Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday's Interview: Weng in the Philippines

I caught Weng yesterday in a period of bright sunshine between downpours of rain (in a literal and metaphorical sense). We had some time to catch up on Skype, alternating between voice call and chat, finally resorting to email. Nothing to do with the connection in Manila, it was the Chiswick end that failed.

When asked what Weng has been doing she replied 'work work work'. What on? The Civil Society Organization Working Group on Climate Change and Development (CSO WG on CC and DEVT for short). Its all about 'engaging government climate negotiators in adopting cso positions such as deeper cuts and committments of A1 countries' at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December of this year.

We chatted a bit about the state of ecotourism in the Philippines. Weng said that whereas before, heritage was the focus of tourism campaigns, now it is ecotourism. Althouth there is widespread recognition of the value of developing ecotourism, some regions grasp the ethics and philosophy behind it better than others. Palawan for example has a very strict protection policy as they have one of the few primary forests left. Thier Mayor is a very active conservationist. The Philippines remains a centre for offshore biodiversity , diving, nature and adventure.

The conversation broke up so we moved to chat. I asked Weng what everyone is talking about at the moment in the Newspapers. It's "the President's recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) and her visit to the US. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has very low rating and credibility because of rampant corruption and human rights abuses by her administration". Weng says that people call her the longest "burning" president. Politics in the Philippines is a hot topic. Filipinos complain regularly but they are tired of unrest and would like a permanent leader. They just feel like there isn't a better option at the moment.

Weng spoke earlier about the Spanish churches so I asked her to explain more about this heritage. She said, "they've been here for 350 years (16th to 20th century). Their legacies are 1) catholic religion 2) catholic churches 3) catholic schools 4) catholic politicians. The Filipinos have deeply imbeded colonial mentality specially for things american now. They loooove american, well except for the leftists", says Weng.

Weng told me about the third largest mall in asia and Jollibee, their own homegrown fastfood chain which is more popular than Macdonalds. They claim their food is more suited to filipino taste but Weng can't tell the difference. Fastfood still dominates in the Philippines as number one food type amongst locals.

Weng's last holiday was to the beach for her son's birthday. Where does a local go on holiday in the Philippines?, south of Manila.

Some tips from Weng for travellers to the Philippines:

What is the next big event – festival, party, national holiday?
"Not till Christmas time. This summer (April-May) was the primary "fiesta" season wherein towns and villages celebrate their patron saint's anniversary or something. People would have different versions of cultural festivities. Example is St. John the Baptist feast day- towns who celebrate this would have its residents pouring water on the people in the streets. Sometimes, angry motorists get into fights with them".

If you took a holiday in the Philippines next month, where would you go and what would you do?
"I would like to visit Baguio, 5 hours north of Manila, our summer capital. It's a mountain city formerly the American's R&R place. There's lots of cafes, art galleries, the botanical garden, and the weather is cooler than Manila's".

Unfortunately we couldn't chat on Skype all day, as much fun as I was having. So it was time to wrap up.

Dot Pinkney: Ok Weng, well I better let you enjoy your evening in peace. It was great to speak to you and hopefully we can do this again soon!
Weng: ok dot, nice hearing from you and sally
Weng: thanks!

Next week I will be speaking to Silvia in Colombia. If you have any questions you would like me to ask, email me at

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Tripbods

This week we are delighted to have 2 new contacts officially on board. Welcome to Allan Rhodes in Mexico and Totty Pease in Argentina....

"I am an English – Mexican (English father, Mexican mother) born in Mexico City and raised mainly in Huitzilac and Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos (south of Mexico City). I have had the opportunity to travel in 25 states of the 31 states in Mexico, mainly visiting national parks and other protected areas. Internationally, I have visited more than 25 countries in the 5 five continents of the World.
My university degree is in Business Management and I did a Masters in Tourism, Recreation and Parks Management in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the year 2001 I founded a website promoting ecotourism in protected areas called I have worked for the National Commission in Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) for Mexico as national advisor in tourism in protected areas. Nowadays, I work as an independent consultant for ecotourism, community tourism and nature tourism enterprises in Chiapas, Veracruz and Oaxaca.
Presently, I live in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas with my family where I enjoy taking walks around the historical center, hiking in nearby natural reserves and working in my vegetable garden".

"I arrived in Buenos Aires over two and a half years ago to write a dissertation for my Masters, which I was doing in Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute in London. Just before going back to England, I was offered a job setting up and running an art gallery and an opportunity which was too good to turn down. After this, I spent three months working as a volunteer to children living in a shanty town before setting up my own business with a delightful Argentine. We take people to stay at his estancia just outside Buenos Aires in the Pampas to ride, experience local culture and eat delicious and organic food. I have always loved to travel but I find Latin American history, politics and culture particularly fascinating. I have decided to settle in Argentina because the country is absolutely spectacular and incredibly diverse, the steak is amazing and the people are very warm, kind and welcoming".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ireland by rail and by sail

Ireland is my new favourite escape.

This is not just because of the Guinness, the food, or even the beautiful countryside for that matter, but the fact that it's so easy to get to but still feels like another world.

Given that we try to avoid flying where possible, we booked our Sail Rail tickets, amazed they cost only £50 return from London

We jumped on a train at 0930 direct to Holyhead, which is one of the most beautiful train journeys sweeping the Welsh coast and passing small fishing villages along the way.

A quick change at Holyhead and you're on an Irish Ferry, which was surprisingly plush. You can choose to stand out on deck and watch Wales disappearing behind you or snuggle up in the comfy chairs and watch a movie.

We were in Dublin by 1730 feeling rested from a relaxing journey, then headed straight to Wicklow.

County Wicklow is a wonderful area, just 35 minutes south of Dublin yet boasting some of the most remote rural areas you could hope to find.

We stayed in a traditional hostel called Glenmalure Mountain Lodge. It was paradise, situated at the foot of the mountains along a 6km track from the nearest small road. It was about 15km from the nearest village shop.

In the hostel there is no electricity or running water, so if you like your creature comforts you may be better off staying in the cosy pub down the road. But for 15 Euro a night you can't really complain.

Burbling through the lodge's garden is a mountain river which has ideal bathing pools for washing and splashing around. There is also a natural spring delivering the crispest mountain water you'll ever taste.

I should mention that we were the only people staying here apart from the warden so we really had the whole place to ourselves.

By the time we had to say goodbye and return to the bright lights of Dublin we felt we could have done with another two weeks there. Still, we'll be back. And for just £50 return by Sail Rail, we might be back sooner than we thought.

A Saigon Kiss

During a recent visit to Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is otherwise known, I was intrigued by a reference to a Saigon Kiss. Then I found out...

One afternoon I decided to go for a swim and asked a taxi driver to take me to the local pool. I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities and even managed to do some lengths in between children hurtling themselves into the water from various precipices around the pool and among the swimming lessons taking place.

But I noticed the time and was late for dinner, so jumped out, put my clothes on straight over my bikini and rushed out to find a taxi. I stood and hailed cabs but with no joy. Rush hour was still in play and the streets were grid locked traffic chaos. It was then I was approached by a kind girl who asked if I needed help. On explaining my predicament she giggled and suggested that the wet patches were doing me no favours getting a cab. I laughed, forgetting about my wet bikini. (Note to self, dry off next time.)

The girl suggested I get a lift by motorbike instead. As a safety-conscious traveller I would normally take time to consider my options, but with little choice I quickly agreed. The girl hailed a motorcyclist and told him where I needed to go, then negotiated the price. I was eternally grateful to my new found local expert who'd just saved my skin. I thanked her gratefully and then hopped on the back of the moto.

It is said that if Beijing is the city of bicycles then Saigon is the city of motorbikes. Everywhere you look there are snake-like streams of buzzing bikes, millimetres apart, crossing oncoming lines of traffic in continuous lines. There is no right of way or stopping, everyone maneuvers around each other with amazing skill and success.

The ride back to the hotel was a scream, in every sense of the word. We sped around the city and I felt liberated by the experience, but was regularly gritting my teeth at the proximity of other vehicles. I then received my first (and hopefully last) Saigon kiss, from another motorcycle's engine as we hustled to squeeze through the same narrow gap. I still have the mark to prove the hair-raising experience.

All's well that ends well and I arrived back at the hotel in one piece. After paying a generous tip in thanks I turned towards the hotel door and saw the clock. The journey to the pool via taxi had taken 25 minutes. But the return journey, perhaps not surprisingly, had taken just 6 minutes. I was not only in time for dinner, but thankfully had time to change.


The act of kindness bestowed on me by the Vietnamese girl outside the pool reminded me of the Global Giving programme of the same name. If you have experienced a random act of kindness while travelling, why not share it? Visit (and let us know if you do, we'll publish it here too!)

Laura's South East Asia Trip

Sally and I met with Laura Vipond today who has just left Rough Guides to follow her dream and do a 3 month trip around South East Asia.

We are putting her in touch with our local Tripbods along the way - Virginia in Hong Kong, Janet in Cambodia, Lee in Laos and Weng in the Phillipines. She will also be meeting other potential Tripbods along the way to meet them and find out more about what they are up to.

Sal's top tip for Laura? Go to the local butchers and ask them to vacuum pack a set of dry clothes, photocopied documents and cash to slip in to your backpack lining for emergencies and in case you get swamped in the heavy rain in Vietnam.

We are looking forward to seeing her pics, reading her blog and watching her video postcards.

Most of all we are wishing Laura a fantastic trip!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Video Postcard


I've been adding new photos to our Flickr account of some of our Tripbods.

Have a look here: Tripbod on Flickr

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Welcome to the Tripbod blog

Welcome to Tripbod!

Soon to come...

Interviews with our local experts on the ground in far flung fascinating corners of the world.

Trend watching in the world of responsible travel.

The usual musings and banter from Tripbod HQ.

Launch of our new fabulous interim site.

Launch of our new fabulous REAL shebang site.

Watch this space.....

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