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Ecotourism in Vietnam: Potential and Reality
With 13,000 floral species and over 15,000 faunal species, three newly discovered big animal species, and a ratio of country/world species of 6.3%, Vietnam is one of sixteen countries with the highest biodiversity in the world. Its wide range of ecosystems and shift to an open economy make it a very favorable site for ecotourism development. Indeed, tourism has been identified by the government as a spearhead economic industry and there has been a seven-fold increase in international tourist visits with Vietnam visa in the last decade. Ecotourists account for over 30% of international and nearly 50% of domestic tourists. Ecotourism is distinguished from mass or resort tourism by its lower impact on the environment, lower infrastructure requirements, and educational role regarding natural environments and cultural values.

Potential target areas for ecotourism include coastal ecosystems (sea-grass, coral reef, lagoon, sandy beach, and mangrove habitats), limestone mountains, national parks and nature reserves, and fruit gardens. Most of these are not only interesting landscapes, but home to Vietnam’s rich cultural identity. Ethnic minorities-resident in most potential ecotourist sites have a deep understanding of traditional festivals, land use customs, culinary culture, traditional lifestyle and handicrafts, and historical places.

Despite such great potential, this paper identifies several areas in which so-called ecotourism in Vietnam falls short of the ideal. There has been investment in nature reserves by the state and in restaurants and hotels in Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi by foreign investors, but not the kind of investment in human resources needed by tourist guides and staff, especially training in environmental knowledge. Tourism is still largely spontaneous and unregulated, resulting in environmental degradation. Local populations, their cultural identities, and traditional customs are not much involved in ecotourism, nor are they reaping its economic benefits. Finally, tourism management and policy are fragmented among various levels of government, resulting in a lack of national strategy.
The paper recommends: coordination among concerned bodies to develop ecotourism while conserving vulnerable ecosystems and defending cultural integrity; environmental impact assessments and research on carrying capacities; compulsory human resource training for ecotourism staff; and the engagement of local communities, not only in income-generating activities but also in conservation work.

Eco-tourism is in its infancy in Vietnam
Eco-tourism is a relatively new idea that has dramatically captured the attention of many people from a variety of backgrounds. It seems to be a catch-all word that has different meaning to different persons. To some it means ecologically-sound tourism; to others it is synonymous with nature tourism, alternative, appropriate, responsible, ethical, green, environmentally friendly or sustainable tourism. Despite the continued debate about exactly what eco-tourism entails, it seems that most agree that Eco-tourism must be a force for sustaining natural resources. Eco-tourism is nature travel that advances conservation and sustainable development efforts.

Eco-tourism is in its infancy in Vietnam, yet it has certainly become a buzz word in a short period of time. Everyone appears to be talking about it - and the media are latching onto the term wholeheartedly. My preliminary observation is that there is a general lack of understanding, in both the local media and tourism industry, of what constitutes an eco-tourism experience, what an eco-tourism venture/initiative entails, and what the underlying rationale for eco-tourism is.
Eco-tourism is a specialized, niche market that has evolved with the diversification of the tourism industry into ‘alternative’ or ‘special interest’ forms of tourism, including nature and adventure tourism.

Ecologic center
With the pace of industrial life in a hurry, the people did not always have time to live with nature, discover nature. It's hard to believe that now, many children do not understand how grown vegetables, trees, how animals grow. There are many herbs that grow around the house and are very useful for our lives, but we do not know.
Today, many tourists do not like to stay in 4-star, 5 stars hotels, they want to live more closely with the Vietnamese people to better understand the lives of local people.
Based on the above conditions, we would like to introduce our (customer intimacy) a new destination located 150 km from Hanoi, 15 km from the Cathedral of Phat Diem stone - one of the famous cathedrals of Asia. From here you can take the road to Hai Phong and Ha Long, Ha Noi. You can spend there after visiting the former capital of Vietnam dated tenth century (Hoa Lu), sightseeing in Halong Bay Land (Tam Coc) and the Cathedral of Phat Diem. The ferry crossing can imagine the tourists themselves are moving into the Mekong River as the girl in the movie (The Lover) by Marguerite Duras. Here, tourists can live with nature in the quiet, peaceful, pure among inhabitants, make known medicinal herbs, learn to make bonsai and sample local delicacies. This destination is called "The Ecology Center of Hai Hau", it’s located in the district of Hai Hau, Nam Dinh province. It is directly to the possession of the Agency's Travel Vietnam Ecotour.

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Vietnamese food is about accomplishing a perfect balance in taste, in texture and the lightness of being. Many people naturally follow the yin and yang principles in combining ingredients, for example, a soup with hearty ginger to warm up the body is contrasted with refreshing, cool leaves like pak choi to harmonies the feeling in your body. Eating in balance is a major factor in keeping healthy and many believe that food is medicine.
To maintain an equilibrium, plenty of refreshing shakes, like avocado, papaya, pennywort and watermelon, are drank as snacks, especially in the evenings to freshen the body before bedtime. 
CNN in "Travel to Vietnam program", has introduced Vietnam’s 40 delicious dishes, including “pho” (Noodles), “banh xeo” (pancakes) and “cha ca” fried fish, soup (pho), spring rolls, grilled shrimp paste, grilled minced fish, etc.

“Pho” ranks top of the list. The channel also broadcast other courses from Vietnam’s Northern, Central and Southern provinces, such as “Cao lau” (vermicelli), “bun cha” (noodle salad with pork patties), Southern “bun bo” (spicy beef noodle soup), “nom hoa chuoi” (banana blossom salad) and sweetened porridge and so on. What list of Vietnamese cuisine would be complete without pho? It’s almost impossible to walk a block in Vietnam’s major cities without bumping into a crowd of hungry patrons slurping noodles at a makeshift pho stand.

This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, features predominately in the local diet -- and understandably so. It’s cheap, tasty, and widely available at all hours.

Cha ca
Hanoians consider cha ca to be so exceptional that there is a street in the capital dedicated to these fried morsels of fish. This namesake alley is home to Cha Ca La Vong, which serves sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside.

Banh xeo
A good banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes.
To enjoy one like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in rice paper or lettuce leaves and dunk it in whatever special sauce the chef has mixed up for you.

Cao lau
This pork noodle dish from Hoi An is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese. Authentic cau lao is made only with water drawn from the local Ba Le well.

Rau muong
Some might call it river weed -- with good reason -- but that doesn’t stop the masses from scarfing down platefuls of morning glory, usually stir-fried and seasoned with slithers of potent garlic. Rau muong is common at Vietnamese restaurants and beer gardens.

Nem ran/cha gio
Vietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention. The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce gets the gastronomic juices flowing before a main course. In the north these parcels go by the name nem ran while southerners call them cha gio.

Goi cuon
These light and healthy fresh spring rolls are a wholesome choice when you’ve been indulging in too much of the fried food in Vietnam. The translucent parcels are first packed with salad greens, a slither of meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favorite condiment -- fish sauce.

Bun bo Hue
Central Vietnam’s take on noodles caters to carnivores with its meaty broth and piles of beef and pork. The thick slippery rice noodles also make for a heartier meal than noodles found in the north and south.

Banh khot
This dainty variation of a Vietnamese pancake has all the same tasty ingredients but is a fraction of the size. Each banh knot can be scoffed in one ambitious but satisfying mouthful. The crunchy outside is made using coconut milk and the filling usually consists of shrimp, mung beans, and spring onions with a dusting of dried shrimp flakes on top.

Ga tan
Got the sniffles? Opt for ga tan, a broth that’s Vietnam’s answer to the proverbial cup of chicken noodle soup. Sure, it’s not quite how your mother used to make it, with its greenish tinge from the herbs and hunks of chicken parts, but it’s worth a try if you’re needing a Vietnamese tonic.

Nom hoa chuoi
Vietnam’s banana flower salad packs a much bigger punch than a typical plate of mixed greens. Banana flowers (thick purple lumps that will later turn into bunches of bananas) are peeled and thinly sliced then mixed with green papaya, carrots, and cilantro along with chicken and a heavy-handed pour of a salty fish sauce dressing and crunchy peanuts.

Bun bo nam bo
This bowl of noodles comes sans broth, keeping the ingredients from becoming sodden and the various textures intact. The tender slices of beef mingle with crunchy peanuts and bean sprouts, and are flavored with fresh herbs, crisp dried shallots, and a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper.

Hoa qua dam
This chunky blend of fresh tropical fruit in a cup is the perfect local treat when the heat of Vietnamese summer starts to wear you down. It could be considered a healthy alternative to ice cream -- if you stick to the shaved ice variation -- but for the full experience it’s best had with diabetes-inducing condensed milk mixed in.

Pho cuon
Pho cuon packages the flavors of pho and goi cuon in one neat little parcel. This Hanoi take on fresh spring rolls uses sheets of uncut pho noodles to encase fried beef, herbs and lettuce or cucumber.

Ga nuong
KFC may be everywhere in Vietnam these days, but skip the fast food for the local version. Honey marinated then grilled over large flaming barbecues, the chicken legs, wings and feet served are unusually tender, while the skin stays crispy but not dry.

Pho xao
Pho xao may just be a slightly healthier take on my xao -- but the beauty is in the details. The flat, smoother pho noodle doesn’t crisp up like its pre-boiled instant cousin.
When done well the outer edges acquire a browned crunchiness, whilst the center stays soft and glutinous. This dish tastes best with a fried egg and seasoned with chili or soy sauce.

Ca phe trung
Vietnamese “egg coffee” is technically a drink but we prefer to put it in the dessert category. The creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam perched on the dense Vietnamese coffee will have even those who don’t normally crave a cup of joe licking their spoons with delight.

Bo la lot
Vietnamese are masters of wrapping their food. Bo la lot is neither raw nor deep-fried, but flamed on an open grill to soften the exterior and infuse the betel leaf’s peppery aroma into the ground beef inside.

Xoi
 Savory sticky rice is less of an accompaniment to meals in Vietnam, more a meal itself. The glutinous staple comes with any number of mix-ins (from slithers of chicken, or pork to fried or preserved eggs), but almost always with a scattering of dried shallots on top. 

Banh cuon
These rolled up rice flour pancakes are best when served piping hot, still soft and delicate. Although seemingly slender and empty they have a savory filling of minced pork and mushrooms. Zest is also added by dunking the slippery parcels in a fishy dipping sauce. 

Ca tim kho to
Eggplant alone tends not to get us excited. Although when it’s diced and sautéed in a clay pot along with tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and (depending on the recipe) minced meat, the once bland vegetable redeems itself.

Bot chien
Saigon’s favorite street-side snack, bot chien, is popular with both the afterschool and the after-midnight crowd. Chunks of rice flour dough are fried in a large wok until crispy and then an egg is broken into the mix. Once cooked it’s served with slices of papaya, shallots and green onions, before more flavor is added with pickled chili sauce and rice vinegar.

Bun dau mam tom
This plain-looking tofu and noodle dish is served with mam tom sauce -- the Vegemite of Vietnam. The pungent purple dipping sauce is used to flavor the slabs of deep-fried fofu that are at the core of the meal.

Banh goi
These pockets of deep-fried goodness are often described as the equivalent of a Cornish pastry or as a Vietnamese samosa, depending on the nationality of the person explaining. Inside the crispy exterior you’ll find that it’s similar to neither description, with its filling of finely minced pork, mushrooms and vermicelli noodles.

Com suon nuong
This simple meal is the Saigonese equivalent of bun cha -- with rice in place of noodles. A tender pork cutlet is barbecued over hot coals to give it a rich, smoky flavor, and laid over the fluffy white com.

Chao
With its thick and creamy texture Vietnam’s rice porridge is the best pick when your queasy stomach can’t handle much else. If you want to jazz it up you can always add slices of chicken, fish, beef, duck or pork ribs, along with a sprinkling of herbs and shallots.

Bo luc lac
Cubes of beef are tossed around a steaming wok with garlic, pepper, and some vegetables to make shaking beef. There’s nothing special about the beef that makes it shaking.
The name is just a literal translation that refers to the process of mixing the beef around while cooking.

Hat de nong
The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire can bring back fond memories of Christmas carols -- until a moped transporting a giant blow-up Santa whizz by. Pick the street vendor with the most enticing smell.

Source: Get Vietnam Visa

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Hai Phong Vietnam
Among Vietnam's traditional cities, Hai Phong was formed in a special situation. Considering the North region only, Hai Phong was a young city developed after many other cities that have a long existing process such as: Ha Noi, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh, Son Tay, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong...

The downtown of Hai Phong nowadays used to be 'Hai tan Phong thu' (Defensive coastal area) of Le Chan Woman General under Trung dynasty the suburban of Duong Kinh - the second capital of the Mac dynasty (1527-1592). At the end of Tu Duc King belonging to Nguyen dynasty, the head office of An Duong district was also moved to Hang Kenh, now belonging to Nguyen Cong Tru street, Le Chan district.

As the trading was getting more and more fruitful, many foreign businessmen, mainly Chinese, Thai and Nam Duong ones came so that the Nguyen dynasty establish Nhu Vien station on the bank of Tam Bac river (now the police station on the river) in order to collect taxes. In the early of 70's of the 19th century, more and more Chinese, French and English businessmen... came and asked for doing business at Ninh Hai wharf at the cross road of the Tam Bac river and Cam gate because they discovered that Ninh Hai road could lead to Laokay, and then to Con Minh, Van Nam of China to exploit the enormous region Van Nam-Qui Chau-Tu Xuyen which were very rich in natural resources.
In that case, Tu Duc King had to agree to set up a bureau in Hai Phong (bureau was an administrative agency helping Hai Duong province's chief to deal with work in place). In 1887, based on the Hai Phong bureau, the Nguyen dynasty permitted to expand this area to establish Hai Phong province with its head office in the current Le Chan area. In 1888, the French President issued a decree to set up Hai Phong city in the internal urban area, and the province was moved to Phu Lien and renamed as Phu Lien, and then Kien An. Although Hai Phong city was set up with small scale and poor streets at the beginning, the French government early ranked Hai Phong as the first-grade city, at the same grade with Sai Gon and Ha Noi of the Indochina region.

Since then, French colonialists speeded up urbanization process of Hai Phong city by building sea ports, river ports, warehouses; Ha Noi - Hai Phong railway, Hai Phong - Van Nam railway; national highway No.5 and No.10 and an airport at Khinh Dao then moved to Cat Bi, Kien An airport, Do Son airport making Hai Phong become the most complete traffic hub in the North. After that French, Chinese and Vietnamese ship building and repairing factories were established quickly. Industries, machinery, processing, chemistry were also expanded...

Some urban infrastructure such as: telecommunications, post office, electricity, water supply... were set up very early, and the electricity particularly was started in 1893, two years earlier than Ha Noi. Services such as: banking, trading, tourism, entertainment and hotels in Hai Phong were also established. The Hai Phong Chamber of Commerce operated within the area from Nghe Tinh to Quang Yen and it worked fairly effectively.
Just during 40 years (1888-1929) of constructing and developing, the former face of city was basically formed as it was taken over by our government in May, 1955. During the world economic crisis and the second world war (1939-1945), the construction speed came to a standstill and all the city expansion projects which had already been approved were not implemented.

In the period 1956-1965, Hai Phong city was recovered and further expanded but was heavily damaged by the American war with many destroyed places. The internal area of Hai Phong has been not only recovered but also expanded in quality and scale only since 1975, especially after the renovation era. Concentrated industrial zones, export processing zones; trade and services centers; universities, professional colleges, research institutes, technological application stations... have been set up creating a more and more complete network. The force of scientists, technicians, managers, businessmen and skillful workers have been professionally trained in majority and continued to be supplemented and retrained to meet the demand of the city development.

Nowadays, the area of the 5 central urban districts is up to 56.37km2 with a population of 708,000 people, not considering the development speed of satellite cities according to the approved master plan. The Party Committee, the People's Council, People's Committee of Hai Phong city have made a proposal to the central government to expand Le Chan district and set up a new district namely Hai An. In the future, the city will continue to propose for establishing 3 more new urban districts meet the need of Hai Phong development.

Source: Get Vietnam Visa 

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Our last 2 days we spent in New York. Amazing city, huuuge and really worth to check! Yesterday we made a quite nice ship cruise around the Manhattan Island; fantastic weather and a hot cup of tea helped to make the 3 hours journey in the icy conditions without being frozen to an iceberg.

To follow the recommendations, we’ve decided to spend our last evening of our tour 11 in New York Steakhouse instead of having another “plastic food”. Okay, it wasn’t that cheap as usually acceptable for our travel budget, but… Last evening… So what..;–) And the steak was fantastic!!! Some Long Island Ice Tea helped afterwards to fall asleep ;–)

Now our backpacks are packed again and the subway will bring us to the airport. In a few hours our plane will leave and we’re expected to ground in Good Old Germany tomorrow, 1st Nov, 10:15. Till then, we’ll enjoy the crazy street live of New York’s 31. October – the Halloween!!

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You might have already noticed that our blog is lagging, which means it is way behind our actual schedule. Partly because of missing time (believe it or not, travelling can be stressy and time consuming), partly due to missing internet connectivity. Fact is, while our written blog is about to arrive in California and our video blog is still waiting to depart from Auckland, in fact (and reality) we arrived in New York today.

The truth is – our actual journey will end the day after tomorrow. We will try to inhale NYC as much as we can (which right now actually breaks down to inhaling mainly snow flakes, falling from New York’s dark grey – or gray – winter sky). But soon we will be back in Germany again, getting back to “normal” life.

So does the story end here, as you might expect? No, not at all. We will, as soon as we have dealt with our basic stuff at home, begin to sort out more material – texts, pictures and videos – to further document our tour. Or, to put it that way: it’s not an end, it’s a new beginning! So stay tuned, much more material to follow the next months on our homepage (especially blog) Facebook page and Twitter account.

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...we didn’t ;–) Best place to get real Hula exercises in Hawaii would have been Molokai Island. But as we had just 7 days on the pacific islands (and already some concerns about our travel budget) we decided to stay on the Oahu island.

And we still had plenty to see! Waikiki beach with the sunlovers, the North Shore with world famous surf (and surferboys ;–), deep south for snorkelling in Hanauma Bay and even some spots we’ve detected for nice hiking tours: The hike through the extremely muddy volcano crater valley led us to a hidden waterfall – and we really would have appreciated the swim in the clear waterfall’s pond after that treck, but the leptospirosis bacteria has even reached this far secluded area :–(.

When not swimming, hiking or waiting for The Bus – the Bus service on Oahu is generally quite good, some 2,50$ can take you around the whole island, but it’s extremely slow! – we enjoyed the Hawaiian art of brewery. Imagine the names the Hawaians gave their beers: “Longboard”, “Bikini”, “Big Wave” or “Firerock”… But besides the funny names, the beer was really good and refreshing! With a kind of Ananas taste ;–) Together with a worldclass “Surf and Turf” (a fantastic steak and some king prawns) a delicious combination and a highlight of the stay.

So, we had some sports, sightseeing, fine dining and culture. What we did not is the Luau, the “Hawaiian BBQ and show”; we weren’t that attracted to have dinner with some 80 other tourists, cramped in a garden, entertained with kitsch flowers and animation, pseudo-folkloristic dances, tons of food served on plastic dishes – we’ve seen people returning from that parties, and that was already enough.

Instead we found another way to hook up with the myriads of Japanese tourists: shopping! Unfortunately we’re still bound to our backpack’s capacity and airline’s weight restriction, so we had to concentrate on the necessary stuff, that is some warmer shirts for the upcoming travel destinations. That at least saved our money – there’d have been reeeeally nice shopping in Honolulu ;–)

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Bula ! That’s definitely the first word in Fijian you’ll hear – and remember. Bula is the kind of word valid for (nearly) everything. Originally meant as a “hello” it may also work as “great”, “ well done”, “I feel good”, “I’m drunk” or “I’m a stranger and that’s the only word I know, but I like to party with you ” …

The second most important thing to learn is: Forget about your watch – you are here where the “Fiji Time” rules! So when you hear about the boat is coming in 5 minutes… expect it’s arrival in 15 min or in 2 hrs. Or tomorrow ;–)

Further generals: Fiji is said to be quite expensive and an exclusive, exotic destination. Exotic: yes. One immediately thinks about the just 1m high sandy islands, surrounded by turquoise water and squeaky white sands, with just coconut palms… Forget about that! True, there are indeed some of that islands, but: Fiji is also part of the “Pacific Fire Ring”, means: Fijis origin is volcanic, and this is reflected in the landscape, with it’s steep mountains and hills. Expensive and exclusive: well, when you book and arrive via Europe: yes. As there is no nonstop connection from Germany – you may be some 26 hrs or longer on your way (with some 2000 – 3000 Euros less in your wallet). But when you’re anyway already in Australia – or, even better: New Zealand – then you might be lucky and grab a ticket for less than 150$ for that 3hrs trip. Expensive and exclusive islands are the ones that are offered in all the travel agencies in Europe. 250$+ a night is the standard with prices up to some thousand Dollars for a night. Without breakfast. But: There are other, smaller, family- run places on Fiji for less than 80$/ night, including 3 meals a day! For 2 people! Family connection and no crowds guaranteed!

And thats how we made the Fijis :–)

We arrived on Nadi Airport (Fiji) on a late Thursday afternoon and found ourselves after a quick drive in our first Fiji hotel. Not really worth to mention that hotel (besides the fact that it was in the middle of nowhere), but ok for the one night of stay on the main land. Next day we’d anyway leave for the island. We decided for an island in the Yasawas group to become our “South Sea Island Dream”, the so-called “Wayalailai Island” in the north of Fijis main island. Unfortunately the “Big Boat” running daily for all the Yasawa Islands was already fully booked, but we got a ride on the “local boat” organized. After the scheduled 30 Fiji-Minutes (= 2hrs) our “local boat” was ready for departure. Just in time, heaven decided to open it’s gates now. Fortunately we did not need to care about getting a seatin the dry area organized, as there was just one other passenger with us – Rachelie from Switzerland. And: there was no “dry area”. Because unfortunately… there was no roof. Actually we found ourselves in a nutshell of a boat. So our transfer to our hidden south sea gem started already the right way – with a 1 hr unprotected ride through heavy rain.

The welcome on the Naqalia Lodge nevertheless was a very warm one, with guitar music and singing and flowers… and together with the warm water of the sea we didn’t feel that frozen any longer. Our bungalow was quite spacious, with running cold water supply 24h! Electricity on the island daily from 18:00 – 22:00. But as there was anyway neither mobile phone nor internet connection, there wasn’t that big problem to get our devices charged ;–)

With us were a few other couples: two world travellers from Hamburg, two world travellers from St. Gallen and two World travellers from Bern. And of course our swiss companion from the boat ride :–)

As you see… We aren’t anything special with our “round-the-world-tour”. Actually the just 4 months we had planned was more or less peanuts to our fellow travellers ;–)

Our upcoming 5 days on our Fiji Dream Island are described in a few words: Check temperature of the rain, check strength of the tropic storm, check water depth on the resort garden, define whether it’s worth to go now for a coffee or later… Have lunch, have a sleep, read a book, have a sleep, have dinner, have a sleep ;–)

Nevertheless, we had three real highlights on the island:

  • “Happy”: After one night of heavy rain and storm we found an exhausted, half-dead kitten in our resort’s garden. We organized some milk and fish as well as a protected sleeping area – and the kitten was doing it’s first steps the next day. One further day, the cat was already in exploration mode and checked the whole resort. It was really great to see how life and strength came back in that poor (and really ugly and awfully smelling) little thing :–) We decided to withstand the first intuition and didn’t name her “Ugly”. No, actually she was named “Happy”, as proposed by Tui (one of the resort’s women, who was indeed happy by herself to have a cat now in the resort to eliminate the mice). And happy she really was to find a place on the island like this, where she’s not only allowed, but indeed respected, treated well and needed .

  • Fiji Day: National Day / Independence Day of the Fiji Islands. All three resorts of the region and the villagers prepared one big party, with a real Kava-Ceremony (sorry, no pictures were allowed, was really not that usual “tourist” stuff – everything quite serious!), singing and dancing and loughing (needs separate explanation!) and loooooots of food. Just the “games” – as we’ve learned a usual entertainment for the young backpacker folks on all the other island resorts – we really wouldn’t have needed. Okay, and the neverending rain was somewhat annoying…

  • The People: we were really lucky! Not only the locals of our resort were really nice and friendly and amiable. We were as well really lucky regarding the other travellers we met there… Not sure whether it was that damned weather, the flair of the island, the relaxed and chilled atmosphere (or the Rum-and-Vodka-sit in;–), but we’ve had lots of fun, interesting conversation exchange of travel experiences etc. In a nutshell: a really good time with them all! Actually it was – even just after this short time – somewhat sad to leave… But hope to meet the one or the other again; maybe on one of the next dive safaris – through Switzerland. As mentioned, they’re – like we – on their trips round the world, and we wish them all a safe, pleasant and colourful ongoing journey!!!

One final word to Fiji’s people: During all our travels, we’ve nowhere seen people laugh that way. While in Asia everyone is really friendly and the smile (sometimes even a biiig smile) is a usual way of business practice and culture (contrary to our usual behaviour in Germany; sorry to say so), the Fijians are really laughing. You can count all of the remaining 17 teeth (haven’t met one single person with not having at least a loss of 2 teeth; guess they don’t waste time and get rid of that white things even in the very first second of a tooth pain) while doing conversation! :–) We really liked that happiness, and the music and singing.

The Fijians we’ll indeed recall as the most funny folks we’ve met so far! Thanks, Fiji, for that great lesson of relax and happiness!

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Etwas spät - wir sind ja schon wieder ein paar Kilometer weiter, in Kalifornien - aber mit Liebe hochgeladen :)

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One of our favorite video clips so far - our days on Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. Nice island, great diving, awesome Mola Mola.

This time the video is marked public viewable in the first place :) Retry the Ubud video as well, should work out now!

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Now that we have some resonable internet connection again, we are able to upload some more already edited footage from the last weeks. First off, some impressions of our stay in Ubud ...

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Seit 4 tagen kreuzen wir nun mit unsrem alten Schlachtschiff Fritz durch die neuseelaendische Nordinsel. Viel gesehen haben wir bis jetzt, und so manche Erkenntnis ueber Land und Leute gewonnen:

  • Wider Erwarten steht man hier nicht auf dem Kopf. Nein, tatsaechlich mit beiden Fuessen auf dem Boden.
  • Der Boden ist heiss (an den vulkanisch aktiven Zonen) oder kalt (im Grossteil des Landes), An einigen Orten schneebedeckt, in der ueberwiegenden Region aber gruen. Grasgruen.
  • Es gibt tatsaechlich Schafe! Viele Schafe! Aber nahezu genausoviele Kuehe! Selbst Steilwandkuehe haben wir entdeckt – und neben der Sorge, auf verlassener Schotterkiste ein Schaf umzumaehen war die Angst, von einer herabstuerzenden Kuh erschlagen zu werden, nicht minder.
  • Neuseeland ist gross! Auch wenn der Strassenplan relativ uebersichtlich ist und die Distanzen zwischen den angestrebten Destinationen moderat erscheinen… Man gondelt schon geraume Zeit!
  • Nicht alle Strassen sind asphaltiert
  • Nicht ueberall ist man allein (kann auch schonmal einer drauf sitzen, auf der Schuessel, im Toilettenhaeuschen, mitten in der Pampa)
  • NZ ist nicht billig. Zumindest, wenn man die ausgewiesenen (Natur-) Attraktionen sehen moechte, greift der neuseelaendische Landbesitzer gerne tief in die Touristengeldboerse
  • NZ hat tatsaechlich Naturschoenheiten, die kostenlos sind! Die stehen allerdings nicht in den verteilten Broschueren der Tourismusbehoerde, sondern man findet sie auf “gut Glueck” abseits der Wege (ein LP hilft aber)
  • Man muss nicht die halbe Welt umreisen, um die als einmalig beschriebene Natur NZ zu bestaunen. Man kann sich auch auf eine Reise durch Island, Oesterreich, Schweiz, Kroatien, Finnland, USA und der Eifel begeben, um zu wissen, wie es _hier_ist. Aber bitte in dieser Reihenfolge. Nungut, wird dann wahrscheinlich nicht guenstiger ;–)
  • Kiwis sind einheimische Fruechte (bei uns erhaeltlich fuer 25 ct/Stck, hier 60ct/Kilo), einheimische Voegel und Einheimische.
  • Den gemeinen Kiwi erkennt man daran, dass man ihn nicht bzw nur plattgefahren auf der Strasse sieht ( = Vogel), oder dass er mit Badeshort und Flipflops durch alpines Gelaende marschiert ( = der Einheimische; fuer uns hat der nen Vogel ;–). Beim Obst sollte keine Verwechslungsgefahr bestehen.
  • Der (menschliche) Kiwi ist ein sehr freundliches, aufgeschlossenes Wesen mit aeusserst britischer Hoeflichkeit und einer sehr eigenartigen Sprache. Eine freundliche aeltere “very british” Dame im Supermarkt hat mit mir in vermeintlich hoechstem Oxford-Englisch Konversation betrieben, die meinerseits lediglich mit einem “oh yess” und “oh noo” nebst angemessenem Laecheln bzw Stirnkraeuseln erwidert wurde. Ich hab bis heute keine Ahnung, worum es ging, ich hab bei dem Slang kein Wort verstanden.. Aber es war eine nette Unterhaltung.
  • Der Kiwi (wir bleiben jetzt mal bei der Spezies Mensch) hat seine Wasserhaehne 1860 aus dem Koenigreich mitgebracht und haelt seitdem eisern an dem daemlichen Prinzip der zwei getrennten Wasserhaehne (links = heiss, rechts = kalt) fest. Wer sich hier versucht, seine Haende lauwarm zu waschen, outet sich direkt als Kontinentaler: mit verbrannten Pfoten, die noch tagelang rot leuchten ;–)
  • Auf Neuseeland pflegt man noch die alte Gepflogenheit des “sich gruessens”. Allerdings nicht als Fussgaenger ( wie bei uns, beim Sonntagsspaziergang, im Dorf), sondern beim Autofahren. Vermutlich, weil es doch etwas besonderes ist, wenn in abgelegenen Schafzuchtbergregionen alle 6 Std. ein Auto vorbeirollt. Vielleicht ist es aber auch eine Abschiedszeremonie: der Einheimische kennt den Berg. Und auch die Strasse hinter der naechsten Kurve. Und weiss, dass der vorbeirollende Touri mit seinem Caravan nur eine 50:50 Chance hat, den Berg auch in umgekehrter Richtung wieder zu meistern…
  • Caravanfahrer unter sich gruessen sich generell. Speziell jene, die den Berg schon erklommen haben.
  • Es regnet auch auf Neuseeland. Aehnlich wie bei uns aber nur dann, wenn gerade keine Regenjacke / Regenschirm zur Hand ist. Besonders gerne natuerlich bei Sportveranstaltungen ( z.B. Rugby-WM) im unueberdachten Stadion. Kurz nach dem Anpfiff. Wenn man nichtmehr weg kann. Hoert nur kurz zur Halbzeit auf, wenn man sich ohnehin in die vollgedraengte Wuerstchenbude zum trocknen quetschen koennte. Ja, eigentlich wie zuhause. Womit bewiesen waere: Petrus ist auch fuer hier zustaendig ;–)
  • Die Zeit laeuft auf NZ schneller. So wird uebermorgen schon unser Abreisetag von diesem wundersamen Stueckchen Erde sein. Und um daran anzuknuepfen:
  • Neuseeland hat so viel zu bieten, die Zeit wird nie ausreichen…

Morgen werden wir – sofern uns Petrus wieder etwas gnaediger gestimmt ist – auch noch die legendaeren “Poor Knights Islands” inAugenschein nehmen. Hierbei beschraenken wir uns jedoch auf die Unterwasserwelt; das Anlanden ist auf den Inseln aus Artenschutz-Gruenden verboten.

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Auckland

After some 24 hrs travel from Manila via Singapore (with the best stopover time on the Changi Airport!) we’ve finally reached “the other side of the world” yesterday noon. First impressions: From the plane’s window we’ve spottet an awesome beautiful landscape. Fresh green hills, interrupted by lots of bays filled with bright blue water, small vulcanoes and islands with white sandy beaches just offshore.. One would nearly love to right jump out of the aircraft ;–) When grounded, the next detection: everything (and everybody) is veeeery relaxed here! Furtheron, we’re in a country now, where also the coffee seems to be drinkable! Just the people’s speaking is not yet that easy for us to understand. Quite an interesting slang…

 

New (rolling) Home

Right at the airport we were lucky to get introduced to our new Best Friend: Fritz. Fritz is a campervan and defined for beeing our new home for the upcoming nine days. Our friendship started somewhat confusing (no one of us was ever using a caravan) but after some closer looks ( and the use of our combined power of “grey cells”) we managed to handle – or at least still are hoping so… Our Fritz is quite a basic vehicle. 4 wheels, a fridge, gas cooking station an a cold water rinse, plus the mattress and bedsheets for the nights rest, thats all. One luxury equipment nevertheless we added to our rental: a small heater fan! I can tell you, after this first night I really congratulated us for having ordered that small white, noisy thing!

 

Driving Experience

The new day in this completely unknown country started with quite a thrill: driving! It’s not that we’re not both experienced drivers, but: after 3 months “off”, close to no sleep for 20hrs, jetlag (we’re now 5 hrs ahead Manila time), a Right Hand Drive vehicle that is a campervan AND driving on the left side… it was indeed a challenge. In addition, we’ve detevted that the 1,5 kgs of paperwork, which was handed to us together with the car’s key, did not really content even a simple street map. So… We just drove on, with intention to somewhere find a supermarket, where we can fill our fridge. And indeed, some 45 min later we were – somewhere – packed with all the essentials and necessities to survive the upcoming days and nights; and hell of a money less in our pockets ;–)

To find an adequate campsite was the next challenge. 15:45 it was time to watch for a “legal” parking place for the night’s rest. Due to the running Rugby World Championship we’re already alarmed. Google Navigator forced us for some sightseeing tour (first 2 campsites didn’t exist – at least not in the shown location) and the 3rd was … hm… aeh… Not really a place where we’d have liked to spend a night ;–) But finally we found a quite nice place for our Fritz now and enjoyed the first shower after a looong day. A colleague of Rene gave us a pickup and accompanied us for some delicious seafood dinner in Auckland Bay.

First Night

We survived. Somehow. Thanks to our white, noisy, funky heater ;–)

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It’s been some time since we did our last blog posting, right? So what’s the excuse - did we have no internet? Have we been diving like mad? Have we just gotten lazy?

Actually nothing of those. Internet connection on Alona Beach (Bohol, Philippines) was reasonably ok and we only did a few dives here, although we love diving in this area which we were already visiting for the third time. And actually we weren’t much lazier than ever.

The truth is - we just had no time. We came to Alona mainly to visit our buddy Karsten, who we know for six years now and who runs the well known Blue Planet Diving down there. And although he is one of the best guides and dive instructors you could find all over the world, our main focus was to spend some time with him again, both with and without diving.

For the latter one we could have done better, since - luckily for him - he was very busy in his shop with lots of customers both for courses and fun dives, while most other shops around have kind of a quiet time now during low season. I was only able to make one dive with Karsten, while Nat was biting small pieces out of some wooden table to get rid of her anger for having got a cold. Nevertheless, we did some really nice dives with Nina, his new and very good Divemaster at the shop the next days, including our beloved Balicasag trip.

So how on earth we could have been busy, as stated above? Well, we left our Hotel early each day, spend all our time at Karsten’s shop until the evening came. There we either did some diving, or we sat there with Karsten, Nina, Hubert or other nice and relaxed customers and had great chats, lots of coffee, maybe even some beer later and simply a great time. What exactly the phrase ‘leaving the hotel early’ meant was depending on what we did the night before - either having a serious barfly with the other guys, not supposed to end before dawn, or getting to bed soon after dinner to fight the hangover and missing sleep from the night before. After these harmless nights, early meant around nine o’clock. On the other hand, after the heavy nights, anytime before dusk was supposed to be early enough in our swollen eyes.

Frankly, we had a great time. And we wanted to enjoy every minute especially with Karsten, since it’s so precious when living that far from each other. Luckily we managed to, although it came at the cost of having some serious headaches in the morning. It even did not matter that Alona is not any more the place we used to know.

It is still a nice place to stay, especially for divers. But it has become more touristic, with new resorts, hotels, shops and restaurants all the way. It’s not the laid back, relaxed and not so well known hidden gem any more that we first visited six years ago. Given you saw it once that way, you may wish back the ‘good old times’. But it’s still one of the best places in South-EastAsia for the combination of awesome diving and nice beach and night life.

Time now to leave the beaten tracks. Not only we left well-known Alona for now, it’s also time to start for the part of our journey that was originally not planned at all - making it a real round-the-world tour! Right now we are sitting here in Singapore, Changi airport, waiting on our connecting flight. In about ten hours, we’ll do our first step in Oceania - Auckland, New Zealand. There a camper waits for us, with which we will do some exploration of the northern island. As long as internet connection permits, we’ll keep you updated.

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Family Meeting at San Fernando (La Union)

We’ve missed our connecting flight from Manila to San Fernando (there’s just one daily flight from Coron to Manila, and another one-day-only connection to the northern Luzon City, with just 2 hrs time inbetween, and the statistics of on-time-arrival less 70% is already self-explaining..) But nevertheless we were lucky: Yves, my brother-in-law, had just on our arrival day a meeting in Manila and gave us a lift for the 280km (= 6 hrs) ride.

Arrived late night at the temporary residence of my sister and her family and got a really warm welcome. And an incredibly nice rest for upcoming days.

San Fernando is quite a nice little town, close to some good surfing beaches – but as we’re not surfers… cannot comment about the waves' quality. It’s furtheron obvious, that quite low (western) tourists are making their way up to this northern Luzon beach area (indeed, the travel literature mentions the usual “single travelling men aged 45 and above”, but so far we’ve just met some Expats, that claim San Fernando their new home for more than 10 years now). So for us it’s quite interesting to see daily live off the beaten tracks. And an experience to not getting cheated all the time ;–) Indeed, people are really friendly here and it’s fun to accompany my sister to the fruit market. (for the wet market with fish and meat I couldn’t convince her, guess we’ll need to hook on Yves to get a sightseeing tour there ;–)

Some further benefits and luxury, besides to meet all our beloved ones and follow their organization of daily family life in this alien country: terribly good cooking (no rice, no chicken for the last 4 days already!!), a washing machine (don’t know when our stuff was that good smelling!) and a very interesting “tour program”.

Hundred Islands

Today we’ve visited the 100 Islands Nationalpark, some 2,5hrs drive south. As name is programme, a whole bunch of tiny little islands are spread allover the sea, just some few km off the mainland. A short boat ride opened us the door to our own, private, whitesandy island; felt like the “Swiss Family Robinson”, with nice picknick and a relaxed time in the water. Even a baby octopuss came close to the shore and said “hello” – at least I think that was the meaning of his 8-handed gesture… Dark clouds on the sky gave our session at the little paradise to a quick end. Monsoon indeed is reliable – it rains definitely. And heavy. And wet ;–)

We’ll stay here for 2 further days until the Philippine transportation systems will bring us to the Visayas / diver’s heaven. All our thanks goes to Pat, Yves, Fabienne and the kids for all their hospitality and care – and the room with hot shower :–)

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…is worth an article. Rene’s just doing all the video cuts of our phantastic wreck dives :–)

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During our “days off” at Bali, Rene has spent lots of hours (as well as some money) to improve our blog status. So far, we are really sorry, that we couldn’t post more regularly our blogs.

But we’re reliant of two main criterias: the internet connection and the availability of a useful blog device. First one is unfortunately not in our hands.. Second one was all the time a hard tradeoff. One must imagine: we do have 4 (four) communication systems, made for the web, with us. 2 smart phones, a (really small) laptop and a tablet. But the only device, that allowed us so far to update the blogs, was the laptop. The same unique device that was necessary for doing our detailled tour plannings or the flight / accomodation reservations. You see, most of the time, priorities were just given..

But when I was the glad one to enjoy some readings on the beach of Lembongan, Rene was the one who deeply investigated all the App possibilities and so on. After several hours (not to say “days”) he managed to install a device, that will allow now both of us to “work” in parallel.

So if you’re worried about our irregular blog posts from now on: it might be our laziness.. But even more likely the lack of internet connection. Really ;–)

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The Devilish Umbrella

Sept 03, 05:30. Manila. Arrived. And survived the night flight, some of us with, others without sleep, both of us very groggy. Ongoing transfer flight to Coron, Busuanga Island, Palawan, scheduled for departure at 09:20, so enough time to get the eyes opened with a biiiig cup of coffee. Enough time? Well, we’re on the Philippines, and theres the tale of the Devilish Umbrella still vivid. You haven’t heard about before? Well, we neither. Till that very day.

A friendly guy from the Security Check enlightened us of the cruelsome life inside that rain protection system. And insisted to pass my beloved mini (not to say “baby”) umbrella to the exorcist for getting the daemon out of it. Not sure how often that spiritual ritus is practised, but the interims storage box (size of a watertank) was already filled with poor umbrellas. Yellow, pink, blue,big, small, mini, nice, ugly, very ugly.. There was no separation, no question of race, origin or destination – each and every umbrella had to find it’s way in that quarantine box. Most likely it’s on the full moon each month, at midnight, when the umbrellas are deported to the upmost part of the dark airport roof and set to fire, surrounded by singing, praying and dancing security witches.

We decided to protect our poor little baby umbrella from the desastrous end of his life. Rene, my hero, made his way back to the airline counter to get it as checked baggage in the plane. We’re pretty shure, this unselfish gesture the umbrella will never forget and from now on either have a sunny word with St. Peter (or at least protect us from the upcoming rains).

It was 20 minutes prior to boarding. Of course the counter was crowded… So another queuing. 10 minutes prior boarding. The checkin of a single Devilish Umbrella is not possible, it needs to be covered by a bag (else the daemons inside might let it open during the flight and forces the plane to crash I guess). My hero, in a sprint, up the elevator for the nearest shop to organize a plastic bag. Seems to happen quite often, because the shop owner was already prepared with plastic bags… 7 minutes prior boarding. Wrapped in 0.4mm plastics, the Devilish Umbrella is ready for airplane transportation now. But the queue on the security counter had grown meanwhile. Nervous minutes followed while the row moved with incredible low speed.

Just in time we arrived at the boarding gate. 5 minutes passed. 10 minutes passed. A quick announcement was made, quite hard to understand… Our plane is delayed for at least 2 hours. Sorry. There was no reason given for the delay, but we guess it was an unwrapped umbrella in the cargo, that unfolded…

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