Our Pre Oktoberfest Checklist

It is that time of the year again, time to join thousands of travellers from around the world as you descend upon Southern Germany. So you are planning to hit the world’s largest beer festival? The Oktoberfest is almost a rite of passage for many backpackers travelling around Europe. However for many it can also be their downfall. By following our Pre-Oktoberfest checklist you can avoid some of the pitfalls of Munich’s craziest two weeks and ensure you have an awesome time!

The Hofbrau tent main entrance

The Hofbrau tent main entrance

1. Book Your Accommodation Early!

To be totally honest, if you are reading this and still haven’t got a place to stay you are pretty much too late! Accommodation is at a premium during the ‘Fest’ and even dorm rooms are ridiculously expensive. Camping is an option and Camping Thalkirchen is probably your best bet, but be prepared for masses of organised groups packing out the campsite. If you do camp make sure you are first ones into the shower block after they have been cleaned, you have been warned!

With some tents holding over 5000 people you better book accommodation early

With some tents holding over 5000 people you better book accommodation early

Remember, if all else fails do as the locals do and pass out under a tree in the grounds, dozens of locals can’t be wrong can they, oh and don’t forget to pack the beer blanket.

2. Start Drinking Now!

The Bräuhaus’ of Munich brew extra strong beer for Oktoberfest , somewhere between the five and eight percent alcohol mark! Combine that with the fact a stein is one litre, many an unsuspecting traveller have found their day or night coming to an early end because of a lack of ‘beer stamina’. On the bright side Munich brewers abide by the 1516 Beer Purity Laws meaning there are no additives or preservatives added to their beers. According to the Bräu Meisters it is the additives and preservatives that give you a hangover! So technically regardless of your beer drinking capacity you should be able to knock back steins all night and wake up fine in the morning!

Start building your drinking fitness before Oktoberfest!

Start building your drinking fitness before Oktoberfest!

Now The Smart Way Round have laid their bodies on the line all in the name of research and we can attest that after downing 10 steins in a night the next morning you don’t feel hungover! Well, you still don’t feel great but your body is expecting to feel worse than you actually do so perhaps the Bräu Meisters are correct. More research must be done on this one we think, but in the mean time start improving you drinking skills.

For some the experience can be all too much

For some the experience can be all too much

3. Bring Loads of Money.

For the first time ever a stein of beer is hitting and in some tents breaking the 10 euro barrier. So a decent session in one of the Oktoberfest beer tents is going to set you back a small fortune (or the price of a dorm bed for a night).

With steins costing around 10 Euro this year it could be an expensive shout

With steins costing around 10 Euro this year it could be an expensive shout

At some stage you are going to have to eat. Once the beer goggles are put on every girl in a dirndl selling giant pretzels is going to look like the most beautiful girl you have ever laid eyes on. The likelihood of numerous pretzel purchases is virtually guaranteed.

Beware the charms of the pretzel girls!

Beware the charms of the pretzel girls!

There is also a good chance you are going to walk out of there with an overpriced souviner but by the end of the night you REALLY are going to need that felt hat with a stuffed Bavarian Lion attached to it.

So our suggestion is call home for emergency funds, raise the credit card limit and just accept you literally are going to flush your cash down the loo at Oktoberfest!

Did I really buy that last night?!

Did I really buy that last night?!

4. Buy Lederhosen or a Dirndl.

Hey you are in Bavaria! All the locals will be sporting their traditional costumes so why not you?

I promise you from experience there is nothing more fun than drinking beer wearing leather shorts that are way too tight but strangely comfortable.

Everyone at Oktoberfest will be wearing it

Everyone at Oktoberfest will be wearing it

However be warned, when that emergency bathroom dash happens or when you get caught at the back of the inevitable enormous line to the gents, for the first time wearer lederhosen can be a nightmare to get undone!

Our tip, practice that emergency dash in your hotel or hostel so when the time comes you are a lederhosen undoing pro!

5. Make a copy of your Passport.

Over 1000 passports get lost annually at the Oktoberfest with the majority of them being Australian! In fact things are so bad the Australian Embassy opens a temporary passport replacement service in the British Consulate in Munich.

Of course it will never happen to all of us will it, but just in case have a few photocopies of your passport and a couple of spare passport photos ready, oh and don’t keep them with your passport!

Finally have a great time, you are partaking in a tradition dating back over 200 years, eat, drink (too much) and try and remember for many this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Do you have any hints and tips for the Oktoberfest First Timer? Let’s us know and leave a comment below

Prost!

Most of all enjoy!

Most of all enjoy!

– Dean

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Oktoberfest 2014: Top Day Trips out of Munich

It is now less than two weeks until Oktoberfest begins and if you followed are Pre Oktoberfest Checklist you should hopefully just about be ready to go! While a week-long beer drinking binge sounds good on paper, after a few days of being jammed into the Oktoberfest tents you may be looking to get out-of-town and rest your liver. Below we have listed a number of great day trips all within a couple of hours journey from Munich.

1. Ludwig II’s Fairytale Castles.

‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s castles are the jewels in the crown of Bavarian tourism. Neuschwanstein is the most famous, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year. Neuschwanstein was also the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle and has captured the imagination of tourists since the King’s mysterious death in 1886.

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary's Bridge

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary’s Bridge

However, while most people flock to Neuschwanstein, his other two castles are equally as impressive. Linderhof, near the famous Bavarian religious town of Oberammergau (also worth a look if you have time) is the only castle Ludwig ever completed. Much smaller than the other two, it is a far easier visit than Neuschwanstein and also doesn’t get the crowds. Nestled amongst the mountains and surrounded by lovely gardens, Linderhof would have to be our favourite of the three.

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The final castle is situated on an island in Bavaria’s largest lake, the Chiemsee and is situated almost half way between Munich and Salzburg. Herrenchiemsee was built to be a living breathing museum dedicated to Ludwig’s idol, Louis XIV of France. An almost exact replica of the central sections of Versailles, Herrenchiemsee is probably the least visited of the three but has an idyllic location and can only be reached by a boat ride out to the island.

Numerous companies offer day trips from Munich and often combine Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Oberammergau. If you do go with theses agencies double-check what you are booking, as a lot of the tours DONT include entrances into the castles themselves.

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

2. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Visiting a concentration camp is not something you will necessarily say you enjoyed, but it is something you will be glad you have experienced. Dachau was the first camp set up in the 1930’s and now days is part memorial and part museum, dedicated to all those who suffered under Hitler’s regime. Getting out there can be a little tricky on public transport, however a number of local tour companies offer trips out to Dachau normally meeting in Marienplatz. We highly recommend the audio guide.

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

3. Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

According to legend when God was creating the earth he gave all the natural beauty to the angels to distribute evenly around the world. As you can imagine this is a time consuming job. With the angels running behind schedule (he did only give them a week after all), God bellowed out “Hurry up!”, and the angels dropped all the natural wonders in Berchtesgaden.Or so the story goes.

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

Approximately two hours from Munich the region of Berchtesgaden is stunningly beautiful. Dramatic mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers and of course Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Specially designed local buses drive you up one of Europe’s most amazing, and somewhat hair-raising roads to the base of the Eagle’s Nest. From here it is a short walk through a tunnel to the original elevator made of polished brass before arriving in the building itself. Eagle’s Nest has a little something for everyone, incredible alpine scenery and photo opportunities for the nature lovers and some very interesting history for the history nerds (like me). Our tip, try to get there early, queues for the buses and the elevator can be very long if the weather is good.

4. Salzburg

The hills are alive! That’s right, after only a two hour train journey you could be yodeling away Julie Andrews style in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . Salzburg makes for a great day trip from Munich if for no other reason to just ‘pop’ over the border into Austria.

Salzburg's gorgeous Old Town

Salzburg’s gorgeous Old Town

Combine the imposing Festung or fortress towering over the city and the charming medieval streets and alley ways, Salzburg is a photographer’s dream. There are plenty of sights from ‘The Sound of Music’ to keep you amused or for something totally different head out to Hangar 7, the home of Red Bull. For great views of the old town and fortress head to the Cafe Sacher and enjoy a slice of the famous chocolate cake, Sacher Torte.

Sacher torte, yum!!

Sacher Torte, yum!

There are numerous other possibilities that we haven’t mentioned her as well. Nuremberg has a great old town and huge city walls, while from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can catch a cable car up to the top of Germany’s highest mountain. If you fancy staying in Munich there are also some great experiences to keep you busy. We love Mike’s Bike Tours, a great way to see loads of the city and have a seriously fun time doing it. You can also hire bikes from them and they also run trips to Neuschwanstein and Salzburg.

Remember (if you haven’t had too much beer), Munich is a great city and so is the surrounding countryside, so make sure you take time out from Oktoberfest and get out there and explore!

– Dean

Prost!

Prost!

 

Our Favourite European Underground Systems

One of the most rewarding challenges of exploring a new city is mastering the local public transport system. In Europe we have them all, the good, the bad and the downright confusing! This week we look at some of our favourite undergrounds from around the continent.

 1. The London Underground

Ok so maybe we are a little biased as it is our hometown, but ‘The Tube’ not only is the oldest underground in the world, one of the most used undergrounds in the world but also regularly voted one of the best undergrounds in the world. All Londoners’ have a love hate relationship with the Tube but without it we would be in a whole world of trouble, just try and get anywhere when there are line closures for maintenance works! In fact it is only when it is shut or not working do we truly realise how much the city relies on it. Best bit of advice, buy an Oyster Card, fares are much cheaper than paying for a paper ticket, oh and don’t forget to ‘Mind The Gap’.

Going underground...

Going underground…

 2. Berlin U-Bahn & S-Bahn

Ever since living in Berlin I have always loved the rail network here. The rickety old carriages rattling along the tracks elevated above the roads below or perhaps trundling through the old ‘Ghost Stations’ from when the city was divided between east and west. When you are riding the Berlin metro it feels like any minute James Bond or Jason Bourne will come bursting through your carriage is some cold war spy drama. Our tip, check out the Mohrenstrasse station, the red marble walls come from Hitler’s former Reich’s Chancellery building, and don’t forget to validate your tickets before jumping on the train it is a hefty fine if you get caught!

One of Berlin's former 'Ghost Stations', closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

One of Berlin’s former ‘Ghost Stations’, closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

 3. Moscow Metro

Difficult, confusing and amazing are just some of the words to describe Moscow’s enormous metro system. Built to showcase the might of the Stalinist Soviet Union, many of the metro stations look like they belong more in a palace than an underground. Finding the right stops can be tricky but rewarding with mosaics of Lenin, space aged themes and a statue of a soldier’s dog whose nose you rub (in the Red Square Metro) but a few treasures awaiting the brave! Our tip, get a good map and learn to read Cyrillic!

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

4. Budapest Metro

While not the best metro system in Europe it was the first on the continent, dating back to 1896. The reason we love this underground is the old communist feel when you go underground. Instead of turnstiles ore relying on German honesty, as soon as you validate your ticket at the validation box you are met by a handful of heavy set black clad metro guards demanding to see your validated ticket, (which they have just seen you validate). Then you head to the platform and you can almost guarantee to get checked again or perhaps as soon as the doors of your carriage close a badge is flashed “tickets please” yelled out and you are subjected to another check. Our record? In a three-stop journey we had our ticket checked five times! Better validate that ticket!

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Do you have a favourite metro or underground in Europe, or better yet do you have a ‘worst’ underground or underground story? If so we would love to hear about it, leave a comment below or drop us a line on Facebook.

 

– Dean

Hometown Tourist: Travel Inspiration in the Heart of London

The best thing about living in London is there is always something going on regardless of what you are into. So with a day off work together and a quick Google search we discovered that the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition was on at the Royal Geographic Society, how could we not go?!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The exhibition showcases the best photos and some honourable mentions of the 1000’s of photos that are sent to the Royal Geographic Society every year. From stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife shots and intimate local interactions, the winning photos come from all around the world.

Every year there are different briefs and categories and you can even win an award taking photos with your mobile phone. If ever you where in need of some travel inspiration, this exhibition is for you!

Set in the courtyard of the Society’s London headquarters, there are about 50 photos on display. Combine that with books on show of previous years’ award winners the exhibition makes for a great escape for an hour or two. There are umbrellas on hand should you need to borrow one (we did!) to continue browsing the pictures in the outside courtyard. Wandering around an outside gallery was a novelty in itself!

The Society's courtyard

The Society’s courtyard

Sadly the Exhibition finishes this Sunday (August 17th) before it begins to tour the UK and then the world. However it is a great prelude to our favourite photo exhibit every year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum which starts every October. If you have a spare hour at lunchtime, then its well worth a wander!

 

Our Favourite Wildlife Experiences So Far… Part 2

Last week we began looking at our favourite wildlife experiences around the world, if you missed part one you can catch up by clicking here.

This week we round out our list with five more of our best experiences around the world.

6: Snorkelling with Whale Sharks, Tofo Mozambique

While we have been lucky to see them several times now, our first experience of the world’s largest fish really stands out. Their amazing markings and huge gapping mouths are stunning as they glide by almost in slow motion. Almost oblivious to your presence the grace with which they swim by looks out of place when compared to their size. When we were in Tofo the Beach Club had weekly seminars about whale sharks and manta rays, well worth sitting on if they still run.

The beautiful markings of the world's largest fish

The beautiful markings of the world’s largest fish

7: Chasing the Big 5 in South Africa

You can’t compile a great wildlife list without mentioning Africa and the Big 5. There are some great National Parks and reserves in South Africa to see Africa’s incredible wildlife. We loved Ado National Park for Elephants, we were almost trampled by a family when we couldn’t get our car started! Hluhluwe for Rhino spotting and you can’t miss out on Kruger. The best bit of advice we can give you is to sty in the parks overnight. We didn’t on a couple of occasions and really missed out, but when we did we had breakfast with elephants one morning and were woken by the roars of lions another!

One of the many elephants in the Kruger National Park

One of the many elephants in the Kruger National Park

8: Australia’s Unique Wildlife along The Great Ocean Road Victoria

It is easy for me to pass judgement and say how amazing Australia’s wildlife is but I still get excited when I see kangaroos or koalas in the wild. From our ‘home base’ in Australia (thank you Mum and Dad) we can see kangaroos from the balcony at happy hour or a short drive sees them grazing on the local golf course! Koalas in abundance live along the great ocean road and there are some fantastic reserves and shelters for native wildlife.

Kangaroos on the local golf course along the Great Ocean Road

Kangaroos on the local golf course along the Great Ocean Road

9: Orang-utans in Borneo
This is one of Natalie’s suggestions and unfortunately Borneo is still a place on my ‘to-go’ list.  Natalie said, “The famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo is known across the World for their efforts with Orang-Utan rehabilitation.  This fantastic centre provides a base to rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals, before a staged approach to reintegrating them into the 43 sq KM reserve begins.  As you walk through the reserve you see the Orang-Utans staring back at you – equally as interested in you as you are them!!  It’s impossible to forget their bright orange coat and distinctive stare.  Such beautiful creatures who so deserve to be protected”.

Minding his business - a snoozing Orang-Utan at Sepilok (taken on a film camera)

Minding his own business – a snoozing Orang-Utan at Sepilok (taken on a film camera)

10: THE WISHLIST: Manta Rays

While we have been incredibly lucky with our travels to see so many amazing animals in their natural habitat there is one that has eluded us, the Manta Ray. Whether it has purely been wrong place at the wrong time or adverse weather conditions they remain at the top of our animal bucket list. Guess that’s the beautiful thing about travel, the more you see the more you want to see, and that list never seems to get any shorter!

– Dean

South Africa 610

Just remember to watch where you go!

Just remember to watch where you go!

Das Schnitzel Kaiser

Walk into just about any restaurant, pub, or beer hall in Germanic Europe and there is sure to be one staple on the menu, the schnitzel. In fact the schnitzel and its various incarnations can be found all around the world. Veal, pork, chicken, turkey even fish and vegetables can all be given the schnitzel treatment.

In Australia it takes the form of the mighty chicken parmigana, a breaded chicken fillet, covered in Parma ham, tomato sauce and melted cheese. In the USA there is a hotdog chain called Wiener Schnitzel, but for the real deal or as I like to call it,  “Das Schnitzel Kaiser” or ‘The Schnitzel Emperor’ we have to head to the source where it all began – the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Now before we dive in and devour our schnitzel it is worth mentioning there is some controversy over the schnitzel’s origin. Most agree that the schnitzel recipe was bought to Vienna by Austrian General Joseph Graf Radetzky, a man more famous for the musical piece composed bearing his name by Johan Strauss Senior than any military victory he ever achieved. While down in Milan he discovered the Cotolleta alla Milanese and upon his return to Vienna the Emperor Franz Joseph, asked for the recipe.

Another story believes it originates from the Byzantine Empire, where in the 800’s Emperor Basilieios insisted on eating meat covered in sheets of gold! As you can imagine this practice was frightfully expensive so the sheets of gold were replaced with the golden coating of breadcrumbs. Regardless of the origins, Vienna is where one must head for the perfect Wiener schnitzel.

Wiener Schnitzel is the national dish of Austria, and the term Wiener schnitzel is rigidly protected. To call your schnitzel a Wiener schnitzel it must be veal, any other meat and you may refer to it as the Wiener Style, the Wiener Art or the Wiener Escalope, but not, repeat not a Wiener schnitzel.

This way to schnitzel heaven

This way to schnitzel heaven

Just like the Emperors of old, there is one Vienna institution that towers above all others in the culinary world of the schnitzel, a restaurant called the Figlmüller. In this small little restaurant nestled in the back alleys of St Stephens Cathedral, Figlmüller has been dishing out world-renowned schnitzels since 1905. So popular has it become that literally just around the corner a second restaurant was opened in the early 2000’s and every night people hungrily wait in line to try this enormous piece of history.

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Painstaking attention to detail and schnitzel pride come to the fore to feed the starving masses a schnitzel that is the size of a pizza. Every cut of meat in hammered out by hand with a mallet until it is wafer thin and roughly 30cm in diameter. It is then shallow fried in three different pans until a golden colour. So particular are the chefs at Figlmüller only one type of bread roll is used to supply the breadcrumbs. It is served, hanging off the plate with a slice of lemon and that’s it! If you have room the traditional accompaniment is either a small green salad or a side dish of delicious Germanic potato salad, but again only if you have room.

A German friend once told me there are two ways to tell if you have the perfect schnitzel. Firstly, when you cut into the schnitzel there should be a small air pocket between the breadcrumbs and the meat, and secondly believe it or not, is to place a napkin on your schnitzel and then sit on it! That’s right, if you sit on your schnitzel and no oil soaks through the napkin you have the perfect meal. If you do decide to test this theory out on your next visit to Vienna, don’t blame us if you are asked to leave!

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

Whether you get oil on your trousers or not, Figlmüller regularly wins awards for it’s schnitzels, and the huge lines every night come rain or shine to try Austria’s National dish can’t be wrong. Figlmüller truly is ‘Das Schnitzel Kaiser’.

– Dean

Chapter 13: It’s More Fun in the Philippines….

… Say the marketing slogans.  They are not wrong!

You can see why they say 'it is more fun in the Philippines'!

You can see why they say ‘it is more fun in the Philippines’!

Rewind to November last year, and we watched in horror as the atrocities of Typhoon Yolanda swept through, taking with it the livelihoods of thousands of Filipinos and the lives of well over 6000 people.  Several people asked us if we were still going ahead with our plans to visit, but there was no stopping us.  The devastation of such natural disasters continues long after the event itself and without tourists how could they afford to rebuild?  There was never any question; wild horses would not stop us going.

Now firstly I should say that the Philippines were originally my baby.  Having been on a few cruises (very different to backpacking I know!) with my parents I had over the years come across many many Filipino ship staff, and for a long time I have wanted to visit the country.  Not only because I had heard how beautiful it was, but just so I could look them in the eyes and say I had been to their beautiful country.  From the early stages of our planning, the Philippines was to be the ideal destination to end our travels and to be our second honeymoon (two weddings, two honeymoons sound fair don’t you think?!).

Lazy days

Lazy days

So we set off, and landed in Cebu, with little planned out and in need of some R&R.  We initially spent a couple of nights at Kon Tiki divers (!) on Mactan Island, which enabled us to dust off the regulators and get ourselves wet with our first diving.  These early dives were to be the first of about 16 dives that followed over the next two weeks and we loved every second of them!

 

The Smart Way Round under water!

The Smart Way Round under water!

We had heard about the huge shoals of sardines that swam off the coast of Cebu in Moalboal, so after our initial dives we headed over to the other side of Cebu Island.  We found a lovely dive resort called Quo Vadis and felt very at home.  Whilst there was little beach area the sunsets were incredible and we found ourselves easily settling into the diving, snoozing, rum at sunset drinking routine!  We liked it so much that Dean decided it was time to up his skills and attempt to catch me up!  He signed on to do his ‘Advanced Open Water’ PADI course.  Even though I am a ‘Rescue Diver’ level, it really meant there was not too much between us in terms of the depths we could go to.  He also decided to qualify in diving with Nitrox (Oxygen enriched air) so we could use that together.  I won’t go into the benefits of using it, but its good stuff!  So for me these few days were very relaxing, but for Dean they involved a lot more study!

Selfie with the Sardines

Selfie with the Sardines

The diving here was instantly great.  Even the house reef out of the front of the resort was like jumping into my Father’s fish tank and every dive was a joy.  The sardines well and truly came out to play and at one point I could barely see up, down, left or right as I found myself in the middle of them.  Quite spectacular.  We saw plenty of special things.  Turtles galore, but my favourite was a tiny blue ringed octopus that I managed to spot on a night dive.  Quite a sight and pure fluke on my part!

Just like a fish tank!

Just like a fish tank!

 

A beautiful spot

A beautiful spot

All too soon it was time to move on and we headed over to Donsol a sleepy fishing village on another Island.  It was a bit hair raising getting there.  With the knock-on effect of a typhoon approaching (fortunately not one as bad as Yolanda) the rain was out to play and it took us three attempts for the pilot to land the plane.  I’ll not lie – I was getting a bit scared by the end when we kept doing the emergency ascent!

Things in Donsol didn’t quite go to plan.  The weather meant it was too rough to get out to the dive site we had hoped to dive.  However we managed to have a fun few days as we went out to spot Whale sharks.  This was a fun experience as we were with a couple of really cool people from our hotel.  We sat around on the boat convinced that we wouldn’t see anything when all of a sudden we got the call to ‘prepare’.  This involved sitting on the side of Bangka (‘catamaran’) and throwing ourselves into the water when the Whale Shark was near.  The ones were saw were up to 8m in size, and were truly spectacular.  We had seen them once before in Mozambique but these gentle giants are always special and it’s a true privilege to snorkel with them.  There is also more of a theme park style experienced with these gentle giants somewhere else in the Philippines where they bait them.  We do not agree with this at all and we were so pleased we had waited to see them in Donsol in their natural habit.  Very special.

 

One of the majestic Whale Sharks

One of the majestic Whale Sharks

We also managed to get out to a local waterfall.  The journey there was very eventful, as we had to abandon our tricycle, and walk some of the way through local villages.  It was really interesting to see the simple way of life that exists within the village communities.  By the time we got to the waterfall we really had earned our swim!  To avoid some of the walk back we took a local Bangka (boat) back to our abandoned tricycle.  The only problem was the tricycle was so caked in mud it took some convincing to get going!  In the Philippines ‘road rehabilitation’ (road works) don’t mean don’t drive on the road.  It simply means the going is a bit tough!  Today was a fine example of that as the road was being built and with all the flooding was one big mud bath.  I gave up with my shoes in the end and simply walked through the ‘road’ bare foot.  I felt so sorry for the driver. My muddy feet were nothing compared to the amount of mud he was wearing!  With lots of coaxing, eventually the trike made it and we were on our way!   With the added adventure thrown in this had been a great day.

Bogged!

Bogged!

The lack of diving ending up being good as it forced us to do something different.  We then took a bus back into Legazpi and went out on ATV (quad) bikes to see the Mt Mayon active volcano.  We rode our bikes up and you could see the lava flows from the last major eruption less than ten years ago.  Whilst we saw some of the volcano unfortunately we were not so lucky to see the top of it on the day we were there.  Like a lot of days it was hidden rather mystically in cloud, but we still had an amazing time.  We returned in time to do a rather unusual activity – fire fly watching!  We boarded a boat and headed out to see these fascinating flies.  As part of their mating rituals their bums light up into what can only be described as a spectacular display.  They were gathered in trees along the banks of the river and they just looked like a fibre-optic Christmas trees.  We were surprised at how much we loved them!  When one landed up my arm I was enthralled with it.  They were amazing!

Making our way up to the volcano

Making our way up to the volcano

Now for the last part of our trip we had planned to slowly make our way back up to Manila, but that was before we heard about the majestic Thresher Sharks.  This species of sharks tend to be deep dwellers, in waters up to 500m.  We had heard that divers could see them in the waters off the Island of Malapascua.  This was the only place in the World where they come shallow enough to dive with them.  A simple google search revealed an image that we wanted to see.  That was it.  We changed our plans and set off on a mammoth travel day full of cancelled flights, missed flights, delayed planes, stressful encounters…. But it was all worth it.  14 hours later we arrived on our small part of paradise.  Malapascua Island, one of nature’s hidden secrets.

 

Dawn on a dive boat - does life get any better?

Dawn on a dive boat – does life get any better?

Now it’s worth saying that whilst the waters were not the clearest, we saw some of the most interesting creatures of my whole diving career.  Evolution dive centre had been recommended to us, and their dive guides Alex and Gino were simply outstanding.  These local dive guides not only had a responsible head on their shoulders but they had incredible eyes.  They spotted things from the tiniest Orang Utan crab (which in reality looked a bit like algae!) to bamboo sharks, wacky frog fish and exotic Nudi Branches.

With Alex and Gino

With Gino and Alex

The variety of fish and were simply amazing, but the highlight definitely were the Thresher Sharks.  We dived to ‘their’ dive site twice, and were not disappointed both days.  For me the most special moment was when I was watching an Eagle Ray get a bit flustered, all of a sudden I looked up and saw a big Thresher lazily swimming past!  They grow up to about 3m in size and have this most incredible tail fin.  Their big eyes are a real feature of the species and they look almost surprised to see you!  I have said it before, but I will say it again.  This was a sight that we felt very honoured to experience and was just a fantastic end.

Thresher Sharks

Thresher Sharks

 

On our dive boat

On our dive boat

All too soon our diving adventure was over and we were preparing to pack all of our belongings.  Whilst we didn’t want to come home, it was getting a little tiring carrying too much stuff (we still had all our cold weather -25 degree gear as well as a newly acquired wooden shark names ‘Clark’!).

 

What a trip, what an end!

What a trip, what an end!

As we boarded our 14 hour flight from Manila reality hit.  We were heading back to where it all began and it was very sad.  The journey had been an immense one, where we felt like we had achieved so much.  Not only that but we have had a lot of fun, have lots of memories and lots of stories to tell.  One thing was for sure though.  This was not a goodbye for the Philippines, simply a ‘see you later – we’ll be back’.  Next time diving the wrecks in Palawan awaits…..

–           Natalie