Friday, February 27, 2009


Good news for all your photo lovers. We got the Philippines up and ready to view (we know that there are a bunch of you out there that found the album when it wasn't finished and hiding and snuck an early peak). Have a look at the finished product. Hope you like your trip through the Islands with us.
I too loved the Philippines and the many great new friends we met. Thanks to you all.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodbye to the Philippines

We spent our last few days in Manila supposedly "resting" before our final departure. You already know I didn't want to leave and it wasn't just because I had to fly.... Fortunately for our lazy butts we had more people to visit and things to do. We spent one whole day with Nikki (the sister of a CS guy we met in Iloilo) and she showed us more of the city that we hadn't seen before, including a view from her 40th floor office! There is a lot to see in Manila but it seems like the city is just one giant shopping mall a lot of the time.
The following day we went out again for dinner together and also met up with Larz whom we had met in Iloilo as well. We had a great evening of chatting but somehow got onto the topic of "balut". Balut is the infamous Philippine snack that is a boiled duck egg but with the duck partially formed inside. They are about 2 weeks old and you can see the feathers and beak and other random grossness inside. It sounds disgusting and a lot of locals also agree that it is, but it's still popular somehow. Anyway, one thing led to another and Nikki ended up buying one and eating it for us right there on the street. Sick! Dad was totally disgusted but I did taste the "broth" inside the egg. That was enough and yes, I fail the balut test. It was all pretty funny though because Larz and Nikki got a kick out of our faces with the whole thing. I'd be tempted to eat it just to disgust you guys but at the end of the day I am afraid of the after effects. Eggs are one of the easiest foods to get sick over and if I didn't like it and could never eat eggs again I'd be pretty pissed off. Didn't seem to be worth the risk, especially since boiled eggs are such an important part of our diet in many countries.
We didn't fly out from Manila airport but went two hours north to Clark airport to leave on the budget airline Air Asia. Clark airport is interesting in that it was/is the US air base and still had a military feel to it. The whole airport and base were buried in the 1991 eruption of the nearby Mt. Pinatubo volcano which was a major factor in the US ending their heavy military presence in the area.
Our flight was good and we are now in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the state of Sabah, Malaysia in the northeast of the island of Borneo. We will be on Borneo for the next 3 weeks and will soon be meeting up with Jake again which is going to be awesome.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

San Pedro

As I said before we met up with Bianca in her vacation/country home near San Jose. Actually it's on the road to San Pedro a little fishing village along the coast where she grew up.
She'd just recently built a beautiful place made of wood on the property and I must say it is awesome to be able to have a home where most of the activity takes place outdoors. The upper deck feels like half the surface of the home (and probably is actually) and serves as the dining room, living room and even my bedroom :). It never gets cold at night (so long as you don't ask a local) and you can just sit and read or chat in bare feet and shorts all day long. Oh, I am never coming back..... It's even nice to sit and watch the rain (which I would never admit to at home because it's not true there).
The black sand beach was also nearby with it's fishermen. The water wasn't really good for swimming because there is a river nearby. Actually the river is pretty interesting in and of itself. Like a lot of places in the Philippines, it was a reminder of the strength of the storms they get here as it was just a little stream with a huge and ever expanding riverbed that had managed to tear away a road and part of the village in the last big storm a couple years ago.
Bianca's brother and his family spent most of their time at the house visiting with us, and in a continuation of the hospitality theme of the Philippines, fed us and fed us and fed us again. Shean, I have eaten all sorts of seafood and noodles dishes so your description just doesn't work (although they were all good). I am sure I have gained some weight and an autopsy would now probably reveal a thin layer of tissue between my skin and bones :) Everyone also seems to want to play matchmaker and if I were to stay any longer I would probably end up fat and engaged in no time at all. I'll have to come back....
We spent a few great days at San Pedro just relaxing and trying to convince ourselves that we hadn't found paradise and needed to eventually leave. I am now convinced that it is a disturbing sign that we are getting this trip close to the end of the road mentally because rather than maintain our self-abusing method of putting "lines on the map" by land travel we were seriously looking into a cheap flight back to Manila (which are often even cheaper than the bus). The fact that I would consider this at all when I hate flying (both in principle and the experience) probably means that we are getting tired.....
As it was, we didn't get into a plane but took a bus. It was another one of those marathons that had us riding the bus for a couple of hours on windy roads until we got to the end of the island (Panay) and had to jump on a ferry for a few hours to get to another island (Mindoro) where we drove another couple of hours to its end and another ferry terminal. Wake us up, jump on the 1 am sailing, wake us up again 2 hours later to get off and then a few more hours of driving to get to Manila. In total, 18 hours and no sleep. So we are back in Manila in Bianca's apartment while she has run off to another island on a volunteering trip. We have only a few days left before leaving the country so will stay in Manila for that time and meet up with some friends from Couchsurfing that we've made and see a little more of the city. The Philippines has definitely been one of the top countries of the trip and I must make plans to come back.

Monday, February 16, 2009


It's not always fun and games out here still. I have sunburns but believe it or not, it rains most days and has been quite cloudy. The sun just burns you fast when it comes out.
We were a little ambitious in our plan to get all the way to Iloilo city on Panay island from Panglao in one day. It was a rough day, made worse by our headaches (probably from diving) and lack of sleep. We had a choice of going via Cebu or via Dumaguete and chose Dumaguete simply because it would involve fewer changes of transport and a longer line on the map :)
We had set up a schedule with a tricycle driver to meet us in the morning at 6:45 to take us to the ferry terminal. The guy never showed (as I suspected he wouldn't) so we had to charter a small jeepney passing by and only made it onto our ferry to Dumaguete (the only one of the day) because it was running a few minutes late. Talk about stress. Why they play a movie longer than 2 hours on a 2 hour ferry ride I do not know. All I know is that you can't see the end of it.... Right after getting off the ferry, we jumped on another trike to the bus station and had just sat down on the bus when it took off on what ended up being a 7 hour journey through some pretty but very windy mountain roads. It seems like everywhere we go now they are doing road repair or construction and my butt is getting quite bruised from all the bumping around on hard seats.
The problem was that we were taking the bus to Bacolod where we would have to catch another ferry to Iloilo. I'd expected the bus to take only 5 1/2 hrs and we'd be able to catch the last fast ferry of the day (my biggest complaint of this whole country still is that the transport ends too early in the evening). We were dumped in the city and quickly rushed to the port by tricycle only to have missed the last fast ferry. Grrr.... By this point the sun was setting and we were rushed onto another boat, this one a car ferry heading to a port town near but not actually in Iloilo. I was another 2 hours and upon landing we learned that we were more or less stuck in the middle of nowhere.
A tricycle ride into the little town didn't help us much because nothing other than the police station was open. A little luck seemed to be with us though because the police turned out to be quite nice and took us under their wing to say that there was not only no transport leaving town but that there was nowhere to stay there either! We had a host in Iloilo that was trying to help direct our movements but it did seem we were left with the only option of an expensive and long taxi ride to the city. But that is just unacceptable so after a prolonged conversation with the police, they offered to take us half-way in their car to another police station where we would be able to find further transport. So we leapfrogged along and eventually, after 16 hours, finally got into Iloilo.
Our host family in Iloilo was great and once again we were treated to the excellent hospitality of the Philippines. We spent the weekend in Iloilo, not doing a lot other than visiting with the family and wandering around town a bit. We continue to get lots of rain and everyone seems confused by it because it is supposed to be the dry summer season right now. At least it's still warm.
We have since moved a couple of hours further west along the coast of Panay to San Jose where we have reunited with Bianca, an HC member we met in Manila who has come here to her family home for a short vacation from the big city.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


We left Flager on a jeepney heading out of Donsol, separating as she headed home to the north and we to the south. We had both a sea and land route option for getting to Bohol, but since we are crazy we opted for the land route. The transport connections in this country are either truly amazing or we've just been really lucky because as we were stepping out of our jeepney to wait at an intersection for a bus heading south, thinking that we were going to have to travel by bus-hopping for 2 days, there pulled up a packed, ordinary bus going all the way to Bohol island direct. Sweet! There was only one problem, it was pretty full and one of those ordinary junky buses and it was going to take 29 hours all told, including 2 ferry rides (for a total of about 4 hours). Did the parents feel up to it? Not really, but hey, this is what we do.....
We drove through the other islands of Samar and Leyte through pouring rain with the bus leaking all over until parking near the ferry terminal at Bato and sleeping for a few hours. Ok, so it wasn't exactly driving the whole time, but we were still on the bus. It actually wasn't that bad a ride, all things considered, because we could actually lay down as most of the people had already left.
Of course after landing at Ubay, Bohol we had to switch buses to get to the capital of Bohol, Tagbilaran, another 4 hours later. So a total of 34 hours (including the initial jeepney ride) after leaving Donsol, we were finished our journey. We were supposed to be hosted in Tagbilaran but it didn't work out as planned.
The following day we were guided around to the two most famous tourist attractions on the island, the Chocolate Hills and to see the Tarsiers. The Chocolate Hills are a bit over-hyped but are an interesting looking and unique geological formation. They have been caused by the uplifting and later erosion of coral, forming 1268 small conical hills in an area of about 50 sq. km. The hills don't really have a soil, so unlike the land around it they don't grow much vegetation other than grasses or moss or something, so during the dry season they turn a chocolaty brown. Of course right now it is very wet so they are still green.
Our second stop was to see the Tarsiers. Tarsiers are not actually the smallest primate in the world as advertised but they are really small. They are also one of the first primate species to evolve so look like little rat monkeys. They are nocturnal so have huge eyes, a body that can easily fit in your hand and a rat-like tail much longer than the body. The most interesting part is the hands, they look like perfect little hands. Unfortunately they are an endangered species and are kept in little cages by locals wanting to make a quick tourist buck and are constantly harassed all day when they should be sleeping. The whole area of Loboc, where the Tarsiers were, was all underwater as the nearby river had flooded the day before, destroying sections of road and making it impassible. We knew it had been raining hard on our way over here... The rest of Bohol had looked partially flooded or swamped as well and the coastal road reminded us exactly of the south coast of Sri Lanka.
After staying the night in Tagbilaran, we went to Panglao island to stay with a new host, Ogs. Panglao island is a small island just off Bohol but connected by bridge. Panglao is one of the most popular and famous scuba dive sites in the Philippines too. The great part is that Ogs is actually the manager at one of the dive shops here, Bohol Oceanic Adventures, so was able to give us a good deal on some dives. How could we refuse that? So we've spent the last 2 days doing a total of 3 dives after a quick refresh in the pool. Wow, the dives out at Balicasag Island just offshore were amazing! I don't doubt that the area is one of the best. Tons of variety and tons of fish and colours to see. I think the best was the sea turtles! The surface weather wasn't the best but the water was a nice and warm 27C. That's my kind of diving :) Wish I had the money to do a lot more....
Tomorrow we move on, heading north again towards Panay island.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Caramoan and Donsol

Ok, so we stayed in Naga a few extra days waiting for Flager, our host, to finish her exams so she could travel with us for a bit. We left Naga heading east to get to the Caramoan peninsula, a quiet part of the country that is just beginning to think of developing themselves for tourism. At present it is relatively untouched and well preserved with some empty beaches and developing hiking trails. There are also a bunch of small islands just off shore and one of the more popular activities to do is to rent a motorboat for the day and island hop, visiting various beaches. In fact, it's so unspoilt out here that after arriving we learned that last year they filmed French Survivor here and are currently setting up Israeli Survivor. It begins shooting on the 15th of Feb and it was quite annoying because the crew had taken over the hotel next to ours and had also acquired exclusive access to the closest beach and some of the islands. We walked a few km over to the beach (beautiful walk through the hills and villages) only to be not allowed on and had to resort to a bush-trail shortcut involving a waist-deep walk through mangroves to get to another beach, where, sure enough, the Survivor crew was building huts for something.... I've heard that the Swedes, Bulgarians and Turks all have plans to do Survivor here as well so maybe it's not a good idea to visit if the beaches are going to be shut off. The weather has been sporadic lately with lots of rain, especially in the evenings, but it can't be all bad because I do have a killer sunburn at the moment :(

To get to Caramoan we had to take our first Bangka ride. They are the local little boats that connect all the various islands on the shorter routes. They look like oversized canoes with bamboo outriggers to stabilize them. It's another first so the answer is no, we haven't seen and done everything yet. Caramoan itself is on the mainland but the peninsula is best accessed by boat. It's a one-street town really and we went out to try to buy phone credit at sunset (6pm) and almost everything was closed.....except for the terrible videoke places. We did go out on a motor boat one day to visit a few island beaches. Small beaches and being on the east coast, lots of wind and waves coming in. It's still the end of the rainy season I think.

From Caramoan we travelled down to Donsol. It's one of the most famous places in the Philippines because of it's cheap and nearly guaranteed sightings of Whale Sharks (in season). The season runs from about Jan-June so we were good to go. A Whale Shark is really a shark the size of a whale. It is passive and eats only plankton (one of only three sharks to do so) which is a good thing because they are the world's largest fish and can grow up to 18m (50ft long or so). Anyway, in Donsol it's not a question of whether you will see one, just how many. We had a chance in Mozambique (they are found all over the tropics) to do the same but it was a lot more expensive. So this morning we jumped in a boat with our snorkel gear (not allowed to scuba dive with them here) and head out to do some viewing. There were 7 boats with a maximum of 7 tourists per boat. It took a while to spot them and by the time we did it became obvious that it was going to be a bit of a chaotic day. The "rules" state that only one boat of 6 people is allowed per shark and you have to stay 3-4 meters away and should always wear a life vest. Did we follow any of these rules? Do I need to say "No"? There was a shortage of sharks so only one was spotted at a time and just like whale-watching at home, each boat tried to cut off the other trying to get their people in position. Also like whale-watching, the idea is to get in front of where it's headed, drop off the snorkelers, have it swim under you and then follow. Well, when 3 boat loads of people jump into the water at the same time trying to see the same fish all you end up seeing is bubbles and feet smacking you in the face. I got a few people back though :)
As with most war zones, a system eventually developed and towards the end we did get some amazing swims. One or two boats would start out with people while another would go further up, drop their people off and as those people cut off the first set, they would usually give up and get picked back up. It would then continue as long as the shark would swim within view. Two problems with that. If you find a shy one, it will dive fairly quickly and there are no rules that say it has to come up again (it's not an air-breathing whale after all). Also, the damn thing swims fast! We really have to kick and swim to keep up with it, so it's quite easy to fall back as you get tired or if someone kicks you in the head and you have to adjust your position.
So what did we see? A couple of sharks, but always just one at a time, and the last one that we all followed for a long time was about 6-7m long and just below the surface. It is huge! When you first spot that thing coming straight for you out of the empty blueness of the ocean you are definitely not caring what it does or doesn't eat because the head/mouth is massive. Then it's a quick move to the side and swim hard as long as you can. It was so amazing and once it came up almost to the surface right under me so I actually had to touch it to push myself away! Wow! That was great. And to think that it was just a little one..... Dad dove down under it to get a look from a different angle. He looked right into it's eye.... He has only great things to say as well.
Despite being cloudy out there, my bad sunburn is now terrible, but it was soooo worth it :) Tomorrow we are heading south toward Bohol island to continue the adventures.