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Published: November 9th 2009
Prior to Rich announcing his wedding in the Philippines, it wasn't ever a country we had considered visiting. Somehow it's position in the sea on the edge of SE Asia put it outside our radar. Prior to coming to Asia we didn't know much about it other than it was a big group of islands with some beautiful beaches and that it used to belong to Spain and America. I'd heard of Imelda Marcos and her shoe fetish, but I couldn't have told you which country she came from. As we admitted during the first blogs of our SE Asian trip back in 2006, we were sadly lacking in our knowledge of SE Asian history. At our school in Thailand we taught alongside many Filipino teachers so we became aware of a few more things from them. And for the first 6 months living in our flat in Haiphong we had Filipino TV (hacked somehow via a satellite) so we were very good at doing impressions of the adverts. But still we hadn't thought about visiting. However, as regular readers of this blog will know, we are pretty good at changing our minds and plans, so after
These sandcastles are built along the beach every day, with the date and a message on the front.
Rich's announcement we bought a guidebook and started looking into spending a couple of weeks exploring a new country.
We were pretty surprised when we looked at a map to find the Philippines there, on our doorstep, right next to Vietnam. If you stick your arm out when you are standing by the sea you can practically touch it. Who knew?
This was, of course, before the country hit the news a month or so ago when islands got battered by a series of typhoons causing a massive disaster.
Boracay was probably the only island I'd really heard of in the Philippines. And I have to be honest, a couple of years ago, if asked about it's location, I'd have stuck a pin somewhere in the South Pacific near Fiji. It is, of course, a famous tourist destination, particularly, it seems for Australians. A beautiful white sand beach, clear blue sea and lots of beach bars and restaurants. Some people said that it had been spoiled since it's original, one beach shack days. But we were on holiday and it sounded perfect for us.
Planes, trains and automobiles
So we hopped on a
Transport on Boracay
Different style of trike. This time a motobike, side car and tuk tuk style part on the back.
ferry from Bohol to Cebu. We spent one night in Cebu before flying to Boracay. There isn't much to say about Cebu as we only spent the night there and didn't see much. The city was pretty run down, but with some massive, Bangkok style shopping centres guarded by security guards with guns which, we were later to discover in Manila, are common in Filipino cities.
From Cebu we flew to Kalibo, where we took a 2 hour minibus ride, a short ferry journey and then a tuk tuk style trike to White Beach, Boracay. You used to be able to fly to Catilan, just the other side of the water from Boracay, taking away the need for the bus. However, since a recent accident at the airport, only the really small planes from one airline can land at Catilan. All the others, including ours, Cebu Pacific, have rerouted to Kalibo. Not that it was a problem really. There are people planted all along the route to help you get to Boracay, it costs a mere 200 pesos for the bus and boat (less than 3 quid) and you get to see a bit more of the country as
you zip through it in the minibus.
Sun, sea and sand.....and no typhoons
Boracay was everything it promised. The beach was stunning. The water was really clear and dotted with multicoloured sailing boats and the sand was white and soft. Running alongside the beach is a path flanked by bars and restaurants of every description. Walking along it seems to be a popular nightly activity, stopping at small shops and stalls to look at jewellery made of shells, flip flops and sarongs, getting hair braids or henna tattoos, checking out the fresh seafood on display outside the bbq restaurants or sitting outside a bar with a drink watching people from every nationality go by doing the same thing. You can eat food from every country in the World. The bars spill out on the beach at night, some of them with live bands playing. Filipino covers bands are very popular in Asia and we saw some excellent live music.
We stayed at Beach Station 1, at the North of the beach, in a hotel recommended by the tout we met on the boat. For 1,800 pesos we got an enormous room with two double beds,
The Royal Park hotel
our home for 5 nights
air con, cable TV (to catch up with the Filipino TV channels we have missed since our pirated cable in Haiphong got replaced with Vietnamese/Chinese cable), fridge and window where we could see the sea. The bathroom was big enough to do roly polys in. Oh, and free breakfast. If we'd got up early enough to eat it. Which we managed, erm...once. The hotel was right on the beach and the restaurant overlooked the sea. Nice.
Boat Station 1 is at the quiet end of White Beach. Boat Stations 2 and 3 are where the late night bars and a lot of the shops are. Which was fine for us, as we have had enough of trying to get to sleep listening to pumping base beats during previous trips, and our legs can quite happily carry us to where the action is at night, and back again later.
So, what followed was basically 5 days of walking around the island, shopping, lazing on the beach and swimming in the sea with 5 nights of bar hopping. Just what we like to do. The island is small enough to walk around very easily. To walk to the opposite coast
at Bulabog beach took us about 15 minutes. The weather was variable. It is still rainy season and there were still storms passing over the islands. There is a barrier made of bamboo and plastic all along the beach, protecting the hotels, bars and restaurants from the weather. As we were there, people started taking the section in front of their business down, so the weather must be improving. Some days the water was like a millpond. Others it was the realm of kite surfers. It was sunny every day, but some days it was coupled with some cloud and wind. But for those of you who were concerned that storms would be a problem for us, you were worrying in vain. Most of the time it was great.
"We are sailing....."
One day we decided to do a boat trip. People in my family know that boat trips are obligatory on every holiday. As obligatory as drinking large measures of gin and tonic while watching the sunset.
We found a guy on the beach renting out sailboats and hopped aboard a small boat, not much bigger than a canoe with a sail and a piece
of bamboo each side holding a net for us to sit on. Usually when we do trips, there are other tourists there too. But this was our own personal boat. Kris, me and the two Filipino guys who were manning the boat. They didn't talk much, if they could speak English, so it was really really peaceful just sailing around the island. Luckily this was one of the days when the sea was completely calm and you could look down and sea the coral and the fish swimming around. Perfect. We stopped for some snorkelling and watched brightly coloured coral reef fishes swimming around our legs. After that we sailed around the island to what looked like a deserted beach. We landed on a patch without any resorts, just sand, palm trees and water.. ...
Then a guy came towards us selling pearls and snake bones. Then an ice cream seller. Then as we walked along the beach we spotted about 10 other boats, all being sold pearls, ice creams and snake bones. And a security guard with a gun. Ah well. I guess that's what they mean by Paradise Lost
After 5 nights
It's not us, obviously.
it was time to move on again. The reason for going to the Philippines was to see my friend Richard, who I studied for my Masters degree with in York all of 10 years ago, get married, to Eloisa, from the Philippines, who he met in Hong Kong. So we hopped on another flight back to Manila and headed North, to Bulacan, for a wedding.
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