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Irene's Adventures

Philippines

PHILIPPINES | Thursday, 27 April 2017 | Views [739]

    

jeepney picture Ed & Allan Skarsen

Although the Philippines was never on our bucket list of places to go, when Ed's twin brother, Allan, said he was getting married there we simply had to go! Ed was the Ninong – keeping with the Filipino custom of the wise elder bestowing advice to the young married couple. Irene jokingly asked if Ninong was Filipino for Jackass. LOL  (The Skarsen family will affectionately recognize this from their Mother.)

We left Edmonton on Thursday, the 27th at 22:00. Our connecting flight from Vancouver did not leave until 5:00 Friday morning. We arrived in Manila at 9:00 AM on Saturday, the 29th. Our 14 hour direct flight had us completely losing Friday. Philippine Air is a nice airline with more than average leg room, which is nice on such a long flight. And the food was good too!

Saturday, 29 April

Allan and Bella met us at the airport with their wedding planner, Anthony, acting as the chauffeur in his car. It was very hot – 35 degrees C. Compared to the cool Alberta weather, with some snow still on the ground, this was a huge adjustment.

We drove to Imus, Cavite, which is about 30 km south of Manila. Imus was where Bella lived and the wedding was being held. It was also where we had The Stanley Guesthouse booked for our stay.

The initial observation of the Manila area was the smog. It has a perpetual haze to it, caused by the lack of emission control on the multitude of diesel vehicles. Diesel is 10 Php per litre cheaper than gasoline. All the jeepneys run on diesel and there are LOTS of jeepneys.

 decked out jeepney

Jeepneys are a cross between a long jeep and a squashed bus. One can buy a route within a certain area and run 3 days a week collecting passengers for about 8 – 20 Php (25-50 cents) depending on how far you go. We never could figure out exactly how the pricing worked. They dropped you whenever and wherever you wanted along the way with no designated stops or pickup points. You hopped in the back, squeezed onto a bench that runs on either side and passed your money to the driver, usually through several other passenger's hands if you were near the back. The jeepney typically carries 6 passengers per side and one in the front seat beside the driver. However, we have been squashed in with nine per side, two up front and one, literally, hanging off the back. We often paid double because we are bigger than the locals and therefore take up more space – we didn't want to hang off the back. You don't want to sit too far in the back because the diesel exhaust is choking. They sometimes race each other, similar to guys who rev their motors at the lights, causing even more choking exhaust fumes. Gag! Choke!  They tend to be quite decked out with lots of chrome, fancy lights, horns, and fancy names.

 decked out jeepney    hanging off the back of the jeepney

Trikes are the other popular method of public transportation. It is basically a motorcycle with a covered sidecar that is low enough for the driver to see over and therefore not very high. The sidecar is meant to fit two Filipinos, not two North Americans. We typically had to each sit with one cheek on the metal seat and hunched over with barely a chance to see out of the tiny window. The advantage of the trike is that it will pick you up and drop you similar to a taxi. One can share a trike and pay a bit less. If you order an Express Trike it is about double or triple the price of a jeepney, but still cheap.

 Ed in trike  Ed & Irene in trike

Traffic in Imus is the typical Asian chaos of trikes, jeepneys, cars, buses, and large trucks all vying for space. Three lane highways had four rows of vehicles. Intersections were a case of forcing your vehicle into the oncoming lane and hope someone stops or goes around you while you turn. Considering the trikes and jeepneys stop whenever and wherever they like, other drivers must be diligent to not run into them. To us, it seemed like mayhem, but at the end of the day, it works. Traffic is not congested at a red light waiting while there is no one coming from the side street.

There were massive metal power poles running the length of the main road. They seem to be at least 2 meters in diameter. Many buildings were kind of built around them.

We checked into The Stanley Guesthouse and found it to be a quaint two bedroom apartment on the third floor. It was quite lovely. (That was about to change soon enough.)

There was a large Robinson's Mall nearby so we decided to stock up on some groceries. The walk to the mall revealed another aspect of Imus – the dirty streets. Along with the haze was a layer of dirt and dust on everything. There was a lack of garbage cans and locals would simply drop their gum wrappers, cigarettes, and whatever other rubbish they wanted to discard onto the street. Add to that someone urinating beside the street and you get the idea.

At the entrance to the mall, there was a sign stating that firearms and deadly weapons were prohibited inside the mall. Please deposit firearms and deadly weapons to the (armed) security guard. I took that to mean that people actually walk around with firearms and deadly weapons. Ok then....

 mall entrance

The mall held Sunday mass in the central open area. There were breastfeeding areas. The food court had a soft play area for toddlers, an arcade with pinball and video games for older kids, and even a small trampoline. What a great idea to keep kids amused while you sit and linger over lunch or a coffee.

 breastfeeding station in mall

Finding brewed fresh coffee was difficult. It was usually instant coffee. If you ordered it with cream and sugar it came in a foil packet with the sugar and creamer already premixed. Yuck!

The grocery store was large and had a wide variety of instant noodles – two aisles worth! There was lots of fresh fish and local fruits. We stocked up on some pasta and the fixings for pasta sauce, some ground beef and some breakfast food, including bacon. (The ground beef was horrible and the bacon even worse.) We also bought some local fruit. The mangoes were delicious. The dried mangoes we buy in Canada are usually an export of the Philippines.

Sunday, 30 April

Allan and Bella picked us up and took us to the Imus Market. This was a proper Asian Market bustling with vendors selling everything from fresh fish, to sacks of different kinds of rice, to bright red eggs, to coconuts, to chicken feet and heads, to actual snake oil. It was great! The air was heavy with smells of freshly killed poultry, fish, and pungent fruits and vegetables. Vendors coaxed you to buy their goods by waving it in your face. Some vendors proudly waved their huge knives to show their skills while we snapped a picture. I love markets!!

 chicken heads for sale in market  coconut vendor  bright red eggs  Imus Market

We were not at the market for long as Bella was there to buy ingredients for dinner. They hosted us at their lovely new home which is built in a newer area of town. They are the only ones on their street to have a huge flowering bougainvillea draping over the front fence. We had their national fish - Milkfish - for dinner then spent the evening getting to know our soon-to-be sister-in-law better.

 Ed & Irene, Bella & Allan

Their house was not big by Canadian standards. It has a small front yard ( about 6x6 meters) and no back yard. It had two floors. The living room, indoor kitchen, and one bathroom were on the main floor. The indoor kitchen is stressed because most Filipino homes have an outdoor kitchen under a lean-to roof. Allan paid extra to have his kitchen indoors. There were two bedrooms upstairs. The main bedroom had an en-suite bathroom and a small windowed sitting area off the back of the bedroom that was meant as a room to look out from - until an apartment began construction directly behind their house. Allan said he paid $43,000 CDN for this brand new house.

Filipinos are not eligible for mortgages unless they work abroad. Money brought in from foreign workers is the second largest source of revenue for the country and people are highly encouraged to work abroad. Foreign workers can buy houses at discounted rates at various stages of completion. Bella's oldest son, Jordan Paul (JP), who worked in Taiwan for 3 years, has a house that is not completely finished inside. He has applications to work in Dubai or Taiwan again. When asked what he will do with his house while away, he said he will just leave it empty and did not seem concerned about someone breaking in or squatting.

Bella's younger son, Adrian, was to escort us back to our guesthouse so we don't get lost or ripped off by the driver. Ed and Irene squished into the covered sidecar of the trike while Adrian rode on the back of the motorcycle with the driver. It is night time, dark, and we are in a strange city. After quite a long ride and us commenting that this seemed too far, Adrian asked us if we knew where we were. NO! We finally conveyed to the driver that if he headed back toward the main road we may recognize something. Even when we did recognize the street, they doubted us. We insisted and eventually came to our guesthouse.

The Jawbreaker and Tombstone Burgers:  There is a restaurant advertising that if you can eat their jawbreaker burger (triple cheeseburger, 2 slices spam, bacon strips, smothered in cheese sauce with 400 grams of fries and a 16 oz drink) under 5 minutes it's free.  The record is one minute 40 seconds.  The Tombstone is 8 patties, 4 slices of cheese, overflowing with cheese sauce, 400 grams of fries and a 16 oz drink - under 5 minutes and it's free.  Record time 3 minutes 57 seconds.  oh, and you also get a t-shirt, possibly to throw up on after...???

Jawbreaker & Tombstone burgers

Monday, 1 May  

Yesterday, Irene woke up to bug bites on her hands which she thought to be mosquito bites. This morning she woke up to swollen and burning bites. It felt as if she had been splashed by spattering hot oil. We found a medical centre across the street from the Mall. We headed to the clinic first thing in the morning. The doctor immediately diagnosed the bites to bed bugs!!! WTF!!! In all of our travels, we never had a problem with bed bugs before. She prescribed and anti-itch cream and antihistamine to control the swelling. We filled the prescription across at the mall.

 bed bug bites  

Back at the guesthouse, we informed the manager and she immediately changed the entire bed – frame, mattress, bedding, and pillows. She apologized profusely saying the previous guest must have brought them because they had never had a problem with bed bugs before. Either way, we made the decision to find new accommodations, but we needed to ensure that we would not bring bugs with us.

We had purchased bug spray to kill and repel insects while at the mall. We put all of our belongings into a closet and sprayed the crap out of them before closing the door and effectively sealing the toxic fumes inside. We also sprayed the baseboards, light switches, electrical plug-ins, window frame, curtains, and even the new bed. Every night Irene sprayed herself and the bed with OFF to hopefully repel any further bites. She also slept inside a silk sleeping bag liner to further deter any bites, at least on the lower extremities. Just to clarify, Ed and Irene slept in separate bedrooms as Ed wanted the air conditioner in the one room while Irene prefers a fan while she sleeps. Ed said he had no bites and that the bed bugs must have been in her room only. However, a few days later bites manifest on his legs far worse than anything Irene had.

 Ed's  bites

We asked Bella to confirm there were still rooms available at the Hotel Casa Verde, where the wedding was to take place. There was one room available. We went over to have a look at it. Not that it mattered, we were anxious to leave the bed bugs behind!

Tuesday, 2 May

Allan and Bella had us meet them on the main road where we caught a jeepney “to the province” which is basically into the countryside. Bella's auntie Lucita lives near Rio Villa Nuevo Mineral Water Resort. The locals were allowed free admission to the water resort so we stopped at Auntie's house for a quick coffee and for Bella to collect Auntie's pass.

Lucita's husband had owned two jeepneys and had bought a third just prior to his untimely death two years ago. Auntie still maintained the rights to the routes and has hired drivers to run them. Lucita was also the Ninang – the female counterpart of elder giving advice to the young married couple.

From Auntie's house we walked to the nearby Rio Villa Nuevo Mineral Water Resort. It is basically a mountain stream that was captured in a series of swimming pools as it proceeded down the mountain. It was not thermal water, but simply mountain water – and rather cold. We arrived fairly early, while the air was still cooler, so the water did not seem that cold. Later in the day, when the air temperature was in the mid 30's the water was refreshing but also felt a lot colder by comparison.

 Rio Villa Nuevo Mineral Waters  Rio Villa Nuevo Mineral Waters  Rio Villa Nuevo Mineral Waters  

Because this was a semi-contained mountain stream, it was built in a steep canyon. There were picnic areas, resembling cabanas, built into the steep hills on either side of the pools, as well as motel rooms for rent. Each cabana had a stone and cement picnic table with benches made of metal pipes. Each area also had a built-in BBQ pit. There was a kiosk that sold various items such as ice cream, soft drinks, and large sheets of fly paper to catch the biblical infestation of flies that attacked our lunch.

 picnic areas at Rio Villa  Rio Villa Nuevo Mineral Waters

Every now and then a larger cabana had a karaoke machine. Karaoke seemed to be a popular pastime everywhere we went. Many times a song would come on the radio or public address system and people from every direction around us would break into singing along.

There were about five monkeys in separate tiny cages. It looked rather cruel to keep them in such tiny containers.

We didn't stay very long. We headed back to Imus in the early afternoon, when the crowds of locals began to overtake the pools. The schools were closed and families were congregating in the public areas.

 Allan & Edward  Irene & Bella

Wednesday, 3 May

Allan and Bella had us meet them on the main road once more, where they picked us up with Anthony acting as chauffeur again. We were headed to Tagaytay where Caleruega’s Retreat Centre was located.

 Calaruega Retreat Centre  Calaruega Retreat Centre  Calaruega Retreat Centre

Calaruega is a beautiful church sanctuary where one can get close to God and to Nature (which are the same, in my opinion). Upon entering and paying a small fee we walked down a long wide path with jungly plants, flowers, and koi fish filled fountains on either side of the trail. Interspersed were wooden carved Way of the Cross stations. Peeking past the jungly edge was a picturesque valley.

 Calaruega Retreat Centre  Calaruega Retreat Centre - way of the cross      

Leaving the wide path had us stepping into the jungle edge. We passed a mysterious stone path shaded by a vine cover arbour. Following the stone path down a slope, we came to a rope and wooden suspension bridge over a small creek. The opposite side of the creek and to the left was a stone trail that led up a hill to an outdoor church surrounded by jungle. Stone and cement braces held the tarp roof. Simple wooden benches faced a simple alter. The centre of the wooden floor held a geometric design. There were three “windows” in this outdoor shrine; one behind the altar and one on either side of the altar. They looked like stained glass but were made of resin.

Calaruega Retreat Centre   suspension bridge  Calaruega Retreat Centre  Calaruega Retreat Centre

Back down the hill from the shrine and to the right of the suspension bridge was an Eco-Theatre. Stone steps or seats framed a huge man-made fountain that looked like a waterfall. Immediately in front of the waterfall was a massive raised fire pit. Rebar was fashioned to resemble flames and doubled to keep the burning wood contained. We took a break on the shady steps, taking in the beauty before heading back to the car.

 Eco-Theatro at Retreat Centre  Eco-Theatro at Retreat Centre  Eco-Theatro at Retreat Centre  Eco-Theatro at Retreat Centre

We headed to a restaurant overlooking Taal Lake which has the second most active volcano in the Philippines, Taal Volcano. It has been inactive since 1977 but has been showing unrest since 1991. In 1911 it erupted and killed 1335. There are a lot more people living in close proximity today. After a lunch of adobo chicken, we headed to the People's Park in the Sky.

 Taal Volcano

Simply known as the People's Park, it was built around The Palace in the Sky, which was to be Ferdinand Marco's summer mansion. It is situated on a very high hill that overlooks a vast green countryside. Today it is a rusted out and unfinished shell of a former dictator's dream home.

 Palace in the Sky  Palace in the Sky  view from Palace in the Sky

We wandered around a bit, but there is not much to see in a rusted out shell. There is a Doppler radar station and Shrine of Our Lady Mother of Fair Love nearby. In the back of the radar station is a strange structure that is shaped like a massive pineapple. I'm not sure what purpose it could have had. It made for an interesting selfie opportunity, though. We wandered through the ever-present souvenir gauntlet before walking back down the hill to our awaiting car.

 Shrine of Our Lady of Fair Love at Palace in the Sky  pineapple shack at Palace in the Sky   pineapple shack at Palace in the Sky

Thursday, 4 May

Allan and Bella had last minute wedding preparations to tend to so we were left to our own devices. We had Googled what to see and do in Imus and the only thing that came up was a large flagpole commemorating some military action. Many of the things to see and do in all of the Philippines revolved around WWII. I suppose if one is into that sort of thing it would be interesting, and maybe we didn't give it a fair chance, but we didn't go to any of the monuments or museums. I did get a picture of the circular shaped Manila American Cemetery at Fort Bonifacio from the air.

 American Cemetery

Instead, we headed back to the mall and had massages by blind people at Zhenzhu Massage. It was a decent massage and we certainly didn't have to worry about exposing unmentionable areas of our bodies during the procedure.

After the massage, we still had a good part of the day left to kill so we went to see Defenders of the Galaxy 2. It was a movie we wanted to see, it was only $5 admission, and it was air conditioned.  We began to think the malls were a popular place for locals to hang out due to the A/C.

Afterward, we headed back to our guesthouse to prepare for our move to the hotel the next day. We gathered up any uneaten food to pass along to Bella then we sprayed our belongings with bug spray one last time. We were not sorry to be leaving. After continually spraying our belongings, the bed, and ourselves with bug spray, Irene was beginning to get a sore throat due to all the toxicity. Side note: The sore throat lasted for weeks. Dead bed bugs were found in our luggage when we returned home to Canada.

Friday, 5 May

We caught a trike to Hotel Casa Verde. The entrance to the hotel had a small bridge over a fountain fed pond of Koi fish that was surrounded by flowers and ferns. Immediately past the bridge and to the right was the front desk. To the left was a sitting area that led into the hall where the wedding was to take place.

 Casa Verde Hotel  Allan & Bella - May 6, 2017

The wedding hall had bamboo walls with a garden of ferns, flowers, and waterfall fountains between the airy walls and the seating area. On one side there was a double bamboo gate that opened to the driveway. The ceiling was draped with fabric, giving it an open air feel and look. A large chandelier hung in the centre. A stage was on the wall opposite the bamboo gate. The staff was in the process of decorating it for the next day's wedding.

Casa Verde - wedding venue Casa Verde - wedding venue

We had to wait about an hour to get into our room because it was being used as a change room for another wedding party. While we waited we got to see the honeymoon suite. Wow! Nice! It was a large room with a big sitting area, separate little kitchen, and a huge screened in balcony that was covered with vines.

Allan's daughters, Megan and Elyse, had returned from Boracay that morning and were also settling into their room. Megan wanted to find a small wedding present for her Dad and stepmom. Megan, Irene, Adrian, and JP headed to the mall where Megan bought a pretty photo album and a cute black negligee for Bella and a black bow tie for Allan. Hubba hubba.

That evening we all walked a short distance to a small street cafe and had dinner together. The owner must have felt like he hit the jackpot. Eight guests in one go and five of them from Canada. We had to pose for pictures, which he flat out said he was posting on Facebook for advertising.

Saturday, 6 May - Wedding day

This wedding was a bit different than others we ever attended. First of all, the wedding pictures were taken hours before the wedding. The nuptials were to take place at 15:30 but the wedding pictures were taken around noon. It was about 34 degrees that day and to get dressed up in stuffy suits and long dresses for pictures 3+ hours before the ceremony was just hot and uncomfortable. Ed wore a dress shirt and tie, but poor Allan had the whole suit with a jacket to sweat in. Bella sat in a housecoat while the photographers (three of them) took pictures while someone applied her makeup and fixed her hair. We left as soon as our picture taking duties were finished to hide in our cool air conditioned room again.

Ed getting ready

The wedding was a bit delayed for some reason and didn't start until 16:30. Everyone in the wedding party entered through the bamboo gates mentioned earlier. Allan came in first followed by Ed and Lucita. Then Adrian and Elyse, and JP and Megan. The ring bearer and Bible carrier were followed by the little flower girls throwing flower petals. The gates closed again for a few moments.

 butterflies for the wedding  

When they opened again Bella stood there looking like a fairy princess. Just as she began to walk forward, a basket of butterflies was released in front of her. As the butterflies fluttered up to the ceiling, Bella began walking slowly up the aisle while a young lady sang “From This Moment”. She was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. Everything about her was beautiful – her dress, her veil, her smile.

 Bella Skarsen

It was a rather long ceremony. The priest had a lot to say, in both English and Filipino. Add to that a Filipino custom of putting a veil over the bride and groom representing that they are dressed for the world as one. Then putting a silk cord over them to symbolize everlasting fidelity. Then the Ninong and Ninang prayed over the couple. They both had special vows to say to each other. Allan even promised to hold Bella's handbag while she is shopped. Cute! After about 90 minutes they were pronounced husband and wife.

 veil & silk cord  blessings from the "elders"  Bella & Allan Skarsen  wedding cake

There were pictures of them cutting the cake. Then more pictures of them posing with various family and friends. The Filipinos love taking pictures. Since we had come from Canada we were popular subjects to pose with. We had no idea who these people were. This reminded us of India where people want to take a picture of or with the white folks. There was a photographer set up on the side where people were posing in front of a green screen. The photographer would add whatever background you wanted. He had goofy props to pose in, as well. He printed the pictures right on the spot. The printed photo held a small collage of the pictures you just posed for plus a picture of Allan and Bella in the corner.  Goofy pictures were always taken in conjunction with the nicer, posed pictures.  When someone decided enough pictures had been taken they would yell, "Waki, Waki!".  That was the cue for everyone to make a goofy face.

 goofy pictures  Ed & Allan - waki, waki

A young fellow played the saxophone. JP sang a song. A nephew did a special dance.

Immediately after the pictures, the games began. The single men had to put their shoes in a pile then had to scramble to find their own. The MC rigged the game by hiding one shoe. The unfortunate young man had to sit on a chair in the middle of the hall, blindfolded.

 let the games begin!

All the single ladies had to circle this young man and play a reverse game of musical chairs. They had to sit on his lap to be eliminated from the game. Poor Megan was rather singled out and even though she had rightfully sat on his lap when the music stopped, the MC said it didn't count. In the end, it was Megan and auntie Lucita left standing. The MC then asked the blindfolded young man if he preferred a blond or dark haired girl, a slender (Lucita) or chubby girl. In the end, it was Megan who “won” the game. Shortly after this game, the crowd seemed to disappear. Apparently, it is common for weddings to wind up about 19:30.

 Megan getting picked on

For the few of us who remained, the party took a strange turn. The MC was fantastic. He was funny, engaging, and openly homosexual. He called for us to do our sexiest dance. We didn't want to get up, but Megan hissed that she had been thrown under the bus enough for one night. How could one leave her to be thrown under yet again? Up we all went to do our sexiest dance.

Surprisingly it was Ed who stole the show! He started bumping and grinding across the dance floor while slowly removing his tie. Then he started swinging it over his head before tossing it into the crowd. About the time he started slowly pulling his shirt out of his trousers everyone was taking the roof off with their cheers.  A true Chippendale!  He later said it was a good excuse to take his tie off in the heat.

 Ed doing his sexy dance

Earlier, Ed had been blowing up balloons and giving them to the small children. He always travels with balloons and it is always a hit with small kids. The gay MC got hold of a balloon that had not been inflated. He managed to get JP out on the dance floor and proceeded to blow up the balloon near JP's crotch, saying he was giving him a blowjob. OMG! We were aghast. JP seemed a bit embarrassed, but not mortified. Apparently, no one in the Philippines thinks much of an openly gay man having a bit of fun, even at their own expense.

 fantastic MC

All in all, it was a very prestigious wedding with a lot of show. Allan spent a mere $2000 on this wedding. That included the wedding planner, wedding dress, venue, and catering. It was a lovely, extravagant wedding.

Sunday, 7 May

Everyone was lingering around the hotel with nothing to do. Bella suggested that we all go to Island Cove Water Park. This water park is a bit pricier (but still cheap) and therefore not super crowded. Bella said public pools are usually so crowded that people are standing shoulder to shoulder in the water.

 Adrian, Elyse, Megan, Bella, Allan, Ed

The pool was very large and oval shaped. One end of the oval was deep water while the opposite end was shallow. In the centre of the pool was an island that held the water slides. Under the water slides was a live band. The band was playing at full volume like they were performing in a club. Nearly everyone was singing along. This was another common thing in the Philippines – play it loud! The band was actually pretty good, but it was hard to have a conversation. JP told them we were Canadian and everyone made a big deal about greeting us.

 Island Cove Water Park

Ed decided to go on the water slides. That was a bad idea considering he had hurt his back just days before we left on holidays and it was only beginning to feel better. Sure enough, the water slides were made of cement and did not have much give. Coming around a corner a rough seam in the cement wrenched his back so badly we had to push him in a wheelchair to get to the restaurant.

 Ed in wheelchair

The Fishing Village floating restaurant was only across the parking lot and located on the water - literally on the water. It was built on a pier. We couldn't push the wheelchair across the bamboo pier so we had to settle for a table on the water's edge. We picked an area that was surrounded by a mosquito net. Between every table was a beautiful hand wash station.

 Fishing Village restaurant  wash station

A group of musicians came to our table and took requests. The guitar player played an awesome Hotel California!

 musicians at our table

Monday, 8 May

Anthony gave us a ride to the domestic terminal 4 for our flight to El Nido, Palawan. The traffic was super slow due to the toll booths. It gave us a good opportunity to see just how packed the local commuter buses are during rush hour. There was standing room only. Passengers were squashed in right beside the driver.

 packed commuter bus

A note about the domestic terminal. SwiftAir gave us a bagged breakfast. There were also plenty of food kiosks to choose from. The terminal had a Kiddie Travellers Lounge, a breastfeeding station, and a big statue of the Virgin Mary – conspicuously located right beside the boarding gate. A security guard looked almost terrorist with a full head mask.

 domestic terminal departures  masked security guard

Most people going to El Nido, Palawan fly into Puerto Princessa and take the 6 hour bus ride north to this remote gem of a town. We chose to pay extra to fly directly from Manila to El Nido in order to save precious time. On the flight, the pilot pointed out Taal Volcano and the Bacuit Archipelago. Both beautiful from the air. An interesting thing on the airplane was that in case of a change in cabin pressure, the oxygen masks do NOT automatically drop down. They had to be manually opened with a special tool supplied by the flight attendant. Not very reassuring!

 Taal Volcano  Bacuit Archipelago

El Nido airport was tiny. A group of ladies singing a traditional song greeted us as we deplaned. The luggage was a roped off corner of the small arrivals room. We simply pointed to our luggage, they confirmed it was ours by comparing tags, then we headed outside to catch a trike into town.

 luggage area at El Nido airport  El Nido Airport arrivals area

First impression of El Nido – jungly. The 10 minute ride into town was lined with jungle, small huts peeking out of the forest, half naked kids playing along the road, and roadside vendors. We just knew we were going to like it here!

 pop bottle light shade

The Dragonfly Inn was about a kilometre from town and located on a private road (one lane trail) built by the larger resorts located along it. Only certain trikes were allowed to use the road. El Nido used to have a big problem with rabid dogs. When the resorts began to build they hired veterinarians to come and vaccinate the dogs. Rabid dogs were bad for business.

 road to our guesthouse - Makulay Lodge  road to our guesthouse

Someone from the Inn came to collect us. The Inn was small and quaint, with bamboo walls and ceiling. We had a small balcony. The WiFi turned out to be slow and sporadic. Breakfast was included, which was generally coffee, tea and juice, eggs however you liked them, pancakes, and fruit. Ahhh the fruit! Fresh mango, pineapple, and red, orange, yellow, or white watermelon. Who knew watermelon came in various colours!? The lighter colours taste exactly like red watermelon but are not as watery. The breakfast area was where the owner's kids would sleep on the tables and nap in the afternoon. Cute. Utensils all over the Philippines were the cheap pressed metal kind. It was east to cut a lip on a ragged edge.

 Dragonfly Inn  Dragonfly Inn  mango and white watermelon  nap time

After settling in we walked the 10 minutes back into town. We passed a couple of big new resorts. We passed an abandoned school. We passed a cemetery and a farm. But we could not walk past the Makulay Lodge and Restaurant. There was a covered deck nestled into the hillside with comfy couches and beanbag chairs overlooking the bay. The view was gorgeous! Cafe del Mar type music was playing. We stopped for a drink before continuing into town. Although the prices were rather steep for El Nido, the food, music, and ambiance were really what we paid for. We ended up frequenting Makulay during our 9 day stay, often having a drink at their beach bar in the evening.

El Nido Cemetery Makulay Lodge  Makulay Lodge  Makulay Lodge    Makulay Lodge  view from Makulay Lodge

The town of El Nido was very small. One was never more than a 10 minute walk from anywhere. El Nido was “discovered” in 1979 when a dive boat with a disabled propeller had to drop anchor in the middle of the night. The next morning the divers woke up to the skyscraping dark cliffs, thick green forest, white sand beach and sparkling water. A dive station was established in 1983. And a scuba divers haven was born! (The town had about 10 dive shops.) Today the town struggles to keep up with the infrastructure to support the influx of tourists.

 El Nido  El Nido  El Nido

El Nido is sandwiched between the steep cliffs and the beach. There were hotels, restaurants and dive shops all fronting the beach. Back from the beach, there was shop after shop selling beach and water gear. Quite a few miniature dining establishments were scattered in between. CB Cafe was the best! Awesome food, cheap prices, freshly brewed coffee, friendly service, and fast WiFi. It seemed every establishment offered island hopping tours. Tour A and C seemed to be the most popular and most talked about. Booze was for sale in the pharmacy. One lone hardware store had everything from corrugated tin to motorcycle tires in a space the size of a small North American house. Deliveries were made between 17:00-19:00, right when most tourists were on the streets; but probably because the trucks had to come in from Puerto Princessa – 6 hours away.

hardware store   bald guy grill

Tuesday, 9 May

We walked down a path past our guesthouse in the opposite direction from town to see if there were any good beaches nearby. The path seemed to lead further and further into the jungle. Although we saw houses tucked in further back, we didn't want to venture too much further as the path seemed to go nowhere. We went back to explore the town some more. Irene booked three days of diving with Palawan divers. Three days with three dives per day. WooHoo! A 200 Php Eco pass was required which helps fund Eco Tourism Development.

 jungle path  jungle home

Wednesday, 10 May

Irene spent all day scuba diving. There were so much fish and aquatic life that she had only ever seen in a book. The highlights being an ornate pipe ghostfish, frogfish, blue spotted stingray, electric clam, nudibranchs, colourful flower-like anemone, giant sea clams, unicorn fish, hawksbill turtle, clownfish, and squid.

 Palawan Divers - Irene & Joel  Ornate Ghost Pipefish  frogfish  blue spotted ray  nudibranchIrene & Hawksbill turtle  colorful anenome

Ed found a nice place to snorkel. We were both very tired at the end of the day.

 El Nido Bay

Thursday, 11 May

Irene spent another day of diving that was even better than the day before! There was a professional ocean photographer on board to take photos of the divers. She said she had to go to university for three years to get a degree in ocean photography. I didn't realize it was a whole university degree program.

Irene & lionfish

That evening we ate at one of the many beach restaurants in town.  Some of the restaurants had trays of freshly caught fish to choose from.  It was magical to watch the fishing and tour boats come in with the setting sun.  Children were playing in the water and jumping off the outriggers of the anchored boats.  It was apparent this has been the evening playground for kids for generations.

 fish for sale  Irene & Ed at beach restaurant  kids playing

A thunderstorm was brewing and back at the guesthouse, the power went out. They had a generator that kept the lights and water working, but it was not strong enough to keep the air conditioning going. It was stifling hot in the room. We tried to open the door to let in some air, but that only let the mosquitoes in. Thank goodness we had our resident gecko to help get rid of them.

 thunder storm

Friday, 12 May

Irene did not take any antihistamine prior to diving and consequently had a hard time equalizing. An American doctor was one of the fellow divers and said a cheap way of clearing out the salt and any greeblies in the ear after diving is to put a bit of vodka into the ear canal. He said ear drops and medical attention are not always available, but vodka is.

That night we took a trike to Corong Corong to go to Bella Vita restaurant. Our hosts at the Dragonfly were Italian and they highly recommended this Italian restaurant. We weren't sure if Corong Corong was a different town or a different area of El Nido. It was located on the other side of the monolith wall of rock that Ed Nido was built beside.

 lane to Bella Vita restaurant  Bella Vita Restaurant

When we returned to the guesthouse after our day of adventures we were greeted by the smell of raw sewage. Our hosts said that the resort across the road dumps their sewage on their grounds to fertilize their trees. Gross. Whether it was the lack of antihistamine or the raw sewage, Irene had a super sore throat, ear ache, and a puffy right eye. To top it off, the power was out again.

 

 

Saturday, 13 May

We were planning on going on Tour C, but it was raining quite hard and the trip was canceled. Just as well because Irene's ear ache was so bad we decided to go to the medical centre. The doctor prescribed some strong antihistamine and pain killers. The doctor felt the puffy eye was simply an irritation and not to worry about.

 cleaning is mandatory at the hospital

The rain cleared off by lunch time but we were content to download some movies from Netflix and stay in to let the meds kick in. We also confirmed our reservation with the Kabayan Hotel in Manila and airport pickup.

Sunday, 14 May

Mothers Day. Irene got greetings from UK, Morocco, Saudi, and Canada. It was very touching for Momma to hear from her little ducklings scattered all over the world.

 nice picture

The weather was nice so we finally went on Tour C. The tours are all labeled by which islands they take in. There were ten of us on this boat. We stopped at Hidden Beach, so named because it was behind a rock wall and not visible from the ocean. Then we stopped at Secret Beach, so named because we had to swim through a small tunnel and through millions of baby jellyfish to enter. This was not so much a beach, but a tiny bay totally enclosed by steep rock. The baby jellyfish were too tiny to sting.

Secret Beach  baby jelly fish  Secret Beach

We stopped for lunch at on small beach where we snorkeled for nearly an hour. There was lots of baby jellyfish again but nice coral, clown fish, Christmas tree worms, starfish, and giant sea clams in the shallow water. We didn't go far from the lunch spot when the guide said he spotted a turtle. He stopped the boat and everyone jumped in to see if we could see it. We didn't see the turtle, but some guy popped out of the water bragging how he had grabbed it!!! Number one rule of diving (and snorkeling) - NEVER touch the wildlife. It has been rumoured that if a turtle is grabbed, it gets so scared that it fails to come up for air and drowns itself. Whether or not this is fact is unknown. The point is, Never Touch The Wildlife!

Miniloc Shrine 

Our last stop was Helicopter Island. We were told a season of Survivor was filmed there. Not so. A season was filmed in the Philippines, but not on this island. It is private property though. There was a nice beach with a roped off area for snorkeling. We saw lots more interesting aquatic life.

 moorish idol

Even though we had pre-paid to stop at Miniloc Shrine, the guide didn't take us there. He said it would cost extra. The bugger simply pocketed the 100 Php that each person paid. None of us realized this was why this particular tour cost more until after we got back to the mainland. We registered a complaint with our guesthouse because they were the ones who organized the tour. They just shrugged their shoulders.

 Miniloc Shrine

That night we had dinner at Makulay.... again.

 El Nido Bay

Monday, 15 May

Irene's ear was still very sore so we went back to the doctor. The doctor assured us that it was fine and to just give it more time. A few days later she proved correct.

It was a blisteringly hot day so we didn't want to be walking around much. We bought a couple of cheap dry sacks at a shop and then headed back to our air conditioned room after stopping at the CB Cafe for lunch.

Tuesday, 16 May

Ed was not feeling well and decided to stay in and rest. A couple, Sam & Katherine, that were also staying at the Dragonfly and who had been on Tour C with us, invited Irene to join them on their trip to Nacpan Beach. It was about an hour away by trike.

 countryside to Nacpan Beach

It was a beautiful beach, long and curved. Sam and Katherine walked one way down the beach and Irene walked the opposite way to let them have privacy. There was a small fishing village about a kilometre from where we were dropped off. There was a group of young children playing in the water and jumping off a boat anchored a short distance from the shore. They wanted their pictures taken and were showing off a bit as well. Irene found a gorgeous seashell about the size of a small egg. It was black on the bottom and slowly turned a bright brick colour toward the rounded top. Unfortunately, no shells were allowed off the island and it had to be relinquished at the airport. Boohoo!

Nacpan Beach  small island off Nacpan Beach  kids playing in paradise 

It started to rain and we eventually all found each other at the dining shack. We all ordered a small lunch, which had to be prepared in a kitchen about 100 meters away. We had no sooner started eating when a bunch of dogs from the nearby village showed looking for scraps. The proprietors tried in vain to shoo the dogs away and said this is a problem every day at lunch time.

 dogs looking for scraps

We had had about enough of the beach, especially with the light rain making beach time miserable. We found our trike driver gambling with some other trike drivers. He did not seem happy to have to quit in order to take us to the zip lines.

Not five minutes after leaving the beach it started to rain so hard the road was a flooding mess. It seemed to suit the water buffaloes just fine, as we saw many relaxing in the streams as we passed above on the bridges.

 muddy road

It was a long steep climb up to the zip lines. Irene didn't want to participate so she took pictures and watched Sam and Katherine's bags while they zipped across the water to a small island. They had to walk on a sandbar back to the mainland then along the beach for a kilometre or more before finding Irene waiting at a beach front bar. We all had a few calamansi and coconut drinks. Coconut rum, coconut water, mini lime (calamansi) and brown sugar. Yummy! Then we had to tear our driver away from more gambling in order to take us back to town.

Sam & Kathrine  Sun Bar  Sun Bar 

It was a nice day with new friends.

Wednesday, 17 May

Our last morning on El Nido was spent at the CB Cafe for Ed to download movies for the flight home. Irene bought black pearl earrings for herself and friend Jan, a pearl necklace for friend Carrie, a fan, and tote bags and t-shirts for granddaughters Chandler and Parker.

 CB Cafe  CB Cafe

The flight to Manila left 1/2 hour early, therefore, arrived 1/2 hour early. There was no hotel shuttle waiting for us in Manila. We waited for a half hour but when there was still no car we called them. They had obviously forgotten our arrangement because arrived an hour later blaming traffic. It was a fifteen minute drive back to the hotel. Then they tried to charge us 500Php for the service. The normal taxi price is 150 Php. Ed was furious. We argued and demanded to see the manager. He waived the charge.

When we got to our room it was no bigger than a janitor room (21' x 6'6”), which included the 66” x 33” bathroom. We had to squeeze in under the sink in order to sit on the toilet. The shower was 28” x 32”. (Measurements were taken with Irene walking toe to heal then later measuring her foot length.) We had poor WiFi and no hot water. Ed was more furious!

 Kabayan Hotel - tiny room  Kabayan Hotel - tiny bathroom

Thursday, 18 May

Buffet breakfast was included with our stay. First of all, we had to bus our own table. There didn't appear to be any staff cleaning up after people. Then we had to pour coffee in cereal bowls because there were no clean cups. The food was cold, even the over easy eggs and the rice. The only redeeming thing about the Kabayan Hotel was that it was close to the airport. We decided to eat at the airport. We checked out and took the fifteen minute, 150 Php ride to the airport 5 hours before our departure time.

Manila International Airport

The airport is not very big; it is smaller than Edmonton. All luggage was x-rayed at the entrance to the building. After check in it was x-rayed again at security. It turns out our decision to eat at the airport was not a wise one. We assumed that the international terminal would have more food kiosks than the domestic terminal. We were wrong.

We wandered the entire length of the airport in under 10 minutes, hoping to see some interesting shops or more food kiosks. We were disappointed on both fronts. We finally settled onto some benches near security. There was a plugin nearby where Ed could charge his tablet and still keep an eye on it.

It was an interesting place to sit. We watched people coming through security with some having their bags opened for closer inspection. It was like the real life Border Security TV show. One fellow had his bag opened for closer inspection and the security guard pulled out a roll of wide Scotch tape.  She tossed it in the garbage bin. Curious. When the people had left the area and the guard was not busy we asked why the tape was not allowed. We were told that someone could use the tape to bind someone on board the airplane. Weird. Ed made the comment, “What about my boot laces then?”

PA systems in airports are always difficult to understand. More so in Manila. They speak half English and half Filipino and not the same thing in both languages. We were never sure if they are announcing arrivals or departures.

About two hours prior to our boarding time we decided to eat something as we were not sure when they would serve food on the plane. Remember, I said Philippine Air food was good so we just wanted something small. We bought something and proceeded to eat it in the boarding area. We had barely begun eating when a security guard was telling everyone to depart the boarding area and queue up for a final document check. This is common but none the less annoying as we had already been through two security checks.

Irene proceeded to continue eating her lunch. No! Everyone must depart that area, now! The lunch was wolfed down while walking. There were about 300 people in a queue for the document check. We figured we may as well go to the bathroom instead of just standing in a lineup. About 20 other women had the same idea. The bathroom for the entire terminal had only three stalls. An attendant decided this would be a good time to clean it. She was literally on her hands and knees cleaning out one stall at a time. Needless to say, those doing the pee-pee dance were not impressed.

Back in the document check queue, we had our bags x-rayed yet again. We had to toss any water we had bought a mere 20 feet away. Once past the document check, we were herded back into the area we were just told to leave. A guard stood making sure no one left the now secure roped off boarding area – even those who did not go to the bathroom before.

There was an inordinate amount of wheelchairs in the airport. Finally, the flight attendants announced pre-boarding for those needing assistance and families. The wheelchair brigade charged forward followed closely by the families with children. All of a sudden there was a lot of shouting as the flight attendants were turning the families away saying that this was executive boarding even though there were no executives trying to board. People started yelling to let the families go. It was mayhem. A Filipino lady who now lives in Canada said it is always this chaotic at the airport and she hates coming back to visit.

The airport reminded us, again, of India. People shoving their way regardless of a queue system. No reasoning behind some of the rules.

Our return flight caught the trade winds and was only 10+ hours back to Vancouver. We left at 16:30 on Thursday, the 18th and arrived in Vancouver at around 13:00 – also on the 18th. We gained a day!

GENERAL NOTES

We were encouraged to eat by hand but given a napkin the size and thickness of a sheet of toilet paper. I swear I saw perforations at the edges.

There were lots of Toyota in Manila. They cost 600,000Php on average. About $20,000 CDN.

There were religious icons all over. It was common to see names of districts, businesses, and transportation such as Rosary Hill, Joseph & Mary Construction, Blessed Virgin Express, Mercy Grace Express.

There were lots of trike shells beside the road in El Nido. Men were constantly fixing motorcycles everywhere.

 fixing trike  tie down hub caps

Locals seem to prefer a trike ride to walking.

 trike named Freya

Lots of tires for sale and lots of nails on roads due to lots of construction. I wonder what El Nido will look like in 10 years

The only birds in El Nido were sparrows and black bird with yellow feet.

Kids were always laughing and playing in the ocean or on the street – or crying loudly.

 kids playing

It was common to see people sitting on the street checking each other for lice.

 checking for lice

There are noisy trikes all night.

decked out trike

Bathroom / toilet was called a Comfort Room (CR)

 Comfort Room

People smile lots but are prone to littering and are ignorant of others.

 

It is India, by another name.

 

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