Philippines Post Script

The people make the place and the Philippine people are great. The diving is diverse and really, really good.

Debbie managed to suss out good places to stay. The one place that was disappointing on first impression we grew to like after the first couple of days. I would return to every one of them.

The local food was a bit disappointing. There are plenty of street food type venders but the problem is we were not sure what they were serving. Some of the delicacies included pig intestines and pre hatched baby ducks, not eggs ducks. So, we stayed away from mystery meat. Pork Belly is something else that is eaten a lot. So little meat and so much fat. Yuck. Debbie survived on rice and chicken and I was always able to find something. The food was inexpensive though we managed to eat for less than $25 CAD a day for both of us. Note: we don’t eat huge meals and often share an entrée, you would have to adjust if you have a ‘normal’ appetite. I allowed 200p for breakfast and 400p for both lunch and dinner per person.

The water is more than warm. When diving we consider warm water to be 81F (sorry we dive imperial). The water here was on average 85F. The only time I felt a chill was the occasional time we passed through a thermocline. We dove coral gardens larger than a football field, walls with a kaleidoscope of colours, we stared out into the blue hanging in the water with no bottom and we dove the muck finding all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. There are so many more places we could go and experience diving every bit as good as what we did on this trip.

There are a couple of things that a traveller needs to be wary of. Filipino airlines are not governed by the same regulations North American airlines are. When Philippine Airlines over charged us for the tickets we bought they would not pay us back in cash. All they offered was a voucher good for one year. A very useless gesture for most foreign travelers. We did manage to use the voucher to upgrade the tickets on another flight we had booked but the cash would have been much more useful. Then when they completely cancelled a flight and put us on a flight the next day they refused to provide us with a hotel room to make up the extra night in Manila. Cebu Pacific pulled a similar stunt many weeks before we were to arrive in the Philippines and they would not refund our money so we could book on another airline. The ticket was non refundable but it was the airlines inability to provide the service we had paid for that caused us to change our hotel bookings. If we had wanted the change, I can understand their decision but since the change was initiated by them, I think they should have kept us happy.

Taxi drivers caused me too much grief. I read before we left home that white taxis were the most reliable. They are supposed to be metered and the drivers are supposed to use the meters. About half the time we got in a taxi, the driver refused to start the meter and then told us how much the ride was going to cost. Once I bargained as we drove and we agreed on a price. The driver still wanted more when we arrived. He messed with his meter and showed me a bogus number he said reflected the cost of the trip. I gave him a few pesos more and later found out even the first number we had agreed on was too much. When one cabbie was completely out of line, I made him let us out and we found alternative transport. I would suggest if you are to use a taxi that you make the driver start the meter before you get in or don’t get in. You can use Grab, an Uber type app, and you will know from the onset what the trip will cost but the one time I was able to compare a Grab fee to a metered fee the Grab fee was twice as much.

Debbie and I are already talking about the possibility of returning to the Philippines. The diving is very diverse and there are several areas we heard about that I sure would be worth a visit. I would definitely go back to Dauin and spend a couple of days in the muck. We were inches away from coming face to face with a tiger shark in Malapascua and we were not fortunate enough to happen upon any whale sharks that might happen by. So, there is still lots to see. Next time would be strictly a dive adventure though. We did a bit of touring this time and got a pretty good sense of what the country is like.

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Manila Thoughts

Monday today, the museums and art galleries are closed. After years of travel I think we have finally learned that. The markets will indeed be in full swing and since we haven’t visited any of them in Manila, we thought we should. There are three somewhat different markets quite close together, we head toward the Quezon Bridge and the Quinta Market where we expect to find the sellers of meat and vegetables. Our route takes us along Evangelista Street. It is lined solid with shops and stalls. The shoppers are elbow to elbow. The Quinta Market itself is less crowded but the shop keepers are in full operation with their tables full of goods, be it fish, meat, fruit, or vegetables. 

Adjacent to the Quinta building, under the Quezon Bridge is the Ilalim Ng Tulay market. Known as a handicraft market. The main product seems to be wicker; baskets, chairs, lampshades are all available. 

Manila

Close by is the Rajah Sulimon Market. I’m not sure if it has any particular specialty but there are plenty of stalls lining the streets. This market didn’t have the same crowds as the ones on the west side of the bridge but it was still open for business and busy. 

Walking the streets of Manila, I note there are a couple of odd businesses and not just a one off store, there are whole streets lined with them. The first is what looks to be the forging of fake documents. Do you want a university degree, maybe you need a drivers licence, or perhaps a passport from some other country. What ever you need, it seems you can have one made to spec here. The other occupation is cell phone repair. We have walked a couple of different street with literally hundreds of shops and kiosks offering to repair your broken cell or upgrade the glass with tempered glass or whatever needs to be done to make your phone better. We were in a 3 story ‘mall’ today entirely dedicated to cell phone repair and accessories. The inventory in every store is huge. I can only imagine that Filipinos change their phones on a weekly basis.

Manila

To get to and from the market we were back on the LRT. We’re getting around town like we knew what we were doing. We don’t see any tourists types on any of the local transportation. I don’t know if they rely on taxis or if they are all on some sort of tours but we have yet to see another white skinned person on a jeepney, a local bus, or the rapid transit in Manila. Taxis are expensive and frankly slow with Manila’s traffic and using local transport is a fraction of the cost and heaps more efficient. It took a bit of work to figure things out but after trying, it is extremely easy. Here everything is in English so even the ticket kiosks at the LRT are simple to navigate. 

Manila

Riding the commuter train Debbie and I noted a few things. On our ½ hour ride we pass a university or a college every couple of minutes. And that is just the ones with signage facing the tracks and within visual distance. There are so many institutions of higher learning. In the long run, the Philippines will have a very well-educated population which bodes well for the future. The other aspect that becomes apparent while observing the environs as we pass by is how much religion plays a part in life here. We pass more churches than educational institutes. We can’t tell if the churches serve any particular branch of religion but if they fill up every Sunday it will take a significant number of people off the street for two hours in the morning.

Getting old is weird. In your head you are still as young as you want to be but your body has different ideas. In the mirror the daily change is so gradual you don’t notice you look old. In most Asian countries age is some sort of a badge of honour. I mentioned before we actually played the ‘old card’ and used a grocery store check out line that was devoid of a lineup. Reality hits hard when you get on the LRTrain and someone stands up taps you on the shoulder and offers the seat they had occupied. I have given up trying to say no, I just say thank you and sit down. The odd part is the person can be 40 years old or older but they still see us old people and are kind enough to give up their seat. Fat chance that would happen on a bus in Edmonton. But then again, I never ride a bus at home so for me personally it doesn’t really matter. 

Manila

Another thing I see while staring out the windows is the accommodation in which people reside. I have noted during our touring around that the housing is somewhat meager. I am sure there are ‘fancy,’ larger, single family type houses somewhere, but we ran across very few. Most of the housing stock is constructed of scrap or repurposed building materials, the houses seem to be small with an outdoor cooking and eating area. In the cities the multi story buildings (and there are many many tall buildings) are older and in disrepair. In rural area the same type of housing is prevalent but these houses are surrounded by a larger plot of land rather than side by side with no space between the adjacent walls.

Manila

Besides using local transport, we walk. We walk until Debbie is about to collapse and then we head back to the hotel. We see a lot this way. We rub metaphorical elbows with the locals and maybe learn about how the place really ticks rather than seeing what the powers that be want us to see. 

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Architecture, Art and Cake

The Manila Metropolitan Theatre was opened in 1931 and is in the art deco style. Unfortunately, during WWII it got bombed, which destroyed the roof but the walls held firm. The building has gone through a number of restorations and is gorgeous on the exterior. There isn’t a show playing right now in the theatre, so we were unable to go inside.

Manila Metropolitan Theatre
Manila Metropolitan Theatre

The National Museum of Fine Arts is our next stop. There are four levels of art, sculpture, drawing and painting. We start on level 2 (ground) and walk through galleries of religious art – not our favourite. Level 3 has more paintings to our liking and it seems the higher we go, the more modern the art gets. All the artists are Filipino but we can see the influence of the impressionists in many of the pieces. 

National Museum of Fine Art
National Museum of Fine Art

We need to travel a long way down Taft Avenue to our next stop, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. Instead of hopping on the LRT, we decide to ride in a jeepney. In a flash one comes by, we climb in, pay our 26 pesos (50 cents) and we are on our way. We get off at Ocampo Street, walk a couple of blocks to the museum only to find out it is closed. Rats!

It’s lunchtime, so we walk to the Aristocrat Restaurant. It has been around for more than 80 years and is supposed to have the best BBQ chicken in Manila. The place is busy with families as it is Sunday. We order the  BBQ chicken and Java rice, or course. I wouldn’t say it is the best chicken I have had, but we can now say we went there! 

Manila

Filipinos love cakes and donuts and sweets. There are bakeries, cake shops and donut shops everywhere. We get a kick out of looking at the iced cake designs. 

It is a packed day and we time our arrival back at the hotel just as it starts to rain.

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Intramuros and Binondo, Manila

Our goal today is to walk though Binondo to Intramuros, the old Spanish section of Manila.The area houses Fort Santiago, the Manila Cathedral and other landmarks. 

We purposely stay in a Novotel hotel located at a mall and at the crossroads of two rapid transit stations. This morning we take the LRT to a station close to Intramuros. We pay 50 pesos ($1.10 Cdn) for both of us to ride. Manila does not have many train lines, unlike Tokyo or Paris or London, so it is fairly easy to figure out and navigate.

Once out of the station, we are in an area called Binondo . As we walk, we pass down document street, where one would go to get a passport, driver’s license, birth certificate etc. We couldn’t determine whether they are actually real or forgeries. Next we pass down gold jewelry street, where there is a scrum as there is a sale. And then down lighting and fixture street, fruit and veg alley and then through Chinatown. 

Scrum at a jewelry sale.
Scrum at a jewelry sale.

Murray needs a Coke, so I park myself on a step and he goes in search of a store. While sitting, I muse about all the mass transport in Manila. There are motorbikes, that will take one passenger. Trikes for two, maybe three. Taxis. Small jeepneys for about eight passengers. Jeepneys for about 20 if packed. Buses and then trains. That is a lot of choice for someone looking for transport. And all of it inexpensive.

Manila trike
Trike

I have to be honest here, Intramuros was okay. I think the heat made the walking around just a little hard. We see the fort, a couple of churches, parks, monuments, tourists and then head back to the train station. I must have looked dreadfully hot and dripping when we got on the train as two young fellows offered us their seats right away!

Moat around Fort Santiago.
Moat around Fort Santiago.

After a dip in the hotel pool, here I sit in our room in the AC, drinking electrolyte, writing this post. Supper soon and then we will try to stay awake til 9:00. Tomorrow’s outing will use more transport to not tax Debbie’s cooling system quite so much!

Jeepney
Jeepney
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Last Day of Diving in the Philippines

No words. Just photos.

Dauin
Cuttlefish
Dauin
Nudibranch
Dauin
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Dauin
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Dauin
Dauin
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Apo Island

Today is a day trip to Apo Island, about a 45 minute boat ride away. I am excited as we have heard there are turtles at this island. We have six divers and three snorkelers, plus the crew, on board. We will be doing three dives, with lunch in between.

Apo Island

The diving at the island is different than the diving at the resort (muck diving). The slopes are filled with both hard and soft corals, all in very good health. It is so beautiful to gaze at the varying shapes and colours. We spy one turtle on the first dive and numerous nudibranchs. The second dive is similar to the first, but no turtles.

Apo Island

On the third dive, we swim over a sand patch that has champagne bubbles floating out of the sand. They give the water a party atmosphere. We spy another turtle as we return to the boat. So, only two turtles, whereas the snorkelers saw many more than that.

Apo Island

We meet folks from all over the world on our travels, and this time we chat to folks from Austria, Australia, Switzerland, France living in Singapore and an American living in the Philippines. We talk about travelling and working and diving, of course. 

We have one more day of diving in the Philippines before we head to Manila and then to Australia. We will be muck diving once again and hope to find more exotic creatures.

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Debbie’s Musings

I don’t really think of myself as old. I’m 66 and that is not old. 90 is old. This is the first trip where I am treated as old, or should I say, elderly. I guess men see my grey hair and my small size and assume I need help going up the stairs on the dock or climbing out of the water on the dive boat. I know, they are just trying to be nice, and helpful. But, geez! I train the dive boat guys that I want a safety arm, but not to pull me up off the ladder. I hope after a few times they could sense that I do, in fact, have strong legs. My standard phrase is now, “It’s okay, I’m good!” If they only saw what I do at home – climb mountains in the snow and ski down, swim 2,000 m in an hour and cycle 50 km in a morning – they would realize I am capable of climbing in a boat. Be nice, Debbie!

Juvenile Barramundi
Juvenile Barramundi

A few years ago, I started booking hotels using my formal name, Deborah. It came from having to book flights with the name matching your passport. And some liveaboards and hotels want exact names also. So I use Deborah. Here in the Philippines, it just seems easier to be called Deborah – pronounced De-bor-ah, not Deb-or-ah. My Dad would approve of the use of Deborah, and I rather don’t mind it!

Karaoke. Filipinos love it. They are terrible at it! Right now we are listening to a woman crooning next door to the hotel. It is just awful! She’s is just singing away on the beach to no one in particular.

Dauin
School of Batfish

Hard beds. We have encountered hard beds in the Philippines. First on the dive boat, where I would only sleep for a few hours before a throbbing hip woke me up and I had to turn over. Then, in the next two hotels, they were softer, but still harder than my hips like. Then last night we stayed in the Waterfront Hotel at the airport. I slept for 10 hours on a bed made for my hips! Superb! We have two more hotels in the Philippines before we sleep at my son’s place in Australia where I know there is a soft bed!

Backpackers’ mentality. Remember when we were young and, maybe not backpacked, traveled with small carry on bags and found hotels when we arrived in a city, or figured out how to get to a place the day before we were going there. Murray and I talk about how we still have some of that backpackers’ mentality even though we are traveling “heavy” with all our dive gear. It’s part of the adventure to figure out how to ride the bus to Maya port to get the ferry to Malapascua. It’s not really about the money, but the adventure. Old backpackers trying to not be so old!

Frogfish
Frogfish

We are now at a dive resort in Dauin, south of Dumaguete. We go diving today and see more frog fish than we have ever seen. These ones are small to tiny, one being less than the size of my small fingernail. We are getting used to a different dive operation and their methods. We’ll see what we find tomorrow!

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‘On the Road Again’ Canned Heat 1968

Travel day today. From the island of Logon and the town of Malapascua to Cebu. We have a plane to Dumaguete tomorrow and we must overnight in Cebu because the trip from the north is too long and we would not make the flight.

When we left Cebu a few days ago we took a bus to Maya Port. It happened to be a local bus and it stopped for anyone that wanted to ride in that direction. It let people off anywhere along the route. This took a considerable amount of time but hell, we were not in any big hurry. We arrived at the port in 5 hours.

The boat ride to the island was on a standard boat and we had to wait until there was enough people to make it a worth while venture for the boat owner and then we left.

On the return trip today, we again took the standard boat across the channel. At the Maya port on the main island we then sought out a shared van for the road trip south. The cost was marginally more, 30 php, about 75 cents CAD. The van still stopped to pick up and drop off people but the stops were much faster. The driver was a little more impatient and we arrived in 3.5 hours.

All of this is good fun, seeing how the people from the Philippines go about their daily life. We could have booked private transport both or either way but it was quite a bit more money and it is such a sterile way to do things. For heavens sake…. don’t rub shoulders with the locals! You might actually meet one of them or maybe even another tourist.

The driving in the Philippines is much more organized than most of SE Asia. The talking horn is much less prevalent. It is used but with a bit of restraint. The lane lines actually mean something and for the most part the people drive in the lane. Signal lights are more than an ornament. They are used to indicate the driver’s intention to turn a corner or change lanes. Our van driver today drove quite fast and did a lot of passing. He used the dotted passing lines and waited until the vision was good before he passed the car/truck in front of us. I mentioned this before but drivers respect pedestrians somewhat. At least they don’t purposefully take a run at you. The traffic lights control the traffic and the walk and wait lights control the pedestrians. It’s still a bit crazy to us North Americans but I think I at least understand the ebb and flow of the system. Some places you have to be born there to understand how the driving system works.

Sometimes it is good to pull the ‘old’ card out of the deck and use it. Today we were at the supermarket picking up a few things and being Friday there is a line up at all the tills. There is one till designated for ‘seniors’. It’s clear of people. So being old, I sidled up there like I knew what I was doing, paid and managed to skip a 5-minute wait in a line.

So we made it to Cebu and are sitting is some fancy hotel across the street from the airport so we have easy access tomorrow.

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Last Dives on Malapascua

Our last day of diving and we are the only two diving so we have our own small boat, captain and dive master. This is the life! 

Malapascua

On the first dive we do not see many creatures, but the soft corals are incredible. So healthy, so many different colours and shapes. There is some current today, so the movement of the corals is mesmerizing. I enjoy the “artistry” of the reef as I float in the water.

Malapascua

The second dive amazes us. We swim at 75 feet depth over a mostly sandy bottom. Our dive master is wonderful at finding creatures and he finds four different seahorses, a mimic octopus, two pairs of dragon sea moths, a decorator crab and a mantis shrimp. This is definitely my kind of diving.

Malapascua
Mimic Octopus

I would recommend Malapascua Island to everyone going to the Philippines. Stay and dive at Kokay’s Maldito Dive Resort. The staff at both the hotel and dive shop are terrific – hard working and very friendly. 

Malapascua
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Gato Island

Today we dive at Gato Island, about a 45 minute boat ride from the port. It is a tiny island, with what looks like one inhabitant, or at least, one domicile. A fishing hut perhaps.

The North Wall has otherworldly landscape. The visibility isn’t great, but good enough to find lots of critters. We spy our first seahorse, a couple of pipefish and many nudibranchs.

Malapascua

Our second dive starts out swimming through a tunnel. I am not a big fan of swim throughs and tunnels but I head inside anyway. Not much to see and I am glad when we get to the other side. I like the open water above my head! 

Malapascua

We see another seahorse in a small cave and two Pygmy seahorses on a fan. My camera chops are sparkling today and I manage to get some fantastic shots! (Sorry, but we do not post the really great shots on the blog.) We scour the terrain for interesting finds and end the dive quite amazed at what we saw.

Malapascua
Ornate Ghost Pipefish

This afternoon we are going to walk to the other side of the island (remember that the island is only 1 km wide!) to search for a restaurant. If we find it, we will sup there, and if not, we will go back along the beach and eat at a restaurant we came across the other day. We have noticed the entree portions are huge here, so we will probably share something. Will continue when we get back…..

Just back from supper. Our search for the Craic Hotel & Restaurant takes us past an outdoor market, the locals’ cock (as in cock-a-doodle-do) fights, which are legal in the Philippines we are told, down some narrow sketchy alleys to land on the beach right beside the restaurant. Upon asking one server, most folks just walk down the beach walk to get there! We sup there on a crispy chicken burger and fries and chicken adobe with garlic rice. Our return journey is done via the beach walk.

Last day of diving tomorrow. I wonder what we will find?

Malapascua
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