Yes, we know we are a bit behind with the blog… we are about to leave Chile and we haven’t told you anything about our adventures in New Zealand yet. We have found it more difficult than what we expected to combine the travelling with keeping the blog up to date. So we have decided that we are going to put off the narration of all the things we did in New Zealand, at least for the moment. But at least we wanted to give you a sneak peek of how our 30 days in the long white cloud island were like, and tell you how much we loved it!
Our flight took off from sunny Sydney to land in wintery Queenstown. As we started our descend, and crossed the sea of clouds, we recognized the first snowed peaks and the incredible scenery, very Lords of the Rings like, of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. After only a couple of days in the touristy and extreme sports capital Queenstown, we picked up our fancy campervan. We appropriately named it Arwen, and started our 24 day tour around New Zealand. We headed first to Milford Sound and the drive through Fiorland mountains alone was breathtaking, not to mention the cruise. We continued on route to the Catlins, where we saw the cute yellow eyed penguins coming back home from a hard day fishing. Next, the visit to Moeraki Boulders left us somehow discontent, they were just a very few round rocks. In Wanaka we enjoyed two days of skiing in Treble Cone, with amazing views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Continuing with the icy activities, we did a really cool one day trek in the Fox Glacier. As we kept heading up north and started to pass by kiwi fruit fields, I forced Isma to stop to buy a bag with no less than 28 kiwis for just two dollars! When we got to Abel Tasman with did a stunning 25km trek which left us exhausted for the next couple of days. Wine tasting in Malborough, a plate of green lip mussels in Haveloc and the spectacular Queen Charlotte Drive closed the chapter of the South Island, just before taking the ferry to Wellington in Picton. In total we spent 14 unforgettable days in the South Island.
A short two hours flight with the laid back Airphilexpress, the only airline whose air hostess receive you wearing shorts and runners, brought us to Cebu, the capital of the Visayas in the Philippines. And, just there, our almost 3 weeks of underwater beauty, friendly Filipinos, meaty barbecues and Philippines’s San Miguels started. Poverty, dirtiness and a bit of insecurity were the first impressions after our first night in Cebu, which after having spent the last few weeks in modern cities like Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai, made us want to run away. But the the warmth of their friendly people, the authenticity of a country that hasn’t yet changed much due to tourism, the unspoiled scenery and the incredible sealife won us back in no time.
Philippines had been a Spanish colony for over 300 years since Fernando Magallanes claimed it for Spain in 16th century, and the Spanish past is still very present all around the country. Not only on the architecture and on the names of the streets, but also on the endless fiestas, on the vocabulary and on their way of living. Catholicism is also an inheritance from the Spaniards, and nowadays Philippinos are now much more devotes than most people in Spain, some could even say they are fanatics. The 300 years of Spanish colonialism came to an end with the Spanish – American War, when the Philippines came under US control. And, it wasn’t until 1946 when the Philippines attained its independence after the end of World War II. Filipinos eat “merienda”, basketball is the national sport, English is spoken by everybody and they go to “misa” to pray! Undoubtedly, nowadays the Filipino culture reflects the country’s complex history.
We arrived in Vietnam with the perception it would be a very communist, touristy and scooterized country, and that its people would be cold, greedy and not very welcoming. But 30 days in Vietnam were enough to change our minds. We felt in love with the people, the food, the scenery, the outdoorsy way of living… and even with the iconic Vietnamese hats, but not with the traffic!
Vietnam’s recent history is marked by the 100 years of French colonialism, the first Indochina War (which led the country into separation) and the cruelty of Vietnam’s war (which translated into the country’s reunification). The country’s economy, which mainly relied on agriculture, got very badly damaged, specially after the US bombings. In the aftermath of the wars the country suffered and was unable to move forward due to strong communist policies. But the introduction of Doi Moi in the late 80s was probably what saved its economy and what put the country on the road to recovery. We feel that in a short time, and unlike Lao and Cambodia, the country has been able to recuperate from the violent wars and it is now looking ahead into a bright future.
We stayed in Lao for about 4 weeks and we traveled the country from north to south. We toured the Mekong by boat, we trekked in the jungle in the far north, we enjoyed the tranquil rhythms of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, we tried the best coffee in the Bolaven plateau, and we relaxed with a beerlao watching the sun set in the 4000 islands, all to discover the wonderful character of the Laotians. Funny that we didn’t get to see any elephants when Lao’s nick name is “the land of a million elephants” and elephants are present in 90% of the souvenirs that can be bought in any of the many markets.
Although Lao being within the poorest countries in the world, we didn’t get hit by the extreme poverty that we found in India and Nepal – people living on the streets, beggars everywhere… Moreover, and surprisingly, we didn’t get to see extreme contrasts between rich and poor. It feels like, unlike India, the poorness is equally distributed across most of the country.