We're not lost, we are exploring
Bijgewerkt: 14 jul 2019
It took a while, but here is our blog for the Philippines. Lots of reading pleasure. :-)
On Christmas Day we flew from Christchurch to Auckland to catch the flight to Manila. At Auckland Airport we were told that we could not fly to the Philippines if we did not have an exit ticket. How are we going to get that ticket? We had already used our free Wi-Fi minutes during the wait. Fortunately, the lady behind the desk was so nice to give her phone so that we could book something. But that did not take longer than 5 minutes before she wanted her phone back without us having looked at anything. This did not work until we were tipped that we could buy wifi. We were reasonably quick to assume that Hong Kong would be our next destination. Something different than desert, mountains, forest, beach and sea. 5 minutes before closing time we could finally check in, 'on to the Philippines'.
What normally are days with drinks and laughter, our Christmas Day was waiting, waiting at Cairns and another wait in Manila before our next flight to Kalibo.
After a journey of 24 hours we arrived in Kalibo, the capital of the Philippine province of Aklan in the Visayas, also the gateway to the party island of Boracay. At the mini airport a driver was waiting to take us to Caticlan (This is the port where the boats leave for the islands) with his formula 1 minivan. In the Philippines they all think they are race drivers. With danger to their own lives, and ours as well, they drive like they are being chased, passing cars even in a turn and then just before the oncoming car is almost upon them, land on their own half. Sometimes they just push the oncoming car off the road, simply because they have a bigger car. The rule that applies here is that the bigger vehicle always has priority. Bus drivers therefore make full use of this. So take the bus to increase your chances of survival in traffic 😉.
After spending the night in Caticlan, we drove by tricycle to the port where a "ferry" would bring us to Calabao Island (located next to Boracay). We took the port where the locals depart, which consisted of a piece of beach behind a small overdue village. Our ferry consisted of a small, narrow fishing boat with on each side some bamboo sticks tied together to distribute the balance better on the open sea. The boat was equipped with a few spartan wooden seats (we now literally understand the proverb ‘wooden butt') and in the cabin there was a striking text 'God bless our trip'.
We were confronted with iron patience, because we were told that the boat would not leave until it was full. After hours passed, more people and luggage came on board, and finally we left for the island for barely € 2.00 p.p.
The ride on the other hand was not as pleasant as we had hoped. Once on the open sea, we had to deal with huge waves. The staff closed both sides with tarpaulin to stop water getting into the boat, but that made the space a very stuffed area to stay in. While the heat was getting to us, and it was more difficult to find fresh air we crossed our fingers crossed in the hope we wouldn’t have to throw up and make it out in one piece. After a 1 hour we arrived safe and sound and we were positively surprised by an employee from the resort who was waiting for us.
The resort is one of the 5 locations on the island where you can stay overnight as Calabao is still not at all popular with tourists. In contrast to its little brother Boracay. I say 'still', because several investment companies are already building resorts and hotels. Everyone expects that in 5 to 10 years it will be as crowded with tourists as Boracay.
Anyway, we and 6 other guests were not bothered by it yet, so we enjoyed three days of doing nothing except eating, drinking, snorkelling and sleeping on the beach. And despite the fact that we had a spacious apartment with balcony and sitting area, we were hanging out in the communal area every evening, where we enjoyed the cooking skills of Nick (1 of the owners) and shared stories about our travels together with all the other guests.
We really enjoyed Calabao Island and would have stayed longer if we had the chance. What a nice place! But we had to go because it’s NYE and there is a nice party on Boracay where we will meet friends.
Boracay is smaller than its brother Calabao. It is known for the whitest beaches of the Philippines. It is also full of hotels, shopping centres, McDonald’s, Starbucks and who knows what other kind of companies that are of interest to thousands of tourists. The main strip that all hotels are on is subdivided into station 1, 2 and 3. Here are also all bars, restaurants and shops. Our hotel, however, was on the other side of the island (10 minutes’ walk) where it should be "quiet". But this was anything but quiet, because during the day you could see no less than 50 (kite) surfers on the water and another 100 on the beach waiting before they had a place to go on the water. Our hotel was right on the beach and was carefully chosen by me (Chris) after a consideration of costs, location and seeing a few nice pictures. Only when we arrived there, the hotel didn’t meet the requirements at all of what we had seen on the internet. The hotel did not have a view of the beach (unless you can turn your neck 180 degrees), the rooms were old and dirty and the bed was overused. So, after a brief discussion with the manager we decided to look for another hotel and we found it close to station 2. Cheaper, nicer, bigger, cleaner and free breakfast! Our lesson for the next time is simply go to the bar, walkaround, look for rooms and book it as you see it. This is very easy on the Philippines.
On New Year's Eve we chilled on the beach during the day and in the evening, we went for a bite to eat. At 00:00 a beautiful spectacle of fireworks was lit into the air from boats that were laying 50m of shore. After that we went to club Epic, where we danced, together with 500 deranged party animals, until the morning. After a few hours of sleep and still a little drunk, we took the boat and the bus to Kalibo, because the day after we would take the morning flight to Cebu.
The flight to Cebu left at 6:30 in the morning and took us to the capital Cebu City in less than 1.5 hours. From there you have the option to take a taxi to the north or south terminal where you will find buses that take you to the north or south of the island. The bus system is actually quite simple: the buses go to one big city in the south or north and when you enter the bus you indicate to the driver where you want to get off. He then gives you a signal when you are almost there. This also applies to boarding, there are no bus stops, you can get on anywhere you want. If you stand by the side, the bus honks and you can let him know by signalling if you want to get on or not. I do not know if this system would work in the Netherlands, but here it works damn well.
We first took the bus to Oslob, because this is THE place where you can spot whale sharks. Animal protectors have persuaded the fishermen in this area that they can better turn the whale sharks into a tourist attraction instead of killing them. This attraction yields much more money than the meagre turnover of the sale of their caught fish.
Upon arrival by bus you will be taken care of by several Filipinos, all with a shirt from the "Tourism Centre". They lead you to the counter where you can buy your ticket to see the whale sharks. You have to be on time, because only between 6 am and 11 am it is allowed to see the animals up close. This under "strict" control of some biologists who must ensure that the animals stay healthy and fit.
The people of the Service Centre told us to be very early, so we decided to take a room above the Service Centre. The room consisted of a fairly large room with 2 beds, of which the mattress was certainly 5 cm thick. The bathroom itself was outside. Everyone could also use it and due to the stench and filth we came nowhere near it, but for € 14.00 a night you can’t complain in the Philippines. After a wonderful night's sleep, we were up and ready at half past six in the morning (this was recommended to us by the staff of the tourism centre) ... but there was no one in sight. At a quarter to 6 there was still no one at the tourism centre, while the number of tourists who came for the whale sharks steadily increased. At 5 for 6 the first, still sleepy, employee of the tourism centre arrived. Around 6 o'clock he was accompanied by the rest of his colleagues. Still nothing happened! It was until 7:30 before we walked to the briefing centre. When we arrived there, we were happy to see that there were just hundreds of other people in front of us. Thank you, Service Centre, for being on time, NOT!
There is a procedure before you can get in the boat to see the Whale Sharks. First you get a nice group briefing with 50 other people (half do not mind, like me, but that does not matter much, because there is not much to listen to). After that you stand in line to pay your entrance fee (huh? We had already done that at the tourism centre? Apparently not). Your next stop is a row again to show that you have paid and lastly you have to wait in line for a life jacket and snorkel. After having waited a total of one hour, you are finally led to a boat to go on the water with 20 other boats full of tourists. When you are about 50 metres of the coast all boats moor side by side. As a final step, you are asked to enter the water (some heroism is necessary) and to wait (yes ... wait is the magic word here). And wait ...... and ... "huh? what is that? a boat? and what is swimming behind it? "Rubbing in our eyes (in a matter on speaking of course ... it is quite difficult to rub your eyes under water while you have your swim goggles on) we discover that there is something swimming behind the boat, a whale shark. And no little one too! This animal is 10 meters long and comes slowly on your side - with its big mouth wide open (the animal is namely fed from the boat). The boat and the whale shark are so close that you have to swim to the side to not bump against it. At less than 10 cm distance the whale shark swims by and then turns around again for another round of tourists. All this takes about half an hour, after which you have to be satisfied as the boat returns to the coast. But the whale sharks are not the only thing that can be seen. As an extra you can see how Asian tourists, with their lifejackets still around, are struggling in the water.
Due to our delay with the whale sharks we run to our room to pick up our stuff and get back within fifteen minutes to get the bus to Cebu. It’s a race against time as we have to travel all the way to the North to get the last boat to Malapascua Island. The entire journey lasts a total of 10 hours, of which the first 4 hours were spent standing. But you'll soon forget the hardship 😉 when you end up on a beautiful island. After a quick bite to eat we decide to go to our hotel, because I had booked a lovely room. Or not, as again the internet pictures are not what they seem like. We stay in a room of 9m2 with air conditioning and 2 separate beds. Again, we find that the bathroom is outside, but you can use it multifunctional as you can simultaneously shit and brush your teeth while you are showering. How efficient do you want to spend your time!
After our first night we decided to look for a diving school the next morning, because that's why we came to the island. We finally found 'Devocean', which suited are taste the best. Inge could get her PADI here and I could make 5 different dives. The only problem, again, was the time we had on the island. This meant that Inge had to start working for the next 3/4 days. And that also meant no laying on the beach and drinking cocktails that she had been looking forward to for so long. 'Sorry dear!'
In the evening I went for my first dive to see the spectacle of the Mandarin fish. The Mandarin fish is a very, very, very small fish, up to 6 cm in size, that in the evening is in search of a companion to mate. When the female finds a male, she climbs on his back and together they swim up to a meter above the reef after they both swim in a different direction. They do this several times in a row until the moment that they drop their sperm and eggs together, which ultimately leads to mini, mini Mandarin fish. And that seems to be a true spectacle. I honestly did not even see the fish while I was sitting on top of it, along with 20 others. Meanwhile, Inge had seen this fish with her first dive and was studying until late.
While I had to leave early the next day to do my second and third dive (half past five in the morning ...), Inge could continue her sleep. The reason for the early rise and also the reason why everyone comes to the island is because of the rare Pelagic Thresher Sharks. These sharks swim to a height of 30m deep to be cleaned by special cleaner fish. It is the only place on earth where this shark rises from the depth and can therefore be seen by recreational divers. But you have to be lucky as the visibility has to be good and the shark has to appear. After waiting for 15 minutes at a depth of 30 meters, I swam back disillusioned without seeing a shark.
At the 3rd dive I focused on another shark that is very common here and that is the white reef shark. A good spot for this was Gato Island. The divemaster's promise that I will see sharks gave good courage. After 5 minutes under water we were already lucky as we had 1st rank seats on a reef shark of 2m that was swimming before the entrance of a cave. Surrounded by 10 other divers, the shark did not know where to go and swam back and forth looking for an exit. After this spectacle, more white reef sharks followed.
I still had 1 dive (out of 5) to go and my mind was telling me you must see that Thresher shark, so I decided to dive again the next morning. Even today, the visibility turned out to be bad and all hope to see one was gone. Until we were surprised by 1 who came behind us. YES YES YES YES ...... man, the joy we felt of seeing this animals. I could cuddle our divemaster, but that looks a bit strange under water. In retrospect, I bought a t-shirt, with a Thresher shark on it, to celebrate this. And even better news was when Inge announced that she had passed her PADI. We are finally able to dive together the next time.
400 km north of Manila is the town of Sagada. To get here, you take the bus from Manila to Bagaio (duration: 8 hours). In Bagaio you take another bus to Sagada itself (again 8 hours). The ride to it is very impressive and shows you a totally different picture of the Philippines than we have seen so far. Instead of beach, sea and palm trees we see high mountains, small villages and a huge green forest.
Our goal was to see the well-known hanging coffins. Here the dead are buried in coffins that are been hanged with a rope of spiked against the mountain. The coffins are smaller than in Europe, because the dead are placed in a foetal position. The locals here believe that you have to leave the world in the same way as you came. This tradition goes back 2 millennia and is still being carried out today.
One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is that placing the dead in a higher place brings them closer to the spirits of their ancestors. Another reason is because the elderly were afraid of being buried underground. When they died they did not want to be underground, because eventually water would enter their coffin and their bodies would rot faster. They therefore wanted to be buried in a high and safe place. Although this phenomenon is still being carried out on a small scale, it is very special to see how coffins sometimes hang in unlikely places.
But Sagada does not just consist of the hanging coffins. There is much more to see and to do in Sagada. The town itself is nice to explore. It gives you a typical winter sports village feeling. In addition, there are many caves in the area. Among others the Sumaguing Cave, where you will be taken to the deepest point of the cave in 2 hours. It is quite physical. You wade through the water to knee height (you can even swim if you like), you climb in ropes to get around different obstacles and you have to use your guide as a step (no kidding people, it is allowed here) to climb down. And all that to see different beautiful rock formations. It is a true spectacle and worth it. But the most amazing thing is that the guide has no trouble to go down or climb up, all with an oil lamp in his hands, while we need to hands to maintain our bearings.
Banaue is a few hours away from Sagada and can be reached via jeepney and minibus. The adventure with the jeepney is perhaps the most fun as you can sit on the roof. A jeepney is a sort of limousine, but different. A jeepney is simply an extended jeep with a long open cabin in the back where there is room for about 20-30 men (depends on how many people they can put in). The jeepneys are owned by the driver and he does a great deal of effort to pimp his car and income source as nicely as possible. From LED lights, chrome hubcaps and plating to complete graffiti artworks on the inside and outside (provided it is dedicated to the here Jesus Christ). Pimp my ride baby!
Banaue is just like Sagada a small picturesque mountain village only bigger. You will find several hotels that also serve as a restaurant. The reason to go to Banaue, is because of the impressive rice terraces that are built against the mountains. These rice terraces have existed for more than 2000 years. And the most famous rice terraces can be found at about 40 minutes by jeepney from Banaue in the village of Batad. If you have enough time, you can do a 3-day trip on the rice fields and sleep with locals.
After a ride on the roof of the Jeepney (we are in our t-shirt at 15 degrees at an altitude of 1300 meters, brrrrrrrrrr) you arrive in the village Batad ... .. we thought. But that is not the case. The road simply stops and everyone (including locals) have to walk for about 20 minutes, over a narrow path, to arrive in the village.
We first visited the viewpoint to enjoy the view (an overview of the terraces and the village) with a hot chocolate milk. It was cold from the trip on the roof). After we warmed up for a half a hour we left to go for a hike. We had been told that we did not have to pay for a guide and could see the village itself. It wasn’t that easy by ourselves as it was a complete maze to get the right route to go down. The residents were less happy with this and asked us every 10 minutes where our guide was and if we needed a guide. "No, thank you ... we are part of that group" was our answer while we hoped that a group of tourists would pass by and we can pretend to belong to this group. So after the maze of small roads, through gardens and past the front door of the various houses that were there, we came out on the terraces themselves. From the terraces you walk further down to the point of the 400 stairs. Exactly ... .400 steps up and down that leads you to a huge waterfall and where you can take a refreshing dip.
The climb up was pretty exhausting. Sweaty, sour legs, dry mouth and gasping for breath. But we had to be on time for the last jeepney ride back to the village. When we came back into town, we grabbed our bags, drank a cold beer with a couple from England at the Reggae bar, ate a snack at Sanafe (according to Inge the tastiest Tuna pasta in the world) and walked toward the night bus which left for Manila.
We arrived in Manila at 6 o'clock in the morning. We were, god knows where, in Manilla at a bus station far away from the centre and all shops are still closed. We decide to get a coffee at the coffee shop at the bus station. We had all the time of the world as our plane would leave somewhere during the afternoon, so we stayed here to work on our blog and photo’s as the wifi was amazing. We also figured out that the drive to airport wasn’t that long, about half an hour drive. We took a cab, two hours before departure, to bring us to the airport which was less than 10 km away. After a few meters our driver immediately asked for extra money. "Why?" We asked. "Because many traffic". "Many traffic ????". After a couple of minutes, we were already in the first traffic jam.
"Mister taxi driver, are we going to be on time?".
"Yes, no problem sir, we will make it". Half an hour later we were still in the same traffic jam. At an hour before departure we panicked slightly, but of course we did not show that to the driver. "Hurry, hurry, hurry ... ..our plane leaves in half an hour. We have to be there on time ". I think it's great that such a taxi driver can stay so calm, but with the beats of Snoop Doggy Dog and Dr. Dre - Smoke weed every day - our driver may have been in a different state of mind. But he was right and we arrived at the airport on time. We run into the building and were looking for the right counter, but it appeared that we were at the wrong terminal. We needed to be at terminal 4 instead of 3. We took another cap to bring us to terminal 4 as it wasn’t around the corner. But unfortunately, we were back in the same traffic jam. With some crazy driving of our driver he dropped us off at the door, 5 minutes before the plane left. As we were running through the hall and pushing away people and shouting that everyone had to let us get in, we arrived at the check-in 3 minutes before time. As it turned out, there was still a queue and our flight was delayed for one hour. Sometimes a delayed flight isn’t so bad 😉.
When you arrive in Puerto Princesa, there are hundreds of Filipinos and 1 Russian (yes ... really true) waiting for you to take care of your transport to your destination.
Because we stayed in Puerto for one night, we went looking for a hostel to sleep. As is often the case in the Philippines, you can easily arrange and accommodation on arrival. But unfortunately, this didn’t apply to this town as our top 5 hostels were fully booked. Fortunately, we found a hotel next to one of these top 3 hostels that offered a spacious bedroom with a mini bathroom (cold water) for less than € 12.00. The cheapest night so far.
After settling in, we went to explore the city and get some dinner. TripAdvisor recommended us to eat at 'Kalui'. We were not the only one and that is understandable. The restaurant is built with bamboo and is very attractively decorated with various art. The very helpful employees and the smooth service completes this perfect picture. Because we are used to an extensive menu in the Philippines, we were also surprised that there were only a few dishes on the menu here. And it also turned out to be only fish. We let ourselves be surprised and took the daily menu for 2, which consisted of a variety of fish! And the surprise worked out perfect as the food was delicious. This is our recommendation if you ever find yourself in Puerto Princesa.
This morning we had agreed with the Russian to pick us up and bring us to El Nido. Packed in a mini-van with a bunch of Spaniards and Canadians we continued our 5-hour journey to our destination.
We found a bungalow hut of 7 m2 on the beach just outside El Nido, also called Corong Corong. They do not know the word cleaning in our hotel, but we should take it for granted, because the location was fantastic (sunset every evening and situated on the beach). This was ultimately the cheapest thing we could find although it was a shitty cabin to begin with. But we had spent too much money on diving so we had to pay attention to our expenses.
El Nido had been on my (Inge) bucket list for a very long time. Time and time again I saw the most beautiful photos on Pinterest: blue, clear water, beautiful mountains and pearly white beaches. And now that I've been there I can’t say anything other than: 'put El Nido on your bucket list'. The people are so nice here, although not everyone. This is not only true for El Nido, but for the whole of the Philippines. Friendly, helpful and sincere. And moreover, almost everyone speaks English, which makes it easier to make contact.
Do not expect large stores, taxis or fast food outlets in El Nido. There is not even a cash machine, so bring enough cash! But that is why the atmosphere is also relaxed. It has remained a village, with cute little shops and nice restaurants along the beach.
After exploring the city, we decided to rent a scooter on our third day and drive to Nacpan beach. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Okay, you have to drive about 1.5 hours for a road of which you wonder if it is suitable for driving with a scooter. But when you arrive…. you can see, through a forest of palm trees, the most beautiful beach ever (yes, there are definitely better beaches, but this is really beautiful). A wide beach of soft white sand with behind it a crystal-clear azure sea. This beach can be printed in every travel guide without Photoshop. And the best part is, it is not full of tourists. Definitely worth the 'bumpy ride'.
The 5th day we went sailing over the Baguit Archipelago with a boat. Many islands in combination with the blue sea water makes the spectacle very photogenic. The tour lasts all day where you visit several beaches, do some snorkelling (very nice if you are in the jellyfish season) or can laze on the beach. In the afternoon, delicious fish is baked for us and afterward we are treated to a beautiful sunset from the boat!
Outside these days we have chilled, eaten, enjoyed the sunset and met many nice people. Our long stay of 7 days was worth it. Now that we have plenty of energy again, we are ready for a new adventure "Hong Kong!"
Outside these days we have chilled, eaten, enjoyed the sunset and met many nice people. Our long stay of 7 days was worth it. Now that we have plenty of energy again, we are ready for a new adventure "Hong Kong!"