Adventures in Asia 2008

my travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Archive for the ‘Philippines’ Category

(Nearly) Avoiding a Storm

Posted by maudholma on 26 June 2008

Our peaceful stay on Camiguin had a less than peaceful ending when 2 days of rain and wind turned out to be the work of Typhoon Frank rather than just “regular” bad weather. The night before we were due to leave for the mainland all the ferries had been cancelled and the part of the beach that wasn’t already under water was constantly beaten by frothing waves. Amazingly, the wind had eased by morning and we felt lucky that we wouldn’t be missing any of our upcoming flights. At the airport, on our way from Cagayan to Manila, I made the mistake of thinking that we had a good chance of experiencing our first on-time departure with Cebu Pacific Air. 7 hours later, freezing from the powerful A/C and braindead from watching the same five horrible commercials on loop in the departure hall (literally a big room with nothing but chairs and said crappy TV) the loudspeaker announced that all passengers should go through security and get ready to board. As if we hadn’t already been ready and waiting for half the day!

The Manila that we landed in was completely different from the sunny place we had left about a month earlier. Palmtrees looked like they would snap in half from the gale force winds and it was difficult to find shelter from the downpour. During the cab ride to our hostel we were in the midst of scenes I’ve only seen on the news before – people wading in knee-deep water surrounded by cars that should have been rowed rather than driven down the street. The disappointment of our flight to Taiwan having been moved forward by a day so as to avoid Frank, who was supposed to have been wreaking havoc in Taipei around the time we were due to land, was tempered by our discovery of Manila’s shopping malls. We were luckier than many people in that the main damage caused by Frank was to our bank accounts!

The irony of our flight to Taiwan being the only flight to/in/from the Philippines without a delay (not counting 24 hours) wasn’t lost on us as we stood in a check-in queue for two hours, followed by an immigration queue, and then a security queue, leaving us with barely enough time to run across the airport (now there would have been plenty to do, of course) to our gate. Although Frank decided to skip Taiwan for Hong Kong, 95 % humidity, sunshine, and temperatures of over 30 °C means we’re almost as wet here as we were in the Philippines…

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Beach Bums (Part II)

Posted by maudholma on 19 June 2008

After Malapascua, we went to Siargao Island, the surf Mecca of the Philippines. Despite my best efforts, all I got out of my surfing lesson was bruised knees and a bruised ego. The kid teaching me tried to blame it on my board being too short, but I took the fact that I spent more time under the water than on the water as a sign that I should stick to diving and headed over to Camiguin Island instead. The 7 volcanoes (only one of them apparently not active anymore) on the island mean that the sand here is jet black, except for a small white sand island a short boat ride away from where we live. It’s s different kind of paradise, but a paradise nonetheless!

After a few days of jumping on and off different buses and ferries from Malapascua to Siargao and then Siargao to Camiguin, we began our time here by relaxing, perfecting our tans, and completely losing track of time. We then spent a few days underwater, exploring volcanic rock formations and all manner of aquatic life. Before our final dive, a night dive, we watched a striking sunset before gearing up while looking at turtles coming up to the surface to breathe. Half an hour later, surrounded complete darkness except for our flashlights, we were diving with said turtles and even got to pet one! Definitely a sign that I should stick to diving.

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Magnificent Malapascua

Posted by maudholma on 7 June 2008

Just over seven days ago I was extatic about seeing a few Nemos but the last week on Malapascua Island has set the bar just a little higher. We lived about 10 meters from a nearly deserted beach, looking out over an endless ocean as well as the odd fishing boat or group of kids playing in the water. I’ve fallen in love with the Filipino people and the locals on Malapascua were no exception – nothing but smiles and people asking us whether we were sisters all the time since we apparently look exactly alike… And then there was the diving.

For the sake of all the people reading this who don’t dive and have no interest in hearing about how many kilos I had on my weight belt or how many bars of air I used per dive, I won’t go into the specifics. Not that I know the names of most of the fish I saw, and since my descriptions usually went something like “It was sort of like a grey boxy squareish fish with a blue trim”, it’s no wonder our diving instructor found it a little hard to help. On the last day of my course I did a night dive, and although I missed the mating of the fish we had been watching in the same spot for about 20 minutes (essentially the purpose of the dive…) I was on top of the world after seeing a seahorse, getting underwater fireworks from fluorescent plankton, and ascending to a pitch black sky littered with stars. I told myself things couldn’t get any better and tried to memorize the feeling as best as I could for a rainy day. The following morning we got up before sunrise in hope of catching a glimpse of the thresher sharks, Malapascua’s claim to fame. We not only saw two of them, one so close that I could see its pupil, but also had a manta ray glide past us before disappearing into the blue! I forgot all about the cardinal rule of diving and stopped breathing for a second or two.

We were so high on life when we left this morning that we just assumed people were being happy around us because that’s the way it’s done here. After 4 hours on a bus and a walk around a shopping mall we realized it may have had something to do with S’ capris having a giant rip in the back and that people were smiling mainly because she was showing them a different side of herself.

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Kumusta from the Philippines!

Posted by maudholma on 28 May 2008

After our last evening avoiding getting run over and royally ripped off in Hanoi, our flight to Manila was over 2 hours delayed. A great ending to our stay in a country that was already getting on my nerves… Bleary eyed and without really knowing where we were going, S and I found a “jeepney” (a cross between a jeep, a pick-up, and a bus) to the nearest skytrain station. During our 5 minute walk, we were met by people saying hello, waving, smiling, and asking if we needed directions. And for a change, no one was trying to sell us anything. After our first 2.5 months in India trying to get used to people being friendly for no reason and the last 1 month in Vietnam trying to get used to people generally not being friendly for no reason, the Philippines had already scored major points and has kept doing so ever since.

Manila, which I had expected to be a city full of noise, pollution, and traffic, is nothing compared to what we’ve experienced in other countries. It doesn’t rank among the most beautiful cities I’ve visited – most of the parts we’ve seen so far are actually quite ugly – but the people make up for the otherwise lacklustre surroundings. There’s something about the Filipinos’ way which is incredibly genuine and I havet yet to feel as if someone is starting a conversation only because they’re out to get something from me. Besides which, people are constantly smiling, whether it’s the mall security guard checking your bag, the old lady sitting next to you on the bus who feeds you cookies, the supermarket workers who do a choreographed dance by the checkouts (to ease the customers’ boredom?!) or the jeepney driver who gives you a free ride from the airport because you don’t have anything smaller than a 1000 peso note and he has no change.

We only spent one day in Manila getting our visas extended and grinning from ear to ear at how adorable everyone was before flying to Puerto Princesa, the biggest city on the island of Palawan. We ended up staying with a slightly loony (but very sweet) Filipino woman who arranged our onward bus tickets to the town of El Nido. She offered to wake us up at 3:00 so that we could catch the 4 o’clock bus which meant that we would arrive in El Nido anytime between 11:00 and 14:00. S’ alarm rang at 3:15 and when Loony Lady woke up 5 minutes later, she informed us that the bus was actually not leaving until 5 o’clock. Still, she assured us, we should be there at 4:00 so we hadn’t gotten up in the middle of the night in vain. We got to the bus station at approximately 3:50, an hour and a half before the bus. Our enthusiasm for the Philippines waned even more during the 9 hour journey squished into the back row of a bus with 4 others, one of whom took up the space of two people. There were no windowpanes, so all the dust and dirt from the road ended up in our hair, faces, clothes, ears, noses etc. We swore we would rather walk back than repeat the journey but since the ferry schedule to the island of Busuanga, where we were planning on diving among WWII wrecks and soaking up the sun, didn’t match our itinerary, we woke up at 4:45 this morning and sat on exactly the same bus (driver, ticket guy, lack of windowpanes) back to Puerto Princesa. Fortunately, the roads weren’t as dry this time so we avoided the worst of the dust. Unfortunately, it started pouring towards the end so I ended up soaked from both the water coming in through the window and the holes in the floor.

The trip was undoubtedly worth it, however, after our island hopping trip yesterday. El Nido is the jumping off point of the Bacuit Archipelago, a host of islands, limestone cliffs, untouched white sand beaches, and turquoise waters. S and I drove around this small piece of paradise in a boat with our own driver, stopping off at different places to swim in lagoons, lie on the beach, eat fresh grilled fish, and snorkel. As well as one fish, two fish, red fish, and blue fish, there were white fish with yellow stripes, brown fish with blue dots, neon green fish, iridescent fish, tiny fish, huge fish, pretty fish, ugly fish, nice fish, mean fish – one actually bit me! I was just about to get out of the water at our last stop when something made me decide to keep going for just a minute. I put on my snorkel, swam about a meter, and saw a sea anemone when all of a sudden…a group of mini Nemos came swimming out! I would say that nothing can crown finding Nemo in the Philippines, but we still have over 3 weeks left so I won’t jinx it.

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