Our 5-hour biking adventure in the Angkor jungles

2I’m incredibly lucky to not only be living in Siem Reap, just 8 km away from the Angkor Wat complex, but having amazing Khmer (Cambodian) friends who often lead us through beautiful bike rides in the jungle.

I haven’t paid the US $20 entry fee to get into the Angkor complex most of the times I’ve gone because most people can get in the area, not the temples, if you come in through the jungle, often by bike.

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We planned to meet at 7 a.m. at our friend Dara’s restaurant for breakfast and he got his staff to prepare rice soup for us. When I asked how much the bill was he said, “No problem, we just enjoy together.” Such typical Cambodian hospitality.

I recruited two Western people I met to join the ride. The day before I warned them, “I’ll be honest with you, for the ride tomorrow, I don’t know if we’ll ride 20 km or 60 km in the day. All I know is we’re meeting at 7 a.m. and I’m just going to follow them.”

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We were about 10 people in our group and no one really knew the way through the jungle routes, but Dara seemed to know where he was going. The weather was perfect and we went on beautiful routes around the complex and had a wonderful lunch at one of Dara’s friends’ restaurants. He was nice to give us 50% off of the menu items.

The Cambodian food was delicious and was well-deserved after riding for so long. All of our Cambodian friends have much more stamina than us and could keep riding for a long time. This kind of guided bike ride would cost someone at least US $60 a day to join a tour.

The whole day was beautiful, adventured and filled with fantastic company. One thing I noticed after spending 2.5 years in Cambodia is Khmer people are very patient and flexible when there is someone in the group who is a bit delayed or need to stop for something, many Western people, including myself, would get easily annoyed and impatient. But they are so even tempered and easygoing.

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My friends’ visit to Siem Reap

My friend Eunice (white shirt) came to visit with her husband Nate (red shirt). The newlyweds loved the food of my favourite street restaurant Phai San BBQ.

My great friend Eunice from Vancouver came with her husband Nate to Siem Reap in July to visit me.

I have been friends with Eunice for a few years now and I felt horrible for missing their wedding in May because I was leading a group trip that month. So I was very happy that they took the time during their holiday to come to Cambodia for the first time.

They joined me at my favourite weekly hangout watching the ladyboys at Station Wine Bar in Siem Reap.

To be honest, I didn’t know how our connection would be after I’ve been away from Vancouver for 2.5 years and I saw her just one time in September when I went back to visit friends and family.

Every traveler I’ve spoken with has had a hard time adjusting back to their home country and I felt the strong connection I once had with some friends was lost when I went back to visit.

We saw a traditional dance show on their first night in town.

I was a bit nervous because Eunice had never been to a developing country before and they had just spent time in Singapore with their family, a completely different environment and place from Cambodia. I thought they may be uncomfortable in Siem Reap and have to adjust to so many differences from Vancouver and Singapore.

But it ended up being an amazing time with them and I’m so happy they enjoyed it. They were extremely easygoing, very polite with my friends and just went with the flow. We went to see a traditional dance show, eat at my favourite street food restaurants, see a ladyboy show, and traveled to Phnom Penh together.

At my favourite pool in Siem Reap exclusively for hotel guests. They got full VIP treatment. Thanks to my wonderful Cambodian friend for giving us access.

The day before we went to Phnom Penh, my friend was so kind to let us use the four-star hotel pool that is normally reserved for their guests who pay US $85 to US $220 a night. But because it was about to rain, not many people were swimming and we enjoyed a poolside cocktail, tea and enjoyed swimming in the rain.

They met my friends in Phnom Penh at night and we ended our second night in Phnom Penh with a beautiful view of the river.

I’ve appreciated and loved everyone who has made time to visit me and experience my world in Siem Reap.

 

Taking full advantage of a drink at the poolside bar.

Feeling fresh after our US $2 Cambodian hair wash, head massage and straightening.

Eunice and Nate met my friend and number 1 tuk tuk driver Somroeun and his family the day they returned back in Singapore.

Nate and Eunice looking glamorous again at a post-wedding dinner celebration in Singapore with their family.

Lessons from our 360 km bike ride around Delicious Mauritius

Joseph and I took a detour from the coastal road on the beach to avoid riding up a mega hill.

During the five months I was in my home island-country of Mauritius in Africa, I was incredibly lucky to find out that my cousin Joseph likes adventurous activities. Out of the 300+ members in our family, he is the only one who likes to ride bicycles and do long hikes. When I say ride bicycles, I don’t just mean leisurely rides through open farms and fields. I mean riding on the roads, through the forest and new routes he’s never been on before.

Since I found out he liked biking, we have been going on bike rides almost every week. He bikes every day to work and back a huge hill that takes 10 minutes to go up, so his stamina is incredible and a hell of a lot better than mine!

The beautiful waters in northern Mauritius.

During our first ride together, we did 70 km ride and a huge climb on a big hill. Two weeks later, while we were doing a leisurely ride on the south coast and while we were starting to pack our bikes, Joseph said, “I’ve always wanted to do the tour of Mauritius.” I excitedly replied and said, “If I had known you earlier, I was looking for someone or a group of people to do the tour of Mauritius for my birth as a fundraiser bike ride! If you have time next week, let’s do it before I leave the country.” He immediately said yes and believed we could do it in two days. We decided to do the ride just five days before we actually began.

Joseph prepped our 5:30 a.m. breakfast ingredients so we would be well fueled on day one of two of our 360 km bike ride.

Our goal

Our goal was to cycle 360 km along the coastal roads of Mauritius in two days. Joseph was awesome and planned all of our break stops to make sure we were on track and where we should be every hour.

I loved the look on people’s faces whenever we told them we were cycling around the whole island. I never get tired of it. When they asked why we were doing it he said in French, “Because we’re crazy.”

The kindness of Mauritians

The man on the right was nice enough to stop, lend us a screwdriver to change a flat tire and wait patiently until we were done before he continued on his way.

Unfortunately crime has gone up the past decade in Mauritius and many people I know on the island are fearful at times to the point where they don’t really trust many people. Their fear infected me for the first two weeks to the point where I was suspicious of people’s genuinely kind gestures like when I was lost sometimes and they walked with me to show me where I needed to go.

But over the five months I was in Mauritius, the people I didn’t know kept being kind to me the way other local people were in every country I’ve been in. I know there are a lot of people in Mauritius you can’t trust and people get screwed over a lot by their own friends. But I seem to attract positive people so instead of just looking at the negative sides, I didn’t let excessive fears shield me from experiencing the kindness of helpful Mauritians.

Many of my relatives were worried about us riding around the island but Joseph and I both know there are kind people along the way and weren’t worried about being attacked in any way. On the contrary, the people in the smaller villages we rode through are very kind, honest and it felt much safer than being in the cities.

We road along the windy south part of the island that slowed our pace, but we kept pushing on.

Joseph’s friend joined us for the first few hours of our ride and had to go back to his home for a meeting. He unfortunately had a flat tire in the first two hours we were riding and Joseph had most of the tools except for a screwdriver. So Joseph stopped a motorcycle that was passing by and the driver was so nice to stop, lend us the tool we needed and waited patiently.

Whenever we’ve cycled in the past, I feel a warmness among people in the villages. When we stopped at a woman’s restaurant, people brought our food with smiles and kindly set up the tables for us.

The most important tool is positive energy

These are the tallest coconut trees I saw during our ride.

I know this sounds really cheesy but it’s true. We could have the best bikes, all the food we need and all the tools. But all of that wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t have the strong belief that we could meet our goal throughout our trip, even when we had delays or when I was extremely exhausted.

I’m not nearly as fit as Joseph and we took so many breaks because I had to stop a lot, especially after some longer hills. But Joseph’s constant positive energy throughout our whole trip played a huge factor in us being able to meet our goal. He never once complained anytime we had a flat tire, took the wrong route or bad weather conditions.

As we stopped at Le Morne mountain where we saw a group of kids learning about the runaway slaves who used the mountain as a shelter through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. They formed settlements in the cave.

On the second day, we started riding when my body felt like it was at 60% energy than normal after riding for 11 hours of riding the day before. But after awhile, my body just kept going on for some time and it’s fascinating how much our bodies can push on after it hits a certain point.

People talk a lot about this physical and mental point when they run and they can just keep going for a long time. It’s easy to get in a reflective state when you’re bicycling when you hear nothing but the sound of wind, your pedals in rotation, and complete silence.

This is one of several sculptures that are displayed at the base of Le Morne.

Whenever we had a delay like his friend having a flat tire or we had to take an alternate route that set us back by two hours, Joseph would just turn to me and say, “This is part of the adventure. It’s a good experience. At least you can tell people the Tour of Mauritius is not easy. If there is no spice, you will have nothing to write about on your blog.”

My biggest personal challenge was at the end of the first day when we had to cycle another 2 hours than we had originally planned and rode over a continuous hill in an area called Albion. I haven’t pushed my body that far since I did a 500 km bike ride across Cambodia in 2009.

Before we began that hill, we had already been cycling for seven hours and my body was ready to push for one more hour to get to our final stop in Flic en Flac in the west. But I was beyond exhausted and just couldn’t push anymore at one point. I told Joseph, “I don’t know if I can make it to the end I think I’ll have to walk up all of the hills.”

Selfie in motion.

Joseph didn’t look annoyed. Instead he was extremely encouraging and said, “We’ll stop here, I’ll get you a soft drink. Right now you just need energy. You didn’t finish your whole plate of noodles, but I did so you just need energy. I am confident you can do it.” After I drank the soft drink I did surprisingly have a lot more energy than I did five minutes earlier when my body was going to crash.

Joseph had a lot of breaks because he would always wait for me a the top of the hill until I caught up. But never looked irritated and he always pushed me at the perfect time. After I had my minute-long breaks, he said, “Ok, ready to go?” He was never overly pushy at all but he made sure we both kept up the pace with enough breaks.

We pushed on slowly but surely and I was surprised how revived I felt. We were finally rewarded with a 3 km ride downhill, which was an amazing way to end the day.

My bike just chillin’.

One the second day we already had a two-hour delay in the first of our eight legs that we had to finish. Joseph was worried, but I said, “No worries we’ll be able to make it, we’re keeping a great pace.” We would have made it only if there were no other major delays like a flat tire. So it was my turn the second day to keep positive energy so throughout the two days we complemented teach other very well.

Our Tour of Mauritius reminded me of when I traveled and you just have to have good faith and an open mind to be prepared for setbacks. But don’t expect them to happen then you may subconsciously create that future.

Positive energy and encouragement will make you realize your potential. You can see obstacles as a barrier to your goal or as something you are determined to overcome so you become stronger.

I couldn’t believe Joseph slept at 10:00 p.m. after riding 11 hours and got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day. Because he was up, he prepared our breakfast, teas and snacks for the day for both of us while I was trying to squeeze in every minute of sleep I could get. Lazy. 

Having enough food fuel 

Joseph made sure that we both ate well throughout the ride and had a good breakfast and lunch. When we ride, we don’t get that hungry often, but of course we needed energy so he made sure we ate something small every hour like a chocolate bar. After my exhaustion peaks on the first day, even though I don’t usually like soft drinks, I made sure I drank one every two hours just to keep my energy up.

Finding creative solutions 

After a two-hour delay on our first of eight legs on day two, we finally arrived at the beach so we could walk three kilometers to get to the coastal road in order to avoid a huge hill climb. 

Travelers and people who live on few resources tend to be more creative and are often in situations where they have to find creative solutions to their problems. Many of my Cambodian friends are street smart. They don’t have big U-Hauls like we do in North America so they know how to use ropes and layer everything on a big wooden wagon to be able to transport the same amount of stuff. When my motto broke down, I was going to push the bike to the mechanic but my friend told me to just sit on my bike and he pulled me with one hand while he rode his motto.

When you’re traveling, you have to find out how to get around without speaking the local language or finding things you need. You learn to use images to communicate or make friends with locals who can take to where you need to go.

This was our lunch on our first day: octopus and fish curry on noodles. I was only able to eat half of the plate, which quite possibly contributed to my near downfall on the huge hill we had to climb on the end of the day. I should have eaten the whole plate for energy.

It appears as though people in Westernized cultures have forgotten how to talk to each other or seem extremely hesitant to talk to someone they don’t know. Joseph and I very similar in that we just ask for directions and are never afraid of getting lost whereas many people would freak out at the thought of being lost.

On our second day of the ride, we missed the dirt road on the map that was supposed to take us to the main road so we wouldn’t have to climb the big hill. Our backup plan was to get to the beach through the hotel and walk to the main road, but that didn’t work out because there were renovations and the whole beach was fenced off.

Stuffing ourselves with an Italian dinner after 11 hours of cycling on day one.

So finally Joseph asked a security guard to give us permission to get to the beach through the hotel because by that point, we were already two hours behind and with any more delays, we wouldn’t have made it to the end on time. The guard happened to do the Tour of Mauritius by bicycle himself and he said, “I can’t let you in but there is a small path that will lead to the beach just up ahead if you go through the trees.” We we went and made our little trek with our bikes until we made it to the beach.

Joseph said, “Even if we don’t make it by 5:00 p.m. we will keep riding until we finish. It’s not good if came all this way not to make it to the end.” His friends were taking his car down and were going to accompany us through the last part of the ride.

Slower pace wins the race

The winds blowing hard at the trees in southern Mauritius.

Joseph has been cycling a long time and on a daily basis so he knows what technique is best to reserve his energy. Sometimes I would stand up on my bike for the harder hills or not pedal for a few seconds and just let the bike to go reserve my energy.

But even if I was ahead for a bit, it wasn’t long until Joseph would steadily catch up to me and pass me. I kept thinking of the rabbit and the turtle story. Guess who was the rabbit? He said, “You have to pedal consistently at about one revolution per second and adjust your gears accordingly.”

 The final destination

We encountered almost all weathers during the two days: rain, wind and sun. If there was snow, that would be a first in Mauritius.

We were on the 12th hour of our ride and for some reason I got a burst of energy and could keep going, even up the hills. Joseph’s friends who we went hiking with in the past followed us in the truck for the last few kilometers of our tour.  It was nice to have the support of his friends of what we were doing because many other people just think we’re crazy.

When we finally did it, I got so much in a present state that even when we finished the ride it didn’t really hit me that we cycled around all of Mauritius and I was still very much in the moment. A few times in the ride I asked myself, “Why do you put your body through this torture every now and then when you could be very comfortable exercising at home or a more leisurely bike.” For me, it comes down to discovering my potential and personal satisfaction.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen fried noodles presented like this. This was Joseph’s dinner on the first day of our tour.

Joseph’s next ambitious goal is to do the Tour of Mauritius in one day! But I believe with his stamina he could do it. While we were riding he had already planned out how many kilometers he would need to cover in an hour in his head and said that he could do it in 13 hours.

And now he knows the routes and where we took wrong turns. I was really happy when he said, “I think I will take your idea and do a fundraiser when do the tour. People have done the Tour of Mauritius but I’m not sure how many people have done it in one day. That will get attention.” It was really sweet when he told me, “When I do the tour I will think of you and miss you. Whenever I take a break I’ll be on a hill and looking behind to see if you are coming.”

Joseph has been very easy to travel and cycle with because we are both easygoing, open-minded, adventurous, unafraid of getting lost, social with new people and have the same determination to try an ambitious goal just to see if we can do it. One of the world’s great snowboarders Travis Rice said, “You don’t know your full potential until we push ourselves to find it.”

So go out and discover your potential. 

 

 

Gifts from the heart

As I grew up in Canada, I became used to people giving me generic birthday cards, good luck money or easy-to-give gifts. At home I keep two piles of cards: one pile of generic cards and another pile for people who wrote me cards with personalized messages.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for what I have received in the past. It’s just a totally different feeling when people give you gifts from their hearts and when they consider what you like. I have received the most genuine gifts from all of the countries I have traveled in and I have carried those gifs with me everywhere. I have dumped clothes and things I didn’t need to lighten my load as I moved from place to place, but I kept every item people gave me to remind me of the wonderful memories we had.

In Western countries, we’ve been mistakenly trained to show how much we care about people through gifts, often mindless gifts. The best gifts don’t necessarily have to be something someone bought. They can be something that is handmade or an act.

Here are just some of the gifts people have given to me as I traveled Southeast Asia that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

I met my friend Kathy randomly at my friend’s small Cambodian restaurant in Siem Reap in 2013. Because she was alone, I offered to take her around for two nights during her stay. Before we split up, she invited me to visit her in Bali, Indonesia.

I took her up on her invite and flew to Bali to meet her. By the time I landed, I had only known her for three days. We had a very memorable two weeks together and among all of the things we did, part of our bucket list was her making me this beautiful anklet with the shells she picked up in Bali beaches.

After spending just under three weeks of time together in person, she is one of the handful of people of all the people I know who regularly keeps in touch with me.

One of my best friends made me this going away package before I left for Cambodia. It included these pictures, a letter of support and a USB stick with other pictures of our great memories. What a fantastic friend.

We met some wonderful families in Marinduque, Philippines who became our adopted family while we were there. Two of the moms kindly picked up these shells from the beach and gave it to my friend and I as a souvenir.

This was my going away souvenir from the NGO, PEPY, I volunteered for during my nine months in Cambodia. Everyone wrote wonderful notes. This banner will go up in my room.

One of my closest friends in Cambodia was very busy planning for her wedding so I thought it was very touching that she still had time to think of my going away gift. She even asked her very talented and crafty brother to make an envelope for me to put her gift in.

My friend Phai owns a small restaurant in Cambodia and they made the best stir fried yellow noodle I ever had. I always ate at their place and they were so kind to invite me to their home town south of Cambodia. While we were at the home, he gave me his shirt as a souvenir.

When I went to my friend’s Cambodian engagement party in Phnom Penh, I brought some pens and paper for the kids to entertain themselves. I was really amazed at their ability to draw these wonderful images and kept them as a reminder of their playful presence and my time with them.

My friend’s adorable Cambodian niece wrote me this in Phnom Penh.

A wonderful farewell note from one of my closest friends in Cambodia before I left.

A note that brought me to tears before we left Marinduque. “Dearest Melissa and Zu,

It’s so hard to say goodbye, feels like I’m crying, tears on my eyes keep falling while writing this letter. I’m sure I will miss your company. Take good care of yourself, the two of you, stay safe.

I felt so said right now cuz you are leaving but happy inside that I meet friends like you, we maybe belong to different country and have different culture, but we have the same heart that love to have a friend and meet someone like you two.

I hope that you’ll not forget that you have family in Philippines I’ll be your nanay (mom) always. Take care and I hope you will be back to see us again. Thank you very much for friendship. Hope to hear from you when we are far apart.

Stay sweet Melissa and Zu, I love you.”

My friend and I met an incredible young 16-year-old boy who works so hard every day on the farm in Marinduque, Philippines. Even though we didn’t share a language, we laughed, danced and watched movies together. He has many skills, including origami apparently and made me this boat.

This is my friend’s Cambodian wedding invitation. In Cambodia, you actually don’t given an invitation to your close friends, just the ones who aren’t as close. I wanted one as a souvenir so she kept one for me.

This card was made by one of my closest friends in Cambodia and filled with messages of thanks and good luck after I finished my volunteer term. I rarely get handmade cards and among my friends’ very busy schedules, I appreciate this a lot.

More cards from the people I worked with at the NGO in Cambodia.

We met another incredible and passionate friend in Manila, Philippines who volunteers a lot of her time for children and older people. She also runs a business selling Hello Kitty merchandise. She was really sweet and before we left she said, “I don’t know how to describe my feeling. I’m very sad that you’re leaving. Next time you can meet the older people they will be very happy to see you.” In addition to making us some wonderful meals, she gave us this pen and valentine gift before we left.

One of my great friends in Vancouver was so sweet to make me a CD of great house music to take with me before I left for Cambodia last year. She was my regular club buddy and we would dance hard at the club.

One of my Cambodian friends has a very unique talent for making crafts and was so nice to make this for me as a souvenir before I left Cambodia.

My cousin’s 6-year-old daughter really impressed me with her level of consideration. Whenever I leave, she said she will miss me. She asked her mom if she could give two of her jewelry pieces and when she gave them to me, she said in French, “This is so you will remember me.”

The birthday card my cousin’s 6-year-old drew for me.

My 9-year-old niece Wendy made this bracelet for me.

My friend Katherine came to visit me in Mauritius and was so kind to give me this necklace from South Africa.

I celebrated my first birthday overseas in Cambodia and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet at the time. I asked staff at a hotel called Golden Temple if I could have my birthday lunch at the restaurant. By that time the staff only knew me for a week.

Within two hours of me calling them before lunch, they quickly rushed out to buy me a gift and wrote me birthday wishes. I couldn’t believe they went out on their work shift to do such a kind gesture after knowing me for such a short time.

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Birthday bracelets from some of the staff from Golden Temple Villa.

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Another birthday gift in Cambodia.

Another birthday gift in Cambodia.

I had a wonderful time in Laos and one of my local friends there so generously gave me one of her necklaces. It was too big a gift for me but she insisted and said, “Please take it, it looks nice on you.”

My friend Sopheak in Cambodia kindly gave me this necklace as a going away gift.

My Cambodian friend gave me this necklace before I left.

A going away gift from a Cambodian friend who always helped me with technical problems and was a great guy.

This is from the most well-behaved four-year-old I have ever met in Mauritius. When she came to stay with me by the beach, she kindly drew this for me. She said in French, “Before I go to sleep many nights, I think of you.”

I’m very lucky to have moms around the world and that includes my home country Mauritius. When I stayed with my friend who was visiting at my cousin’s place, she always bought food for us and left us these notes to eat up.

Our awesome couch surfing host in Palawan

My friend and I were very fortunate to stay with Jonathan, one of our incredible couch surfing (CS) hosts in Palawan, Philippines. Almost every time I make a request to couch surf wherever I am, I usually message women first if I’m looking for a place to crash. But Jon had almost 300 positive references from other couch surfers, so figured this was safe since no women were able to accommodate my friend and I.

I love this bamboo colour.

On the map his place looked quite close to our guesthouse but we didn’t realize the last part was on a bumpy road, which is quite hard for our motto taxi to drive through. It was getting dark and we were unsure of the area and I thought, “I hope this is a real place.” Jon lives next to the navy base and only he and other employees are allowed to drive on a specific road.

When we finally arrived at his place the first night, we walked into his beautiful bamboo house. He gave us an orientation of the house and we found out there were a few other couch surfers at his place. He was very easygoing, has a calm energy and gives people the freedom to go in and out as they pleased. He has had over 300 people stay at his place in the past two years!

Why he wanted to host

Jonathan performs weekly at Mugnet Cafe and has an incredible voice among many other talents.

When I asked him why he wanted to be a CS host he said, “I was talking to a French girl at a vegetarian restaurant and she told me about it. So I started a profile. But it was very basic, I didn’t have a picture. Then people started responding and I said, ‘oh it’s serious.’”

He has new people almost every day and I asked him if it was tiring and he said, “Not yet, I have time.” I told him it was a nice set up because people can come in and out he said, “I like meeting new people. I want people to have their liberties when they are here and feel like home. If we have a curfew, then it’s not fun. If I had to do that, then I wouldn’t be a couch surfing host.”

When we needed to extend our stay by a few days, he kindly said, “Of course, stay as long as you want.”

A diverse background

This is Jon’s outdoor kitchen and where we cooked our last meal with our other couch surfing friends.

He was such a unique character with a diverse background. He used to be a monk, works for the navy, was employed by the UN in Haiti for a year, has a background in electrical engineering, a singer, Master scuba diver and a vegetarian (which is very rare in the Philippines). While we were staying with him, he actually had a year off from his work so he was working on building his own dive shop.

While Jon was working for the navy, he was deployed to serve in UN doing logistics for 21 contingents, which could have as many as 155 people. He said every year two people go for peacekeeping missions. He applied and he was one of four candidates left and he was the most junior. Often senior people get the positions but the position was in his field. He was also in charge of welfare and when UN diplomats came, he would be the one to pick them up.

Jamming and dancing

Jon is our couch surfing host with the dog. The rest of these lovely folks are our couch surfing friends who hung out with us the week we were in Palawan.

The first night we stayed, Jon was kind enough to invite my friend and I to see him perform at the cafe and ended up dancing at another place. Jon had an amazing voice and was a wicked dancer. He has been performing weekly at the cafe since 2007.

On our last night in Palawan, Jon was so nice to open up his home and let us bring a few of our couch surfer friends to cook at his place. After two hours of cooking, we all jammed together and Jon and our friend Ira sang a beautiful duet. It was a perfect way to end the night at his place.

Our wonderful couch surfing friends and chefs Earl and Lia. They are amazing young adults who were so considerate, mature and great cooks.

 

 

Don’t let fears shield kindness

People bartering on the streets of Port Louis, the capital of Delicious Mauritius.

Right now I’m in my birth country Mauritius, a small island-country, off the south-east coast of Africa.

I’m sure most of you know people who are so paranoid about the world that they over shelter their children and tell them all the scary stories about how they will be killed, attacked or rape if they mingle with the wrong people. No exaggeration.

Even though for the next few months I’m living in the same country as some people here, we live in completely different worlds. In their world, people constantly at risk of getting mugged, attacked and people outside their circles cannot be trusted. I feel guilty that I let some people’s irrational fears led me to create an unnecessary guard during my first two weeks here. What I’ve experienced so far in Mauritius on the street, public transit and financially destitute communities is nothing but genuine kindness and people who are helpful.

The most vibrant and funniest women I’ve met in Mauritius. They love to joke, dance and have big hearts. They were teaching me how to dance saga, a catchy traditional dance style in Mauritius.

My grandma lives just 15 minutes from the city centre so I just walk around only in the daytime. It’s true that in Mauritius, it’s not generally safe to walk around or go around at night unless you have a car and with a group of people. But in the daytime, common sense will protect you.

In my first two weeks trying to navigate Port Louis, when I got lost, I asked a man for directions and he kindly offered to walk me part way to my direction. I made sure I held my valuables tight and prepare for the worst and even thought, “I shouldn’t let him walk me all the way, then he’ll know where I’m going and what if he and other people try to steal something later on. I don’t know what it’s like here.” As soon as I knew where I was, I thanked him for his help and continued on.

But he is not the first person to be so kind to me and I realized that I got sucked into other people’s unjustified fears. I’ve been traveling on my own for a year and a half, and like anywhere else, I use street smarts and my intuition to judge who I can and cannot interact with.

Packed van coming back from an all-night beach jam West of Mauritius under star-covered sky. While most people don’t go out past 6 p.m. in Mauritius, if you find the right crowd, it’s safe and fun.

Another time I went the wrong direction and I asked a woman in her 50s where to go. She said, “I saw you walking up the street and the other woman sent you the wrong way. If I didn’t have to be at a meeting I would drive you myself.” Then she took time to draw me a map of where to go. She was really sweet.

There are so many busses around Mauritius and it’s not always clear where to go, so I always ask. I asked an old man about the bus before everyone got on. Before he said down, he asked if he could sit beside me and I said yes. He told me a bit about his life, and where he grew up. He got off a few stops before mine and he told me to enjoy the rest of my trip.

I’m not naive of the dangers that exist in every country, but there is a difference between being cautiously prudent and being unjustifiably paranoid. Irrational fears create an unnecessary barrier to experiencing the kindness of people who live next to you.

Our lovely couch surfing friends we miss so much that we met in the Philippines. We became instant friends after meeting in the travel community. Good energy attracts good energy.

 

6 days couch surfing in Palawan

 

18 lia and earl

Our incredible couch surfing hosts Earl (the only dude in the picture) and Lia (middle).

I am now a huge advocate for couch surfing (CS) and definitely plan to be a host to travelers whenever I get my own place. My experiences surfing in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have been nothing less than incredible. Couch surfing is the best way to connect with local people if you’re in a city for a short period of time.

While my friend and I were in Manila, we were messaging a bunch of CS hosts to see if we could stay with someone and also hang out with people. To my surprise, a young girl named Lia who lives in Palawan messaged me first when she saw a post that we were couch surfing in her city. She said she didn’t have a place to host us but she could give us a tour around the city. This was impressive considering 9.8 times out of 10, I’m the one who messages people first.

Pristine beach. It’s not as nice as Nagtabon beach.

What impressed me even more was the day before we arrived in Palawan, she called me to ask if we wanted her to make a reservation for us for an underground river tour, which was said to be one of the must-see sights on the island. So we were told anyway.

Meeting Lia

Lia painted this in high school. Wow.

Before we actually met Lia, who quickly became our wonderful friend, she was so considerate to call and ask us if it was ok if two other couch surfers joined the city tour she was going go give us. To do an actual paid tour of the places we went would have been 600 pesos (about $13 US).

We first met her at a coffee shop and got to know each other. I could tell right away she was very friendly and wanted to make sure we had a good time. We had no idea how long she would have stayed with us for the day, but our day was open and we appreciated any time she gave to show us around.

A beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

The more I got to know her the more I was fascinated with her many skills and interests. She is a petroleum engineering student and also runs her own business, R&L Customized Shop, selling custom-made products and crafts.

I asked her how many girls there are in her engineering field and she said, “One out of every 10 students are girls. But I’m close to my friends and they don’t treat me any different. I don’t get any special treatment because I’m a girl.”

We were only the second group of people she was providing full day city tour for by herself and I couldn’t believe she was giving four full day tours in one week with other travelers! She is an incredibly generous, intelligent and very mature person. On top of all of these great qualities, she is a wicked pool player.

Lia’s City Tour

I clearly took too long to get ready.

Lia spent 10 hours with us the first day, I was surprised. She took us to the a vegetarian restaurant, Cathedral, war memorial, Baker’s Hill, a viewpoint, bay walk and finally a restaurant until 10 p.m. I couldn’t believe she was going to give this tour to a few more groups in a week spending the whole day with people. She has her own business so her time was flexible. But to give so much of her time and energy is so generous. We felt so lucky to be on her city tour with Lia on a sunny day. One of our friends went on the paid city tour and it was quite boring and they were sitting in a van on a rainy day.

We found our Shrek family.

I wanted to eat vat a vegetarian restaurant so she took us to one place and met Danius and Roman, two CS guys from Lithuania. After we ate, Lia took us to a few places around the city and stayed with us right until dinner. During dinner Lia was adorable and told us that she was a bit nervous meeting us for the first time because we have a different culture. I told her it’s admirable that she pushed herself to give a city tour to travelers on her own. She told us, “If I had time, I would have picked you up at the airport.” She went to pick up another couch surfer another day. Top notch hospitality. 

Needless to say, we bought some baked goodies.

Non-stop fun

Venga Boys ladyboy show. Great value: buy a drink and enjoy the entire show.

Since we met Lia, we met other fantastic couch surfers. Every day was an unplanned adventure. We cooked together, went to a few beaches, saw a ladyboy show, went out dancing at a local club and went for local karaoke together. This was such an easy group to hang out with and we also hung out with two guys who were staying at another Couchsurfing host’s home.

Earl, Lia’s Filipino friend, was also very kind to spend time with us every day since we met. He helped us whenever we had questions and is a very good help and cook in the kitchen. Compared to many 23-year-olds in Canada, he is extremely mature, considerate and articulate.

Beautiful burning sky.

On one of the nights, Lia and Earl took us to a local karaoke place and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I have never been to a karaoke place with only one microphone and you have to sing in front of everyone. Thankfully it was mostly our friends and just four other Filipina girls. But of course, after you listen to an incredible Filipina girl singing, you pretty much don’t want to follow that up!

We hung out here after a full day tour with Lia before we went to dinner.

One of the days we went out, we checked out a ladyboy show and it was the very firs time the Lithuanian guys had seen a show like this. And just their luck, of the 150 people in the room, the ladyboys chose to pick on them. In front of everyone, the ladyboy said, “You are so cute like a lollipop. Do you like boys or girls?” Our friend was so caught off guard he didn’t even answer and was laughing uncomfortably.

Our awesome couch surfing group.

After the ladyboy show, we all went to the local dance place that Yunis and I checked out earlier. It looked kind of shady from the outside but Yunis and I wanted to see what it was like. There weren’t many people but we enjoyed the music enough to have fun on our own.

The highlight of the night though was when we met this very flamboyant 20-year-old gay boy on the dance floor. He was absolutely fun and hilarious. He kept saying to us, “I am miss Philippines 2014” and kept looking at our friends and said, “dannnnnnce!”  with a strong Filipino accent. When my friend told him, “You must do yoga you are so flexible,” he replied, “No, it’s all natural.”

Our energetic and hilarious Filipino gay friend we met on the dance floor. Totally highlight of our night.

Trying duck embryo for the first time

Yes, that’s right, duck embryo is a very popular food in the Philippines as well as Cambodia. It’s called, “balut” in Tagalog. Because Lia was kind to us, we couldn’t’ say no to her when she insisted that we try balut. She purposely waited until it was night so we wouldn’t have to look at what we were eating, and that was definitely for the best.

Pristine Beach

The kids who were so friendly to chat and play with my friend and I. They live close to the beach and returned back to their families after spending some time with us.

One day we were at the beach for the day and there were a few young kids between 9 and 12 began talking to my friend and I. They asked what our names were, laughed and played with us for some time until they had to go back home.

Our Couchsurfing friend Roman started chatting with a 20-year-old boy who was an elementary school teacher. He said very wisely, “Anyone can be a teacher by profession but not by heart.” He because a teacher at first because his mom wanted him to follow that profession then he grew to love it. 21 teacher meesa

While we were in the shade, we met a fun Finnish girl named Ira who was very adventurous. She traveled to India alone and was going around Asia for a few months. She said many Finnish people are shy at first and aren’t so adventurous. She is not a typical Finnish person. She came back to town for lunch with us and hung out with us every day until she had to leave. We would later discover what an amazing singer she is.

Nagtabon beach

Nagtabon beach is considered the best beach in Palawan by the locals.

We were told Nagtabon is one of the nicest beaches in Palawan so we decided to spend our day there. We had a hard time finding enough scooters for everyone to get to Nagtabon, about an hour away, so Earl and Lia arranged to share a van to take 11 of us to the beach. She got a discount price for us. Locals are always have the best hookups.

Oliver is building a small resort and uses solar power.

Nagtabon was nice and quiet and we shared food for lunch. It was a perfect way to spend the day with the group. Earl had a friend who was building a resort on the beach that was five stories high. The top of the building had a beautiful view of the beach and surrounding areas. His friend was nice to offer us as many shots as we wanted when we were visiting his place. He also gave two of us a short boat ride. You could rarely have an experience like this if you come on your own with a group of backpackers.

Calm waters.

While most of us were in our happy place, we ended our time at the beach by watching Ira, riding the resort owner’s white horse on the beach during sunset. What an incredible way to ride a horse for the very first time!

Ira’s new horse friend.

Cooking at Lia’s

Eggplant, spaghetti, fish, mashed potatoes and other yummies.

Lia was nice to open up her home to us so we could cook a meal for her and Earl who have been doing so much for us. Earl helped Zu, my friend, and I shop at the local market. Zu noticed that the vendors were staring at Earl and Lia because they were hanging out with us Westerners. I guess not many foreign people spend much time shopping at the local markets.

Zu noticed that vendors were quite confused trying to figure me out because I looked like a local Filipina girl but was wearing Western backpacker clothes like the white people they are used to seeing.

Earl: wannabe musician, cook, weightlifter and couch surfing assistant host.

We just needed Lia and Earl to help us shop for the ingredients and just wanted them to relax once we got home. But because they have high standards of hosting in their blood, they helped us with most of the cooking and also contributed a soup dish and grilled eggplant.

In all, we ate spaghetti, mashed potatoes, grilled eggplant and soup. It was a fantastic meal. In all it cost about $4 US for a few of us to make all of that food. After that massive meal, Lia let me take a hot shower and sleep on her bed to take a rest during the afternoon.

Last day

We were so comfortable in Palawan that we lost track of what day we were leaving and we realized the day before our flight that we only had one more full day when we told our friends we had a few more days on the island. So we invited people at our Couchsurfing host Jon’s place to cook together one last time.

Jon was so nice to open up his home for us. I really appreciate our friends making time to cook and eat with us one last time before we left. I always believe that the best gift you can give to someone is your timeAnd the friends we have made in the Philippines spend time with us from their hearts.

We had an amazing last night with our wonderful friends at Jonathan’s bamboo house.

Me and two other friends split the cost of cooking for 10 people, including our friends where we were staying. Earl and Lia helped us shop at the market one more time and we all went to Jon’s house together. As usual, Lia and Earl helped us with most of the cooking and we shared a delicious meal.

After dinner, we had a memorable jam session and Jon and Ira also sang a beautiful duet. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end our night there.

Flexing with Earl at Nagtabon beach.

It was still early in the night so a few of uswent to the café to check the internet for a bit. We told Earl and Lia they didn’t have to stay, especially if they had school or work the next day. But they said, “No it’s ok. It’s your last night.”

So while we were checking our email at Magnut café, we had one more karaoke session and Lia and Ira shared their beautiful voices one more time. Lia was so sweet and gave each of us a customized gift from her company. On our last nightI texted her, “I wasn’t sure if we should come to the Philippines because I was tired of moving around. But you’ve mad our trip very worthwhile I will keep your gift forever.”

Our last sunset in Palawan.