Halfway Through

If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.

– Lewis Carroll

I’m about halfway through my time here on Cat Ba and it has been a quite a ride so far. The work continues to throw up interesting challenges daily and there is continual staffing shifts which changes the dynamic of the group frequently. As July approaches I become more and more acutely aware that a decision on what I want to do after will have to be made soon. A friend/colleague introduced me to the quote above a couple of days ago which really stuck with me. There’s been so much anxiety over picking THE thing I need to be doing next but there’s no grounding for it. I have no aim and no real preference for what I want to do so there’s no need for the anxiety.

Cat Ba is an interesting mix of environments. The town itself is a horrible over packed seaside town which the Vietnamese come to invade during June and July. But going out into Lan Ha Bay for work provides some sort reprieve from the hustle and bustle that is this neon town. It’s a funny lifestyle living here as an adventure guide. Going out onto the bay for work and escaping deep into the island on days off to climb. We work and play as a unit which makes it all very intense, particularly if you strike up a romantic relationship with someone or have a disagreement with another.

I love driving out of Cat Ba Town; I even own a scooter now. My first moving vehicle! Heading out from the busy town onto quieter roads always feels a bit cathartic, especially when you’re turning up the gas so that you pelt along at some speeds.

I’m interested to see what the next half of my time here will bring. If it brings anymore clarity to my future plans, that would be most welcome.

My Temporary Abode

So after being on the road consistently since January, it got to the point where I felt quite tired of moving around. So I’m now on Cat Ba island in Vietnam for a couple of months working here as an Adventure Guide for Asia Outdoors. It’s pretty cool. I would have never imagined myself working outdoors like this in a foreign country. The bay is beautiful although it does make me really sad how much rubbish is floating around. The locals litter a lot as do the big tourist cruise ships which is heartbreaking. The education in Asia really needs to be improved to make the locals aware of how delicate the environment is.

The work is cool, I work with a really good bunch of people who all love the outdoors and are really good fun. The days are long and tiring, it’s proper honest work though which does give you a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. Cat Ba seemed like a good place as there’s plenty of climbing here to go to do on days off. So far, I haven’t quite had as many sport climbing days as I’d like but I’m hoping that will change.

Deep water solo is also an awesome activity that is on offer here that’s perfect now that we’re heading into the hot and humid summer.

This whole travel adventure has thrown up a lot of questions about what I want from life. It’s caused me a fair amount of stress from not having even a rough plan of what I want to do. But one epiphany I had from climbing the other day is that life is like climbing. As you move through the different foot and hand holds, you’ll come across different options but you won’t know until you get there. It was a nice summary of where I was at. It doesn’t matter if I don’t end up living the cookie cutter lifestyle I always thought I had to live. I don’t want that and it’s in accepting that there are other ways to live that will give me the freedom I’m seeking.

Indonesia: Water, green and wilderness

That will be my memory of Indonesia. In the not-quite three weeks we were there, we ended up splitting the time between Nusa Lembongan, Labuan Bajo/Komodo and Bali. What we saw was beautiful.

Despite being quite touristy in some places, there are still lots of wilderness around, particularly underwater. The diving here is phenomenal and definitely some of the best that I’ve experienced. The variety and size of coral and fish in Komodo was astounding. It was easy to feel dwarfed by the monstrously sized marine creatures swimming in those waters. We were lucky enough to come across a lot of mantas at a dive site called Mawan. These mantas were easily 5m wide and much bigger than the ones we saw at Nusa Penida. They are amazing, just so graceful and calm as they swim playfully past you.

I was a bit sceptical about spending too much time on Bali knowing how popular with tourists it is. We spent a couple of days in Amed, which had a great relaxed pace. It was fun to hire scooters and zip around seeing the beautiful coastal scenery.

Here we also got to see an example of a freediver, Joan Capdevila, in action. Snorkeling at the Japanese Wreck, he manages to dive down and stay to inspect the wreck in detail for three, four minutes at a time with ease. It was mind boggling enough to see that knowing he is managing it all with one single breathe. To then extend that thought to trying to comprehend his deep dives to the depths of 70/80m is something my brain instinctively shuts down. It’s amazing what human beings can achieve and it’s another stark reminder that our biggest limitations are the mental walls which we box ourselves into. I doubt that freediving is something that I will be pursuing obsessively any time soon, but the learnings are just as applicable to my love of climbing.

After Amed, I spent our last few days in Canggu. Going from sleepy Amed to Canggu was a bit overwhelming initially. The traffic for one, is much more intense. But Canggu is pretty cool. Kind of like Hipsters on Holiday vibes. Surfers and skaters revel here as do digital nomads. The main streets are decorated with shiny shops, shiny cafes and shiny signs. As much I liked the pseudo westernised environment to soothe my cravings for home comforts, the place still has too much of a sheen for me to feel completely comfortable. It was also nice to see the rice paddies that still existed just off the main streets, but also sobering to consider that they will probably no longer exist in a decade or so to make way for more perfectly curated shops and cafes.

Indonesia has been an interesting experience. Personally, it threw up a lot of questions about what I want to do with my life, particularly after I call it quits with travelling (the number one reason why anyone travels right?). But the country is beautiful, and I would love to revisit to explore more.

Indonesia So Far: Lembongan, Bali

It’s been an eventful week and a bit since we arrived in Indonesia. When we first arrived, I have to admit I really wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy my time here. The idea of being somewhere where it was the Australia’s answer to Benidorm really didn’t seem appealing to me. I also wasn’t quite ready to be back amongst the normal holidaymakers having been amongst climbers for nearly a month.

We stayed in Sanur for two nights whilst we waited for my dad to join us for a week. Unless you are heading to catch a ferry, I would avoid Sanur. There’s nothing outstanding about it and it’s festering with locals who pester you to offer their services. Once we landed on Nusa Lembongan, it got much better with the island providing a much more relaxed atmosphere. We originally booked for four nights and ended up staying seven as Ed wanted to do his advanced course as well as his open water. The island (and the neighbouring two islands) are beautiful and are so good for watersports. If you like diving, surfing or just beaches under a blazing sun, this is the place to go.

The islands are stunning, I would highly recommend renting a scooter to explore the island as well as crossing over to the smaller but no less spectacular Cennigan. Although I would not recommend what my dad did which is drive his scooter off the edge of a 2.5m drop… If you do have any mishaps, the East Medical Centre on Lembongan is very good. The treatment rooms are clean, they have good equipment and it’s sterile. Luckily my dad only escaped with scrapes and the need for a couple of stitches for a particularly bad cut. Do take care! Some of the roads on Cennigan are particularly steep and in bad condition and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Having already done my Advanced PADI, I spent my days mainly surfing and doing admin bits. I’m a complete noob at surfing so it was quite amusing to take on the beginner surf lessons with Thabu Surfing and get absolutely spanked by the waves. The lessons were really good and in my last session I could stand up on most of the waves I caught. At 450k IDR a lesson it’s almost worth doing the lesson just to catch Thabu and his instructors catch waves themselves. The names for the surf spots did make me chuckle though, they were Razors, Lacerations and Playground with the last one being the least friendly so I’m told.

The highlight of our stay on Lembongan was definitely the day of fun dives I did. We went out with Blue Corner Diving who were super great from day one. I saved my day of fun diving for a day with less swell so we could go out to Manta Point. We went out early at 8am and saw dolphins playing in the water as the boat left the reef. The boat trip was fantastic to showcase the beauty of the Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Cennigan and Nusa Penida. We arrived at Manta Point being one of the first boats there and got in the water without delay. Within less than a minute of descending, we saw mantas. Not just one, but about eight to ten of them all together feeding. Throughout the dive, every so often a manta would just zip past you nonchalantly, it did not get old! Considering they were between 3-5m wide, it was definitely a little intimidating at first! What a thrilling first dive of the day. After that we dived at Crystal Bay where I finally saw my first turtle and then at Sen Tal where I had my first proper experience of drift diving. It was a fantastic day.

Coron, Coron island

From El Nido we took the “fast ferry” to Coron. The company was called Phimal and the ferry was actually 4 hours not 3. It’s a smallish boat that carries about 150 people and the journey is super choppy. Both Giada and I were feeling incredibly seasick throughout the journey but the crew only allow 5 people to sit on the top deck. Even when you try and explain that you need fresh air because you might throw up, they are pretty unsympathetic. It was probably one of the less fun journeys we’ve had…

Arriving in Coron on Busuanga Island, we walked to Hop Hostel where we had booked our stay. It’s about a half hour walk, unless you particularly feel like walking, I’d haggle a tricycle down to take you. The hostel was awesome. Newly opened two weeks before our arrival, the building looked like it had been lifted out of Santorini with its pure white walls and arches. The place had been lovingly designed and had a boutique hotel feel but with large hostel sized rooms. There were also king sized bunk beds available. Yes, you read that right. Bunk beds which are king sized. One of the owners Gino was around most days and is very friendly and loves to chat to guests. The staff are also friendly and try their best to help you although not always getting it right with food orders. We dined here two out of our five nights and the restaurant does very good food. The menu changes most days and offers a good value set menu. The rooftop is definitely the highlight though. The sunsets from here are one of the best as the hostel is up a hill. I imagine it’s only beaten by actually hiking up Mt. Tapyas.

The island hopping here is superb, we did Coron Island Tour B. The area is stunning and worth the hype. But tourism is on the rise so it’ll be interesting to see how long it can keep its charm for.

I also did my Advanced Open Water whilst being here which was awesome. I chose to go with Reggae Diving Centre who were brilliant. Very professional with well run courses. Most of the instructors and divemasters are cheeky Filipinos who are all very well spoken and friendly. Lunches were included which were super tasty and they even give you a beer at the end of the day.

What attracted us to Coron to dive in the Philippines was the wreck diving. Being pretty new to diving, I really wanted to go see some cool shipwrecks and Coron is famous for the 10 WWII Japanese imperial navy wrecks here. And I was not disappointed, they are so cool. The coral that is on top is also stunning with a good range of fish and lots of them too. Sadly I didn’t get to see a turtle at all during the entire trip. It turns out they’re very elusive!

Coron was an awesome stop and I would recommend anyone to go if beautiful beaches, divespots and snorkel sites are their kind of thing.

The Road to El Nido

Having spent the last few days in Puerto Princesa, currently in a van on our way up to El Nido. We’re on the island of Palawan in the Philippines for two weeks. First impressions, I have to say I really like the Philippines. The country is made up of numerous islands which offer lush, green and dramatic landscapes. The water is clear and gorgeous and the climate is hot and humid as you would expect from a tropical country. The amount tourists in Puerto Princesa also is a lot less than Thailand which was a welcome observation. I would imagine this will change dramatically in the next 5-10 years.

Puerto Princesa is the largest city on Palawan although I think it’s better described as a vast urban sprawl. Most buildings are a couple of floors high with lots of lots of unpaved roads. It’s quite laid back and because most of the touristy things are concentrated in the centre, it’s really easy to walk everywhere. I wouldn’t say there’s much to see in the city itself but there’s certainly good bars, restaurants and cafes. We spent the first full day just sorting out admin and milling around and yesterday we booked a day trip to see the Underground River which was worth a see. It’s a large river network housed in a cave in a national park. We also had the option to pay 550 pisos (it’s £1 to 73.50 pisos at time of writing) for a short cave hike and zip line which was really good fun. The tour also offered us our first look into the Philippines countryside which is just gorgeous.

The people are also friendly with lots of smiles and “hi”s said to us. One thing we’ve noticed is that Filipinos can dance!! On the night we arrived there was a dance show in Chinatown where local groups of kids and teens performed hip hop routines. We also had a fun night out at the Tiki Resto Bar and again saw the vivacious dancing of the locals. They certainly aren’t shy about throwing a move or two!

We flew into Puerto Princesa as we wanted to visit Palawan but flights to El Nido from Manila are much more expensive. The van has aircon and takes six hours roughly. I’d say so far it’s been a good journey. The countryside is so beautiful that armed with some good tunes and a couple of naps, it’s been pretty relaxing. We went with a company called Camarih Transport who offered the transport for 600 pisos. We also saw a couple of others that offered anywhere between 735-1,400 so do shop around. Camarih had an easy to use online booking system and includes hotel pick up.

Excited to see El Nido! We’ve been told a lot of good things about it. The plan is to spend a few days there and Nacpan Island hopping and doing water sports before heading to Coron further north which is famous for its WW2 wrecks dives.

There are already things I’ve heard and seen about that I want to come back to the Philippines to do already.