Inspirational Interview with Lauro Serra-Polancos

I have known Lauro through a travel website that we both used called Travbuddy . His blogs and photos have amazed me. He is an inspiring traveller who loves to explore the great outdoors, especially the mountains in Spain. I hope his travel and experience inspires you as much as it inspires me.  This is Lauro’s interview.

Who or what inspired you to travel?

It was my father. He is the vagabond in the family and I rarely saw him when I was growing up. Because of his job, he has been to exotic places around the world.

He would send us postcards as far as Djibouti and Panama. He brought home two skulls of different species of sharks from South Africa which I was fascinated with as a child. We had a huge world map at home and whenever my father came  home he would ask me to pin the places he had been to and I would get a reward for that. It  helped me a lot with geography.

My mother also influenced me. She bought me encyclopaedias and other educational books for which it opened my eyes to the world. I dreamed and yearned that someday I would visit the places in the books that I  read and  in the world map that was hanging in our living room.

What have you learnt from traveling?

I have learnt how to respect because respect is a premier quality of a human being.

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Have you travelled much in the Philippines , If so where?

Yes I did, I already travelled around when I was 5 cause my parents came from different islands in the central part of the country. So every summer until I was 15, I usually tagged along either with my mother or father to visit their hometowns and if my father was home, he usually dragged me along with our little jeep to do small road trips in the nearby provinces around the capital.

When I was 18 my friends and I would do out of town road trips just to get drunk and do crazy things but in my early 20’s things changed when I went with my best friend deep into the heart of the cordillera mountains in the Philippines.

Many people go to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos  but often miss out on the Philippines. Why do you think so and what are they missing out on?

Hmmmm, geographically speaking, the Philippines isn’t connected to mainland Asia, I think that hinders travelling unlike Thailand, Laos, Cambodia for which one could take a bus and then cross the border in a flash but now we have low cost airlines that operates around South East Asia with connections to the Philippines. I think that will change alot in the coming future, of course it would take its time but we will surely be up there.

Well, apart from the fine beaches and thousands of islands we have, the Philippines belong to the small elite group of mega diverse countries. Our ecosystem is quite unique: we have cloud and pine forests, tropical jungles, volcanoes, sand dunes, coral reefs…  I just think our government needs a little bit of  a push to tap these resources to promote eco-tourism in our country, not just domestically but internationally as well.

Philippines doesn’t have a great reputation for its food compared to other Asian counties in the region. Does the Philippines deserve this reputation? What is the food really like there?

Oh that is so wrong (laughs). The Philippines was a crossroad for traders and travellers even before our colonization from spain. Ancient traders from India, China, Indonesia and the Pacific islands have settled briefly in the Philippines and brought along with them their culinary culture. Our cuisine has been influenced by many for centuries.

The Filipino cuisine caters to different palates from sweet, salty to spicy. Then came the Spanish who brought with them the European cuisine influence and mixed it with the native produce in the Philippines to create distinct Spanish-Filipino dishes.

Let me give some examples: for the Spanish-Filipino  we have mechado, menudo (with potatoes and tomatoes) and caldo (hot soup). For the Chinese influenced dishes – we have  batchoy, stir-fried noodles, deep fried rolls etc. What I like is our traditional dish called pinakbet – my mother makes them really nice.  What I remember was that my mother prepared it with calabasa (a vegetable brought in by the spanish colonizers from Hispanic America) and stir fried it with native vegetables, sauteed in pork fat with meat and preserved brine shrimp.

You have a love for the outdoors, especially the mountains. Tell us about your first experience in the mountains?

This was the time  my bestfriend and I went into the Cordillera mountains in the Philippines when I was  21. I still remember how it was, we took a very small bus and drove into the heart of the mountain range.

There were some sections on the road that were  so narrow that could only support one vehicle, so you have to stop to give way to the other vehicle coming from the other direction while holding on for dear life as there was no protection from the ravine, thousands of meters deep on the side.

As we went higher on the road, the appearance of the people were different from the lowlands. They had pinky cheeks, their eyes  slanted more,their hair was scruffy  sort of like Tibetans  and there were rows and rows of high mountains, rice and vegetable terraces and it was  colder. I was in a dreamy state just looking at the sea of mountains that lay beyond the horizon and I wondered what lied behind them.

I also met some locals in Sagada and shared stories with them. I  was fascinated to know that some of them had never even seen the sea considering that the Philippines is an archipelago.

While walking around we saw a very old woman who was naked from waist up but the sensitive parts, arms and neck were covered with tribal tattoos. She came straight out of our Philippine history books in high school, where we studied the different ethnic groups in the Philippines. She came from the Kalinga tribe, before their conversion to Christianity they were fierce warriors and headhunters and we guessed that she was the last of her kind.

It was then when my outlook in travel changed. The culture of the people living in the mountains / highlands are different from the lowlands. They have barely enough for themselves but they do everything what they can to help strangers in need.  Since then, for 5 consecutive years (sometimes twice in a year) I went to Sagada to visit the people who I  had made friends with.

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clockwise The Cordillera mountains in the Philippines / Lake Thingvallavatn in Iceland / The Jungfrau seen from the highest astronomical observatory in Eeurope (The Ssphinx) / El Pico De Arenizas in the Picos De Europa

You have a love for Northern Spain and the high alps. Why do you love this particular area?

Oh Northern Spain had so many memories – only beautiful memories for me. It was where i first organized a roadtrip in Travbuddy with people I didn’t know and we ended up being friends forever.

The provinces of Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria are spectacular and wild and I don’t even know how to begin by describing them. I particularly love the small fishing town of Cedeira in Galicia. We were invited by a Galician family – the Grandal-Caneiro family to stay with them and spend nights in their chabola (hut) on top of a hill surrounded by eucalyptus forest, with no electricity, only a fireplace to keep us warm but with a grandiose view of the fishing village and the stormy Atlantic Ocean. They took us to places, cooked and fed us. The epitome of spanish hospitality.

In Cedeira lies a place where it is special in my heart – the wild and high sea cliffs of the Acantilados En La Serra Da Capelada. Northern spain is called españa verde (the green spain) because its lush with greenery and vegetation and home to the Picos De Europa mountain range. It is the toughest hike I have done.

The mountain range creates a barrier for storm clouds that gives the rain shadow phenomena in Spain because on the other side of green Spain – lies the arid part of Spain. It is also a part of Spain where the people believe in myths, legends,superstitions. creatures and witchcraft.

The landscape is dotted with small coves, deserted beaches, fjords, grottos, forgotten mountain villages, picturesque sea side towns, high and strong waves – it is a small part of Europe but so much bigger in terms of what it has to offer.

In the Picos De Europa, the landscape is just magnificent – out of this world, the mountains aren’t as high as the alps but as you go higher, only barren landscape, crags, rocks and towering peaks that loomed like sentinels above. It was surreal –very lunar and the reward was a spectacular moment because of the rain shadow, you could be above the clouds that covers hundreds of kilometers blanketing the Cantabrian sea in the distance.

In the alps however, when I say high alps – these are the mountains above 4000 meters. The Jungfrau-Aletsch region, the Valais Alps and the Mont Blanc Massif are so spectacular that it is impossible to compare them.

I usually hike the mountain ranges parallel to the higher alps, it should be above the treeline more than 2400 meters so it doesn’t obscure the wholeness of the mountains and seeing them spectacularly rising some kilometers from the valley floor. The trails here are fantastic.

In the Jjungfrau-Aletsch, the Bernese Alps Are seen from the trail leading to the Schilthorn forms a formidable barrier of rocks, snow, ice and glaciers while in the Valais alps, the highest peaks of the alps are concentrated including the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa and the peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif rises like needles piercing the sky. There are also lots of hidden mountain lakes in high altitude that mirrors the majestic mountains that surrounds them.

I’ve been doing the hikes in the alps with my trekking partner Tracy from America for quite some time now. My most recent memory here, was we did night trekking last Summer to catch the mountain peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif in their alpenglühen (alpenglow), where the last rays of the run hit the ice or the limestone composition of the mountains giving it an orangey tint that glows in fading light.

Oh my god, I don’t have any words how to describe how it looked, it’s just so spectacular and breathtaking. We just stared while our jaws dropped at mother earth’s masterpiece. It was hypnotic. It looked straight out of a fantasy film.

We also saw tons of elusive chamois high up there, as they were shy creatures, they only appeared at sunset and sunrise where human activity is all but gone. These are the places where i would let my hair down, just be crazy and feel beautiful.

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clockwise the mountains in Alpenglühen (alpenglow) the Jungfrau after a storm in sunset / Mont Blanc at 10 pm / the limestone composition of Peña Castil / the rain shadow phenomenon and twilight seen high in the Picos De Europa.

The mountains give you a time to think and reflect. What do you think about when you are out there? How do the mountains make you feel?

If I’m there, I don’t think about anything. The silence, the atmosphere – it gives me inner peace. I detached myself from the superficial world by just being surrounded by peaks that glow in the sunset, their magnificence. An ethereal feeling where the mountains fill my life with beauty. I think this is what we call – Nirvana – a spiritual bliss. Being there as a human, standing amongst these glorious peaks make me feel insignificant that we’re just all but grains of sand.

Has your life  ever been in danger while hiking in high landscapes?

Of course, we all cannot escape the inevitable. As i said before, the toughest trek I did was through the Picos De Europa mountain range in Northern Spain. We wanted to see the grandeur of the rain shadow phenomenon (it could only be seen on the range of the Macizo central facing the Cantabrian sea) in high summer where the storm clouds are very low while you have the endless blue sky above.

I got lost from the group because it was my first time truly trekking and i was excited taking pictures of the surroundings. The temperature was searing and the sun was beating straight at the shadeless path and I fainted halfway because of dehydration on the way to the campsite, fortunately, a Spanish family saw me and helped me get back on my feet.

Then going back down, Tracy and I separated from the group and got lost in a forest where the trail was covered by thick and tall grass. We were so lucky that we found some farmers and i ran to them like madman and as they saw me, I fell to the ground and lost consciousness. They helped us to get back on the trail that would lead us back to civilization  in a way it was scary, because it’s a national park – there were no more mobile signal for emergency calls, and wild animals roam the area  including wolves and bears, so it could have been much worse, i was just lucky.

Another time, again with Tracy hiking through the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. We saw a man who was about to paraglide from a cliff on the trail. Tracy and I were so curious so we went down below him to catch some action photos of him about to glide through the air.

But it wasnt to be, as soon as he released himself, the wind suddenly changed direction and pulled him backward and then another wind change pulled him forward straight towards me and my foot got caught on the strings, the man used all his strength to stop us being dragged down on the cliff with a fall of 2500 meters. I was speechless after that,I couldn’t even think. I was just lucky again.

I never knew that my father read my blogs about my “little escapades” and he is always scared whenever I’m on the “road” but he supports me all the way, because if these things like hiking makes me happy, then i should go for it, he says. That’s why I love the mountains: there’s action, comedy and drama behind. It is for me, where the true adventure lies.

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In terms of mountain,hiking, exploring what is your goal? Could it be possible for you to reach Everest’s summit, one day?

To be honest I don’t have any goals, I want to see these spectacular places because they are there. About Everest, well I don’t deny that it would be the crowning glory of every mountaineers, trekkers and mountain photographers to stand side by side with the tallest mountain on earth.

In my opinion, there are much more beautiful mountains than Everest for me to explore one day like the Trango Towers in the Karakoram, Minya Konka in Sichuan, Ushba in the Caucasus, and Alpamayo in the Andes – though they pale in height comparison to everest, they have beautiful shapes which are a delight to my eyes.

But I guess most of them would be just a dream for me, apart from the financial cost, I just recently discovered from a thorough examination that my back is breaking down and my spinal cord is bent. So no more carrying heavy things in the future or roughing up for me.

The one thing that would complete me the most is doing the pilgrimage to the Camino De Santiago. I would like to do the toughest trail there that runs across Northern Spain, my favorite place in the world. It would be a dedication to my favorite country, the country that gave me the best memories and to my mother who passed away. I’m not getting any younger and i started hiking quite late in my years, the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage would be my swansong as I would end another chapter in my life.

You also love photography. Were you into photography before you started to enjoy the outdoors or did this come once you started to enjoy hiking?

Oh im not a photographer (laughs) I’m just a person who happens to take lots of pictures. I got my slr camera more than 3 years ago and I’m using it’s full capabilities. It doesn’t have anything to do with hiking. I like taking pictures of water where I could manipulate in the camera settings how the speed of water runs into the picture, and also night photography

I love the details of the certain structure, space or skyline if they are separated by different colors of light at night I always bring my tripod with me wherever I go because it is impossible to shoot these kinds of pictures without a tripod, and well then of course – the mountains. My ultimate dream is to catch a picture of the milky way in the night sky but unfortunately I live for a time being in the central part of Europe where there is too much light pollution.

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clockwise – Edificio Metrópolis, Madrid / the Akropolis and the Parthenon from the Lykavittos hill, Aathens / the springs of Kyra in Boeotia, Greece

Not only do you travel but you have also organized some travel for groups. One particular trip was to Iceland. Tell us about that and what you experienced from it?

(laughs) It was a crazy trip, I mean it was so multicultural with people from all parts of

the world. We did a roadtrip through Iceland’s great Ring Road. I co-organized it with Maike from the Netherlands at the time when Iceland was still in financial crisis (2010) even so, it was still expensive to do a trip circling the ring road (3000++ euros per person to do that with a tour) because most of the major attractions of  Iceland are located near the ringroad, so we decided to make it cheaply by inviting friends and friends of friends from Travbuddy website to share and cut the cost and doing it by ourselves, rent gigantic 4×4 vehicles and drive 1400 kms in 8 days and  do wild camping in Autumn (because in Scandinavia, except in Denmark – the law says that its legal to camp anywhere in the wilderness and outside of farmlands).

It was a trip full of craziness, the cars were our homes and we were a family during the duration of the trip, everyone relied on each other’s strength and capabilities because none of us had ever done this kind of trip before. We had the drivers, the route planners, the athletes who were in charge of wild camping and most important of all the guys who put humor into the situations The total cost of the trip was only around 700-800 euros per person so it was  really a good bargain to organize it ourselves rather than paying 3000++ euros per head for a tour.

Then of all the sites I saw in Iceland, I left a part of my heart in Reynisdrangar. Legend says that they were trolls caught in sunlight and turned to stone. Iceland is also the farthest and northern place I had been away from my home, the Philippines.

As for some crazy experiences: We were pardoned (?) by the police cause we sort of illegally camped near a farm, caught by a storm and in Iceland it is very windy some of our  tents just flew away, we trespassed a property to camp, drinking water coming from the glaciers, high camping at the base camp of Snaefellsjökull Volcano and camping at -7°c with windchill at lake Thingvallavatn, it was so icy and freezing cold. But  the crowning glory of our trip was seeing the elusive northern lights. That was purely magic.

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clockwise The troll rocks of Reynisdrangar in Iceland / the macizo central of the Picos De Europa mountain range / the rain shadow blanketing the Cantabrian sea from the mountain pass of Vega Urriellu / the high sea cliffs of Acantiladoes En La Serra Da Capelada in Galicia, Spain

You mentioned  wild camping. Could you tell us more  about this and the situations you have been in?

I love wild camping, specially in higher places around 2000 meters. Nothing beats eating food cooked in a gathered wood, and I love tomato beans and crackers, bread and cheese for dinner and then waking up in the morning in a great wide open,surrounded alone by wilderness, the wet ground from morning dew and the smell of crisp air and watching as the sun goes down casting shadows below as the clouds slowly moving in at sunset. Of course ingenuity and quick thinking also comes in how to survive with only limited resources.

The most extreme wild camping i did was in Iceland, -7°c plus the windchill factor but I do well in cold rather than camping in a jungle by the beach in the Philippines where it was so hot and humid and it was impossible to open the tent because mosquitos were coming in. What we did was we sprayed  our bodies with mosquito repellant. It kept the mosquitos away but not the heat though.

One particular moment was one of my best adventure friends Ben and I were stuck inside a tent for 11 hours camping high in the Cordillera mountains in the Philippines because of a storm. We couldn’t cook so we had to eat some noodles raw and we ran out of drinking water. We had to collect rain water from a pot (laughs).

Our tent was so small that one false move and rain water would seep in, miraculously we slept so well between loud thunder and lightning that in the morning we were greeted by chirping birds  and the slowly rising sun in the horizon breaking through the thick clouds.

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Could you leave us with some of your favourite inspirational quotes?

es necesario correr riesgos. sólo entendemos del todo el milagro de la vida cuando

dejamos que suceda lo inesperado.

“we have to take risks. we will only understand the miracle of life when we allow the

unexpected to happen.”

– by the river piedra,I sat down and wept (Paulo Coelho)

credit to Tracy Lagunero and Ian Fgueroa for some pics of Lauro

I would personally like to thank Lauro for participating in this interview and providing some amazing photos. You can find more about Lauro and read his blog’s here

I will leave you with his favourite photo.

Lau Ro

If you have any questions for Lauro, you can leave them in the comments box. I’m sure he would be happy to answer any questions

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Hong Kong everyone is out for some Christmas shopping

Christmas time in Hong Kong means one thing sales,yes S-A-L-E the people like a swarm of bees looking for honey move from shop to shop in search of a bargain of a lifetime. The Chinese wait in line to enter brand name shops such as Gucci, Luis Vuitton and Chanel. Closets in China must be as large as some bank accounts, if the massive bags they hold are any indication.

The people, the flashing neon lights, the traffic, the shops, the hectic hustle and bustle of the city is what has made Hong Kong so famous with people returning year after year to experience the country that until 1997 was under British control.

I’m staying in the Marco Paulo hotel, one of four Marco Paulo hotels located in the Harbour City shopping mall on Canton road which happens to be the largest mall in Hong Kong with over 700 shops and 50 restaurants. It’s so big it stretches from the Star Ferry terminal in the south to the top of Tsim Sha Tsui to the north.

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Walking around the mall, you can’t help to enter some of the shops with Sale marked in big red and white signs in the window, you know, everyone knows but the shop assistant in the shop still manages to tell you that today everything in the shop is 20-50% off, just in case you hadn’t seen any of the signs announcing it. With that extra initiative shown by the assistant everything in the shop looks so much better and before I know it I’m handing over my hard earned money. The assistant smiles before handing over a bag and wishing you a Merry Christmas.

Yes, Christmas you think with a seven year old with you, Santa better come, the mall is like a maze, turning left then right, round in circles, shops blending into one another looking the same, well they are all selling clothes and accessories aren’t they but don’t tell the Chinese that.

“Lets go this way” my wife says, following her like a robot following commands before she realises she’s been here before. We turn back the way we came, then turn left and right before I say”We’ve been here before” Are you sure, my wife says looking frustrated. Yes that’s the HMV where we bought the CDS”. We turn around again before I ask a doorman in a black, sleek uniform where ToysRus is, the largest one in Hong Kong. “First go straight, down the stairs”before he breaks out in Chinese, arms flaying up and down, left and right. This place is even too big for staff to simply explain. I smiled and thanked the man.

” Chris, Chris I think it’s this way” called out my wife. ToysRus was large, sections of toys, puzzles popular character figures, mobile cars,Lego you named it they had it, a child with all his Christmas’s coming at once “I want this one, this one and this one”, cried out Rei jumping up and down.

The flight, the crowds, the shops all getting a strain on us, we joined the swarm of bees by moving to the boardwalk where Hong Kong stars names line the pavement, no names ring a bell except for the statue of Bruce Lee but we are not here for this the real reason we are here is the Lights of Symphony shown every night at 8pm.

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The 20 minute show of dazzling lights flashing up and down left and right to the pulsating beats of music so cleverly synchronized to the movements of light , green lasers shoot out of building tops like a scene from Star Wars, the lasers crashes or slashes its way against the lights, first slowly then building up with rhythm and pace in the background in a faint voice I may have heard “Together we can be bigger than the empire, together we can rule the galaxy” and just like that the lights stop.

The swarm like they’ve had enough honey for one day diverse their separate ways, until the magical hour of 10am  when the shops re open for another day of sales. The swarm will need their honey and the shops will be their haven.

Have you been to Hong Kong at Christmas time? Did he crowds get to you? We would love to hear at We All Travel Together.

Bas coffee plantation, where you can find the world’s most expensive coffee.

Each morning when the alarm rings, we struggle to get up. We stumble over to the kettle pour some water in it and wait for the bubbly sound of the boiling water. In our half somber state we reach up and grab the coffee, most times it doesn’t need to be grounded or freshly roasted, it’s not necessarily  high quality coffee  either, Nescafe the instant coffee is usually good enough.

After the water has been poured, you take a gulp of the hot, steaming coffee and then instantly the caffeine gives you a pop and your wide a wake. That might be our routine but its the effect of what the coffee has on us. I love coffee I can’t go through a day with at least two or three cups especially now its Winter.

In Bali, Indonesia as we were driving up to see the scenic views of the Kintamani volcano our driver told us that Bas coffee plantation was just up the road. My wife and I looked at one another before saying in unison, “we would like to stop there”.

The coffee plantations lies 900 -1200 metres above sea level,the  trees had flush green leaves, tiny round purple beans grew, that are used to make coffee. We were shown around the plantation, saw the coffee beans being roasted and were introduced to a sleeping black asian civet who just happens to be the star of the plantation for without this animal, the most expensive coffee in the world would never have been made.

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Rei roasting coffee beans

So what does a Black Asian Civet otherwise known in Indonesian as a Luwak have in common with coffee well put simply the civet eats the beans that are grown on the tree and then when it comes out in its excrement, the beans are undigested, they wash and then roast the beans. In other words your drinking pretty shitty coffee. In London a pound of Luwak coffee goes for around 68 pounds.

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Luwak or Asian Civet

It’s hard to imagine how people ever got to drink coffee that came from the droppings of a luwak. I was told when the Dutch settled in Indonesia and  set up the plantations  that they told the Indonesians, who farmed the land that they must not pick the beans and make coffee for their own consumption.  The Indonesians saw the beans in the droppings and were wanting to try  coffee. They washed and roasted them forming what is now known as Luwak coffee.

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Out on the balcony overlooking a stunning valley of bright green trees laid out on a layered staircase  we were served five hot drinks. These weren’t sample sizes but full cups of steaming hot Bali coffee,ginseng coffee which I gulped down in seconds , hot cocoa, ginger tea and lemongrass tea. That was all I could drink and if I wanted to try the famous luwak coffee here it would cost as much as a Starbucks’ Latte, only $3

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Now when the alarm goes off and we stumble over to the kettle and fill it up with water and wait for it to boil. I reach up not for Nescafe but for some fine Bali Coffee.

Have you been to Bas Coffee plantation? Have you tried luwak coffee? We would love to hear about it at We All Travel Together.

Escape to Lamma Island, Hong Kong

As we approached the jetty of the island we noticed the artistic graffiti sign, Welcome to Lamma painted on the concrete barrier. A warm greeting to an island that is about 30  minutes from Central Hong Kong.

Lamma offers a different side to Hong Kong, an island where there are no cars,roads or high rise buildings. To get around the island you have option A bicycle or option B to walk.

The people of Yung Shue Wan, mainly a western community looking for an alternative lifestyle seemed a friendly group. They greeted each other with smiles and stopped to chat , craft shops selling unique hand made goods,cafes serving vegetarian lined the streets, while one man had even set up his own little stall selling second hand books. We sat and watched the local soccer game, two teams mixed with foreigners and Honkanese. It was interesting to see them go about their normal days, living together in peaceful harmony. The little town also had another Tin Tau temple that had been there for over 100 years. It’s nice to see the local culture still exists.

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Welcome sign

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Yung Shue Wan

Lamma  islands other town Sok kwu Wan is on the other side of the island around a 90 minute walk away. We set out on the hiking track that follows the rugged coastline. Around 15 minutes into the hike we saw two people coming the other way with wheelie suitcases. That seemed strange but around 10 minutes later we came to Concerto Inn, a small hotel overlooking Hung Shin Ye beach.

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Hung Shin Ye beach

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power plant at Hung Shin Ye Beach

Hung Shin Ye beach is the most well known beach on the island if you looked straight or out to the left it would look like a pretty picturesque beach covered with sand and trees to help shade you from the sun but out to the right on the tip of the cove was a huge power plant.

There were lots of other hikers on the path that had been paved by the power plant company. Lamma Island is a  popular day trip for the local Hong Kong residents too. The trail weaving along the coast in general offered spectacular views of the sweeping ocean, the curvy beaches down below the cliffs and hidden caves.

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Lamma Island, like the rest of Hong Kong had been occupied by the Japanese during World War  2. The Japanese had hidden their kamikaze boats in three caves along the cove. The Japanese had never used these boats until the day of the Japanese surrender when a British fleet sailed into the waters. The Kamikaze sailed out to defend their waters, having not heard about the surrender,the British fleet blew them away

Like most small islands Lamma has trouble sustaining the population with the only industry on the island being fishing. People leave their homes to take up residents in Hong Kong and you can see what has been left of the run down, derelict homes of the people who have been lured away by the bright lights of Hong Kong island.

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Sok Kwu Wan

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Seafood restaurant

Finally at Sok Kwu Wan, a one street town you will see a plethora of seafood restaurants offering the freshest seafood. This is not fine dining by any means, no linen tablecloths,no fancy decor, just plastic seating outside but what I’ve heard it will be one of the best meals you’ll ever have.

Have you been to Lamma Island? Did you experience the seafood in Sok Kwu Wan?

We would love to hear what you thought of the island.

Verona, it’s all about the Roman ruins not Shakespeare

Walking along the stone arched Ponte Pietra with rain streaming down, I paused to take in the surrounding scene, the shallow teal green water of the Adige river swirled over the protruding rocks forming white rapids, to my left at the foot of the hill were the ruins of the roman theatre built in the first century BC. Adjacent to the bridge, stairs wound up, climbing above the theatre , towards the run down San Pietro Castle which is not open to the public.

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Ponte Pietra bridge with the Adige river flowing below

This is not the attraction though. It’s the view of the rolling hills, the flowing river under the Ponte Pietra bridge completed in 100 BC before the arches were blown up by the retreating Germans.The red terracotta roofs, the towering spires of churches and the roman theatre below.

On the same grounds as the Roman Theatre inside the convent of St Jerome is the archeological museum, a collection of statues, bronzes, inscriptions , mosaics and ceramics collected from all over Verona.

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Roman Theatre

The doors opened up to one of the best preserved Roman theatres in Northern Italy rising nearly sixty metres up the hill  on terraced levels. It’s hard to believe that until the late 19th century the ruins had completely been built upon. It wasn’t until a rich merchant bought the entire complex and conducted demolition and excavation projects that they were discovered. Still now the theatre is used for performances.

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The Arena still being used for concerts

Earlier we had been to Verona’s main attraction, The Arena. The unbelievable thing is the pink marble amphitheatre is still being used to host opera in the Summer with seating capacity for 30,000 people.It was built in the 1st century AD and survived a 12th century earthquake. We slowly walked around the circumference of the theatre from the top row of sets, peering down at the ground where my imagination went wild as visions of gladiators fighting for survival swept through my mind.

People come to Verona for the Shakespeare experience to see where the fictional characters of Romeo and Juliet lived . To see a balcony that two people could barely fit, let alone scamper the wall or climb a tree to reach, while there they’ll rub the breast of Juliet’s statue and scribble down some message on the wall. Verona to me though is about what the romans did, they came , they built and after all these centuries they still remain.

Verona, The Shakespeare experience

Verona, a pretty city of 250,000 that clings to the names of Romeo and Juliet, set in the city  during the 14th century. Shakespeare to the best of my knowledge never left England but he wove his story on two families that were feuding at the time in Verona, the Capuleti family and the Montecchi family.

Today tourists flock to the city to be swept through the Shakespeare experience that for me comes across as gimmicky and tacky upon entering the courtyard, the walls were covered in graffiti, notes stuck to the wall written by couples vowing their love for one another. According to popular belief this is done so their love will last forever.

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In the courtyard looking up at the house, one of the world’s famous balconies comes into view. It’s small, barely big enough for one person, let alone two. There are no trees, bushes or walls that the young Romeo could of scampered up to meet his loved one.

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In the courtyard, a bronze statue stands where people line up to rub the right breast of Juliet’s in hope to find true love.  I can see the irony in it now as couples pose while doing this. Is this their discreet way in telling their partner that you really aren’t for me.

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Juliet’s house is sparsely decorated. It has a few paintings, some props from the film and some computers, another gimmick where people can send mail to Juliet.

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The house they credit to be Juliet’s belonged to the Dal Capello family which they purchased in 1905. Due to the similarity in names they declared the house to be the family residence of the Capuleti family.

Shakespeare wove a story that attracted readers and to Verona’s credit they wove a scene to attract visitors, a new tourist sensation was created.

Have you been to Verona? What did you think of Juliet’s house?

Singapore is really nothing like Hong Kong

Singapore kind of caught me by surprise I had been expecting it to be hilly, slightly mountainous terrain similar to Hong Kong but from the window of the taxi I saw that it was flat. Like Hong Kong though the country still has plenty of land. Hong Kong’s is mainly due to its hilly terrain that makes it unable to build upon while Singapore has pockets of forest, green lush trees which have been left there to grow their natural way.

I  could see why Singapore is known for its gardens. My wife earlier had wanted to visit Singapore’s botanical garden but on our way to our hotel The Marriott located on Orchard road, the main shopping district of Singapore. My wife said “Chris, there is no need to go to the botanical garden, the whole country is like a garden”. Even the strips of malls have lines of trees out front  helping to shade you from the heat and humidity. Lucky I’m living in Japan and it’s Summer here and I’ve adjusted to the heat so Singapore’s weather was comfortable for me but to think that the temperature is like this 365 days of the year.

Singapore known for its melting pot of ethnic groups and cultures with Chinese,Malay, Indian, Peranakan and European making up the country that their first language outside their home is English for business and education but until going there I thought it was like Hong Kong where most people can speak English but still use Chinese as their everyday language so when I first stepped into the glitzy malls along Orchard road I wasn’t expecting to hear everyone speaking English.

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Singapore’s Town Hall

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The Fullerton Hotel

Singapore appears to have retained more intact buildings from their colonial era than Hong Kong, which mainly demolished them to build towering skyscrapers. Singapore on the other hand still studded with old terrace houses, river side warehouses, neo gothic churches and vast government buildings all built in the colonial style.

That night as I laid in bed, the last thing I remember before falling to sleep was thinking Singapore is nothing like Hong Kong.