Back in the U.S. of A!

Welllllll…..it’s been a couple of months since we’ve been back in the good ol’ U.S of A. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that it actually felt like our trip ended mainly because we’ve spent the last few months in cities all over the States catching up with friends and family.And boy have they spoiled us rotten since our return!

After departing Seoul, we flew to San Francisco where we stayed for three nights to catch up with friends. We met our friend Georgeanna and set off to find our favorite craft beer and later had our first taste of a home-cooked meal. Not only did we experience wonderful hospitality, but the next evening we were treated to our first real restaurant experience in several months. Georgeanna, manager of SF’s Nopalito, made us reservations at her sister restaurant NOPA where we were treated to whatever we wanted on their menu….for FREE! We ate and drank like kings but the fine dining experience was definitely our first dose of reverse culture shock – the portions, prices and buzz of activity at the popular hot spot was completely overwhelming. We didn’t take any photos in SF…except of the food at NOPA! Thanks for the awesome time, GA/Mike. We miss ya’ll! 1 (1024x768) 2 (1024x768)From San Francisco, we flew to Chicago to spend a few days in the burbs with my family before heading downtown to see some of our besties. A cookout, followed by drinks on the rooftop at Vertigo and Citizen landed me with a lost credit card the next day… yikes! It was totally worth it in the end.20 (1024x768)While in Chicago, we made sure to fit in a trip to visit my grandparents on their beautiful farm in Iowa. We helped my grandparents throw a bingo/pizza party for some relatives, shot some guns and spent time in their awesome garden.5 (1024x768) 3 (1024x768) 6 (1024x768)13 (1024x768)It just so happened that we celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary while in Iowa which was extra special for us because they weren’t able to make it to our wedding last year. Love you grandma and grandpa! 19 (1024x768)Back in Chicago, my girlfriends surprised Chris and me with a one-night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel downtown (not just any room but the ‘platinum suite’!) to celebrate our anniversary. After spending the last year in some really yucky places, we loved and fully appreciated our luxurious digs. 7 (1024x768)It’s been nearly five years since we’ve lived in Chicago so we hit up some of our fave spots in the city before gearing up for another night on the town. Thanks again for the hotel room Cami, Jess and Rach – what a super thoughtful gift. We had an amazing time with you guys…as always!12 (1024x768) 4 (1024x768)Our next stop was Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was anxiously waiting to see my brother, sis-in-law and adorable nephews! We also got a chance to head over to nearby Chapel Hill to see Chris’ sister and nephews in a swim meet.IMG_0603 (1024x768) 10 (1024x768)And of course, we made the rounds to see family and other NC buddies, too!18 (1024x768) 8 (1024x768) photo(13) (640x480)From Raleigh we made our way down to Ocean Isle Beach to visit with Chris’ parents. A couple weeks later, we drove up to meet them in the Appalachian mountains for some hiking and QT! ???????? ???????? ???????? photo(2) (1024x768) photo(3) (1024x768)We finally made it to Kure Beach, on the coast near Wilmington, where we are temporarily living while we look for jobs and settle down into our own place. Until that happens, we’ve been spending time with friends and family in the Wilmington-area and have been having a blast boating, fishing, playing tennis, running on the beach, going to concerts and enjoying our last few weeks of funemployment!photo(11) (1024x768) photo(12) (1024x768) photo(14) (1024x768)photo(9) (1024x768) IMG_3516 (1024x768) 14 (1024x768) 16 (1024x768) 11 (1024x768)IMG_5364 (1024x731)IMG_6561 (1024x731)A big thanks to my dad and step-mom for letting us crash at their beach house until we are back on our feet – what a view!photo(8) (1024x768) photo(7) (1024x768)All of the above has been taking up our time, which is one reason this post is overdue! The other reason it has taken so long for us to post is because we needed to marinate on our experience and to filter through all of the emotions we’ve experienced returning to life in the States. At times it was stressful and overwhelming, especially not being on-the-go every day and preparing to rejoin the workforce. What has really grounded us is our drive to be successful in our career and continuing to enjoy time with our loved ones.

Thanks again to everyone for all of the love, prayers and happy thoughts. Here’s to the next chapter!17 (1024x768)

Korea: Full of Heart and Seoul

When I was just a baby, I was adopted from Korea for a new life in America. This week-long trip to Korea was my first time back in the country since I was five months old! And what better company to share this experience with than my mom and brother Dave? As luck would have it, our flights landed 10 minutes apart so we met at baggage claim in Seoul’s airport and made our way to the apartment we rented in Itaewon.

The next morning, we were all tired from our long travel day (especially my mom and brother) but we powered through and took a taxi to a Korean cooking class I had booked. Halfway there, I realized that I hadn’t booked it for that day, but for the next day – oops. We showed up to O’ngo anyway and they were so nice and accommodating they let us have a private cooking class instead – right then and there!????????Just like any good cooking school, our class started with a tour of the local market where we learned about traditional Korean dishes and ingredients. We walked back to the classroom kitchen to get started on our two dishes – bulgogi (thin pieces of grilled sirloin – literally translating to “fire meat”) and bibimpbap (mixed rice with vegetables).???????? ????????Our first order of business was to prepare the marinade for the bulgogi. We chopped green onions and garlic, minced an Asian pear and added black pepper, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and a bit of sugar to the bowl of thinly sliced beef sirloin.???????? ???????? ????????While the bulgogi was marinating, we got to work on the Korean classic bibimbap. We blanched the bean sprouts and spinach and seasoned them to our liking and then pan-fried the carrots and bracken adding sesame seed oil and soy sauce to taste. A serving of sticky rice lined the bottom of a stone bowl while we added each of the veggies on top. The stone bowls were heated over fire and finally topped with an over easy egg. I mixed my bibimbap together so the egg would continue to cook and so the rice on the bottom would get nice and fried from the hot stone bowl.???????? ???????? ????????While the stone bowls heated, we cooked the bulgolgi meat with onions and mushrooms until everything was ready to eat. Both dishes were so delicious. Besides, it always tastes better when you make it yourself!???????? ???????? ????????Looking back, I think it was the best meal we had in Korea. The cooking class was a great introduction to Korean food and a great first meal together.????????We walked around the neighborhood after our amazing lunch and then were so tuckered out, we made our way back to relax at our Korean apartment. As if we didn’t get enough bulgogi during lunch, Chris and I had a huge order for dinner that night which was accompanied by tons of little Korean side dishes.???????? ???????? ????????The next day, we walked through Namdaemun, Korea’s oldest and largest market dating back to 1414, for more eating of course! The best were the piping hot Korean pancakes and dumplings but the hotdogs weren’t bad either.???????? ???????? ???????? ???????? ???????? ????????We walked to Namsangol, an old hanok village, to have a look around at restored traditional Korean homes. We were wandering by just in time to see the taekwondo exhibition. Check out those Korean ups!???????? ???????? ????????The next day was one of the most memorable moments I’ve had on our entire trip. My mom had arranged a visit to Eastern Social Welfare Society, the adoption agency and orphanage which cared for me while I was going through the process of being adopted. We met the post-adoption agency manager, Jeon, who gave us a tour of the welfare society.

We were all a bit overwhelmed when we entered the hallway which led to three large rooms full of 80 adorable Korean babies waiting for foster homes and/or to be adopted. Each of the rooms had bassinet after bassinet after bassinet and each one was occupied by a beautiful baby. We first entered the infant room and although there were about 25 infants in there, every single one was sleeping. The woman watching over them in the room was a miracle worker! After a few minutes, a few woke up and we were able to hold them, feed them and put them back to sleep. We have some really sweet (and heartbreaking photos) but have agreed not to post them to protect the babies’ privacy.

We walked to the next room where the babies were a few months older. They were absolutely adorable. Space in the room is tight and some of the babies were doubled up in cribs but every single one of them looked well cared for. Leaving the lone woman there to care for all of the babies was so hard!

We walked around a nearby university campus neighborhood and then Chris and I spent the remainder of the day at Changdeokgung Palace which was home to one of the historic Korean kings.???????? ????????The next morning, we checked out of our apartment in Itaewon and made our way to the War Memorial of Korea. Inside the museum were displays, replicas and artifacts from every war Korea played a role in. There were also hundreds and hundreds of Korean children visiting the museum that same day. Every school is Seoul must have been at the museum!???????? ???????? ???????? ????????When my mom was first planning on meeting us in Korea, the welfare society said that they would be able to arrange meetings with my foster mom and even my birth mom if we were interested. I decided that the experience may be a little heavy and thought that it would be nice for my first trip back to Korea to be focused on learning more about the country and culture so we declined the offer. Well, after our time at the orphanage, I couldn’t stop thinking about those few women taking care of all of those babies. There was literally one lady for every 25 babies and they were all so well taken care of. After seeing the love, patience and kindness of the women, I felt like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to thank my foster mom for taking care of me. I emailed Jeon from the welfare society to see if it was too late to arrange a meeting with my foster mom and luckily, it wasn’t!

So after the museum, we all went back to the welfare society where my foster mom was waiting to meet us! Her name was Ms. Lee and she was the coolest elderly Korean lady ever. Jeon acted as our translator and we sat and chatted with Ms. Lee for a good while. In addition to taking care of her own three sons, Ms. Lee has taken care of 60 orphaned babies in her lifetime, myself included (for five months before I was adopted to the U.S.). She is an angel! Ms. Lee is getting older so I’m so grateful that we were able to spend time with her and thank her for taking such good care of me.???????? ????????For our remaining days in Seoul, we moved into a hanok, a traditional Korean house, in the neighborhood of Insadong.????????We booked our stay on Airbnb and our host Alice was so sweet and her home was so cute and comfy. My mom loved learning about Korean life through Alice so it worked out perfectly for her to stay at home while Chris, Dave and I went to the DMZ the next day.

The DMZ, or demilitarized zone, is the four kilometer buffer on the border of North Korea and South Korea. If you can believe it, tours run to the JSA or Joint Security Area which is the only place that North Korea and South Koreans hold meetings together and is heavily guarded on both sides.????????We met at a fancy hotel in downtown Seoul and hopped aboard a bus to the DMZ. As we started to head north towards the border (just 40 kilometers from Seoul), our tour guide goes through the list of security precautions. “No pointing! No talking! No cell phones! Stay in line and no running! If you run, North Koreans shoot you! Smile because North Korean soldiers will be photographing you!” The debriefing really got the blood pumping…we were excited!

We reached the South Korean military base closest to the border where we were transferred to a military guarded United Nations bus. The bus pulled up to a large building which we walked through in two perfectly even lines. We exited through the rear of the building and there we were, standing in front of North Korea! The blue buildings belong to the UNC (United Nation Committee) and the gray building belongs to North Korea. Just standing there, you could really feel the tension.???????? ???????? ????????The area is heavily patrolled with military guards who all take watch and face North Korea. We were told it that it wasn’t likely we would see any North Koreans because they usually just hide behind the blinds and take pictures but we were lucky because we saw one standing on the stairs of the North Korean building! He stared at us through binoculars the entire time – very exciting!SONY DSCWe then entered one of the blue UNC buildings where conferences and discussions take place between the two countries. Because the UNC building straddles the border, you can step foot in North Korea! The last photo of me is when I was on the North Korean side. You can see the concrete slab that serves as the actual border from the window.???????? ???????? ????????The remainder of the tour was sombering as we learned about the living conditions in North Korea and were taken to a few memorials where varying “incidents” have occurred between the countries. After the Korean War, many Korean families were separated. There isn’t any communication between the two so bridges are often covered in prayers for their loved ones.???????? ????????The following day was our last full day of our round-the-world trip! We started by walking through the streets of Gangnam, the fashion capital of Seoul, where we sat and people watched from the local coffee shops. And while in the famous neighborhood, we had to break it out Gangnam-style!???????? ????????In the early evening, we went for a short hike to the N Seoul Tower for 360 degree views of the city. The city is incredibly vast and extends as far as the eye can see in all directions. We visited the observatory at the top of the N Seoul tower and were able to see the city at night – a real beauty!???????? ???????? ???????? ????????Chris and I made one last stop in Korea. Our cab dropped us off in the neighborhood of Insadong where we planned to meet our friend Joonshik whom we met on our overland trip in Africa. Joonshik and his girlfriend Insun met us for a bowl of ‘dongdongju,’ a traditional Korean liquor which you ladle into cups, and a Korean pizza (seafood pancake).???????? ???????? ????????We went to two more bars in Seoul, one that was underground and the last was a rooftop for some local Korean brew. It was so good to see Joonshik and meet his girlfriend.????????After visiting 26 countries around the world, we couldn’t pass up the chance to go back to my motherland! It was so much fun to learn more about my Korean roots and a great way to end our round-the-world trip. I don’t know when, but I know I will be back to visit Korea!

Wow – after nearly a year on the road, our round-the-world trip comes to an end! Although our international travel is over for the moment, we still have a couple of weeks left to travel across the U.S. Coming home is incredibly bittersweet. We have a lot to look forward to as we integrate back into American life, especially seeing our friends and family, but we will definitely miss the life we’ve grown accustom to over the past year.

It’s been a wild and crazy journey and we feel very blessed for the entire experience. I cannot think of a better way to spend our first year as newlyweds! Thanks for everyone’s love and support over the past year. We’ve had an incredible time and are ready for our next adventure to unfold!

Picture Perfect Palawan

After a turbulent flight from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, we made our way from the airport to the bus terminal where we boarded a bus to El Nido. What was supposed to be a six hour journey took seven and a half hours so it was getting dark by the time we reached El Nido. We settled into some cheap digs outside of town and moved to an ocean front guesthouse on the main beach the next morning.IMG_3137 (1024x768)El Nido is on the northern tip of the island of Palawan and is known for its beautiful karst limestone scenery. The views are great but the main beach is full of boats and isn’t the greatest for swimming. We had previously talked to other travelers who recommended nearby Las Cabanas Beach so we hired a tricycle to take us there for the day. The beach was stunning with only a handful of other people around.IMG_2837 (1024x768) IMG_2845 (1024x768) IMG_2868 (1024x768) IMG_2855 (1024x768) IMG_2899 (1024x768)That evening, we ran into a Polish couple we met diving on Apo Island. They were with a group of people organizing a boat for an island hopping trip the next day so we decided to join them. The boat stopped at five different islands and our first stop was more than an hour away giving us time to snap some photos of the gorgeous scenery along the way.IMG_3000 (1024x768) IMG_2938 (1024x768) IMG_2941 (1024x768)Each of the five islands offered something a little different but almost all of the islands offered decent snorkeling.IMG_2948 (1024x768) IMG_2952 (1024x768) IMG_2961 (1024x768)One island was called Secret Beach because you had to swim through a small opening in the rocks. We stopped at another island for lunch which had a scenic lookout to view the surrounding area.IMG_2998 (1024x768) IMG_2996 (1024x768) IMG_3013 (1024x768)Hidden Beach was completely camouflaged by its surrounding rock formations and we got caught in a pretty good thunderstorm which added to the adventure. Luckily it was short lived so it wasn’t long until we were back in business visiting Helicopter Island, named for its shape, for some more swimming and snorkeling.IMG_3047 (1024x768) IMG_3053 (1024x768)The island hopping tour was nearly eight hours and quite exhausting so we decided to go back to Las Cabanas Beach the next day. It was even prettier the second time around.IMG_3126 (1024x768) IMG_3131 (1024x768) IMG_3092 (1024x768) IMG_3088 (1024x768)By our fifth day in El Nido, it was time to move on. Turns out the Polish couple, Patricia and Robert, were headed the same way so we negotiated four tickets on one of the daily ferries from El Nido to Coron. We were dreading the seven hour ride in such a small boat but it turned out to be pretty relaxing and incredibly scenic as we passed island after island and beach after beach. I think the boat ride really put into perspective just how many islands comprise the Philippines and most of them are untouched and uninhabited.IMG_3153 (1024x768) IMG_3141 (1024x768) IMG_3145 (1024x768) IMG_3147 (1024x768)It was early evening when we finally arrived in Coron. We found a pretty sweet guesthouse and then went to work talking to the numerous dive shops in town. We signed up for two dives for the next day and then found a local restaurant for dinner where Chris feasted on a plate of sizzling ‘sisig’ or pig face. It’s a bit fatty but pretty tasty!IMG_3489 (1024x768)Coron is known as the “Shipwreck Capital of the Philippines” because of its vicinity to about a dozen sunken Japanese war ships from WWII. Our dive boat took us about an hour offshore for two different wrecks. Olympia Maru and East Tangat were both Japanese auxiliary cargo ships sunk by U.S. air raids on September 24, 1944. Olympia Maru (our favorite of the two dives) sits 80 feet below the surface of the ocean while East Tangat rests at 60 feet below the surface. Between the two dives, we were able to swim through a propeller room, boiler room, kitchen and several cargo holds (one of which held stockpiles of explosives). The visibility was pretty bad ,which is normal for the area, but it just added to the spookiness of the experience.  It was surreal seeing evidence of former life on the sunken ships…valves and ladders were overgrown with  coral and reef life…definitely an awesome experience!IMG_3154 (1024x768)Between our two dives, we ate lunch and our dive leader showed us the local dive equipment. The handmade goggles were carved out of fish bone and held together by fishing line while one fin was made of fiberglass and the other from old wood scraps. The goggles must have been a custom fit because they immediately filled with water when Chris swam with them. Although they were pretty heavy, the fins worked surprisingly well!IMG_3162 (1024x768) IMG_3166 (1024x768) IMG_3167 (1024x768)After dinner that evening, we walked around the public food market where we bought Chris a balut. Often ranked among the top “nastiest foods in the world to eat,” balut is a developing duck embryo. Filipino locals boil the egg and serve it to you in its shell. When we opened it up, I could barely look at it. Chris dug in and said the first bite tasted like a normal egg but that it had a bit of “structure” to it. The other bites weren’t as bad as the first, which we think included the head of the unborn baby duck.DSC02359 (1024x681) DSC02361 (1024x681) DSC02364 (1024x681)The next morning, we went on a chaotic island hopping trip that was jam packed with people and planned stops. Our first stop was to a reef for some snorkeling…we weren’t expecting to see much but was pleasantly surprised to spot a few new things and even a spotted eel.IMG_3203 (1024x768)Our next two stops were to lakes set within the limestone formations. Both lakes were incredibly clean with good visibility and underwater rock outcroppings. The remaining stops included another reef, a secluded beach and a shipwreck. We spent nearly the entire day in the water and were thoroughly exhausted from the day’s activities.IMG_3250 (1024x768) IMG_3264 (1024x768) IMG_3266 (1024x768)While we were enjoying one of Coron’s many amazing sunsets with a few people from our snorkel tour, we ran into an American girl, Kim, from our dive trip in Apo Island. That evening, our group of seven (two other Americans, the Polish couple, and a Spaniard) made arrangements to hire a private boat to take us to some farther islands the next day.????????We met the next morning at the public market and split up to buy provisions for the day. Chris and I were on fish detail and bought nearly nine pounds of fresh fish – a four pound parrotfish and two tunas.  The others came back with fruit, vegetables, rice, beer, ice and charcoal. We loaded the boat and headed off to Malcapuya Island, our first stop for the day about 90 minutes away.IMG_3359 (1024x768)About half way there, we came across a large fishing boat pulling in their tuna net. A huge pod of dolphins was swarming the boat so we asked the captain to stop, grabbed our snorkels and jumped in the water. They were everywhere….swimming around us and jumping out of the water like crazy. The whole experience was awesome and totally unplanned.IMG_3369 (1024x768) IMG_3372 (1024x768)Malcapuya Island is known for its white sandy beaches and it did not disappoint. The white sand against the turquoise water was gorgeous…one of the most picturesque beaches we’ve seen. IMG_3441 (1024x768) IMG_3377 (1024x768) IMG_3455 (1024x768) IMG_3457 (1024x768)And what are the chances that a boat would be sitting on the sand that says “Chris 2013 Malcapuya” on it?!IMG_3436 (1024x768)The island is also known for its giant clams  located a couple hundred meters offshore. We swam for what seemed like forever until we reached them and they were huge!IMG_3385 (1024x768) IMG_3398 (1024x768)While we were swimming and snorkeling, the boat crew was busy preparing and cooking all of the food we had purchased. We climbed back onboard for fresh fish and ice cold beers and made our way to the next stop, Bulog Island.IMG_3447 (1024x768) IMG_3448 (1024x768)The beach wasn’t as nice as Malcapuya but the snorkeling was really good. There weren’t giant clams but there were thousands of smaller clams embedded all over the coral. IMG_3412 (1024x768)I’ve never seen so many clams. It looked as though the rocks had lips and some clams were so incredibly vibrant and colorful.IMG_3471 (1024x768) IMG_3478 (1024x768)The private boat turned out to be cheaper than if we had gone on an island hopping tour and we had more flexibility, could choose our own itinerary, had lunch cooked for us and had cold beer at our disposal! Such an amazing day spent with a great group of people.IMG_3487 (1024x768)We had one more day in Coron and given where we were, I decided to sign up for two more wreck dives. Unfortunately, on our first pair of wreck dives Chris tried to equalize his ears a little too hard on our descent and busted a capillary which caused him to spit up some blood for the next few days. To be on the safe side and not to risk anything, he stayed home while I went diving with Kim from Oregon. I hate to say it, but these dives were by far the best dives I’ve ever done and don’t even compare to the wrecks we saw a few days before. These ships were a lot deeper (115 feet) and were a lot larger. You could easily get lost swimming around the bowels of the ship. One of the ships, Akitsushima, is the only warship in the area and you could still see its artillery and explosives. The other ship, Kogyo Maru, had a bulldozer, cement mixer, bombs and huge boiler rooms. Both were absolutely incredible but I was bummed I couldn’t share the experience with Chris. He would have loved it.

That night, Kim, Chris and I went out for dinner and drinks with a few Germans from our dive boat. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at a karaoke bar. Karaoke is a favorite Filipino pastime. They love it so much, you can easily find a place at 10AM to go karaoke. We (and by “we” I mean Chris and Kim) sang well into the night…a great way to end our time in Coron!

The next morning we boarded an all-day ferry to take us to Puerto Princesa. We arrived late at night and headed straight to our hotel to crash. Our hotel was located right next to a brand new mall so after three amazing weeks in the Philippines, we spent our last day shopping, eating and preparing for our last and final country…such a bittersweet feeling.

The Philippines is the last country that Chris and I will travel alone because my mom and brother Dave are meeting us in Korea for the final leg of our trip! We’re so excited to see them and to explore the country and culture of my homeland!????????

Philippines: Island Hopping in the Visayas

After taking three flights and a trike (Filipino version of a tuk tuk), we finally made to the Philippines! The Philippines is made of 7,107 different islands and our first stop was to a group of centrally located islands called the Visayas. It was 7 AM so we checked into our guesthouse in the city of Dumaguete where we enjoyed the complimentary rooftop breakfast of sticky rice with melted chocolate drizzled on top and then promptly passed out for the next few hours.

We booked three dives to nearby Apo Island through our guesthouse for the next morning. We woke up, got fitted for equipment and made our way to the small island off the coast of Dumaguete with our dive boat.IMG_2353 (1024x768) IMG_2358 (1024x768) IMG_2395 (1024x768)All three of the dives were amazing. The most memorable was a drift dive where the current was so strong I had to hold the regulator in my mouth because it felt like it was going to be ripped out. At one point, we all clung on to a few rocks to watch a huge school of jackfish but the current was so strong I could barely hold on, even with both hands. The other two dives had beautiful trenches covered with coral and reef fish. Throughout the day we saw turtles, puffer fish, lionfish, starfish, sea cucumbers, schools of jackfish, sea snakes, scorpion fish, leaf fish, and my new favorite…nudibranchs and tip worms!

The dive boat dropped us off on the shores of Apo Island before heading back to Dumaguete. We found a place to stay, rented snorkel gear and promptly hit up the beach with just a few hours of daylight remaining. IMG_2534 (1024x768)The main section of beach in front of Apo Island is known to be teeming with turtles that come to feed off the coral and sea grass. We entered the water and before we knew it, everywhere we looked, there were turtles. We couldn’t count them all if we tried and had to pick and choose which ones to swim with and watch. We’ve swam with turtles in Hawaii but never with so many in one place…it was awesome!IMG_2458 (1024x768) IMG_2460 (1024x768) IMG_2475 (1024x768) IMG_2520 (1024x768) IMG_2567 (1024x768) IMG_2571 (1024x768) IMG_2548 (1024x768) IMG_2600 (1024x768)After a couple of hours snorkeling with the turtles, we snapped a few photos of the setting sun, found dinner and called it a night.IMG_2536 (1024x768)The next morning, we woke up early and hit the beach for another snorkeling session. The reef was so nice and the turtles were so active that we came back to shore, ate lunch, and went back again in the afternoon. Aside from turtles, the reef was filled with beautiful coral, sea cucumbers, starfish, sea urchins, puffer fish and clown fish (who were so incredibly curious!) swimming around their colorful anemones.IMG_2668 (1024x768) IMG_2684 (1024x768) IMG_2614 (1024x768) IMG_2578 (1024x768) IMG_2637 (1024x768)Unfortunately, for about every five turtles we saw, we’d come across a black and white banded sea snake, meaning we saw a lot of sea snakes (definitely not my favorite). They breathe air so they would slither their way to the surface and then back down to the sandy shore. Even the photos give me the heebie jeebies!IMG_2504 (1024x768) IMG_2609 (1024x768) IMG_2650 (1024x768) IMG_2625 (1024x768)The dive boat picked us back up in the afternoon to take us back to Dumaguete. That evening, we went out to dinner and then hung out on the guesthouse rooftop for free oysters. Chris and I easily killed at least four dozen oysters and had our first Filipino beer, Red Horse. We sat with the people we had gone diving with and got the low-down on our next stop in the Philippines…Panglao Island. Transportation can become a nightmare when you are trying to jump from island to island and fellow travelers have proven to be the best resource for transport info!

We woke up pretty early the next morning to make our way to the ferry terminal for our fast boat to Bohol Island. We crammed into a tricycle with another traveler and made our way to Alona Beach on Panglao Island.IMG_2717 (1024x768)After searching and searching for a decent guesthouse, we were finally successful and headed to the beach for the rest of the day for swimming and sun. The beach was beautiful and the sand was so fine and soft it felt like mud!IMG_2719 (1024x768) IMG_2724 (1024x768) IMG_2722 (1024x768) IMG_2735 (1024x768)We found a great barbecue joint close to our guesthouse offering different combo meals of grilled meats and fresh seafood. Barbeque pork and barbeque chicken served with rice and iced tea has been our go-to meal for the past three nights.????????The next day we rented a motorbike for an all-day adventure to the neighboring island of Bohol (connected to Panglao Island by bridge). Our first stop was the Chocolate Hills which were formed by the uplifting of coral deposits mixed with time, rains and erosion – definitely pretty scenery we’ve never seen before!SONY DSC ???????? ???????? ????????We left the Chocolate Hills, made a few stops for snacks and were driving through rural unpaved roads when dark clouds started to roll in. We made it about 15 minutes before a downpour ensued. Luckily, we had pulled over next to a locals’ home and the family waved us over to take shelter in their hut. We spent the next hour and a half watching the rain, chatting with the family and the watching the father shuck a pile of coconuts. I can’t believe I didn’t snap a photo of the nice family before we left, but I did take a photo of their crazy pet monkey named “Monkey.”???????? DSC02258 (1024x681)The rains subsided but we were following the tail end of the storm so we were pretty wet when we rolled up to the Tarsier Conservation Park. We weren’t overly enthusiastic about this stop so Chris dried himself in the waiting room while I went into the park. For $1.50 I was able to see about a half dozen tarsiers – small primates with giant eyeballs and very long tails. They were cute in an ugly way and were definitely worth a quick look.DSC02261 (1024x681) DSC02270 (1024x681) DSC02273 (1024x681)We hopped back on the bike, made our way past town after town, crossed the bridge and were finally back in Panglao. We rented the motorbike for eight hours and I doubted we’d use it for that long but sure enough, we rolled in with only two minutes to spare and right before it started to get dark.

The folks we dove with on Apo Island told us that even though Apo was awesome, Panglao was even better. We didn’t really plan on diving while we were on Panglao but dives in the Philippines are cheap(!) so we booked two dives to the neighboring island of Balicasag. The boat ride out to the island was beautiful and the dives were amazing.IMG_2743 (1024x768)I think we can say that they were our favorite dives so far because we saw so many things we’ve never seen before and such a wide variety of sea life – frog fish, schools of angelfish (hundreds and hundreds!), schools of jackfish, stonefish, floating flatworms, tons of nudibranchs, lionfish, gigantic fan coral (larger than a person), tuna, grouper, etc. One of the dives was along a rock cliff that dropped 50 meters to the ocean floor and the different types of fish and coral were just unreal.  I wish we had photos of the things we saw but at the same time, it’s so nice to fully enjoy the experience without having to try to capture everything by camera!

We loved Panglao…the beach, reefs and food were all awesome, but it was time to move on. The next morning, we took a jeepney, tricycle, ferry, and two more jeepneys to the neighboring island of Cebu (told you transportation is complicated here). Jeepneys are old military jeeps from WWII that are now the most popular (and colorful) means of public transport in the Philippines.

Chris found us an awesome guesthouse to stay in so we relaxed for the remainder of the day. We awoke very early the next morning to make our way to Oslob, a small town on the southern tip of Cebu Island, to swim with whale sharks! Once we finally reached Oslob, we were given a short briefing, snorkel gear and hopped into a boat that took us to where about eight different whale sharks were swimming. IMG_2813 (1024x768) IMG_2786 (1024x768)Although whale sharks can grow to be up to 40 feet long, they are harmless and incredibly gentle giants. Chris guesstimates that the largest one we saw was 30 feet. They were so big and we were swimming so close that it was hard to photograph their entire body in one shot. IMG_2778 (1024x768) IMG_2802 (1024x768) IMG_2775 (1024x768) IMG_2794 (1024x768)Despite their name, whale sharks are classified as fish, not whales or sharks. They mainly feed off plankton and when they eat, they look like giant vacuum cleaners!  IMG_2806 (1024x768) IMG_2801 (1024x768)Swimming with whale sharks was such a great way to end our trip to the Visayas! We’ve been in the Visayas for eight days and have already visited seven different islands, logged five dives and five snorkel trips. It’s been a jam packed first week and we are looking forward to chilling out on the beach for awhile. From Cebu, we fly to the island of Palawan, the largest and most western province in the Philippines!

Indonesia: Surf, Swim, Snorkel, Scuba….Repeat.

We left Gili Air and made our way to Kuta in southern Lombok. Our main goal for the next six days was to score some waves for Chris and we heard that Kuta Lombok was a surfer’s paradise. We arrived into town and checked into a guesthouse that was run by an American man and his Indonesian wife. The owner is really into surfing and had tons of boards for Chris to choose from.???????? ????????We walked around Kuta Beach and were completely surprised to find that we were the only travelers on the two huge stretches of beach.IMG_1680 (1024x768)We rented a motorscooter outfitted with a surf rack from a local named Popcorn. We hopped on our hog and went off to explore the outskirts of town to get a better lay of the land. We started to head west until we reached Mawan Beach where some huge shore break was rolling in. IMG_1764 (1024x768) IMG_1725 (1024x768) IMG_1718 (1024x768)We hopped back on the bike, headed back through town and continued east towards Gerupuk, a small harbor town where boats are hired to get to the surf breaks offshore. IMG_1743 (1024x768)The sun was setting so we talked to the locals and got the low-down for Chris to return the next morning.  The locals excitedly pointed to the breaks in the distance claiming the swells were “like a tsunami!” Apparently we had come at the perfect time for some killer waves.

The next morning at 6AM, Chris met with two Canadian girls who were also staying at our guesthouse and rode out to Gerupuk to hire a boat out to the breaks. There are different breaks suitable for all levels of surfers and since the Canadians were still beginners, the first stop was at Don Dons. The Canadians had been surfing Don Dons every day for the past week but when they saw how big the waves were that day (1-2 foot overhead with some larger sets), they waited in the boat for 30 minutes contemplating if they should paddle out or not. Chris was stoked and surfed there for the next few hours until the boat took him back to shore. He never even made it to Insides, the more intermediate level break, because they were just too big (double overhead and larger)!

The next afternoon, I went along for the boat ride. The waves had substantially died down and the break at Don Dons was almost non-existent. Amazing the difference one day can make! We hired a boat with two Dutch and went out to Insides where the waves were head high. This is the day that I realized that I’m terrible at capturing surf footage. I don’t know if it was the position of our boat behind the swell, the challenge of trying to spot Chris in the lineup or our camera’s crappy zoom and dying battery that led to my many failed attempts at capturing him riding the waves in. IMG_1805 (1024x768) IMG_1810 (1024x768) IMG_1801 (1024x768)After a few days in Kuta Lombok, we moved down the street to Kuta Cove Hotel for our last two nights. Our private bungalow,  situated around a grassy knoll, was just one of the 11 newly constructed rooms available.???????? ????????Our bungalow, the Sultan Suite, was incredibly spacious with beautiful teak furniture, a huge bed and air conditioning (it gets HOT in Indo so air conditioning is a savior)! ???????? ????????The rooms are clean with brand new linens and fluffy white towels. At the moment, the showers only have cold water but this is very normal for the area. The website indicates that each room has a flat-screen TV and mini fridge but they have yet to be installed. We didn’t have a need for a TV, but if that’s your thing, they are hopefully working on getting these put in over the next few months. They have super speedy WiFi which we put to good use updating the ole blog!

Breakfast is included in every reservation. We had two choices and ordered the banana pancake both times with our morning coffee. Hands down, it was the best banana pancake we’ve had on our trip and that’s saying a lot considering we just left the “banana pancake trail” (the traveler circuit through mainland SE Asia).????????The location of the hotel is the best, especially if you plan on surfing and beach hopping. It’s centrally located and anything you may need during your stay is just a few steps away. Lucky for us, it just so happened that our favorite warung was just across the street!????????Warung Jawa 2 was recommended to us the first day we arrived in Lombok. Husband and wife owners Toto and Is serve up heaping piles of delicious Indonesian food for only $1.20 (easily the best deal in town). After our first meal, we knew we’d be back again and again. Our favorite dish was the nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) but they also made amazing fresh fruit juices. We were hooked on a banana, papaya, pineapple and lime juice combo until Is made us an avocado, banana and lime juice mix. So good and so cheap…just 60 cents a glass!???????? IMG_1847 (1024x768) IMG_1844 (1024x768)When Chris wasn’t surfing, we’d take the motorbike out to one of the nearby beaches. Our favorite was Mawan Beach because hardly any tourists visited and it was a short and scenic 20 minute motorbike ride away (we’d often be stopped by herds of cattle crossing the road).IMG_1755 (1024x768) IMG_1922 (1024x768) IMG_1761 (1024x768)We’d have the whole beach to ourselves with the exception of the occasional school bus that would come and offload a hoard of kids for a few hours. When this happened, we both became celebrities… especially Chris because they loved his white skin. There were literally lines of kids waiting to take photos with us. A few of the kids were too shy to approach us so they’d (not so) secretly take photos of us from their camera phones.IMG_1954 (1024x768) IMG_1957 (1024x768) IMG_1951 (1024x768) IMG_1939 (1024x768)We also made it out to a few beaches that were a bit farther away. We stopped at Selong Belanak beach and also Mawi beach where the waves were ginormous. We brought the board but Chris didn’t paddle out. After five days of surfing, he was beat and the swell looked like they were putting up a good fight that day. We swam and watched a storm roll in before struggling to make our way back to town on the incredibly muddy roads.IMG_1879 (1024x768) IMG_1874 (1024x768) IMG_1875 (1024x768)Thanks to Kuta Cove Hotel, on our last day in Lombok we were allowed to checkout in the late afternoon so we could go to the beach in the morning, hit up Warung Jawa 2 for lunch and enjoy the comforts of our room before catching our flight to Bali. If you are looking for a clean, private room with strong WiFi in a prime location, check out Kuta Cove Hotel. It would have been amazing if there was a pool on location and turns out, a pool is in the works and is planned to be completed at the end of 2013. We had a good stay with them but think the best is yet to come as they start to fully complete their rooms and amenities. To make a reservation or for more information, visit their website, Like Kuta Cove Hotel on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

If we had more time in Indonesia, we would have continued heading east but we only had a little over three weeks in Indonesia and with one week left, we made our way back to Bali ($21 flights!). Our guidebook described Nusa Lembongan as the perfect place for diving, surfing and nice bungalows on the beach so that’s where we headed next.

We spent the night in the harbor town of Sanur and woke up the next morning to take the local ferry to Nusa Lembongan, a small island, off the coast of Bali. We checked into our awesome bungalow on the beach run by a sweet local man and his family. Thanks a ton to the Smittles for our Indonesian beach bungalow honeyfund. It was so cute and comfy…definitely one of the better places we’ve stayed in Asia!???????? ???????? IMG_2111 (1024x768) IMG_2059 (1024x768)Our bungalow was right next to a dive shop where we booked two dives for the next morning. As an added bonus, they had an amazing infinity pool overlooking the ocean which we used almost every day throughout our stay. IMG_1996 (1024x768)After breakfast the next morning, we walked over to the dive shop to get suited up for our first dive to Manta Point which is just off the coast of the neighboring island Nusa Penida. Just like the name indicates, we were here to look for manta rays (large eagle rays reaching over 20 feet in wing span)! On the way out to the dive spot, we passed pods of dolphins and natural waterfalls along the cliffs…spirits were high! IMG_2032 (1024x768)We patrolled the coastline and saw a ton of boats anchored together but we continued on looking for our own dive spot away from the crowds. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see any in the water so we turned around to head back towards everyone else. We saw a small manta ray on the surface but by the time we entered the water, all of the other boats were gone and so were the manta rays. We had told ourselves that we may not see one so we tried not to get our hopes up, but seconds before we entered the water, our dive instructor started telling us how we’re about to be swarmed with mantas and that its going to be one of the coolest experiences ever and blah blah blah! Disappointment is an understatement.

We had lunch on the boat and continued on to our second dive spot, Crystal Bay. As the name suggests, the water here was crystal clear. It was like another world. The coral was incredibly colorful and so vibrant. There were thousands of fish swimming around…the entire sight was amazing. I’ve never seen so much reef activity before; it was just so densely populated with life. Before we knew it, we were back on the boat heading back.

The next day, we rented a motorbike to explore the island and visit a few beaches. The beaches were nice but they were either tiny or had tons of boats parked in front. I think we had the best views of the water from where we stayed.IMG_2077 (1024x768)We decided we couldn’t leave Nusa Lembongan without seeing a manta ray so we signed up for a snorkel tour which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the week. Our first stop was back to Manta Point. This time, we could see at least three mantas from the boat and when we jumped in the water, there they were….so beautiful and graceful! We swam with about five different manta rays for the next hour.IMG_2149 (1024x768) IMG_2169 (1024x768) IMG_2156 (1024x768) IMG_2152 (1024x768)We were taken to our next spot…Crystal Bay where we were excited to see a few more mantas. This time, the water was much cloudier than our previous visit scuba diving; I don’t know if it was the rain from the night before or that the sun wasn’t directly overhead. Such a bummer since we had the camera with us this time. Our snorkel boat took us to a total of five different spots, each different and unique in their own way, before taking us back to our guesthouse. Between the dives and the snorkeling trip, I think we were able to experience the best of both worlds!IMG_2243 (1024x768) IMG_2210 (1024x768) IMG_2241 (1024x768) IMG_2254 (1024x768) On our last full day on Nusa Lembongan, Chris rented a surfboard and paddled out right in front of our bungalow to Shipwrecks. The waves were waist to chest high but were still a fun ride. I rented snorkel gear and swam out in front of the neighboring mangrove forest until I saw tons of coral and reef fish. I was about 300 yards from the shore and completely alone in the middle of the ocean so naturally I started to freak out and started to head back in. On the way back, I saw a species of starfish I haven’t seen since our snorkel trip to the Galapagos!IMG_2336 (1024x768)Nusa Lembongan doesn’t have an ATM so we had to estimate how much we’d spend on the island for a week. When we arrived back to Bali to catch our flight, we had some extra dough to spend so we got Chris a haircut, stocked up on toiletries and treated ourselves to massages. The $4.50 for an hour long full body massage was definitely well spent. I think its slowly hitting us that we’ll never find those kind of deals when we are back in the States!

Wow…Indonesia is definitely one of our favorite countries. There are several places where we felt we’ve seen and done it all, but Indonesia is not one of them. We hope to return sometime in the future to visit the more remote islands. Although Bali was great, if we came back again, we’d go straight to Lombok and head to the islands east towards Komodo or north towards Sulawesi. We contemplated staying in Indo for six weeks but decided against it so  we could squeeze in three weeks in the Philippines, our next destination. Here’s to hoping we made the right decision!

Disclosure: We received a complimentary stay at Kuta Cove Hotel in exchange for sharing our experience. These thoughts and opinions are completely our own.