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Category Archives: Travel

Wandering in a Fantasy World

On a rainy Sunday a few weeks ago, our car climbed into the hills above Lake Taal, the fog allowing for brief glimpses of the now familiar – but no less picturesque – view.  No journey is complete without a bit of drama and this comes with a drive over a narrow section of road that is being repaired, and has an almost sheer drop on one side, that was one thing to thank the fog for, obscuring the stomach lurching drops that would be visable on better days.  The reason for our trip is to visit what was once promised as ‘the Disneyland of The Philippines’, but the owners ran into financial problems and so it is now a mere shell of theme park.

Greeted by the sight of turrets over the treeline, it all started to look as familiar as it did out of place.  As the car turned we were greeted with a vista of what resembles one of those German castles that looks like it’s come straight from a fairytale.  It was an impressive introduction as an approach to the car park.  I didn’t get a photo of that but I don’t think it would have done it justice had I done so.

A few years ago I did a post on abandoned theme parks and that melancholy feel, real or as in this case, possibly just imagined by myself.  It does get the imagination going and reminded me of Helen Cresswell’s The Watcher’s: A Mystery at Alton towers which is a tightly plotted adventure and well worth getting your hands on for a bit of escapism.

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Posted by on 24/07/2018 in Melancholy, The Philippines, Travel

 

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Bali Days 6 – 8: Ice Cube Tax

Up early today (day 6) at 5:30 in the AM and feeling good after the day before’s events.  A peaceful trip to the beach was in order, where the waves were good, the water warm, and the added bonus of it being to early for all the hawkers. Most of the rest of the day was taken up with watching Crissy and Mamabear bartering outrageously for gifts.  This included borderline shoplifting and claims of Mamabear having murdered people back in The Philippines. It was funny to see the locals being frustrated and meeting their match in these two Filipina bargaining machines. It was also surprising to learn that clearly signed one way streets are made into two-way streets by scooters using the narrow pavements to drive up, naturally this is done against the flow of pedestrians.

A lack of photos from the final couple of days, here’s another photo of the manicured rice terraces.

Such is the desperation for a sale in these shops (still selling the same things seen everywhere else on the island), that when enquiring about the price of a football shirt (I only had time to see a Juventus shirt before being pounced upon), I was given a price and then the shirt was bagged up and thrust into my hands and the owner told me to take it and come back with the money. Not wanting to be accused of shoplifting, the sale was hastily abandoned.

Later on I had a taste of Bintang, the local generic beer which offered no surprises with taste and is interchangeable with many others from around the world. Sitting outside in the coffee bar of the hostel – or for that matter in any place where you wish to relax – means that people selling trinkets or just begging come in and bother you.  The locals don’t seem to think it a problem and ignore it, making it uncomfortable which lost the business their tip in the process.  In one eaterie, I noticed that the menu actually listed the cost of ice cubes, after an extensive check I didn’t find any pending charges for wear and tear of the seats.

The Missus and the pool.

Arriving near the airport in Kuta for our final full day, we were happy to find the Mega Boutique Hotel, namechecked here because it was lovely.  Firstly I found highlights of Hertha Berlin Vs Eintracht Frankfurt and VFB Stuttgart Vs Werder Bremen matches, a rare footballing treat for me, and also a lovely pool.  It was great to just slowly kick my legs looking up as the sky turned from bright blue to black.  The water covered my ears and dulled the bland dance music that blared out, it made everything alright on the last night.  All blog posts should be planned through this process, just exercising, alone with one’s thoughts and only the occasional gentle bump of the head to remind you to change directions. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/07/2018 in Bali, Travel

 

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Bali Days 3-5: ‘Your Husband is a Very Bad Man’

Today – being day 3 – Crissy, Crissy’s mum (AKA Mamabear) and I, have a new driver and to get the ball rolling he took us to an ‘artist’s village’ that we didn’t ask to go to.  Being that he’s a local we took a punt and decided to explore as he must know the best places to go.  What we got was a silver shop in which pieces are mass-produced, put on sale at a high price to which, had we paid our driver would have gotten a commission. Again the same hard sell, follow you around pushing the ‘bargain’ pricing, bordering on desperation.  We held firm, being cheap and having principles and left nonplussed as I suspect was everyone else involved.

Next we went to a great art gallery which was the same sort of set up, admittedly it did have some really good paintings and local feeling, and I did enjoy browsing. Noticing that many had been certified as original one offs, I decided to ask if I could take some photos for the blog and share the local artists but no photos are allowed.  Its hard not to be cynical at this point about the reasons why but I can’t help speculating that these originals were just a selection of a long line of just such works.

We foolishly mentioned our hiking intentions for the next day which our driver overheard and – lacking any sort of tact professionalism and courtesy – proceeded to repeatedly mention that his friend who could get us a better deal (this before we even mentioned the price we were paying) and even kindly – and unexpectedly – drove us to said friend without telling us that was his intention.  Eager for a bargain, we listened and he gave us a price more expensive than we were paying, and then dropped it to what we were already paying, rendering the trip pointless.  In the end we managed to get a better deal from our original arrangement, it’s worth noting that everything can pretty much be bartered down to 50% or more off if you bargain hard, such is the mark up put on prices for tourists.

As you can tell by my tone, I was already jaded by the way we were seen as cash cows to be milked but it didn’t end there.  As soon as we got to our hotel, we were accosted for a massage by the locals, it’s a terrible, desperate advert for any place but here it is par for the course.  The scenery was great however and the air clean, and we looked forward to our 4am hike.  Winding down in the evening, we decided to turn on the TV and take in some Indonesian TV.  There was one channel of what looked like a serious drama but with a laughter track.  There was also a lock on both the inside and outside of the bathroom door, and a mosquito net liberally coated with bug spray which made for a less than pleasant sleep. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/06/2018 in Bali, Travel

 

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Bali, Days 1-2: We Care About Your Money

LuAnn said in one of her posts the locals you meet during your travels leave the greatest impression, as with everything on Bali, this was decidedly a mixed bag.  I have spent a long time thinking about our experiences and my views on this ‘island paradise’, and the desperate and ugly, overly aggressive commercialism – which is a challenge to persevere with – and sadly the culture is, for the most part, is seemingly in tatters.  With tour guides hell-bent on making a profit, skin colour being a real issue, a brush with a scam and another bracing hike, it was certainly an eventful eight days to remember.

The first impressions of Bali are pleasing, right hand drive (the nostalgia!), trees and cut grass everywhere and roads where the traffic flows well. I should point out we went when out of season so there were less crowds and for this I am grateful. There is a feeling of vitality and it all made for a pleasant first trip.  It was good to see different architecture and plenty of big statues of Hindu Gods. Our first homestay in Ubud was built around the family temple (there are over 20,000 on Bali) which made us feel like we were getting some personal culture straight away, as well as being invited into an intimate family space.

Learning the traffic system is always a joyous necessity in any country, scooters are indiscriminate at times but we made it to the Monkey Forest, which is a pleasant place to walk once you get away from the crowds who take photos constantly without thought for people trying to get past.  The excited talk about filters was beyond me but the monkeys were benign and the area was being constantly cleaned, it was nice to see pride being taken by the locals and parts of it looked like something out of Tomb Raider (a seed up version of Tomb Raider 3 on the PS1 to be precise) which was an added bonus.  Later, a good meal and a glimpse of the Local Parts butcher, both of which pleased me and we retired to bed happy with our first day.

The next day, a tour of the local area started off in the best way possible, with a cup of Luwak coffee, AKA a cat-poo-chino.  The Asian Palm Civet loves eating coffee cherries, they are only partially digested and when they exit the critter, they are collected, washed and roasted. After swilling it around my mouth, the taste is both bitter and sweet, although fairly weak.  It is a good novelty purchase and coupled with 14 other free tasters of teas and coffees, it’s worth taking a tour around one these coffee plantations for a sample.  What was a bit awkward was having our coffee tour guide accompany us to the gift shop afterwards and proceed to follow us round telling us the prices of everything, it was an unashamed hard sell, and that was a theme for the rest of our time in Bali. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 11/06/2018 in Bali, Travel

 

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Stocking Up

Recently, I went into Booksale, a second-hand bookshop that always makes browsing a challenge.  Not only do you have to uncomfortably squeeze past people in the narrow aisles, which stops you from taking in the books on show but worse than that is the way they are laid out.  Piles of books on the floor mean moving the stacks should your chosen book be at the bottom, which is bad enough when people want to get by but there is nowhere to put the books so it becomes a big game of Jenga.

Another setting out issue is that books are placed spine up and then other books stacked front facing on top – again with no real room for moving – so it becomes an actively horrible and awkward place within which to spend time.  I did manage to pick up a couple of books though, amidst much shuffling and mumbled apologies for being in the way, and generally just existing in the place.

On a positive note though, it was good to pick up some cheap books and a nice mix as well.  Winter in Madrid, recommended to me yonks ago by Alastair when I was enjoying exploring the both the Civil War and WWII eras of Spain.  The Lunar Men, which I have just started is about the famous Lunar Society, a group of exceptional individuals who helped kickstart the Industrial Revolution.  Twenty Five pages in and so far it is oozing facts and passion, and promises to be an absorbing read.  I shall keep you updated.

 
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Posted by on 07/06/2018 in Lists/Ephemera, Travel

 

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Villages of West Africa – Steven & Cathi House

Art and especially architecture are often seen as the exclusive realm of formally trained experts. Award-winning architects Steven and Cathi House explore the other side of that reality in a part of the world that has been at the crossroads of history for thousands of years. With more than 500 photographs and insightful commentary, they reveal the remarkable beauty of the people, land, villages, textiles, and vernacular architecture across seven countries of West Africa, situated between the Sahara Desert and Atlantic Ocean. The book celebrates the artisanship of tribal people who use building methods that are both practical and ingenious and that respond not just to local climate, materials, and topography, but also to the needs of the inhabitants with poetic insight, creating environments that are stimulating and sustainable. With their clarity, function, and beauty, these villages are living models of what community life can be.

The authors of this book are architects who travel to remote villages for inspiration and personal growth.  Their wanderings chronicled here, have taken them through a number of West African countries including Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.

Approaching such coffee table books as these, you expect them to be heavy on lavish photos and this book does not disappoint.  The photos have a divided emphasis on both architecture and the local peoples.  Although there is some inevitable crossover with European culture – such as Coca-Cola decorated building or graffiti for favourite football teams like Olympique Marseille – there is a lot more emphasis on the countries of today and their lives, rather than focus on the remnants of colonialism. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 27/05/2018 in Architecture, Life, Photography, Travel

 

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A Walk in the Park Day 3

Now this is a bridge!  Wandering across it had me in mind of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the difference being that instead of a man trying to pull my heart out of my chest, it was firmly in my mouth.  Especially in the middle, where despite there only being a gentle breeze it was pretty swaysome.

Before we could get there though, we had to begin our day.  By the time we got going, the heat was already unforgiving and was only offset slightly by the now, de rigueur beauty.  After gifting snacks to the local children and the usual group photo, we took to heading down hill at a sideways jog, as it was easier than walking believe it or not.  Forty minutes of this and my already jelly legs from day two were feeling the pain and wobbliness once again.

Heading down into the above valley to the bridge was tiring, and at this point I was looking forward to ascending because I can ‘do’ climbing. The bridge itself, although not too high was another one of those wired together, trip hazards, though it does give the traveller a sense of adventure.  The openness of the mountain beyond was a good reason to slap on more sun cream and led me to ask the question, if the packaging says only apply four times a day, can I overdose on it?

Ryan Tejado

I was walking normally again by this point, which was handy as there were some demanding, long and steep sections of climbing (both track and path) that snaked around corners and took a good five minutes or more to climb.  A brief stop by a pool to let some kind fish eat the dead skin off our feet was reviving.  There followed a discussion about how much this service would cost in various countries, as we hoped nobody would call us to march again. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 26/04/2018 in The Philippines, Travel

 

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