Philippines 2010

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Our Itinerary

Friday 8th October, 2010                         Newcastle to Forresters Beach

Saturday 9th October, 2010                       Sydney to Manila

Sunday 10th October, 2010                       Manila to Banaue

Monday 11th October, 2010                      Banaue

Tuesday   12th October, 2010                   Banaue to Sagada

Wednesday 13th October, 2010             Sagada to Banaue

Thursday 14th October, 2010                  Manila to Boracay

Friday 15th October, 2010                        Boracay

Saturday 16th October, 2010                    Boracay

Sunday 17th October, 2010                       Boracay

Monday 18th October, 2010                      Boracay

Tuesday 19th October, 2010                     Boracay

Wednesday 20th October, 2010              Boracay

Thursday 21st October, 2010                  Boracay to Manila

Friday 22nd October, 2010                       Sydney

Saturday 8th October, 2010

Lauren and Josh – Forresters Beach

This afternoon we catch the 4.30pm train from Newcastle to Tuggerah where Lauren picks us up. Back at Lauren and Josh’s we have a lovely night with drinks and a home-cooked Mexican dinner on their verandah. I go to bed early but Mark stays up till eleven o’clock.

Saturday 9th October, 2010    Sydney to Manila

At 7.30am we wake to find Lauren cooking us a big breakfast – very spoilt. She’s only got five weeks left before she has our baby and we can’t wait. Still can’t believe that we’ll have a granddaughter in just a few weeks time. It doesn’t seem real. This is a good time for us to go away – surely she won’t come early.

At eight o’clock she and Josh, and Taxi of course, drive us to Gosford where we catch the 8.50am train to Sydney. Arrive at Central Station at 10.10am then catch the underground train to the airport. We check in with Qantas then eat horrible Red Rooster before buying our duty free cigarettes and gin. I always take Bacardi away with us but after drinking gin with Josh last night I decide to have a change.

We take off at 2.30pm. For a triumphant moment I think I’ve scored three empty seats in the middle but some last minute idiots turn up and I’m sent scurrying back to my own seat. Not too bad anyway as we have a window seat and an aisle seat.  Because it’s a 767 (2,3,2), we don’t have individual tv screens so I don’t bother watching anything on the little screen above and just try to get as much sleep as I can. Mark manages to stay awake and watches Toy Story III and some movie about Tony Blair. I eat M&M’s and have a few short naps after taking off half an hour late. The food is horrible as usual and there’s a bit of turbulence over the Pacific.

Nine hours later, it’s very exciting to be flying in over the lights of the huge city of Manila. We land at 7.15pm (10.15pm home time) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport which is only seven kilometres south of the city. Immigration and customs are the quickest we’ve ever experienced and we’re literally through in just over fifteen minutes. Mark gets cash out of an ATM – 1AUD to 40 PHP (Philippine Pesos). Outside is dark, hot, humid and, best of all, no rain which is what we’d expected.

The 400PHP taxi ride through the city is frantic and thrilling as always in these busy Asian capitals. Cars drive on the right hand side of the road thanks to the Americans who were here for forty eight years from 1898 when they chucked out the Spaniards who’d themselves ruled the Philippines for over three hundred years. A lot of Spanish architecture is still evident and there seems to be a lot of churches – Christianity another thing left behind by colonialism – apparently over 90% of Filipinos are Christian.

What we especially love about Manila are the jeepneys. They’re the most popular type of public transport throughout the Philippines and here they just seem to flow by, one after the other. They’re cheap with open windows and always packed to the rafters so we can’t wait to catch one. Apparently they don’t have a special place to stop – you just bang on the roof when you want to get out or flag one down if it’s going your way.

So what’s a jeepney anyway? They’re actually old jeeps that were left here by the Americans at the end of World War II – tens of thousands of them. No longer army grey, they’re now colourful, souped up and tacky (the tackier the better) with strange names like Axl Rose, Yogi, Godfrey and Night Cap.

Besides the jeepneys we also like the coloured lights that line both sides of the road all the way to Malate/Ermita. This is the ‘backpacker area’ but we know it won’t be anything like Khao San Road in Bangkok. And since our expectations are pretty low, we’re actually quite impressed – people everywhere, cafes, bars, jeepneys, tricycles (a motor bike with a tiny cabin on the side) and even pedicabs (rickshaws).

We haven’t booked anywhere but we hope to stay at Malate Pensionne mainly because of its recommendation in the Lonely Planet but also because of the funny rap on their website – ‘it can boast of thousands of satisfied guests because it captures the hearts of all its visitors’ – adorable.

We ask our driver to wait while Mark runs in to see if they have a room. Yes, they do! Excellent! The pensionne is set back off the road behind Starbucks (hideous) but the foyer looks cute – lots of warm wood with old carpet and faded couches. And it smells like Asia. We follow a young man up three flights of narrow stairs to room 309.  I must say it doesn’t look exactly like the website describes – ‘Its first class accommodations and amenities exude an ambience of rustic charm’ – just a little white lie except for the ‘rustic’ bit. Anyway we have a bed, a side table, a mirror, a fan and a window which we leave open because it’s stinking hot – no air-conditioning. The bathroom is shared and the toilet so small I have to sit on the throne with the door half open.

Of course, all this means that we’re totally happy and now can’t wait to get out into the streets and find a café for a drink. Just metres out onto the pavement, we’re abducted by a pretty young girl who wants us to visit the High Voltage Bar – a dark, smoky place on the corner with music so loud (hence the name) that we can’t hear each other speak. While we have a beer (San Miguel) and a gin and coke, we watch the band and the young crowd especially a group of teenage girls all giggling and singing. The staff is young as well and they all dance to the music while they’re working.

Across the road is Café Adriatica which looks a good place to have something to eat – it’s also in the Lonely Planet. Instead of sitting inside we find a table under a pagola right on the footpath where I can smoke and where we can watch all the action. We sit on cane chairs with fairy lights decorating the shrubs that give us a bit of privacy from the road. This is busy with pedicabs and tricycles and lots of young people out for the night. We spend a lovely hour drinking San Miguel and eating garlic prawns and a chef’s salad.

Directly opposite is Remedios Circle – a big circular park that acts as a sort of roundabout for the traffic. The whole park is paved in cobblestones painted bright colours with a statue of someone famous (Senor Remedios?) in the centre. There’s nowhere to sit as all the benches are taken by people already sleeping or setting up for the night. Whole families must live here out in the open. The kids seem happy playing with balloons but the poor little things must have a very bleak future ahead.

From here Mark studies the map to find Hobbit House about a kilometer through the busy streets. On the way we see an unbelievable amount of jeepneys! – probably three out of every four vehicles and always jam packed. We finally find Hobbit House where a couple of little people (dwarves) are standing guard out front.

Apparently it started up in 1973 to give little people a go at running their own business and has been a Manila institution ever since. The entire staff is made up of Filipino dwarves and the smallest is actually the bouncer – and he’s carrying a big gun!  Inside is a bar and lots of tables and chairs in front of a stage where a few acts of folk-style bands play cover songs.

After a couple of drinks, getting our photo taken with one of the staff and buying a t-shirt we head off back to our pensionne. We’re both feeling tired by now so we jump in a pedicab to weave our way through the congested streets. It should be fun but we see so much poverty it’s very depressing. Women and children are begging and literally sleeping on the pavement. I feel like crying to see these poor little babies. Manila has the worst poverty than anywhere we’ve seen since we were in northern India in ‘99.

Back to our room we both take ages to get to sleep because of the heat with not even a breath of air coming in through our window.

Sunday 10th October, 2010   Manila to Banaue

At a quarter to six I’m awake but Mark is sound asleep so I decide to go for a walk. First I have a quick shower and sit in the entry to do some diary writing. About six thirty, I wander over to Remedios Circle where a lot of people are waking after a night sleeping in the park. I like the look of the Spanish architecture around here making it very different to all the other Asian capitals we’ve been to.

Keen to be on the move, I walk back to the pensionne where Mark has already showered. We have breakfast at Café Adriatica then decide to look for somewhere else to stay tonight. This leads us to a poor area where lots of kids are out on the street and where most people live in squats.

P1030755Can’t find the hotel but, by now, we’ve decided to see as much of Manila as we can today and head up north tonight if we can get an overnight bus. With this is mind, we grab a taxi to take us to Intramuros. Our driver is a friendly man called Jess and he’s eager to show us lots of things on the way so we get a mini tour of this historical area of Manila.

Firstly he shows us the harbor where hundreds of people are parading along the one kilometer Bay Walk. Next he proudly points out the Manila Hotel which is ‘famous’ for having some politician or movie star stay there once. But he’s even more proud to show us Rizal Park named after Jose Rizal (more about him later) before arriving at the walled city of Intramuros.

Built by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, it was a fortress city surrounded by a moat. For hundreds of years, Intramuros was Manila: home to several thousand Spanish colonists, their families and their Filipino servants.

Today, it’s the only district of Manila where old Spanish influences have been barley touched by modernization. Here old walls, houses, statues, cannons and churches sit peacefully within pretty cobblestone streets.

P1030810Inside the wall, Jess drives straight to Fort Santiago and we plan to meet him back here in a couple of hours. At the gate to the fort we meet a man who calls himself Georgie Porgie. He’s a self-appointed tourist guide and he’s overly gushy but we like him anyway and agree to go with him on a tour of Intramros by kalesa. These kalesas are horse-drawn carriages used on the streets of Manila in the eighteenth century and should be a fun way to get around.

Our first stop is the old church of San Augustin which, being Sunday, is busy with worshippers. Afterwards we visit a weird cultural park where different types of traditional Filipino huts have been built. It’s a bit boring but Georgie insists on taking lots of photos of us posing in front of flowering shrubs.

Our next stop is an old nunnery where we have more daggy photos this time with Georgie Porgie while we’re all wearing General Macarthur hats. Georgie then belts out a song for us as he plays a piano – hilarious.

From here we climb to a pretty green area on top of the wall where we have photos taken sitting next to a statue of General Macarthur. Obviously he’s a pretty big deal in the Philippines so I’m going to put in some info about him so I can remember it in the future. Here it is – Douglas Macarthur became the Military Advisor to the Philippines in 1937 and was recalled to active duty in 1941 as commander of US  Pacific. Army Forces. After the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese, MacArthur’s forces withdrew and he escaped to Australia, where he became Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area.

After more than two years of fighting in the Pacific, he fulfilled a promise to return to the Philippines. He officially accepted Japan’s surrender on 2 September 1945, and oversaw the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. History lesson over.

For the next hour we clip clop around past traditional houses and old shops. Georgie Porgie never shuts up but he gives us lots of info about how life here once was.

Back at Fort Santiago we leave the kalesa to walk through the park surrounding the moat then into the Fort itself. Georgie tells us that it was used by the Spanish as a military base and prison with terrible dungeons beneath where prisoners were tortured. The most famous prisoner by far was Jose Rizal. There’s no doubt that Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. Only 35 years old when he was executed by the Spanish, he was an academic, artist, scientist and surgeon, above all else, a nationalist.

The Fort museum has a replica of his prison cell where during his final days he wrote his famous poem tragically called My Ultimate Goodbye – very sad. But, despite the gloomy history, the old Spanish building today is very beautiful, painted white with tall arched windows and doorways and made even lovelier by the thick tropical gardens around it.

Now the tour is finished so we pay Georgie the 1500 PHP we’d agreed on but, of course, the little shit also wants a tip – okay. Can’t see Jess and his taxi so we jump in another one to drop us in Chinatown. Within minutes we realize that Jess is behind us, horn blaring and headlights flashing to make us stop. He’s behaving like a total psycho so we pretend we can’t see him and tell our driver to ‘lose him’. We do a quick right down a side street, screaming along back alleyways but Jess is right on our tail. This is ridiculous.

The car chase charade continues till we get to Chinatown where we jump out, glad that it’s all over. But now Jess has leapt from his cab and is going nuts at us for not waiting for him. He’s driving us crazy and saying that it’s too dangerous here and that he can take us somewhere better. We’ve had enough but we don’t like the look of Chinatown anyway so we agree to go back with him to Malate where we’ll piss him off for good.

But the madness isn’t over yet. As we leave Chinatown, the other cab driver is having his own turn being a psycho. He’s driving alongside of us shaking his fist and abusing Jess who’s abusing him back. It’s funny and scary at the same time. Jess continues to be a pain the whole way back to Malate – telling us that he’s only looking after us because he has a sister who lives in Brisbane – so what, you mental case?!

P1030831Finally at Malate Pensionne we don’t tell him that we’re leaving tonight and ‘promise’ to ring him in the morning to drive us to the bus station – goodbye and fuck off!

By now we’re starving so we have lunch in a nearby basic café – fried chicken, noodles, pineapple juice and pineapple shake. Back at Malate Pensionne, we ask about night buses to Banaue. Apparently we can’t book, just turn up at the bus station about 8.30pm. It sounds a bit vague but we’ll give it a go. This means we’ve still got all afternoon to see more of Manila but first we have a quick nap in our room – jetlagged.

At 1pm we’re up and hungry again so we head to the Hap Chong Tea House that we’ve read about in the Lonely Planet. This is a lovely place and best of all it has air-conditioning – sweltering outside. We also have a great meal of salt and pepper squid followed by coconut ice cream.

P1030832Next we walk over to the San Andreas Market. It’s a typical local market selling fruit, vegetables and meat but I spend most of the time buying baby clothes for our little Abigail. Meanwhile Mark has made friends with a group of young boys and they’re having a great time performing for our video camera.

Nearby is a tiny hairdressing salon where I have a half hour foot massage with a pretty young woman called Joy. The massage is pathetic and I only get fifteen minutes but Joy is a sweetie so it doesn’t matter.

Walking towards the harbour, we pass a busy church where we can see parishioners singing through the open doors. Down on the water we’re interviewed by a group of very excited university students about Dr. Rizal – lucky we’d had a quick history lesson this morning otherwise we’d never have heard of him.

By now it’s getting late so we head back. On the way we pass a very posh colonial building with a brass plaque next to the entrance – ‘We Are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen’ – like something out of Little Britain. At Malate we have beers and a coke at Rendezvous Café near the Pensionne. This is a simple place right on the street with chipped metal tables, plastic chairs and lots of dusty potted plants – love it.

Next, we send some emails home at an internet café before walking back over to Remedios Circle. The kids are playing with balloons again and I feel sad for a little boy whose trousers are too big and he has to hold on to them with one hand – probably the only ones he has.

P1030827On dark we go back to our room for a kabumbah and to pack for our bus trip. We’ve still got an hour to kill before leaving for the bus station so we head back to Rendezvous Café for French fries, beer and pineapple juice. A young woman is offering massages so I have the best twenty minute head and neck massage ever for only 50PHP. Her name is JN and she tells me she is descended from the original Filipino people. She comes from the north where we’re heading tonight but she has to work in Manila to earn money – I give her a 200PHP tip.

By now it’s time to leave so we grab our packs and jump in a taxi for the San Paulo Bus Station on the other side of the city. It’s busy, noisy and exciting – so many people here with buses leaving for all parts of Luzon.

No problem getting tickets but we’re half an hour early so we pay to sit in the ‘first class’ area. This consists of a couple of dodgy tables separated from the chaos by a latticed screen. At least we can sit down and have a drink. Oh, and I have to kabumbah again in a horrid public toilet so I swallow an Imodean.

On the bus at 9.30pm we buy a box of cream donuts from a hawker in case we get hungry overnight. Pulling out on time, we realize that the bus is only about a third full and we won’t be picking up any more passengers. This means we have two seats each so we should be able to get some sleep especially with the help of a sleeping pill.

P1030854All this is good news but the bus is FREEZING!! Thank God that I’d read some travellers’ blogs that warned about the below zero air-conditioning on the overnight buses so we’ve come well prepared with lots of warm clothes.

Monday 11th October, 2010   Banaue

The drive to Banaue is nine hours passing through Central Luzon ending in the province of Ifugao. We both sleep on and off all night although Mark is sitting up and probably manages to get less sleep than me. At 4.30am we stop somewhere in the mountains for a toilet break. I get out with a couple of other passengers and enjoy a cigarette in this dark, cold, misty place – I love it.

P1030868Half an hour later we’re both awake feeling unexpectedly relaxed. Outside appears surreal in the soft pre-dawn light – a world away from the bustle of Manila. Dawn breaks about 5.30am giving us lovely views of the Cordilleras – green mountains, mist filled valleys and small villages built right on the road. An hour later we reach the top of Banaue. The town is basically spread along a stretch of road, with little networks of streets that run up and down the mountain that it sits on. And being high in the mountains, it’s often shrouded in mist but today is perfectly sunny with a cloudless blue sky.

P1030871From the bus terminal, we jump into our first jeepney (called Pisces and painted blue, orange and red) to take us to the town proper. The narrow road winds downwards around hairpin bends to the main square. This is the only flat space in town and where all the tricycles and jeepneys congregate.

P1030870The square is overlooked by two and three story buildings – shops on the bottom floor and living space above. While the landscape is lovely the town itself really isn’t, with lots of rusted corrugated iron roofs and bare cement walls – we like it anyway.

Before we look for somewhere to stay we need to have breakfast – starving but can’t stomach the donuts which we deliberately left on the bus. We like the look of the People’s Café on the edge of the square and overlooking the town. Best of all is a sunny verandah where we have fantastic views of the famous Banaue rice terraces – the reason we’ve come all this way.

The Filipinos say the terraces are the “Eighth Wonder of the World” but we’re sure we’ve heard a few other places with this same claim to fame. They were carved into the mountains two thousand years ago by the Ifugao people and amazingly they’re still used today, still fed by the same ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above. We plan to get a closer look later this morning.

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Breakfast is good but interrupted by an annoying guy pestering us to go to Batad with him for 37,000PHP – get lost! We’ve read that Sanafe Lodge and Restaurant has the best and the biggest view deck, so while Mark stays with the packs, I set off to find it hoping we can get accommodation for tonight. We’re in luck and get a good room with bathroom and views of the rice terraces – all for 1,000PHP.P1030875

And besides the nice room, we love the warm, wood-lined lounge area that strangely has a Christmas tree and Christmas decorations with Christmas carols playing on a tape deck – it’s October! The staff is nice as well so we’re very happy with our find.

Back out in the sun-filled square, we organize with a guy to take us to the Viewpoint in his tricycle (200PHP). This is on the main road on the outskirts of the town, about four kilometres from the center. We zip our way uphill, squashed in the tiny cabin attached to his motor bike – lots of fun.P1030944

We find that there are actually three viewpoints, each giving a slightly different perspective. At the first one we meet some of the Ifugao people, the original inhabitants of the area. Once they were a fierce race of headhunters but now some of the old dears just dress up in their traditional loincloths or tapis so the tourists will give them a few pesos for a photo. One of the men is also playing a handmade flute-like instrument so we give them extra money. It’s all a bit sad really.

P1030891It’s still interesting, though, to see how they once dressed. Their clothes are embroidered and decorated with beads of all sizes with head-dresses of dyed feathers while the men wear g-strings sewn with coloured patterns of squares and lines.

We find more Ifugao people at the second viewpoint as well as a traditional house with a pointy thatched roof and decorated with lots of animal skulls to show how wealthy you are – amazing! And another special thing about this viewpoint is that the view is the same as the photo found on the 1000 peso bill – more amazement!

At the third viewpoint we find even more Ifugao people and have more photos taken and part with more money. They’re all so cute, beaming big toothless smiles from their weathered old faces. Here the view of the terraces is the best of all as we look back towards Banaue – green rice terraces as far as we can see in every direction.

P1030933At this viewpoint, we walk through a rice paddy before buying some souvenirs from a tiny shop. Nice here with chickens scratching around and brilliant sunshine. We couldn’t have asked for better weather today. There’s always a risk of the terraces being blocked out by fog so we’ve been very lucky. And it’s hot!

At Sanafe we have cold showers then drinks on the balcony that looks back up to the top of the valley we just left and, of course, the rice terraces. The pineapple juice and banana smoothie are excellent so we’ll probably have dinner here tonight.

Now we sleep till three o’clock to catch up on the hours we missed out on last night. It’s raining! How lucky that we went to the viewpoints this morning and not left it till now. It’s quite nice to hear the sound of rain on the roof and we spend a lovely time reading on the balcony and drinking more pineapple juice for me and a San Miguel beer for Mark. We order pasta and noodles but ‘sorry no hab’. Instead we order chicken but we can’t have it yet because the cook is having a bath! – hilarious. When the food finally comes it’s worth the wait – fried chicken, rice, beans and carrots.

P1030950By seven o’clock the rain has stopped so we cross the dark square to the Friends Country Music Bar and Restaurant. It’s on the top floor of a rickety old building with a basic shop at the bottom. Narrow wooden stairs lead up from the street and we’re loving this place already. Inside is even better – wooden tables and chairs, colored lights, the walls and the ceiling lined with bamboo and Ifugao weavings. This is the only place in town with a band and, as the sign says, they’re playing country music. ‘I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane’ seems to be very popular in the Philippines as we also heard it played at the Hobbit House in Manila as well as on the overnight bus. Our table overlooks the square and we have a lovely time getting tipsy on beer and gin. A local man called Kenneth sits with us for a while but he’s hard to understand. I’m also happy to find a cute kitten to cuddle.P1030956

Later we walk down the hill to the Las Vegas Café, another upstairs place with lots of character. I’m not hungry but Mark has vegetable and chicken soup. Home at 9.30pm for a good sleep.

Tuesday 12th October, 2010   Banaue to Sagada

Today we plan to get to the small town of Sagada further north in Mountain Province. This should be fairly easy with a two hour bus ride to Bontoc then a one hour jeepney ride to Sagada. We want an early start so we get up at 7am for showers and to pack. We ask a few people outside in the sunny square about buses to Bontoc but apparently the best way to get there is by jeepney. This suits us better but we have to wait until nine o’clock when the first one leaves.

P1030998For now we have a look at the market which is situated under cover in a large cement room. A strong smell of over-ripe fruit hits us but we enjoy wandering around the fruit, vegetables and fish for sale. We watch a lady chopping huge hunks of meat and buy tiny limes to have with our sodas later today.

P1030963Walking downwards through town, we pass children of all ages on their way to school and buying lollies from the little shops. Most of the girls wear maroon skirts and white shirts, while the boys wear white t-shirts and jeans. They’re all happy to have their photos taken and some of the boys play up for the camera wearing trailing plants on their heads like long wigs.

At Banaue Central School we watch other kids playing ball games before school begins. Apparently, most classes are taught in English because Philippine education is based on the American system – explains why Filipinos speak with an American accent.

P1030882We walk to the bottom of town where a rushing stream passes under a narrow bridge then climb back up to the top via a steep staircase rather than the road. Near the square we try to order breakfast at a café overlooking the town but ‘sorry, cook on vacation’ – doesn’t anyone around here want a job while she’s away? Instead we go back to Sanafe where we have lovely banana pancakes, bacon and eggs, tea and coffee in a rough timber lined room with a view of – guess what? – the rice terraces.

About 8.30am we pay our bill then carry our packs outside to sit in the sun while we wait for the jeepney. Fifteen minutes later we’re told to jump in as we’re ready to go. There are ten of us in all including a young American girl we’d seen on the overnight bus from Manila.

Leaving the town behind, we start crawling our way upwards. Banaue to Bontoc is a two hour ride along the Halsema Highway most of which, so we’ve read, ‘is an unmetalled road with treacherous stretches that can be prone to landslides and rock falls’. And yes, we see both, but the rocks and dirt have been cleared earlier this morning for us to pass. We can imagine how dangerous this route must be in bad weather.

The road actually reminds us of the Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang bus trip we did in Laos years ago. The same incredibly steep mountains with villages clinging to the ridges and glimpses of other tiny villages far below us. The temperature drops as we climb higher where we have panoramic views of distant mountains and deep, fertile river valleys.

As we descend towards Bontoc, the temperature warms up again. Set in a wide valley, we cross a shallow, bubbling river as we come into the busy town. It’s much larger than Banaue being a trading centre for the whole region – the biggest market, lots of jeepneys and motor tricycles and general buzz.

The jeepneys to Sagada leave from a side street just off the main road and this is where we’re all dropped off. The American girl wanders off into town leaving her backpack in the new jeepney as it’s not supposed to leave for another half an hour. It fills up in minutes, though, so the driver wants to leave now. I race up to the main street and luckily find her in time. She introduces herself as Jenny and is very thankful.

The trip to Sagada takes about forty five minutes over a rough, steep and winding road. We have fleeting views of a patchwork of rice terraces but they’re mainly obscured by the small windows and other passengers – getting a bit blasé about rice terraces by this time anyway.

Our first impression of Sagada is of a pretty mountain town (1500 meters above sea level) – flowers, pleasant architecture, lots of pine trees, dramatic limestone outcrops and nice views down the valley. And because of its high altitude, the air feels pleasantly fresh and clean.

P1040072Getting dropped off at the top of town, we check out a couple of places to stay finally booking a room at The Log Cabin. As the name suggests, our room is lined with wood and filled with wooden furniture – very Swiss chalet. It’s also a great room – big, sunny and with our own bathroom. There is a problem, though, as we realize that we don’t have any water after I’ve already kabumbahed in the loo. I ask a young woman downstairs about getting the water turned on but she tells me that ‘person in charge of water not here’ – wtf? Instead she gives me a bucket of water to pour down the toilet. I also tell her that the beds aren’t made up and there are wet towels on the bathroom floor. It seems that all will be fixed soon.

Meanwhile, we walk down the hill from the town centre to look for Yogurt House which we’ve heard is the best place in town to eat. The restaurant has two floors and the top floor has a narrow verandah where you can enjoy the view and eat at the same time. Jenny is here finishing lunch before setting off hiking somewhere in the hills. We plan to do some walking this afternoon as well but a lot less strenuous I’m sure. We order sandwiches, a tuna salad and lemon and pineapple shakes. I find a friendly cat called Chippy – he loves me so I feed him my tuna.

Before heading back to our little log cabin, we check out Grandma’s Yellow House directly across the road where we hope to stay tomorrow night. Back to our room for a rest (still no water or sheets) then up at three o’clock to walk down into town to register at the local Municipal building (a rule here in case anyone goes missing) as we plan to walk to Echo Valley. We’re given directions and head off past St Mary’s Episcopal Church. Guide book info tells us that this is an odd mix of traditional ritual beliefs and Christianity – unique in a country which is 85% Roman Catholic.

From here, a half hour walk takes us up through The Mission Compound Graveyard then to the top of a cliff where we can see some of the hanging coffins that Sagada is famous for and the main reason we wanted to come here. They’re on a towering rock face on the other side of Echo Valley. Before heading down for a closer look, we shout across the valley to hear our voices being ricocheted back – ‘Echo’ Valley, get it?

P1040081The trail to the bottom is very steep with tall trees and thick undergrowth on the valley floor. Mark easily finds the right track to the coffins and we find ourselves directly beneath them. This was a traditional way of burying people around here but the proviso was that you had to be married and have grandchildren. In this spot, seventeen weathered wooden coffins are tied to brackets attached to the cliff face and even a few old chairs are hanging up there as well – don’t have a clue what that’s all about though.

Making our way back up the steep trail to town, I feel very ‘intrepid’ but that’s enough ‘trekking’ for me, thank you very much. At the Log Cabin we still have wet towels, no beds made up and no water. We say ‘sorry but we’re not staying’ and pack our gear. As we leave we try to give them 200PHP but they say ‘sorry mam, that okay’ and won’t take it – sweet.

Hopefully we can get into Grandma’s Yellow House tonight so we make our way down the hill once again. Did I mention that the town is built on the side of a very steep hill and, unbelievably, there are no motor tricycles here at all. We heard someone say that this is a silent blessing but we think it’s bloody stupid. Of all the places NOT to have tricycles!

Anyway, we’re in luck at Grandma’s and we can have any room we want because, at the moment, we’re the only guests. We choose the biggest one facing the valley mainly because of the lovely multi-paned bay windows and because it opens onto a cozy lounge area. The bedroom is lined with dark polished wood and the windows are draped in thick red curtains – very homey. But while the bedroom is shabbily appealing, the shared bathroom is a horror with another non-flushing toilet. Looks like we’ll have to do the ‘pouring down the water’ thing again. Typically, for some reason we love it.

There is water in the shower, though, so after a cold one each (supposed to be hot) we head downstairs at six o’clock. The bottom floor of Grandma’s is part café, part gift shop selling local handicrafts and is as cute as the rest of the place. We get talking to a woman called Jurand who does massages and I arrange to have one with her in our room at seven o’clock. Right now we want to find somewhere for dinner.

This afternoon we’d seen a rustic café that looked interesting. It’s called the Persimmon Café overlooking the street half way down the hill. Inside, the walls are bare boards, some painted with brightly coloured murals and decorated with hundreds of old bottle caps. The tables and chairs are rough wood, adding to the laid-back atmosphere. And, of course, there’s the usual Bob Marley posters with Bob’s music playing as well. The food is good too – fried rice and chicken curry – but a song makes us sad and cry for Angie.

I don’t feel like a massage now but Mark says it might make me feel better. So while I meet Jurand at Grandma’s, Mark sits on the Yogurt House verandah having a few beers. Thankfully I’d only agreed to a half hour massage because Jurand is hopeless. She says she’s done a massage course in Hong Kong but it must have been a very short one. Anyway, she’s hilarious and by the end of thirty minutes, we’re best friends and swapping email addresses.

Afterwards, I meet Mark over at Yogurt House and we have a few drinks together next to a couple of very entertaining gay French guys. Chippy is being naughty.

One thing we knew not to expect in Sagada is a jumping nightlife, and there’s even a 9.00pm curfew. Apparently, this first happened when there was some armed conflict during the Marcos era, then when the trouble ended, the villagers decided to keep it anyway to control public drunkenness. This doesn’t mean we’re not allowed outside but nothing is open so there’s no point anyway.

To be honest, Sagada isn’t really what we’d expected. From travellers’ stories on the net, it sounded a lot more trendy, one of those out-of-the-way places that only the ‘coolest’ of  travellers manage to get to. We’re far from cool but we always like these places because there’s always a mixture of local culture as well as great places to eat and stay. Anyway, it’s a pretty place but we’ll probably only stay one night and head back to Banaue or Manila tomorrow.

P1040107Meanwhile, the curfew means that Yogurt House is shutting so we head back to Grandma’s to have a riotous time (we think so anyway) in our little sitting room – still no other guests so we have it to ourselves. We drink beer and gin lounging around on the couches and making stupid videos while I blow smoke out the window.

“Good night!”

Wednesday 13th October, 2010   Sagada to Banaue

Lovely waking to another brilliant day. We make the decision to do some exploring this morning then head back to Banaue. If we can get seats on the overnight bus to Manila we’ll try to get a flight to Boracay in the morning. It’s nice here in the mountains but we’re keen to get to the beach.

Today our horror of a bathroom has taken a turn for the worse. Still no hot water (so cold showers again) and still no water in the toilet (so more pouring in buckets of water). It takes ages to fill the bucket from the shower because the tap keeps crashing to the ground and, for some reason, after three bucketfuls, the poo is still there. Besides this, the curtain has fallen off the window. At least we’re still the only guests so it’s all ours.

Even though Yogurt House is just across the road, we want to find somewhere else for breakfast so we walk further down the hill to a part of town we haven’t seen yet. Bana’s Café has a pleasant verandah overlooking the valley so we have bacon and eggs sitting in the sun – I feed most of mine to a lovely dog.

From here we keep walking almost to the bottom of the hill where we veer off onto a narrow cement track that should lead us to Demang village. The whole area around Sagada is a farming community so we pass chickens, pigs, ducks, water buffalo, farmers working in flooded rice paddies, vegetable gardens and banana trees.

Demang itself isn’t terribly interesting and we hardly see a soul so we head back to the main road. According to our Lonely Planet map, we still need to walk a kilometer or two to our final destination, Lumiang Burial Cave.

On the way we see more hanging coffins on a cliff in the next valley and lots of strange looking rocky outcrops jutting out of the trees. We think we must be lost but eventually see a sign post pointing left down a steep and slippery trail through a wooded valley. Finally we come to the mouth of a big cave where hundreds of old wooden coffins are stacked one on top of the other. Another ancient custom unique to this area and something we really wanted to see.P1040128

Now we have to walk all the way back – I hate walking!  Need to be a bloody mountain goat to live here – everyone must have thighs of steel. At least we can have a rest at the Lemon House. This is owned and run by the Daoas family with Mumma Daoas doing all the cooking. According to their website their pies are ‘famous’ all over Sagada – big deal but we’d better check it out. And besides I have to kabumbah – and I very nice toilet it is, too.

The cafe is nice as well – a quaint, homey atmosphere, like being in someone’s lounge room. And of course, a visit to the Lemon Pie House would be pointless without trying one of their ‘famous’ lemon pies. We order lemon drinks as well, to get that extra lemony experience. Disappointingly the pie seems to be stale – is that possible? Anyway it’s horrible and we leave most of it.

The walk back up to Grandmas nearly kills me and I can’t wait to get away from this stupid town. A quick pack then up the rest of the hill to wait for the midday jeepney to take us to Bontoc. We buy ice creams while we wait and don’t like the look of the black clouds that are rolling in over the hills. We’d prefer it if the rain could hold off until we cross the scary mountain road between Bontoc and Banaue.

At twelve o’clock the jeepney is full – locals and travellers including a French couple with a cute little red headed baby called Denny. Only ten minutes out of Sagada the rain starts to teem so we stop to take all the packs off the roof and cram them inside – a very squashy trip.

By the time we reach Bontoc an hour later, the weather is hot and sunny again so now we won’t have to worry about mudslides on the mountain. Before looking for a jeepney to take us Banaue, Mark wanders off in search of an ATM while I mind the packs. It takes him ages but at last we’ve got money and splurge on another ice cream.

P1040133About 1.30pm the Banaue jeepney is ready to go even though there are only three passengers – us and a local girl. At least we’ll be able to stretch out for this leg of the trip and I lie down for most of the way.

As we make our way back up the rugged mountain ridges, the sky is low and heavy with clouds and the temperature falls as it did yesterday – was it only yesterday?

At the top we stop in a small village shrouded in mist. Mark gets out to stretch his legs but I try to stay warm inside the cabin. Our driver in the meantime has been chewing beetle nut the whole way and spitting red gunk into a cup on the dashboard every couple of minutes – interesting.

In the fading sunlight of late afternoon we pull into Banaue. Our first job is to get tickets for the overnight bus to Manila. For 400PHP each we will leave at 7pm from the same place that we were dropped off on Tuesday.

With hours to kill, we hang out on the balcony of Sanafe, reading, drinking and eating. I talk for ages to a Filipino man called Bernie who is patriotically proud of the rice terraces. He’s staying here for a few days so I leave him a novel I’ve just finished.

Time to go, so we carry our packs up the steep steps in the dark to the bus stop. We make ourselves comfortable towards the back and Mark puts the two big packs on top of one another in front of my seat so I can lie down and not worry about being thrown onto the floor – it’s almost like a bed and I’m very comfy and looking forward to a good sleep. And surprisingly, the air conditioning isn’t too cold so we shouldn’t freeze to death.

As usual, music is blaring through the bus and, as usual, there is always a song that makes us miss Angie. I cry for a long time – I just can’t stop.

I finally fall into a comfortable sleep but unfortunately this doesn’t last long as we have endless stops with people getting on and off – nothing like the express bus on the way up. This means that before long we have to sit up so other passengers can have a seat. I’m unlucky to score a drunk man who keeps talking to me even though I pretend to be sleeping.

The constant stopping also means that the trip is eleven hours instead of nine and we don’t reach the outskirts of Manila till 6am. Get us off this bus!

Thursday 14th October, 2010   Manila to Boracay

As soon as we reach the bus station, we grab a nearby taxi and head straight for the airport. After some confusion we realise that we’re at the wrong terminal and need to get another taxi to Terminal 3, about fifteen minutes away. This is where Cebu Pacific and most of the domestic airlines fly in and out. Getting tickets takes a while but we’re happy that we can get seats on the 8.30am plane this morning.

Boracay Island is part of the Visaya Archipelego three hundred kilometres south of Manila so the flight takes over an hour. We land on the shortest runway in the Philippines at Caticlan on the island of Panay. Caticlan is a small, pretty town on Panay’s north-west tip and is the main gateway to Boracay with hundreds of tourists coming and going every day. Walking off the plane we’re hit by the heat, humidity and sunshine – perfect weather again.

The little airport is surrounded by palm trees and very busy with touts waiting to take people to the boat wharf. In no time we’ve crammed our packs into a tricycle and reach the harbour in minutes.

All the boats to Boracay Island are small wooden outriggers or bangalas as they’re called here – very picturesque with our boat painted a vivid sky blue. We wear orange lifejackets although the water is almost mirror calm today and, anyway, Boracay is so close we could almost swim there. In a mere fifteen minutes we’re pulling into the small Cagban jetty port. Mark drags our big backpacks off the roof before we jump straight into another waiting tricycle.P1040156

We plan to stay at White Beach which is Boracay’s main tourist area. The beach is over four kilometers long with all the accommodation strung along the middle two kilometres. Apparently most westerners stay at the southern end so we want to check this out first. We don’t have far to go because the island is so small – only seven kilometers long and ten square kilometres in area. The short drive is through a very pretty village area, thick with tropical palms and plants. We’re dropped off at the end of a narrow road leading down to the water and have to walk along the beach path to look for somewhere to stay.

At first we like the look of The Treehouse with a rustic café built on different levels into a big tree. The rooms, though, are built behind with too many steps so we decide to keep looking – want to stay somewhere flat for a change.

Not far away we find exactly what we want – the Blue Coral run by Vicki, a pretty, friendly woman who seems to be very switched on. Our room is excellent with a big bathroom, a television, a fridge and the luxury of hot water and a flushing toilet. Not only this but we’re just a few metres from the sand and we even have a little verandah.

P1040239Now we have our first swim since last summer. This isn’t a surfing beach with big waves – just a few tiny ones lapping gently at the shore. The water is warm and the sand is soft and white – perfect!

Still wearing our swimmers, we order lunch at the Blue Mango Café next door to our guesthouse – blt and club sandwiches with fresh orange juice. Mark then breaks his travel rule by having a beer before twelve o’clock. This couldn’t be better as we sit on cane chairs on the sand with swaying coconut palms above us.

The afternoon is spent swimming, lying on beach lounges out front and having a nap in our room. I’m not feeling too great and actually throw up in our bathroom. It’s very unlike me except when I’m revoltingly drunk and have to stick my fingers down my throat. I also have a headache and a sore throat – I blame that freezing night on the first overnight bus but Mark says getting cold won’t make you get a cold. I don’t believe him and so why do they call it a ‘cold’ then? Eh?

Anyway Vicki takes pity on me and kindly brings me green tea with honey. I’m feeling too horrible to go out so Mark finds a nice place to eat a few doors down called Coco Canteen. It’s run by an English family and he talks for ages to Franco, the son. Home at ten o’clock.

Friday 15th October, 2010   Boracay

I’m still feeling a bit sick today but we haven’t got to be on the move so we can just hang around spoiling ourselves. For breakfast we walk up to The Treehouse which is a great setting but crappy food.

Nearby we watch fishermen sorting their catches out on the sand. They’re dragging huge disgusting octopuses (or is it octupii) from their boats and untangling their fishing nets.

P1040245Later we lie on sunbeds out the front of Blue Mango, reading and ordering food and drinks. We’re shaded by umbrellas made of bamboo and palm leaves – very tropical island.

After lunch we walk along the beach path which is lined with resorts, hotels, guesthouses, bars, restaurants and dive shops. The path is called the Beachfront Path and is pedestrian-only (plus a few rickshaws). It’s overhung with coconut palms with lots of tables and chairs set up beneath. Nets are strung high above to catch any falling coconuts. Wind breaks are also erected in front of lots of restaurants so I guess it wouldn’t be good to be here during the monsoon.

Almost at our doorstep we notice a woman looking after two young blind men who are masseurs. She’s set up a couple of wooden tables so we have a one hour massage each under the trees – 400PHP each.

After a sleep we get up at 6pm for a night bar/restaurant hopping. On dusk we watch sailboats making their way along the shore taking tourists on a sunset sail. Maybe we’ll do it one evening soon.

The rest of the night we move from one beach bar to another – some hanging out on beanbags on the sand and some sitting up at the bar. It’s all good. Dinner is at Coco Locos the restaurant/bar attached to our guesthouse – make the mistake of ordering hamburgers – should stick to local food.

Saturday 16th October, 2010   Boracay

Feeling a lot better today and looking forward to checking out the island. Breakfast is on the sand in front of Blue Mango – bacon and eggs, coffee and pineapple shakes. Good food here which is why we keep coming back.

At nine o’clock, we decide to go in search of baby clothes which means making our way to D’Mall. We walk up one of the paths that lead away from the Beachfront Path to Main Road which runs the length of the island. On this section it’s the main shopping area, busy with motor bikes and tricycles, locals and tourists.

After walking for a while we catch one of the tricycles to the local market – open fronted, roughly built stalls selling everything from fruit, vegetables, fish, chickens and meat to household goods. We always love these places – no tourists around, just the friendly, local people going about their daily lives.P1040187

 

From here we catch another tricycle down to D’Mall which is a collection of modern shops that zigzags between the main road and the beach path. It’s nice in here – much better than the high-rise monstrocity I was expecting. No baby clothes, though, but we do find some at Crafts Store which is the only thee storey place in town. We buy seven pretty dresses for 300PHP each and a baby beach bag back at D’Mall.P1040192

Now we tricycle back to the laneway near Boat Station 1 then walk along Beachfront Path towards home. On the way we stop at a dive shop to ask some guys about reef walking as the photos on the sign look bizarre. It’s also called “helmet diving” because you wear a giant-sized helmet with a hose connected to an oxygen tank on a boat, then walk around on the seabed. I’ve never heard of it but it looks hilarious so we book in.

They tell us that for 1000PHP each for the dive and a video we can go anytime. Since the sun is scorching and there’s no wind, we decide to go now. After a quick change into our swimmers at Blue Coral, we meet back at the dive shop.

P1040199Helmet diving is done at Bulabog Beach, directly across from where we’re staying at White Beach. There’s only a kilometer between on this narrowest section of the island.

So with a guy from the dive shop, we catch a tricycle through the congested, interesting laneways to Bulabog. This is a much quieter beach area – mainly bigger hotels and only a few restaurants – not the same vibe at all – boring to stay here, I imagine. After buying ice creams from a guy on the sand, we jump into a tiny motor boat to take us out to the dive site. Mark even gets to do the driving.

We soon pull up against the mooring which is a sort of floating platform with a roof. A young Asian couple is here as well so we’ll all be going together. First we get fitted with rubber booties then given instructions – go slowly down the ladder till the water reaches our shoulders then put the helmet on. Now keep going down very slowly while holding our nose blowing hard to pop our ears.

The Asians go first then it’s our turn – the helmets look ridiculous. I’m next and it takes a while to completely climb down the ladder but a diver coaches me all the way. I see Mark coming down after me and he looks just a silly as I do.

P1040202The helmet is heavy on our shoulders and it’s hard to move around. Everything seems to be in slow motion. Each step seems to take about ten seconds until we get the hang of it and learn to bounce around the bottom like astronauts. Mark does this funny moon walking thing and we’re having a ball. For some unknown reason, the Asians never move from the same spot while crouching the whole time – wtf?

Besides having fun laughing at each other and posing for the video camera, the reef is a bit of a disappointment and we don’t see much except for lots of really big starfish – literally the size of dinner plates. I think they’re fakes until Mark puts one on top of my helmet and the horrible thing latches on – get it offfffff!

Back at Blue Coral we have an afternoon sleep then head back out for another night drinking and eating at the beach bars. The night air is warm and still and the sky is bright with stars – very lucky. Mark is extra happy with a plate of oysters and then fresh fish while I love my king prawns all cooked on the beach barbeque.P1040210

Meanwhile we’re entertained by fire twirlers but with a difference – they’re all gay (or transvestites, not sure) and I catch them touching up their makeup in the ladies toilet. They do the usual fire twirling thing but with very effeminate wrist and body movements – not something you see every day.

Sunday 17th October, 2010   Boracay

I wake at five o’clock. Angie had come back to me. She looked beautiful – just like her photo. The first time that I’ve dreamt about her at the age she was when she died – before she’s always about ten years old. I don’t know what that means.

She was calm and gentle. She didn’t know that she’d died. When I told her she said that if she saw the old Angie she would hit her. I held her in my arms. One last time, till I woke up and she’s still gone. I know it was how she would have been without her illness. I can’t stop crying and take a tablet to make me sleep and find her again.

Angie

I don’t wake again till nine o’clock. Mark is already up and has had breakfast. I tell him about my dream and he’s lovely as always. I know I have to be busy today – very frightened of falling into the black hole.

The weather is beautiful yet again and I’m grateful for that. We lay on the beach chairs reading our trash novels then go for a few swims. The water is perfect – warm, shallow and a soft aqua blue. Lunch is blt at Blue Mango with the usual fresh pineapple juices – a very healthy holiday (except for the booze and ciggies – ha, ha).

P1040265Mark decides to have a diving lesson. It’s much cheaper here than at home – which probably also mean it’s as dangerous as hell. Anyway, it’s something he’s always wanted to do but my heart isn’t into doing it myself today. He has some lessons in a pool at the dive shop then comes back to see me, all kitted up in a full wetsuit with scuba tanks on his back. I think he looks gorgeous!

P1040274After a good luck kiss, I watch my ‘Sexy Bum’ have more lessons in the water right in front of me – about ten other learners with an instructor each. After a while they all climb onto a waiting outrigger then set off for a dive at Angol Point.

While I wait, I meet a lovely lady on the beach who is very happy when I agree to have a manicure and a pedicure. We talk the whole time and even though her life is pretty awful she laughs at everything. Her name is Candida and she lives in a tiny shack on Panay Island. She comes over here every day to try to earn some money from the tourists. She has no husband because he drank and beat her every day – ‘I go to police’, she laughs – till she eventually got rid of him. It’s up to her to support her four kids and try to get help for one poor little deformed son who has ‘no bum’, as she says  – he has to wear a colostomy bag. My God, this poor little lady. I give her extra money and ask if she’ll do my nails again on Thursday. She’s very happy because business is ‘no good’.

Now I do some emailing home then read in our room till my darling comes back at four o’clock – so relieved to see him safe. On dusk we both have a massage under the trees before a drunk night at Coco Locos – we like it here. Just a rough wooden bar and barstools with a thatched and bamboo roof with a sandy floor. The people are friendly and we talk to the lady owner.

I’m very sad today and go to bed early.

Monday 18th October, 2010   Boracay

After all the good weather we’ve had, we’re surprised to wake to a cloudy and very windy day. The water is choppy and all the boats from this side of the island have been taken around to Bulabog Beach which is more protected as it faces the opposite direction (eastwards).

P1040287We hear warnings on the television that explain the bad weather we’re having. Typhoon Juan is heading for Luzon and should reach the Cordilleras (where we’ve just come from) at midday. Trying to work out when or when not to come to the Philippines to dodge the typhoons (tropical cyclones) is a bit of a lost cause as it seems that they can hit anywhere at anytime. It all comes down to luck and we were very lucky to visit the rice terraces last week as now they’ll be totally cut off and for who knows how long. And we’ll just have to wait to see how badly Boracay will be affected. At any rate, it looks like the next couple of days at least will be horrible.

To fill in time we walk all along the Beachfront Path to D’Mall then stop for lunch and drinks at a restaurant on the way back. The rain has started as well and the wind is terrible. I’m seriously scared of being killed by a flying coconut (an embarrassing way to go, don’t you think) and can’t wait to get back to the safety of our room.

Luckily we’ve got plenty of books and the television has a fashion channel that keeps me amused and sport for Mark. News reports continually show the devastation the typhoon has caused in northern Luzon. Now it’s heading for Manila but will hopefully die out before it reaches this far south.

P1040289On dark we head back to Coco Locos and have another great night.

Tuesday 19th October, 2010   Boracay

All night we could hear the wind howling and this morning it’s just as bad. We sneak outside for a look to see what havoc Super Typhoon Juan has done overnight – apparently the newly-added ‘super’ bit is a technical term meaning ‘bloody big’. The beach is covered with coconuts and plants that have been washed up by the waves and the wind is still howling through the palms. We see on the television that the Cordilleras have suffered badly against winds of 225 kilometres an hour with at least ten people dead. Manila, itself, has experienced floods and extreme wind damage – those poor people living on the streets.

After breakfast at Blue Coral I spend the day in our room reading, sleeping and watching tv – there are worse ways to spend a day. And at least we’ve experienced a typhoon even if it’s only the fringe of it. Mark ventures out at lunchtime to bring back a pizza and we spend the night at Coco Locos again. Very cosy really, all locked in together.

Wednesday 20th October, 2010   Boracay

Sunshine at last! Typhoon Juan has gone off to continue his dirty deeds in southern China but now we have the monsoon winds blowing on our side of the island. The best thing to do is find another beach facing a different direction.P1040292

We’re up early not to miss out on the sun for our last full day on Boracay. Breakfast is at a little café up the path then Mark puts in a bag of clothes at a laundromat to be picked up in the morning. Now we find a guy in one of the laneways who says he’ll hire his bike to us for the day.P1040296

This is brilliant – nothing better than riding around on the back of a bike with Mark. Feeling happy today. Firstly we wind our way towards the main road passing little market stalls and family homes then down through the town. We head for Puka Beach on the northern tip of the island. It’s beautiful! – wish we’d found it earlier and we probably would have if Typhoon Juan hadn’t cost us two days.

P1040308The beach is much wider here than at White Beach but with the same soft white sand and fringed by coconut palms. There are a couple of basic cafes with the usual thatched roofs and sandy floors. We choose the Tom Tom Restaurant for its brightly coloured tablecloths and furniture. This is happiness – fresh fish, garlic prawns, salad and pineapple juice.

While we eat, we watch South Korean honeymooners modelling down by the water, each couple with a private photographer. They’re so into it, striking the daggiest poses imaginable like making heart shapes with their arms above their heads – God love them. And to top it off, each couple wear matching outfits! Must be the in thing in South Korea.P1040306

As we’re leaving, we meet a young guy called Daniel and arrange to go snorkeling with him this afternoon. He has a boat and we’ll meet him at Bulabog Beach at four o’clock.

Now we set off on the bike again to Mount Luh which is the highest spot on Boracay. We wind our way to the top then walk up a steep path overhung with thick gardens to the lookout at the top. Here we have a panoramic view of Boracay’s funny dog-bone shape as well as lots of islands beyond. The Philippines is actually made up of 7,107 islands, although I think some are only big enough for one palm tree.

Also from up here we look down onto a few large moorings busy with speed boats and jet skis coming and going. I guess these are more of the Korean honeymooners and we see even more of them riding around in convoys of trikes as we leave Mount Luh – great excitement and again all sporting matching beach clothes.P1040318

From here we drive down towards town. On the way we stop at a roadside market stall and buy a couple of singlet tops then head for D’Mall where we buy two expensive tops for Lauren. We go back to Crafts Store as well to buy some dresses for Aurelia.

We’ve still got plenty of time so we spend the next few hours exploring the southern part of the island. We drive down to the ferry wharf then through small villages, green areas and goats.

Later we take the bike back then find a tricycle to take us over to Bulabog. Here we meet Daniel and wade out to his blue and white outrigger. We head out of the bay then stop at a couple of different spots to snorkel. The water isn’t very clear but we enjoy it just the same. Daniel then suggests we go to another island to visit Crystal Cove Resort.

P1040357Getting off the boat onto the island isn’t easy as there are waves here and we wonder why we’re even bothering. The resort is a letdown with no visitors as far as we can see but we think it’s probably just where people come for the day. And it’s the ugliest place we’ve ever seen – walls, paths, buildings all made from little bits of local rough rock – like something out of a nightmare. We follow Daniel along walkways then down a winding staircase made of driftwood (also ugly) into a large cave. This at least is very impressive and would be a nice place for a swim if we had the time. Right now, though, we want to get the hell out of here because the wind is coming up and black clouds are hurtling our way.P1040376

Back down on the beach the waves are much bigger and it takes ages to get the boat off the beach with the wind continually forcing us back into shore. We need help from another boat and eventually we’re on our way. For the next hour we huddle together under a beach towel to keep off the worst of the rain and the wind. The sea and sky are the same dull grey – a weird colourless world after the vivid blues of an hour ago. It’s an exciting trip really but we’re glad when we finally reach the safety of Boracay.

The rain has gone by the time we pull into Bulabog Beach which for some reason is very busy with motorbikes and tricycles. Back to White Beach we enjoy our final night at Coco Locos.

Thursday 21st October, 2010   Boracay to Manila

Our last day, so we enjoy the morning swimming and hanging around on the beach. I try to find Candida as I promised that I’d see her today for a manicure and pedicure but the real reason is that we want to give her $100AUD. It might help to make her life easier for a little while at least. I can’t find her though – why is life so unfair for her?

When it’s time to leave we catch a tricycle over to east-facing Tambisaan Beach which is used as an alternative entry and exit point for the ferries to Panay when the wind is blowing on the western side of the island. The water is much rougher today but the wind has dropped by the time we reach Caticlan. Flying out at three o’clock we arrive in Manila an hour later and catch an airport bus to the international terminal. Leave at ten o’clock.

Friday 22nd October, 2010   Sydney

Arrive at seven am and catch the train home. Our darling Lauren will be waiting for us – just 4 weeks to go!! Hurry up, Abigail!
Facts About the Philippines

HISTORY
The history of the Philippines can be divided into four distinct phases: the pre-Spanish period (before 1521); the Spanish period (1521-1898); the American period (1898-1946); and the post-independence period (1946-present).

Post-Independence Period
The early years of independence were dominated by U.S.-assisted postwar reconstruction.

In 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1965-86) declared martial law, citing growing lawlessness and open rebellion by the communist rebels as his justification. Marcos governed from 1973 until mid-1981. He suppressed democratic institutions and restricted civil liberties during the martial law period.  corruption and cronyism contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development.

The assassination of opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino upon his return to the Philippines in 1983 after a long period of exile coalesced popular dissatisfaction with Marcos and set in motion a succession of events that culminated in a snap presidential election in February 1986. The opposition united under Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino and Marcos was forced to flee the Philippines in the face of a peaceful civilian-military uprising that ousted him and installed Corazon Aquino as president on February 25, 1986.

Under Aquino’s presidency, progress was made in revitalizing democratic institutions and civil liberties. However, the administration was also viewed by many as weak and fractious, and a return to full political stability and economic development was hampered by several attempted coups staged by disaffected members of the Philippine military.

Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992. Early in his administration, Ramos declared “national reconciliation” his highest priority. He legalized the Communist Party and created the National Unification Commission (NUC) to lay the groundwork for talks with communist insurgents, Muslim separatists, and military rebels. In June 1994, President Ramos signed into law a general conditional amnesty covering all rebel groups, as well as Philippine military and police personnel accused of crimes committed while fighting the insurgents. In October 1995, the government signed an agreement bringing the military insurgency to an end. A peace agreement with one major Muslim insurgent group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was signed in 1996, using the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a vehicle for self-government.

Popular movie actor Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s election as president in May 1998 marked the Philippines’ third democratic succession since the ouster of Marcos. Estrada was elected with overwhelming mass support on a platform promising poverty alleviation and an anti-crime crackdown. During his first 2 years in office, President Estrada was plagued with allegations of corruption, resulting in impeachment proceedings. Estrada vacated his office in 2001. In 2007, an anti-graft court convicted Estrada of plunder charges. He received a presidential pardon soon after the conviction.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, elected vice president in 1998, assumed the presidency in January 2001 after widespread demonstrations that followed the breakdown of Estrada’s impeachment trial. The Philippine Supreme Court subsequently endorsed unanimously the constitutionality of the transfer of power. National and local elections took place in May 2004. Under the constitution, Arroyo was eligible for another term as president for a full 6 years, and she won a hard-fought campaign against her primary challenger, movie actor Fernando Poe, Jr., in elections held May 10, 2004. Noli De Castro was elected vice president.

Impeachment charges were brought against Arroyo in June 2005 for allegedly tampering with the results of the 2004 elections, but Congress rejected the charges in September 2005. Similar charges were discussed and dismissed by Congress in later years.

In 2010 elections, Liberal Party Senator Benigno S. Aquino III (son of Ninoy and Corazon Aquino) ran for and won the presidency, campaigning against corruption and on a platform including job creation, provision of health care and education, and other domestic issues. Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, a member of the PDP-Laban party, won the vice presidency. The election was the first in the Philippines to feature nationwide use of automated ballot-scanners, and, despite uncertainty about the technical reliability of the machines in the run-up to the election, most opinion-shapers lauded the election process as among the best in the Philippines’ history, quickly producing results that were widely accepted as legitimate.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Philippines has a representative democracy modeled on the U.S. system. The 1987 constitution, adopted during the Corazon Aquino administration, reestablished a presidential system of government with a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. The president is limited to one 6-year term. Provision also was made in the constitution for autonomous regions in Muslim areas of Mindanao and in the Cordillera region of northern Luzon, where many aboriginal tribes still live.

ECONOMY
Since the end of World War II, the Philippines has been on an unfortunate economic trajectory, going from one of the richest countries in Asia (following Japan) to one of the poorest. Growth after the war was rapid, but slowed as years of economic mismanagement and political volatility during the Marcos regime contributed to economic stagnation and resulted in macroeconomic instability. A severe recession from 1984 through 1985 saw the economy shrink by more than 10%, and political instability during the Corazon Aquino administration further dampened economic activity.

During the 1990s, the Philippine Government introduced a broad range of economic reforms designed to spur business growth and foreign investment. As a result, the Philippines saw a period of higher growth, although the Asian financial crisis in 1997 slowed Philippine economic development once again.

Despite occasional challenges to her presidency and resistance to pro-liberalization reforms by vested interests, President Arroyo made considerable progress in restoring macroeconomic stability with the help of a well-regarded economic team. Nonetheless, long-term economic growth remains threatened by inadequate infrastructure and education systems, and trade and investment barriers.

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About virginiascott

I'm an interior decorator, travel writer and blogger
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