Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mabuhay Philippines - Bohol and Boracay!

Onwards travel to my next 2 destination.  So I hereby introduce once again my travel buddies - The Fins!  Yes, initially I was supposed to go Bohol the day before but because of the disco party, I delayed my trip for 1 day, and left for Bohol on the same day as Hanna and Mikko!  So we travelled together!  Because of the long travelling to Bohol (~5H bus to Cebu + ~2H ferry to Tagbilaran + 30min to Panglao), we left for the 1st ferry out of Malapascua at 630am.  Good for us, the ferry left pretty much on time and we got onto the bus out of Maya around 730am.  The ride was smooth and not crowded (163P) and we got into Cebu close to 12.  Taxi hop over to Pier 4 (20mins) for the ferries.  Pier 1 has one ferry to Tagbilaran, while Pier 4 has 2 ferries.  Of course all the ferries run at scheduled timings, about 3 departures per day - morning, afternoon and evening.  We took Weesam which left at 2pm (earlier ferry leaves at 1130am).  700P for return ticket (7days validity) for Non-aircon seats.  Good enough for me cos I prefer natural wind! 
Smooth ferry ride and about 2H later, we arrived at Tagbilaran ferry.  3 of us hopped onto a car for 400P to Alona Beach.  Tricycle is about 250P, but good for maximum 2 pax.  Took us about 30min to get to Alona Beach, and time to find accomodation.  Good tip from fellow diver to ask Bohol Divers for the cheap rooms.  Yes, they don't tell you about the cheap rooms!  When I asked if there are any rooms, they said they were fully booked, until I specifically asked for the cheap rooms!  Then she told me "Yes, we have 1 500P single room available".  So that was how I got mine!  Hanna and Mikko had to walk and search further.  But apparently, Bohol Divers had twin room for 600P available cos they moved into Bohol Divers the next morning!  Dinner was a quiet and nice affair by the beach with the Fins!  What a coincidence bumping into them through the night.

Booked myself 2 dives to Balicasag with Genesis Divers (2960P for 2 dives).  45min boat ride to the dive sites and off we went!  Dive was between 18-22m, and lasted for close to 1H, which was fantastic.  Weather was not good though, windy, cloudy gloomy and really cold after each dive.  Went to Ricos Wall and Black Forest.  Black Forest was where we saw 2 schools of jack fish, which was amazing!  Met Tom and Allan, really nice and sweet Danish guys!
The next morning, time to ditch the water and conquer the land!  Took the jeepney (25P 1H) to Tagbilaran, and hopped onto a bike (150P return) to Tarsier Sanctuary.  Of course I could have taken local transport, but given that I still needed to make a trip to Chocolate Hills, spend a little more to cut down the time!

Those Tarsiers are really cute little gremlin-lookalikes! They are only palm sized big nocturnal animals.  Each morning, the keepers have to go around the sanctuary looking for them, and once they are spotted, they stay there for the rest of the day only moving at night to hunt for food.  During the day, they can't see us, only hear us approach.  Their eyes are gigantic! Cute or terrifying?  Depends on how you see it :)
You looking at me??
After I got back to the bus terminal, hopped onto the Carmen bound bus to Chocolate Hills (60P 2H).  It was when I alighted that it started pouring rain!  Had to wait out a little before proceeding uphill to the Chocolate Hills.  Only about a 15min slow walk up, and a really nice one, especially if it was not raining.  It was a nice view. Though raining, but it gave Chocolate Hills a mystically feeling.  Climb up the hundred or so steps to the viewpoint and you get a better look at the entire area.  Quick photo stop and off to catch the bus back to bus terminal and catch the jeepney back to Alona Beach.  Apparently there is a last jeepney to Alona Beach that ends around 4pm, but when I got onto mine close to 4pm, there were still other jeepneys waiting to depart.. So go figure!
Booked myself 3 more dives at Balicasag the next day with Seaquest (1500P per dive), joining Hanna and Mikko.  The 3 dives were even more amazing! We went to Ruckus Wall, Black Forest and Diver's Heaven.  Diver's Heaven was where we saw a really big school of jackfish upon descend.  Cool!  We saw lots of other creatures - frogfish, leaf fish, huge octopus etc etc.  Really good dive, but sucky weather.  Rained the entire time we were out.  Last night in Bohol, had a beer with the Fins and bumped into the Danes for dinner.  Funny story - Misheard the location and went to a different Italian restaurant only to turn back (it was a 15-20min walk away). But still I made it and it was a lovely dinner! 
Frogfish couple

Octopus couple
Bohol was a little more happening as compared to Malpascua, but still not the big BOM BOM BOM every night.  The beach would have been better had the weather been sunny!! Diving was good!
Next day off to Cebu to wait out the flight to Boracay the following day.  A day of doing nothing and just relaxing in my free hotel room.  Small world! Bumped into the Danes @ the mall!
Next day, uneventful flight to Boracay by Cebu Pacific.  No delays. But the interesting part comes next! No delay, but when we were approaching Caticlan, we were told we couldn't land and re-routed to Kalibo!  When we landed in Kalibo, we were told to stay in cabin and 15min later, the air stewardess started to get us buckled up and the plane moved again! 5mins into the runway, captain announced the weather in Caticlan deteriorated again and we will turn back to port.  Another 15mins wait, finally we were told to get off and got onto the free shuttle to Caticlan.  Phew!  What an event!
@ Caticlan port, bought the fast ferry for 30P and add on all those stupid environment fees, terminal fees (175P in total) for the 15min ride to Boracay.  Once there, took the shared Tricycle for 20P to Station 3.  Ask to share the tricycle else you will have to fork out 100P for 1 to yourself.  Asked around for accomodation and lucky for me, Anita from one of the dive shop took me to her friend's place where I got a nice room (with fan, TV which I didn't use, ensuite bathroom and big bed) for 1900P 3 nights!  Haggered down from 2100P. Not much of a discount but I put up a good fight! Almost got it down to 1800P.

Decided to ask about diving just to try out the famous Yapak and walked around for a bit, eventually ending up by the beach, lying in the sun and swimming a little.  Of course, at sundown, it was beer by the beach as I watched the sun sets.  And walked through to station 2 to soak in the bustling Boracay.  Really bustling as you walk from Station 3 to Station 2, and quiet down a little as you walk towards Station 1.  Slept rather well that night.  Oh without the sound of the cocks at 3am in the morning (In Malapascua) and the pouring rain, it was a good night's sleep!
Next morning, breakfast by the beach and headed off for a plane wreck dive with Dive Gurus.  I would recommend them.  Nice small establishment.  June Ern (Korean) was the one who left a good impression when I asked about diving the night before and she recommended that I do a try out dive before Yapak.  Small group of us went out to Tri-Bird for the dive.  Diving in Boracay is a standard 1600P include equipment everywhere. 
Deep dive down to 27m.  The dive was alright, frankly speaking.  Small wreck, nothing like Coron, but still ok.  Just a small penetration. and nothing else much to see outside.  After the dive, walked over to Bulabog beach for a different taste of Boracay.  A really different beach - quiet and very windy.  No tourists suntanning or playing in the water, strictly for the kite and wind surfers plying in the waters.  Real nice though.  Then walked to Mt Luho (30min from Bulabog) where you pay 120P to go up to the highest point in Boracay.  View up there was nice though but it started to rain which kinda ruined it a little.  Then it was a long walk back to White Beach where once again swam a little and relaxed a little.  Evening time was sitting by the beach watching volleyball match while the sun sets.

Next morning - Yapak!  No expectation whatsoever but just wanted to try the pride and joy of Boracay!  Negative entry dive and apparently the current wasn't that strong! Was a bit of current towards the end but really rather bland dive.  After the dive, walked the entire stretch of white beach to Din-iwid (where I bumped into the Danes again!) beach hopped onto a tricycle (15P) to Puka Shell Beach.  Nice quiet beach in Boracay!  Though not as nice as Koh Tarutao, but still widest stretch of sand! Relaxed there for a fair bit before heading back to White Beach by tricycle (35P). 
Divers from Dive Gurus

Star jumping Edwin!
At Puka Beach

I was!!
Met the the Fins for our last drink and dinner (my last night).  Talked abit with June Ern and got ready for big party at Cocomangas and Paraw.  The group of us from the dive shop (Brandon, Sam, Edwin etc etc) metup at Cocomangas for the big party!  3 others joined in - Dino and 2 French girls.  Fun night dancing partying and drinking!  And once again, early morning return to bed with not much sleep before I departed.  Seems like I have an affinity to staying up late the night before I'm due to depart!  Happens ALL THE TIME! This time, I can't change my travel plans!
Party Bring it On!!

With 3H of sleep, travelled to Kalibo airport (200P for ferry+van) for my noon flight.  Which I thought would be on time given the 11am flight went off on time (Zest Air).  But the trouble begins at noon!  I should have known! 3 times on Zest, 3 times delayed! THis time, it was delayed for 4H, so I was at the airport waiting for 6H! Ended up missing my connection flight, but luckily was able to rebook a later flight back home.  Phew, I would'nt want to stay in Manila.  The ground staff at Zest wasn't much of a use either. Just said this and that and this and that but nothing gets done.  YOu just have to sit and wait.  Why was the flight delayed? No idea!  What plane change what conjestion I don't know.  There were only 2 planes in Kalibo, what conjection!!  But I made it back!
How was Boracay?  Party island, unless you stay in the more remote beaches.  Yes, nice beach, but i guess you get better beaches in some parts of Thailand (Koh Lipe is nice) and Philippines.  Really crowded! And really expensive!  Food is expensive (no 200P meal!! Unless you survive on just hotdog buns for 150P) and not exactly the nicest.  Unless you stick with those 270P buffet tables which were totally unappealing.... Maybe McDonald's would be a safe bet!  But still it has some nice chill out places to have a drink and watch the crowd and listen to life music.  And if you are into partying, they have some really cool clubs and bars!  Cocomangas and Paraw were great fun!  And yes, the place is rather flooded with Korean and Chinese Tourists cos they have direct flights to Kalibo.  But of cos, if you are into kite or wind surfing, Boracay would be fun.  Not a cheap sport though.  Apparently a 4D course would be onwards of 20,000P per pax.  Of course you can do 1D but it would do you no good.
And so my vacation came to an end.  Happy ending? Yea I bet!  Nice trip, great diving, saw great things, had great fun, met great people! That's what travelling is all about!  Interesting unexpected things happen that make the trips worthwhile and memorable!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mabuhay Philippines - Oslob and Malapascua

Once again I embarked on a last minute 2 week solo trip, this time to the Philippines.  Idea really materialized while I was vacay-ing in Thailand over Xmas and NY, thinking why not use my remaining vacation days over CNY and do something really fun! I've always wanted to go back to Philippines - The islands mind you, and Feb seemed like a good time to go!  So a vacaton was born during a vacation! And planning started when I got back home.  It was easy to choose places since I'm a diver, so beaches/islands where there are nice diving! And some partying! That was how these 3 places came about - malapascua, bohol and boracay.  Of cos I swore to myself if I didn't see whale shark in Thailand, I would go over to Philippines.  Donsol first came into my mind, but then travel was a headache and finally decided Oslob, which is in Cebu.  4 places in 2wks, it's not really a lot of time!!
With my lonely planet, I read through the places and rough idea of things to do, and just booked my flight and off I went.  Nothing else done! And I was off from the 1st to the last day of CNY!!
Flight to Cebu went smoothly on time, landed on time.  Once in Cebu, off to the Southern bus terminal for the bus to Oslob (3H and 155P).  Funny how air-con and non-aircon has only a 5P difference, yet many more locals flocked to non-aircon.  Am I missing something?  It was after 7pm when I arrived in 'ghostly' town of Oslob where whale watching is big business.  Precisely why it's a ghost town after 1pm cos whale watching is only 6-12noon.  Someone from the whale watch shop came over to offer me accomodation once I arrived and got myself a room in a boatman's house for 300B.  Basic but just1 night, it's absolutely fine!  Bad thing - no food at the hour of 730pm.  So just survived on cup noodles for the night and early lights out for the 6am whale watch.
Small bangka sailing off coast to see whale sharks
Easy peasy - head over to any place, they all charge the same.  1000P if you swim/snorkel with whale shark or 700P if you just watch from the boat.  Of cos you have to go under to get the action!  Even at 6am, there were already 3 or more whale sharks.  And you don't sail out far, it's just off the coast! The fishermen feed them every morning 6-12 without fail so you are guaranteed to see them!  And these are baby whale sharks!  Still they are HUGE 6-10m! Imagine if you actually see an adult one!  We got 30mins with them whale sharks but I think being early birds, I was in the water for much longer.  Boatman was kind enough to take photos for me, and it was tiring!  The current was pretty strong and I was instructed to swim under, go under continuously for 10min without resting.  So down up down up down up just for good photos.  Worth it!  Now, you are NOT supposed to use Flash, splash around them, wear sunblock, and stay 4m away from them.  But the boatman kept asking me to "Get closer" and i was literally an arm's length away from whalie!!  Dream fulfilled! Showered off and caught the next bus back to Cebu and rush off to Malapascua!
I was this close to the whale shark
Cabbed to North bus terminal for the long ride to Maya, gateway to malapascua.  163P for the ride.  Gota make it to Maya before 5pm to catch the last boat over, else be prepared to pay private rates for boatman to get you over.  80P for the ride, and 20P each way for the small bangka to get you to the big bangka during low tide.  30mins is all it takes to get you to Malapascua, the so-called Boracay of the old.  Interesting story - After I purchased my 80P ticket, a boatman 'offered' me a private rate of 200P to leave immediately instead of waiting for the next boat which according to him was cancelled and don't know how long more to wait.  Of course I declined!  He tried on another passenger and got declined.  5mins later, we were off to go! No special rate!  Turned out, they had to leave because of the supplies they wanted to bring over! Scam!!
Upon arrival, time to find accomodation.  I sorta made a tentative enquiry to book 1 night over Internet with Purple Snapper, but wanted to try my luck with other cheaper options but none was available after walking the entire Bounty Beach.  Turned back to Purple Snapper and guess what!  They screwed up my booking!  The owner apologized and found another place for the night - 900B at a very far-out deserted place north of the island where there is no place for food or anything else!  Still nice for a quiet night of sleep.  Met a lovely Finnish couple on a 3 month honeymoon trip - Hanna and Mikko who were in the same plight as me.  Lo and behold, it was not to be our one and only chance meeting!! More on that later...
Next morning woke up refreshed and energized for a day of exploring the tiny island of Malapascua!  Started with a walk to the Lighthouse, where the view was alright.  Wanted to go up the lighthouse but the captain, who has the key, was not in the village.  Bad luck.  Then walked to the edge of the northern side where people head over to do cliff jumping.  Had to pay a 25P entrance fee cos apparently, I'm walking past a resort.  Oh whatever!  The view there was real nice but of course I didn't jump!  There was no way of getting back up once I'm down...
On top of the hill!
Still no guts to jump yet....
Then followed by a long walk to the other side of the island.  It is really just a small island, probably takes you under 2H to explore. But it was a nice day!  Finally checked into Purple Snapper, at 800P per night it is actually not that cheap!  Room was alright, with shared bathroom.  But the place is quite cool!  And tada! Bumped into the Fins again! Tried to lay by the beach to do some relaxing but the sky decided not to cooperate.. Turns out, there was a typhoon in South Mindanao which affected the weather.  And that was why I got shitty weather in the following days...
One of the nicest sunset during the entire 2wk trip!
By a chance encounter at a dive shop, I was recommended to eat at Kiwi, a local eatery.  Took me a while to find the little shack in a dark alley.  And when I arrived, only 1 table of travellers was there.  I decided to take a separate table cos I had a 5am dive the next morning and if I joined, I'll be fucked! Haha.. As i sat quietly at my own table, the conversation from the next table became really interesting and piqued my interest.  Time passed, 45mins later, still no sign of food.  I was finally invited to join them in waiting and drinking for food  Turned out they have been waiting for much longer!  Our food finally arrived 2H later.  Why? Because there's only 1 lady cooking and everything done from scratch! Even the coconut had to be bought upon order!  But it was a good wait with those people!  Funny, cool and interesting bunch of people!  When the food arrived, totally worth it!  Delicious and cheap!  Highly recommend it, if you can find it!  Of cos, I ended up in bed only after 12.  For the threshers, I will survive on 5H of sleep.
Next morning, though tired, but excited cos Threshers! Off we went at 5am, and down we went at 6am.  All was quiet and still until - DUM DUM DUM! We spot the 1st glimpse of the giant! 1, 2, 3 no 4!!! They were just swimming, minding their own business like we don't exist! Holy crap they are huge with those whipper tail!  One of the most amazing moments, just sitting down there, watching.
Hello Mr Thresher!

Caught in action!
Went for another dive in the mid morning, which was pretty cool too.  I thought I needed a nap, but damn those threshers must have given me energy cos no nap required, and I met those group of people for dinner again! This time - Ging Ging, another local eatery much bigger scale.  Still a long wait for food but still good food worth waiting for!
My hilarious newly made friends from Taiwan!  This is called the Lindsey stacker
Did I mention about the Fins? Oh they are very much involved in my trip! Yes, the next day we were on the same dive trip out to Gato Island! Booked it the day before with Fun and Sun dive.  Thought just the 3 of us in a group, ended up another German DM (Gordon) joined us.  Fun!  We had a great group!  The dive was nice, saw some cool stuff - worth mentioning 4 cuttlefish fooling around. My night ended once again with the same group of people from Taiwan, with drinks and being serenaded by a local guy at this really cool cushion place by the beach.
Eve of V day - being serenaded felt nice!
What do you have to do on V day? Of cos climb a coconut tree!!!
On Valentine's Day, I bid good bye to my friends from Taiwan, went for a crappy dive and just lazed around doing nothing much.  Went for a sunset by the lighthouse which wasn't really good.  Oh did I metion happy hour? 2-1 really great deal.  My life on vacation - Happy hour after 5 everyday!  Enroute to dinner (was planning on just a quiet dinner then off to bed cos I was planning on hoping to Bohol the next day which meant early morning), bumped into the German guy and another traveller.  Ended up having dinner with a bunch of people and heading to the local village for their Mr & Ms Valentine contest and the disco after!  It was actually LITTLE Mr & Ms Valentine! Haha but yea, dico dancing was fun and ended up back home at 4+am, which totally wrecked my plan to travel.  So one more day in Malapascua! But definitely Bohol the next morning!

My Partners in crime at the disco dancing arena! 3H non-stop dancing. Hey I'm still not too old!

I would say Purple Snapper, though not the cheapest, is a really cool place to stay and hang out.  The owner is a very nice American.  The diving there is not the cheapest but they are pretty ok.  Heard from the Fins that dive society (the yellow brick building) is pretty good too!
Malapascua is a really small island.  Boracay of the yester year? I don't know and can't compare.  It is much smaller than Boracay though. But definitely quiet place.  No discos or clubbing, ust nice relaxing chilling bars (a few only) along the beach.  Other wise the place is pretty dead at night.  Of cos diving is the main activity here! But I'm sure snorkelling is pretty alright! Or if you are not a diver, just relax by the beach and do nothing!  Yes, there's basically NOTHING you can do on the island.  NO hill or viewpoint much to explore or hiking to do.  Or you can try hiring a bangka out to far out island like Calanggaman to just chill.  But you really can't miss out on the Thresher shark dive (if you are a diver) Worth the early morning!