Sunday, April 23, 2017

On the Go in Manado 5: On the Road

Finally, it was time to get my motorcycle rental and hit the road. The agency's rep was going to meet me at the dock where the boat from Bunaken lands, so I'd be on my way with no time lost. I was so excited.

After doing some paperwork there at the same warung where I'd waited to go to Bunaken (no fork-wielding toddlers around this time), I climbed on the Honda Vario 150, and vroom! I was on the road.
Even though it was fully automatic, meaning I had no controls over the gears whatsoever, I was immediately impressed by the motorbike. I normally drive (or rent) bikes that are 125cc, and that extra 25cc of this one's motor was noticeable. Secondly, it's a Honday and it was brand new, less than 1100 km on the odometer. It had some pick up and was perfect for negotiating my way through Manado's relatively modest traffic. 

First stop was IT World, Manado's largest technology mall. Among it's dozens of camera shops, there were a plethora of models to choose from to replace my broken GoPro.
Can't tell from the pic, but this little guy is
about 2.5" x 4" x 1" in size.
Based on some recommendations, I settled on a Xiaomi Action Cam. It came with a waterproof case that fit the same mount that my GoPro uses, so it was helmet friendly. And at less than $100, it didn't break the travel budget. 

Like with any new technology, there's been a bit of a learning curve. Sometimes, I thought I was recording and I wasn't. Other times, I thought I was recording and instead I was taking pictures. It also occurred to me that when it was inside it's casing, the audio would certainly be effected. Would it even pick up sound inside the case? I found out along the way.

Next stop on the journey was lunch with Steve. He'd been reading my posts about this trip on an online forum for expats in Indonesia which I've been participating in, and he invited me to meet, and after a lunch of my favorite Indonesian food, Siomay Bandung, it was off to his home to meet his wife Penny and their dog, Bosco (who had made the trip with them from America).
Video frame grabs are fun. It looks like Steve has gone
berzerk here.
It turned out Steve was from San Francisco and Penny was from Morgan Hill, both towns very close to where I went to high school and the region to which I feel most connected. Steve and Penny had a lovely 3 bedroom house and grounds 20 minutes outside Manado for which they pay less in rent than I do on my little Yangon apartment. Manado is a nice place to spend retirement. 

A road in Steve & Penny's village.. Crosses everywhere.
After a tour of the home (which I thought I was recording) and a couple glasses of cap tikus, It was already 3:00 and I still had quite some ways to go. Because of its relative position within its time zone, the sun sets early here; I didn't have a lot of time. Steve had recommended that I take the coastal route all the way down to Anurang, my planned destination for the first leg. When I left, I decided to take the shorter route; I don't like looking for new places in the dark. 

When I got the crossroads, I stopped and thought about it for a second. I thought about if I'd ever get a chance to check out this road ever again in my whole life. What's a little inconvenience in place of the joy of driving through the jungle alongside a beautiful tropical coastline? As you can see on the map at the top of the page, there's an obvious shortcut that I didn't take. I'm quite glad I didn't. The views were amazing.  

Steve had also mentioned that if I stopped anywhere along the way, not to be surprised if the locals asked if they could have their picture taken with me.
At a beautiful beach out on the tip of the peninsula, that's exactly what happened. An older man started talking to me, and when he found out I was from America, he said, "Trump, good! Lots of money!" That's a bit different than the reaction I got in Myanmar from a Muslim guy. His daughter wanted her picture taken with me. Then the old guy grabs his son and says it's his turn.
I know how these things go; I'd be there a long time. I made my apologies, saying "it's already late afternoon..." and was back on the road. 

Also because the camera was brand new, it didn't have a fully charged battery and so the video today kind of ends abruptly as I was coming around a corner. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On the Go in Manado 4: Bunaken Island

I don't think I've ever been in a more Christian area than Manado. I don't mean christian in that they subscribe to certain moral values and ways of living.
From Jonath's Lodge in Bunaken... high tide.
They seem to be very decent and nice people, sure, but I mean Christian in the sheer number of churches and zeal with which they celebrate and express their faith. You'll see more of this in later videos, but as I wandered around Bunaken village, I saw no one around. See, it was Good Friday morning and everyone was in church. 

The mangroves at low tide - big tides there.
Perhaps God was punishing me for not being there myself when I tried snorkeling that morning. I was successful and I enjoyed it; I saw a great variety of colorful fishes and invertabrates. The coral looked healthy and the water was as clear as could be. Unfortunately, you won't see that in the video as my beloved GoPro decided after 18 months of being dropped, vibrated and abused that it wasn't going to be waterproof anymore. Underwater, I noticed bubbles coming out of the camera. Bubbles don't come out of something unless water is going in. 

It's a short video; it took me longer to edit the new title sequence. 

For those in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, watch this next version. 
The video above is blocked in those countries for copyright reasons, so I did something a little different. I made a video with no background music, which given how quiet Bunaken is, it kinda works.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On the Go in Manado 3: To Bunaken

I was eager for the motorcycle part of the journey to begin so that I could get out on the road, doing what I enjoy most.  At the same time, I realized that I wasn't going to be getting any closer to Bunaken, a world renowned island famous for its marine park. So whereas in journeys past, I have typically ended my trips at a beach, this time, I've started there. 

The ferry to Bunaken leaves only once per day, sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon depending on the tides. See, the boat can only depart at high tide. Actually, I later came to find out that it can only land at Bunaken at high tide; they could depart Manado whenever. This left me a morning with a lot of time to kill. 

After a quick visit to a hypermart, I'd already found the electrical adapter I'd needed. Note to future tourists to remote parts of Indonesia: they do not use the universal outlets so common in other parts of Asia. The ferry dock was just next to a place called "Pasar Persehatan" or the Healthy Market. Asian outdoor markets are always a feast for the senses. Even though I've visited dozens, they're never less interesting. So many interesting sights and sounds and smells. 

I did come across something I was surprised by. I knew Manado people like to eat dog, but it's something else entirely when you see their still furry carcasses stacked up like produce on a market table. Intellectually, I know that I shouldn't be judgmental of other cultures based on their culinary choices. Now, if that includes eating endangered species which might soon disappear, well then they're robbing the world of a species. Eating dog isn't like that, so I have no right to call their dog-eating immoral or wrong. My head knows that. My stomach is another matter. When I saw those dead dogs, some of them half-butchered, I had a physical reaction. I wanted to vomit. I couldn't look at them; I just had to get out of there. Now, from a video-making point of view, it would have been interesting to have gone back, spoken to stallholder, ask questions about where the dogs come from and how much they cost. But I couldn't do it. I don't think most of the people who watch my videos want to see that either. 

The guy in the background is saying
"Hello Meester!"
One general thought about Indonesians: they're very friendly to foreigners. Walking down the street o through a market, you get a lot more "Hello meester!"s than you would in say Myanmar or Thailand.  In Thailand they do call out greetings a bit, but that's because they want to sell you something. Here, it's genuine friendliness and curiosity. And as I speak the language here, I'm more obliging about stopping and talking to people. 

With still a few more hours to kill, I had lunch, went back to my hotel to shower and retrieve my things and returned to the boat launch. There, at a riverside coffee shop, I encountered a toddler who had found a new toy: a fork. I don't know at what age toddlers begin to recognize racial differences. Before a certain age, kids don't know I look different than they or their families do. So as this kid attacked my backpack with a fork, it wasn't because I was an interesting tourist, and when  he started
poking me in the belly with the fork, that was only because my belly is very poke-able shaped. 

The ferry was actually 3 smallish boats, maybe 40 feet tip to stern. The sea was smooth and the waters were the bluest I'd ever seen. The trip took 45 minutes, and my hotel picked me up in a tuk-tuk at the boat landing. It was already late afternoon by this point, so no snorkeling on the first day, but I did enjoy the hammock as they waves gently crashed through the mangroves. 

Enjoy the video. 


Monday, April 17, 2017

On the Go to Manado 2: First Impressions

I woke up bright and early in Singapore, ready for my morning flight to Manado.  I was a bit lighter in the wallet (not just from the gambling; everything in Singapore is SO expensive!), but glad that the journey to my destination had required two days. Part of travel's whole appeal to me is seeing unique, new places. Singapore is one of the most singular places I had ever been. Truly remarkable. 

I would be driving down the very road in this picture just a few
days after it was taken
The flight to Manado was fascinating. See, I'd been planning this trip for some time, or, at least, day dreaming about it while viewing Google Earth. I'd spent hours studying the satellite imagery of Sulwesi's north coast, looking for possible places of interest and stopping points. As it came to an end, the flight path of the plane took it directly parallel to that north coast. Here, I was seeing in real life what I'd spent so long looking at on a computer screen. Ooh! I know that island! Aha! I know where we are! 

As a middle-aged guy who's spent a lot of times in planes, getting a window seat shouldn't be such a thrill anymore.  One might think that I've gotten used to it by now.  Well, I haven't.  I'm still filled with a childlike sense of wonder when I get to stare out at billowy clouds, fascinating coastlines and even miles and miles of empty ocean. I hope I never lose that, and it's sights like this that help rekindle it. These two atolls didn't show up on the Google Earth. 
Striking similar, looking like cat's eyes and positioned in just the right proportion to each other and to the concave sloping coast of mainland below, it looked like the island of Sulawesi was looking up and smiling at me. 

Manado isn't that big of a city, and my hotel was fairly well located in it's heart. It was a short mini-van-bus ride into downtown, where I spent some time wandering and looking for a couple more items for my trip.  As dinner time came, I found exactly what I was looking for: a nice clean restaurant overlooking the water. 

After sunset, I went the other way from my hotel into the older part of town. This was on eve of Good Friday, and Manado is a fervently Christian town.
In the Western church, they've never reconciled the notion  of Christ's resurrection with all the pagan Easter stuff that goes on with eggs, and chocolate and bunnies. Well, here in Manado, they don't have that problem. In this mural, it kinda looks like the Easter Bunny was there at Calvary Hill.

At just two minutes, this is likely going to be the shortest video in this series.  Enjoy. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On the Go to Manado - Part One: Singapore

In talking with other expats and from my own feelings, I’ve come to believe we’ve all got a ‘second country’: that one place outside your own native land where you feel most at home. Whether that country is determined by fate and circumstance or if it’s got something to do with temperament and compatibility, I’m not sure. I do know that for me, that second country is Indonesia.

Over the last two and a half years, I had been to Indonesia three times. I left for my fourth visit this last Tuesday, the 11th, and I sit here now writing on my fifth day out of the three week journey. My destination: Manado – the economic and political capital of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. 

If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. It doesn’t make the news. It’s not well known by tourists. And other than the remarkable SCUBA and snorkeling to be had, it’s attractions are limited.

Still, I’ve wanted to visit Manado ever since I was told about it 25 years ago when I lived in Java. It seemed enticingly remote, yet still accessible. Culturally, it’s a mix of Malay, Dutch, Spanish and now more mainstream Indonesian influences. All this is laid over the local culture, a group of tribes collectively known as the Minahasa. Lastly, it didn’t hurt that Manadoese women are thought of as some of the most beautiful in the world. On top of that, me, I like a nice, quiet road, some interesting people to talk to and some dramatic geography. Manado is packed full of all of those.

Distance wise, Yangon and Manado are about as far apart as Seattle and Cuba, so I couldn’t get there all in one go.  Instead, I had to layover in Singapore.  Now, I had never been to Singapore before, at least, not outside the airport, so I was looking forward to this pre-Indonesian pit stop.

The iconic Merlion in front of the Singaporean skyline
Of course, I’d heard all about Singapore and its draconian laws and strict culture before. Spitting on the sidewalk will get you 4 lashes of the cane. Chewing gum is forbidden by law. Not flushing a public toilet is a hefty fine (who’s reporting that?). I’d heard of the clean streets and how developed it was. Truth be told, although remarkable in many ways, Singapore is still a Southeast Asian city. It has its rough edges. There’s some dirt under that fa├žade.  The immutable natural forces of being an equatorial city never stop grinding. There’s mold and cockroaches. Funny smells and flash flooding when it rains. 

Just a regular, old Singaporean building
That said, I was duly impressed. The skyline and the river walk were breathtaking. Smooth sidewalks and efficient public transportation made getting around a breeze. I enjoyed my afternoon and evening there in the Lion City.
Enjoy the First Episode of “On The Go in Manado”

Yes, that’s the best I could come up with for a title for the next series of videos.  Hey, it rhymes! 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Wrapping Up The Myanmar Motorcycle Epic

Rush hour for monk statues
Whew! Made it. Just in time. I present to you the last two episodes of the Myanmar Motorcycle Journey. 

After a month on the road, I was very happy to spend the last couple of days of my holiday on a tropical beach, a westward facing beach at that with the spectacular sunsets that includes.  

Downtown Thanbyuzayat
It was time for the final leg of the journey, south out of Malawmyine, a short distance to a town called Thanbyuzayat where the sister of a friend lives. She had graciously agreed to allow me to park my motorcycle at her homestead as I am not allowed to bring the motorbike into Yangon. 

From Setse. It was a holiday, and there were parades going on. The dancer on
top of the truck - that's a transgendered person.
Fortunately, Thanbyuzayat is only about 15 kilometers from a place I had heard of on my previous visit to Mon State, but had yet to check out, Setse Beach. 

Setse was nearly deserted, but there were still services to be had...
on the edge of the waves, even.
I had no hotel booking as I rolled into Setse. I had the name of a hotel that had been recommended, and when I checked it out, once again I was a bit perturbed by the blatant double-pricing thing that happens regularly here in Myanmar. There were two prices listed on their rate sheet: local and foreigner. For a beach-facing bungalow, locals pay $30, foreigners $45. There just something in my equal-treatment-to-all American upbringing that rankles me about this system, ubiquitous as it is here. Well, there were more than one hotel in Setse, so I went to go check out the other ones. 

Sorry, no foreigners allowed!
Arriving at the Sunset Beach Hotel, the place seemed a little more downscale. The rooms weren't right on the beach, so they had to be cheaper. I got turned away before even being able to look at one. See, here in Myanmar, not just any hotel can accept foreign tourists. They need a special license for that priviledge, given out by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. Alas, perhaps due to the lack of demand (I was the only foreigner I saw in the whole town), this hotel had no such permit. A quick stop at the Setse Beach Resort, where they wanted $95 a night, I was back to where I started, the Paradise 21 Hotel.

Setse Beach

I thought I was the only foreigner at the beach, but as I was strumming my ukulele, relaxing after the dhort morning drive, along came a friendly Russian guy, also traveling solo. As we were sharing stories on how we'd happened to be there, an amazing coincidence was discovered. 

"Joko! I know you!" Igor (yes, that was his name) exclaimed, "Do you know Matt Harris?" 

During the first week of my journey, I had received an e-mail from Matt, a former colleague of mine, who was asking if we Yangonites could welcome an old firend of his who was coming from Shanghai to Myanmar for a 3 week holiday. As I was already on the road, there wasn't much I could do, and I responded thusly. Fast forward three weeks, and here this Russian guy was that very same friend-of-a-friend who I'd received the e-mail about! What are the chances?! 

Anyways, Igor and I had fun visiting the local points of interest, hitting on a gaggle of Chinese-Myanmar tourist girls and playing chess. I'm an okay chess player, but I hadn't played in years. Anytime someone asks you if you want to play chess, you're probably going to lose, as happened in our first game. In the second game, I actually beat a Russian at chess, my Bobby Fischer moment

On my last full day of the vacation, I drove Igor to the bus station in Thabyuzayat, and then went exploring Wargayu, an authentic Mon village with an old history. 2000 years ago, it was the site of an ancient city. See, the Mon people ruled what is now southern Myanmar for centuries before the Burmese came, and we still see remnants of their reign today. 
The ancient city walls of Wagayu

I noted at the start of this blog that I had finished up the recap of my recent voyage just in time. That's because the next one is about to begin. Today is my first day off for the 3-week Buddhist New Year break, and tomorrow morning, I am flying to Singapore and then to Manado, Indonesia, to begin another motorcycle journey. 

The adventure continues. 


On the Go in Manado 5: On the Road

F inally, it was time to get my motorcycle rental and hit the road. The agency's rep was going to meet me at the dock where the boat ...