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Eating Bat and The View

Many days after my morning Muay Thai Kickboxing workout I’m left exhausted wanting to do little more than just relax with a book or have a massage.  The best remedy for my sore body (especially my feet) however is to walk.  I really have to rev myself up for the task however.  Especially since the walking includes doing so during some of the hottest hours of the day.  Usually I head to Hin Wong for a snorkel or Sairee to just hang about but this time I thought to check out a new route.

My initial plan was to head to Jim’s bar.  Located high up on one of the hills nearby, it seemed like it would be a nice ‘goal’ place to walk to and to be rewarded in the end by a cold drink and hopefully a beautiful view to boot.  Armed with my plan I headed out toward Hin Wong bay but made a turn at the top of the hill toward Jim’s bar instead of heading down to the bay.  The walk there wasn’t altogether unpleasant.  Though there were bits with a 20% or 30% grade to them, the majority was variable enough to cut the monotony of just walking uphill.  Bits of the path were concrete while other bits were only dirt and gravel cut through with erosion from storms.

Though it is possible to make the trek with a motorbike or an ATV, I prefered walking.  First because of the exercise aspect, but most importantly because of the condition of the unpaved bits of the path.  They really were quite treacherous and while during my hike up I didn’t notice any accidents, on my way back down I witnessed 2 rolled motorbike accidents (one with injuries) and heard from another person that he’d witnessed 3 as well!  But I’m getting ahead.

It felt like I had been walking for hours!  No one was in sight except the occasional random passing motorbike and the sun was beating down hard on my skin.  I took appropriate breaks here and there to chill in the shade and have some water or take pictures of the local wildlife (I spotted a water monitor!!) and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat to the point of all my clothes being soaked through, I trudged on having no idea how far or close I was, yet determined to get there.  Eventually (after going up the 30% grade bit of the path) I made it to a little bar.  It turned out to be the Butterfly Garden!  That was good news for me since Jim’s bar wasn’t too far beyond that. I stopped for a sugary tea to replenish a bit of energy then continued up the hill to Jim’s.

I was surprised that Jim’s wasn’t that far at all from the Butterfly Garden since on the map they seemed to be a bit further apart.  It literally was just up the hill from the Butterfly Garden.  While it was a cute little bar, no one was there and the views were simply of the surrounding jungle.  So instead of sitting and staying, I opted to check out a bit further along the path.  There were signs for the Mango View Bar and another place simply called The View Bar.  One was down the path to the right, the other to the left.  I chose the right path toward The View Bar and about half a km later, I’d arrived to one of the most stunning views of the island I’ve seen so far!  You could see just about the entire island including the National Park islands to the South of Koh Tao, a bit of Koh Samui to the SW and even the mainland of Thailand!

So stunned by the beauty of The View’s views, I took a seat on the patio and ordered a drink.  I learned from the owner that the place had only been open for 5 months now, the deck I was sitting on was only a month old and the bar itself is the highest bar on the island!  There was only one other couple there when I first arrived which gave the atmosphere an even more peaceful and beautiful appeal to it.  I met Suay (beautiful), the local squirrel who would pop in every time it was hungry for some fruit.  He ate out of the owners hand but unlike other squirrels I’ve seen, he didn’t live in a cage.  He simply came and went as he pleased 🙂  He did come over and sniff my toes at one point during his search for some more food, but sadly my camera didn’t reload fast enough to capture the shot 😦

I spent hours up there sipping on drinks and chatting with people as they came and went and was reminded just how international Thailand is.  Within the few hours I was there I met people from Spain, South Africa, Norway, Germany and the States.  Quite an impressive mix!  In any event, the day was moving along and it was time for me to start heading back along the 3.5km path back to my place.  As I came back into view of the Butterfly Garden however I was coaxed into staying for “just one drink”.  “Have a beer, kick up your feet!  Free view!” the Thai’s were calling to me.  And though I had been kicking up my feet for several hours I thought, why not?  So I settled in for a beer and started chatting with the locals who owned the place and a tourist from Canada.

It was then that the local said they were going to have a barbecue.  And the main meat of this barbecue??  Locally caught and freshly killed bat… Yes bat!  I LOVE bats!!!  Ok, not in the eating sense but I love those cute little critters!!  I’ve loved them since caving in college and have always adored their little furry faces!  So when he pulled out the bodies ready to be put on the barbecue, I couldn’t believe it and figured there was NO WAY I’d eat a bat!  Alas, after 2 beers (why not have 2 when you’ve already had 1??) I thought, yea, I could try some bat!  The meat was very tough and quite hard to pull off the bones but it was flavorful.  I only had one wing however as I started to feel a bit guilty for having eaten one of the cute critters, but at least I tried something new.

I ended up staying for another couple of hours at the Butterfly Garden having beers (3 in total, I promise!) chatting with people coming down or up the road, heckling them to stay for some bat, doing some Muay Thai play fighting with one of the locals who then invited me back everyday to practice with him for free, and sadly witnessing 2 motorbike rolls (one resulting in a nasty road rash injury).  After my 3 beers however, the sun was really starting to set and it was definitely time for me to head back down (I still had 3km to go!) before it became pitch black.  I thanked my new Thai friends for the bat and conversation, and headed down the quickly darkening path back toward town.  I won’t lie that I kept thinking how idiotic I was to have waited so long to go back down as the path became darker and darker.  But, all’s well that ends well, and my hike down the hill was thankfully without injury!

Sun setting
Sun setting

I made it to the bottom of the hill just in time to see one of the most stunning sunset skies I’ve seen since being on Koh Tao.  I wish the picture I took did it justice, but really it doesn’t.  Unfortunately my camera doesn’t take night shots well at all!! 😦  All in all, it was a beautiful day full of unexpected people, experiences and breathtaking views all around.  And on top of being thankful I’d made it back home in one drunken piece, I was also so very thankful that I’d made myself get off my duff that morning and make that hike in the first place.  I will definitely have to go there again!

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Glasgow

 

Goodness, there are lots of things to say here… !!  First I will start with what I have been told about Glasgow long before I ever got there from several people in the States: Beware Glasgow!!  Seriously I had one friend tell me that Scotland in general was quite dangerous and that I should keep my head down, don’t speak to anyone and I should be fine.  Statistically there is some validity in that because apparently Scotland is the #1 producer of heroine.  And where there are the super hard drugs, there is a higher volume of potential for danger and violence.  But as we all know, danger and violence exist everywhere.  So I wasn’t going to let anyone try to scare me out of visiting Scotland!!  And honestly I never ran into any violence or danger in Scotland at all!  There were a few bar fights and a fight with a convenience store clerk, but I promise I didn’t use any violence in any of those situations!!

When it comes to Glasgow specifically, yes, even the Glaswegians (Weegie’s for short) have fear of certain areas and of certain people… Beware the Bams and Neds!!  There was actually a third category of people, but I can’t recall what they were called…  If memory serves correctly Bams are more dangerous than Neds.  Bams are easily recognizable… They are usually always spotted in two or more, they always have shaved or near shaved heads, and they have at least one if not several scars on their faces from knife fights.  These people are best avoided altogether because even my friend from Glasgow says that if you get in a tangle with one of them, there is no way to escape not being stabbed.  And it doesn’t take any provocation from the individual either!  As I’ve been told by locals (and my friend) you could simply be standing around minding your business.  If a Bam spots you though and for whatever reason doesn’t like the look of you, they come over to pick fights with you.  Joy!!  Again though, while I saw several Bams about, I never saw any violence or was never harassed myself.  Bams are also generally younger guys.  I guess you could compare them to street thugs with nothing better to do than start trouble… Neds on the other hand are “grown-up” Bams… They are just an older generation who are calmer and less likely to start violence, but are still thugs in their own way.  I guess you could say Neds and Bams are like pit vipers… Pit viper babies immediately bite and inject overdoses of venom in any little thing that strikes them as being a threat whereas adult pit vipers pick and choose what is really a threat and only deals out enough venom to subdue the threat… Hmmm…

Moving along…  the East End is also known to be dodgy by locals… When I was working in Key West, I had a couple of younger kids visit from Scotland (aside from my friends from Edinburgh whom I met there) who knew Glasgow very well and I asked them to write down places to go or avoid in Glasgow… the East End made that list!  Along with other areas including Drumchapel, Priesthill, Nitshill and England, LOL!!  Places to go in Glasgow included Byres road for pubs (did that for sure!) and Lochlomond (to be talked about later).

Now that you have a little bit of an interesting introduction to Glasgow, I’m going to back up a tiny bit to getting there… I arrived via train at the rear-crack of the morning (aka 9am) from Oban to Queen’s Station.  And I was met just outside the station from my very good friend Anna!  Anna is a local born and bred Glaswegian who one day will have a book and or movie made about her life, because seriously she’s traveled over 80 countries and had some of the most amazing/crazy stuff happen to her!!  I met Anna while living in Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.  We were neighbors, became good friends, kept in touch and when I was going to Scotland, since she just happened to be there as well, of course I had to go to see her!

Now you know why I went to Glasgow:)  Because honestly, if it wasn’t for her being there, I don’t know that I would have had any other reason to go on my own.  Glasgow is an industry town.  It’s not necessarily very pretty nor is there really a whole lot to do there from the tourist perspective.  But since I was lucky enough to have a local perspective (via Anna) I had an absolute grand time there!  Of course most the time we were intoxicated, but only had one day of a real hangover!!  So all in all, I think we did pretty well;)

In the interest of not rambling on for decades, I’m going to break down the activities once again to links so I don’t drone on too long in a single post:)  Oh, and if you are looking for Glasgow pictures… I didn’t really take any:(  I’m terrible at taking pictures in places where I’m living more than visiting… And with having a friend there, it felt like the former… But, I did take pictures at Loch Lomond and Lochgoilhead:)  So skip to those sections if you are looking for pictures of surrounding areas.

YES! Campaign

Bar Fights and Store Fights

Necropolis & Heelers

Loch Lomond (Conic Hill)

Lochgoilhead

Most Random Street Signs!!!

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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

 

Bogota

After yet another long and exhausting day on a bus (you’d think by now I would have just caved in and sought alternate transportation between cities!!  Then again I would have missed really seeing the countryside…) I arrived in Bogota.  If I thought Medellin was large, well it was quite small compared to Bogota!!  I had to take a 20 minute cab ride to an area of town that was somewhat central and more well known for having hostels in the area.

No, I once again didn’t book any hostel in advance, but rather was dropped off and walked around until I found something.  At least this time there was still light in the day left!  Anyway, I wandered up and down several streets in what was kinda the chic area of town it seemed, and settled on one hostel (Hostel Platypus if memory serves…) for the night.

“Funny” story here, my roommate for the night was an older woman, probably in her 40’s to 50’s who was from England, yet had apparently been living in Ecuador for the past 11 years… She was at the time just traveling around (I believe Venezuela was her next stop) but what I found particularly funny… Or rather quite disturbing really, is that she didn’t speak a lick of Spanish!!!  Not two words!!  AND she would even say “Hola” pronouncing the H!!!!!  She was also in a strange way oddly proud that she didn’t speak the language even though she lived in a Latin American Country!!!  I found this honestly quite disgusting, really.  In my opinion if you are going to live in another country that isn’t your original country, the least you can do is show some sort of respect to the new country by learning their language and something about their culture!  This applies to visitors too in my book, though I know it’s not so easy to try and pick up a language during a 2 week vacation…

Needless to say, knowing she was going to be staying in that same hostel for several nights, I checked out the next day and found somewhere new to sleep as I couldn’t tolerate such blatant ignorance and disrespect to another culture!!

I found a lovely hostel just a few blocks away called Hostal Casu.  Located above a restaurant on the corner of Carrera 3 and Calle 15A, Hostal Casu became my home for the next week.  I had a private room with a shared bathroom and negotiated a good price for each night since I was going to be staying for the week.  Again, the reason I had come to Bogota was to see my brother who happened to also be there around the same time.  Traveling down to see him however, with the changes in the weather and the bank account slowly draining, I made the decision to go back to the States so I could get a solid job, refill the coffers and head out again to travel.  So staying in Bogota a week really served 2 purposes.  First it gave me a week to see my brother and second I was flying out of Bogota back to Houston, and my flight was simply in a week.

The area of town that I was in I really liked.  It was nestled at the foothills of basically a national park, at the top of which was a lovely church.  The area had a young hip, artsy vibe to it that I really liked as well.  I felt safe there and have no complaints of the area… Except the weather!!  I know I keep saying this, and I know I’m a total wimp, but to me it was soooo cold day after day there!!!  Bogota is 8,660 feet(2,640 meters) above sea level so you would think I would have realized it would be cold, but again, since I rarely researched anything about where I was going and just preferred to figure things out once I got there, this aspect of Bogota was a shock to me.  And once again it was uninspiring!!  Though I did get out daily to walk for several hours to get in my exercise and to eat, that was about the extent of my drive to do anything!

Even going to see my brother turned out to be a total bust as he was apparently tied up with work things day after day of my being there, and we were only able to get together for an afternoon the night before he left the country himself.  We were to meet at the very opposite of Bogota from where I was, basically due North from where I was so as usual I opted to walk there, and after about 40 minutes and 70 or so blocks later with my little map in tow I found him at the eatery that we planned to meet at and we spent the evening wandering the area with one of his coworkers in tow.  We ate a lovely meal at one of the local restaurants and then parted ways.  I opted on the way back to take a cab as I was a wee bit too intoxicated by this point to try and walk my way back!  Plus, it was starting to get dark and it just wouldn’t have been a sound choice to try and walk back.

So all in all, my time in Bogota wasn’t terribly eventful, but it was quite relaxing and a nice place to try and transition going back to the States.  Before making the decision to go back to the States, I did wrestle with the idea of going back to the Caribbean coast of Columbia, like the Cartagena area, but the thought of traveling there by bus just jangled my bones in thinking of it!  And the flight would have been a bit out of my price range.  So I opted to stick with my plans of going back to the States.

Part of me is bummed that I didn’t go to Cartagena and even to Armenia since after all I was in the country already!  And honestly had I known that I would have only had an afternoon to get to see my brother, I would have gone to Cartagena first, then perhaps made my way to the Bogota area instead of rushing to Bogota to try and see him, but as they say everything happens for a reason and as it should.  And as I’ve already mentioned before, I plan on going back to Columbia to explore more of the country and less of the cities!  Though the actual physical riding in the bus from place to place was quite hard on the body (due to road conditions) the sights were unbeatable and absolutely beautiful!!  I loved the nature of the countryside’s and can’t wait to be able to see more!

 

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