ESCapology http://escapology.eu Travel | Adventure | Inspiration Tue, 02 Aug 2016 22:25:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tofino Carving Festival – Meet the Master Carvers of the West Coast http://escapology.eu/2015/10/15/tofino-carving-festival/ http://escapology.eu/2015/10/15/tofino-carving-festival/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2015 07:38:40 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5866 Autumn was in the air. It was that special kind of weather, which is hard to put in words but which you’ll recognize once it’s there – very bright and sunny but chilly at the same time with a subtle breeze of crisp air, telling you that summer is over. On a morning just like … Continue reading »

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The Tofino Carving Festival Carving on the Edge

Autumn was in the air. It was that special kind of weather, which is hard to put in words but which you’ll recognize once it’s there – very bright and sunny but chilly at the same time with a subtle breeze of crisp air, telling you that summer is over. On a morning just like that, chance had it that I found out about the annual Tofino carving festival named “Carving on the Edge”. Squinting into the sun and sipping on a coffee outside my favorite café, I discovered a small article about the festival happening that same day. As a photographer, I was instantly hooked as I know that traditional arts and crafts can make for brilliant pictures. Apart from that, it seemed like a unique chance to learn more about the culture of the people who have been calling the Canadian West Coast their home for thousands of years.

 

The Tofino Carving Festival – Carving on the Edge

The tranquil seaside town of Tofino, located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, was and still is an important hub for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, one of the many Canadian indigenous groups. With its long First Nations history, the Tofino region is home to many skilled artists. They are masters of their trade and are dedicated to preserving the art of wood carving. Every year in September, when the sun is low, heralding the arrival of autumn, the annual Carving on the Edge Festival gives these master carvers a stage for their rich cultural heritage and a chance for others to find more about the art. The local carvers are joined by other indigenous artists from all over the island, making it a unique mix of styles, techniques and people.

View from Tofino Carving Festival

The view from the carving festival venue

Entrance of the Tofino Carving Festival

Entering the Carving on the Edge Festival

 

Documenting history and heritage

As I entered the venue, the beautiful Shore Pier building down at the Tofino docks, I was greeted by a creative and very vibrant atmosphere. It was not only an exhibition but the artists where all actually working on their next pieces. The airy and bright location left space to wonder around and observe the masters at work. The great thing was that all of them were very approachable, happily answering questions by curious bystanders – just like me.

Tofin Carving FestivalArtis Kevin Cranmer of the Namgis Miniature canoe at the Tofino Carving Festival Local Tofino carer at the Tofino Carving Festival
tofino-carving-festival-14

Tools of the trade and an unfinished carving

 

Famous Masters of their Trade

I got to talk to Robin Rorick, an artist of the Haida First Nations from far up North. He was working on an amazing cedar panel symbolizing the face of a black bear. Totally immersed in his work, I was able to snap a good picture of him in action. Afterwards he told me that the work that was commissioned to him and will overall take him about a month to finish will be sold for an incredible amount of 8,000 Dollars.

Artist Robin Rorick at the Tofino Carving Festival

Master carver Robin Rorick immersed in his work

Carved panel at the Tofino Carving Festival

His piece of art – almost finished.

Carving isn’t necessarily an art practiced in solitude but can also be dynamic teamwork. That was proven by Vancouver Island artists Gordon Dick and Kelly Robinson who carved a 12ft cedar panel from start to finish. The panel titled “Teaching Foresight” featured a contemporary design and represents the artist’s early memories and teachings from his late grandfather. “I am concerned about the health of our fish and our oceans and I want to put these ideas, feelings and traditions into this work of art”, Gordon Dick said, who also owns his own gallery.

Teamwork at the Tofino Carving Festival

Carving can be teamwork as these two demonstrate

Artist Gordon Dick at at the Tofino Carving Festival

Artist Gordon Dick working on the 12ft cedar panel

Probably most representative for the art of traditional carving in and around Tofino is the Martin family. Brothers Joe and Carl Martin, both master carvers of the local Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, have been carving since their youth and finished over 60 canoes in their careers. Their canoes and other pieces of art can be found in museums and cultural displays throughout Canada and Europe. They have also been the subjects of many documentaries and articles about Vancouver Island’s West Coast region. Joe Martin has traveled all over the world to present his art and educate people on the history and culture of his people. However, the biggest surprise was to get approached by him in almost fluent German. As it turned out, Joe had visited my former home town several times and even has his work on display in the city’s museum of natural history. How small the world can be these days …

Entering the Tofino Carving Festival Canoe at the Tofino Carving Festival Carl Martin Junior at Tofino Carving Festival Paddle making at Tofino Carving Festival

 

A Colorful Presentation of First Nations Culture

Carving is only one aspect of the rich First Nations culture. The performing arts and especially traditional dancing is another. Dancing played a vital role in the everyday lives of the different tribes and was used for welcoming others, storytelling, ceremonial purposes and passing on ancient myths and beliefs. The colorful and intricate dresses of the dancers, their graceful and yet figurative movement, accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of drums and expressive chanting – all of that makes for a fascinating and powerful expression of an age-old culture. The festival provided a small glimpse of that during its evening dance performance.

Led by their chief Bill Cranmer, a group of the ʼNa̱mǥis First Nation had been invited to attend the festival and perform some of their traditional dances. Chief Cranmer was a tall and wiry man with bright white hair and an utterly energetic aura. One could feel his authority and as he spoke, everyone else turned quiet. After his brief introduction of his people, their history and their dances, the performance began. A welcome dance by the whole group was followed by single dances, each telling a unique story. Stories from ancient times and which had been passed on from one generation to the next. And as the intricately carved wooden masks, displayed during the daytime, played an important part in these dances, it all suddenly came together, seemed connected and made sense.

Namgis First nations at Tofino Carving Festival

Introduction by Chief Bill Cramner

Chief Bill Cramner at Tofino Carving Festival

Chief of the Namgis First Nations Bill Cramner – an imposing man.

Traditional Dacne at Tofino Carving Festival

Single dance performance by multi-talented carver Kevin Cramner

 

Last Thoughts …

Coming from Europe and only knowing this fascinating culture from movies, which by the way are from reality, this was an amazing experience. The First Nations of Canada and all of North America have been going through difficult times and still are. But they seem to slowly pick up the pieces and put it all back together. It’s great to see that this rich culture is still alive and that even their young ones actively participate in it. It was just a small glimpse, a scratch on the surface but it was enough to make me want to learn more about it. I once again realized that traveling is not only about adventure, nice landscapes and the next thrill. It’s also about getting to know new cultures, their way of life and learning a bit from it. Having such a unique experience in a country like Canada came as a little surprise and made it all even more worthwhile.

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New Student IDs for the BES Kids http://escapology.eu/2015/08/12/non-profit-project-student-ids-for-bes-kids/ http://escapology.eu/2015/08/12/non-profit-project-student-ids-for-bes-kids/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 07:47:25 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5756 A road traffic accident is what started it all. This is a story of poverty, natural disaster and how people can make a difference to make this world a better place. During my 3-months trip all across the Philippines, I spent a good amount of time in the picturesque seaside town of Gubat in Bicol. … Continue reading »

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BES Kids Fundraiser PhilippinesA road traffic accident is what started it all. This is a story of poverty, natural disaster and how people can make a difference to make this world a better place. During my 3-months trip all across the Philippines, I spent a good amount of time in the picturesque seaside town of Gubat in Bicol. As nice as Gubat, one of the best surf spots in the Philippines, is, there is always light and shadows. At the beginning of this year, one of my good friends in town, Glenda Esperida, had informed me about the desolate condition the local school, Bonifacio Elementary School (BES), was in at that time. And the reason she herself found out about this was a terrible tricycle accident.

 

The accident that started it all

On a bright and sunny Friday afternoon little John Karl Gamba, a first grader at Bonifacio Elementary, was on his way home. Another exciting weekend was waiting. At the same time my friend Glenda was in a tricycle and on her way to the beach for a leisurely afternoon surf. Within a split second, both of their fates connected, setting a wave of future events in motion. As little John Karl crossed the street, the tricycle hit him and dragged him along for what must have felt like ages. The young boy bleeding and in utter shock, Glenda acted quickly and arranged for him to be brought to the local hospital. While the medical team took care of his injuries, the staff started asking questions about the innocent victim. “What is his name? Where is he from and how can we reach his parents?” Clueless about any of that, Glenda started rummaging through the student’s backpack in hopes of finding a proper school ID, providing an answer to all of these questions. But to everyone’s disappointment there was none. Just a small piece of plastic which would have made things a lot easier for everyone involved.

Philippine school kids

Little John Karl Gamba in the middle.

 

Desolate conditions at the school

To further investigate on this matter, Glenda decided to visit Bonifacio Elementary. What she found out put everything in a much broader perspective. Due to the lack of funding from the government, many public schools in the Philippines are unable to provide not only school books but also ID cards to its students, something that is very important, especially for elementary school kids. But apart from that, and maybe even worse, the recent typhoons had also destroyed some of the school’s facilities, forcing staff to convert their small library into a classroom and to move the computers of the designated computer room into the principal’s office. The school was in a desolate condition and definitely not providing the right learning environment for its students. An unacceptable fact, thinking that these students are nothing less than the country’s future.

Damaged classroom

A classroom severely damaged by recent typhoon Glenda.

Filipino classroom

School library which has been turned into a classroom.

A classroom that now serves as a storage area.

A classroom that now serves as a storage area.

Computer room school Philippines

The computers are now set up in the principal’s office.

 

Help BES Kids – a non-profit project is founded

Something needed to be done, something needed to happen. Glenda immediately took initiative and founded Help BES Kids, a non-profit project to help the kids of Bonifacio Elementary School. The aim was to raise enough money to provide every student with an ID card and also help covering the costs for classroom renovations. After she had set up a Facebook Page, including a proper logo and PayPal account to receive donations, we collaborated to spread the word and support the cause. I had spent an amazing time in Gubat and this seemed to be the chance to finally give back a little bit. I had recently published a couple of travel articles in Filipino travel magazines and decided to donate the revenue of these to the cause to give it a kick start. But I also wanted to involve the ESCapology community because together, everything is possible – especially in these times of social media frenzy and globalization. I published the story on all of my channels and asked for support. The response was amazing. Some of you donated money; some of you offered to donate books or asked how to support the cause in other ways. No matter what you did and how you got involved, every penny / peso counted, every share and like counted and your feedback counted. This is the moment to thank everyone for getting involved and for caring. Without you, this would not have been possible. And here is what happened …

Class at Bonifacio Elementary

Creating a better learning environment for the kids of Bonifacio Elementary School.

 

Mission accomplished

We raised a total of PhP 22,500, all coming from private donations. With that money and a huge effort, we managed to have a photographer take pictures of about 280 students and get proper IDs produced for each one of them. In a festive ceremony, led by the Principal Mrs. Cristeta E. Dugan and my friend Glenda Esperida, the IDs were handed to the proud students. In the meantime, little John Carl Gamba, who’s terrible accident set all of these events in motion, had fully recovered and is out and about again. The remainder of the collected funds will be invested in the renovation of the classrooms.

Student ID program

We made it. The new student IDs are being handed out. Congrats!

 

Last thoughts …   

What started with a terrible accident turned into a perfect example of what is possible when people come together to help and take initiative. It was one step for the greater good, one step for making this world a little bit better and it was only possible with all of your help and support. Small trickles can turn into big waves and together we can achieve some great things. Thanks to new technology, the advance of social media and global connectedness, making a difference has become more feasible than ever before. This was only a small scale project but its success has showed me what is possible. Bloggers and influencers should start looking beyond trip reports, food photography and selling their latest e-books and also give back to the community. Now is the time – let’s get together, let’s make it count and let’s do our part in making this world a better place.

Once again, to everyone who was involved in this project – whether it was donating, sharing or participating in any other way –  your generosity and support was greatly appreciated. Thank you so much, vielen Dank and Maraming Salamat!

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How to best save for Travel http://escapology.eu/2015/07/09/how-to-best-save-for-travel/ http://escapology.eu/2015/07/09/how-to-best-save-for-travel/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 06:06:35 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5691 Let’s face it! It doesn’t matter where we go or how cheap we travel, traveling will always cost money. Nothing is for free in this world and traveling is sure neither. Having said that, I get a lot of comments from people saying they would love to travel but just can’t afford it. But even … Continue reading »

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Save money for travelLet’s face it! It doesn’t matter where we go or how cheap we travel, traveling will always cost money. Nothing is for free in this world and traveling is sure neither. Having said that, I get a lot of comments from people saying they would love to travel but just can’t afford it. But even with expenses you can’t cut, a lower income or facing an unfavorable exchange rate, you can still save money. It just requires determination, commitment and an adjustment of lifestyle and you will find yourself on your way to adventure quicker than you might have ever imagined. With the help of the ESCapology Facebook Tribe, I compiled some easy and creative ways to cut expenses, make some extra money and build up a travel budget. How to best save for travel – let’s get you traveling!  

 

1| Take control and start budgeting

This should be the starting point and the essence of all of your saving efforts. Without knowing how much money you actually spend and on what, it will be nearly impossible to save and build a travel budget. I personally track my monthly expenses in an Excel spreadsheet but you can also use smartphone apps or budgeting websites. The point is to become aware of your spending habits, and believe me, you will be surprised. Track your set expenses like rent, insurances, cell phone and credit card payments. Then track your variable expenses. These include everything else, from your grocery shopping, drinks, snacks, your daily coffee fix and so on. Be disciplined here; write everything down, even the smallest amounts. At the end of the month have a close look. You will realize that even small amounts, which you might have not even been aware of, will add up. Identify savings potential and make a budget for the next month, stick to it and compare after that month. Becoming aware of where your money goes is the starting point and will save you a lot of money in the long run. Budgeting like that will also be of immense benefit while traveling. Get into that routine now.

 

2| Save automatically

Saving can be difficult and requiring a lot of discipline. Automation will make it much easier for you. Open a separate online bank account and set up an automatic transfer from your regular checking account. It doesn’t matter how much it is, it is the regularity that will make the difference. You won’t have to think about it. You will just have a little less money to budget with every month.

I opened a dedicated travel account and set up automatic transfers twice a month. I labeled it “Travel Account- Do Not Spend” on my online banking.
Mirro Macatangay – Loyal ESCapology Follower

Some employers also offer having a certain amount of your paycheck deposited into a separate account. That is even easier and can sometimes have tax benefits as well. Check for that possibility or try to negotiate it.

 

3| The good old Piggy Bank

An old fashioned concept but yet so effective. Buy a simple Piggy Bank or something else that you can collect your money in. Throw all your small change in it, even the bigger coins and don’t touch it before you embark on your next trip. I repeat, don’t touch it; stay disciplined.

There’s no beating the old fashioned piggy bank. We got 2 big piggies, one for daily loose change (coins), and the other for small paper bills. […] Then every end of the year, our piggies belch them out! Vacation trip here we go!!!
Pedro Junior – Loyal ESCapology Follower

You will be surprised how much this can add up to. Even my mom does that and it gives her enough money for a few nice meals or a nice sidetrip. It’s also a nice feeling to get that bit of extra cash before setting off.

 

4| Reduce your coffee expenses

I love coffee and going to a café and having a nice cup of hot and freshly brewed coffee is one of the few luxuries I truly enjoy. At the same time, coffee is an expense that can be really tough on your budget and often even without you noticing it. Coming at up $5.00 per coffee, this can easily add up to over a hundred Dollars per month or more than a thousand dollars per year. That money can easily get you an all-inclusive month in the Philippines or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Brew your own coffee, buy an insulated mug and build your travel budget with ease.   

No coffee to save for travel

These bad boys can hurt your budget in the long run.

 

5| Be a conscious shopper

There is a lot of savings potential when it comes to grocery shopping. You have to do it regularly and there is no way around it. Taking your time to compare prices, look for discounts and sales can go a long way. Writing a shopping list will prevent you from buying stuff you actually don’t need. Stick to your budget and shopping list, don’t buy things just because they are on sale and don’t let the clever marketing strategists of those retail chains trick you. You are smarter than them.

 

6| Learn to cook

Eating out is expensive, even at fast food places. Get into the habit of cooking most of your meals yourself. Shop at your local markets for the best prices and fresh produce. It’s not only cheaper but you will also know what is in your food. Cook larger meals so you can use the leftovers for the next day. With a trillion of cooking websites and YouTube tutorials out there, it was never easier to learn how to cook. You can also take a cooking course during your next trip and learn new, exciting recipes. Double the benefit and double the fun.

Market Phnom Penh

Shop your local markets for fresh and cheap produce. Here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 

7| Bring your own lunch to work

Now that you can cook, bring your own boxed lunch to work. Once again, eating out is pricey and often not even that healthy. Take care of yourself and your budget. Cook larger meals, pack them for the next day or even freeze them. A nice routine is to cook it up on Sundays and prepare meals for most of the weekdays. If going out for lunch with your colleagues is sort of social event, than you can still do it on two days of the week. For the remaining three days, you can bring your own.

 

8| Be smart about credit cards

I personally only use credit cards to book flights and for certain expenses during my trips. At home I never use them. I feel that spending cash money, taking it out of your wallet and handing it over to the cashier, is much more of an overcoming than just punching in 4 numbers on a keypad. On top of that, once you are in debt, you will have to deal with interest rates higher than 10% which is wrong on so many levels. For an American, the benefits or miles you can aggregate on a credit card might be worth it in the long run. For me as a European, and probably for a lot of other nationalities, this is not really a factor. So why bother and risk breaking your travel budget?

 

9| Ask yourself that one question

This little habit has helped me immensely. It helped for saving for my trips but also for making the most of my travel budget while on the road. Whenever I feel tempted to buy something or spend money, I ask myself if I really need it or just want it. If it is just a want, then I usually decide to not spend that money.

I’m not really into “branded” things (shoes, bags, clothes, accessories, gadgets) so instead of spending large amounts of money on those luxuries, i save it for when an airfare sale comes.
Eyphrille Cuevas – Loyal ESCapology Follower

This simple question made me realize how much money I used to spend on unnecessary things in the past and what a waste that was. Gadgets, brand name clothing and what not. It’s good to treat yourself every once in a while, we all need it. But be conscious about it and don’t just throw your hard earned money out of the window for some short-lived, material things.

 

10| Cut the booze

I find alcohol being a major cost factor while traveling. In every country, even the cheapest ones, beer and liquor are never cheap. And that is the same at home, especially if you prefer to drink in bars and clubs. Think about it, it’s expensive, it gives you bad hangovers and it’s generally bad for your health. I still enjoy a cold San Miguel here and there but I never drink excessively. Again, be conscious about your spending. Cut the booze and your travel budget will thank you for it.

Saving money for travel

Cut the booze. A San Mig every now and then is still ok….

 

11| Stay in more often but make it fun

This goes hand in hand with number 10 above. Going out can be super expensive and a killer for your budget. A long night out in clubs and bars can easily add up to $50.00 and more. However, cutting your nights out doesn’t mean you have to become an anti-social loner. Invite your friends into your home, cook together, play games, have big movie nights or do things which are for free. There are heaps of possibilities, just get creative and I am sure your friends will love it as well.

 

12| Snacks suck

Snacking accounts for one of those expenses that you might not even be aware of but which seriously damage your travel budget. A donut here, some ice-cream there, a pack of cookies or chips – it adds up so quickly. As you eat those snacks, they will eat your hard earned savings. I don’t even want to get into nutritional and health aspects of snacking.  Take care of your body and your wallet and stop the snacking. Instead, take fruit and veggies along and snack on those and of course, eat whole and healthy meals.

 

13| Sell your stuff

It is safe to say that probably the most of us own too much stuff. Old clothes, electronics or gadgets which just catch dust in our closet. Sell it now. This is the chance to boost your budget before your trip. There are numerous ways to monetize your old crap.

I did yard sales! I took up “shop” in front of a sari-sari store in Kalayaan where all the students and construction workers usually pass by. I turned all my old crap into gold.
Mirro Macatangay – Loyal ESCapology Follower

Sell it on websites like ebay, Craigslist or OLX, organize a fun yard sale, go to the pawn broker or second hand shop. Almost everything can be flipped and you will probably be surprised by how much it can add up to. Dont’t forget to put your revenues in your piggy bank or travel account.

 

14| Get a sidejob

Saving only goes so far. If you have maxed out your savings potential, it is time to generate extra income. This will take a bit of research and effort but there are opportunities out there. A lot of retail jobs, café and hospitality jobs and even white collar jobs can be done part time. If you are flexible and willing to take the odd shifts, this is definitely an option. Another thing to look into is freelancing or remote work. Platforms like Upwork (formerly oDesk) offer a wide range of freelance gigs which can easily be done at home and combined with a regular job. Of course, all of this strongly depends on your skillset and probably even more on the economy you are in. But if you think it might be a possibility, why not try it?


15| Create your own jobs

If you live in an economy where jobs are not easy to come by, you might want to try to create your own jobs. Offer your services to friends, their friends and your entire neighborhood. It could be literally anything: dog sitting, cleaning, lawn mowing, tutoring, fixing things or just running errands. People are willing to pay a little if it makes their lives easier. Take the initiative, get the word out.

 

Last thoughts …

What it comes down to is that saving for traveling is possible. It might be hard, it might take time, it might take patience and it it might demand substantial sacrifices, but it can be done. Frugal living is the key to achieving it. Let’s refrain from materialism and that superficial quest for more and more. It’s neither healthy nor sustainable. Working towards a goal and finally achieving it, rewarding yourself with an amazing, memorable adventure, can’t be beaten in my opinion. As one of my followers wrote on Facebook, “Invest in experiences and not things”. These will last a lifetime. In the end, life is all about the amount of good stories you can tell when you are old.

These are my best tips, in large inspired by the ESCapology tribe on Facebook. Thank you all for participating and sending in your input. I listed some of your best feedback below. Please feel free to tag yourselves in the respective Facebook post and share it among your friends. Maybe you have even more and better tips. Build that budget, stay focused, stay disciplined and set out for adventure!

FACEBOOK FEEDBACK:

 
Dines Jansen Set aside a small percentage of monthly income..compulsory…live frugally, minimize going and dining out and also buy only things that you need and not want. Go travel during off season then the tickets, fares and accommodations are cheaper.

Pedro Junior There’s no beating the old fashioned piggy bank. We got 2 big piggies, one for daily loose changes we get (coins), and the other for paper bills that range from $1 to $100 depending on how much left-overs we have from our weekly budget or how much extra bucks we get from bonuses from work. Then every end of the year, our piggies belch them out! Vacation trip here we go!!!

April Violet I think in general “Live Within your means” or even better “Live Beneath your means” and also if one is not disciplined to save, automatic withdrawal from one’s paycheck to an account set aside for whatever one is saving for (Travel/trip, Retirement, etc).

Eyphrille Cuevas I’m not really into “branded” things (shoes, bags, clothes, accessories, gadgets) so instead of spending large amount of money from those luxuries, i save it so i have something to spend when an airfare sale comes. …. There’s always a way if you want to save for your travel, it’s a matter of little sacrifice from your lifestyle. “Invest in experiences, not things.”

Grace L Tuppil I decided to save/set aside small amount monthly purposely for travel with or without a plan and I don’t underestimate the amount. It helps me a lot when time comes for the actual date.

Elvira Pintac  I don’t buy gadgets, clothes (unless needed) or just the cheap ones known as Ukay2 will do for me (haha). Thinking of spending for the memories than om things motivate me to cut cost grin emoticon

Mirro Macatangay I’ll chip in. I opened a dedicated travel account and set up automatic transfers twice a month. I labeled it “Travel Account- Do Not Spend” on my Online banking. Lol. I also stopped using credit cards (since mileage deals on Philippine credit cards are crap anyway) to force me not to spend money that I do not have. I book my air fares using debit cards! And my favorite travel fund-raising scheme last year: I did yard sales! I took up “shop” in front of a sari-sari store in Kalayaan where all the students and construction workers usually pass by. I turned all my old crap into gold.

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Into the Wild – Bear Watching in Tofino http://escapology.eu/2015/06/11/bear-watching-in-tofino/ http://escapology.eu/2015/06/11/bear-watching-in-tofino/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 03:49:45 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5641 It was early and just like a heavy blankets, thick layers of fog were still covering the rugged coastline as we set off for an adventure. An adventure into the wilderness of the Canadian Westcoast. My friends Alex and Steve from Los Angeles had come for a visit and together we were on a quest … Continue reading »

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bear watching in tofino

It was early and just like a heavy blankets, thick layers of fog were still covering the rugged coastline as we set off for an adventure. An adventure into the wilderness of the Canadian Westcoast. My friends Alex and Steve from Los Angeles had come for a visit and together we were on a quest to see some of the region’s true locals, the coastal Black Bears. After a quick breakfast with coffee and donuts, it was time to head down to Meares Landing, our departure point and headquarters of tour company Remote Passages. What started with rather little expectations, turned out to be a fascinating trip into the wild.

 

Getting ready for adventure

The whole Meares Landing compound conveyed a sense of adventure and we were excited like little kids as we walked down the creaky boardwalk to receive our briefing for the day. Getting familiar with the area and learning about what to expect on this trip was one thing. Suiting up properly was another. We were given thick and bright red overalls which were supposed to shield us from the cold on the open water but also served as full body life jackets. All wrapped up, I had a last glance at the office map and the indicated sightings of the last few days looked promising. With high hopes for spotting black bears and other wildlife, we walked to the jetty and our racy Zodiac motor boat. It was time.

Meares Landing - where adventure begins.

Meares Landing – where adventure begins.

Remote Passages Tofino

Remote Passages in Tofino.

Map Claoquot Sound

A last look at the map. Looks promising…let’s go

Marine excursion Tofino

Getting ready for embarking into the wild.

 

Bald head eagles and our first bear

“Dress warm! On the water it will be 10 degrees colder than on land”. This warning by the tour staff rang in my head as we embarked into the waters of the inlet. And yes, it was chilly but our fluffy red overalls did what they were supposed to. As the Zodiac plowed through the coastal waters, we suddenly had the first wildlife encounter of the day. A majestic bald head eagle was sitting on top of a waterway signpost. Watching us closely, the king of the air kept its confident posture as we approached calmly and slowly. Towering above his territory, the rugged coastline seemed to disappear under thick layers of grey fog, giving the whole scene a morbid but at the same time fascinating touch. My camera was clicking and I still wonder who was really watching whom at this point.

bald head eagle

A bald head eagle. Towering over his territory. Who is watching whom?

We continued our journey and after patrolling the coast for a bit, the moment was there. Our first black bear was in sight. Finally, this is what we came for, this is what we had hoped for and we had just started our journey. You could feel the excitement rising as we slowly chugged towards the coast. Everyone was quiet, holding their breath, and trying not to scare this beautiful creature off. But to the contrary, the bear was utterly relaxed; foraging for food as he calmly strolled along the rocks. At one point it looked straight at us, but since bears don’t have any natural predators coming from the sea, they don’t perceive boats as potential threat. We were able to get very close, which was amazing. His fur was shimmering in the pale sunlight and despite his great weight; his movement along the edgy rocks was smooth and steady. An absolutely fascinating animal.

Black bear Canada

Moving swiftly across the edgy rocks.

Black bear closeup

Looking at us without fear. Beauty.

 

Relaxation on seal rock

It was time to leave our furry friend behind to look for more wildlife. Everyone was relieved and happy because such an early sight apparently doesn’t happen too often. But it just got better and better. We made it to seal rock, a small exposed rock which the harbor seals have claimed as their very own sunbathing spot. That rock was crowded and as the sun came out, sending its warming rays onto the rock, we knew exactly why. It looked like the perfect place to spend the morning and warm up. About 30 seals were just lying around, enjoying the sun, sleeping or playing with each other. Others were floating in the water, their heads sticking out, patiently waiting for a good spot. Unfortunately they are apparently not the smartest animals out there. Our guide told us that once Orcas, the famous killer whales, arrive in that area and circle the rock, the seals get scared and dive into the water instead of staying put on the rock. Much to the joy of the Orcas.

Harbor Seals Tofino

Seal Rock – the place to be if you are a seal.

Harbor Seals Rock

Relaxing in the sunshine. Way to spend the morning. | Image by Alex Kostich

Lone seal

A lone harbor seal checking us out. | Image by Alex Kostich

Onward to find more bears, we came across a huge swarm of moon jellyfish. Nonpoisonous, these shimmering blue creatures form big packs in calm waters and just float along. So far science has not yet discovered the root of this behavior but it is sure an interesting sight.

Clayoquot

The calm waters of Clayoquot

Moonjelly

A swarm of shiny moon jellyfish.

 

Bears and more Bears

Back along the coastline, we got lucky once again and found more bears. The most surprising sight was two bears, peacefully strolling along the beach together. That is something rarely seen as bears are known to live solo most of the time. Only when mating, they allow another bear in their close vicinity. Approaching from afar and then seeing them from up close was quite a surprise.

Black bear couple

A couple from afar … let’s get closer…

Black bear couple

Still young and a bit thin. But they seem to get along well. | Image by Alex Kostich

During the course of the journey, we were able to spot a couple of more bears, all foraging along the coastline, looking for fresh crabs and mussels. Despite appearing a bit clumsy, they go about it with a high degree of dexterity. They flip over rocks with their paws, grab the tasty food hiding underneath, crack it open and munch on it vigorously. That’s their daily morning routine and apart from eating fresh sea food, you can find bears eating anything else as well. Berries, fruit, roots, meat and even grass. You could say their diet is a very balanced one.

Sniffing to check the surrounding for potential enemies. | Image by Alex Kostich

Sniffing to check the surrounding for potential enemies. | Image by Alex Kostich

Black Bear feeding

Flipping rocks in search of delicious crabs and mussles | Image by Alex Kostich

Another one spotted. | Image by Alex Kostich

Another one spotted. | Image by Alex Kostich

 

Returning to Tofino

Our trip into the wild slowly came to an end. Our guide and boat driver stepped on the gas and we made our way across the waters of the inlet. Half way there, we came across a patch of open mud flats which were exposed due to low tide. What we discovered was a the final highlight of our journey. A group of juvenile bald eagles, not yet featuring the animal’s distinctive white head and tail feathers, were testing each other’s strength. Fighting over a piece of fish, they were so engaged that they never took real notice of us. The wingspan of even the juveniles is very impressive and it really showed why they are the uncontested kings of the air.

Juvenile bald eagles

Juvenile eagles testing their strength. |Image by Alex Kostich

Bald eagles fighting

A juvenile challenging an adult. Fighting over their catch. | Image by Alex Kostich

eagle on wreck

Resting on an abondoned ship wreck. | Image by Alex Kostich

Riding in our zodiac vessel, the fresh wind in our faces and Tofino harbor in the distance, everyone was happy and content. Bear watching in Tofino was a great trip with an outcome beyond all of our expectations. As we anchored at the pier and everyone slowly disembarked, it was time for one last snapshot. Good times in the wild with good friends.

Zodiac Tofino

On the way back … Tofino harbor appearing in the distance.

Bear watching in Tofino

Last group shot…what an amazing trip.

3 hours on the water with only having had a donut and coffee makes hungry…really hungry. We definitely felt for those bears, waking up hungry with the urge of finding fresh seafood. Good thing we didn’t have to flip over rocks to find it. Our source and way to end the morning was Wildside Grill, a local institution for fresh seafood of all kinds. It was Fish Tacos and Salmon Burgers with fries for us and I am sure our new found black furred friends would have enjoyed that as well.

Wildside Grill Tofino

Some well deserved at chow at Wildside Grill.

 

Last thoughts

First of all it was great to finally meet Alex and Steve personally. I had featured Alex on the blog some time ago and we kept in touch ever since. Our trip into the wild made it a perfect weekend. We never expected to see so much wildlife in such a short amount of time.  And for me, coming from a country where bears have been extinct for decades already, this was a very special kind of experience. Getting back in touch with nature and seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is great and definitely puts some things back into perspective.

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Slow Travel – 6 Tips and Tricks http://escapology.eu/2015/05/20/tips-for-slow-travel/ http://escapology.eu/2015/05/20/tips-for-slow-travel/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 06:58:42 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5609 In my last article I revealed why I am a big advocate of slow travel and what its benefits are. The point is that travel shouldn’t be a race or competition to see the most places. So many other aspects of our modern lives are like that already, hectic, rushed and competitive, so why continue … Continue reading »

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Tips for slow travel

In my last article I revealed why I am a big advocate of slow travel and what its benefits are. The point is that travel shouldn’t be a race or competition to see the most places. So many other aspects of our modern lives are like that already, hectic, rushed and competitive, so why continue during our precious time off? Instead we should savor our travel time, take in all in of those new impressions with all of our senses and make room for relaxation, inspiration and cultural exchange. It’s about taking more back home than just a photograph. But how do you actually do it, you might wonder. Well, there are a few simple tips that will help you to drop it down a gear and make the most of your trip.

 

Put your itinerary on a diet

I often receive messages from readers who ask for advice with regards to their itinerary.  The common problem I see is that they are often way too packed. My general advice is to do less and spend more time in fewer places.

The magic of slow travel, where the emphasis is less on manic sightseeing and more on taking in your surroundings at a relaxed pace. (Sarah Schlichter, travel writer)

You have a month off and want to travel Southeast Asia? Instead of rushing from one country to the other, wasting time and money on the road, pick just two countries, maybe even just one and explore it thoroughly. Instead of visiting 10 places, just do three. You want to travel the world in six month? Why the rush? Pick just one region or a few countries and immerse in those. Slow travel means spending more time in fewer places. Remember, less is more.

Motorbike Monk Phom Penh

Why the rush? Take your time and explore slowly.

 

Drop your to do list

The reason for the rush is often that abstract feeling of having to complete a  to do or bucket list. But to do lists are for work or for those situations where you urgently have to get things done and stay organized. I myself am using to do lists every single day and I could probably not survive without them. But they are definitely the wrong concept when it comes to traveling.

It’s the perfect time to be self-indulgent and follow your own itinerary, one that comes from within and not a guidebook. (Alex Leviton, former Lonely Planet author)

Don’t get me wrong here. It is good to do your research before your trip. It’s part of the excitement and a lot of fun. But stay flexible and decide what you would like to do and see once you are there. In the end, traveling is not marking off things of a list but rather about the quality time spent in a place. Quality over quantity!

Sunset with friends

It’s all about the quality time spent in a place.

 

Try traveling solo

If you are traveling by yourself, you are not only more flexible but also more receptive and attentive to all those new impressions your destination presents you. You have time to reflect and really take things in. Plus you are not tied to someone else’s itinerary. You can go with your own flow, be self-indulgent and create your very own memories. On top of that, I often found it easier to get in touch with the locals while traveling solo. That alone can lead to the most memorable experiences. And don’t worry! You are never really alone when traveling. You will meet so many new and interesting people.

Sunset Silhouette

Traveling solo makes you more aware and receptive. Take it all in.

 

Get to know the locals

Hanging out with other travelers is easy and often lots of fun. But getting to know people who actually call the place you are visiting their home is a great way of immersing deeper into your destination. These interactions often make for the most memorable moments. The locals can also show the hidden gems of their place, things that you probably won’t find in your average guide book. If you are a bit shy and hesitant, there are easy ways of getting in touch with locals nowadays. Couchsurfing is a great platform where, apart from the regular stay overs, you can find regular meetings and events which you can attend. Meet-Up is another platform which seems to work very well.

Filipino locals

Getting to know the locals. Only when you slow it down a notch.

 

Get your read on

I am not talking about travel guides but proper travel literature. Novels or reports about the culture and history of the country you will be visiting. This will help you to get a much deeper understanding and feel for your destination. Reading books like that is probably the best way to get deeper into a culture and it will also add to your excitement as you prepare for your journey. The Lonely Planet Section about the country’s history is a start and it also features a list of books which you can read before embarking on your adventure.  A perfect example for me was George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”. The images that this masterpiece created in my mind accompanied me throughout my whole journey across the Myanmar.

Trishaw Myanmar

A trishaw driver in Burma. Slowing it down and reading. That’s the way.

 

Stay longer

Why only stay a couple of days in a place? Establishing sort of a base lets you explore your surroundings way better than just passing through. Hostels and Guesthouse often offer better deals if you stay for a few nights or even longer. It is easy on your budget and you will still be in touch with other travelers if you happen to miss company.

Sunset bali surf

Base yourself somewhere and go exploring.

 

Last thoughts …

I understand that a lot of us are on a pretty strict diet in terms of vacation days. Sometimes we have a few weeks, maybe only a couple and often only a long weekend. We want to make the most of it, I understand because I have been there myself. But slow travel is not all about the time we spend in one place. It is really about the quality of time, our experiences and what we take home. We should travel with all of our senses and take our time take it all in. It is sure not for everyone but maybe it is worth a try for you. Maybe next time?

Do you have other tips for taking it a little slower? And what’s your opinion about slow travel in general? Let me know.

Sinature_klt

 

Ox in Cambodia

AND DON’T FORGET: The ox moves slowly, but the earth is patient!

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Slow Travel or why Less is More http://escapology.eu/2015/05/07/slow-travel-or-why-less-is-more/ http://escapology.eu/2015/05/07/slow-travel-or-why-less-is-more/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 05:04:06 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5586 If you have only limited time to travel, and that is probably the case for most of us out there, we have to decide if we want to travel fast or if we want to travel slowly. Especially if you have your annual leave coming up, spending the majority of your precious paid vacation days, … Continue reading »

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Slow TravelIf you have only limited time to travel, and that is probably the case for most of us out there, we have to decide if we want to travel fast or if we want to travel slowly. Especially if you have your annual leave coming up, spending the majority of your precious paid vacation days, the temptation to cram your itinerary and see as much possible is great. I can relate to this concept as I have been there myself. But I argue that less is more and that travelling slowly will actually make for a much more intense trip, longer lasting and profound memories and an overall better travel experience.

I have been receiving a lot of requests from people asking for help with their travel plans, especially for exploring Southeast Asia. The common problem I see is that their itineraries are way too packed. But what is the benefit of crossing off places and attractions of your to-do list while all you will be taking home is just a picture like so many before you?

Travel is no competition like so many other things in our lives these days.

I sometimes have the impression that traveling has become some sort of competition. “I was here, I was there…. Have you been there? Why not? “, are common things you get to hear when talking to travelers. Features like interactive travel maps and the inflationary use of the term “bucket list” enhanced this phenomenon even more. But travel is no competition like so many other things in our lives these days. It is a quest for long lasting memories, for inspiration, for growing as a person and extending ones horizon.

Phnom Penh FCC

Sometime we need to slow it down. Less is more.

 

Lasting memories

Seeing nice things is great, but such memories are usually more of superficial nature. In order to create deep and long lasting memories, it will need more than just hop from one place to the next and snap a few pictures in between. The things that will stick, that will get anchored deep in our souls, will take more than just seeing. They will take true experiencing with all of our senses. It takes an open mind and heart to absorb all the valuable things a destination wants to show you. And it takes time.

bolaven plateau Laos

Take it slow to create lasting memories.

 

A deeper type of experience

A ten day trip to Asia could have you in three different countries or 4 major cities in Europe. But would you really be able to experience these places? I doubt it as I have spent at least a month in every Southeast Asian country and still feel like having only scratched the surface. If you slow it down and spend more time in a place, you will be able to really experience it. You can go on photo excursions, explore different neighborhoods, go sightseeing, mingle with locals and sample the delicious foods you will come across along the way.

Street photo melacca malaysia

Spend quality time in one place. Do a photo tour, go explore the neighborhoods.

 

Save money

Moving a lot means spending a lot of money on transportation. Even in times of low cost travel, bus rides, train tickets and flights can inflate your travel budget quickly. Why not save that money and spend it on some memorable experiences? At the same time, most guesthouses and hostels offer deals for extended stays. Sometimes even three nights is already enough to score a nice discount. It is always worth a try.

Thailand Tuk Tuk

Too much moving will add up. Slow it down.

 

Save time

How can you save time if you travel slowly, you might wonder. It sounds like a paradox but think about it: Having a packed itinerary means that you will have to move a lot. Getting from A to B will take time, don’t underestimate that. I usually tell people to regard transportation days as a whole day in their itineraries. Even if the actual transport appears to be fairly short, with everything included, preparations, checking out and checking in, the day will probably be over before you can really do anything. Save your precious time and use it to explore and build a deeper relationship with your destination.

Train to Kanchanaburi Thailand

Reduce your transportation days if traveling with a limited time budget.

 

Disconnect and recharge

These days we often live in a very stressful environment. Deadlines, commuting, overtime hours, juggling obligations and constant availability. Why do the same thing while traveling? You don’t want to come home, needing a vacation from your vacation, right? It is important to regard traveling as a chance to disconnect from the pressures back home, to recharge your batteries, find new inspiration and return refreshed. Take your time. Take your time to sit in a café and observe the local life, take your time to sleep in and relax on the beach, and take your time to get lost in a foreign place.

Sunset Tofino Canada

Slow travel means taking time to relax, unwind and recharge.

 

Immerse in a place and its culture

Slow travel gives you the opportunity to become a small part of the local life and to establish a deeper connection with a place, its culture and its people. You can become a part of it all instead of being just an outside observer. If you have more time, you can interact with the locals, get to know them and learn more about their lives and their culture. Most people are very happy if you as a tourist make an effort to get to know them. From my own experiences I can say that these moments can make a trip a most unique and memorable experience.

Hilltribes thailand

Taking time to mingle with the locals. Wit hilltribe women in Northern Thailand.

 

Last thoughts …

Slow travel means spending more time in less places. Slow travel also means to make your journey and the places you will visit special.  I know, it might be hard to drop a couple of places from your itinerary. But what you give up in quantity will be far outweighed by the quality of your trip and the experiences you will make. Traveling is no competition and less is more. Take your time to thoroughly explore with all of your senses, to immerse in a new environment, to relax and to make meaningful and long lasting memories. Try it out next time and in the meantime, feel free to ask me for tips concerning your itinerary. I am always happy to help. In my next post, I will give a few tips for traveling slowly and a more unique travel experience.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself traveling too fast or are you a slow traveler yourself?

Sinature_klt

 

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Interview with world famous travel photographer Réhahn http://escapology.eu/2015/04/23/interview-with-world-famous-travel-photographer-rehahn/ http://escapology.eu/2015/04/23/interview-with-world-famous-travel-photographer-rehahn/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 00:45:45 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5531 He has been published in National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and Marie Claire, selling fine art prints worth 10,000 USD and staging international exhibitions around the world. Within just three years, travel photographer Réhahn Croquevielle, simply known as Réhahn to most, has risen to the topmost levels of photography. Réhahn, 36 years old and from … Continue reading »

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Interview Réhahn Photographer

He has been published in National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and Marie Claire, selling fine art prints worth 10,000 USD and staging international exhibitions around the world. Within just three years, travel photographer Réhahn Croquevielle, simply known as Réhahn to most, has risen to the topmost levels of photography. Réhahn, 36 years old and from Normandie, France is probably best known for his documental portraits of the vanishing cultures in Vietnam which he now calls his home. On his motorbike, Réhahn has explored the furthermost corners of the country, bringing back colorful images which found their way into his best-selling book “Vietnam. Mosaic of Contrasts”. But besides being an established photographer and intrepid traveler, Réhahn is also a keen entrepreneur. In my recent interview I was able to ask him about all three aspects of his life and how it is all connected.

Interview with Réhahn Croquevielle

Réhahn Croquevielle – Traveler, Photographer and Entrepreneur.

 

ESCapology: At age 32 you left a stable career in France, sold your business and moved to the town of Hoi An in Vietnam. Can you tell me more about this move and the reason behind it?

Réhahn: I first came to Vietnam in 2007 because I and my wife were sponsoring a child over there at that time. I wanted to meet that little girl, her sister, and her small family who was based in Hoi An. Despite the fact that it was my first trip to Asia, I instantly fell in love with Hoi An, Vietnam as a whole and its wonderful people. It was amazing. I stayed with this local family for four days and something special and magical happened between us. When we left, we promised to come back and we did every single year afterwards. Over time our visits became longer and longer. Each time we were leaving Hoi An, going back to France became harder and harder. Imagine living in a small Vietnamese town for two months. It just changes you as a person and it definitely changed me.

Hoi An Wall

Impressions from Hoi An, Réhahn’s new home. | © by Réhahn

At one point, I somehow felt that Hoi An had become my real home. Nothing really held me back in France anymore. So three years ago, I sold the printing company I had back then, sold my car, the few things I owned and returned to Hoi An for good. I built a house with a few rooms to rent out as sort of a homestay. At that time, I also started to get a lot more serious about my photography.

Everything here moves at a slower pace, less stress, less rules and much more freedom.

Generally, life in Vietnam is completely different than it was back home. Everything here moves at a slower pace, less stress, less rules and much more freedom. I can really say that I feel a lot freer than I ever did before. Everything seems to be possible here. You can open a gallery, publish a book, run a guesthouse or a restaurant and it is all less regulated than in France. Freedom is probably the single most important thing I gained by moving here to Vietnam.

 

Réhahn the Traveler – The Search for Freedom

ESCapology: You are very much into exploring the country by motorbike. It’s also my favorite mode of traveling and I actually wrote a series of articles about it. What do you exactly like about it and how does it help with your photography?

Réhahn: For me as a photographer, it is the best way to travel in Vietnam. The roads are usually good and believe it or not, I find it safe to ride here. The type of photography I do requires a lot of time to get in touch with people, to socialize and to talk to them. That’s what real travel photography is about. I don’t do street photography or steal photographs from people by secretly clicking away from a distance. But getting in touch with the minorities here in Vietnam is not so easy as they are hard to reach. They often live in very remote places, high up in the mountains, in small villages far off the beaten track. These places are hard, often impossible to get to by car.

Minorities Vietnam

The Minorities of Northern Vietnam. Best reached by motorbike. | © by Réhahn

With a motorbike this is usually not a big problem. You are also very flexible and not tied to a set itinerary. You can stop where you want to and you can stay in places as long as you want to. Especially for the kind of photography I do, which, as I mentioned, requires time, this is a huge benefit. During my tours, I often discover small roads that I usually try to explore. Sometimes they will lead to nowhere, but often they take me to small, hidden villages that make for brilliant photo opportunities. Great images can also be found just along the roads in Vietnam. Traveling by motorbike gives you the freedom to stop and take that special image which you surely would have missed if you were in a car. Traveling by motorbike gives us photographers the most freedom in the quest for great images.

 

ESCapology: One of the regions you have extensively toured by motorbike and especially enjoyed is the Ha Giang region up North, close to the Chinese border. Would you say that is your favorite destination in terms of photography in Vietnam?

Réhahn: I like the North more than any other region in Vietnam. That is because Vietnam has 53 ethnic minorities and only ten of them still wear their traditional dresses and ornaments. This is definitely a vanishing culture and most of these tribes live in the North. This part of the country is also famous for its beautiful, curved rice terraces, and with the locals working in the fields, wearing their traditional garments, it just makes for fantastic pictures. One of the most photogenic places, and also probably my favorite, is the Dong Van Sunday Market. It’s an incredible explosion of colors and when I was there for the first time, I took more than 1,200 photos.

Ha Giang Vietnam

Sun is setting over the mountains of Ha Giang, Northern Vietnam. © by Réhahn

I have been to the Central Highlands and to the South but the North of the country is just my favorite, both for traveling and photography. Riding my motorbike up there is simply amazing. Going down the Ma Pi Leng pass, the gigantic canyon below, the bright sun above, the road twisting and winding, rice fields passing by and the wind in your hair … it makes you just wanting to close your eyes, breathe deeply and enjoy that freedom you have up there.

 

ESCapology: Vietnam is your new home, the place where your photography evolved and your most well-known images have been created. But you also explore other countries, always in search for beautiful images and stories. You recently returned from a trip in Malaysia, portraying the Bajau sea gypsy people. How do you go about organizing a photographic journey like that?

Réhahn: The story of my recent trip to meet the Bajau sea gypsies is quite unique. I was in touch with two girls from Malaysia who have been following me online for a couple of years. At one point they came to Vietnam and decided to visit me in my gallery in Hoi An. We got to talk and they told me about the Bajau and got me really excited about it. I did more research, kept in touch with the two girls who gave me lots of good advice and the idea of going took off from there. I was excited because I saw that there wasn’t much photography out there taken at this part of the world. It seemed like something new, something still fairly undiscovered.

A Bajau Sea Gipsy kid enjoying the water. | © by Réhahn

A Bajau Sea Gipsy kid enjoying the water. | © by Réhahn

Bajau kids in front of Réhahn's lens. | © by Réhahn

Bajau kids in front of Réhahn’s lens. | © by Réhahn

So what I usually do, and it wasn’t any different with this trip to Borneo, is to organize everything by myself. If really needed, I try to find a guide who can show me around, but it needs to be on my terms and definitely not in a group. It was a bit hard in Malaysia but I finally found someone with a boat who even spoke a little bit of English. But most importantly he was very patient, a trait you just need to have if traveling with a photographer. So yes, I do engage a guide. But when it is not needed, which, for example, was the case during my recent trip to Varanasi, India, I just go alone. This is actually my preferred way of traveling as it gives me the most freedom to do what I really want.

 

Réhahn the Photographer – Tribes and Portraits

ESCapology: You have a strong focus on portraits. I know it is not easy to overcome these inhibitions of approaching strangers and to take their photograph, especially if you not only want to rely on a large tele zoom, snapping away from afar. What is your approach to portrait photography?

Réhahn: It really depends and it is different in Vietnam. Generally I think no one can be really natural within five minutes. In my opinion, the only and best way to do it, is to talk to the people you want to take the picture of, spend time with them and respect them. What helps me here in Vietnam is that I speak quite a bit of Vietnamese. So for example, if I encounter an older lady, I say “Chao Ba” which means “Hello” and then I sit down with her. This is important; I sit down and I don’t look down on them from above. It’s a sign of respect. Then I introduce myself in basic Vietnamese which gets people very curious. From that point on, the conversations usually take a very similar direction. People ask questions about family, if I am married and if I have children and how old I am. It has become sort of a routine but it makes for a completely different type of social interaction. After a while I can start taking some pictures but I usually never keep those first ones as they won’t be really natural. However, I do show them to my subject, tell them they look beautiful or handsome and we laugh together.

Portraits are not an easy subject. We cannot have a natural portrait in five minutes. It takes time and it takes a lot of social contact.

That’s when I really start taking pictures and that’s also how I got a lot of my best shots. What it comes down to is taking your time. Sometimes I spend one, two, three hours with the people I meet and sometimes I even stay with them for several days. You need time to create compelling portraits. Your photo will show if you took your time or if it is a rushed, unnatural shot.
In other countries, it is more difficult because I can’t really communicate with my subjects. Sometimes, for example in India, the Sadhus in the streets of Rajasthan will ask money for getting their photographs taken. So what I do in these situations is that I sit with them and take a snapshot of someone else. I show them the photo and ask what they think about it. We smile and sometimes we laugh about it. I share this special moment with them and we become sort of partners. Then I will try to take a picture again and most of the time it works because I have established a relationship. But no matter where you are, time is the key for getting good travel portraits.

 

ESCapology: Your probably most famous image which has been published around the world, is that of 6-year-old girl Kim Luan of the M’Nong ethnic group with her elephant in the Central Highlands. What is the story behind this picture and how did you come by this magic moment?

Réhahn: First I have to explain that I am firm believer in Karma. Three years ago I came to an area in the Central Highlands and I took a photo of a young girl, 6 years old, with very big and captivating eyes. It made for an amazing portrait which sold very well in my gallery. For this photo, I didn’t have the time to really talk to the girl or get to know her family as I usually do. So one day, when I sold another print of this photo, I thought it would be nice to find this girl and find more about her. So I went back to this place, only with the goal to meet her, get to know her, to give her my recent photo book and also give her family some money to have them benefiting from the images success. After a lot of asking around and me on the verge of giving up, I finally found her. I went to her house and explained why I was there and what I wanted to do. The whole family and all of the neighbors came out and it turned into a very big thing for the people there. I presented them my photo book with the girl’s picture in it and I think the family was very happy and proud. It was a good moment and after a while it was time to return to my hotel. On the way back, just by chance, I came across this scene which became my most popular photograph. A huge elephant, accompanied by this little girl, Kim Luan, of the M’Nong tribe. I approached very slowly and started taking pictures. The light was not very good during this time of the day, I had to hurry, but the scene was magical. You have to know that the M’Nong is the only Vietnamese minority that is actually able to tame elephants and still do it up to this day. For them, they are considered members of the families. It is very special, even in Vietnam. The other thing is, that members of the M’Nong hardly wear their traditional dresses anymore but Kim that day did which made the picture even more special. So yes, I believe in Karma and that good things will happen if you do something for someone and don’t expect anything in return. And I think this is what happened to me that day.

 

ESCapology: You’ll probably get this question a lot but people are usually eager to know about this. What gear are you currently using and what are your favorite lenses?

Réhahn: I am currently using the Canon 5D Mark III and my favorite lens is the 70-200 2.8 by Canon. The reason why I prefer that lens is that even if I interact with my subjects, I still like to step back a little. I think it is more polite than being too close. When you use the 50mm or even the 85mm, you need to be very close and I feel a little bit like I am abusing the people. Especially if taking pictures of elderly people, getting so close can prove difficult. With the longer zoom lens it works very well. I can step back about two to three meters and still interact with them. At the same time I can take full advantage of a shallow depth of field which is great for portraits. The only downturn is that it is a very heavy lens to carry around.

 

ESCapology: What are your best tips for aspiring photographers, aiming to improve their travel portraits and photography in general?

Réhahn: I have mentioned it before; time is the key for good and compelling portraits. I really want to point this out as I find it very important. Another thing that I find very important is to show your photo, at least the first ones, to your subject. I see so many photographers, amateurs and professionals alike, who come and take the picture only for themselves. A photograph is a combination of the subject and the photographer, none of the two can exist on their own. I think not showing the photo means that you are only taking it for yourself and that is disrespectful. The subject is more important than the ego of the photographer. You have to also keep in mind that many people in the rural parts of Asia are not familiar with cameras and are not as used to seeing pictures of themselves as often as we do in the west. Some of them might have never seen their portrait at all. Showing them your photo can mean a lot and it can bring the relationship to your subject to another level. Another benefit of this is that the photos that are taken after showing the first ones often turn out to be the best ones.

 

Réhahn the Entrepreneur – Social Media Phenomenon

ESCapology: You have become sort of a social media phenomenon. Your Facebook Page has more than 180,000 fans and you’re active on several other platforms. What’s your approach to social media and what role does it play for developing your business?

Réhahn: I would definitely say it is the key. I know many old school photographers who are very cautious about their copyrights and argue that you cannot protect them when putting your pictures out there on social media. But I see it differently. I sold more than 2.000 copies of my recent photo book just through Facebook. And just some weeks ago I sold a large, high quality print of one of my photos for 10,000 Dollars. This would not have been possible without my social media exposure. So I think social media has become very, very important. I don’t care too much about copyrights since I think you cannot really protect your work in the 21st century anyway. For me exposure is way more important. What does copyright give you if you no one knows about you and your body of work? Marketing has unfortunately become a very important aspect of our business and I sometimes find myself spending more time on it than I would really like to. But it’s part of the job now. There are a lot of great photographers out there who haven’t realized this trend yet and who, because of that, aren’t as successful as they maybe could be.

 

ESCapology: A selection of your photos is currently featured in the exhibition “Precious Heritage”. After the initial stage in Saigon, the exhibition will tour to Havana, Paris, Toronto, San Francisco, London and other cities around the globe. How did that all evolve and how do you go about organizing exhibitions?

Réhahn: Usually the galleries in these places contact me because they want to exhibit my images. In Cuba it is a little different. I visited Cuba ten times already and I have a very good friend over there in the capital of Havana. I love the country almost as much as Vietnam and since I had planned to go over anyway, I asked my friend if we couldn’t organize an exhibition there. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban and Vietnamese partnership so the timing would be just right as well. He actually found a very nice place, the Cuban Casa de Asia in Havana, where 40 images of mine will be on display. But for all other locations the galleries contacted me directly and I would go as far as saying that this as well wouldn’t have been possible without my current social media presence.

 

ESCapology: You have a lot of different streams of income – your books, prints, the exhibitions, publications and on top of that, you even own your very own restaurant and homestay in Hoi An. Can you solely make a living off of photography now?   

Réhahn: Right now I am happy to say I can live off of my photography and this can be in big parts attributed to my gallery here in Hoi An. It’s a place where I showcase and sell a big part of my work and I sell almost every day. Hoi An gets 3,8 million tourists every year so it’s a big potential and another way of getting exposure. You have to know that in Vietnam a lot of photographers are into black and white photography and often focus on the complicated history of the country. My photography in comparison is very colorful and hence stands out. That definitely helped in carving out my niche here. I also sell quite a few images to magazines these days. Just recently National Geographic Poland acquired 11 images for their upcoming issue. Not too long ago I was very happy to have an image in National Geographic for free, now they pay me for it. I feel this yet another step in the right direction. But yes, right now my gallery is by far my most important stream of income in terms of photography. This the way I chose and I think it is the right way; at least it seems to be working for me.

I really concentrate on fine art photography, that’s my focus and I stay clear of other activities that would interfere with this path. For example I don’t do workshops, I don’t do wedding photography, I don’t do resort photography and I don’t even participate in photo contests. It is all about how you position yourself and this would also be my advice to your readers. If you want to achieve something in photography, chose a path, follow that path and don’t try to do everything. Be patient, be passionate, work hard and success will come.

 

ESCapology: What are your next projects and what can we expect from you in the future?

Réhahn: I will explore countries which I haven’t been before and of course try to bring back good photographs. I am planning to go to Mongolia, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. I want to try to find different places which have not been documented to well yet. I am also planning to release a big photo book on India. I just returned from another India trip and I am hoping to now have enough material for the book. A lot of work, a lot more traveling and definitely a lot more photography.

 

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Along the Vegetable Highway. A Motorbike Adventure across Cebu http://escapology.eu/2015/04/09/cebu-vegetable-highway-motorbike/ http://escapology.eu/2015/04/09/cebu-vegetable-highway-motorbike/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 07:16:04 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5478 Cebu, the famous gateway to the Visayas and to most known because of its booming capital city, its touristic hotspot Mactan Island or the seductive beaches of Bantayan and Malapascua. But definitely not the first address that comes to mind when thinking of a motorbike adventure off the beaten track. As I had planned to … Continue reading »

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Cebu Vegetable Highway article

Cebu, the famous gateway to the Visayas and to most known because of its booming capital city, its touristic hotspot Mactan Island or the seductive beaches of Bantayan and Malapascua. But definitely not the first address that comes to mind when thinking of a motorbike adventure off the beaten track. As I had planned to go to Cebu anyway, I did some research on possible motorbike tours and came across a route not well documented – the so called Vegetable Highway. It seemed a bit mysterious, something not a lot of people have done, something new and hence just what I like. It all took off from there and with the help of some Cebu expats and more research, I was able to design a trip itinerary which seemed promising: A 4-day tour which would take me across the island’s mountain range, along the coast, down the secluded Vegetable Highway, and finally to Moalboal for some scuba diving with the famous sardine storm. Born from just a fleeting idea, this motorbike adventure quickly turned out to be one of the best tours I did in Southeast Asia.

 

| Facts

Distance: 275 kilometers

Max. per day: 123 kilometers

Days: 4 (3 on the motorbike)

Highlights: Transcentral Hwy, Vegetable Hwy, Moalboal, Mantuyapan Falls, Carcar Lechon

Difficulty: Easy

Recommended Bike: 125 cc semi-automatic

Accommodation: Small resorts and lodges

 

| Preparations

The start and finish of this scenic journey across the island is Cebu City, one of the largest cities of the Philippines and the country’s second biggest tourism hub after Manila. That being said, Cebu can be easily reached from every corner of the country and from select international destinations. Once arrived in Cebu, you will need to sort out a rental bike. Through some online research, I found Cebu Expat Services which offers reliable bike rentals. You can check their bikes on their website and they will even deliver your desired bike to your doorstep. That service came in very handy for me as I was in a ridiculous rush to get on the road. Their average price is about 500 PHP per day. I usually recommend getting a map beforehand but here it is not a must. I had no map and only navigated with Google Maps on my smartphone and the help some friendly locals and expats. For further information see the detailed map below. Apart from that, make sure you have a proper helmet, sturdy shoes and long pants and a long sleeve. The Visayan sun can be grueling as I had to find out the hard way.

 

| Day 1 – Cebu to Asturias via Balamban (53 km)

I knew it would be a hectic day. The night before, the first ESCapology Meet-Up went down in Manila and for the following day I had planned to take the 10 o’ clock flight Cebu. That would allow me enough time to arrive at my friends place, sort out the bike rental, prepare and eventually make my way across the Transcentral Highway. But things often tend to not go as planned and especially so if you happen to travel with Cebu Pacific. My flight got cancelled and the next one they put me on was scheduled for two o’ clock. Almost needless to say that this one also didn’t depart on time. After wasting time at NAIA, I finally arrived at Cebu airport around 3 o’ clock and still had to fight my way through the heavy traffic of the Visayan capital. Finally arrived, I just had half an hour to sort out the bike rental, repack my bags, store most of it at my friends place, change clothes and get ready for the trip. I expected it to be hectic but not that hectic. By the time I finally set out for adventure, the sun had already begun to set. The outlook of tackling the curvy Transcentral Highway by night, which is, putting it mildly, not the safest time of the day to ride a motorbike anyway, wasn’t the most pleasant outlook. But I had no choice. I needed to hit the road; I needed to make it to Asturias on the other side of the island that day.

Every once in a while a lonely street light illuminated the winding road with its orange glow, only to quickly abandon me again into obscurity.

The sun set quickly and soon I found myself riding through the clear night, with only the stars above and my headlight cutting through the darkness. Every once in a while a lonely street light illuminated the winding road with its orange glow, only to quickly abandon me again into obscurity. But I quickly adapted and the ride more and more turned into fascinating experience. The tranquility of the night, the sound of nocturnal animals awaking from their daytime slumber, the dimly lit windows of the scattered houses passing by, bats chasing after each and countless fireflies which seemed to lead the way. I might have missed the magnificent views this stretch offers, but it sure was a ride to remember.

Transcentral Highway by night

Cebu Transcentral Highway at night.

After a good two hours I arrived in Asturias, where I met up with Canadian resort owner Lee whom I had contacted via Facebook before. I had planned to stay at his place, the Seabreeze Inn, and he offered to pick me up in town and bring me to his place. What a service. It all worked out and before heading to the resort, we stopped at the local barbecue place, close to the market. Grilled chicken, pork, rice, an ice cold San Miguel Light to top it off and the accompanying echoes of karaoke from afar – Just what I needed after the bustle of this hectic day.

Balamban Barbecue

BBQ treats in Balamban. Just what I needed.

Arrived at the resort, Lee and I talked for a while, having a couple of more beers and taking in the soothing sound of the ocean. Then, at the latest, I thought that all the hectic and stress of the day was worth it. I was happy to have made it, happy to be finally riding again and happy to be on an adventure again.

 

| Day 2 – Asturias to Moalboal via Vegetable Highway (125 km)

I woke up to the sound of a slight breeze and the gentle waves making their way onto the shoreline. It’s a beautiful stretch of coastline, very authentic with the local fishermen bringing in their catch in the morning light, the beach almost deserted and the dark blue waters shimmering in the sun. Lee had this sight every morning, right at his doorstep. “What a truly rich man he is”, I thought.

Asturias beach

Early morning along the shores of Asturias.

After a hearty breakfast, prepared by Lee himself, it was time to part. I came as a stranger and left as a friend, that’s just one thing that I love about traveling. I hit the road again only to stop again after a few kilometers. Lee had recommended visiting the Balamban public market and that’s where I was headed. Markets usually make for nice road stops, with great photo opportunities, interesting people and a chance to stock up on snacks and supplies. It wasn’t much different here in Balamban. The difference however was that this place didn’t seem to see very many foreigners. People greeted me very friendly, talked to me and were smiling as I passed their little market stalls. It was such a good atmosphere and I truly enjoyed my small break.

Balamban public market scene

Happy haggling at the Balamban public market.

Market Balamban

I wonder what he was thinking?

Pig had at Balamban public market

Having fun at Balamban public market.

Dried fish Balamban

A selection of Danggit…or is it Daing?

I had to make it to the elusive Vegetable Highway and to Moalboal which was my final destination that day. After some twists and turns, looking out for the start of the Vegetable Highway, I finally found the intersection after having missed the turn off once already. It’s a bit tricky to find since the sign is only visible when coming from the opposite side. With the help of Lee’s descriptions and Google maps however I found it and finally embarked onto the stretch which originally sparked the whole idea of coming here.

Motorbike Cebu

On my way deeper into the province and to the Vegetable Highway.

Vegetable Highway Cebu

The turn-off to the Vegetable Highway.

I rode the first part of the Vegetable Highway, which runs from Carcar-Barili Road to Sibonga-Dumanjug Road. This section is almost entirely sealed and varies between 1 and 1.5 lanes wide. I would have liked to ride the supposedly rougher southern stretch as well but I one of its bridges had been severely damaged at that time. It was a very pleasant ride, following the winding road, one curve after another, climbing up hills only to make it down again right afterwards. I passed by scattered little settlements along the road, rice and vegetable fields and small road side Sari-Sari stores. As I got increasingly hungry, I spotted a young couple who had set up a small barbecue grill just on the side of road. They were grilling hotdogs and pork skewers. “It can’t get more authentic than that”, I thought and took the chance to have a small lunch break. While the food was good, I wasn’t able to quench my typical German thirst for beer. Hence my next stop had to be a Sari-Sari store with beer on offer. Having found my little road-side watering hole and sipping on a bottle of Golden Eagle, the signature drink of rural barrios, I at that point knew I had arrived in the province. And I loved it.

Vegetable Highway Cebu Philippines

Along the Vegetable Highway.

Road Barbecue

Road-side barbecue. Pretty authentic if you ask me …

Cebu locals

The young father and his sceptical daughter.

Golden Eagle Beer

The signature drink of the barrio – Golden Eagle

Taking in every bit of the scenery, I finished the Vegetable Highway and made my way towards the coast again. Moalboal was calling and the setting sun, painting long and slim shadows onto the road, led my way. As I arrived, I was dusty, sweaty and exhausted but happy that I made it. I arranged my accommodation, booked a couple of dives for the day after and was looking forward for a day of relaxation and not being on the road.

 

| Day 3 – Moalboal Diving and Relaxation (rest day)

I had signed up for an early morning dive with the famous sardine storm, a huge school of sardines which visits the coastal waters of Moalboal almost every year. Diving alongside this, what seemed like an ever changing and morphing structure of fish, was just amazing. It is something you would see in TV documentaries and here I was, right in the middle of it all, surrounded by millions of fish, the sunlight sending its rays into the abyss and reflecting off of the sardine’s glittering silver scales. As everyone emerged with a big smile on their faces, we knew that getting up before sunrise was definitely worth it.

Sardine Storm Moalboal

Sardine Storm Moalboal. Just a glimpse of it.

Sardine school

And even more sardines.

The next dive, after a healthy breakfast and a needed hot cup of coffee, took us to Pescador Island, one of the best dive sites in the area and only a good 20 minutes boat ride from Moalboal. The underwater drop-off featured an abundance of colorful corals, fish and macro life. But I have to say that I did enjoy diving among the sardines better since it was just so extraordinary.

Clownfish

Nemo saying hello.

Underwater Moalboal

Don’t even ask me what that is…

I was thinking about taking another dive in the afternoon but instead decided to enjoy life and laze around the beach for the rest of the day. The sweet idleness of the tropics was just what I needed. I strolled up and down the beach, observing the dive boats going out and coming in, the kids cheerfully playing in the water and jumping off the boats and the younger kids building sand castles. The soothing effect of the ocean combined with the kids’ cheerfulness instantly got me relaxed and the day passed by like a tropical breeze. Before I knew it, the Moalboal sun had started to set, dipping everything in deep tones of orange and yellow. The waves calmed down, the black silhouettes of the fishermen hovered over their boat’s decks and the beach kids enjoyed a last kiss of the sun. It was one of these rare moments where I felt at peace with everything around me and a sense of serenity which is hard to find these days.

Moalboal kids

Moalboal kids. That’s what childhood chould look like.

Moalboal Sumisid lodge

Moalboal afternoon delight.

Ocean window Moalboal

A room with a view in Moalboal.

Moalboal sunset

Serenity

 

| Day 4 – Moalboal to Cebu via Carcar (97 km)

The last day of my trip had begun and I already felt a bit of melancholy as I knew this adventure would be over very soon. But I still had a few highlights ahead of me so off I went, leaving serene Moalboal behind but knowing that I will be back one day. After a bit of backtracking, I arrived in the town of Barili, where, according to my newly made friend Lee, I would find a secluded waterfall. Mantayupan Falls is an enchanted gem of a waterfall which sees far less visitors as its nearby and famous counterpart Kawasan Falls. Nestling between age-old trees dipping their roots into the cooling water, its emerald pool shines bright from far away. I don’t know if I was just lucky that day but I had it all for myself – no one else was around. I spent half an hour wandering around in awe and taking pictures of the roaring waterfall. Since I had still quite the distance to cover that day, I skipped the obligatory dip this time.

Mantayupan Falls

Enchanted Mantayupan Fall near Barili.

Back on the road I was headed for Carcar, the promised land of lechon. Lechon is suckling pig roasted over charcoals and especially popular in the Visayas. Legend has it that the best lechon of the entire country can be found in Carcar, on its public market to be exact. And as I just can’t resist following legends, this is where I was headed. Arrived at the market after an enjoyable ride through the province, I had the locals point me to the lechon section right away. And there it was, about ten stalls, cramped into a corner of the market, and each one displaying a whole roasted pig. I got to try the crunchy skin at a few stalls, joked around with the lechon ladies and finally opted for Bebe’s lechon and a few packs of Puso (hanging rice) to go with it. I had lechon in Cebu City but this here was just another world. Tasty, tender and just so flavorsome. I don’t know what their secret is, but it was good…very good. Sitting on a small plastic stool inside the market’s little eatery, exchanging smiles with the locals around, I enjoyed my lechon and found the legend confirmed.

Carcar lechon

The lechon section at the public market in Carcar

Lechon

Lechon

Carcar market

Mother and daughter at Carcar market

After wandering around the market for a bit it was finally time to head back to Cebu. The adventure came to an end as I knew the last stretch would only take me along the main highway and back into the rush hour traffic of the capital.

 

| Last Thoughts …

Born from a vague idea of riding a motorbike on Cebu Island, this trip was way better than I could have hoped for. It had everything what a good motorbike adventure needs – scenic riding, winding and twisting roads, friendly locals a bunch of natural attraction, awesome photo opportunities and the welcoming atmosphere of being in the province. Spending a day in beautiful Moalboal was the icing on the cake. What I found most fascinating was that all of these things can be found just outside of Cebu City, one of the Philippines’ largest and busiest cities. Being in Cebu City, one would not even imagine finding so much beauty and adventure just around the corner, and that includes myself. It was a great journey and it ranks definitely among my favorite tours so far.

Moalboal sunset

Until next time!

Join the ESCapology tribe

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ESCapology Travel Meet-Up – New Friends and a Night to remember http://escapology.eu/2015/03/26/escapology-meet-up-manila/ http://escapology.eu/2015/03/26/escapology-meet-up-manila/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 01:52:38 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5364 It’s was on my mind for quite some time and I knew I would eventually do it. Getting to know the people behind all the avatars, the profile pictures and the anonymus nicknames. Taking the blog from the virtual world to the real world and finally creating an opportunity to personally meet and thank the … Continue reading »

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Escapology meet-up manilaIt’s was on my mind for quite some time and I knew I would eventually do it. Getting to know the people behind all the avatars, the profile pictures and the anonymus nicknames. Taking the blog from the virtual world to the real world and finally creating an opportunity to personally meet and thank the people who have been supporting me during this incredible journey. A meet-up with my readers and followers – that was the idea. And since I was about to head over to the Philippines, Manila just had to be the place. What started out as an idealistic idea, soon turned out to be a tough challenge to make it really happen. Especially since my trip finally came together on a very short notice, hence not leaving much time to get it all on the right track. But with the help of some amazing friends and all of the great people that came out that night, we made it. And what eventually came out of it, exceeded my hopes and expectations by far. It was for sure a night to remember.

 

With the help from my friends

The whole event wouldn’t have been possible without the help of some awesome people which I am grateful to consider my friends. There was the team of FlipTrip.ph and especially its founder April Cuenca. April has actually inspired big chunks of my first three-month trip across the country and has been helpful and influential ever since. Team FlipTrip found the perfect location for the meet-up – the rooftop terrace of brand new Z-Hostel in Makati. A beautifully designed home for travelers and backpackers, right smack in the center of everything and with a grand panoramic view of the Makati skyline. Already impressive during daytime, the breezy rooftop terrace really starts to unfold its magic once it gets dark, with the city lights illuminating the night sky like a million stars. A big thank you goes to Cao, one of the owners of Z-Hostel who went out of his way to make this thing happen.

escapology-meetup-manila (26)

The stylish reception area of Z-Hostel, Makati

The panoramic view over the Makati Skyline

The panoramic view over the Makati Skyline

Night Makati meet-up

The team that made it all happen. Cao of Z-Hostel, Jackie of FlipTrip.ph, myself and April of FlipTrip.ph

 

Tickets sold out like Balut

Via an online ticketing system and split into a few batches, we gave away more than a hundred tickets and what can I say, they went away like Balut during a Filipino cockfight on a Sunday afternoon. The last tickets were then raffled off via an Instagram contest hosted by FlipTrip where users were asked to send in their best travel shots. And again, the response was amazing with people tagging their images with the hashtags #pipoy2pinas and #teamfliptrip. However, despite the impressive number of tickets, I still didn’t know how many people to expect. In the end, the attendance was for free, no obligation to really show up. What if only a few people would attend after all? I started to become nervous.

 

A bit of stage-fright

And that nervousness only heightened as the meet-up came closer. Despite the fabulous organization, I just didn’t know what to expect and to add to this, I am also not the type of guy who seeks attention or enjoys being the center of it. But in the end, I thought, this event wasn’t about me. I wanted to do it, I wanted to be at my best for the people taking the time to attend and even traveling quite a ways to be there. I wanted to give back a little and everybody there to have a great time. A good half an hour before the official start, April took me for a snack around the corner which made for a great distraction. I was getting excited, looking forward to the meet up and when we went back, it was time.

On stage meet-up

A bit of stage-fright. But I guess I didn’t do too bad if I made April laugh so hard.

 

A night to remember

A few people were there already and getting to know them first was a good way to ease into it all. As time passed, more and more people showed up and despite my rather introvert nature, I really enjoyed talking to everyone and welcoming everyone. It was great to finally meet the persons who I had exchanged messages with, who had commented on my blog or who had participated in discussions on my Facebook Page. It felt like have known some of the participants for a long time already and finally meeting them in person was just awesome. That alone made the event so much worthwhile. What followed were interesting talks, exchanging of stories, introducing people to each other and getting a whole lot of pictures taken. And even that was a whole lot of fun. I especially would like to thank all of the guests who even brought little presents. A fresh buko pie, pastries and a cake, a lucky charm from Japan, a Filipino souvenir, coffee, some hand drawn sketches and even an engraved little travel knife. Please forgive me if I forgot anything else. That was far too kind and I really appreciated it.

Meetup manila

Thanks so much for the presents …

After a good hour or so, April had planned a little Q & A with questions she had prepared beforehand and with a second round giving the participants the chance to ask questions. The questions that came up were thoughtful, interesting, sometimes funny and sometimes even quite difficult to answer with only a few sentences. It also brought up a lot of good memories as for example the story of how I ended up with my Filipino nickname Pipoy. I really enjoyed the interaction and I hope I didn’t all too bad up there. Jackie of FlipTrip posted a nice summary of the Q & A on their blog which you can find here.  And last but not least, it was an opportunity to meet old friends, which I hadn’t seen for a long time. Special thanks go to my friend Mirro, who came all the way from Batangas and brought along a pack of Kapeng Barako which is still saving my life until today.

During the Q & A session...

During the Q & A session…

Travel meet-up

Mirro and I with a bunch of great people.

We were lucky that the weather was nice with a cool breeze flowing across the terrace, warm and not even a drop of rain. Easy lounge music was the soundtrack of the night, good food was served, some ice cold beers were downed and a lot of new friends were made. And what I maybe even liked most was the fact that people mingled, got to know each other and exchanged stories about their travels and other adventures. It was a truly social event and after all the initial doubts and worries, I can honestly say it couldn’t have been any better. Thanks everyone who was there for making the night as special as it was.

Travel Mee-up Manila

Thanks a lot to everyone who came out that night.

 

Last thoughts

I finished the night with a couple of beers and chatting with the few people who stayed until late. When I went to bed, I was tired but so excited and so happy that falling asleep was not possible. I was happy to have met such a great bunch of people, happy that everything worked out, happy to have friends who supported me so much and happy to have had this amazing experience. It was a great event and that night I told myself, that it wouldn’t be the last one. Wherever the next meetup will be, I hope to see you there – taking it from the virtual to the real world. Until then my friends,

Sinature_klt

PS: Below I compiled all of the pictures I received from that night. Feel free to comment if you find yourselves in them.

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Maia’s Beach Resort – Bantayan’s little Garden of Eden http://escapology.eu/2015/03/16/bantayan-maias-beach-resort/ http://escapology.eu/2015/03/16/bantayan-maias-beach-resort/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 06:49:04 +0000 http://escapology.eu/?p=5337 The road is rocky and bumpy, taking me deeper and deeper inside the island of Bantayan. Small patches of rice, coconut trees, some badly bent by the recent typhoon, and scattered settlements pass by slowly as we rumble along. I’m on my way to Maia’s Beach Resorts, my home away from home for my brief … Continue reading »

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Maia's Beach Resort Bantayan

The road is rocky and bumpy, taking me deeper and deeper inside the island of Bantayan. Small patches of rice, coconut trees, some badly bent by the recent typhoon, and scattered settlements pass by slowly as we rumble along. I’m on my way to Maia’s Beach Resorts, my home away from home for my brief stay on this Filipino gem.  Bantayan Island itself is already a little paradise but what a lot of people don’t know, is that it has its very own little Garden of Eden. On the way East, towards Bantayan town, tucked away from the crowds of Santa Fé and embedded in a lush green oasis, you will find a place so enchanted, so beautiful and designed with so much love for detail that it comes as a big surprise. That Garden of Eden is Maia’s and as I finally arrive, I instantly know that the little journey was well worth it. Welcome to Bantayan’s own little Garden of Eden, welcome to Maia’s Beach Resort.

 

Exploring the Garden of Eden

Maia’s Beach Resort is a lush, tropical paradise featuring big patches of green bermuda grass, towering palm trees gently swaying their umbrella like leaves in the wind and an abundance of flowers, beautifully arranged by Maia herself as to complement a complex puzzle of nature. The center of the resort is the breezy restaurant, a big open cottage with dazzling views into the tropical garden and over to the sea. To the tunes of easy listening music I enjoyed the delicious breakfast (choice of American, Continental and Filipino) complete with fruit, coffee and juice to the sound of the ocean. It’s just the perfect way to start a day on the island.

Restaurant at Maia's Beach Resort Bantayan

The restaurant of Maia’s Resort in Bantayan

Maia's restaurant Bantayan

Breezy and relaxed. The view from Maia’s Restraurant

Restaurant at Maia's Beach Resort

The main entrance to the restaurant

If you feel lazy and just wanting to unwind, Maia’s features an azure blue pool which is accessed via a little walkway that leads over aged, dark coral and some of Maia’s intricate gardening arrangements. Even if the ocean is close, spending time at the pool is just bliss. Right at the waterfront, you will find a few cottages for family and group functions or just relaxing with your friends. If you head further down, you will end up at Maia’s beach bar which gives you the best views over the ocean; perfect for enjoying an ice cold San Mig Light to pass the heat of the day. Everything is connected by those little walkways and it seems like it has all been built to fit right into the place’s natural environment. The whole resort has been built in a sustainable fashion, integrating man-made structures into the existing surroundings. At Maia’s, architecture and nature have bonded for an almost symbiotic relationship. I don’t know much about it, but this place definitely must have a good Feng Shui.

Pool Maia's Resort Bantayan

Maia’s inviting pool. Bliss!

Bantayan Maia's

Did somebody say Garden of Eden? | Photo by focalglass.com

Beach resort Maia in Bantayan

Good Feng Shui at Maia’s Beach Resort

The resort’s six bungalows are set back in the garden, across from the restaurant. They are spacious, all equipped with aircon, a modern bath, a big terrace for some late afternoon lounging and they are usually good for four people. For a guy like me, who is used to travel on the cheap, it was a very nice change. And the fact that they only have six bungalows ensures that the place never gets too crowded.

 

Maia’s projects and the big rebuild

As almost every resort on the island, Maia’s was affected badly by the recent super typhoon Yolanda. I talked to Klaus, Maia’s German husband, and he said once he saw the damage the storm had done, they were both seriously considering packing up and going back to Europe. But then they realized that this move would not only affect them themselves. Being a true family business, it would also deprive Maia’s family members who all work at the resort of their main source of income. After a night sleeping on it, they decided to not give up, to be resilient and rebuild everything. It took them both lots of blood, sweat and tears and of course money, but when I was there, I could not even tell that the place was affected at all. Maia and Klaus must have worked a little wonder in just such a short amount of time. It was impressive to see, especially after Maia showed me the pictures of cottages left without roofs, bent trees and the garden utterly battered.  Realizing these efforts made the stay at Maia’s even more enjoyable than it already was.

Maia's Resort Bantayan Garden

Walkway to the big cottage by the pool | Photo by focalglass.com

Garden at Maia's beach resort

A symbiotic relationship of architecture and nature

Maia herself took the disaster as a chance to do even more than just rebuild the resort. She launched a project to provide local women with a new source of income. In collaboration with an European NGO, they were trained to weave intricate bags and purses out of recycled plastic rice sacks. The bags are now being sold at Maia’s among other places and the project seems to be a big success, having already sparked follow-up projects of the same kind. Maia is very passionate about these projects and is always for a chat about them.

 

Some practilities

As mentioned, the resort has six cottages, some with a double bed, sow with twin beds and some designed as a triple. All of them can easily be used by a group of four. Prices start at 1,950 PHP, depending on the bungalow and the season. You can check their pricelist here or book via Agoda.

Garden at Maia's Beach Resort

View over to the bungalows

Beachfront bungalows

Beachfront bungalows | Photo by focalglass.com

Getting there is pretty straight forward. You just exit the ferry in Santa Fé and make your way towards Bantayan. A bit before entering the town, you will see the resort’s big signage with a sailing boat. Just follow the bumpy road and you will be there in no time. If you book online, just let Maia and Klaus know about your arrival time and they will pick you up right at the ferry with one of their comfortable vehicles. It can’t get any easier than that. The same vehicles are also made available for tours and other excursions. And if you want to head to Santa Fé, they will arrange a drop-off and pick-up for you. If it gets too late because you had too much Red Horse and hung out far too long at the videoke bar, you can always hail a Habal-Habal, the islands motorbike-taxis, to drive you back home. It worked fine for me, even in a slightly intoxicated state at around 4 o’ clock in the morning.

Street scene in Santa Fé Bantayan

Sleepy during the day, lively at night. The port town of Santa Fé.

 

Last thoughts …

Maia and Klaus will go out of their way to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Maia is very articulate and passionate about what she is doing and chatting with her about the island, the Philippines and life in general is super interesting. The unique setup of the place, with everything being so in tune and in balance makes it an oasis for the body and mind. Just be aware that the resort is a little bit away from the center with all its bars, restaurants and videoke joints. But that exactly makes for its charm and special atmosphere. If you want to get away from it all for a while, relax and recharge your batteries, then Maia’s is your place. And if you still feel the need to party it up, to go for some drinks or show off at the videoke, there is always a way to get to Santa Fé and Maia will sure help. Summer is coming and maybe Bantayan is on your bucket list. If so, why not check Maia’s Beach Resort.

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