Apparently, somebody is watching over us. Understanding that heat and humidity are possibly the worst conditions for fitness training, Diane and I have avoided the inevitable topic of how to enjoy all the incredible food available in Southeast Asia without destroying the last year of workouts. Lo and behold, as if they heard we were coming, a group of dedicated fitness professionals just opened up what looks like an incredible gym conveniently located right in the heart of Penang. Normally avoiding promotion of specific businesses to keep the blog from sounding too commercial, this post is an exception to the rule. Consider this my one and only plug for something we haven’t yet seen but are confident will meet our expectations. Worrying about where to find air-conditioned comfort, studio classes and modern equipment we’re used to, Team Powerhouse Fitness appears to be a godsend.
Recapping a bit, Diane and I were neither fat nor fit back in late 2013 but knew we could stand to lose a few pounds and increase our fitness levels. Deterred by her two-hour commute and my ridiculous work hours that coincided with a time zone three hours ahead of the Western U.S. coast, we usually reserved productive workouts for once weekly weekend trips to our local gym. Fortunately, the bank that shall remain nameless put an abrupt end to my working days and sent me reeling into uncharted (and unemployed) waters. Wondering what life as a House Husbandshould be like, I decided to embrace the positives. After agreeing we’d simply retire early 16 months later once I was old enough to apply for an MM2H Visa at a reasonable cost, I embraced the free time and embarked on a five-day a week fitness routine that included HIIT training, free weights, yoga and a lot of cardio. Seeing an immediate improvement, Diane decided to use her corporate gym membership and started attending fitness classes.
Waking to the gentle rocking of the catamaran from our comfortable king sized bed, Diane and I hopped out of bed and headed to the balcony. Sleeping soundly after adjusting to the motion, we stepped outside and gazed at the shores of Genovesa Island, a spectacular but rather remote island for the second day of our Galapagos segment of our annual Expat Destination Research Vacation, this time to Ecuador. Having already seen fur seals, iguanas and penguins on day one, anticipation built quickly as we showered and headed for breakfast. Promising incredible bird watching opportunities, the crew briefed us on the morning’s activities that began with a wet landing at a beautiful coral beach in Darwin Bay.
On the beach at Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island
Technically a shield volcano and built almost entirely of fluid lava flows, Genovesa Island is horseshoe-shaped, occupies only 5 square miles, has a salt water filled crater lake and cliffs all around the perimeter. Located eight hours from most other islands, only smaller vessels can visit due to habitat sensitivity and the crew navigated the waters while we slept. Known as Bird Island, wildlife abounds including assorted boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, Darwin’s finches, Galapagos mockingbirds and marine iguanas. Separating this experience from most bird watching expeditions is the unspoiled and unique environment which eliminates the need for binoculars as many birds don’t see humans as predatory and literally sit in front of you. Glancing right at us with googly eyes, scores of amazing big birds were on the trail guarding their eggs while wide-eyed visitors strolled past.
Anticipation was high as we awoke on the third day of the South American leg of our annual Expat Research Destination Vacation. Planning only a single day of sightseeing in Quito, we left the jackets and long sleeve shirts behind and headed for a totally different climatic zone. Realizing Ecuador’s boundaries include a large chunk of untouched Amazonian jungle, we jumped at the chance to experience our third different rainforest adventure. Freshly embedded memories of Borneo’s jungle excursion remained strong and having already visited Costa Rica in 2002, that leaves Madagascar as the only rainforest we have yet to explore. Probably too far and expensive for early retirees in Malaysia, we’ll settle for orangutans over lemurs.
Sunset at Sacha Lodge
Understanding human encroachment remains the biggest threat to the world’s rainforests, there’s a handful of lodges that personify sustainable ecotourism at its best. Not to be missed, Sacha Lodge, in Ecuador’s Napo Valley Region fits the bill. Located on a pristine piece of privately owned land and bordering Yasuni National Park, one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions, the lodge is accessible only by navigating the Napo River for 50 miles, hiking inland on an often muddy boardwalk and crossing a scenic lake. Beginning the journey in Quito, Diane and I boarded a 25 minute flight over snow-covered peaks to the small town of Coca where guides met us for the start of a 4 day, 3 night adventure that exceeded our expectations.
Encountering a heavy bout of turbulence, Diane and I fastened our seat belts and sat peacefully as we watched other passengers meandering about the cabin. After 13 years in a post 9/11 world, all Americans understand that full compliance with any instructions by flight attendants and crew members is mandatory, not optional. Oddly enough, not only did nobody listen, several passengers seated in first class wandered back and started conversations with friends seated elsewhere. Realizing Ecuadorians are not Asians, we found it a bit unnerving that an American based airline would allow total disregard for Federal safety rules once out of U.S, airspace.
Nazca Boobies on Genovesa Island in The Galapagos chain
Travelling in November, a relatively empty season for tourism, Diane and I were adventuring to Qutio for the South American leg of our annual Expat Destination Research vacation. Having already gained positive impressions from two trips to Southeast Asia where we engaged in excellent adventures like trekking to a village of Hill people and spending quality time with orangutans, we decided to investigate the reasons behind the hoopla of the hottest expat destination according to Forbes and International Living. Although the mostly local passengers on the plane provided an interesting first impression, all negativity quickly faded after landing. Blessed with mountains, rain forest, beautiful beaches and The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of only a few expat havens with so much to offer in one small country. Continue reading →
Almost as if they were waiting just for us, several giant Asian elephants approached us from behind and sat down. Differing from other animals, when a two ton domesticated animal sits down next to you and appears to smile, your heart pounds and fascination abounds. Conducting Introductions to each elephant in both Thai and English, the knowledgeable team of mahouts assigned riders to each elephant, probably based on first observations of each visitor’s size and personality. Instructional lessons would follow shortly as we began our day at Patera Elephant Farm, possibly the most educational and enjoyable animal encounter available in Southeast Asia.
Continuing our annual Expat Destination Research Vacation in Thailand, we just finished an amazing overnight excursion to a remote tribal village high in the hills. AfterHanging Out With the Hill People,we expected excitement in the next chapter and the day’s events exceeded all expectations. Conveniently located about an hour from Chiang-Mai, the full day specialized program is tailor-made for those seeking a once in a lifetime opportunity that educates, enriches and provides a meaningful understanding into the special world of elephants.