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RTW #6: Here Today, Guam Tomorrow

The Micro-Nation of Brunei

Posted by on Jan 31, 2011 | 0 comments

The Micro-Nation of Brunei

Since I was flying Royal Air Brunei from Borneo to the Philippines, I got a bonus stopover in Brunei I didn’t have much time in Brunei (just a 5 hour layover) but as it turned out, I didn’t need it. This tiny sultanate makes up less than 1% of Borneo’s landmass. In fact, if it weren’t for the discovery of oil in 1929, which turned the tiny state into an economic power overnight, it was destined to be swallowed up by neighboring Malaysia.

Formerly a British protectorate, Brunei has been completely independent since 1984.  In the years since, the nation has veered toward Islamic fundamentalism adopting a national ideology known as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB). In 1991, alcohol was banned and stricter dress codes were introduced. Brunei is ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Sultan Omar Saifuddien who was instrumental in the country’s independence.

I really only had two things on my layover agenda in Brunei’s capital of Bandar Seri Begawan:  1) visit the water villages and 2) see the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. So, after clearing immigration, I headed out to the taxi queue in search of my driver for the day. After finding one and agreeing on a price, we headed toward town.

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Underwater in the Philippines

Posted by on Feb 1, 2011 | 0 comments

Underwater in the Philippines

My stop in the Philippines got off to a slow start thanks to a 3 hour delay in Manila for my flight to the southern Philippine island of Cebu. When I finally landed in Cebu, it was almost 10pm and – I swear to God – raining sideways. Swell.

Luckily, my hotel – the Hilton Cebu – wasn’t far from the airport on Mactan Island. I made my way to the hotel and was checked in to a lovely spa suite. (Bonus points for Hilton – there was a bottle of wine waiting on the living room table.) Though the suite was gorgeous, it was on a high floor on the corner of the building and the winds outside were so strong there was an impossibly loud whistling sound coming from the windows throughout the night which made sleep a challenge.

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Wowed by Palau

Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 | 0 comments

Wowed by Palau

After days of rain in the Philippines, when I landed in Palau at 2:00am the most positive thing I can say about the weather is that it was not raining sideways. It was, however, raining in a circular motion reminiscent of something I may have seen on the Discovery Channel. Seriously, I have video. Come on Palau, you cannot be serious.

The good news was that at least a driver from my hotel, the Palau Royal Resort, was waiting to greet me – a welcome relief at this ridiculous hour. By the time I got to the hotel and settled into my lovely room it was after 3am. I had scheduled a full day outing with Sam’s Tours (the primary diving outfit on the island) for a tour of the Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake but with the weather I wasn’t sure we’d even still be going.

After managing 2 or 3 hours of sleep, I awoke to slightly better weather outside and sure enough, someone from Sam’s was at the hotel to pick me up at 8am. When I arrived at the marina, I was introduced to my guide, Malahi, and the couple from France who would make up the rest of our small group.

We climbed into our boat and headed out for a day on the water.

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Here Today, Guam Tomorrow

Posted by on Feb 4, 2011 | 0 comments

Here Today, Guam Tomorrow

Because of its proximity to the International Date Line, the island of Guam is the first US territory to greet each new day inspiring its slogan “where America’s Day begins.”

But before arriving in Guam, my flight from Palau made an interesting stop on the island of Yap. I’d not heard of Yap but let me tell you, what seemed like the entire royal family boarded the flight draped in crowns of flowers and leis. Still not sure if all the flowers meant they were A) a wedding party B) the actual royal family or C) just making an everyday Yap fashion statement.

As the Yap passengers boarded, one flower-draped islander turned to the other behind him and snapped a photo rattling off a string of words I didn’t understand followed by one that I did, “Facebook.”

Yes folks, even Yap is on Facebook. (Mark Zuckerberg, you deserve every single one of those billions of dollars.)

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Always Perfect Auckland

Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 | 2 comments

Always Perfect Auckland

After 4 nights in a row sleeping on airplanes, I arrived in Auckland from Guam feeling like I’d been hit by a truck.

I was exhausted and in the early stages of what promised to be a very nasty cold. Luckily, I’d already had the foresight to schedule the remedy – a morning at the spa! Thanks to my daily deal e-mails from Auckland’s “Grab One” (the NZ version of Groupon), I’d gotten a steal on a massage and Japanese Stone Spa treatment at a spa only two blocks from my rental apartment. Since I couldn’t pick up the keys to the apartment until 2pm and I landed at 9am, I scheduled the spa appointment for 11am.

It was exactly what I needed and highly preferable to sitting around miserable for 3 hours waiting for the apartment guy. After a few hours at the spa, I was feeling almost human again.

I had just enough time to run by the grocery store for a few essentials (i.e. wine…and some food) before heading to the apartment.

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The Cook Islands: Tahiti Without the French

Posted by on Feb 11, 2011 | 2 comments

The Cook Islands: Tahiti Without the French

I left New Zealand on Saturday night at 7:30pm and landed in Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, just after midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning, thanks to a crossing of the International Date Line. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following along on this trip that it was raining profusely when I landed. Here we go again.

But, even at 12:30am, there was a cheerful islander with a ukulele playing soothing tropical tunes at the baggage carousel so I forced myself to get into the island mood. And, happily, there was someone from my hotel waiting to pick me up. I’d been having second thoughts about my hotel choice for the past few days so at least this was a positive start. In no time, I was in the car and on my way to the hotel in hopes of getting a few hours of sleep before setting out to explore Rarotonga.

Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Where in the heck are the Cook Islands?” A quick check of Google maps will verify the fact that I truly am in the middle of nowhere here in the beautiful South Pacific. My hotel choice for my 4-night stay on the Cook’s main island of Rarotonga was Vara’s Beach House. Known primarily as a popular backpacker guest house, Vara’s also featured beachfront studios with private bath that appealed to non-backpacker types (that’s me!) as well. I’d read good things about Vara’s online and at $60/night the price was certainly right so I figured I’d give it a try. How bad could it be?

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