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The Rest of the Philippines: Cebu – Bohol – Boracay – Palawan

March 6, 2012
After the rather harsh departure from Manila, we were just in time to catch our plane and continue our journey…

Quite nothing to do there. Except for the ferry terminal which consists of unorganized operators trying to rip you off, as they know how badly you want to go over to Bohol. We went over to Arbel’s pension house first, the cheapest crashpads we could find (around 200 Pesos a night, ~ €3,50, non aircon) in uptown Cebu city. We tried to minimize our stay in the dusty, worn-down city which is seemingly full of vulturing taxi / tricycle drivers. After finding out that the ferries were all fully booked, we decided to drive down 3 hours to Oslob for seeing some whale sharks, just to find out that the last boat departed an hour earlier. At least we spent a lil time at the beach, chillin’. Lost my sunglasses. Bummer. Returned with our chartered taxi  to Cebu city at night.

Went over to Bohol early the next day, arrived in Tagbilaran where we rented two motorcycles (Yamaha YBR 125 – me gusta) and went for an epic road trip to the countryside of Bohol. We first stopped at the Tarsier sanctuary somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Being one of the smallest primates in the world, tarsiers are supercute – and super endangered. As they can breed only once a year one infant at a time and are very vulnerable to domestic housecats, they have been almost extinct during the last centuries. The sanctuary on Bohol serves as a headquarter in the conservation of the species, with only 10 specimens living there. Most of the time they are just chillin on trees and looking cute, but at night they go hunting for crickets and other insects. It is very important that they have time to chill, as the stress brought by captivity cuts their life span in half, from up to 20 years in nature to only 10 when held in cages. I was relieved to see no street signs announcing black market tarsier attractions on the way around the isle. The second attraction on Bohol are the chocolate mountains, some 1,200 chocolately looking hills, ranging up to 100m into the air. Nobody really knows for sure what caused them, and its not super spectacular unless you have a faible for geology. Its just some bumps in the landscape… Nevertheless, I saw some All Hands volunteers there, and I was intrigued by the idea to do something alike myself. I was researching on their website a bit and could imagine doing some volunteering after my time in Singapore…

After an overnight stay at the Cebu airport, we went over to Caticlan, taking a bangka over to Boracay island right away. Boracay is the typical white beach paradise with crystal clear turquoise water. Plus beach bars. Plus reggae music. Plus happy hours. … Plus annoying street vendors. EVERYWHERE. We used the time to get some tan and relaxed after the impressions from metro Manila/Cebu city. The sunsets are epic over there, enjoyed the calmness a lot. Went snorkling with a bottomglass boat and zorbing, not super spectacular but well, nice to do for once. Best thing to do on Boracay is just to chillax around BomBom Bar, happy hour cocktails between 2pm and 8pm daily, livemusic in super-relaxed athmosphere every night. My favorite moment of this trip was when I went from the beach to our shangri-la to grab my cam and saw a guy of my age playing guitar in front of BomBom Bar. I just sat down and listened for a second, to find myself jamming along only minutes later. It turned out that the guy, Joe, worked at the bar and jammed there every day before work. His colleagues liked our tune, joined us on percussion and set a tipping pot in front of us. With our hour-long epic jam session, we found ourselves 61 pesos, 1 baht, 1 euro-cent richer, which was enough for a memorable laugh and two cold San Miguel’s, toasting to the connecting magic of music.

Arriving in Puerto Princessa, Palawan’s capital, we made quick plans to travel to Sabang to see the Underground River, one of the islands main attractions. The nescessary permit was quickly attained, which left us some time to check another great lonely planet recommendation: IMAS vegetarian restaurant. Epicly delicious and super reasonable prices (big burrito for 85 pesos ~ €1,40). Totally saved me from my Boracay hangover. The restaurant itself is run by a wife-husband combo, Ima and Sam. They are supernice and very passionate about vegetarianism. If you happen to be at Palawan (and thus most definately stay in Puerto Princessa) make sure to give IMAS a try.
After a bumpy 1 1/2 hour sunset ride to Sabang, we found ourselves in  the middle of a malaria-zoned fisher town, with generators stopping at 10pm. Hulled in a damaged mosquito net and lots of repellent, we survived the night and took a hike to the underground river the next day. The hike itself is beautiful, super-nature jungle walk. The underground river is beautiful as well, but rather unspectacular after the dark cave experience in KL… But as one of the new 7 wonders of the world, I assume it’s a must-go.
After a rather superloud bangka ride back to Sabang and some beach time with nice surfable waves, we packed the gear once more and took the 5 hour van to El Nido in the north, our last stop in the Phillies. Although it is supposed to be super-nice, I didnt really get the whole atmosphere of the town. It remains in my memories rather as a small local fishing village with high bed occupancies and cheap snack places (footlong sandwich for 60 pesos ~ €1, monay star pastry for as cheap as 5 pesos ~ €0,09). But the whole beachbar atmosphere was spoiled by heavenly Boracay already, and the touristy boats at the coast line were to bothersome for a nice day at the beach. Las Cabanas beach, on the other hand, was the perfect hideout to have a last time napping under palm trees, only some lost vendors trying to sell fake pearl earrings to the tourists. We found accomodation at a house of a lady who rents out the unfinished second story of her house to travelers. She even cooked for us as we ran out of money. 120 pesos a pax for 3 meals with fried eggs, sausages, squids, shrimps… Fantastic! Island hopping was worth the 550 Pesos we paid – including an amazing snorkling dive at one of the surrounding lagoons and freshly grilled fish at a hidden beach with our private boat. Superb.

On the way back we stopped by at my friend’s place in Manila again where we had an epic feast for the last time on the Phillies. Unfortunately a little bit to epic for my stomach. Ended up in huge pain at Manila’s airport for our second airport overnight. In the end I even had to see the airport hospital in order to take the flight back to Singapore. The security officer didn’t want me to continue to the boarding, I was looking too horrible. I’m glad I take theater class at SMU – i had to collect all my concentration and charme to convince them to let me go… As my condition didnt turn better, I went to the SMU doc right away once upon arrival in Singapore. Once more. Doc diagnosed high fever (38,8°C) and a gastrointestinal disorder. Gave me a fever reducing shot to the biceps and set me on drugs. I blame the whole misery on the Buko (Coconut) Juice I had in Manila. My stomach – no cannot. Luckily I feel way better already today. Hope I can take my flight to Thailand tomorrow! 🙂

Finally 5 observations that made the Philippines unique to me:

  1. Jeepneys. You pass along 8 pesos for the ride and enjoy the raw adventure of urban transportation.
  2. Religion. “God bless our trip” was everywhere! Every colorful tricycle has a quote on its rear, showing faith to the lord. The catholic church has a huge impact on the pinoys.
  3. Poverty. Be it begging & homeless children or sachet-portioned shampoo (whole bottle is unaffordable for many), 60% of the population live below the poverty line, and you see it.
  4. Traffic rules. Don’t exist. Honking as way of informing, warning, greeting, … Needless to say that my motorcycle’s horn on Bohol was hoarse…
  5. Old westerners. Everywhere I went, I saw them, attached to some filipino extremely young looking lady. Not sure if I want to know all the details after looking into the sad faces…

From → The Philippines.

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