February 1-26, 2018
We decided after all that driving around, we needed some beach time. We'd heard so many awesome things and seen great photos so decided the Philippines was the next stop and used some of our precious mileage points to fly business class to Manila. After some research, we didn't even leave the airport in Manila, just headed over to get a flight to Cebu. We were lucky that our flight was in the same terminal so we didn't have to deal with buses or traffic. We did have to deal with the check in process which was very unorganized and somewhat hectic but we made it. The a/c was out in the area that we were in so that was awesome... said no one ever.
We arrived in Cebu in the late afternoon and headed into town to get our hostel. We decided since it was just for a night to go cheap and cheerful so booked a "capsule" hostel. Never having stayed in one, we weren't sure what to expect. All in all, it wasn't so bad... the bed was very comfortable and we didn't feel too cramped. The other guests were pretty noisy though... we were woken up at 3 by a some people "enjoying each others company". We weren't keen on the area but we managed to get ourselves to a mall where we were able to get food. The next morning, we made it to the bus station and headed off.
There are various areas that make up Moalboal and it is very spread out. We arrived in a rain storm but managed to find our way to Emok's Guesthouse. This is a different place and we were a bit taken aback when we first arrived. There is a pool, but it seems to be occupied by plants, fish, potentially snakes and lots of spiders. The room was fine and the staff friendly. It was a bit off the beaten path so was very quiet at night. We found out from the owners daughter that they do hosting for people who volunteer in the community with cheaper rents, food, etc. I did get in trouble for doing my laundry, still not sure on that...
We wandered around the area but were disappointed that there were no real beaches in walking distance. We did find a decent restaurant though Three Crowns ... Swedish... go figure! The next morning we met some other travellers, an English couple who had been working in New Zealand and an American guy who had some pretty funny and outrageous travel stories. We weren't really liking our current location so decided to head into the more beachy area of Moalboal and took a tuktuk over to take a look. It was a good thing we hadn't checked out yet because wow... we really didn't like it. Crowded, muddy and garbage everywhere. It totally wasn't what we expected at all. A bit disheartened, we headed back and did something that we hadn't done before and don't expect to do again... we went to McDonald's for lunch. We overcame our weakness put on a positive face and decided to stay put. We were discussing doing the canyoneering with the jump into Kawasan Falls... I can admit to not being keen and the more we looked into it, the less appealing it was.
At a bit of a loss, we rented a scooter and googled beaches and headed off to see what we could find. It ended up being a great decision, we found a beach called Lumbug that was great. We followed directions but ended up missing the jetty and parking by a guesthouse which charged you to "watch your scooter" but it was only 50 pesos so not a big deal. The beach was worth it and we felt that we found what we were looking for. There were huts on the beach that you could rent, but it was so empty we just sat beside one for shade. We got a great picture of the bruising on Paul's chest from his umbrella incident at this point he also had a bump in the area where the umbrella hit.
While sitting on the beach, we were approached by a group of younger people who invited us to join them at their hut. There was about 10 of them celebrating a friends birthday and we had a great time. Many of them had relatives in Canada and one was a Toronto Maple Leaf fan. They shared food and drinks with us, showed us how to mix lemon and cheap brandy... it was fun.
We decided to go see Kawasan Falls before committing to the canyon tour which worked out well since we weren't keen. You have to pay for parking, entry fee, sit at a table fee, and the list goes on. The falls itself is lovely but it was so crowded you couldn't even really get into the water. They no longer allow rafts since there have been some injuries and the walk to get closer while pretty was crowded. We didn't stay long and headed back to Lumbug. We had told the English couple about it and they happened to be there so had a nice visit. Since we had the scooter we decided to head up to White Beach, which is where people raved about, supposed to be the best in the area. We drove up, paid all the associated fees, and went to the beach. Really torn on this one... when we first got to the beach it was covered in tents you can rent, shops and people. We walked down pretty far and managed to get away from the crowds a bit so it was okay and the guys selling hand carved whale sharks only asked us 3 times so, I'll call that a win.
We did decide that Moalboal wasn't maybe for us and decided to head to our next spot.
We hoped a bus and headed back to Cebu City to get the ferry over to Bohol. Sam and Roisin, the English couple we had met, were also heading to Bohol so we decided to go together to share costs. When we arrived in Bohol we squeezed into a taxi and head to the ferry terminal. When we arrived there Sam realized he had left his passport at the guest house... have to say, they were both totally calm about it... they borrowed our phone and arranged to get it on the next bus to Cebu. We parted ways, they went back to the bus terminal and we went to get the ferry. While I never the most comfortable one water, I can't say that the prayer that played on the screen and speakers before we left made me feel any better. That said, the ride was good and we made it to Bohol with no problems.
Getting to our guest house which was located on Alona Beach, Panglao was a 30 minute tuk tuk ride, no negotiations allowed. We had found a place right on the beach, run by an Aussie who had been there for years. We checked in and headed out to explore... after a beer! The beach was crowded, this seems to be a trend and boats were everywhere out front. It reminded me of Pattaya beach on Lipe, boats and people, fancy resorts and beach huts. We ended up coming back to where we were staying for a few more beers and supper. It was quite the crowd of old expats with young Filipino wives and an couple of other random tourists. Seemed like this was regular hang out for most of them. We had an interesting conversation with a very inebriated Irish guy and his wife, he started buying shots for the bar before his wife could drag him away. Great surprise with the food, it was really good and an even better surprise when Roisin and Sam showed up. They managed to get everything sorted and caught the last ferry over. We had a great night with them, went to several bars, saw a fight, practiced our dance moves and stayed out till around 4am.
Balicasag and Virgin Island
We spent a lazy day wandering around, found a good breakfast cafe and a decent vegetarian restaurant. We also arranged a snorkel tour for the 4 of us the next day.
We headed out to Balicasag Island which is apparently part of a protected marine park so we were looking forward to seeing the corals and possibly turtle up close. We were to pay the park fees and equipment rentals when we got to the island. We will admit surprise when we got to the area and saw boats everywhere and the coral looked like it had been bombed. Our driver pulled us in and took us to a restaurant where we got a guide and equipment, paid the fee. You had to pay extra to go to the turtle area, so we decided not to. Not what we were expecting but okay off to the canoe that would take us to the snorkeling area... we paid for that too. When we got to the snorkel spot, which we could of walked out to the guide told us to get out and just stand up... okay... the coral was very damaged in this area... then he pointed us out a bit. You swim out(or in my case life jacket float) out to the drop off and swim along it. We went off to the side a bit to escape the crowds and swam along the ridge. We did see some nice colors and coral but our favorite part was seeing the turtles... and we didn't even pay extra! We had some equipment malfunctions, Paul's fin strap broke and my mask strap as well. When I went back to get a new one, I had a Chinese snorkeler swim right under my legs and take me out while I waited. It was crazy packed. We swam a bit more and then were called back to the canoe as our time was up. That was surprising since we had booked the boat for a day. Our driver advised that to see the next island we had to leave since it was only available at low tide.
Virgin Island is a large sand bar with some mangroves and a really nice area that you can walk on in low tide. It could be beautiful... if the food stalls, garbage and hordes of tourists weren't there. Admittedly, we were also tourists and I added to it by purchasing a beer but I am referring to the large tour groups. The drivers bring everyone at around the same time to get the tides, so I don't see how it could be otherwise. We didn't have a long time here and were called back to our boat for our next stop... I did bring my beer can with us to dispose of on the main island.
Our next stop ended up being dropped back at Alona Beach... we were mistaken in expecting that since we paid for it we would get a full day or even a half day. If you decide to go, don't book through the guys on the beach, go online, pay a bit more and get a real tour. A bit disappointed we headed off to have lunch. We met an English guy who runs a restaurant, he gave us a self directed scooter tour to do the following day.
Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers
Finding a scooter rental wasn't easy, surprisingly., and we ended up getting one by chance when walking for breakfast. We used up our good luck with that since the restaurant had a power outage so only had cake... for breakfast. I can't eat cake but Paul was happy. We ended up having a great time on our little trip. On the way up to see the Chocolate Hills we passed the Loboc Eco Adventure Park, imagine my surprise when we drove in. Paul had seen it and decided he was doing it. It was really cool, we walked up a hill, he got put in a what looked like a body wrap, hooked up and away he went. It was super cool to watch. There were two sections, the one on the way out and back. I managed to get a couple of good videos of Paul and he had a blast.
After that, we continued up a winding road, through the Bilar Man-made forest to the Tarsier Conservation Area. It was very crowded so Paul decided to stay with the scooter and I headed in. The tarsiers are very tiny and hard to see but when you do see them they are cute. There are signs everywhere about quiet and no camera sticks, they even have staff sitting near where the tarsiers hang out... unfortunately that doesn't seem to stop the noise or selfie sticks. It was a bit sad, so I moved through quickly.
We continued up to the Chocolate Hills, driving by the ShipHaus on the way. Some guy built his house to look like a massive yacht... even as far as having mannequins dressed as sailors. We decided not to stop in and kept going. The Chocolate Hills complex was good. After paying your entry fee you got parking stickers and continued up the hill. There was a nice complex at the top where they had a small store and large banquet facilities. You can walk up around this area for a view, but it's best if you go up to the viewing platform on top of the hill. It's stairs but they have a little shaded sitting area every few flights so you can rest. We had a clear day so we were able to see a lot and the hills were neat. Our timing was off so we didn't get to see the major contrasts but it was still interesting. We didn't realize the hills are made from limestone and there was information provided on how they formed and lots of other details.
We had originally intended to head to Siargo but there was a monsoon in the area so we choose Siquijor instead. The group we met on Lambug Beach told us it was a good island with nice beaches. A ferry ride later and we were there. We stayed at a small place called Isla Inn, outside of the main area. It wasn't our first choice but it was busy on the island so we were limited. We rented a scooter and took off to explore. We had an excellent lunch at OceanLife Explorers, this is the place we originally wanted to stay but they were booked. The staff here were very nice and friendly, they went as far as calling another place they knew to see if they had rooms.
We drove around a bit and then went to Paliton beach and spent some time watching the sunset. We found a great restaurant called Cecilia's and had an amazing super before heading back to Isla Inn. We drove all around Siquijor the next day, we needed to find another hotel. We stopped in at a couple of places and ended up at Charisma Beach Resort. It was a nice little place, we had a decent bungalow and it was walking distance to a decent restaurant. We ended up sharing a table with an American couple who had been travelling for a year. It was nice to share experiences and the food was good, so it was nice. We spent the next couple of days driving to various beaches and figuring out next steps, it was almost Chinese New Year and a storm had been forecast so we needed to figure out what to do.
We decided to stay on the island and started looking around for different places, but we ended up back at Isla Inn which was okay. The staff there were shy, but helpful and the rooms were comfortable. It started raining and some people at Charisma weren't able to leave because the ferries had stopped running due to the storm. They even tried flying out but that didn't work either. We were glad we had decided to wait it out.
We were lucky, around Isla there was a decent restaurant that we could walk to, so poncho'd up and headed over. There were a couple of Canadians there so we all sat around and talked. They were supposed to have left but the ferries weren't running so they ended up having to stay. It rained on and off for the next day and then settled down. The Canadians we met told us about a beach by Coco Grove that we could go to. Coco Grove is a very exclusive resort with a marine sanctuary and "private" beach. We managed to find the entrance and headed in. You were supposed to pay a fee to enter, but Paul rented snorkel gear so we were allowed in. Nicest beach on Siquijor that we had seen. We spent some time walking around and then Paul went for a snorkel.
At this point, it's Chinese New Year and the island is packed but we were still able to have fun. With the scooter we explored the island, we went to various places, had kinilaw a lot, went to beaches and had a nice evening at Cecilia's where the locals shared a nice brandy with Paul. We flipped back and forth between Charisma and Isla a few times and hung out.
We booked a tour with Coco Grove to have a day trip out to the island. We rented gear and headed out on a boat that was also doing some dives. When we got to Apo Island the first thing we did was get to see the turtle area. It was chaotic to say the least since we weren't the only boat there. We were divided into groups and were given a guide who gave us info and instructions about the turtles. You had to stay a certain distance away and not touch them... some people had trouble following instructions and the guides were often pulling people back. Even with the number of people we still had a nice time. The turtles were cool to see, the guides would let you know when they found one but you had a limited amount of time before you were surrounded by other people. It was still cool. Our guide was good, took us out into the water to see corals, etc. so it was a nice morning. Lunch was provided at the local resort so we walked over to get it. It was good and we met a couple from Poland who had been travelling a while and had lived in Calgary. After a light swim and relax, we headed to the next spot. We spent a good amount of time in the water here and it was also nice. A good day!
Cliff Jumping, Waterfall Slides, Caves and Cats
In our last week on Siquijor we spent time going to beaches and marine parks, watching my face puff up like a balloon and relaxing. We did have some standout experiences that deserve honorable mention!
There is a place called Salagdoong Beach that you can go to for cliff jumping. It's different, you pay an entry, parking and Red Cross fee to get into the area that has a resort and beach. Once you are there, there are two podiums you can dive or jump from as well as a water slide. After watching for a bit Paul pushed his way through the hordes of Chinese tourists posing their kids on the platform and got ready to go. In reality we stood up there for a while, watched people jump for about another half hour before Paul maneuvered his way on to the platform. The crowds posing their kids on the edge of the drop was real. As usual, Paul made it look easy and like he had done it a million times before. Apparently climbing up the ladder to get back up was scarier then the jump. After a bit of a relax, Paul did jump two... this wasn't as graceful but it was still amazing to watch. It was getting more and more crowded at this point, people were swimming under where the jumps were and it was getting crazy. Paul decided to be done with jumping and went to check out the sardines.
So what do you do next? Well you find a falls that you have a rope swing so can jump into. We were heading up to Cambugahay Falls but when we got there, it was closed. Apparently a tourist had just been injured a few days previously. Luckily for us, Langaan Falls is just down the road and was ready with parking and guides, someone to watch your stuff and a rope swing. We paid all appropriate fees and were guided down the hill to the falls. The guide was funny and was soon showing Paul back flips and all sorts to do from the rope. You could also slide down the falls, go under the stones a bit and jump from the top of the falls. After the previous jumps that Paul did this one was fairly low key but it was still fun.
We had a Helen Loves Cats moment at Charisma Beach. They had rescued a kitten who I bribed with eggs and some milk at breakfast. The kitten allowed us to pet her for a while before moving on to other laps. The next day, I prepared for bribery but the kitten didn't show. I kept an eye out and saw her being roughhoused by one of the local kids who told me it was his kitten. I asked if I could play with her and she promptly fell asleep. I convinced said child that I would take care of the kitten and brought her to our bungalow. For the next couple of hours I had a furry neck warmer that occasionally purred and stretched. It was a definite highlight for me.
We found cave on the island and decided a trip was in order... the drive to the cave was interesting enough on its own but we decided to continue with plan to go in. You pay the fee, get a helmet and a guide and they take you over to the Cantabon Cave. The guides are mostly women and the ages vary greatly, every group is assigned a minimum of two guides. They carry the lamps and walk you through the history of the cave, the little pools and the formations. The water was at waist level and then down to ankle, it changed quite a bit. The formations were really different, the king's bed, fairy garden, bell... all of them were in fantastic shape. The guides are adamant that you don't touch them. It was another neat experience in our list of caves. After exploring the caves, we headed into the park and up to a view point. It isn't labelled but you can climb up a metal platform and see all of the island.
We decided to head back to near the airport for our last two nights, didn't want to risk the ferry not running. We found a decent place with a pool where we could just relax, do some laundry and get organized for our next stop. Not surprisingly, didn't turn out quite as expected. The hotel we choose ended up being in a more secluded area then indicated, didn't have food other then breakfast and rents out the pool to local businesses or families for functions. We ended up there on day when the pool was rented and were entertained by kareokee all day... some good, some not. We also ended up having to switch rooms after a stubborn mouse kept coming back after we chased him out twice. We also had to order in delivery since there was nothing other then a mall that had a small food court that you could tuk tuk to and when we asked, it had a KFC. The time spent in the airport was very similar and doesn't deserve a mention.
Soap box on: I have to say we had some great experiences in the Philippines, the Filipino people were really friendly and often smiling but it's the one place so far that I for sure wouldn't go back to. I have to comment our experiences in the Philippines, overall it is a beautiful country but it wasn't at all what we expected. A big part of this is the time of year we went, Chinese New Year is never the best travel time and we were naive to think the large tour groups wouldn't have discovered a place yet. Getting around also requires more effort in planning then we had put in, not realizing this fact. I call it the Fee-la-pines because every where you went there was an additional fee or charge for something. I understand the trying to employ locals for guides but that would make more sense if you actually required one. Many places put up signs stating the place was a protected marine park or sanctuary but you have no idea if it really is. The majority of the protected areas are covered in garbage, crowded beyond what is reasonable and appear to be very damaged. I think the country has a lot of work to do to fix this but I don't expect it to happen anytime soon. If they can get everything under control, it would be amazing. Soap box off.
Next stop - Taiwan!