Hitting the world stage

This page continues from the last post of my three years setting up a resort and boat tour operations in the Philippines.

The Hub where we stayed as volunteers in Coron did not turn out to be as exciting as we hoped. Sis quickly got bored and eventually headed back home, while we moved on to greener pastures, although future business may still be possible with the hostel owner (helping him organise boat tours). He did end up buying a new, very large boat (capacity for about 80pax), but has no time to work on it and prepare it for the upcoming season as his girlfriend has another bun in the oven. Speaking of which, it seems that we may have conceived our own there, for which reason I joked we could give him/her a nickname Hubba Bubba.

We stayed the last few nights in a hotel. We needed to work full time on making preparations for our travels, such as visa requirements and the sort. We took the fun, big overnight ferry to Manila, where we sorted out all our travel documents asap before heading out of the grumpy city to a smaller one up north, Bagiau. About half a million in population and a good one to live in if I were to be forced to make a choice. A bit on the cooler side, up here in the mountains, but a welcome change to all that perpetual, sweaty hot we were accustomed to down south.

We stayed at a couchsurfer for a few days, cooked them dinner every night, explored the area on rented motorcycle and soon enough we were on our way to travel to the other side of the world. First stop Beijing, where the beer was rather expensive, so I took out a certain amount of their money and left it at that. The remaining change we tried to use on some coke machines, but none of them took our coin, as it seems that everyone in China only buys things with their smartphones and the coin operated slots are all stuffed and broken by frustrated foreigners.

Most of the flights to South America, especially the cheapest ones, flew with a layover in the U.S., but because their domestic and international airports are all mixed together, Mel needed a regular tourist visa to visit there. No transit visa at the airport was possible as is normal in other countries. For a Filipino this was typically problematic, but we did find similar priced flights via Ethiopia and one with a possible four day visa free layover via Doha, Qatar, which we decided on, to make the travels more spicy and break down the 24 hour flight a bit.

Mel found one couchsurfer who was willing to drive us around and another one we could stay at. The first was also a tour guide, or uber driver when the season was low and who hoped we could give him some good reviews and help his business if he showed us around for free. The latter was a humble guy who presented himself as a mere diplomat, but it didn’t take us long to figure out he was actually the embassador for the Central African Public, as we were staying in a very large room with own toilet but which was the smallest of all the rooms in his massive palace.

It was fun riding some camels, checking out a new museum and riding an ATV while Sparky (our drone) automatically followed us for the first time. However,nwith beer at $15 a pop and almost impossible to get, with temperatures around 50C in the daytime, I was glad to be on our way to cooler climate and a more open culture.

We landed in Sau Paulo, Brazil, one of the five countries in South America where Mel can get an easy free three month visa on entry, but where we discovered our first experience of being in a country (and supposedly entire continent) where very few people speak English. Equipped with our downloaded dictionary apps, it did not help us much, so eventually we decided to cough up the extra cash (since we could not figure out how to get the uber app going) for a regular cab (after the airport atm ripped us off royally) to make it to our destination: free accommodation at a medical university dorm arranged by Mel’s ex virtual-only boyfriend. The climate in the city was rather cold during this winter period, and there were only freezing cold showers, but the internet was free and we managed to get a decent amount of work done. We used their kitchen to reduce costs, explored the city and soon enough were off to our next destination near a nature park up in the mountains halfway between Sau Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It is there that I had my first try of Ayahuasca.

In Sau Paulo we arranged internet on my phone and learned how to effectively use google translate to convey our thoughts and communicate with locals. In Itatiaia we stayed for almost a week with one couchsurfer, who took us on a wild hike in the mountains. We both understood to be a simple hike in nature, but the tail end of it turned out to be more challenging, clambering over massive rocks to eventually make it to the top of a reasonably large mountain. Not so easy as we were both wearing sandals, Mel never did such challenging climbing, was rather scared even though I held her hand and acted as her protective fence at every opportunity, and eventually decided to pause so that Mel could rest until the remainder of the gang came back down from the top. The fact that she was now about 7 weeks pregnant and suffering from frequent morning sickness didn’t help either.

Next stop was Rio de Janeiro, where we stayed in two airbnb places for a total of five months. We did manage to climb up to Christ the Redeemer, but unfortunately were not able to take Sparky for a spin as the security did not allow it. The weather was a pleasant 26C, a welcome improvement, as our recent purchases of sleeping bag and winter clothing were barely sufficient. Explored the city while our drone recordings were less than exhilerating, but one thing I was starting to appreciate about the local culture is the relaxed, chill nature, Latino music often floating through the streets, and a society which is completely indifferent to walking around in public with beer in hand. A pleasant change to the constant people-control I’ve grown accustomed to. Restaurant after restaurant with outdoor seating and pleasant, cheerful atmosphere.

Because it was low tourist season “back home” in the Philippines, our reserves continued to decline with the lower income and higher general costs. Seems that the country has a 100% import tax in an effort to encourage local industry, but which tends to drive up the costs on virtually everything. Even just grocery food and cooking turned out to be a pricy option. I compiled a lot of advice from our friends and research on Tripadvisor, but because our savings were running low, we decided to limit the number of our stops, our next destination Paraty, where we are now.

Our plan is to hit some beaches on our way south and eventually make it to the famous Ignazu< Falls, where everyone assures us that so many tourists daily cross the borders to Paraguay and Argentina, we’d be able to sail through without a hitch. That was actually my intention, since the visa requirements to enter Argentina was a return ticket. We could stay for a few days at the Brazilian town next to the border to test out the crossings, perhaps schmoozing friendship with some of the guards before making a real crossing with all our gear. The temperature seems rather intimidating as we make our way to Buenos Aires, but it will be nice to settle down in long term accommodation for a while as we save up for a van to explore South America.