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Honeymoon Recap 8: Hospitable Home

February 28th, 2011 No comments

The journey back home was long but largely uneventful.  Peaceful.  Given the tail end of our trip we were ready to return.  During the layover in Seoul’s gorgeous Incheon airport I rejuvenated myself by doing full fledged yoga poses in my jeans and New Balance sneakers in front of the massive windows that look out to the air fields, taking full advantage of the right to be weird when you’re a stranger in a strange land.  Before we knew it we were touching down in LA.

It was in the international terminal at LAX where we met my friend Doc, and bleary-eyed and jet lagged from our recent 13 hour flight across the Pacific, I said whatever it was that came to mind then and there in answer to our first state-side inquiry about how our honeymoon was.  What exactly did I say?  I don’t know.  But as you may recall from the prelude to this tale, it was soon paraphrased as “The food sucked, we got majorly sick, and John went to a strip club.”   That surprised me, but I suppose now it could be an accurate description of my bleary-eyed blurting.

Back at Denver International we were punctually picked up Tracy’s parents, Chipotle burritos in tow made precisely to our preference.  (Cindy, my brand-new mother in law, had taken jotted down our order on a piece of paper at her desk back in October–have I mentioned how awesome my brand-new parents in law are?)  During the drive to their place we happily recounted tales which much more fairly represented our trip than my first account at LAX, including the strip club.  Soon we would be winding down in their Christmas-adorned living room (as I learned last year it’s a treat to return to the states with the Christmas season already in progress–so many decorations without any feeling of excessive build up!), and then retiring for a good 12 hours of sleep in their comfy and cave-like guest room.

It was so good to be home.

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Honeymoon Recap 7: Manic Manila

February 25th, 2011 No comments

The touchdown of Zest Airways flight Z2-171 into Manila marked the beginning of the end to our wanderings in the Philippines.  Darcy’s driver picked the five of us up and made the rounds though the bewilderingly dense traffic to drop us all off at our respective destinations about town.

Tracy and I were plopped right in front of the Somerset Millenium Makati, which Darcy was good enough to recommend and have his staff make us a reservation.  We checked in and quickly got settled into the relative luxury of our room with its stellar 18th floor view of the city, and foraged out to the nearby swanky mall complex known as Greenbelt 1 through 5 for a nice sushi dinner.

Back at our room Tracy was spent and so passed on our invitation to join Darcy and his peeps out at a bar he owned nearby, Heckle & Jeckle’s.  In the interest of camaraderie and raising a beer to the man whose resort and hospitality made such a difference for us the last 3 days, I set out myself into the warm Manila night.

There’s something I absolutely love about wandering about in an active city by myself at night.  The lights, the flow of people and the architecture all have a certain vibrancy that calls to be observed in an unhurried way that you just can’t do as well in daylight or with others around wondering why you’re smiling at everything with maw agape like some enchanted 6-year-old.  Conditions are perfect to wander aimlessly and be distract-able by shiny.  I found myself in a triangle-shaped park nestled among sky rises, faced on one edge by a slew of open fronted eateries with hoards of happy people enjoying things like late night ice cream, and throughout with bushes and trees strewn with elaborate strings of lights that put the typical Christmas yard decoration to shame.  Add in the summer evening perfume of the abounding plant life and you’ve got a faint sensation of magic in the air.

Eventually I made my winding way to Darcy’s bar.  It was a bustling joint with pool games being played, darts being thrown, and three Filipino women joining vocal forces to do a pretty darn good set of Alanis Morrisette covers.  I ordered a trusty Red Horse (by this time my well-established local brew of choice), and found Darcy in short order.

“Red Horse, eh?  That’s the beer of the poor people!”  For real?  I thought all along it was the good stuff… it was more expensive back in Boracay!  “Yeah, it’s a cheaper way to get drunk because it comes in those bigger bottles and is a higher percent alcohol.”  Ahhh… yeah, that makes sense: I started to notice the tendency for it to come in these jumbo-sized bottles of liquid fun back in Sagada.  It reckon the whole scenario was like some hapless Brit coming to the US proudly drinking Budweiser, the King of beers, presuming that we Americans somehow held fast to a reverence of monarchs.  Whatever, it tasted alright and facilitated a talented dance exhibition to Lady Gaga.

It was now at this point that I was invited to the strip club as referenced in the preface to this whole saga.  It was the next stop of the night for Darcy and his crew, and since we were all getting along so swimmingly I was a welcome tag-along.  At this point I did indeed have presence of mind enough to remind my new chums the vague inappropriateness that this would be, what with this being my honeymoon and my new wife back at the hotel sound asleep.  “Right on,” I was assured: “this one will be pretty mild, so it’ll be fine.  Now, the second one we go to, that’s gonna be inappropriate for a man on his honeymoon.  You should probably skip the second one.”

“Oh, and if the DJ announces he’d like to welcome back Darcy and his friends when we get there, he’s talking about some other Darcy.”

Fair enough.  In the interest of having experiences that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to confess to either my wife or the world, I happily joined the gang as they hopped into the Range Rover of fun bound for our next destination.

There the crowded smokiness to the cheesy choreography reaffirmed for me that, yep, strip clubs even in this part of the world aren’t really my thing for anything above, say, 20 minute doses of novelty (even if the men’s bathroom was bemusingly wallpapered with naughty cartoons).  That, and contrary to the observable taste in about 60% of the older white men we’d seen during our trip, I don’t really have a thing for Filipino girls.

With my confidence again bolstered about my recent decision to take a wife of pasty-white European descent, I finished my beer, called it a night, and gave thanks to my new friends for having me along and the fun times.

Darcy walked me out and awesomely summoned his driver to give me a ride back to the Somerset, further cementing his role in my memory as a bad-ass host.  Despite my earlier ramblings about loving to walk city streets at night, by this time it was after midnight and the tropical rains were falling in force.  Back at the hotel I stripped out of my smokey t-shirt and gave the report of my evening’s activities to a sleepy Tracy, who just chuckled.

My wife is so awesome.

Soon to sleep, for tomorrow we travel.

 

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Honeymoon Recap 6: Surfin’ San Juan

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

We met the surfing district of the Philippines late at night after a long day of busing about, and were a bit weary for it.  It was on this night that we sat beside the South China Sea, three stories up, contemplating the recommend-ability of our current country.  Despite the starlit beauty of that night on the balcony the jury was still out on the matter.

The next morning presented us with a challenge: Tracy had fallen ill and so I tasked myself with finding a suitable detox center for her condition.  This is a place known for its beach-side surf resorts, so I took a jeepney ride up the coast line to their place of concentration in my quest for recovery luxury.  The first place I tried after being dropped off was full, so I scouted further on foot.  It was then that I happened upon a place unbeknownst to my trusty Lonely Planet, a swank and rather new place of sharp looking cabanas called the Kahuna Resort.  And they had an infinity pool that looked over the surfer-laden sea.  Score.  With just a swipe of the credit card and a drop off my backpack we had a new home base.

Proudly I returned to the hotel we were at, peeled my ailing-yet-lovely new wife off the bed, and proudly took to chaperoning my marital cargo to our shiny new digs.  This was a place to recover in, and good thing, too.  For whether it was an matter of solidarity or my having imbibed the same cause of ailment, I too proceeded to fall ill in exactly the same way.  For the utility of my forage for such paradise accommodations, I am grateful that my illness came those precious three hours later.

What a pair we were, taking turns in the bathroom while watching 80’s movies on our in-cabana flat screen TV.  I refer to this as the “Honeymoonal Celebration of Intimacy and Closeness,” for it was a wonderful testament to our love and acceptance of one another to have that love endure with us both in such a sorry state.

All things do pass, in time.

(I of course mean here the sickness, not the love.)  By the next day our appetites were reasonably restored, and we were content to enjoy our surroundings for more than their “nice place to detox”-ness.  While bobbing about merrily in the infinity pool the afternoon after our second night there, a fellow the western persuasion did a cannonball some 15 feet from me, and after he surfaced we exchanged brief glances: the sort of smiling, mutual acknowledgment that yes, it is nice to be in the pool.  And that’s how I met Darcy.

Darcy is the second delightfully influential Canadian to grace our trip.  With his hearty accent, penchant for playing hockey, and fondness for The Kids in the Hall he also lent fuel to my baser self to presume that I do indeed know all there is to know about Canada (I’m not committed to this presumption, by the way).  Turns out Darcy owned the place, too.  This was useful for a number of reasons.  One of which was that, by this point, I’d been wanting someone on staff I could make known the fact that the perhaps yet under-trained staff (this was still a new resort, after all) seemed apt to gracelessly interrupt naked time with their schedule of delivering 2 measly bottles of water to each cabana in the early evening, and not go away when you tell them to do as much in presumably muffled words through the door.  Strategic rantings aside he was all kinds of enjoyable to talk with, from topics of local culture, doing business all around Asia, and what it’s like to live swankily in slightly cesspool-ish Manila.

Later that night I joined Darcy and his business contemporaries for a bite.  My order of food arrived on two plates: on one a big heaping slice of chocolate cake, and on the other a sad little scoop of rice.  For this not exactly being the model of balanced nutrition, I fetched some odd looks from the gang.  In a striking example of how the universe is not, in fact, necessarily fair, I explained how the former was for me while the latter was for my wife, who in a state of still diminished appetite remained on a strict BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Apple juice and Toast).  In a gesture of good husbanding I did however bring some cake back to our room, a few bites of which Tracy was able to enjoy as punctuation to her otherwise bland starch.

In the morning Darcy’s hospitality really shined.  It was time to head back to Manila in preparation for our next-day flight home, and while Tracy and I were planning on another marathon bus ride to do so, Darcy had the good sense to suggest we take a flight back–from this relatively remote region there are only 3 such flights per week, and today was one of those lucky days.  (And luckier still, he and his associates were also heading back and could give us a ride both to and from the airports.)  At $35 a seat the deal couldn’t be beat.

His staff set everything up and that afternoon, with a car ready and waiting to take us to the airport, we were on our way.  Crestfallen though we were to not do any of the surfing we’d set out to do, our time in San Jaun was about the nicest way I can fathom to spend getting through a rough 24-hour bug together as husband and wife.  Such romance!  …did I mention the blaze-orange sunsets?

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Honeymoon Recap 5: Serene Sagada

February 16th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

From bumpin’ Baguio we took a 7 hour bus ride to remote Sagada through the winding, mountainous regions of North Luzon.  Unlike our relatively cushy ride from Manila to Baguio, this one took some courage and concentration.  Courage to not think to hard about the winding roads and how far there would be to fall were our bus to find itself but 2 feet to the left of it’s current position, and concentration on said winding roads to avoid motion sickness from all the bumps and turns.  (I tried to neglect the latter, but a mere 10 minutes of watching Penn and Teller’s Bullshit on the iPod-of-fun had me distinctly nauseous.)

So there was a balancing act to be done.  And really, once you wrapped your mind around having faith in the driver as truly an expert in his navigating his native terrain, the views were quite breathtaking.  It was a rainy day with lots of fog and clouds rolling through the hills and valleys, and a look down from the bus into a nebulous gray mass gave a certain awe and reverence for nature, not unlike the Cliffs of Insanity.  Also etched into the hills everywhere were step-like terraces for farming such uneven land.  These weren’t necessarily the ancient Ifuego rice terraces, but never the less a treat for the eyes and a remarkable display of ingenuity.

During our bus ride there were two stops in little villages for snacks and restroom breaks.  At the first of these was where met Peter, a friendly fellow from Canada who was exploring the country with his girlfriend Kate from Korea.  It’s great how fast you can make a friend while comparing how the flan in little plastic cups which you both just bought tastes (it tasted good, by the way–a nice remedy to iPod-induced wooziness).  A good thing, too: Peter and Kate would turn out to be instrumental in making our time in Sagada awesome.

When the bus arrived after nightfall in Sagada us back-packer types all dispersed to find lodging, with an agreement to meet Peter and Kate for dinner.  After a nice dinner at the Log Cabin (during which Peter reinforced Canadian stereotypes by tending to the un-staffed fireplace like a pro–he also admitted to indeed keeping an ax in the back of his truck), our foursome went back to their room for what was perhaps the greatest throwback to collegiate days that I can remember.  In their dorm-like room (you know the style: you enter and there’s a bed on the left, a bed on the right, and not much more) we partook of the bounties that Peter had so wisely procured in one of the small bus-break villages: a bottle of reconstituted brandy from Spain, and a loaf of freshly baked banana bread.  I assure you that the latter well complimented the former between shots as we passed the bottle: there’s nothing quite like cheap booze and minimal furniture to foster good times and camaraderie.

In our inspired state caused by bread and brandy we plotted to the next morning all do the 4 hour cave tour, because why not?  Seems cooler than the 2 hour version, and apparently part of it calls for swim trunks.

We were rewarded for our outstretched curiosity: what we got ourselves into we probably wouldn’t have done with full knowledge of it up front, and we are more hardcore and experienced for it.  This was serious climbing around and through some big rocks and slippery formations, with ample opportunities to misstep and fall a good 20 feet.  The whole experience was probably nothing you could ever get away with in a litigious society, and I’m glad we were where we were so as to enjoy it.

Our guides were nothing short of bad-ass.  While we were at times crab walking along with butts touching down every foot or so for stability, they were walking along casually in flip flops while brandishing the large kerosene torches which provided our only light, and carrying our backpacks to lighten our load.

For this, and other feats pertaining to expertly having our lives in their hands, we tipped them well and eagerly so.

After 4 hours of climbing through crevices, balancing on boulders, wading through water, and finagling footholds we were finally greeted by sunlight at the cave’s other entrance some 2 miles from where we initially descended.  We were sore, tired, a little damp and a lot muddy, but all the better for it and feeling triumphant.

Rest and recovery sums up the remainder of our time in Sagada, which suited.  There’s a certain stillness of the tiny, remote mountain town that is hard to describe yet easy to recall.  Within 48 hours of our underworld adventure we were on the bus back to Baguio, and on to the surf district of San Juan.

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Honeymoon Recap 4: Bumpin’ Baguio

February 12th, 2011 No comments

From the low altitude of the sleepy lake district we took to the high ground towards North Luzon’s mountain region.  On our journey spanning 15 hours of bus time our first stop, following the first 8 hours, was Baguio.

Baguio is a cool college town with an altitude nearly on par with the mile-high city.  But it’s not clear if we made the most of it.  There were a few highlights, like while running an errand along the crowded city streets an older toothless fellow with a hoarse voice who eagerly asked how tall I was, and gave me enthusiastic respect knuckles when I energetically replied ‘dat I was reeeally talllll.  “I knew it, man!!” replied he, and we carried on like this with several more exchanges of the respect knuckles.   (As you might imagine, I liked him immediately.)  But the fact remains that we whiled away some of the hours with frivolities, like holing up in a cafe to wait out the rain and thereat ordering scotch at 3pm simply for the novelty of it (ah, what fun it is to be an adult!).

Perhaps our most creative adventure in Baguio was our effort to make up for poor planning (time-wise) to catch a 7pm screening of the new Harry Potter movie.  We were still hungry at 6:30 with the theater a 15 minute walk away.  We invented and played the “Street-Side Buffet Ballet”, a quest to fill our tummies and make it to the show on time whilst sampling the best of the hoards of street-side food vendors that set up shop all over town around dusk.  It was a flurry of making snap decisions of what looked tasty as we navigated the crowded streets to our destination.  Roasted corn on a stick, 25P, fantastic!  A gyro-like wrap, sure I’ll take that random sauce you offered, 80P, delicious!  5P for some bits of meat on a stick… ugh, gross, moving on!  5P for a baked bar of something wrapped in orange cling wrap, sure, I’ll take 2, thanks!  A tasty carrot to cleanse the pallet after that weird stick meat… don’t need the whole pile, how about 2P for one?  Ok!  Fried banana chunks on a stick…. 10P, what a treat!  And to wrap up after all that, a so-called pimkin that suspiciously resembles a clementine, nice and sweet at 5P!  And voila, we’d arrived at the theater, with 4 minutes to spare!  (As best I could tell from our balcony position, we were the only ones present for that screening, perhaps not too surprising given the abundance of bootleg DVDs of the movie I saw laid out around town earlier.)

And that’s about all I can think to write about Baguio.  Maybe we were big lame-o’s for this leg of the trip, but in our defense at least we got our laundry done and–yeah, ok, we were big lame-o’s.  So the next day, we left town for what was next.

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