Published: September 3rd 2006September 1st 2006
Welcome to the Philippines, a country made up of 7,000 islands, a place of cock fighting, karaoke and of text messaging (more than anywhere else in the world apparently). It is also home to some of the best beaches and diving in the world, it has a history of political corruption and unrest and there still certain areas of the country that are out of bounds to tourists.
Our visit to the Philippines started with an epic plane journey from Perth to Singapore (disappointed that Singapore airport was just like any other & no chance to swim in their pool), a change of planes and onwards to Manila and then yet another flight to the Filipino city of Cebu all on the same day. No we don't know why Philippines has a P and Filipino an F.. We opted to come straight to Cebu instead of Manila because it is meant to be less of a scary place, easier to get around and less stressful/more chilled out than Manilla. Hmmm, ok sure the Philippines is a developing country and so we were not expecting streets paved with gold, but Cebu turned out to be a bit more of hell hole
than expected with slums, dirt, traffic and noise absolutely everywhere. Best avoided if you can. In our near death experience taxi drive from the airport right across town to our pension there was only one small park and a handful of well built shops and houses, the rest was a sea of shacks and stalls, rickshaws and rubbish. According to our 'trusty' SE Asia Lonley Planet "compared to Manila's full-throttle exuberance, Cebu seems happy running along in second gear"...from our experience of fast paced, traffic clogged, bustling Cebu and seeing the vastness of Manila's slums from our plane window earlier in the day, we think we will give the nation's capital a miss.
So we spent a night in uptown Cebu in the clean and safe Jasmine Pension where its character selling point was the playful tap in our room which constantly ran and every so often hummed and squealed as the pressure in the hotel's pipes changed. Other than that it was a peaceful night helped by a tasty meal of chicken and garlic rice from the local street corner vendor, eaten while the hungry street kids watched every mouthful from close range. As if proof of their
hunger was needed, as soon as we were gone the chicken bones were quickly scooped up by a hungry little girl. This is something that we had sort of expected but really it is something else to see people with so little, especially when we are doing something as crazy and extravagant as a round-the-world trip... Clearly this explains why everyone we met in Cebu seemed to want our money in one form or another but it is a very uncomfortable situation..
With the help of a bus and a ferry we headed across to the island of Bantayan the next day to check out their beaches. Getting off the ferry at Santa Fe was a bit of an experience as 8 hotel touts followed us about the place for about ten minutes when all we wanted to do was sit down and have a wee think for a moment. As we were to discover this island must be having a bit of a low season because all the hotel and restaurants on the island seemed to be empty, because of this we were clearly big business. After having various brochures shoved in our faces and desperate claims for
our attention, we finally picked the Marlin Resort on the basis that they had free transport and cheap rooms and the winning personality of their tout Nestor. Of course when we arrived we decided not to take the cheap room but the air conditioned beach front one, but hey at least we tried. Being basically the only guests in this reasonable size hotel Nestor took it upon himself to try and sell us something every time we walked past the gates - which was quite often. Even going for a walk was a bit of a challenge when old Nest was around as everytime we left he would walk with us and point us in the direction of his favorite bar or shop, convince us that we needed to buy crisps and coca-cola as well as just water. He quite often whisked tom away on the back of his scooter for unscheduled joy rides and took to calling him "Sir Tom". Got a little bit tiresome but in hindsight he was a real legend.
Santa Fe was a real laid back place, well worth a visit. It is a smallish farming and fishing village, full of friendly faces and
surrounded on two sides by a long sandy beach and at one end a mangrove swamp. The handful of hotels were pretty much completely empty and overstaffed, and the few visitors we saw were Filipinos. The empty bars vying for our custom sold tasty simple food made from chicken, fish and rice, helped down with the cheapest beer in the world - San Miguel 40p a glass (just less than US$1 or about 0.35 UK pounds - yeay!). Not good for the old bikini diet with all the temptation of cheap tasty food and drink.
On the 3rd day Nestor finally persuaded us to part with some of our cash and hire his scooter for the day so after a unnecessary 25 minute motorbike lesson, much of which seemed to involve Nestor riding round the block with tom on the back, we were finally allowed to go off on our own and had a wicked day zooming around the island in the sunshine. Dodging bicycle rickshaws and huge trucks and waving back at smiling little kids as we went, we took a shine to Bantayan town's one way system to check out the ferries, had lunch in this relaxed
resort watching fisherman cast their nets, and went swimming in the Ogdong Cave. The cave was filled by a natural spring, had the odd stalactite, fish, and bats roosting at the back. The adjacent swimming pool we had to ourselves was supplied by the same water and was probably the warmest I've ever been in. With view of Santa Fe's beach and swallow type birds swooping by for a drink, it was just idyllic.
Since the ferries turned out to be every other day and not 3 times a day as promised by the hotel we had to leave Bantayan (and Nestor) a day early (sob) and sooner than we would have liked we were back on the road. Today's traveling extravaganza went as follows:
Kick started the day with an overpriced (but air conditioned) hotel shuttle to the pier at Batayan town. Liz went off on a breakfast mission and met a lovely lady who wanted to take her home to meet her family. No one in the Philippines ever seems to have any change when you buy anything so instead of waiting for my 10 pesos Liz decided to get another couple of drinks to round
the total up, stupidly went over the 100p and still have no change so this lovely lady insists on paying the 10p, a really kind thing to do and she wouldn't even take a cake in return. Back to the pier and we are melting in the sunshine (and its only 9am) so up goes the umbrella as a sunshade. No sign of the ferry but it soon becomes clear that it can't get in as the harbour is not deep enough. Everyone jumps into small outriggers and we are taken across to the ferry.
The ferry is large and reasonably modern, they even show DVDs and everyone is loving Mission Impossible III which bizarrely is in English with English subtitles. 4 hours later we arrive at Cadiz on the island of Negros. An interesting city with a very large fishing fleet moored along the estuary with tons of shanty houses almost falling into the water. Plenty of old boats moored up with guys doing lots of rebuilding work, including a guy who only used sunglasses to protect him from the bright welding sparks. It seemed like every passenger is heading into the city of Bacolod..... including us so
we all pile into the nearest available vehicle. 25 minutes later just as we are beginning to think that perhaps it isn't possible to fit 22 people, a basket of chickens, a leaning tower of egg boxes, some baskets of dried fish, two oversized backpacks and several assorted sacks of pig feed onto the top of a 'jeepney' (basically no bigger than a minibus) we suddenly lurched into action and a mere 2 hours later we have traveled the 40k to the next town. Arriving in a random part of town we flagged down a rickshaw and the poor man cycles us and all our luggage down to the pension, pretty impressive of a bike with no gears. Leave impressive tip on top of the no doubt vastly inflated tourist rate and everyone is happy.
In the few hours we've been in Bacolod, and quite impressed. For a city of this size, the streets are quiet enough to cross with reasonable ease, and there's plenty of shops and friendly looking bars and people. Now in an air-conditioned cafe having just had a pasta meal and pot of tea in a comfortable western style coffee house full of well dressed
youngsters on a sober Friday night out. How civilized! Our bed for the night is Pension Bacolod which has loads of rooms, plenty of Filipino guests, is dirt cheap but very clean and in full working order with friendly staff. The breakfast there the next day (fish and garlic rice, beats weetabix any day hey tom?) was also well cheap. Score!
There are more photos below