Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Skip-Bo World Tour-Nament of Champions

The start of our trip also marks the start of…

(insert drum roll here)

The Skip-Bo World Tour-Nament of Champions!!!

(insert echo effect here)

Skip-Bo is a delightful card game brought to you by those wonderful people at Mattel.

And Mattel is a wonderful global conglomerate responsible for such products as Uno, Hot Wheels and Barbie.

We will be playing many games throughout our trip and will keep you updated on the results.

Currently, the score is:

Eric – 19 wins
Robyn – 15 wins

Feel free to take sides, but please NO WAGERING… Skip-Bo is a family game.

Day 18 – Malaysia

October 23, 2009 - Cherating to Terranganu, Malaysia

This is a travel day with an early start, as we have to flag down the bus bound for Terranganu.

Terraganu is a city along the east coast, and we've been told it has a great night market on Fridays.

However, once we arrive and get settled, we realize the city is pretty much shut down on Fridays and Saturdays for Islamic religious days. There’s not much open, so we wander around to kill time until the night market begins.

The market was apparently the place to be and we joined right into the excitement, tasting various local treats… some of them were good, while others not so much. Technically, we did eat chicken, though we’re not exactly sure which part of the chicken.

Day 17 – Malaysia

October 22, 2009 - Cherating, Malaysia

We wake up, have breakfast and prepare ourselves for a boat tour along the Cherating River.

It is the highlight of the stay for me. We see lizards, kingfishers, a mangrove snake and even monkeys. After our previous monkey encounter, these monkeys were a breath of fresh air!

The rest of the day is spent chilling at home and relaxing all cool…. though no b-ball out by the school.

Day 16 – Malaysia

October 21, 2009 - Kuantan to Cherating, Malaysia

Another travel day but at least it’s a short one.

We hop on a local bus bound for Cherating. A normally half hour ride turns into an hour because of the condition of the bus and the multiple stops we make along the way. But Eric and I don’t mind as it’s all part of the journey.

We find a cool little hostel called “Payung House”, which is a collection of huts in a small garden, and book in for two nights. The rest of the day is spent walking around exploring the main (and only) road and the white sand beach. We hoped to do some surfing but it turns out we’re a bit eager and the season doesn’t start until mid-November.

Day 15 – Malaysia

October 20, 2009 - Pulau Tioman to Kuantan, Malaysia

Today is a travel day. We spend the day riding ferries and buses to get to Kuantan, en route to Cherating.

We stay in Kuantan to recharge before heading to another village with limited Internet and long-distance phone service. Unfortunately, finding long-distance capabilities proves impossible so we settle on catching up on the Internet and having one of our best meals to date. We eat at a place called “Alif Curry House”, where they serve your food on a banana leaf and you eat with your hand. Their hospitality was amazing and I can still taste the Tandoori chicken.

Day 14 – Malaysia

October 19, 2009 - Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

It’s Eric’s 33rd birthday so today he gets to choose the activities and he decides on swimming, reading, Skip-Bo and dinner. Works for me!

The Monkey on My Back

Previously I wrote about travelling with the expectation that plans will change against our will. And when I wrote this, I had in mind bureaucracy & red tape, bad weather & other acts of “god” and just plain dumb-f***ing-luck.

But on Pulau Tioman we encountered a change of plans neither of us anticipated.

Because of our success with the hike to Juara on Day 11, and after doing very little on Day 12, on Day 13, we decide to do another hike. After all, we can’t leave Pulau Tioman without visiting the northern tip as well. So off we go on another hike through the jungle.

Our destination? The village of Salang.

When we began, we both hoped this hike wouldn’t be as strenuous as the hike to Juara. But after about 10 minutes of walking uphill, we realize it’s worse.

Much worse.

The hike to Juara, though rugged, is at least well maintained. At points there are concrete steps built into the more vertical parts of the trail and the last 3kms are along a roadway complete with signs and directions.

The hike to Salang is the exact opposite.

There’s no map and save for a couple of randomly placed arrows, no directions. There are quite literally bridges in the middle of nowhere, that lead to absolutely nothing. Sometimes the trail will just stop for no reason and you must search around for where it starts back up again. And the closest thing you’ll find to a concrete step is a well-placed rock.

Early on, Robyn trips over a root, falls down and scrapes up her leg. I make a wisecrack about watching where she’s going and then immediately crack my skull on a low-hanging branch, so hard that I actually feel my spine jiggle.

Lousy poetic justice.

But we’re both two determined individuals (aka. stubborn), so we keep moving along the trail, basking in the complete lack of snow.

And besides, there are licensed restaurants along the beach in Salang and it’s only right of us to try and spread our tourist dollars throughout the whole community.

So after an hour of intense hiking, both uphill and down, past the Panuba Resort, past Monkey Beach and past Monkey Bay, we figure we’re about 15 minutes away from Salang.

And just as we crest the peak of the last big hill/small mountain and prepare to descend to the finish line/beer fridge, we see them.


Now we’ve encountered monkeys on our trip a couple of times already, and have never had any problems. They’re just like pretty much any other wild animal – more afraid of us than we are of them. As we would approach them, they’d take off into the bushes and we’d continue on our way. So we figure, why should this time be any different? After all, there’re only three of them.

I take the lead and slowly walk towards the monkeys. Sure enough, two of them start to head into the bushes, just as we planned.

But the third monkey had his own plan in mind.

And that was to not let us pass. Period.

He starts growling and jumping up and down on a tree-branch. The other two monkeys hear this and they suddenly get their courage back and join their friend, jumping up and down, screeching and growling, making it very clear we’re not welcome.

And we stop in our tracks, not quite sure what’s going to happen.

Suddenly the lead monkey feigns a charge at us and I look at Robyn and say “go.”

Now when I said “go”, what I meant was “go calmly - go slowly.”

But maybe my attempt at remaining calm wasn’t very convincing and what Robyn heard was “GO NOW! FAST!!! RUN!!!”

Which she does.

So I yell “be careful” because she’s now running downhill and I don’t want her to fall again.

But then I think maybe she knows something about monkeys that I don’t, so I panic and run after her.

Which gets the monkeys more excited, and they start screeching even louder and run after us.

At this point, Robyn hears the screeching get louder and she thinks the monkeys have actually attacked me, so she quickly stops.

I want to avoid running into her, so I slam on the brakes and I stop.

And the monkeys see that we’ve stopped, so they stop.

Yeah, it’s true. They see and they do.

And now we’re at this strange little stalemate.

Everybody is looking at each other, not quite sure what to do. Do we take our opposable thumbs and use them to open a can of whoop-ass on the monkeys? Or do we show them that we truly are the evolved primate and go home peacefully, on our own free will?

We’re hot and we’re tired. Since we had planned on having lunch in Salang, we have no food and we’re almost out of water. In the end, we decided it was better to paraphrase Han Solo and “let the monkeys win.”

So we turn around and start our long walk back home... past Monkey Bay... past Monkey Beach...

Monkey Beach and Monkey Bay? Hmm...

I guess we should have seen this as foreshadowing.

Day 13 – Malaysia

October 18, 2009 - Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

Near death experience #2 - refer to blog entry “The Monkey on my Back”.

Day 12 – Malaysia

October 17, 2009 - Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

Eric and I wake up the next morning to find 15 Navy warships more or less outside our door. Either we’re really safe or we’ve missed out on some very important information.

After yesterday’s hike we need a day of rest. Skip-Bo, swimming and hangin’ with Turnip are on the top of the agenda.

Day 11 – Malaysia

October 16, 2009 - Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

We don’t want to spend all of our time just hanging around ABC, so on Day 11 we decide to explore the other side of the island. There’s a 7.5 km hike (one way) that goes through the jungle to the village of Juara and we give it a try.

We hike over the hills and through the jungle to find the Navy has invaded Juara!

Actually, it’s just Navy training.

Every year the Malaysian, Singaporean, Australian and New Zealand navy’s gather around Pulau Tioman for naval exercises. It was actually kind of fun (read - great eye candy) to watch all these big, muscly navy men working out, lifting weights and getting all sweaty in their standard naval issue, little-itty-bitty black exercise shorts.

Of course, Eric is quick to point out it's no different than walking around Church Street in Toronto during Pride Weekend.

All in all, we hike 20+ kilometers for the day, with at least 5 kms being almost straight uphill.

Day 10 – Malaysia

October 15, 2009 - Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

We spend the day exploring Air Batang (or ABC for short), and Tekek. Tekek is the main village on the island, just over the hill from ABC, and has the only ATM. ABC is a laid-back fishing village on the west coast, with a single path to get from one end to the other. Only motorbikes, people and cats are allowed on the path.

Cats are in abundance in ABC. We have a resident porch cat for our stay. I've named him “Turnip” and every afternoon he waits on our porch for us to return from our day’s activities. Okay, maybe Turnip isn’t waiting for us and just likes to sleep on our porch because it’s well shaded in the afternoon. Either way I love having him around, while Eric could do without him. Although, I do manage to get Eric to call him “Turnip”, instead of just “Cat”!

Coffee, Tea... Jelly?

Since I’m not really a big beer drinker, and Scotch & wine are hard to come by, I’ve taken to sampling any other kind of beverage I can find.

I’ve had pineapple juice with little bits of jellied coconut in it, mango juice with little bits of jellied coconut in it, some sort of herb-like, Brio-wannabee with – you guessed it - little bits of jellied something or other in it…

Are you noticing a trend yet?

Chunky drinks.

You see, texture is a huge part of food & beverages around here.

In Asian culture food is rated not only on its look, its smell and its taste, but also on how it feels when you’re eating it.

Is it crispy? Chewy? Gelatinous? How do the different consistencies go together? Do they complement each other or work against each other?

Yeah – in North America we do have the option between “regular” and “extra crispy”, but over here it reaches far beyond that.

Very rarely will you have just one feeling when you eat… your noodles may be firm, but the meat in it will be fried very crisp, the vegetables tender and the sauce will be thick & gravy-like, so that when you chew, it all comes together in your mouth. Sort of a symphony for your palette.

And the beverages are no different.

With the exception of soda pop, very rarely do you find a drink that’s just liquid. There’s always something else in it… little bits of aloe, pieces of flavoured jelly, glutinous rice (like “Bubble Tea”).

Even something as simple as ordering a glass of apple juice has an added surprise to it. They don’t just open a tin and pour you a glass. They take an actual apple, blend it down to a juicy pulp and mix it with water (and sometimes honey), so you’re left with a taste explosion that’s layered in satisfaction.

However, the best drink I’ve had by far has to be “Kickapoo Joy Juice”.

That’s right… “KICK – A – POO… JOY JUICE!!!”

Try saying it out loud, three-times fast! Isn’t it amazing?

Sure, it doesn’t taste like anything special – kind of like a weak Mountain Dew. But I think its name is, hands down…


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 9 - Malaysia

October 14, 2009 - Melaka to Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

This is a travel day, starting off with a 3 ½ hour bus ride from Melaka to Mersing. We’ve decided to cross over to the east coast in hopes of enjoying the beaches before monsoon season.

After the bus ride we book ourselves on a ferry to Pulau Tioman. We arrive around 5:30pm and find a great little beach hut to stay in and then search out dinner as we haven’t really eaten since breakfast.

Days 7 & 8 - Malaysia

October 12 & 13, 2009 - Melaka, Malaysia

These days are for rest and relaxation.

Eric and I have realized we have a whole year to travel and we can’t go at warp speed the entire time. Further to that, we’ve found a hostel that’s proving to be a wonderful oasis. The covered back garden is surrounded by beautiful plants & Koi ponds, sheltered from the street noise and most importantly, has a fan to ward off the heat because it’s damn hot here!

On Day 7 we enjoy another meal with the Malaysian couple and join them at lunch to sample more local eats.

Eric is in heaven!

Our favourite by far is the Chili Garam (chicken pieces with a dry chili spice rub), which definitely puts KFC to shame. I was considering going back to Melaka just for the chicken.

Day 6 - Malaysia

October 11, 2009 - Melaka, Malaysia

Eric and I spend the day exploring Chinatown, Little India and the Waterfront.

A shout out to Mary – we’ve discovered that in Malaysia shandy’s come in a can!! One brand is called “Jolly Shandy” and it comes in both regular and lychee flavours!

We are invited to dinner with a Malaysian couple staying at our hostel. They are weekending in Melaka, so we join them for fresh seafood at the Portuguese settlement area. It’s a great opportunity to learn about local food... and a REALLY great opportunity to EAT local food!

Day 5 - Singapore to Malaysia

October 10, 2009 - Singapore to Melaka, Malaysia

This is a travel day.

We cross the border from Singapore into Malaysia by bus. Our destination is Melaka, World UNESCO Heritage Site.

It’s overwhelming to arrive in a city on a Saturday that is a weekend vacation spot for Malaysians.

While exploring the city and the mall (people really like to shop in Malaysia) we discover Big Apple Donuts... picture Tim Horton’s donuts dressed in drag.

Check 'em out at

A shout out to Sam Yamada – they have a donut called “the Yammy Yamato!!”

Days 2-4 - Singapore

October 7-9, 2009 - Singapore

We wake up every morning for our hostel breakfast – 3-in-1 coffee (coffee, creamer & sugar all in one neat little packet), Nutella & peanut butter toast sandwiches and fresh fruit.

We then take off to explore Singapore walking Chinatown, the Colonial District, the Waterfront, the Business District, Little India (again) and other districts too many to name.

On Day 2 I almost die by a falling palm tree branch. The thing was the length of both Eric and I standing head to foot. And I say I almost died because I was the one closest to it. Eric would’ve gotten off with a couple of cuts and bruises tops!

After “Near Death Experience #1” (yes, there’s more – stay tuned), I need a drink. We end the day sitting in Raffles Hotel, slurping back Singapore Slings. Raffles Hotel is where the Singapore Sling was born and we can’t pass up the chance to pay homage to “the Sling”.

Day 1 - Singapore

October 6, 2009 - Singapore

We arrive in Singapore around 8am local time, depart the “Vomit Comet” (see previous post) and try to find our way across the city to the hostel we booked on-line before leaving Toronto.

It’s mid-morning when we check-in and, since we’ve already been traveling for over 24 hours with barely any sleep, we decide to try and beat the jetlag by going out for a nice quiet walk.

Little did we know we would walk right into Little India during the Deepvali festival. People are everywhere!

We find refuge in a Hawker Centre for chicken rice. Hawker Centres are designated buildings for food stalls. This one was soon to become our favourite. During our first experience there, an elderly gentleman was surprised we were in the place… I guess they don’t get a lot of strays! During our second experience we were trying to figure out what to get and the next thing we knew, a woman was ordering dinner for us. All we wanted was to try fish-head curry and we ended up with a lot of extra food. But oh, was it so good!

After lunch, it’s “home” for a nap that turns into waking up the next morning – we fall asleep at 2:30pm and wake up at 4:00am.

Here Enters the Stenographer

It seems Eric and I have taken on various roles for the trip; Eric is the accountant (he comes by it honestly – thanks John!), while I am the stenographer (I was raised in an English teacher’s household).

As the stenographer I thought I would bring everyone up to date on what we have been doing “stenographer style” (ie. hitting the highlights and avoiding the unnecessary stuff, aka. “all the killah without the fillah”).

The next couple of blog entries should shed some light on our travels. Since it will cover quite a few days, I’ll break it down a bit for easier reading.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Riding the Vomit Comet

WARNING: This next story is gross. Seriously. If you have a weak stomach, think twice about reading it. But if you enjoy stories about bodily fluids and tight spaces, carry on. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.

So we’re aboard a Quantas jumbo jet, midway between London, England and Singapore.

The in-flight meal has been served and it was actually pretty good.

I had the lamb.

The lights have been dimmed and everyone is trying to get a little bit of sleep.

There are three people in our row.

I’m by the window, Robyn is in the middle and some other lady is in the aisle seat. We didn’t really talk to her. She seemed nice, but who knows? Maybe she eats puppies or something. All I’m saying is I don’t like to judge.

We have our pillows, our blankets and our sleeping pills and we’re happily drifting away into la-la-land.

And then it happens.

It starts with a loud, bubbly, hiss.

And then I feel little drops of some liquid hitting the back of my head and shoulders.

Hmmm… what could it be?

Now denial is an amazing, but often unappreciated, defense mechanism.

For instance, when you’re camping and you hear a really loud thump in the bushes, denial is that little voice that says “Oh that’s not a bear. It’s a chipmunk.”

Or let’s say you accidentally call your girlfriend by the wrong name, denial is the one saying “Oh, she’s not going to throw that frying pan at you. She knows it was an accident and to show you there are no hard feelings, she’s going to make you an omelette. But since you may be out of eggs, why don’t you go to the store and get some RIGHT NOW!!!”

So as all this is happening, denial is right there by my side, calmly whispering in my ear “Don’t worry about that. It was just a can of Coke that exploded. Now go back to sleep.”

And when the commotion starts up behind me and someone begins frantically asking the flight attendant for a lot of tissues, denial carries on in his soothing voice, “Shhhh… there there. Actually, it was a really loud sneeze. But don’t get up. You’re just fine.”

It isn’t until that delightfully smelling blend of airline food and stomach acid starts wafting around, that I realize what’s happened.

Some old lady sitting behind us has blown chunks.

Big time.

And because her reflexes probably weren’t what they used to be, she didn’t have time to get the air sickness bag.

So instead, she did the most logical thing. She tried to stop it with her hands, which is great in theory but poor in practice.

Have you ever tried to stop a garden hose with your thumb, but you couldn’t quite make a complete seal?

Yeah – the same thing happens with a mouth and two frail, little hands.

Apparently, it fanned out like a fire sprinkler system. The ceiling got hit. The windows got hit. People got hit.

But somehow, Robyn was left completely untouched. She had curled up in a little ball to go to sleep and was able to stay out of the blast radius.

The old woman is horrified and embarrassed. The flight crew is extremely apologetic and very efficient. And the couple sitting beside her is extremely composed and very understanding.

After a few minutes and about forty hot towels, the situation is clear. The panic has subsided and the next round of mini-liquor bottles is courtesy of a little, old woman, passed out from half a Gravol.

And for the record, I think she had the chicken.

The List?

The first question people always ask about the trip is “where are you going?”

At first, Robyn was always the one to answer this question.

Not because she has a better memory than me. Rather, the list was always “magically” changing and for some reason, only Robyn got the memo.

“Oh… so we want to go to Turkey now? Okay then. That’s news to me.”

Eventually, after many glasses of wine and “Atlas-caused” paper-cuts, we started nailing down a rough plan of areas we’d like to visit.

After that, it was just a matter of geography and global politics. For example, Iceland would be a fantastic place to visit, but it’s a helluva taxi ride from Vietnam. And yes, technically Sudan is very close to Tanzania, but right now, Sudan isn’t really known for its hospitality.

So where are we going?

Well, here’s where we’d like to go:

Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Egypt, Jordan, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and France.

Yeah, we realize this is a big list.

And yeah, we realize it may have to change for one reason or another.

Hell - we’ve been on the road for only a week now and our plans have already changed… typhoons tend to do that.

But that’s okay. It’s all part of the journey.

Besides, Brunei is supposed to be quite lovely.

Map? What Map?

So here’s the deal…

We – “we” being “Robyn & Eric” or “Eric & Robyn” (depending on where your loyalties lie) – are taking a year off to travel the world.

Our goals?

To see the sights, eat the eats and escape the winter.

Pretty simple, right?


Right now our schedule is this…

The beginning of October 2009, we fly from Toronto, Canada to Singapore. At the end of March 2010, we fly from Bangkok, Thailand to London, England.

The beginning of April 2010, we fly from London, England to Cairo, Egypt. The beginning of May 2010, we fly from Cairo, Egypt to Johannesburg, South Africa. The end of August 2010, we fly from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to London, England.

And then eventually we’ll fly from London, England back to Toronto, Canada.

That’s it.

That is all we know.

Everything else in between is the adventure.

We may spend a week in one country and a month in another. We may travel by bus, boat or piggyback.

There will be changes. Some by our doing and some by other people’s doings.

There will be delays. “Red tape” happens anywhere there are people.

There will be highs, lows and everything in between… both in emotions and temperature levels.

But that’s what we want.

The chance to make our own schedule, as best we can, and then see how things work out.

Pretty cool, eh?

So when we say “what map?”, we really mean “WHAT MAP?”

Is This Thing On?


Cough cough

Testing. Testing. One, two, three…

Is this thing on?


Are we blogging yet?