Up and out of Tacloban

I lived in Tacloban City, Leyte, for nearly five months straight but spent some time on short trips out of the city. In chronological order, here are mini synapses of my mini vacays. Hopefully these last two posts help satiate the dozens of loving family and friends who plead for non-nerdy details.

KL, Port Dickson, and Malacca, Malaysia

For some reason I was under the impression that leaving at two-month intervals would be easier than applying for a six month visa. Maybe I didn’t really research it as thoroughly as I should have, because I was happy to have an excuse to pop out of the Philippines and visit a friend also living in South East Asia. Mid-August  I convinced Tyler, once my co-intern at iDE in Denver and now a wonderful friend/fellow with PSI, to escape Hanoi and join me in Malaysia.

I previously visited Malaysia while studying abroad in Singapore and to be honest, I wasn’t as enamored with it as other SEA countries. I thought it deserved another shot.

We jumped around Peninsular Malaysia to explore more ground. We spent our first night in the capital, without any time to see the city but plenty to overindulge on the night market street food. Food, oh my goodness the tangy, spicy, umami, culturally mixed and enriched heavenly hawker center food I became addicted to in Singapore flooded back into my life. With so much deliciousness to eat, I could barely talk to Tyler. And then a spontaneous colorful parade jubilantly boogied down the market. I hope my joy is palpable, because I’m happy again just reminiscing while I type.

However the next day, Malaysia got weird. We took a bus to Port Dickson, a seaside town advertised as a favorite weekend getaway from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. We’re still a little confused, perhaps we wandered into the wrong part of town? We stayed on the beach but found it eerily quiet and post-apocalyptic. Not a soul was in a lights-on and rides-whirling amusement park. We took Inception-esque pictures in front of a dilapidated hotel; seemingly abandoned during construction, time and vegetation were cleaving the masonry apart. We made it fun, but Port Dickson isn’t on my list of must return locations.

malacca_chicken_rice_ballsThankfully we salvaged our trip at the end. In Malacca we found vibrant nightlife, more history than even museum-loving nerds like us could handle, and divine food. I can’t gush enough about the food: a rainy morning wait in line was worth it for acclaimed local chicken and rice balls, at dinner we fatten ourselves on what has to be the best Indian food outside of India, and approached a stuffed stupor at a Malaysian lunch the next day. Alright my drooling is impairing my writing… family, can we go to Southeast Asia for our Christmas feast?

Wellington, New Zealand

Maybe it’s true of all Americans but certainly the mountain folks of Montana and Colorado I know best: we love New Zealand. Having never visited, we romanticize the majestic, remote, rugged landscapes. When I learned a meeting right up my academic-alley would be convening in the capital of New Zealand, I jumped on it. Several blogs ago, I reflected on conversations and presentations from the 4th International Conference on Urban Disaster Risk Reduction. I loved the conference, but I also hung back for a few days to play tourist. Given that I fell head-over-heels in love, it’s a wonder I got on the departure plane at all.

I spent a week in Nomads Hostel where, on top of free breakfast and dinner, I was also gifted some pretty remarkable friends. Like Jamie, who used his British+gardener expertise to teach me the history of tea and how to prepare a proper cup. Jamie and I arrived as the millionth visitors at Te Papa’s astounding Gallipoli exhibit. Poor guy, didn’t even know me and had to endure my ecstatic jumping and squealing.

Jamie also took a group of us to a local rugby game and patiently explained the puzzling rules. The outing was fortuitously timed, on my last night in the country the All Blacks destroyed the Wallabies and I knew enough to smartly cheer along. I watched the legendary New Zealand vs. Australian game in a pub with a Nomads group, and was surprised by the rather polite cheering habits. Yes, everyone freaked out when the All Blacks scored, but when Australia scored against us the apparent appropriate response is to clap in recognition of a good try. I’m unaccustomed to such cordial behavior in acrimonious America.

I visited the Weta Workshop with another hostel group. Don’t know Weta? Think of the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen in a movie…the team at Weta likely helped bring it to life. Avatar, District 9, Lord of the Rings, Hellboy, King Kong, and so many more. They even contributed to the Gallipoli exhibit. Photography was prohibited inside the workshop, but I did snap a picture of the unassuming exterior, the fabulous Roxy Cinema, and a troll being a bully.

Wellington is a city I could easily live in. Except I may need some additional high-wind training. The Wellington wind shredded my umbrella!

My favorite moments were in my running shoes. One morning I took the train north to Paekakariki and ran along the flower-studded cliffside to Pukerua Bay, pausing excessively to refuel on the sea air. A few days later I scampered around the city, wandering from posh skyscrapers to the beach and up into the hills all in one run. It was glorious.

Moalboal, Philippines

Tyler had to do a little visa-skipping of his own, taking a brief holiday out of Vietnam to renew his application, so he jetted across the South China Sea to and met me in Cebu.

We spent the entire time in the little dive town of Moalboal on the south end of Cebu Island. While there are dozens of incredible places to visit in the Philippines and so many I haven’t checked off, I want to return to Moalboal as soon as I can.

We went snorkeling with sardines, which sounds unexceptional but the sardine run is a synchronized and mesmerizing dance. I lack the Go Pro skills to capture it but I recommend spending a few moments checking out this YouTube video about the sardines. We also explored reefs, canyoneered down Kawasan falls, took in a few beach sunsets, and learned to cook some of my favorite Filipino foods, sisig and bicol express. The cooking classes, particularly the chefs, really captured my heart. Seeking a middle ground between Davao and Manila where they could grow their life together, Ven and Venz are new to town but rapidly becoming a Moalboal mainstay. They are without a doubt the kindest and most inviting hosts I’ve ever encountered. Once we discovered their little restaurant, Ven’z, we returned for all of our remaining meals.

Sambauan Beach, Philippines

Phoebe and Shine taught me how to vacation Filipina-style. They also reminded me that Americans are way too punctual for our own good. They departed a day before me to explore the waterfalls of Biliran Island and told me to get on the 5 am bus the next morning. After executing my orders in a timely fashion, I bombarded the hotel room of a very sleepy Shine and Phoebe by 7 am. Following a slightly cranky breakfast, Shine (a wonder woman of logistical management) procured all of our food and arranged an inexpensive (but squished) ride to the port. From there we took an hour long boat ride to the island.

Sambauan beach is a tiny but beautiful little scrap of land. One end rises up and over the rest, providing stunning views after a quick climb to the top. It was a bit chilly so we didn’t spend much time in the water (by this time my constitution was fairly converted to equatorial heat…a little wind and I froze!). Instead, we relaxed in the comfort of good books and honest conversation. We rented a small hut and I strung up my hammock inside. It stormed that night, but cocooned in the hammock I warmly watched the rain and waves collide.

Kalanggaman Island, Philippines

The first stop on my adviser’s radical sabbatical was to visit me in Leyte. I was in last-month crunch mode with research and had yet to find time to squeeze in a trip to the local bit of paradise, Kalanggaman Island. There’s no better excuse to stop and relax than when its prescribed by the boss!

Like Sambauan, it’s a bit of a trek to get to the island. A four hour bus ride from Tacloban followed by an hour on a boat. Luckily Amy’s whole family was with her and a cramped bus wasn’t a wise idea. We loaded up with PB&J supplies, rented a car, and whisked to the port much quicker than I could have without them.

Kalanggaman is the most pristine, perfect place I’ve ever been. It’s wrapped in light crystal water and blanketed in snow-like sand. The only on-island amenities are a rickety bathroom and a sprinkling of tiny huts.This time I threw the hammock up in between two trees, where I was able to watch the sunrise over the ocean while swinging.

A significant amount of construction was underway, so I imagine the island won’t remain natural and pure for long. What does that mean… it means all my friends and family should come visit me in the Philippines when I go back and you can get to see paradise before it’s a resort!

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