A blog with no name

notes and observations on my travels

Melaka

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!



When in Rome. . .

clock October 22, 2012 17:55 by author Phil

After the US, our first stop was the Philippines. After what seemed like forever, we were off the plane and onto a bus to get to a small plane. We had to go from one terminal to another. Now, in SF, that would mean walking from one part of the airport to another. However, in Manila, terminal 3 is nowhere near terminal 1. Being jet lagged, we almost got off the bus at the wrong stop.

Anyway, we made it to Coron town in the province of Palawan (pah-LAH-wan) around dinner time. We stayed at Sea Dive, right on the water. Beautiful, but we were exhausted by a day of traveling. A quick dinner and we were down for the count.

Of course, being our first day in the Philippines, we were up at 4 AM, just in time to listen to the Giants game on WiFi in the restaurant. It was a little eerie in the dark, but when you're jet lagged, your body still thinks it's California time.

Being a dive center, we had to go diving so we went on an Adventure Dive the next day. Val has never been SCUBA diving before and has trouble free diving, so we were a little apprehensive. However, we had a great divemaster in Ramil. He was calm and patient and had Val comfortable in no time. I hadn't been diving in 15+ years too, so it was good to do a shallow dive. What do you know, it was still pretty easy and I remember all that stuff that I'd learned in 1979. Being warm helps a lot too. One of the reasons I quit diving in California was that it required a super thick wetsuit and I was always cold when I went diving.

The last diving I did was in Thailand. Diving in the Philippines was like that: warm water and beautiful reefs. Coron has the advantage of also having WWII wrecks. My second day of diving was on wrecks. I'd never been wreck diving and was a little intimidated. We were given lights and followed the divemaster inside the Irako. The first dive was to about 36m, so we didn't have a lot of bottom time. However, that was long enough to go in the top hatch and through a big hold into another room and then out, around the top and back to the top. Even though we had a no decompression dive, we stopped for 1 minute at 15m and 3 min at 5m. Too cool!

Lunch was fried marlin with rice. While waiting out our top time, we headed over to the next wreck, all of 15 min. away. Nap time!

The second dive was on the Kogyo Maru. It was lying on its side in about 35m of water. It had lots of holes in it so more light came into it than the Irako. We entered in through the top of the ship, into the rear hole. Inside the first chamber were cement bags. Passing through a smallish hatch, we went into another hold that had a truck and bulldozer in it. Nearby lay rolls of cyclone fencing.

Third dive of the day was the small gunboat. We went in and around it and then went along the reef. Beautiful corals were all around. I wish I'd had a dive camera for the corals, oysters and occasional giant clams. Some of the coral looked like giant leaves of lettuce.

Giving my ears a day to recover, Val and I spent a day around Coron. One of the things that they advertise as something to do is to head to the hot springs. Why anyone would want to go sit in 39C water when it's 35C outside is beyond me. However, that's exactly what we did, as we got super sweaty riding bikes over there.

While looking at a poster of the Irako that night, Daboy told me that SeaDive also had nitrox classes. Using Enhanced air mixtures, you could increase your bottom time and reduce decompression stops. Sign me up! I studied the book while I played princess on one of Val's dive class days. We got to dive Barracuda Lake, which has a hot spring thermocline around 14m. Since the hot water was salty, it didn't mix with the cooler fresh water above. The next day, I took the test and got two free nitrox tanks to dive the wrecks again.

We dove the same wrecks as I did the first time, but you could dive these wrecks dozens of times before seeing all of them. The depth, mixed with the complexity of the rooms, limits what you can see on each dive. This time, we got to see the front hold of the Irako. Unfortunately, my regulator was free flowing and I ran out of air when on one of our decompression stops. Luckily, Daboy had lots of air left. We switched out regulators at the surface and we were good to go for the second dive.

The Kogyo was similar to the first time I dove it. However, since I was a little more familiar with the wreck, I saw more details. Turns out that one of the divemasters at SeaDive has over 15,000 dives. He really knows his way around these boats.

I'd highly recommend going to Coron to dive the wrecks if you're in the Philippines. We had a great time there, but it was time to go see the cooler part of Luzon next.



Klamath with kids

clock October 8, 2012 18:57 by author Phil

After Humboldt, we worked our way northeast and worked for a week on a class outing on the Klamath river. Val got us this gig. She's worked a couple of trips each year for Sierra South. This trip is for the Juniors at a private school in Pasadena. It's pretty easy duty for the guides. The kids are already organized into their own rafts, with one of the kids acting as the guide. They also do their own cooking and they often bring way more tasty food than they can finish. Val has joked that we could go without cooking on a trip, mooching all our food off of the kids. 

Since the kids didn't know any better, I could pose as a super gnar guide:
 

All we guides have to do is to make sure that the kids don't kill themselves on the river. The school provides two teachers for each pod of 28 kids to enforce discipline and provide meds to kids that need them. It's a 6 day trip and in October, the weather is still pretty warm. In August, it'd be too hot at night. We had some cool mornings, but it was fine for us. Even the camp they called Hell was fine. It had a really hard dew in the morning, but it didn't penetrate my down bag and I didn't even zip it up the entire trip.

On the water, we had three guides for each 28 kid pod. One of the guides paddled a raft with the teachers in it, another guide (me!) paddled a kayak and the third guide (Val) sat in different rafts to help the kids out if they needed it. The first day was really funny. You can tell teenagers things, but they won't always sink in. We had a swimmer in the Class 1+ rapid not more than 50 yards out of the gate. Another boat had a lot of trouble going straight. They were bickering with each other and the student guide wasn't really paying attention. They ended up hitting most of the trees and rocks that day. That night, guides from the other pod noticed that their raft was leaking air and couldn't be repaired. Luckily, we had a spare raft at the campground we were staying in. A little air and we had a new raft for them. As we were rolling it though, we noticed lots of twigs in the boat. 
    "How'd you guys put a big hole in this raft?"
    "It was there when we got in."
    "Where did all these twigs come from?"
    "We ran into some trees on the way down."
    "So it wasn't the running into rocks and trees that made the hole, huh? Yeah right."

We didn't have a waterproof camera so not too many pics to share of the trip.

One day, I had to help one of the rafts when they couldn't keep the boat straight. I just clipped my cowtail to their raft and towed them back to the rest of the group.

One day, camp started out cool and foggy
 

We drank lots of espresso and hot chocolate to warm up.

Then the sun came out and we put away the insulated clothing.
 

This was a really fun trip and my first experience on the other side of guiding. I enjoyed it and hope to do it again.



The Adventure Begins

clock September 29, 2012 10:52 by author Phil

We got the last of our stuff into the garage the other day and had one last crazy day. Part of our application for New Zealand involves getting a physical. We hadn't looked too closely at this part of our application, as we had a lot of other things going on. However, it turned out that we had a lot to do. My current doctor didn't have an opening for a physical until the middle of October, which wouldn't work for us at all. We thought maybe we could find someone in the Arcata area, but they weren't too responsive either. In the end, Val found a local doctor who took us in and was willing to coordinate all our medical paperwork too. So we spent an entire day getting physicals, chest x-rays and having our blood drawn. Hopefully, the labs will come back just fine when we see her again on Oct 8.

With that done, it was time to head up to Arcata and visit my son James. He's in an apartment this year, his second at Humboldt State University. He and his roommate Nick made dinner for us and it was delicious. We had some organic pork chops, garlic mashed potatoes and a nice salad. They went crazy with the sauce too. It was a combination of things they had in the house and included BBQ sauce, mushrooms and a whiskey marinade. Very tasty indeed. I think I was still making hot dogs when I was that age. 

The next day was totally out of the norm for this area. It was warm and sunny so we went to Moonstone Beach and did some climbing. Temps were in the high 70's. It was a beautiful day and we would've gone into the ocean, but it is still really cold water even when it's sunny out!

One day, we went up to play in Fern Canyon. It was cooler, but still a nice day.

Val and I spent the next few days at Patrick Point State Park. It slowly got colder each day until it was windy and foggy all day long. At that point, I was ready to head inland. With the climbing guide next to us, we tried to find a warm place to hang out. We found the warm, but found that we really are not sport climbers. It was really steep and the moderate climbs were super chossy and scary. The good climbs all started somewhere around 5.11a, which I can do in the gym, but haven't really ever climbed outside. 

One more dinner with James and then it was off to our next stop, rafting the Klamath with a bunch of teenagers!



Goodbyes

clock September 16, 2012 08:04 by author Phil

Goodbye

Since I quit my job a week ago, we've had a couple of goodbye parties. The last one was on Saturday. They've all been really fun, and I realize that I really should've spent more time getting to know some of my more casual acquaintances better. You know, it's just someone you say hi to in the hallway or in Sally's case, someone I sometimes walk up the stairs with. They mention something and you realize that this is someone who has had some really interesting experiences.

I got the idea for this post from a goodbye card. The cover had a couple of cats looking at a condiment bottle. One was saying to the other, "Ingredients: tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt. See there's no cats in catsup!" Inside was the line: And there's no good in goodbye. It was a very apt card, as I've felt very bittersweet about leaving. I've really enjoyed the company of the folks I've worked with over the years. In fact, it's probably one of the main reasons I stayed at the company for as long as I did. 

But goodbye is probably a contraction of God be with ye. I may not be sure of the existence of a higher being, but I can certainly accept the good wishes my friends mean when they say goodbye.

Couchsurfing

We've been staying at friends' houses since our tenants moved in on Sept. 1. It's really been a challenge to keep our stuff semi-organized while we complete the move out. There are still boxes and bins in the garage that we have to move out. After that, I'll feel that we are truly out. We're really lucky  in that the tenants are OK with us leaving some stuff in the garage. We've added several shelves and I've spent hundreds of dollars on plastic bins. But not having to rent a storage space is really worth it. A friend has graciously offered part of his garage for other gear and books while we're away. That's great too. Although I'm sure he would've done it for free, a couple of kayaks added to his quiver has helped a lot too.

I've been amazed at how cool and giving our friends are. Even though we were imposing on their households, they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. I'm truly touched.

Only another week in the Bay Area and then it's off to Northern California to visit my son and then hit the Klamath River. Our adventure is almost there!



Feelings

clock August 31, 2012 07:27 by author Phil

I've worked with the same company for over 21 years now. It's had 4 name changes in that time as it was acquired and bought by other firms, but I've worked with the same core group of folks. My co-workers have made doing my job very doable.

But now I'm at the edge of a precipice as I look forward into a future of uncertainty. Where will I get the money to live? What will we do if one of us gets sick? How do I cope with the unknown?

Those are the kind of thoughts that wake you up in the middle of the night and keep you up. I woke up last night and was wondering about things. It's good to reflect on what's important in life. Not just so that I can do my worst Conan the Barbarian impersonation, but also so that I don't lose track and end up somewhere not right for me.

In the end, I think it's like jumping off a cliff into a lake. You can think about all the reasons behind it and hem and haw about safety vs. thrills. At some point, you just gotta turn your brain off and do it.

I'm jumping now and trust that Val and I will land on our feet somewhere. Stay tuned for the fun stuff. . .

Here's a brainworm that I need to pass on



Getting started

clock August 27, 2012 07:58 by author Phil

Woot, now that we have BlogEngine installed, I can start this out as a way to keep in touch with friends when we start our travels. 

 

Still have lots of work to do on the site, as it's very ugly. But I chose this as a way to force myself to learn more web coding. Hope I can keep up with what I want to do. 

 



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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