Bottles Popping and Bizarre Roboting in Tokyo

Friday, April 6, 2018

Hungover in Tokyo should be today’s blog title.  That’s what happens when you take shots shitty vodka from the Lawson’s around the corner while pre-partying in your studio apartment Airbnb.  Ever the tourists, we still got our asses up and walked to the Harajuku neighborhood for breakfast at “Eggs and things”.  I may be in Japan, but I’m still a white girl, and I need eggs with my hangover.  I seriously contemplated washing them down with champagne, but I’m not trying to shoot my wad too early on a Friday in Tokyo.

After breakfast we met up with our tour guide (read: drunk bar friend who we harassed into showing us around), Paul, and his friend Alex.  They showed up looking like they were ready for a hipster photo shoot at the skate park in Venice beach.  My lulu lemons were pathetic in comparison.  We walked around Harajuku, which is a neighborhood in Shibuya knowns for it’s bizarre/retro/quirky fashion and the famous Takeshita Dori street, which is the Japanese version of Santee Alley, just sub the fake purses and homeless people for kitten t-shirts and giggling Asian girls in school girl uniforms.  Paul showed us a cat café, which charges about $10 per person to sit in a room and drink tea with four cats.   I can do that at my Dad’s house with actual booze.  We obviously passed.  Paul marched us on through the backstreets of Harajuku, by trendy café’s and vintage clothing stores.  I waited outside and tried not to puke on the street while the rest of the group wandered in and out of the fashionable boutiques.  Shopping is not my strong suit on a good day, and I sure as shit don’t travel halfway around the world to check out clothes.  Neil, Carly and I decided that our particular skills were far better suited for the drunken nightlife tour of Tokyo, and so we threw in the towel with plans to meet the boys later that night.  I’m sure none of you will be surprised to guess that I spent the afternoon watching homeland in bed, nursing my hangover.

Normally I would feel travel guilt about spending a day in bed, but we have  serious temple PTSD from Kyoto.  Our mantra in Tokyo is “fuck temples, I just wanna dance!” We checked every tourist attraction off our list in Kyoto, and we are on track to pretty much do nothing on the list while in Tokyo.   Sometimes you just have to cross everything off the excel spreadsheet itinerary and replace it with “have fun and get drunk”.  Look at me, being all spontaneous and shit.

Around 5 pm, Carly and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed and head to the local conveyor belt sushi restaurant down the street.  I don’t eat sushi, so I grabbed a gyro while we waited in line and then drank shochu while Carly played fish roulette.  The experience was actually pretty fun, and amazingly inexpensive.  You order small plates of sushi off an iPad and within minutes it shoots down the conveyor belt to appear in front of your plate.

Conveyor belt sushi at Genki Sushi in Shibuya

Back at our Airbnb, I was ready to party, but Carly and Neil wanted another nap.  I gave them a solid hour to sleep until I unleashed all holy peer pressure hell on them.  I should probably mention that I took shots of vodka to the face, alone, while they were napping.  I didn’t tell them how many I had under my belt when they woke, and I think it’s probably best that I don’t tell you either.  Your judgement will get us nowhere.  After a more-than-sufficient pre-party, we headed to Mogambo bar in the Roppongi neighborhood of Tokyo.  Roppongi is the party place for tourists in Tokyo, so we should fit right in. The bar was fun, but drinks were expensive.  Luckily, Japanese men seem to really enjoy buying drinks for white girls such as myself.  They don’t even try to hit on you, they just pay your bar tab, thank you for the pleasure of letting them pay your tab, and leave you alone.   If you ever find yourself in a bar filled with Japanese businessmen, just smile while ordering and the bill will somehow take care of itself.  Paul and Alex met us at Mogambo where we did some dancing before heading over to 1 Oak.

Yes, Tokyo has a 1 Oak, and yes, I actually went to a club.  Only because Paul put us on the list so I didn’t have to roll in like a basic bitch.  This is where the night gets fuzzy so bear with me.  We got a few drink tickets with our cover charge, but only had time for one round before we were ushered into VIP bliss by some rich Mexicans.  Don’t get your panties in a twist, I’m not being racist.  They were actually rich boys from Mexico City.   At the very least, their daddies are rich Mexicans.  They had the best table right on the dance floor, and even let us bring Neil into VIP with us.  Bottle service at the rich Mexican table was going OFF even before the champagne party started.  The night reached its shit show climax when a procession of Japanese cocktail waitresses walked out holding no less than twelve bottles of Dom Perignon with sparklers.  Imagine my elation when I realized the bottles were destined for our table.  I started handing out glasses of champagne to everyone around me, even the peasants on the other side of the ropes.  I was like Oprah with a drinking problem.  You get champagne and you get champagne and you get champagne!

I’m going to stop the blog here because frankly there isn’t much I remember after that point. I know I made an ass out of myself on the dance floor, but that goes without saying.  At one point I realized how drunk I was and tried to flee but couldn’t figure out where to door was so I went back to the rich Mexican’s table and continued partying.  I’m honestly shocked I didn’t pass out in a bathroom.  Not because I’m a hot mess who can’t handle my booze (I can), but because the toilet seats in Japan are heated.  Have you ever peed on a heated toilet seat while shit faced?  They might as well read you a fucking bed time story.  I can only assume every bar and club has a protocol for extracting drunk people out of bathroom stalls.  We somehow managed to take our drunk selves home in cab a little after 3 am.  I didn’t lose any of my shit or sprain an ankle.  Hallelujah.  I love Tokyo.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Now that we are Tokyo experts, we don’t feel guilty sleeping the days away and saving ourselves for after the sun goes down, the city lights up and the weirdos come out.  Carly and I got some hungover ramen and walked around for a bit before heading back to our little studio to nap.  Around 4 pm we pulled ourselves out of bed, popped a bottle of champagne and got ready to head out for the evening.  It’s robot restaurant show night!

Ready for ramen!

We hopped on the metro for a few stops from the Shibuya station to the Shinjuku station.  For those of you who don’t know, we went from the second busiest train station in Japan to the busiest.  At rush hour. Despite having to walk about half a mile through the train station to find your train, this is still a better option than driving in Tokyo.  Seriously, don’t even try it.  We reached Shinjuku and realized it looks exactly the same as Shibuya, perhaps with slightly taller buildings.  I’m feeling better about my decision to sleep all day.

We headed to dinner at Kuriya, a yakatori restaurant that Carly picked based on excellent tripadvisor reviews.  We entered to find it packed with white people.  It was definitely one of our best meals in Japan.  Probably because it was Japanese food white washed for tourists.  After dinner and drinks we walked over to the famous Golden Gai – a time-warped network of small alleyways filled with hundreds of tiny bars the size of closets.  It looks like a Japanese-style shanty town straight out of the 1920s.   Golden Gai was my one MUST DO thing in Japan. A tiny town of bars at the top of my list should be a shock to no one.  We randomly hopped into one of the little bars that had no cover charge (a rare find in Golden Gai) and had a drink with a nice couple from Brazil.  Between the five of us, we filled up the entire bar.  We zig zagged through the alleys, checking out all the quirky little bars, some multiple levels, some locals only, and some teeming with the sounds of amazingly awful karaoke.

Overall, the unique bars in Golden Gai are truly awesome, but they are also over-priced.  Given that it is our last night in Tokyo, we were running low on cash reserves, so we headed to a bar that takes credit card to have a few drinks before the Robot show.  We obviously had no intention of being anywhere near sober for this shit.

The colorful Shinjuku

Oh, Robot restaurant, where to even begin? From the moment you enter, it is a full blown assault on your senses.  We were ushered though sparkling mirrored hallways, down a psychedelic staircase to the main showroom on the ground floor.  We had a round of drinks included in our tickets so we headed to the “bar” for one final attempt at getting ourselves drunk enough to fall down the rabbit hole.  The drink situation here is dire.  All drinks are pre-made out of cans, including the booze.  Have you ever had a vodka soda out of a can?  Of course not, because you aren’t drinking from a fucking earthquake kit under a pile of rubble. Who on earth would do such a thing?  We took our seats with our nasty canned drinks, thankful for our little pre-show bar crawl around Shinjuku.  Let the show begin….

The Robot show is basically like watching the rose parade in the Mad Hatter’s living room while on an acid trip.  People come out in ridiculous metallic costumes, lip singing their hearts out, gliding along the runway in bizarrely decorated platforms on wheels.  These people ride everything from robots to giant pandas to huge dinosaurs.  I think there was actually a story line, but it would be impossible to follow without some form of illegal substance.  We basically spent an hour and a half pointing at shit saying “what the actual fuck?”.  There were two intermissions where you can buy food and swag.  Neil spent most of these breaks trying to spit game at the hot Asian girl sitting in the row below us.  Normally I would have ran straight to the bar, but the cans of sugar they were passing off as booze kept us on the wagon.  I would describe the entirety of the show as burning man on mars after an alien invasion.  Yeah, I think that sums it up pretty well.  For the record, this is NOT the weirdest show I have ever seen while traveling.  Lest we forget the epic Ping Pong show in Patong, Thailand.  Sorry Robot Restaurant, it was cool, but there are no points for second place.

We all spilled out onto the street around midnight, contemplating what move to make next.  Neil’s girlfriend and her posse were headed to 1 Oak.  We seriously contemplated going with them until we realized we were not on the list.  Spending an hour sitting in traffic in a cab, plus another hour in line sounded like a great way to put me in a terrible mood.  Besides, how on earth would be top last night’s visit?  We decided to call it a night and put our Japan trip, and ourselves, to bed.

All we did Sunday is fly home, so I’ll end the Japan series here.  The nautical soul mates survived a vacation on land.  Until next time, losers!

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A train ride through Japan’s tourist trail

Wednesday, April 4, 2017

Today we are leaving Kyoto and heading to Hakone in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.  Hakone is a mountain town known for its hot springs and views of the elusive Mt. Fuji.  After our aggressive visit to Kyoto we are in desperate need of some relaxation and nature.  I had McDonalds for breakfast at the train station.  Throwing in the towel on Japanese cuisine on day three.  No one is surprised.  I asked Carly and Neil if they wanted champagne for the train ride.  When they answered no I just asked them again.  And again.  Until they realized I would keep asking until their answer was yes.  Soon we were popping champs on the Shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train) bound for Hakone.

The only way to travel in Japan

I need to digress for a moment to discuss my love of Japanese public transportation.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a bus, a train, or a boat, that shit is always on time.  And it is cut throat – if you show up ten seconds late, you are fucked.  They wait for no one.  What makes Japanese transportation so great is that they understand what most people I know fail to, which is that your time is not more valuable than that of the collective group.  If only I could find a way to teach that to 95% of the self-absorbed ass holes I know.   Yes, you are probably one of them.

We arrived in Hakone at the Odwara station where we purchased the Hakone Free Pass, which gives us unlimited access to all transportation in the area over the next two days.  From Odwara, we took the Hakone Tozan Railway to our hotel in Gora.  The Hakone Tozan Railway is Japan’s oldest mountain railway and winds through the mountains, over bridges, through tunnels and along switchbacks.  It is supposedly quite a treat for train fans, whoever the hell those losers are.  To any normal person, it’s a really fucking slow train.

Hakone Tozan Railway

Once we reached Gora, we dropped our bags at our hotel, and headed out to a burger place that I read about online.  Woody’s is a toy-story themed treehouse-like restaurant with creepy dolls from the movie randomly placed all over staring at you while you eat.  It’s weirdly awesome.  The burgers here are massive an messy.  While I pondered how to best attack my food, Neil stuffed his burger in his face like a lion feasting on his prey.  I have legitimately never seen anyone eat a plate of food more aggressively in my life.  It was a fucking bloodbath.  You would think the guy hadn’t eaten in weeks.  I’m actually shocked he didn’t eat his hand by mistake.  I’ve been known to get pretty disgusting with some Panda Express on a bad hangover day, so if I’m impressed by your ability to utterly demolish a plate of food, that is really saying something.

Neil getting down on a Woody’s burger

After lunch we went to the Hakone open air museum, which features an awesome display of modern sculptures spread throughout an open-air garden with 360-degree mountain views of Hakone.  It also features an impressive Picasso collection.  I’m not much of a museum goer, but I was pretty blown away by this place. Did I really just say that a museum blew me away?  So this is what old age feels like.

After the museum we walked to the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, which is a truly bizarre hot springs/water park combo.  This little walk turned out to be more of an uphill hike along a random path through the woods, yet twenty minutes later we found ourselves at the Yunessun.  This place is a fucking trip.  It’s a Japanese hot tub play place, with bizarre themed hot tubs, a water slide into a hot tub, indoor and outdoor hot tubs with waterfalls, and also has a traditional Japanese onsen on the groud floor, which is segregated by men and women.  Typical Japanese onsens have very specific rules about how you must shower before you enter and they don’t allow people with tattoos in.  I have a tattoo on my toe, because I’m hood like that, so this was a good option.  It also allows men and women to enjoy hot tubs together, which is fun when you are traveling in a co-ed band of misfits such as ourselves.  The only real problem was that they didn’t sell wine.  The ladies only naked area was by far the best part, mainly because there were no screaming children.  We tried the pool where the little fish eat the dead skin off your feet.  I was utterly disgusted.  Carly was a good sport, but unfortunately when Neil put his hobbit feet in pool there was no fish for anyone else.  Those fish know a dead skin buffet when they see it.

We headed back to the hotel where we smashed the $10 buffet and were in bed by eight.

Thursday, April 5, 2017

Today we are tackling the Hakone tourist trail before heading to Tokyo.  First you take a cable car halfway up a mountain, where you then catch a gondola that guides you into the Owakudani Valley, at which point you continue down the mountain in another gondola to Lake Ashi and board a pirate ship that takes you across the lake.  The highlight of all of this are the stunning views of Mount Fuji – if the weather is clear enough.  When the weather complete and total shit, like it was for us, the trail is really just various forms of incredibly slow transportation while staring out into grey skies.

We went through the motions anyway while we were in the area.  We ate the famous Owakudani black volcanic eggs that are boiled in a sulfur spring and are rumored to add seven years to your life.  My drinking has probably taken at least that from me, so this is really just an attempt at breaking even.  At one point we waited in line for ten minutes to get a picture in front of the Hakone shrine.  Japanese people fucking love waiting in lines.  I don’t mean bullshit lines at home where everyone cuts in front of each other, I’m talking orderly and respectful lines for everything from tourist attractions to restaurants.  But not subways. Subways are every man for himself.

That afternoon we caught the train to Tokyo, checked into our Airbnb and headed out on the town for some dinner.  Tokyo at night is FUCKING AWESOME. The entire city completely lights up to the point of sensory overload and there are never ending masses of people everywhere. People who apparently need to eat.  A lot.  There is literally a restaurant every five feet in this city.  I didn’t even bother looking up at all the shit above the first floor because what is the fucking point?  We wandered around for a while paralyzed with food options until the decision was made for us by a very loud Japanese guy screaming at us to come inside.  The place was packed and had dancing teppanyaki chefs so we took it as sign and obliged.

Teppen Otoko Dojo Shibuya is an izakaya style teppanyaki restaurant.  Translation: bizarrely small plates of food cooked on a griddle in front of you.  Carly ordered a “veggie steak plate” which consisted of one grilled white onion cut in half and three pieces of bamboo shoots no longer than an index finger each.  Cost: $0.10, RRP $9. The plate was, however, decorated with some lovely wicker fencing, the overall mass of which was triple the amount of edible material on the plate.  Who serves someone an entire onion and calls it a meal?  I had a “Japanese pancake” called Okonomiyaki, the contents of which were not discernible to the naked eye.  It looked and tasted like the Chef vomited onto his griddle and then seared it into a congealed mass.  To add insult to injury, he then he covered it with fish flakes.  Barf.  Neil had the steak, which was decent, but the chef’s one-bite taste test while plating accounted for about 25% of the portion.  The entertainment was at least decent.  Another good thing to come out of this meal was discovering our newfound love of shochu, a Japanese vodka-like liquor distilled from rice.  It’s basically sake’s sluttier and more entertaining older sister.  Kyoto was all about the sake, but Tokyo is all about the shochu.

After dinner we headed back to the Airbnb to get ready for our first night in Tokyo.  To me, that means ripping shots of vodka to the face.  To Carly and Neil that means power napping.  Out of the goodness of my heart I gave them a solid hour of nap time before screaming them into consciousness and pouring booze down their throats.  Neil had a friend in town, so we met his buddy at Hub British Pub down the street.  Yes, I flew to Tokyo to hang out in a chain British pub.  I headed directly to the bar where I discovered an actual line of people waiting patiently in turn to buy drinks.  Remember how I said Japanese people love their lines? Even in bars.  I think we should institute this form of ordering drinks in bars at home.  It gets harder to catch the eye of bartenders with each passing year.  This would really level the playing field for me.

A Japanese girl came up to me very excitedly and started repeating a Japanese phrase over and over while giggling a lot.  Her boyfriend translated for me.  “Big boobs”.  My c-cups apparently make me the Tits Mcgee of Japan.  I’m not mad about it.  While I was being fondled by little Japanese girls we made friends with Paul, a guy from San Francisco who lives in Tokyo, and his Aussie friend Alex.  Paul offered to be our tour guide tomorrow so these boys will be making another appearance.  We hopped the around the bar, doing laps and talking to strangers.  I made bar bffs with a guy who grew up down the street from me in Torrance, CA.  There is no smaller world than a bar full of white people in a foreign country.  Once Alex began to girl Carly a creepy palm reading we decided it was time to bounce.   I’d say the first eight hours in Tokyo was a success.

 

 

Tour de Kyoto

Tuesday, April 3, 2017

Here’s the thing about going to bed at 2 pm, you wake up at 2 am the next day wide awake.  At least Carly and Neil did.  I made it to 5 am.  It was clear that Carly and Neil were itching to start the day, so I dragged my ass out of our side-by-side double beds and we ripped some early morning sake shots.  Because, vacation.  We may not be on a boat, but apparently the yacht-week mentality lingers.  We were out the door by 6 am for a stroll around the Gion district, which was beautiful in the early morning, sans the hordes of tourists fighting for pictures of cherry blossoms and geishas.  We even ran into a beautiful old wooden temple that we enjoyed all to ourselves.  As we strolled along the river, we continued our morning binge drinking with more sake and beer.  By this point it was almost 7 am so the natural progression of morning drinking dictates that it was time for champagne.

We attempted to find champagne yesterday, but the liquor stores are open from 6 pm to 4 am and apparently that time frame now coincides with our fucked-up sleeping schedule.  We looked in about four 7-11’s before we finally found one at the Kyoto station with some champagne.  FYI – 7-11’s and similar sized mini-marts are the lifeblood of Japan.  They are on every corner and sell pretty much everything you could possibly need, from sushi to champagne.  Carly bravely tried the 7-11 sushi for breakfast and declared it delicious, so you’ll have to take her word on this one. We bought a bottle of champagne and drank it on the roof of the Kyoto station.  Then we bought another bottle and drank it while people watching.

I think now would be a good time to mention that we are pre-partying for a five-hour bike tour around Kyoto.  Four hours of drinking prior to riding a bike around a crowded city for five hours can’t possibly end badly, right?  We arrived at the Cycle Kyoto office where we met our tour guide – a congenial middle-aged Frenchman named Thierry, and our fellow bike tour mates.  Mo and Brad, a couple from Seattle, seemed to be very much on the same page with us as far as biking under the influence.  It was clear we were going to get along.  The other two on the tour were Nancy and Vicki, a mother daughter duo from NYC.  For the record, Nancy’s name is actually Raquel.  We just call her Nancy because Neil referred to her “Nazi” all day long and because of his adorable accent I thought he was saying “Nancy”, and I therefore spent the entire day thinking her name was legitimately Nancy.  When we asked Nancy what she did for a living, she replied that she is “an academic”.  Oh, it gets better.  Nancy/Raquel chooses to only speak in Spanish with her adopted Chinese daughter despite the fact that they and everyone else on the tour speaks perfect English.  I could literally feel my eyes rolling every time she opened her mouth.  And away we go….

The bike tour started out innocently enough.  We made our way through the back streets of Kyoto, stopping first at the Honganji Temple where we unwittingly crashed a funeral and took more sake to the face.  Then it was on to the Kitano Tenmangu temple where we posed for selfies among the cherry blossoms in the Japanese zen garden.  Our third stop was a temple I can’t remember the name of, but I do remember Neil getting yelled at for laying shirtless on the sacred grounds in an attempt to get a tan.  Talk about living your best life.  We also continued to drink sake and beer out of water bottles in the blistering sun at each stop.  By this point the weather was starting to really heat up and the tourists were out in full force.  We biked on to the Golden Pavilion, which is an aggressively popular temple in North Kyoto that is completely covered in gold leaf.  It’s also completely covered in tourists. Fucking hordes of them.  We parked our bikes and walked in to snap the obligatory Golden Pavilion selfie, after which we waited in a massive line of visitors to exit the gates.  At this point I was already tired and getting a little hangry, but I told myself that lunch was coming and there was only a few more hours left.  How wrong I was on both accounts.

We sweated in the sun until it was time to meet back up with the group and bike to our next stop – lunch!  Or so we thought. We first biked to a little store to pick up lunch, and then biked to the Imperial Palace.  The grounds surrounding the Palace were stunningly picturesque, covered in cherry blossoms providing shady areas with adorable little Japanese school children running around in matching uniforms.  It was the perfect spot to eat lunch, only we were not eating lunch there.  We were just stopping for a few pics before biking down to the Kamo River to eat.  I was hungry two stops ago, so needless to say this information did not thrill me. Nevertheless, I played nice and bit my tongue, as the expected end to our bike tour was drawing near.  We hauled our bikes down to the river and stopped to eat our bento boxes, which was basically fishy rice with a bunch of unidentifiable, but equally fishy accoutrements.  I had the vegetarian version, which means I had rice.  Just rice.  There isn’t enough rice in Japan to satisfy me after 9 hours of drinking and 4 hours on a bike.

Lunch?

I inhaled my rice and patiently waited for the rest of the group to finish their meals so we could head back to the bike office.  You all know my golden rule of activities while traveling – anything over 2 hours is just plain unnecessary.  And yet I continue to break this rule time and time again.  At this point Thierry informed us that we actually had a few more stops left, despite nearing the end time of the pre-defined schedule.  At this point I am tired, cranky and dragging ass.  I’m fucking over it.  Those of you who know me know that there is no hiding from the wrath a post-drunk bitchy and cranky Rory.  I spent the next hour almost killing multiple tourists and almost being killed by multiple cars as we biked through the shit show of tourism that is the Gion district.  All the while Nancy is up in front at every stop prolonging this madness by asking the most exhaustive questions you could possibly think of.  Time is up Nancy, google that shit.  I’m guessing she is going to make that poor little Chinese girl of hers write her a research paper on what she learned during her trip to Japan.  Because, you know, they are academics. Poor girl.

I think you get where I’m going with this.  The never-ending bike tour dragged ass all damn afternoon.  I basically through an adult hissy fit every time we stopped.  Carly tried to pretend like she didn’t know me.  Neil laughed at me.  At one point Nancy made a very unnecessary and awkward declaration about how easy it is to bike it Kyoto because it’s so flat.  Not after a four our pre-party Nance, so maybe get on my fucking level before you start judging my lack of athletic ability.

The tour finally came to an end.  We dropped off the bikes and flagged down a taxi within about 30 seconds.  For the second day in a row, I almost cried of exhausted happiness as I collapsed onto my bed.  It was nap time.  But don’t worry, we actually woke up this time.

We headed to an adorable Mediterranean restaurant that Carly found online called Gojo Paradiso.  After dinner the owner, a middle aged Israeli man, came to our table to chat with us and we ended up going a few rounds of sake with him.  We took this opportunity to get all of our geisha questions answered.  Our bike tour guide told us that men pay thousands of dollars for Geishas to entertain them with dancing or tea ceremonies.  I assumed this was all code for sexual favors, but apparently that is not the case.  As our Israeli friend explained to us, the whole Geisha thing is very cultural and based on the premise of being so painfully patient that sexual favors are not even necessary.  Whatever works, people.

This being our last night in Kyoto, we were determined to at least attempt a night out.  We headed out to the Pontocho district which is known for fun bars and clubs.  We somehow ended up at the world’s most pathetic karaoke bar, Bar Code. The people watching was epic, however the thick cloud of smoke made it impossible to enjoy.  Ok that’s a lie, I still thoroughly enjoyed a German girl’s drunken rendition of Spice Girls’ “Tell me what you want”.  I’ll leave you all with a picture of the top six karaoke songs at Bar Code.  As you can see from both the song choice and the smoking policy, this bar was basically a time machine to 2005.  We threw in the towel and headed home.

In the last two days we have biked 21 miles and walked 20 miles.  Carly and Neil are convinced that I have tricked them into a Japanese fat camp under the guise of a spring break trip.  I have promised them some relaxation tomorrow as we head to the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Sunday, April 1, 2017

It’s spring break, people!  Ok, so spring break hasn’t exactly been a valid holiday for me in over a decade, but Carly is a teacher so we are rolling with it.  When one of your favorite travel buddies offers to get on a plane with you to anywhere in the world for a full week, you jump on it.   And just in case Carly and I can’t cause enough trouble ourselves, we’ve convinced The Legend to meet us there.  You blog veterans will remember The Legend as our Thailand yacht week skipper a few years ago.  Carly and I reunited with him last year on the maiden voyage of Bucketlust in Belize and we have been eager to get the gang back together.

Carly, Neil the Legend, and I

Why Japan? Honestly, because we’ve heard it’s fucking weird.  Combine that with the fact that Carly’s spring break coincides with cherry blossom season and it was a no-brainer.  I feel it necessary to note that I don’t eat fish, so meals should be interesting.  I feel it also necessary to note that Neil lost his wallet in a cab in Singapore the morning of his flight, and Carly realized she forgot her debit card at home the second we got to the airport.  We are off to a great start.  But we have three passports, so Japan, here we come!

We arrived in Osaka around 6 pm after a quick 12-hour jaunt from LAX.  The flight was uneventful, as most things are after a Xanax and a few red wines.  Carly and I exited customs and were met with a warm greeting of “hey, bitches!” from the one-and-only wrist-flicking fool, the Legend himself, Neil.  We all hopped on a train from the airport straight to Kyoto.  We only have a week in Japan and Osaka didn’t make the cut.  I heard is sucks.  We arrived at Kyoto station around 9 pm and hailed a cab to our Airbnb.  The only problem was that the address I had for the Airbnb was not actually an address at all, but a fucking zip code.  Our cab driver managed to find the general neighborhood so we hopped out and began walking up and down the streets, into hotels asking the Japanese staff if they recognized a picture of the outside of our building that I had printed.   It was like apartment hunting with Sherlock Holmes in a foreign language.  We eventually wandered into the wrong building and found two nice Japanese boys who recognized my pathetic little picture and walked us to the correct address.  It was a lot of build-up for an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, which somehow contains two beds, a small couch, a kitchenette and a bathroom.  I’m starting to understand what it must have been like for Shamu all those years in that little pool.  Luckily the three of us have all passed the fuck out together in a twin-size bed in Thailand before, and even managed to squeeze in a giant plate of paid thai, so we’ll be fine sleeping in a row like the fucking seven dwarfs.

Our mini-room and one giant bed

At this point it’s about 10 pm and we are exhausted and starving, so we stumbled into the first shitty little “Chinese” restaurant we could find around the corner. It was at this point that Carly and I discovered Neil has never done a sake bomb.  Apparently sake bombing isn’t an actual thing in Japan.  Just another example of Americans twisting the culture of another country into something obnoxious and excessively alcoholic.  Just so we’re clear, I’m drinking champagne on a Japanese bullet train at 9 am while writing this.  So, glass houses.  We had no choice but to educate our worldly friend.  Sake and beer for the table please!  After a truly mediocre dinner and some sake, we headed out for a quick drink at an Irish bar to find the neighborhood pretty much shut down.  Time to throw in the towel and prepare for sightseeing Kyoto tomorrow!

Monday, April 2, 2017

To no-one’s surprise we were all wide awake at 5 am, which is perfect for getting a jump on the other tourists.  We were out the door by 6 am on our way to the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is famous for it’s thousands of red gates that leads you through a excessively long trail up a mountain.  The only thing standing between us and the shrine was a quick subway ride.  We managed to buy our tickets and hop on the train fairly easily, patting ourselves on the back for being such adept tourists.  However, we quickly realized we were on the commuter express train, which skips about five stops at a time, including ours  For your general knowledge, the color of the actual train cars does not correspond to the color of the line.  For example, a train with red cars may have a tiny little sign in black to signify that it is the black line, not the red line.  Naturally this begs the question of why bother coloring the fucking train cars at all?  Luckily we realized our mistake pretty quickly and jumped off to head back in the other direction.   Point: Kyoto subway system.

We made it to the Fushimi Inari shrine and began to hike up the mountain through the seemingly endless procession of famous red Torii gates.  These gates symbolize an entrance to a sacred shrine in the Shinto religion, and the Fushimi Inari shrine has about 10,000 of them.  Along the route up the mountain were intermittent stops with signage of the trail to let you know “you are here”.  It wasn’t until about an hour into this hike, in flip flops might I add, that we realized we were actually only about one-third of the way up this Japanese trail of tears.  Newsflash – if you’ve seen 1,000 pearly red Shinto gates, you’ve seen them.  We threw in towel and headed back down the mountain, ready for our next stop.

Next up – two subway transfers to the Arashiyama district in west Kyoto.  This famous sightseeing district in Kyoto is home to a number of sights.  Just ask every other fucking tourist in the entire city because I’m pretty sure they were all there with us. We arrived via subway and began walking up-river through a park filled with cherry blossom trees.  It was at this point I began to realize we were no longer walking through the gates of a Shinto Shrine, but into the depths of tourism hell.  That’s right my friends, the dreaded Asian tour buses were lined up and down the streets.  Kiss any hopes at efficient tourism and maintaining any quality of personal space goodbye when you see these tour buses.  But there was no turning back, we had come too far.  We somehow managed to get a few decent pictures among the cherry blossoms without other tourists, mainly because Neil just yells at people to get out of our pictures.  I think he has even less patience for tour groups than I do.  Which would be a true feat of greatness, as I fucking hate anyone following a woman holding a stuffed animal on a stick.

We fought our way across the river and up the street to the Tenryu-ji Temple, where we were posed with the decision of buying an entrance ticket to access the garden only, or the garden and temple for an extra 300 yen. We figured, fuck it, and sprung for the extra three bucks.  Come to find out, the extra money for the temple just means that (1)  you have to take off your shoes and, (2) you stand about two feet above the garden-only tourists who then have the advantage of blocking all your pictures.  On the other side of the Tenryu-ji temple are the famous bamboo groves – the path through which was completely mobbed with tourists.  Carly’s mom had suggested that she go to the bamboo grove and do some meditating.  The only meditating I was doing here was pre-meditating the murder of every other tourist in my sight, so when Neil made the executive decision to snap one picture and get the hell of out of there, I was on board.  Although if I had to go to jail in any country, I think Japan would have the cleanest prison bathrooms. The toilet seats are probably heated.  But the food…

At this point we are fucking exhausted from both jet-lag, fighting crowds, walking over nine miles and general malnutrition.  We fought our way back down the street and sought refuge in an alleyway where a small bar had a sign that read “Hot beer, lousy food, bad service.  Welcome”.  Sarcasm and alcohol?  Sold.  We sat down and were delighted to learn that this little hole-in-the-wall served jerk chicken.  In Kyoto, Japan.  Ya, mon! Neil claims it was the best $8 meal of his life.  I was just thrilled it wasn’t jerk fish.

The best fucking meal ever

The last stop on our itinerary was the monkey park. It seemed innocent enough – frolic around in a park with some monkeys before heading back for a nap? Sure, no problem.  What the entrance to this little park failed to mention is that you have to hike twenty minutes up switchbacks to reach a little hill where tourists feed dozens of monkeys from the safety of cage.  To be clear, the tourists are the in the cage, not the monkeys.  The irony of the situation was the only saving grace of this shit hole.  We stayed out of the caged human feeding zone, but I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of irresponsibility for contributing my time and money to this tourist trap.  Another waste of $5.  As a general rule of thumb, we have found that any tourist sight that requires a nominal entrance fee in Japan is generally not worth the time or money. Also, if you aren’t there before 9 am, don’t fucking bother.  Just don’t.

The walk to the monkey park

We high-tailed it back to our Airbnb around 2:30 pm for a much-needed nap before hitting the town for an adventurous Monday night.  The end of this blog post should make it obvious that we never made it out of fucking bed.  Tune in tomorrow when I throw a grown ass woman tantrum on a bike.

Tao Expedition Part 2 – Survivor: Palawan

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

We all woke up hungover from our bizarre Filipino deserted island vodka dance-off last night.  The Juan, our 24 year old Filipino guide who weighs about 90 lbs soaking wet, was feeling especially awful.   Getting hazed by Rory tends to take a toll on unprepared livers so I’m not surprised.   The morning was lazy and calm, until after breakfast when I was walking to the “bathroom” and one of the Dutch Gymnots informed me that she was waiting in line for the bathroom, even though she was physically in her hut about 20 yards away from the hole in the ground.  To which I replied, “oh is that how lines work where you come from”?   If I already don’t like you, I can guarantee you that disrespecting the entire social construct of what constitutes a line is not the way to get on my good side.  I knew I was going to have a problem with these women the second I laid eyes on them. I just fucking knew it.

We all swam back to the boat and headed out for more adventures around 10 am.  Kristie and I finally busted out the floaties that we packed and have been hauling around in our backpacks the entire trip.  I had my fill of snorkeling the past few days.  The coral was pretty day one, but the novely has worn off.  From here on out I’ll be reading my kindle while floating in the ocean off the side of the boat if anyone needs me.   The brilliant Kristie even had the crew find us some extra rope so we could tie ourselves to the boat to save us from floating off into oblivion.  We stopped at some amazing, secluded pristine beaches and had a very enjoyable day…until the pig showed up.

 

In honor of The Juan’s bday tomorrow night, we are roasting a whole pig.  I’ve been eating vegetarian the past three days so I was very excited by this announcement.  What they failed to mention was that we are picking up the very-much-still-alive pig from some locals on one of the random islands we’re stopping at, and we have to keep the pig on our boat for the next twenty-four hours.  I didn’t get this memo until my relaxed day of floating was interrupted by a terrified squealing pig being transferred via a kayak onto our boat.  Oh, that’s not all.  Not only are they going to kill the scared little piggy tomorrow, they are going to do it ON THE BOAT, and if any of us our interested, we can do the slaughtering.  It was sad, and somewhat off-putting.  I was disappointed in myself because I knew damn well I was still going to eat that pig come tomorrow.  Joy, our head guide, was concerned I was going to try to make a run for it via kayak and set the pig free.  Luckily for her, I was too hungover to snorkel, let alone break a pig out from death row.

 

We stopped at a cool sea cave that you can walk through (or swim through at high tide).  Our bartender, Dong, brought a cooler of beers to shore so we could drink more as we frolicked on the beach.  Finally, an excuse to yell the word “Dong” all day long and not only is it acceptable, I’m actually rewarded with a beer for doing so.  Lets hope this positive reinforcement doesn’t result in this behavior following me home.  Now that I’m thinking about it, we might have actually stopped at this cave the day before.  I wasn’t exactly taking notes, people.

 

We stopped for the night on an island with a sprawling white sand beach and a shipwreck just offshore.  The ship was so close to the surface you could touch it from the kayak.  As if that wasn’t enough, they also had massages here!  The Tao Expedition Company has a program where they train women from local villages on the islands to give massages, and then employ them at some of their base camps.  It gets better – we have a well on this island, so its no limit buckets of water in the showers tonight!  Oh, the spoils.  We had a mellow night and people went to bed pretty early.   Dave and I hit the rum and vodka, respectively, and tried to make it a party, but no one else was biting.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today is The Juan’s birthday!  The first stop is at the the Tao Farm, which is where the company grows most of the food that they use on their expeditions and where they train all their employees.  Most of the employees and crew are young local boys and girls from various islands that they train in English, cooking, building and other techniques to prepare them to eventually be expedition guides one day.  We had a tour around the farm to a natural spring, where we all had a mid-day refresher shower.  We then gathered around the amazing bamboo structure that housed the kitchen/bar for an awesome lunch and some drinks.  Ok, lots of drinks.  A LOT of drinks.

 

Our next stop was the incredible Napcan Beach, which is one of the longest and most beautiful beaches in El Nido, Palawan.  If that’s not enough, it’s completely deserted.  A few of us hopped off the boat and ran down the beach.  We found a little shack where some locals were hanging out in the middle of nothing and stopped in to make some friends.  At this point I’m pretty much shit faced and having a grand old time with my new local buddies.  I’m calling it right now – this beach will look like Borocay in a matter of years.  If anyone is looking for offshore investment, this is my recommendation.  We told Joy we wanted to buy some land, but were dissuaded when we found out (1) foreigners cannot purchase land in the Philippines, and (2) its crazy expensive.  I guess drunk Rory is not the first person to realize the investment potential here.  Shocker.

 

Tonight is the last night of our trip.  This is also the point where things take a VERY dismal turn for the worse.  Today will live in infamy as the day I almost killed myself on a beautiful deserted island.  I must admit, there are far worse ways to go.  We pulled up to our base camp for the night at the amazingly beautiful Cadlao island.  This place looked like a dream, with the towering karst cliffs covered in palm trees that are iconic of Palawan.   Our base camp looked like some serious Filipino Family Robinson shit.  We were all assigned to little open-air tree houses on the side of a cliff that looked out onto the water.

 

I’ll just cut to the chase – shortly after shower time, I took a tumble off the ladder to my tree house and fell backward onto a rock.  A really big rock.  Turns out the bottom rung of the bamboo ladder was broken and so my foot slipped through and I fell back.  Either that or I broke the ladder.  But let’s give poor Rory the benefit of the doubt on this one.  I spent the evening crying and screaming in pain, unable to move without feeling like I was being stabbed in the lower back.  Chef King brought his distressed Queen some food, which included the pig.  To be honest, it was a little greasy and I was disappointed that we killed that cute little pig for it.  Perhaps this whole incident was instant karma at its best.  Lottie came to have a look at me, since she is a Physical Therapist, which basically makes you an M.D. on an island, and proclaimed that I would survive.  I promptly gave up on the night and xanax’d the shit out of myself to sleep.

The moral of the story here – don’t get drunk and climb shit.  Some would argue the moral is “don’t get drunk”, but I prefer to set realistic rules for myself.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Today was a bit of a blur.  I woke up hopeful that last night was just a dream, or a drunk over reaction to a silly fall.  I was wrong.  This is bad.  The name of the game now is survival until I can get myself to an emergency room in the USA.

Step 1 – the Juan took took me to the boat via kayak.  Very painful.

Step 2 – I had to spend about 5 hours laying on the boat while every movement sent a stabbing pain through my back.  Luckily the crew took some of the mattresses and made me a little bed on the deck and brought me food.  I was pathetic, but I had sun and a book, so life was still worth living.  It was at this point that the Dutch Gymnots decided to make a little farewell speech in which they said something “special” about each and every person on the boat.  Not sure who declared them master of ceremonies, but I was powerless to stop it.  It was about as cringe worthy, annoying, and unnecessary as you can imagine, but I was captive audience and had no choice but to listen.  It reminded me of when someone extremely shy with no interpersonal kills has to give a maid of honor speech at a wedding and everyone, including her, is just praying for it to end as soon as possible.  I’d rather watch a snake eat a hamster with my eyes taped open.

They had some very thoughtful praises for most of our fellow passengers.  And then they got to us – the fearsome foursome.  They thanked Kristie for her portable speakers – a cop out at best.  They thanked Marissa for her lovely conversations – no fucking clue where or when these conversations happened, but I’m just thrilled I wasn’t a part of them.  Thanks for taking one for the team Mar Mar.  They told Dave that they were terrified of him at first because he is so loud and outspoken but then they “got used to it”.  How accommodating of them.  Then it was my turn.  I believe my farewell compliment went a little something like this: “Rory, we weren’t sure about you at first because of all your swearing.  But I think under all those curse words is a really nice girl”.  If you are going to try to give me a read, the least you can do is follow through.  An insult disguised in a compliment is nothing more than a poorly executed insult.  Also, you revealed the fact that I annoyed you with my foul mouth, a fact for which I’m now patting myself on the back.  I will give them one thing – they managed to use my least favorite adjective in the entire world.  You all know how much I despise when people use the word “nice” to describe me.  Nice girls don’t drunkenly fall out of tree houses.

Once their little fake and unsolicited expedition eulogy wrapped we all said goodbye and took pictures with the crew on the front of the boat.  Not me – I was unable to move, so the crew helped me sit up and all huddled around me for our pictures.  That crew was truly the highlight of our trip.  Joy is basically Mother Teresa, if Mother Teresa let you force feed her vodka.  The Juan spent half the trip towing our drunk asses around in the kayak.  Dong made sure we always had ice for our vodka sodas and cold beers everywhere we went.  The King made us delicious food and could even be counted on for a decent flirt if you got him drunk.  Hey, in a pinch.  Although the end of the trip was a bit rocky, it was still one of the most amazing weeks of my life.

 

Step 3 – Get off the boat in El Nido via kayak – this time as waves crashed into us.  More pain.

Step 4 – get to our hotel.  Luckily our hotel was about a 2 minute walk from where we offloaded the boat, so we made it.  I promptly died while the girls went to the Tao office to settle our tab and get our bags.  Thank god for travel buddies.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Today fucking sucked.  Don’t get injured on vacation.  Just don’t do it. Ever.  The only thing separating me and the Torrance Memorial ER was a van, four airports, three planes, and a car ride.  Marissa left early because her journey home to San Francisco started before ours.  Kristie, who will henceforth be known as My Savior, called a doctor to our room in the morning so I could get some drugs for the trip.  He also wrote me a note that said I needed medical assistance.  Our first flight was almost two hours delayed, which gave us about an hour to transfer terminals at the wretched shit hole that is the Manila airport.  We made it with a combination of Kristie running through the airport with four backpacks like the fucking Hulk, and me in a wheelchair getting us to the front of the check-in line with the doctors note.   I would probably still be curled up on the side of a road in the congested streets between terminals and MNL right now if Kristie didn’t drag me through that airport like dead weight.  I was wheeled through four airports, in total.  I got dirty looks the entire time, since I wasn’t 95 years old and suffering from some sort of chronic ailment like my other two-wheeled counterparts.  The long 12 hour flight home was basically a nightmare, but the synthetic morphine made it tolerable.

Complete and utter misery

Relief does not even begin to describe what I felt as we landed at LAX.  Little did I know I was not out of the woods yet.  To add insult to injury (quite literally), my bag did not make it.  I flipped the fuck out and started bawling my eyes out while simultaneously screaming at baggage claim employees from the confines of my wheelchair.  This was after 24 hours of travel.  I’m pretty sure I looked like Lieutenant Dan on a bender.  Here we are two weeks later as I’m writing this, and they have still not found my bag.  I hope some ass holes in China are enjoying all my go pro pictures.  I’m still injured and on bed rest, but I’m on the mend.  You can’t get rid of me that easily.

I’ll be back in April when I reunite with my yacht week nautical soul mates on land for a Japanese adventure!

Tao Expedition Part 1 – Beers, Boats and Beaches in Palawan

Sunday, January 7, 2018

We arrived on Busuanga Island around 3:30 pm and were quickly ushered into a van by a guy with a sign with Marissa’s name on it. We arrived in Coron town which is a busy little grid of congested streets and exhaust fumes on the water, with no beach to speak of. This place is mainly popular because of the great diving sites in the area. We are here because it’s the departure point for our five day Tao Expedition. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we walked over to the Tao office to check-in and get our booze pre-order sorted. I’m sure you all can imagine how important booze is when spending five days on a boat and camping on islands at night. On the scale of survival it ranks just below clean drinking water but just above food.  A few of Marissa’s friends have done this trip before and they all told us the same thing – make sure you pre-order enough booze, and buy extra because it’s on the honor system and cheap ass holes will drink your shit. I had already made peace with the fact that we would be buying extra to carry the collective weight of the other passengers who can’t do simple multiplication of beers x people x days.

Luckily for us, Tao has a new nifty system where everyone gets a scanable wristband that you pre-load with cash and then you just buy beers and other drinks from the “bar” on the boat and the islands for about $1.20 – $2.00 each with a swipe of your wrist. So now I don’t have to talk shit about random people behind their backs in my blog who can’t properly provision while making idle chit chat with them daily as they drink my beer. Phew. There was a welcome briefing scheduled for 5 pm, so we broke in our wristbands and had a few beers on the roof while we waited for the others to arrive.   For those of you planning a trip to the Philippines – Red Horse beer is the way to go.  Mar scanned the check-in list and notice that we were the only Americans on the boat, which bodes well for us. There is nothing worse than being trapped at sea with a ton of obnoxious Americans.  I call that Saturday at home, I don’t need to travel around the world to do it.  I think it’s also called “yacht week” and I’ve been there and done that.  We began to get our hopes up. We should have’t.

The first to arrive was Tom and Lotti, a British couple on their honeymoon. You’ll all remember from my backpacker bus through New Zealand that I don’t really understand the low-budget group trip thing for a honeymoon, but to each their own. Tom and Lotti seem very normal so luckily for them they will probably escape this blog unscathed. The next person to stumble in was Dave – an Aussie who showed up completely shit faced to the briefing. It was obvious he was cut from the same cloth so we have adopted him as one of our own. Next to come in was an Australian family with two young boys (18 and 17 yrs) and, of course, mom and dad. Completely unoffensive. Which is a synonym for boring, but I’m still going to mark this one in the win column.  At this point we are still waiting for the big group of hot Dutch guys to walk in.  Well, I’m still waiting. The big group of seven on our trip is a bunch of middle aged Dutch women that filed in one by one, dashing our hopes at some eye candy with each step. Our group is rounded out with another Australian couple and a creepy Italian guy. I might be forgetting someone, but it’s not my fault if you are forgettable.

We met two of the Tao employees from our crew – Joy, who is super sweet and seems like she’ll make sure we don’t die. And The Juan, a young Rastafarian Filipino guy who is in the process of going for a full head of dreadlocks. His name actually isn’t Juan, it Aying, but he introduced himself as “the One” so we just kind of ran with it and now we refuse to call him anything but the “The Juan”. Try to get cheeky with us and you will pay the price.

After the meeting we ran out in search of some last minute necessities (bug spray, sunscreen, vodka and champagne). The rule is that you can bring your own booze if the boat bar doesn’t offer what you want. And since this isn’t a Russian boat cruise, vodka is BYOB. Now, you can find Absolut vodka in a whole in a wall store in just about any country in the world – trust me, I know – but champagne is a bit more tricky. Numerous people told us to just give up. But Marissa refused to accept defeat. We ran into Dave outside a bar (shocker) and enlisted his help in our search. He grabbed a Canadian buddy of his from the bar and they took Mar and Kristie on their motorbikes down the street to find champagne. I volunteered to sit this one out and instead get a drink at the bar, because that’s just the kind of selfless person I am. They came back victorious, having found five bottles of champagne and vodka. Each.

We grabbed a bucket of beers with our new friends before heading down to dinner. There was a super cute restaurant made of bamboo and lacquered wooden tables that was bbq’ing skewers of meat. I was about to be fed fish for the next five days, which essentially means I’d be eating vegetarian, so I put my foot down and demanded some meat on a stick. It ended up being my favorite meal of the trip so far. We shared a table with a nice Brazilian couple who were on their honeymoon and also doing a Tao trip – but just the three day excursion on a different boat. After dinner we showered and packed our dry bags for the trip tomorrow before heading out to a bar to get a few more drinks. Kristie headed home first, but Mar wanted to keep drinking, so I escorted her back to the Canadian bar to find some familiar faces before heading home. One of the Canadian guys brought his seventeen year old sons with him on a big boys trip, and they were each about ten minutes away from scoring with some super drink backpacker chicks. I haven’t seen grins that big on frat boys with a pocket full of roofies. I suggested they be given condoms, because one never knows with hostel girls, and then took my leave. My guess is those little boys still managed to blow it and went to bed with their dicks in hand. Mar stayed and had more beer and some tater tots with her Canadian motorbike rider in shining armor.

Monday, January 8, 2018

We were up bright and early at 6 am to finish packing. It’s actually quite tricky trying to anticipate what you’ll need in the next 24-48 hours to put in your small dry bag, and then what items you’ll need for the next few days to put at the top of your big backpack, so that it is easily accessible to replenish your dry bag. We grabbed breakfast and checked out, at which point we were told the hotel doesn’t accept credit card. Everyone says that in the Philippines. In actuality it just means they don’t want to accept credit card. I dug my heels in on this one and the surly front desk girls were forced to actually plug in their fucking credit card machine. So sorry to inconvenience you by asking you to do your job. We grabbed some tricycles down to the port where we sat around in the ferry terminal for about an hour with our Tao boat mates and crew, waiting for the coast guard to give us the all clear. Or so we thought. Turns out we were actually just waiting for Guido, the Italian guy, to show the fuck up. I’d like to say he’s on my shit list for eternity, but I have friends that waste my fucking time on the regular so this is nothing new. How on earth he thought his time was more valuable than that of twenty other fucking people is beyond me, but at least I’m not the designated ass hole today.

Here is where things are going to really start to slow down. The general plan is this: motor out to a beach or snorkel site, chill for a while, move on to another, chill for a while, repeat over and over again until the sun is about to set and we make it to a base camp. Then The Juan and some other crew sets up our bed and mosquito netting in assigned open air huts, we have dinner and socialize a bit before bed. Weave into that about ten beers, a bottle of champagne, some sunset jungle juice and whatever the hell else strikes your fancy (in my case, vodka) and you’ve got yourself a Tao Expedition. I should also mention that the food is fabulous and plentiful, but mainly fish, so I’m the queen of the side dishes. For the record, being a vegetarian is fucking boring. I’ve heard there might be a roasted pig one night if we’re lucky, but I’m trying not to get my bad Jew hopes up.  Also, the bartender’s name is Dong.  Which means I am finally in a situation where it is perfectly acceptable to see who can scream “Dong!” the loudest while drunk.  Although it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the game, doesn’t it?

Our first stop was a snorkel site with site with a World War II shipwreck just a few feet below the surface. Let the record show that we made it to the first stop before breaking out the beer. The group of Dutch women started doing flips off the boat as best they could. Apparently they all met in college in a gymnastics club about thirty years ago – they claimed it was twenty years ago, but I’m calling bullshit. If these girls are gymnasts, time has not been kind. Which is why I have decided to refer to them from here on out as the “Gym-nots”. Yeah, I know, my bitchiness knows no bounds.  Trust me, these women are as annoying as they come.  And they talk incessantly.  To anyone who will listen.  About themselves.  And their kids.  And their gymnastics club that they were a part of in the 90’s.  Girlfriend, unless Bela Karolyi himself forced you to do a hand stand on a balance beam with a broken arm to win an Olympic medal, I don’t give a shit about your decades old cartwheeling hobby.  Please shut the fuck up.

Our second stop was what they call a “drift snorkel”. We all hop off the boat and snorkel down a reef along with the ocean current, and the boat comes and picks us up at the other end. The coral here is actually stunning. None of that dead shitty coral that you find outside resorts, having been murdered by ass hole tourists. But you all know my view of snorkeling – unless you have a turtle or a stingray or perhaps a merman to hold my interest, I’m done after ten minutes.

Next, we stopped at one of Tao’s other base camps where the shorter three night expeditions stay. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s called camp Ngey Ngey. Our favorite name in the Filipino language. We had some beers and explored the island and the girls played a little bocce ball. I watched a group of people play beach volleyball while looking on with serious FOMO, since I’m still out of commission due to my shoulder. There was probably another snorkel stop at some point, but honestly I just can’t remember.  Once we start hitting the beers, there is no point in stopping.

We arrived at our camp for the night at a small island with all the running water you can use – which is apparently quite a treat because you can take a real shower.  Newsflash – even if the water is plentiful, a cold shower still can’t last more than three minutes.  I got pretty sick around 7 pm – I still can’t seem to totally shake this bug – so I took a xanax and went to bed. Apparently Mar got shit faced and fell off a dock into water infested with box jellyfish, so I’m pissed I missed that shit show.  Luckily I’ve seen her taken a drunken stumble off a boat before so envisioning that scene is not difficult.  There were some pretty cool bio luminescent plankton (that means glow in the dark shit in the water), but I missed that while puking into a hole in the ground.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

This morning I woke up feeling much better. Breakfast was fucking awesome and I was in high spirits. I just realized I have not yet regaled you with intricacies of relieving your bowels on a Tao Expedition.  Brace yourselves, you’re in for a treat. A flushing toilet is laughably out of the question. We have what are called “wet toilets”. It’s a normal toilet with no toilet seat, and you use a bucket of water to basically drown your own shit.  Who needs plumbing when you have Newton’s law of gravity? There is more squatting going on here than a Richard Simmons thigh burning video. They claim that it is perfectly hygienic to sit on the toilets, but how you sit on a wet seat-less toilet bowl and not automatically assume that you are lounging directly on someone else’s piss is beyond me. It takes a little getting used to. Or so they tell me – it’s day 4 and my quads are looking pretty tight and right.

I honestly can’t remember exactly what we did today. I mean, we did the usual island hopping, snorkeling, eating combo, but I started hitting the vodka pretty early today so if you’re looking for island names, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Most of my boat mates find it odd that I spend all day laying out baking in the sun. I find it odd that they spend the day with rash guards on trying to avoid it. At least my modus operandi isn’t an exercise in futility. But I’m the weird one?

Kristie claims we went to a marine sanctuary for some snorkeling. It must have been more of a coral sanctuary or I would have remembered it. We stopped for some cliff jumping after lunch and ran into another Tao Expedition boat. You know how I was wondering the other day where all the good looking people were? Well, they are on this other boat. They even mooned us. It was an odd feeling, to be on the B-team boat getting mooned by the fun, hot boat. I’m usually on the other end of that equation.  I think the problem was that I filled out my Tao Expedition form using my real age, instead of my travel age.  Next time I’m marking the 20-30 yr old box and doubling up on botox before I leave so no one calls me on my shit. I also can’t help but notice that seven spots on our boat are taken up by a bunch of gym-nots in mom bathing suits which significantly brings down our boat’s metrics. I’ll refer to the other boat as Chlamydia, but that’s only because they probably refer to our boat as Birth Control. There is a silver lining though. I still have my voice because there are no loud obnoxious drunkards to yell over for attention – other than myself and Dave, of course. Also, my appearance is of zero concern to me for five full days. Oh, and I can stuff my fucking face in my bikini without any concern for an unsightly food baby. I can even rub my full belly as I sit on the front of the boat tanning like a beached whale. Is this the kind of indifference that married people feel on a regular basis? Because if so, I might have to get a husband. I’m sure the applications will be pouring in the second this blog goes to print.

We made it to our base camp before the sun went down, and a tipsy sunset photo session ensued. Our shower tonight consisted of everyone being allotted four scoops of water from a communal bucket. Oh, the spoils! It may not sound like much, but looking cute is a such a waste of time that a few scoops of water actually goes a long way. We had dinner on the beach with a bonfire raging. I can’t remember what we ate because (1) it was fish and (2) I was drunk. My vodka sodas started at 11 am and ended around midnight. 13 hours of vodka drinking might be a record for even me. I’m a model for constant self improvement, obviously.  I forced the crew to drink a lot of vodka with me and the Filipinos got SUPER drunk.  Vodka is not their thing.  Rum is their poison of choice.  The lazy man’s booze.  Rory playing bartender with a bunch of Filipinos is basically like pitting Vladimir Putin against Jimmy Buffett in a vodka drinking contest.  They never had a chance.   Our chef, who’s name is The King declared me as his Queen.  If that doesn’t get me some extra pork rations later in the trip, I don’t know what will.  A super weird bonfire dance party ensued, courtesy of Kristie as the DJ.  The gym-nots even joined in for a hot minute.  I assume it must have been because Bon Jovi came on at some point.  Or YMCA.  It basically looked like a dance floor made up of the cast of a season of Survivor.  I’m sure the Chlamydia boat would have laughed their asses off at us, but was actually pretty fucking fun.

In the next blog, I almost die.  I’m currently back at home in California writing this blog while on bed rest and low quality pain killers.  It’s not yet funny for me, but I have no intention of depriving you of the opportunity to laugh at my misfortune, so stay tuned.

The Motorbiking Mamas of Bohol

Friday, January 5, 2017

The other day on our countryside tour, after about our fifth beer, Mar and I came up with the brilliant idea to take a motorbike tour through the countryside a few days later. We asked our driver Paul if he could arrange for two guys on motorbikes to take us to a waterfall on Bohol that I had read about online and some caves on Panglao. Having taken a few motorbike rides home after bars a few nights here in the Philippines, it was clear that girls on motorbikes just have more fun. The only problem is that I hate to drive, and while Mar would love to get behind the wheel, I won’t get on the back of a motorbike she is driving. Because I have known her almost fifteen years. So I know better. Not a problem – for about $10 you can have a nice FIlipino guy drive you around the island for half a day. One would think I would have learned my lesson from my twelve hour motorbike tour from hell through the Thai countryside courtesy of Kim Ortloff a few years ago, but apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. Kristie’s plan was to head to Alona Beach and go diving for the day.

We had texted Paul a few times yesterday to confirm our tour, but never got a response. We gave up and just accepted the fact that our motorbike adventure would not happen. At 8 am, Kristie went out to catch a tricycle to town but came running back to tell Mar and I that two guys on motorbikes were outside waiting for us. We talked to Paul on their phone and apparently he couldn’t respond to our texts and our hotel is incapable of giving messages. We were checking out that day, so Mar and I hauled ass back to the room for a complete shit storm of frantic packing so that we could check out before hopping on the bikes with Tims (my driver) and a guy who’s name I can’t remember – but it was a two syllable name that repeated, so we’re just going to refer to him as Nigi-Nigi because it makes us giggle.

In all the hurried confusion it did not even occur to us that it had been raining earlier that morning and there was a distinct possibility that it would continue raining that day. I’m sure it goes without saying that it did rain. It rained hard. People looked on in utter bewilderment as these two dumb shit white chicks sped past them on the back of some random Filipino guys’ bikes in the pouring fucking rain through the countryside of Bohol. Do you know what pouring rain feels like at 60+ km an hour on a motorbike? Needles all over your fucking body. Meanwhile, Mar-Mar is happy as a clam on her bike, arms stretched out wide, head back, jaw unhinged collecting rain water, screaming “whooooooooo!”. At one point our drivers just looked at each other as if to say “what the fuck have we gotten ourselves into?”. At another point, they actually stopped to call Paul to make sure they weren’t lost. I shit you not. And then, after almost an hour on those damn bikes in the pouring rain, we arrive at Camiguin Falls. Was it worth it? Hell yes it was. It was worth every single minute.

The waterfall first appeared in the distance through the jungle and I instantly knew we hit the travel jackpot. It stopped raining right as we arrived at a little shack where we were told to sign our names in the visitor book – we were the first guests of the day. Jims and Nigi Nigi then lead us into the jungle down a muddied path with slippery stone steps, until the canopy revealed a series of emerald green pools. We hiked along each of the pools until we reached the waterfall. It looked like something straight out of the jungle book, and we had it all to ourselves. I’m assuming that’s mainly because we are the only tourists crazy or dumb enough to attempt the journey in the rain, but either way, I’ll take it. Mar and I immediately stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in. Our guides tried to creepily snap pictures of us as if we didn’t notice. I’d probably want a picture of the crazy bitches that made me drive and hour in the rain on bike too. So I could put up “Beware” posters of them all over town for the other guides.

We spent a while swimming and jumping into the big emerald green pool at the base of the waterfall and eventually hiked back to the bikes. We breathed a sigh of relief that the rain and stopped and were looking forward to a far more pleasant ride back to Panglao. We got about twenty minutes of sunshine on those damn bikes before, wouldn’t you know it, the skies opened back up. At this point, we were immune. Our next stop was Hinagdanan cave back on Panglao, near our hotel. It’s basically a cave with a big natural pool you can swim in. If there is one thing I love more than a cave, it’s swimming in one. This stop was more touristy, complete with a ticket office. We were told it cost extra to swim, so we paid for the special swimming ticket. It wasn’t until we got down into the cave that we realized no one is checking who has a swimming ticket and who doesn’t. Swindled out of another $1.50. Oh, the horror. We swam around in the cave until some Asian tourists joined us an proceeded to kick us in the face vigorously like it was YMCA swimming lesson. We took our leave and headed back to the hotel, where we bid adieu to Jims and Nigi Nigi, tipping generously for humoring us in the pouring rain.

Back at our hotel, we discovered Kristie didn’t actually get to go out on her dive, because she was supposed to do some sort of refresher course for her certification. We loaded up all our shit and transferred about a mile down the road to Amorita resort (our current resort was sold out tonight). This new hotel was fucking beautiful, with an infinity pool overlooking all over Alona Beach. The check in process was bizarre – customer service here borders on deranged, so we just grabbed some lounge chairs by the pool and glasses of ice and started making our own vodka sodas.

Once we finally got into our room, we moved over to the larger infinity pool where we, believe it or not, continued to drink. We met a nice Italian man who lives a few blocks from Kristie in Venice. The hotel hosted a sunset happy hour with free drinks. We went to dinner at their tapas restaurant which was the best meal of the trip so far. We were even treated to a fireworks show courtesy of a wedding at the neighboring hotel. Our plan was to go out that night, but we had been informed by our Italian friend that there isn’t much in terms of nightlife, so we headed to bed early.

Saturday, January 6, 2017

Today I woke up with some sort of stomach bug. It basically felt like I was being stabbed in the abdomen aggressively all day. Whenever the pain hit I just shouted “contraction!”. Today we are taking the fast ferry to Dumaguete, where we will stay a night before catching our flight to Coron the following morning. We headed to the ferry around 11 am where the ticket buying process was a complete assault on practicality and efficiency. First you get in a line to buy your ticket. The lady at the ticket counter yelled at me for already asking her a question early. I told her it must have been a different white girl because I just got here. Apparently we all look alike. Then you move into another line about 2 feet to your right and give the tickets you just bought to the guy at the check-in counter. At that point, you move to a line ten feet to your left, on the other side of the ticket-buying line to check your bags. After that we attempted to enter the ferry terminal – silly us. First you have to go into the line on the very far right of all the other previous lines to pay your terminal fee. After all this, you can finally enter the terminal and board your boat. We arrived in Dumaguete and basically just chilled there the rest of the day. Because it’s kind of a shit hole of a town. And I felt like shit.  Although our hotel, Florentina Hotel, was fucking adorable. TripAdvisor for the win.

Sunday, January 7, 2017

We headed to the Dumaguete airport around 8:30 am to catch our flight to Busuanga (Coron) via Manila. That’s right, we are braving the Manila airport. But its a quick transfer within the same terminal, so it will be painless this time. I have somehow taken numerous flights within the Philippines thus far without writing about the firearm drop-off desk. Outside of each airport is a desk where you can drop off your firearm before boarding your flight. I guess it’s like airport parking for your gun. Because god forbid you drive to the airport without your gun. Nothing like a big “Firearm” neon sign to give you the warm and fuzzies before boarding your flight. We checked in with Philippine Airlines and got into a fight with them over baggage – apparently we were over the limit and they wanted to charge us. Twice. One charge for each leg of the trip. Do you have any idea how hard it is to fight with Filipinos? They are so damn sweet and calm at all times. It’s like trying to argue with Barney. Or a Canadian. You just end up looking like a total prick. And all they do is repeat themselves over and over again until you give up because, in actuality, its not a lot of money and its clear they don’t give a fuck, so they just won’t let our bags on the plane. The thought of being trapped in Dumaguete makes me want to help myself to the firearm drop-off bonanza and end it.

I’ll end it here, because I’m out of time and am about to board my five day boat through the Palawan islands. Which means no wifi for five days. Which means no blog for five days. Later losers!