Published: August 20th 2012August 13th 2012
The lack of surf has been driving me crazy, and so I decided to go searching for waves elsewhere. I bought a flight to the Philippines for my summer vacation in the hope I might finally score some good surf. My friends were all heading to the Philippines too, but not to an area known for its surf, so I ditched them like the good friend I am, and made for a more surfy area. Who needs friends when you have good waves in a warm water paradise...
So landing in torrential rain was not the best start. I said my goodbyes to my mates at the airport and jumped on a bus up to the Zambales coast, about 4 hours north-west of Manila. My mood was slowly deflating as with every hour the rain increased in intensity. I knew it was monsoon season, but I had no idea it was going to be this bad. The roads were already half flooded - how the bus even made it through I have no idea. I eventually made it to my beach resort as the light was fading. Enough time to witness that there was surf, but with the strong winds
it was totally blown out. The surf was set to get much bigger throughout the week, but with winds blowing directly onshore it wasn't looking too promising. After wondering round the resort for a bit trying and failing to find some friends, I realised this might not be quite the holiday I had in mind! So I did what I always do when I'm feeling a bit depressed and went to bed. You can't be down when you're asleep!
The next morning I headed down to breakfast, and got chatting with some super nice local surfers. They made the trip from Manila pretty much every weekend and they were a great bunch to hang out with. They had transport, and so took me down to the only sheltered spot in the area, called Magic Left, in the village of Pundaquit. Getting to the spot involved crossing a river, which most of the time isn't much of a problem. With these heavy rains though, the thing was raging. It was a case of diving in and just paddling as hard as you could to make it to the other side before you got swept away. One of the girls we
were with was pretty close to getting a free island hopping trip round the bay if it hadn't been for one of the guys grabbing her at the last minute! The surf was less than great however, small and lacking any kind of power. But it was nice to be in the water again. Without a wetsuit too! I found out about another spot called Anawangin, which would supposedly have been pumping in these conditions, but required either a boat trip or a 7 hour hike through the jungle. None of the boatsmen would take me out, as the surf was too big, and the wind was really picking up. And a 7 hour hike didn't sound so appealing...
That night, one of the girls bought us all dinner, and we all ate together before they headed back to work in Manila. I'd been completely misinformed that the food in the Philippines wasn't that good. Well, I don't know how to explain how happy I was to see a menu with such a huge variety of food and flavour. And dirt cheap too. You could eat at the local places for 50 pesos (about 75p), and it was delicious.
This was the river we had to cross - the day before it was really raging!
And then wash that down with some San Miguel (30 pesos a bottle), or a whole bottle of rum (40 pesos...). I was lucky to have met these guys, and was a bit gutted that they were leaving, as I had a feeling that I wasn't going to come across many other people!
That night I hung out with the Nigerian lifeguard from the resort. He was a complete legend, and over a bottle of gin he told me his story of how he was now working as a lifeguard in the Philippines. Coming from a family of 9 kids, he felt that he would never be able to live an independent life. No matter what, his family would always be there doing things to help him out, but he wanted to be able to create a life for himself through his own merit. So he upped sticks, didn't tell anyone, and jumped on a flight to London. That was 18 years ago, and he has been travelling around doing various things since. I really loved his story, it must have taken such guts to have moved to a completely new country without any money or support there, trying
to create more of challenge.
The next day I decided to change location down towards the sheltered spot in Pundaquit that we had surfed at the day before. I found a little shack to stay in right on the beach. Unfortunately on the way I had stopped at an ATM to get some more cash, but discovered to my dismay that none of the ATM's in the area would accept international cards (I know that sounds a bit stupid on my part, but I had been told otherwise...!). The nearest ATM was about 2 hours on the bus. I had enough money for a bus journey back to Manila. The thought of my friends having a good time in El Nido on Palawan started to play on my mind, and I began to wonder whether it was possible and worth me trying to get over to where they were. I went for a quick surf (a bit better than the day before), and after sitting around with nothing to do, decided I needed to go and investigate the possibility. It hadn't stopped raining, the surf wasn't getting any better, there was no one there to hang out with, and
the village of Pundaquit wasn't the nicest of places. Eventually I found somewhere with some internet, managed to get hold of the boys on Skype, and decided that everything going wrong was a sign and to just buy a flight for early the next morning.
I grabbed my stuff, took the hour tricycle ride up to the main road, where I waited for the bus to Manila that supposedly arrives every 20 minutes. After an hour I was beginning to worry, it was 9.30pm and I needed to get to Manila pretty soon to make my flight in the morning. I also hadn't eaten in 24 hours due to the lack of money, and was wondering whether I would die from hunger or thirst first. Eventually someone told me that there were no more buses to Manila at this time, and I should get a bus to another city and maybe try from there. Beginning to panic, the bus to Olongapo eventually arrived, and I got on board hoping that there would be a bus from there to Manila. Otherwise I would be stuck there without money in the middle of the night and miss my flight in the
morning. A crazy Filipino guy paid for my bus ticket because he was fascinated by my surfboard, although that turned out to be more of a hindrance as he wanted to talk to me the whole way, and insisted on smoking out the whole bus with his chain smoking!
I arrived in Olongapo to find the place under about a foot of water. On the upside, there was an ATM and I shoveled down a McDonalds in record time. There were a couple of guys with guns roaming round the bus station for some reason, and I was beginning to wonder what on earth I'd got myself into. Fortunately, the last bus to Manila was just about to leave, I hopped on board and made my flight in the morning. After a further 6 hours in a van from Puerto Princessa in Palawan to El Nido at the northern tip of the island, I finally made it. And instantly knew I'd made the right decision. The place we were staying had a balcony overlooking the bay, dotted with these small islands with towering cliffs. A breathtaking view, particularly when you're only paying about 5 pounds a night. And to
be with a bunch of friends was a huge relief. The weather had really improved too, the rain had stopped and there were glimpses of sun.
The next day we jumped on board one of the boat tours that does a bit of island hopping. The boat weaved in and out of these huge cliffs, it was stunning, I've never seen anything like it. We swam through a small gap in the rocks in one of these little bays into a big lagoon. I felt so far away from anywhere. The water was so blue, we were surrounded on all sides by these huge cliffs, with thick jungle covering the sides. We stopped at a couple of beaches for a barbequed lunch and some drinks, and then headed back on the slightly dodgy boat back to the hotel. El Nido is a really cool little place, tons of cool bars and restaurants right on the beach, and it has such a laid back feel.
Our last full day in El Nido we rented out some motorbikes and headed off on a little road trip. We stopped after a while and found a guide to take us to a
waterfall that we had heard about. We trekked through the jungle/forest, and after crossing no less than 9 rivers found our way to this great waterfall. It was nothing that impressive to look at, but you could climb up inside it and just about get behind the curtain of water and feel the power of the water pummeling your back. Rich found out by mistake that it didn't hurt if you fell, as the rocks had been eroded down so they were nice and smooth, so that amused us for a little while. We got back on the bikes and went in search of a beach. After a little while we came across a small river in our way, and stopped to work out whether it was possible to ride through it. We decided it was doable, and I'm still not entirely sure how this happened, but I realised me and my bike were heading straight for the river bank, which I promptly dropped off into the river. The bike was almost completely submerged - luckily for me we managed to drag it out and it started up ok. Much to the amusement of the villagers that witnessed it happen
- could we have lived up to more of a stereotype of Western backpackers...
After a quick stop at the beach (where we found surf way better than I had in Zambales - even though I'd been assured that Palawan never got any surf...), we decided to try and do the loop round the whole northern tip of Palawan. The roads were potholed, muddy, and a lot of the time made of just very loose stone. We came to another river, which they were in the process of building a bridge over. Unfortunately, it wasn't really near completion, but luckily the workers helped us get our bikes on and off the bridge using some narrow wooden planks. There were big piles of mud on the other side, which led to crash number 2 of the day - possibly the slowest crash of all time in which Rich managed to roll onto his side onto a pile of soil. There were tons of villagers around, they weren't sure how to react so looked to me and the other Rich for how they should behave. When they saw us crying with laughter they joined in, and one even chirped up with
Getting across the bridge...
...seconds later he was on his side
'Haha, ginger' much to our amusement.
The other Rich provided crash number 3, skidding on a really muddy patch of road. Luckily none of us were particularly hurt - just a few cuts and bruises as they were all pretty low speed. I was pleased I wasn't the only one to make a fool of myself anyway...Unfortunately the first Rich also managed to come off again when a dog ran right underneath his front wheel, leaving him with not much choice other than to go over the handlebars. Again, not much damage but by this point we were all desparate to get back - the roads were terrible and we were beginning to realise how dangerous it was. So yes, you can add us to the list of people you know that have come off motorbikes in Asia...It was an eventful little trip, but well worth it - it's a beautiful island and we were rewarded with some amazing views across to other islands surrounding the main one. The people there were great too - how the kids knew that some foreigners were coming I had no idea, but every house we passed you'd hear the kids cheering, shouting
hello and trying to give you hi fives. I found the people in Philippines to be so friendly. When I first got there, so many people approached me. From past experiences in Asia this has usually meant someone trying to sell you something, but here it was just curiosity as to where you were going, what you were doing, or to just see if they could help you out. Maybe it was just because I was carrying a surfboard which piqued their curiosity a bit more, I don't know. But they are great people! And the more I travel, the more I find languages and their origins interesting. Tagalog, the Filipino language, was really fascinating. It had so many different influences - English, Spanish, Malaysian, Indonesian - it was funny listening to it as every so often I'd pick up a word and try and rack my brain as to what language I'd heard it from before!
We headed back to Busan the next day, and even though it's not really all that far away, it was still an excrutiating 28 hour journey back what with all the transport transfers and waiting around. It turned out that moving to
Palawan had been a good move, as there had been some big landslides which had closed the roads between Zambales and Manila, and it would have been unlikely that I would have made it back in time for my flight. The next couple of days after we left the rains got even worse, and Manila had some terrible flooding, and at one point was reported to be 50% underwater. So we had a lucky escape! Even though it was only a week, it was such a little adventure, and I felt I got to see a fair amount in the short time I was there. It didn't all go to plan but that's half the fun of travelling! I'd love to go back at some point and explore more - there are so many islands and things to do you could easily spend a long time there.
Hope all is well at home, miss you lots!
There are more photos below