Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Photo du Jour

A month from now we would be celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary; and for the first time in four years we were separated by international borders. Chalk it up to lack of information, or heartless/power-tripping immigration officers; but at the climax of Henri's part of the story there was a mad race across airports with a relaxing hour at home in between, while mine involved an epic breakdown at an airline booth in Pudong 1,149 miles away. All will be revealed soon. Meanwhile, guess where we are!

Monday, June 16, 2014

North Luzon on Two Wheels: Scam City Banaue and Batad

I made a survey of the travellers we met to know where they've been or where they are going in the Philippines; and though some of them would say Taal, Boracay or El Nido, the most common place on their to-do list was Banaue.


But hu-whyyy??? I went there 15 years ago. It was overdone then and it's a soulless husk now, so why do busloads of tourists still come? There are lots of other rice terraces in the Mountain Province; cleaner, more natural, the people more charming... but it boiled down to overseas tour operators pushing the rice terraces in Banaue because it's the most famous one, and in most cases it's the only place in the Philippines they know. I mean, it's the only picture on our posters overseas; but those pictures are not even from Banaue-- the best of them were taken in Batad.


I mean, sure, 30 years ago it might have been impressive. We had illustrations of it in our textbooks. We were taught to be proud of it. And I am. The mere idea of it blows the mind.


In case you were wondering how they could build concrete houses between mountains.

But after the long ride from Sagada, through the foggy and muddy highway where amused townsfolk would occasionally wave "hi" when they spot us emerging from the soup -- I sensed something unpleasant hovering over Banaue as we made our approach. Later, Henri would tell me he felt the same. There was something wrong here. And it wasn't because of the dirty rivers or the grimy buildings with the shiny steel roofs.

We cropped the dirty buildings out. At the time we were trying to focus on the positive.

But we wanted to go to Batad, and there was no way except through Banaue, so we decided to stay and give the place a chance.

Henri found replacement slippers at the public market.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

North Luzon on Two Wheels: Sagada

 Happy Philippine Independence Day!

Put your flags in the air! And wave it like you just don't care!

In observance of our day of freedom, Henri and I will share with you more stories about our fancy-free bike trip of Luzon. Next stop: Sagada!

You can't go there not wanting to go back. You just can't. So after years of talking it up, I got to bring Henri to one of my favorite places in these 1,107 (more or less, amiright China?) islands.

While it takes around 5 hours to reach Baguio, it takes another 5-6 hours to get to this mountain refuge and that's actually one of the best things about it. Because it's so remote, only those who really want to be there are rewarded.


We took the Hanselma Highway, the highest road in the country, and one of the most scenic. 


Overlapping verdant slopes vanishing into mounds of light blue haze, carved in the middle by a silver sliver of a river or a stray waterfall...


Or the occasional raging forest fire.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

North Luzon on Two Wheels: Baguio

At the cusp of the New Year 2013, we went to France to visit friends and Family...


And to be reminded what snow was all about...



A few weeks after returning, we bought some maps and a guidebook...


had the motorbike checked, and packed our tiny side bags for a tour of North Luzon - starting with the summer capital of the Philippines: Baguio.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Random Photo Du Jour 14

Salut tout le monde!

As you know, we are have been living in the Philippines for more than a year, 
so this Photo Du Jour was meant to happen sometime!

 So, we dare you...

 

It is a famous landmark in Manila, but which one?

Ooooohhh.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In and Out of Phnom Penh

On our last full day in Phnom Penh, we thought about investigating other sections of the map... too much free time :)


We had breakfast around Central Market, a queer yellow building whose initial design was made by a French architect.


If you walk around Phnom Penh, you'll find old buildings as curious as that - charming reminders of Cambodia's colonial past.




One of the main backpacker haunts was around a lake that we could see on the map, but couldn't quite locate. We knew we were in the right place but Beoung Kak Lake seemed to have disappeared!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Killing Fields

Day 233.

Henri has sharply called attention to my love of the macabre a couple of times. When we were dating I asked to be taken to the catacombs of Paris, he freaks out when I take pictures of dead things, I obsess about zombies, I love Poe and Lovecraft, there's even a photo of me with the tomb of Oscar Wilde! But somehow a visit to the S-21 prison and the Killing Fields felt perverse even for my standards. A torture tour? Quel horreur! It just felt wrong. But the locals said we have to go, not because it's there to see... They could not explain why, they just said it was important. The rickshaw driver who helped us get lodgings basically said, "just go and you will know." (Here is a link to a National Geographic article about the genocide tourism phenomenon in Phnom Penh in case you want a backgrounder.)

The more we thought about it, it became less morbid curiosity and more of a dare to face the evil depths our kind can sink to. The more we thought about it, the more it made sense that we had to go to learn what what we could, and understand if we could, what happened in Cambodia almost 40 years ago.

Henri and I rented a bike from an Irish guy, a living Wikipedia of local scams and travel advice. Apart from suggesting that we speed past any traffic officers ("They can't run after you!"), he told us to go to Toul Sleng first, then Choeung Ek about 7 kilometers away because seeing the sites in this order would really drive home the point.

Not your ordinary high school.

It was very humid that morning, but Toul Sleng ("Hill of Poisonous Trees"), perhaps the most famous interrogation center from that era, gave us the chills. In the time of peace it was just a school, but education was for the elite and the elite had no place in this new society; so the school found a new purpose - as a torture complex. 

Prisoners were hung by their feet on these gym bars and lowered into water jars.

For me, high school was hell on so many levels - but imagine the day that the academics, intellectuals, politicians and the occasional foreigner were tossed in here to be tormented on a daily basis. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

RANDOM PHOTO DU JOUR 13

We know, it's been a while. 

A lot has happened since we last updated the blog. We built a nest in Manila, Henri tested the waters for a business we talked about throughout the trip, I took a job, and we did a lot of DIY home improvement (which is still a work in progress). 

And then an idea to travel again took hold, and we packed our bags, went to Europe, and did as much as we could while seeing family and a few friends. (Merci beaucoup, Vero et Philippe!)



Guess where we are below!


In France, some of you asked us to finish the blog -- well, we're going to get to it soon, just let me find the pictures first :)

Thank you for reading about our adventures, more to follow!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Phnom Penh Royal Palace

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was not on our list of must-see places because no one comes from Cambodia gushing about it, but like the Everest that must be climbed "because it's there," we paid the fee and went in anyway, hoping to be surprised.

This was after having a nice but expensive breakfast at a restaurant halfway to the palace. We stayed at the restaurant a bit longer than expected, but it was perfectly timed after all because we found out we were just in time for the palace gates to open. We didn't have to wait outside like other early birds.

Scary flower that casts a sweet smell.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Phnom Penh

Going against "tradition", we took a tourist bus from Siem Reap to the capital, Phnom Penh. We couldn't find the local bus stand and the locals discouraged us from taking the ferry because the water level is too low to arrive via the TonlĂ© Sap. 

It was extremely hot in the morning, but it rained hard after lunch and the remaining four hours were cold and wet. The landscape was extremely flat and lovely lotus ponds trimmed the edges of rice fields. The houses on stilts reminded me of rural houses in the Philippines, and if I didn't know any better I could have sworn I was already home.

We had some ideas about where to stay, but early confusion led us to the new backpacker haunts a few streets away from the quay. We read on the guide that the old backpacker area near the big lake is a relaxing place with a nice view of the sunset to boot; but not one tuktuk guy suggested the lake so we wondered what had happened to it. More on this later.


Our room was oddly designed, it must have been an ordinary room before but the owner retrofitted a bathroom inside so they can rent it for a dollar or two more. The strangest thing about the guest house though, was this sign just on top of the stairs: