Taking the Plunge

Well… That was probably the last post from Taiwan… for now.

Next up: South America!

South America as a continent has many of those places that have always been on our travel radar. Getting our asses to South America rates damn highly on our bucket list, so it’s actually kinda surprising that it took so long for us to get here.

One of the main excuses reasons that I gave was that it’s REALLY REALLY far away. And that means expensive airfares and very long travel time. So we figured to make the trip worthwhile, we’d need to go for a very very long stretch of time.

This little problem was solved when I quit my job and Jo decided to take an extended break from hers.

Yet, South America was not the first destination we set off for on our travels.

We told ourselves that we needed to get in the groove of travelling first. That’s why we went for a stint in China, followed by Philippines and then Taiwan with frequent visits home.

All the while, I was telling myself that South America would be next. It’s a long journey, so we really need to take our time to plan it.

Maybe we should take the time to learn a spot of Spanish, since that’s the main spoken language in South America. We could learn Spanish from an audio course while we are spending long hours on the roads!

I’m proud to say that between the (seemingly) endless bus rides and the long cruises on ferries, we now speak fluent Spanish.

Not the whole Spanish language, of course. I mean we now speak one fluent Spanish sentence, specifically:

“No entiendo ¿Habla Inglés?” (I don’t understand. Do you speak English?) (You can tell we have it down pat by the way we are able to enunciate the upside down question marks)

Number of audio tape lessons we went through to achieve this level of fluency? Zero.

Who has time to go through audio tapes when you can climb some crazy mountains, trek through pristine forests, dive in azure waters or just stone out at the amazing scenery outside the bus window???

I know now that it was just more excuses to put off this trip.

It’s strange. I know.

It’s one of those things that I know I WANT to do, but it’s been romanticized so much that I am afraid that nothing I see could measure up to what I have in my mind’s eye.

I’m afraid of being disappointed.

And then there’s the uncertainty factor. South America is not a very common travel destination among our friends, so we really don’t have too much first hand information about the place. Add to that the constant “scares” from concerned family, friends and the media about how “dangerous” South America is – definitely does not help with the anxiety factor. (at this point, I’d also like to give special blame mention to one too many viewings of City of God).

One of the first steps to resolving a problem is to acknowledge that there is one. It took us eight months of travelling to realize that we’ve been making excuses and South America cannot be put off any longer. (re: dwindling cash reserves)

There are some things you just can never be totally ready for. You’d want all the information available and all the preparations you can possibly make, but it is just not possible. There is a point where you really have to just say,”f*** it!” and go along with it. Take too long dragging your feet, and wonderful opportunities will pass you by.

So that’s how, with a song in our hearts, and a dummy “for mugging” wallet in our pockets, we bought our tickets and here we are!

We’ve been here for a month now and I’m happy to say that the song is still in our hearts. (Our mugging wallet was gone within the first week in Buenos Aires) (more on that later).

It really has been pretty AWESOME so far. We’ve seen some really incredible sights and met some of the most charming/adorable people around. Of course, there were times when we felt that maybe we could’ve planned parts of this trip better, but they are not things that we cannot get around. We are definitely out of our comfort zone, but I guess that’s what makes travelling the experience that it is.

You throw yourself in a culture/place that is foreign to you. You live. You adapt. You learn. You grow. And you have a kickass lot of fun where you are at it.

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In other news, one of our entries for Tiger Leaping Gorge “Not Easy” is currently being featured on TakeMeToTravel’s website. The blog was also spotlighted as the Featured Blog as well.

Do take some time to check out TakeMeToTravel’s website.

It’s an AWESOME resource for travelers and has some fantastic photos of various destinations around the world.

I don’t think I say this enough, but thanks for the support, everybody.

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Cheap at half the price

Diving was not really high up the list on our agenda when we decided to go to the Philippines. But since we got our diving license renewed and after the amazing dives at Balicasag, we were badly hooked and really wanted to go again.

Our Master Travel Plans for the Philippines was pretty much shot by now, so we decided we’ll just wing it the whole way. It’s a good thing we did that because we found out that the dive centres in Dumaguete organize dive trips to Apo Island.

It’s a big thing.

Apo Island is one of the top ten dive sites in the world. Besides the vibrant (read:unbleached) corals, Apo Island is supposed to have more marine lifeforms than there are uncredited background musicians in an episode of Glee.

And the best part of it all? Diving in the Philippines is a lot cheaper than it is in a lot of the other parts of the world.

While we were in Dumageute, we stayed in Harold’s Mansion.While it is more of a hostel than Bruce Wayne’s manor, it is pretty comfortable and comes with its own in-house dive centre. Harold quoted us 2500PHP (US$59 or 41 Westeros Silver Stags)/head for three dives out at Apo inclusive of pickup/refreshment/lunch/all equipment rental.

It was one of those few times when we did not need to do a comparison across other shops and just agreed to go along.

Even so, we (ok, I) was not particularly convinced and I was sure that there must be a catch somewhere.

First off, the rental equipment we checked out was pretty ok. They were not fresh off the rack, but they were definitely serviceable and more importantly (to my unprofessional eye) safe.

And then we were transferred via a pickup truck to our boat boarding point. We had to share seating space with the dive equipment in the truck. It was a bit of a squeeze and there was a period when I had my ass dangling out in Filipino traffic like a makeshift meat bumper.

I’m not kidding.

At that point in time, I was all prepared to make myself miserable and thinking, “AHA! NOW the cost savings come in!”

That’s when they brought out the big guns.

Exhibit A: The “boat” that was taking us to Apo… It’s comfortable, clean and comes with a very friendly crew. The pylons at the side can even be used as a improvised diving platform/monkey bar/playground.

Our Ride

Exhibit B: The Dive Master, Toping was crazily cheerful and very detailed in his dive briefs. So detailed he even brought along a white board to supplement his brief. Although halfway through the day, we suspected the white board was for him to wean off a DrawSomething addiction. He was also really patient with the two bumbling divers he had to string along.

The Master… Diver…

Exhibit C: The Crew. We never felt so pampered in our lives! The only “equipment” we needed to “prepare” ourselves was the wetsuit. The support crew prepared all the gear and readied all the equipment for us.

Prepped and ready!

They even help scaredy cats SOME divers off the boat with a gentle push.

Exhibit D: The Diving. It IS one of the top ten dive sites in the world. There’s the wall dive which is reminiscence of our dives in Balicasag. And then there are the volcanic plateaus which, for us, is like floating through a dreamscape of bubbles. One of those experiences we’re really glad we had.

Wall diving

Hard/soft corals along with tonnes of marine life attach themselves to the wall. It’s quite surreal, actually. Kind of like an M.C. Escher sketch.

Stages of Turtle spotting: Discovery, Creeping up, And trying to spot the turtle again

Turtle!

The dives were also a bit simpler than the ones we had before. Many of our dives are at depths of 7 – 20 meters. The currents are relatively gentle so we don’t have to exercise that much. More importantly, these are also depth that my DiCAPac casing works in! So, great cam whoring opportunities abound!

Floating… just keep on floating…

Total Cam Whoring

Did I mention that Apo Island itself is really beautiful? It’s on par, if not better than some of the Thai resort islands that we’ve been to. The boat anchored off various points around the island before and after every dive for us to take a break.

That, in itself was probably (but not really) worth the price of admission.

Just chilling…

and goofing around…

Breakdown

The unthinkable happened!

After a glorious (but apparently not very long) six months of service, our Acer 3820tg completely broke down on us. The initial diagnosis is that the motherboard is fried (from what? We know not).

Since we’re kinda at the outskirts for now and won’t be in major cities long enough to get the laptop fixed, it looks like we would be lugging the deadweight with us for a little while longer.

We’ve lost a bulk of our photos and some of our notes.

I’m typing this entry using the WordPress app on my Samsung Galaxy SII. Typing on a virtual keyboard for long posts takes a bit of getting used to and a much longer time.

I guess entries till/if we get the laptop fixed, updates might take longer to come through.

Quam Minimum Credula Postero

It’s the little known follow-up phrase to it’s well known brother “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) and it means “Trusting as little as possible in the future”. Besides making me sound more atas than I really am, it more or less sums up my direction going into 2012.

I know… it’s not the cheeriest of New Year resolutions. But as we grow older, I think every New Year tends to put us in a more pensive mood.

We’re currently at a totally different place (figuratively and literally) than we were at at the end of 2010. And if you told 2010 TW what things would be like at the end of 2011, he’d probably ask you to, with all due respect, Suck it.

2011 was a year of great change for us (But then again, shouldn’t they all be?). Going into 2011, we had many unknowns we needed to face, many questions we needed answered as we stood at the brink of our grand adventures. We’ve known for a long time that we wanted to do it, but taking the leap is not easy. I’d be lying if I said that we never had any doubts about whether we were going to do it, because at the back of our minds, there was always that question:

“What about Tomorrow?”

If we don’t plan for it, what ARE we going to do about Tomorrow when she comes knocking? The story about the proverbial Grasshopper is deeply ingrained in us.

I suppose in some small ways, we’ve always known that Tomorrow is a fickle mistress and an unrelenting tease. She continually promises things to come and at the same time, she demands our unyielding worship to grant us her rewards.

Day after day, Tomorrow creeps up on us. Every second we spend unhappy, every minute we waste doing something we hate is a non-refundable sacrifice we place on her altar. And for better or worse, every day that passes is one less Tomorrow we need to/can worry about.

If anything, 2011 showed us that Tomorrow giveth in small doses, and yet she’ll do her “taketh away” quickly, silently, unexpectedly, thank you very much. She most certainly doesn’t give a damn about any of the grand plans that we’ve made.

I’m not saying don’t make any plans. It is always good to store grains for tomorrow. Just don’t do it at the expense of what you should be eating today. Always be aware that Tomorrow could just as likely bring a sunny day as it would a pink rhinoceros that would eat up everything that you’ve stored when you need them most.

Tomorrow is a bitch.

Afford Tomorrow the same trust you would the tout who approaches you at the side of a major train station.

If there’s something you’re dying to try, do it today. If there’s something you need to say to someone, tell it to them today. If there’s anything you’re not fully satisfied with, make a change today. Dance with that special someone today. Bury that grudge today. Live for today. Be happy today. Love today.

Today…. because, when you least expect it, Tomorrow just might not show up.

I guess what I want to say at the end of all this is…

Tomorrow is too damn unpredictable. Carpe Diem by the bloody Jagulum.*

Squeeze.

And don’t you dare let go.

And errr… Happy New Year and have a smashing 2012.

* yes… that is a Terry Pratchett reference

Home for the Holidays!!

Ok… maybe not THIS holiday.

We’ve just confirmed our plane tickets and should be home before 2012. We’re currently in Xishuangbanna (hur hur… yeah… Xishuangbanna…) (this doesn’t get old)  If you’ve been keeping track of our travels on our “First Impressions” page, you’ll know that we are more than a month behind for our blogging. Somewhere along the way, we decided that we should not let blogging get in the way of us looking at rocks, climbing steps and getting scammed.

We’ll continue with this blog even after we’re home (I still have a lot of little scraps of paper with squiggly notes that I need to go through). Hopefully, this China chapter will be completed before we go off again (target: after the Chinese New Year).

But I guess what we really want to say in this post is, with lots of love from us…

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

I know... Ha Ha... we have Christmas-colored clothes... tis the season!