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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Tiger Sharks and Thresher Sharks

We are sitting in the restaurant/bar of our hotel, Kokay’s Maldito Dive Resort. Lunch is spring rolls and Coke on ice. It is already 3:00 as we did three dives today. We traveled to Monad Shoal and then Kinod Shoal.

The dive at Monad Shoal is to search for tiger sharks. There have been sightings this week, so we are hopeful. The shoal is about the same size, on top, as Malapascua Island. When I hear this, I think to myself that it is going to be luck that we see one. We dive for an hour and no sightings. Just as we are getting in the boat, the dive master signals that there is one below us. We just stick our faces back in the water, and see the shark swimming away. It is so large it looks like a whale shark. BJ, our dive master thinks it was about 4 m long! Not a stellar sighting, but it still is one.

Thresher Shark
Thresher Shark

The next two dives are at Kinod Shoal, looking for Thresher Sharks. We jump into the water, descend and swim to the edge of the shoal and almost immediately we see one, then two. For the hour each of two dives, we almost constantly see these marvellous sharks with their big eyes and long tails. Murray shoots video after video and I shoot photo after photo, hoping to get one great video and shot. As we make our way back to the boat, our group of five is alone in the water and one final shark, swimming around and around getting cleaned, comes to say goodbye.

Thresher Shark
Thresher Shark
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Diving off Malapascua Island

Now, that’s what I call great diving! 

Murray and I love to find weird creatures, small creatures, fish and rare stuff. Boy, do we find all that on our two dives this morning. Between our dive master, BJ, and us we find pipefish and nudibranchs and crabs and cuttlefish and a small shark. The diving is almost like muck diving. We swim across sandy/rubble and encounter corals in splotches. There is current, but not nearly the currents in Tabbataha.

Nudibranch
Nudibranch

We know it is going to be a good dive when Murray finds a pipefish as soon as we descend. Pipefish are not that common, normally, but here we see different ones in three various spots.

Ringed Pipefish
Ringed Pipefish

BJ is quite excited about finding a shark, he thinks it is a Bamboo Shark. Pretty little fellow only a couple of feet long, spotted white grey and black. Once back on land, we check the fish books and it turns out to be a Coral Catshark.

Coral Catshark
Coral Catshark

The coral here is also in terrific health. There is more soft coral than hard and we watch it feeding in the slow current. We see many many anemones with their “clown” fish swimming in and out of them. I love these guys but don’t take too many photos and just enjoy watching them frolic.

Malapascua
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Cebu to Malapascua Island

Today our adventure is taking the bus to Maya, the port, where we take a ferry over to Malapascua Island. Without going into excruciating detail, I think there is a difference here to the meaning of “direct” vs “non stop”. Direct does not necessarily mean non stop. Our bus was direct, but NOT non stop. Ride took 5 hours. We are not in a hurry, get to see lots of towns and people, but it is a long time to spend on the bus. One interesting thing is at certain spots, hawkers get on the bus to sell water and snacks to the passengers and then get off after a short ride.

The ferry is  a traditional Philippine boat with outriggers. There are only about 15 passengers and the crossing takes about a half hour for the 7 km journey. It is good to be back on the water again.

Malapascua is only 1 km wide and 2.5 km long. Tiny! Most tourists come here to scuba dive with the thresher sharks, us included. We are diving for four days, so hope to see more than sharks. 

We will explore this little island more and let you know what we find.

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