“Passport and boarding pass please…”
Here we go again. There’s nothing that can be said about this lifestyle if not that it’s exciting.
I suffer from frequent boredom in life, and now - just as Sydney was beginning to become comfortable and easy - I’m thrown unceremoniously back onto the road and out into the unknown.
I like it.
I started travelling because I like being mentally stimulated, I like new experiences, I like exploring the unknown. Nothing has ever motivated me more to discover things for myself than the people who couldn’t teach me telling me that I’d never learn.
So I’ve departed Australia. After nearly 3 months I’ve arrived at sunnier shores and bluer waters (if that’s even possible). Now I find myself in my new place of residence; a beach hut on an island called Boracay, in the country where much I've already spent a great deal of time; in The Philippines. It’s quite a change in pace, culturally as well as socially.
For the first time now, I’m travelling completely alone. Up until now I’ve been going to places either with people who I know, or to see people who I know. As of right now, those safety wheels are gone. Time to get real.
Australia wasn’t just an easy start in terms of staying with friends who I've known for a long time… it’s also really not that different from the UK. In fact being in the center of Sydney isn’t all that different from being in the center of Manchester… London… or any other large city in a first world country.
Now I’m in a place I know, because I pretty much grew up here. When I was about 10 my family moved over to The Philippines and I went to an international school for a little under 7 years just outside Manila. But despite knowing the country, it remains vastly different to the aforementioned first world cities - and I find myself much more stimulated and excited being here.
After 18 hours of flying I arrived at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which is rumoured to be the worst airport in the world. I'd been waiting to pass veridict on the former, after an 8 year gap in visits, but frankly - I don't know what sort of crack everyone is smoking. It wasn't that bad when I was last here in 2004 and it's actually a lot better now. It isn't a nice airport, sure, but Christ - it's really nothing bad enough to write home about.
If you want to see a shit airport, forget about NAIA Terminal 1 - take a look at the old Manila Domestic Airport which I travelled to next to catch my flight down to Boracay:
Now, it's a little hard to tell from this photo why the airport is shit - so allow me to elaborate a little: This photo is of the entire airport. It's a 1 story building with a corrugated iron roof, and at the end of this room is a little glass door that leads to the planes sitting on tarmac outside. It's hot, dirty, and cramped. It's much worse than terminal 1 of NAIA, but really - it's still not that bad in the grand scheme of things.
I waited in this airport for a good 3 hours, being generally shattered from the previous 3 planes, until we finally boarded the little island hopper to me the remainder of the way to my final destination. Disappointingly, the planes have improved in both size and quality since I was last here:
Last time I went on a plane about half this size, and it was a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. It was great! I was sitting in a seat just behind the pilot. This time the flight was disappointingly mundane, and the cockpit was closed. Boo.
But, after 45 minutes Boracay came into view.
Boracay is a very small island a couple of hundred kilometers south of Manila. It's one of most popular tourist destinations in the country with what is widely regarded as the 2nd best beach in the world. To say that it's changed a bit since I was last here would be a bit of an understatement. In 2004 this little island was comprised largely of a few expatriate tourists living in The Philippines, and local shops in the form of.. well... shacks. Now it's like a little Miami beach, the streets are paved and the shops have glass windows. There's even a Starbucks.
I arrived just in time for the most beautiful sunset I've seen in a long time, and then put myself straight to bed in my modest but comfortable accommodation at Casa Camilla - which is the first time I've booked a place to stay via AirBnB. It worked out to be about £14 per night - not bad. Rest was dearly needed because I'd pre-booked something a little strenuous for the very next morning.
I made a few changes to my "equipment" line up (if you can call it that) just before leaving Australia. Up until now I've been traveling with one carry-on sized bag weighing in at roughly 13kg. After a few months living with the contents, I wanted to fine-tune. First, I got rid of quite a few of the very-functional-but-surprisingly-ugly travel clothes which I'd picked up (at great expense) prior to departure. There's a point at which form really does take precedent over function, and with clothing that line is a fairly important one. To summarise - I looked like crocodile dundee uncomfortably often.
Secondly, I made the fairly large decision to drop my most prized posession from the travel itinerary... my D700 and lenses. Up until now I'd justified the whopping 7kg of camera gear because there just wasn't any other way for me to get the image quality I needed. Then I discovered the Fujifilm X100 (review), and I became an overnight convert. Literally. All the images you see on this post were taken with the X100, and weighing in at around 300 grams, it's made my bag nearly empty and light as a feather. Buying it in Australia was a good thing, too. I got a great price as well as a tax rebate at Sydney airport upon departure.
I also got rid of a few things which I'd picked up due to being overly cautious. A big laptop case which was overkill. An external harddrive which I wasn't using for anything that wasn't already on Dropbox. Some document holder things which were taking up more space than added organisational value. A few padlocks.
My bag now weighs just 6kg. And I actually like my clothes.
The biggest change, however, was the addition of a 2nd bag. A big one. I could fit inside it quite easily, and it weighs about 18kg. Just when you thought I was getting smart and efficient, I went the other way. Bazinga.
When I last lived in The Philippines, I used to do a lot of wakeboarding - and I loved it pretty much more than anything else. When we eventually moved back to the UK I never had the time or the inclination to keep it up... there was nowhere to do it easily, or without freezing to death - also, boats are expensive. Just before I left The Philippines, though, I came to Boracay. In 2004 I witnessed a sport called kiteboarding for the first time and was immediately fascinated. I desperately wanted to try it right then and there, but the lessons were expensive and it was a short trip. So it never happened.
In December I had to decide where to go next after Australia. I decided to come back to Boracay and make up for the missed opportunity 8 years ago and take some kiteboarding lessons... and pick up a set of a equipment on the way. Oops.
It took me 4.5 hours to complete the course. Normally it takes people 12-15 hours, but I've been flying trainer kites for a few years ever since that first sighting in 2004. My wakeboarding, sailing, and windsurfing experience all helped, too.
So here's what my average day looks like at the moment:
I get up, usually around 5:30am, check the wind forecast and take a long walk along White Beach to grab breakfast at a local place just as the sun comes up for the day. A full cooked breakfast sets me back just short of £2, so obviously I have to be very careful with my budgeting for the rest of the day... ahem. I've never been a morning person, ever, but waking up really isn't much of a struggle here.
Then I walk on to the other side of the island to Bulabog Beach (which is where the wind is!). I spend about an hour on the water - which is incredible - before retiring to my office in a little bar/restaurant right on the beach looking out over all the kiteboarders on the water. Boracay is the number 1 kiteboarding destination in Asia, I counted 86 kites out on the water at one point on Sunday. It's very cool to watch.
It's a pretty comfy office, with decent wifi and coffee. (The photo above was taken on my iPhone rather than the X100)
I work here from about 9am to 4pm, doing a mixture of client work and managing Travelllll.com as well as scheming on other business and travel ideas while watching friends and strangers out on the water. I've met so many great people through kiteboarding already that I've pretty much decided to use it as a travel guide of sorts for a while.
I've never been interested in tourist destinations really. I like exploring different cultures and places... but the traditional guides of "things to see in __" don't do anything for me. So, stupid as it sounds, I struggle to decide where to travel to next. Going from kite-spot to kite-spot seems like a nice solution to that problem. And it should be a little different to the standard destinations travel writers go to - which is definitely a good thing. No one in the world wants to read another blog post about backpacking around Thailand.
Back to my average day: Once I've finished working, I might head back on the water for another hour - or just go and get some dinner with some of the other people at one of the local kite centres. Eventually, I make may way home around sunset. As you can see above, it's a pretty stressful lifestyle that people lead around here.
Then I settle in at a restaurant on the beach just in front of my resort (which is where I am now) and do a little more work. Occasionally I indulge in a beer or two at a cost of about 50p each during happy hour, which is actually happy-4-hours from 4pm to 8pm.
Then I get up and do it all over again the next day.
To say that I'm enjoying it, at this point, wouldn't be doing any part of it justice. I can't remember the last time I was so thoroughly pleased with pretty much everything. I was worried about a lack of human contact after leaving Australia - I don't really like striking up conversations with strangers - I'm no good at it. What I've learned though, is that when you're out and about by yourself you suddenly become much more approachable to other people. So I've managed to meet absolutely loads of people just from them coming over and saying hello. Very easy really.
So far, this lifestyle is turning out to be greater than I even imagined it could be.
I've got another week left in Boracay, then it's on to the much more remote island of Sibuyan. Stay tuned.