I have one more long, painful day at work before I embark on my next adventure, so before my head gets choked up with the detailed history of the Taj Mahal (and we all know it will) I thought it was about time for me to update the world on my last antics abroad. And oh my, is this a good one.
I did the Singaporean Chinese New Year last year and, even though I only managed a measly 5 day holiday this time around I thought I’d better take the opportunity of some time off, and of Christie bumming around Asia, to do a little travelling. So I went to join her in the Philippines. The plan, before I left, was oh so simple and well thought out: I would fly into Manila, do a quick changeover at Manila airport and finally end up on the island of Bohol to begin my adventure. Unfortunately I had forgotten that nowhere in the world is as efficient as Singapore, or even half as efficient, and a mere 3 hours after setting off I was a hairs breadth from being stranded in Manila. It turns out that a) if you do not covet your own pen as if it were the legendary excalibur you will end up waiting for maybe eternity to use one of the two pens provided at Manila airport to fill in the card that promises you don’t have yellow fever, or some other disease that could wipe out an uninfected population in minutes, b) despite being an international airport, security at Manila will consist of only one desk that can be used by foreigners, and that is still being used by locals anyway because the line will always be shorter, and c) the airport will turn out to be a building designed by a certified madman from the 18th century that has terminals a 40 minute taxi ride apart. I did not even realise this is a thing until I got to Manila. I can tell you, it definitely is. So, I managed to drag myself through these various hells at a speed only just above that of the infamous tortoise, and despite the most ridiculous terminal-to-terminal connection I have ever had to endure I managed to make it onto my next flight at exactly the time it was scheduled to take off. I’m not even sure that counts as luck, to be honest.
It turns out that my trip ended up consisting of a series of increasingly weird and unlikely journeys, occasionally punctuated by sight seeing and violence committed upon me by marine life, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Finally, safely on Bohol and reunited with Christie our first stop was a hostel in Loboc, via an incredibly bumpy but very scenic trishaw ride. We chose the location because it was situated pretty much in the middle of the two things we wanted to see on Bohol, the famous Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier Sanctuary. An added bonus was that the hostel was actually really lovely, with two dogs who entertained us by wrestling for hours, some comfy sofas (not the hammocks, they were stressful), home cooked food hours filled with playing mancala (I’m not going to explain this game, it’s so complicated I’m not even sure I understand it now, but it did fill a lot of our free time for the first few days).
We were feeling pretty intrepid by the time we finally arrived, and decided to strike off on our own for the Chocolate Hills, with no real idea of where they were or how long it was going to take us to get there. We managed to get some basic instructions on how to catch the bus (as with every bus we took, these instructions consisted of simply ‘stand on the side of the road until one comes past’) and, armed with a stash of local crisps (my favourite holiday snack) we set off. This also turned out to be one of the nicest bus journeys we took, it was air-conditioned, it had windows and actual suspension, and we got to watch Rocky, which was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. We even managed to arrive pretty seamlessly, and trekked up to the viewing point where we were met with some stunning scenery and a lot of very, very annoying Chinese tourists. So far I have seen nothing in Asia to convince me that Chinese tourists are a) not annoying and b) not everywhere. The Chocolate Hills are a natural mystery and pretty impressive in the flesh. The view was slightly spoiled by the building work going on on the viewing platform, but this is to reinforce it after the earthquake a few years ago, so it was definitely worth the disruption. I have no idea how many Chocolate Hills there are, I would guess hundreds but I have been known to be very, very wrong in my estimations of time and distance, so I wouldn’t quote me on that. They are of varying sizes though, and we even managed to spy a house perched precariously on the side of one of them. Obviously.
The journey back from the Chocolate Hills was not so seamless, or air-conditioned, however. As far as I can tell there is no obvious bus schedule or rotation in the Philippine Islands, you just seem to wait around for a bit until something that could be a bus, but could also be something entirely different, comes along. The bus we caught back was definitely not a bus, compared to the one we had taken to the Chocolate Hills, but was far more bus-like that the jeepneys we ended up catching the next day. Whatever kind of bus, jeepney hybrid it turned out to be it was a very bumpy, fairly terrifying ride that, if nothing else, really helped me to improve my core strength.
Once we had recovered from our first day, and I had got over the mild trauma of discovering a nest of ants in my bed (which were swiftly taken care of, even if that process did result in Christie being mildly gassed) it was onto day two and the Tarsier Sanctuary. We had heard that the sanctuary wasn’t that big, or that far away so, like the naive westerners we are, we had presumed that a round trip would take a couple of hours, maximum. And it probably would have done if we hadn’t managed to board a jeepney that conveniently skirted around the sanctuary and took us half an hour in the wrong direction. We did eventually make it, it just took a little longer than expected. The sanctuary is fairly small, just a closed off piece of jungle really, but the tarsiers are quite possibly the cutest things I have seen in real life, really tiny with huge eyes and comically big ears. They’re easily scared so you have to be quiet when walking around to see them, and anyone who isn’t will get a stern ‘shushing’ from one of the guides positioned like military personnel around the sanctuary. I didn’t mind being quiet, it must be stressful for such a tiny creature to be ogled by such large creatures all day.
Once we had got our fill of teeny tiny primates it was time to brave the journey back, and with the exception of having to stand on the side of the road for 45 minutes waiting for a jeepney, it was fairly pain free. The Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers were the only things on our list for Bohol, so early the next morning we set off for the neighbouring island of Cebu. There was another jeepney, a ferry, a horrifically hot walk around Cebu city and another bus journey (on an actual bus) to contend with before we reached our destination, but I slept through a fair chunk of the journey (although not as much of the bus as I would have liked to, they were really blaring the power ballads on that one) so can’t really comment on it. Except it was long, and you should not try and carry a heavy bag around a foreign city when you don’t really have any idea of where you’re going. Also, the power ballad bus had a surprisingly sophisticated queuing system which I would have appreciated more if people hadn’t kept flaunting it so much. We wanted to swim with the whale sharks in Oslob, so stayed in a hostel not too far away, where I had the pleasure of sharing a dorm room with a group of Germans who managed to lock the bathroom door in the middle of the night, and then didn’t think unlocking it (so people could actually use it) was really that important. This definitely falls under the banner of bad hostel etiquette. Christie and I had umm-d and aah-d about whether to do the whale sharks at Oslob, we both really wanted to see them and swim with them but it’s become a mini tourist industry there and there are lots of debates over whether its that ethical (I’m not going to go into them now, they’re pretty prolific on google if you want to look them up). In the end we decided to do it, I wasn’t sure if I would get the chance to swim with them again, and it seemed like a stupid opportunity to pass up. Snorkelling with them was definitely an amazing experience, but the jury’s still out if this was the best way to do it. The sea was incredibly rough on the morning we decided to go, which made the whole thing a little closer to an outtake of jaws than I would have liked. I know that they’re not vicious creatures but it is completely terrifying having a massive whale come at you from nowhere. I also, thanks to the waves, the movement of the boat and the whale sharks sneaky nature, managed to kick one (not on purpose, of course) and suffered my first marine life attack (however indirect it might have been, it still counts!).
We did the whale sharks so horrifically early that we were onto the next leg of our trip before the time I would normally even wake up on a Monday morning, and one more fairly painless bus ride (with the obviously obligatory power ballad playlist for the entire journey) later arrived in Moalboal, the last stop on my Philippine adventure. Moalboal is the beach resort of Cebu, and was the most built up place I’d spent any time in while I was there. I enjoyed the local towns we had been staying in so far, but it was nice to be somewhere with more than one choice for dinner. I also learnt that a lot of local rich and important people own houses in Moalboal, thanks to the trishaw driver who took me to the cashpoint when I realised there was no way I was surviving my final two days on the cash I had left. I would like to say that my final forty-eight hours in the Philippines were stress free, and that I did nothing with my last two days except lounge on the beach and read. Oh, this was very nearly true. But it’s me, so nothing is ever that simple. I did lounge on the beach. I did also manage to get pretty impressively sunburned, a sunburn that decided to reply revel itself on my long, late night journey back to Singapore. I also got attacked by some more marine life, which really should have been the title for this post (unfortunately it doesn’t start with an ‘s’, so lost out). On our last afternoon together Christie and I decided to go snorkelling. We had heard from a few people that the famous Moalboal sardine run was in the shallows, so we set off with our snorkels (in my case, Christie went hardcore with just a pair of swimming goggles) and, thanks to the wild hand gestures of a fisherman, found the run pretty easily. I am not a good snorkeller, so I couldn’t dive deep enough to really get anywhere near the fish, but it was an amazing thing to witness – them all rushing along the coral wall we were floating above and off into the deep blue. And this time I really can be sure that there were thousands of them. I almost swan through them, but somehow managed to do an almost underwater backwards roll and nearly drowned myself. After we’d seen enough sardines to last a good while we went off towards the shallow coral reef in search of a sea turtle Christie had seen earlier. I thought I would have no chance of seeing it, but we found him pretty easily, just going about his daily life of eating some plants and swimming around. Following him was definitely way cooler than swimming with sardines, and probably cooler than the whale sharks. Unfortunately, it was what happened next that let the sea turtle down. The current was pretty strong and, on an unsuccessful swim back to where we had started I managed to get stung by not one, not two, but three jellyfish. I didn’t see them but I’m pretty sure than one managed to wrap itself around my left ankle, and has left quite a mark there. Poor Christie thought I was drowning when she heard me spluttering and saw me splashing about, but luckily for her I was not drowning, just having a mild breakdown over jellyfish gate. As you can probably gather I did make it back to shore (amazingly without cutting my feet to ribbons on the coral) and limped my sorry way to a sun lounger where, Christie commented, I looked something like an invalid. I maintain that I would have been fine had she offered to do the decent thing and wee on me. But apparently we’re not that close, I just had to make do with water.
Trauma averted, and legs recovered from pain that I initially thought would stop me from ever walking again, it was sadly time to wave goodbye to Christie and the Philippines. Of course I wasn’t back in Singapore quite yet, and therefore had to endure possibly the worst bus journey of the whole trip. I ended up on a bus with no windows, standing for an hour in a gangway that was in no way wide enough to accommodate one person, let alone me and the conductor, who kept insisting on walking up and down. I then ended my journey with two hours sat on a seat, only really big enough for two, between two Chinese women, both of whom fell asleep on my shoulders, head butted me violently every time we swerved around a corner (and yet didn’t once wake up?!) and generally made me feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to be on a cold, cramped aeroplane at last, and how my sense of joy grew when I realised that I did not have to change terminals at Manila airport, even though it took me about forty minutes to check into my second flight because I kept going to the wrong check-in desk.
Tomorrow I jet off to India, so watch this space for more travel news, but hopefully with fewer bus antics.
Leah Out X