Posts Tagged ‘ Travels ’

Journey to the Sahara Desert

This is my second trip to the beautiful country of Morocco. We didn’t have much time on our first visit there so the idea of going to the Sahara was moot. For this trip though, it’s our priority so we made sure we had enough time for it.

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My friend, Jess, booked a tour with Viaje en Marruecos for €220 pp. We’d be with them for 4 days and 3 nights. They’d pick us up from the airport and even bring us to the riad that we’ve booked at in Marrakech. So apart from having a jeep just for the 3 of us, the package included every breakfast and dinner during that time as well as the accommodation. Pretty great bargain me thinks!

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Arriving early in Menara airport, I told my friend to make sure that I get picked up. I have no intention of getting lost nor of being hassled looking for our riad. He (our guide/ driver) was there after a minute of waiting. He then proceeded to ask me where we’re staying. “Hotel Kenzo” I answered. “Where? Do you know the address?” Silence on my part with a simultaneous shrug of shoulders. “I dunno” I eventually blurted out. “My friend sorted everything… we should be able to check it in google” I added as an excuse.😅 He was incredulous that I’d go to a place with no idea as to where I’ll be staying. He eventually got me to my destination. hehe He said that he’d pick us up at 8 in the morning the next day.  I went to our room to catch up on much needed sleep while I waited for my other travel companions who’d be flying from Barcelona and Madrid.

Day 1

The next day, after a hurried breakfast – we just can’t bring ourselves to get out of bed any earlier. We are on vacation after all! – we met up with him at the car park. A quick stop to a cash point that we passed by and we were off!

It was sunny yet cold. I found the landscape totally captivating as it’s different from what I grew up in (more coast as well as mountains covered with trees – life in the tropics) and where I currently live (cloudy London). But once we got to the High Atlas Mountains, its zigzagging road was enough to remind me that as ironic as it sounds since I travel often, I get car sick easily, also I was seated behind the driver (yes, I’ll use that as an excuse and a valid one at that, I think!). To make sure that nothing comes out – and to hopefully get through this in a more dignified way… I slept! Having said that, every time we’d pull up so we can check out the views (and take pictures of course!) I’ll be up for sure!

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We went to see Ait Ben Haddou, an old moorish citadel. Now popular in Hollywood as on site location for many movies (Gladiator, Game of Thrones, etc). According to our guide, even from hundreds of years ago, traders from Mozambique (or it may have been another exotic sounding country) would travel for weeks til they get there. Trade. And then head back home. I was imagining caravans of camel traversing truly long distances, camping at night, moving at a pace that we’d consider slow now.

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We passed by the Valley of the Roses too! But since it was winter, it was endless shrub after shrub -all leafless. I’m certain it’s beautiful in spring! Wish I can go back and see that for myself. Eventually, we arrived in another beautiful valley – looks like I’ll be using this word often to describe the landscapes we’ve passed by in this trip. There was this red mountain, devoid of greeneries that looks liked it’s been carved to look like humongous fingers. Coz of that, they call it the monkey fingers mountain. I’ll have to google that bit if it’s true!

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Less than 5minutes drive away – still amazed by what I was seeing – our jeep pulled over a roadside hotel. Looks like we’d be staying the night here – woot! I made up my mind then to wake up early so that I can go out and take pics the next day. The sun had set on the last bend and was too dark now to explore the area.

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We were led to the receiving area were various biscuits,  nuts, and mint tea greeted us. I can’t get enough of Moroccan tea – I seriously love it! I was trying my best not to finish the ones in our teapot – alas, to no avail!😂

They then carried our bags to our room with us following behind. As is the case with us now, we drew lots to see who’d get to sleep on the big bed. Never had luck with any draw that I already put my bag in one of the single beds before even choosing one. As is the usual, it wasn’t me. 😐😭

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Dinner was kinda hit and miss. The entertainment was alright though – the local guys were playing instruments and singing songs that I have no idea what it was about but  interesting nonetheless

Day 2
Attempting to be up early again, we were still the late ones for breakfast. Looks like many of those who have arrived last night alongside us had gone up and left – or at least have already eaten. Even with my conviction to wake up early the night before…. nah.  It just felt so warm and snug that I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed any earlier! Anyway, I’m not so keen on sweet breakfast which is what French breakfast kinda reminds me of (bread, jams, butter, honey, coffee) only now, with Moroccan twist (pancake, eggs, fresh orange juice, sponge cakes for dessert).

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Later in the day, we’d be at the Sahara desert so Jess and I decided to dress “appropriately”- flowy trousers as well as light coloured tops. I wore sandals too. First destination was a panoramic view of the valley we were in. It was a short drive there but the view, I found, stunning! We were pretty high up and you can see the road snaking along the edge of the mountains – and to think we were down there just a few minutes back! I noticed two things simultaneously, first was the view and second was the fact that it was soooo effing cold – and to think I only had sandals on! As soon as our driver thought we’ve spent enough time there, the other people we’ve caught up with have already gone again, I ran to the jeep… rummaged through my bag which was at the back… and put on my (warm) socks and changed to my sneakers. Thought I’d have frostbite!😱

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Next destination was this gorgeous gorge. We were instructed to get off the jeep, walk towards the end of the gorge and that he’d meet up with us there. They’ve made it so that we can appreciate the view/ experience. I felt so minuscule walking between towering mountains! And because of this, we were walking in a very windy path! I was torn between walking quickly to reach the warmth at the end of the pass and taking my time to take pics and to gawk at the view! I was pretty sure I did lots of gawking! Haha

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It was then quite a drive after that. Punctuated by lunch in a local cafeteria/ eatery. Jess was insisting that we eat at places were only locals would go to. Food served was fast, cheap, and huge in size. Toilet was like the ones I’ve encountered in China – ones on the ground and you’d have to squat (if you’re a woman). To dry hands after hand washing is with a literal paper! After a satisfying meal (I love their bread!), it was time for us to get back on to the road.

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We stopped for a while in a shop where we bought some scarf to use as head wrap. While there, the girl behind the cashier asked for our names and quickly fashioned henna tattoo design around it. As touristy as it looks, she then kept putting clothes on us – matched haphazardly at that – and voila! We’re dressed locally of sorts. Hehe a few souvenir pictures in them and then we took them off and went on our way – that last stretch of drive before the Sahara!

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Our driver/guide then proceeded to ask whether we’d like to go swim in the lake. A question I found a bit odd since we’re headed to the desert but I saw in front of me a vast expanse of lake. I said I’d have loved to but didn’t think to bring a swimsuit with me.  Then he chuckled. The lake I had in view was gone! They then pointed out at the one on the right – the one I saw was at the left. I blurted, “is that what they call a mirage? Are we seeing one now? Awesome!!!” Though what instantly came to mind were scenes in movies where people would race towards an imagined oasis to quench their dying thirst away only to find that isn’t the case. I would be filled with despair if that ever happens to me *knocks on wood* it was then explained to us that this naturally occurring phenomenon is caused when light is refracted through air at different temperatures.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5669.After we made a turn away from the paved road, the jeep pulled over. We were then told to go on top of the jeep for the last bit of travel before we get on the camels. It was so fun!!!! I mean, we were screaming kinda non stop (I was taking pics and my friends would suddenly put their weight on me scaring the wits out of me coz I’m on the edge!) but it was interlaced with laughter and excitement too!

Desert camp experience to follow here.

Heading back seemed anticlimactic now that we’ve seen what we came to see 😐 the drive back was long yet beautiful! Our guide asked if we were happy, an emphatic yes from everyone! Then he turned to me specifically and told me that he’d make me happier… he drove off road, pulled over, then asked us to follow him. He poured some water over a big rock and I saw them more clearly – fossils!!!!😱😆

Before heading out of the town and starting off the long drive back, our guide made true his promise to Jess the day before. He got us a “traditional” pizza so we can have a picnic. A couple of hours down the road, a lone tree here and there breaks the monotony of the barren desert landscape. He parked the car beneath one and got our food and some drinks out.

Upon settling it on the bonnet of the jeep, he sliced it with a dull knife and gave us a big slice each. We then sat around in a loose circle atop a few piles of rocks and ate heartily. It’s a Moroccan Berber flatbread stuffed with onions, olives, and herbs and meat. I found it gorgeous and ate 3 slices! I was really hungry!😍 while we were munching away, a few cars passed us by with their passengers waving at us. Another vehicle even pulled over right next to us. The other driver seemed to know our guide and they chatted a bit. We offered him food and he happily took one and wrapped it away ready to eat later on. His passengers however politely declined saying they’ve already eaten at one of the restaurants back from the town we came from. After some time, we got back on to our jeep and we were off! Passing by a landscape that’s starting to become familiar but never tiring to look at and kept leaving me in awe! <3

 

Traditional Hammam in Marrakech

These past few months, my approach to travelling had been kinda lax. I’d think of a place where I want to go to, when I want to go to, if I want to go with others, and some general idea of things I wanna do and that’s that! So for this trip to Morocco, I’d let my travel buddy, Jessica, do the planning. I’ve looked into everything before as I was planning to do this trip with another but it fell through. So I wasn’t really keen to plan for it (again).

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Inside the Marrakech souk

My must do for this leg of our trip was to try a local hammam. Hammam is a steam room where people routinely go to cleanse themselves. We asked a lady working in one of the spice shops about any she’d recommend for us – basically, a place she’d even go to herself. She pointed us to one a few streets down from theirs. When we got there, we asked for the price etc (120 dirhams for a wash with massage each). We walked some more and found another one. There’s a discreet sign on the outside –  only a marker. We went in and asked too (70 dirhams for a wash with massage). We resolved to come back the next night then we headed back to the big plaza.

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Jemaa El Fna at night

The next night, armed with our gloves and mint soap/ gel, towel, and a fresh set of undies (knickers, pants, however you want to call them) and 150 dirhams for the two of us, we then set off for our night’s adventure. First, we had to drop off another friend of ours at Jemaa El Fna so she can spend time with her friends while we do our thing – she’s not really a fan of super local stuff (*think: maybe unhygienic, probably not the safest nor the most relaxing thing to do).

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At the plaza, I told Jess that I think we should be turning right. She was absolutely certain that it was on the left though so to the left we went. A minute in to the walk, I told her I’m hungry/ dizzy. She knows me well so she agreed that we have to get something that we can share. We then stopped by a patisserie and got a slice of a moist sponge cake (5 dirhams) to share between us. We had to be conscious of the price as we’re on a tight budget – the rest of our money were with Raquel.

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I was happily munching away, letting Jess lead the way while I followed closely behind her. Keeping an eye out for the hammam signage, we ended up walking at least 15mins and no luck. We found ourselves in the “heart” of the medina. Purely locals, dead end tiny square and it looked like it may be surrounded by houses – but it was already dark – and the place looked relatively rough.  We looked at each other. Turned around without saying a word and started walking back – all the while projecting a look of, of-course-I-know-where-we-are-and-where-we’re-headed-to-and-nope,-we-are-totally-not-lost-and-f*cked-up,-and-besides,-how-can-one-be-lost-when-they-don’t-know-where-to-go-in-the-first-place? look! 😂

Speed walking our way back to the square since we told Raquel we’d take around maybe an hour only, we then agreed to take that right turn that I originally suggested. I was pretty certain now, Jess was doubtful. Either way, we were prepared to be lost again, I was getting more sure that I even jokingly told her that if I’m right, she has to pay for my hammam! It was probably only a mere 20 metre walk from our turn when lo and behold – le bains pour femme! Tadah!!!

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We entered the place, headed for this really tiny window to ask but the man behind it was still busy with his prayers – we can see him bowing, plus the call to prayer was being sounded when we started to turn back from our previous turn. After a few minutes of waiting, he finished and was ready to listen to us. He basically confirmed that it’s 10 dirhams to go in, 70 if we’re going to get scrubbed and massaged too. We were a bit hesitant on what to do next (note: we were hesitating all throughout this experience 😅). Then a kind looking lady came out of an inside door and signalled for us to follow her. Also, the man behind the window, urged us to follow her.

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As soon as the door opened, Jess took a step back “oooh, lots of naked women” she uttered. I tried not to burst out laughing from her reaction. It was a rectangular room with lockers and seats lining its walls. I saw a few tourists putting their clothes back on. We went in, then the lady told signalled us to leave our stuff on the seats. They were asking for money to keep an eye out for them, by this point we only had 5 dirhams left as we’ve given them the 140 already. We think that it may be 5 dirhams per person but when Jess showed them our totally empty coin purse, they let it be. She also signed for us to get undressed. We took off our clothes til we were down only to knickers and wrapped with our towel (that we took from the riad 😅). Another lady, she’s quite robust, came out and told us to follow her – we had our kit with us (gloves and the mint gel). We were led to another set of chambers. This was a dark room, marble and tiles all around, with several faucets strategically placed and lots of pails/ buckets, with a few dippers. The water faucets were always paired – one boiling hot, the other cold water. The entire room was covered in steam from it. This time around, a few semi naked women were seating on tiny plastic stools and/or mats. Some were shampooing their hair, others were covered in soap lather, scrubbing themselves. Others just seemed so chill, chatting away but in hushed tones.

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*This hammam place is not a local one. It caters to travellers so expect to pay (relatively) more for this. Also, taking pics isn’t allowed inside the hammam.

The 2 of us kinda just stood in a corner. Another lady, she’s a bit tiny and looked elderly, told us to come closer to her. She got out a mat, had us sit there and she proceeded to pour (hot) water over the 2 of us then walked off. We weren’t so sure what to do next but I’ve been to a hammam before (one that caters to tourists and another one in Istanbul) so I told Jess that we should apply the mint over ourselves. Several minutes later she came back. She told Jessica to refill the bucket then signalled for me to lie on my front and scrubbed away my skin with the gloves we brought along. A few minutes later, told me to face her and scrubbed away my skin again. Then instructed me to sit down while facing her then scrubbed my face and arms all the while pouring water every now and then on me. When she was satisfied, she told me to go to the other lady (the robust one) who signalled told me to sit on the mat she prepared in front of her. She then proceeded to shampoo my (really long) hair then massaged my head. Rinsing off soap suds all over me, she patted my shoulder to signal that I’m done. I came back to see that Jess was being scrubbed by the old lady so in return for her filling the buckets earlier, I filled up 2 empty ones. Not wanting to just stand idly by, I then washed my hair again as it didn’t feel like it was washed enough. We dried ourselves off then went back to the first room to get changed.

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*This hammam place is not a local one. It caters to travellers so expect to pay (relatively) more for this

Before even getting there though, Jess whispered to me that they told her that she has to give a tip later. The thing is, we have absolutely no more money with us (in case our stuff gets stolen while in the midst of the wash). She was jokingly – though in a serious voice – told me that we have to bolt as soon as we’re dressed. I was being careful when dressing coz I didn’t want any of my clothes to get wet and with quite a handful of hair to dry, and coz of that, I was too slow for her liking. By this time, the elderly lady came out – dressed in a bath robe – asking Jess for tips (hmm.. did it look like I had no money so they kept going straight for her??? Hehe). We apologised and tried to explain in broken French that we didn’t bring extra money with us. She looked quite upset. She sat on a corner seat and was grumpily talking away to the kind looking lady who would signal us to not mind the elderly one. However, when I was beside Jess sorting out our stuff, the elderly lady came up to me – I was holding a plastic bag of toiletries – and she rifled through it “looking” for something. I wasn’t minding it really – well, I don’t understand neither French nor Arabic so I was kinda alright with it. But they all got my friend on edge that when I asked for my comb, she looked like she was ready to kill me for dilly dallying instead of just heading straight for the exit. Eventually eventhough my  head was still wrapped in a towel, she pulled me out with with urgency that I just had to follow suit since the third lady was starting to get all worked up. Again, we apologised before bolting!😂

Moral of the story: always bring a little extra! :D

Back in our beautiful (and stress free) riad! :D

Back in our beautiful (and stress free) riad! :D

 

Paragliding in Annecy

I have 3 adventures on my bucket list that would take some courage to actually get done. Sky diving. Bungee jumping. And lastly, paragliding. This July, one of them finally got crossed off!!! :D

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Paragliding – check!!!

I paraglided in Annecy. The place is on many list of the 10 most beautiful places to paraglide. I wanted to do it a year or two ago – in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate so we had to cancel at the last minute. This time around, I couldn’t ask for a better weather!

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Lac d’Annecy

I left it to my friend to make reservations for us. I’m normally OC about these things so wasn’t sure why I did that. Long story short, he actually didn’t book any despite me giving him links and reminders. He got around to doing so when I arrived in his hometown of Annecy. Turns out most of the companies are fully booked – summer is peak season. It just so happened that there was a cancellation the next day so they were able to squeeze all 3 of us in! Woohoo! Phew!

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That morning, I was excited! I was, really! But there was also that fear and panic starting to build up. I thought I was doing a great job of keeping it at bay. That is unless the guys would ask me if I’m scared. Who wouldn’t be – but I’m wayyy more excited! One of the guys drove us to the meeting point. We got registered. Waited a bit while watching the others land – they looked happy! Always a good sign. hehe Then we all got into the van that we would take us to the jump off location.  I was seated at the front. All was going really well. Until we were pretty high up the mountain and still no sign of stopping. The road was getting steeper and steeper. I tried to calm my tummy. Suddenly, it felt queasy. It was like a few butterflies were trying to find their way out. At least this time around, the boys were busy talking to our guides and weren’t asking me whether I’m scared so all was under control. Sorta. -_-

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We made our way to the jump off point. It was a beautiful (albeit for me, scary too) sight to behold! A huge area was cleared for them thrill-seekers. Several were getting ready to take off – just awaiting for the go signal from a man who seems to be in charge so it’s not chaotic. One of our guides took a shot of the whole group. Suddenly, the boys are all strapped and walking to the edge – excited and keen to get going.

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My guide, who thankfully speaks fluent English, was trying to crack jokes with me. He kept reassuring me too. He said there’s no need to panic, that there’s nothing to fear (nevermind the fact, that I’m floating high up in the air with nothing but a harness securing us to a fabric. hehe).  I will not panic. He then proceeded to put all the safety harnesses on on me along with the helmet. The instruction really was just that he’d catch the wind and when that happens, we’d have to walk fast towards the edge and keep doing so. He then got me settled on the seat and the next instruction was to enjoy the ride! What a view it was! The kind that I can only see from a plane but much closer this time around. There was really nothing else for me to do but to be amazed and try to take it all in – I was actually doing it!!! Yay!!!

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As we were starting our descent, I was asked if I wanted to pilot for a while. I answered, “I would love to but I just can’t let go!” I had a deathly tight grip on the lines. hehe And after a few minutes, I was asked another question. “Do I want some acrobatic moves?” he said. To which I honestly replied, that “as much as it looks amazing, my stomach wouldn’t be handle anything further” I then added to him to make it “as smooth as possible please.” :D I was ecstatic to have both feet touch the ground! I had to sit there for a while to calm my racing heart. My friend ran back to me – he looked flushed with excitement. And yes, they did pilot their gliders. And yes, they even had some acrobatics. We’re all happy!

Maybe I’ll paraglide again – maybe not. But I would definitely recommend you to go if you’ve ever had the desire to do so! Hmm.. bungee jumping next? :D

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*we booked with flyeo.com
tandem paragliding – €95 (€125 if with pictures)

Nice Eats: La Roustide

On my last night in Nice, my host arranged a fancy dinner for us all. A break from home cooked dining she reasoned. Having said that, we’ve eaten really good food while there. She made reservations for La Roustide – she had nothing but praise for the place so we were excited to try it for ourselves!

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This was one trip I had where nothing EVER went on time. Our reservation was for 7:30pm. We ended up seated almost 9pm since we had to wait for one more person. Once we were complete, my cousin and I started edging to the door – we were famished since we hiked that day! We were amazed at how the others were still taking their time chatting – we could do that with food in front of us! :D

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I love how the place seems cozy and beautiful in its simplicity. Seating capacity of the restaurant is at a minimum -maybe at 30 when full? It was just our party and one more small group. Service was amazing coz we didn’t need to contend with others. After some minutes of browsing through the menu, we ordered what we wanted. And food – thankfully – started arriving!

Firstly, we were given 2 kind of amuse bouche. One was creamed asparagus served with la roustide (the bread) with truffles while the other was foie gras. I gotta say, the creamed asparagus was gone so quick – it was such a treat! It had a certain kind of taste to it… some fish, crayfish according to my dining companion, was added that’s why.

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Starter was up next. I got carpaccio of veal, tomato sauce, candied tomatoes with oregano and arugula salad. I shared it with my cousin and another since it was too much – we have 3 more course coming up!

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Entre-deux is vegetable puree of the day with truffle. It was sweet potato for the day we ate there.

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 It seemed our party ordered either of these two as their main course: beef fillet marinated with honey and paprika, panisse fries cooked with marjoram, snow peas, and pink garlic pan fried; or a fish of the day cooked in a thyme stock, caramelized palm heart, mushroom duxelle cooked in wine, sorrel white butter dressing. I opted for the fish since seafood in Southern France is the way to go but still, I enjoyed the beef more! Yum!

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Last but not least are our pretty desserts. The others didn’t get any as they were already full. But whether full or not, we thought it a crime to not finish our beautiful meal with them! I got nectarines poached in port and provence herbs, strawberry and mint grout. Our companion ordered tiramisu with manzana and caramelized green apples. Both were oh-so-good!

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Food was washed down with a glass (or two) of white wine for me, red for the others. I thought that was that but our charming attendant brought out a bottle of limoncello – compliments of the place. A nice touch since they’ve already been very accommodating – we had our dog, Prince, join us in the city. We made him wait outside and he was given a large bowl of water by our attendant. When we were the only diners left, they let him in and was even given a treat!

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It was indeed a lovely evening! I’d happily eat here again the next time I’m in Nice!

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With the 2 ladies who made this trip amazing!

Apo Island – Swimming with Sea Turtles!

November 5, 2015

My main bucketlist the last time I travelled back to the Philippines was to be able to swim with sea turtles (locally referred to as pawikan). I invited a few friends to join me for this trip and dragged my brother along too.

Sea turtle!!! <3

Sea turtle!!! <3

Booking a return flight from Manila to Dumaguete, we set off for a daytrip to Apo Island on our second day there. We headed to the bus terminal where we got on a Bayawan-bound airconditioned bus. We got off at Malatapay where the fare cost us 50php per person. It was a comfortable 40min bus ride with non-stop Air Supply songs blaring from its speakers – felt like a Sunday for me since that’s when radio stations will play oldies classics! We then crossed the road and walked towards the end of the street where we headed to the registration area. They then allotted a boat to us after we’ve decided to invite 2 foreign girls along to save on boat fee. Definitely on our list was making sure that we buy enough food for us before getting on to the boat. ;)

Making sure we have enough food to eat, we bought lots of food!

Making sure we have enough food to eat, we bought lots of food!

It was a pretty rough 40minute boat ride. I was seated on the middle of the boat and got an impromptu shower from all the waves that splashed onto our boat. Seeing Apo Island beckoned closer felt amazing as it meant seeing them sea turtles!

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Just as we were about to reach Apo Island!

After another set of paperworks wherein we had to get registered, we rented our gears (snorkelling mask and swimming shoes – it was a rocky coast), got ourselves a guide (we were informed that to be able to swim in the turtle sanctuary, you’ll need to take a guide with you), then swam right in.

Playing around with the fins while we were deciding which ones to rent

Playing around with the fins while we were deciding which ones to rent

And there they were, several sea turtles, lazily grazing from one patch of sea grass on to the other without it seems a care in the world. :D

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More pictures from the trip:

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Pretty corals were there to be seen too!

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Apo Island – above and below

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Group picture before getting on a tricycle to take us back to the city

 

Expenses:
50php – bus ride to Bayawan
3000php – boat for 10pax
100php – registration fee for foreigners/ non-Bisaya
100php – rental fee for equipments (snorkel gear, shoes, fin)
300php – guide fee, max of 4pax
300php – tables rented for our stay
400php – tricycle back to Daumaguete City for 5 of us

 

 

 

 

 

Japan 1 Week Itinerary

Michael and I were on a two week trip between China and Japan. We had an amazing time in China and were pretty sure Japan would be even more awesome!

Touchdown Japan!
We flew to Osaka from Shanghai as it was cheaper than other city combination. We found the plane ticket expensive at £175 each – whereas our return flight to London was around £550. It was already the cheapest one when we were canvassing for prices. Fortunately, it was a very comfortable flight with a meal served. The plane was only half-filled too!

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We flew with Anitea Air from Shanghai Pudong International Airport

We flew in to Kansai (KIX) Airport. I seriously don’t understand how for the life of me, I thought that meant flying in at Osaka Airport! I researched on how to get to the ryokan we’re staying at from there NOT Kansai. It meant an additional hour of travelling for us. No biggie. He wouldn’t stop teasing me for messing up the locations though. He kept saying at least it was in the same country! Pfft!!! hahaha (I’ll get even. ^_^)

Our super kind host took this picture of us after we saw our room for the first time :)

Our super kind host took this picture of us after we saw our room for the first time :)

Whenever we travel, we like trying out new things. Since we’re in the heart of Japanese culture, staying in a traditional Japanese accommodation was a must do for us! To my horror, most ryokan I checked were fully booked on the dates of our visit. I was ecstatic upon receiving a positive response from one that met our wants (a garden view and private toilet). Yoshimizu Inn was a lovely accommodation located at the top of Maruyama Park. Gion, the famed Geisha district, is just at the foot of the park. We’d pass by geishas/ maikos at night on our way back/to the ryokan. I couldn’t be happier with the location really!

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Day 1 Kyoto
Temple hopping
Even if I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible for every trip – the two of us just can’t be bothered to be rushed from one place to the other. Sticking to a detailed schedule is only a dream. He needs his sleep. I like to take lots of pictures my time in a place I love. After getting some much needed sleep (and breakfast), we head out to enjoy sunny Kyoto! We walked around the park where our ryokan is located as well as saw the temples there. Then walked towards the direction of Kiyomizu-dera while stopping several times for snacks and drinks along the way.

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Kiyomizu-dera aka Pure Water Temple

We spent the afternoon in Fushimi Inari Taisha. The shrine was made more famous by the film Memoirs of a Geisha. It was pretty crowded at the base of the mountain but there were relatively less people as you go up the steps. I was quite keen on wearing a kimono while walking around Kyoto. That trek up the mountain made me thankful I did not get to do it. :D

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

For dinner, I made reservations with Gion Nanba. I was excited for us to try a multi-course traditional Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki. It was a pretty expensive meal at 75GBP each. But since we already flew (almost) halfway ’round the world for our love of Japanese food (and culture), might as well splurge for this instance and budget on the others!. :)

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Standing at the left is the owner/ (head) chef of Gion Nanba

Day 2  Arashiyama Day Trip
When we were planning for our trip, we allotted 3 days for Kyoto and 4 days for Tokyo. Eventhough that was the case, I was still keen to go to Nara plus I wanted to visit Osaka and not to forget of course a must trip to Arashiyama! He had to remind me again and again that we will have no time for Kyoto at that rate.  He said I should choose just one – Arashiyama IT IS! :D

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Beautiful bamboo groves

First stop was the beautiful Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and its Sogenchi Garden. I enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites so that was a pretty cool plus! Yeah, almost all of Kyoto is a Heritage Site but that didn’t make me any less excited! I realise there are some people who scoff the at the thought of visiting Heritage Sites but they were made so for good reason and I, for one, am happy to see for myself why! Every person’s travelling style/ taste is different and that’s what makes this world interesting. We headed for the north gate exit of the temple which led us straight in the middle of the bamboo groves (pictured above).

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Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and its Sogenchi Garden

I know I just said that kaiseki is expensive but I just couldn’t pass up another one – lunch this time around! – when it’s relatively cheap AND with amazing reviews! Our ryokan arranged for us to have lunch in Nishiki restaurant. It was impossible for me to do so since there was no English translation at their website. It was a more relaxed experience from the night before I guess that’s why we loved it even more plus it was cheaper too!

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A wonderful lunch at Nishiki!

A friend suggested- thanks Sucelle!- that we ride the romantic train of Sagano. Intrigued by the name of the ride, I read more about it. Also known as Sagano Scenic Railway, it is a 25 minute train ride from Torokko Saga Station to Torokko Kameoka Station (and vv).  It runs along Hozugawa river. We enjoyed the view immensely!

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Riding the Sagano scenic train ride was his must do for Arashiyama :)

Day 3 Bullet train-bound to Tokyo
Originally, I was planning for us to pass by Kawaguchiko to see Mt. Fuji enroute to Tokyo so as to prevent us from backtracking. After some research and having a plan in place, we had to abandon it due to force majeur – there was a typhoon that day. It literally started pouring rain after we got to the foot of Maruyama Park from our ryokan. We headed to Kyoto Station and bought our shinkansen (bullet train) tickets straight for Tokyo instead!

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Arriving in Tokyo late that afternoon, we headed to our hotel. Got ready. Headed out. Our destination: Akihabara, a district in Tokyo that is famously known as electric town. Having just arrived from Kyoto where it was all temples and shrines, this place provided such a contrast and was the quintessential hi-tech Japan we had in mind. We spent the night in arcades and in a maid cafe that was pretty interesting. I can see that the bf was very quite happy to be there! haha

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Konichiwa from Akihabara!

Day 4 Tokyo
The game of baseball seem to be popular in only 2 country – the USA and Japan. Since we can’t get any bus to take us to Mt.Fuji this day, Mike announced that we can watch a match instead! He was hoping to squeeze it in and he got his chance! I wasn’t sold to the idea as I had my heart set to seeing Fuji on that particular day so was pretty bummed out about it. To get me even partially interested, he said that the team playing is one of, if not the, most popular team in the country. Plus he said that the interior of the stadium is pretty awesome. Alright, I guess let’s give it a go then! After visiting Meiji Shrine of course. :D (I did enjoy watching the game – it was such a low scoring one though.)

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Day 5 Sumo Wrestling
Peak tourist season in Japan is during cherry blossom season. Our trip was booked 2 weeks after it. </3 Why? Because he we opted to time our trip while it’s sumo tournament. I figured, since he let me decide most of the trip, I can I think concede the “when” part of our trip. Sumo is the Japanese style of wrestling and is the national sport of Japan. Being a traditional sport, it is filled with religious rituals (eg the symbolic purification of ring with salt) and only men practice it professionally. We spent a whole day inside the Kokugikan Stadium. To not get bored, I got busy eating the various food sold inside plus I’d go outside every now and then to check out what’s happening outside the ring. Fan-girling the sumo wrestlers if you’ll ask the bf what I was doing. Sheesh! ^_^

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After dinner, I suggested we go to Asakusa to see a few more sights before we call it a night. :)

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Day 6 Daytrip to Mt. Fuji
The main reason I agreed to skip the cherry blossom season is because it’d be the Shibazakura season. Ahhh… Japan and its beautiful blooms! <3

Fuji, Japan

Fuji, Japan

Returning back to Shinjuku after our daytrip to Kawaguchiko, we decided to stay in the area and explore. This district is crazy fun. WE LOVE IT! From bargain shopping to robot restaurants and nonstop karaoke, we all gave them a go! It was such a fun night! This was also the night that Mike and I realised that we both love karaoke. :D

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Day 7 Tokyo
For our last day in Japan, we wanted to take it easy, visit a few sites and go back to our favourites. We left our luggage in Tokyo Station then walked to the Imperial Palace. Upon seeing how huge the place is was enough to tire me out even before we got started. We did manage an hour of walking before we called it quits and ate lunch. I was almost falling asleep by then. I wasn’t so sure how we ended up in an Irish pub/ resto. I ordered a burger but was served a burger patty on top of some green salad and with rice on the side. I knew we should’ve just stuck with local food! ;) It was probably the downcast weather that was making me feel sluggish. Thankfully, the sun shone shortly afterwards, well, at least it stopped raining. We headed back to Shibuya to while away the time before it was time for us to head back to the airport. The crossing really amazed us. Seeing huge crowd of people moving in an organized chaos while we’re just chillin’ – we liked it! Sang our hearts out in another karaoke session and then gorged on kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi. Mmmm. <3

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Mmmm...Sushi galore at affordable prices!

Mmmm…Sushi galore at affordable prices!

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Spot the bf! :D

Happy to head back home but sad to leave Japan - we'll definitely come back! :D

Happy to head back home but sad to leave Japan – we’ll definitely come back! :D

Spain’s La Tomatina Festival!

Have you ever joined a food fight? Or at least, wanted to be in one? Well then, pack up your bags and go to Spain coz this is where the world’s biggest food fight is held annually during their La Tomatina Festival.

Goin' loco over tomato!

Goin’ loco over tomato!

First things first, what is that festival all about you may ask? Held annually every last Wednesday of August in Buñol, Valencia, people throw tomatoes at each other for an hour of crazy fun!

It started the last Wednesday of August in 1945 when some young people spent the time in the town square to attend the Giants and Big-Heads figures parade. The young boys decided to have a place among the retinue of a parade with musician, Giants and Big-Heads figures.

The energy of these young people made that one participant fell off. The participant flew into a fit of rage, started to hit everything in his path. There was a market stall of vegetable that fell victim of the furious crowd: people started to pelt each other with tomatoes until the local forces ended that vegetable battle…

…Since then, the number of participants increased year after year as well as the excitement about La Tomatina Festival. In 2002, La Tomatina of Buñol was declared Festivity of International Tourist Interest by the Secretary Deparment of Tourism due to its success. – La Tomatina

Early morning bus ride to Buñol

Early morning bus ride to Buñol

It was only in 2013 – the year we attended – that the Spanish government started selling tickets for the festival. Tickets are sold for 10euros each. From Valencia, we rode a bus to take us to Buñol early in the morning. It was a 40minute drive. Still quite sleepy really. Upon arrival, we had to queue for our luggage to be stored. We then exchanged our tickets for bracelets. And then headed over to the entrance of the festivities all the while basking in the high energy of the people around us. There were groups of people wearing colourful wigs. Some girls wore flamenco dresses. Quite a few wore tomato outfits too! Foreign visitors wore their flag on their shirts or dressed in national costumes (ie kimono for the Japanese). It was pretty exciting! We got ourselves some drinks. And we’re ready! :D

The tomato fight begins after someone is able to successfully climb a greased pole to get the ham tied to the top of it. When this happens, water is fired into the air which signals the entrance of the trucks carrying tons of tomatoes and the start of the tomato fight. It is interesting to note that the town is preparing for this festival by covering the front of their houses with tarpaulins to keep it safe from all of those tomato juices!

Buildings are protected by tarps and other covers!

There are a few rules that everyone must follow:
Throwing tomatoes begin after the first water signal.
Tomatoes have to be squished first so as to avoid injuries.
Only tomatoes should be thrown around. No other projectiles allowed.
No tomotoes should be thrown once the signal to stop is given.

Still able to smile and go on with the tomato fight after being hit in the eye!

Some tips:
Wear clothes you wouldn’t mind throwing after as the stain is difficult to remove.
If you’re keen to take pictures, use a waterproof camera.
Wear goggles!!! Jess and I can’t emphasize this one more than enough. We were surrounded by Spanish guys who were taking most of the hit when she got hit in the eye. I looked at her. Told her it looked alright then we got back down to business. hehe Less than 5mins after, I got hit in my right eye! I ended up crouching coz of the pain so she looked at it. There were some bits of tomato that got stuck she said. That’s why she led me to a fountain to wash it off. I was only able to open my right eye after! Phew! I had taken my goggles off a minute before getting hit as it was covered with tomato juice! While I was recovering from my tomato injury, my travel buddy is chatting away to a cute Frenchman (her description not mine) who saw her sorting me out by the fountain. hehe :))

Top of the agenda after the tomato fight finished was to get a wash to be some sort of decent. Fire trucks parked were hosing down people for an impromptu shower. We then joined the massive queue to get our things back. Got on a bus back to Valencia and to our hotel. I was wearing a pair of sunglasses on the ride back. When we got to the hotel, I asked for a cup of ice at the reception. Too lazy tired to explain, I pulled my glasses off. No further explanations needed. They got me my ice. We were supposed to go out after our warm shower but we ended up falling asleep. Tired from a week’s worth of travel. :D

 

Have you been to La Tomatina? Are you wanting to go? It’d be great to hear of your experience too! :D