Saturday, 22 December 2012

Nepal treks: Posts updated (plus new posts)

For those interested...
Posts in October/November (2012) concerning our treks in Nepal have been updated, and posts added. Several photos from these treks are posted (including a short panoramic clip of Gosainkund area).  All photos (!) are posted on Flickr (see links to the right).

Monday, 17 December 2012

Back home in Vancouver

Jericho Beach Webcam shot of English Bay

Cloudy,  cold, and drizzly with wet snow flakes (but not sticking) -- must be Vancouver in December.  The local mountains are full of snow. 

Quite the change for us. 

On the positive side: the air is clean (and brisk), the sidewalks clean and uncrowded (especially with this weather), and water from the tap cold and drinkable. And it's home.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Winding down in Asia...

Our final two weeks in Asia were in Thailand. 
Although food in Bali was pretty good, we were looking forward to delicious Thai food.  

We were not disappointed!

We first hopped on a bus from the Bangkok airport east to Rayong and Ban Chang (both east of Bangkok) to visit friends. (Brent was a fellow crew member with us on the "interesting" sail from Vancouver down to San Francisco on SV Sapphire in September.) Not much for tourists in the area, but we enjoyed our visit. 

Brent and Kob (in Ban Chang, Thailand)

We then went to our favourite beach town Hua Hin, and spent a relaxing 8 days at our usual hotel (Hotel Jed Pee Nong). To get there, we first took a shared mini van from Ban Chang to Bangkok's Victory Monument, then hopped on another mini van to Hua Hin. Those familiar with mini van transport in Thailand will know how damn fast these vans like to travel (140 km/h is not unusual) and how hair raising they can be. About 6 hours later, we arrived in Hua Hin.

After the lack of tourists in eastern Thailand, the large number of tourists (most, it seemed, from Scandinavian countries) was a change. The town was decked out for Christmas.

Hua Hin Market Village Mall: Decked out for Christmas

After 8 days, we headed back to the Bangkok area, opting to take the brand-new luxury (big) bus between Hua Hin and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport -- staying nearby in the Lat Krabang area. We like this area: besides being 5 minutes from the airport, and a good, reliable and cheap hotel favourite -- Thong Ta Resort -- the area if filled with places to eat, drink as well as night markets etc. It also has easy and fast transport into Bangkok by the "Airport Link/City Line" rapid train: take a songthaew (7 THB) or a taxi (40-70 THB) to Lat Krabang Station ("Sataannee Lat Krabang" in Thai).

On our last full day, we spent a tiring day shopping in the MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok -- Michelle was less tired, thanks to 2 hours in the spa.... 
MBK shopping ...

while Michelle goes to the spa...

Sadly, our trip comes to its end today, as we head home Vancouver. It sure will feel cold to us -- we've become so used to 30+ degrees (Celsius!) we don't even sweat now.

Last dinner in Thailand

Last "Leo"...

Michelle is not a happy camper going home to rain and grey skies. David is more optimistic -- thinking of skiing, as well as getting back to Pelagia (oh, and all the work to do on her...).

Monday, 3 December 2012

Last days in Bali: Monkeys, motorcycle riding & hard lessons about "kopi poo poo" (luwak coffee)

Our last two nights in Bali were spent in Ubud. This is a town with multiple personalities. On the one hand (the interesting hand), it is the cultural centre of Bali (dance, music, carving, etc) and is fascinating. But, on the other hand, it is also overhyped, overpriced, and filled with "fashionable" tourists, especially women of a certain age riding 1-speed Dutch-style bicycles (think  "Eat, Pray, Love"). Really! But $250/night hotels!? And why would you go Starbucks in Bali (and pay over $4 for burnt coffee -- indeed, why ever go to a Starbucks?) when great "kopi Bali" is available everywhere for <$1. Still, Ubud is well worth a visit and one can still find many well-priced hotels  (we paid $45/night, which seemed high to us) and restaurants. 

View from our villa outside of Ubud

We stayed in a beautiful villa (out in the rice fields) that was a little too far out of town. So we rented another motor scooter. First stop, the monkey forest (temple). Michelle had to get her monkey fix!

So, how's your day going?

Enough talk ... just give me the damn banana!

Talk about getting the monkey off your back! And swimming monkeys too (but these monkeys don't need a shearling coat like Darwin, the Toronto Ikea monkey )

More monkey pictures on FLICKR:

After the monkeys, we headed off for a long drive up towards Penelokan and Mt Batur. Must have driven past at least 153 (ok, we lost count) wood carving and other art shops (we even saw newly carved "thunderbird" totem poles -- Balinese? Hmmmm, was there a land bridge between Bali and British Columbia before the last ice age?) Nearing the crater rim, we had to do a quick U-turn because we were warned of (and could see up ahead) a police roadcheck. Bali police are notorious for handing out on-the-spot "fines" -- gee,  no receipt -- to locals and tourists,  even when nothing illegal committed; see:

Asian Palm Civet
So we headed down and decided to stop and check out a luwak coffee place that we had visited in 2011 (but did not buy the expensive stuff back then). 

For those who don't know, kopi luwak (or poo poo coffee)  is made from the beans that civet cats (luwak, in Bahasa Indonesia)  have passed through their digestive system (that's right, they eat the tasty coffee fruit and shit out the undigestable coffee bean). Thus, coffee poo poo, the most expensive coffee in the world. Fashionable thanks to the movie "The Bucket List" (which we've never seen) .

Hard lesson #1: we paid a lot for 250 gm (>$50), even after bargaining, only later to find it in a local store for 1/3rd the price we paid! 

Hard lesson #2,  however,  was much worse.  Later,  after purchasing our luwak coffee,  we discovered the dirty truth about this brown gold: assuming it really is luwak coffee (some say as much as 50% is fake), production of luwak coffee is usually the result of significant abuse of the animals: 

From a recent article in The Guardian:
The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages. There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there's a real conservation risk. It's spiralling out of control. But there's not much public awareness of how it's actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew.

This is terrible, and to think we actually bought some!  Stupid of us  -- learned too late! All we can do now is to try to make people aware of this -- hence this blog post.

(unless you know for certain it is from beans collected in the wild)


On a lighter note. . . . We are now in Thailand. 

We were sad to leave Bali. The people are wonderful, the island beautiful, and the costs are low. We especially loved our time in Lovina.

Oh yes, the regular coffee in Bali ("kopi Bali") is great, cheap, and NOT made from luwak shit.