Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Philippines: Beyond beaches

The Philippines is still one of Asia’s relatively undiscovered countries and only now are people beginning to discover its paradisiacal islands, golden beaches and aqua marine seas. However, although its beaches are one of its major draws, the Philippines has many other stunning and interesting sights waiting to be explored. Clearly 21 days are not enough but lots of foreigners extend the visa and get another month (but it was pricy I think). There are more than 7000 islands within the country and the flights between them are relatively cheap. It is heaven for scuba diving and…sex tourism.

Got my 21 day visa on arrival (free). Arrived in Manila on the 7th of November (2011).
Was supposed to meet a friend from Barcelona but he never showed up. Spent 3 days in Manila in Japs´amazing flat (CS). Manila is not the most beautiful city in the world (most of the backpackers hate it) but I kinda liked it. Used public transport everywhere – the “metro”, jeepneys, walked a lot. The nicest surprise was that I finally got to a country with cheap alcohol, I guess because they are not Muslim, had enough of crazy prices for a bottle of beer! Most of the people speak English because they are taught in English at school but the official language is Tagalog or just called Filipino. Due to the Spanish colonization of over 300 years, they still use lots of words and phrases borrowed from Spanish like "tenedor", "cuchillo", the numbers, etc.

Japs was very welcoming. The first night he took me to the roof of a building (im sure it is something very important but cant remember what) in Makati city, he used to work there and knew the guards who let us in. Quite nice views! We also went to try local food and to some bars as well. After a few days staying at his flat and organizing everything (planning the Philippines, buying flights, etc.) I left to Banaue.

Filipinos are Catholics, and quite strict
I caught some couples practicing for the real wedding
First jeepney picture

Somewhere i china town
First night dinner

Finally cheap alcohol
Zubrowka even in the Philippines
Japs in action :)
Local food
And more food
Another jeepney
Banaue rice terraces are 2000-year old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to by Filipinos as the ""Eighth wonders of the world".
The bus took longer than I expected, got in Banaue in the morning but its so cold inside that I was wearing all my clothes, had even my hood on. I would never understand why in tropical countries people have to freeze on buses. On top of everything, there was this French bitch sitting in front of me and pointing the ceiling air-con towards me the whole night. I was putting in a neutral  position so it doesn’t blow neither into my or her direction but once I wasn’t paying attention she turned it back towards me. Such a bitch! Had to be French! So instead of sleeping I spent the night fighting over the air-conditioning. 

From the view point in Banaue

Banaue´s centre
Well, once out in the heat, I walked to the closest hostel to get a map of the area and there I met Foo.  Twenty six year old Scotsman, traveling the world for much longer than I am. We decided to team up and went together to the viewpoint and on the way back I convinced him to come with me to Batad the same day (he already paid for the hostel here but somehow managed to postpone it with 1 night).  We (there will be lots of “we”s from now on) took a tricycle, actually this one:

It took us almost till the end of the road and after that we had to walk for 3 hours. We stayed in “Ramon´s homestay”. Our guesthouse was pretty boring so we moved to another one for a few beers at night and guess who was in the other one? The French couple from the bus. So we ended up playing rummycub with the one who made me freeze to death on the bus. Well, the other option was the Israeli couple in our homestay and Foo discarded that one straight away (he likes Israelis as much as I like French).
I must admit, I was skeptical about the Tappia waterfll. I’ve seen many waterfalls and have been rarely impressed. Maybe my skepticism also came from the fact that the hike was a yet another long hike down steep rocks…it better be good I kept thinking. I was pleasantly surprised as the waterfall was this little paradise of white spray enclosed by a rocky cliff. It actually looked pretty nice and we took the opportunity to dive in and take a swim.
At the waterfalls we met again the Canadians I spoke to in Banaue. Leaving Banaue we bumped into them again so went all the way to Banaue together. Getting to the main road, we saw a jeepney that just dropped people off so luckily didn’t have to walk all the way to town (round 15 k). Drunk night with the Canadians in the guesthouse, waken up by some local kids at 4 am by “It´s my life” by Bon Jovi, the worst way to be waken up!

Pretty narrow but enough for one person to pass

Tappia waterfall

Beer night back in Banaue

Sagada was the next stop, took a jeepney with Foo, Canadians, a French-Welsh couple, a few more other people who don’t matter.
Sagada is a small town with plenty of flowers, pleasant architecture, lots of trees, dramatic limestone outcrops and beautiful views down the valley. It stands at 1500 meters above sea level, so enjoys a climate influenced by altitude and freshness. There are no tricycles here, which is a silent blessing. Very good English is widely spoken as the second language, rather than Tagalog.
Sagada is famous for its “hanging coffins“. This is a traditional way of burying people that is still utilized. Instead of being placed into the ground, the coffins are hung either inside the caves or on the face of the cliffs, near the hanging coffins of their ancestors. The Sagada people have been practicing such burials for over 2000 years, and some of the coffins are well over a century old. Eventually the coffins deteriorate and fall from their precarious positions. Many of the locations of the coffins are difficult to reach (and obviously should be left alone out of respect) but can be appreciated from afar.

Got back to Banaue and took a night bus to Manila. Got there at 4 am and took Foo to Japs flat with me since he had to take a bus later the same day (of course asked Japs first). Next destination was Palawan, apparently the most beautiful of the islands. 

Jessy in his full beuty
I´ve got lots of these "taking photos" photos
One more

One of the caves in Sagada

The hanging coffins
More hanging coffins but I didnt see them 
As you see I love the jeepneys
Going back to Banaue
Old school bridge in Banaue

Palawan’s unique geographical location makes it an exciting destination for local tourists and international tourists alike. Most Filipinos will agree that Palawan is still the most undiscovered Island in the Philippines.
In recent years, tourism in Palawan boomed because of the popularity of Puerto Princesa Underground River, which also made it to the cut of the new Seven Wonders of the World

I got to Puerto Princesa very early in the morning (took a taxi to the airport in Manila). Together with my host Sharon, we went to the beach and in the evening she took me to a house full of Spanish people (random), a nice restaurant for dinner and later to a bar. Couldn’t complain at all.  

My Filipino harem

My host Sharon in PP and the local band (they were pretty good)
The other alternative for traveling is the roof. This is a popular and sometimes necessary mode of travel and I would guess the best way to get the full impact of the terrain and its beauty. And definitely more refreshing, sometimes you can even stretch your legs if there are no chickens on the way J.
My jeepney to Sabang, this time I was inside

The beach in Sabang


The view just in front of DUB DUB
And while I was planning my trip on the island I got a message from Foo that he was coming next day. Such a nice surprise, considering he has been already on the island for a week and that he had to take two planes from where he was to make it here.
Well, we met in Sabang, DabDab guesthouse,  Hut number 3, exactly the same one Foo rented the first time he was on the island: 

Hut No3

The St. Paul Underground River became widely popular when it was voted as a finalist for the New seven Wonders of Nature". Also known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it is the longest navigable underground river in the world 8,2km. It is located at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park which is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.  It is composed of a lush tropical forest, white sand beaches and interesting wildlife.  Sabang Beach in itself is beautiful, with limestone cliffs surrounding it.

Next goal was Port Barton. To get to there from Sabang there are only 2 options: Jeepney at 8am or a boat. Of course we wanted to get the jeepney (cheeper) but we missed it so after 2 hours bargaining with the locals we got a boat for pretty cheap and were the only people on it, felt like a private boat.
Another well loaded jeepney
Port Barton
Port Barton is another of Palawan’s popular backpackers’ destination but has an even more laid back and local feel to it that El Nido. It has an excellent beachfront area lined with backpacker friendly resorts and hostels. Like El Nido, many tourists also go to Port Barton for its many off-shore islets.

Foo smoking in the background

Port Barton
Port Barton

Looking for the best shot
And here it is!

On the roof of the jeepney on the way to El Nido
El Nido 
The biggest attraction of El Nido is the picturesque islands sprinkled off its coast. The author, Alex Garland, was rumored to have stayed in El Nido while he was writing his novel, “The Beach,” and it was one of his inspirations for creating his mythical island paradise (although it is filmed in Thailand).
You can spend days in El Nido and go island hopping everyday and still have a different experience each time.  The best way to enjoy it if you don’t have PADI license is to rent a snorkel from the guesthouse you are staying at and explore the colorful marine life and the corals. Lots of the backpackers come here for diving (or go to Coron) but unfortunately at the time I didn’t have my PADI certificate. It`s also one of the cheapest places in the world to dive. And even though lots of the corals are already dead, they still find it amazing due to the sea life and different species you can see (like many many sea horses I was told).
We did Tour A for island hopping but you can do any of them and it still will be amazing.
The beach in El Nido
Had the most amazing views from our room,  for only 4 euros a night! Of course not hot water but who needs it! The most important thing in this part of the world is that the fan is working and that there are mosquito nets. Luckily in El Nido there was no sign of mosquitoes.

The view from the balcony, 4 € at night each
The weather didnt look promising at the beginning
Entrance of Big lagoon on Miniloc Island

Helicopter island

The island reminded me a lot of Thailand but not as busy and of course not that much of a partying place - mostly couples and laid back people. We met this Swiss couple on the jeepney to El Nido and kept bumping into them in bars and restaurants, even played some Rummy together. I realized here I like Swiss people.
Went back to Puerto Princesa where stayed for 2 nights and took our flights to Manila. The planes left almost together, Foo was leaving to Singapore while I was staying another night in Manila with Japs and of course, as always he took me out.
Our guest house in Puerto Princesa

Foo´s plane (Cebu) and my one on the right
On my 21st day in the Philippines I left the country (back to my “favourite” airport in KL).

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