Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Philippine Islands - Part III

El Nido was again rainy as in rain season. But this was also because it was not only rainy season but also typhoon season. We had a typhoon sweeping by over Manila towards Japan rippling some rainy effects upon us.

The view from Aquanaut and Camembert rocking the rain

We went out diving anyway, as underwater we would be wet anyhow. We took our rain ponchos for the trip, in order to be warm before, between and after the dives. Caribou chose not to come with us for the sightseeing tour as to stay on a boat in the rain for a whole day really didn't appeal to him.

Aquanaut dive crew

We had a great time diving to about 25 meters and coming up slowly with the reef to our 5 meters safety stop. Vanessa, our personal photographer for the trip was a great person to be diving with. She's got quite some energy and is always up for a laugh.

The islands are a stunning view. A little bit like I would expect Ha Long Bay in Vietnam to look, but smaller. The Bacuit islands are a protected marine area.

Bacuit Islands

Bacuit Islands

Not to mention, we ran into Amir and his new wife Shani again. We exchanged what we did the last few days and our plans for the trip ahead of us.

Ferry to Coron

After diving with Aquanauts, we spent a day on a transfer ferry to Coron. On the way we met Lisa, a French girl roaming the world. Lisa was a great addition to the group. As she stayed with us for a while in Coron, she and Caribou explored the land areas while Camembert and me explorer old shipwrecks from the second world war. Whose the crazy guys?

Fun & Sun Dive boat

Again, upon arrival in Coron, we looked up different dive shops. We visited every single one of them in the main road. From good to bad we had all kind of impressions. The almost last we visited we hadn't heard about in El Nido, but it ended up being the best. First of all because they have the biggest boat, and that's no small thing when you end up spending 10 hours a day for 3 days on a boat. But no, we actually chose them because the two dive instructors / operators Maxine and B were just great from the start. We hadn't stepped into the shop that we already had a good impression. They also had dive maps of the wrecks and quite new gear. The experience was great, although I ended up having to pour a bucket of ice on top of B. (oh no wait, it was the other way around, Maxine put ice into my wetsuit because I poured a bucket of ice on B. while she was changing in the open-air cabinet).


Our first dive was in the famous Barracuda Lake, a brackish water lake with temperatures up to 40 °C. It was quite an interesting experience. The view around the lake reminded me of the Tsingys of Bemaraha on the shore of the Tsiribihina river in Madagascar. But these "tsingys" had a direct contact with sea and the lake. To access the lake, we had to pack our diving gear on our backs and climb a few staircases steps up and down the other side. A small wooden platform had been built where we could kit up and go in.

Barracuda Lake entry (view of sea)

Barracuda Lake

Barracuda Lake

Barracuda Lake temperature (bottom left corner)

For 3 days we roamed the wrecks of the second world war. we had a blast discovering wreck diving. We started with big holes to swim through and ended up with holes barely big enough to go through (alright you can always take of the tank and push it forward and go through much smaller holes, but then we're not tec divers yet).

Me in jail

Camembert following us through the opening

Maxine, not smoking

In Coron we met with Shani and Amir again, and went for supper together. We planned to get wasted, but everyone was just exhausted.

On our last day in Coron, which was a little sad as we didn't go diving and it would be the end of our trip very soon, we didn't do much except sleep, read and eat. We were lucky because during our 3 days of diving it barely rained.

Scorpion fish

The Philippine Islands - part II

In Puerto we stayed in Villa Travelista Travel Lodge, a small homestay type of accommodation run by the family living there. We stayed there for two nights with the husband and wife and their latest daughter. If I remember well, they had 4 daughters and maybe even a son. Two of the daughters were Miss Palawan at least. The latest was more interested in watching TV at home. The lodge is located out of tourist's way. I quite enjoyed it, although it was full of mosquitoes.

Puerto is a little town without very much of interest in itself. So we rented motorcycles the following day and went out to Viet Village, an almost abandoned village that had been built for Vietnamese refugees.

Street name shield in Viet Ville

An extract from
Vietnamese migrants first began arriving in the Philippines after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. The boat people who arrived in the country were given aid and shelter, unlike other Asian countries where they were persecuted and abused. But when the refugee program ended, the Palawan camp was declared closed in 1996, and the Vietnamese left behind were set for forced repatriation. Nguyen Van Lam, assistant administrator of Viet-Ville says the community, which includes numerous houses, a noodle factory, two French bread bakeries, Catholic and Protestant churches and a Buddhist temple, now has only about 150 residents. Viet-Ville, a small community of Vietnamese refugees in Palawan, has stood as a symbol of local hospitality and tolerance.It has become a tourist attraction, providing a taste of Vietnamese culture and French-Vietnamese cuisine to both local and foreign visitors. But it is now facing a looming crisis: it is running out of Vietnamese.

From there we went further north on a nice winding road. We drove until once more, the rain decided to pour down on us. We stopped at a petrol station for about 15 minutes, until it slowed down. We put on our rain ponchos and took off to look for a place to eat. It was Sunday, and not much was open. We found a small place that had opened especially for the people going to church. Luckily, there weren't too many people wanting to eat, and we were served quickly.

Small eatery in Bacungan

As it turned out, we chose the right fork off the main highway, because we saw that it led to Nagtabon beach. The lady at Travelista told us about it, and we decided to go there. The rain was almost over, and we decided it was worth a look at least. A few kilometres further, there was a gravel/stone track down to the beach. It was a little bit tricky for some, but we managed without an accident. Down at the beach, we were rewarded with a remarkable view of the local jungle surrounding the small bay area. 

Group of students on Nagtabon beach

A view of Nagtabon beach

We met a group of young folks on the beach with whom with talked a while. They were students from different fields enjoying there week-end at the beach drinking rhum and having fun. At around 3 or 4 we decided to leave because we didn't want to drive at night. We followed the road a little further northward to check out the view and again, were nicely rewarded with a hilly view of the countryside behind the beach. Afterwards we returned to Puerto and went to Baywalk, where the tourists go for sunset. Sunset was amazing. This is also where we met the Israeli couple on honeymoon for the first time. Apart from them, we met a lot of Israeli people, as it was an Israeli holiday during that period.

Sunset in Puerto Princesa

The following morning was spent looking for some artefacts for Caribou, but he didn't find any, and for checking out what was next on our trip. We didn't exactly know where to go from there (north was sure because Camembert was not confident going to the out-of-the-way south). So we stopped at a couple of travel agencies until we found a nice lady explaining to us how nice Port Barton is. She showed us a couple of pictures of her in P.B. on her smartphone to entice us even further. That's how our next stop was decided. It was also decided to leave Puerto the following morning, as we didn't really know what we should further do around there. From our point of view, it turned out to be the best decision.

Caribou quite unsure about the gravel road

The minivan to Port Barton, of which there is only one service running, took us about 4 hours. During the trip, we got acquainted with a German girl going back to P.B. to become a yoga instructor. The last hour or so, we spent on a dirt track full of holes (due to rains) and squeezed between other people who were picked up on the road. Reminded me of Africa, except, we could've picked up even more.

Caribou taking a picture under a basketball hoop

Camembert playing basketball on the road with some kids

We spent our first afternoon settling into a nice beach hotel with an upper deck to read, chill and relax, swim in the sea and later having dinner and drinks with the German girl and another soon to be instructor from Columbia/Mexico/Chicago. Tlawil, with her Aztec name walks on naked people. That's how she describes her occupation. She does that to give people massages. She was kind enough to give us all a small sample.

The rest of the 3 to 4 days in Port Barton were spent eating, resting, walking around and swimming in the ocean.

Activity in Port Barton

One day I followed a path to some other village called Pamuayan where there is a beautiful beach with barely any hut visible. The village is only accessible with this trail.

Walking around

Local cowgirl on a carabao

Another day I followed the same path until the road sign where it split off to the waterfall.

Pamuayan village with its empty beach

After Port Barton we went to El Nido. We didn't stop in between anymore, as there was no real interest point to us. There were some minor interests, but we also wanted to go diving. 4 days of farniente was all it took to get us active again.

Whole fried fish in our hotel

Upon reaching El Nido, we looked around the dive shops until we found a French guy selling cakes, burgers and other really tasty things. He told us about Aquanaut and that's whom we ended up diving with for our first 3 dives in the Philippines.

The French owner of the shop told us his shop is a franchise of his daughter's shop in Toulouse. She had studied with a really old Jew in New York who taught her many good recipes. The owner and his wife went to Toulouse to take a course with his daughter, and then came back to set up the shop. If you stop there, go eat something and say hello. It's located opposite Aquanaut dive centre. Don't ask me its name though...

Crocodile fish in Coron

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Philippine Islands - part I

What about the Philippines? Not much to say, except that it's a great country, with great people (is it me, or do I say that about almost any country I visit?).

Despite planning the trip in the wrong season due to heavy rains, we had a blast. Being low season as well as rainy season, we could negotiate good deals for transport and accommodation.

Our plan was very simple: we had none.

Simon & Ngala in Rizal Park, Manila

I met Camembert in Abu Dhabi, where he flew in from Paris so we could take the flight to Manila together. In Manila we took a taxi to Adriatico street in Malate, which kind of is the tourist bars and clubs street. There we met with Caribou in our accommodation for two nights. We presented him with a gift we found in Abu Dhabi: a big lollipop.

The following day we visited Manila's best and booked tickets to Bohol island in the Visayas. In the evening, we saw there's a free concert in the park, which we attended to.

Once in Tagbilaran, on Bohol, on a sunny day, we walked into town from the small airport. It was about one or two kilometres away. We walked around and asked some people in a tea room if they knew about accommodation. We were redirected to some nice place called Nisa where our big lollipop impressed the ladies of the hotel. Unfortunately, the pics with the lollipop got lost when I broke my phone back home.
In Tagbilaran we rented scooters, one for each of us, for two days. The plan was to visit the Tarsier Conservation centre and the Chocolate Hills. The rest was open for whatever else we would find out about on the way. We went all the way to the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella without rain. We visited the sanctuary of the small little creatures. They're nocturnal animals of about 10-15 cm long and a thin tail longer than that.

Until the man-made forest, we didn't have rain. The man-made forest is a forest that has been replanted because of the massive deforestation in the last century. It's composed of tall slim trees and has an eerie feeling to it when you drive through on scooters while the rain is pouring down in bucket loads. Finally, we just spent one day and the next morning to drive back and left for Cebu.

In Cebu we stayed for two nights because we wanted to take advantage of the last city on our way through the Philippines. After that, we were going out of the way of cities. We went out one night, during which Caribou took about five minutes to talk a girl into following him. The rest of the time we spent visiting the old Spanish parts of town.

Our second flight took a little bit longer than the first's one hour. From Cebu we flew across the to the west side of the Philippines. Because of the heavy rains that could last days without stopping, we looked into the weather system and saw that the Visayas had an average of 400mm of daily rain in September, whereas Palawan only had about 200mm. Obviously it rained when we landed in Puerto Princesa.