28.02.2009 - 17.03.2009
Sadly enough, getting on our Thai Airways flight was an exciting experience for us. We thought our meal was amazing and we loved the unlimited wine served with it even though it was 10am.
Arriving in Manila, we took a taxi to Malate – a relatively salubrious part of town where we hoped we could get a cheap room. No such luck…we viewed some of the smallest coffins of the trip before finding a relatively OK one above Starbucks. It was just a pity that it was Saturday night and and at times it actually felt like some carnival was processing through our room.
However, the next day we were still up bright and early for our city tour.
We walked to Intramuros, the Spanish walled town, and had a potter round a few churches and the cathedral which had been rebuilt about five times due to earthquakes.
Then we went over to Fort Santiago which the Spanish had originally built but had been occupied by the US, the Japanese and even the British for a short period.
The Filipinos don't believe in wasting a good castle moat...and have turned it into a golf course....
Then in classic Bryn and Fi style we decided to walk to China town ignoring the numerous taxis and jeepneys that were beeping us for a lift as we proceeded over a huge multi-lane bridge which clearly wasn’t used to seeing many pedestrians. We then found ourselves in the middle of a slum next to the port. However, people were very friendly and Bryn had an offer to play basketball.
We were very excited to catch a jeepney later in the day. Jeepney's are modified US Army jeeps - but now the jeepney drivers try to outdo each other competing for the gaudiest decorations...
We then spent the rest of the day camped out in Burger King which offered free wifi and tried to decide which way to go from Manila. Eventually after an awful lot of trauma we got a flight booked to the Calamian Islands off the coast of Palawan so that Bryn could do his PADI course. But not before a day spent chilling out and watching more movies inc popcorn…..note the rather unusual lights in our room!
The next day we boarded our tiny plane for the 40 minute hop over to Busuanga Island.
We met up with Gerd from Rocksteady Diving who had agreed to take Bryn on. It’s a new dive operation so we were the only customers of the day and had a great time on the boat on the way to the dive site. We were really lucky to not be just one of the crowd with the other ‘fastfood dive operations’ on the island. After a few basics it was time to put the kit on! Bryn seemed to have a lot of fun doing this....the regulator providing particular entertainment...
Then the wetsuit...
Before preparing to jump...
And then jumping!!
We both had a fantastic 4 days. Fi joined in on day 1 as she was having her refresher course. Gerd couldn’t believe that she actually hadn’t dived in the sea before having only done 10 dives in England’s dark and cold reservoirs and quarries. Bryn got his Open Water PADI qualification on day 4 - he did very well, although our instructor did admit to us that he didn't think Bryn would make it after the first day. Unfortunately Bryn's biggest problem on day 1 had been the fins - he'd been given the biggest clown feet fins you've ever seen and as he’d never snorkeled before his pin legs struggled somewhat with them!
Fi also got in on the action for a few of the dives once Bryn had qualified and we loved Barracuda Lake...which is a really special dive. First of all, you have to do a 25m ascent in full scuba gear over big jagged boulders to get from the sea to the lake.
Everyone was impressed that Fi managed it as normally the boatmen carry the gear for the women - but we explained that 17kg of scuba gear is nothing compared to our rucksacs! Once we made it over to the lake we descended down into brackish water and at about 10m we hit a layer of hot seawater....about the temperature of bathwater. Just as we were about to overheat we found a layer of much cooler water. It was so wierd swimming through all the different layers...at times we couldn't see due to the heat haze. It was really quite amazing.
The main reason divers come to Coron is to do wreck diving - and after a day of rest we were off to dive two of them. The wrecks are mainly the Japanese fleet which was seeking shelter in WWII when the US bombed and sunk most of them. Unfortunately the warships are all mainly at a depth of 30m+ so being novices we decided to give them a miss. The 2 ships we got to dive were auxillary ships mainly carrying cargo. Despite being stripped by salvage teams there was still plenty to look at on them. It really was spine tingling seeing them looming up for the first time. Visibility wasn't great but it kind of added to the eeriness of the situation. They were both covered in coral with lots of bright fishes eyeing us up as we explored. We were able to penetrate the second wreck and were amazed to swim along corridors and into the engine room. We felt quite James Bond, brandishing our torches, as other dive groups would suddenly loom out of the gloom. With both dives reaching a bottom point of 25m it was an impressive set of dives for Bryn’s sixth and seventh dives of his career.
One evening we visited the local hot springs where Bryn was befriended by the local youths who wanted him to sing love ballads with them. Filippinos love to sing and in Coron Town there is a constant background noise of karaoke bars and they think nothing of striking up in public…..
We were sad to leave Coron as we’d grown quite at home there after a week but we were also glad to board our first Philippines ferry which seemed to exist just to ferry backpackers to El Nido. We were glad to get off the Jessabel after 8 hours on board and arrive at the picture postcard town of El Nido which is the gateway town to the Bacuit Archepelego - a series of jagged limestone karst islands just off the coast interspersed with beautiful beaches.
We had two days of activities lined up courtesy of Gem and Phil’s wedding present. Day 1 was spent on a small boat touring the local sights such as lagoons, beaches and snorkel spots…..the seascape really is stunning……
Promising to keep the Secret Lagoon secret…..
On Day 2 we had our own two person kayak and set off on our own into the open sea.
We headed over to a tiny island with a beach and had thought we had it to ourselves before a boat of Filippinos turned up to cook their lunch! We pushed on and found a picture postcard beach for our lunch complete with coconut trees and hoardes of scuttling crabs. It really was a treat to kayak along the island coast and to spot an enticing beach and to paddle over and pull up! Only a handful of people live on the island so it really was our own piece of paradise for the day! Sea kayaking is particularly tough against the waves and by the afternoon we were knackered!! But we needed to push on as otherwise they’d send out the rescue boat. Fi was glad to not be left behind as usual and will lobby for a two person kayak in future. We did make it back to El Nido and quickly turned around to head out for a slap up meal, including a bottle of wine, to celebrate a fantastic two days – thanks Gem and Phil!!
We got the bus down Palawan to Puerto Princesa in a rush to find the Immigration Office so that we could extend our visas. After 7 hours on our bus there we realised it was a Saturday....doh!
So we went off on a day trip to the Sabang caves....the longest caves in the world which we were able to take a boat trip in them for 2km. They were pretty amazing....and home to lots of bats. It was slightly disconcerting to feel drops of water or bat poo land on us throughout the trip.
When we came out of the caves we were amazed to find monitor lizards roaming the picnic area and gangs of ninja monkeys making raids on people's lunches....
Surprisingly we’ve almost stayed three weeks in the Philippines and it’s totally whizzed by. We really are enjoying the country and its people. It’s a strange mix of contrasts….some of the nicest people we’ve met on our trip so far but also a country with a security guard stationed outside each and every shop in the cities. We're starting to get used to the politeness - everywhere we go we are greeted by Ma'am and Sir which makes a change from the snotty nosed teenagers in the UK. Christianity is big here and instead of commercial billboards lining the road on the way to Puerto Princesa it was nice to see the Lord’s Prayer spelt out….phrase by phrase over a kilometre. The American influence is strong and the malls in the cities are full of American fast food chains. It’s also really nice being able to chat with people, something we were really starting to miss on mainland SE Asia….as everyone speaks great English (not just people working in tourism).
But anyways.....off to catch our flight to Boracay.....one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Backpacking is a tough life