Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Multitudes and Miniatures



11 to 19 January, 2017 - Larena-Siquijor, Tagbilaran-Bohol, Doljo Beach - (Philippines)

A blog about the multitudes at Siquijor, and the miniatures on Bohol.

Although we did do some fantastic snorkelling at Siquijor, the wonderful marine life that enthralled us for hours did not require us to do much more than wade in. At low tide, before even getting our feet wet, we watched battalions of soldier crabs rippling across the sand bar. From a distance, each wave was just a single dark mass, like a shadow, morphing into different shapes as it moved.

Further along the squishy sandbar, maintaining their own territory free of crabs, were the scores of sandy coloured sea stars. Sometimes, it was hard to identify if the star was a living creature, or just an impression left behind in the sand by one which had moved on.

And out in the water near the dark patches of spiny sea urchins, were the red, orange, and ochre sea stars, with their blackened knobbly spines.

An Army of Blue Soldier Crabs
An Army of Blue Soldier Crabs
For about half an hour, while the tide was at the its lowest point, thousands upon thousands of tiny crabs scuttled across the beach. Taking a step towards them, they would bury themselves in the sand, and in seconds, there was almost no evidence they had even been there.


Crab Individuals - Blue Soldier Crabs
Crab Individuals - Blue Soldier Crabs
If we stood still for a few minutes, the buried crabs would bravely emerge from their sandy hiding places. They just didn't notice us when we were not moving.


A Spotted Moon Crab
A Spotted Moon Crab
Claws and legs pulled in nice and tight, flattened so that all the toughest shell locks together to create a defensive armour. On the shore, Siquijor island.


Various Sea Stars on the Sand
Various Sea Stars on the Sand
Generally, they were just laying on the wet sand. At first, we thought they were dead. Every now and then, one or two decided to get moving, and they could muster quite a cracking pace, considering they were out of the water.


Sea Stars
Sea Stars
A fleeting encounter between two sea stars.


A Small Knobby Sea Star
A Small Knobby Sea Star
Going by a variety of names (see the next picture), we grew quite fond of these abundant echinoderms. Wonderfully colourful and abundant in knee to waist deep water, Siquijor.


Chocolate Chip Starfish
Chocolate Chip Starfish
Protoreaster Nodosus, Horned Sea Star, Knobby Sea Star, or Chocolate Chip Starfish.


After a few days enjoying the sun and water at Siquijor, we ferried to Bohol. Day one, take a motorbike out and about, visiting the miniature primates and the miniature mountains.

Philippine Tarsier
Philippine Tarsier
Say hello to one of the smallest primates. An impossibly cute nocturnal creature, rarely seen in the wild. The island of Bohol is one of the few places where it is almost guaranteed to see them, in the sanctuaries. This photo was taken in a well known and long established sanctuary near Corella.


The Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills
Looking a little greener than we expected. The miniature mounds dot the landscape as far as we could see. The name comes from the colour during dry season, particularly at dawn or dusk. Not seeing them in their namesake colour did not take away from the experience.


After riding about, before returning to Tagbilaran, we decided to look for somewhere to spend the last couple of nights in Bohol, at the beach. Alona beach is where it is all happening, so we thought we would start there. Oh, it was awful. The crowds; the noise; the gringos; the general "holiday makers are here"; the overpriced accommodation. And the beach was not that wonderful. There was not going to be any possibility of getting something beachfront, without paying through the nose. So we spent some time looking at nearby beaches, getting disheartened, and finally, in the failing light, decided to give up and go back to Tagbilaran and "re=group" - assess our options and maybe hop on a bus to somewhere else entirely.

Returning to town, I missed a turn off. (I blamed the poor light, but the next day I realised there wasn't a sign, anyway, and I would have missed it regardless). After a while, we realised we had made a mistake and were not where we wanted to be and would have to double back. It was under these odd circumstances that we stumbled across the much less touristy Doljo Beach. Far quieter, and far better value. Sometimes, we feel so looked after.

The next day, it rained, and rained, and rained. Not torrential, but pretty consistent. And the wind (at the beach, at least), did not ever relax. The windsurfers and kite surfers were loving it, racing past us as we sheltered under the terrace. Occasional let ups meant we could escape and go for a walk for a (wonderful) seafood dinner (chilli crabs and sizzling calamari), but we were a little restricted in our range due to the fear of getting soaked.

The weather stayed somber, but the rain abated the following day. Not beach weather, but we motored around on a scooter for a while before deciding to ride to the Abatang River to do firefly watching. Both multitudal and miniature, it was beautiful to sit on a kayak in the still and quiet night, watching the blinking dots swarm over their selected trees. Just a tree here and there, with a few stray insects wandering to the neighbouring bushes, but the chosen trees receiving a lot of firefly attention. Sometimes, almost all of them would blink in near unison, creating a throbbing and pulsing impression like a firefly night club. Other times, the light would shimmer across the mass like a wave. And then there were times where every firefly seemed to be blinking to their own individual rhythm and style. No matter how, though, they always just looked like Christmas trees with living lights.

Dusk at the Abatang River
Dusk at the Abatang River
We were unable to capture the fireflies in photos. Sitting on a kayak in near total darkness taking pictures of hundreds of pinpoints of flashing lights is a near impossible task with good equipment, but since we were getting wet I was only willing to try photos with the phone in the waterproof sleeve. This turned near impossible to totally impossible. So, here is a "before setting out" picture to act as a memory jogger.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Typhoon Warning - We're Back in the Philippines



5 to 11 January, 2017 - Manila, Cebu, Argao, Boljoon, Moalboal - (Philippines)

We really did it in style, in Manila. Being our anniversary, we splurged at a 5 star hotel (and casino) for a couple of nights. Although we did not make use of the gaming rooms, we certainly made the the most of the included buffet breakfast!

For our anniversary dinner, we headed in to the region known as Malate. Our goal was to find the same restaurant we had dined at, three years ago, for their signature pork dish, and the crispy softshell crabs. We succeeded!

Arriving at Cebu, we checked in to a hotel which, fair to say, could be described as the almost exact opposite of where we spent the night before. It was a room, with a bed, and a spray of water from a hose called a "shower". Clean enough, and well located. "Are you here for Sinulog?" they inquired. "?", we replied. "The festival, are you here for that?" Sounds great, arriving perfectly timed for a festival. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Parties are fun; crowds not so much. Cheap street food is awesome; jacked up prices for stuff is a pain. Seeing stuff that only happens once a year is random and interesting; missing stuff that is closed or too crowded just has to be stomached.

Sinulog Festival
Sinulog Festival
There was little chance of us getting in to the cathedral in Cebu with the Sunulog Festival on, one of the biggest in this part of the world. We found a good view in an upstairs dining area of 7-Eleven, watching the crowds partaking of mass on big screens.


Fort San Pedro
Fort San Pedro
Hardly anyone was in the fort. I think everyone was at the mass at the cathedral!


Cebu is known for lechon, roast pork. So incredibly good...

We decided to clear out of Cebu city, and head to some more islands. But a typhoon warning shut down all the ferries. Potentially two or three days, we were told. So, it was time to make the most of Cebu, the island as a whole.

Interior, St Michaels
Interior, St Michaels
St Michaels Church, Argao. The wonderful ceiling murals are considered amongst the finest in Cebu.


St Michaels, Argao
St Michaels, Argao
The 200 year old church on the east coast of Cebu island.


From the bus, we spied the town of Boljoon. The church looked beautiful and the town seemed to have promise. So, we decided to have a punt and just get off here.

Altar
Altar
The altar of the church of Boljoon, the oldest in Cebu.


Church of Boljoon
Church of Boljoon
Another wonderful building on the eastern coast of Cebu.


The first accommodation we saw looked nice, but was way overpriced for what was included (or not, depending how you look at it), so we thought we would find somewhere else. Trudging through town, not finding anything, we were feeling a little disheartened. Until a couple driving by stopped and offered to take us to their place, where they had a room they rented out. "It's right on the water", they told us. Sure, it was a few kilometres from town, but their place was squeezed on a tiny strip of land between the coastal road and the sea. The room was tiny, basic, and had a balcony where our feet got sprayed on when larger waves broke.

Our Boljoon Find
Our Boljoon Find
Sometimes, when you can't find a place to stay, a place to stay finds you! Wandering, bedraggled and disheartened, a couple driving past said they had a room they could rent to us. This was our outlook.


Finally for Cebu, we went to Panagsama Beach, better known as Moalboal. For snorkelling, and for the nearby waterfall. This town was overrun with tourist amenities. Not just hostels, bars, restaurants, diveshops, but the horror of nightclubs. You can't see them during the day. You choose a secluded place at the edge of town, where you THINK it will be nice and quiet. You get the room with a balcony overlooking the water, and you go out for dinner. When you come back from dinner, you find that there is a nightclub, and although it is a few hundred metres away, it is still bloody loud. And your room shakes. And you can hear the bass through your pillow. And earplugs don't help. And putting headphones in and playing your own music doesn't help. And it goes until 6:30 in the morning, seemingly getting louder and louder. We apologised to the hotel staff as we checked out and moved, after all, it is not their fault. However, we should not put up with it out of pity for the hotel.

I Wonder Where They Went
I Wonder Where They Went
A sign at Panagsama Beach, Moalboal.


A Gecko, Hiding
A Gecko, Hiding
A gecko underside, on a green lampshade.


The highlight of our stay here, though, was snorkelling. I must say, I never thought swimming with thousands of sardines would be so easily achievable, snorkelling and not diving, and from the beach instead of going far out in a boat.

Swimming With Sardines
Swimming With Sardines
Sorry about the bad photo, but 1) it's a phone photo, 2) the case slipped and the lens was not pointing through the clear part, 3) it was too hard to see what I was photographing, and 4) they were hard to photograph, anyway. So I just took dozens of bad photos. However, this sort of shows the sardines. There were thousands, swimming like a swarm. Like an entity unto themselves. Reaching out or diving down, the mass of black would open up and conform to your shape. It was a beautiful experience.


A Hint of the Beauty at Panagsama (Moalboal)
A Hint of the Beauty at Panagsama (Moalboal)
Again, many apologies for the bad photo, but I really did want to show something of how beautiful it was in the water here.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Guam - Snorkelling, Beach Time, and a Good Dose of War History



2 to 5 January, 2017 - Tamuning - (Guam)

Bleary eyed, we arrived at the poshly named "Tamuning Plaza Hotel". We had only talked to them the night before, on the phone, to ensure we would have a room waiting when we arrived at the ungodly hour of 5:45. It seems our room had been given away. Miscommunication led the night manager to treat us as an unconfirmed booking. So now, he found another room on the list where the bookers had not arrived, and he gave that one to us. Chances are, an hour later, he was going to be repeating the process when those people turned up! Not our problem, at least we had a bed to crawl in to.

While snorkelling at Gun Beach, we heard a plane flying low overhead, on its final approach. I had to look up and see what it was. Jo says that's just being a boy. I knew where we were swimming had us under the flight path for the air force base. We had already seen a few fighters to confirm my orientation. But this was a shape I had only seen in books and on the web. The distinctive shape of a B-1 bomber, swing wings at their widest for landing, and the signature four jet exhausts, side by side in a row under the body. I was a little thrilled.

Snorkelling, Gun Beach
Snorkelling, Gun Beach
Gun Beach, near Tumon, Guam.


Picasso Triggerfish, Gun Beach
Picasso Triggerfish, Gun Beach
We saw heaps of these "80's" fish - too much blue eye shadow.


Snowflake Moray Eel
Snowflake Moray Eel
A very shy thing. We watched him for about 10 minutes, and he certainly got an impression that he was quite long. We could watch his body sliding around through an opening, Unfortunately, he was way too aware of us to come out. Taken at Piti Bomb Holes, Guam.


A Sea Star with Six Arms
A Sea Star with Six Arms
Sea stars have a great ability to regenerate lost limbs. But this ability also leads to occasional abnormalities. This blue sea star (common name, and I'm not joking, Blue Starfish, scientific name Linckia Laevigata) has an extra arm. Taken at Piti Bomb Holes, Guam.


Hand for Scale
Hand for Scale
A regular, five armed Blue Starfish. Piti Bomb Holes.


Black Knobby Sea Cucumber
Black Knobby Sea Cucumber
There were loads of sea cucumbers at Piti Bomb Holes, but this was the only one we saw of this variety.


Four days with a hire car on a perfect size island for driving around. We could easily have filled in one more day, assuming the great weather continued. We would have visited one or two more beaches, done one or two more snorkelling outings, but all in all, we left satisfied with what we did.

Defensive Cannon
Defensive Cannon
Guam, and World War II. The island is defined in so many ways by what happened in just a few years in the 1940's.


Spanish Bridge
Spanish Bridge
A reminder of early colonialism, western Guam.


Swimming, Inarajan Natural Pools
Swimming, Inarajan Natural Pools
Enjoying the wonderfully beautiful natural pools at Inarajan. Waves crash over the rocks and the water can't get back out to sea via the same path. The water flows through a series of scenic pools of varied depth before returning to the ocean a hundred metres or more further along the coast.


Water Flowing In
Water Flowing In
After the wave crashes on the rocks, the water begins its flow over the rocks, into the Inarajan Natural Pools.


One of the Inarajan Natural Pools
One of the Inarajan Natural Pools
Such a beautiful place to swim.


Synaptid Sea Cucumber
Synaptid Sea Cucumber
We watched this wonderful creature for quite some time. Using its feathery tentacles, it shovelled sand in to its mouth, extending itself, growing longer and longer, eventually retracting to a shorter bunched up shape and starting again.


Synaptid Sea Cucumber
Synaptid Sea Cucumber
This wonderfully enchanting sea cucumber, Inarajan Natural Pools, was more than a metre long.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Palau - First Stop in Micronesia



27 December, 2016 to 1 January, 2017 - Koror - (Palau)

Sunsets from planes. Yes, cliched, but looking so good at times.

Descending
Descending
On our final approach in to a transit stop at Manila.


OK, I am going to begin with a whinge, and get it over with. We do understand that there is a need to charge some sort of fee for entering the rock islands area of Palau. Let's call it a National Park entry fee, a visitor permit, or whatever. At $50 U.S., we thought it steep. Although valid for 10 days, it hurts the wallet for those of us only going in for one day. OK, so we paid it, and moved on, because that's the way it is. Then, it was a rude shock when we had to pay another $50 to leave the country, called an environmental protection tax, or something similar. Had us leaving the country with a bit of a bad aftertaste.

Speaking of aftertaste, we think it is important to try local foods, particularly if they vary from the norm of what we would get in Australia. Sometimes, it takes a lot of guts to order something. Usually, it doesn't quite marry up with our expectations, whether better, worse, or just different.

Tastes Like Chicken
Tastes Like Chicken
We ordered fruit bat soup, not quite expecting to find a whole fruit bat in the bowl of broth. After posing for a picture, the boiled bat was taken to the kitchen, fully prepared, and returned for consumption. And yes, really, it did taste a lot like chicken.


The first two days here, we did next to nothing. We went for a few swims, and we ate and drank.

We did make quite an entrance, one evening. We went to a restaurant, were enthusiastically welcomed, and gestures indicated we could sit round the side, at some waterfront seats. On the way, we had to step around the person singing and playing his keyboard. On the way, we had to stop over the cord for the entertainer. On the way, we tripped over an extension cord. On the way, we killed the entertainment.

Waterfront Happy Hour
Waterfront Happy Hour
Koror, Palau.


Eventually, we had to do something other than sit around. We were here, afterall, for the water wonders of Palau. Unfortunately, the famous jellyfish lake is currently not worth visiting. Jellyfish numbers apparently have dwindled, and the site is under serious threat. So, we went kayaking and snorkelling in the rock islands.

Islands
Islands
Islands in Nikko Bay, Palau.


Kayaking
Kayaking
Approach to Cathedral Cave.


Cathedral Cave
Cathedral Cave
View from the inside.


Magnificent Fan Corals
Magnificent Fan Corals
Corals in the World Heritage listed lagoon of Palau.


World War II Wreck
World War II Wreck
The remains of a Japanese cargo ship, sunk by an American air attack during World War II.


Coral Formation
Coral Formation
We snorkelled through a tunnel and in to a shallow salt water lake filled with a huge variety of corals and fish.


Underwater Selfie
Underwater Selfie
Didn't even use a selfie-stick.


More Coral Formations
More Coral Formations
Didn't even use a selfie-stick.


A nice dinner for New Years, another lazy day, and then it's time to move on from Palau.

NYE
NYE
Sizzling prawns and a mountain of sirloin and a view over Koror. Happy New Year.



Monday, July 11, 2016

Is it Lude to Raugh?



3 to 9 July, 2016 - Gifu, Magome, Tsumago, Tokyo, Nikko, Mt Fuji - (Japan)

Oh, I do hate myself for finding amusement in the Japanese accent. They are, after all, speaking way more English than I am speaking Japanese. But when the "Toirets are in the lear carriage", when you "cannot use frash when taking photos", and you are flying on "Qantas fright 26", then it is hard to keep a straight face.

One thing that had interested me some years ago was when I first heard about the ancient Japanese practice of cormorant fishing - where cormorants are used by the fisherman to get the fish! Well, it wasn't far out of our way, so we ended up spending a night in Gifu to witness the fascinating practice.

A Quick Bite at Gifu Station
A Quick Bite at Gifu Station
Sashimi and tempura platter.


Cormorant Fishing
Cormorant Fishing
At Gifu, we went to see the 1300 year old practice of cormorant fishing. The master fishers, of which there are 6 in Gifu, own the cormorants. Each boat has a master fisher and 2 crew. They hang iron lanterns with blazing fires out the front of the boats, and the 10-12 cormorants dive for fish. The small ones, they swallow, the ones which are too big are regurgitated and collected by the master. It is fascinating to watch, and the fires make it a real spectacle.


Cormorant Fishing
Cormorant Fishing
All the boats working together in a line to herd the fish.


Being a quick trip, we couldn't allocate too much time to any one thing. Doing a short hike between two villages, though, did get us a small taste of some of the nature that Japan has. What's more, it was a perfect opportunity to experience a ryokan, a super traditional Japanese accommodation.

The Dinner Bell
The Dinner Bell
We wondered if ringing the bell would get the bears salivating "Pavlov's Dogs" style in anticipation of a nice meal of "mountain trekker with seasonal vegetables".


Tsumago
Tsumago
The beautiful mountain village of Tsumago. This ancient post town is apparently oft used in Japanese movies and television shows. It is on a long mountain trail, which we hiked a small section of.



Ryokan Fujioto - Tsumago
Click on photo to change focus and perspective.


Just One of Ten Courses
Just One of Ten Courses
We stayed in a ryokan in Tsumago. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese accommodation. Like inns and hotels, they can vary in quality, but generally they are very high class and make you feel special. The best ones also offer some of the best dining in Japan. We had 10 impeccable courses.


Hot Sake
Hot Sake
To round off the meal, a few shots of hot sake.


One thing we are having trouble with is the tendency of Japanese maps to not necessarily put north at the top. Particularly on signs with maps where the norm seems to line the map up with the orientation of the sign. It is not wrong, just different. And it surprised me how hard it is to change one's thinking. More than once, we nearly headed off in the wrong direction after assuming the wrong thing...

The last four nights we spent in Tokyo, making day trips or wandering in the city.

Day trip one - world heritage site of Tosho-gu at Nikko.

Shin-kyo
Shin-kyo
A footbridge in Nikko - where some dude was carried over the river by a pair of serpents.


Bell Tower of Tosho-gu
Bell Tower of Tosho-gu
World heritage site in Nikko, near Tokyo.



Toshu-gu - Nikko
Click on photo to change focus and perspective.



Toshu-gu - Nikko
Click on photo to change focus and perspective.


Back in Tokyo, we seemed to spend a large amount of our time eating and drinking. We found one particularly authentic bar near the hotel which we frequented a few times. Ordering drinks was straightforward, but food was a bit more challenging. Even when we gestured at some skewers of meat that looked quite nice, they seemed skeptical that we would be wanting them. Eventually, one began charades, pointing at his brain, his heart, and his bum. We decided it may not be the perfect delicacy we were anticipating.

But never fear, it would be hard to go hungry in Japan.


"Crams" in Sake
One of the little places near our hotel.


Our second last day was "Tokyo super-kitsch". Focusing on Harajuka and neighbouring areas, we got to see and experience some of the Tokyo's most bizarre.

Robot Pets
Electronic Pets
She was very contented playing with her robot dog and cat.


Richard Making a Friend
Richard Making a Friend
Trying to work out if Pepper the robot understands any English. Pepper responded to our Konichiwa, but seemed to get disinterested when I tried some English.


Monster Cafe Wonderland
Monster Cafe Wonderland
Some of the tables around the bizarre "Monster Cafe".


Drinks and Icecream, Monster Style
Drinks and Icecream, Monster Style
At the bar of the Tokyo Monster Cafe.


When A
When A "Monster" Pulls You Up to Dance...
Was Jo chosen because she was clapping along too enthusiastically, or not enthusiastic enough? Either way, she starred on the cake merry go round with the three "monster" dancers.


A Giant Robot Serpent
A Giant Robot Serpent
This giant serpent, representing the living creatures of the sea and the forest in the bizarre battle of robots versus living creatures. Ironically, yes it was a robot...


A Giant Robot Robot
A Giant Robot Robot
And representing the robots was this robot... made to look sort of like a dragon or monster or living creature of some sort. The "story" was not big on plot - like a twelve year old boy might write. "And then a bigger creature comes out, and then an even bigger robot, and then a super serpent, and then a gigantic robot, and then a fire breathing dinosaur, and they fight and the good guys win". You get the idea.


Dancers
Dancers
Robot Restaurant.


Tokyo at Night
Tokyo at Night
View from the observation deck in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices.