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The Beauty of Ko Lipe

Getting to this beautiful and teeny little island in the Andaman Sea was quite treacherous at some points, but very much well worth the trip!!

Really I should (or rather could) simply blame the travel treachery on the fact that I was traveling during low season.  There’s a reason why it’s low season!  Simply stated the seas are unpredictable.  In high season it is relatively easy (due to calm waters) and cheaper to get from island to island via a longtail taxi boat or other ferry boats, however once again because of low season the options were limited.

I left Ko Muk (Mook) easily on the morning ferry (which seemed to not only haul a couple of tourists but also local commuters to the mainland and bundles of rubber ready to be processed into final products) for the mainland where I was met by a mini bus.  Several very rainy hours later, we came upon a stop where I was told to exit the mini bus.  The name of the town, I can’t at this point recall, but it was a good 20 minute motorbike ride to the Pak Bara pier for Ko Lipe.

100 baht and 20-ish minutes later and I was at a teeny tour place near the pier buying my roundtrip (open return!) ticket for Ko Lipe.  As I waited for the powerboat, I encountered my first and only unsettling experience as a solo traveler.  Ladies, if you are traveling solo (or even with people!) to or from this pier, beware of the very large (literally) local.  He’s on the younger side, but you can’t miss which one he is because he really is quite obese.  When I first arrived I thought he was part of the working crew at the pier, but after observing him for a bit, I figured out he wasn’t.  What made him unsettling was he kept trying to get VERY close to me and other female tourists.  He would sit next to you on a bench, then try to shake your hand, then try to hug you, and even tried to lean in to kiss you!

What was more suspicious of his behavior as I watched, was that he would first look around as he tried to sit with a female, and if he didn’t spot any actual workers or security guards, he would sit.  But if he did (even when halfway down) he would immediately jump up and walk away.  With me, he did get as far as sitting next to me and trying for a hug to which I immediately put a very harsh stop to his behavior.  He left me alone for the remainder of my wait, but when coming back to the pier on my way back Ko Lipe, he was there again up to the same antics!  Beware female travelers!

Now the only other unpleasant portion of getting to Ko Lipe was the powerboat ride itself.  Again, it was because of the unpredictable low season seas, but if you are one who gets sea sick easily, I recommend to travel only when the seas are calm!!  The ride was only a couple of hours long but they were very bumpy, and at some points a bit unnerving as the powerboat launched skyward and then slammed down onto an oncoming wave.  Just about everyone on the boat (except the locals chilling all their way in the back smoking away) lost their lunch, and some even lost their breakfast, and perhaps even the meals from the day before!  Yes, it was THAT rough!  I almost lost it at one point smelling all the vomit surrounding me, but thankfully I didn’t… But I won’t share what I kept saying to myself in order to prevent myself from getting sick because it may make some readers lose their lunches just reading it, lol!

When we arrived to Ko Lipe, the seas were calm (protected by beautifully lush surrounding islands) as we disembarked on a floating dock and switched to a longtail taxi boat for the 2 minute transfer to the island.  Once again, I didn’t have a room booked anywhere, so once on land I started my usual walk around to try to find a place.  We were dropped off by the longtail boats on Sunrise beach (beautiful beach along the East side of the island) and it wasn’t until I made it to Pattaya beach along the South side of the island that I was able to find a place.

Again, because of low season, many of the places along Sunrise beach were closed.  In fact, even walking along the walking street in the middle of the day, the island felt relatively deserted, giving the place a slightly spooky feel to it.  As I wandered along Pattaya beach with my backpack and sweating my rear off (despite the cloud cover) I finally spotted a little sign for The Seaside Resort.  For 500 baht a night, I got my own bungalow with a bathroom and lovely porch, only about a 30 second walk from the stunning beach.  The people were very friendly (though they didn’t speak a ton of English) and accommodating for my week stay there.

While at first I wasn’t entirely convinced I liked Ko Lipe (due to the initial spooky vibe I got), after my first full day there I was in love with the place and honestly would never want to go there during high season just because I grew to adore how quiet it was and couldn’t imagine it stuffed to the gills with tourists.

Though it is a teeny island, there was plenty of walking and hiking trails to various areas of the island and the snorkeling on Pattaya beach was stunning!!  I spent hours for days on end watching clown fish nestling against sea anemones (the first in nature I’d ever seen!!  I’d seen plenty of anemones, but never the clown fish with them!!); sea urchins and sea cucumbers chilling on the ocean floor; puffer fish swimming by; angel fish, damsels of all kinds, corals, clams, you name it, they pretty much had it!  I was so enamored with the variety of tropical life just off the shore!  And while there were several times I wished I had a waterproof camera, part of me is thankful that I was actually present for the experience instead of being fussed by getting the perfect shot and looking constantly through a lens.

Seriously, while Ko Lipe does have a couple of shortcomings (revealed in Ko Lipe Trash Hero!) it is NOT an island of Thailand to miss!!

On to Koh Lipe Trash Hero!

Back to Thailand

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Oban (Oh-Bin)

Oban!  Pronounced Oh-Bin… What a lovely little place to visit!  Sadly the weather was absolute crap during my stay, but at least I got a little sample:)

I took the bus from Inverness (or In-bir-nis in Gaelic) early and headed to Oban.  I skipped going to Fort William because I had heard there really wasn’t much to do there, but in Oban there is the opportunity to go to several neighboring islands via ferry or boat, etc.  So I was excited to check out the area for sure!  On the way there just outside of town there is the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary!!!  I was quite tempted to jump off the bus right then and there as one of the stops was just in front of the facility, but that would not have been very sound seeing as I had my backpack with me… Plus, I figured I could always go back since I was staying three nights in Oban.

I spotted the hostel I had pre-booked to stay in (Oban Backpackers) as we drove down the main street to the bus station.  I headed easily out to the hostel and was greeted by a very accommodating and friendly German man.  I’m honestly not sure he took a single breath during his 5 minute “welcome introduction” lol!!  But just as the Inverness Student Hostel was, Oban Backpackers was also warm, welcoming and a generally great place to stay!!  They had large areas where people could hang out and chat and offered an area to put down the backpacks while one waited to check in!  Just love that feature in a hostel since many times I had arrived too early to check into my room but didn’t want to be stuck hauling my crap around or sitting at the hostel simply waiting for check-in!!

But I’m rambling again… Since I had arrived a bit earlier than the actual check-in time, I put my crap down in the designated area and headed out with a very detailed map of Oban, which I acquired from the very friendly hostel host!  The map itself was already very detailed (you know, one of those tourist maps provided by the city) but the host marked several areas of interest on mine before I left his presence so that I would know everywhere to go and see and do right off the bat!  Obviously he was used to a gazillion of the same questions from travelers, so in an attempt to stave them all off, he simply answered them all up front, lol!!

So with my map in hand and my bag no longer on my back I headed to the Oban Tower.  Located only about 10 minutes up the hill from the hostel, it provided a great place to take some aerial shots of the town!!  From there I just wandered around the small town just exploring and getting ideas on what to do for the next coming days while there.  The town itself is a little horse shoe shaped town located directly on the water.  It has a shipping dock and lots of varieties of boats bobbing in the harbor all for their various purposes.  There are even castles just a short hike up the way from the main part of town AND even a whiskey distillery in the center of town!!  Yes, Oban does offer quite a bit of activities for those looking to kill a few days in a cute seaside town in Scotland…

Now, even though there were trails to walk, castles to see, a Sea Life Sanctuary to visit, a whiskey distillery to tour and nearby islands to take a ferry to for a few hours… I did absolutely none of those… 😦

I know!!! I know!!  I’m totally bonkers!!!  And I promise I TRIED to go see the castles and the Sea Life Sanctuary and even the distillery, but alas no… I’m totally going to blame it ALL on the weather!!!  Yes, the weather!!  I already mentioned above that the weather was absolute crap while I was there… And yes, it was just cold and windy and blustery basically the entire time I was there!!  Ok, well the first day wasn’t so bad, but since I didn’t bother or care to look up an extended forecast for the area, instead of putting my rear in gear and actually doing some of the hikes and island visits on my first day (or half day, since I used the morning bit to get there!!) I simply spent it walking around and planning my activities for the next days…  So anyway, yea… The first day was quite successful in the sense that I had a solid plan on what I was doing for the next couple days…

But the next day, once I rose and dressed and stepped outside into the blustery cold and wet and WINDY weather, I realized that all my plans were about to go to right out the window!!  I first searched for something to nibble, then headed to the boat dock to see about catching a ferry to the nearby island of Kerrera, where there is a lovely monastery to walk around and enjoy a coffee in… But the docks were closed due to the windy weather.  No boats, no ferry’s, no island… So I wandered to bus station to find out about the Sea Life Sanctuary bus to see if I could catch it and at least spend some time there.  However, the majority of the park would have been outdoors and on the water basically, so if the weather was crap here, 20 minutes up the road wouldn’t be much improved… So I decided against that action… I thought ok, what about walking to the castles??

Finally an option that may work out!  So I headed back through town on the main road, then cut through a little side street to the trail that would lead to the castles and just as I rounded the corner got slammed with the biggest wind gust yet!!  My poncho flapped around me viciously while I got pelted in the face with rain drop after rain drop… This was not good!!  And after only a block of that nonsense I turned back up the next little side street and headed back to the hostel to warm up.

After inquiring about “what to do on nasty weather days” to the hostel host (whiskey tour is what he suggested… or just a pub!) I headed to the whiskey distillery and decided against the tour (I wasn’t really that in the mood for whiskey, plus had no way to carry the glass gift they apparently gave at the end in my backpack) so I did the next best thing… Went to the pub!

Turned out to be a fine rest of the day as far as I was concerned!!  Met an interesting guy from the States who was traveling all of the UK and Ireland on his motorcycle!!  He actually had his personal motorcycle flown over and was driving it all around!!  Needless to say he was being responsible and only had food and one drink at the bar, but it was really cool to meet someone who was doing something that brave!!  Well done on him!!

So that’s how I killed my days in Oban… Ate, drank, drank, ate, curled up for a movie on my Samsung Tablet, and generally found any excuse to stay out of the weather and stay indoors!!!  Some of my roommates had tried to go to the castle as well, and they succeeded!!!  Brave couple!!  However they didn’t really get to see anything at all since the mist was all around and the castles were closed… LOL!!  Poor things!!  They really looked wrecked when they came back!!  But I’m sure they still had a great time being adventuresome!!

On to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

 

Volcan Poas

Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish.  This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser.  It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…

I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy.  There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!

We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay.  All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper.  I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver.  It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans.  One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.

Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot…  Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me.  But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!!  Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!

In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano.  My oh my what a view…

Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?!  Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture.  Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist.  My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park.  Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.

Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible.  Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination.  And can you believe it???  The lake looked exactly like the picture above!!  Nothing but dense fog!!

Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting.  And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us.  The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!

This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.

The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!

Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser!  We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!

After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus.  It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place.  I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela.  The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend.  We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops.  Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!

On to La Fortuna

Back to Costa Rica

Packing Tips

Ok, so I figure I should spend a little time going through what I consider to be the essentials on what to pack when traveling.  Now, regardless of whether you are traveling with a backpack or with luggage, I would still suggest all of the below to be included.  Between the wisdom and suggestions of my mom on what to be sure to include and my own experiences, so far I have not needed to purchase anything extra to survive my travels thus far:)  So below is a running list of suggestions on what to pack for your travels:

  • Shorts and T-shirts
  • Nice casual outfit for evenings out (aka dressin’ to impressin’!!)
  • Sweater (yes, sweater) and long pants
  • Underwear and bras of course (men, you can skip the bras unless you are into some crazy kinky stuff I don’t know about and frankly don’t want to know about;))
  • Shoe variety (I brought 2 sets of flip-flops and a pair of keens which have been invaluable throughout the trip!!  They serve as my hiking/general exercise “boots” and even my riding “boots”!  And they aren’t that bulky so they don’t take an excessive amount of space up in my bag.)
  • Poncho (thanks mom!!)
  • Bathing suits (more than one as it takes 2-3 days for anything to dry around here and slipping into a wet and cold bathing suit isn’t all that great!!)
  • Compact caboodle to put in all toiletries (I found a fabric caboodle that came with many storage areas and even little travel bottles that I filled with hydrogen peroxide, shampoo, lotion and tea tree oil bug spray.  Mind you this was in my backpack and not in my carry-on so there were no airport security issues)
  • Compact sleep travel kit (as mentioned before I happened to purchase mine on the flight over and it’s come in handy many times!!  Pack included blanket, air pillow, eye mask and ear plugs)
  • Towel (not all hostels provide you with a towel, and even if they do, sometimes it’s just a better idea to use your own!! Also, I have a second towel that my sister gave to me a while back.  I believe it is from Japan but it is very small yet acts like one of those sham wow towels while actually still having the feel of a towel)
  • BUG SPRAY!!!!!  (ok, now I really didn’t have any need for bug spray until I reached the Osa Peninsula, but in general this is a good idea!!)
  • Water bottle (my mom and I found this great water bottle called vapur: it’s a eco-friendly reusable plastic water bottle that is also BPA-free and the best thing about it is that when it’s empty, it’s as flat as a few sheets of paper, but when filled it simply expands and allows up to, if memory serves right, a half a liter of water!  It also comes with a carabiner for easy clipping to your body or pack!)
  • Hands-free headlight (I got one with three modes of lighting and it has come in great handy!!  Whether used for a night tour, light to get home after late-night fiestas, during blackouts that actually occur more often than not or simply in my own home when the 3 of the 4 light bulbs suddenly decide to burn out all within the same hour!)
  • Plastic bags (these are really essential too!!  They are great for stuffing still wet clothing into or dirty clothes into to separate them from the rest of the dry and clean clothes while traveling from one place to the next)
  • First Aid Kit (I bought one from Bass Pro Shop that is quite compact and has a lot of handy stuff including a syringe and gloves.  I’ve added to it extra bandaids, Neosporen and tea tree oil for bug bites)