I enjoy traveling through developing countries, like the Philippines, much more than the high profile "first world" sort. Some may see the country as less clean or less technologically advanced but I find that there is more beauty in the people and more opportunity to have a truly memorable, altering experience in such a country. If you can look past the dirt and pollution and rather look into the eyes of the people, you will find these places to be more welcoming than even your home town.
Along with these opinions above, there are some very concrete benefits to traveling in a country like the Philippines.
|A Jeepney in Tacloban City|
Accommodations run from five-star quality to very basic. A basic room has a bed, a fan, and a bathroom with a bucket to shower and flush the toilet with. Even the most luxurious hotels are cheap compared to U.S prices, which brings me to the benefits of the currency exchange.
|Cozette's favorite cheap breakfast - Corned beef w/ egg and rice|
All of these factors make it easy to travel and see a wide variety of things and people in such a country. So, we travel on a whim. If there is something to be seen we go. It's freedom in the purest.
The following is a brief recount of our two month journey through the Philippines and details of our route through the islands.
In five minutes someone brings us two printed itineraries for a flight to Honolulu on the 28th of August. They are completely legitimate. Someone has actually paid on a different credit card, to be canceled by the airline, I assume. Everything looks correct and our names appear next to the ticket numbers so we collect our luggage and passports form the office, explaining to the officers how we are so bummed we will be going back the way we came. We're lying through our teeth. We pass through the booths with no issue, our tickets are flawless, and we walk into the pick up area breathing sighs of relief. What a night! After an overpriced taxi ride to our hostel we finally relax into bed sometime around 3:30 am. It seems like the night has been a nightmare, but on second thought I decide it's just part of the unpredictability that comes with traveling, and that it will make a good story. Next time though, we will be more careful. We drift to sleep and don't wake until late the next morning.
|Our route through The Philippines|
The Hospitality of the Philippines
|San Miguel - the Philippine original|
|Couch surfing party at Ed's place in Manila. Photo by Will Hoffman|
In Davao, we are greeted by our divemaster, Frank, a Danish man, at the airport. We go back to his house where we stay, and are made to feel at home, for three weeks in Davao. For more about our time in Davao read my previous posts, "Salamat Davao", "A Day of Diving" , and "A Filipino Family Experience".
Our three weeks in Davao fly by and I'm more than ready to get out of the city. We've spent a month in the country already and have yet to leave a metropolitan area. The bus to northern Mindanao promises time spent in small towns, villages and rural parts of the country. We speed down the road in an empty, air-conditioned bus through the mountainous center of Mindanao. 8 hours later we step off in the town of Cagayan De Oro on the northern coast of the island. We decide that the air-conditioned buses are not for us. The chilly air blasts the entire time, forcing us to bundle up in jackets and blankets, and the higher price keeps the locals riding the slower, "non-aircon" buses. Riding with the people is half the fun. As we transfer to our next bus, the non-aircon heading further north to Balingoan, we get many curious stares as we push and squeeze our way to the back of the very full bus, avoiding hitting people with our large backpacks. Every bus and jeepney ride from here on out will resemble this. People ask the basics, where are we from? Are we missionaries? Are we enjoying the Philippines? The people have no shortage of kindness and are more than excepting of our awkward presence among them.
We barrel down the snaking road at speeds that would make a car passenger uncomfortable, weaving in and out of our lane as we pass slower traffic. There are no windows on this bus, the cool night air blows freely through. As the bus comes to a slow roll to let people off, the crowd thins out and pretty soon it is only me and Cozette to the end of the line. We pull into the small port town at 10pm. It's raining and the town is empty. We will catch a ferry the next morning but since there are no hotels or lodging houses in town, our bus driver escorts us to a house by the pier where travelers awaiting the ferry can rest and wait. We tip him and head to sleep.
|View of Camiguine from Balingoan|
|One of the island's many falls|
|The Sunken Cemetary|
|Google image of Chocolate Hills|
|Google : Tarsier|
|Bikini Beach, Pangalo Island,|
|Cave Swimming pools|
A night in Maasin is occupied by drinks which leads to singing karaoke with the locals. Karaoke, by the way, has been a popular evening activity ever since it was introduced by the Japanese. It's hard to go a day without hearing someone's shameless rendition of a popular tune blaring from a bar or eatery. It's not always pleasant to the ears but it offers a challenge to the singer and a good time.
In Padre Burgos, in the south, we find a perfectly secluded beach with clear water and great views, sometimes hard to come by in the Philippines. We camp so close to the water that the rising tide threatens to flood our tent in the night. The beach has good snorkeling with corals right off shore. It's a hangout for locals and fisherman, children wrestle in and out of the water all day.
|Camping near Padre Burgos.|
We make our way up the Leyte's west coast to Ormoc. On a Saturday night the strip along the harbor is filled with people.Vendors line the street selling popcorn, peanuts, chicharrones, and lechon manok (grilled chicken). An "Ormoc Idol", singing competition, is being held in the town square. Kids of varying ages sit in small groups in the park. Restaurants all around sit guests outside who sip beer and feast, enjoying the pleasant evening, just a typical Saturday evening in the town of 200,000 or so. We join in on the fun, relaxing in a restaurant and listening to the live music. Cruising the streets, we get lots of stares, smiles, and "Good evenings!", as do we anywhere.We sleep in a budget room and head for Tacloban, the island's provincial capitol, sometime the next day. In Tacloban we find a lodging house where students attending the nearby university board. It's a large, old house owned by an elderly lady. We accidentally scare her a couple of times as we come into the large living area, and again, later when we try to pay her, she doesn't hear us approaching. The house has many rooms, a large courtyard for hanging laundry and it's close to good food. We are tired from moving from place to place so we relax and stay here for 3 days before heading on to the next island of Samar.
|ABCD surf beach|
Guiuan is a small and simple town. The main source of transportation are petty cabs drawn by bicycle. During WWII Guiuan was a strategically placed naval base for the U.S to launch attacks on Japan. There were 150,000 troops stationed here. Remnants of the base are still seen today. The island of Homonhon to the south is where Ferdinand Magellan first landed in 1521, claiming the Philippines for the Spain. He was murdered soon after by Chief Lapu-Lapu near what is now Cebu City.
We venture to the nearby Calicoan island and stumble upon the one of the archipelago's best surfing spots, ABCD beach. The beach holds an annual surfing competition October 7th-9th, attracting local and international competition to this long stretch of Pacific facing coast.The surfers invite us to their hut and we spend the afternoon chatting, watching people ride the waves and generally having a good time. The location is pretty remote so we wait 30 minutes or so for someone to pass, offering us a ride. We are back in town by dark.
|Cozette enjoys the 4-hr ride on the roof of a Jeepney|
The next day before we leave, we go snorkeling in the harbor by our hotel. The water is murky with low visibility and as we swim Cozette has a run in with a jellyfish and she gets stung on her arm and feet.We end our snorkeling promptly and Cozette makes a new enemy.The stinging subsides in an hour or so and soon we are on the move again. We catch a jeepney heading north. there's no more room inside so we opt for a ride on the roof, The breeze is refreshing and the views of the countryside and rural villages is unmatched. We arrive in Borangon where we do nothing for a couple of days and then we go to Catbalogan.
Catbalogan may be one of Samar's only real tourist destinations. On the West coast, Catbalogan is the jumping off point for many of the Philippines best caves. Joni Bonifacio has a business here guiding people to the untouched caves, waterfalls, and gorges in the islands interior. We meet with him the next morning and spend the day in Lobo cave. To read more about our caving experience see my post, "Caving in Samar".
We leave Catbalogan and after one day of travel by bus and an excruciatingly delayed and unorganized journey by ferry, we arrive in Matnog on the southern tip of Luzon. Matnog is a small town with no real hotels, so we are guided by someone so conveniently waiting for us to come off of the ferry, to a small house where we pay too much for a room. The next day is spent in Legaspi, a city at the foot of a dangerously active volcano, Mt. Mayon, who's last eruption was in 2009. My intention for coming to Legaspi was to photograph the perfectly shaped volcano, but the clouds were stubborn and we never saw the top of the cone.
|Google image of Mt. Mayon|
A ten hour bus ride put us back in Manila at 4:30 am on a Friday morning. We finished our tour where we began. We spend the next couple of days at Ed's place preparing for the next leg of our travel, and we have one more night on the town to celebrate with our new friends.
The Philippines is a destination worthy of my return and of anyone's exploration. I only had the time to explore a fraction of this Nation, there's much left unseen. It's home to hospitable, friendly people. Everywhere you go, from villagers living the most basic of lives, to busy Manila residents, you are sure to be welcomed with a smile. The Philippines is a place of beauty; sprawling, reflective rice fields lay at the base of palm covered volcanoes, and uncounted numbers of beaches offer inviting aqua-colored waters, provoking long days of sun induced laziness. Reputation often warns people to avoid this SE Asian Archipelago, but if you believe seeing is believing, you will be taken back by the abundant experiences you will have, and humbled by the way of life that the islands are home to.