me. Sideways rain would get in no problem.

The wood was too wet for a consistent campfire, leaving us with a bottle of petrol to spray on the dying embers every few minutes.

Rough.

Lets go for a night walk instead. Cruising with our torches we set out into the mist. Fog had come in heavy on the ridge at this point, winds swirling all around us, reminded me of a cool San Francisco night. Unfortunately mammal life isn’t crazy up here, but amphibians, including the endemic Bornean Horned Frog were rampant. So many frogs are unseen and well heard, but if you look hard enough you will find these lazy guys everywhere. Their defense mechanism is to literally stand still and say “Please don’t see me, please don’t see me.” Luckily we weren’t in the mood for frog porridge!

Thunder cracked in the distance, and not knowing which way the wind was blowing from, we made the call to turn back. We had gone a full day with no rain; we were due to get hit hard, and wouldn’t you know it, not more than 3 minutes after arriving at camp the rain hit! The clients changed clothes, hopped in their sleeping bags and were out. I had a fleece blanket, jeans, one pair of socks, and three long sleeved shirts on, with my rain jacket as well.

Lets just say I did not sleep well. Easily the coldest night I’ve had here in Borneo, I’ll generously put it at 3 hours of sleep. Rain dumped on us all night, never relenting. Thankfully I had my rain jacket on with the hood up, so I stayed relatively dry. I think my shivering kept the water off me as well…. like a dog getting out of a pool.

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Wet. Sleepless. Time to Trek.

Alright I’ve described enough of the “terrible,” lets move to the natural wonder. As my toes wiggled to regain blood flow and warmth, I look out to see steam rising with such abundance you’d think the forest was on fire. The rising sun split the trees with its rays, illuminating the freshly wet greenery around us. Azriel cooked breakfast in a godly manner with his one leg up, sunrays shining bright behind him… it was pretty magical. Crocker_range_campingCrcoker_range_camping_cooking sunlight_crocker_range_sabah_borneo_malaysiajungle_crocker_range_sabah_borneo There wasn’t much of a sleep to wake up from, but this morning was absolutely gorgeous. All of us just stood around in silence, soaking in the sun, the scenery and holding our coffee close with two hands. The only noises were the birds waking up and the droplets falling from the trees above. After a morning meal and lots and lots of coffee, we packed up our bags and continued on for the 6 kilometers we had left. Eventually we arrived at the Mahua waterfall, feeling exhausted and a little jealous of the families who drove there to barbeque. crocker_range_peak_hikecrocker_range_hike_borneo crocker_range_hike_borneo_junglemahua_waterfall_crocker_range_gunung_alab In retrospect, the minor discomforts weren’t all that terrible once we witnessed that glorious morning. That’s the beauty of camping. Being out there in the jungle, with the “back to the roots” feeling, will wipe away all those aches and pains, the shivers and bruises, and will fill you up with pride and excitement, a sense of accomplishment, and a much needed waterfall shower.

Growth in Numbers

One of the most exciting moments of travel can be when you meet that person or persons who open up your world. These people from all over the world test your boundaries, open your thoughts up and show you a world you may have been shielded from back home. Creating friendships that no man made border can contain will be stimulating, in however way you want to take that, but can also be tough.

Saying goodbye is never easy. Granted, not everyone you meet at the hostel, or beach or wherever, are people you care for and want to stay in touch with. But there are always a few, that make your stay abroad, whether a weekend or a year, so much more memorable. Going your separate ways will be difficult, it will hurt and you will miss your new friends from all corners of the globe.

Luckily it is 2014, and keeping in touch with someone world’s away doesn’t require carrier pigeons or snail mail. You don’t have to rely completely on memories, and hope that they won’t fade in time. Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, and various other social networks and apps connect us to each other. We are all accessible with the press of a button.

Although it can be hard, it’s important to remember that these memories wont fade if strong enough. And whenever you need a refreshing interaction with a friend from the other side of the world, you can make it happen. Keep that mind open and those relationships strong. Global perspective comes from seeing the world, but more importantly having meaningful interactions with those you meet along the way.

Keep exploring and keep growing. You’ll come out with more friendships than you know what to do with.

The Love of Green

Before having a favorite color was a conscious decision, green made me feel right. Not just for the pure aesthetic beauty and diversity of the color green, but for what it represents.

Green equals fresh. Not even fresh, green equals refreshed. The shadowed forest green gives way to the young fluorescent. Life renewed.

Growing up surrounded by green and its diversity, from the literal — the rolling green hills leading to the fresh pine covered forests — to the ideals — The “Green” movement embedded in Northern California, you would think I might be unmoved by the sight of it. But my love for green seems less like a choice, and more of a necessity, every day.

Lately I have been less and less in nature, and more in the city due to exciting new ventures, but I have missed the outdoors. Without it life can feel stagnant.

I had the opportunity to go camping with Sticky Rice Travel and clients on the base of Mount Kinabalu this last weekend. Not up on the peak, but down below, in a secret location tucked away in the wet jungle. Frigid waterfalls flow from the top down, leaving us with natural swimming holes and bath tubs to enjoy after days of slipping, sliding, trekking and climbing. This substation lacks mammals to spot, but the reptiles and amphibians thrive in the moist environment. As well as the birds. The ample beautifully colored birds flying overhead and chirping throughout the day will turn anyone into an aspiring amateur birder.

The spectacular feeling stemming from being surrounded by nothing but greens is what I needed. The feeling of being wild again,  enlivened by swimming in waterfalls, crawling through damp rainforest and sleeping under the stars is vital.

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Laying here, in my forest green hammock, wrapped in my pine colored fleece, after a full day of romping through the refreshed rainforest, is validation of my need for green. Life needs to be refreshed often. Life needs the diversity green provides. Life is too stale without some green in it.

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I Still Don’t Surf

“Where are you from?”

“California.”

“DO YOU SURF?”

Every time. Without fail. I used to answer with the excuse that I mountain bike instead. Or I grew up boogie boarding. Or the water is too cold in Northern California. Or that I really want to but just haven’t yet for a collection of other, minor excuses. But lately the answer has been a bold faced lie. “Yeah!”

Well, I’ve been in Bali for the last two weeks, and I thought I better back it up. At least be able to say I caught a few waves in surfer’s paradise. Buuuutttt…… I didn’t. My excuse? reason? Financial limitations, too crowded, too shallow, blah blah blah. I just don’t really have the craving to get out there and stand up on the board. I’d rather drink a few Bintangs, cruise the beach, and relax on the sand, getting my bronze on. That’s not to say I didn’t take time to explore something new. It was exciting for me, to cruise around Uluwatu for the last few days on a scooter. That’s right, my scooter sessions were extremely exciting. I used to be afraid to ride any sort of motor bike, more of a fear of wanting to go too fast. I used to drive a truck like a speed demon, what the hell would I do on a motorcycle? I always convinced myself it would end in some epic crash.

Uluwatu is a gorgeous escape from the awfully hectic Kuta, just 30 minutes or so south of the main city, lies crystal clear waters, monumental cliffs absorbing the crashing waves, and countless beaches to explore along the winding road. To do so, I needed my scooter. First up was Impossible beach. Impossible maybe because it was impossible to find a sandy patch to chill out on? I don’t know. But it was gorgeous as I soaked in the remaining sunlight, watching the tide creep out and expose the soft reef below. Watching the surfers catch the last waves, then literally walk back from the break in ankle deep water, I realized this was one of those ‘too shallow and dangerous to learn on’ beaches.

Impossible Beach sunset

Impossible Beach sunset

Time to travel a little further from home, so I went to Padang Padang beach. This place is LOVED by tourists. The Eat Pray Love crowd flocks because part of the movie was filmed here. They even chill out in the shadiest areas. I can’t imagine they chose to though, the beach is just packed and they didn’t get out of bed early enough. Neither did I, so I wedged myself in between two towels and relaxed (The benefits of not bringing your own towel…fitting in the slivers of the sand). This was the beach to learn surfing, calm waves, sandy bottom… but it was so crowded in the water as well as the beach. Also the most expensive to rent a board, due to the massive amounts of tourists, so I passed. On another note, the Bakso from the guys motorbike food stand was excellent! Best tasting Bakso yet, and it was only 10,000 Rupiah (0.84 USD)!

I decided to scoot around more and more the next day. I upgraded to shirtless and helmet less scooting by now, so the feeling of freedom motivated me to ride til sunset. But really it took about 15 minutes to get to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple, so I thought I’d make a pit stop and check it out. The temple was built in the 11th century along stunning sea cliffs to keep the evil spirits out of Bali. The temple itself was pretty unimpressive. Laced with aggressive macaques, trained to steal your sunglasses and other goodies, you have to be on guard at all times. I had one jump over my head, and swipe at my face for my glasses all in one motion!! For a temple built to ward off evil spirits, it definitely housed a bunch of little devils.

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Devils..err Monkeys

The views, however, are the reason to visit. Watching the crashing waves against the towering cliffs as you stand on the very edge is mesmerizing.

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The actual temple on the point

DCIM106GOPRO After soaking in the views, I decided to scoot even further, with no destination in mind. Winding down the main road, void of traffic, I passed by local Warungs, honked as I overtook cars, and smiled as I felt the wind blow through my hair. Then I found myself on a busy, much larger, straight road. No feeling of freedom here, so I took the next turn towards the ocean. Blindly, I wove my way through local neighborhoods, passed tempting street food, and took a random pattern of lefts and rights. I didn’t realize it until I got there, but I found Karma Beach, a private beach with an entrance fee of 25,000 Rupiah. Not on my budget, and never one to actually pay to lay in the sand, I summoned my inner younger brother, left the hotel and found my way to “the back entrance.” There were 350 steps leading down to the clear blue water, and they were free.

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Taking the steps

The steps are not bad at all, and lead to the rocky shores of Karma beach. During high tide you won’t be able to get down using this route, unless you bring your flippers. I climbed over some rocks and found myself in the fancy beachside lounge area, equipped with an expensive bar, bean bags in the sand, umbrellas and the works. All I had to do was pretend like I stayed at the hotel, steal borrow a towel, and lay on a bean bag. The sun was shining so I chilled here for a few hours, soaking it all in.

The free side, still beautiful

The free side, still beautiful

Finally, I found myself scooting over to Bingin Beach, and this by far, was the most fun environment. I randomly ran into a friend from a week earlier in Amed, making the days way more social than before. This is a beautiful beach with the most community feel amongst travelers I experienced. Within a half of a day you know everyone, you can go behind the bar and grab a Bintang yourself , throw it on the tab and go back to the beach. There are plenty of surfers here, where the waves break in a tight tube over the reef. The reef during low tide is about half a foot deep, so not exactly for those green in the gills.

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Bingin Beach sunset

After sunset, as I zipped down the main road back home, under the yellow half moon, I started thinking… getting down on myself for not surfing. But then I whipped around a turn, leaning into it so hard it felt like I was mountain biking again. Shirt off, helmet free. I looked at the stars with a gigantic smile and let out a child like laugh while I cranked it full throttle.

So yeah, I still don’t surf. But I’m thinking about buying a motorcycle.

Centered in Ubud

They are centered in Ubud. Spirited in their hearts and minds. It seems people arrive and never leave. They are beautiful here, living naturally, connected with themselves and their surroundings. This is all very true, however there is a large part of Ubud that feels manufactured, playing into the spiritual journeys being sought after a certain book and movie came out. 

Yoga and juice shops are a dime a dozen downtown. Generic handicrafts and paintings duplicated, allowing you to never miss out on purchasing that acrylic rice paddy photo, or that painted wooden egg. 

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So to escape, I took a hike. Not far, but that’s the beauty of it. Step outside of the downtown block, and you will find authentic Ubud. Walk up the rice paddy hills, through the tall grasses where the snakes slither around your legs. Check your reflection in the still ponds, make sure you aren’t burned from the sun. Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe in the peace. 

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I made it to the Karsa Kafe, a gorgeous cafe nestled into the rice terraces at the end of the hike. Sipping on a lime juice and honey concoction I watched the egrets swoop over the adjacent paddies. Without the noise of the motorbikes and car horns, the constant “transport, transport?” cat calls, it starts to make sense. Encouraged by the reflecting images of swaying trees in the mirror like rice ponds, this is a beautiful place for self reflection. 

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I can see why millions come and spend millions more in Ubud. They call it the cultural center of Bali, but to become centered, the center you must leave behind.