I made a spur of the moment, last minute decision to head to the Philippines this past weekend. A couple of friends, including two other exchange students from USC, were in Cebu City staying on the beach and told us flights were cheap so we booked without knowing much of where we were going or what we were going to do.
I finished an exam late Thursday night and hussled to catch my midnight plane to Cebu. I went with Matt and two other American guys at our school and we barely escaped missing yet another flight. God knows when my luck's gonna run out with this but we successfully boarded our late flight on Cebu Pacific Air. For the record, Cebu Pacific Air is the least shady sounding airline company I've used after Air China to Shanghai (most dangerous airline in the world with over 4 crashes a year) and Sri Lankan Airlines to Bangkok (everybody on the flight looked like they needed a 'random' security check). The flight attendants gave us a preview of the Philippina beauties we were to encounter on the islands and we read an article in the in-flight magazine about eco-adventure tours on a
nearby island, Bohol. Here's a link to the article's photographer's blog: http://www.ironwulf.net/2007/10/03/danao-bohols-new-adventure-mecca/. All four of us read the article and decided it would be tons of fun.
Our first day in Cebu City we didn't accomplish much spending most of the day bouncing between travel agents in a nearby mall (I was shocked at how Westernized the Philippines was, with a mall around every corner and the most proficient English speakers I've found in Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong). After unsuccessful phone calls to the eco-trekkers we had read about on our flight, we were about to book a day tour to the island of Bohol to see the Chocolate Hills (actually called Mint Hills during this time of the year as the rain covers them with vegetation) and the Tarsier monkeys (world's smallest primates), when suddenly one of our phone calls was returned. This turned out to be a HUGE turning point in the trip as we were able to book the trip we'd read about for under 100 bucks a person (including transportation to and from the island, meals, accommodations, and all trekking activities). Yeah. The Philippines is SUPER cheap. I'll get into the eco-tour a little
later as we had the rest of the day to spend in rainy Cebu City before our 7am ferry to Bohol the next day.
We spent most of the remainder of the day arguing with taxi drivers about fares and seeing the limited amount of non-shopping oriented sites around Cebu City. One of the main spots in the city was Magellan's Cross, a cross supposedly erected by Magellan along his route of discoveries back in the early 1500s. Despite the rain, this spot was actually pretty cool as the lighting and unique faces of young, soaked children peddling umbrella cover for peso coins made for great photos. We laughed as they pulled out all the tricks to get more money out of us (including mischevious smiles and holding their arms in "agonizing pain" as if a couple more pesos might pay for the medical bill from them straining their arms from holding umbrellas for too long). That night we headed to an "authentic" Philippino seafood restaurant called Lami-ah, which was really more of a tacky tourist-oriented show with dancers performing on stage. Although they did coax me and Ron into joining them on stage to learn some dance moves
and we all got to take a picture with the colorful group when they were done so it was an enjoyable experience despite the mediocre food. We took a "jeepy" home, basically a tin-can looking jeep with an extended cab that could pack up to a dozen passengers, and woke up early the next morning to catch our ferry to Bohol.
When we arrived on the island we were greeted by the smiling face of Dominic, a.k.a. Doo Bop, who took us on an hour long bumpy ride to the small city of Danao in the middle of the island. The scenery on the way there was gorgeous with rustic homes tucked cooperatively into lush, green landscapes fresh from the previous day's rain, but my pictures came out pretty blurry due to the chaotic ride. When we arrived at our accommodations at E.A.T. Danao, we were greeted by a large gecko in our room. E.A.T. stands for Eco/Educational/Extreme Adventure Tours. Our tour started with lunch and a lesson from one of the staff members about their organic farming practices on the property including a discussion of the
difference between African Night Crawler worms and regular earth worms. The complex grew all kinds of herbs and vegetables, some of which we enjoyed with our lunch of sticky rice, coconut juice, fish, and orange Tang. Next, we strapped on our helmets and head out for some caving at Kamaria Cave. Dodging small bats, and squeezing through almost impossible spaces (sometimes underwater) we explored one of the islands natural caves. The cave just seemed to go on and on and we got some cool pictures with Doo-Bop's waterproof camera.
Next we met up with Ian, E.A.T. Danao's major operator and brother of the mayor of Danao, for some river trekking. Traveling in the mayor's cars we had all kinds of advantages getting around the town. We started on top of one of Danao's biggest hills which held a statue of one of the Philippines' biggest revolutionaries against the Spaniards, who inhabited the Philippine islands for over 85 years. Bohol was one of the first and only islands in the Philippines to revolt against the Spanish forces and this guy chose Danao due to its hilltop location surrounded by treacherous cliffs, making it difficult for invading forces to have any
advantage. We made our way down the hill to the Wahig River, a place Ron said looked like it was straight out of a movie with all the spectacular palm trees and white limestone cliffsides. We waded through the river to a point where a tree had formed up the side of a cliff and strapped into some harnesses to do some rappelling. We climbed up the roots of the tree to the top of the cliff and rappelled down, getting amazing views of the river valley and probably looking like jackasses with our poor technique. The guides got a good laugh though as most of us couldn't exercise enough control to prevent ourselves from slamming into the cliffside a couple of times. Our bodies soaked with muddy riverwater and our rookie legs scratched up from the caving and rappelling, we made our way arduously up the hillside, slipping on loose rocks and natural waterfalls, formed by the water coming from the caves above us. It all reminded me of my adventures with Richard Haynes and Co. when we went canyoning in Interlaken, Switzerland this past summer. MUHHHNNNNAAAYYYYSSSS.
At the end of our trek up the mountain, exhausted, we
were treated with amazing views of the valley and the rest of the island. Our guides, almost twice our age, seemed to have little problem catching their breath and instructed us one last time about what we had seen before we made our way back to the lodge. That night, we spent some time talking with Ian, Doo-Bop, and Ian's girlfriend about cock-fighting, 7 meter long pythons, and some of the island's other unique attributes over San Miguel Pilsen, the international pride of the Philippines. Both groups did our best to stray the other's perceptions about our respective cultures' reputations as broadcast through international media (i.e. the ridiculous notion that the Philippines harbors terrorist threats and all the typical American stereotypes that I've done my best to contradict throughout my travels).
The only unfortunate part of the trip was our own inability to wake up for tubing the next morning on the Wahig River (I still blame it on Doo-Bops never-ending supply of San Miguel the night before), but with the extra time we were able to see those more touristy parts of the island, the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier Monkeys. The spot where we saw both of
these attractions, Sagbayan Peak, was ridiculously tacky with statues of Donald Duck and some Looney Tunes characters, but it was good to know we wouldn't leave Bohol without seeing its main attractions. The Tarsier monkeys fit in the palm of your hand and basically look like those creepy Furby dolls I remember my sisters going nuts over at Christmas time sometime in the late 90s. They also have a striking resemblance to Doo-Bop (see pictures). Interesting fact about these little weirdos: if they are kept alone in a confined space they get so stressed out without a fellow primate's company that they will bash their own brains in! Don't buy your kids a Tarsier monkey if you can't afford two unless you want to mentally scar them for life. Pretty odd, huh?!
After almost having a heart attack when I thought I was going to drop my camera in the water on our ferry ride back, we rode with Ian and the gang through Cebu City in the back of his pickup truck to dinner and then to the airport. Interestingly enough, Doo-Bop and Ian were headed to Hong Kong to buy equipment and were on our same flight
so we got to experience Doo-Bop's excitement and unease at leaving the Philippines for the first time! All in all, we'd gotten some good exercise and little sleep, and also caught some good photos along the way. The Philippine people were incredibly hospitable, and not just because we were their paying guests. I have no idea what we would have done had we not hooked up with the folks at E.A.T. Danao and I don't want to think about it, because it would have most likely been the first disaster trip I've had so far.
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