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Prominent in the Philippines

The day before we had seen a colossal turtle while snorkelling. My head dipped under the water with the rest of my body and the tube guiding air to my mouth gallantly wavering on the surface of the beautifully clear, blue water. I glanced up at her, smiling. However, she urged me to quit waving my hand like an idiot and to focus my attention down below. A massively big turtle was calmly passing by, blithely deviating from his track as to cozen its pursuers. I jutted my arms out straight, as if I was near enough to pet it. Fervently, I followed the turtle with eyes gleaming. I was amazed by its size, something unexpected. When we had abandoned the stunning beach after a delicious meal, they had briefed us that we would search for this water dweller. However, I imagined the size of the slow-pokes swimming in a pond, similar to when my phone had chosen for a dip. Mistaken that I was, I was now staring at this, with my comparison, giant turtle. Amusingly, it hadn’t been the highlight of the day for everyone. It was the royal blue tang, well-known as “Dory” to most, that shook my beloved to excitement and had her let out a giggle. Enamoured of her adorable cackle, I could not help but chuckle myself. It had been a long day of snorkelling and hopping islands. Two baked buns, one more than the other, had little choice left but to crash into a deep sleep after a mojito or two.

 

As dawn had come, shimmering its light through the curtains leaving sun ripples on our blanket, after that deep night’s rest with praise to the generous bar-lady pouring rum as if she was overstocked that evening, we had set plans to hike in search of cascades. Once we overpowered the strong gravity on the blankets, and our bags were hike ready, we commenced. Given a short route description in Tagalog, we headed out with a boiling sun heating our necks. A lovely dog, named Doug by the enamoured couple, left his tiny paw prints along the track following and guiding us with pride and joy in his eyes. In reality, a second dog had been there, yet we do not speak of him. When approached by a threesome of puppers, the double-sized dog had frantically chosen the direction we had come from, nearly flying until it had gone passed a turn and not to be seen again. Not Doug. Our dear Doug, when exposed to a threat, whether the tiny Cerberus or a giant buffalo, filled with fear he stood his ground and made no sound.

The first cascade on the list had been the small one, as I had gathered from the Tagalog explanation. The water had a delightful cool touch, which had been gratefully welcomed on this hot winter day in the Philippines. Having viewed a many National Geographic shows, I had anxiously hopped over the tiny, brownish puddles worrisome to be struck by that nasty parasite to in a string of time be aired on an episode and have a new disease named after me. My brother got the Danniasis after his travels in Asia. Whilst hopping, I had made the decision to climb higher up for a more picturesque view. Watching the dog follow me, with ease both getting up and down, he seemed the perfect Assassin’s pet. Perhaps with their next release, which is bound to come. The four-legged stray pet seemed to be comfortable amongst humans. A blissful smile resting on the carefree canine. The beach-life truly does bring joy to all, it seems.

Upon reaching the main cascade, after having bought snacks off a young girl keeping a shop all by herself, we signed a log book. Guiding Doug to pass the creek, having small fears that our new, temporarily adopted dog may slip, we cross and prepare for the dip we had been waiting all day for. “It is cold”, are the words I mumble, as I dip my toes into the encroaching ripples. The water that engirdled my pale toes was clear, yet its descendants further in grew darker and darker, until it was pitch black. Imagining the grotesque creatures inhabiting the deeper, darker water, near the dead log, created for a complete different ambience. As the words had left my parched lips, she had already been deep in, ice cold water surrounding her gorgeous waist. With a playful smile, she splashed water upon me and jested me to grow some and enter. A lady known to take her showers cold out of preference did not shy away from diving into the freezing water that only had grip of my tiny toes. Doug was waddling with waggling tail behind me, as well dubious of whether to proceed to enter said frigid water. Yet, bearing the cells for the next kin, it came with the duty to be – or come across as, which I am most certain I am far too late for – manly and thus I did. I followed the lady with the beautiful smile Step after step I advanced. Until I stood beside her, writhing of cold, as well as basking in the release that had come from cooling my body on one of the many searing hot days that make for the Philippines.

 

Watching her feed the staunch dog that seemed bound to us, having followed us, now guiding us back, I could not help but smile. I reminisced back at the day I finally had gotten to see her in person. Shied away behind her father, she had shown to be smaller than I had expected. Lips arched into that gorgeous smile. Her hair curved around her head, the frame to the perfect picture. That very moment, I had not been anxious. All fears, nervosity and anxiety had disappeared like stars come dawn. Not a single trace left. It felt normal, yet special. The way it was supposed to be. For so long I had yearned to see her in person. Bound to be, but distanced, we fought each and every barrier to be there to hold one another. It hadn’t always been easy. Struggles, fights and aching. But now, at last, I was here. Holding her hand, watching her feed a stray dog that may or may not be dying by the hand of the leech on his ear and everything felt perfect. That, is how love is supposed to be. Perfect through its imperfections and difficulties. The woman who agitates the hell out of me, yet is the balance amid the chaos. The sunshine on the darkest of days merely by being present. She is a present indeed. Worth every single effort. She gave me a loving smile – mesmerising really, magical, capable of bringing joy on the gloomiest days – as she handed me the chips to give Doug a handful. Hungry that he must have been, politely he awaited without snarling or wheezing. He did not bite upon receiving the snack either. A stray canine with manners topping most pets. May Doug have won the fight against the leech.


Gazing at the horizon, viewing Filipino ships in the the clear, blue sea, I had a gluck of my nth mojito and thanked myself for the choices I have made. The choice to be happy, rather than stuck in a college dorm surrounded by walls seeping depression into the room. The choice to enjoy life as I find my place into the world. Thereafter I thanked my family for supporting me with every step that I took. Too often I had to listen to the phrase “If I was your parent I would never let you do this.”, yet here I was, from a South-African tour, to a cycle and hitchhike in Europe to a love in Asia and never had I been doubted or restrained by my amazing family. Then I thanked her, Kath, the lady that brought and brings strength and happiness into my life. Grateful for the life I lead, I must move forward. Once finished with the Philippines, I shall, however, that must come after the mojito. What is next? We shall see. See, we shall.

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Scourging Starvation in Singapore

It was about noon, as I arrived at the Johor Bahru-Singapore border. Hungover and with a pit in my belly filled by a handful of pistachios in the last 24 hours I stood in the line to enter the head of the peninsula. It had been one helluva night before. With remaining Ringgit to spend, I intended to consume. Not part of said plan however, was the many offered drinks that were to come. After a cumulative three weeks in Malacca, the begin and ending, I had gotten to know a few who wouldn’t see me go without a drink in my hand. A few had turned into a few too many and a hangover was bound to come. Luckily, I could knock out a couple hour’s rest at the best hostel in wonderful Malacca that is ‘Buffalo Soldiers’.

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Come morning, I had sluggishly carried myself out of bed, through the shower and eventually dressed with backpack ready to go. Looking like Goofy had just slammed his head into a speeding truck, I said my farewells to the lovely family that ran both the cheap, cosy hostel and the infamous bar. Malacca had taken three weeks from me. Astonished at how time flies by when alcohol fills your life, I awaited the bus to take me out of the captivating country. The ambience. I thought. That had been it. Whether it is sitting on the street with a canned beer listening to guitar play, having a historical guided tour through sand-hills or listening to “It wasn’t me” and “Bongo Bong” for the trillionth time as laughter and conversations fill the air. No, there is a reason for lingering in Malacca that goes way past the alcohol served. The bus had arrived and thus the train of thought derailed an instant’s moment later. For now, staring tensely out of the window, in attempt to untangle the tightened knot that lay in my belly and finish the battle going on in my head. Hopeless, of course.


At last, it had been my turn. My feverish head finally made it to the counter that stood between me and Singapore. The man confusingly ogled my passport, me and back. His eyes rolled up, as he began counting with his fingers. “3 Months??”, he exclaimed surprised. With disbelieve he shook his head, when I praised the country. The country, and the people. “Why?” A folk so pure and sincere is rare to find. No purveyors similar to Indonesia, no odd/blank staring as the Filipinos tend to do, but more appalling, is the service. Instead of the politeness you find in Europe, it is true gratitude and open arms you find. A broad smile and with that a welcomed feeling given. A “Thank you” with ever Anchor ordered followed by attempts at conversations. A reason why Malaysia will be a country to miss. To be honest, three months and it did not feel enough. Still, I wanted to linger and enjoy the presence of such lovely people. However, it had been time for a departure and a new chapter.

 


Singapore, a small country, a large city. There is not much to be told about this mini-Malaysia. Much like Malaysia, it is the more successful brother. The obtuse brother whom would call upon his parents every time something does not go his way. Something occurs, new laws are embedded. The successful brother thrives in business and leads an organised life. In the meanwhile, the younger brother, Malaysia, is in his room clinging a bong with a giant smile painted on his face. Malaysia at times attempts to be morally there with rules – at request of the parents – and attempts to copy Singapore with the ridiculous smoking in public fee – roughly 2000 euros- however is simply better at having fun. Whilst too busy enjoying life to obey to placed absurd rules, the Malay population prefers to enjoy.

Admittedly, Singapore in a way is perfect. Clean, little crime – and when there is, things get done – the roads and traffic are handled, public transport is organised, the economy is prosperous. With Little India, China Town and Malay markets, quality food comes in plenty and the country holds a certain culture. Perfect, however, after time passes, I would find myself bored and without a penny. Singapore, to me and many others, is a big city and no more. Having said such, Singapore is a must visit. Get the exciting thrill of smuggling gum into the country as you experience the well organised town. Awing at the light show and looking up – and down from – the Marina Bay Sands and onto the super trees. Walk over the spotless streets as you wander to the Botanic garden and have a drink in Little India or Chinatown. Experience the clean, organised and beautiful country, but depart before you have emptied your wallet. Departing won’t be a trouble either. The airport itself is already a sight to be seen. Fountains and tiny parks to distract from what tends to be a stressful and hectic couple of hours. Not in Singapore, however. Get there an hour before your flight and you will have half an hour left to walk about. Never, had I been that excited to fly. Without rushing, stress or even waiting, I had gone from the hostel to board the flight and not a problem on the way. The worst had been the Uber that could not figure out the difference between the brake and gas as he continuously kept using both. Having been on airports in South-Africa, this difference had meant a lot to me. That, I owe Singapore. An airport to remember. A flight to remember. A date. The 5th of December. The day that I would see the love of my life. Manila, here I come

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marvellous Malaysia

Enough equal experiences everyday elicited eager to erratic events. The honking and heavy traffic had held me hostage. When a city not even considerable had been too much, I knew it was time. A break within a break, a journey during a journey. Journception. Without much of a plan and zero intention of taking public transport I commenced the journey through Perak, breaking out of the newly obtained routine. Departing from Ipoh, where I had gotten to know new friends and a celebrity at the brink of a scandal, I had gathered that the direction would be full of sights and away from the tourists. That had been clear, when school was over in Lenggong and children paused to point at me. A quaint town it was. A town where I had taken a bite of the wrong green spicy ‘vegetable’. Due to similar incidents, all the honour going to Asia, I have trust-issues with any vegetable including a rice dish. Thank you very much. Luckily, a third degree burn on the tongue, was not all that the getaway – from a getaway – would bring me. Thus, excited I had gone with the wind and marched out of the town. Within the half of an hour, an irascible man had scolded me as he scurried by. He had insisted on giving me his two cent’s on the matter and chose that I could not go hitchhiking. Too dangerous! Friendly, I had dismissed and continued. Amid the monsoon season, it was bound to be a soaking trip.


A first night had been spent at a motel of mediocrity, swimming in a bath of bugs that had me run an all-nighter.  The drive there was spent on the backseat of a family of three. I sat beside the son. Young of age, his prowess involved three a ball and pins. This dexterous bowler, achieving medals and trophies throughout the country will indubitably entice many with his incredible skills. Rain had poured down upon the town the moment I arrived. When exiting the vehicle, the father had gifted me with an old, yellow and blue fisher’s hat. Without intentions to parade said hat, I accepted it with a smile. Hastily I scurried over the puddles and made my way to what appeared to be an affordable motel. A man with a belly eclipsing the sight of his shrimp occupied the reception. Gawking with a nasty grimace at my passport, remarks and questions regarding my lonesome trip followed. “Why, ehm.. thank you. Yes, I am alone. Indeed. No, I am not looking for a lady. No, I am not lonely either.” Not that I swing that way. Apparently, such was not obvious enough, as he forced his bulging belly up from the poor, squashed chair to guide me to my room. I bolted inside to avoid the thought stuck in his head from spilling out and locked the wooden door before any further exchange of words. Then I let out a sigh. A smell of old flowed through the thick, stale air. There stood an antique closet in the corner near the door. I assumed that once it filled a purpose other than to collect dust. As I glanced down at the bed, a rug with purpose of a blanket covered the sheets. The whole room seemed to be from yore. It had not been the old-fashioned that had bugged me. The actual bugs did. I let the backpack slide off my shoulders and thunk down on the floor. Bedraggled as I was, I made myself ready for a wash.

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Parading the hat I said I would not parade.

The rain had continued unabated, nonetheless I absconded for a stroll. I was in a small town that had a shockingly large amount of phone-shops. They were like food stands at a festival. As if one would buy a handy as oft as a loaf of bread. Speaking of bread, I craved a meal and a cold one to wash it down. Oddly, such was not easily found in the centre, however in alleys and markets a tad further. A lovely, little bar, hidden away in an alley. The lady behind the counter poured me a tall glass. And another. Moments after the Chinese had begun their drunk karaoke, I called it a night to lay with the many bugs awaiting my return.


Come dawn, I did not linger long. I noticed that here was already a leap from the tourist-trail as eyes followed me as I went. Malaysians do such in style. A broad, dazzling smile painted on their lovely faces. A welcoming feeling is guaranteed. Contagiously, I marched on carrying a comfortable grin – and a flea-circus on my back – towards a small place named Tasik Raban. The centre existed out of a market with roughly eight restaurants – Malaysians love their food – and occasionally stands with the freshest fish, juices and other Malay treats. A giant lake surrounded the square with houses scattered around. The town must have been a mere few hundred people. A bike rental gave me the opportunity to remain there for the night. I opted for my hammock swinging on his porch. A covered porch with a view of the lake, mind you. For a 20 RM a night, I took the offer of the daffy fisherman with eager.


However, feeling at peace in a place so serene that even the fleas had left to unwind on their own time, a night could not be enough. I sat at the end of the pier, staring out over the calm water, following the movement of tiny ripples encroaching land. Silence, but the sound of a few conversing. There is a beauty within not knowing the language. Not understanding the sentences formed, I remained observant of the ripples without being distracted. Counting the thin lines elongating its circle until it slowly turns into nought. A deep breath of the air. Unpolluted. The man who always laughed, the owner of the fishing supplies/bike and boat rentals/hostel/camping and touristic activities was planning on taking me out on the water in his corroded boat. He had a wrinkly face, the type that had endured time in the sun. With that came a calm smile that seemed permanent, from time to time interrupted by a chuckle or a burst of laughter. The lake wasn’t the duplicate lakes you tend to see. Plain round. No, most certainly not, there was even the slight possibility to get lost, with all the hooks, curves, twists and land involved. At dark. Without sense of direction. Knowing me and Prague, it might as well be me. Either way, the lake was of size. The Malay man wanted to introduce me to his fishes. Tens of thousands to be a tad more precise. Feeding them was like viewing the comment section of that model posting a new photo. Or the moment another tweet goes online from a certain president. Hungry, they all swarm trying to get a bite. With the floods in the area, he had wanted to assure that his precious fish were all still there. After all, for him it meant bread, or well fish, on the table. On our way back, the sun had gone under and stars painted the black canvas that was above. A magnificent portrait. It was that moment, with my mind clear of sound that I decided I would return had I finished my bit of exploring Perak to remain dangling in my hammock.

And so I did. I had seen the sights and towns I desired to view, and thereby had gotten to know the wonderful country a bit more. A few misses however, as the archaeological museum holding the famous ‘Perak man’ had been closed. The ‘Perak man’ is the skeletal remains of what they believe to be a man who lived 11.000 years ago. Being the oldest human skeleton on the peninsular, it was quite the found a few kilometres North of the town Lenggong. Alas, it was not all. The Royal Belum State park had been a slight reach out of my budget at the time. There was no time for moping however. There were waterfalls to chase and bargain meals to be cherished (delicious nasi goreng ayam and fresh juice for 8 RM and Roti Canai with curry for breakfast). Give me a couple more days…

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At Temmengor lake.

 

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Java’s Jungle Jeopardy

Six memorable months pass and at last, I find myself seated on a wooden chair with my fingers caressing over the keyboard. What had been the reason for the long delay of an attempt in a new blog post? Perhaps it was the sin of the sloth that had seized me. Maybe it was the dedication to live the moments as I tried to be part of the places I visited. Or both with a third factor in play. My fingers were locked, without words to jot down as I glared at my paper with a blank mind. A blank canvas before me and an empty palette in my hand. Do I write about the time I was bound to bed by illness? Would the debauched nights I spent in Bali and Malaysia, meeting strangers with every bottle emptied again and again characterise as compelling? I had little to no words. Although Johnny’s taco’s had me in such a euphoria that I came close to expressing my infatuation with the dish. Alas, my words would never be enough.

Truth be told, I lacked creativity and motivation. With a travel differing on every aspect from the previous, my writing needed a different approach and frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. A demanding journey through Europe had me bound in budget, transport and accommodation. Forced to live off little, without the slightest plan but direction and not a booking made, I had experienced a lot. Despite the prominent fact that indulgence in nightly gatherings fuelled by alcohol is relishable, I had grown a love for what now was lacking. More money was spend on testing my liver than participating in adventurous activities. That does not take away all the moments and stories of grand size resting in my brain, including the many encounters with the locals. It simply was not enough.


“Ready?”, he asked before spurting off. This time I was astride of another scooter, in lieu of my hostess’s. A safer bet, as she takes off from 0 to 80 in a whiff. The reason however, for me pressing my cheeks on a different scooter, was the family fearing comments from neighbours. In this part of Java, in the far East, two people from the opposite sex customarily do not spend time together. One time, a man I had just met spoke of weddings and careers a moment after he opened his mouth to me. Disregarding my disinterest. Thus, in an attempt to blow out the fire of rumours as I had merely interest in the town and she in in showing it, her cousin who works for Grab drove me instead. With little rivals, being the only courier on the application, all – with that being said, little – Grab-travellers go through him. The roads in the small village, if one would call them that at all, had an erratic path of mud and stones. Thus the ride made for a wobbly one. Our tour-guide and Grab driver, without extra expense, had brought us to see several cascades hidden away. Initially it did not seem to be a challenging activity. On my flip-flops I sauntered through the rice fields and descended down the slippery – I know, I used this pun last year – path. With mud dug in between my tiny toes, I stood atop a large boulder, observing the water rush through the rocks and pebbles, gravitating down. The flowing and splashing of  the water had been a soothing sound. But there was little soothing about the hours that followed. Our tour guide had decided that where the path stopped, we carried on, creating passages as we went. 

A sunset was missed a near hour ago. Cautiously I had been shuffling along the wall of dirt, holding on to clumps of soil, roots and branches. We had gone under a tiny, earth made tunnel, waddling through a stream and then slid down a slide with trees poking our sides. Grunts and sighs here and there. Stubborn, all marched on. We shall not retreat! A single shy kindled light was shared amongst the three of us. Guiding us through a pitch black night. Bit by bit we encroached further towards the edge of this jungle. Although, indubitably, none of us knew how far it was. It was after a gruelling climb up, giving all trust in a tree, that I had grown clairvoyant, sensing what came next. Mr Grab reached his hand out to assist me on advancing. Dubious, I did. Upon touch, at one fell swoop we shifted jointly. Then he began to pull his hand back, loosening the grip of my palm in his. Aware of the possible outcomes, I let go. With nothing but a handful of soil under my feet to hold me up, I knew that I was in for a tumble down.

Harrowed I lay in a bed of branches and leaves. Succumb by shock, I sat quietly for a minute before the realisation hit that my exhausted body had to climb back the distance I fell. It must have been a few metres. Praying to be elsewhere, anywhere, I endured. Together, we climbed for another several hours, which I did in a frantic manner. The two began chanting prayers of joy upon reaching the top. “Allah uh Akbar”, they repeated. Gladly, I marched with slippers in one and the torch in the other hand through the rice field and out. Bedraggled we returned where the village awaited us, carrying worry in their eyes. Minds leaning on the story of a girl who passed away in the same jungle. Relief filled them as they saw us. We had been gifted with food and a cold, refreshing shower. Simple as they lived, they were filled with kind hearts. Laughter felt the dark sky as we relived our jungle jeopardy through stories and aches the hours before taking on the steep and cold – I do realise I had not dressed properly for that day –  Mount Ijen.   


It seems forever since I sat down and took the time to write something. A pity, really. Writing is something I love. It gives me a calm feeling as does it make me happy having a story of my own travels in my style. An explanation, or an attempt of it is difficult. Most often, I do not understand my own brain, or how it works. I see it as a good thing. Making my way through life trying to figure out what that gooey clump wants is the biggest and most exciting puzzle out there. It is exciting, as I never know what it will lead me to. Throughout the past years, I have learned quite a bit however. Such is, that travelling is a key piece. With this come the many ways of travel, as I noticed that, without intend, all of my main travels have been different on multiple fronts. Within the Philippines, I have found another. It taught me, that finding these pieces is much more fun than having a complete puzzle from the start. If you’re interested, follow along with my puzzle. You might figure it out before I do. My gratitude goes to those who still follow along with my stories, even after an eight-month disappearance.


A short caption on Bali:

Although a week spend blissfully enjoying the warmth by caressing the soft sand on the beach, amongst all the Instagram posts that bring forth envy from all over the globe, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of acknowledgement towards the persisting purveyors. Whether it was a massage, a ‘massage’, souvenirs, Viagra or other substances, swarms appeared from every corner to bug you with their presence. When asking the same person relaxing on the beach a third time was not enough, one would linger and eclipse you from the sun while glaring at you. It was on the touristic streets of Denpasar where I learned that a friendly nod means to be interested in illegal substances or a cure for that sore “back”. When showing disinterest to participate in such, a lady dragged my arm with force and a man had neared an introduction of my fist in his face when his reply to my “Do not touch me”, was “Why not?”.

It is when you view the sunset for the fourth time and again you find yourself at five in the morning chewing away one of Johnny’s orgasmic delicious tacos that you wonder.. Does all of that even matter? No, it does not, for you are in a place where life exists out of sun, beach, sea and relaxation. Nothing matters but the beer that is cold, the weather that is fantastic and another enticing march towards the alley of tacos. So, feet dig into the sand and a picture of the sunset goes online.

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Cycling and Hitchhiking (2016) Personal Favourites

Sweating in Kiev

His hair seemed as if it had survived a tornado on his way to me. Dark hair flopping and flying around. I’d be surprised would I find a comb in his bathroom. Brown eyes twitched in his skull, full of energy. His hand shoots to mine. A quick introduction and we walk back to his apartment. From the metro, it was a short walk. On our way we pass a few restaurants, a shop and a handful of stands bearing fruits or fresh coffee. I analysed the area, preparing for the coming weeks. The elevator we had to take was an old model, slowly transporting us up. Inside his room, my eyes went exploring. It felt as if I recognised the place from an episode of Hoarders. Yet, instead of hoarding, this pigsty was an act of laziness. A dwelling filled with empty bottles, caps, dirty clothes and everything underneath the pile. However, interesting. His room kept many hidden treasures. Old Ukrainian uniforms, notes of Belarusian currency, pictures, stickers and posters of all sorts, some in German and English, license plates, you name it. As two women in need of housing had claimed the bed before I even was on Kiev soil, the couch became mine to drowse off on.