A delay in this post has been caused by very slow internet connections throughout the last part of our travels in the Philippines. Apologies. However, it now means you have a fun packed bumper blog of travel frustrations, cute monkeys, the chocolate hills and a small slightly disappointing beach.
Given the weather we decided to move on and make our way to Bohol. Our planned route was to travel by ferry from Pilar port, not far from Donsol, on the fast ferry to Masbate. We were then due to board an overnight ferry in the presidential suite for the 14 hour boat journey to Cebu.
Sadly this was scuppered, we arrived at the port to find a nice little note in the ferry kiosk window telling us the sailings were cancelled that day. We had an offer of a pump boat fitted with ‘many fast engines’ as they were described to us, but decided if the RORO ferry company had cancelled, there had to be a very good reason for this. So we decided to head back to Legazpi for the evening and re-plan our schedule. Bearing in mind the airport was closed for 2 days, due to the torrential rain.
From Pilar we endured two jeepney rides, which with the rain lashing down were an interesting if not dry mode of transport, where we got to talk to some of the locals which made the two hour journey an experience rather than a chore. For most of this Jeepney experience John became the money passer as we had occupied the spot nearest to the driver. He can’t complain though as we got a good price from the drivers (cheaper than the locals) who seemed very excited to get us on the Jeepney. Fares are passed up the back of the Jeepney to the driver and then change passed back which John had down to a tee after the thirtieth transaction.
So we ended up staying an extra night in Legazpi, what to do? Eat. The upside of this is that we found a fantastic seafood restaurant in Legazpi town and enjoyed some very tasy local dishes which has to be the best food we have had here.
Next day our flight from Legazpi was thankfully not cancelled, but did manage to leave over an hour and a half later than planned. This would not have normally bothered us but at the other end we were in a kind of a rush. We needed to get off the plane, get our luggage, find a taxi from the airport to the ferry terminal, find the ticket office and buy a ticket all within an hour of touchdown or we would miss the last ferry over to Taglibaran. We didn’t fancy spending an unexpected night in Cebu.
Thankfully after the delay everything worked like clockwork and we met a travelling couple from Sweden at the luggage carousel and ended up sharing taxis to Panglao island. We made the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare for its official sailing time, but in the end it didn’t set off for another 40 minutes.
Watch here as you check your baggage in for the boat. The official porters actually working for the ferry company will insist there is a PHP 150 charge, there isn’t. We ended up giving him 40PHP for his troubles for both our bags. Not surprisingly the same trick was pulled on the way back a few days later. Its not a lot of money, but the principle of scamming western tourists does get a little annoying.
We got to Bohol at around 9.15pm and after another price negotiation for the taxi (they start at 5-600) which we managed to get down to 400PHP we were in our hotel half an hour later.
We wandered to the beach the next day to have a look round and for me to go and look at the dive shops to see where I would be doing my advanced open water course (more of that in a fishy special post later). Frankly we were a little underwhelmed, the beach is not very long nor very deep and the bay is full of dive and trip boats so has something of a claustrophobic feel to it. We now understand why most of the hotels here have a swimming pool. Then again this place is a divers heaven, so that’s the draw, who needs miles of beach when you have the whole underwater world to explore.
We had booked our first couple of nights at the Lost Horizon Annex and it was a great hotel but sadly they were full after our first two days so we had to move.
We decided on a place a bit farther out of town as it promised a loan of a free bike. This was our chance to get to grips with a twist and go scooter which will be an essential skill as we hit Vietnam, India and Thailand. The accommodation was pretty horrible, but there were some interesting characters staying there along with a litter of puppies to play with so it was tolerable.
We persevered with this and stayed while I finished my diving course, then John did a good deal on a very nice hotel with pool and some very nice amenities for our last few days there.
The hotel staff were brilliant and attended to your every need, including Johns mouse phobia which is a new thing I have learnt about him on this trip.
We were lay there on the first night and I was just nodding off in that in between awake and asleep state feeling all cosy when I heard John jump up on the bed and proclaimed that he had just seen a mouse scuttling about the room. I was happy to ignore it and go to sleep but John just jumped every time he saw it, so something had to be done. He returned to the room, with broom in hand, and two bewildered staff, and for the next twenty minutes John and the staff pulled out the wardrobe, fridge and completely upended the room. It’s now about 2am in the morning and I’m lay naked in bed.
All to no avail as they couldn’t find it. In the end they laid a sticky mat trap with some bread on it and retreated to reception. Ten minutes after they left we heard the mat being shuffled and John called the staff back in to claim their prize. The little bugger must have been hungry and was now stuck to the pad having never reached the prize of the bread. I think John still slept with one eye open that night though. John now claims he’s not afraid of mice?
The Final Few Days
The final few days we occupied ourselves with trips around Bohol. For this you need a taxi which of course requires negotiation to try and hammer down the price. This bartering for everything does get a little tiring after a while. It is a good day out though, and the sights are definitely worth checking out. We did it in this order.
First a long drive from Panglao towards the centre of the main island, not before a stop at the petrol station to fill up the taxi. This seems to be a feature of any long taxi or trike ride here, you also have the give the driver an advance to refuel.
We arrived at the ecological park (anything near trees or a river on Bohol appears to have the word eco or ecological in front of it, I’m not sure who grants these accreditations!) and took a look at it and the equipment looked reasonably safe, so we signed up for a combo ride, which should have seen us zip across the Lomboc and take a more leisurely return on the gondola.
Sadly as we reached the other side the gondola got stuck, due to the rain, so back we came on the zip. Which in fairness they didn’t want us to do, but John in his Tagalog accent, gesticulating like a monkey explained we were in a rush and he couldn’t be bothered trekking back for what would have been miles, so he’d go first and take the risk. I’m glad the gondola broke, I wanted to zip again the minute I got off, thank you mechanical gods for this.
Next it was off to see the smallest monkeys in the world, the Tarsiers. We viewed them from a distance in their natural habitat without any contact. They are even cuter in the flesh than on the pictures. They are nocturnal so on the whole you see them with their eyes closed during the day, but if you are lucky you will come across an insomniac specimen and they will give you a big wide eyed dose of cuteness Don’t let this fool you though the wardens told us the buggers are a bit vicious if you try and get near them and will quite happily take a chunk out of your arm.
They reminded me a little of gremlins. I especially like the one I caught smiling, well I thought he was smiling!!
Next up are the chocolate hills and the weather turned on the way there and the rain came a tumbling down threatening to melt our chocolate hills photo opportunities. Thankfully it broke a little so we had some moments of the sun peeking though. They were strange and unique and well worth the trip in itself.
The final few stops are mildly interesting and include a butterfly farm, but our cheeky guide who seemed obsessed with butterfly and moth mating information
made a relatively boring stop fully entertaining. Especially his skills at giving you butterfly wings.
Last up is a very wonky bamboo bridge crossing across the Lomboc river and a visit to an extremely old church in Baclayon which was full of interesting icons and coloured light streaming through the windows which gave the place a sepulchral feel.
The last day was spent fighting with the Philippines internet to try and get a connection to allow us to do enough research for our next destination; Japan. Needless to say the lack of speed, or any connection at all, meant we were woefully unprepared for our next country hop, but more of that later.
Philippines Flashpacking Round Up
I think it is fair to say that we have both enjoyed the Philippines, the people are on the whole great when you are not having to negotiate with them on fares, prices or basically anything around money. It is an Asian country but has a unique flavour all of its own and you can be forgiven for sometimes thinking you are in Mexico or elsewhere in Central America.
The food is really good, a high standard, great value and differs as you traverse the country. In Bohol it was more difficult to get local food, but if you hunt a little you can find their barbecue and stock pot places where you can eat for the price of half a beer back home. Our most local morsel was of barbecued chicken gut, which was tastier than it sounds – a bit like a cross between liver and kidney with a smoky aftertaste!
Philippines has an infrastructure, sadly around the major cities it just does not have enough of it… The roads are crammed, traffic crawls, brown outs (as they call power cuts here) are reasonably regular. There is internet, wifi and good mobile signal everywhere, but again like the roads it is put under enormous strain most of the time so gets congested or simply stops dead often.
It is developing though, you can see that clearly from the construction and road repairs taking place as you move around. It has loads of buses and ferries to get you from one city to the other. Sadly, they are all private companies which mean a plethora of stations and travel companies to choose from. There is also no real way of finding out about any of them on the internet. You just have to use word of mouth or scour the internet forums for useful tips and likely timetables. Hence our wasted trip to the port.
Would we come back? Yes, if only to explore some other areas. The Philippines is a lively and welcoming destination, which is well worth exploring. You can travel and eat very reasonably. If your’e on a vacation then the tourist resorts offer excellent value and have everything that you would expect. However, for us it was discovering places where we could engage with Filipinos and learn a little about what makes this place tick. I’m sure there are lots more places to discover. We were spoilt in a way as Saud beach was a real gem and so set the bar for the other places we visited. None came close to that really.
I would also like to thank our new Pinoy friends for making our journey so much more easier and pleasurable, as the Philippines isn’t the easiest place in the world to get around quickly, but why rush, there is always tomorrow?