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A Dream World: Cebu, Philippines

Today’s Quote: “A very wise quote is a spectacular waterfall! When you see it, you feel its power!”

— Mehmet Murat Ildan

I apologize for the hiatus but I was experiencing technical difficulties.

I have been back in Xiamen, China now for a week and I have had ample time to reflect on my trip to the Philippines. I spent nine blissful days with my friend relaxing on the beach, eating delicious food, making new friends and snorkeling with sea turtles. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Quick Plan Update! I will be leaving my current teaching job at the end of December to travel! Destinations are still up for debate (I am debating with myself. The internal struggle is real.) but I believe my next country will be Thailand.

Alright, so Moalboal is a small town on the island of Cebu in the Philippines and boy is it beautiful. If it weren’t for the mountains and outlying islands on the horizon, you would swear the ocean and sky were one. The blues and greens of the ocean showcase nature at its finest.

I made so many incredible friends and talked to the cutest kids who were eager to know where I was from. Filipinos are very welcoming and I was always greeted with a smile or hug. If you plan to travel to the Philippines and speak English, it is a fairly easy adjustment because one of their official languages is English; this was quite different than adjusting to life in China (let’s just say my charades skills have improved exponentially).

The reefs in Moalboal are so close to the beach and for just a couple of dollars you can rent snorkels and explore for hours. Life under the sea is incredible and Cebu was perfect for because the reefs are so healthy and a multitude of fish species and other creatures call them home. I know you are all wondering…”Natalie, did you see huge sea turtles or not?!” Why yes, I did and there was proof, however, the camera did not save the photos. Take my word for it, they were incredible.

Imagine getting into the ocean; the warm salt water tickling your little toes. By the time you are about 15 feet from the beach, you adjust your snorkel, go under the water and realize you are just a couple feet away from the reef. You, perhaps hesitantly, glance around and realize you are in a whole new world (cue Aladdin music). Varieties of coral that are other wordly and fish darting about. After some time exploring the reef you swim out a bit further and everything is just…blue. You look around, possibly have an anxiety attack because you realize how miniscule you are in the grand scheme of things and…BAM!! A sea turtle! If you have not tried snorkeling, I highly recommend it.

One of my favorite things in life is watching sunsets and the sunsets in Cebu did not disappoint.

While lounging on the beach and taking in the sunsets or lovely sun rays, I was frequently approached by local dogs wandering along the ocean’s edge. They even approached me when I did not have food! I must have that doggy je ne sais quoi. One pup decided she would be our protector and she would growl at other dogs or people who came near.

While another kept making attempts to steal my sarong and take up residence as close to me as possible.

This cuddly guy was just too handsome not to share.

Don’t worry, I made it back without any new pets.

Another great adventure in Cebu was canyoneering. Nature is an amusement park and everyone is tall enough to ride. Canyoneering uses nature’s ups and downs and takes you on an unforgettable ride. We hiked through the beautiful mountains and then jumped into the stunningly blue, fresh water. That was just the beginning. During canyoneering, you slide down rocks that have been shaped over years by the natural flow of the river. You conquer your fears and jump from the top of a canyon, sometimes 30m (close to 100ft) into a deep pool of water and you swim under waterfalls. (Please try and disregard the annoying date/time stamp on these photos; I could not make it go away.)

I could have floated in the water forever. Well, if someone brought me snacks.

Even now I am questioning whether or not my time in the Philippines was in fact reality or a perfect, lucid dream. The intermingling of natural beauty, adventure, kind people and exploration left me in awe. The Philippines is still considered a developing country and despite their battle with poverty and struggles with infrastructure, it is a truly beautiful place. The all around beauty of the people, culture and nature is astounding. Leaving was tough because I knew I would be coming back to a culture and environment far different from that of the Filipinos’. Now that I am settled back into life in Xiamen, I am considering what I have left to experience and accomplish here before moving on. Before leaving China, a fellow teacher and I will be going to Gansu Province to explore the Rainbow Mountains, a more secluded section of the Great Wall of China and other cultural aspects of the region.

Ciao for now and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the United States!

Bumbles

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Travel

Weekend Trip: Quanzhou

Today’s Quote:

Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

Especially not those who are traveling.

In order to remain sane I have found that weekend trips are most helpful. Last weekend I took a short 40 minute bullet train ride with another teacher to Quanzhou.

Quanzhou is in Fujian province; the same province as Xiamen and Fuzhou. Quanzhou is a port city that has been influenced by a plethora of cultures from around the globe. It is one of the few cities in China where you will find a mosque, Catholic church, Taoist temples and Buddhist temples.

While wandering around the city, there were many signs pointing to historical and cultural relics. It should be noted that oftentimes in China there is one sign indicating which way to initally go, then there are no more signs until you happen to stumble upon the destination. So you must wander.

The first destination was Xunpu Village. This is a fishing village just outside of downtown Quanzhou and it is known for its oysters and women in colorful dress and head garlands.
Xunpu is a small village that was influenced by traders from the Middle East and it’s hard to believe it holds on to ancient traditions while being surrounded by the rest of China’s modernity. Women can be seen sitting along the narrow streets, shucking oysters and tossing the shells into mesh bags. Once the shells are collected they are piled by the roads and many are used for houses!

Wandering up and down the narrow allies was delightful. I was greeted by fluffy puppies, children on bikes and astonishing architecture.

Kaiyuan Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Fujian province and has museums, pagodas and a monastery.

Because a great deal of Eastern China is developed, historical relics have suffered. It is often difficult to distinguish between what is authentic and what has been rebuilt. One such place is the Qingjing Mosque.

 

Qingjing Mosque is said to be the oldest mosque in China. While portions of the mosque are original, much of it has been rebuilt. There is also a newer mosque that was a gift from Saudi Arabia.

I was unable to go in because I was wearing shorts and I must admit that I was a bit frustrated that men could go in to see the mosques in their shorts but I digress…

West Lake Park is surrounded by beautiful mountains and Chinese architecture. It is a nice getaway from dodging zooming motorbikes and it is an excellent place to people watch (and be watched by other people).

Future Trip: In 5 days I am headed to Cebu, Philippines! I’m super excited for a vacation and to try snorkeling for the first time!

Ciao for now! 🐝

Travel

Huangshan and Beyond!

Today’s Quote: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Another adventure is down in the books! I spent last week in Anhui Province at Huangshan, or the Yellow Mountain. The mountains consist of huge granite rock formations, twisted pine trees and massive amounts of fog. Fog is present for an average of 258 days of the year and my visit was quite misty and foggy. The fog would come and go in a matter of minutes and all of my mountain pictures were taken in the same day!

With such a stunning landscape, biodiversity and an extensive history, it’s no wonder Huangshan is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Monkeys, clouded leopards and many other threatened species of both animals and plants, grace the foggy crags.

Traveling during a national holiday in China is no joke! Last week we celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day. Double whammy!An estimated 700 million people traveled at the same time as me. That’s 700,000,000!! Good golly that’s a whole lots of zeros. You can learn a lot about China from waiting in a crowded line. One thing you learn…pushing is acceptable. I’m not proud of it but you can only take so many elbows to the ribs before you realize what Darwin meant by “survival of the fittest”.

After navigating The Yellow Mountains, I headed to two ancient towns which are also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites; Hongcun and Xidi.

Hongcun is a stunning, traditional Anhui village that is nearly 1,000 years old! Fun fact: Scenes from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” were filmed in Hongcun.

Xidi, also almost a millennium old, is just a short distance from Hongcun and instantly takes you back to a simpler, less industrialized time in China. Water runs along the streets and many locals wash their fruits and veggies right in the streams.

My trip concluded on Tunxi Old Street which is said to date back to the Song Dynasty. Spending the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day here was truly an experience. Traditionally during this time, the Chinese eat moon cakes, crabs and pomelos to celebrate the full moon. The pomelos are eaten because they resemble the full moon and they are quite delicious!

I have now visited old streets in Fuzhou, Chengdu and Huangshan City and each one is unique. Each old street boasts local wares, snacks and clothes and the opportunity to haggle with vendors. I was not brave enough to taste the famous fuzzy tofu of Huangshan. The smell was a huge turn off, plus…it’s fuzzy.

As of right now, I do not have any more trips planned but I am looking forward to sharing more adventures from China and beyond. Questions, comments or mass confusion? Leave a note below.

Ciao for now! 🐝

Travel

A Whirlwind Weekend in Guilin

Today’s Quote: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

One thing I have learned: Not until you are surrrounded by millions of people speaking a VERY different language, do you realize just how universal and comforting a smile can be.

Hey there everyone! Another trip is down in the books and it was incredible. Guilin is a mainly small city and at any given time there are more tourists than actual residents. It is know for it’s beautiful mountains, stunning rice terraces, caves and Guilin noodles. A trip to Guilin wouldn’t be complete without a serene trip down the Li River to Yangshuo. The river is busy with tourist boats but you can also spot locals fishing and swimming.

The backdrop of the Li River is mesmerizing and captures the imagination. I found myself thinking of the millions, if not billions, of others who traveled down the river and were in awe by these very same karst “mountains”. So why the quotation marks around mountan? The karst “mountains” are in fact hills forms from the dissolution of various types of rock. Interestingly, this results in uniquely shaped hill-like mountains, sinkholes and caves! The karst formations are so famous that they are featured on the 20 yuan banknote. Unfortunately, my two day trip to Guilin did not leave enough time for cave exploration. Maybe next time!

Travel Tidbit: If you want to go on a Li River cruise, be weary of people trying to sell you bus tickets and cruise trips; they are not always legitimate and any hostel or hotel in Guilin will be happy to assist you in planning your excursion. Next stop, Longji Rice Terraces. The rice terraces are really a must see and are about 2.5-3 hours from Guilin by bumpy, windy bus ride (don’t forget your motion sickness meds). When you first set eyes on the rice terraces, it is like you are standing right in the middle of a National Geographic photo. Below is the first photo I took after we arrived at the Dazhai, Longji Rice Terraces. There are three designated viewpoints and we made it to two but I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the views from within the terraces that looked at the natives’ villages and the hostels.

The views from the top were astounding! Terraces that reach into the clouds and weave around the sides of mountains and narrow paths that the villagers navigate to tend to the rice. I was in awe.

Insert cheesy tourist photo here.

Guilin was a whirlwind two day trip but it was wonderful. Could I have used more time? Of course, but who could be disappointed after being surrounded by so much beauty?! Until Guilin, I never knew rice could make me feel so small. Traveling can definitely change your perspective on so many things. Stay tuned for a recap on my next adventure to Gulangyu. A small island just next to Xiamen with no cars and a rich history. Ciao for now! 🐝

Travel

The Grand Finale of Chengdu

Today’s Quote:We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” -Pascal Mercier

Future trip plans: I have my next weekend trip planned to Guilin, China! This trip will be chock full of river tours on the Li River, the Reed Flute Cave, and Elephant Trunk Hill. Stay tuned…

I would like to start off by sharing where I stayed in Chengdu because it was amazing. A free hotpot party, excellent help with trip planning and convenient to everything. Chengdu Flipflop Hostel is the place to be 😊 Now because Chengdu was so amazing, I will be sharing the rest of my adventures in this post. I have had some time to reflect on my trip and look through all my photos and I am still in awe.

On my first day in Chengdu I visited my first monastery. Like most of Chengdu, Daci Monastery is an example of ancient meets modern. Monks, tourists and Buddhists were all gathered within the monastery and it was truly serene. There were even turtles galore in the ponds and there was a resident rabbit hopping around. Based on the local dish of rabbit head, a rabbit within the monastery walls was certainly safe from being someone’s next snack. Sichuan culture is centuries old and one aspect of this ancient culture is the Sichuan Face Changing Opera or Bian Lian. This form of opera is humorous and intriguing. Actors perform songs, tricks and wear elaborate costumes and masks that magically change before your eyes. (I apologize for the video quality, it was filmed on my phone.)

After a visit to the opera, it was nice to spend a day outdoors at Wangjianglou Park; a riverside park located smack in the middle of Chengdu. Once inside, you are surrounded by a variety species of bamboo that tower above you like trees from a Dr. Seuss book. There are over 150 species of bamboo at the park and each species presents its own unique shapes, leaves and colors. Wangjianglou Park also commemorates Xue Tao, an influential female poet from the Tang dynasty. Xue Tao was ahead of her time and remains an influential poet to this day. Her beautiful statue is situated amidst stalks of bamboo and the contrast of white against green creates a stunning memorial. The park also boasts the stunning Wangjiang Pavilion. You are permitted to go inside and climb the stairs to the top. Unfortunately the views from the top lef much to be desired because of the pollution. My photos have an ominous white glow and I was told it is from the polluted sky. The last day in Chengdu was quite memorable. The day was yet again gray and rain was sporadically falling all morning. This, combined with an ancient teahouse with a semi-covered courtyard, made for the perfect setting to enjoy afternoon tea. Mi Xun Teahouse spoiled me with hot Sichuan tea and two types of tea delicious cakes. Who could ask for more?!? My trip to Chengdu came to a close with a visit to Jinli Street; an ancient pedestrian street where you can purchase traditional Sichuan food, tea and handmade crafts. There was a solace from the crowds and unfamiliar smells; a bridge covered in wishes that overlooks a beautiful pond. For 10 RMB (just over $1 USD), you choose the type of wish you’d like to make and you are given a small bag and piece of paper to write your wish. I chose to “Bless Health ” and wrote a wish for my mammina and her new lungs! You then tie your wish on the bridge or a nearby tree. If you make a wish on Jinli street, I hope all of your wishes come true. Ciao for now! 🐝