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The Big Trip. Stephen, Laura, James and Sinead head for an epic adventure: 17 weeks in South America 8 weeks in New Zealand 2 weeks in Fiji 11 weeks in Australia 14 weeks in South East Asia.


PHILIPPINES | Wednesday, 10 February 2010 | Views [2127]

After Borneo the original plan for South East Asia went out the window altogether. We decided to head to the Philippines. Flights were not expensive so we thought why not. From Borneo we flew into Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Manila is a huge sprawling city that was overwhelmingly loud, busy and for the most part not very nice. The nicest parts of the city were around the amazingly huge new shopping centres where the rich people spent they’re time and they’re money. There are quite a few rich people in this city but there are even more poor people. People live on the streets everywhere and we saw children washing in the filthy smelly bay.

It was heart breaking to watch and very tough having to pass all the begging children everyday. Makes you realise how lucky you are.

We got a bus from the airport to the city centre where we were to get a taxi to the hostel we had booked. We had been told that the taxi should turn on its meter and the journey should cost about 200 pesos. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it didn’t work out like that. Once we got to the city we mobbed by taxi drivers but all of them were asking for 4 or 5 times what we should pay and they weren’t interested in using the meter. None of them would budge… we soon realised that as westerner in the Philippines it is almost expected that you get ripped off… as one taxi driver pointed out to us “you get lots of peso for your money, very cheap, very cheap”.  After trying a few drivers who had obviously agreed that none of them were leaving unless they got what they asked for we eventually ended up back up with the first guy and went with him. Taxi drivers in Manilla are very similar to the taxi drivers in a lot of South America.. They think indicators are just for decoration, a road with three lanes is really a five lane one and always assume the other car will stop first. Always an exciting journey!

We stayed in Manila one night and the next morning we got a short 40 minute flight south to Donsol. This is the only place in the world where you can swim with rare whale sharks. Donsol is a small fishing town which until the whale shark swimming started in 1998 has nothing to offer tourists. The town is small with basic facilities and accommodation. Most people live in basic houses built from palm leaves and branches. There are pretty much no cars so people get around by tricycle. A tricycle is a motorbike with a side car bolted on to it. The four of us were able to get around, two on the back of the bike behind the driver and two in the side car.

We found a pretty nice guesthouse and booked in. We were showed to our room which was ok. The only thing was that to get to it we had to walk through a building site. They were putting in a small swimming pool and some more rooms. The walk was pretty dodgy as they don’t exactly have the best safety regulations in the Philippines. The builders wore shorts and flip flops while they laid blocks, the scaffolding was made out of tree branches tied together with some kind of rope and they guys just took a piss where ever they wanted even if I was walking past. Not a high vis jacket or hard hat in sight. Oh and the showers were cold as they were every where in the Philippines. That afternoon we got there we went straight to the whale shark centre to sign up for the swimming the next morning. We headed back to the guest house to the small restaurant had some food and decided to have a few drinks.  The staff in the guesthouse were so nice and gave us free drinks including free marguerites. Donsol is a small town and despite the whale sharks there are not a lot of tourists here so were greeted with a lot of curious looks esp. from the kids who were so cute and would wave and say hello to us and then go get their friends to come have a look too.

Early the next morning we headed to the bay to get snorkel gear and a boat and head out in search of the whale sharks. There were about six boats with six people on each. The four of us ended up on a boat with an arrogant German guy in his 50’s and his very young Filipino “girlfriend” or so he said. He smoked non stop and insisted on throwing his cigarette butts into the water. His girlfriend never spoke just laughed and took a lot of pictures of him with his shirt off. The boats have a captain, a whale shark spotter and a guide. The spotter climbs up the mast pole and looks out for the sharks and when he sees one we all jump into the water and swim after it. After about two hours of nothing were starting to think that we weren’t going to see anything but thankfully we did. We jumped in and as soon as we looked down there was this huge shark. The sharks can grow to about 18 meters but the ones we saw were 8-9 meters… still pretty big. The don’t seem to mind the human contact but just swim around and then just swim away slowly and gracefully. There amazingly beautiful and seeing this huge animal so close up  was a real rush. The second time we jumped in after the shark it was particularly close to us and poor James got a little scared. We later heard from a not very impressed Sinead that in order to save himself from the big scary whale shark (they only eat plankton by the way) James pushed Sinead in front of himself and swam behind her ha-ha. True love..??

We had a case for our camera and managed to get a few pictures although the shark is so big we only got bits of them. After about five hrs on the boat it was time to head back to dry land. After a quick shower we decided to head back to the main town of Legzepi where were to get an early flight back to Manila next morning. First we had to get a jeepney (a jeepney is like a big long jeep kind of vehicle which just seems to be some very badly put together metal sheets with two benches in the back for people to sit on. They are decorated in sometimes extravagant ways with lots of colours. These are the dominant mode of public transport everywhere in the Philippines) almost two hours to another town then change to another jeepney to get to Legzepi.

When we got there we got another tricycle to find a place to stay… getting round was always an adventure in the Philippines. We ended up that night staying in what was some of the worst accommodation in a very long time. The hotel only had single rooms left so we said feck it we’d take them. We didn’t want to waste anymore time looking. The rooms were fecking tiny… a lot like a prison cell. A single beds shoved into a tiny room with a small window and nothing else. Not very flash packer! Next morning we flew back to Manila.

Back in Manila we just had to pay a visit to the infamous Midget bar. The bar was apparently set up by an Irish American army guy who did some charity work with small people and decided to set up a bar to provide them with work. Anyone who knows James will know he has this odd fascination with midgets so he was adamant we pay it a visit. We had met a few people who recommended it so we headed for a drink.

Turns out the bar is a bit shit… way over priced, tacky and bit of a tourist trap. We had one drink and headed else where for the rest of the night. The next day we decided to take it easy and hit the huge Mall of Asia shopping center. Its huge. Its so big we had a hard time finding the entrance and kept getting lost. There was an I-Max theatre here so we thought we go see Avatar in 3d, and it was worth it… amazing movie.

Our last destination in the Philippines was the island of Boracay. Boracay is a tiny island off the coast of one of the Philippines larger islands. We took a short flight of 45 minutes to Catalacan then got a boat to the island. This island is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. With long white sand beach backed with palm trees and lined with beach bars, restaurants and swish resorts! After dark the bars and restaurants move out onto the sand and the beach is lit up with disco balls and fairy lights. We decided to chill here for 4 days.  We hit the beach bars for some cheap drinks and after a few bars we ended up in a party bar called Hey Jude! We had noticed since we arrived in the Philippines the huge number of old, grey and fat men who went round with young Filipino women (or girls). It was a bit disgusting to watch, especially when these guys were in bars trying to act like they were in there 20’s and not there 60’s or 70’s. This kind of thing is all over the Philippines. Anyway we all got a bit drunk and realised we were quite a bit of a walk back to our room so we instead of paying for a trike we found a wheelbarrow near the beach and took it for a spin.

A couple of days into our stay we rented some mopeds to tour the island. We got two and the lads took the wheel. Most of the island has narrow roads and dirt tracks which lead to some amazing beaches. Scooters were the best way to see it all. We found some of the most amazing beaches we’d ever seen which unlike the main beach were almost deserted except for the local people and kids. We rode round the island for a couple of hours seeing the sights and look out points.

Not long before dark when were thinking of heading back mine and Stephens bike got a flat. We were in the middle of the island and had no idea what to do when a nice local guy stopped to help us. He said he would show us where we could get it fixed if we followed him. Stephen wasn’t sure about riding the bike with a flat but we didn’t have much choice. Me, Sinead and James all climbed onto the one bike and Stephen alone on the other we followed to local guy. The first place he took us to wouldn’t fix it, not sure why. The next place was closed so eventually we found a guy who would fix it. It turns out there were two punctures and the air valve had broken off from riding it but he said it could be fixed. So outside his small bamboo thatched house and using what looked like prehistoric methods he fixed the wheel and were were on our way. It only cost us the equivalent of a couple of Euro so when we got it back to the guy we rented it off we said nothing.   

After an amazing two weeks in the Philippines it was time to get a flight to Bangkok. We hadn’t got much idea where we wanted to go from here but we knew we didn’t want to stay in Bangkok. On the flight to Bangkok at 10pm at night we were still trying to decide where to go next… should we go straight to Laos and start there or should we start in Cambodia?? Or maybe go to Chaing Mai in northern Thailand?  After all winging it got us this far…

Tags: boracay, donsol, phillipines, swimming with whale sharks



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