Visiting Boracay, Philippines – Part 2

Boracay was so much fun. It was relaxing, exhilarating, exhausting, and above all else, a ton of fun. Our second day in Boracay, post-pubcrawl, we headed down to white sand beach and rented a paddle board for a few bucks. Nicole and I took turns riding it, then got really confident and tried our luck with both of us on it. As you can see from the Boracay video, disaster hilariously ensued.

ATVs and Mountaintop Towers

After some fun in the sun we returned the paddle board and rode ATVs up to the top of the highest point on the island. As if that wasn’t enough, someone built a tower on top of the island that takes you above the tree-line so you can see everything in all directions, literally the entire island.

Snorkeling and Cliff diving at Ariel’s Point

Ariel's Point
Ariel’s Point

Later in the week, Nicole and I visited Ariel’s point, a private beach area separate from Boracay. To get to the island we met up at a hotel in Station 1 and took a boat 30 minutes out to Ariel’s point. Boarding the boat was an adventure. It could only come in towards the beach so far so we waded out to meet it, carrying out bags and backpacks over our head. The day we went it wasn’t too crowded. The island can handle three boats of visitors, but we only had 2 boats go out the day we visited. On the island there’s a bar, catered lunch, free snorkel gear, kayaks, and several places to cliff dive from: 5m, 8m, and 15m. We spent the afternoon cliff diving, Nicole and I each did all three jumps. Nicole was actually the last person to jump off the 15m cliff before we boarded the boat back to Boracay. In addition to cliff diving, we also rented snorkels and explored the reefs surrounding Ariel’s point.

Parasailing

All suited up for parasailing
All suited up for parasailing

At Ariel’s Point we met two teachers teaching in China. One of them was from my alma mater, UF. Nicole and I ended up joining them for some parasailing along the white sand beach the following day. I’d never been parasailing before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. At the one we did, you got all hooked up in a harness and attached to the sail then they slowly let you out like a kite from the back of the boat. Aside from boarding the boat from the beach we never even got wet. I was surprised by how far the parasail went out. By the time the sail line was all the way extended, the boat was a tiny dot far below us.

Island Hopping

Crystal Cove
Crystal Cove

The following day we met up with out Chinese teacher friends and took an island hopping cruise around the coast of Boracay. This was one of my favorite days in Boracay. Our first stop was on a small island called Crystal Cove. The island’s coast is all white sand beach along one side and volcanic cliffside on the other. On the cliffside there were two coves we could climb down into and go snorkeling out through a hole in the cliff face. The first cove was reached via a bamboo spiral staircase into the Earth. The second cove you walked down into then crawled through a narrow tunnel no more than a meter in height which opened into a much larger chamber.

Crystal Cove
Crystal Cove

Crocodile Island

After Crystal Cove we went Crocodile Island, named for it’s shape, not the animals that inhabited it. The island could barely be called an island. It was no bigger than my apartment. However, the snorkeling around it was fantastic, almost as good as Bali. The current was really aggressive though so we  snorkeled near the boat and occasionally had to grab hold of one of the many safety lines to keep from being swept out to sea.

Beachside Lunch Buffet

By this point I’d worked up a hearty appetite and was grateful to break for lunch at our next stop, a small beachside cafe. The cafe served a buffet of cured meats, veggies, and rice. I had my fill and walked out to the beach in front of the restaurant to watch the waves. At this point we’d navigated halfway around the island of Boracay and were opposite Station 1, 2, and 3. This side of the island was so much quieter and more peaceful. Aside from our island hopping group, there were only a handful of locals on the beach. I watched our boat bob up and down in the water as several little boys, took turns climbing onto the outriggers and doing flips off of them into the water.

Island hopping
Island hopping

After lunch, we all boarded to boat again. The boys doing back flips climbed onto the outriggers and rode with the boat for a few minutes before jumping off and swimming back to shore. Our next stop was another snorkeling spot, this one nestled into a lagoon on the Northside of the island. The snorkeling here was the best of the whole tour. There were tons of large brain coral and other colorful varieties that I could not begin to name. Aside from great snorkeling, the Northside of the island, is also home to some truly extravagant resorts off in their own little area and not easily accessible from the rest of the beaches at Stations 1 through 3. From where we snorkeled we could see white stucco villas in stair step formation descending down the mountain to greet the sea with their own private beaches.  We looked up the prices on the hotels there and they were quite reasonable, in the neighborhood of $200/night: way more than we were paying, but on par with a hotel in a big city anywhere else in the world. With all the amenities included, such as private speedboat pickup from the port, it’s probably worth it if we ever return.

Luxury hotel on Boracay
Luxury hotel on Boracay

Puka Beach

Our last stop of the day was Puka beach on the northernmost point of Boracay. It had even fewer people than our lunch buffet beach and the few people it had were spread along its expansive shores. Our boat pulled right up to shore and we all hopped out. Greeting us right along the beach was a local Philipino selling Magnum ice creams right out of a makeshift styrofoam cooler. Man, the only thing better than an icecream on a hot day, is ice cream on a hot beach. Ice cream in hand, we found some lounge chairs to rent and spent the last hours of our afternoon enjoying the calm beach waters and tranquility of Puka beach. We tried to go back later in the trip, but alas, the weather didn’t hold up.

Dinner

After Puka beach we returned to Station 2 and had a bite to eat for dinner. All along the beach, after sundown, restaurants have fire dancers entertaining hungry patrons at their restaurants with impressive fire juggling and tricks. Nicole and I did out Boracay trip for pretty cheap. However, if we ate frugally we could have done Boracay for even less, but what’s the point in vacationing and not living it up with delicious foods from around the world. One night we had seafood pizza and tuna ceviche. Another night we had truffle mac & cheese. One night we really splurged and went to one of the best seafood buffets I’ve ever been too. There was limitless crab and lobster, steak and oysters. Throughout the night the chefs would come out and dance to pop songs. It was definitely my favorite meal of the trip.

 

Third Day in Iceland – Treat yo’self to hotsprings at the Blue Lagoon

Our last full day in Iceland and a perfect chance to treat ourselves after a long several weeks of exploring India, Germany, and Iceland by visiting Iceland’s most famous hot springs, the Blue Lagoon. Before we embarked on our journey of relaxation, we made some toast and jam with a side of cheese at our AirBnB. The breakfast was as amazingly delicious as it appears.

Breakfast
Breakfast

Getting to the Blue Lagoon

However, that’s easier said than done. We arranged for a pickup from the nearest hotel to our AirBnB which happened to be only a few blocks away. We didn’t realize we needed to be there 30 minutes before the pickup time though so we missed the first shuttle. No worries though. I stopped into a local tourist shop and the shopkeeper called them back and arranged for them to pick us up a few minutes later. Icelanders are so nice. The bus stopped by a few minutes later and we boarded. Nicole and I were the only ones aboard the bus for the first few minutes.

The bus to the Blue Lagoon
The bus to the Blue Lagoon

The bus took us as far as the bus terminal on the outskirts of Reykjavik where we transferred to another bus that would take us the remaining 40 minutes out to the lagoon.

What is the Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a man made thermal bath near the Keflavik airport in Southern Iceland. Water is pumped deep into the Earth where it is heated by volcanic activity and then returned to the surface to generate electricity. The water is then discarded into a long extinct lava field. Decades ago, when the power plant was first built, people began swimming in the runoff from the plant. The site became a local attraction and people realized there was money to be made so the runoff was instead converted into a series of manmade outdoor baths and a spa center.

Arriving at the Blue Lagoon

We arrived at the lagoon a little after noon and checked in since I’d paid for our tickets the night before. When you check in, you’re given an armband that will open a locker for you to place your things. The armband is also used to charge everything to so you don’t need to carry your wallet around. Nicole and I split up by gender after we checked in and each went to our respective locker rooms. In the locker room you change into your bathing suit, put your clothes in a locker, and shower so as not to contaminate the water everyone is bathing in.

The towel check
The towel check

Nicole and I met up on the other side of the locker rooms with our bathing suits and towels. We exited a series of big glass doors and walked out into lagoon area. The lagoon wasn’t to crowded since it was still early in the day. We left our towels on hooks by the lagoon that kind of resembled where you would leave your skis or snowboard  before you enter a ski lodge.

Blue Lagoon, swim-up bar
Blue Lagoon, swim-up bar in the background

Nicole and I made our way over to the swim-up bar in the lagoon to get some drinks. We charged them to our wristbands and didn’t even have to worry about carrying money with us. Throughout the lagoon there were a few different stations with silica mud that is naturally produced by the lagoon. We put some silica mud on our faces and looked like Michael Meyers from the Halloween movies….good times.

Sandwiches and Massages

Since it was Nicole’s birthday in a few days, I booked her an in water massage. I floated around for awhile and then got a sandwich but Nicole related the details of her massage to me afterwards so I feel I can write about it with a vague amount of confidence. First you float over to a private part of the lagoon where everyone who paid for a massage gets corralled. You lay down on a lounge floatie thing and they cover you in a wet towel. For the next hour the masseuse rubs oils on you and massages you through the towel. Occasionally when you start to get cold they dunk you into the water a bit to get the towel hot again.

Dinner in Reykjavik

Sleeping on the bus
Sleeping on the bus

After my sandwich, and Nicole’s massage, we floated around a bit more then, since it was getting late, headed back to Reykjavik. We showered off, changed back into our regular clothes, and boarded the bus back into Reykjavik. Nicole fell asleep on the bus. In town, we rested up for a bit then went out to dinner. Nicole’s uncle paid for us to go out for a fancy buffet-style dinner of various seafood including more whale. I was starting to develop a taste for whale. I wondered what life would be like post Iceland, where would I get my whale fix? [divider_flat]

The dinner was fantastic. I had a little bit of everything and went back for seconds and then thirds. It was glorious.

Seafood Buffet
Seafood Buffet

Lazy Sunday, just kidding, I Climbed a Mountain

Gwangju, South Korea
Gwangju, South Korea

Sunday morning rolled around and Nicole headed over to her temporary apartment to move her things into her real apartment. The teacher she was replacing overlapped her contract with Nicole by a week so Nicole was placed in the temporary apartment until the other teacher moved out. Fortunately for Nicole, the previous teacher left a ton of stuff so Nicole’s apartment is fully furnished.

While Nicole busied herself with moving into her new apartment, I updated the blog and edited some photos from our most recent trip.

Around three I walked from my apartment over to Nicole’s place. Gwangju is divided into 5 areas (Gu’s). North, South, East, West, and New West. I’m in Namgu, which is South I believe. Gwangju is further divided into neighborhoods called Dongs, yes Dongs. My school is in Bongsun Dong and Nicole’s school is in Hak Dong. Walking, we’re about 30 minutes away, or a $3 cab ride. Anyway, I made it to Nicole’s place and we set out on our adventure for the day.

My plate of food at the Buddhist Buffet. The bread was amazing
My plate of food at the Buddhist Buffet. The bread was amazing

Our first stop was to Nicole’s favorite restaurant in Gwangju, a Buddhist buffet with a name I don’t remember. The restaurant is on the outskirts of Gwangju towards the Southeast and surrounded by mountains. The seating at the restaurtant is really neat. All the chairs are really comfortable Baroquesque chairs with intricate wood carvings surrounding soft padded backs in various vibrant colors.

Buddhist Buffet
Buddhist Buffet

The buffet is 6000KRW or about $6 and its all vegetarian. There are two massive buffet tables with tons of different dishes. The buffet starts with several giant stacks of plates that are about my height, then every variety of white rice you can imagine (so 1, but there were actually 3), then several soups and veggie dishes. The other buffet table had salad stuff, I didn’t go over there, but I’m told its good. My favorite food was this really dense bread that was spongey and delicious, and definitely the best bread product I’ve had since I’ve been in Korea.

Nicole at the Buddhist Buffet, note the awesome chairs.
Nicole at the Buddhist Buffet, note the awesome chairs.

After our meal, Nicole and I started our trek up the mountain immediately behind the restaurant. The road up to the hiking paths is packed with various outdoor supply stores like Northface and Redface (the Korean knock off) and I mean literally packed, like 15 stored in two or three blocks. The shops are all in the alpine ski lodge style of architecture and it really felt like Vail or Aspen in Summertime, aside from all the Korean obviously. So how can such a small area support so many stores? Korea are obsessed with outdoor gear, and I mean obsessed. On our walk up the mountain we passed numerous Koreans wearing every possible piece of gear one could imagine: hiking jackets, pants, hats, backpacks, hiking poles, boots, everything you could think of and more. Also, keep in mind its about 90 degrees outside.

My new shirt
My new shirt

I stopped into one such shop with Nicole and bought myself a Redface quick dry shirt. The shopkeeper was really nice and let me try on the shirt and helped me find various sizes. The fitting rooms had bags that you put over your head before you put clothes, presumably so your face doesnt touch the clothes. They were really odd, but I tried one.

The river along our path
The river along our path

With my sweet new shirt, I was now ready to conquer Mudeungsan mountain. Nicole and I spent the rest of the day walking uphill towards one of the lower peaks. The peak we climbed to was about 460m, while the highest one is about 900m. Along our walk we passed numerous Koreans in their full gear. Many of them gave us bewildered looks because we had no gear and we were climbing the same mountain as them.

The path we took wasn’t just for hiking, we passed a very modern looking contemporary art museum, an old  wooden waterwheel, and several buddhist temples. I was captivated by the level of intricacy in the temples. The woodworking along the base of the roofs was incredible. I made Nicole hang out for a few minutes while I took a ton of pictures.

Buddhist Temple from afar
Buddhist Temple from afar

The temples and occasional buildings began to fade away as we climbed higher and higher. Eventually it was just nature and the occasional wooden stairwell. The forest of Mudeungsan mountain was dense, but none of the trees were particularly large, just plentiful. After another half hour or so, we reached a ridgeline where we could see for miles.

Buddhist Temple Woodwork
Buddhist Temple Woodwork

 

The view was incredible, mountains seemed to go on forever in every direction. Looking back towards Gwangju I was reminded of the dichotomy between man and nature. As big of a city as Gwangju seemed when I was inside it, once I got outside the city, I realized how small it was in comparison to the nature around it. Towering buildings that seemed so large when I stood beside them were easily dwarfed by the mountains surrounding them. The city seemed constricted by the mountains, confined to the scraps of flat land that nature discarded for man to inhabit. I was humbled by the experience and pleased that in the rivalry between man and nature, nature was still winning.

Man vs Nature
Man vs Nature

Nicole and I made our descent back down Mudeungsan mountain and into the city. That night we watched Netflix, ate Ramen, and prepared for our first day of teaching the next day.

Amazing View
Amazing View