#tbt – My friend Anne came to visit us in Portugal!

One of the loveliest benefits of spending time in Portugal was the proximity to some of my fellow Canadian friends. One such friend, Anne, was working in London for the first half of 2015. Before she headed back to Canada, she took a quick jaunt to Alte, where we spent a few days enjoying the sunshine.

Between her travels and my travels, Anne and I don’t get to see each other too often. And yet, we’ve been friends since we were 11, and that means that when do get together, it’s like we were never apart. I was acutely reminded of this when she came to visit us in Portugal. With Kevin laid up in bed, suffering through his recent implants surgery, Anne and I had plenty of time to explore Alte together. Activities included long walks, sitting in the sun, and drinking espressos, going for a trail run, and talking constantly.

Despite being in pain and needing rest, Kevin was also generous enough to drive us for a wonderful sunset/dinner combination. Kevin is an outstanding host, who puts quite a bit of thought into showing guests the very best of the Algarve, so we were lucky that he got out of bed to entertain us. The next day we spent laying out on the beach with several of our Portuguese friends, which is a classic Algarve experience. In retrospect, it was asking way too much of Kevin to take us around like this. Never have I regretted so much my inability to drive standard/manual.

In any case, Anne’s visit was a lot of fun. With Kevin’s injuries/dental work, our time in Portugal was a bizarre combination of amazing and stressful. It was so relaxing for me to have one of my oldest friends check in help me review all the things that were on my mind. Moral of the story? Never underestimate the the goodness your friends can bring to your own mental health. With this experience in mind, I was so stoked when Kevin’s best friend Mark came to visit a couple of months later – and for that, I actually did learn to drive standard. There’ll be much more on that adventure soon 🙂

Anne and I were having too much fun to take many photos, but I’ve snagged a few of Anne’s from Facebook, which you can see below:

A long-winded collection of tips & tricks for travelling without tribulations

As some of you may know, we’re currently in Laos. For those of you who didn’t know, we’re in Laos! We’re in the beautiful capital city of Vientiane. Here’s a map for some geographical context:

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We’ve been here about a week so far, and plan to be here a few more days. I totally love it here, but I’ll save all my gushing for another post.

The other day, our friend saw our hotel room, and he was teasing us about how it looks like we’re quite settled in, because our stuff is absolutely everywhere. I assured him with an oft-heard Heather Page refrain: “don’t worry, I have a system”. But the thing is, I totally *do* have a system. And a few months into this work/travel lifestyle, it’s gotten pretty darn good.

So, with the aim of sharing my knowledge and experience with others, here’s a run down of the tools and habits/systems that we swear by in order to cut the stress out of travelling:

Tools

  • Agoda.com – this is the site of choice for booking accommodations when travelling in South East Asia. There are tons of listings for hostels and hotels, and they usually have really good flash deals/discounts
  • GoogleMaps – Probably the most important tool that we use. Kevin has an Android phone, so he’s able to pre-load maps. How? He views the whole geographical area on the map, and then types “ok maps” into the search bar, and clicks “enter”. This downloads the whole map onto his phone, so he can access it without wifi, allowing us to navigate with only his GPS. Pretty darn convenient. You can also star locations on googlemaps (on the phone or in your browser), and it will remember them.
  • TripAdvisor – Y’all already know that I’m crazy about Trip Advisor. Before we head to a new destination, I’ll go through the top 30 listings or so, and look at locations near our hotel. From there, I’ll make a list of places we’re checking out.
  • Wikitravel: a real-life travel guide to cities written by fellow travelers. This advice on this site tends to be realistic, honest, and super practical. Some articles are  better than others, but Wikitravel is a great, simple resource for answering questions about cell phone service, neighbourhood dynamics, and transit.

Habits/Systems

The most important thing, that I cannot stress enough, is that for Kevin and I, travelling has become a serious team effort. We both do research that we share with each other, and we each execute different parts of our systems. A lot of our strategies are things that one of us learned or came up with separately, and then brought to our collective system of travel survival. Anyways, here are some things we do to keep ourselves in order.

Habits: 

  • Cash: When we travel, always make sure we have at least a bit of cash. That way, we can exchange a bit of it in the airport and enter a country prepared.
  • SIM Cards: One of the first things we do is purchase new SIM cards, get them into our phones, and then save each other’s new phone numbers. This is a big one for safety and convenience
  • Bring a pen: This is simple but super useful. When flying into a new country, you have to fill out paperwork. They’ll give you this paperwork on the plane, but they rarely have writing utensils. If you don’t have a pen, you either have to borrow a pen from a neighbour, of you have to wait until you get to the airport and use the pens there. By bringing a pen, you save yourself a ton of time going through Passport Control/Customers. Essentially, be prepared and get to the front of the line.
  • Know what you’re doing and where you’re going: Don’t wander out of the airport looking lost or confused. Know where you need to go, and have studied a map well enough to know what direction it’s in. This isn’t the most important thing of all time, but it’s a good rule of thumb for keeping safe and not getting ripped off.

Systems: 

Packing our suitcase

  • Packing clothes: I usually end up packing a variety of clothes, many of which I’m conscious of wrinkling (unless, of course, I just leave all of Kevin’s dress shirts in our closet, in which case wrinkling is the least of our worries). The best strategy I’ve follow so far is to just roll things up: dress pants, dress, shirts, etc.
  • Packing non-clothing items: It’s all about Ziplock bags. I can never have enough Ziplock bags: the medium and large sizes. Somehow when I was packing t come to Asia, I brought 6 or 7 bags, and I am SO grateful that I did. I use them for all of my non-clothing packing needs. It’s a great way to keep the suitcase clean while also keeping things organized, and knowing where things are. On top of that, it makes re-packing that much easier when getting ready to leave. Combined with my 2 makeup bags, it’s my best system yet:
    • Makeup bag: larger products that will mostly be used only by me, like large makeup stuff, hair products, bobby pins/elastics (in their own smaller bag, of course), contact lens solution. Toothpaste and toothbrushes usually go in here as well.
    • Medium Size Ziploc Bag: Anything remotely medicinal. This includes Advil, bug repellant, Tiger Balm, polysporin, band-aids, medical tape, cough drops, Imodium, among other things
    • Large Ziploc Bag: Things Kevin uses. This includes his infamous hair wax, baby powder, nail clippers, a comb, asthma puffers, and anything else he might look for over the course of a trip.
    • Other Larage Ziplock Bag: this one rarely has much in it. I usually keep 1 additional bag available while I”m packing. As I wrap up, I sometimes notice a few random items that I’ve forgotten, and I’ll toss these in the bag. The purpose here is to pack small things without losing them in the process. By tossing small but necessary random items into a bag, they become less lose-able.

Manageable Unpacking

  • Okay. We packed the suitcase, made it swiftly through the airport, and arrived at the hotel. What’s next? Some preparatory unpacking
    • Step 1: Sit the suitcase on something (a suitcase holder, or a bench, a chair, anything will do) and open it up
    • Step 2: Take out the dress shirts and pants, unroll them, and hang them up. Most hotels have at least 3 hangers. If they don’t, go ask the front desk for hangers. 3 is always enough to layer all Kevin’s shirts and pants in the closet, to avoid wrinkling. If there’s an extra couple of hangers for my dresses, that’s a bonus.
    • Step 3: Release the bags! I open the bags and move all related items to right place. My makeup bag goes straight for the bathroom, along with half the stuff in the “Kevin” bag. The other bags sit in the suitcase, piled beside stacks of shirts and pants. All shoes are removed and placed near the entryway.

Other tips:

  • Check the bed sheets and mattress for bed bugs. Not sure of strategy here. This is a Kevin-led process
  • Make sure the air conditioner works. You can also open the air conditioner and clean out/dust off the filter for max A/C. Again, not sure of strategy.
  • Get your electronic chargers out and ready, so they’re already there when you need them. There’s nothing worse than forgetting to charge your phone because you were in a foreign space. If you need an adapter and don’t have one, sort that out right away. Ask the front desk, as they usually have spares, and if they don’t, they can point you to the nearest convenience store to pick one up.
  • Check the WiFi and make sure it works. If it doesn’t, start figuring out where the nearest good WiFi spot will be. Pre-travel research is super helpful in this case.
  • Keep photo copies of your passport with you. If you have a travel visa, get a copy of that as well.
  • Don’t let the front desk keep your passport. When you check in, they’ll want to take a copy of your passport. From my experience, this is usually non-negotiable, though sometimes they’ll accept a drivers license. If they ask to just keep it and give it back to you later, insist that they instead make a copy right away. Make it clear that you don’t mind waiting, and you won’t leave without it.
  • Be mindful of the weight of your bag, and repack as needed. This is especially important if you’re travelling with a non-rolling suitcase and/or going somewhere that rolling isn’t always an option. We always travel with backpacks, which we use to carry heavier items.
  • Be patient with each other. Travelling is stressful. Be forgiving and be willing to help the other person, because in the long run it will make everyone’s travel experience better.

That’s all I can think of for now. Did I miss anything? Have questions? What other strategies do y’all follow? Comment away!

Also, here are some photos of our packing strategy in action:

Keeping in touch around the world

Living abroad can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to be on this crazy round-the-world adventure, and Kevin and I are having a blast together. However, because we’re travelling a lot, and because we’re both spending so much time working, it can be difficult to make close friends here. In that type of scenario, it’s been extremely wonderful and valuable for me to keep in touch with friends and family back in Canada. In some cases, I think I’m closer with some people in Canada now than I was when I actually lived in the same country as them.

So, how do I keep in touch? Thanks to modern technology, it’s not as tough as one might think. There are a variety of tools that I’m using, some more effective than others. Here’s a list and my thoughts on effectiveness:

  • Skype
    • This is probably the tool I used most for communication, because I use it for work and personal communication. 90% of the calls I do with my RecruitLoop colleagues take place via Skype. Because I use it so often for work, I began using it for personal as well. Skype has a great instant message function, but is also the best tool I’ve used so far for face to face calls. Ususally once a week I’ll have a lengthy Skype call with a friend. The main issue with Skype is that it gets upset if there are any blips in internet connection, so it can freeze from time to time. Still, this is my overall go-to for calls.
  • iMessage
    • I only really discovered how this worked a few weeks ago, but it’s quickly taken up a big role in my overall communication strategy. iMessage allows me to text message any I know who has an iPhone, using either their phone number or their email address. On my Macbook, it just looks like an instant message program, but the message I’m sending arrive as a  text message. This is the best because it’s an easy way to just have day-to-day conversations with friends.
  • Gmail
    • This is standard. Everyone uses email. The problem is that responses take time, particularly when there’s a lot of time between emails, because so much more time is needed to write updates.
  • FaceTime
    • I pretty much only use this to call my parents on their iPads. It’s pretty good, though their internet isn’t amazing, and freezing or dropped can be frequent. But still, since it’s the visual lifeline to my parents, it’s important.
  • Facebook
    • As always, Facebook is a go-to timewaster. It’s my insight into the important news in Canada, and keeps me updated with what everyone is up to. It’s also a good way for people I’m not as close with to get in touch with me.
  • HipChat
    • This is used for work only, but since I use it daily, I figured it deserves a mention. HipChat is like iMessage or MSN messenger, but internal for companies only. It also has a very unique and cute and funny set of emoticons that can be added to messages. It’s a staple at startups.
  • Google Hangouts
    • Mostly used for work, for group meetings. I rarely understand how Google Hangouts work, so I’m loathe to expose my friends to this technology. Maybe one day in the future, if Skype fails me.

And of course, my blog! A great way of sharing the big updates and daily stories with everyone.

Am I missing a great tool? Suggest it in the comments!

Trip Advisor Reviews

Have I mentioned lately that I’m completely obsessed with Trip Advisor? Because I am.

If you’re ever wondering, “what does Heather do in her spare time over there in Phnom Penh?”, one possible answer is “writing Trip Advisor reviews” (in fact, I just said to Kevin “shush, I’m writing a blog post about Trip Advisor reviews and he said “noooooooo! that’s the ultimate possible review review review”. So that should give a taste of how much time I spend writing Trip Advisor reviews).

We started using them for some basic restaurant research when we first moved to Phnom Penh, and were immediately impressed with the reliability of their reviews. We found one of our favourite restaurants, Brooklyn Pizza, by reading Trip Advisor reviews, and I immediately went home, signed up for Trip Advisor, and wrote a review describing that despite my skepticism about a pizza joint being top of the restaurants list in the city, it was a super great restaurant.

And it went from there. I’ve now written many reviews for hotels and restaurants in many different cities. Here’s a quick snapshot of my profile:

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Why Trip Advisor? Why all the work? It’s not work! It’s fun! I swear!

Honestly, Trip Advisor is one slick operation when it comes to user engagement.

reviewerbadges2 First, they got me completely hooked with their badges. Like all properly gamified systems, they started out with only a few requirements, and become gradually more difficult. Once I’d written one review, I knew I could get to 3 and become a “Reviewer”, and so on, and so forth. I’m now Senior Contributor, and actively working towards being a Top Contributor.

So, as you can see, I’ve been banging out these reviews pretty quickly. But it’s not just about numbers – it’s also about Helpful votes. That’s right, quality is also key. And I’m telling you now that getting an email saying someone clicked a button to indicate that my review was helpful is like crack. I make most of my reviews quite detailed, including all of the types of information that I look for in reviews: notes on bathroom quality, cleanliness, service, location/directions, hours; anything that you could only know by going to a place. And this is a key point: I get a lot of value out of the reviews I read on Trip Advisor, so I don’t mind (in fact, I’m glad to) writing my own good reviews. I find a lot of these reviews genuinely helpful, and as a regular traveller I know how difficult it can be to have guidance on where to eat/stay while abroad, so I’m glad to share my knowledge with others.

Here’s a snapshot of all the places where I’ve reviewed something:

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Of course, there are other badges for writing reviews in multiple cities. In my quest to rise up the reviewer ranks and earn my “Passport” badge for having reviews in multiple cities, I wrote reviews for every place I’ve visited in the past year. This includes restaurants in Toronto, and places Kevin and I went on our trip to Portugal and London earlier this year. Hell, I even reviewed a place in San Francisco that we ate last year, just because it was so damn good and worthy of a good review.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 1.12.38 PMI’ve also earned a “first to review badge” for creating a listing for and then reviewing Jack’s Place – the super remote bunch of cottages that Kevin and I
stayed at for a couple of days while visiting the Philippines. They have basically no online presence whatsoever, so I suspect that my review will be able to provide some helpful information for others looking to learn anything about this place.

Beyond their badges, Trip Advisor also totally rocks at user engagement through email marketing. They email me on a regular basis, sometimes about the success of my reviews or my progress as a Trip Advisor user, and sometimes with emails about interesting locations I might want to visit. If I read about a restaurant online? Or save it to one of my trips? They email me a few days later asking if I’d like to review it. Rarely are their emails out of place. Additionally, their emails are always quite lovely and actionable and sensible.

If you’re looking to research your next travel destination, or if you’re even just looking to study a great example of gamified user engagement, I highly recommend that you check out Trip Advisor ASAP.

The Jesus Cleanse

I’m on a cleanse of sorts – let me tell y’all all about it!

In Cambodia, a single beer costs anywhere between 50 cents, and $1.50. The beer I’m talking about is good ol’ Cambodian beer, which in many ways is just alcoholic water with some flavour. That is, it’s not a heavy beer, and it’s not expensive at all, so it’s very easy to drink at least 2 or 3 in one sitting. And it’s very easy to do this every single day.

Naturally, once you’re a few beers in, you’re sick of it. Don’t wanna drink beer? Don’t worry, a gin and tonic is only around $3.00 a glass, so treat yourself!

As a result, after a few months in Cambodia I realized that I’d been consuming an inordinate amount of beer and gin, for no reason other than it was easy to do so.

Enter: the Jesus Cleanse.

My Jesus Cleanse, which began on Sept 9th, was supposed to accompany a 30 day yoga challenge, but that was short-lived. I have done yoga maybe 6 or 7 times in the last 11 days, which isn’t bad, but I’m too jazzed up about the Jesus Cleanse to care one way or the other about my 30 day yoga challenge.

Hold up the phone, Heather – what’s a Jesus Cleanse?

Like most cleanses, it’s a bunch of nonsense that I’ve made up. But unlike most cleanses, it’s pretty simple and it has no unseemly freeing effects on my digestive system/bowels (I live in Cambodia, people, that’s already taken care of!)

Jesus Cleanse = only drink water and wine.

Exceptions are allowed for juice and smoothies. This weekend I also allowed an exception for Coco-Cola, as I enjoyed a rare trip to McDonalds while we’re visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

When we go out to eat, when we go to the bar, when I’m at home, I only drink water or wine. For me, it’s been a great way to cut back to alcohol intake while not totally giving it up altogether.

Besides, as a founder of Wine Wednesdays, I could hardly survive giving up wine.

It’s worth noting that the Jesus Cleanse has nothing to do with Jesus other than being a name. I figured that since Jesus supposedly turned water into wine, and I’m only drinking water and wine, the name was apt. It’s also easy to explain to people – “sorry, no beer for me, I’m on the Jesus Cleanse – water and wine only!!”

I don’t know that my cleanse has blessed me with any amazing feeling-ness, but I drink a lot less now, which I think lends itself to some mental clarity. I also get a prideful kick out of actually sticking with this cleanse. And honestly, there’s not much in the world that’s better for drinking than water or wine.

If any of you have ever heard of this cleanse, or tried something similar, I’d love to know – leave a comment!

 

Hockey Night in Cambodia

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Those of you who know my middle brother, Tyler, know that he’s a diehard hockey fanatic. Like, the whole nine yards – he plays (usually year round), he coaches, he watches, he consumes, and he knows an INSANE amount of information about this sport. Like, if I knew as much about politics as he does about hockey, I’d be in the House of Commons by now.

So, when he was planning his trip to Cambodia, he googled “hockey in Cambodia” to see if he’d get any results back. And he did! As it turns out, for the last 10 years a rotating group of ex-pats and Khmer locals have been meeting weekly on a tennis court in the BKK neighbourhood to play ball hockey.

They bill this as Hockey Night in Cambodia, and they meet up every Thursday at 7pm on the tennis court beside BKK Secondary School (across the street from City Villa hotel on Street 71).

Their website gives the wrong address, so at first we weren’t sure if we’d be able to find the proper location, but google saved us again, and we made it to the game!

Kevin and Tyler played while KP and I cheered from the sidelines. Check out the photos and video footage below:

Be sure to also check out the Hockey Night in Cambodia website and Facebook page!

Part 4 of our Philippines Trip: Puerto Princesa and the Underground River

After leaving Nacpan Beach, we took a bus down to the Palawan capital of Puerto Princesa, where we were scheduled to catch a flight back to Manila. So, we boarded an air-conditioned van that took us on a 7 hour bus ride, despite telling us it would be 4.5 hours. But hey – rain, a flat tire, and slow-moving fellow passengers get in the way of schedules sometimes. Anyways, Puerto Princesa bills itself as “a city within a forest”, and while we didn’t see much of the city, we did check out the area’s main attraction – the Underground River.

This included a wild van ride through the forest to get to said attraction, followed by a boat ride inside extensive caves underneath the mountain where the Underground River flows. I’m sure there was a lot of science-y facts to be learned about this place, but we didn’t learn any of them on our tour. Here’s what the UNESCO website has to say:

“Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, featuring spectacular limestone karst landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and intact old-growth forests and distinctive wildlife. It is located in the south-western part of the Philippine Archipelago on the mid western coast of Palawan, approximately 76 km northwest of Puerto Princesa and 360 km southwest of Manila.

The property, comprising an area of approximately 5,753ha, contains an 8.2km long underground river. The highlight of this subterranean river system is that it flows directly into the sea, with its brackish lower half subjected to tidal influence, distinguishing it as a significant natural global phenomenon. The river’s cavern presents remarkable, eye-catching rock formations. The property contains a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem which provides significant habitat for biodiversity conservation and protects the most intact and noteworthy forests within the Palawan biogeographic province. Holding the distinction of being the first national park devolved and successfully managed by a local government unit, the park’s effective management system is a symbol of commitment by the Filipino people to the protection and conservation of their natural heritage.” (UNESCO)

Our tour went more like this:

“That rock, up there, looks like the Virgin Mary”

“That formation ahead looks like carrots”

“If you look to the right, you’ll see it looks like garlic”

“Again, that to the left looks like the Virgin Mary”

“Up at the top, those formations, they look like the Last Supper”

So, not very scientific, but quite entertaining. The caves were really stunning; also, filled with bats. I did get some bat poop in my hair but fortunately none in my mouth – apparently that actually happens to people sometimes.

This video does a pretty good job of showing what the canoe right into the caves looked like: 

Below we have photos of Kevin playing with Mimi the cat at our hotel, the scenery on the way to the Underground River, and photos of us at the Underground River with our friend Breann (who we met on our crazy van ride). Check it out!

Part 3 of our Philippines Trip: Nacpan Beach

Towards the end of our time in El Nido, we spent a day out at Nacpan Beach, a remote beach 45 minutes north of El Nido. We went to buy some coconuts, and the lady at the kiosk told us we should check out some rentable cottages further down the beach. So, coconuts in hand, we did just that. Nacpan beach is pretty spectacular, and the cottages were also pretty cute, so we changed our travel schedule, and decided to leave El Nido a day early to spend 2 nights at “Jack’s Place”. Getting there is pretty harrowing 45 minute tricycle ride, but it’s well worth it. Even Kevin says it’s the best beach he’s ever seen, and this guy knows his beaches.

First, we spent a day there before heading back to El Nido and checking out of Golden Monkeys. That day was amazing, and for the first time ever we saw cows on the beach (see photos below).

We returned the next day for two nights. That first afternoon was incredible, though that first night was a bit messy. Kevin and I set up the mosquito net completely wrong, and it ended up laying directly on top of Kevin for most of the night. This meant that he was bitten by mosquitos all over this body, and after he woke up realizing this around 3am, that was the end of sleep for the both of us.We spent the next few hours curled up in awkward positions with a way-too-hot blanket on top of us for protection. When the rose and the bugs subsided a bit, we headed outside to sleep in hammocks near the beach. A couple of hours later, we grabbed a bit more sleep back in bed. So, that was an awful few hours, but being in paradise more than made up for it. Lesson learned? When it comes to setting up mosquito nets, always ask for help.

We spent our days on the beach and in the ocean. Not having spent much time in the ocean as a kid, I had a lot to learn. Like, how to jump into waves. How not to get knocked over. I did lose my sunglasses, but other than that I’ve adapted well.

Jack’s Place only had power from 6pm to 9pm, so we took advantage of that time to hang out in a common area with a wonderful Swedish couple who were traveling in the region. There’s something interesting about living by the natural sunlight, and that something includes going to bed earlier than usual. In spaces like that, the company of other people felt especially valuable, and we welcomed gladly their conversation and card games.

Check out the photos below! There was more nature than we’ve captured here (chickens, dogs, ox, pigs, running around all over the place), but Nacpan is so lovely that even our photos can show it.

 

Part 2.3 of our Philippines Trip: Island Hopping Tour B and Selfie Sticks

A couple of days after Anne had left us for Manila, Kevin and I signed up for a big group tour through Art Cafe. This time, we embarked on Tour B. The food wasn’t as good with the Art Cafe tour as it had been with the Golden Monkeys Tour, but the content of the tour was similar, as it’s a standard experience.

I think we preferred our smaller tour with Anne and Loc, but being in a big group had its own advantages. For one, we got to check out how some other experienced travellers did things. Apparently everyone except us got the memo that it’s essential to have a waterproof travel bag to hold all your stuff on the boat. Kinda like this version from MEC. It’s not really essential, but it definitely would’ve been nice, and would’ve kept our stuff a bit drier/sand-free.

We had expected Tour B to have more beaches, but instead it was heavy on snorkelling. Kevin’s not really into snorkelling, so he worked on his tan from the boat, while I snorkeled around looking for cute fishes and what not. Our photos really don’t do justice to the reality of how beautiful El Nido is. The highlight for us was Snake Island, of which Google has lots of great shots.

The video does a pretty good job of showing what it was like to snorkel there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jreYq3hXjvU

Aside from the natural beauty, we were pretty infatuated with the #selfiestick. You can read more about this phenomenon here and here, but essentially it was something we’d only heard about until the tour. Then, as we arrived at our first stop for a bit of snorkelling, Kevin and I turned around and watched in awe as the 5 other couples on our tour pulled out their Selfie Stick/GoPro combo. What’s a Selfie Stick? It’s a stick, with a camera on the end of it, that you use to take photos of yourself or your travels. From what we can tell, it was invented by GoPro, which makes a lot of sense, because I’m sure it didn’t take long for them to saturate the Extreme Sports Athlete market, and there’s nothing people love more than taking photos of themselves. It’s a handy camera for making underwater videos, but we also saw it used to take all kinds of other photos, including selfies. After that day, we saw them everywhere – I’m sure it won’t be long before they’re everywhere in North America. I’m expecting there to be a serious uptick in selfie-related injuries in the coming years.

Check out our photos below, taken with the traditional human arm/hand combo:

Part 2.2 of our Philippines Trip: Island Hopping Tour A

One of the primary tourist attractions or activities in El Nido is the Island Hopping. There are 4 different versions of the Island Hopping Tour (A, B, C, D) and each tour is the same, and each is operated by a local. Each tour’s format is also the same – stop at 2 attractions, stop somewhere for lunch, stop at 2 more attractions, go home. Each stop is around 40 minutes. Everyone who goes on a tour must pay an eco-fee, which goes into a budget aimed at preserving these natural attractions.

Our first tour was arranged through Golden Monkey Cottages, and our drivers Richard and Ariel took me, Kevin, Anne, and Loc on Tour A.

Here’s a map of that area that each tour covers:

el-nido-tour-map

Tour A took us to Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Simizu Island (for lunch), Secret Lagoon and 7 Commandos Beach.

The pictures perhaps tell a better story, but I’ll share a few anecdotes as well.

When we first arrived at the Small Lagoon, we were greeted by beautiful, crystal clear water. It seemed quite shallow, so I neglected the life jacket suggestion, just as Loc and Kevin had done. “This place can’t be that big”, I thought, “and the water seems shallow anyways” – wrong-o!

Don’t worry people, I was totally fine, but the shallow lagoon turned into something much deeper that required much swimming from this semi-lazy gal. Once through the clear, shallow lagoon, we then entered a beautiful larger lagoon (technically the Small Lagoon, I think. It was hard to keep track of what was what), where we were surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs. On the other side of the lagoon, we went to smaller little lagoon spot, and then into a small cave. About half way across the Small Lagoon, Kevin (aka Captain Heather’s-Safety) realized with a bit of a shock that I wasn’t wearing a life jacket, and was actually just swimming. I was totally fine, but I definitely had bitten of a bigger challenge than intended. BTW, people, swimming is tiring!! Anyways, I totally survived without incident, though my arms were feeling it later. Lesson learned? Life Jackets make life easy, but for reals swimming is more fun without one.

It was pretty windy on the day of our tour, so we weren’t able to go into the Secret Lagoon, but we were able to snorkel just outside of it. When we first got to the snorkelling spot, I pulled on my little snorkel/mask combo, along with my life jacket, and jumped into the water. It was a fairly open-water kind of spot, and the waves were fairly big (for poor little me, according to Kevin, the waves in Portugal are much bigger), so when I realized that I couldn’t see any corral or fish, I promptly climbed back on the boat with a resounding “Nope, not today. Not for me.”

Of course then Loc, who was swimming much further away from the boat than I’d been willing to go, shouted over to me that he could see lots of fish and lots of corral. So, fine then. I tried again, and this time I ventured further and saw tons of beautiful water life. Kinda scary, but worth it.

Check out our photos below. You may also want to check out these other blogs for some better quality photos that do a better job of showcasing the natural beauty than we could. Option 1 and option 2.