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Published: August 29th 2013
So much to catch up on! Apologies in advance for length of this one. So the last blog ended with me waiting around to begin volunteering. Well, we spent two weeks volunteering with MESCOT/KOPEL, a community conservation project and it was amazing! We were staying in homestays in a village on the Kinabatangan river, living with families for five days at a time and living as they do. For us this involved new experiences such as eating on the floor, using our hands, going to Muslim feasts, wearing traditional clothes, washing with a bucket of rain water. Very different from what we're used to but that was what was so great about it. It was fantastic to live like locals instead of tourists and I loved the village! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming; all of the houses are close together and open so everyone wanders around and pops in. Abby, who worked in the office and had organised our stay would often call for us and take us to dance practice and culture shows. Although it was only two weeks I felt very at home! I even tried my best to learn as much Malaysian as I could, practicing counting
to ten like a child! We were volunteering with another lovely English girl called Katie and two guys from the Netherlands, Max and Bas. There was also another girl from England working there called Anthea and together with the locals I had a blast! During the two weeks we went out to work each day with our guide Fikri. We would travel down the river each day to different sites. MESCOT is a reforestation project repairing the damage done by the palm oil industry and rebuilding the habitats of the wildlife. While we were there we saw crocodiles, countless monkeys, horn bills, herons, an eagle - all just on the way to and from work, not a bad commute! I also got to try my hand at driving the boat which I definitely found way too exciting! So each day we would go out and do different things such as marking new areas for planting trees, transporting baby trees from the nursery in the village to the jungle, planting trees, maintaining new trees and also maintaining the two camps MESCOT runs for tourists who come to visit. This work involved a LOT of physical labour in 34degree heat and extreme
humidity! We were disgustingly sweaty all of the time, desperate to jump in the river but mostly forbidden from doing so due to the crocodiles. We did swim once in a relatively safe area but that was a mistake as our clothes went see-through and we were staying in a Muslim village where we couldn't wear shorts or vest tops so suffice to say see-through clothing was not ideal. It was a massive shock to the system after months of travelling to suddenly be working hard and I was soon described as 'fragile' by Fikri! It wasn't that I wasn't trying, I'm just pathetically weak and injure easily so after a day of wielding machetes for example, my hand was bruised and blistered! "Everyone do twenty five trees before lunch, Cecilia you can do fifteen" - okay Fikri! Being fragile has it's advantages! We would get back from work and declare it to be 'ice cream o'clock', all descending on the village shop daily. I felt a little guilty about this as it was Ramadan and so everyone in the village was fasting and there we were eating ice cream but it was necessary in the heat! We took one
day off during the two weeks and went to visit some local burial caves which were interesting but we still needed ice creams after! It was just SO hot all of the time! Did overcome a few fears though getting stuck in in the jungle and trying to ignore the bugs everywhere! Managed to use the bathroom even though I was sharing it with a giant spider! I did almost have a panic attack after but the point is, I did it! I did get stung in the face by a bee one day but other than that, worked alongside the bugs without complaint! After two weeks, we had a farewell party and it was actually really gutting to leave! Everyone made a little speech and I was really sad for it to be over already. When we arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK) the next day, it seemed horribly busy after spending two weeks in a small village. I kept wanting to see the guys but obviously everyone was strangers again. It was two of the best weeks of the entire trip!
Katie came with us to KK and we went for cocktails which somehow ended with us singing
on stage ... basically we requested the band sing a song and they agreed but only if we were the ones to come up and sing it! Cringe. I would have blocked the experience from memory if it weren't for photographic evidence. After KK we flew to the Philippines, our final Asian destination. We flew to Manila and it was strange, didn't really feel like Asia. Massive malls, fast food chains everywhere, armoured police. We went on a bit of a Western food binge after two solid weeks of rice and noodles at least twice a day! At some point on this trip I discovered a little something I like to call 'the King of breakfasts': coffee and doughnuts. It's an absolute winner! When I spotted Krispy Kreme in Manila, I knew it had to happen. After Manila we flew to Boracay, supposed to be the nicest beach in the Philippines and the backpackers island. Well as it's rainy season the nicest beach in the Philippines was fairly inaccessible. We spent four days there and only got to spend about an hour on the beach! Most of the time was spent eating, staring gloomily out at the rain and praying
for it to stop. Also there were no other backpackers! We searched everywhere! We just had a bit of a boring time and were pretty sick too so all in all, not brilliant. We left for Cebu city, spent a night there in a bizarre massive hostel! 88 beds in one room but split into pods of 8, each with curtains and things but not complete walls, just dividers. Hard to describe but strange. Again we hit the mall, indulged in some more Western food and a little shopping. We travelled south to a place called Moalboal, a beach resort without much of a beach but supposed to be good for diving. We went out one day but the best thing we saw were frogfish and we weren't even sure what they were! We intended to leave but Beth wasn't feeling great so stayed another day and we finally got some decent weather so I jumped in a tricylce (Filipino tuktuks, basically a motorbike and side car) and went to the nearby White beach which lived up to its name! We left the next day and travelled to Oslob, a town famed for its presence of whale sharks! We had
a boring afternoon there, decided it could be made more fun with beer and then regretted that decision when we had to get up the next morning at 6am. Fortunately swimming with whale sharks is a pretty good wake up call! We snorkelled rather than scuba dived as we were told you can get much closer without a tank. It was amazing, there were six or seven whale sharks swimming all around us! We left Oslob later that morning, taking a bus back to Cebu city and then another north to Maya. We were supposed to get a boat then to Malapascua but we were told we'd missed the last boat so spent the night in the armpit that is Maya. There wasn't even anywhere to eat so my meals that day consisted of a doughnut for lunch (the only option at the bus station) and then a piece of banana bread for dinner (a bakery being the only food establishment open in Maya)! Nutritious. We were up early the next day, ready to get the boat over to Malapascua. We bought our tickets and were told to wait. 45 minutes later we were still waiting. We were told more
people had to arrive before the boat would leave. A couple of other tourists turned up and eventually a boat was leaving. A girl had asked us to get her when the boat was leaving, she'd be waiting in an internet cafe. Turns out this internet cafe was impossible to find so I came back, shrugging my shoulders only for Beth to inform me the boat had left without us. LIVID. We waited another hour while everyone ignored us. A group of Filipino women turned up and I watched them walk to the ticket booth and then proceed directly to a boat! I marched straight to the ticket booth and asked where they were going and the oh-so-helpful lady grunted Malapascua - what, the place we've been waiting two
hours to get to?! Oh, yeah, brilliant, don't bother telling us there's a boat waiting. LIVID AGAIN. We grabbed our rucksacks and followed the Filipino ladies down to the boat, feeling just a little bit irritated. We arrived in Malapascua in the midst of a typhoon so were greeted with wind and rain. Lovely. We checked into somewhere and wiled away the evening with cocktails. Well, what else could we do?
After another day the weather improved and was gorgeous! There was a white sand beach, lush blue seas and we did little else but lie around, recapturing the tan! We stayed for five days then travelled back down to Cebu city to take our plane back to Manila so that we could get our plane to Sydney! We arrived again in the midst of a typhoon! We spent two days in the mall, finally allowing myself to shop after months of resisting in the interests of my budget. It's safe to say my extreme love for shopping came rushing back! Beth headed back to the hostel and I literally shopped 'til I dropped! I also much prefer normal shopping in malls where the price is fixed; I'm not a fan of haggling, it upsets the innate nature of my British politeness and I am a person who often takes politeness way too far! They definitely see me coming and spin all sorts of stories! Nightmare!
We left Asia on Tuesday 20th and the typhoon had really hit Manila at that point! It had been raining the whole time we were there and we had got properly soaked one evening
when we decided to brave the rains. Tuesday though, the streets were flooded! We were staying in a guesthouse on the fourth floor and we were told the lift was out because of the floods. We precariously crept down the stairs and it honestly felt like Titanic! As we got down to the ground floor, the waters started coming up so we were knee deep! We waded out onto the street and decided we should head back for our bags and give ourselves plenty of time to get the airport just in case! We came back down and stared miserably up the street and the distinct lack of cars and thus taxis. A group of men with a trolley offered to wheel us to a street on higher ground where we'd be able to get a taxi so we clambered on and were dragged through the flood, another man walking alongside us with a massive umbrella shielding us from the persistent rain. We attracted a LOT of attention! Everyone was lining the streets and filming the ridiculous white girls on the trolley, while shouting at us: 'welcome to the Philippines girls'! We're probably on youtube somewhere looking very stupid. We
found a taxi driver who had tripled the price - annoying but fair play! We made it to the airport and our flight was two hours delayed but we eventually got underway. First a flight to Darwin where we had a speedy turnaround running through customs and going through check-in again and then we were off to Sydney! We arrived at about 6:30am on Wednesday and were picked up at the airport by Nathan and Sara, a lovely couple we met way back in January in Thailand! So lovely in fact that they didn't mind too much that they went to the airport two days in a row ... Basically I am the world's biggest moron and told them we fly to Sydney on the 20th. We did fly on the 20th but I completely forgot to mention we actually arrived on the 21st so they went to the airport a day early! I felt awful and apologised profusely but we're lucky they're forgiving and saw the funny side! They're very generously putting us up in their flat while we get ourselves sorted and are the best
hosts in the world! So far I am absolutely loving Australia! It was
a little overwhelming when we first arrived after 7 months, 3 weeks and 2 days in Asia! It feels a bit like home and it's been SO
nice to be in a home, with sofas, TV, hot shower, comfy beds, TEA, milk, crumpets, sandwiches, pie and mash! You know, all of those things we take for granted back home but are sorely missed when you're backpacking through Asia! It was an incredible
Asian adventure; we travelled to eight different countries, met so many amazing people, saw so many amazing things aaaaand probably spent weeks of our lives on buses, boats, trains, planes, minivans, tuktuks ... you name it! It's been fantastic but I am ready for Australia, for getting a job, a home and back to real life ... or sort of!
So far in Sydney we've been into the city centre, for drinks overlooking the Opera House, had our first Aussie BBQ, did a supermarket shop and just quickly eased back into normal life. I got to meet up with my best friends from school, Gemma and Raz who have also been travelling and arrived in Sydney a couple of days after us. So wonderful to see my
friends after eight months! Beth and I had planned to go off and do some farm work to get a second year visa but have decided to do that if we need it. I don't want to waste three months farming unless I have to! Plus Sydney seems too good to leave! So many cafes, restaurants, bars and things to do. It's very like England but there aren't as many chains, much more independent places and everything looks so modern as it's such a young country. Need to find a job and a home soon and settle into life in Sydney. This may be the end of the blogs as Travelling Cec doesn't plan on travelling again for a while!
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