Saturday, 31 May 2008

My last day of being 26

It's a shame there are so many divers here. I think it makes the dives a bit boring. It's all still very enjoyable though and we had fun on our first night dive last night.

Today after diving we hired a motorbike and hit the dusty roads with our new Spanish buddy (a 53-turning-23 year old who incidentally works in a field of science that is very similar to Ric's dad) and went off to find some sharks on the other side of the island. The roads here are pretty terrible and I made trenches in Ric's hips as I clung to him for dear life. He enjoyed making me squeal with terror.

We eventually found a beach which advertised 'coffee/beer/snorkles/fins/sharks', hired the necessary equipment (my mask had a gaping hole in it though and my right fin was split across the foot rendering it totally useless) and swam out to sea in search of the promised sharks which the guy running the shop told us were just a few hundred metres away.

So did we swim with Jaws and smell the smell of our own imminent deaths? Er, not exactly. Sweat maybe. We must have swum for at least an hour and in that time I only saw one small white-tip reef shark while the other two didn't see any at all. What with my faulty, leaky gear and empty stomach, I wasn't having the easiest time, and nor were the other two, so we headed back to shore like disappointed boy scouts. The beach was idyllic. Just how paradise looks in postcards.

This island is full of wonderful beaches. It's a shame we happen to be staying in probably the most noisy and dirty area of all! Might explore some more of it tomorrow. On foot or bike!
And get me that massage!

Ric's joking that it's going to be my 30th tomorrow and he's got a point; I think I've always felt and acted older than my years, in some ways, and at the same time so very much younger! There's a lot to be said for the adage that eating disorders are in essence a way of trying to control things and defy time or one's natural development in to adulthood. Although in some ways I feel exactly the same as I did at 10, 14, 18 and 21, I do also feel quite adult now. I know myself well at least and that's something to note.

I feel especially old here what with all these giggling groups of lanky teenage gap-year girls swanning about the island wearing just their micro-bikinis. Ah me...At least I don't have any cellulite, yet.

As one year ends and I enter my late twenties proper, I've been thinking, not about the lines on my face so much or my marital status but about my career, or present lack there of. I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to the idea of re-applying my brain to academia and starting a PhD! Though in what field or subject I have no idea. I do miss the research process and writing and talking about literature. Since leaving university I have hankered after something more fulfilling than what I've done in radio or management or any of my other random jobs. I don't want or expect to make a fortune out of it but I do want to fill my head with interesting non-solipsistic things and do some good for others. Pipe dreaming?

Koh Tao and Night Diving

Another fun day of diving draws to a close here in Koh Tao and Ric and I are rather pleased with how easy and therefore enjoyable we found our first night dive this evening. We didn't bash in to each other too much and saw a lot of sea cucumbers; huge, ugly sluggy things, and urchins, but not a great deal else, in spite of our bright torches! It was quite a challenge using a torch and a camera underwater in the dark!

The scuba centre we're with here is fun. The people running it are eager to get to know us and relaxed. It's funny, everywhere we go to dive (and especially here because it's cheap) there seem to be quite a few English or American people training to be dive masters. This can take months or even years depending on your budget, time, skills etc. Most of those who are training or who are now dive instructors or masters, went on holiday like us and simply decided they didn't want to go home so instead they quit their jobs, stay, fritter (this is obviously subjective but it's what they all say!) away all their worldly savings and live in what you could describe as paradise, making their hobby a job. Admittedly, it is super addictive and obviously a fun sport and I can see the appeal of living in these tropical places. I'm not sure I'd enjoy doing it full time though or teaching other people how to dive. I think the dive sites themselves would become a bit boring after a while.

We have been exploring the island a bit, searching for some diving clothes. I bought yet two more bikinis (as if I need them!). They were less than a fiver each though and I reckon I'll wear them out quickly what with all this underwater activity! Today we also sent a big box of clothes, books and other accumulated shizzle off to my dad's house in Oz. We simply couldn't face lugging our jackets, socks and other heavy clothes around Asia any more. It's amazing how much stuff we'd acquired despite demonstrating what we thought was such such restraint for most of this trip! Now we have plenty of room for more junk, and bikinis!

I still haven't had a Thai massage. Maybe I'll save that one for my birthday in a couple of days.

Ric's working on designs for his games and I'm wondering what line of work I'm going to try to get in to. I think I'll find it very hard to work for someone else again. I do know I must do something that interests and inspires me.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Koh Tao and diving with my camera!

Note to self. Always spellcheck my blog posts!

We're here in Koh Tao! What a long journey it was to get here. The coach we rode on from downtown Bangkok was comfortable enough, with air-con and reclining seats and funny floral 70's decor but it had no reading lights and they stuck on THE MOST TERRIBLE films imaginable and for several hours. It was painful. So I closed my eyes and drowned them out with lots of Bob Dylan, Guillemots, Creedance Clearwater and other indie favourites. The melodies, riffs and lyrics of the music I love so much all seem so much more vital and moving when I haven't heard them for a while.

Didn't get much sleep. At 2am the bus stopped for a tea/stretch your legs break at a crusty service station where a few of us stumbled off for a pee, a smoke and/or a wander. I didn't enjoy being hassled by eager, super-caffeinated station staff to buy sour pickled plums, prawn biscuits and other disgusting junk food at that time of night. What a job hey? I did get some chocolate of course.

Then at 5am we arrived at the port where we waited to board the 7am boat to the island. Blurry eyed, we watched the most wonderful sunrise (see the pics!) and were entertained/irritated by some scrawny, lively and very noisy cockerels (see the other pics!).

With sleepy heads we sailed for two hours over to Koh Tao. Even on the boat someone tried to sell us ice-cream! The island is certainly tropical but really just for the tourists. We've seen a lot of young traveller types with motorcycle or quad bike injuries hobbling around!The Planet Scuba room we're staying in is pretty basic, well shitty. The fan is slow and the light is fitted right next is thus creating a strobe effect. The shower/loo room only has a partial ceiling too so the bedroom can smell quite fruity after one of us (not usually me by the way) has been in there and dropped a stinker! We're also next to a building site; another hotel no doubt. Ah well, it's cheap, pretty and our lodge is centrally located. We hardly spend much time in our room anyway.

After a brief snooze we headed out to a waiting boat and enjoyed two dives in 'Mango Bay' where I tried my camera casing for the first time. It was a bit scary plunging in with my relatively new camera, a gift from my mummy, but it works a treat (though we're not very good yet!) and what a hoot!

So now we can record what we see and show everyone what we're doing underwater too. It's harder than the professionals make it look to take decent pictures though. We really need a red filter and maybe a white one but Photoshop will solve that if necessary. Could become a bit of a diving bore if I'm not careful plus it's an expensive hobby in some places!

It's my mummy's birthday today and I wish she was here. I do miss her so much and other people back home. Not London though.

We went for two great boat dives this morning, me in just a bikini. We saw a great range of fish including lots of Nemos, Stingray, nudibranches, eels and huge Triggerfish (aggressive bastards!). Ric was munched by little cleaning fish. There's a lot of dive traffic down there and I don't mean the sea-life. This place really is a tourist trap! Still a lot of fun.

Some of the girls on the boat were comparing tattoos. I seem to be the only one on the island without one, or twenty. I could get one done here as there are lots of shops even on this small island but I'm still not tempted, partly because I'd never be able to decide on a design.

The menus in Asian restaurants are so funny with their misspellings. Vegetable-no-name and Justmine Tea are two of my favourites and Noddles are on offer everywhere! I shouldn't laugh. They try so hard to please us Westerners!


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Shopping frenzy

Gosh- I've suddenly gone a bit crazy and bought a whole load of things here in the markets including a bag, earrings, a bracelet, two dresses, a bikini. In my defence they were dirt-cheap and I kind of, sort of, maybe, need them. It's hard to find things to send to the girls back home. What will survive the journey and what do people actually want?!

After searching high and low and trawling through literally dozens of shopping plazas in various cities, Ric finally found an underwater camera case today, though for my camera not his. They don't seem to stock them for his Sony T100 model any more. We are now wondering whether we'll need a red filter too as this is the colour that gets filtered out the further down you go. It will be fun to be able to photograph our underwater adventures from now on.

It's nearly 7pm here and we're about to embark on a 15 hour bus and boat ride to Koh Tao, an island on the east side of Thailand. It's very picturesque and good for diving, and of course parting. Nothing like as hedonistic as Koh Phangan which is just south of this island.

Neither of us is that excited about the prospect of one of these 'full moon parties' that so many people flock to Thailand for. They sound, erm... interesting. I think I'd feel very old though I suppose I might change my mind by the 18th June! Maybe I should get a tattoo and braid my hair - get in to the swing of things. In the mean time, we've got a brilliant 5 night, 10 dive deal plus food and transfers so we're happy. Our hut is literally on the beach apparently!

I hope we get some sleep tonight. Best stock up on journey snacks...

Monday, 26 May 2008

more Bangkok

I've got 10 minutes on the clock then it's dinner time.

Whilst walking and tuk-tukking about Bangkok today (which we've incidentally decided is very similar city to all the others we've visited after all!) I've been wondering what I'm here for and what all these other people are here for too. Bangkok seems to have thrown the question sharply in to my thoughts. I'm realising what a creature of habit I am too. How I like going to work and having a home and even how cold weather is good some of the time. Sharpens the senses. Anyway, I digress...

What is this travelling malarkey all about ay? God this sounds cheesy doesn't it?! I'm not trying to 'find myself' as such but I am questioning my existence and I think it's true to say everything seems a lot more vital and pressing when you're on the road all the time. It's a strange dichotomy; I find I spend half my time looking after my basic needs (including food, shelter, physical direction etc.), and the rest contemplating the bigger picture, the fruitlessness versus value of my life. Both seem of equal importance.

Are we so-called travellers here to see places in all their shades, to really experience other cultures and immerse ourselves, or to simply enjoy cheep living and to cheerily tick them off in our Lonely Planets, show off to friends on facebook and collect customs stamps in our passports for posterity as we go? I suppose we all have different reasons. For me, this is about seeing a few new places before I visit my father in Oz. Unfortunately I'm too cynical and stubborn to think this will change me in any obvious or significant way. That's not to say I'm not being open minded.

I wonder if there are acknowledged rights of passage for travellers? The number of bugs you pick up or bags you have stolen perhaps.

I'm awash with thoughts and questions but also a lot happier suddenly. I think I'm getting the hang of it, this, what ever 'it' is. Perhaps I wont want to return to work after all.

We're heading out of here and off to Koh Tao tomorrow evening. The West side of Thailand is now experiencing the wet season so this is the island to go to.

Gotta dash...

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Thailand jaunt begins

Hurrah! We've arrived in Bangkok. The flight from Manila was delayed so we didn't get in til three o'clock this morning and wearily headed straight to the tallest hotel in the cit, the Baiyoke Sky Hotel. We only went because a fellow tourist in Coron recommended it and it was certainly impressive but boy were we stung! It might have been palatial and more like a classy flat than a hotel room but we should never have to pay more than 20 squid for decent rooms in this part of the world no matter how tall the damn thing is! Ah well. I caned it in the gym this morning, in an effort to get my money's worth. I do miss my early morning runs around Brockwell Park!

We've now moved to a sprawling budget hotel, the Rambuttri Village Inn (and paying a fifth of the price we payed last night) in the lively Banglamphu district. It has a huge roof-top pool!

Oh my God - what a lot of long-haired travellers there are here in Bangkok! Far more than any other place we've been to. Some are so brown and sun-bleached and covered in tattoos, not to mention dressed head to toe in their bell-bottomed trousers, 'ethnic' jewellery and linen shirts you'd think they'd been on the road for years! Maybe they have. They look pretty stoned too. A lot of public school space cadet kids here of course. Ric's on the look out for a nice local lass.

The Thais certainly know how to cater for our every want and need (and not just the men!) without it feeling like they're just out to rob us. They are a very pretty people who seem to smile a lot. Not so many beggars in the streets either which naturally makes a big difference to one's experience of a place. Lots of monks everywhere. Most of what the vendors are flogging is pretty good, well appealing at least, if not great quality and most crucially for most, it's cheap. We've already been to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, the biggest and oldest temple in Bangkok and we've walked around loads of wonderful food, clothes and jewellery markets. And yes, I'm afraid we've already succumbed to some light cotton clothes. Ric looks quite dapper in his new white shirts though he's too emarassed to wear them yet. He is looking very different. So am I I think. I've never been so brown for one thing or worn so little make up! He's also bought some rather crude Buddhist charms. Fertility ones we can only presume. Ahem!

I like this place. Not sure why exactly as it's not so far removed from any other Asian capital we've been to. Perhaps it's because it has a vibe (how hippy) which reminds me of Glastonbury or some other summer festival back home but with better weather, food and toilets! It's lively and densely populated and it is obviously the hub-point for many travelling around S. E. Asia but it's surprisingly easy to get to grips with and somewhat easy-going. It's also clean!

Maybe it's just good for us to been amongst other tourists for a while. It's easier to blend in that's for sure. It's not so humid either. Hot and dry. Just the way I like it. Just shows you should always make your own mind up about a place. So many friends told us KL and Manila would be more fun and interesting than here. Not so me thinks, although there aren't that many landmarks or specific things to see unless you have a special interest in temples.

We've got to decide where to go from here. All this packing and unpacking and moving from A to B with lots of delays and struggling to book things on-line or with bad phone lines is proving quite wearing so I think it's time we stayed in one place for a while. As much as I'd like to defy the traveller trend, I sense Thailand is the place to do it. It'll be a nice place to be for my birthday at least and to collect and send presents for peeps back home! I'm determined to focus on having fun from now on. I've said it before and I can feel gradual shifts but I have spent too much time fretting and worrying about silly things on this trip so far. I must let go a bit.

I do wish I wasn't always clock watching as I write. These internet cafes are draining my pockets of change and in this one you have to feed a metre every 15 mins or it beeps loudly at you. Most unnerving!

Friday, 23 May 2008

Farewell Philippines

Another day in paradise although the internet here is next to useless! I did find the island's post office though and literally covered a postcard with stamps! They assured me it would get there within two weeks and we're delighted to boast that they used airmail!

We didn't dive today but went kayaking around the islands again. Well, that was the intention but the kayaks were all rented out so we used a small boat and after an hour or so and a quick swim we got caught in torrential rain in the middle of the bay and couldn't get back to shore for half an hour despite our brave efforts! The girls at the dive resort laughed their heads off when they saw us out in the boat, absolutely drenched and snapping at each other.

Then we went riding at a place called Horse Valley Riding Club. Quite a grand name for what was essentially a run-down barn and paddock with a few ponies, but what a hoot! There were no adults to be seen there, only loads of children, dogs, chickens and horses obviously. Shaggy's 'Mr. Bombastic' was being cranked up on the radio. The boy who took us on the hack can't have been more than 13 years old, though he refused to disclose his actual age, and the horses were as we expected, tiny! Ric's had a mind of its own (plus he hadn't ridden for some 20 years) and so would I if I had to carry his big gangly dimensions! It was a good way to see other parts of the island. We passed locals washing their clothes in the streams, farms, lots of shacks full of children(!), fields of palms and other lush rugged rural views. Lovely place.

Where to go next? We're a bit sick of cities. We've thought about visiting idyllic Boracay and the rice fields and the Whale Sharks in Donsol but have decided to head off to Thailand as this will be more cost-effective and easier. So, to Manila tomorrow for an 8 hour wait in the airport and then we'll fly to Bangkok tomorrow night. Yes it's a city but we have to go and we'll get out of there and on to some beaches soon enough. There's also a cycling tour I'd like to check out!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

More Coron wrecks and Barracuda Lake

Another great day of diving. Feeling very spoilt and burnt! We're getting good at squeezing through wrecks! On our boat today were some gorgeous buffed German blokes! It would be easy to start taking these amazing sights for granted we've seen so many.

Barracuda Lake was incredible. It's a magnificent place reached only by water and then clambering over jagged rocks with all our heavy scuba gear on. Then, in the water it's like being on another planet. Not much life on the bottom except hundreds of shrimps and a thick sludge. It was a very strange experience swimming without weights or suits and going from hot to cold, saline to fresh and then going in to a zero visibility area in the middle.

It's funny meeting people on their travels. There are not just 18 year old school leavers doing what we're doing in this part of the world it seems. We've met bankers, web geeks, media and advertising execs, chefs, millionaire Americans and Brits (with their much younger Asian spouses) etc. Some are surprisingly candid about their lives, madnesses, weaknesses, desires, hopes and intentions. It's good to do the same some times, let one's guard down a bit and get to know people in this transient period, though I know I'd have a totally different experience if I wasn't part of a couple. I wonder how people perceive us. It amuses me. We're come across some really odd couples, that's for sure. I don't think I ever take Ric for granted but we are in each other's space so much!

It's raining hard outside now and we're starving. Diving really makes you hungry and tired.
Horse riding tomorrow. The horses, or ponies, are dinky apparently. Should be interesting.

Also now trying to find a way to get to Thailand. Might have to spend a day in a Manila airport...we always do things a day too late!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Diving Around Palawan

We have been having a great time diving here in Coron, Palawan. This place is beautiful.

After five skill dives and a bit of theory we've completed our Advanced Diver course and boy have we seen a lot of wrecks (not as interesting as I'd hoped but different from fishies and turtles)! Most of them are vessels which were bombed in September 1944. Today we got right inside the bowels of one called the Okikawa Maru. Absolutely terrifying squeezing round that one especially when I was the last in so had to contend with everyone else's kicked up sludge and dirt! Diving is getting easier and easier for me and I have no problems with my ears now. We've seen a lot of jelly fish, flying fish and clown fish! Not as much variety as Sipadan where we were somewhat spoilt in that respect. The water does feel different though; silker almost. The staff are relaxed and friendly here. The Filipinas are cheeky with the men. Hmm.

Last night we went to the town's hot springs in a couple of clapped-out motorised tricycles with some of our fellow divers and a bag of beers. The locals seemed intrigued and came out to watch us as we trundled down the dusty streets. Was an absolute hoot, we paid peanuts to get in and it was wonderful. Algae (good for the skin don't you know) meant we slid off the sides of the spring in to the hot salty moon-lit water and there were even fireflies dancing round us as we splashed about. Just what we needed after a long day of diving.

Tomorrow we're going to a couple more wrecks but also to Barracuda Lake which promises to be our strangest dive do date. It is one of only two such places in the world you can dive in such extraordinary conditions. The only way to get to the lake is to climb the broken cliff, up the jagged limestone, over the knife edged ridges and down into the bay on the football field sized lake. I might pay a local to help me with my scuba gear! What's interesting about it is the fact that the surface water down to 12 meters is fresh water and supports a variety of fresh water aquatic life. Descending beyond 12 meters you pass through an inversion layer into very dense salty water at 44 degrees Celsius which supports marine life.

Then below about 32 metres is another inversion layer leading to cooler water again. Crazy or what? At the meeting point between the salt and fresh water is a 5cm thick mixing layer where the hot and cold waters of different density and salinity meet. It's like swimming in mud at that depth apparently. Objects in the water often are dense enough to sink through the fresh water, but light enough to float on the salt water layer, so hang in this 5cm mixing layer, forming a visible barrier between the fresh and salt water which to a diver either appears as a false bottom to the lake or a false surface depending on your depth. It'll be interesting to see what lives there, beside the barracuda!

Monday, 19 May 2008


The typhoon has passed us in the Philippines it seems. Phew! Though it's not very sunny.

I wonder every day whether to stop the Larium as I am, I think, more than usually preoccupied with irrational thoughts, OCD, call it what I may. Can't seem to get them out of my system. The more I try the less sucessful I am, naturally. I panic. This is not good for me or for Ric. Being busy is good and it might not be the drugs at all of course.

So, after an early morning flight on a tiny no-frills (to put it very lightly) plane out of a domestic airport in Manila (crikey what a mad place to be at 6am this morning!) and a very bumpy ride along red clay roads in a jeepney, we're here in the town of Coron on the island of Busuanga in Palawan where we've already been swimming, kayaking round the islands and laughed at by apparently all the kids in the village as we walked up to the highest view point, a massive cross over looking the town. It's got a nice atmosphere this place. Kids everywhere of course (do they have schools here?!) but not begging or running after us.

We're staying right on the water, at a resort called SeaDive and here Ric (and maybe I) will do his Advanced Diving courses. The wrecks here are world renown, some are HUGE and there are loads of them. My reluctance is down to money mainly, which is being sucked quite rapidly from my bank accounts, as anticipated, but I think I'm going to do it anyway since I don't want Ric to have one up on me and it will prove useful in Oz and it's far more fun to dive with each other AND I'll regret not doing it.

Our instructor is a warm and laid-back chap, originally from Surrey of all places (he spent years diving in the UK and reckons it's great- you wouldn't think it!) who has already instilled enormous confidence in me after I raised the subject of my problem ears. He thinks he can teach me how to prevent it pretty easily. He seems very good and the beauty of this place is that we'd be the only two in the group so it is much more personal.

We particularly like the fact that here we can walk around town rather than remain confined to the resort as we were at Mabul in Borneo. It's important to us that we're able to see the whole picture of a place, or at least get a more rounded view. It's striking how much Catholicism there is here in the Philippines especially after being in more Muslim, or at least multi-faith countries, like Malaysia and Japan. There are loads of churches, the taxis are festooned with rosaries and other garb and the jeepneys are often decorated with religious plaques and paintings. You can tell a lot about a country by the crap the taxi drivers attach to their rear view mirrors, well its religions, superstitions, sporting preferences and sense of humour at least. The Malaysians win the prize for the most amount of ornaments per mirror though, including waving cats, air fresheners, beads, charms, crucifixes, plus all sorts of random nick-knacks. The Filipinos are a very superstitious people apparently and a lot of that derives from their old 'folk religion'.

Of all the places we've been recently, the Philippines has been the trickiest for finding meat-free food (Ric has no idea why I persist) but the quality of cooking at this resort is great and the menu very varied (perhaps because this place is American owned they do fantastic onion rings with garlic sauce and the best bacon in Asia according to Ric). Even if it weren't so good you can't beat eating al fresco on a balcony with crickets chirping around you, a backdrop of pink sky, lush mountains and blue sea, with the sound of terrible local karaoke (or videoke as they tend to call it here) blasting out in the not-quite-far-enough-away-but-tolerable distance.

Ah me. It'll be good to dive again. I honestly wish I could have a holiday from myself a lot of the time. Need to focus my brain and body on something other than fantastical, intangible, unprovable, unchangeable, unpleasant thoughts and fears again.

I hear my mum is looking in to Labrador puppies back home. I couldn't bear to miss out on another Andrex pup entering the Crawford household. Maybe I should get my own in Oz.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Ric's Pics and Thank You

The typhoon seems to have missed us here in Manila and we shouldn't have a problem flying off to Busuanga tomorrow where we're going to do some diving off Palawan and some of the other islands. We've just worked out the exchange rate here isn't quite as good as we imagined but it's still pretty cheap. We found ourselves at a gig last night in a new upper class suburb. Indie kids sound and look the same no matter where you go it seems, they try to look and sound beat and 'angsty' but butter wouldn't melt in these nice boys' mouths really! And as I munched on my balsamic-dressed crispy salad leaves I couldn't help thinking first of all how the place was the absolute antithesis of the poorer districts we've visited and also how there is a somewhat sterile atmosphere to it, compared with London. No sweaty, grimy, sticky, beer drenched, smokey bars for these young rockers. It's just nice. There's something of a facade about it, just as there is with the malls which reveal nothing of the shambolic politics and poverty prevalent elsewhere else.

I would like to thank people who have written anonymous comments and kind words about my blog and pictures and what I'm doing. It's means the world to me.

Here are some pics that Ric took.

Oh and for the record, having just been to a country (Japan) where people don't leave so much as a sweet wrapper on the tube, I think the ban on booze is a great idea though I'm not sure it'll make a huge difference! People drink a lot before they even get on the tube. Nevertheless, go BoJo! I am sorry I'll miss the parties the night before though! Hilarious!

Saturday, 17 May 2008


A slightly scatological blog for you from an internet cafe...

After a sleepless night in a tiny, window-less, stinky (it was freshly painted), lime green cell on the far outskirts of Manila, where we were advised not to go out but call for takeaway if we wanted dinner, we upgraded to a more swanky hotel in the centre of town, albeit in a pretty seedy district. Manila is a big sprawling city with no specific centre. It's amazing to find so many ugly looking older white guys, geeks mainly, walking about with their Filipino brides.

One dude brought three to the breakfast table this morning! I wonder what the staff and indeed other locals must think? A much more upsetting facet of the sex trade is of course that which involves children, not that we've seen or expect to see evidence of that. I do find it distressing to see so many kids on the streets, playing in the gutters, begging, flogging stuff or sniffing glue. Didn't see this in Malaysia. That's the funny thing. On the face of it, this place seems quite Western with lots of malls (the Mall of Asia is the biggest we've been to yet) and billboards and hotels it's still very Asian and very poor. No middle class here.

Although the architecture here is very interesting, what with all the American and Spanish influences and we've been hanging out with Ric's old friend Keith Sicat, a fantastically interesting and enthusiastic film maker, I'm not enjoying the Philippines yet. God, what a moaner I am.

I'm also very upset about what's happening, or NOT, in Burma but you don't hear much about it except on foreign news channels. The news here is predictably very censored. The Philippines has one of the highest death/disappearance tolls among journalists in the world! Coming from a country where so much is printed and broadcast, truth and lies, I find that hard to get my head round. People here think the wet season is coming early to this part of Asia. Global warming or a knock on effect of the typhoons?

Someone, an emaciated middle-aged woman, tried to mug me the other night when I nipped out, yes on my own, to get some food. She was fast and got in to my bag by getting up close to me while I crossed the road. I noticed though and ran after her screaming. I think she was more scared of me and jumped in to the back of a jeepney (local bus kind of thing) where she just sat squished in between a dozen other people and stared at me before giving my purse back! No wonder I'm feeling a bit unsure of myself in this place and perhaps sound a bit exasperated.

For the first time I'm feeling pretty lost, trapped (now I really don't want to go out on my own anywhere!) and tired of being hassled constantly by taxi and tricycle drivers, street vendors and beggars who I'm ashamed to admit I also feel such a strange mixture of pity and dislike for. To them we are so well off. But I'm moreover frustrated at being just a tourist and so impotent in terms of my ability to help or support or even understand what's going on here properly.

We're eager to get out Manila soon and visit some of the 7000+ islands which are supposed to be incredibly beautiful. Good wreck dives there too.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Farewell Sabah

We're a month in to the trip now although it feels like a lot longer somehow and I think we're beginning to realise the value of 'down time'. All this rushing about and cramming it in takes it's toll, is stressful even, and it's been very pleasant to have a couple of days in KK this week doing as little as possible and independently of each other before we head off to Manila. Jimmy, whose hotel we are staying in took us for dinner again last night. He's a good bloke and seems to have enjoyed our company and I've left him a couple of books. I'm so glad we came here.

As for me and Ric, we've not had any fights yet but it is hard work being in each other's faces 24-7 and I think we both miss the company of our friends and colleagues if only so we have new things to talk about with each other. I am missing people back home.

Oh dear. I sound a bit glum don't I?! I've got a nasty cold and have been experiencing my first bout of travellers sickness (at both ends) which is probably why. No diving for a while me thinks.

I'd love to do some horse riding though.

So on to the Philippines. Looking forward to it.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Mount Kinabalu

The jungle visit was very isolating and though interesting, not all that pleasant or fun (even dare I say a bit of a rip-off?) so we decided to get out and do something more physically challenging. So after catching another bus in to the mountains (on which some poor sod started vomitting as we ascended the mountains) and after two gruelling days Ric and I have just returned from climbing Mount Kinabalu. Our legs are like jelly. It was like walking up and down 6km of stairs! We went up to the 6 km cut-off point in just three hours! Most people take between 4 and 6.

Unfortunately, although we wanted to go straight up, the park authorities wouldn't let us climb the last 2km to the summit or at 3am this morning, which is when people usually go to catch the sunset, as the weather was terrible. It howled all night as we tried to sleep in our fibre glass, unheated hut. It was absolutely freezing! I spent most of the night shivering in my sleeping bag, in my bunk bed, while a Spanish couple canoodled on the other side of the room and Ric slept like a baby with his earplugs firmly in and eye-mask strapped on. I longed for a hot bath, dry socks, a duvet and some chocolate. Talk about a going from one extreme to another! Goodness knows how the staff who live up there, and only come down twice a month, cope! Life up in the mountain is stripped to the barest form. It's all about survival and waiting for the weather to be favourable. And the guides who climbers are obliged to hire are so fit! Ours didn't even break in to a sweat.

I have to say, what with the cold and the onset of a cold, I was more than a teensie bit relieved we didn't do that last leg especially since we had to walk down the whole thing again anyway.
Took some okay pics but all we could really see was cloud most of the way up and down. What a shame.

I'm a bit miffed that have a cold. Not nice in this heat. Both of us are peeling. We're back in Kota Kinabalu now where it's as baking as usual and trying to decide where to go next. Bangkok we think and then Cambodia and Laos.

We're only a month in to the trip and we've packed it in but worry that things could get tiring and samey and we could tire of each other if we're not careful. We've seen a lot of cities and don't care too much for temples and try as we may, it's not that easy to hook up with people unless you stick around in one place for a while. Most of the 'travellers' we've met are on a tight budget, are terribly smug and know-it-all or are simply off to do different things. Maybe Thailand will be different in that respect. The Lonely Planet makes everything sound a bit the same too so we need some inspiration!

Orang Utans and Rainforests

After three days of diving at the wonderful Mabul and Sipadan Islands, and buying the T-shirts, we headed north to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where visitors can watch the monkeys being fed. It was interesting to see them and the work done there but it was essentially just a zoo so we decided to venture in to the rainforest a couple of hours away.

The buses are by no means regular here and we again waited over two hours in the blistering heat for one! The drivers try their luck with us when they see our fair skin.

Time to write some long overdue postcards.

The long bus journeys send us both a bit loopy. We don't speak much. Just sweat. When we have to stop the heat becomes instantly unbearable! Although I read (now reading Celine), listen to a lot of Bob Dylan and look out at the amazing landscapes of green jungle, huge palm plantations, sea, dusty villages, mountains, there's a lot of time to let thoughts swirl about one's head. I keep thinking about my childhood. Perhaps because this transience and lack of concrete plans is like being on a long school holiday in a way. I think how the years are flying by. I resolve again and again to change my ways, to behave in this way and that, to be happy, to be kinder to myself etc. I'm going round in circles quite a lot. 'Why am I doing?' is a familiar question!

I think the heat and lack of sleep (a lot of 6am wake up calls) is affecting my memory as I've now lost my sunglasses, a towel and a jumper. Ah well. Lightens the load. I am taking the Larium as I can't find anything else in Borneo, but am doing so with caution!

So we went to the jungle. Hot, noisy, humid and dark. My ears are still blocked form diving.
Stayed in a travellers lodge where Monitor lizards roam about eating butterflies. The only way to the lodge was by boat on which we flung our trusty bulging backpacks. The bugs are big in these parts and the chorus of insects is deafening! They took us for two river cruises in a small boat and we saw all sorts of monkeys and birds and Mangrove snakes and a crocodile. Good to see them in the wild and not behind a cage. The rains here fall hard and in huge heavy drops and the rivers are chocolate colour, partly due to the heavy showers which stirs up all the red soil.

I write a lot of wafffle in my book while Ric designs games and T-shirts in his.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Sipadan Island

First day diving off Sipadan Island today. The Malaysian authorities are strict about who can go and when. A few years ago, they kicked everyone off and now guard it day and night and only let people like us visit, but not stay.

There's plenty of wildlife on it though. In fact a coupe of huge iguanas scuttled out from under the boardwalks we had our break, on scaring us half to death!

We did two boat dives. Amazing. The sea here full of interesting things, clear and like a warm bath. The island is surrounded by walls of coral and rock, hundreds of metres deep and there's usually a current so once you've jumped off the boat and sorted out your buoyancy at a good depth, you can just sit back and let yourself float past the face of the reef watching all that lives in it and on it or is just passing by.

I feel so privileged to be able to get to know the underwater world even just a fraction. There are creatures down there I had no idea existed. They all seem so dextrous (unlike me) and busy in their own way. From above it looks so daunting and choppy but the moment you plunge in, take your first breath and have a look, around it becomes an absolute haven.

We saw gigantic turtles today (I nearly bumped in to one), my first shark, huge schools of dragon, rock, pipe, razor, puffa and lion fish, eels, sea horses, besides dozens of others we don't yet know the names of. What a great show!

We're also getting to know the other divers better. A real mixed bag of a lone English girl whose doing something similar to us, a Malaysian coupe who say nothing but are very experienced, two sweet Japanese women (they predictably have the most funky colour coordinated gear and cameras), and a portly older American 'oil man' and his much younger pretty Kazakhstani girlfriend. It works.

Ric and I were useless at 'buddying' each other at first but after a few hairy moments between us, we're sticking together now. It's bad when I start giggling, which I seem prone to do underwater, especially at Ric when he flaps about like a drowning dog. He's getting much better at that though and not chundering. We reckon this could be the reason for that.

We both still get nose bleeds and I find it bloody hard to equalize which husts my ears!

Tomorrow we're going to hire a water-proofed camera. Wish we had one already!

There's something strangely grounding and simultaneously elevating about being 20 metres deep in water, completely reliant on a tank of air strapped to one's back, and hearing and watching one's breath bubble upwards.

I felt so small and vulnerable today, both under the water and on the boat from which we saw almost a complete 360 degree horizon and a brilliant blue sky. Funny to think we are looking at the same sun which shines back home.

I felt frustrated too. A familiar feeling. All this beauty, such marvels and yet I am still being hounded by my 'demons', for want of a much better expression. The irrational fears I have and negatively I feel towards myself have a constant presence. I never expected them to evaporate but they do seem pretty silly and irrelevant suddenly. I wonder if 'it', if life gets any better than this and if I can ever feel the happiness I imagine I should be experiencing. I think a lot about my loved ones back home, especially those who are suffering a lot while I'm exploring the world and I realise how fortunate I am to be here.

I am very happy to be sharing this all with Ric. Right now, I don't ever want to return to London. This is much better for my health!

One more day diving here tomorrow and then off to see the Orang Utans and climb the highest mountain in Asia!

Monday, 5 May 2008

Swimming with the fishies off Mabul Island

We are here! We've arrived in Mabul, an idyllic island off the southern tip of Sabah.

We find it a bit weird that we are so separated from the locals who look after us here, having generally preferred to eat and hang out with them on the rest if our trip. There's even a barbed wire fence between our resort area and their homes and our curfew is at 6pm! The implication from the staff is that we'll get mugged if we venture out on our own. I've personally never felt threatened in Malaysia, even when I am on my own.

Still, you couldn't ask for more in a resort really. It really is stunning. Only 20 or so tourists here. All here for he diving. The food is great, it's baking hot, there's a pool and we have our own raised hut to sleep in. The military patrols the island too for our protection, after a boat full of divers was taken hostage in 2000.

Being an island, we had to come over by boat from the mainland and saw some tiny, picture-perfect islands on the way. Proper paradise, though I don't much fancy living on one by myself. Too remote.

There are wild dogs and skinny cats with docked tails wandering around everywhere. Timid creatures. We nearly squished an iguana whilst driving over from the mainland. The minibus driver screeched to a halt though and moved cautiously around it while it ambled on.

We've done two boat dives already (the dive masters are gorgeous!) and tomorrow are off to Sipadan, the real reason people flock here. It's clear, deep and full of interesting things, if something of a challenge even for the most experienced divers, which we're obviously NOT! Hope to see some sharks though and more giant turtles. It's hilarious the way these dopey-faced, massive creatures glide about with such insouciance.

Grub time...wish my ears would stop popping. Equalizing is my main diving problem it seems.

Diving in KK

After an intense two day Padi course Ric and I are now qualified Open Water Divers!
We have just completed our third day of diving proper on the islands near Kota Kinabalu. It's surprisingly tiring and we're shattered but thrilled and on a bit of a high- that might well be the nitrogen flowing round our systems! Oh, and I am brown!

Our new pal K.K. Chin took us for a foot massage last night. Not sure Ric was too pleased. The three of us sat in throne-like chairs in a candlelit room while three young Chinese chaps rubbed, pummelled, massaged and washed our legs, feet and shoulders. It was bliss. Cost 28 ringits, so roughly 4 quid each, for an hour! K.K. is a bit nuts we think. He's hilarious. So much generosity, energy and spark but never listens to a word we say!

Diving is great fun although for the second time in a row, a valve in my body jacket proved faulty today and I couldn't stop myself rushing up to the surface from 18 metres! Ric thought I'd drowned. I thought my ears were going to explode. Inexperience and slightly dodgy gear were to blame apparently. One learns from these experiences I suppose. Not especially reassuring since things simply can't afford to go wrong at 20 metres! My breath-controlled boyancy has improved massively as a result.

Ric wasn't chundering over the side of the boat today but did have a nasty nose bleed which made quite a mess when he surfaced.

We have seen all sorts of fish, sea slugs, coral and even turtles but this place is nothing compared with where we are going tomorrow. Mabul and Sipadan Islands boast some of the most beautiful dives in the world. We have to leave here at 5.30am (I should be in bed!) so we can get there for diving in the afternoon.

Ric is wondering where and when he can do his Master Diver course.

I'm just thinking about perfecting my existing skills and technique, although this course has opened up a lot of options for our world tour. We're now considering where else we can go for good diving. Much better than shopping in malls!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Finding Nemo

First day of diving today. Wow! What a thrill!

The island Borneo Divers took us to is paradise. It was so warm in the sea too. Not like the shores back home. Saw loads of fishies even in the shallow water, even found Nemo(!) and we went down to 10 metres!

The training is quite intense so we're going through all the emergency procedures - changing mouthpieces and removing the body jacket underwater is a bit scary at first. We both had a splutter. The two kids learning with us enjoyed pointing out that because they are so young they're 'like sponges and can learn fast', ie. not like you two fuddy duddies. The cheek!

A combination of the heat, dehydration, overexertion, nitrogen, pressure etc. has resuted in Ric being rather unwell this evening. In fact he hurled as soon as we got off the boat which brought us back from the island and has been upstairs in bed since.

I'm fine. Have lost track of the days and thinking I never want to go back to an office job.

He'd better get better by tomorrow. I wouldn't want him to miss any of this.
Another 8.30am pick-up and back to the island for deeper dives.


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Diving School

Ric and I went back to school today. We're doing the Padi course which seems very good. Three others in the class. All of us novices. Tomorrow they're taking us off to the sea. So much to take in! I hope I don't bottle it.

The people here are so relaxed, even saying hello to us in the street. One half of town is full of Starbucks, hotels and expensive shops, but our end is a more fun. Loads of places to sit, eat and drink outside.

The days are scorching and it rains through the night. The locals say the climate is changing. More variable in recent years.

I can't wait to hit the water!

Malaysian Love Affair Starts Here

What a crazy few days we've had. After spending three sweaty days in nights in Singapore we headed by train to Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur. It took 8 or so hours on a rickety old thing which trundled through the border past shabby villages, jungles, rivers, paddy fields and high rise towns. Again we were very much in the minority and the train was packed with families of all races.

At the border we all had to get out while they searched the train for stow-aways and stamped our passports. The woman behind me belched all the way! The loos were black holes and had no locks. Highly entertaining.

We arrived at midnight in to bustling, humid KL and decided for a few extra quid (though it still cost us less than 25 each) to stay in a four star hotel which had a pool! Joy!

So on our first day in KL with no idea where we wanted to go or how long we wanted to stay in the city we went for a wonder. We've seen a lot of cities now and although the architecture and the vibe is always a bit different, they all have the same type of malls, restaurants and attractions.

Time to get out and see some country side and some nature. As we negotiated the trains, maps in hands, we bumped in to a guy from Sabah called K.K. Chin, who befriended us immediately and took us on a whirlwind tour of the city all around China Town, the fake goods markets, the 'Twin Towers', the malls, forbidding us to pay for anything. 'Where's Sabah we asked?', totally ignorant of the Borneo region. 'Sabah?! Oh my friends. Your people came here a long time ago and you don't know? You don't know where the best diving spot in the world is? Where to see the turtles, the highest mountain, the jungles?! Ah, my friends!'

We didn't need any further persuasion to leave at once.

So here we are sitting in his mate Jimmy's hotel in Kota Kinabalu on the East side of Malaysia.
He collected us from the airport and drove us round the town, bought us dinner despite our protestations and helped us book an intensive diving course which we start tomorrow, after which we'll head over the Sipadan Island which boasts the deepest scuba dive in the world.

Then Mount Kinabalu and orang utan reserves.

Naturally we're nervous about diving but so excited and thanking our stars that we met K.K.. He's even on a mission to find me veggie food and even Quinine after I told him about my reluctance to take Larium, which has fortunately caused no side effects in Ric.

Our cautious British natures make us question such generosity and good fortune but the people here all seem so friendly and laid back and even grateful that we Brits want to be here plus the landscape is so lush and beautiful that it's easy to relax and go with the flow!

So diving school starts tomorrow at 9am. Someone is the bar next door is singing Elton John and the rain is lashing down but we feel at ease and will sleep well.

Thailand will have to wait for a few weeks. We're glad we didn't over look Malaysia as we might well have done had we not made these new friends.

A lot of hippies here. People who've been travelling for a while. Also, in Asia generally we've notcied a lot of anxious looking couples! The girls mainly. I don't think I look so concerned any more!