Brian and I just returned from a 2 week trip to the Philippines. I'm going to attempt to get the whole 2 weeks into one post because we all know the chances of me posting twice in a timely manner are very, very small.
So we left Jan 31st, flying from Portland to Tokyo then from Tokyo to Manila. We then spent the night in Manila before leaving bright and early for our first stop, the Sangat Island Reserve. To get there we took a 1 hour flight from Manila to the island of Busuanga. Then we had a 45 min van ride to the town of Coron, followed by a 45 min boat ride to Sangat Island. We stayed here for 5 nights. Our daily schedule was basically wake up, lay in the hammock, go to breakfast, lay in the hammock, go snorkeling, lay on the porch of our bungalow (the hammock was in the sun in the late morning), go to lunch, nap in the hammock, read in the hammock, go snorkeling, go to dinner, go to bed. Needless to say, after a few days of this, we were quite rested and ready to do some exploring. The resort only had electricity from 6pm to 6am, and there are no TVs, phones, AC or much of anything beside sand, water and palm trees. Here's a view from the hammock:
and a view of our bungalow:
We also followed the "nature walk". Supposedly we were supposed to end up on a beach on the other side of the island, but we lost the trail in this swamp:
I think it looks like the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride. We didn't see any ROUSs but the mosquitos were pretty fierce.
We went snorkeling at least once or twice every day, we really enjoyed checking out all the coral, cool fish and other sealife. We also took a scuba diving "discovery dive." We went down to about 10m and saw a Japanese gun boat wreck from WWII. That was pretty neat as well but I had problems with getting my ears to pop and didn't really like the feeling of being that far underwater. I think I'd give it another try sometime...
We were sad to leave our beach paradise but excited to get a look at what else the Philippines had to offer. Unfortunately our 45 min boat ride back to Coron ended up taking about 2 hours due to the weather. The water was super choppy, it was raining and by the time we got back we were soaking wet and all our luggage was pretty wet as well. That made for a pretty miserable plane ride back to Manila.
We stayed one night at the G Hotel where they had aircon (as they call it there) and hot water in the shower. Luxury! The next day we took a short flight to Puerta Princesa . Puerta Princesa is a really neat city. We stayed in Puerta for just one day, giving us time to get some laundry done, take a quick tour of the city, and ride around in the tricycles. Tricycles are the main mode of transportation in many parts of the Philippines. They're basically dirt bikes with some sort of covered seating area attached to the side. Brian and I fit pretty comfortable in one, but it's not uncommon to see 5 Filipinos, plus the driver crammed into one with bags of rice and other supplies roped to the top or back of the tricycle. Another common way of getting around is the Jeepney. Jeepneys were originally converted US Army Jeeps left over after WWII, but now they look like miniature open school buses. Each one is painted with flames, pictures of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, cartoon characters and pretty much anything else you can think of. Add lots of chrome and mirrors and it's a pretty cool looking ride. We didn't ride on the Jeepneys because we never managed to figure out which one was going our way.
From Puerta we took a private van to Sabang, to take a tour of the underground river. Our driver, Royland, was a very good driver, especially considering most of the road wasn't paved and he had to dodge dogs, children and rice drying on tarps on the side of the road. Here's one of the nice views along the way.
Once we arrived safely in Sabang we hopped on a boat to head to the underground river. We had 6 people in our boat and our very strong boatman paddled us to 4km in. Lots of bats in there! The first picture is of the entrance to the cave, the second is of some formations about 2.5km in. Our boat looked just like the one in the picture. Brian got to hold the "headlight" which was hooked up to a car battery.
We stayed in a really beautiful comfortable place called Daluyon Beach Resort. Unfortunately we only got to stay one night, but if we'd have had more time we would have definitely stayed here longer.
From Sabang we took what was supposed to be a 6 hour boat ride to El Nido. Whoever came up with that 6 hour estimate was being a little optomistic because it really took closer to 10 hours. Luckily the boat had a tarp for some shade, our boatmates were friendly and fun to talk to (and had a bottle of rum to share) and the 10 hours went by quite quickly. The beautiful views in every direction helped the time go by. And there was a toilet too:
(Yes that's a plywood box/room with a hole in the bottom that leads directly to the ocean. Needless to say you REALLY had to go before that looked like a good option)
Once we arrived in the bustling metropolis of El Nido we took some time to explore the town. Here's Brian looking like he just took a 10 hour boat ride:
We checked out Corong-Corong Beach at sunset. This is a fishermen's village, here you can see the fishermen in the water with their net. We watched a very pretty sunset and luckily the mozzies weren't too bad.
The next day we went island hopping. Our boatmen were great, the took us to some great snorkeling sites, cooked us fresh fish on a deserted beach, showed us a hidden beach that you had to swim through a hole in a cliff to get to, and got us home safe and sound at the end of the day.
The next day we took a very long van ride back to Puerta Princesa to catch our plane back to Manila. The van was hot, crowded and the music was terrible. For some reason listening to recorded karaoke sessions is very popular in the Philippines and was really not to our liking. There were a couple of Canadians in the van with us and they were in agreement with the music being crappy. However the rest of the passengers were Filipinos and every time what we considered an especially bad song came on they would turn it up and start singing along. We were definitely glad when that van ride was over.
Our last day was spent back in Manila for a day of sightseeing. We saw the Intramuros which is a walled section of the city from the 1500s. It was also a site of battles between Japan and the US during WWII. (There's really a lot more too it but isn't this blog long enough?) We also saw Chinatown and Rizal Park. Our guide, Jorge (or Georgie Porgie, as he referred to himself) was quite entertaining and gave us a whirlwind tour. Then we did some shopping at the Mall of Asia, had dinner at the Pizza Hut Bistro (a Pizza Hut with a huge menu, tablecloths and flowers and candles on the table - it was the strangest thing) and headed back to the hotel to pack up for our flight.
The next morning we had to be at the airport at the painfully early hour of 5:30 in the morning. After about 20 hours of travel time we arrived safely home to our furball family. We're glad to be back but the jet lag is definitely hard to get over!