Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Korean Tour

I landed in Korea after quit literally passing out on the airplane for 13 straight hours, the worst part about it I didn't feel like I had just slept that long. My eyes were dry, my mouth sore, and my thoughts muddled, well some would argue the later is normal but Its my blog and I am genius damn it.

Korea is a country of ultra modern clashing with cultures of old.
People still bow their head to you, a man cleaning the restroom was on his hands and knees scrubbing, talk about devotion and discipline.
The people seem to be incredibly fit and slim for the most part, Im not sure if it is a healthy diet or lots of exercise but most of the men seem to be ripped.

I would have a twelve hour layover in Seoul, I had thought about changing my ticket so I could spend more time here but I have a rule that one day is all that is needed to get the gist of any capital city.
So I stuck to that rule, exchanged some cash and started web surfing to see what the city had to offer, and well surprisingly enough, the searching was not so good.

I knew this could not be true as this city has to be rich in heritage so I decided to just go hail a cab and see how much it would cost me to have him drive me around the major sites.
As it turned out there were two separate agencies offering city tours, the extended would be six hours, the short would be two hours.
They would verify your flights to make sure a tour would work for you, how can you lose out?

I went ahead and booked the tour, not something I usually do as I am not much for formal traveling but with only one day, not speaking any of the language, and reading their boards like a two year old staring at a chemistry book.
The tour was excellent and I would visit the Chang Deok Gung Palace being to me one of the main focuses, what an amazing place and is one of the five important palaces in Korea.
We would also visit the Cheonggyecheon stream which is now a park but preserved and honoring a time when people would visit the stream to wash their clothes. The top part of the walkway was a bubbling brook with statues lining the rest of the stream which lit up at night.
We would have lunch and I would become a Fan of Old style Kim Chi, a fermented food which is buried in pots and very popular in the county and are yummi!!!  We also had the choice of a main dish which I chose Bulgogi which is pork, noodles and vegetables boiled.
The best part of the lunch was it was included in the price of the tour.
After lunch we would have time to do a little shopping where I would purchase a wonderful hand fan which was hand painted, I absolutely love items which are personally crafted with fine materials.
We then would visit the Jogysesa Temple which is a buddist temple. The area was amazing, covered with paper lanters your mind was simply in bliss as you walked beneath them. In the temple people were praying everywhere, they were putting out prayer mats and enjoying buddism myself I thought I would say a prayer, however seconds into my praying I would be tapped on the shoulder and asked to leave, apparently the mats were reserved for actual Monks.

After the tour I would stop at a cultural center and listen to some performers dressed in traditional garb play traditional instruments.
Things like this honestly bring a tear to my eye, I find the old instruments of the orient to be hauntingly beautiful, like the wood is truly singing they play. How absolutely relaxing, and then you browse thte gift shop and your hands touch what you should not, soon you ar at the cashier buying something else you should not buy, sigh, thus is
traveling.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Leaving Paradise

This was a much needed trip with lots of adventure in one of the most unusual countries in the world, where you can walk past a Home made of nothing more than a few pieces of tin held together with wire, scrap nails and rocks on the roof, and only a minute later to walk past a modern home painted with colors that compliment the flora of the area.
  To ride in a crowded Jeepny with the emissions control of a Model A, to a 2012 toyota air conditioned cab. To use a toilet which is only a bowl without a seat, that can only be flushed with a pale of water sitting next to it, with another bucket of water which is the sink, and then at the next stop to use a western toilet with a seat that gives one the full understanding of where the name "Throne" came from. 
The opportunity to once again do things I had always only dreamed of, Swam with the Whale Sharks, snorkled in world class waters, getting to see my first sunken ship, swam among reefs. Got the chance to meet some old friends from the internet,  to replace flesh with what before was only a voice and a picture.
 Didnt get the chance to visit a couple of others I would have liked to, and to make some new ones on the way.
 And the opportunity to share it all with one special friend. My old rule used to be to visit each country only once, yet this country is so rich with history and nature each time I walk thru one door, there is yet another begging to be opened.  It is easy to see why for centuries this paradise was a place sailors always looked forward to. 
It may by modern standards no longer be the Pearl of the Orient, but the remnants are still there, and the ability to regain what once made it great is there, ready for the people to make a change, for the right leader to take charge and make it so.
Special thanks to my Wonderful friends at home for making this possible, without your support, encouragement and true devotion this dream would not have come true. It is easy to see why the poorest people in the world always have the biggest smile, they have what really matters, each other.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

From snorking the old wreck to watching someone nearly drown.

Today started off as usual in paradise, to awaken to another amazing sunrise.
 I had been promising to meet a friend but sometthing would keep happening, today would be no exception and I am ashamed to say light cloud cover kept me on this island for one more day. Light cloud cover you ask? well ya, I got a sunburn nearly a week ago, it is peeling now and the cloud cover gave me a chance to go and enjoy one last snorkle adventure in one of the most amazing dive/snorkel areas in the Philippines and I jumped at the chance.
I would start out merely snorkling around the private beach/cove of the resort I stayed at. On the previous day I had observed much in the line of reefs and some basic sea life so I thought it would be a good start. And it was, I saw a coupple more things I have never seen before, like the Hairy Crab and some scary orange jelly fish which chased me like the blob. I enquired about the jelly fish at breakfast and was informed it did not bite and was harmless unless you touched it, then you had a problem as its skin was toxic.
 I was not buying the harmless part as it chased me and had toxic skin, how can that be harmless?
With the advancing storm clouds and armed with the knowledge that Orange Jellyfish are cranky I would book a dive boat, at roughly 20 dollars to take me to key dive sites how could I not?
 The first site would be the old japanese ship, the guide was old and his english as basic as my Spanish, but that much I understood, further questioning him over how the boat sank, if it was sank or scuttled ended with a confusion and the repeat "It sank in the war" I think should I have fully understood him it would have been "Look jack ass it was sank in the war what part are you not getting?" Oh well unimportant anyhow and off I would go, I have to admit I was hoping for something like on TV, with a fully I Identifiable boat with turrents and the like, but this was a ship that had been bombed so being in pieces scattered around the ocean floor in 20 feet of water made sense. Diving a wreck is like visiting an old fort, your mind races with images of the final battle, you can almost feel the wreckage.
I had no real desire to touch it, only to dive around it and watch the sea life growing on it slowly claiming it to the point it would no longer be identifiable in a few more decades.
We then would move on to some reefs where I would watch clown fish darting about and see the amazing colors of other exotic fish explode.
 It is simply amazing how bright their colors can be. The final dive site would be in an area with strong currents among jagged rocky out croppings that promised the possibility of squid and maybe if I was luck ya shark. First in the water I would not notice tthe current so much until dragging my friend who was wearing a life vest was almost like dragging an anchor, and the ocean floor seemed to move at inches rather than feet. This concerned me as the penalty for failure as we rounded the first set of rocks were razer sharp barnacles or worse being sucked under into some sort of erosion cave.
But I was pretty experienced with river s norkling so I did feel confident with thte current, I held to the rule of swimming into thte current first and letting it carry you back so your muscles could rest.
 I would let her go only once so I could photograph a cave, we were on the other side of a rock and out of site of the boat, she drifted away at a predictable speed and within a minute was a good fifty feet away, undoubtedly wondering what the hell was happening. I would swim back and take her to the boat, she was beyond grateful to feel the outrigger again and climbed aboard the safety of the vessel.
 I would take a small rest and then head out again, determined to see a squid, but nothing, just more caves and colorful; schools of fish darting about. I would retreat back to the boat to rest when he would inform me that the water had increased to about 3 knots, thata is a pretty hefty current and it seemed to be getting worse. It was at this time when another boat would shop up filled with Filipino many wearing life vests, not a good sign.
Our guide would yell over at a the young dive guides about the danger of the current, and that they were dropping anchor in a dangerous spot.
 His warning would be ignored and a young diver without flippers would enter the water wearing only a mask and a grin from ear to ear.
His grin would leave quickly as the current took him away, he yelled and the boat panicked with the young guides not sure what to do.
I grabbed my flippers and my mind raced wondering if I could cover the couple hundred feet in time before he would drink to much water but was grabbed by my guide "Let them handle it" and they would in third world fashion, they let out more rope from the anchor and put out a long pole for him to grab.
 His time was running out though, he was flailing frantically in obvious panic just at the end of the pole.
 I was ata this time at the nose of our boat pulling on my second flipper when he would finally grab the pole anad be pulled to safety. They left as quickly as they came, their happy day ruined with a minutee of near horror.
I tried one last dive myself, but coming back to the boat was difficult as the current had picked up more in just a few minutes.
This is the problem with diving in an area like this, bad communication from the guide and no knowledge of the area myself could have lead to problems for many people, lesson learned but a dream day for us non the less.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Swimming with thee Banded Sea Snake

This was something so unexpected I am still reeling from it. I was just floating along the edge of some Reefs looking for schools of fish and hoping to see a Manta Ray. Then out of the corner of my eye it came, I do not know the length maybe five feet I suppose and there it came, right underneath me. My mind scrambled to remember if they were aggressive or not, all I could remember is they were extremely venomous so I didn't want to tangle with it. I took in my air via large gulps thru my snorkel, tried to slow my heart and then took a couple of crappy pictures before deciding I should takae a video. So I would follow it for about a minute on video, this is something I really never thought would happen and a dream come true for sure. I was so crazy proud of myself for catching a sea snake on video I needed an extra arm to pat myself on the back. But bitter disapointment awaited me at the beach, as I scanned thru my pictures there were only my two crappy pictures of the snake to be seen. Apparently in my moment of incredible bravery I pushed the wrong button so a video did not happen. Oh well, still another dream come true, if I get to see a Steve Erwin Killer I will be beyond happy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ran over by a Whale Shark

What seems like an eternity ago I took the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants in Oslob Philippines. Staying in Cebu the way to Oslob was easy via riding a bus.
Now riding a Bus in the Philippines is an adventure in itself, the streets are crowded, the traffic is measured by inches and the only traffic law being you just use your Horn and communicate via apparent SOS signals.
Oslob is only about 70 miles from Cebu, but in Filipino time that equals four hours of stopping bumper to bumper traffic and roads in desperate need of repair.
The bus dropped us in front of a stretch of road where various former fishermen turned tourist guide advertised their services by big colored flags, each service had a different flag.
 It was noon when I arrived at Oslob Philippines for my swim with the Gentle Giants, my only information of the area came via a Email to an apparent city sponsored website which had replied to my question of "what are amy lodging choices and how much to swim with these beasts" The reply being something quit common in the Philippines "There are no hotels just come and you will find someplace to stay" and low prices being listed which sounded to good to be true' turns out they were.
I would be informed that swimming with the Giants ended at 12pm, I had just missed it, frustrated and quickly finding that extra money would not buy me the happiness I demanded I settled upon a room at a house near the diving guides.
The room was amazing and I wish I had known to cancel my Room in Cebu or I would hvae stayed for a few days. The entire house waas made from a red hard wood which looked like Mohagany, I have never been in someplace so clean before. The owner was from America haven lived in this poor quiet area for some 30 years, he was also a boat builder and I would have the pleasure of seeing his latest sail boat skeleton.
He would talk my ear off as he apparently missed American company, explaining the only Americans he would see were the occasional backpackers which stayed with him.
The night would rain hard, and would be my first experience with a tropical storm, thte sound of the rain was absolutely deafening and as I tried to sleep I wondered if it would ever stop, and if my dream of swimming with the giants would come true. It would, in the morning the rain had stopped, water still dripped from the palm trees into puddles below which would reflect the rising sun in their ripples.
 I would attend a small briefing on how to properly swim with the giants, the smell of the clean morning damp air deep in my nostrils I found it hard to make it thru even the short lecture as my mind raced about the experience to come.
 We would then Board a fishing catamaran turned tour boat operated by someone at either end, on one would be a child of maybe twelve paddle and determination in hand he would push forth hard as any adult, on the other was another kid, maybe 16 years of age.
The water would push lightly under our bow as the air skipped gently off the turquoise blue water. my first sight of the Giants would be a fin sticking up slightly out of the water, a giant mouth poking up ever so slightly as it followed a "trick" boat which was feeding the animals, ensuring we would have a show.
I was still struggling with my new snorkel and mask I had just purchased, the small task of peeling off stickers and attaching my snorkel seemed nearly impossible with my hands shaking with excitement.
 Finally we would stop and I would slip into the water, looking thru the clear water I still could only see maybe 30 feet, and within seconds my first sighting would come.
 The first beast was following a feed boat, its body seemed to never end as it drifted past me, camera in hand I struggled to remember which button did what, the fact it was a new camera didn't help but really, it was only a matter of pushing three buttons, even a monkey could do that.
 I would tap into my primal instincts and find the shutter button taking my first picture of the giant streaming by. my concentration so deep at the last second I would see a giant mouth open wide filtering in its food. Now let me just say that the knowledge of these giants not attacking people does not help when a mouth that looked more like a cave is coming straight at you propelled by a 30foot body, the theme song to jaws would play lightly in my head, just so I could stay comfortable.
We had a half an hour with the animals and it seemed like all day, I would swim about darting under tour boats and the laughing passengers within.
Finally I would come to rest at my boat, chatting with my guides, a gentle Giant would swim to me, his mouth open at the surface I struggled to get out of the water, the guides would start yelling do not panic stay in the water however their quivering voices were less than reassuring, what would I do? Its body was actually above the surface as the water rose against it, I lifted my legs and said a prayer to Poseidon as the beast would travel just under me.
 I wondered if this was a game to it, how did it perceive me, was I just a big shrimp in its eyes? I would let go and follow the beat for awhile, they swam slowly and it was easy to keep close to them only slightly losing the speed battle.
 Another would come at me getting far to close, in our instructions they told us not to touch the animals, but I really had no desire, I was only worried about getting hit by its rear fin, I cannot Imagine the energy that would carry. I decided they were being a bit to aggressive for my liking and I headed back to the boat, intent on not being the first Human attacked by a whale shark.
Again I would relax hanging off the side of a boat when another shark would come at me, again my guides yelled at me to stay calm and to not touch it, lol yea right there it was right at me I lifted my feet high only to have its dorsal fin slam me into the boat, just enough to leave a mark up my leg and arm, I had officially been rana over by by a 40 foot beast weighing 20 tons. I had enough and happily crawled into the boat what aa day, getting to swim with one of the largest creatures in the sea and having the battle scar to prove it. Scratch one more off the Bucket list, but add more, heading to another island to swim with the thresher shark next, one thing about the Philippines, it seems to slowly make each dream come true.