I had been planning to spend the break between ship contracts with Noble Caledonia traveling in India but when I found out that some Filipino friends had just finished contracts and were at home, and got encouragement to visit, I decided to head out and grab the chance. I figure I can always go back to India but would rarely be able to catch just one-- let alone several-- ship folks, working different companies and different contracts, home at the same time. Score!
These are friends I made over my three seasons working on the Sea Explorer, and come to find out they hadn't seen each other since the last time we all worked together which was two years ago, so it was extra fun to be a catalyst for some reunions.
My flight over from Chennai was via Kuala Lumpur, and got some nice views of the mountainous island when we flew out And then lovely bits and pieces of islands before descending to Manila on the island of Luzon.
The main friend who I was coming to visit, Katherine, had made it to the airport just as I arrived which is no mean feat considering the traffic situation in Manila. And unsurprisingly after happy hellos we went straight to lunch, at a seafood market with restaurant right across the alley... you buy, they cook.
Another ship friend joined us too, Monette, but was a bit late bc of Manila traffic... a common theme during my stay.
After lunch we set off towards a hotel and drop Monette closer to home on the way but no... after navigation challenges (apps like "wase" pronounced "ways" are a critical part of any smartphone kit here to avoid traffic; I think the same electronic lady with the nice voice lives inside all routefinding apps!)... and after an hour or two of an interesting to me drive through the local scene,
we arrived at, lo and behold, Sky Ranch amusement park in Tagaytay-- a popular place, up in the hills sort of on the other side of the island (it's got a skinny bit here); known as a nice retreat from the higher temps of city.
You may come to notice that the themes of this holiday are food and adventure... so first we bought some Krispy Kreme donuts, obviously, and then rode the Ferris wheel and the swinging Viking ship. Then we went to have a popular dish here, bc of the cooler temps, a soup called bulalao, broth and veg with a beef cut like ham hocks... yummy and the perfect antidote to blustery conditions.
Well fed and well thrilled we headed back towards Manila, but just a few minutes out from the amusement park we discovered via Facebook (Kat was posting pics from the evening... FB is super popular here, posting proof of life excitement and adventures and chatting etc...) that some other good friends were home and right in the area so we set up to meet at a local mall and had another reunion in the parking lot with Mary Jane and Herbert, again it had been 2 yrs since everyone had seen each other... Super great!
Spent next day catching up on missed sleep (my flight over left at midnight, no sleep really so up for over 24 hrs) and blog posts at hotel while Kat attended to some family responsibilities. Next am early we left for first adventure... parasailing! Was fun even to get to the site, had to take a "jeepny" which is like a minibus with set routes and such (printed on the sides) but individual decorating schemes... and def constructed for short people!
And then a trike, which is the PH version of a tuktuk or rickshaw type thing (a motorbike inside a basic frame, some with a roof and/or windscreen, all attached to a passenger cab)... but again, def made for smaller folks than I!
The cows didn't seem too impressed with our arrival at the landing spot, but I sure was. As the German pilot/ owner said, maybe the scenery is not as spectacular as the alps but here in Carmona it's a better ride, instead of just descending from high place you can actually catch the thermals and have fun, which is what we did! So peaceful, maybe starting up a parasailing scene in west Texas is in my future? It's a great spot for gliders, so why not?!
We even met the only person from the Philippines that competes for the world title in parasailing, for accuracy and cross country!
Spent the afternoon at Mall of Asia, doing a bit of shopping (anything you could ever want you can find at the largest mall in Asia!)
and then had an amazing meal to top it off... a platter for four (as advertised) was no problem for us!
So much rice but it didn't go to waste, we actually folded it up in the banana leaves and have it to some kids who were asking for spare change...
And a special treat as we were holding our full stomachs enjoying the fresh breeze a fireworks show started up just down the promenade, a perfect celebratory event matching our sentiments about the day.
Since Manila isn't really what most folks come to the Philippines to explore... the next morning we flew to the island of Cebu and took an afternoon bus south to set up for our next adventures... swimming with whale sharks and canyoneering!
If not apparent yet, this is an adventure holiday, at least the part with Kath. She's keen on adventuring and has a list of things she wanted to do and it just worked out for me to visit and be an adventure enabler! Her job onboard the ships is as purser (and is a rising hotel manager) so she's quite organized and she pretty much had our whole trip planned out in her mind so all I needed to do was show up and be ready for fun... done!
Arrived at the village of Oslob after a beautiful 4 hr bus trip down the coast. Just in time to book our trips the next day and find a place to stay for the night. Even a wee walk before sunset gave me a chance to connect to the slower pace of life away from the city which was very welcome! Walking down the street from the guesthouse I passed families hanging out in the street catching up with themselves and neighbors, everyone smiling and happy, with me the only blonde blue eyed person within how many miles? Not a lot of European-type tourists in PH which is kind of fun. As I walked kids will often break out with "hello!" and "how are you!" trying out their English which they learn at school. But the sweetest was as I walked past a family a wee tyke, maybe two, walked directly toward me with a purposeful manner and with a sweet serious face took my hand and held it to his forehead for a second and then went dutifully back to his family... everyone was smiling ask and forth between me and him... it was so precious a greeting all I could was say thank you and give back a huge smile. I found out later from Kat that that was like a sign of respect or a greeting a child would give to a respected elder... such a lovely way to enter into this next phase of my visit!
I continued on my walk, past a beautiful church, an oceanside park, and along the beach back to the guesthouse and a good nights rest.
This was so cool, a modern sea wall with concave design to reflect the waves right next to an old school version, a bunch of sticks and posts driven into the sand and interlaced with others, creating an energy break that still allows for circulation... neat to see both techniques side by side.
Next day we were up early to make the short drive south where the whale shark swim was based. It was a bit of a chaotic not so nature peaceful experience but as the tourism interest in that has led to the Philippines protecting the species instead of continuing to allow hunting, well then I'm all for it. There were easily 100 people at the pavilion where a briefing took place (don't touch them, don't wear sunscreen) then we got into small outriggers, two abreast on a seat that would really fit only one normal American butt, maybe 8 total in boat and the "Rangers" paddled is out maybe 20 yards from shore along a moored line where 10 or so other boats were or were heading and then got in the water... a few other "Rangers" we're in solo boats flicking bait chum in the water and here and there you'd see a big hole open up in the water surface... that was the whale shark hoovering in the food-rich water. So we put on our snorkel and mask, lowered ourselves in the water, stayed by the boat, and looked around hoping to get a glimpse of the sharks... but mainly tried to avoid the frantically manic (manically frantic) antics and appendages of the Chinese fellow trying to get photos and video of himself and the sharks in all possible angles poses etc. We had a few close encounters as the sharks wove their way in and out of the human mayhem trying to get an easy meal out of the deal... Kat saw the first shark then spent the rest of the time (30 minute limit in the water) trying also to get photos and video but all in the end were foiled by our manic frantic friend. I couldn't be bothered with photos, just wanted to watch the dang fish! I had to keep telling the guide to simmer down I'm not interested when he kept trying to get me to go under for a photo with Kat's gopro... I overheard her explaining to the guy-- who was just trying to be really helpful and max out our experience-- that "she's a scientist... she just wants to see it, she doesn't need a picture". A very strange concept here in the land of selfie documentation mania. We laughed a lot about that difference between us! In any case it turned out fine for me, got to watch the sharks feeding, and swimming a bit under the boat for a good, human free approach to the bait area... pretty neat all things considered. They weren't as big as I expected... but if I knew they were interested in eating humans I would have thought they were plenty big enough ;)
Out of the water for a rinse off and order a breakfast to go (vinegary milk fish, fried eggs and rice in a takeaway tub yum!) and our tour organizers took us off to the next activity-- canyoneering! It was a two hour drive around the southern tip of the island, coast road, just lush banana and palm tree scenery through a succession of small settlements, all sorts of building types from huge new concrete holiday homes or up and coming small hotels, more humble concrete homes, concrete first floors with wood or thatch walled second stories, right down to palm thatch/slat one story homes to huts. People out and everywhere, walking along the road, at home, doing chores, in/at shops, on scooters, in trikes... and plants and flowers too, so many yards and window boxes and plantings. Wish I had the ability to capture it all, quite the visual panoply.
The canyoneering was an in and out affair, and as we walked out it was tons busier than when we arrived... made me appreciate the air of mystery present on our approach. I also wasn't really sure what to expect, so that always helps heighten the mystique!
Quiet path with no people turned into an avenue thick with families toting picnic equipment on the way out
Can't ever get rid of the botanist eye...
The home of our guide and likely many family members, as well as gear storage dressing area etc. we wore life jackets and old sneakers and used an empty plastic water bottle as a floater for camera and GoPro. Headed out and walked for an hour maybe along a rivercourse with progressively rising walls and pools, had to wade a few areas, take some obligatory photos, then swim some pools
and then climb a small pour off/waterfall up to our first big jump... 15 meters?
High enough to take me about five tries to actually do it! Kat, as adventurous as she is, is a bit afraid of heights and had to ask the guide to jump with her and even then he had to pull her with him! All went well and we had lots of laughs as we headed back downstream from there. Really beautiful canyon area, of course I wanted to continue upstream farther but that will have to stay on the "next time" list.
On the way out as I said, the mystique was replaced by a feeling of a family amusement park, but still beautiful amidst the hubbub
And there was a fellow selling fresh local honey... maybe one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted... with a bright exotic lemony flavor not to ever be reproduced on my palate again...
On our way out we bought bananas on a stick (fried in sugar, damn good, can't wait to try replicating at home!) from one of these shops and also buko, or young coconut, the water plus the flesh scraped out..., processed fresh and dumped in a bag with straw to go! Agh the ubiquitous throwaway plastic bag...
Saying goodbye and thanks to our guide we hopped on a bus back to Cebu City, crossing the island west to east but didn't see much as I got an aisle seat and it was sunny out so folks had their window shades pulled. Spent the night at a hotel with a computer which saved me since I needed to apply for another Indian visa that would allow me to stay longer in the Philippines, and there were document upload and file format issues that made it so I couldn't just use my phone or iPod... and luckily it all worked out! Then we headed out to dinner to sample a regional specialty (roast pig, called lechon) at the "best" place for it in town...
Oh my gosh amazingness... kangon (adobo greens), three kinds seaweed salad, spicy and plain lechon (damn that cracklin skin was guuuud!), pancit (glass noodle seafood sesame yumminess), and three desserts just cuz... tapioca drink, sweet coconut rice, sweet cassava roll. Um, yes, just the two of us for dinner... never you mind...
We were so satiated when we got back to the hotel we were both almost immediately asleep. Ha! A relaxing next morning, did a bit of city touring, to see a cross that Magellan placed and a church from the 1500s and then up to "the tops", an excellent view of the city area and cool picnic spot
Each segment of the building had picnic tables on one side and different eateries on the other. One, a bar meant for nighttime hours, had an eclectic assortment of decorations...
And there were some neat plants growing in the cracks...
And around the corner was Skyline Garden, I thought a nice viewpoint spot turned to also be a memorial garden with plaques and presumably ashes deposited behind. It was a perfect spot for me to grab a few nature moments...
Then headed back down to the city and sorting out the next leg of the trip... bus then ferry to Bantayan Island, our skydiving destination!
Transport options come in many flavors, as per usual in most countries other than the US I find ;)
For our trip north from Cebu City we could have taken a bus (aircon or open window) but as it worked out we found a minivan which was great... The touts scare up passengers and wait to fill the whole van and then light out hell bent for leather. It's a quicker journey typically, and we were hoping to make the ferry in time, the trip was about 2 hrs shorter than the bus. But it's a bit cramped...
As it happened we arrived late but the ferry had been cancelled anyway due to poor weather. So we lucked into the last room at the local (and luckily palatable) pensione, and proceeded to have a typical "locals special" evening, eating street food (all parts, pieces, and animals apply here!)
and then we joined in, as you do, at the videoke spot one stall over (karaoke with a video machine playing in the background... which *obviously has nothing to do with the song being played (aside from including a generalized version of the lyrics, translations approximate)... on the Sea Explorer the crew bar had one (crew being mainly Filipinos) and it would loop clips of a great white shark exploding out of the water with a seal in its mouth, a rattlesnake going after some critter, and then a generic Asian-pop girl all dolled up with makeup looking what I guess was supposed to be sexy, all while we're singing Neil diamond and other sappy elevator/80s songs... this one at Hangyan port had a loop of a pirate themed Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue photo shoot knockoff full of scantybikini clad buxom white ladies and a few token seconds of some dumpy white guys with beards bandanas and bad costumes...
Next morning onto the ferry! All manner of boats to be seen on shores and waterways.
Upon dock approach, Make the moves how you can,
No OSHA reps here, no uniforms no shoes needed!
Was so impressed with the guys on the side walls of the ferry up there waiting to tie up to the neighboring barge... one guy actually took off his flip flops after a bit, presumably to get better footing!
Once ashore we hired a trike to show us a few options of places to stay and fell in love with the Kota Beach Resort, which funnily enough had an entrance sign proclaiming it camp sawi or camp tragedy as Kat translated... well I'll take a PI version of tragic beach camp anytime !
View from our cottage porch
We had hoped to get right into the skydiving but as you can see the weather stayed threatening rain so on standby we ended up with two full open days. Continuing with the theme, clearly it was tragic to have to waste time here. Enjoyed amazing food at the resort including the local version of ceviche called kinilaw (OMG!!!!! so good!!!! ginger makes everything better!)
fresh shellfish, the conch like thing shared one evening by some sweet ladies sitting next to us, and once we got the tip from them to get local stuff at the market and ask the resort kitchen to prep it we got scallops to start the day the next morning...
And a sweet drink called taho, made of bean curd (like tofu) and molassesy tasting liquid, doled out from two separate pails that this fellow toted around and served up like an art form (Kat could down three glasses at a time, we were on "Taho guy" watch every morning)
We explored the island a bit, very rural and sweet, at one point had the idyllic classic scooter ride down a rural lane flanked with coconut trees and thatched houses and goats and chickens and flowers and no pics b/c I'm a safe driver;)
Our last evening was rough...
And the dawn was perfect and we were on our way to the airport! A briefing and many signatures on a many paged waiver later...
And away we went! Can only say I'd do it again and wish it would last longer!
Here's Kath... I think this is my favorite photo of my entire experience in the Philippines! Photos from the go pros attached to wrists of the tandem pilots... it wasn't me shooting this photo as I was twirling about up there!
We landed on the beach of our resort actually, a pretty slick deal. Seeing how absolutely genuinely to the tips of her toes thrilled and stoked Kat was after we landed, and then watching her watch and rewatch the video and that she had this secret smile on her face for the rest of the day... she was scared but so proud of herself to do it... priceless.
Our next adventure river rafting seemed rather tame by comparison... took a private car (next step up in terms of quick and direct and also price on the trike-motorbike- bus-van-car continuum of motorized land transport) back to Cebu City to catch an overnight ferry to Cagayan de Oro on the island of Mindinao... for which we arrived just in time, treated ourselves to a cabin to get a good sleep and see what that world was like onboard a ferry as opposed to the cruise ship world we were familiar with, and just continued to roll along under a protective star in that we arrived 6am, found a company with an opening for a medium advanced trip leaving just that morning which was what we wanted and needed because Kat was up against her time limit and was hoping to head back to Manila that night! Whew!
This was right before I saw a snake in a small niche in the rock, and excitedly said as much in the spirit of "hey this is so cool, wildlife right here next to us!" which then induced Kat to mad screaming and clawing her way away from the rock wall... note to self: not everyone wants to see a snake much less know that one is at eye level as we float by... Dang scientist. But not to worry, a fun time was had on a beautiful stretch of river.
And then. The Amerasian Adventure came to a close. Holy Week and responsibilities at home were calling Kat back and so, again under the protective star, we said a rushed goodbye for now be safe have fun as she ran to catch her ferry back north. I was now on my own, and apparently without the Filipina charm as the night ferry I had hoped to take was sold out, leaving me stuck in the busy port after dark. But not to worry, the powers of technology and modernism came to the rescue... turned on the data function on my phone (had gotten a local SIM card and text/call/data plan, and had just expanded my data usage amount via the online portal of my network provider during a long taxi ride while connected to a friend's mobile wifi hotspot who was hooked into the data off the cell network...) opened up the Booking.com app and booked a cheap enough nearby hotel ($20 for ensuite bath, aircon- which I hate anyway- tv and free wifi, one of the Red Planet chain... not much soul but entirely functional and modern) within about 2 minutes!
Then went out the port gate, found a taxi (metered so relatively aboveboard unless they take you the long way but I've got a map app that works offline with the phone GPS so can see where we're going...), and was getting settled in my room about 20 mins from discovering my hoped for ferry was sold out. Maybe that Filipino charm was still lingering with me a bit!
And with that, I'll call this chapter done... and see how long it'll take to upload! Stay tuned for more adventures :)