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8/2/2008

Mindanao

Filed under: friends,philippines,rtw,travel — kevin @ 03:46

I’ve been visiting Marebec in Mindanao for the last week, Tanya is also around so it’s a little former-VSO-Nigeria reunion.

We’ve spent a few days in Malaybalay and another couple of days on Camiguin island. There are photos but I’ve not had a chance to upload them yet. In fact I might not get around to it until I’m back in Scotland.

On Monday I’m planning to fly back to Manila then catch a bus up to Baguio to start a bit of a tour round Northern Luzon. If all goes according to plan this will include the rice terraces in Batad and Banaue and some time in Sagada. For any remaining days I’ll try to find somewhere peaceful and relaxing before heading back to Manila and flying home.

31/1/2008

Vigan

Filed under: philippines,rtw,travel — kevin @ 11:01

Manila is interesting, but not a place I’d like to spend very long. As I had a few spare days before heading down to visit Marebec I decided to go north and visit Vigan, a fairly well-preserved colonial city.

It’s a nice place, much quieter than Manila, and on one street in the old town they’ve even banned motorised transport. Instead horse-drawn ‘calesas’ take tourists around. Not all of the old buildings are in very good condition, ‘beware of falling debris’ signs abound. Some of the old houses are open as museums, so you can see how the wealthy lived during the Spanish colonial era.
White-painted two-storey houses line both sides of a quiet, cobbled street. Three storey houses with bits dropping off them and a sign warning about falling debris. A living room with old wooden furniture and religious knick-knacks.

The unfortunate thing for me was that prices had shot up since the guidebook had been written. Many of the hotels seemed to have been renovated and the places with dormitories only wanted to hire out the whole thing, not just one bed. I ended up paying P700 a night for an en-suite room with no air-conditioning at the Gordion Inn, well over my accommodation budget.

I’d arrived in time for the last few nights of a local festival (programme), so there were lots of stall in the main square selling street food. This included a local speciality, empanadas. These were a bit different from the Chilean ones, fried and with pork and cabbage filling, but very tasty and cheap.

Bizarrely the cable TV in the hotel included some African DSTV channels, I was a bit worried that the channel would suddenly be changed (in the middle of a film) to Africa Magic!

Here are some pictures showing transport in Vigan (the motorbikes with sidecars are common in most Filipino cities) and the ‘Earthquake Baroque‘ cathedral.
A street scene with horse-drawn carriages and motorbike-sidecar taxis. A wide, low church in white plaster, with a bell tower standing off to one side.

28/1/2008

Manila

Filed under: philippines,rtw,travel — kevin @ 11:16

The flight to Manila was uneventful and boring. Qantas seem to still be catching up with entertainment technology; we all had to watch the same films on a large projector screen, very quaint. The films were good though: “Across the Universe” and “September”.

I’m staying at Friendly’s Guesthouse in the Malate area of Manila. It’s quite busy but in a good location for local bars and restaurants.

On Sunday I wandered around town a bit, visiting Rizal Park (a memorial to the Philippines national hero), Intramuros and Fort Santiago.
A tall monument in a park, surrounded by Philippines flags. A stone gateway seen over a lily-pad covered moat.

It was interesting to note that on one side of the fort is a golf course that follows the old walls, on the other small boys were paddling rafts cobbled together out of scrap polystyrene foam up the river as they gathered rubbish.
Golfers playing between old stone walls. A muddy river with lumps of vegetation floating downstream.  On a dodgy-looking raft sits a small boy, paddling with flip-flops on his hands.

I’ve been enjoying local food, there’s an interesting article about filipino food which also mentions the fondness for “doorbell names” (I saw a poster for a film starring someone called Ding-Dong today).

Sydney

Filed under: australia,rtw,travel — kevin @ 10:57

My last stop before leaving Australia was Sydney. I had a couple of days to wander around and see the sights, trying to avoid spending too much money (I was way over budget by this point).

Here are the standard ones: the Harbour Bridge (complete with some people doing the BridgeClimb) and the Opera House (the foyer reminded me very much of a 1970s dull and gloomy concrete shopping centre — the pre-refit Thistle Centre in Stirling being a fine example).
A coathanger-like steel bridge crosses a harbour.  A ferry is to the right of the foreground. A building made of what look like large, white concrete shells sits beside a harbour.

I also went for a tour around the city on the monorail. Although it consists of a single one-way loop it actually has a driver taking up the whole front carriage, reducing passenger space quite a bit. I’m guessing the unions had something to do with that as it looks like a prime candidate for automation.
In front of skyscrapers a monorail train approaches a station.

Leaving Sydney was easy, there’s a fast and frequent rail service from Central station — about five minutes walk from where I was staying — in comfortable double-decker trains. My flight departure was delayed a bit though, they’d lost power to the gate so the staff had to process us manually and light our way down the airbridge with torches.

27/1/2008

Arrived in Manila

Filed under: philippines,rtw,travel — kevin @ 02:00

I arrived in Manila last night and I’m now trying to work out what I’ll do during my time in the Philippines.

Once I get the chance I’ll upload a few pictures from Sydney and maybe even some from here.

24/1/2008

Canberra to Sydney

Filed under: australia,rtw,travel — kevin @ 02:04

I was interested to see Canberra, having lived in another planned capital. From my brief visit I’d say Canberra is working out better than Abuja, although they’ve had more time and resources to do it in Australia.
A pedestrian street with trees, benches and a fountain but few people. A tree-lined avenue leads off towards some official buildings under a dark, cloudy sky.

I stayed at the very nice — but very expensive — YHA Canberra City; it’s very handy for the shopping areas. I spent most of the day at the Australian War Memorial, which has some very impressive displays including a Japanese midget submarine and a Lancaster bomber. They also have excellent audio-visual presentations and little plays connected with exhibits. My only criticism would be that they downplay or ignore any criticism of the conflicts, especially the section on Iraq in the post-1945 galleries.
An impressive stone building seen against the sky.

I’m now in Sydney after a lot of driving. I forgot how big Australia is and how many kilometres I’d have to cover. It doesn’t help that Aussie roads are generally poorly designed and road signs seldom provide the information you need when you need it. They have brand new freeways (110 km/h speed limit) with crossroads on them, 1930’s Autobahn-style! The local roads people seem to have ignored the experience gained in other countries over the last seventy years.

Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

Filed under: australia,rtw,travel — kevin @ 01:52

After Tasmania I flew up to Melbourne and spent a few days there before hiring another car and travelling around a bit on my way to Sydney.

Melbourne’s a pretty nice place, although accommodation was mostly full and very expensive because of the tennis. It has good public transport and I liked the atmosphere, especially wandering around Queen Victoria Market. While I was there I visited the Shrine of Remembrance, St Kilda, the Old Melbourne Gaol (which includes a former police station and courthouse) and the Melbourne Museum.
A wide avenue leads up to a striking building, something like a Greek temple with a pyramid on top.  Behind it is a clear blue sky. The colourful entrance to an amusement park, through the gaping mouth of a slightly sinister looking man in the moon. Tiers of cells line one side of an old prison wing. Seen beyond a modern roof shading a pathway is a domed exhibition building.

Once I picked up the hire car I quickly escaped Melbourne and headed for the Great Ocean Road. The inland bits aren’t great but along the coast it’s beautiful — but busy — with plenty of laybys and car parks to stop and look at the view. I took some pictures at Loch Ard Gorge, site of one of the shipwrecks this stretch of coast is notorious for. That night I stayed at the wonderful Bimbi Park campsite, it’s all been recently refurbished and I had a nice little 4-bed bunkroom all to myself. The trees at the campsite are home to lots of koalas, which makes for good photos but not necessarily a good night’s sleep; excited koalas make pretty unpleasant screaming and grunting noises in the night.
A gorge opens out into the sea, clear pale blue water gets darker toward the horizon. A koala sleeping in a tree, perched on top of a plastic sack. A koala stretching to reach some eucalyptus leaves in another branch.

After the Great Ocean Road it was on to Ballarat, Bendigo and towards Canberra.

13/1/2008

Lee and Hannah’s wedding

Filed under: australia,friends,rtw,travel — kevin @ 00:18

This has taken me a while to upload, because I’ve been travelling around Tasmania for the week since the wedding and haven’t been able to get on the internet.

The wedding was great, fantastic weather down on the beach and really relaxed. Hannah and Lee looked like they were really enjoying themselves and I think all the guests did too.

Anyway, here are the pictures (if you hover the mouse pointer over a picture you should get a short caption):
A curving beach of golden sand. Hannah, in her bridal gown, looks over her shoulder toward her bridesmaids. Hannah and Lee standing on the beach in front of the wedding celebrant. Hannah and Lee hold hands. Hannah and Lee kiss in front of the wedding celebrant. Hannah sits on a bench in a wooden shelter to sign the wedding register, Lee is standing behind her. Lee wraps one arm around Hannah while he cuts the wedding cake (a pyramid of profiteroles) with the other.

You can browse all the wedding pictures I took.

12/1/2008

Around Tasmania

Filed under: australia,rtw,travel — kevin @ 23:51

The morning after the wedding, not feeling all that great, I wandered from the backpacker hostel up the road to Avis to collect my hire car. I’d booked a Hyundai Getz (or something similar) but they didn’t have any, so instead I got a free upgrade to a Toyota Rav4. This had the advantage that I could sleep in the car (folding down the back seats) and the disadvantage of using quite a bit more petrol. The only other problem was the automatic gearbox, I don’t like having to guess when the car is going to decide to change gear for me.

My first destination was a bit of getting used to the car, driving up Mount Wellington above Hobart. It’s a popular spot to get a view over the city and also houses a few communications towers.
The peak of a mountain, a large communications mast rises behind it. Looking down from a mountain onto a city built along the side of a bay.  A bridge crosses at a narrow point and hills rise on the far side.

After that I started on my tour, taking in the Port Arthur Historic Site, a walk to Cape Hauy, Wineglass Bay (camping free at Friendly Beaches), Devonport (not very exciting), Cradle Mountain National Park and back to Hobart.
A beautiful bay surrounded by high, tree-covered headlands. A wallaby (or something like one) sits on a rock in front of trees.
Craggy mountains rise behind a lake. A lake surrounded by mountains. Mountains rising behind a lake are hidden by cloud.
I was glad I turned back from a longer walk before that cloud and rain rolled in at Cradle Mountain.

Port Arthur is an interesting place, originally an experiment in new methods of treating criminals following the revolutionary idea that it might be possible to reform them. Most of the buildings are now ruins after years of bushfires, neglect and deliberate attempts to hide Tasmania’s ‘shameful’ past. It’s also somewhat notorious after the massacre in 1996. I noticed that none of the official information mentioned the shooter’s name, I wonder if this is a deliberate policy?
A large ruined stone building seen across a lawn. View from inside a ruined stone building over well-kept lawns and other buildings in various states of repair. The shell of a building is seen across a reflecting pond. A group of stone buildings set in what appears to be parkland are seen from a bay.

5/1/2008

New Year in Tasmania

Filed under: australia,rtw,travel — kevin @ 00:06

So I’ve been in Tasmania for a week now and apparently we’ve had unusually good weather. Lee has been great, not long before his wedding and he arranged for a friend to pick me up from the airport and accommodation at his shack near the beach.

So far we’ve had a night at Avalon, an amazing holiday home on the coast near Hobart. As you can see below the house has beautiful views and it’s amazingly well set up, pretty much anything you can think of needing is there. We had a few drinks and a barbecue and enjoyed the views.
View from inside a largely glass building, furnished in a modern style.  Outside is a wooden desk with some people sitting on it, then the sea and sky. View from a wooden deck overlooking a bay with clear blue water. View along the side of a modern glass and steel house by the sea.

New Year’s Eve started in Hobart at the Taste of Tasmania, part of Hobart’s summer festival. We only had time for a quick snack and a drink before they kicked us out to prepare for their ticket-only New Year’s Eve event. Fortunately there is a very good pub nearby, Knopwood’s Retreat, where we spent a few hours having some beers and enjoying the sunshine before Lee’s fiancée came to collect us and take us back to their shack. After that my memories of the evening become a bit confused, but there was definitely a bottle of Ardbeg involved.

New Year’s Day was quiet, we were all feeling a bit rough.

On the second it was time for Lee’s buck’s party. It started with a boat trip around part of the Tasman peninsula, great views of the cliffs, some wildlife and even snacks and wine. After that it was to a nearby part of Eaglehawk Neck for barbecue and beers, continuing until it started to get light.
A small cave in a cliff face, the sea foaming in and around the cave. A view of a headland with some isolated pinacles. Inside a small boat, a group of people.

So now I have to go and get ready for the wedding, more next time I get a chance to get on the internet.

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