Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Palau overview

The very fancy and expensive sunblock I brought with me from Japan didn't do a very good job. I got burned. Badly. I ended up running to a local drugstore with imported American stuff and buying a cheap replacement. That seemed a bit more effective.

My plan for Palau was such:

day 1 - rest and look around
day 2 - trip to Rock Islands and Jellyfish lake, snorkel (with a lovely Japanese company - Impac)



day 3 - intro dive with Sam's Tours.

That one didn't work out. Let's just say that Sam's Tours is not a company I can recommend for novice divers. To put it mildly, they're idiots, who wasted my time.

So instead of diving, I rented a car and went to the aquarium and museums and tried local foods and then drove up to Palau Beach Bungalows. The plan was to stay there until Sunday.

That didn't work out either. Let's just say, the place was crawling with bugs and the beach was a garbage dump. I stayed there for one night only and left as soon as I finished breakfast.

day 4 - the plan was to tour the island, and I did just that. I went all the way up north to see stone monoliths, I saw the new capitol building, I saw jungle, and generally despaired at a very shoddy signage (or lack thereof) of major tourist points.
In the evening I returned to Koror and checked into the motel I was staying at previously - DW Motel.

day 5 - snorkeling tour with Impac, this time we snorkeled at major diving points (such as Big Drop Off) and then had lunch at Carp Island Resort. Carp Island Resort is the kind of place I want to stay at if I ever come back to Palau (unlikely).



day 6 - an airplane tour of the islands. Expensive ($140 dollars for 30 minutes), but totally worth it.

day 7 - that is now and right now it's raining like crazy. Not sure what I'll do now. Probably drive up to Palau Pacific Resort and sit on their beach.

My flight leaves at 3AM. Luckily, thanks to my air tour yesterday, I have a coupon for the very fancy VIP lounge at the airport. So at least my waiting time should be more or less pleasant - there's free wi-fi there.



More detailed info coming up soon!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Landed

The flight to Seoul was uneventful and boring. Noteworthy for only one thing – I got to drink my first Diet Coke in over a year. I didn’t even ask for one, because I was certain they wouldn’t have it. But they did.



During that short flight I drank three of them. The ladies in blue silk blouses looked at me with something resembling contempt, but were far too professional to be openly disgusted when each and every time when asked “tea or coffee”, I always answered “ Diet Coke”.

I’m not too fond of the airport in Seoul. Not sure why… Probably due to a combination of factors. The transit area lacks a decent bookshop, there’s no place to buy nice postcards (and I don’t mean the crappy artsy kind), and the shop assistants are of the pushy kind. Or maybe to them I simply looked too poor and pedestrian to be checking out the goods at Givenchys and Marc Jacobses of the duty-free world. Who knows?

The flight to Koror was packed, but the charm of being the only gaijin on board resulted in a quick shuffle, which left me with three seats all to myself. I drank more Diet Coke, ate whatever it was they were serving and went to sleep.



And then it was time to land. 29 degrees Celsius and rainy. The joys of being in the tropics.
Another joy (or not, depending on where you stand) of the tropics is a totally different sense of time. That became very apparent to everyone waiting in line to passport control.

Three lines, three bored faces, three sets of arms moving so slowly that any slower and they’d be going backwards. And who cares that there’s a planeload of tired, sleepy people waiting to the processed? Certainly not the Palau customs officers.



The fat lady that I had the misfortune to be served by, was the slowest of them all. She didn’t give a crap about anything and was doing her own thing. Slowly. Very slowly. Return and onward tickets were checked very carefully, dates of departure entered into the system. The officials seemed to be unable to comprehend the novel idea that they were dealing with one Korean package tour, of mostly retirees, all arriving and departing according to the same schedule. The passport stampers dutifully checked e-tickets of every. single. member. in. that. group.

After a couple of centuries, it was my turn. The fat lady seemed disappointed that I had my e-ticket ready. She seemed disappointed that I spoke English and filled out my immigration form correctly. Having absolutely nothing to be pissed about, she finally stamped my passport and I was free to go.

The DW Motel guy was waiting for me in the arrival area. We collected two more lost (and very dumb, so dumb they made stool samples seem intelligent) Koreans* and off we went.

My room was less filthy than I expected it with just as filthy as I expected it bathroom. But I couldn’t care less. There was a bed (albeit a very uncomfortable one), the sheets were clean, I didn’t spot any bedbugs, the AC was working. I was going to sleep.


* They couldn’t find their own names on a list of people consisting of exactly three entries (of which one was my name).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Please 2012, no funny stuff, OK?

After everything that happened last year (yes, 2011 is "last year" now), I didn't think it could possibly get any worse.
But at least in our household, 2012 started in a way that made me want to roll it up, pack it up and ask for refund. That kind of year I really don't need. And don't want.

As soon as we came home from Rinnoji and wanted to upload photos, Mr T's computer has crashed. As in "RIP" crashed. So instead of going to bed and getting ready for my flight in a few short hours, like a dutiful wife that I am, I stayed up, placed an order for a new laptop and started to process the photos myself. Sadly, while doing that, Firefox went tits up.

Then, the bus for the airport was late. Not by much, but by enough to force Mr to admit that if it came to that, he'd have to drive me to the airport. Or, as he said "you could just stay home". True, I could. But I didn't. The bus eventually showed up.

I had an upset stomach, had to run to the toilet every five minutes and was seriously considering going back home. It was not a fun ride to the airport, trust me.

Once at the airport, the ground shook. Not by much, but by enough to prompt Mr to call me and see if everything was OK. Apparently, the earthquake was strong enough to knock down our standing mirror. The mirror broke and the pieces scratched our almost brand new floor.

And how does that ancient superstition go? That a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck or somesuch? What about a mirror that breaks on New Year's Day? No, wait! Don't tell me. I don't want to know.

Even though Korean Air sent me a message asking me to be at the airport earlier than the usual 2 hours, the airport was rather empty.



There were New Year's decorations here and there.


And a couple of foreigners standing in front of this display, debated loudly its intended purpose:


to be continued...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Even though I have to get on the bus to Narita at 10AM, we still decided to go to Rinnoji last night for our first temple (and shrine) visit of the year. We wrapped ourselves in layers upon layers of clothing, stuffed our pockets with heating pads and off we went.

We started with the ceremonies at Rinnoji, and then planned to see the Toshogu illumination, which was going on from 1 to 3AM. But after seeing the mad line of people waiting to get inside Toshogu, we moved on to Futaara instead.

This is what we saw at Rinnoji:




This was my first time observing Buddhist New Year's ceremonies and it was quite interesting. I'll add photos when I can, which unfortunately is not right now.

Right now I'm jumping in the shower and then packing like a mad woman. I'm going to Palau for a week. Yay me!


PS. A few more photos here:


Prayers before the ceremony.

After the prayers, a bit of ritual archery:


And after a few more sacred procedures, it's time to light the fire: