Sunday, June 11, 2017

Escape Wellington-Adventures in New Zealand

Traveling to New Zealand has been on my bucket list ever since I was 21 years old in the MTC visiting with a fellow sister missionary from New Zealand.  The way she described it was enchanting.  14 years later I would finally get to mark New Zealand off my bucket list.  I went with some of my Salt Lake friends Jessica Myler and Kelly Brown.  One of my Phoenix friends Piper Davis also joined us.  Jessica and Kelly are huge Lord of the Rings fans and invited us to join their trip.  Little did they know they would be answering our naive LOTR questions the whole trip:  "Mordor, is that the hot brunette guy?"

Piper and I arrived at LAX airport and met up with Jessica and Kelly.  Poor piper had broken her leg 5 weeks previous so she was on crutches.  One advantage was that we got airport workers to push her around and we got to skip the security lines.  With that, came the disadvantage of Piper not being able to walk through the metal detector unassisted so she had to get pat down.  While getting patted down at LAX, the airport worker said something to Piper which I briefly heard.  I said, "Did she just ask if I was your mother??!!" Piper nodded and laughed.  She was worried because she needed to get permission from the parent to do a pat down and she thought I was the parent.  Ego quickly deflating but we decided to have fun with it so from that time forward in the trip Piper would be known as "my little pumpkin."

First stop in New Zealand was Hot Water Beach.  When the tide is low, you can go and shovel your own little hot spring to sit in.  It's basically like your own little jacuzzi.  The hot water is from the volcano's hot water springs under the sand.  The beach was very deserving of it's name.  It was HOT!  some water that came up was scalding.  Kelly learned that the hard way when she was walking toward a sign that said, "Danger.  Very Hot Water." and walked right into a scalding hot water hole.  She backed away quickly and we all laughed at the irony....after checking to see if she was ok, of course.

While sitting there we would do the mud drizzle where you get a handful of mud and let it drizzle out of your fist and makes a drizzle statue.  I have no idea how to better explain this but hopefully you get the picture.  Trying to impress Jessica and Kelly with our LOTR knowledge, we started naming all of our drizzle statues the different LORT characters.  Mordor is not a hot brunette guy.  It's a volcano.  Who knew?!

After Hot Water Beach, we drove to Hamilton to go to the Hamilton New Zealand temple.  It was built in the 1950's and had some unique features inside.  Still beautiful.  The celestial room is up a flight of stairs, so they put Piper in a wheelchair and several men carried her up.  They told us to walk up first.  Jessica and Kelly headed up.  I stayed behind.  I wasn't about to miss this.  They carried her up and the look of fear on her face was priceless.  Poor Piper was such a trooper the whole trip.

Our first night we stayed in Hamilton and woke up early the next day to drive to the Waitamo Glow Worm caves.  We were a smidge late for our tour so we were left behind.  We say to the worker, "sorry we're late....she's on crutches," while looking at them with a look of sympathy and defeat.  It worked.  The worker took us on a private tour with just our small group.  We would continue to use that phrase anytime we were late, wanted to skip a line, wanted to get out of a ticket (this didn't happen but we were prepared if it did), or just felt like pulling out the sympathy card..."she's on crutches."

The glow worm caves were so cool!  They are basically caves with worms that hang on the wall and drop down a slimy pee string with a light at the end.  Bugs are attracted to the light and go to it, similar to a spider's web.  This is how the worms catch their food.  Pictures don't do the caves justice so I wasn't able to snap a picture of how cool it was all glowing inside the cave, but we were able to get pictures of the strings.

Next, we would drive to Rotorua and spend the night there.  This town had such a horrid stench from the sulfur in the air and all the hot springs.  I could hardly handle it.  I kept saying, "I can't handle this smell.  I'm going to throw up."  It was so bad!!  Our hotel was setup so our car was literally parked within inches of our kitchen window.  Jessica was out there parking it and grabbing something from the trunk.  Kelly and I were in the kitchen when I looked over and saw Jessica and saw how close she was.  I started saying from the kitchen, "can you see me?  can you see me?  hey? can you see me"  Jessica didn't seem to hear me but Piper was in the bathroom next to the kitchen and said with a very concerned tone, "can you see ME?"  It was hilarious!!

That night we went to the Tomakai Maori Village.  I was so excited to get away from the smell of the town since the village was up in the mountains a little bit.  The village was fun.  They greeted us with their entrance ceremony which was traditionally used to intimidate and scare off anyone not coming in peace.  One warrior immediately drew our attention.  He would make funny faces and flirty eyes at different people in the crowd.  It was extra funny cuz he was a little older and a little flamboyant.  Not one of the hot guys that you would want making eyes at you.  He would later tell Piper she had a nice butt as she crutched from site to site.  It was super inappropriate but kind of funny.

While there they did different activities with us.  They did the Haka, swung around Pom Pom balls, they fed us dinner, and also taught us about the origins of the word "tattoo."  Apparently when the English first came to New Zealand, there was a language barrier and New Zealand culture had tattoos on their face.  When Maori people would apply the ink of the tattoo to the face, they would only give two small taps.  One was not enough and three would go too deep into the skin. It would make a "tap, tap" sound.  That eventually evolved into the word "tattoo" by the English.

We had taken a shuttle to and from the Maori village.  On the drive back to the hotel, the bus driver was talking to everyone and trying to be entertaining.  He asked where everyone was from.  Some groups were from France, Canada, China, etc.  He had each group go around and sing a song from their country that everyone would know.  The French sang Frere Jacques, the Canadians sang their national anthem, and the Chinese sang a song I didn't recognize.  The whole bus would join in singing the songs they knew.  When it came to us, I started belting, "And I'm proud to be an American..."  Jessica and Kelly reluctantly joined in, "where at least I know I'm free..."  Realizing that no one else on the bus was singing, I say, "no one?  no one knows that one?"  The bus driver looks at us awkwardly in his rear view mirror and after a couple long seconds of silence says, "what about this one?  Take me out to the ball game.  Take me out to the crowd...."  Everyone on the bus starts singing along.  #fail

The next morning we went to church in Rotorua.  People were very nice and friendly.  After church we went to the Redwood Forest.  This is similar to the Redwood Forest in California.  They actually transported trees from California and planted them here.  Apparently the trees grow faster here because of the climate.  These Redwoods were not nearly as tall or wide as California's trees because they are much younger, but they were still large and towering.

Next up was Hobbiton.  Kelly and Jessica paid extra for an extended night time tour with a feast in the Green Dragon.  I almost called it the Green Lantern, which shows how little I know about LOTR. I was an embarrassment with my knowledge.  Since they did an extended tour at a different time, Piper and I joined the less fancy tour.  We had a blast!  We quickly fell behind the tour group so we missed most of the commentary...."she's on crutches".....but we took so many pictures and created our own fun!  Hobbiton was absolutely gorgeous.  Rolling hills, green grass, the perfect country feel.

For those who didn't know, similar to myself, Hobbiton is where the Hobbits live. haha  The director kept the sets up and turned it into a tourist attraction.

Be prepared for A LOT of pictures.  Like I said, we had a blast!

I wish I could say this was the only time at Hobbiton that she fell.... "she's on crutches...." Had a little too much ale from this ale wagon.  The other incident happened at the teeter totter in the great field when she sat down on it not realizing that there was no one sitting on the other side yet to hold her weight.  I look over and see two feet in the air and Piper on her back...

Off to the Green Dragon (not the Green Lantern) for our complimentary butter, that's not right.  That's Harry Potter.  They gave us some complimentary drink from the movie.  Hmmm....

Kelly and Jessica's tour was a couple more hours, so Piper and I drove to a neighboring town for dinner.  This was my first time driving on the left side of the road.  Kelly and Jessica had been doing all the driving up to this point.  It felt very weird.  I was very aware of every turn I made and every car that passed, but I got used to it.  I gladly turned the keys back over to Kelly when we picked them up from their tour.

The next day Kelly and Jessica were supposed to hike to Mordor...not the hot brunette guy but the volcano, but the rainy weather changed those plans.  Instead, we went to a bunch of nearby waterfalls.  First we went to Huka falls.  Next we went to Tawhai falls, which is known as Gollum's pool for those LOTR fans.  This is where Gollum is playing in the waterfall during one of the movies.  They were all beautiful!

Poor Piper had to crutch everywhere, even on some of the longer walks/hikes to some of these attractions.  I finally convinced her to let us carry her part of the distance.  Jessica and I pulled out our Girl Scouts Four-handed seat carry (I had to google the name).  Our hands and arms were very wet from the rain so it was very slippery.  Otherwise we could've carried a lot longer than we did.

The next day we spent in Wellington, which is on the very south tip of the northern island.  Jessica and Kelly had scheduled yet another LOTR tour, so Piper and I went out to find some adventures.  She really wanted to ride a horse on the beach, so we made some calls and didn't have any luck scheduling anything day of.  We decided to try our luck driving to one of the locations and seeing if they could fit us in.  Luckily, we found Mack.  Because it was later in the morning, he had said that he wasn't doing any rides today.  I continued to talk with him and be friendly and he agreed to take us out.  This was unlike any trail ride I had done in America.  In America, you sign a waiver and just sit on the horse as it walks in a straight line behind the other horses.  Mack was very different.  He spent awhile at the beginning teaching us to stand up in the stirrups and lean forward to control our balance.  He focused on it so much that I was starting to think it was unnecessary.  Again, I had American, walking in a straight line horse riding on my mind.  I very quickly learned that this was no ordinary horse ride when within minutes of our ride Mack yells back, "Stand up and lean forward," which the horses knew was their queue to gallop!  It was such a thrill.  Every time I heard him say, "Stand up and lean forward," I would brace myself for the adventure.  Piper and I were constantly humming the Man From Snowy River theme music.  At one point, he took us down a super steep hill.  The horses were sliding at different parts.  Mack thought it was so funny at how scared we would get.  He would take my phone and record us while laughing.  It really was such a good time!

Piper and I edited one of our videos and added the Man From Snowy River theme music.  We thought we were so funny.  Sorry if the quality is poor.

We spent one more night in Wellington and woke up the next morning to head to the airport where we would fly from the North Island to the South Island for the latter part of our trip.  We arrived at the airport and immediately knew something was wrong.  The fog we had seen that morning had proven to be quite the deterrent for planes to land, therefore no planes were at the airport to take off.  Long story short, we spent the whole day at the airport in hopes that the fog would lift and planes would land and become available for our flight out.  We spent a lot of time on the phone, got a different flight to a different part of the South Island for the next day.  We had to rearrange all of our plans since we were flying into a completely different city, and we had lost 1 whole day of vacation, but we made it work.  We left the airport that evening and found a bar that played live music and ate dinner.  Luckily we were able to get our same airbnb.  We headed back for our 3rd night at what had become known as the spider house and hoped for better luck the next day.  The airbnb got the name of the spider house for obvious reasons.  The first night there, I saw a spider hanging from the ceiling in the living room.  I start to scream and panic because I don't do spiders.  Jessica and Kelly were less frantic but still didn't want to go near it.  Piper was our brave one.  She hobbles over on her crutches, reaches up to smash it with a crutch, the spider gets away from the smash and comes flying down toward Piper, which causes Piper to fall backward on the couch screaming and unable to scramble due to a broken leg.  Poor Piper and her crutches. ;)

The next morning we woke up hopeful that the fog had lifted and our flight would take off.  Sadly, it had not.  We went to the airport to see what our options were.  Unfortunately there weren't many.  No planes had landed for over a day, which meant that there were not planes to take off.  We had decided that our best option was to rent a car and ferry across the ocean to the South Island.  This would mean  we would have to drive 12 hours to Queenstown and essentially lose 3 whole days of vacation (2 stuck at the airport and 1 day driving all day).  We weren't happy that we were missing out on so many travel days but we didn't have any other choices.  Plus, at this point we were ready to get out of Wellington.  Our mantra became "escape Wellington."  That's all we wanted to do!  This change of plans meant more phone calls and rearranging plans and ultimately cancelling some of the plans.  We had to cancel going to the Fiordlands and also seeing the penguins and potentially seeing the Southern Lights.  The Southern Lights was what I was most excited for, so I was especially bummed and angry at Wellington and the fog.  #EscapeWellington

We made the most out of the ferry ride.  Jessica and I decided to re-enact Jack and Rose from the Titanic.  "never let go, Jack."  Jessica's face cracks me up.

We made it to the Southern Island very late and stayed in a hotel.  The next morning started our long drive, which turned out to be 16 hours instead of 12.

The coast line was absolutely beautiful!  White cap waves crashing into rocks and perfect sand beach shores.  It definitely made the drive more doable.

At one point we stopped at a sand beach and walked down to explore and take pictures.  Piper stayed at the car since the walk down to the beach was very uneven and rocky.  Kelly and Jessica were walking down the shore a ways and I had to pee.  I look over at them and see that there's plenty of space between me and them, so I find some rocks and pull down my pants to pee.  I come back from the rocks and see them running away from the ocean screaming.  A big wave was coming in.  I start laughing  at them but then look in front of me and see that I am not immune from the wave myself.  I start to run back to the rocks where I had peed.  I made it the rocks but this wave was so big that it consumed them too.  I was not unsafe but the water swept my feet out form under me and I fell down and got soaked.  The ocean was paying me back for peeing on it's beach.  I changed my clothes and we were back on the road.

A couple hours later we had to stop for a bathroom break and saw a rest stop with a bunch of cars.  Little did we know that it was a tourist attraction of a blow hole called Pancake Rock.  It was the biggest blow hole I've ever seen.  Every time it would blow water, I would give an audible, "Wow" or "It's so cool."  

After 16 hours, we finally made it down to Queenstown.  Due to all the lost vacation days, we only had 1 day to spend there before we flew back to America.  We decided to go to the Milford sound.  We did a cruise up and down the sound and got very close to some of the waterfalls.  It was beautiful.  Our guide was kind of cheesy and kept saying that all the waterfalls were forming because the rain is just trying to find it's way back to the ocean.

Our boat captain was adorable.  He let us pretend to drive the boat.

We also went kayaking in the Milford Sound.  That was fun but it was a very windy day so those waves were quite the challenge to compete with.

I don't know if you can see the little Gandalf on the kayak but Jessica took this everywhere and would pose him for pictures.  The hashtag was #GandalfGoesHome.  It was so funny how many unique pictures she got of Gandalf.

This pictures shows all of the waterfalls that would form coming down the mountain face.  It was beautiful.

We finished our day at the Milford Sound and went to Queenstown to eat burgers at the famous Fergburger.  It was a delicious burger. We then hit up a couple souvenir shops and then headed back to our airbnb.  The next morning we would all fly back to America.

New Zealand truly was magical.  It is fully of green rolling hills, sheep and cows everywhere, and such a small town country feel.  Such a beautiful land....except Wellington.  We hate Wellington.  Ok, not really, but kinda.

Gandalf Goes Home Edition:

New Zealand Happy List:
-Kelly kept turning on the windshield wiper when she was trying to turn on the blinker. "We are going to have the cleanest windshield."
-Piper getting patted down twice at LAX and the worker thinking I was her mother.
-Piper teaching me how to drink out of a bottle...I kept spilling on myself so she thought I needed some lessons.
-Saying to Jessica, "can you see me?"  piper in the bathroom in the next room replies with concern, "can you see ME?"
-"Is Mordor the hot brunette guy?"  Jessica replies, "I'm going to kill you."
-Piper getting carried up the temple stairs in a wheelchair
-Our excuse for everything, "she's on crutches."
-"And I'm proud to be an one?  no one knows that one?"
-Piper and Kelly eating liver and kidneys when they thought it was mushrooms.  "These mushrooms taste like poop."
-Mack yelling, "Stand up and Lean Forward."
-Piper falling backwards onto the couch while trying to dodge a spider falling from the ceiling.
-The ocean attacking me for peeing on its shores.
-Jessica and Kelly both falling into the water at Gollum's pools.
-Piper falling over twice at Hobbiton..."she's on crutches."
-The Maori village guy hitting on Piper and telling her she had a nice butt.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


My friend Angela's brother was going to be in the Philippines for 4 months doing an internship for school.  He asked if Angela wanted to fly out the week he was done and he would show her around.  She asked if I wanted to join, and that was a no brainer.  We planned to go Dec 2 through Dec 9 of 2016.

I was ready to go.  Brady told us that we were going to be moving around a lot so it'd be best if we used a backpack for our stuff instead of a suitcase.  Thankfully my friend let me  borrow his.  As is tradition, it needed a name.  We were about to get real close over the next week.  He shall be named Bumble the transformer.

Since I had just moved to Phoenix and she still lived in SLC, we took separate flights and met in LA the night of Dec 2.  We flew to the Philippines early the next morning.  We needed a hotel for the night in LA, and since we were literally just sleeping there and then leaving early the next morning, I found one cheap and close to the airport.  It was SKETCH!  The bathroom was disgusting and I refused to shower there, so I was not able to follow my one rule of travel.  Angela's house had been out of hot water for a couple days, so there wasn't enough soap scum and mold in the world that was going to keep her from a hot shower...or 2.  The next morning, we woke up to a lady outside yelling, "I don't have your money!" over and over again.  I half expected to hear a gunshot, but thankfully the fight died down.  Like I said, sketch all around. 

Our flight from LA to Shanghai was 14 hours long.  Thankfully they give you a lot of movie selections on the movie.  Then we had a 6 hour layover in Shanghai.  With the length of flight and time zone changes, we landed in Shanghai in the later evening ad throughout the night, so it was very low key and not a lot of people.  First thing we tried to find was water.  On long flights, you don't get nearly as much water as you do when you are living through out an ordinary 14 hr day, nor do you want to get up and use the bathroom too much, so we were pretty parched.  We finally found a water dispenser and the options were warm or hot.  Odd.  The airport was so cold that we got warm water and figured it would cool down with time.  That airport was freezing!!  Like a naive fool, I assumed that since I was flying from Phoenix (hot weather, even in December) and going to Philippines (even hotter weather) that I didn't need a jacket or warm clothes.  I was wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt, and I didn't have much room in Bumble Bee to begin with, let alone room for a jacket and long pants.  Room was of the essence.  I was so cold in that airport and probably looked so pathetic trying to lie down on a couple seats to get some rest and curled up in a ball shivering.  Actually, I know I looked pathetic because a sweet lady came over and asked me if I wanted one of her extra blankets.  Apparently she always keeps them from the airplanes for moments such as this.  I was so grateful and didn't even consider playing the "No, I'm fine.  That's your blanket.  I'm ok," game.  Finally felt warmth again and it felt oh so good.  Finally our time game to leave that ice box and hop on our final flight from Shanghai to Philippines, which was 3 hrs.  

We landed in Manila around 3-4 AM local time on Dec 5.  We lost a day with the timezone changes and spent a whole day traveling.  On the way back, we would gain a day back due to timezone changes.  Brady was waiting for us after we got our checked bags and we went to find a taxi.  He was fluent in Tagalog because he served his mission in Philippines, so he was talking to all the drivers to find the prices.  He kept asking them if their meters worked.  Apparently most airport taxi drivers don't turn on their meters so they can charge a flat rate and rip off tourists.  Brady finally found one whose meter worked so we hopped in.  After a couple minutes of driving, Brady and the driver started arguing.  Apparently the driver was trying to rip us off so when they couldn't resolve it, the driver pulled over and let us out...on a road...not near any taxi pickups....but we eventually found another one and made it to the pickup place where we would pick up one of Brady's roommates and 2 of their friends.  We then drove 2 hours to our first destination, which were some waterfalls we were going to hike.  At this point, my body is so out of sync it doesn't know if it's tired, hungry, dehydrated, etc.  We pull up to a gas station and Brady turns to us and says, "you'll want to use the bathrooms here.  Oh and by the way, they don't use toilet paper in the Philippines "  Both of our mouths drop, "They don't use toilet paper?!  What do they use?!"  "Some bathrooms have buckets of water and some have a sprayer you spray yourself with."  The other boys chime in, "Oh yeah we don't like toilet paper anymore.  We love the sprayers."  I ask, "Well after you spray yourself off, what do you dry yourself with?"  "nothing.  You just air dry."  Angela and I are in shock.  Not because they don't use toilet paper.  We get that.  Not all countries do.  Mainly in shock because Brady prepped Angela for months prior to our trip repeatedly saying, "don't forget sunscreen.  The sun's really strong our here.  Did I mention don't forget sunscreen?"  He could have at least slipped in, "oh, and by the way, bring your own TP or tissue pouches."  Angela and I went in to face our first Filipino bathroom experience.  The two friends who came with us were native Filipino girls.  Super sweet.  I go into the stall, relieve my bladder, and try the sprayer thing.  Like any rookie, my aim is a bit off, so I spray water everywhere, including the toilet seat.  I am so embarrassed that I try to talk to the 2 girls waiting for a turn and I'm saying, "hey.  Hey girls.  I just sprayed the seat.  What do I do?  It looks like I peed on it."  Crickets.  I hear no response, so I just come out.  Turns out they don't speak English, so quite honestly, who knows what they thought happened in there. 

We drive some more and make it to the first waterfall.  Did I mention it was HOT?  Very, very humid.  The type of humid that makes you sweat for no apparent reason.  Angela and I are still in our airport clothes so we need to change.  There is a bathroom at the top of the hike so we go to change in there. My first world high maintenance side really came out at this point.  The bathroom had no toilet seat, just the toilet that you usually see when you raise the toilet seat...ya know, the boy's toilet seat when they pee.  There was no toilet paper.  There was an empty bucket, which I'm assuming usually had water in it.  Thankfully Angela had 2 tissues left in her tissue pouch and spared one for me.  We used the bathroom one final time and changed into our swimsuits and shorts.

We began the hike down to the first waterfall.  I was sweating like a dog.  Thirsty.  Not much water on hand..poor planning on my part.  The landscape was beautiful!  So much green!

There were parts that were too steep to hike so we had to repel down these medal, ladder, chute things.   Well, as many Filipino men would point out through out our trip, I am bigger than the average Filipino.  I scraped my shins and knees a couple times on the repel down.  

We make it down the river and it's beautiful!  It had been raining lightly the whole time so there was a mist everywhere, which made it even more beautiful.

We made it to the waterfall.  It's name was Cavanti Falls.

They had us sit on that Tom Sawyer looking raft boat and they would paddle us up to and then directly under and through the waterfall.  Sounds like an adventure and I was so hot that I was dying to get wet.

Once we got through the waterfall there was a little cave that we could swim and climb in.

I don't know if this video will work but it's of us going through the waterfall.

The original plan was to hike down to Cavanti Falls and then ride a raft boat down the river through the ravine and our driver would be down there to pick us up.  Because of all the rain, the river waters were too high so it was too dangerous to raft down.  We had to hike back up.  That was rough!  My body was not having it.  I think the combination of sleep deprivation, dehydration from little water and sweating out what little was in me, and the steepness of the hike, I was not feeling well at all.  I kept getting light headed and needing to stop.  Thankfully, everyone was so patient and understanding.  They stopped as much as I needed to.  We finally made it up and went to a gas station to get water and a little food in our blood streams.  After sitting and rehydrating for an hour or so, I was good to proceed.  The waterfall was beautiful, but at this point, I was hoping the trip would get less hard.

The next waterfall hike was called Hulugan Falls. Fun name, right?!  The hike down in the falls was not paved, and with the constant rain, it was really muddy.  My Tevas stayed mud free for a bit, but then I slipped and went right into a mud puddle.  Have you ever tried to hike down a steep hill with mud in between the sole of your shoe and your foot?  Every step you take you slide everywhere in your sandal, barely staying on by your toes pressing as far forward as the sandal straps will allow.   It's not easy.  Every step became hard.  My toes were starting to hurt from always catching the weight of my body trying to brace every step.  I couldn't help but think, "this has been the hardest trip I've been on yet.  Nothing about this day has been easy.  It's got to get better."  We finally make it down and Hulugan Falls was breathtaking.  Pictures don't do it justice!

Angela stayed chipper the whole time despite my growing tiredness. LOL

The nice little Filipino guide lady let us cross the mini waterfalls in front and took us back to the main one.  She was so tiny but every step was sure.  Mine were not. 

Similar to Cavanti Falls, Hulugan Falls had a cave that you could go climb in.  We sat and watched the serene water for 30 minutes or so.  It was so beautiful and peaceful, and thankfully, the water had cleaned the mud out of my sandals. 

We hiked back up the hill and every step was precise and sure to avoid any mud.  I succeeded in making it all the way back up the hike without mud in my sandals and without needing much rest.  The day had gotten much better.

We went to our Airbnb tired as can be.  First thing I noticed, there was toilet paper.  The next morning when we left, I stole it so we could use it the rest of the trip.

The next day was hiking to a Taal point. We drove into a parking area and had to get a boat ride to the volcano in the middle of the lake.  Taal has an island within a lake, that is on an island within a lake, that is on an island: Vulcan Point Island is within Main Crater Lake, which is on Volcano Island, which is within Taal Lake, which is on the main Philippine Island, Luzon. Now that makes my head hurt to think about.

While we were waiting for our boat ride, I kind of liked that there was a dragon statue.

So I got a picture with it.

I decided to be adventurous and ride a horse to the volcano.  Meet Diana.  She was the smallest horse I had ever written.  For the small Filipino people, I'm sure she was plenty big, but this American girl was afraid of smashing little Diana.

We stopped at a halfway point to get a view of the crater lake.

We made it to the crater lake and it was beautiful.  We played around in the water for a bit when Brady and Angela decided they wanted to swim to an island in the middle.  I decided to stay back and watch our stuff, since there were about 5-6 Filipino men hanging around watching us.  One was our guide on the hike and the others were locals and friends, I'm sure.   One of the Filipino men tried to make conversation with me i his very broken English.  He told me I should swim to the island too.  When I told him that I didn't want to, he made a gesture with his arms spread wide and then moved his hands up and down where his boobs would be and rocked back and forth while saying, "too big."  He was pretty funny and slightly offense.  I wasn't too surprised.  I know a lot of cultures are very blunt and lacking tact, so I mainly just laughed.  He continued to try to talk to me and said the words, "you're big" several times.  He talked about how Filipino women marry American men but American women never marry Filipino men.  He then started to point at the 2 young boys with him, high school aged, and comment at what Im assuming was him trying to say I should marry one of them but his English was very broken.  This is where he inserted yet another "you're big" comment.   He said that Filipino men couldn't marry American women because they don't have money, which is very true.  A lot of either old, creepy guys or really weird unattractive guys come to the Philippines to find wives and the women have an opportunity to get out of poverty.   He said I was big a couple more times while I had no idea the true message he was trying to communicate but then proceeded to tell me how beautiful I was and how "healthy" I am and that it was a good thing.  He then asked if he could have a picture with me, while having a huge smile on his face.  He seemed pretty happy that I obliged.  He then asked me if I was married or had a boyfriend.  When I told him I didn't have either, he seemed genuinely surprised.  I'll take any validation I can get after this tactless conversation.  Thankfully, Angela and Brady came back to shore shortly after, to which I was very happy.

We rode our little canoe boat back to shore so we could drive to an overlook of the volcano called Sky Ranch.

Sky Ranch was like a little carnival on a hill.  They had vendors, rides, zip-lines, souvenir shops, anything you want.  We decided to ride the Ferris Wheel at sunset.  I snapped this picture.  Taal is still an active volcano, but this was actually a reflection of the sunset caught just right.

One thing I love about the Philippines is how much they love Christmas.  Christmas decorations have died down in America but they were everywhere in the Philippines.  We had to get a picture by the trees.

We were like celebrities.  Random Filipino's would ask us for a picture with them.  This girl asked Brady if he would take a picture of her with us.  Brady jokingly said, "want a picture with me?"  To which the girl dryly said, "No, just them."

The next morning we went to the Philippines Manila Temple.  The clouds behind the temple were beautiful. 

This looked like the Tree of Life.

This group of Filipino women also wanted a picture with Angela and me.  We found out they traveled 15 hours one-way to come to the temple.  That dedication always inspires and impresses me. 

After the temple we got a $5 massage and rested a little before flying to the island of Boracay.  Boracay was a beautiful island with sandy beaches and clear water.

Angela and I decided to try parasailing.  I have always wanted to.  It was fun and beautiful up there.

While up in the air, I kept looking down into the crystal clear water, half expecting to see a shark.  Thankfully I did not, but I did start seeing jellyfish.  First it was one or two.  Then the numbers grew exponentially.  They were everywhere.  I remembered when we went to Australia around this time of year, we had to wear fully body suits in the ocean because it was jellyfish season, so I guess it makes sense that there are so many jellyfish.  It was fun to see them from above, but then the driver started to lower us down closer to the water.  They were making motions like they were going to drag our feet in the water.  I began to panic.  Angela and I both straightened our legs as stiff as we could while I yelled, "Jellyfish!  JELLYFISH!  JELLYFISH!" while motioning my hands to send us back in the air.   They smiled and gave us thumbs up while continuing to lower us closer to the water.  They probably had no idea what we were saying.  Thankfully our straight and stiff legs didn't go under and we evaded Jellyfish stings all over our legs.

After we came back to shore, Angela and I made a sand sculpture while the boys threw the football around.  We also splurged for another $5 massage.  

We ate dinner on the beach while watching the sunset.  It was magical!  

The transportation in Philippines was so fun!  They had these tiny little public transportation vehicles called Tricycles.  They would literally fit 5-6 people.  They cram in wherever they can.

2 can fit in the main car.  2 can sit on the back facing outward.  2 can sit behind the driver.  and you can pile a whole lotta luggage on top.

They also have Jeepneys which look like party buses. 

Food in the Philippines is a lot of meat and rice.  They also have these little bananas everywhere.  They are free on your table when you order.  It's like getting chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant.

I wanted to take more pictures of food than I did, but I failed.  This is what they mix in their soy sauce to eat with their rice.  It was ok.  I avoided the peppers though.  I can't handle spice.

This is Bulalo.  Beef in a broth with cabbage.  I loved it!!

This is Adobo which is Pork

 My all-time favorite meal was Tocino.  So, so good!  I had it a couple times.  It is the flavor they put on this pork pictured below. 

  Our trip had come to an end.  Brady was such a considerate host for us.  He always helped us with our bags, took care of all the planning and finances, never ate his meal before we got ours, and was overall fun and accommodating.  He was great!  His 2 roommates were great also! Garrett and Wade were so fun and genuine.  Angela and I have taken several trips together and always have a good time.  Even though the Philippines started out rough for me, the week only got better and better.  The had come to fly home.  29  hrs later, I had landed back in Phoenix.  And 4 months later, I would finally blog about it!