My first week in the Philippines was a mixed bag of excitement; generous friends and a beautiful [free] hotel room in Cebu, an interesting start to my volunteer experience at Seaside, and an impending Typhoon. I guess they're right when they say "It's more fun in the Philippines", or if not fun at least it's always interesting. When I made my return to Seaside things had changed a bit, a third volunteer, Caroline, had joined the crowd and we quickly befriended each other. The first few nights of work at the bar were slow with a mix of new and old customers but then the workers (construction boys) started hanging out, friendships were made fast and loads of fun was had.
Nine times out of ten, when I tell someone how long I’ve been traveling their first response is, “Are you rich?” I can assure you that’s not the case, I’m not rich, my parents aren’t supporting me and I have no sugar daddy funding my trips. The secret is how I travel, there are no fancy hotels (well, only when I’m lucky), I opt for the long bus or train over flight, eat local, and avoid souvenirs but there are a few other tricks up my sleeve. The first of which is Couchsurfing, which has provided me with nothing but amazing opportunities and unique situations, as well as new friends. The second secret is in volunteering or working for your room and board. I joined HelpX last spring and utilized it only a few times during my travels through SE Asia, either the opportunities weren’t there or I just wasn’t in the mood for work. This time around however I’m trying to make that dollar stretch just a little bit further so my travels are being planned more around these volunteer opportunities than pretty beaches or big temples, or maybe an even balance of the two.
After spending a week in Bohol I figured it was about time I actually pay a visit to the attraction(s) that the island has to offer. To be fair I was waiting for the third volunteer, Caroline, to arrive at Seaside so that we could split the cost of transportation. Bruce mentioned that he would arrange for us to visit the Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers and it'd be "cheaper than any way you would do it from town" so I figured I'd leave it up to him to arrange. Thursday May Joy explained the plan to us, she had arranged a day tour which consisted of 8 different stops but came with a price tag of 1500 pesos, we all agreed, thanks but no thanks. Our next attempt was to ask if we could just use the Seaside van but that was still going to run us 3000 pesos, looks like we were on our own. Thankfully we had discovered that the night guard from Seaside, Jerocisimo's hometown is Carmen which just so happens to be where the Chocolate Hills are located, looks like we were up for an adventure.
During my first night in Cebu, while at dinner with Jan and his friends Eric mentioned something about a “Super Typhoon” coming towards the Philippines. His delivery of said statement didn’t sound too serious and neither Jan or Tiffany sounded concerned so I brushed it off. Then, upon arriving at Seaside Resort talk of the coming typhoon once again surfaced, causing me to look into it a little bit. Only a few minutes of research showed me that this wasn’t exactly a laughing matter. The storm approaching the Philippines was a big one and it showed little sign of slowing down or disappearing, the question was what path would it take? There were different reports, one predicting the storm to head N/NW on path for the Philippines causing potentially catastrophic damage, while the second predicted it would take a turn North and head towards Japan. Clearly, my fingers were crossed hoping for the later option.
Roughly a year ago I had my first meeting with the Philippines, through a bleary eyed early morning arrival in Cebu. Clearly this was not the ideal way to enter the country, but cheap flights caught my eye and thus I found myself in a taxi, hoping to even make it to my accommodation. I didn't make that mistake again, well not exactly, this time I arrived at 5am after a red eye from Incheon aboard which I got a few not so comfortable hours of sleep. Thankfully I didn't have to deal with the taxi headache as my friend Jan was kind enough to pick me up from the airport. *Background story: I met Jan and his friends on my last day in Coron last year at which time he was my angel in disguise, saving me from a sketchy hotel situation* It's been a year since our meeting and I kept promising I'd come back for a longer visit, which I finally delivered on. Jan promised that if I returned to Cebu he'd show me the better side, seeing as I wasn't exactly blown away last time...
After spending nearly two weeks in paradise it was unfortunately time for me to return to the busy city for a night. I was hoping I could match up my flight times and spend only a few hours at the airport but no such luck. After a series of extremely lucky, weird-how-things-turn-out-for-the-best, events I found myself in a lovely hotel room near the Mactan-Cebu airport.
After my day on the water, and a refreshing shower, I figured I should devote a little time to the streets of Coron. I ventured out with my camera, but no real purpose or destination in mind. On the way out of the Sea Dive resort I ran into our captain from the day, Jam-Jam, who seemed amused when I responded "I don't know" to his question of where I was headed. If there was a rush hour in Coron I think I ran straight into it, the market and surrounding streets were overflowing with people, many of which appeared to be school kids, recently released from class. I zig-zaged my way through the rows upon rows of market stalls, covered a few blocks of the center of town and started to head up towards Mt. Tapyas when I ran into Ian, my new friend from the previous days boat.
Thankfully, getting settle in Coron, post boat ride, was a breeze. Ian and I walked part of the way to town, eventually flagged down a tricycle and soon arrived at the Sea Dive resort, where I had a room booked. There was a kitschy bar, conveniently located about 10 feet from my room so Ian and I decided to grab a drink before calling it a night. The next morning I was up early thanks to the combination of roosters, construction and the dive office being directly next to my room, there really is no sleeping in with budget accommodation. I made my way into the dive office planning to figure out an island hopping tour for the day; different than El Nido, where you pay per person/per tour, in Coron you pay 1,500 for the boat, but can share it with up to four people. I didn't really want to hire my own boat so I was looking to tag along with a group of two or three. It was my lucky day because a Chinese couple were just preparing to leave and said it was no problem if I join.
I could have stayed in El Nido forever, but my flight back was from Coron, so eventually I had to leave. I still had some doubts about the day ahead of me but there was really no turning back at this point. I was told to arrive at the pier at 7 o'clock (an hour before we were due to depart) but knew there would be a lot of waiting. Slowing a variety of other travelers gathered, but I kept quiet and enjoyed my morning of observance, seeing who I'd be spending the next 8+ hours with. I knew an 8 o'clock departure meant we'd be lucky to leave by 8:30, but many others seemed annoyed at the lack of urgency on getting us aboard. Finally, closer to 9 o'clock they brought us to our boat, loaded our luggage and then gave us the go ahead to get on the boat, "one by one" to which no one paid much attention and stormed the boat like a pack of wild animals. I hung back and laughed at the idiocy with two others, as the rest of them made their best attempts at sinking the ship before we even left the port, great I was about to be stuck on a boat with 30 morons.
After our, thankfully, uneventful bus ride to El Nido, we decided to get a trike to the El Nido Art Cafe to get recommendations on where to stay in town, since we hadn't prearranged anything. The cafe is basically the central 'go to' spot in town for all of your needs - clothes, snacks, tour bookings, boat and plane tickets, as well as a good meal/drink. They were helpful in providing us with a list of accommodation (including price range) so we decided the best method would be to start knocking on doors. We originally wanted a beach side cottage but upon realizing the 'non-beach' properties were literally 10 ft across the street we settled on a cute room at the El Nido Plaza Inn for only 500php per night, such a steal. Once we were settled in our room it was time to explore the town, get to the beach and find something to eat!
Over 7,500 islands of pure bliss. I've been twice, both times arriving with a "what am I doing here" hesitation, but weeks later resisting my departure. Forget about being on time, or eating lots of vegetables, but welcome beautiful sunsets, gorgeous beaches, and welcoming, friendly locals.