I had been warned off China Town. I had been…
One of the appeals of The Philippines is that almost everyone can get a free 30 day visa on arrival. But with 7000 islands to choose from that makes those 30 days seem like nothing at all. I only had three weeks left before I was due to leave South East Asia so I decided that I would only go to a couple of different islands. By far the easiest way to get around The Philippines is by flying (Check out Cebu Pacific. I’ve heard that they sometimes do 1 peso fares!). But it can get quite expensive. So I picked out a route based on the cost of flights. I missed out on Boracay and Palawan this time around but they’re definitely on the list for next time.
I’m going to be completely honest. I didn’t like Manila. The traffic alone is a nightmare which makes getting around a nightmare. I ended up using my time in Manila to plan and book the rest of my time in The Philippines. Because of the flights I ended up being stuck in Manila for three days. I stayed at MNL Boutique Hostel in Makati City which was pretty good. Decent beds, a kitchen, working WiFi and really friendly staff. What more can you ask for? Makati City is the CBD so it is a relatively safe area. You can walk around at night with little worry. Makati is also a good spot for nightlife if you’re into that sort of thing. Another relatively safe area is Malate from what I’ve heard. Though it is apparently the red light district.
I didn’t realise when I booked my guesthouse that it was so far out of the city. But it ended up being a fortunate outcome because Cebu Guest Inn was my favourite hostel in The Philippines. I was the only person staying there and the family that owns the house took me under their wing. My first night I needed to visit an ATM and acquire some food, not only did they tell me where to find one but they actually took me into town to the ATM and the market then taught me how to catch a Jeepney back! They also have three adorable cats that really love attention. On my last day they let me tag along with them to check out a property in the mountains with their extended family. The last stop was a vegetable stand at the top where they bought me a steamed corn cob which we sat and ate while enjoying the view. The mountains around Cebu are really pretty, especially in the late afternoon. I would highly recommend staying there if you’re planning on spending a night or two in Cebu City. Hazel, Bryce and their family will really look after for you.
The island born of fire. Camiguin (Cam-i-geen) is a small island off the coast of Mindanao with 4 stratovolcanos packed into it’s 65Km circumference. They’re active but there hasn’t been an eruption for more than 60 years. Because of the volcanic nature of the island you won’t find white sand beaches here, you’ll need to visit the tiny White Island or Mantigue Island for that. I booked myself a little cottage right by the beach. Camiguin is very quiet and laid back, but there is a lot to do if you’re into the outdoors as well. Unfortunately for me it rained for the first three days. On the third day I decided that I was going to do something regardless of the rain so I hired a bicycle from the resort.
My plan was to follow the main road around and visit the town. I really wish I had ridden in the opposite direction. After a quick look around the town I spotted a sign showing the way to one of the island’s waterfalls. On a whim I followed it. Eventually I came to a section of the road that was so steep that I knew my exhausted self would never make it to the top. I turned the bike around and started the ride back down the hill. I could see the road getting steeper ahead and decided that it would be smarter to walk down. I clasped the brakes. Nothing happened. I tried the foot brake. There wasn’t one. I was picking up speed and I knew that at the bottom of this stretch of hill there was a bridge covered in about 3 inches of thick mud. I’d sloshed through it on the way up. This bridge happened to be about 4 metres above a particularly rocky river. The only outcome I could see if I stayed on the bike was that, when I hit the bridge, the bike would either get stuck in the mud and throw me over the handle bars or it would slide and I might be thrown over the low rails onto those rocks below. I made the nerve wracking decision to try and jump.
There really was no escaping injury.
As I jumped off the back my leg hit the tyre causing me to lose my balance and fall. I hit the ground sideways and rolled. It seemed like I would never stop. I was rolling so fast, I felt my cheek graze the pavement and heard a crunch from below me as a rolled over my bag. I managed to break the momentum and stop a few metres past where the bike had landed (Off the side of the road in the soft mud. Well at least the bike didn’t get hurt). My arms, knees and face were stinging but I sat up and pulled my bag off my back to inspect the damage. I pulled my phone out and opened it’s case. You can’t imagine the relief I felt when I saw that it was still in perfect condition. That meant that the crunch I heard was from my camera. I pulled it out of it’s cover gingerly. Yep. It was dead alright. There was a massive crack through the body and the lens was in two pieces. At least I had decided to leave my zoom lens behind. Small consolation.
After a few minutes to get over the shock I pulled myself and the bike up off the ground. I was the only one around and wasn’t inclined to get back on the bike so I began the long walk back to town. It was slow going. I was exhausted and injured. After about twenty minutes a local man pulled over his pick-up truck and offered me a ride to the hospital. I gratefully accepted. I tried to lift the bike into the tray but a sharp pain in my left side made it impossible to lift it more that a couple of feet off the ground. I decided to ask for an x-ray at the hospital. About an hour later I made my way out of the small local hospital. The x-ray had confirmed that I had fractured a rib. I had scrapes on my face, my arms and my knees which had been cleaned up. It wasn’t until the next evening that I noticed the baseball sized black bruise on my leg where I hit the bike tyre. Needless to say I took it pretty easy for my last couple of days in Camiguin.
I did manage to take a trip up to the Ardent Hot Springs on my last afternoon though. Though “Hot” spring is a bit of a misnomer. The water comes out of the mountain at 40 degrees but they mix it with cold water as it is fed into the man-made stone pools. This brings the temperature down to about 30 degrees which barely classifies as warm as far as I’m concerned. Still it was nice to relax for a bit.
This was the one place that I knew I would visit before I arrived in The Philippines. It was where I planned to swim with Whale Sharks. Donsol is very small and purely exists for the shark tourism so there isn’t much to do when you get there. But how can you refuse forced relaxation, sipping happy hour drinks and watching the most beautiful sunsets in the world? I stayed at Woodland Beach Resort which is only a couple of minutes from the Whale Shark Interaction Centre. At 500 pesos a night for a 3 bed dorm it’s pretty good value considering that it gives you access to a gorgeous pool to laze around in as well. Try out the restaurant next door as well, BARacuda. The owner, Juliet, loves to get to know her customers and will probably end up having a drink with you too. Her mojitos are very strong, you have been warned. Ha-ha.
The easiest way to get to and away from Donsol is via Legazpi. It has the closest airport. There are public minivans that run between Donsol and Legazpi pretty regularly. It’s 75 pesos each way. Just catch a tricycle from the airport or your accommodation to the bus terminal. 50 pesos is a fair price for the tricycle for a tourist. If you can, put your bag inside the sidecar with you. If you have to put it on the luggage rack then make sure that you secure it. The tricycles don’t go very fast so it’s easy for things to be snatched off them. All of the local people I met in The Philippines were so friendly and I never once felt unsafe, but everywhere you go in the world there will be a small percentage of people willing to break the law. A little precaution can go a long way.
Legazpi is also home to the world’s most symmetrical volcano Mt Mayon. Unfortunately for me the volcano was almost completely hidden by clouds while I was there. I met a lovely New Zealander in the hostel. I tagged along with her for a little sightseeing around the area. Navigating the Jeepneys between towns was an interesting experience. Our first stop was the Casgawa Ruins. The town was destroyed when Mt Mayon erupted in 1814 and only the church tower is left standing. It is a famous spot for taking photos of the Volcano with the ruins in the foreground. The weather wasn’t in our favour that day though.
On the way back we stopped at a local market to have a look around. Wandering through all the fresh produce stalls gave us the idea to attempt to cook ourselves dinner. With not much in the way of a plan we bought some vegetables and a few other bits and pieces. Our efforts were a bit of a mish-mash but they were edible and it was probably the healthiest meal I’d eaten while I was in The Philippines. Our efforts yielded a basic, but massive, vegetable stir-fry and an omelette each. Neither of us had cooked in months so it was kind of a nice change to get back into the kitchen.
I had to make my way back to Manila for my flight back to Kuala Lumpur (There is a 550 peso departure tax for foreigners that you need to pay at the airport). I was glad that this time I only had a matter of 16 hours in the city, I’m really not fond of the place. As a whole though I really liked The Philippines. It is a truly beautiful country that as yet doesn’t seem to be too negatively affected by tourism. That being said, if I had gone to Boracay I might be singing a different tune. The people of this country are some of the nicest that I’ve met anywhere. The only real problem I had was the food. Filipino food is very meat centric so I didn’t try any local fare while I was there. I mostly lived off raw fruit from markets and pastas from italian restaurants that seem to be quite popular. I would like to go back and check out a few more islands someday. The Philippines has so much to offer.