A blog with no name

notes and observations on my travels

Illin' in Paradise

clock November 25, 2012 22:39 by author Phil


It had to happen eventually. According to the Center for Disease Control, traveler's diarrhea is the most common ailment affecting people. About 20-40% of people get it within the first few weeks of their trip. Took me about 6 weeks. I had been getting a little lax in my personal hygiene, mainly because it's hard to find a way to dry your hands in public toilets. 

Oh well, I've been confined to my little hostel room for a day and a half now and am getting bored. Time to overshare with the world.

The TMI Turkey!

 First off, I'm totally fine and am able to eat a bit. Val was a little worried, but unless I don't respond to the drugs we have, it shouldn't be a problem. These things usually resolve themselves in a couple of days by themselves. However, I took some Cipro anyway to try and make this resolve a little more quickly. 

Most of the time, TD is due to e. coli bacteria that your body is not used to. They are transmitted by eating food that is contaminated by infected feces. Sounds really gross, but all that has to happen is for someone to not wash their hands properly when preparing food or for me to drink some contaminated water or a ton of other simple things.

So I'm sick and Val isn't. That's really strange because we've eaten almost the exact same food. Maybe she already had antibodies for this strain or else I drank water from the tap. Hard to be sure. Maybe she'll get sick in a few days.

TD is pretty easy to treat. Most of the time, it responds very well to Cipro. In SE Asia, there may be Cipro resistant strains, which would necessitate the use of something stronger like azithromycin. We'll see. I'm only in day 2 so it should be cleared up in a day or so anyway. Just in case, Val's off to sign up for a 2-day diving class so she could become and Advanced Open Water Diver. That would let her go deeper and even to do a little wreck diving. I did some wreck piercing in the Philippines and it was really worthwhile.

As soon as I started typing this up, Val, of course, had to go and announce it to Facebook. Wasn't sure if I should stop or just keep on plowing on. Oh well, if I'm going to be sick, Ao Nang in Thailand is not a bad place to lie up for a few days. We started with a trip to Railay Beach to check out the climbing. Now this is the reason we brought our gear all the way from California! Lots of limestone sport routes, with new glue in titanium bolts too. When I'd been to Thailand in 1996, all I saw were rusty steel bolts. Very scary to take a fall on. Can't wait to get out there and see how badly I really suck at sport climbing. Oh well, just have to get over the fear of falling. When the rock is overhanging, it's much safer than what we normally climb. Just harder physically.

OK, next post should be about fun stuff!


clock November 16, 2012 00:36 by author Phil

After Singapore, Val and I hopped on a bus and headed north for 5 hours. We ended up in the town of Melaka. Depending on where you look, the city has different spellings. On official signs, I also saw Milaka and Wikipedia shows Malacca. No matter, after we got off the bus, we were still in the hot as f**k land of humidity and heat. Luckily, our hostel was just across the street from where the bus dropped us off.

The proprietor of Backpacker Freak is named Sean and he's quite the character. About 5'4" and 98 lbs, he chain smoked and drank beers from early morning until he went to bed. He had opinions on everything and was quite knowledgeable and interesting. 

In the 1400's, Melaka was the main port in the area. Sometimes, up to 300 ships would be anchored in the harbor, waiting to trade. The Dutch took control in 1511, but their system of trade favored government monopolies so most traders took their ships to other ports rather than pay the heavy tariffs.

On our first night in town, we wandered into Chinatown and looked for a place to eat. It wasn't all that fun dodging cars in the narrow streets and seeing nothing other than tourist trap places. We wandered quite a few blocks before we found a little Thail restaurant that had surprisingly good food. Back at the guest house, we found out that the night markets were only on the weekends when they close some of the streets to cars. 

Eager to see the market, we ventured out the next night, only to find that the small shops had mainly just moved their stuff into stalls on the street, removing much of the walking space.

Other than the dim sum stall,

most of the food looked pretty yucky to me. Then we found the seafood stalls and had some tasty stir fried prawns and mussels,

Fresh squeezed juice was only 4RM a glass, barely more than a dollar. I wasn't too full so we found some other snacks on the street and stopped at a bar. We only wanted a beer each, but every place had happy hour deals. We ended up getting a "jug" of Tiger beer for 30RM (~$10). A jug was really 4 glasses since they didn't have pitchers. If we'd had just two beers, they would've been 14RM each, so we just bit the bullet and drank the extra beers. Life can be rough when you're travelling. . .

One thing that really amazed us was the number of tourists in town. After the Philippines, we'd gotten used to places without many tourists or else travelers like us. Not so in Melaka. We spent much of the first day trying to avoid being in other people's pictures and then just going with it and photobombing. It was really stupid, but fun.

Some folks dancing to Lady Gaga in the Chinese church.

The bicycle trishaws were pretty fun too. After making fun of them, there was nothing else to do but just go with the flow and hire one. I'd been watching them though. Most all of the guys were playing the same song on their iPods. Finally starting to tire of Psy, I brought my own iPod and tried to find a mix of stuff that no one else out there was playing, like House of Pain.

We also took a trip on a river boat. They're pretty touristy, but we ended up having a pretty good time.

Yes, that's a christmas tree made out of Carlsburg bottles.

There was a pretty good mix of folks on the boat. We had some Malaysians, with their boys waving to everyone. Lots of Chinese tourists filled the middle of the boat and there was a group of Indian women on a "mission". They were having a great time, laughing, giggling, and they borrowed a baby from the Malaysian family to coo over it. At one point, they were teasing one of the girls because she was laughing so hard. She said that was it, no more laughing. At that point, Val leaned over and said, "OK, I'll be watching you!" The extra attention was too much and she started laughing uncontrollably.

Boats weren't really that fast.

We made the most of it, but I'm not sure I need to come back to Melaka. . .

Val's pics are here

Sipadan diving

clock November 5, 2012 01:48 by author Phil
So after the Philippines, we went to Malaysia and did some really fun stuff in Borneo. I'm going to skip ahead to the diving, leaving the Kinabatangan River to another blog.

Anyway, we met some pretty cool people on our river trip, including Peter Rogan, a Brit living in Australia. After viewing the wildlife, it was time for something else. Peter said he was heading down to Semporna to try and get in some diving in Sipadan. We'd never heard of Sipadan, but according to a couple of web reviews, it's one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.

What the heck? We decided to tag along with Peter and see if we could go diving there. . .

The Malaysian government limits access to Sipadan Island to 120 people / day, including divemasters. We tried to get onto a trip with Scuba Junkies, but they were booked up for weeks. Peter walked around and found a trip a couple of days out with http://www.sipadanscuba.com/. In addition, we booked a day trip to Mabul Island with Scuba Junkies, staying in their resort for a night.

First up was Mabul. Our divemaster for the day was Aziz. Peter had seen him singing with his band the night before and he kept the energy up all day for us. I don't know why, but they were really loving Gandan Style in Malaysia. Aziz kept singing bits of it all day. Even though the song is super silly, it has a fun energy to it and I started going along with it too. Too easily swayed, I guess. . .

We did 3 dives there, with Aziz showing us lots of cool stuff. No dive camera so no pics. You'll have to take my word for how cool the things we saw were. The first dive was on Lobster Wall. Interestingly, there are no lobsters on Lobster Wall. However, there were turtles and lots of cool fish and coral. Our second dive was on an oil platform that had been repurposed as a hotel(http://www.seaventuresdive.com/). Strange, but true. Turns out, it was a pretty good dive. There were lots of artificial reefs there and some pretty big fish had moved in, including a HUGE grouper that swam around us. That fish was easily over 100 lbs!

The third dive of the day is what they call a muck dive. We entered the water right next to the dock and we went down to a sandy bottom. WTF? What kind of boring dive have they set us up for? Then, Aziz pointed out some garden eels, then a chunk of soft coral. Hold on, he poked it and it turned out that it was a frogfish. They have really big dorsal fins that they walk around on. This dive also had some artificial reefs. At one of the reefs, a HUGE cuttlefish was hanging out, posing for pictures. The real star of this dive though were the turtles. Really big green turtles were just hanging out, not minding all the divers around them. At one point, Val was waiting to get a closer look at the cuttlefish when a turtle brushed past her. Too cool.

After this dive, we hung out at the Scuba Junkies resort on Mabul. It was clean and had intermittent WiFi. Not fast enough to upload anything, but fast enough to check email if you weren't in a hurry. They had a big restaurant too and our meals were included in our time there. We stayed in the dorms, which didn't have air conditioning. Not a problem until the power went out in the middle of the night and the fans stopped. It got sweltering very quickly.

Rather than diving the next day, we took a rest day and explored the island. That didn't take very long, but we took our time and enjoyed it. The village on the island houses some Sea Gypsies, who often don't belong to any country. These guys were Malaysian though and appeared to living a subsistence life, fishing and selling trinkets to tourists. Unfortunately, their children had learned how to beg.

The next day was the big day! We were going to dive on Sipadan Island. Peter rented an underwater camera and we shared the cost. Pardon the pic quality, but it turns out that underwater photography is not all that easy, especially with a camera that you've never used before. It was a fairly basic point and shoot, but we still had trouble making things work the way we wanted all the time. The one thing that really frustrated me was not knowing how to turn the flash on all the time.

What makes Sipadan such a great dive spot is that it is an extinct volcano that rises from over 500m to the surface. This creates an upwelling of nutrients, which pulls in small fish, which attract bigger fish. The walls surrounding the island drop off quickly and are super steep.

A Seaweed farm on the way to the island

When we started the dive, we got to hang out with a bunch of jacks. Even better, we were able to swim with them!

Just another crappy day in paradise...
Peter with a couple of big fish in the background. Can't see the sharks!
Val with the big fish

and me!

Val uploaded a bunch more photos and they can be seen here: https://picasaweb.google.com/vlzimmer/Sipadan
Not sure when we'll get the photos up for our trip on the Kinabatangan River up. We head into Malaysia again and am not sure when we'll have good internet again. Cheers!

About the author

After working at the same company for 21 years, I've decided to quit and spend some time traveling. I'm going to try and share some of the trials and tribulations of my journey.

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