Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
In the last post I described the massive risk we were taking rebooking a flight from the Philippines to Bali after a later flight of ours was cancelled because of the typhoon.
Well, we made it. Not even a typhoon can stop the monsoon!
After landing in Manila safe and sound, despite the typhoon being 200 nautical miles away (that’s pretty close for a typhoon), we gathered for one final group picture and hugs goodbye.
The group leaving us. We'll miss you!
And with that we headed for our flight to Bali to meet up with the crew before a week in East Timor.
After a 3 hour flight from The Philippines to Indonesia, I let out a long sigh of relief: We did it. Despite the typhoon cancelling a majority of flights today and tomorrow, we still made it to Bali.
Some things have changed in the last 4 years since I’ve been here. The Visa on Arrival for tourists increased from $25 to $35 USD and the airport got a significant upgrade. Everything has become more flashy and I was surprised to not recognize anything from the last time I was here.
Outside the airport, we haggled 2 vans to take us to the hostel for $35 USD total (from a starting price of $120 USD!) and lo and behold when we arrived at 3am, there were 12 comfortable bunk beds waiting for us in an air-conditioned room by an indoor pool (a hostel with a pool?!). Perhaps our luck didn’t really run out just yet.
But as I looked into my backpack I realized I had lost my small bag of chargers, adapters, wires, and GoPro accessories. Although I still had my phone, cameras, and PC/tablet, I lost everything that could keep them alive. According to one of my monsooners, Anthony, he noticed a small bag being left behind in the overhead compartment as we were disembarking the flight from The Palawan to Manila. In other words, they had fallen out of my backpack during the flight. Then, a few hours later in Ubud, I dropped my Windows Surface, cracking the screen and rendering it unusable. Aye, we can’t have all the luck in the world.
Perhaps fittingly, experiencing this at the end of a week in The Philippines, I want to take this opportunity to put some things into perspective: These first world problems we are wrestling with. For one, the things I’ve accidentally left behind or broken are entirely replaceable. Second, these typhoons do not affect us backpackers as badly as they have to the people of The Philippines who already did so much to make us comfortable despite the circumstances.
So we instead need to take these moments of supposed failure not to get upset but rather to remind ourselves the heaven and earth already being moved by the intrepid yet warm, hospitable people of The Philippines who ask for very little when they take us into their homes. And even — or especially — in the good moments we also should make the effort and time to be grateful to the local people who try so hard to make our experiences as memorable as they can be; they are the true survivors who brave these typhoons as part of their everyday lives — not us — and for them to make everything possible for our 1 unforgettable week here, means more to me than what any obstacle or difficulty we’ve encountered could ever measure up to. I learned this during the protests in Egypt and I’m still learning how to do that now. This is a place I want and will give back to one day, wishing I could do as much for them as they have for me.
And as this chapter ends, another one begins.
Our 28 hours in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia in a nutshell:
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Yes, and backpackers can be foodies too. We finished our lazy day in Ubud with a dinner at Mozaic, listed as one of the top 20 restaurants in the Miele Guide (the official Michelin Guide authority in Asia), Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards #1 most innovative restaurant in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s top 50 restaurants in the San Pellegrino Guide, and arguably the top restaurant in Bali.
Its executive chef, Chris Salans, is notable for being the head chef of Thomas Keller’s (of The French Laundry and Per Se fame) restaurant Bouchon in Napa Valley.
Scallops with fermented soybean and foam
Seafood Medley with Dry Ice
Trio of Pigeon with Foie Gras
Wagyu Beef With Grape Reduction
After dinner, we headed out for bit of partying afterwards in Legian. Now we’re pulling an all-nighter waiting for our 5:15am shuttle bus to the airport. We’re embarking on a 7:30am direct flight to East Timor-Leste, the newest stabilized country in the world!
- At time of posting in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, it was 31 °C -
Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 26km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
We’re not in the clear yet, so keep your fingers crossed until we reach Bali. And even then, I’m not sure if typhoons affecting even a single country may spread to the entire Southeast Asia region. For more drama, read on…
On our third and final day of island hopping, we started off our morning with a 1.4km zipline excursion (500-1100 pesos per person depending if you want to do round trip or one way, sitting or gliding like “Superman”) over The Palawan:
After that, walked back and took a tricycle back to town, except Dave who rented a motorbike (cough, showoff…ok I’m a little jealous):
At 2pm we hopped on our private boat for overnight camping on our own private beach.
Some of us took a speedboat back into town for an hour when we wanted to get more marshmallows, mosquito coils, liquor, and drinks. I guess you could call this our best “liquor run” ever:
Also enjoyed the sunset and ate freshly cooked food made by our ship captains.
And then the emergency news came: While in the middle of our “full moon party” we got word via a satellite phone call that our AirAsia flights out of Manila and into Bali on December 8th had been cancelled. This was bad. Supertyphoon Hagupit had finally reared its ugly head.
Sure, we had been dodging bullets left and right with such good weather in The Palawan, despite the threat of a supertyphoon hovering nearby…but now our luck had finally run out. Without our flights out of Manila and into Bali, we were threatened with the scenario of being stranded in The Philippines for the next week during the storm, as well as standing up all the folks who flew all the way out here to Southeast Asia to join us for the East Timor part of the trip. While these are first world problems, I didn’t want to let down my group with a horrible end to the trip, nor did I want to abandon anyone in East Timor.
Kicking our shit into high gear, we managed to leech off cell phone signal from one of my friends on the trip, Dave, and find alternative earlier flights direct from Manila to Bali. Instead of the original plan of flying into Manila, spending the night and catching the next morning 7:30am AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur to Bali (which flights were now cancelled), we would fly into Manila, hail a cab to another airport terminal, and barely make a direct Philippine Airlines flight out to Bali flying out that same evening. Although we would lose a night in Manila, we would gain an extra one in Bali and still be able to make it in time so that our monsooners joining us for East Timor wouldn’t arrive to an empty welcoming party.
Suffice to say, there was a lot of back and forth setting this up. It was hard enough to get cell signal on a remote abandoned beach in The Palawan Islands, let alone look up affordable alternative international flights on airlines that would be willing to book 12 people the day before. On the bright side, we were able to reach AirAsia and confirm their cancellations, and reach Philippine Airlines and confirm that their flights were still on. But we found out the hard way that some airlines and booking sites wouldn’t allow booking for flights less than 24 hour prior to departure. We found out the hard way that booking directly with Philippine Airlines would’ve been 50% more expensive. And we found out the hard way some booking sites only allow booking 5 people at a time. But after a few hours of laser-focus teamwork, we got the flights booked and plan B secured.
Resuming the full moon party on our own private beach in The Palawan would be a proper way to celebrate.
Loyal Repeat Monsooners: The Cuba delegation!
Loyal Repeat Monsooner: The Iberia Delegation!
The next morning we woke up drowsily to the sounds of waves and a serene sunrise:
Took the speedboat back to town
On our way back to town, we were able to re-confirm that our flight out of The Palawan was still on schedule and that whatever I booked last night via satellite phone was still on the books. After almost forgetting to reserve accommodations in Bali for my group of monsooners, I once again harnessed borrowed WiFi to make sure we had a place to sleep in Bali at 2am. We then hopped on our 6 hour bus to catch our flight from Puerto Princesa back to Manila.
As of right now I’m blogging at the airport in Puerto Princesa, crossing my fingers that the flights are still on. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings in Bali. Wish us luck.
- At time of posting in Puerto Princesa, The Philippines, it was 35 °C -
Humidity: 85% | Wind Speed: 7km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
The Palawan just got served
We hopped on our private boat again today….and….
Did a bit of snorkeling:
Walked along the sandbar known as Snake Island:
Poured rum into coconut we picked off the trees:
And gave into vanity:
Of course, no day in The Palawan is complete without a sunset:
To prove that we can be as flexible as possible, we just signed up another monsooner today, my friend Christina Elise, who flew into El Nido (cheater!) to meet us this evening and enjoy one more full day in The Palawan: evening Island Hopping with overnight camping under the full moon! That’s right, our very own private full moon party kicks off 2pm tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Until then, off to the bars:
- At time of posting in El Nido, The Philippines, it was 34 °C -
Humidity: 80% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
Despite warnings of inclement weather (like a freaking typhoon), we went out anyway, because, well, there was no typhoon.
This is island hopping, on our private boat:
Island hopping is exactly what it sounds like. We go from beach to beach at our leisure, with each beach having something special, like a secret lagoon, a place to BBQ food for lunch, or a seaside bar with epic views of the sunset.
"Was it good for you too?"
Finding the secret lagoon was a highlight:
Tarzan find his throne
Wading through something out of Jurassic Park:
And then there was the sunset:
Tonight, we grab a few drinks, sing some karaoke, and crash.
- At time of posting in El Nido, The Philippines, it was 35 °C -
Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
Within 12 hours we went from landing in the bustling capital of The Philippines…
…to partying all night at Prive…
Getting to The Palawan Islands is neither simple or direct. Unless you’re booking a resort charter plane to fly directly into El Nido’s barely used airport (and I would consider that cheating), you’ll need to do what we do to reach one of Southeast Asia’s final untouched paradise.
Busting an all nighter to the next morning, our group bravely assembled for a 7am morning call to get on a bus to the airport.
Because of weekday traffic, what would be a 15min drive ended up being an hour, and luckily we took this into account to catch our 10am flight to Puerto Princesa.
After about a 90min flight to Puerto Princesa, we hitched 2 buses for a 7 hour drive to El Nido.
Ok, doesn’t sound too complex, but I think matters were complicated due to the entire group struggling from our all night bender.
Almost ran over this huge snake, a bunch of dogs, and a few people
But despite a few blisters, lost shoes, and a missing debit card, our entire group has made it safely to The Palawan Islands.
Right now we just found out that a typhoon that was originally moving away from our direction has now shifted back towards The Palawan, possibly ruining our plans tomorrow. Never deterred, we strategize.
- At time of posting in El Nido, The Philippines, it was 28 °C -
Humidity: 71% | Wind Speed: 12km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast
First night in Manila and the group is ready.
What better way to make first impressions than to party it up the first night at Privé?
The 2 docs on the trip
This 60 year old DJ was legit
Side story: Filipino guy next to me on the flight to Manila: “I think I’ve heard of you….Monsoon Diaries?” Me: “…”
- At time of posting in Manila, The Philippines, it was 31 °C -
Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: cloudy