15 January 2008

Brunei's Best Lifestyle Blog 2007

The results are finally out.

Congratulations to the winner of Brunei's Best Lifestyle Blog - Brunei Fishing! I'm absolutely thrilled that Womaninawetsuit came in 2nd. Although the diving community is rather small in Brunei, I'm sure more than divers alone are fascinated by the underwater world. I hope this blog has/will inspire people in one way or another to explore earth's beautiful landscapes and its magical seas. Like Lonely Planet would say,
"the hardest decision about travelling is making the decision to go,

Many thanks to my dive buddies, travel buddies, family, friends and readers for all your votes!

07 January 2008

Goa, where life is colourful - Day 2

.24 Dec 2007.

.Another great chillout track.

Getting up at 7am after a night filled with Kingfisher and Baileys is a chore. Secretly, I hoped Caryn wanted to sleep in too but that woman simply can’t wait to dive. When we got to Marriott India Resort, I only wished I had a 5-digit salary so I can wake up to room service and an amazing view of Mandovi River. But again, that isn’t what I had set out for.

Barracuda Dive Resort has only a small office space and a cabin big enough for some gears to its name. That was it. No bathroom? No toilet? What? Not even allowed to shower in Marriott. -_-! We rushed like mad to be there by 8.30 only to wait an hour for two other divers that slept in. And what's worst we had to carry our own gear onboard. Why??? If it wasnt for that Xmas tree! ... GRRrrr ...

.(R) With Ivan, our dive instructor and Baldy (forgot his name =P, he seemed fine with it when i called him Baldy).

Lugging myself to the boat with that incredible full tank i've not carried for months was scary! I'm a weakling again. Nvm, i scanned the entire boat for that Xmas tree we're about to plant. Why are there no signs of a tree?? Do they need another boat for it? I cried out loud "Where's the xmas tree?" And as casually as he could, the boatman reached under the seats and lift this MIDGET tree. Jesuzzzzzzz! Usually, my sarcasm would be bursting to erupt... but i tried to be nice, put up a smile and "Oh, it's cute huhhhh". At least Santa was sitting on top of that tree. >_<

.Dont we look extremely "exhilarated"??.

The ride out to Arabian Sea was gorgeous, when we finally arrived at our first dive site atop a ship wreck... somehow that place reminded me of Oman. It was surrounded by mountains and cliffs, overwhelming...

.Popsy's so coool - aged people, too, enjoy diving.

Before our dive, we have been warned that the best days in Goa promises only 3-5metres of visbility! And this being a cool season does not in anyway fit in the "best days" category. After a few mins debate, Ivan insisted i should be warm in a shortie. Right, 10 minutes into my dive.. i started shivering. I have to admit there's nothing to brag about the dive sites in Goa. The wreck is practically deserted, there were hardly any soft corals. So Caryn and I basically spent our time looking for macros.
After our dive,
Ivan, who was leading our dive: "Ladies, you only covered 1/5th of the wreck!"
Me: "Huh, why didnt u tell us?? i thought i was circling around the same area again and again"
Ivan: "I thought u both were really intrigued by that corner so i let you be"
Me: -_-!

.Merry Christmas Goa...Hohoho.

.Just about the 3 most interesting slugs i saw in an entire dive.

I benched the 2nd dive, it was just too cold. While everyone was gearing up, i was digging for food. Muhuuhuu. Found some bananas! Ok Caryn insist i write this bit cos she laughed so hard when it happened that she teared.

Embarassing Moment #1:

Picture me on the boat biting off my last bit of banana, leaning over the boat to find Baldy bobbing right below me. I have no friggin' idea why but i dangled the 'nana skin on top of his head and chanted in Cantonese:

"Yak jiu pei ler lei (Eat banana skin la u)"

"Tiaw hei lei ker min lerrr (Throw it at your face k?)". At this point, Caryn came over to see who i was talking to only to find Baldy staring up at me looking far more than puzzled... He slowly paddled away from me. Then she starting laughing up a storm, and me suddenly realising what i just did. My back almost snapped from laughter, Caryn was wiping tears off her face then

Ivan: "Sorry ladies, i dont mean to interrupt your moment here." Ok, everyone dived in and i took an hour worth of nap in the calm Arabian Sea.

2nd dive in Sail Rock reef was worst than the wreck. Thank God i didnt go. While i was trying to get a tan, Venkat handed out plastic cups to everyone "We should cheers to Xmas, Merry Xmas!" I took a sip.. wow.. this thing is friggin' champagne! Sipping champagne in the Arabian Sea, can it be any better?

.Until........ THIS!!

.Click to enlarge if you're brave enough.

He totally ruined it! He had the nerve to squat at the edge of the boat, do his business (we all saw it drop), reach for the saltwater to wipe his bottom with his manhood dangling freestyle (we all saw it), all while maintaining the same position. Fear Factor Style. Do it the Goan way.

Anyways, Venkat, Caryn and I were sharing our diving experiences and somehow managed to convince Venkat that he and his entourage have to dive in Brunei, where our corals shout BEAUTIFUL! So, hopefully Divebums can organise something for them this year.

Back at the hotel, we were cold, we were starving, we ordered room service.

.Veg Combo Meal. Everything in India is either Veg or Non-Veg.

Roaming the streets of Baga

Considering it's the cold season in India now, it's scorching hot here in Goa. Our hotel is gobsmacked in the middle of market heaven. There's a tent filled with Tibetans selling their garments and handicrafts, walls of insanely colourful bags and shoes, ancient compasses and telephones from Hongkong!, lingering aroma of Goan spices, bistros populated by half-naked Europeans, hippies with the dreadlocks, cows crossing roads, orchaestral honks, auto-rickshaws that seem to think you're invisible.
And not to mention Genuine Fakes!

Even with all that madness going on, we felt safe. That is one sure thing of Goa. People do not harrass you.

As with any other market in the world, when you buy, you have to haggle. Vasu told us we have to wrestle the price down to 25% and then settle for 50%. But when you're quoted 100 rupees ($4) for a nice cotton tshirt, do you seriously have the heart to bargain anymore? I suck big time at it.

______________________Xmas Eve____________________

It being Xmas Eve, i had to eat Italian food. I miss my pasta. Bella Ciao The Italian Restaurant at La Calypso hotel was our 1st choice, but again thanks to Vasu's recommendation and he was kind enough to make reservations for us, we relocated to A'Riveri Restaurant. You'd be shocked to find such an exquisite restaurant in Goa. Who can afford to eat here? Again, it's packed with Expats!

.How can you not clean out every single grain of this food?.

Embarassing Moment #2:

When the bill came, i dugged out a 10,000 note from my wallet, slipped it in and signalled for the waiter to take it away. *Pause* I wondered why do i still have so much money and why do i have such a big note. A moment later, their manager came over worried "Sorry madamme, but you paid in the wrong currency." -_-!! Friggin' rupiah from my last trip to Bali. Beri malu!

It was part of our intention to spend Xmas with the locals, so we told Vasu to expect us for countdown. When we reached Mirabai's, fireworks filled the sky. Vasu's chefs were skipping around, clapping their hands, and dancing away... Vasu joined in their celebration not as the owner of Mirabai, not as their boss, but as their friend. They looked like they were living their 2nd childhood. They seemed very happy, genuinely happy.

.Caryn thought Mirabai's staff, waiters, chefs or bartenders, should have their fair share of VIP treatment so she became the waitress for the night. "Bad" woman, remember?! Funny thing is they had full of respect for her.

.I have been eyeing this Kingfisher neon display bottle since the very 1st day. Only available from the distributors of Kingfisher, Vasu so generously gave it to us as a Xmas present!.

After countdown, it was off to Paradiso again. They were playing a variety of music, from Shakira to Beyonce to dance and Goa trance. It is said that Goa was a hippie mecca back in the 1960s and '70s.. and Goa trance were developed by these hippies of which comprises international DJs from Europe, Australiasia and Japan. Boris Blenn described it as "ever changing. Forever true. In the name of love. Dance for paradise." Paul Oakenfold, too arranged a few Goa recordings in his own dance label. After a couple of spins of Western compilations, you'd hear shouts for "Bhangra" music by the locals.

.These 3 dudes totally mastered the art of "Bhangra" dance.

. (L) Cool pose dudes!.
.(R) Random dude: "Hi, I'm a very nice guy, I'm from Harvard."
Caryn: "Hi, I'm from Yale!"

Met 2 Canadian-Hongkies, William - who was on an Indian odyssey as well and Mike - who's heading to Mumbai for a wedding. Apparently they went back to Goa for NYE?? Oh and they suck at HongKong's infamous "Chai-wui". =P

Friggin' Highlight of the Night!
.It was a long day.

05 January 2008

Goa, where life is colourful - Day 1

.23 Dec 2007.

You have to listen to this Goan chillout i found at the flea market when reading this post. It's amazing.

Goa is an unexpected surprise, we knew it as a destination where we could dive and perhaps chill by the beach when we first decided to go there. Little did we know, we'd make good friends, feel as welcomed and bring home so much good memories.

.Travel route: Baga, Panaji, Old Goa, Anjuna.

Goa, the tiny state lying on the west coast of India, is known for its world famous beaches, swaying coconut palms and delicious seafood. A little history on Goa tells that its natural harbours and wide rivers was an ideal base for the seafaring Portuguese, who then controlled the trade routes (dominantly spices) across the Indian Ocean and widely spread Christianity. It's Portuguese influence is evident when i visited Old Goa, it does not feel like you're in India at all.

Upon arrival in Goa, we were quite stunned at the miniscule size of the airport but relieved at the sight of other foreigners. Right outside the airport were flocks of "receivers" hustling for their guests. Thankfully, without much trouble, i spotted a "Lee, Yong".. that's me!! If you notice, there's a string of flowers hanging from the license plate. I later found out from my driver in New Delhi that Saturday is considered a "bad" day in India. The charm is for good luck, any cabs with those charms will be preferred by passengers. Though, he failed to explain to me in his bestest English why Saturday is a "bad" day. It will remain a mystery until i'm free enough to google it.

.View of Goa from atop.

.(L) Is that Hiro Nakamura??. (R) This is what i deem self-confidence!.

The ride from the airport to Baga is roughly one hour. In this one hour, i've gasped at men pissing by the roadside, stuck my head outside the window for that cool breeze, wowed at the winding uphill routes with a town view, sweared at the deafening, undying honks, hollered at cows and laughed at a family of five cramped in a tiny bike signalling to turn right by waving their hands. It's unbelievable. The idea of us being in India, and celebrating Xmas in a place we've only learned about the past week hasnt exactly sunk in yet. Occassionally, we'd turn to each other and blurt out a "I cant believe we're here babe..."

.From Panaji to Baga.

When we finally reached our hotel, we had to brace ourselves for what's instore. The walk to the reception reeked of cowdung and piss, there were millions of mosquitoes zooming for my legs, gahhhh BUDGET la BUDGET! It looked so much better in the pictures posted in MakeMyTrip. Though it's cramped, i must say it's comfortable at a basic level. What's important is the bathroom is clean! While i was spritzing away with my anti-mosquito can, Caryn screamed "OMG, there's a balcony!!" That balcony is a huge blessing. >_< Muhuuhuu. Oh and the 35rupees Kingfisher beer.

.Goan Holiday Resort, Baga.

A couple of bottles later led to nightfall. It's dinnertime! I had a whole list of restaurants to choose from, all top-rated by travellers. As it's our 1st night, we wanted to try some local food, Mirabai's review stood out among the rest: "The best! Authentic Goan. Good, excellent sea food, charming knowledgeable owner" and that was the best decision we've made.

.By Baga beach.

Mirabai's built like an open shack, laid with seatings in and outside the restaurant where you can kick off your sandals and dig your feet into the cool, soft sand. We chose to sit ourselves on the upper deck right under the moonlight fanned by coconut trees. It's absolute bliss.

.Cheap Goan food.

So we ordered with the "everything must try" attitude and ended up with more than we can swallow. The appetisers, esp Chicken Rama Fry, Beef Chili Fry, distinct taste are totally indescribable. We later found out that it is the spices that gives it that strange yet absolutely delicious taste and aroma i've not savour before in my life. No Joke!

Now, this drink deserves the *drumroll*. Before i came, a guidebook on Goa highlighted it as "a drink you should not take on an empty stomach, a drink you should offer your friends if you want to incapacitate them", a drink we thought we have to try! It is Goa's most famous double distilled perfectly clear and fearfully potent drink that is made from cashew nuts - Feni. Respect man...

We asked the waiter if we should have a shot before our meal, his face wrinkled almost immediately, shaking his head "Nooo, nooo, maybe a little.. hmm nooo". Better take his advice 'cos we know the word that goes around;

"You dont realise how strong it is until you get up."

.The killer - Feni. Needless to say i brought some back muhuuhuu.

Vasu, the owner of Mirabai checked in on us. He thought he's got a prank call when i called to make reservations. The whole restaurant was packed with expatriates and he seemed to know all of them individually. He first appeared cool and collected but slowly ease in to our conversation. I, being keypoh as usual tossed him a million and one questions about Goa, about their culture, about his life, and about feni. So, i found out that most women in Goa do not work. You wont find any women working as waitresses, salesgirls, bartenders or anything along that line in Goa, those who dare to will be judged and deemed a "bad" woman. And if they do work, they are usually found doing menial office jobs.

According to Vasu, life is Goa is pretty much laid-back. People are not very rich here, but they're not very poor either. They are all in a way contented with their life. Crime rate is very low, which i have to agree when i dont feel the least threatened when i walk down the streets.

It wasnt long before we thought we should start making a move, to Tito's, supposedly a very popular nightclub in Goa. Even my orthodontist told me i have to go to Tito's. But Vasu quickly brush us off "No.. the most happening nightclub in Goa now is Paradiso" and offered to drive us there when he closes up. How nice!

With Vasu.

.Mirabai - the wonderful restaurant, named after Vasu's mum.

.While waiting for Vasu, his amazing dog Sheeka led us down the neverending beach, constantly turning to check that we're on his tail. Along the beach lies an entire stretch of bars and restaurants all donned with christmas decorations and striking neon lights. People were jiggying to the latest bollywood tunes, britney spears is blasting in the next bar while we
stopped for shisha and a glass of kingfisher. It was a psychedelic experience.

Vasu cut through alot of corners, into villages, over tons of humps and it got us wondering where the hell is he taking us. After a good 20minutes, we were greeted by a huge Paradiso sign sporting a pink lotus - which was considered the "sacrosanct third eye" by Om-tattooed European Goahead ravers. Vasu handslapped the owner and got us in for free, which would have otherwise cost us a 1000 rupees each, with free flow of drinks. N.I.C.E.

As we channeled down the staircase that has a prehistoric touch to it, faint sounds of trance rhythms started piercing my ears. There were Europeans everywhere, lazing on the sunchairs, dancing, and snapping away.

Vasu showed us around the club and led us down another set of stairs to a private open space that is usually open for big events and VIPs. Here is when we realised what the club is sitting on. Paradiso is actually poised on a wind-blown Anjuna cliff top. The view is absolutely stunning.

Our 1st day in Goa has been very positive. Meeting Vasu was a bonus. With a contented stomach, we went to bed early to freshen up for our Xmas Dive the next morning.
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