Saturday, May 28, 2011

150 Pesos

150 pesos quickly became my magic number in Iloilo. 150 pesos is roughly equal to $3.50 in whatever major dollar currency I feel like using since the US, Canadian and Aussie dollars are all so similar these days (which is very good for me).
My first 150 pesos that I had to deal with every day was the payment for a single fan room in a pension house (aka cheap hotel) in the city centre of Iloilo. It actually was nicer than I thought it would be and had lots of cleaning staff keeping things in order. The only problem was that there were too many people smoking in the common area and halls and my room didn't have access to fresh air so my health deteriorated over the course of the week I was there.
I have friends in Iloilo but in a year a lot can change. The major construction projects around town have finished and the city is an a bit more of a serious anti-jaywalking campaign and trying to bring a little more order to the busiest intersections. I've also noticed how dark the city is. There are not a lot of streetlights, and even the ones that exist seem pretty weak. In the city centre most things shut down shortly after dark and since it's all small shops, it all gets shuttered up and emit very little light. No biggie though. Pickpocketting is probably the biggest problem in Iloilo and not violent crime.
The 2nd 150 pesos spent was for each hour of massage at the promo rate at one of the parlours here. I swore in Australia I was just gonna get massages to death once I got back here but in the end I only had a couple but at that rate I recommend 2 hours at a time....
150 pesos is also the post-midnight entry fee to the nightclub MO2 in Smallville. How could I resist when I'm still pretty much the only young white male in Iloilo? Ok, dancing is still not my thing, but I went wandering around Smallville (the small nightlife area) on a Saturday night in an attempt to accidently run into people I knew before. It worked because I did find an ex-teacher I knew and worked with before. The school has long since gone bankrupt and shut down so tracking down the remains of the scattered staff was not really an option, hence the stalking in Smallville...
I've been worried about trying to maintain my weight now that I've travelled again. I gained a bit before I left Australia but it's so easy to lose that I have to keep trying to stuff myself. So I came to learn that 150 pesos is also roughly the price of 2 meals of fried chicken and rice with a bottle of coke at Andoks. Can't complain about that, but my local addiction is mango shakes so I probably more often spent 150 pesos for 3 large mango shakes from the “Thirsty” stands scattered about town and in the malls.
I also went to see the new Pirates movie and that cost a little less than 150 pesos also.
The only thing that cost me more than 150 pesos was revisiting the dentist. I went back to the same one I had when I was here a year ago and had not been to a dentist since so figured I might as well have a checkup and cleaning. They were surprised to see me and I was immediately served. Think a dentist can't be any good if they aren't busy? Remember that this is the land of nurses, physical therapists and it seems like dentists too from the number of practices you pass by in a day. Filipinos seem to love being employed in anything medical. The concentration of pharmacies in town is crazy too. Of course that is a good thing for me since I had to stock up on a bunch of stuff to take to mom. I feel more and more like an international courier (extraordinaire) with every passing day ;)
A week passed in Iloilo far to fast and it was good to catch up with some old couchsurfing friends as well. Many others were missing though as they've since departed for various positions overseas. Maybe I'll just have to track them down too :) I don't know why but I liked being in Iloilo. It's not really a place you'd recommend to anyone travelling through the Philippines but it seems to be my place now. I really didn't want to leave...

Sunday, May 22, 2011


For a while now I've basically been telling everyone that asks that my favourite country is the Philippines. I don't know if this is actually 100% true, but it is certainly up there amongst my favourites and I had been really looking forward to going back, so much so that this whole 3 week to the Philippines is a side-trip that wasn't really supposed to happen. When I changed my plans to go to Europe from Australia I got carried away with the idea of a short hop over here on the way.
I decided to fly into Cebu instead of Manila because it was a direct flight option, I have never been there before and I currently have local friends residing there to hang out with. I landed in Cebu at 4am, which might not have been the best idea because I felt a little jet lagged and exhausted for days afterwards. It probably didn't help that I met a whole group of people, friends and friends of friends and hit the ground running. Still, that's the best way, especially when you don't have much time. I actually hate the idea of only having 3 weeks here to do what I want to do. I spent 2 days in Cebu meeting people and hanging out around town before a group of us went to Moalboal at my request. It's a well known diving spot on Cebu island about 3 hours from the city. A Japanese guy, Muko, and I dove while the others just swam, snorkeled and relaxed. I was a little disappointed that there is really no beach and as a diving hangout town it seemed pretty dull but maybe it's just the time of year and lack of a beach to draw other crowds. It was great to get back in the warm water and dive again after a year away from the sea. If I was honest though I'd say that of all the dives I've done in the Philippines this was the most disappointing, with a lot of broken coral. I'd have to recommend Apo Island or Panglao over Moalboal but I'd suspected such would be the case even before I dove... I still saw lots of different fish and the dive conditions were good so I can't complain. I just wish I had time to do more in other areas as well.
We came back to Cebu for a night and the next morning took off again on a trip to Siquijor island. It's a small island known for “witchcraft” and being really quiet. Nobody had been so it seemed like a good idea to explore for a few days. Funnily enough a lot of Filipinos are actually kind of scared of it and talk about it like it's a really bizarre and haunted kind of place. Maybe that was why it was sort of a disaster in ways because we kept running into problems, the first being a late start which resulted in us arriving in Dumaguete late so we were unable to catch the last ferry to Siquijor because it was full. All the cheap hotels in Dumaguete were full so we had to fork out more than we wanted in a place we didn't want to be. I'd been to Dumaguete briefly before and it's actually quite a nice provincial capital with it's long waterfront boulevard so it's not really the worst place to get stuck.
When we finally did get to Siquijor it seemed to have a lot of potential. It's quiet and the water at the pier when we arrived was very clear. We stayed in a very big house in a quiet area 1km out from the main town of Siquijor. Big room, big balcony, big yard, ornate staircases, etc. On the day we intended to get across the island to the nice beach area we were driven all the wrong directions by some idiot of a tricycle driver, including a period of literally bushwhacking on a trail that got progressively narrower until we had to turn around and go back (just like our failed trip in Gabon). The locals must've been a little shocked to see a tricycle burst out of the bush onto the road covered with branches and leaves and what must've looked like wild people inside. I swear we could've driven over to the nearest ecological centre and discovered new insect species to name after ourselves. We wasted so much time and were so mad at the guy that we cut him loose at the closest town and never got to the beach because we were on the wrong side of the island by that time and the public transport system is quite slow and infrequent as expected on a quiet island like this. Oh well, you win some and lose some I guess. At least I'm fully back into the realities of travel mode. The next day we went to a beach (but not THE beach) for an hour or two before it was time to pack up and leave for Cebu again.

The road just outside out guesthouse in Siquijor.

Coconut people for the festival in Maria town.

The "beach" at Don Deesco, just outside Siquijor town

I really didn't have much time in the city itself but on my last full day I did get the quick historical tour of Cebu. Cebu is actually the cite of the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines and I think the coolest thing in Cebu is Magellan's cross. It's a monument with a cross which is supposed to encase the original cross that Magellan planted in that exact spot when he landed in Cebu in 1521 and converted 800 locals to Christianity. He was killed just a few days later on neighbouring Mactan island where the Cebu airport is located. It wasn't until 1565 that the Spanish managed to start a permanent colony in the area and started building the small fort San Pedro and the Philippines' oldest church which we also visited.

At fort San Pedro.

It seemed like the social scene for my friends in Cebu revolved around 2 places, the photo studio where one of them works, and Popeye's bar where we went all the time to play pool. I suppose it was only inevitable that on the evening of my last day we ended up in the studio goofing off and taking ridiculous photos of ourselves (this was not a first for them). I don't think I've ever had so many photos taken of me in a single day in my life...

Goofing off at the photo studio.

Somehow the 9 days I had scheduled for Cebu passed in a flash and I've now returned to Iloilo where I was teaching a year ago. I've come back to reminisce and visit other friends...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

KL and Singapore

After a very short final sleep in Australia I jumped on my 8 hour flight up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had been there quite a few times in 2009 so was looking forward to being back somewhere I knew and not having to worry about not having a map or anything. I had boarded the plane wearing 3 layers of clothes and hastily stripped them off when the 32C air rushed into the plane when they opened the doors for disembarkation.
Somehow it all felt so normal being back in KL, the tropics and the developing world, like the time in Australia was the strange holiday and not the other way around. The heat, the greenery, all the chaos on the streets, the dirt, the noise, foreign signs, the crowds, the smell of diesel fumes laced with the smell of tropical fruit and indian spices seemed somehow totally natural if still unpleasant at times. It was easy enough to get back into town and find a cheap place to stay. I was also able to meet up with a friend I had met before there. We hung out, eating and wandering around the park below the Petronas Towers. It all seemed so normal that I had completely forgotten to even take my camera out with me for the 1 day/2 nights I was in KL. Of all the countries in the world other than the US and Canada, Malaysia is the country I have passed in and out of the most.
I left Malaysia on a very early bus to Singapore. Malaysia actually has a really good highway system and nice buses in a 1-2 configuration with 1 seat on the left and 2 on the right of the aisle so there is tons of space in a comfy chair. KL to Singapore is only just over 5 hours though I got held at Singapore customs over some gifts I'm trying to carry home. Singapore remains as ridiculously strict and expensive as ever....
I had just under 12 hours to spend in Singapore before my midnight flight out to Cebu so I met up with a friend Francis. He was one of the family members I stayed with when I spent 6 weeks in Singapore 1 ½ years ago and we were both excited for a brief reunion. I did go back to say hi to the family at their home briefly (and drop off my bags) before we ran off to eat and watch Thor in the theatre. Again it was cool to revisit somewhere I had been before and knew and meet up with friends. I even still had my old metro card with credit on it to use :) It's amazing and sad how fast the time flies when you're having fun so before I knew it it was time to say goodbye again and catch my next flight. Philippines here I come!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Wow, my last couple weeks went by really quickly. One minute you have time and the next you're boarding a plane to leave.... I was pretty busy organizing stuff at the end and unfortunately didn't even get to say goodbye and have last meetings with all the people I wanted because of scheduling conflicts. I managed to work full time right until the day before I left as well. For example my last meeting with Ben was just a very quick hi and bye as he was rushing between events in his busy schedule. He starts his kayak expedition on May 20th. If you want to follow along with his journey then check out his newly launched website at
I survived my flight out of Brisbane :) The only way I can really describe how flying feels for me (and it's mostly the anticipation and then take-off that is bad) is that it feels like those nights when you are lying in bed, totally exhausted, trying to sleep but can't because you can't relax your mind enough to settle down. And then in this exhausted state and stressed state of being, run a marathon with the heart racing, sweating and tired muscles. By the time I land in my destination, regardless of the length of the flight, I'm ready for a nap to recover.
I flew from Brisbane to Melbourne's Avalon airport which is the newer, budget airport way out of town in the middle of nowhere. Like most budget airports it is very small and quiet but functional. It is quite a bit colder here. No, it's freezing with day temperatures just below the night temperatures I already wasn't liking up in Brisbane. It's been overcast but dry so I can't complain too much. Still on the bus from the airport I couldn't help but feel as if I were back in America driving into a large city in the States. 5-lanes of highway heading into town, a large centre with skyscrapers and crowds of people on the street after sunset on a weekday and I was ready to believe I'd just returned to the world of big cities after having lived in some provincial hick town for most of the last year. I did like the quietness of Brisbane but had gotten a little too used to it maybe.
I made the trip to Melbourne mainly to visit Sandra who is down there studying for 2 years with her long-time boyfriend, Ernie. It's the first time I've seen her since she had an overnight stop over in Cairo almost 4 years ago. It's a pretty significant meeting too because it's the 5th continent we've met in now. Only my parents have been to the same number with me :) I crashed on Sandra's sofa bed for the 3 night/2 day visit. We ate lots of sushi (missing Savannah for that one) and saw the city sites. They don't use buses here so all the streets are full of trams. I like it. The architecture is a lot older too and I have to agree that there is something European feeling about the place too. It's also more photogenic than Brisbane but don't go thinking I love it here or anything. One thing I remember from all the national news here is that it seems like most major crime in Australia happens down in Melbourne so it's with a suspicious eye that I view all these people around me, walking by in their drab winter colours. It feels like a real autumn here, my first in years. I think it's been 3 ½ years since I've seen leaves changing colours and falling off trees and people in overcoats and scarves walking around a western city. I threw out most of my clothes before leaving Brisbane and need to wear almost all of the ones I have left to survive down here. It must've looked slightly idiotic though to be walking around wearing 4 layers to stay warm but still be in sandals because I don't own any other footwear at the moment. Whatever, it's only for a couple days and then I'll be back in 30C again for a while.
On my first full day in Melbourne Sandra and I ran around town a little to see some of the major landmarks of the centre like Federation Square, the Yarra river, the Royal Arcade, the casino, etc. After lunch we took the tram out to St Kilda, a popular, touristy, beachside suburb south of town. Obviously not very busy at this time of year but you can get a nice view of the city and there is a small colony of Little Penguins living in the breakwater at the end of the pier.
The second day started with Ernie and I at a pub watching a Canucks playoff game (the first hockey game I've seen since I left home) at 10:30am. It's nice that we could find it but we were the only people watching. At least we won that one. After that I had to run around on my own for most of the day as both Sandra and Ernie had work to go to. Melbourne boasts a number of #1's, like the largest open air market in the southern hemisphere (Queen Victoria market) and the tallest apartment building, and that sort of thing. I visited a couple of the main cathedrals, the tiny Chinatown, and rode around on the free circle line tram taking photos. Met up with Sandra for a late dinner and ended up chatting into the night much later than I'd planned as I had a flight out early the next morning. Wow the time went by so fast. It was great to visit an old friend again finally and hopefully it won't be another 4 years before I see her again.