Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nothing to See in Seebu… Cebu

I am finally posting an entry on my first real Asian trip, to Cebu, Philippines. How did I end up in the Philippines? The idea of a nice resort, the Shangri-La, an advantageous price, sun, beach and a short two hour flight was too appealing. Also, when I went in March, Hong Kong was still a bit cold, and I was ending an exhausting week long off-site. So my colleague, friend and travel buddy Cheryl and I hopped an early morning flight to ensure that we got the most bang (i.e. sun) for our buck.

Day 1 was great. The flight was smooth, and the hotel picked us up and drove us directly to the resort. We hit the beach right away, swam in the wonderful pool, enjoyed two delicious meals and slept amazingly well in the large comfortable hotel beds.

On day 2, we decided to venture outside of the resort gates and explore the local area. I was hoping to try some local food as well. As soon as we walked outside the gates, there was a souvenir shop with some old swim goggles, t-shirts and, strangely, Envirosax. There was also some sort of massage place, a restaurant and a not very well stocked convenience store. We felt very local as we mixed and mingled with chickens, goats and random children roaming around the side of the road. The children asked me to buy them ice cream… and if I was gay. At that point we started walking back to the resort but not before I was able to see a man exposing himself.
Now a normal person would probably not leave the resort again, but we found out there was a shopping mall nearby and a hotel shuttle to take you there. We caught the shuttle and started making the hour long drive to the mall. As we were driving, Cheryl asked me if something had happened in the area around our hotel. It looked somewhat like the pictures of Haiti. Cheryl also remarked if I noticed that a lot of the men were not fully clothed. Unfortunately, I did. I understand it is hot and all, but it was really odd that men were not fully clothed. This was definitely not an if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt it situation by any means.

Upon arriving at the shopping mall, I immediately noticed there were separate men's and women's entrances, with security guards and metal detectors at each. I contemplated not going into the mall and staying on the shuttle, but it was driving another hour to a different shopping mall. I was not sure I wanted to see more of Cebu or go any further from the safety of the resort. However, we manned up and went in.

Inside the mall, it was surprisingly rather nice. There was a great duty-free store with a good selection of bags, a Haviana store, a Technomarine store, a Sanuk store, a health food grocery store, many jewelry stores and a Fit Flop store, to name just a few. There was also a pretty good selection of Western food, including KFC, Pizza Hut, and Auntie Anne's Pretzels. Immediately, we decided to eat with the locals… at Pizza Hut. So much for trying Filipino cuisine!

We ended up having a good time at the mall. We both bought Fit Flops. I know some of you think they are ugly, but I promise you they are the most comfortable flip flops ever. I also purchased a Bally bag and some tea -- another weird combo. The biggest disappointment was that Auntie Anne's only accepted cash. Neither of us wanted to withdraw Filipino currency.

The mall trip concluded with another ride through the beautiful Cebu scenery. The shantytowns and half-naked men urinating in the street were glorious. We also spotted the local public transportation of choice: the Jeepney. Jeepneys are open buses made from Jeeps left behind by the US Military in WWII. They are all colorfully decorated and very crowded -- so crowded that people ride on the roof.

The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful. I am happy I went. I had a lot of laughs with Cheryl and came back to Hong Kong well rested and ready to work. However, I do not think I will be going back anytime soon.

P.S. As we were leaving, we regretted not using the Spa Services… until we returned to Hong Kong and learned that a coworker spent a week in the hospital after a visit. He was cut while receiving a pedicure with unclean tools and was admitted to a hospital upon returning home.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fly fishing Argentina 2011

travel blog by Dave Marinaro

Saturday January 15th –

Rising at 3:30 AM, the two hour trip from Bonita Springs across alligator alley finds us arriving at Miami International Airport in time for our 13 hour flight to Buenos Aires (BA). Although difficult to find someone at MIA that spoke English, that is not a problem as we arrive in BA --- “welcome” says the passport control agent. Many in Argentina are proud that they speak English. Hmm!

Hotel Check-in

After a non-eventful hotel check-in, its time to go to one of my favorite BA charascarias -- enjoyed a small filet accompanied by a bottle of Alamos malbec. Pop that cholestoral pill because this was only the start of two weeks of hedonistic consumption of beef and wine. Fiera San Telmo and Porto Madiera

Sunday January 16th–

Sunday means the fair at San Telmo. One of the oldest sections of BA, San Telmo hosts a weekly event featuring antiques, street vendors and entertainers, including tango dancers, mimes, and puppeteers that capture your interest while you shop for unique treasures from the trip. Have lunch with friends at one of the many second floor eateries. Dinner at Marcello’s in Porto Madiera that evening --- this was the second finest Italian dinner that I have ever had (sorry Ricardo(our waiter), but our family Ravioli are a bit superior -- ask Kate how good they are), but I must admit, your recommendation of a Rutini malbec was a keeper.

Monday January 17th –

Shop til you drop!

There is probably nothing more amusing than watching a group of male travelers with 8 business hours to find a few special gifts. Unless they have a plan! Then it is an art form. Aided by our model and fashionista Betty Breedlove, we finished in less than five hours.

Then off to the Tango show -- the dancers and singers were amazing. Their hair slicked back with 10w40 vaseline, the male dancers tossed the women like weightless dolls. With impeccable timing, it was easy to see that this was an event that must been seen live -- an Argentine cultural treasure.

Tuesday Jan 18th through Friday Jan 21st -

Dave’ sTravel rule # 1 -- Never trust the airline and always check your departure time

Dave’s Travel rule #2 --- Arrive early

We almost missed our flight!

Saturday Jan 22nd

Travel Day

11:00 AM -- Time to leave for Challhuaquen and the next fishing stop. Fin del mundo -- at the end of the earth - literally to one of the final settlements before the end of the South American continent.

Our driver, Ricardo shows up on time with a brand new van and a greeting --- good morning he says! English! Oh yes, it is important that we learn for our visitors.

About two hours into the trip Recardo inquires if we would like to stop for lunch --- needless to say that we have not eaten enough on the trip so far --- so yes. We stop in Bolam, Argentina in the middle of the Andes -- a small hippyish town with a street fair in progress. We have a wonderful lunch --- a little Argentine beef, a little Altos las Hormigas malbec followed by local raspberries with cream, and it is time to visit the fair.

Did I mention that they have outstanding food and wine in Argentina? If you are keeping tabs, I will summarize the best wines of the trip later.

As we depart Bolam, Ricardo asks did you like the raspberries? --- why yes. Then we will stop at my uncle’s farm and get a few baskets to eat on the journey. Is life good or what?

Challhuaquen - fishing place in the native language

Sunday January 23th through Wednesday Jan 26th

After the four hour drive ----

It was like meeting old friends. Guillermo, our head guide, was joined by Pablo, his assistant, and others from the lodge who greeted us with friendly handshakes, bear hugs and words of recognition and remembrance. Dave Breedlove and I had been her three years ago.

Guillermo points to his Keenes (fly fishing shoes) that I gave him on our last visit and smiles to show that he remembered us.

After a quick tour of the facility for the newbies and an introduction to our rooms, we adjourn to the lounge for a greeting beverage of champaign with cassis. The staff is introduced --- our Chef Hermann, hostess Veronica, and manager Gustavo.

We then enjoyed four days and five nights of the greatest fly fishing, world class meals and bottomless glasses of Argentine malbec imaginable. The fish were bigger and stronger than I remembered, the weather was summer-like and the meals were unforgettable. Nightly, Hermann, would announce the evening’s dinner offering with a big smile in his best Spanglish before service began --- we understood; then after dinner he would come bursting through the swinging service door like a bull with two thumbs up inquiring, OK? The best!

Each catch took 20 to 30 minutes to land. Big, tricky, and strong, unlike anything we have caught elsewhere. Guillermo and Pablo took us to the best fishing holes on the river. And to my delight, the flies that I had tied worked like a charm! On the last day I caught 13 fish on one of my lures --- that was exciting.

It was interesting to note that about 2 1/2 years earlier this entire territory had over 20 inches of ash from a Chilean volcano that erupted less than 50 miles to the West. All evidence of the event was gone and the earth had fully recovered. Wow!

We hated to leave.

Aunt Pam asking for chocolate

Monday, May 2, 2011

Pescando en Patagonia

Dear readers,

I am not being held by the Chinese government with Ai Weiwei; I have just been busy with work.

It turns out that my company did not send me to Asia to party and sit on the beach. Major bummer.

Entries will be posted soon describing a few of my Asian adventures. Until then, please enjoy Pony and Trap's inaugural guest blogger.

¡Vamos a Argentina con mi tio, David!