Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Wednesday, April 16, 2003 23:02:34
Asia Pacific 2003: 2
Monday, April 14, 2003
It was a lazier day today. I had laundry washed and dried before 8 AM, and some writing done. Tim and I headed off for breakfast, then decided to stick around the hotel until noon check out time. It was raining out, an offshoot of the typhoon no doubt, so being inside was the better option. It gave me an opportunity to get my emails up to date and ready to send.
After checking out we drove to the American Memorial Park to have a look around, then through the shopping area near the hotel. It was a good introduction for Japan - most of the signs on businesses were uniligual Japanese. Next we went to an internet cafe where we both got caught up on emails. Neither of us felt like lunch, as we'd both done justice to a large breakfast, so we headed off to explore further. We went to the beach where the banzai attack took place, and then headed into the hills, finding our way through more back roads. After putting gas in the car we checked in at the airport for the short flight to Guam. I'm not sure if I was pleased or not when security screwed up my perfect record of being searched every time by waving me straight through!
Guam had the same procedure as when I first arrived - into customs to be stamped, then back out the same way we went in. The flight to Palau, at 1 hour 40 minutes, was shorter than I had expected. I'd been upgraded on both flights so it was very comfortable. The enthusiastic steward on the Palau flight insisted on plying me with drinks whether I wanted them or not, so when we arrived and taxied to the hotel I was ready for bed! My travel information said that it would be necessary to purchase a visa on arrival in Palau, but there was no mention of it - we were waved straight through with a minimum of delay.
The next morning I got in touch with the very enterprising taxi driver who brought us from the airport. His brother had owned half the hotel we were staying in - the Palau Marina Hotel. He'd warned us that since his brother had been bought out the hotel had been going down hill, and the signs of mismanagement were evident in many areas. As we pulled into the hotel lot last night the driver pointed out his boat anchored in the marina. He mentioned that a full tour of the islands only takes about 3 hours, so I asked him about a boat tour to see the famous Rock Islands. It turned out Tim had the same thought, so after a bit of negotiation we arrived at a price and in an hour and a half he had a driver for the boat and we were on our way.
It was a beautiful day with calm seas, so the 140 hp outboard propelled us over the shallow water at a good clip. We stopped to photograph a Japanese WWII aircraft resting in shallow water, then continued zig zagging through the channels between the 200 plus rounded knobs of jungle covered limestone that make up the Rock Islands. The islands are unique, as the sea has eroded and undercut them, giving smaller islands the appearance of mushrooms. In a number of areas there were pristine beaches betwen the cliffs. There was almost no sign of habitation.
We stopped at a small jetty on one island to climb a steep jungle trail, then descend to the famous salt water "jellyfish" lake. There are some 80 of these "lakes" in the islands - actually former sink holes now filled with water from underground channels connected to the ocean. When we had clambered down to the lake and out onto the small float, there were no jellyfish to be seen, but the fellow who was repairing a float was with the institute that monitors the jellyfish and he gave us the story. Apparently up until the early 90s there had been some 60-70 million jellyfish in the lake, then something happened and they died off until only around 3 million remained. They have now recovered to where there are about 17 million. We couldn't see them as we were in a shady area, and they need to stay in the sun to encourage the growth of an algae on their bodies, which they in turn feed on, making them self sustaining. To keep in the sun they travel about a kilometer per day. Swimming in the thick of them is popular, as through evolution they have lost their ability to sting.
We returned to the boat dipping with sweat - it was very hot and humid - and were delighted when we got the speed up again and the cooling breeze was whipping over us. We continued to tour for a few more hours, visiting sea caves, marine archways and beautiful beaches. A couple of times we stopped to throw bread into the water so we could see the hundreds of tropic fish as they came to compete for food, and the larger fish below them who were interested in dining on the smaller fish. We then returned to our hotel, pounding through rougher seas on the windward side of the islands.
Our driver was waiting for us on our return, so we headed off for a land tour. Palau consists of 10 islands with a land area of 196 square miles. (500 sq. km.) Four of the islands are connected by bridge or causeway to Koror, the capital city and main island. Of the over 17,000 people in Palau more than 12,000 live in the 7 square miles of Koror. The population includes about 4,500 foreign workers, mostly from the Phillipines. Japan took over Palau in 1914, and in 1922 Koror became the administration centre for all of Japan's Pacific possessions until after WWII. At that time the city had a population of over 30,000 people.
We spent three hours doing a fairly thorough exploration of the connected four islands, then were dropped back at our hotel where I managed to get some writing done and emails prepared. Tim and I walked next door to the Fish & Fins dive operation where our driver said the restaurant had good food. Unfortunately, the local specialty of mangrove crab needed to be ordered a day in advance, but we had tasty, fresh mahi mahi dinner. While eating, Tim pointed out that there was an internet cafe also in the dive shop, so after we finished I headed back to the hotel, picked up my floppy disc and got off some email.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Our trusty driver, Hudson, was waiting for me when I left the hotel room at 7 AM. He was to pick me up at 7:30, but came early and was happily chewing betel nut in the parking area. Betel nut chewing and the necessary spitting that accompanies it is very big here. Sometimes betel nut is chewed as is, and at other times about a third of a cigarette is broken off, pressed into the betel nut and chewed - cigarette paper and all.
I'd settled up with the hotel the night before as no one mans the desk until after 8 AM, so was able to climb straight into the car for the trip to the airport. Tim's flight to Yap is not until this afternoon, so Hudson will pick him up about noon. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time to get the formalities done and to read for awhile. Once again, no problem with security, and I received an upgrade - a good start for the day. This will be my last Continental flight for a long while - I'm really going to miss the upgrades!
After a comfortable flight to Manila I went to a crowded counter in the gate area which had four employees working, to find out where I might be able to check in for my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. I was astounded when one of the employees looked up from his computer and before I could say anything said, "You are Mr. William Walker?" I stammered back, "Well, yes, how did you know?" He just smiled and said, "You are going to Hong Kong?"
I never did find out how he knew who I was in that mob, but he checked me in very efficiently and directed me to the departure gate. On the way I got a much needed shoe shine, arriving at the gate shortly before boarding - it was only a half hour connection. The seat he'd arranged was great - I had all three seats in an exit row on the right side of a half full 747. The next set of seats were about ten feet ahead. It made for a very comfortale flight, easing my withdrawal symptoms from the Continental upgrades.
Surgical masks were more in evidence in Manila, where about 35% of the employees were wearing them. That went up to about 80% of the people on the Hong Kong flight, although only about 10% of the Caucasians on the flight were wearing them. Masks were issued free on boarding he aircraft. I decided to fit in, so put mine on for about 5 minutes, but it drove me nuts so I took it off. I was obviously not cut out for work in the operating room! As soon as the food showed up everyone elses' disappeared in short order as well, but they put them back on after eating.
I read in today's issue of the Herald Tribune published in Hong Kong that they are still discovering about 40 new cases of SARS per day. I figured that in the almost four days I'll be there a total, 160 new cases will be discovered. Not counting visitors, that would be 0.0000239% of the current population of over 6.7 million people. Pretty good odds, and with most of them already wearing masks any germs to be spread around they are keeping to themselves anyhow! Having rather nicely justified not rebreathing my own air in a mask, I've tucked it into my vest pocket. It'll be there should a formal occasion require it, or if I need to "fit in". At my height, me fitting in anywhere here is a bit of a joke!
On arrival in Hong Kong at about 3 PM about 90% of the airport employees were wearing masks. The new Hong Kong airport is absolutely amazing - it is enormous, very clean and efficient. It was also nearly deserted - since SARS there have been 180 flights per day into Hong Kong cancelled. Customs and immigration had no lines, and the formalities were minimal and fast.
My concerns that after the takeover Hong Kong may have lost some of it's wonderful efficiency were soon dispelled! I walked up to a counter to inquire as to the best way to get to the my hotel. In the couple of minutes before I left the counter I had in my hand a return train/bus ticket, a rail route map and funds changed into Hong Kong dollars. This was certainly the Hong Kong I remembered, and it was only to get better.
I'd expected a long, expensive haul into the city from the new airport. Instead, I found that the high speed train left every ten minutes, stopping only twice before Kowloon where I needed to get off. The next stop after Kowloon is the downtown Hong Kong station. The train was very comfortable, spotlessly clean (as were the stations) and almost empty. At the stations attendants met the train with free luggage carts, which they gave to people with luggage getting off the train - no tip expected. When I arrived at Kowloon station, I followed the very clearly marked signs to the free connecting bus which takes travellers to their hotel door. There were six bus routes serving about 5 hotels each. They run every 20 minutes, departing from a comfortable and efficient boarding area. Due to the small number of hotels on each route the trip is quick. There were 5 people on the full sized bus I was on. It did give me a short tour of Kowloon, though, and it was interesting to see that there is more English on the signs here than in parts of Vancouver, B.C.
Hotel check in at the Sheraton Hong Kong was very fast - all information preprinted on the form, a quick signature was all that was needed. The hotel did not have a lot of guests, so I was bumped up to one of the newly renovated deluxe rooms - very beautiful and with many innovations I've not seen elsewhere. There are definitely advantages to travelling when few are!
My initial plan was to have a siesta when I arrived, but the magic of Hong Kong had me energized by the time I got to the hotel and I couldn't wait to get out and around. I was also thinking of dinner, so checked the hotel's Chinese restaurant to find the set dinner for one was priced at just over $US 100. While the dishes sounded pretty exotic, I decided to pass!
The Sheraton is located quite near the Star ferry, on the corner of Nathan Street and Salisbury Road, so I walked for a long way up Nathan Street. The only major change I noticed was a four block long shopping centre that wasn't there last time (15 years ago), but it took me no time at all to be comfortable in finding my way around. The shops are still full of electronics at good prices - I picked up some things I've been unable to find in Victoria or San Jose. Anything you could want high tech is on display in three stores per block. Tailors where standing outside their shops - also about three per block - promising full suits made overnight at low prices.
Mask wearing has dropped to about 60% of the people on the streets and very few in the shops. As before, everyone is very outgoing, friendly and helpful. Crime is still very low for a city this size and huge holes in the ground are rapidly being filled with new skyscrapers to affect the continually changing skyline - there is construction everywhere. The feel of the place is the same - dynamic, busy, bustling, clean, safe and friendly. I do love this city and am so glad to see it has not outwardly changed.
After my major hike, hunger was setting in, so I headed into a market inside a building with a maze of narrow passageways. While there were stands with food to stand up and eat, I pressed on until eventually a cooler draft indicated an exit. Once through I was in an area of connecting alleyways, so I pressed on until I found a small restaurant with the window covered in Chinese characters and a little footnote in the corner that said, "Menu available in English". English is still widely spoken here.
I went in, was seated and brought the menu and a glass of tea by a waitress who spoke no English. My version of the menu had English sub-titles, so I was able to read that the days special was ox penis accompanied by rice and a choice of two side dishes. While I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to food, there is a certain connotation about munching away on any form of penis that didn't sit well. An English speaking cook came out of the kitchen to help me out when he saw me staring at the menu, so I took his suggestions and soon had a bowl of soup (delicious but unidentified), a bowl of rice, plus plates of pork and vegitables. It was delicious, more than I could eat, and with as much tea as I could drink came to $HK35 - about $US 4.75. On the way back to the hotel I stopped for a pint in Murphy's Irish Pub - that cost more than my whole meal!
Thursday, April 17, 2003
This morning I did a little writing and then walked a block to the Irish Pub for breakfast. They have a huge breakfast for $HK49 ($US6.60) compared to the hotel's continenal breakfast at $HK125 ($US17) or full breakfast at $US24. I'll not need lunch after that! After filling up, I walked up Nathan Road to the Tsim Sha Tsui District police station to see if I could find out what happened to two people I knew who were district commanders in Kowloon before the takeover. They were very courteous, but as it goes back a bit they need to get their records people to do some research. They said they'd leave a message at the hotel when I return.
Next I strolled through beautiful Kowloon park, right in the centre of the city, and on to the Star Ferry terminal. I was going to stop at the Marine Police Headquarters on the way back, but it has been moved and the property was auctioned off in February. The over 12,300 square meters of land will make one heck of a development on it's high rock only a block from the Star Ferry! It has some nostalgic value, as when Marilynn and I were hosted there by the marine police commander I got as drunk as I've ever been. If it hadn't been for police intervention I'm sure we'd not have been allowed on our flight to Perth that night!
My flight tonight is not until 7:20 PM so the hotel has extended my check out time until 4 PM. I'll take advantage of their internet service to get this and other emails away, and I'll also take advantage of luggage storage to lighten my suitcase for the Haikou, Hainan Island return trip.