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My year in travel: 2011

Blog, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under

My year in travel: 2011

6 Comments 23 December 2011

For the first time in my 25 years on earth, I spent an entire calendar year traveling.

And what a year it was. 

A year of traveling with a partner for the first time. A year that took me to a new continent, Asia. A year that pretty much brought me around the globe. Even a year in which I got to travel around my own country a bit.

This year has been a spectacular one. Let’s have a look back on what I did in 2011.

 Australia

My year actually started with an end. On January 26, Australia Day, I said farewell to the massive country I had called my home for most of 2010. My final days in Australia were spent mainly in Melbourne, where my boyfriend Ric and I lived in a tiny apartment on Chapel Street.

It was really hard to say goodbye to such an amazing country. It was even harder to close one of the best travel experiences of my life, the work holiday visa. I met so many amazing people in Australia, but the best of them all was the hardest to say goodbye to on that last day in the country.

Ric and I bid each other farewell as I headed off to the Philippines and he stayed in Melbourne.

Philippines

Hello Southeast Asia! I never thought or planned on visiting this part of the world, but after hearing how amazing it was from travelers in Australia, I just had to. The Philippines was my first stop, Donsol in particular. I visited for whaleshark season and after three tries I actually got to see one of the big fellas.

From Donsol, I headed to Cebu City where I spent some time with a friend of a friend’s family. After seeing such kindness from total strangers, I was moved to extend my visa to the Philippines by one more month. One month just wasn’t enough.

It’s a good thing I did as my next stop in the country, Malapascua, was just too hard to leave. I visited the tiny island planning to stay three days. I ended up, not only staying six weeks, but also earning my divemaster certification.

And guess who came to meet me in the Philippines?

Only the most special boy in the world. Ric spent about 12 days in paradise with me as I finished up my training. Later, we kicked off our travels together in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong

I wasn’t sure what to expect in this massive city. I thought of it as China, but people would say it’s not really China. At first glance I was just in shock over how many apartment buildings were in the city.

I really loved the place and I especially loved sharing it with my new travel partner. We visited the Big Buddha, went on a bus tour of the city, road the Peak Tram and ate lots of dim sum. It’s an expensive place to visit, so I’m hoping to go back one day with more money.

Thailand

We headed to the mother of all backpacker destinations, Bangkok, in late March. There we met up with my friend Julia who flew all the way out to travel with us for a few weeks. Bangkok is the most pleasant surprise I’ve ever had traveling. I expected it to be this seedy town with nothing but ping pong shows and heavy drinking to offer.

But it’s so much more. 

For starters, it’s an international city with amazing museums, restaurants, malls and more. But for backpackers, it’s something much more. I’ve never seen so many travelers bobbing around happily as I did on Khaosan Road. It made me wish I planned a few more nights in the city, but no worries, we would end up coming back three more times.

From Bangkok, we visited Ko Samet and Ko Chang, where Julia and I became deathly ill for ten days. I think it was bad eggs, but hey, I lost about 20 lbs, so silver lining. We said goodbye to Julia then spent probably more time than we should have in Lonely Beach.

We left the island to meet Ric’s mom and brother in Pattaya. It was my first time meeting them, so I was quite nervous. But they are amazing and we had a great time. There we celebrated Songkran and made a visa run to Cambodia. However, Pattaya is probably a place I’ll never return. It’s pretty much what I expected of Bangkok originally.

After another sad goodbye, Ric and I kept on traveling Thailand. This time we headed south visiting Koh Tao. We mainly relaxed here as we were gearing up for the famous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan on April 18. We spent the next day recuperating on Koh Tao, then continued traveling south to Koh Samui.

On our visit to the over-commercialized island, we rented motorbikes, swam under waterfalls and visited Ang Thong Marine Park, the real inspiration for “The Beach”.

But we wanted more “Beach” action so we crossed Thailand to Ko Phi Phi on the west coast. A $US10 tour of the islands proved to be our best purchase and best day in Southeast Asia. Also, my best Easter Sunday ever.

After Ko Phi Phi we had to leave Thailand as our visas ran out.

Laos

First stop in Laos was Vang Vieng for its famous tubing. We spent a week in the tiny town on the river and never actually completed the tube route on the Nam Song River. But we had loads of fun, drank lots of buckets and watched an absurd amount of Family Guy.

After Vang Vieng we needed a serious detox, so we spent another week in 4,000 Islands. In this quiet area of Laos, we spent a lot of time lounging, but also did quite a bit of exploring. We rented bikes and visited the largest waterfall in southeast Asia. I also got to see Irrawaddy dolphins. I saw them alone as Ric broke his bike and was too defeated to walk any further.

 Cambodia

The trip from Laos to Cambodia involved two intense bus journeys. It took an entire day, but we finally reached Siem Reap in mid-May. The biggest attraction here is Angkor Wat, which is stunning, but I actually really enjoyed the town itself. We spent about a week there watching football and drinking cheap beer.

USA

It was time to fly our tan selves to the US of A, my homeland and Ric’s dream destination. It was Ric’s first time visiting the States, so the trip home was a really special one for me.

We landed in California, where I surprised a friend. There we drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Hermossa Beach. We also visited Hollywood and ended up on the set of our favorite show, Entourage.


No one from the east coast knew I was in the country at that point, except my Uncle. I had been secretly planning a trip home with him since October, so I could surprise my dad for his birthday. Everything went as planned. We spent one day hiding out at my Aunt and Uncles, that night my dad opened their garage door to see Ric and I standing there with ribbons around our necks.

But we didn’t sit still for too long. After about a week, we were on the road again. We drove from NJ to Alabama for a wedding in which Ric was best man. On the road trip I showed Ric around Washington D.C. and made a lot of fast food stops. He couldn’t get enough of America’s burgers and sandwiches.

It was my first time visiting Alabama and it was good to see the southern comfort side of the States. We spent most of our week there playing on a lake located behind the house we were staying at. We jet skied, tubed, kayaked, even jumped off a ridiculously high bridge. That really hurt. 

The wedding was beautiful, the party was wild. We left Alabama extremely hungover en route to St. Augustine, Florida, where I showed Ric around my first real travel destination.

The rest of my time in the States was spent in NJ and Philadelphia. Erin, a friend I made studying abroad in London came out to visit, Ric climbed the Rocky steps and we celebrated the Fourth of July at the Jersey shore. But the highlight of my trip home was welcoming my gorgeous nephew Jake into the world. I love my life and all the traveling it entails, but it means missing out on some really spectacular occasions at home. I’m just happy I didn’t have to miss this one.

Add another farewell to my 2011 of goodbyes, as Ric and I left the States to go back down under, this time for a work-holiday visa in New Zealand.

New Zealand

We arrived in snowy Queenstown in July, but didn’t stay for long. We spent two days driving up to Blenheim where Ric already had a job sorted. Then a real twist came when I had to go back home for an emergency. I came back to New Zealand two weeks later and we were on the road again, this time only a short journey to Wellington.

After quite a hectic first half of the year, Ric and I were exhausted and broke. So we made a home in Wellington, got proper jobs, worked loads and saved up for our next adventure, the South Island in 2012.

We’ve been in Wellington for four months now and I’ve grown quite attached to the small city. We held back a lot during our time here as we were saving, but we still managed to accomplish quite a bit.

In September we rented a car and visited Lord of the Rings’ film locations in the area. October was all about the Rugby World Cup, so we went to see USA vs. Australia at Westpac Stadium. I got to see the All Blacks parade Wellington after they won. In November I celebrated yet another Thanksgiving abroad. In December we bought a car and started road tripping to nearby beaches and towns. Oh, and I met a good portion of the cast of “The Hobbit” through work.

We didn’t just get to know Wellington, we pretty much became a part of the city. I’ve even started saying “mean”.

It’s been another year packed with adventure and it’s only going to get even more intense in 2012. January and February of the new year will be dedicated to traveling New Zealand. However, February is depending on whether or not I survive the Nevis Jump, so let’s hope for the best.

What did you do in 2011? Have you visited any of the same places? Do share.

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Firefly watch in Donsol, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Firefly watch in Donsol, Philippines

4 Comments 15 December 2011

Even though my bed was looking pretty good after waking up at 4 a.m. on the day of my arrival in Donsol, Philippines, I decided to go on a firefly watch that night. Departing from Amor Farm Beach Resort at 6 p.m. most nights, a bangka boat picks guests up at the beach and sails for about 20 minutes to Donsol River, which runs through Donsol proper.

Along the river we picked up our guide Bernard who knows absolutely everything a human being could possibly know about fireflies. Things like, they’re not actually flies, but beetles. They produce cool light. They mimic each other’s lights. It’s a chemical reaction that causes them to light up. This chemical reaction is done to attract the opposite sex.

Bernard was adorable and every statement he made was followed by, “Mam, you have question for me?” He is by far one of the best people I met in the Philippines.

But back to the actual tour.

It starts out slow. I saw maybe one firefly, then a few in the bushes here and there. Then all of a sudden, I spotted what looked like three Christmas trees situated ahead on the river.

Hundreds of fireflies covered these Indian Almond trees, pulsating light at the same pace. I was living my five-year-old dreams. (I was a professional firefly catcher from five to eight years old. I always dreamed of catching enough to make a lamp for my room. I’m sure you all know how that usually ended.)

Bernard then suggested we look down at the water. That was also flickering with light. He said the flickering came from all the plankton in the water and vast amounts of plankton are why so many whalesharks seem to visit the ocean surrounding Donsol every year. The tiny organisms also glow at night.

He finally advised us to look up. The stars were spectacular.

“Light is the water, light in the sky and light in the trees, ” Bernard said.

The area is so special for wildlife and luckily it has very little light pollution to corrupt such a beautiful view at night.

Firefly watch is an ideal way to end a day in Donsol and one a lot may not think of until visiting the area. It costs P1,250 and departs daily from Amor Farm Beach Resort. Make sure to bring a coat.

Banner photo courtesy of Best of Bicolandia Travel.

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort for supporting my trip to Donsol. As always, all opinions are my own.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort.

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Arriving in Donsol, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Arriving in Donsol, Philippines

2 Comments 07 December 2011

I’m not sure many airports can boast a better backdrop then the one in Legazpi, Philippines. Walking off my 6:30 a.m. flight from Manila to Legazpi, I looked left to see Mt. Mayon standing tall amongst a perfect blue sky with clouds circling its peak. It was such a gorgeous sight I put off retrieving my luggage for a bit to take some photos. No wonder the Bicolans, locals to the area, named it “magayon,” which means beautiful.

Visitors have a clear view of Mt. Mayon when departing their plane at Legazpi Airport in the Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I finally made it inside the airport to find a small luggage belt and not much else. Since there was only one flight, I was quick with picking up my bag and heading out. On my way out of the airport an officer stopped me, as well as everyone else, to check if my luggage tag matched the tag on my ticket. I later found out this is a security measure a lot of Asian countries take.

Leaving Legazpi Airport I found the same sight as in my airports near resort beach towns – a crowd of drivers screaming out from behind a fence. It can be a bit stressful to take them all on, so this time I made prior arrangements to be picked up by Amor Farm Beach Resort, my accommodation in Donsol, Philippines. Amongst a sea of shouting drivers, it was relieving to see “Bobbi Lee” on a white sign.

Tricycle drivers wave me over at the airport. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The car ride from Legazpi to Donsol is about one and a half hours. Legazpi is very small, but busy. Tiny cement block houses and stores as well as bamboo huts covered in Red Horse and Coca Cola ad posters line the streets. Jeepneys, tricycles, buses and bikes weave back and forth and in and out of oncoming traffic. It’s a fun ride if you’re with a bold driver.

But all that calamity dissipated as my van left the city. Palm trees became more plentiful and small houses spaced out amongst massive rice fields. Not long into the ride I smelled something roasting. It was a good burning smell that I later found out was burnt shrubbery, which locals do to help prevent mosquitoes.

My driver must have noticed me taking tons of photos cause he offered to stop at Daraga Albay Church, so I could take some of this local treasure. The 18th-century baroque church on top a hill looked as if it was slowly falling apart with a few windows smashed and chipped siding, but it’s still active and people were praying inside. The church was supposedly built by a “daraga,” which means single lady in local tongue. The size and details made it look quite dominating against a tropical backdrop.

Dargay Albay Church looks in ruins, but it’s still in use and offers beautiful views of the city. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The streets became busy again as we entered Donsol proper. Welcoming guests to the town’s biggest attraction, a paper mache whaleshark is displayed before entering the Donsol. Donsol proper has a similar setup to Legazpi, but much more low key and bit friendlier. Everyone smiles when you walk or drive by. Couples and families ride or bike together. For a major tourist town, it seems to have maintained its family-oriented, close-knit community.

The scenery quiets down again then sign after sign for various resorts pop up exclaiming, “Turn Here!” or “Left to so and so in 800 meters.” There’s an array of places to choose from and most cannot be found on the internet or in guidebooks. If you’re planning to do a lot of water-oriented activities, make sure to find a place close to the Donsol Tourist Center. During peak season, March-June, it may be a good idea to book ahead.

I had already arranged my accommodation with Amor Farm Beach Resort prior and as the van pulled into to this quiet and roomy resort right on the beach, I had a feeling I picked the right place.

The beach by Amor Beach Farm Resort at night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Thanks to Amor Farm Beach Resort for supporting my trip to Donsol. As always, all opinions are my own.

Become a fan of Amor Farm Beach Resort.

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The Reader Love Challenge

Online Goodies, Other

The Reader Love Challenge

7 Comments 05 September 2011

I love going on Google Analytics and checking out where my readers are coming from. It feels like I’m not only visiting the world, but the world is visiting me, which makes me quite happy when I;m not on the road.
So when I saw Waegook Tom’s #ReaderLove Challenge on Twitter, I had to write something. I’m so appreciative to anyone who has clicked to my blog for even seconds. I love writing about my travels and to see people’s responses to that makes me smile.
So thank you to my readers all over the world. Here are the top ten countries you all come from and what I like about them!
10. Germany
Ich bin Berliner! I visited the country for a few weeks almost five years ago now. After all the years and all the new destinations, Berlin remains one of my favorite cities in the world.
When I was there I felt like I was in Paris when modern art was just starting out. Berlin is a very edgy city. Between it’s dark past, represented by remnants of the Berlin Wall, and it’s colorful future, represented by its art scene and graffiti.
I visited _____ when I was there and hung out in a rocket ship, then chatted with local artists in residence. Only in Berlin.
9. Singapore
I almost visited you on my recent trip to SE Asia, but didn’t because I heard it was quite expensive and my bank account was already pretty low.
I have to admit that I was a bit weary about visiting Singapore after hearing from someone that they give you a book of rules upon arrival, that includes things like ‘No chewing gum!’. Later my Uncle told me ‘it was the cleanest place he’d ever been and a gorgeous city’, so my apprehensions disappeared.
I now constantly hear what an amazing city Singapore is and hope to visit one day soon. I’d like to see ________.
8. Thailand
I, and I think the all backpackers, can’t say enough good things about Thailand. What an absolutely amazing place!
For starters-Bangkok was not what I expected. I have to admit I expected the seedy city constantly portrayed in the movies. But I visited and not even choosing to stay away from anything seedy, I saw nothing of the sort. But I did see ____, ____ and Koh San Road. All of which were special in their own ways.
I spent six weeks traveling the country, island-hopping, partying, swimming and eating…A lot!
Since I’ve seen quite a bit of the country, I’ll mention _____, a place I didn’t have time to visit, but would like to on my next visit to the country, and trust me, there will be a next visit.
7. Philippines
Growing up I knew so many people from the Philippines, but never thought of visiting. Then I met a dive instructor in Australia who said, “You MUST go!” He wasn’t kidding.
I was only suppose to visit the country for two weeks or so, but ended up staying for over two months. I saw whalesharks in Donsol, made family in Cebu City and earned my divemaster on Malapascua.
There are plenty of more places I wanted to visit, but didn’t. On the top of the list is Palawan, completely untouched and completely gorgeous. I will be back and I’ll even eat balut again.
6. India
My dream destination. A close friend and I have been talking about visiting India for years and have set 2013 as our year to do it.
Why is India the number one country I want to visit?
The food, the culture, the colors, the yoga, the Taj Mahal, the Goa!
Why have I not been there yet?
I wasn’t ready and still don’t think I am.
Anyone I’ve talked to who has ever been there, either loved it or hated it. Regardless, it changed them. I think India is as distant a culture to me as there is and that’s why I love it and want to go. But I want to love it. So I’ve decided to build my view of the world up before. But trust me I will get there.
Most people have told me to spend at least three months visiting. So during those three months, I hope to see it all then retreat to an Ashram in ____.
5. New Zealand
My new homeland. I have to admit that I never actually thought of visiting your country. After seeing the changing landscapes on my drive from Queenstown to Blenheim, I have no idea why.
I’ll be bold and say that New Zealand IS the most beautiful country I’ve ever been too, hands down. I’ve seen some lookers, but never in my life have I said, “Wow, look at the scenery,” more times and in New Zealand.
Now living in Wellington, I can also say that New Zealand is one of my top ten destinations. As small as Wellington is, it packs so much culture. The city has so much art, sport, coffee and MUSIC! There must be a possibility of at least ten gigs in the city per night.
I live close to and work on Cuba Street, which has the most amazing vibe I’ve ever felt in any city. The kindness of the people living here will make you feel like you’re in a small town, but everything the city has to offer is that of a world-class city.
I love this country more each day and can’t wait to travel around it.
4. Canada
America’s hat! I never really thought much into Canada until I started traveling. I hate to admit it, but amongst the world, they are easily the cooler ones in North America. People love Canadians and so do I. Every Canadian I’ve met has been laid back and great to party with.
I love you all, even though most of you get offended when you’re mistaken for Americans.
After meeting so many Canadians and learning about the country, I’m started to plan a long-term visit for after New Zealand. My first stop is Vancouver.
3. United Kingdom
I’m assuming most of my readers from here are because of Ric, a true Bollingtonian. But I want to send as personal thank you to the first country I lived in outside the United States and all it has to offer.
I became obsessed with London when I studied there in 2007. The city is so classy, so beautiful and so magical. Whenever I thought I had the whole city figured out, I’d find a new alley way full of restaurants or get off at the wrong tube stop and be completely lost in a new place all over again.
I spent many nights tramping around London with uni friends and had some of the best nights of my life, which usually ended in eating multiple hot dogs from illegal vendors.
I saw one side of the country living there and a completely other living with people from the UK in Australia. For starters, not everyone sounds like Hugh Grant. I can’t believe how many accents you have going on there. Given I’ve fallen in love with a Northerner, the Manchester accent is my favorite but I also can’t get enough skowser, especially when spoken by Stevey G.
I’ve only spent a short amount of time visiting Ireland and Scotland, but the time was packed with some amazing experiences and breathtaking sights.
So cheers to the UK for reading, all you have to offer, but most importantly for creating Hurricane Ric!
2. Australia
For starters, the country is stunning. You have rainforest, amazing beaches, great cities, great diving and so much more.
Past the beauty, what an amazing place to live. I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with the fact that you still have all your natural resources to provide money and jobs, but your lifestyle is the best in the world.
It seems that most people live comfortably in Australia. School is free, even university until students make a certain amount of earnings, the healthcare system is fantastic and wages are ridiculously high. Sure the cost of living is a bit high, but it all works out in the people’s favor I think.
Melbourne won most livable city in the world, again, this year and I understand why.
I spent one of the best years of my life in Oz and am so thankful for the work holiday visa. I saw some incredible things and met even more incredible people.
I love Australia.
My favorite stop on my journey around the country is Port Douglas. But I missed the entire West Coast, which I regret and really hope to see one day.
1. United States
My homeland.
I’d say half my visitors from here are family and close friends. I very special thanks to you guys for still loving me when I’m a million miles away. Another thank you to my fellow citizens who follow this blog.
Living 22 years in the States, it’s obviously the one I know most, but is actually one I’ve traveled least. My favorite place in the USA will always be Florida. Despite all the state’s voting problems, it was the first place I ever vacationed to, which I think started my love of travel. St. Augustine, Key West, Miami, South Beach-you’re all beautiful.
I never really wanted to travel the States, because I take the country for granted, which I think a lot of people do with their homeland. But the more and more time I spend talking with people who have visiting and traveled around my country, the more I like the idea of buying a winnebago and hitting each state, especially Montana. This may sound weird, but I want to breath your air.

I love checking Google Analytics to see where my readers are coming from. It feels like I’m not only visiting the world, but the world is visiting me, which is especially special when I’m not on the road.

So when I saw Waegook Tom’s #ReaderLove Challenge on Twitter, I had to write something. I’m so appreciative to anyone who has clicked to my blog for even seconds. Being able to share my experiences is amazing to me, but to see people respond is extraordinary.

So thank you to my readers all over the world. Here are the top ten countries you all come from and what I like about those places.

10. Germany

Ich bin ein Berliner!

I visited the country for a few weeks almost five years ago now. After all the years and all the new destinations, Berlin remains one of my favorite cities in the world.

It seemed like what I imagine Paris was like when modern art was just starting out. Berlin is a very edgy city. Between it’s dark past, represented by remnants of the Berlin Wall, and it’s colorful future, represented by its art scene and graffiti.

My favorite find on the trip was Tacheles, an abandoned mall that artists took over in the 90s. People can walk though the artists residency, view work and meet the creators. The spot also has a bar on the ground floor with a rocket ship for people to sit in. Only in Berlin.

Photo by Joe Dunckley on Flikr

Photo of Tacheles by Joe Dunckley on Flikr

9. Singapore

I almost visited you on my recent trip to SE Asia, but didn’t because I heard it was quite expensive and my bank account was already pretty low.

I have to admit that I was a bit weary about visiting Singapore after hearing from someone that they give you a book of rules upon arrival, that includes things like ‘No chewing gum!’. Later my Uncle told me it was the cleanest place he’d ever been and a gorgeous city, so my apprehensions disappeared.

I now constantly hear what an amazing city Singapore is and hope to visit one day soon. I’d like to swim in the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands.

8. Thailand

I, and I think all backpackers, can’t say enough good things about Thailand. What an absolutely amazing place!

For starters-Bangkok was not what I expected. I have to admit I thought it would be exactly like the seedy city constantly portrayed in the movies. But not even choosing to stay away from anything seedy, I saw nothing of the sort. However, I did see Wat Pho, the Grand Palace and Khao San Road. All of which were special in their own ways.

I spent six weeks traveling the country, island-hopping, partying, swimming and eating…a lot!

Since I’ve seen quite a bit of the country, I’ll mention Koh Lanta, a place I didn’t have time to visit, but would like to on my next visit to the country, and trust me, there will be a next visit.

Photo of Bamboo Island near Ko Phi Phi by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo of Bamboo Island near Ko Phi Phi by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

7. Philippines

Growing up I knew so many people from the Philippines, but never thought of visiting. Then I met a dive instructor in Australia who said, “You MUST go!”

He wasn’t kidding.

I was only suppose to visit the country for two weeks or so, but ended up staying for over two months. I saw whalesharks in Donsol, made family in Cebu City and earned my divemaster on Malapascua.

There are plenty of more places I wanted to visit, but didn’t. On the top of the list is Palawan, completely untouched and completely gorgeous. I will be back and I’ll even eat balut again.

Photo of Malapascua

Photo of Malapascua by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

6. India

My dream destination. A close friend and I have been talking about visiting India for years and have set 2013 as our year to go.

Why is India the number one country I want to visit?

The food, the culture, the colors, the yoga, the Taj Mahal, the Goa!

Why have I not been there yet?

I wasn’t ready and still don’t think I am.

Anyone I’ve talked to who has ever been, either loved it or hated it. Regardless, it changed them. I think India is as distant a culture to me as there is and that’s why I love it and want to go. But I want to love it. So I’ve decided to build my view of the world up before. But trust me I will get there.

Most people have told me to spend at least three months visiting. So during those three months, I hope to see it all then retreat to an Ashram in Rajasthan.

5. New Zealand

My new homeland. I have to admit that I never actually thought of visiting your country. After seeing the changing landscapes on my drive from Queenstown to Blenheim, I have no idea why.

I’ll be bold and say that New Zealand IS the most beautiful country I’ve ever been too, hands down. I’ve seen some lookers, but never in my life have I said, “Wow, look at the scenery,” more times and in New Zealand.

Now living in Wellington, I can also say that New Zealand has my favorite city in the world. As small as Wellington is, it packs so much culture. The city has so much art, sport, coffee and MUSIC! There must be a possibility of at least ten gigs in the city per night.

I live close to and work on Cuba Street, which has the most amazing vibe I’ve ever felt in any city. The kindness of the people living here will make you feel like you’re in a small town, but everything the city has to offer is that of a world-class city.

I love this country more each day and can’t wait to travel around it.

Waking up to snow in Queenstown, NZ. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Waking up to snow in Queenstown, NZ. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

4. Canada

America’s hat!

I never really thought much into Canada until I started traveling. I hate to admit it, but amongst the world, they are easily the cooler ones in North America. People love Canadians and so do I. Every Canadian I’ve met has been laid back and great to party with.

I love you all, even though most of you get offended when you’re mistaken for Americans.

After meeting so many Canadians and learning about the country, I’m started to plan a long-term visit for after New Zealand. My first stop is Vancouver.

3. United Kingdom

I’m assuming most of my readers from here are because of Ric, a true Bollingtonian. But I want to send as personal thank you to the first country I lived in outside the United States and all it has to offer.

I became obsessed with London when I studied there in 2007. The city is so classy, so beautiful and so magical. Whenever I thought I had the whole city figured out, I’d find a new alley full of restaurants or get off at the wrong tube stop and be completely lost in a new place all over again.

I spent many nights tramping around London with Uni friends and had some of the best nights of my life, which usually ended in eating multiple hot dogs from illegal vendors.

I saw one side of the country living there and a completely different side living with people from the UK in Australia. For starters, not everyone sounds like Hugh Grant. I can’t believe how many accents you have going on there. Given I’ve fallen in love with a Northerner, the Manchester accent is my favorite but I also can’t get enough skowser, especially when spoken by Stevey G.

I’ve only spent a short amount of time visiting Ireland and Scotland, but the time was packed with some amazing experiences and breathtaking sights.

So cheers to the UK for reading, all you have to offer, but most importantly for creating my Ric!

2. Australia

For starters, the country is stunning. You have rainforest, amazing beaches, great cities, great diving and so much more.

Past the beauty, what an amazing place to live. I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with the fact that you still have all your natural resources to provide money and jobs, but your lifestyle is the best in the world.

It seems that most people live comfortably in Australia. School is free, even university until students make a certain amount of earnings, the healthcare system is fantastic and wages are ridiculously high. Sure the cost of living is a bit high, but it all works out in the people’s favor I think.

Melbourne won most livable city in the world this year and I understand why.

I spent one of the best years of my life in Oz and am so thankful for the work holiday visa. I saw some incredible things and met even more incredible people.

I love Australia.

My favorite stop on my journey around the country is Port Douglas. But I missed the entire West Coast, which I regret and really hope to see one day.

1. United States

My homeland.

I’d say half my visitors from here are family and close friends. I very special thanks to you guys for still loving me when I’m a million miles away. Another thank you to my fellow citizens who follow this blog.

Living 22 years in the States, it’s obviously the one I know most, but is actually one I’ve traveled least. My favorite place in the USA will always be Florida. Despite all the state’s voting problems, it was the first place I ever vacationed to, which I think started my love of travel. St. Augustine, Key West, Miami, South Beach-you’re all beautiful.

I never really wanted to travel the States, because I take the country for granted, which I think a lot of people do with their homeland. But the more time I spend talking with people who have traveled around my country, the more I like the idea of buying a winnebago and hitting each state, especially Montana. This may sound weird, but I want to breath your air.

You’re turn

Take the #readerlove challenge and give your readers a big shout out on your blog. Write about the top ten countries where your readers come from and reason to visit that place. Leave the link on Waegook Tom’s reader love post then post the story on Twitter with the hashtag #readerlove.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

FriPhoto: Floating Bar, Philippines

Destinations, Other, Philippines, Photography

FriPhoto: Floating Bar, Philippines

No Comments 02 September 2011

It seems all I’ve been talking/thinking about lately is island-life. Though technically I am still living it in New Zealand, it’s freezing! Longing for the warm waters around Malapascua in the Philippines and a cool Red Horse  on this floating bar just off the tiny island.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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Travel Tuesday Photo: Stranded

Destinations, Other, Philippines, Photography

Travel Tuesday Photo: Stranded

No Comments 31 August 2011

So no one was actually stranded in this photo. But when I ran into this shipment sitting on an empty piece of beach in the remote island of Malapascua, Philippines, I imagined it was boxes of rum-the only thing left on a deserted island.

The boxes really only contained water, which I guess would come more in handy if someone was stranded on an island.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

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You ate that! Balut

Destinations, Philippines

You ate that! Balut

7 Comments 29 July 2011

Balut.

Basically, take a fertilized chicken embryo, boil and serve. I first heard about balut in the Philippines. My reaction was pretty much the same as most westerners; a look of horror, followed by one of intrigue.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The high-protein snack can be found in several countries throughout Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, salesmen ride around at night selling the tasty treat from a heated basket strapped on the back of their bikes. I even found a balut man on call in Malapascua, an island in the Philippines off Cebu. It’s common enough that visitors can find it easily.

People buy and sell balut from the back of a bike in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

People buy and sell balut from the back of a bike in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Balut is sold at different ages. People looking for a safe balut choice should go for an 12-day-old egg that may just have a hard ball to spit out at the end (the texture felt like cartilage). The bold could try a 18-day-old egg that has already developed a bone structure and sometimes even feathers.

Peeling the shell from a more mature egg. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Peeling the shell from a more mature egg. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

People eat balut with a variety of condiments. People usually add salt, pepper, vinegar and chili. Balut doesn’t have to be chicken. Another popular option is duck. Below you can see Adam from Travels of Adam try duck balut in Vietnam.

Regardless of the age and the extras your egg comes with, the taste remains pretty similar.

After peeling off the top of my 16-day-old balut to reveal a harsh looking yolk in liquid, I sprinkled some salt and bit in.

Bobbi trying balut in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Bobbi trying balut in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

And guess what?

It tasted just like a hard-boiled egg with a slight hint of chicken.

Despite bad looks and any bad images you may come up with when thinking of balut, the truth is that it’s not that strange a concept or a taste. It’s basically a better tasting hard-boiled egg with some crunchy bits.

Just make sure to spit those crunchy bits out!

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

From Melbourne to Malapascua

Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under, Philippines

From Melbourne to Malapascua

4 Comments 20 March 2011

I started my long, arduous journey to the Philippines at Melbourne Airport at around 11:30 a.m., Wednesday. I arrived there with plenty of time to check-in, so much so that I actually had to wait 20 minutes for the check-In desk to open. This gave me time to contemplate what I was about to do and where I was going.

I met my girlfriend in Australia. She had had to leave due to her visa running out, which meant If I was serious about things and wanted to be with her then I would have to chase her to where ever she was going. I was daunted by the upcoming journey as I had only traveled by myself once before. The travel bug had only really taken hold of me about a year ago. Before that I was content to just holiday with friends and family around Europe a couple of weeks a year.

When the check-in desk opened I was excited to be in the queue for a flight that would take me on a whole new adventure, the excitement soon turned to boredom though as I was made to wait one hour and 15 minutes. When I finally reached the check-in desk the check-in attendant asked me to provide my ticket and passport (normal practice at any international check-in desk).

But that wasn’t it.

She followed with asking for my ongoing ticket out of the Philippines. This came as a shock to me as I’d never heard of it before.

It was fine because I already had my ticket out of the Philippines booked, I just hadn’t printed it off yet as I thought that I wouldn’t need it until I was leaving the country. The attendant was adamant that I needed this ticket printed out for my arrival into the country. I was directed by the attendant to run across the road to the Hilton Hotel to print it off. Obviously, I worried that by the time I’d printed off the ticket I wouldn’t have enough time to get back and check-in. However, I managed to get it printed off and checked in with five minutes to spare. What a great start to a journey I was already nervous about.

With the check-in process taking so long I literally just had to wonder up to my gate and wait 15 minutes for the plane. I noticed on my way through the terminal that there was a currency exchange so decided to change the $50 I had spare into Filipino Pisos, just so I had some money on me for when I landed. The exchange rate there was 37 Pisos to AUS$1. I hadn’t, foolishly, checked any exchange rates and as it was probably my last chance to change money before I got there I changed the $50.

The three hour 50 minute-flight from Melbourne to Darwin went without a hitch. I landed In Darwin and was instructed to head straight to the gate for my flight to Manila. Between myself and the gate there was some security, where I was asked to fill out some immigratIon and customs forms necessary to depart Australia.

Exotic Island Dive Resort has a few hammocks on its beach for guests. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Exotic Island Dive Resort has a few hammocks on its beach for guests. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Again, the flight from Darwin to Manila went without a hitch and I was touching down in a brand new country. I was excited all over again but that excitement was then again dampened by the realisation that I would have to spend the next 8 hours waiting around the airport for my onward flight onto Cebu City.

I decided to try my debit card in a cash machine at the airport as my girlfriend had informed me that she had had trouble withdrawing money when she had landed. I, however, had no problem getting money out. Good thing, because I only had the $50 in Pisos in my wallet. Not the cleverest way to travel I know, but I had left Australia on a whim and, to be completely honest, I was no where near as prepared as I’d have liked to be. The exchange rate on the machine was 43 Pisos to AUS$1! That’s a whole 6 Pisos more than I got from Melbourne airport, I was a bit gutted I had got such a bad rate back in Australia but I quickly got over it as I’d only changed $50.

My next task was to find something to eat and then find a spot where I could perhaps sleep for a few hours. After what seemed like forever I was ready to board my flight to Cebu, the check-in queue moved much quicker this time but when I reached the attendant to weigh my bags she informed me that my bag was too heavy. The allowance for Cebu Pacific flights is 15Kgs, whereas the allowance for my flights from Australia was 20Kgs. My bag weighed 17Kgs so I had to quickly offload a couple of items of clothes and a pair of shoes. I just left them there next to the check-in desk…hopefully someone in the airport will have picked them up and found a use for them.

I headed to my gate and was met with another surprise. I had to pay P200 in airport fees, just to get through to my gate to catch a domestic flight.

By this point I was feeling the affects of traveling and I still had a one-hour flight, a four-hour bus ride and a 45 minute boat trip to go before I reached my destination of Malapascua, an island off the coast of Cebu Island.

I arrived at Cebu Airport and picked up my bags. I headed for a taxi ready to do some bartering as I’d heard that you really have to haggle with the drivers to get the prices down. After agreeing a price of P250, I was in a taxi on my way to the Northern Bus Terminal in Cebu City. The timing was perfect, because when I arrived there the bus for Maya (P95), which is the town where you catch the boat to Malapascua, was leaving. So I jumped out the cab and got straight on the bus. Within five minutes I was off on the penultimate stage of my journey which had so far taken me 24 hours.

The bus ride was insane!

I’m not the best passenger at the best of times, even with the safest of drivers, but this journey really took all I had to keep calm and not shout abuse out to the driver. They just don’t care on the roads here.

I was ridiculously tired by now and all I wanted to do was get an hour or two sleep, this was never going to happen as the bus driver seemed to have a perverse love of his horn. If it wasn’t the horn keeping me awake it was the constant jumping off my seat as we’d hit a bump in the road at outrageous speed.

I arrived at Maya in one piece, thankfully. Luckily, I did not have to deal with the usual welcoming there of scammers trying to charge passengers more than P50 (the standard rate) for the bangka ferry to the island.

The boat ride over to the island was such a complete contrast from the bus journey I’d just endured. I was finally able to chill knowing that I’d soon be arriving and that I could give my girlfriend a massive hug and just chill and have a well earned beer.

Malapascua Island in the Philippines offers clear blue waters and sky, worth the arduous journey. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Malapascua Island in the Philippines offers clear blue waters and sky, worth the arduous journey. Photo by Richard John Hackey

I landed on Malapascua at 2 p.m. and made the short walk up to Exotic Island Dive Resort. where I would be staying. I was greeted at reception by some of my girlfriend’s mates. They told me she had just disappeared to fetch something from her room and that she’d be back any second.

So I decided to hide in the store room and wait. Her friends then told her that they needed something from the store room and asked if she would go and get it for them. Little dId she know I was waiting in the wet suits. She walked into the store room and I jumped out and shouted. She reeled back in shock at first then attacked me with a frenzy of hugs and kisses. I couldn’t believe I’d finally made it out to her!

The trip was long and not without It’s hiccups but I’d made it and all there was left to do was order a beer and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

The first glimpse of my new home for the next few weeks, Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, Philippines. Photo by Richard John Hackey

The first glimpse of my new home for the next few weeks, Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, Philippines. Photo by Richard John Hackey

From solo to couples travel

Dispatches from Down Under

From solo to couples travel

22 Comments 16 March 2011

“We’re going traveling,” he says to me with a cheesy grin.

It was 6:30 a.m. on our last day in Malapascua, Philippines and our first day traveling together. Though I was feeling a bit rough from my snorkel test the night before, the final stage of any good divemaster course in which candidates funnel a concoction of booze, I couldn’t help but smile also.

Anyone whose followed my blog or even just looked at the about me page knows that solo travel was my thing. I’ve always prided myself on being able to go anywhere in the world alone. But something changed on this trip.

It all started about eight months ago in the tropical village of  Port Douglas, Australia when I started waiting tables at a place called Mango Jam. I was a bit nervous to be doing a job I hadn’t in years, but my friendly co-workers made me welcome and at ease. I liked everyone that worked there, but one chef named Ric in particular stood out a bit more.

That first night we all went to Iron Bar for karaoke. Ric and I spoke a bit, but he seemed a bit shy or uninterested, so I left it at that. I asked another girl there about him and she just said,” He’s parsley!” which was a code word for hot one of her friends came up with when she first saw him.

If he was uninterested when we first spoke, then he would want nothing to do with me by the end of the night as I sang “Jessie’s girl.” I’m probably the worst karaoke singer, but I just love it too much to resist.

We stayed friendly with short conversation as I came in and out of the kitchen to pick up food, but that was it. Then one day he came into work on his day off, slightly pissed, and came out of his shell to me by means of licking my face and picking my nose.

I was in love.

Close

Ric and I picnicing in the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Australia.

He wasn’t uninterested, just shy. Since I was leaving about ten days after that I figured what the hell and went for him. We started a little work romance that we both knew was just a fling since I was going and he was staying. I felt more, but knew it didn’t matter. I was content with bouncing around the town with him and sneaking into his tent.

And I thought he was too.

Then came my last night. He stopped at my hostel to say hang out for a bit and say goodbye. In the middle of it, he got a call from a friend.

“Nah, I can’t make it. I’m doing something,” he said. “I know. I know. I’ll catch the end of it.”

When he hung up I said if he needed to go I would understand.

“Nah, it just the first Liverpool game of the season,” he said. “My mates were wondering where I was.”

That’s when I knew it was true love.

Living in England for six months, I know how important footie is to them. Knowing Ric for just two months, I knew how important Liverpool was to him.

I left Port Douglas for a month and we kept in touch. I came back  and a week later we moved in together. He left before me and we met in Melbourne. We celebrated the holidays together. He met my dad. We were both upset to say goodbye when I had to leave Australia in January for the Philippines.

He stayed in Australia and saved up with plans of making it out in two months.

Two months?

I couldn’t even get through a day without him.

We made it five weeks, then he made the ridiculous journey to meet me in Malapascua.

He was the last thing I expected in the travels and the best thing I found. While we’ve been living together for about four months, technically we still have not traveled together until now.

Our travels together officially started when we left Malapacua in route to Hong Kong. Since this site is about my travels, it only seems logical for him to join it. So as of now, Heels and Wheels is no longer about solo travel, but about traveling as couple.

Together on our last night in Malapascua, Philippines.

Together on our last night in Malapascua, Philippines.

Ric and I both know traveling together will not always be easy. All couples fight and travel can add extra stress. So to prepare for this big change in my travels I went to traveling couples Amy and Kieron of Don’t Ever Look Back, Laura and Roberto of Travel for Love and Mike and Luci of 1000 Fights for tips and advice. Read what they had to say here.

Welcome Ric to Heels and Wheels and the wonderful world of travel blogging. Be kind to him-he’s still writing with the outdated form of English.

Divemaster training in Malapascua, Philippines

Destinations, Philippines

Divemaster training in Malapascua, Philippines

4 Comments 17 February 2011

“Today you are going to be blind,” Angel Navarro, the dive center manager at Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, says as he pulls out a black garbage bag and stuffs it into an underwater mask.

He mentioned the night before that he had something planned for divemasters in training (DMT) as well as two newly certified instructors the next day at House Reef. Still waiting to receive my rescue diver primary and secondary training before moving onto divemaster training in a few days, he was nice enough to ask me to come along.

The practice is a surprise, but no one anticipated a blind dive. Angel explains this dive is not only to show what it’s like to guide someone who is visually impaired on a dive, but also inexperience divers with no disabilities. The practice would show just how much attention to give the average diver but also when to back off.

Angel pairs me with Jo Armitage, IDC and divemaster coordinator at Exotic. Given her experience, I felt more comfortable playing the blind diver than the one leading. Luckily I’m first to lose my vision. I stuff half a black garbage bag in my mask and wait for Jo’s instruction.

“Ok Bobbi, we’re going to stand up,” she says and takes my hand. “Now just walk straight.”

She seats me on a stoop at reception.

“Now I’m just going to bring our equipment to the boat,” she says. “Are you alright to sit here for a little?”

It was fine, so I wait there for five or six minutes until Jo retrieves me and guides me to the boat. The boat we’re on is one of Exotic’s smaller boats, but the ride to House Reef is only about five minutes. On the way out, Jo points out where things are and grabs a few things for me, but I put on my wetsuit, booties, weight belt and fins as well as put connect my BCD and regulator to a tank only with minor assistance.

Then comes what I think will be the real challenge, not being able to see in the water.

Jo and I worked out touching motions to signal “Ok,” “deflate,” “down” and other common signals used underwater before the dive. We descend slowly and once at the bottom, Jo touches my knees to signal we’ve reached bottom. It feels good to know where I am before we start swimming.

Jo holds my hand the entire dive and moves it to touch things or puts things in it to feel. I touch a sand dollar, an empty crab shell, but my favorite is a gooey sea cucumber at the end. She squeezes my hand twice to ask, “Ok?” I squeeze back the same to respond, “Ok.”

The 20-minute dive feels quite quick. I’m really surprise at how I keep my buoyancy and how comfortable I feel down there without being able to see anything. We reach the top and now it’s my turn to lead.

The dive I guide goes pretty much the same. I feel less pressure than I thought I would guiding someone underwater for the first time. The only thing to worry about is sea urchins.

That would be quite a surprise for blind Jo!

It’s not part of the general divemaster training, but an extra lesson Angel and Jo use at  Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua to teach students’ good leadership. Impromptu practices like this make me happy I chose to train for my divemaster here.

Divers board one of Exotics banka boats for an afternoon visit to Monad Shoal. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Divers board one of Exotic's banka boats for an afternoon visit to Monad Shoal. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

While earning my divemaster is something I’ve wanted to do since I finished my advanced open water course three years ago, it was not in my original itinerary for the Philippines. After diving three days with Exotic during which I only enquired about the divemaster internship, I decided at the last minute that this was the place to do it for a few reasons.

Obviously Malapascua is a dream island to spend two months and its unique underwater sites attracts a high level of diving, but I chose to train for my divemaster here mainly because of the dive management and crew.

The new management here is really dedicated to giving its students the best education possible. They’re very attentive, friendly and do more than just teach what is in the books, like a blind dive for instance.

I wanted to receive my divemaster, because diving is something I enjoy, but at a professional level, something I can find work with all over the world. Still it wasn’t the easiest decision for me because of my financial situation. I saved up enough during my work-holiday visa in Australia to backpack SE Asia on somewhat of a budget. A pricey certification would undoubtedly cut into that.

After some calculating and I have to admit it, some borrowing, I found it was doable here with only a slight increase to my budget. I say here because while the course will almost always be pricey no matter where you do it in the world (expect to pay at least $US1200 for the DMT), the price of living here can be really cheap.

Exotic offers accommodation for divers at extremely low rates (best to enquire, but think $US142 for five weeks accommodation). People can also maintain a healthy diet here for little money (a loaf of bread is a little over 50 cents US, a meal at Ging Gings is about $US3-4, San Miguel Beer is less than $US1). Other than that, there aren’t many more expenses as most of the time you’ll be diving or studying.

The divemaster course can be completed in two weeks, but to get the most out of a divemaster internship at Exotic, the longer the better. The divemaster internship includes unlimited diving and instructors recommend diving as much as possible here to build confidence. Students can stretch their internship out as long as they want or are able to. It’s recommended to have at least five weeks to make the most of the internship.

I highly recommend divemater internships at Exotic to anyone interested. For those who are interested, consider requirements needed before someone can start their DMT:

  • divers must be advanced open water, rescue diver and emergency first response (EFR) certified (EFR must be completed in the 24 months prior)
  • they must have at least 40 dives before starting the course
  • divers must be at least 18-years-old
  • divers require a medical evaluation by a physician in the last 12 months

I say consider so people don’t feel down that they have a lot more requirements before they can actually take part in the DM course. Most resorts can work out a deal for people who want to start their DMT, but have not completed all the requirements. I hadn’t completed my rescue diver and EFR course before I came to Malapascua, but found a way to fit it in here.

If diving is a well-liked aspect of your travels that you may want to make a career of, ask around when traveling to cheaper countries. Those interested may find it’s doable on their budget.

Click here to view more photos from the blind dive.

Banner photo of Jo leading me on my blind dive by Angel Navarro.

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