Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bohol Part 3: Finally the Beach!

We were desperately in need of the beach! We had been on vacation for almost a week and still no ocean time. Alona Beach is on a separate island (Panglao), connected by bridge, to the main island of Bohol. It is very touristy, but the beach is beautiful. Our hotel was in the prime busy zone, and had only like 3 shitty beach chairs in front, sandwiched between massage ladies and a shake stand, so we headed to the far end of the beach for some peace and quiet (this was only like a 5 min walk). 

One shitty thing that we have found in the Philippines is the lack of beach loungers. Most places I have been, every restaurant on the beach has a set of loungers that you can use if you eat/drink from them during the day. Here, each restaurant is in a hotel, and they only allow chair use for guests. The big fancy resort on the beach, Hennan, had great loungers, and tons of them. One day we asked the bar guy if we could use the chairs if we bought drinks from them (the most expensive beers on the beach). He said yes. This was a great day! We had comfy loungers and also an umbrella! This was important as we had sunscreen fails our first beach day, and both of us had strange patchy burns due to forgetting to pay attention to which direction the sun was coming from. However, a couple of days later on our last day we decided we needed comfy chairs again, and even though we had secured an ok from the bartender, security kicked us out like the riff raff we are. This was despite the fact that more than half the chairs were not in use. Apparently we are too beach trashy to sit in front of the fancy hotel! Good thing we brought our bright pink laybag with us to the beach, as it was much more comfy than the sand. Surprisingly, not a single other laybag was in use, and we got quite a few comments about it. 

The other reason for coming to Bohol (besides tarsiers) was diving. The Balicasag Island marine sanctuary is really close to the island, and has really good beginner diving. We hooked up with a cheap, bare bones diving ship (Baywatch Divers) (we didn't realize it was so bare bones until after we had dove with them) upon recommendation from a girl at one of my clients). Despite the fact that the dive master was more interested in his sandwich than remembering the names of fish, or us really, we had a good day. It was just Steve and I with our dive master, and only one other girl (getting certified) on the dive. This was especially good since I hadn't dove in 2 years, and this was Steve's first diving outside of his open water certification dives in the Lake Chaparral residential lake. We did 2 dives, one on a shallow reef (called Diver's Heaven), and then a wall dive (Rico's wall - my first wall dive, it was amazing!). On our first dive we saw a bunch of turtles, one really big one before we even finished submerging. There were a bunch of really cool fish and other things, but I suck at knowing their names, and our underwater camera is really crappy so the pictures are not great. Or they are non-existent, since I was responsible for the camera on our first dive, and every time I try to take a picture I forget to breath and pay attention to my buoyancy so start floating around like an idiot. Our first dive was really short since apparently Steve sucks air back like a maniac. When we went up (maybe after 20 min?) Steve was in the red, and I still had 75% of the original amount of air. On our second dive, Steve once again ran out of air quickly, and I had more than half of the original tank. Luckily our dive master wasn't so on top of being professional and decided that Steve could hang out on the surface by himself and wait for the dive boat while me and him went back down for another go. 


                                              Pretty Diving Hair Selfie

Another awesome thing we did on Bohol was to do a firefly watching kayak tour on the Abatan River with Kayakasia. We decided to do this after day drinking on the beach, so were not well prepared at all - no idea where it was, no mosquito repellent, etc. Luckily we were taken care of by a lovely Dutch couple. The tour also included dinner, which ended up being the best Filipino food that we have eaten so far. There was some fried eggplant thing that tasted like french fries... super yummy. The tour itself was fantastic - it was dark out, and you kayak down the river to look at trees full of fireflies. The company is great and the guides are super knowledgeable. I recommend them for their eco-tourism friendliness alone. The trees full of fireflies were amazing. Sitting on the river, under the super moon, looking at glowing trees, was super surreal. I of course have no pictures as our waterproof camera is not great. The only bad part of the tour for us is the actual kayaking part. This would not have been bad, except that Steve is really horrible at kayaking. He told me that he was bad because he always tipped the kayak, but I really wanted to go, so he agreed. We didn't tip the kayak, so that was fine. However, he is terrible at steering, which sucked, because he was our steerer. We went back and forth across the river in a zig zag pattern, testing our relationship the whole time! At one point we went in a complete circle. I was laughing out of control at how bad we were. I think the guides felt sorry for us as one of them kept telling us were were "almost there!". Thank goodness we only had to go 4km. 

We had 4 days at Alona Beach. Besides diving, sucking at kayaking and beach days, we didn't do much. Lots of relaxing. Some other things: 

  • discovering cheap beer vendors so that we could have beach beers without paying hotel prices 
  • The filipino band at our hotel that played 90's love ballad covers all through happy hour while we drank 2 for one drinks and I sang along at the top of my lungs
  • Discovering Tanduay rum - less than $3 for a 26oz bottle 
  • Napping every day around 4-5 pm so that we didn't see a single sunset the whole time we are at the beach!
  • Bohol bee farm ice cream - we would try alll the flavours on taste tests every day but ended up with salted honey every time. Soo good. We ate this like every day. 
  • Pain au chocolate for breakfast from the hotel next door every morning 


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bohol Part 2: Touring and Tarsiers!

We decided that we would book a car to take us on a tour of Bohol sites. Apparently when you come to Bohol, the most popular tour is called the Countryside Tour. Everyone offers this tour. EVERYONE. And it is the same all over. You see sites like the Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers (which we wanted to see), but also things like a very large python, a hanging bridge, a church that you just can drive by on the main road to town, a man made forest (which means that people planted the trees, and you have to drive through it to see the chocolate hills anyway), a famous stone, etc. This sounded somewhat like a waste of time/money for us, so we asked to have a custom tour to go see the chocolate hills, the tarsiers and to go to a somewhat remote waterfall (Mag-aso Falls). Apparently (according to our hotel and driver) we are crazy as we didn't want to see other things like the large snake. Crazy. 

Anyway! Our driver was Jose, and he was a funny guy. He was always cracking jokes and telling us interesting stories. He also used to work at the one tarsier sanctuary so was very knowledgable about tarsiers. 

First stop: Bohol Tarsier Sanctuary. There are 2 main Tarsier places on Bohol - Bohol Sanctuary and Philippine Sanctuary (at Corella). We wanted to go to the latter, which is not included on the countryside tour (another reason for making the custom tour), as it seems less staged/more authentic and actually a place where the money goes to tarsier conservation. However, Jose convinced us to go to the Bohol one as well because we could "see more tarsiers" and he used to work there. So ok! It was only $2 entry fee so we decided to do it, plus my whole reason for coming to Bohol was for the tarsiers!! Basically you wander around a path and look at the tarsiers that have been placed in key areas for you to take pictures of and observe. Jose knew lots of tidbits about Tarsiers, and also knew all the staff so he entertained us by introducing us to Tarsier mothers and fathers (apparently it is a good joke to say someone is related to the Tarsiers??) as we went. In case you didn't know, Tarsiers are the world's smallest primate. They are nocturnal and quite boring as they are sleepy during the day and basically just want you to be quiet and leave them alone. But adorable! They have feet like a tree frog, rats tails, and these giant eyes that are stationary in their heads even though they can turn their heads 180 degrees. They are on the decline (classified as an endangered species) due to deforestation, house cats and the pet trade. We later on ALSO went to the sanctuary at Corella, which seemed a little more into the information and actual conservation of the tarsiers, and not just a means for tourist money, PLUS they had a guide that assisted us in our (ok my) quest for a tarsier selfie, so I have to say I preferred it. Jose (again) though we were crazy for going to BOTH Tarsier places, but it was totally worth it! 

After we had our tour of Tarsiers, we headed to the Chocolate Hills. This is a big tourist destination, but really, who knows why. They are a bunch (over 1200) of cool looking uniform shaped hills, that in the dry season, are brown, hence the "chocolate". As it was just the end of rainy season, the hills were NOT chocolate. Also we couldn't really find out any information on why the hills are so uniform in shape. Our driver told us a kids story about giants throwing stones at each other and that's why they are there.

                                         Supposedly Yoda is modelled after a Tarsier. 

                                             I call him Voldemort

Steve was very excited to see the hills, and in his excitement, thought that an ATV tour through them sounded great. We thought at least that we would get to go on a private path and see things not everyone gets to see (the main thing is to pay to drive to the lookout and take pictures from above). So, we paid (too much) for a half hour ATV tour. This tour took us down a public road! To see 2 hills that we could have just had our driver take us to. Fuckers. We were very annoyed. AND on this public road, we were made to stop and pay an "entrance fee" by some dude whose house probably happens to be on that road. Also as it was the end of the rainy season, there were muddy patches and puddles on the road, and of course we ended up covered. I had forgotten that whatever you drive through on a quad splatters up at you (its been awhile since I've quadded, and I was probably preoccupied thinking how sweet I looked in my pretty pink helmet), and drove through a lovely pile of water buffalo feces immediately after getting on my quad. That shit was allllll over me. We definitely did not get our money's worth, except for the fact that our guide thought he was our personal photographer and made us pose for many many pictures along the way! I would say that besides laughing my ass off at the poses our driver made us do, the highlight was getting to wade in a cute little creek to wash off all that water buffalo crap. We also got super annoyed because after the ATV tour, we then drove to the lookout to take some pictures, and were told we had to pay again. Since we already paid, I showed them my "Ticket" and was told nope, too bad, you have to pay again. This is where I said fuck it, I'm not paying another fee to take some damn pictures from the top of a hills, and told the driver to leave.

Last stop (despite the driver's best attempts to get us to stop at multitudes of shitty tourist attractions) was Mag-aso Falls. We climbed down some stairs (197 to be exact) to a lovely water fall basin. I had a delightful swim while Steve had a panic attack about people stealing our stuff and stayed on the sidelines. It was still lovely though, and super refreshing after the sweaty climb down. The only thing missing was beers!

And just in case you're not completely tired of Tarsiers yet: 




Friday, November 11, 2016

Bohol Part 1

We got up early (4:30 early) on Nov 8 to get to our flight to Bohol. Bohol is in the island group called the Visayas. They had an earthquake in 2013 that destroyed a lot of buildings, and deterred a lot of tourists, so they are very thankful for tourist money right now. The island is beautiful - there are lush green areas, as well as beatiful beaches. It is shoulder season now, and not high tourist season, but there are relatively few tourists. Even the touristy area that we are in right now is not very crazy and there is lots of room on the beach. 

Anyway! We flew to Boho after being delayed in Manila for a couple of hours on the tarmac. Luckily we made friends with our seatmate on the plane who got mad at the flight attendants, thus scoring us some free Cebu Airlines snack boxes filled with pre-packaged Filipino treats. These were mostly saltine-like crackers filled with different kinds of cream (white cream, blueberry cream biscuits, etc). They were not as delightful as the black rice soda biscuits by any means, but they did contribute to our pile of snacks that we are using to stick to the budget. The food plan is currently 2 meals a day with snacks for lunch. And many beers in between. 

We had a one hour drive from the capital, Tagbilaran, to our hotel - the lovely Loboc River Resort - thanks for the recommendation Heather if you are reading this!! Jay, our driver informed us of many things: 
- cock fighting is a very big deal in Bohol. There are fights every Sunday at 3:00. You can double your money if you win the fight, and they fight til the one rooster is dead. People who own prize winning roosters are very respected. Don't worry, I asked what happened to the loosing rooster and luckily, Sunday is chicken soup day! Also don't worry, we didn't go to any cock fights. 
- Jay also let us know that even though Sunday is the only day for cock fights, he wins cock fights in his bedroom every night. 
- Jeepneys (old army jeeps done up with benches painted in all sorts of colours that act as public transportation) are the cheaper way to get from place to place, but the schedule is a bit sketchy. When the jeepney is full, you can ride on top for a discount. This is why "its more fun in the Philippines!". (This is the Philippine travel board slogan). 
- He pointed out many churches that were destroyed in the earthquake that are still being rebuilt today. 
- Apparently water buffalo (caribao) meat is considered quite the tasty treat. He showed us the "best buffalo restaurant" that unfortunately we did not have a chance to get to. 
- Tricycles (motobikes with a side carriage basically) are another cheap way to get around. There are "public transport" tricycles that are registered, and these have a bible verse on them. This is required by law. If your tricycle doesn't have a bible verse, you are using a non-registered one. 


We stayed at the Loboc River Resort for 2 nights. It was quite a lovely place, located on the bank of the Loboc River. It is a Filipino owned hotel, with quite a big chunk of land. The first day we took a tour of the property and saw the feeding of the 4 local monkeys (they feed them twice a day), feeding of the chickens and ducks, fish pond (they raise tilapia) and got to pet the farm water buffalo, Lisa. She was sweet and bristly. They also had a chicken that was nesting 10 eggs in a nest box in the deck railing of the outdoor restaurant. 
On the last day there, Steve decided to try his luck fishing with raw shrimps off the river dock with a fishing pole and extremely short line. Sadly (not sadly?) there were no fish caught. 



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Back to SE Asia: Philippines Trip Begins!

Hello! Welcome back to the blog, it has been awhile! I'm back traveling, this time with Steve; this time to the Philippines! I've found that blogging about the trip is a good way for me to remember what I did later on, so we are going to give it a go again this time! 

The trip started out with a lot of flights. We flew from Calgary - Vancouver - Beijing - Manila. This was Steve's first time on such a long flight (11.5 hours to Beijing) and he is happy to report that he survived! We managed to get seats together, and bought a new luxury travel pillow in the Calgary airport, so with his legs in the aisle he managed to get about 2 hours sleep he thinks. I managed to get about 3 - maybe even 4 - despite sitting in the MIDDLE SEAT, because I am a very nice girlfriend. Our layover in Beijing was supposed to be 3.5 hours, which was ok, since we thought we would grab some Chinese beers in the lounge and walk the terminal to stretch our legs. Note that we managed to walk 7 km on a travel day (travel days, since it was really 30 hours of travel). However at hour 3 of the layover we were informed that our flight was delayed out of Beijing due to horrible fog (smog?) so it would actually be 8 hours of layover. We passed the time drinking more Chinese beers and trying all of the pre-packaged snacks in the lounge despite them having no English to tell us what they were. For those who care, black rice soda biscuits win hands down for best snack. I made sure to take a couple extra packs to enjoy this past few days, and am already waiting anxiously for our (hopefully only 3 hour) layover in China on the way back to stock up on more biscuits. 

I'm not sure this makes up for an 8 hr layover, but on our last flight (4.5 hours to Manila), I somehow managed to get us upgraded toAir  China Business Class! This was also Steve's first time in Business Class, so that was fun. Although let me just say that all Air China meals, regardless of what class of service you are in, seem to be "rice and some kind of meat". Rice and chicken, rice and pork, rice and fish. I ate more rice the past week than in the past year at home I think. 
Finally we got to Manila at 5 am. You may have heard horror stories about Manila traffic and you would be correct! It was crazy busy at this time of the morning, although after having later traveled in traffic during the day, it gets worse! Steve quickly experienced the way of the driving in Asia - lane lines mean nothing, horns are the boss. Honk to pass, honk to tell a pedestrian to get out the way, honk at the stray dog on the side of the road, honk to tell the giant truck he is coming to close, honk if you are angry, hey, just honk some more! Even though our Airbnb apartment was on the 37th floor we could still hear alllll the honking, and we were in a much lower traffic area than some. It took us an hour by taxi to get from our apartment in Makati, to the more touristy area of Intramuros, which was about 15 km away. No pedestrians got killed on any of our journeys, which was lucky and surprising from the amount of close calls!

Our first couple of days in Manila were very chill. After arriving at 6 am we had to sleep. Thank goodness for instant Starbucks coffee and leftover Halloween candy we packed as snacks, cuz we were too out of it to leave the apartment for anything else for breakfast. Every night were were in bed by 8:30 pm and that was a struggle. The sun rises at 5:30 and sets at 5:30, so you want to be sleeping early (Maui Midnight Jill!). The first full day there I was awake at 4 am, and the next we had to be up at 4:30 to make our next flight to our next island, so we were groggy and foggy to say the least. The area that we were staying in, Makati, is the business district of Manila, so its very Western, has lots of good restaurants, and is very clean. We were like 3-4 blocks from a couple giant malls. The first day we just went to the Greenbelt Mall for a few hours for air conditioned beers and wandering! I had a packing fail the first day and so we even got to experience Philippines Old Navy (exactly like at home, nothing different at all!) so I could get a tank top. We also had to get Steve's SIM card up and running on his phone. 

We went to a farmers market in Makati (Legaspi Sunday Market) on day 1, which was pretty much exactly like a farmers market at home except for a few extra stands selling raw meat and raw fish with melting chunks of ice in the pan. Jill, I almost brought you back home some Monkey Butt Jam, except we remembered that China had signs about NO JAM IN YOUR LUGGAGE, and since they already stole my portable charger out of my checked luggage on the way there, I didn't want to take any chances that after hauling jam around the Philippines for 3 weeks it would be confiscated in China.  

The weather is hot and muggy. Like 95% humidity. I was having a particularly hard time adjusting the first few days, and alternated between complaining that Steve didn't look as sweaty as me, and seeking out air conditioned pit stops. Steve was very patient although I was incredibly annoying I'm sure. Note: eating hot soup is NOT the best way to stop sweating. We spent our only full day in Manila touring around Intramuros, which is an old walled city (Steve would know how old) and the oldest part of Manila, built to protect the city in the early days. We went to Fort Santiago (the original fort, knocked down and rebuilt a couple of times, the walled city, and Rizal Park (so named for the father of Philippine independence, Jose Rizal). Steve was very happy to get some history in. I was very happy when we got to sit in the shade. We drank Buko juice (basically fresh coconut water) and ate more leftover Halloween candy and stolen black rice soda biscuits by the pond in Rizal Park. 


 We did not eat a single bit of traditional Filipino food in our first couple of days in Manila, which I am sad to report. We did however eat amazing sushi, tried Oysters Rockefeller for the first time (they were pretty yummy, even Steve thought so), drank local craft beer (so maybe that counts?) and had some fantastic coffee. We are trying to hard to stay on a budget so we will see how that goes. We will do better with the local food in the next destinations. 

Next stop - the island of Bohol!