Tag Archives: islands

Easy Riders

30 May

Junk off the northern coast of Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Journey's end: Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

We’ve been exploring Cat Ba island, which splatters like a Rorschach blot off the northern coast of Vietnam, trailing 300-odd islets in its wake.

It’s an implausible landscape to Western eyes: classic limestone karst territory, where tectonic pressures coupled with groundwater erosion carve surrealist sculptures out of the land, and the monsoon climate clothes them in forests of deepest green.

Yesterday, we hired bikes to explore the island, winding south coast to north coast, then looping around the west coast. And it’s a moot point whether Z, having been driven by his dad, will ever get on a motorbike with me again. Continue reading

A Serpent in Paradise

3 May

Black banded sea krait rising from the base of the sea

Not, honestly, the best thing to see while snorkelling

The labyrinth of reef-fringed karsts around El Nido, Palawan, must be one of the best island-hopping destinations in the world. Whether above water or under it, we’ve had the most amazing couple of days.

A little too amazing for the camera I bought in Vientiane, making that two cameras down in under four months, so you’ll have to take the ensuing purple passages on trust…

We’ve spent the last two days island-hopping, first on kayaks, then on a bangka, with Z’s new friend Dima, from the Ukraine, but based in Manila, and his ma, Natasha. It’s been absolutely idyllic.

Take Secret Beach, for example. You snorkel through a foot high crevice in a jagged grey limestone cliff, above a dramatic, turquoise underwater drop off where shoals of angelfish clog the water, into a lost world: white sand beach, shallow coral lagoon, all fringed by these surreal volcanic shards of dark grey cliffs, with crabs scuttling boldly vertical towards the swifts’ nest up above. And you, your companions and your boat, have the place all to yourself. Continue reading

Starfish and Shells

7 Apr

Blue starfish from Gaspar Island, off Marinduque, the Philippines

A present from a fellow guest. Much more beautiful alive than dead.

Easter Monday, and Marinduque is back into election mode. Banner-fluttering jeepneys pump out the Pilipino answer to Things Can Only Get Better in clouds as toxic as their diesel fumes. Mewls of karaoke waft down the pebble beach. Local party honchos gather over coffee, cigarettes and sweet ham sandwiches in the guesthouse convention room. And Rose pours Klaus his first beer of the day. 9.30am.

So we chip out on a banca, a tall, narrow outrigger with scarlet bamboo poles extending like stabilisers on a bike, to Gaspar Island, one of the three kings which nestle offshore from Marinduque.

This is sufficiently unpopulated to have not an aspirant councillor, Botoxed congressman or optimistic anti-corruption campaigner in sight. It also has one of the nicest beaches ever. Continue reading