18 October 2006

Back to reality

After our relaxing time in Boracay, it was back to the chaos of Manila. The traffic and pollution were atrocious but you can’t really take it too seriously. It’s just part of life there and that’s the way it is.

Once we got back from Boracay, we went to my Tita Mila’s house for dinner. I haven’t seen her and her family in ages! It was great to catch up with them. Saturday, Ed and I had lunch with the Lintags (my sister’s in-laws) at the Alabang country club - how posh. After lunch, my sister took me to Greenhills for some shopping and my brother-in-law took Ed skeet shooting. Interesting experience for Ed, I’m sure. Greenhills was crazy amazing. Row upon row of vendor stalls selling everything from Persian area rugs, to imitation designer bags, to fresh water pearls, to imitation brand-name runners, to fake Lacoste shirts. It just went on and on. I bought a triple A quality fake Coach purse. Apparently, it’s really hard to tell that it’s not real. But since I’m not really a purse person, I just have to take their word for it.

Sunday, we had lunch with aunts, uncles, cousins, and childhood friends whom I haven’t seen in years. My dad was there, too. My dad’s sister, tita Zenny, looks awesome at 78 years old. She looks like she’s just in her early 60’s. Lad, who used to pick on me when we were kids, now have three kids of his own. I was so glad to see them and spend a few hours together. After the lunch, my sister took us to the massive SM Mall of Asia. This mall is gigantic. Apparently, if you run around the perimeter of the mall, it would be a 5K run. Funny thing is, even with the mall so big, it was still packed inside! Lots of people spending Sunday afternoon in the mall. That seems to be the thing to do around here.

I discovered that books are cheaper here too, so Ed and I bought a few. On our way back to my sister’s house, we also bought a whole bunch of goodies to take home to Vancouver. It was later that night, when I piled up all the stuff I’ve accummulated over the last four weeks beside our suitcases and backpacks, that I began to worry that we won’t have enough room in our luggage. It will be fun packing tomorrow.

Monday. Our last day, hard to believe. We spent the morning packing all our stuff into the limited luggage space we had and thankfully, they all fit. Yay. Then it was off to Makati for lunch with three of my highschool mates and dinner with Ed’s friend from university who is currently residing in Manila. In between lunch and dinner, Ed and I treated ourselves to a massage at the spa in Greenbelt. It was a great way to spend our last afternoon in Manila.

We had two Tuesdays. One where we spent most of the day in airports and airplanes. It was 6pm when we left Japan but only 11am when we landed in Vancouver. So our second Tuesday was spent saying hello to our cats, dusting our townhouse, cleaning litter boxes, and doing laundry. Yes, we’re definitely back to reality.

12 October 2006


Sun! Finally! The clouds have parted and blessed me and Ed with days of sunshine. Well, the clouds were still there but not like last week. In any case, I got my tan. I'm happy.

Boracay's White Beach is fantastic. Miles and miles of fine white sand and clear blue water. I've been to many beaches and this one ranks as one of the best. Ed and I have been beach bums the last three days. We found a bookstore and bought a couple of novels to keep us occupied. Read, eat, sleep, work on the tan. That about sums up the last few days. Beautiful!

It's a great way to relax after our whirlwind tour of Palawan and Bohol. This is relaxation to the max. Too bad we have to go back to Manila tomorrow.

- Finding a bookstore was hard! Had to ask about ten different people before we got directions to a store that sold books, as opposed to magazines. I actually contemplated for 5 seconds about opening up a bookstore here on d'Mall (main mall on the beach strip). How would I like living on a small island? Hmmm....
- Fish here are aggressive. They brushed up against my legs and feet while I was lounging around in the water. I think they bit me too. Aahhhh... I actually went running out of the water, totally freaked out.
- My tagalog has taken two steps back. Since I speak english all the time to Ed, my brain gets all mushed up when I switch back to tagalog. So much for being bilingual.
- Massage is all the rage here. There's an army of women walking up and down the beach asking if you'd like a massage. 300 pesos for an hour massage. That's not even $10.
- The vendors ask you once if you'd like to buy whatever they are selling. You say "no thanks" and they leave you alone. It's great. Nothing worse than being hounded while you're on vacation.
- I bought a bikini top that has a halter neck. Now I have a funny looking tan line. Ugh. At least I have a tan line. This time last week, I thought my tan was in jeopardy.
- Here, they say "eat all you can" instead of "all you can eat".
- You can judge if a restaurant is expensive or not by the price of their San Miguel beer. 30 pesos is cheap, 40 pesos is average, 50 pesos is expensive.

7 October 2006

Mt. Pinatubo, Palawan, and Panglao Island

Whew. Finally, internet access again. Seems like ages ago since Angeles but that was just a week ago.

The trek up Mt. Pinatubo was a little different from treks I've done before, mainly because we followed a river all the way up the crater. So my feet were soaked within one minute of starting the trek. I have never hiked with wet feet before. If my feet were just wet, it would have been okay. But the river carries a lot of sand down the mountain so my main concern was my feet and ankles getting abrasions from the sand trapped inside my socks rubbing against my skin. I had to stop and "rinse" out my socks and boots a few times.

When we got to the top, the thing that struck me the most was the silence. Once we left the river behind and the sound of water rushing was gone, we were surrounded by complete silence except for the birds chirping. It was almost deafening. The crater is now a lake. The colour was fascinating, like a pale aqua green. Not really sure how to describe it. Anyway, it was beautiful. Well worth the wet feet and sand-filled hiking boots. And, it didn't rain. So lucky.

We flew to Puerto Princesa, Palawan the next day. It was hot and sunny when we got off the plane but started raining less than an hour later. And it didn't stop raining for a few days! But we forged ahead with our plans. We stayed in Puerto Princesa that day, walking around the city, checking out the market. The following day, we joined a tour to the Underground River in Sabang which is a two hour drive from Puerto. The first hour was fine. The second hour was what they refer to as the Palawan massage. The road was so bumpy that when Ed and I conversed, our voices shook. The cave itself was pretty spectacular. The guide took us along 1.5km of the underground river. The total length of the cave is 8.2km but it's not safe to go any further unless you're an expert, apparently.

The next day was travel day. We had planned to go to Port Barton which was a 4 hour drive from Puerto, again via a bumpy gravel road. When Ed and I got to the bus station at 9am, we found out that the Port Barton bus (there's only one per day) was not going that day because the road was in bad shape due to the rain. So we stood there trying to decide what to do next. We didn't really want to go to El Nido because the trip is 7 hours, according to the Lonely Planet. But the only bus there was the one to El Nido and it was just about to leave. So we hopped on. Next destination is El Nido. It poured all day. This is the ordinary bus, not the tourist bus. We were packed in like sardines, with bags and stuff in every available space. And there were bamboo furniture tied to the roof of the bus! Anyway, it was quite the ride and... it took 10 hours, yes, 10 hours to get to El Nido. The first few hours was fine because I was asleep. But when I woke up and realized that we were going much slower than usual due to the rain, I started getting nervous. So much can go wrong on a muddy dirt road in the middle of the jungle. It was nerve-wracking! It was such a relief when we finally pulled into El Nido at 7pm. Ed and I decided that we were taking the plane back to Puerto Princesa. To hell with our budget! There was no way that we were going to do that again. Plus we absolutely had to make our flight on Friday and there was just too much risk taking the bus with the road in that condition.

We spent two full days in El Nido. The first one was rainy so we decided to just hang out in town and take care of booking our flight back. It was a very lazy, relaxing day. The weather was better than the previous day and we were playing the odds that the trend will continue. We were right! The rain stopped, finally, by the next day so we signed up for the island hopping tour. El Nido is spectacular. We took a boat to Miniloc Island to swim in a lagoon and go snorkelling, Tinalula Island where we had lunch on a deserted beach, and Simizu Island for more snorkelling. The highlight - I spotted a turtle close by while I was snorkelling at Simizu island! It was an amazing sight.

Now, we are in Panglao Island in Bohol. We finally had a full day of sun and laying around on the beach. I'm gladly working on this tan that I am determined to have.

Tomorrow we're renting a motorcycle and going sightseeing. Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier monkey.

So far, this trip has been quite an adventure. Getting around the Philippines is not easy. It takes a long time to get anywhere and it seems that flying is the only reliable option, which makes for quite an expensive trip. It's no wonder that this is not really very popular with backpackers. What I've learned is to just go with the flow and go slow. But it is a beautiful country and I'm glad I have this chance to go around and visit these places.

Next stop, Boracay...