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Bit 'o the Philippines

PHILIPPINES | Monday, 29 February 2016 | Views [274]

Manila and the start

Well, been in the Philippines for awhile and it's quite an interesting place. The initial culture shock was quite a bit much; as soon as I got into Manila, I wanted to leave. The best thing about it was meeting up with Chris. It was so good to see a friendly face, especially after how upset I'd been after leaving my dive work family. Not really having anything planned bit us in the ass a bit. For starters, we got majorly conned out of our cab fare to the hostel. We paid about 800 pesos, approximately $24 AUD... it should have been more around 200 pesos max. Oh well. Lesson learned.

The first day was spent attempting to get over get lag and exploring the city a bit. We walked for over four hours just wandering. The smells were something I never want to experience again. Imagine a mix of hot sewage and excrement... you might have a rough idea. It made me long for bat shit alley in Cairns, I would have much rather taken that. After the business of flights was taken care of, it was back to hostel and diner. I was a bit taken aback by the fact that there were proper dress codes in places. For example, you need to wear sleeves at a lot of places... I have one sleeved shirt, one long sleeve and two jumpers. Not too keen on wearing any of those in this heat, but it had to be done. After awhile I got rather immune to this rule. 

There are also heaps of stray dogs and cats running around. At first I was very hesitant to give any of them a pat, because I didn't know the conditions they had been living in, even though I really wanted to give them a cuddle. That quickly went away after about a week and I was giving almost all the critters some attention. If I had gone to school to be a vet, after seeing this, I would come to the Philippines and spay and neuter all the dogs and cats I could find on the street.

The consensus from most of the people in the hostel was to get the hell out of dodge and move on. Not planning did screw us a bit, but we did have ideas... Chris knew he wanted to go to El Nido, so we booked a ticket to Puerto Princessa in Palawan where we would start our journey north to El Nido.

We stayed at a really nice hostel called Shebang. It had the best shower I've come across in the Philippines. Downstairs, there is a jungle shower. You have a bamboo mat to stand on, rain shower head above and large trough in front. There are vines climbing up the wall and natural lighting. It was fantastic. They had really good food and were very helpful in organizing transportation and everything. They even picked us up from the airport in a little tricycle. They had a sign with our names on it which was really cute. It was my first foray into proper Philippino style transportation. For tricycles, they take a motorbike and attach a sort of metal side car to it where people can sit and stash their bags. You can get a level below this where some people attach just manual bikes instead of motorized ones. I got very used to using them when I couldn't walk to my destination.

Puerto Pincessa became a bit of a stop over point for us with not a lot to do. We met some interesting people there, and there is a good atmosphere in the bar to get people to mingle together. People don't walk much in the Philippines, but it's the way I like to get to know a place, so I did a lot of walking. First down to a little beach, and later into the mall in town for dinner. There's not a whole lot to do in Puerto, most people go to the underground river and that's about it.
Honestly, most of my time was spent freaking out and trying what to do next. I normally have more of a plan, but I was winging this trip. The biggest thing was finding a place to do the IDC. It was also hard for me to get used to just traveling again and not working. I prefer settling, and making a bit of a home someplace, so getting back into a more transient lifestyle took a bit of time. It didn't help that every hour Chris kept changing his mind about what to do. Traveling with someone else is hard work. You're not just responsible for yourself anymore, you have to think of both parties. Our thought processes were all over the place.

Before setting foot in the Philipppines, we thought about going to Malapascua and doing the IDC with Thresher Shark Divers. Then I found a gig in Thailand where you would work as a DM first, do your IDC, then work as an instructor. The pay wasn't great, but you could get experience and it was in Koh Lak and the Similan Islands. We both got accepted and it looked like we were jumping ship from Philippines early. We decided to still go up to El Nido though before we 100% confirmed with them. We also found programs in Mexico, the Dominican, Maldives and more in the Philippines. There were too many option and it was making us crazy, so we went up to El Nido...

El Nido and Sabang

After a rather cramped 7 hour van ride, we arrived in El Nido. We stayed at a place called Our Melting Pot (OMP) and it was a decent stay. I was finally used to not having a key for our rooms and just remembering to lock up my bags and hope that people were kind and wouldn't nick our stuff, because I'd heard of others losing stuff like money and more. The town is very small, easily walkable, but a bit expensive. We had a bit of a wander down the streets to some dive shops and booked some dives for the next day. On our way back, we passed even more dive shops and I saw once that said they were running and IDC at the end of March. We popped in to check it out...

The owner, Jose, was a great guy, super nice and full of character. By the end of it, we had decided to do the IDC with them. Since wifi is shoddy in the whole country, he told us he would email us the breakdown of everything later. Once we got it, it looked like a good deal. It just meant that we would have to extend our visas and do a bit of proper travel before heading back. We unbooked our dives with the other company, half because we were going to do the IDC with Jose, and half because Chris was getting sick.

The next morning we did a spectacular climb up Mount Taraw. It was a proper climb, not really a hike, you were basically bouldering for a good chunk of it. The view at the top was worth the climb and waking up at 5 am. We just missed the sunrise a bit, but it was still glorious. You could see all of El Nido and into the ocean. I have some great pictures. We were quite high as well, though it seemed father when we got to the bottom and looked up to where we were. We met some people at the hostel and hung out with them a bit.

We had a nice wander about town and on that particular night, we decided to go out for drinks. Now, I don't really drink and don't really like to drink. Those of you that have read my escapades in Cairns may laugh at this and think it's a lie, but honestly, normal life Celina drinks maybe five times a year. Cairns brings out that debaucherous side of me, and my friends can often easily goad me into drinking more... as was the case with this particular night. I thought it was going to be just a couple beers, but it turned into a pub crawl down the beach. My better sense left me because when we started doings shots, I thought I'd better leave. It only got worse from there. When you close your eyes and point to shots on the menu, that's when you know it's bad. After the fourth or fifth shot, I ran to the toilet. Upchuck city. Part of me really wished for flushing toilets instead of the squat ones you have to manually "flush" by pouring water in the bowl. It wasn't pretty.

We all made our was back to the hostel and I had two more friendly toilet encounters before finally falling asleep. We were meant to do a tour that day, but we both slept in and decided to push it back. All I really wanted was food. I managed a bit down before my last toilet visit, after which, I felt much better and consumed about four rolls with spreadable cheese. Other than that, I was doing surprisingly well. Chris however, was hurting. All day we just took it slow and didn't do much. The recovery day was needed, though it made me very much not want to drink again.

The next day we did our tour, Tour A. We got onto a little outrigger boat and headed to different lagoons, islands and beaches. We had barely left the shore and some of the guys broke out the rum. It was quite hilarious. The snorkeling we did was quite good. I saw heaps of cuttle fish, which I never saw much of back in Cairns, so that was great. The lunch was amazing and I had a bit of a siesta on the beach. The major downside of the tour was that we didn't get back to shore until about 7/7:30. We were told 5. It normally wouldn't be an issue, and I was by now used to everything being late in the Philippines, but we had dropped our bags off at the dive shop because we were moving into a house of Jose's since we were hanging around El Nido for a bit longer. We didn't want to get back and have the shop be closed and be homeless. Chris was proper freaking out, but I figured it would all work itself out. And it did. We got our bags, headed to the room and all was well.

We had a bit of a business day the next day, organizing flights and accommodation to and in Cebu City for our STCW course. I even managed to get some work done on taxes and fill our applications for other diving internships. Things started to get a bit hairy over the next few days, because both of us applied to other IDC places around the world and we started getting responses. Chris got accepted to a place in Mexico, and I got accepted to a place in the Dominican. We had to do a pro and cons list and eventually decided to stay put.

The next day was my favorite day yet in the Philippines. We got up early and rented some motorbikes so that we could check out some of the beaches further north, namely Duli beach and Nacpan beach. Chris got a moped, which was quite hilarious, and I went for a semi automatic motorbike. They had me test it out first and I nearly killed myself because I was too heavy on the throttle. Once I got a handle on it, I was good though. We grabbed our things, got some gas, and set off. I didn't realize just how much I would like it. I wanted to just keep driving and not stop. I completely understood why Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman did their long way round and long way down motorcycle trips. It's addicting. If we didn't agree to go to the beaches, I probably would have just kept riding. We got lost a couple of times. One we realized ourselves, the other someone else pointed out to us, but eventually we go to where we were going.
At Duli beach, I was keen for a surf, but the ocean was a bit rough for my tastes and soon the boards were all rented out. I was instructed by my friend Kyle to find some good surf spots, and that was the closest I could find at the moment. There was a cute, small little resort built by a Dutch couple. We had lunch there and relaxed for a bit before shoving off for Napcan.

Napcan was much more touristy and there were heaps of people. A big difference from the private little Duli just further north. We took a bit of a nap on the beach and soon after headed back. We still had a bit of time before we had to return the bikes, so we kept on going south to check out the scenery and what not. I love the feel of the open road. I might have to dust off our dirk bike when I get back home. Our journey had soon come to an end and we returned the bikes before having dinner. It was a simple enough day, but my favorite since being in the Philippines.

After having another business day, we booked another tour, Tour C and enjoyed a really small group of people. I think I enjoyed this tour a bit more. There were less people and everyone was really relaxed. We hit some really good snorkeling spots, and also some wicked thermoclines. It almost made me wish I brought my wetsuit. We met a couple cool couples and we all agreed to meet for dinner later. We had a nice time learning about other peoples travels and where they were heading to next. We had a van booked for about 4:30 in the morning the next day as we were going to Sabang for a couple of days before flying out to Cebu.

The ride south wasn't too bad, we had a bit more room which was nice, however, we were abandoned in Puerto Princessa after the driver took our receipt. We couldn't show proof that we needed to get to Sabang and had paid, but luckily, the goodness of the Philippine people shown through. The shopkeeper organized a van for us and we only had to pay an extra 200 pesos each. Finally we arrived at our hostel and it was very cute and secluded. It was called Bambua. It was off into the woods which was quite lovely because it meant you could hear the crickets at night and didn't have to hear the roosters in the morning. The owner was a German fellow who had been there for about 27 years. He was super friendly and helped us get tours sorted.

The weather was a bit shit and rainy the days we were there, but it didn't get us down. We took a walk into town at one point and I needed some wifi because I had a skype interview with an IDC internship in the Maldives. I was originally just doing it to be polite, but I started to get a bit excited about it. The connection was bad, and the call failed, so we had to reschedule for a couple days later when I wouldn't be somewhere with limited electricity hours and decent wifi. We spent the next day doing a nice trek to the underground river. It was still a bit grim out, but I was happy we did the hike. It was preferable to just the boat, and there weren't a whole lot of people there which was ideal. The river itself was quite impressive. Lots of bats and heaps of interesting stalactite formations. The chapel area was my favorite. When our two days in Sabang was finished, we headed down to Puerto for one night back at Shebang before we caught our flight out to Cebu.

Cebu City

Yet another adventure in Philippines transportation. We knew not to be in a big rush since most of the flights get delayed, and we were not disappointed. We had a stop over in Manila, and both our flights were delayed. Hooray! Once again, I was surprised at how blasé I was about the delays. Chris was broken up about it, but it just made me laugh.

When we finally got into Cebu it was nearly 11 pm. We grabbed a taxi to the hostel and eventually went to sleep. The next day we had to go to the university for enrollment and then extend our visas. It was a bit of a process at immigration, I thought registering for the course would have taken longer, but we were waiting almost five hours for everything to got through, which it eventually did.

After our business day, it was time to start class. They have a fairly strict dress code, long pants and sleeves must be worn all the times, so I was living in my jeans and work shirt for the entire 8 days of the course. Luckily there was a break in between, no classes on Sundays, so I was able to hang out in shorts all day. The course ping ponged between being really interesting and really boring.

Our first two days were spent on fire safety. First day was all lecture in the classroom. I meant to study that night, and did a bit, but was freaked out the next day when we had a quiz before doing the practical part. I passed, and then it was on to putting out fires. We started small with donning coveralls and using fire extinguishers, then we got to gear up in the full kit complete with cabas to go inside. We rotated positions to do a search and recovery inside a building, then it was time to put out the big boys.

I got to be point man going into the burning building. They weren't kidding when they say you can't see anything inside. The fire was relatively small, but the smoke was all engulfing. I used the heat to determine if the fire was out, but at times it felt like it had started up again. I couldn't hear Chris and he couldn't hear me when I called to back out. Next they did a large open flame and Chris and I swapped positions, him taking point and me right behind. We worked in tandem with two of our other team mates to completely put out the fire. I don't know how, but after every exercise, my face was just black. I must have had a bit of a leak in my mask somewhere, because no one else was as dirty as me. I liked it. It made me feel accomplished. I gave a shout out to all my fire fighting friends, I only had a taste of what they deal with and I applauded them for doing it.

The next day was the start of the boring bit, we had three days about personal safety and social responsibility. It could have been alright, but the classes were very long, there was a lot of emphasis on large shipping boats that I will never be on, and it was a lot of legislation stuff. I was happy when it was over and we were on to personal survival techniques. This and the fire fighting were tied for my favorite. Chris and I were tagged as experts due to our work on the boats, and we were selected as leaders for the practical exercises. It was quite fun. We had one minute to don our life jackets. Then we had to jump properly from a 4 meter high platform, get into a life boat, bail out any water, abandon the life boat, and cluster for warmth. We also did a simple float test, got to right an upturned life raft, use sea anchors and gear up into other suits. It was a lot of fun and I even got some good pictures out of it from the staff there. I made the mistake of not bringing a towel, but it was okay. We were in jumpsuits for the drills because we can't be distracting people in our swimmers I guess.

After that it was time for first aid. This was my third first aid course in about a year, so it was basically all review. It did get very strange at one point, because we were talking about lacerations and stuff, then the nurse started going on about penis sizes and what not. For like half an hour. Chris and I just sort of stared at each other puzzled. I'm pretty sure I actually wrote down 'what is happening?' in my book. The quiz and practical were super easy and after that, we were done. All we had to do was claim our certificates and shirts the next day. That's right, I got a University of Cebu pollo shirt afterwards! I was super stoked about it.

About half way through our course, I got some news. I had applied for an instructor internship position with the Four Seasons in the Maldives and after a Skype interview, I was selected as a candidate. I took about a day to mull it over, I was really excited about the opportunity when I first heard about it, but was also a bit worried. Chris made me do a pros and cons list during class one day, and I realized that I couldn't turn it down. It was going to be expensive, yes, as I would still have to pay for the course, but I would get experience as an instructor and free lodging and meals. The major down side was having to tell Jose in El Nido that I wouldn't be able to do the IDC with him, but he was totally understanding about it. It also meant I needed to buy my own gear. We had checked out a few different dive shops around Cebu, and I found some stuff I liked, though it was a bit expensive. I splashed down the money like it was coming out of my ass and had to buy a gear bag to accommodate the extra items. I was excited to get to use my gear though, since we were finally going to dive once we got to Malapascua. It was finally time to leave Cebu, so we got in a taxi to the bus station and prepared for the long journey north...

Malapascua, Moalboal, and Apo Island

Once we reached the port of Maya on the northern edge of Cebu, we hopped a little catamaran to Malapascua. It was late at night and we had spent the whole day traveling, so I was ready to hit the hay. Luckily we had a room already waiting for us since a friend we met in El Nido was doing her rescue course and planned out a stay for us up there so we all could travel together for a bit. She even booked us in for some dives the next day.

We got up around 4 to head to the dive shop. Luckily they had a pickup service because, though it wasn't too far, it would have been an ordeal to walk the path in the dark... with our dive gear... without knowing exactly where we were headed. The shop was quite nice. They set up all of our gear for us and took everything down to the boat. We were scheduled for three dives that day: A morning dive for thresher sharks then two afternoon dives at Gato island. We were not disappointed for our first dive. Though the vis wasn't that great, we ended up seeing three thresher sharks in total. Along with many nudibranchs, much to Chris's chagrin. There was enough time in between for us to go back to the resort, have a nice breakfast and catch a bit of a break before heading back to the shop.

The afternoon dives were great as well. There is an tunnel under the island and our divemaster took us down through that first. At the end, we waited as white tip sharks came into the cave. It was really cool and they got quite close. When we popped up on the other side, the boat was waiting and we had our lunch. After that, we hopped in for another dive, this time around the island itself. This was was really exciting for me, as I saw my first sea horse and even saw a mantis shrimp! Something I have been waiting ages to see. The dives we did were also quite long, all about 60 minutes as we were on 12 liter tanks. I kept getting cold towards the end as I was in my 2.2 mm shorty wet suit. My toes and fingers also started going numb. I think I will have to invest in a full 3-5 mm wet suit soon.

After getting back from the dives, we washed our gear, hung it out to dry and put our names down for two dives the next day. One for hammerheads and another thresher dive. It just meant that we needed to get up even earlier. I got word that one of our friends who did the traineeship with us, Bruno, was in Malapascua and we all decided to meet up for dinner. He had been working in Thailand in the Similan Island and said it was pretty amazing diving there. The pay isn't the greatest, but apparently all you would do as a divemaster is guide dives and that's it. You didn't have to worry about gear or tanks as all that was taken care of for you. The only down side was having to do visa runs every month. It was good catching up and have someone else to talk to, especially since I was getting third wheeled at the moment.

The next day our dives went really well. We didn't see any hammerheads, but we did see a giant manta ray that I got on video. We happened to see threshers again too, and I even got video this time. Doing the dives in the morning meant we had to time let our gear dry and explore a little bit. I had intended to take a nap, but instead got distracted calling people back home. Mainly to vent about my status in our group as it was starting to piss me off a bit. After letting my frustrations out I felt a bit better and was given advice many times over to the point where I just accepted it and said, screw it, I'll go along with the things we have planned right now, then I'm bailing and traveling on my own since I basically am right now anyway. With that in mind, I just needed to survive Moalboal and Apo Island, and perhaps a bit of Siquijor with them. About a week, I told myself, doable.

The next day we got up not as early as we had been, but early enough to pack and grab brekky before our full day of travel down to Moalboal. It ended up being not that bad. We caught a free boat back to Maya from the dive shop then caught a cheap non-AC bus down to Cebu city. The ride was long, about 4-5 hours, but I was highly entertained listening to my music. I was starting to go through live music withdrawals, and as I listened, I started salivating over drum and guitar tones while simultaneously tapping out lighting cues. I was quite ready to go home. Once in Cebu we decided to take a taxi all the way down to Moalboal, just to get there. It would have been cheaper on a bus, but this way we could go right to our hostel and stop at an ATM. The ride wasn't that bad. About 3 hours with traffic, and I actually got to talk to my friends for part of it an have a genuine conversation, so that made me happy.

We got in a bit late to Moalboal, but the rooms were nice. I had a big room with a double bed all to myself! We dropped our stuff off quickly then walked around to try adn find some dinner. We found a dive shop that was still open and booked a sardine dive for the next day. The main reason we came down to dive here. It sounded really stupid and like a joke at first, but after looking at pictures, I was quite excited to dive with the sardines. The wifi was even quite decent and I managed to catch up on some shows before passing out.

Thus far, I think Moalboal may have been my favorite. You need to get the correct pronunciation though, it's Mwoalbwoal. Just say it with like you're a rasta and you'll be right. The dive in the morning was quite nice. We got dropped off only about 5 minutes from the dive shop and followed the wall all the way back to the shop. We actually went too far and had to turn back. The sardines were actually really cool. Once of the neatest things I've seen while diving. We stayed in their area for about 15-20 minutes then continued along the wall. We didn't go very deep, only about 15 meters or so, so we were able to have a very long dive. We also saw heaps of turtles along the way. I couldn't feel my fingers again by the end of it, but it was still a fantastic dive. We left our stuff out to dry as we did some more exploring.

We were meant to leave the next day, but stumbled upon something that looked very interesting: canyoning. Basically, starting at the top of a river/waterfall system and making our was down by was of hiking, swimming, and jumping from great heights. It looked amazing and we were all keen to do it and stay another day. We had to move accommodations, but that wasn't a big deal. Our new place was right across from the canyoning office, so it was quite convenient.
In the morning, we dropped our stuff off at the new place and got geared up for canyoning. I got to ride on top of the four by four for a bit and it was quite nice. It took us about 45 minutes to reach our starting point. I initially didn't really know what to expect, but when the first thing they did was lead us to an edge to jump, I knew I was in the right place. It was exhilarating! The best thing I've done in the Philippines yet! I wish I would have know about it earlier, I would have booked more time there to do rappelling down the waterfalls. We hiked through more rivers and jumped off higher cliffs. One at 12 meters and the last one at about 15 meters. The other two back out of the last jump, but I couldn't resist. Besides, there were like 60 year old guys in front of us doing it. I wasn't going to wuss out. I would have spent all day jumping from cliffs if I could, it was that good. Despite nearly losing my contacts multiple times and biting my lip, I was ready for more. We had an amazing lunch afterwards and it was time to head back.

At the hostel we started to pack and get stuff sorted. I managed to catch up on some more shows and felt like a bit of a bad person as I delighted in some schadenfreude as the other two were stressing about flights and the rest of their trip. It didn't bother me, I wasn't going to the same places as them and the more frustrated they got, the happier I became. I know it's not good, but it felt like retribution for earlier. I was quite content and one of my pals from the traineeship said it was good and to not feel bad. After all, it's my happiness I need to be concerned with, not theirs, so live it up! I added that last bit myself, but otherwise, that's basically the gist. I'm glad I have other friends I can count on to give me sound advice and that actually care about me as a person. I had been talking to my friends Kyle and Michael a lot since leaving and they were really helping me out, as much as I missed them and everyone else from the boat. It was getting a bit easier the longer I'd been away, but I would get surges of homesickness both for my dive family in Cairns and my real family back home. I even had a few bouts of desperately wishing I was traveling with my sister instead. These would come and go though, and I hoped not to get too sucked into them.
The next day we were off to make the journey to Apo Island. After a trike, bus, boat, jeepney, another trike, another bus, and another boat, we were finally on Apo Island. A little quiet slice of paradise. After dropping my stuff in my room, I headed up the trail to the lighthouse. I managed to get there just in time to see a beautiful sunset. I popped back on down for dinner with the others and we hit up the dive shop to get on the list for two dives the next day.

The next day we did two dives. A crazy drift dive in the morning at a place called coconut was quite fun. The current really ripped at some points and I accidentally had one of my integrated weights fall out. Luckily it was at the start so I managed to get it secured back in place before we really took off. We saw heaps of sea snakes, moorish idols and clown fish. We finished the dive not too far from the shop and it was relatively short compared to our other dives, 45 minutes. I surprisingly didn't get cold. We had time for a nap and lunch then another dive at 2. Oh, I forgot, it was also my birthday, so I thought a good way to spend it would be by doing some dives. The afternoon dive was quite nice as well. We went down a sloping wall and saw bubbles coming up from the sand due to volcanic activity. It was pretty neat. There was a gorgeous lion fish just hanging out and plenty of turtles to see. This dive was a bit longer and my fingers just started to get cold in the middle, but warmed up toward the end as we got shallower and hit some warmer thermoclines. I even got to play with a few Christmas tree worms, some of my favorites, so that was a good birthday present.

Back at the room, I treated myself to a saltwater bucket shower. Yup, that's right. They filled 20 gallon buckets with salt water and you took a little bucket and scooped up water to wash up in. I didn't realize it was salt water until I hit my face with it. It's the same water you use to flush the toilet, so nothing too fancy. After that, it was a nice evening meal, followed by catching up with people from home then to cap off the night, watching Big Hero 6, because that always makes me happy.

The next day I just took it easy. No dives and nothing planned. I slept in a bit, had myself a nice breakfast and started to plan the rest of my trip. I found a place to stay in Siquijor and was looking at things to do and how to get there. I even snuck in two episodes of The X-Files, when the wifi was really good. Other than that, I took a nap, ate more food and just enjoyed the scenery. I did a little bit of pre packing that night while listening to Stuff You Should Know, then once again capped off the night with some Big Hero 6. The next day would be traveling to Siquijor.

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