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My name is Max. I like to travel.

Taroko Gorge

Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園, Taiwan

I wake up at 5.30am, have breakfast at the train station and set off to Hualien, a medium-sized city about 2-3 hours south of Taipei. There I rent a scooter and drive up to Taroko Gorge. Spectacular scenery! And driving there on a scooter makes it so much better. This might have been the best experience of the vacation. It was supposed to be light rain and overcast today, but luckily the weather report was wrong; it's a sunny 23°C (73°F). I drive up to about 1000m altitude (~25km into the gorge) before turning back, stopping for lunch, photos and several small hikes on the way. I return back to Hualien at 6pm, and Taipei at around 9.30pm. Then I go to Shida night market. It is very busy. It's funny, whereas in Philippines, almost every woman was pregnant, here I don't see any pregnant women. And whereas in Philippines, almost no-one wore glasses, here it seems to be stylish to wear them. Many girls even wear glasses without any glass in them! It is a strange place, Taiwan.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 30, 2010 from Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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I arrive in Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan

I have a rough night at a Manila bus station and airport, fly out at 7.40am and land in Taipei at 9 something am. I quickly discover that Taiwan is a very Chinese country. English is not very widely spoken. This makes getting around a bit of a challenge, especially since I don't have a good map. After having a delicious lunch near the railway station, I spend about 1.5 hours looking for my hostel. Apart from the map situation, I learn that a street name can be transliterated in different ways, so what I see on the street sign and my map is not necessarily the same. Wonderful. So after 1.5 hours I finally get a hold of someone who speaks English and she tells me the hostel has moved, she doesn't know where. I am very angry at Taiwan at this point. Were it not for the good food, I would probably fly home right away. 45 minutes later I find another hostel.

I spend the afternoon sightseeing the city; visit Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Longshan temple and the Xinyi shopping district. I don't go to Taipei 101 since it's raining a little and the view wouldn't be that great. I also buy a train ticket for 7.18am tomorrow morning to the Taroko gorge (3 hours south of Taipei).

permalink written by  bennedich on October 29, 2010 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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Sagada - Baguio - Manila

Baguio, Philippines

I do some early morning sightseeing of Sagada, then leave on a 6 hour bus to Baguio. The views are even more spectacular today. We're driving over mountains, rivers, through clouds, rice terraces and all sorts of plantations. I spend the afternoon sightseeing Baguio, it's a pretty big town. At night I catch a bus back to Manila (I have a flight leaving at 7.40am).

Quick summary of what I've seen of Philippines:
- Food is ok, nothing spectacular. Mostly rice, eggs and some kind of Chicken stew.
- Very cheap. I paid $3.50-$5.50 for a private room (shared bath), and $1.70 is common for a complete meal (soup+main course).
- People are generally poor but friendly. Most women I see are either pregnant or carry a baby. Tourists are few and far in between.
- English is widely spoken, in fact all official signs seem to be in English. The country also has a strong Spanish heritage. This is evident in many foods (tocino, chicharron, longaniza, etc), words and numbers. (E.g. you'll hear someone ask about the time in Tagalog and the reply is "las once".) This makes traveling here very easy.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 28, 2010 from Baguio, Philippines
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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Caving in Sagada

Sagada, Philippines

I spend the morning sightseeing Banaue, then hang out with Steve and Adrian for a while until our jeepney leaves to Sagada (mountain adventure capital). We arrive Sagada about 2pm after driving along some pretty spectacular scenery. Steve and Adrian go to bed, and I meet a guide who suggest we do a cave tour. He says we can either do normal cave, or adventure cave. I tell him adventure cave sounds nice. Little do I know that my guide is insane. Completely deranged, in fact.

30 minutes later we arrive at the cave. He lights up some lantern from the 18th century and when he sees the look I give him he says to not worry, he has a backup flashlight. He asks if my camera is water proof. No, why? Oh, because we will be walking with water up to our necks. After about 15 minute descent into the cave he stops and looks very puzzled. "Strong water has moved the rocks around. We need to find another route." Ok..

10 more minutes and we reach a hole. He tells me to take my shoes off, and proceeds to throw them down the hole. Seconds pass before we hear them land. Seconds. He says "don't worry, there's a rope, you know how to rappel?". Yes, I've rappeled, but not with a slippery rope without safety line. 10 more minutes and we reach another hole. Same procedure, except this time he tells me "here, nowhere to put your feet, you must use only arms. can your arms carry your bodyweight?". After we climb down, he tells me how one girl he guided fell there. I ask if she was ok, he says yes, yes. So she could continue with the tour? Oh no, she had to be rescued, but at least she survived. Great.

About 10 more minutes and we reach an underground river. This is what he says: "Oh, river is strong today! Dangerous! Are you strong swimmer?" I ask him what happens when it starts raining. He says then the cave fills up with water by flash flood; you must never enter the cave while it's raining. I ask him, but what about if it starts raining if you're already inside the cave, then you don't know? His expression is blank. As if he never thought of that. The rain has been pouring down every afternoon for the last three days. Our next step is a free climb around a slippery boulder above the river. I tell him there's no f*cking way I'm doing it. After promising him I will still pay him, he agrees to go back. The last memorable quote on our way up is "Shit! (lantern starts to flicker) SHIT! (complete darkness) (1 minute pass) SHIT, I forget the flashlight, can you climb the rest in darkness?"

When we're back outside the cave, he tells me it probably was a wise choice; FIVE tourists have died in that cave. Three fell to their death while climbing and two have died by flash flood. We have some time before darkness, so he takes me to Echo Valley to see the hanging coffins. Of course, on our way he happily points out the spot where an Italian tourist took a wrong step and fell 100m to his death. When we arrive back at my guest house, he says we've had such a great time so he invites me for some shots of local alcohol. I kindly decline, have some dinner, then stagger to bed.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 27, 2010 from Sagada, Philippines
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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I never want to hear the word "landslide" again

Batad, Philippines

After breakfast at 6am, a 60 year old village man named Yun says he'll take me for a walk along some Mountain trails. It's been pouring down heavy rains all of yesterday afternoon and night, so it's very muddy and slippery. After about an hour hike we're almost back in the village, when I suddenly hear what sounds like gushing water. Yun stops as the sound grows in intensity, soon sounding like there's a roaring waterfall right next to us. Seconds after, some villagers come running along the trail shouting "landslide! landslide!" (same word in Tagalog). It turns out the slide has taken out a big chunk of Mountain, right where the trail was, only about 150 ft ahead of us! Had I not just stopped for photos, it could have meant the end of us.

Yun then takes me another route back. The hard route. It involves some pretty scary moments such as climbing on small and slippery outcrops of rock with 100+ ft drop under us (guaranteed death if fall). Yun helps me through some tricky parts by pulling me up and telling me where it's safe to put my feet (he's climbed these Mountains all his life). I am so relieved when we reach back to the village center.

There, I meet a Filipino called Steve and his German boyfriend Adrian. They have learned about an alternative route back to Banaue which involves a 5 mile hike along a Mountain trail (unfortunately with numerous landslides) until we reach the same road I arrived on the day before. So there are another 5 Miles hike along that road until my driver Freddy meets me with his motorcycle.

Back in Banaue around 2pm. I have a really bad headache probably from lack of food and water, so I just have lunch, some Internet, and then sleep approximately 12 hours.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 26, 2010 from Batad, Philippines
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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Getting to Batad

Batad, Philippines

I arrive Banaue around 5am. It's a town about 9h north of Manila, in the Philippine mountains at about 3500ft. I'm determined to go to the mountain village of Batad, but due to the typhoon last week, a series of landslides have closed the roads up to the mountains.

After breakfast, I find a motorcycle driver called Freddy who claims he can ride on top of the landslides to drop me off close to Batad. I hop on, and indeed he rides on top of the landslides, it's pretty cool, I just have to get off and walk one of them. After 6 miles we reach a really massive landslide, and Freddy says he can't take me longer. So I hike from there, around 6 miles on bad roads, climbing numerous landslides, then another 3 miles descending a small mountain trail to reach the village at around noon.

Batad is a truly remote place. The village is set on a mountain side surrounded by rice terraces. The only way to get around is by the steep trails they've created along the mountain. There are no motorized vehicles, I don't even see any electricity! In the Philippines, this area is called the Eighth Wonder of the World. It is so beautiful, that even the locals seem to spend most of their time just gazing at the rice terraces. Unfortunately, I'm so exhausted after the hike and the two nights without proper sleep, so I have some lunch, a shower, then collapse and sleep no less than 15 hours!

permalink written by  bennedich on October 25, 2010 from Batad, Philippines
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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Manila, Philippines

I land at 3.30am in Manila after a ~13h flight. After passing immigration, I realize that I printed the wrong page from Wikitravel, I printed only an overview of Manila, so I have no detailed information or maps. Moreover, no information is available at the airport. I wait for daylight then take a series of "jeepneys" (minibuses) to reach the historic center of Manila (cost: about 60 cent).

I am pretty lost, but there's a 10k run going on called "Freedom run". I decide to join (walking) which turns out to be a wonderful sightseeing tour of the historic center. Then I have breakfast, visit Fort Santiago, Rizal park, Bayview. I meet some Filipinos who tell me there's not much to do in Manila, better head to Taal Volcano. I go there after lunch. My plan is to take a nightbus to Banaue in the evening, so I'm very pressed for time to reach the Volcano and back. Luckily, on the bus to the Volcano, I meet tricycle driver Lui-Lui. Upon arrival in Tagatay, the rain is pouring down (it's rain season), and Lui-Lui takes me in his tricycle down to the lake where the Volcano is, then I take a boat over to the Volcano.

On the foot of the Volcano, some people tell me it's too muddy and steep to climb the Volcano by foot, so the only option is horse. Never having ridden a horse before, I climb terrified and my budget nine-year old guide Cherry jumps on behind me, grabs hold of me and yells something in Tagalog and off we go...

Back in Manila I barely make the night bus to Banaue (I get the last seat). Next to me sits a guy from the Mountain village Batad about 16km outside Banaue. He tells me I definitely should go to Batad.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 24, 2010 from Manila, Philippines
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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Back to USA

San Diego, United States

The border opens at 5am. I wake up at 4.25am and find that I'm not the only one who planned to enter USA today. The line of cars is like a mile long. I drive around a few blockades and position myself 3rd in line (I think 1st or 2nd would have been very rude). The drive to San Diego is less than an hour on small curvy roads. I shower at the downtown gym, have breakfast and drive out to the airport to catch my SF flight. Free unlimited parking within walking distance to the terminal, sweet! I'll return to pick the bike up in a week or two.

What I learned today:

Nothing, for I am fully learned. Ready for Sahara!

permalink written by  bennedich on May 26, 2009 from San Diego, United States
from the travel blog: Baja Off-Road
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Crossing the Juarez desert

Mexicali, Mexico

I wake up at 5.20am and decide to keep going north despite the water situation (~0.5 l left now). First of all, I will likely meet more pre-runners in the desert who can help me out (I can see tire tracks in the sand), and second, my guide book mentions Cañon de Guadalupe, a palm fringed oasis with campgrounds, waterfalls, a restaurant and a store and shows a picture of a big Coke sign. It's around 25 miles north of me.

The road becomes a little bit more difficult, but still manageable. After around 10 miles I cross a dried-out river that I recognize on the map, just before the intersection where I'm supposed to turn right. The right turn is so inconspicuous that I don't even see it. After about a mile I can tell (from the sun) that something is wrong. So I go back and find the small road heading north. After around 2 miles it turns really bad, just loose sand where I have no traction at all. The back wheel just digs down when I accelerate and my speed is reduced to ~5 mph. I hit a sand bank and drop the bike. Fortunately, I can pick it up (which is good to know since I was unsure if it was too heavy or not to lift). I stop every 30 minutes to take a small sip of water. It's getting pretty hot (97F/36C later today) and I sweat a lot in the motorcycle gear.

After 4 more miles I come to an intersection which is NOT on my map. Both roads are about equal size. This has me a bit concerned. I pick the left one since it goes in the direction of the mountains where the oasis is. After 4 more miles I encounter another intersection, precisely 10.2 miles after the river like my map says. I'm exhilarated, I just need to take the side road for 6.5 miles to reach the oasis and coca cola! I sip down half of my remaining water right there. After 4 miles, the side road just comes to an end in a sandy pit. I drive around for about 20 minutes looking for where to go. There is nothing. And the mountain is still far away. Moreover, there are no tire tracks at all here which leads me to believe that I'm either on the wrong road, or that the oasis doesn't exist any more (the guide book is 11 years old).

I go back to the main road and find a tree under which I sit down to think about what to do. It's unclear if I have enough gas to go back, I've only gone 80 miles on the tank (20 highway, 60 desert) but a lot of it has been spinning in the sand in 1st or 2nd gear, and in addition I always leave the engine running when I take a rest (since sometimes the engine doesn't start and I have to roll it to a start which I can't do in the sand). On the other hand, if I am where I think I am, it's only 30 miles north until I reach highway 2. I turn on my cell phone but there's no reception. There's ~0.2 l water left. I decide to keep going north.

A few more miles north I reach a ghost town and the road splits into several minor roads. I turn off the engine and listen, but there is nothing. I drive around and hit the horn, over and over. Nothing. I feel exhausted from the heat and constantly having to balance the bike through the sand so I lie down under a tree to get some rest. I continue after 20 minutes, picking the road that leads mostly to what I think is north. After around 2 miles, the road is joined by another road and becomes much better. It looks promising! After 5 more miles I come to an abandoned ranch that is marked on the map! Yey ! The rest of the drive is easy. With about 6 miles to go I meet a car, the first people I've seen since I entered the desert. I finally reach the highway, after 97 miles and 20h (10h driving). There's a refresqueria at the side of the road where I gulp down 2 liters of water. "Are you thirsty?" the store owner asks. I haven't eaten anything (except a few handfulls of chips) in 24 hours so I celebrate with grilled rabbit at a roadside grill. Two hours later I come to Tecate where I spend the night at a hotel, literally 50 meters from the US border.

What I learned today:

Don't attempt to cross a desert with 0.7 l water.

permalink written by  bennedich on May 25, 2009 from Mexicali, Mexico
from the travel blog: Baja Off-Road
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Entering the desert!

San Felipe, Mexico

I wake up at 5.30am, and when I see the water and the direction of the road I realize that I made a wrong turn yesterday just after I met the farmer. I see on my map that I just slept at a place called "Los Muertos" -- "The Dead". So I backtrack 8 miles and take the correct road south along the coast. Fantastic driving! The road is pretty bad in parts, with big loose rocks and plenty of hills. After 3.5 hours I reach Erendira where I have breakfast. Then I get back to highway 1 and drive north back to Ensenada. I have a mechanic fix the tail part of the bike which came loose after all the shaking. I then head east on highway 3 crossing the whole Baja. There's lots of motocross riders here. At a broken gas station I meet a group of Mexican riders who tell me that there's an off-road race called Baja 500 coming up, and all the riders I see are pre-runners who practice for the race. They give me some gas and I tell them about my idea to cross the Juarez desert. They strongly advice against it unless I have a GPS since they say it's easy to make a wrong turn. "Go to Mexicali instead. Miau Miau, best whorehouse in Mexico" one guy says. "The girls there will love you" another says. "Long time" the first one clarifies. I look at my map and don't see how one possibly can make a wrong turn, there's basically just one road that I have to follow through the desert, then make a right turn after 27 miles. Amateurs.

When highway 3 meets highway 5 there's a security checkpoint looking for guns and ammunition. I need to fill up with gas before the desert and since the guards look so serious I try to lighten up their day a bit by asking "hay una bomba por aqui" which in Colombian spanish means "is there a gas station around here?". In Mexican spanish it means "there is a bomb here". Both guards jump and ask where the bomb is. I think it's hilarious. Further north I find a mechanic at the side of the road who sells gas of questionable quality in plastic bottles and I fill up the tank. The bike has a range of around 180 freeway miles on one tank.

I enter the desert at around 5pm. The first 8 miles are on a salt lake and offer great driving. As I come off the lake, I happen to end up on the wrong road but find out after only ~3 miles when a fence covers the road. I go back, find the correct road, and start driving north. The road is OK, but very sandy in parts, and I can keep around 10-15 mph. I drive until dusk and camp behind a little bank at the side of the road. This is the moment where I find out that I only have ~0.7 liters of water left and half a bag of chips. I do a little bedtime reading in my guidebook before I fall asleep and come across the following: "dangerous creatures like rattlesnakes and scorpions thrive in most of Baja's backcountry". Excellent! The night is amazing, so quiet and clear, and not cold at all.

What I learned today:

Don't tell a Mexican security guard that you have a bomb.

permalink written by  bennedich on May 24, 2009 from San Felipe, Mexico
from the travel blog: Baja Off-Road
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