Sunday, January 23, 2011

Learning to Ski

In preparation for my upcoming ski trip to Austria, we took the whole fam to Mt Bachelor for the weekend.


Like we've done before, Peter and I took turns skiing. One of us would play with Soren in the snow while the other skiied.


It is a pretty good arrangement actually. Everyone has a good day.


We'd been wondering when to start Soren skiing. We decided to wait until he was begging for it. It can be kind of an expensive event, and we didn't want him jumping on for a few minutes and deciding he'd rather go play on the sledding hill.

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Well, this was the weekend he started begging. So we rented him some gear on the second day and Peter spent a few hours with him on the bunny hill (with me skiing happily elsewhere and occasionally bringing them refreshments!)

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Soren did great! He loved it. And Peter was a great teacher. It was a fun family day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Philippines: the Awesome Boat Adventure

While planning this trip, we really looked for that "one thing" that would kind of anchor our plans. The Philippines has so much to offer, so much diversity, so many islands, that it was tough to narrow our choices. One of the things we love to do when we are abroad is to do some sort of thing that kind of gets us "in" to the country. We like to spend time with the people there somehow in way that is other than just interacting with the hotel and restaurant staff. It isn't always easy to find. Sure, you can easily meet people along the way. But actually spending time with them over a period of time, isn't always easy to arrange.

When we read about the possiblity of chartering a local-style boat with a local crew for a few days of island hopping, we knew this was exactly what we were looking for. So we pretty much built our trip around this one excursion.

And we weren't disappointed.

I'd had email dialogue with our captain, Betan, for a few months before we arrived, so we sorted out the major details: the dates and the price. And I knew he'd had many other very happy passengers in the past. But other than that, we didn't really know specifically what we were in for.

He came out to our hotel a few days before the trip so that we could talk about the details. That is when we got the first glimpse (other than pictures) of what would be our home for 5 days:

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He asked about the kinds of things we wanted to see, what time we wanted to leave in the morning, the kinds of foods we liked to eat, oh...and whether or not it was ok if they brought live chickens aboard! It seems that on past trips, he'd gotten stuck bringing chickens planning on eating them in the later days of the voyage but then the guests would get attached to the chickens and insist that their life be spared leaving Betan with few options of things to feed his guests! He wanted to gauge whether we were likely to grant a stay of execution to our feathered friends. You can guess how we answered:

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In addition to Betan, our crew consisted of Ronald, and also Liza, Betan's wife. Soren absolutely adored her.

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And with good reason. She was very sweet, and a lot of fun.

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She was awesome at fishing. In fact, everytime we stopped the boat, Soren would say to Liza "this looks like a perfect spot for fishing."

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And she was generally just a lot of fun to play with.

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We headed out on the first day, just in awe of the incredible beauty all around us.

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This is Coron Island. I never did get an explanation of why it is shaped like that. But in the end it didn't matter. We were just mesmerized looking at it.

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I have countless photos of incredible views, gorgeous water, and stunning sunsets. It was such an idyllic experience. More details coming tomorrow...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Philippines: Videos

My camera has a video mode that I just never think to use. I did think of it a few times on this trip though. Here are a few scenes of the market that we walked through whenever we went into town. Always a lot of action there!

Here's Soren's attempt to get his own travel show...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Philippines: The Diving

SCUBA diving is one of those things that is awesome pretty much no matter what you see. It is just such a magical experience. For the most part on this trip, Peter and I alternated diving days. Occasionally though Peter and Soren came out and snorkeled while I was diving.

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I don't have any pictures of the dives. I'm not an underwater photographer (nor do I currently have any interest in becoming one.) But it just seems a shame to not include it here since the diving was such a central part of our trip. So, with credit to the others on Flickr who have taken photos, here are a few of the favorite sites we saw underwater.

Pufferfish are always adorable with their big cow eyes. They were ubiquitous in the Philippines. We saw them on almost every dive and every time we snorkeled.

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(Credit: Pstarfill)

I had never even heard of basket coral before, and if my dive instructor hadn't pointed it out to me I would have written it off as just another lovely feathery coral. We saw this on a night dive. If you touched it, it actually kind of gripped your hand. And when you were up close you could see that the long spine parts were actually crawling along. Fascinating.

Exquisite Jewels of the Deep
(credit: Mauritz Preller)

Trevally aren't a terribly interesting fish. They are shiny, but otherwise fairly plain looking. But seeing them schooling is fabulous. All of them swimming in the huge group and the light reflecting off them. We saw these often on the wrecks.

School of Jacks
(credit: p@ragon)

And how is this for an amazing camouflage job? There was a crocodile fish that had taken up residence on the top of one of the ships. You could be almost next to it before you spotted it.

Crocodile fish
(Credit: maliavale/Mary Hartney)

As I mentioned, wreck diving was the big thing here. I hadn't done too much before, and what I had done wasn't all that exciting. In Honduras it was kind of cool to swim through these big metal sunken ships, but for the most part I have always love the tropical fish and the bright corals when I'm diving. THAT is the kind of stuff that I love to see. All the little (and big) creatures that are so beautiful and on display.

The Philippines changed that for me. Sure, I still love the tropical fish, but wreck diving - on the right wrecks - is just beyond awesome. It helps that these ships have been down for 60 years now. So many creatures have moved in and made it their home. But even the structures themselves, and diving through the kitchen or stairwell or boilerroom was breathtaking. Even looking ooking out the windows was surreal.

My favorite dive with the Irako. It was a very deep dive, yet we were able to spend nearly 20 minutes just exploring inside. With credit to Discovery Divers, here is a glimpse of what it was like:

I actually got my advanced SCUBA certification on this trip. It isn't an important certification, you are either certified (and can dive) or you aren't. You don't get a special crown to wear with your wetsuit when you have advanced certification, so I never bothered with it. But this time I decided to do it. It was a lot of fun working closely with an instructor on some advanced skills. Particularly since this was challenging diving, in tight quarters and at great depth. And considering that it has been 18 years since I was first certified, it was kind of fun to do.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our Time at Divelink

The resort we'd chosen was low key and relaxed. A nice mix of Philippino tourists and foreign tourists. The girls in the restaurant spoiled Soren silly. Here he is with the hot chocolate they made him each morning for breakfast.

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This shot is of him with Irene, one of his favorites.

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The area is world famous for the wreck diving. A fleet of Japanese ships were sunk there in WWII and now you can dive most of the sites. While we were there, Peter and I alternated our dive days. He'd dive one day and Soren and I would have our own adventures and then we'd alternate the next day.

One of our favorite activities was heading out to the dock...

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...and having the boatment take us into town...

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...and having a mango (or watermelon...) shake at the mermaid restaurant.

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Actually, I think we had a fresh fruit shake at most of the restaurants in town. You know, just to be sure we found the best ones.

Sometimes the boatmen even let Soren drive!

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We also explored our hotel beach for shells, and tiny starfish!

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And not-so-tiny starfish!

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Our hotel had some kayaks that we could use whenever we wanted.

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It was great to get out and explore around our island and the neighboring islands.

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In the afternoons and evenings when we were all together again, we'd often head back into town for dinner or to poke around the market.

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One day we sent our laundry out to be cleaned. I must say that we were slightly surprised when this is how it came back!

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Our original intinerary had us at Divelink for 4 days, then 5 days on a boat and then traveling to a different area of the Philippines. But we loved this area so much and felt that a few days had only allowed us to scratch the surface of the diving, so we changed our plans and came back here after our boat trip. We love this place! The other areas of the Philippines will have to wait until our next trip...

Monday, January 10, 2011

We Made It!

After nearly four days of travel, we made it to our intended destination in the Philippines! Four days! Can you believe it? That kind of distance puts some serious pressure on a destination, wouldn't you say? I mean what kind of place could live up to the trials of 4 days of travel?!

Coron town, Palawan: we loved it!

Considering that a major highlight of our trip was going to be a few days of island hopping, these sights out the window of our small airplane had me beside myself with glee.See those tiny islands...

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Those turquoise waters...

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Those white sand beaches! That is what we came to see!

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This time I redeemed myself by the choice of hotel I'd booked. Just across the bay from the main town, there's an island with a small "resort." They picked us up at the pier with a small boat...

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And brought us to our hotel.

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...where they had fresh coconuts waiting for us.

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Soren's first sip of the deliciousness.

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Unfortunately, I missed the next shot: Soren shuddering in horror at the taste of coconut juice! But he was ready to dig in to the yummy fresh cocunut inside...

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And I missed the shot of that shudder too! I think he'll be sticking with the sweetened, packaged coconut we get at home, and leave all the fresh coconuts to Peter and me.

Once we'd enjoyed (or shuddered through) our welcome coconuts, the showed us to our charming little cabin...

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With the breathtaking view of the water...

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Philippines Trip

Wow oh wow. We love the Philippines. Oh how we love the Philippines.

It is kind of funny how we ended up there. We had a pile of frequent flyer miles and a few weeks. Beyond that we didn't have many restrictions other than our whims. Our first choice was New Zealand. But would you believe, even booking in June, we couldn't find any December availability into New Zealand? Or Australia. So I just sat with a patient United Airlines rep on the phone and figured out where we could go. Thailand? No. The Philippines? YES! So there we had it: our Christmas plans.

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Travel days sure can start early. We had an early flight from Portland to Vancouver (which by the way now gets my vote for world's best airport. It is awesome!) We spent a few hours in the Red Carpet Room (love it! One of the perks I get from United when we fly internationally. It really helps!)

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Our routing had us overnighting in Seoul in both directions. It actually helped break up the trip. On the way out we landed at night and just grabbed a hotel near the airport for some sleep and then headed back to the airport for our morning flight...and some practice with chopsticks in the Seuol Red Carpet Room.

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Turns out they really don't use chopsticks in the Philippines, so he only got this practice while we were in Korea.

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I'd laid out a basic intinerary for our time in the Philippines. I love that part, the pre-trip research. I struggle though in choosing a place to stay sometimes. Historically, Peter and I have always stayed in the cheapest backpacker places and have been perfectly satisfied. We can afford a bit more now, but old habits died hard. And I chose a crappy place to stay in Manila.

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But at least it wasn't a sex-tourist hotel, eh?

This was Soren's bed. That is about the best view of the entire $20 room. Blech.

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Our room overlooked an alley filled with homeless people. Can't blame our hotel entirely, since it seemed like almost any place in Manila would overlook an alley of homeless people. It is heartbreaking.

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This was the first time Soren had ever seen such extreme poverty. It isn't easy to see, or explain. Why are don't those people have houses? Why don't they have enough to eat? What are we going to do about it? When he'd get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, he'd pull the chair up to the window to check on them.

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Those questions are hard to answer as an adult. His first response was that we should just go to the ATM to get them some money. We tried to explain that the best way to help these people was to give money to churches or other groups that know how to help them. That seemed to satisfy him. Then a few hours later, obviously frustrated by our lack of action, he'd ask "Mom, when are we going to hire that church?!"

Manila didn't win us over. I tried to reserve judgement. Large Asian cities can sometimes just require a little experience to figure out where the charming parts are. We didn't give Manila that chance. So I hestitated to paint it too unflatteringly. Soren, though, wasn't so reluctant. "Mama," he said, "Manila isn't very cool."