Hello again and goodbye!

Hello again to my few faithful readers, it has been a long time since I posted here and apologies for not keeping up the Malta blog as I should have done.

Allow me to explain the slightly odd title of this post which, I hasten to assure you, is nothing sinister.  As you will know, I had been complaining about this particular site as I was having awful difficulty with it technically.  I was looking around for a new one and a friend suggested Travelpod which is specifically designed for travel blogs and is apparently very user friendly.  I had a look at it and liked the layout so I have decided to migrate there.

I have done this to coincide with my next big trip starting in early January 2014 to Ceylon and possibly a side trip to Southern India if I feel like it.  If any of you dear people would care to migrate over with me then here is a link.

Hope to see you soon.


This is what you should have seen.

Well, despite the systems best efforts th thwart me, it seems the last little paragraph did manage to make it's way into the ether and is there for all to see, so here is what you would have received from me had I been able to do so last night.  It is a bit wordy I know, so I shall try to liven it up a little with a few images.  Don't worry, I am sure that subsequent posts will be much more succinct but regular readers will know how verbose I can get when the muse is on me!

This is the post, at long last!

Hopefully my last proper post had not bored the backside off you and it appears you have stuck around long enough to hear about the trip itself for which I thank you.  Oddly, I flew out of Heathrow and am returning to Gatwick but it really makes little difference to me as it takes about the same time to get to or from either.  I made LHR in good order and headed to the check-in desk where I was the only passenger present.  The friendly lady took one look at my six foot five frame and asked if I would like an exit seat.  Would I ever!  Air Malta appears to be adopting the appalling Ryanair / Sleazyjet model and charging for just about everything.  Had I requested this seat online it would have cost me about €15 each way for the privelege.  She gave me a window seat and a further joy was that the middle seat of the configuation of three was unoccupied.  Oh happy day.  Having loked at the first class accomodation whilst boarding, I genuinely reckon I had at least as much legroom as them, so thank you kind check-in lady.

As I was checking in, I happened to look at my kitbag and only then realised what an awful state it was in.  It was only a cheapo, bought for about £15 in Whitechapel Market and it has served me very well but it really is getting tatty now and there are even rips in the bottom side of it by the wheels.  I was genuinely worried that any sort of rough baggage handling would result in awful consequences and my personal effects scattered over a runway in Valetta.  Still, nothing to be done about it.  Memo to self: Buy new kitbag a.s.a.p.

The flight itself was unremarkable if comfy but it highlighted another practice that seems to have crept into airlines that really annoys me.  The plane was loaded and ready to go on time but we didn't take off until 30 minutes afrter we should.  The pilot announced the estimated flying time which, funnily enough, was about 30 minutes less than that advertised.  I have no doubt this is done merely so airlines can crow about punctuality figures when all they are doing is misleading the passenger and I really wish they would discontiunue this nonsense immediately.  In the absence of any entertainment I dozed a bit and then had a bit of a shufti at the inflight magazine which was actually dated that day, 13th February.  Apologies for the image which was obviously taken on my knee on the 'plane.  I might try to take a very arty one to replace this one later!

One of the major articles was about the wonderful Carneval that goes on immediately prior to Lent every year and I found out that the word Carneval actually comes from the Latin "carne vale" meaning "meat allowed" as the Lenten period required fasting by the faithful.  As my late grandmother used to very sagely say, "It's a bad day when you don't learn something.  How very true.

In another twist of synchronicity that seems to mark my travels I also managed a few pages of my current read "The Regiment, a history of the SAS" by the excellent   Mike Asher.  Have a look at this page.  Mike is an ex-SAS man himself, a great writer and true adventurer and a genuinely nice guy whom I have had the pleasure of meeting.  Bizarrely, I cannot find his personal website although I have seen it but the attached link gives a good insight into his writing of the book I mentioned.  On the plane  I was reading about some of the early SAS "L" Detachment raids on Axis airfields in North Africa and many of these were designed to relieve the pressure on merchant ship convoys attempting to resupply the almost starving island of Malta.  Some of the most daring raids were carried out by the late Blair "Paddy" Mayne, a legend in the SAS and a man from my neck of the woods.  The fact that that I had, less than three months previously, been looking at some artefacts relating to Mayne in the Regimental Museum of the Royal Irish Regiment in Belfast only added to the feeling of all things being connected somehow.

The image below is of a lteer in that Museum from Bob Laycock, CO and the brains behind "Layforce" which did much of the groundwork for the formation of the SAS by David Stirling and is the man credited with coining the term "commando".  I suppose he was entitled to as he had just about invented the concept.

Carneval in Malta is a big thing with many parties, masquerade balls and the like.  My timing as usual was incredible.  Incredibly bad that is, as the whole thing had finished the day before I left, that being Ash Wednesday.  Ho hum.  I am still intrigued as to why the magazine was promoting an attraction that was over but I am sure they had their reasons.  In general though, it was very informative and much better than the general run of similar publications.  I took them up on the offer to take my copy away and it is proving very useful.  We descended into Luqa airport through low, bumpy cloud into a fairly dismal afternoon with rain looking imminent.

The formalities were quickly dealt with and I stepped out onto Maltese soil for the first time.

If I can avoid it, I do not use airport taxis as they generally prove to be a ripoff and there is almost always a viable public transport option available and this proved to be the case here although it proved a little trickier than anticipated.  The bus stops are well signed as indeed was the self-service ticket machine.

This is where the problems began.  The smallest note I had was a €10 and I had two choices of tickets, either a two hour ticket at €2:60 or my preferred seven day Rover ticket at a very reasonable €12.  OK, can any of you mathematical geniuses (genii?) tell me how I can obtain either when the machine very helpfully informs me that the maximim change returned is €5?  My admittedly limited maths left me without a solution so I thought that buying on the bus might be a plan.  I spoke to the driver and explained the situation.  No problem, and he took my €10 and disappeared into the terminal to get it changed.  The dot matrix display had indicated that the bus was meant to leave in four minutes and about ten minutes later he sauntered out of the building, stopping on the way to chat to his mate.  I smiled an apology to the only other passenger, a young female airline employee.  She just smiled back sweetly.  The driver then wandered over to another bus to chat to the driver there for a while before returning to the bus and giving me my change and a ticket which he said was valid until midnight.  I still don't know how he worked that out but that is what he told me.

Eventually we set off towards Valetta.  I knew I would have to change buses there but that was no problem as I had told the place I was staying I would not be there until at least six so there was plenty of time.  The road from the airport into the capital is not exactly inspiring and appears to consist of derelict buildings, industrial units, scrubland and rather incongruously the horse racetrack.  I consoled myself with the fact that roads from air and seaports are rarely showpieces.  I quickly worked out where my connecting bus left from and that it was a very regular service although at about five in the evening the next one departing was packed to the gunwales with people going home from work.  As I had the luggage, I didn't want to be banging into people and so I tohught I would go and have a quick beer until the crowds abated a bit.  There was bound to be a bar near a bus station, wasn't there?  Well, apparently not.  There were several that appeared closed, possibly due to the religious holiday, I don't know.  So I trudged along trailing the luggage behind me and the rain which had been merely spitting when I set off got heavier and heavier eventually settling on a ferocity that would have allowed it to hold it's head up in company with an Asian monsoon. 

My first beer on any tip is a bit of an ritual,usually photographed and always of the local variety.  Photgraphing a beer usually provokes some sort of response from the locals and it is a good ice-breaker.  However, there was no ice going to be broken in Valetta that night.  I must have walked two miles eventually navigating back to where I had started, got on the #12 bus and made my way to Sliema.  The only problem was that I didn't have a map although I knew the address and Sliema seems about as devoid of street signs as the moon is of atmosphere.  I was getting pretty well drenched now and still trailing the luggage behind which was to prove problematical.  Malta is a hilly place and the streets were now turning into small torrents.  Crossing them and unbeknownst to me, the bottom of the bag, where the rips are, was dragging in running water.  Oops.

Anyway, I eventually located the hotel that runs the studios I was to stay in two doors along from it.  I went to reception and booked in although I was rather surprised to have to settle the bill upfront.  Not a major problem as it is an extremely inexpensive deal by European standards.  The chap took me along to the apartment building and opened the door to #5, my allotted billet.  One look at the place showed something was wrong as it obviously had not been made up.  I blagged a quick photo whilst waiting.

 Profuse apologies from the clerk and he scuttled off to get the key for #3.  No luck there as it was full of builders tools and rubbish from the tradesmen retiling the bathroom floor.  I don't worry about anything too much when I am on the road and just smiled and shrugged.  He then decided the best thing would be to put me up in the hotel that night and offered me free breakfast the next morning by way of apology.  I rarely eat breakfast but it was decent of him.  He also said he was going to speak to the housekeeper the next morning and, if his mood was anything to go by, I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

The room was OK with a lovely view of a building site and a little cold with a small electric heater trying it's best to battle the chill.  Here it is.

I opened my kitbag to find some of my gear damp and the bag itself sodden.  Not a great start.  I hung up clothes, draped damp jeams over the chair etc.,  had a shower in a shower cubicle designed for a munchkin, got dressed and headed out into the Maltese night in search of that elusive first beer.  My digs are on the front so I thought there would be some bars available but Sliema really does give off the air of a seasonal town and this just isn't the season.  There were one or two places open but they looked of the "poncy wine bar" variety and not really my type of place at all.  In time-honoured fashion, I took to the backstreets and, walking up a little hill with no more than a light drizzle and Force Four breeze doing their best to freeze me, came upon a bar called the "Hole in the Wall". 

Here is that synchronicity thing again.  When I lived in Portadown many years ago, my preferred bar was Bennett's which was run by the estimable and eponymous brothers Tony and Niall.  I am glad to say they are still trading albeit in different premises but the original bar was known to all as "The Hole in the Wall".  Prior to that my favourite watering hole when I lived in Armagh City also had the same name.  This place was just calling to me.  I wandered into what was a fairly old looking place undergoing some sort of refurb and with the most amazing thick old wooden doors at the entrance.  It was empty which is never a good sign but I really wantd to try that first local beer.  I engaged the young lady behind the bar in conversation and asked what the local brew was, receiving the answer Cisk (pronounced Chisk).  One of those then, which came served in a can which I thought unusual but is not an uncommon practice hereabouts.  It's not a bad brew actually. 

Further conversation elicited the information that the young lady, Crystal by name, had only returned from living in London in search of work.  I also learned that the Maltese alphabet had 30 characters, the pub was one of the oldest in Sliema and had formerly been a stable and that her Father had recently taken it over.  She told me (dare I use the word synchronicity yet again?) that her boyfriend who had accompanied her back to her homeland was from about 12 miles from where my family live in Northern Ireland.  We chatted about this and that and she even suggested I pick the music when the current CD finished.  I have been in town about three hours and already I am DJing in a bar, it could only happen to me! 

We were then joined at the bar by a Scotsman who proceeded to start knocking back large vodka and tonics and talk the most paranoid drivel I have ever heard, mostly concerning the internet although he didn't confine himself to that.  If he used the phrase "the internet is a tool for fools" once he mut have used it one hundred times and that is not my normal lyrical exaggeration.  I just couldn't resist and started to make a few smart comments to him but he was so fully fixed in diatribe mode that he didn't even notice.  I very rarely get wound up by drunks in bars, Heaven knows I meet enough of them, but this guy really did get on my wick and I was very glad when he decided to ramble off shortly after.  Don't get me wrong, I know many Scots people and by and large love them.  It was nothing to do with nationality, this guy was just a complete pain irrespective of whether he had been born in Edinburgh or East of Eden.  By this time Crystal had gone off to be replaced by her Father, a delightful man who insisted on showing me the renovations he was undertaking in the premises.

The rain had abated somewhat and so I decided I should have a look at some of the other places in town. and off I set.  As you can see, however, from this image, the runoff water was still causing rivers to run down small backstreets.

Somewhat like the weather, that proved to be a complete washout and a walk along the front revealed neither bar nor eating house open.  I was a bit hungry by now having only eaten Air Malta's pretty paltry fare some hours earlier.  Well, no problem, it is not the first time I have gone to bed hungry on my travels.  I did hit a bit of luck then and found a little kebab place near my digs which duly served up a great kebab which was just what was needed.

Fed, watered and just a little tired, I retired to my bed for a good nights sleep.

As I say, I do know this has gone on a bit so I'll cut it off here and resume in another post if I can get the damned blog to work next time I try!

Stay tuned.

How much do I hate computers?

The very fact that I am posting this (I hope I am not prejudging the issue as I haven't done it yet and anything may happen) is something of a minor miracle.  I was going to post last night but the arcane workings of this awful blog site frustrated me for well over an hour last night until I gave up completely.  This is totally ludicrous as I had posted the previous evening with no problems.  I was using the same passwords and account details obviously and was prompted to do all sorts of recovery things.  What a palaver.  Anyway, hopefully, this will publish.  In fact, I shall try to post this now, as is, just to see if it works as there are all sorts of eror messages poppoing up.  I really do need a better blog¬


To blog or not to blog.

So, where to begin?

I had debated whether or not even to restart this blog as my current little jaunt is more by way of a fairly standard European off-season holiday rather than some of my more exotic ramblings in Asia.  I was, however, persuaded by my own argument which I use frequently on the Virtual Tourist website which may possibly be how you have come upon this page.  The argument briefly runs thus.  Many members on that excellent site read wonderful pages by people like my mates Claus (VT name cachaseiro)DAO (real name somewhat of a mystery) and Chris (travelinxs) as well as many others who really are intrepid travellers and do things that are truly adventurous.  These members think therefore that they have nothing to contibute to the site as they do not undertake such journeys but this is frankly wrong.  I have a bit of a saying that everywhere is exotic to somebody else and so I decided to re-open the blog for my current trip to Malta.

There is also the matter of time.  For various reasons, I am only going to be here for just shy of a month rather than the usual multi-month trips I undertake in search of the sun in the Southern hemisphere at this time of year.  With any luck I shall be able to have another run somewhere before the alleged British summer fails to appear yet again but that is yet to be decided.  For better or worse, it looks like the "One middle aged man's rambles around the world before he gets too old", as I have styled this blog, is going to get another airing.  For my handful of regular readers, welcome back and for those who may have stumbled upon this page by some karmic disaster, (you must have done something really bad in a past life) welcome.  I do hope you find something to interest, inform or possibly amuse you in the following entries.  Please do feel free to contact me even if it is merely to suggest that I don't pursue travel writing as a full-time career!  Obviusly, the image is merely a "holding" one until I find something more exciting to put here.

Well, here I am, less than 24 hours after arriving on the historic island of Malta, a place I had long wanted to visit but must confess I came to at this time somewhat by default.  Planning my "winter warmer" trip n January 2013 I had already scuppered a couple of trips which I hope to undertake sometime in the future.  If you have been here before, you will know that I spent a most wonderful six months in the Philippines last year and fell completely in love with that wonderful country and it's people.  It really ranks as one of my best trips ever and I do hope to return there some day.  I had come up with a bit of a madcap plan, which I shall explain, inspired by some of the veteran travellers mentioned above and also numerous other travel writers, both amateur and professional, whose work I have enjoyed over the years. For those of you who have not read back and like to look at pictures rather than read my ravings (most of you, I suspect), here are is a lovely image of that most wonderful trip.

This one features DAO, as mentioned above, second from right.

I have become increasingly fed up of air travel in recent years with it's decreasing standards, increasing prices and ludicrous regulation and have come to the conclusion that the only saving grace it has for most people is speed.  A businessman from London isn't going to want to spend six or seven days on a cruise liner to New York, lovely as that may be, for a one day meeting and then do the same on the return.  It is simply not practical and air travel is definitely the way for them to go both literally and figuratively.  In my very fortunate position time is about the one thing I have on my side so that is not a problem.  The madcap plan I mentioned was to get back to the Philippines without using an aircraft and so I set about consulting maps, the news and the FCO (Foriegn and Commonwealth Office) website with a will. This is what I found.

The "middle East", nebulous as that concept is, is apparently constantly at war with itself and others.  Recent events in places like Syria and the Lebanon, both of which are on my travel wish list incidentally along with Jordan, Iraq, Iran et al were just ruled out on grounds of security.  I had debated a route going to Turkey and then straight into Iraq but it looked a little dicey in terms of border crossings.  Even had I managed to do that, I was still faced with traversing Pakistan and some of that would not have been entirely safe for a lone Westerner.  Travellers and geographers amongst you or even anyone with access to a world map will point out no doubt that there is a perfectly feasible route through China and down into SE Asia and this is true.  I don't want to go into the whys and wherefores but I have promised myself never to set foot in China whilst certain circumstances still obtain.  They don't look like changing any time soon, so I suppose the Great Wall and I are going to remain strangers. 

Having put the great Philippines overland trek on hold I was casting about for other things to do, again trying to avoid flying if I could.  I thought that North Africa looked good post "Arab Spring" and that things were relatively quiet there now.  I thought it would be a good time to visit as it would be off-season and still relatively untouristed so the plan was hatched to go via train South through Europe, stopping off perhaps in a few places on the way, then get to Algericas and the ferry to Tangier in Morocco.  The excellent "man in seat 61" website was of great assistance here and I really do recommend it as a web resource.  If you haven't seen it, it is a website that will tell you everything you need to know about train travel across the globe.  For the armchair traveller is is a great read and for the actual traveller wishing to ride the rails it is absolutely invaluable.

Once in the region, I had thought to roam around Morocco on the pretty comprehensive rail system including Marrakech for no better reason than it and the train features in the wonderful Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song (their first single) called Marrakesh Express.  Yes, I really do plan trips on such whims which may sound ludicrous to some but it works for me.  After that I was going to get back to the coast and travel East through Algeria, Tunisia and Libya at which point the plan became a bit nebulous.  I might have suffered a flight home or retraced my steps to get a boat, possibly from Tunis to Europe.  I had decided to stick to the coast as a) it offered better trasnsport opportunities and b) I was aware that the South of some of these huge countries was prone to attacks by Moslem funtamentalists which is not good for a British citizen.  I had read the FCO advice and judged the coastal route to be feasible even if certain visas might be a little difficult to obtain.

There was the addidional lure of some amazing ancient sites, especially Roman, and also a huge amount of history dating from much more recently in the second World War.  Previous readers may know that I am fascinated by history, especially military history, and the potential here was great.

You may wonder why I would not consider carrying on into Egypt but to be perfectly honest, it is a place I have never had the slightest inclination to visit.  Don't ask me why as I am fully aware they are one of the oldest civilisations on the planet, there is so much to see there, brilliant diving which I love doing and so on.  The thing is, it just doesn't interest me as a country and there are so many other places that do interest me that I will concentrate on them.

Events however, as events tend to do, overtook me very rapidly.  Literally as I was planning this trip, checking various websites for visa information etc., there came news that the Islamic fundamentalists mentioned above had seized a gas-plant in the area and subsequently a number of Westerners including Britons, had been killed.  Not good and so I watched the situation and the next news, a few days later, was that all British citizens in particular areas had been told to leave a.s.a.p. as there was a "credible threat" against them.  Well, that decided it.  The Philippino trip was gone and the North Africa one looked like a non-starter as well. 

I was starting to get a little depressed by all this.  British winters tend to depress me at the best of times and three funerals in a month, all of them in absolutely foul weather, were doing nothing to lighten my mood.  Something was called for, preferably South and warmer than the appallingly and unseasonably cold London I was sitting in.  Whilst the snow had afforded a brilliant days photography in Abney Park cemetery, it wasn't really what I needed at that point.  I could easily have jumped a plane to somewhere in the Southern hemisphere but I decided to try something new and for some reason the idea of Malta came back into my mind, verypossibly inspired by a recent visit to the fascinating Order of St. John Order's Museum and Church in Clerkenwell in London.  So here I am sitting in a lovely little bar in St. Julian with a beer, and "trapped in the indecision of another fine menu" as my mate Fish would have it with just under a month to get to grips with this place and see what I can find out about it.

Here are a couple of images to give you an idea of what it was I needed to leave behind in search or being on the road again.

This is my local overland mainline station wearing it's covering of snow.

This is Abney Park as I mentioned and whilst it is definitely atmospheric and beautifully desolate it is not really what I need at this time of year 

I am well aware that people like bite sized chunks of things and so I shall leave this chapter here and continue in another entry.  I promise there will be more images as I have been on a bit of a shutter frenzy already and there is undoubtedly much to see and do here.  Stay tuned.


Apologies and explanations.

OK, I know it has been a while, I sort of dropped off the radar.  There is a reason for this as I hope to explain here. 

Shortly after my last posting I had a little bit of a tumble off the motorbike which left me in hospital for a few days.  Don't panic, it was nothing serious, just a fes stitches in my right clavicle, a couple more in my face and some bruising and tenderness.  Do not ask me what happened as I have absolutely no recollection, even now.  As best I can piece it together I managed to put the bike into a telgraph pole which was guaranteed to do it or me not too much good.  The police officer who attended decided that my friend and I were in no condition to wait for an ambulance and ferried us to Hioly Child Hospital in Dumaguete City.  I spent that night either unconscious or sedated, I still don't know which, and woke up the next morning feeling a bit sore and not in much position to go anywhere.

I spent five days in hospital and then discharged myself to go back to the wonderful La Fiesta where I was staying and recuperate.  The reason I did not post anything here was that I wanted to return to UK and speak to friends and family to explain first, I did not want to worry anyone unecessarily.  As I write this, I still have a bit of tenderness in my right shoulder and a very slight loss of sensation in the right hand side of my face but I really am fine, so don't panic.  My friend had a bump on the head, a black eye and a sprained wrist but similarly is well-recovered now thankfully.  I don't mind bashing myself up but I would hate to hurt anyone else.

The accident showed me the best and worst of the Philippines, reinforcing many of the views I had previously held of the place and shattering some myths as well.  At some point when I was unconscious, someone stole my camera.  No, I didn't lose it as it was in a zipped pocket.  It must have been either a bystander, the police officer or someone at the hospital.  To my absolute horror, I also lost my plectrum pendant from round my neck although this may have been either ripped off in the crash or cut off by the medical staff to get at the wound in my neck. 

Strangely, I had been having a conversation a few days previously about the appalling state of some Philippino hospitals but I have to say the staff at Holy Child were superb, they treated me really well.  Certainly, they are working probably without the most up to date equipment but they gave me a CAT scan, ultrasound scan, and generally kept me extremely comfortable.  I had a nurse round every two hours taking temprerature and blood pressure, a doctor round every afternoon to examine me and speak to me in perfect English, the private side ward I was in was kept spotless and I have no complaint whatsoever about my treatment in what is, effectively, a third world hospital..  I'd also like to say a huge thank you here to Weng Weng, a teenage lad that my friend sent to look after me.  I'd met him before and he is a great kid.  Bless him, he sat there for the whole time I was in, sleeping on the couch provided for family (a common thing here) and obviously just happy to eat the three or four meals a day they brought me which I just couldn't face. 

Even the meals were interesting.  In a country where so much of the cuisine is rice, they obviously have a "long-nose" alternative.  Meals come on sectioned trays and where the rice should have been, there was small diced boiled potato with every meal.  The food looked perfectly OK and Weng Weng seemed to enjoy them.  Another great positive from the whole sorry affair was the number of people that came to visit me, mostly expats but a few Philippino friends as well.  I am not sure if they were sedating me through my drip but I seemed to sleep a lot in there and every time I woke up there was another longnose sitting at the bedside, mostly, fairly hairy a***d biker types wearing their colours.  I have no idea what the staff must have made of it.  Mac, Hawk and a few of the staff from where I was staying also pitched up as, indeed, did some of the staff from various places I ate or drank in town.  The bush telegraph is extremely efficient in Dumaguete.  I thank each and every one of you, it really did mean a lot.

After I discharged myself (I really did need a cigarette by that stage!), I went home by trike although still feeling pretty beaten about, and the kindnesses just went on and on.  I was effectively bedbound for a few more days and the girls insisted on bringing food to my cabin rather than having me going to the bar for it.  As always, it was gorgeous and after a few days of not eating just what was required.  The morning after I got back, little Lisa asked if I wanted a shower.  I must admit I was pretty ripe but my right arm just wasn't obeying commands.  Two of the girls basically supported me and walked me the few yards to the wetroom shower.  Lisa sat me down on the toilet and proceeded to scrub me all over.  Now, I want you all to put your smutty minds away here, there was nothing at all improper and I was wearing my swimming trunks.  It was just another example of how wonderfully caring Filpino people can be.

I spent a couple of weeks not doing much except recuperating at La Fiesta which proved to be an excellent place to do it.  I really cannot stress how much I did enjoy that place.  I bought what was left the bike off Mac, sold it to another English friend called Danny, and he has done it up and it is riding again.  I could have done it myself but I really didn't have the heart for it. 

The rest of my time was spent in Dumaguete, getting back in the social swing as it were, but my plans to ride round the island were a bit scuppered, and there is not a whole lot more to report from my time there then.  I had vaguely planned to go overland up through Cebu, possibly Coron, back to Luzon and up to Manila for my flight home but in the end I opted for a Cebu Pacific flight to Manila, a couple of days there and then flying home.  After the carnage that constitutes NAIA (Manila's airport) my Emirates flight home was long but uneventful and I eventually arrived back at Gatwick to the cold, grey drizzle that has marked this years so-called summer in UK.

I will write a further post here about my overall impressions of a country I have very quickly come to love and may well settle in, but I thought you might have been interested in why I have not posted for such a long time.

Stay tuned.


You are being spoiled.

Dear reader, whoever and wherever you may be, as the title suggests I am spoiling you but I have a bit of time on my hands these days so I might as well try and catch up here.

Firstly, to rectify an omission.  I had intended to include this image and accompanying text in the previous post but I forgot, so here it is.

Guess what this is.
No prizes for guessing that this is something medical, actually I would suggest quasi-medical as it doesn't actually promote health.  This, believe it or not, is a skin whitening treatement and costs a small fortune out here which I find pretty obscene in a country where, as I mentioned before, children regularly die for want of a few pesos worth of medicine.  I'll not bore you with the story of how I came to see this, it would make your hair curl, yet many Filipinas use this rubbish to try and look white.

It has always struck me as slightly odd that white Westerners do everything they can including sunbeds and fake tan to get as brown as they can, whilst in Asia it seems to be a sign of poverty and to be avoided at all costs.  I believe the reasoning runs along the lines that if you are dark-skinned you must work in the fields and are therefore a peasant.  Why are people never happy with their lot?  Is it just something inherent in the human condition?  I really don't know.

I must say I am completely happy with my lot here and some of that is to do with the fact that I finally got to Apo Island.  If you don't know about Apo, look it up on the internet.  It is regarded as being one of the jewels in the Philippine crown not to mention a world renowned diving location.  I had been rattling on about it for a while and everyone said I really sohuld go for the day sometime as it was magnificent so that is what I determined to do.  Anna, the part time barmaid and coconut tree climber immortalised in this blog recently said she would go with me on her day off and show me round.  In truth, I think she wanted to go anyway as she told me she had not been there since she was at school.  Whatever the reason, it's always good to have a local on hand so I readily accepted.

A 15 minute ride on Suzi the Suzuki brought us to Malatapay the place of the weekly market I wrote about before.  As it wasn't Wednesday the place was a complete ghost town and I had no problem parking at the boat station.  If there is a demand, a "public" boat costing 200 pesos per person runs in the morning and returns in the afternoon.  I have noted before, however, that the tourist business here this season has been particularly bad and we had to take a private pumpboat which costs 2000 pesos for up to four passengers.  If you have a larger party a boat for up to eight costs 3000 which would work out pretty cheap.

The good ship Emerson.
The boats are assigned on a rota basis and we were assigned the good ship Emerson, named like many of them, for the captain.  And here she is.

In fairness, I mentioned the 2000 peso fare which is a little over £30 but to put it in perspective there is a crew of three and they take you over and then wait for you to return.  It is not as if they are plying back and forth all day so it is probably not too bad.  They were super friendly and it was a wonderful crossing so money well spent I think.

Lookout in the bow.
I have developed a great love for these outrigger boats which I suppose haven't changed in design much for millenia.  If you close your ears to the fairly noisy engine you could imagine being here a very long time ago.

Apo Island approaching.
I had seen Apo many times whilst travelling along the coast and knew it's outline pretty well but I must admit to having been pretty excited as it got ever closer.  The journey is only about half an hour and on a sunny day it was delightful.  Eventually we moored a few yards offshore and waded up to the beach.  There is always something appealing about wading ashore on a "desert island".  This is where we eventually made landfall.

Pretty, isn't it?
There was a small habitation seeming to consist of little but eateries and souvenir shops but first, as with everythng in the Philippines, there are "taxes" to be paid.  Off to the office where I paid 100 pesos and Anna 25, they really do like to sting foreigners here.

After that we started walking along the beach and then my guide took to the water.  Well, that is OK, I know ladies like a paddle now and again but it turned out there was method in her madness as it was the only way to get to the next bay because the tide was in.  There is no path.  A few yards on we reached a delightful secluded little beach wth a small resort and diveshop there so that was it then.  Beer o'clock and what a simply wonderful setting to have one in, Apo really is the textbook idea of a tropical island paradise.  The original plan was to carry on up the path to the lighthouse on top of the island but the path had been closed for some reason so we were sort of marooned there.  Still, worse places to be.

Philippino sea monster.
I had seen several snorkellers in the water and debated the idea but for reasons far too boring to go into, my foot was slightly swollen so I didn't reckon I could manage fins.  No problem, a swim would suffice and it turned out to be incredible.  Even without gear, I swam out a bit in some of the clearest water I have ever seen and half-submerged myself sitting on a rock whilst the most amazing fish were swimming round my feet.  It really was quite magical.

There were a few local guys around, I believe associated with the resort and it seemed they had other ideas for the piscine life in the area than marvelling at it's beauty.

Local fisherman.
Three of them set off and literally went no more than 50 yards offshore paying a net out the back.  No more than half an hour later they were back and this was the result.

Catch of the day.
Obviously these were destined for the plate but I reckon if they had a way of exporting these they could make far more money selling them to tropical fish places in Europe.

I was cajoled into posing here as if I had had something to do with the day's fishing.  Other than the fact that I had been in the water and possibly induced some sort of suicidal tendencies amongst the creatures causing them to deliberately seek out the net, I can claim no credit whatsoever.

What a poser!
Having done my best to break the lens on my camera by posing half-naked I retired for another beer to see what would happen next.  I didn't have to wait long.

Anna was right in amongst the locals and there was a flurry of activity on the beach so I went to investigate.  Anna and the ladies had gathered some bits and pieces off the beach and were preaparing a fire whilst the guys set about preparing the fish.  I swear Aldo Zilli would have had a kitten watching how they did it.  I did not see a knife or other proper utensil appear until well on in the piece.  The fish were descaled using a small pice of shell as you can see here.

Who needs a Sabatier knife?
Gutting was achieved by poking the thumb into the belly cavity of the fish and scooping out the innards.  Hi-tech food preparation it was not.  Eventually, all was ready, the fire was going and dinner was about to be cooked.

Real wild cooking.
There is nothng sophisticated about this cooking technique and I saw neither oil nor seasoning used.  The girls literally put the fish on a wire rack the provenence of which totally escapes me and cooked over the coals.  Let me tell you now it was some of the most gorgeous fish I have ever eaten.

Use what you have.
There was one further culinary treat in store as you can see pictured above.  There is a Philippino fish dish called Kinilaw which is basically raw marinated fish.  Although the knife had made an appearance by this point, the concept of using the boat oar as a chopping board whist sitting on the beach was to me the ultmate in authentic cooking.  Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Anther swim, a bit of an explore round the rocks in the bay and a quick walk through the "village" and all too soon it was time to get on the banqua back to the mainland.  Although I very rarely bother wearing sunglasses, I am seen here doing another bit of a pose on the boat.

Goodbye Apo, for now.
Let's look at the thing logically here.  I spent a day on a small Asian island, well I've done that before.  The weather was nice, I went for a swim and saw some tropical fish, no surpirse there.  I was invited to share freshly caught fish cooked over a fire on a beach.  Not a thing I do every day but still not the first time, yet somehow it was just a completely wonderful outing and one that will live in my memory for a very long time.  You really should have been there, dear reader.

Stay tuned.


Right, pay attention you lovely people.

This is going to be a slightly odd post.  It was not deliberately intended to be thus but, as you know, I like to do things chronologically and these are just the way things appeared in my photo files.
Mac suffering.
I shall warn you in advance this post will feature me having my fingernail (singular) painted with nail varnish, my beard straightened by a long-haired bloke dressed as a woman and several other photos of blokes dressed as women.  This I assure you is all purely coincidental, I am still the same guy that left UK what seems like a very long time ago now and by way of balance I shall also include a very pretty young lady (a real one) whch is posted purely to make a valid point about labour intensive industry in the Philippines, honestly.

To the begnning then and just to put you right off your dinner, here is my mate Mac grimacing as he tries one of his firecrackers, which I described before.  I don't know how he survives here as he breaks into a sweat eating a digestive biscuit and chillies are way, way out of his comfort zone.

Now to the slightly unusual things mentioned, firstly the nail-painting.  This actually is not a new thing for me despite what you may think, namely that I have gone completely native and perhaps marginally insane here.

Fergy's mini-manicure.
I first noticed this type of thing in Cyprus and Greece some years ago.  I keep the nails on my right hand pretty long for the occasional finger-picking I do on the guitar.  However, I noticed in the Eastern Med that men who wouldn't know a fretboard from a fuschia tended to grow the little fingernail on the right hand long and often painted it.  Never one to miss an idiotic thing to do, I followed suit on an occasional basis and indeed spent most of last summer raiding the nail varnish supply of the young lady I was house-sitting for with mixed results, it has to be said.  I think the glitter purple was perhaps a step too far.

Anyway, I have settled on plain black for this trip and I actually quite like the look.  I must be the only man in the Philippines whose bar bill includes 9 pesos (about 13 pence) for nail varnish!   The girls who work here actually quite seem to like doing it.  I suppose it is not every day they get a chance to test their beautician skills on such an unusual subject.

Father, if you are reading this, don't panic, whatever you do and it is only going to get worse!

Yes, it's a bloke.
And worse it gets.  Don't ask me how I get myself into these situations but it seems to happen to me.  A byot (homosexual / transvestite / transexual) friend of MacMac's (whom you have already seen in an earlier post) pitched up one night and proceeded to strighten his / her hair in the middle of the bar wthout the slightest trace of self-consciousness.  Imagine that in a bar in the UK where hair styling s deemed to be some sort of arcane art akin to alchemy and no "female" (I use the word loosely here) would be seen dead doing it in public.  Of course the jokes started going round and next thing I was sitting having my beard, which is getting delightfully out of control I must say, mangled by 220 volts and Heaven knows how many degrees Farenheit.  What can you do only grin and bear it?

A close up of the evil deed.
Although it smelt like my face was the subject of a major conflagration it was actually entirely painless and provided no end of amusement for the assembled masses in Pirate's Bay.  I have to say that when (s)he was finished, my beard looked the smartest it has for a long time.

Get to work wnd don't burn my chin!
I do like to provide a little comic value when I can, normally immediately after I pick up my guitar or worse, someone elses that is detuned to DADGAD or something even more incomprehensible.

Jade with the broom.
Here is the not entirely gratuitoous photo of a delightful young lady wielding a broom in order to make a point, and the point is this.  Labour is cheap, very cheap here.  The lawns, and this is just outside my cabin, grow luxuriantly given the rain and sun.  Ronnie slogs round it about once a week or more with a petrol mower but rather than buy a grassbox for it, it is cheaper to get the staff in their downtime to sweep up the grass into piles.  The cut grass is then given to the people next door to fed the carabou (buffalo) on.  This may or may not be a commercial arrangement, I really don't know.  As I said before, nothing is wasted here, the West probably has much to learn about recycling from a  place like this.

The Motong Maniacs.
And finally, as promised, yet another photo of (amongst other things) a bloke dressed as a girl.  This was taken in a place outside Dumaguete where I have somewhat inexplicably become something of a minor celebrity, probably because I am the only person in the establshment who can sing Western songs reasonably credibly.  Slightly embarassing when the punters applaud you before you have sung a note, so no pressure then!  I don't even get to choose what I sing any more as Wangbo, the operator (extreme right of picture) seems to have taken it upon himself to know what I want to sing and actually gets it right most of the time.

Left to right Kimmy (whose child's party it was at the great beard pulling of a previous post), Chirlie An, your humble narrator, Fay aka Fernando and a slightly worse for wear Wangbo.

Yes, I am being slightly flippant here as is my wont but in all seriousness, these people have been so nice to me, extended me so many small kindnesses and generally been very good friends, it will be yet another thing that saddens me when I move on from Negros soon.  People at home will know my views on karaoke but it is inescapable here so you might as well go with the flow  and, if I do say so myself, Chirlie An (formerly a singer in a name band in the Phils before she started a family) and I do a fairly passable duet version of the Scorpions "Wind of Change".  Whilst I would much rather be playing live with a band, the enthusiasm and reception from the Philippino audience is quite something to see, it really does knock me back a bit sometimes.

This seems like a fairly logical place to break now, let my Father and sundry others catch a breath about the sort of company I seem to have fallen in with not to mention my cosmetic adornments.  Believe me folks, not only am I as happy as a sandboy but I have been doing a lot of serious thinking about my future of which more in future posts and no, it doesn't involve a Philippino bride of whatever origin although a return trip here is most definitely on the cards.

Before I sign off, people know I have travelled a little and the most common question I am asked is, "What is your favourite country?"  Although not a parent, I suppose it is like asking a Father, "who is your favourite child?"  Until a few months ago, and with a gun at my head, I would have probably been forced to a decision between Nepal and Burma but now I'm not so sure.  Certainly, being here currently will cloud my judgemement and I'll wait until the dust has settled a bit before I would venture a further opinion but I do rather like the Philippines.

Stay tuned.