Our flight to Boracay really got us in the mood for more beach time as we had fun spotting numerous desert islands from the plane. The key attraction on Boracay is White Beach where we were busy relaxing approximately 30 minutes after touch down.
The sand really was beautifully soft and white and the waters were perfectly clear. All 4km of White Beach are covered end to end in bars / restaurants / shops....so we took it for what it was and spent a relaxing couple of days lounging round pretending we were on a package holiday....sipping cocktails at sunset and scoffing down all you can eat seafood buffets.
We then travelled down to Guimares (via a stop in IloIlo) a small island in between Panay and Negros. We ended up at the Valle Verde Mountain Resort in the middle of the island which is set in a lush jungle valley complete with it's own spring fed swimming pool. There's only 5 huts there so it was very peaceful and we got plently of reading and DVD watching done. It was a lovely family run business and their home cooking went down a treat.
We did set out on a walk into the jungle one morning before breakfast which didn't bode well for future walks!! Within 15 minutes we were covered in sweat, had lost the trail and our heads were spinning.
After Guimares we got the boat over to the large island of Negros where we planned to climb Mt Kanalaon which is in the top 6 active volcanoes in the Philippines. We visited the Department of Environment Office in Bacolod where we were able to get a permit to climb it. They only allow one group per day so we felt lucky to get our permit. We spent a busy day in Bacolod buying provisions for the trip and equipment. We needed our own tent so Bargain Bryn picked us one up for $12. For some reason we were in charge of providing food for our guide so we picked up a load of tins and hoped we'd be able to whip something up with them. We stayed the night before at a thermal hot springs resort on the slopes of the volcano.
The alarm clock buzzed into life at 5am and to be honest shouldering our full 75 litre packs (we hadn't opted for a porter) at that time in the morning seemed very hard work. We were puffed and sweating by the time we'd crossed the resort for our rendez-vous with our guide! The first couple of hours were extremely tough going....quite steep uphill and with the biggest packs we'd ever walked with in our lives. When we'd booked the trip they hadn't been too keen to let us walk this route due to the thermal power company activity in the national park. Unsurprisingly they have a few issues with green activists upsetting the ongoing activity. However, we passed by the works unscathed and the security guards even smiled at us. A definite blot on the landscape however as we could hear the hum of the thermal plant most of the day. As we ascended though it did gradually get cooler.....and after a long old day walking we finally hit an old crater at the top....1800m higher than we'd started that morning. Our campsite was inside this old crater which is now full of swamp. We explored the swamp swinging through the trees between the dry spots...
We got an early night as it was so cold - and got into our sleeping bags to scoff oreos and try out our new headtorches
The next day was less uphill but provided more jungle challenges for us. But it did give us our first view.....
We spent the whole day ducking, weaving and climbing over things.
At some stages we even had to conduct vertical ascents with our packs on!!
We passed by many pretty lagoons.....
Before we came upon our target.....Mount Kanalaon
We had to camp in the trees near the crater so that they would provide shelter from any ash that was erupted during the night. We tried not to think how our $12 tent would hold up in those circumstances. By this stage the guy ropes were all frayed and the poles were splitting! Goodness knows how Fi managed to fit in there too......!
However, after setting up camp, we made our final ascent up to the crater's edge. It really was a breathtaking moment looking over that crater rim for the first time.
Over the edge it dropped vertically off....straight down a few hundred metres to a pile of ash....and then a large tunnel ominously heading off into the bowels of the earth. We stood staring down at this for quite some time.....it was truly awesome.
Successful team on the top of Negros Island.....
Heading down to our camp for dinner there was a truly spectacular sunset over the crater.....even Bryn was impressed
The next day heading downhill our thoughts had turned to getting to the beach as quickly as possible. Tracker Fi spotted our first wild snake (which Bryn has since identified as a deadly Black Mamba) slithering across our path before settling behind a foothold. We scuttled quickly by! We were back in Bacolod for lunch where we amazed the McDonalds employees with our burger eating capacities before heading to Dunkin Donut for desert. We have built up quite a penchant for donuts - Dunkin Donuts, Mister Donut, Krispy Kreme Donut etc etc!
We then had to spend a whole day on a bus before we arrived at Sipalay where Sugar Beach is billed as Boracay without the crowds. Bryn quite rightly pointed out that it was more like demerara sugar but either way it was pretty nice.
We were staying at Takatuka Lodge which is run by a couple of Swiss guys with an eclectic sense of interior design. We were in the Superstar Suite.....complete with a pink cadillac bed with working headlights
And a movietime balcony
Yes, the light is a video camera and the light switch was a camera!
However, keen to do some diving we soon headed on...spending a night in Dumaguete complete with it's floral wastewater treatment works in the centre of town. Definitely puts Thames Water to shame.
We got the ferry over to Bohol Island where we had a short tuk-tuk transfer over to Panglao Island and the diving. We found the cheapest dive operator in town and headed off in a boat the next day to Balicasag Island where we did two amazing dives spotting the black coral which is a local speciality and also 2 turtles which was an amazing moment The next day saw a spectacular wall dive, us swimming through a coral arch and also our first drift dives where Bryn enjoyed sitting in his Buddha position, not moving a muscle, showing excellent buoyancy control and watching the coral pass by.
We transfered back to Bohol Island and hired two motorbikes the next day and set out on a day trip to see the local sights. It's great that everyone speaks English but a few road signs wouldn't go amiss. Within 10 minutes we were lost and were directed to our destination via some pretty small pot-holed roads. Bryn had to regularly stop for 15 mins or so to wait for 'Hells Angel' Fifi to come roaring round the bends....putt putt putt putt! The child riding the BMX was even suprised to be overtaking her down a hill!
Note the unplanned matching biker outfits........
We made it to the Tarsier Centre mid morning and had a personal tour around the Tarsier enclosure. Tarsier's are one of the world's smallest primates and can fit in the palm of a human hand....their heads can turn almost 360 degrees and their eyes are 125 times bigger in relation to their head size than a humans. All in all pretty cute.
We stopped at the Butterfly Farm for a quick tour. Didnt realise you could touch moths' wings - but we touched this one's............
Before heading to the Chocolate Hills which are a spectacular formation of coral deposits which have eroded into perfect little chocolate drops - during the dry season the vegetation roasts to a chocolate brown colour. Having spent some time negotiating some pretty tough roads we were glad to find a nice flat straight road with perfect tarmac.....but unfortunately the heavens opened and we were completely soaked by the time we arrived at the viewing area! Luckily though we were pretty impressed by the views
Then it was time to leave the Philippines where we'd felt pretty at home for the last month. We hopped on a ferry to Cebu - admiring the wonderful nautical scenery?......
Played a couple of games of bowling and had our first starbucks for nearly 6 months - caramel machiatos all round!
And jumped on our plane to Borneo!