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Published: September 9th 2015
Philippines was originally on my list of countries to visit after Indonesia, but (and this sounds big headed to say) I was bored of beaches and I wanted big cities and towns. So coming here after Japan, South Korea and Taiwan I was ready to hit the sand and sea again.
My first headache before leaving Taiwan was that to enter Philippines I had to have proof of onward travel for leaving the country. As a backpacker it is impossible to work out when and where I’m going to be leaving but the airport seemingly will not allow you on to the plane without it. However I was told of a website that gives free fake onward travel documents which was a godsend and a little bit illegal! Although nervous when I handed it to the airline official, I got away with it. So I was off to Philippines, leaving at midnight which was way too late for me but it was a cheap flight!
Arriving in Manilla I had a few hours spare before transferring to my next flight to Boracay. Almost every person I had met who had been to the Philippines before had warned me to stay away from the capital for various reasons and you could see from the airport that it was a busy busy place, even at 4 in the morning. There were guards everywhere, even the passenger rest area had a guard asking when my flight was as no one was allowed in unless they had more then 2 hours to wait.
Boracay was the place that I was meeting up with Jane, a fellow backpacker who had been traveling round the whole of Asia but I hadn’t seen since Thailand. We had promised that we would meet up somewhere, somehow in some random country and Philippines was that random place. Arriving on the mainland not far from the Island I got myself a transfer service that would take me to my booked hostel and on the bus I fell asleep, got on the ferry and fell asleep and arrived not knowing what time of the day or week it was. Parking outside the hostel, I walked into an open area and seeing 3 westerners I tiredly said hello. I was told/ordered to drop my bags off in my room and come down and talk, which I did with a bit of resistance as tiredness was still taking over my body.
First thing I will say about the hostel is that they had the most comfortable beds I’ve had in my 7 months and the coldest air con. I was in heaven already and so wanted to lie down and sleep but went down to the group and exchanged names and travelling stories. A German guy, Belgium guy and a lass from Transylvania were there with one aim and that was to party and to top up their tans. After being persuaded to go for a local lunch time meal, we then for some reason ended up on a beach bar to have a ‘couple’ of beers. if you know me by now, whether tired, awake or not even in the mood I will have a glass of alcohol in my hand and when there’s a beach that is of white sands and clear blue sea and a chance to watch it all sitting on a bean bag then it has to be done. Thats when Jane turned up….. hands from behind covering my eyes saying “Guess who?” There she was with her fella Javi looking no different from when I last saw her. Thats when I decided that travelling was to take a break and i was to have a ‘holiday’ for a couple of days. Now you may say that what I’ve been doing for the last 7 months but travelling is when you are exploring, seeking challenges, planning your days and the next one as well. A holiday is when you can just sit back and forget the world and relax.
So for the next 3 days it was beach, sunshine, drinking and sleeping. No planning, no nothing and enjoy relaxing. As I classed it as a mini holiday I bought myself some new shorts, my first new clothes in 7 months and treated myself to a haircut. Although Boracay is a beautiful island with all the trimmings of a tropical idyllic paradise it is full of tourists and so built up, saying that there is so much happening through the day and night walking along the beach. After 7 at night there are so many bands/singers playing or fire dancing that you are entertained along all the way from the start to the end of the sand.
As always I had no idea where I was going next but with plenty of suggestions from talking to people from before arriving and on Boracay it was time to leave after I was so chilled I was frozen. Cebu was the next Island and swimming with whale sharks. I had looked at flights but they were a bit expensive so decided on taking a bus and ferry which would have saved me about £90, the only problem was I didn’t research it properly and thinking that I could get off the bus and get on a ferry was not really correct. So had to spend a night in the city of Iloilo in my second hotel of the journey so far. I say city…. more of a large ish town. Security guards with guns was at the front but this is the Philippines and helpful staff what should have stepped me when I asked stupid question on the ferry. I assumed it was a couple of hours but no it was an overnight one. I did get about Iloilo and saw what sights there was, including the museum which was the size of my parents house and included a display of the local deaf schools paintings that was being sold off. it was a bit of strange place with various displays going in no particular time sequence. I did have a wonder into the local shopping Mall just to see what was around and was amused when the security lady asked me on entering where I was from. England i told her and she replied “Oh are you here for a Filipino wife”, “no, I’m here for a KFC” which made her smile and once I explained that I was travelling the world, she changed into a friendly person and started to tell me about Iloilo City and what there was to see and do in a very enthusiastic manner. It did make me think of what other Filipino’s think of British nationals coming to their country. I did see a lot of westerners holding hands with girls half their age. I can’t comment on their situation and its wrong for me to judge them so not really the sort of forum to say anything.
Overnight ferry was the next port of call and I had the choice of open air or tourist room, and as the price difference was about £2 i went for the tourist option. I entered a room on the ferry that had 60 bunk beds and not one westerner, when I think about adventure and doing things that are outside the comfort zone this is one of them moments. Handing over my passport in exchange for a blanket, I settled in making sure that my backpacks were never out my sight but then I realised that everyone was just walking around leaving their personal kit on their beds, so I ventured to the onboard restaurant sharing my table with 2 cockroaches. They didn’t have much conversation and kept away from my meal of chicken and rice so I was sort of happy. Going back to my bed and realising that nothing had been stolen, I got my head down and had a decent sleep.
Arriving in Cebu City port next morning I grabbed my bags and headed out into the main streets and all I knew I was heading to South Bus Station, which a local kid with his hand stretched out wanting money, told me where to head to, which was a local bus. Five people sat opposite me on the bus staring at me, which I still can’t get used to as I always think that I’ve got something on my face. Getting the right bus from the South Station, i was told that it was a 3 hour trip to get to the hostel. All I thought was how big is this island?
I got to the hostel and was happy to be there as if I had taken the plane would have taken me about 7 hours instead of the 2 day trip. The hostel was situated on a beach and there were so many stairs going everywhere but it was a place that looked social, quiet and the wifi was better then I had for a while. I settled down and got talking to a couple of people who were leaving the next day and gave me advice on swimming with Whale sharks which was the main reason for being there. Main thing was to leave the hostel at 6 in the morning. I had a couple of beers with them and headed into bed and was up early to catch the bus. Another thing they told me was that I was needed a underwater camera to take snaps, which I didn't have, however as luck would have it, there was an English couple who had one and after talking waiting for the bus I asked cheekily if they would take pictures of me posing next to the whale sharks. Along for the ride was 2 American girls that were very excited about the swimming.
I have, during my travels, swam watching turtles, mantra rays and been amongst schools of fish in coral, but swimming with whale sharks is one of the most amazing things I’ve done. There is a guy on a boat in front of them shoving food in their mouth so they can dictate where they will swim and you are next to these majestic creature as it goes past you. The sheer size of these animals and watching them as they eat and just move through the water and I was there just an arms length away, it was mind blowing. As I got in the water with my snorkel on, I did ask the boat driver if they were around and he just pointed past my shoulder, it was a shock to see them to see them so close. There are absolutely no words to describe the feeling of being there and seeing them although I’ve tried my best.
There are only 30 minutes given to swim in the sea with them so after that, we retired to the cafe and had breakfast while Tom, who had held on to his promise to take pictures for me, went through his photos. Going back to the hostel while the rest of the group decided they wanted to see waterfalls, it was time for me to head back to the hostel and sort out my bags. Funny how it seems but my small rucksack was stating to get heavier then my large one and I had said to myself so many times that I would empty it out and throw out all the trash that i had been hoarding. I still can’t believe that I had so much rubbish that I had just decided to keep and actually took me an hour to go through.
Once every one had returned back from the waterfalls we all decided to head off into town and see the sights before it got dark. Boljoon is not used to tourists and it was refreshing to see a typical filipino town without hoards of people with cameras. Walking off the beaten track we found a shop that looked more busier then the rest and went in to buy some snacks and the owner was a Filipino who had not long returned from California after being there for 10 years. Interestingly she had returned to her home town from the hustle and bustle of America as she and her husband had missed the slower pace of life.
Once you've done the whale sharks of Cebu there isn’t really a lot to do and with lots more to see it was time to go to Bohol. Why? I had been told of the chocolate hills and the smallest monkeys in the world. Two reason that I was to go and the 2 american girls decided at the last minute they were coming with me. Lots of information on ferries was given and having missed the first one by 5 minutes at a port an hour away from the hostel, we headed to Cebu City and managed to get on a ferry that was 2 hours sailing.
On getting to Bohol, we grabbed a tricycle taxi and got into our rooms in the hostel. Sharing my room was 3 British people and there is a something that I’ve learnt the hard way that i still forget which is when you meet fellow travellers that are from your home country, you will end up drinking to very early hours. In fact with Wes it was daylight when we finished sorting out the world and probably the longest and most that I’ve drunk! Damn the British and the hangover that followed when I woke up, especially when I had promised Belle and Annick the American girls that we would do the sights first thing in the morning. It was with a heavy head that we all hired scooters and to be honest i think still being under the influence of alcohol it was a bad decision but we made it to the Chocolate Hills in the afternoon. The drive probably sobered me up a bit to appreciate the views. The hills are so called as someone in the past looked out into the distance and said that the mounds all looked liked drops of chocolate. They go far into the distance all these hills and although the locals have no idea of how to build a tourist attraction to stand on to admire everything in front of you it was still an experience to see it. Just random perfectly rounded top hills covering the distance as far as the eye could see.
Looking at the time we realised that we would have to go straight back to the hostel before it got dark and so we missed out on the monkey park but after a proper early night which we all had, me and Bell headed off to the park to see the tarsiers. It was only a short walk around but we managed to see them in the trees, pointed out by the volunteer staff. Small little creatures that resemble gremlins and are the size of your hand. The staff would shake the trees they were asleep in, as they are nocturnal, and you would see their eyes open into big saucers and to say they were adorable and cute is an understatement. We were told that in the reserve itself that there was about 130 monkeys and they were trying to encourage them to mate and increase the numbers but I reckon with waking them up for tourists that they’re not going to have much luck!
Handing back the scooters, I had to make a decision of where was next and find out where the girls were heading. I had been told that Palawan was there best place to go for to see paradise in motion. Belle and Annick said they were going to join me so after checking costs of flights and availability the cheapest way was to get back on the ferry and head back to Cebu City, grab a cheap hostel and get to the airport early. So off we went and getting into the sister hostel of where we were staying I booked my flight for the next morning. The girls had a problem in that their bank wasn’t authorising the payment so I gave the best/worst advice of telling them to wait till the morning and if the payment hadn’t been made then we would make it to the airport in time for them to book the flight. That was a bad mistake in that we got to the airport late and although I could get on the flight, they couldn’t as the payment had still not been made and any new booking could be made an hour before the flight took off. They missed the deadline by 5 minutes and were now stuck on Cebu while telling me to go, go go in case I would miss the flight.
So I arrived this morning without the girls in tow in glorious sunshine, feeling a bit guilty that I could have paid for the flights for them and got the money back from them, but I guess thats what not planning properly is about, but planning trips is not what travelling is about? Within an hour of being in the new hostel, the heavens opened and the rain came down for most of the afternoon.
What have I learnt about the Philippines so far? Over 7 thousand islands make up the country, backpackers going round Asia miss it out mainly because it’s a bit far out of the rest of the continent and I’ll admit for the sex trade reputation. However if you stay away from Manila and the rest of the places that have the bad reputation then you will find beaches, wildlife, hills and some of the poorest but friendliest people in the world. Walking last night from the hosel to the nearest shop that sold cigarettes, I walked past 7 year olds sleeping on the side of the roads and entering the shop was treated like a local. Very surreal.
Sat here typing this thinking where’s next and i have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow but I think thats the joy of travelling. Everyday is an adventure!
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