After leaving Bangkok, myself and my new travel buddy Rob, arrived into Hong Kong, into what I can only describe as a breath of fresh air compared to Thailand. Don’t get me wrong Thailand is stunning and hosts some of the world’s nicest beaches, vistas and curries, but the corruption and blatant display of sex exploitation just taint the beauty for me. Whereas Hong Kong was immaculate, friendly, welcoming and the lack of language barrier made the initial two hours of commute from the airport to our hotel very easy. We spent the first day in Hong Kong exploring the streets, the shops, the night markets and quite possibly and finished with a likely overdose of dim sum and dumpling soup. I had spent close to a month in mainland China about two years ago and while I was expecting a similar experience, Hong Kong is a jazzed up version of what major Chinese cities represent. While the typical trinkets of knock off shoes, bags, watches and purses are still available, there is a smaller selection of street food available (so no chicken feet delicacies), the streets are maintained so thoroughly that you don’t get the random blobs of spit and cigarette buts that you would on the mainland, and the people speak English so your sense of direction is easily adjusted should you take too many wrong turns.
So any who after a day in Hong Kong, we ventured out the next portion of our four day Hong Kong excursion – onto Macau. While Hong Kong was not originally a planned part of my journeys, after bungee jumping Bloukrans Bridge (216m) in South Africa I was on an adrenaline high and mission to try to outdo it and read about Macau Tower. At 233m it is officially the world’s highest bungee jump; you take off from a platform 61 stories up overlooking the city that is known as the Vegas of Asia. It is a truly spectacular skyline and the city itself is bustling with buildings and casinos that mirror Las Vegas, everything from the Sands, the Wynn as well as the Venetian casino is available for all of the gambling junkies. I decided not to gamble as my only appeal to Vegas is usually the free drinks and night clubs, in Asia you pay for your cocktails, sit in a smoky casino and there is not nearly as much indulgence that makes Sin City the escape that it is. Any who, rambling – when we got to Macau Tower we proceeded to check in for our jump and made our way up to the observatory deck to harness up for our freefall (233m). These is an interesting bungee, because most jumps are off a bridge and naturally inflict a pendulum motion after your freefall, Macau has guide ropes running parallel to where you jump so that you don’t pendulum into the tower itself. While this is amazing for safety and allows you to jump off of the tower itself, I prefer the freefall and swinging motion that bridge jumping has to offer. That being said it was nice to fly again and after the first jump (on a Thursday) we were informed that Macau Tower also offers Night bungee Jumping on weekends, so we went back on our two hour ferry, through customs to Hong Kong and contemplated the logistics of another day of ferries, the costs, and customs aspect of venturing back on Friday just to experience the freefall of flying at night time. The thrill and addiction of the jump not only comes from the adrenaline and heartbeat that you experience when you first go over the edge, but it also has a huge psychological benefit as well, for me at least.
For those ten to fifteen seconds when you are standing on the edge of a platform with only ankle guards connecting you to a rubber rope your mind goes completely blank. All of the thoughts, paranoia, insecurities, turmoil, dramas and doubts go away – you stand there, look over the edge and realise just how grateful you are/should be for everything you have achieved up until this point, because should fate decide it, it may be your last moment (though all bungee operations have excellent safety records for anyone who may have doubts) and the 6 seconds you spent free falling is probably the most rewarding you can experience as it is shear joy, content and euphoria pumping through your veins, its very weird but the most alive you feel is when you are mirroring death… So after some convincing it was eventually decided that an opportunity to do a night bungee was unlikely to occur anywhere else in the world and especially in the near future, we spent our Friday travelling back to jump off the tower when the city was under moonlight, all of its casinos were lit up, at this point the city truly did replicate Las Vegas. While everything I have done these last few months including bungee jumping, skydiving, gorge swinging, shark diving and playing with lions hadn’t put an ounce of fear into me, for whatever reason at night standing on the 61st floor platform made me nervous. It was a bizarre feeling I couldn’t shake for a few hours, just weird standing there with a gut feeling that something was about to go terribly wrong. Part of it in hindsight may have been that the day before I jumped backwards so wasn’t really sure what the view was rushing down at me, or part of it may be because Macau Tower is situated by a river so at night it really is almost pitch blackness you are jumping into. Nevertheless I stepped off, this time facing forwards and dove off to glimpse a good view of my freefall at night over a very beautiful city.
After our night time flying lesson, and the feeling of invincibility that comes with a jump we went back to Hong Kong for some more dumplings and to prepare ourselves for our journey back to Bangkok which would be three days to complete the end of the Asian portion of my travels. Bangkok itself is almost what you would automatically associate with a South East Asian’s city. It is overcrowded, polluted, and dirty and overrun by tuk tuks and people. That being said it is full of life, energy and some of the best food in the world (if you doubt me, the 14lbs I have gained over my four weeks in Asia will attest to the fact). It serves as a perfect gateway into South East Asia as you leave the Northern parts which tend to highlight temples, Buddhism and jungles and enter the land of beaches, beautiful limestone vistas and all the late night buckets your hearts desire. This time around in the city I allowed myself simply just to be a tourist, I ate 50 cent pad thai off the street vendors, tried their 25 cent spring rolls and bought all of the knock of t-shirts and jewellery I could fit into my already overcrowded backpack.
During my last day in Bangkok, it happened to be the King’s birthday which made the streets beautiful as everyone was dressed in pink out of respect an in a good mood. That morning as the Grand Palace was closed off to tourists in preparation of the ceremonies I got a chance to drive out of Bangkok about an hour and explore the floating markets. It is an entire little village area that operates on the cannels, you can purchase everything from hats, to noodle soup, spring rolls and photo albums while floating the maze of cannels in your longtail boat, the vendors simply hook onto your boat and pull you over to their stall and the bargaining begins. I stuck to purchasing spring rolls and a beautiful wooden hat that I will hang on my wall, once I am back in Toronto, and have found a place to live. After the floating village and markets and our return back to the city, my travel buddy and I decided on one last trip to the markets (he was very adamant about returning home with a knock off North Face jacket) and alas my journey to south East Asia came to an end. We spent our final evening at a great Irish bar called Shamrocks (coincidentally the same bar I visited on my first night in Thailand almost three weeks prior. Actually if you ever find yourself in Bangkok on Koh San Road this bar has one of the best cover bands I have ever seen, they get everyone going in and in a great mood and the female vocalist has a set of pipes that would shame most Grammy winners – so definitely my recommendation to check it out as they cover everything from the Cranberries, to Bob Marley, to Rihanna to Rage Against the Machine and it is a perfect way both to start a journey through Thailand as well as complete one while you sit back, enjoy a cold Chiang beer, surround yourself with great company and listen to rock n rolls greatest hits come out of a band that will blow your socks off
However despite the enjoyable journey through Asia that both myself and my ever-expanding waistline enjoyed the final portion of my five month trip was what I was looking forward to the most from day one; and after a flight from Bangkok to Toronto for a day stopover/transit to Detroit, I finally flew to Managua.
Nicaragua amongst other things, is one of my favourite countries to visit. For all the rest of you, it offers beautiful colonial type architecture throughout with Granada boosting beautiful cobblestone streets and the title of the oldest city in Central America. This city, like most central and south American cities, has a modest layout to it with everything being built around the central Cathedral, it also is home to one of the best cigar makers in the world, I think (www.mombachocigars.com) and I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay two nights at the cigar factory – which sounds rough but in truth it is a 5 bedroom villa with a swimming pool in its courtyard – so quite luxurious. If any of you should find yourselves here, it is one of the only cigar companies I can think of where after a tour of the factory, walk in humidor and growing field, you actually get to sit and roll your own cigar, then sit and have a latte or mojito on a rooftop patio while your cigar gets pressed and you relax yourself while overlooking the volcanic panorama while the sun sets down you puff away on quality cigars – definitely worth coming to. In the surrounding areas of Granada there are beautiful lakes to visit, some set in volcanic craters so you can swim while the hot springs heat up lakes a few kilometres across, you also have the Corn Islands which offer (in my opinion and I’ve tried many other places) the worlds best diving, as its cheap and completely untouched by the erosion normally brought forth with mass tourism, cruise ships, and over populated bays of dive boats. On Little Corn Island, which is about 2 km long and 1 km across, you can go out and dive and if you have more than 2 other divers out with you underwater during a whole day its been a busy week, you have the opportunity here to dive in private, without the herds of heavily commercialised dive shops surrounding you. The island itself is run by a group of hippie type, sun worshipping euphoria seeking castaways who have turned up and have still managed to maintain an island without any roads or electricity, just a few private generators, beach huts and all the fresh coconuts your heart desires. I love little Corn Island, to me it really is paradise on earth and if you have seen the movie “The Beach” it is the closest thing I have ever visited that resembles such a small community. It is self contained and untouched by corruption, if you have seen this movie and have gone to Thailand, nothing could be further from the books description in South East Asia
Beaches excluded my favourite thing about this country (and here you may not necessarily relate – though once you meet him you will share my sentiments) is my nephew. His name is Franco and he is turning 1 years old on Sunday/tomorrow, were throwing a beach party!!!YAY! He is by far the cutest thing I have ever set my eyes on. This half Nicaraguan half Polish Jujube of mine wakes me up every morning with a smile and a plea to help him walk (his head is slightly large so he needs help with his balance – ha-ha). He is the reason I keep coming back to this country, and each time I am here I am able to explore a new part of its beautiful vistas and spend time with my nephew and learn a little more about love. It is amazing what the presence of a child in one’s life can do to the heart. This is quite literally the first time in my life where I have stopped making wishes every time it’s 11:11 am or pm (which was a habit of mine since I can remember), I have everything I need when this little angel is around, add to the equation sunshine, access to the ocean and fresh fruit daily – I am in heaven. I encourage should any of you find yourselves in Nicaragua to pop by Leon and meet this little dude, he will melt your heart I do love him more than I thought was possible to love another human being, I imagine this is what motherhood would be like, and cant wait to celebrate that he has graced us with his presence for one year already
Back to Nicaragua, the people here are amazing, with what little they have they have been able to grow their hearts and are both very welcoming and hospitable to newcomers and tourists (as they don’t see alot), this is a country that is only about 31 years past it’s revolution and sadly democracy only really exists here in theory but despite that they are helpful and hopeful and live beautiful lives full of passion. If its one thing I am really jealous of that we lack in Canada it’s the dancing, people here express themselves on the dance floor and the rhythm is in their blood, it was quite enjoyable last week to be invited to a friends Christmas party and to go out dancing on the beach with the locals, we definitely don’t know how to appreciate music with our bodies the way Latinos do. As for the typical vacationing spots you have the Corn Islands on the Caribbean side and Ometempe on the Pacific side which along with San Juan Del Sur starts a 300km stretch of beautiful surfing beaches ending up in Playa Santa Rosa which is from where I am writing to you now. As my journey nears its completion and I start to reflect on everything I have experienced I couldn’t be happier right now than completely alone, in a beach house (my older brother is off running on the beach somewhere) and my room walks out 25 m from the Pacific Ocean with the nearest civilisation is at least 45 mins away. This is the perfect way to enjoy life, just your thoughts, a notebook, the scent of salt water in the air and nothing but the sounds of the waves crashing down to make you truly appreciate mother earth and help you sleep at night. That being said its 8:00pm and way past my bedtime (I enjoy waking up at 5 am for a sunrise surf).
Wow with a few days to go I am really realising it has been quite a long few months. Every experience has been magnificent from Kilimanjaro, to diving the Red Sea to skydiving, the Serengeti, Shark diving, Kruger Park, eating fresh fish in Stone Town, seeing Victoria Falls, climbing dunes, camping across for three months, Bungee Jumping, sailing around the Andaman Sea, rock climbing, walking with lions, marvelling at Angkor Wat, overdosing on curry dishes and teaching my nephew how to walk it was all magical and I hope you can each go and seize the dreams and conquer the bucket lists you have in your lives. I strongly recommend the destinations I went to though I must warn you if you’re anything like me – Africa will change your life, South East Asia will change your waistline and Nicaragua will change the way you love.
I will be back in North America shortly and in the mean time I wish each and every one of you a safe and happy holiday season. All the best in the New Year and may this year for everybody really and truly be your best and I encourage you instead of making resolutions for the New Year, just make realities
lil miss planet