Caves Beach: Week 213

Caves along the beach: Caves Beach, Australia

On the way to Caves Beach, we stopped in Lake Macquarie. It was breakfast time and the sun was already strong. Two kids had set up a bike ramp at the end of a pier and were taking turns riding their BMX bikes into the lake. Across from the waterfront was a cafe and homeware shop called Common Circus. The coffee was good and the shop was stuffed with carefully selected Etsy-ish items like ‘crumpled’ ceramic cups, potted succulents, and geodesic egg holders. It wasn’t easy to leave with our wallets intact.

Common Circus business card: Lake Macquarie, Australia

After breakfast at a different café, we drove down to Caves Beach. Although it was early autumn, the sun was beating down and we couldn’t resist jumping into the ocean even in our clothes. Once we had cooled off, Barret and I walked behind a group of squealing kids that were headed towards the southern end of the beach. They were giddy about passing through a series of caves and while we inwardly felt a similar excitement, we stopped when we found a quiet-ish patch of shade.

Caves Beach, Australia

After a few snacks Barret and I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean. When we woke, the tide had risen and heavy clouds were rolling in. Our friends and I rushed to pack the gear into the car as a thick blanket of clouds raced to the edge of the cliffs. The rain began to pour down and then it began to hail. Barret parked the car under a metal awning and we could barely hear each other’s exclamations over the sound of the falling hail.

Caves Beach on a rainy day: Caves Beach, Australia

Further down the coast we stopped at The Entrance for dinner. The town is a popular coastal destination and is well known for the flocks of pelicans that congregate on the beach. Being the tail end of a four-day weekend, the town was quite and only the mechanical tunes of a small fairground hung in the air.

Barret, our friends, and I walked up and down the main street in search of a good place to eat. We passed restaurants, gift shops, ice cream shops with kangaroos painted on the walls, and old red brick vacation rentals with slender names signed across the front. My favorite, because I’m from Vegas, was Ceasar’s Palace.

The Entrance Hotel coaster: The Entance, Australia

In the end we chose The Entrance Hotel. The food was delicious and the venue was a cheery beacon of light on such an overcast evening.

How to get to Common Circus: 36 Brooks Parade, Belmont, Lake Macquarie

How to get to Caves Beach: Mawson Close, Caves Beach

How to get to The Entrance Hotel: 87 The Entrance Road, The Entrance

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Glow Worm Caves: Week 52

It had rained the whole day in Whangarei. While I still wanted to explore the undeveloped Abbey Cave system, Barret was worried about flooding. And lights. And proper clothes.

“Do you think Bear Grylls would be worried?” Perhaps I was taunting him too much.

“That’s it,” Barret said with a tone of finality. “We’re going.”

Abbey Caves are three separate tunnels hidden within a hilly landscape and connected by a circular footpath. The first tunnel, Organ Cave, was a gaping black hole in the side of a hill. A small stream of cold water filtered through the boulders piled at the foot of the entrance. It looked intimidating and at first we weren’t even sure if it was one of the caves.

The dark completely enveloped us a few steps beyond the threshold. Barret’s small flashlight illuminated just enough to let us know we were shin deep in murky water. Just as it began to feel oppressive and creepy, we entered a small cavern.  The ceiling was lit up like a night sky- except instead of white dots, they were sapphire blue and hungry.

Glow worms are really larvae that capture their prey with a sticky and luminescent filament. The brighter they glow, the hungrier they are. As they burned away in hopes of a good meal, Barret and I cuddled underneath, completely enchanted. Sure Bear Grylls would have gone on a rainy day, but he would have been alone.

How to get to Abbey Caves: Abbey Caves Road, Whangarei. There is parking on the side of the road, across from the Little Earth Lodge.

Manila & Palawan: Week 47

Manila

Outside of the wealthy bubbles where people walk dogs in master planned communities and get massages after dinner, Manila is crowded and smoggy. Jeepneys and taxis jostled bumper to bumper, their engines expelling thick bursts of exhaust which coated the street-side food stalls like powdered sugar. Although the taxis offered an oasis of air-conditioned oxygen, there was the gamble of being stranded in the unending rush hour listening to “big radio, Big Radio, BIG RADIO. BIG BIG BIG RADIO!!!!”

Barret and I opted for a colorfully themed jeepney ride instead. While everyone warned us about theft and deceitful cab drivers, it seemed as if jeepneys fell outside of this realm. The passenger’s fares honestly flowed down a chain of hands to the driver and vice versa with the change.

It might sound oxymoronic to say I was surprised that the Chinese Cemetery was so quiet, but it isn’t when you consider the neighbors. The Manila North Cemetery, just next door, has a thriving population of several thousand living bodies. Families cook, children play, and a few entrepreneurs even operate businesses from within the mausoleums. So it was interesting that the tombs in the Chinese Cemetery, which resemble small apartments with their running water, AC, rooftop balconies and fenced gardens, would be unoccupied. I guess money does buy privacy, especially in the afterlife.

Intramuros was the original Spanish settlement in the Philippines during the 16th century. Before land reclamation it faced Manila Bay and was fronted by Fort Santiago, which protected it from invading foreigners. The settlement remained intact for several centuries until the battle for the liberation of Manila during WW2. Intramuros was the final stage in the fight against the Japanese- 100,000 Filipinos died in all and only one church remained upright inside the Spanish settlement. We learned this from our guide who cheerfully read all the plaques outside the buildings to us.

Palawan

Sabang is a small coastal town on the island of Palawan. Little bungalows lined the beach and the buko (coconut) juice was chopped off the palm trees in the morning hour. Aside from the lure of a lazy day, Barret and I wanted to see the underground river which was recently named one of the newest seven natural wonders. We boarded a canoe and paddled into the dark mouth of the cave. The roof was filled with sleeping bats and whenever our flashlights strayed too far from the guide’s itinerary, he herded us back together by pointing out a biblical rock formation.

The beach in El Nido is slim pickings, but the nearby islands are the reason this town north of Sabang is popular. At an eclectic hostel called The Alternative, we booked our island hopping tour. The naturally twisted and curvy ‘found’ wood that was incorporated into the construction lent a slight jungle-y atmosphere.  We waited for our boat from a crow’s nest  suspended over the beach and drank in the crashing waves with our jasmine tea.

Fifteen past the hour we boarded our bangka (outrigger canoe) and headed across the sapphire water for a small island with a secret cove. The sun was high and the sunscreen thick. After exploring the beach we pulled on snorkel equipment to float above sinister urchins and delicate coral. Being an inexperienced snorkler, I choked on the salty water every time I got too excited about cute fish.

“Look Barretschluush! It’sshish gurgle gurgle NEMO schloop gurgle!”

After swimming into jellyfish, the saltwater stung the wound on my butt cheek. So I was glad to be out of the ocean while lunch was cooking. The water was five shades of blue and the sand the color of gourmet vanilla bean ice cream. When the food was served, the fish was rich and flavorful, the roast succulent, the vegetables fresh, the potato salad creamy and the pineapple sweet and crisp. Paradise has a name and it is Tour A.

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