Thursday, February 25, 2010

Philippines Part 2

Sorry this has taken me so's been a rough week trying to get back into the swing of things. It's hard to come back from such a relaxing vacation!

These cute little nocturnal monkeys make their home on the island of Bohol. They have become quite a tourist attraction - locals have captured the monkeys and display them at local markets. However, some including the one we visited, have created a natural-like habitat for tourists to see the monkeys as they would be in the wild.

Unfortunately, while we were exploring the Tarsier Center, a bus of Chinese tourists arrived, crowding us out and agitating the Tarsiers. When they left, the guide allowed us to take a few more photos before leaving.

Between the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsiers Center is the small town of Loboc. We ventured through there a few times throughout the day as it's a beautiful, quaint town. There is a large Catholic Cathedral and a river that runs through the middle of town. The locals have done a great job cleaning up the town and used the tourism to their advantage - it's the primary source of income for most.

Here we took a boat back to Nuts Huts - it turned out to be a much more expensive trip than taking the bus and walking, but it was a beautiful ride.

Jungle Hike
Our last day at Nuts Huts began with a jungle hike. Our guide, who lives across the river from Nuts Huts, lead us on a 4 hour hike through the jungle and to a bat cave. Along the way, he shared with us about his family - pointing out his parents, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives homes - he climbed a tree to share with us a fruit we had never heard of...

and took us to a rest house to relax in the shade and enjoy the magnificent views.

Finally, we ended in a nice cool bat cave - I was a little less than enthusiastic about this part of the hike, so I spent the time relaxing in the cave opening while the others ventured down various tunnels. It was a great experience to spend time with a local and learn more about this culture and landscape.

Monday, February 22, 2010

And we're back..

Our wonderful vacation in the Philippines came to an end Sunday afternoon as we returned to rain and cool temperatures here in Taiwan. We had a fantastic time in the Philippines. It may take me a while to sort through all the photos, so this post will come in installments. Here's the first few days.

Getting to the Airport
First of all, despite what all the locals say, you can in fact get to the airport from Hsinchu via public transportation - and it's actually quite easy and cheap. The High Speed Rail takes a total of 12 minutes and if you order your tickets in advance they only cost $80NT. There is a bus (UBus) from the Taoyuan HSR station directly to the airport - only $30NT and some airlines even have check-in counters at the train station. This was the route we took, we unfortunately didn't realize just how efficient it really was and ended up sitting, waiting at the airport for nearly 3 hours for our 1.45 hour flight to Manila. Though we could have spent this time in the "Beauty Saloon" we opted for a coffee at Starbucks instead.

Cebu is a small city centered around a few large Cathedrals. We only had a few hours to explore as we were just there to catch a ferry to Bohol - but that didn't matter because it's not very big. We ventured through some wonderful markets, filled with beautiful fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately it's also a very dirty and polluted city as well. It was humbling to walk through such a town, convicting at times as Cebu, like Manila epitomizes the economic inequality of much of Southeast Asia. Spending time in these two cities has only solidified our convictions for social justice. For this very reason, we rarely took pictures, as it would be socially

Here are a few to give you a glimpse of the city.

Getting Around
Arriving on Bohol, we headed out to find the bus we needed to take to Nuts Huts. We wondered around outside the pier looking for the bus station, being mobbed by tricycle drivers asking "Where are you going? I take you there" to which we replied "Where's the bus, we want to take the bus." After about 10 of these, we were informed that we had to take a tricycle to the bus station, about 5 km away.
*side note* the buses are much cheaper as they're a fixed rate and these tricycle drivers set their own prices, often ripping off unsuspecting tourists.

tricycle = motorcycle with side car attached

view from inside

We grabbed the first tricycle driver and asked the price - he quoted us 50 Pesos (about $1US), which seemed reasonable enough, so we took it. When we arrived to the bus station, our bus was waiting to leave, so we quick paid the driver and started to board the bus, but the tricycle driving stopped us saying "No, 50P per head!" - oh! This is where they get ya, be sure to clarify when traveling in groups! We decided that it wasn't a big enough cost that we'd argue it, but we now knew to watch out in the future.

The bus, which was open air, was jam packed already and they packed us in - along with out giant hiking packs. We sat for quite a while and I realized that though they do not keep a schedule, the buses are privately owned and wait until the bus is fully loaded before leaving. After about 40 minutes, adding nearly 20 more people, we headed off out. The ride was beautiful but quite uncomfortable as we would stop periodically to drop off one person and pick up 3 more.

When we arrived, we're had to trek 1.5km down a long lane in order to get to our resort.

Then we had to descend many stairs...

Thankfully the sun was setting and the temperature was moderate - this trip proved to be brutal in the mid-day heat. After checking in - if you visit Nuts Huts, be sure to call the morning of as they do not take reservations and you could be one of the unfortunate ones to make this long journey only to find there are no beds! We were lucky enough to get their last two dorm beds - we enjoyed a nice dinner and exploring the area before dark then headed down to our hut for the night - the picture above only shows the steps to the office/restaurant, the next set is nearly double that of the first.

The next morning we woke early to catch a bus to the Chocolate Hills - bizarre limestone hills, whose formation has yet to be explained. They're called the Chocolate Hills due to their brown color during the dry season, during our visit, most are still green as it's nearing the rainy season. We were able to walk to the top of a look out and see for miles and miles, hundreds of hills.

Friday, February 12, 2010 we come.

(*photo courtesy of National Geographic)
This afternoon we'll embark on our first international expedition since arriving in Taiwan. We're headed to the Philippines for 9 days!

Here's a brief itinerary - most of our planning will be done upon arrival.

Saturday, Feb 13 - 5:15pm flight from Taipei to Manila, Philippines
Sunday, Feb 14 - flight to Cebu then a boat to Tagbilaran where we'll be staying in here where we can visit the famous Chocolate Hills.
Tuesday, February 16 - boat to Siquijor where we'll be staying at the Kiwi Dive Resort to enjoy the sand and sun!
Friday, February 19 - boat to Dumaguete where we will catch a flight back to Manila
Saturday, Feb 20 - day trip to Taal Volcano
Sunday, Feb 21 - 10:45am flight from Manila to Taipei

Like I said, not very extensive, but an idea of where we'll be and when. We will most likely be without internet access during the trip, but check back the end of February to hear all about our adventures!

Until next time...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review.

Here is a must read for anyone living in Taiwan, thinking of coming to Taiwan, or just interested in learning more about Taiwan.
Tawain A to Z: Essential Cultural Guide
By Amy Liu

During our first trip to Taipei, we visited PageOne a giant bookstore in Taipei 101 where we found this book. Organized like an encyclopedia, this book walks your though the customs and cultural traditions of Taiwan. Amy Liu is a Taiwanese, who spent most of her youth in America. She understands the perspectives of both Taiwanese and foreigners. She shares, in a very non-bias way, the traditions of her country. The book features beautiful photographs and uses both Pinyin and Chinese characters for further understanding and study. It has been extremely insightful and helpful in our understanding of daily interactions with our co-workers and students.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spring has arrived...

...and we're loving it.

This past weekend we celebrated the upcoming New Year with our company at the "Annual End of Year Party." The dress code was black and we got dressed up and walked - in the rain - to the party.

We enjoyed a wonderful buffet of Chinese and Western style foods - though Dan overate and was regretting it later - and received an end of year bonus in a 红包 or red envelope, as well as some wonderful prizes!Like Paul & John's pillows!

Dan won two movie tickets and I won a beautiful purple scarf - very warm, just in time for spring!

In between awarding prizes, there was entertainment....

Performed by the lovely David's English Center Secretaries

Overall it was a good experience!

Sunday we headed to Taipei to visit the National Museum of History to see the van Gogh exhibit. We've been so lucky to have these museums so accessible and affordable, we've seen many exhibits that would otherwise be out of our reach at home. We will definitely be spending more time in Taipei as our friends Susannah and Aaron return from the US.

We've been working hard at our Chinese - with two classes a week now - it's still a struggle at times as we have little opportunity to actually use it, but we're still working!

Dan is still taking a KungFu class, and getting quite good! We've also begun a Tai Chi and Chi Gong class once a week at the park - though I struggle to focus, it's a great way to start the day!

Next week we head to the Philippines for a much needed vacation. We have one week off work for Chinese New Year - the only real holiday many Taiwanese get each year - so we'll be spending it all relaxing on the beach and in the rain forest! Check back in a few weeks as I'm sure we'll have plenty of photos to share!