An island paradise

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November 5th 2002
Published: January 7th 2007
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The reputation of Manila precedes it as a city where trouble can find you, if that's what you're looking for. I boarded a flight from Sydney to the capital of the Philippines as the starting point of my trip to the archipelago. Manila is situated on the Luzon island group in the north of the country. I'd previously visited many years ago when an unscheduled flight stopover saw me spending a night in the capital. On that occasion I was taken to a hotel and made myself comfortable over a meal, but was told to bolt the door before going to sleep. That turned out to be good advice as a dodgy character tried to force his way into my room in the dead of night. So I arrived at the hostel this time around feeling slightly apprehensive, and began chatting to some other travellers about how they found the city. "Oh, I got stabbed" was the helpful update from a young German guy as he rolled up his sleeves to show me his battle scar. Then again, he was out very late with his mate and two local girls when they were jumped by some local toughs who turned 'em pretty much upside down.

Oh well, dear reader, travellers can be fronted by the resident wide boys in any big city, so what can you do? My plan was to leave that's what, and find my feet in the rest of the country. So next morning I'm booked on a flight to the Visayas and the capital Cebu, an island to the south and another big city. I spent a few days exploring but quickly decided to push on to Boracay Island, renowned as one of the top five beaches in the world. The ubiquitous bus and ferry connections are standard travel fare in this country of over 7000 islands, but before long I arrived in paradise. I cast my anchor and slotted into island life after checking into a bungalow at a beachside resort. Wow, after exploring the island I rate Boracay the most beautiful island I've visited, and once ensconced it's a very difficult place to leave.

I did, however, have a somewhat disconcerting problem after arriving, because when I set out on the trail to the bars at night I'd have to run the gauntlet of the island's lady boys. I mentioned this to an alcohol soaked Englishman from the resort who had been there for months, but he quickly defended the lady boys and told me fondly how they'd surround him, push him up against a coconut palm and strip off his clothes for a laugh. I looked at this character and thought to myself, good luck with that relationship mate, perhaps you've had a bit too much of the tropical sun.

Nevertheless my island routine was established; sun baking on the perfect white sand, swimming in the tropical blue water ... and drinking! My preferred bar wasn't jam packed but every night was so much fun as the party kicked on and on. I discovered spirits are astonishingly cheap in the Philippines, and when propping up the bar are the poison of choice. The barflies I met were serious drinkers, in fact they were bordering on professional which meant in their company I was truly a babe in the woods. Boy did we have some great laughs though in this great little bar. From the bar staff to the bouncer, all the staff and the customers were absolutely brilliant.

I stayed on the island nearly two weeks and had a rip
Benaue Rice TerracesBenaue Rice TerracesBenaue Rice Terraces

A UNESCO world heritage listed site and beautiful to behold.
roaring time of it. Everyone was so up for a party, and the highlight for me was meeting three girls down from Manila for a weekend and a bit of a party. We had so much fun together on that weekend! Eventually I forced myself to move on so I could see more of this great country. So I took the bus and ferry back to Cebu, from where I headed back north to Luzon on an island hopping flight to the famous Benaue rice terraces. I was well in the swing of things by now, and the Philippine people I met while travelling were great, always smiling and friendly while speaking perfect English. Benaue is an amazing place, with the fresh mountain air and green hilltops providing the perfect setting for the world famous rice terraces. There are two main lookouts that provide sweeping views of the perfect terraces, carved into the hills by the local farmers two thousand years ago. It's a truly astounding sight looking down on these geometrically perfect patterns.

Finally I headed back to Manila on the bus, checked into the same hostel from my first night in the country and was pleased to
Dance with meDance with meDance with me

I met my friend at the bar when she flew down from Manila for the weekend.
see some familiar faces. I had three nights in the city, and spent the days exploring and went out on the town in the evenings. There were people in the hostel up for a party and Manila has a heaving nightlife. It was great fun in the capital and provided the perfect finish for my trip. The Philippines is rarely considered as a holiday destination for travellers exploring South East Asia, but I had an excellent time in this diverse and beautiful country of 7107 islands. Dare I suggest, basically all of you should be here now!

A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books." Walt Whitman

It's home time so until next time, I'm signing off for now


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