Apo Island, Philippines
...After a few days in Palawan, and seeing some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, it was time for a return flight to Manila before leaving the following morning for Dumaguete with Ryan and Alexa, our local Filipina friend from Manila. This trip has definitely gone by too quickly with us trying to see and do so much, but when you're so far away from home, you have to see as much as you can, and there's no time for rest... We awoke the following morning at the bright and much too early hour of 5AM to head to the airport, bags packed for another adventure. We were headed to Dumaguete, and area in the Visayas region of the Philippines (sort of central and south of Manila in the archipelago). When we arrived, we didn't have any formal plans, but that quickly changed as my sunscreen was confiscated at search. The Filipinos have no sympathy for us pale white folk in the sun, so the plan when we arrived was to find a market with some sunscreen and aloe to soothe my burns from Palawan. The tops of my feet got so badly burned I was nearly incapable of walking in shoes or sandals, but so it goes.
Islands from the sky
We spent some time in a few malls and shops attempting to find sunscreen, but if you can believe it, the people are so tan and used to the sun, most places don't even sell it. They do, however, sell whitening lotion, or the opposite of sunscreen, for the locals. Pretty crazy, right? So much for us pale skinned people. But, after some searching, we did finally secure some Aloe and sunscreen for the snorkeling trip the next day. This consumed the better part of the afternoon with walking around their boardwalk across from our hostel, and after the relaxing day we headed to a local Korean restaurant recommended by a friend of Alexa's in Dumaguete. When we arrived, I stared at the menu rather aimlessly, trying to find something I could make sense of. No luck. So, when in doubt, ask the server for the best sellers and what's in them, and give it a shot. I tried a dish called Jesook dup bap (or something like that) that was spicy pork with rice, and, wow... I might have burned off a few tastebuds that night. But, again, I'm all about making the most of world travels, and figured I wouldn't find authentic Korean food like that back home, much less in my little town of Steamboat, so I've tried all kinds of fun things on this trip.
Swimming with turtles
The next morning, we prepped our gear and sunscreen and headed out early for some snorkeling at Apo Island, which is about a half hour boat ride from town, and has a few marine sanctuaries set aside for snorkeling. They limit the number of people who can visit each day, so we were lucky to be able to go thanks again to local connections we had in town. This was our second time snorkeling on this trip to the Philippines, so we had a better idea of what to expect this time around. Needless to say, in a marine sanctuary in the Philippines, the marine life was fascinating. We swam with all sorts of fish, saw lots of colorful coral, and swam with the likes of Crush and Nemo at one point. It was amazing. Swimming with turtles that are about half the size of you is pretty cool, and at one point we were with 7 turtles surrounding us. I also made good use of my GoPro on this trip to get some underwater photos of the turtles, marine life, and friends swimming with the turtles.
Hanging out with Crush at Apo Island, Philippines
After a few hours of snorkeling, it was time to head back to town to meet up with local friends and do a little bar hopping. I guess Dumaguete is a college town in the Philippines, so the nightlife is pretty decent. We rested up in the afternoon before we went out to meet up with Alexa's friends and her friends. All I can say about the night is, they really showed us a great time. Drinks were super cheap, and we went to a few different places. We got home sometime in the middle of the morning, and crashed before packing our bags in the morning. The next day, we took a rather interesting vehicle to the airport called a trike, which is basically a dirtbike or moped with the side car attached and covered by a little piece of canvas or tarp. They're everywhere in the Philippines and apparently pretty common, although I can't say you'll feel particularly safe in one. They're also really slow, so cars are overtaking you constantly, which isn't the most comfortable feeling. But, an experience nonetheless. The flight was pretty smooth, although again delayed just like every other flight I've had on this trip (I'm 5 for 5 if you can believe it!). That night we arrived later than planned in Manila, but went over to one of our other Filipino friend's houses to spent the next couple nights there. I can't express enough how great they've been to us on this trip, hooking us up with locals, local spots, the best beaches, and letting us crash on their couches. I'm so blessed and thankful to have friends like this all over the world..
Beautiful Beach Resort
We spent some time catching up with Kevs before cleaning up to go out and meet up with some of our other Filipino friends for another night out. They brought along a few of their other friends, and just like that, we had a party ready to hit the town in Manila on a Saturday night. We went out to dinner with everyone first before heading to a few bars after for more drinks. I love these kids so much - we always have such a great time together. After the fun night out together and making some new friends, we went back to Kevs place to crash for a bit before spending Sunday as a lazy day and sightseeing in Manila. The only thing we really had on our list was to see Intramuros, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, and pretty cool to explore. Our friend Alexa had hooked us up with a recommended tour guide (and major history buff) for the tour on Sunday.
Manila and Intramuros
Church inside Intramuros
The tour that we received was both interesting and fascinating. Our guide was a fellow American who had moved to Manila in the 80s and fell in love with the place so he never left. He was a history buff who taught at a local college and owned and ran his own guesthouse for backpackers plus gave tours of Intramuros to travelers. Not a bad way to make a living if you ask me! He toured us around the Walled City, hitting certain highlights, sharing photos he brought with him, and giving us a great history of the Philippines and the general geography of the country. I went with my American travel buddy Ryan and one of our other Filipino friends RJ. Believe it or not, he had never been, nor had some of our other Filipino friends. It's one of those things that is right under your nose but you take it for granted because you just assume you'll do it eventually. My advice is to go to Intramuros if you're visiting Manila because it's really cool to see and massive so there's plenty to see and do in there. After exploring Intramuros and a lazy day in Manila, we went back to Kevs place to pack for our next trip. We were leaving Monday morning for a guys road trip up north to the province of La Union to try our hands at surfing! I was pretty excited, having never tried surfing before, and for a guys road trip with our Dijon JTA buddies to hang, catch up, and just have an all around great time.
Surfing and La Union
Sunset on the drive to La Union
Monday morning arrived, and we tossed our stuff in Rafa's car to head north to La Union. One of our other JTA friends also happens to be from the wealthiest family in the province, and his dad is vice governor, so we were pretty well cared for while in La Union. His dad is a pretty successful business man to go along with the political status, so they're pretty well off. The total drive time was about 7 hours including traffic getting out of Manila, and we got there pretty late Monday night. After a quick meal and saying hello to his mom, we went to their beach house with the maids and secretary to hang out. The house is *literally* right on the ocean, has it's own pool, entertaining area, and so on, and incredibly cool. That night we spent a good amount of time hanging out on the deck drinking (and using rocks as improv bottle openers as we couldn't find one, which becomes more and more interesting the more you drink...). I will forever have such good memories of this night.
Because you have to get up early to surf to get the best waves and before the sand really heats up, Tuesday morning came sooner than we wanted after such a long night. We were driven down the road a ways to a beautiful beach on a resort where we met with our surfing guides. Each of us was given our own personal teacher to teach us how to surf, at no cost to us! Our friend Rocky was really hooking us up on this trip. We surfed for a few hours, and I did manage to get up a few times as did the other guys despite being a skier and the idea of a board being totally foreign to me. After the surfing lessons and some photos and videos having been taken, we were taken to a local seafood restaurant on the water known for catching the food right before being cooked and served. The meal was interesting to say the least, and as I'll get to later, possibly where I got sick... After eating lunch there, we were given a proper tour of the town of San Fernando and toured around by his dads secretary. We finally tried Halo-Halo (Filipino for "shake-shake"), which is a drink that has all kinds of goodness in it, ice cream, milk, shaved ice, fruits, syrups, etc. Paradise in a glass basically. After the Halo Halo we went to check out a local resort called Thunderbird, which is absolutely gorgeous with pools, beachfront, wedding spots, casino, restaurants, and is modeled after Santorini in Greece. We took some photos here before heading back into town to a Chinese restaurant owned by one of his friends in the area (again, at no cost to us!).
Wedding Spot, Thunderbird Resort
We enjoyed a Chinese feast at the local restaurant owned by one of Rocky's friends and made some more memories over good food and drink. However, the adventure of the night was still to come. After dinner, we walked around the corner to the street market where we were to try a local "delicacy" (I use that phrase very lightly) for dessert. It's called Balut and is an unfertilized egg with a duckling in it that they eat. Adventurous and borderline crazy to say the least. But, when in the Philippines (and armed with Cipro...), why not give it a shot. So Ryan and I each bought an egg and we went back to the beach house with our friends to try this delicacy. I have some hilarious video on my phone of me eating said duckling which is rather entertaining to watch, but I'll save you all the trouble of having to view photos or videos of the baby duck. It was kind of rubbery, chewy, and feathery... Ok, I'll stop. After trying this dessert, we hung out briefly before crashing for the night since we had to hit the road early in the morning for Manila. The road trip the next day was challenging to say the least since I was pretty well sick at this point, and being stuck in a Honda CRV for 7 hours with 5 people and travelers diarrhea is no fun. But, that's all I'll say on that, and god bless Cipro for saving me. I'm finally starting to feel better after about 48 hours of that bug, and hoping it passes before we get to Hong Kong tonight.
Thunderbird Resort, La Union
Once we arrived back in Manila, it was our final night in the Philippines. Such a sad, bittersweet moment for me. I'm excited to visit Hong Kong over the next few days, but I'll miss these JTA friends dearly. We spent last night out with all of our JTA friends for dinner and drinks, and had a big reunion before all parting ways today. I love these kids so much, and they really, really went all out for us during our trip. Couch crashing, recommending places to go, guides, local friends, and paying for some of our activities. Amazing. There aren't enough words for me to say thank you enough to all of them. All I know is if any of them visit in the States, anywhere in the States for that matter, whether it's in Colorado or elsewhere, I'm rolling out the red carpet and showing them the best time I can. They deserve it. It's sad that friends this good live so far away, but I know we'll see them again in the future at some point, and we'll have to Skype in the meantime until then. That said, Ryan and I are passing time in the airport waiting for our flight to Hong Kong this afternoon. We don't have any definite plans when we arrive, save for Victoria Peak tonight (woohoo!) and meeting another Dijon JTA friend tomorrow from Hong Kong for a local's tour of the town. I only have two days there before heading back home to the States to reality and work (sigh...), so the next two days are sure to be packed with everything we can find to do in Hong Kong. Until the last post of the trip, enjoy the photos here and stay tuned for updates on Hong Kong! I'll be posting on twitter as I find wifi, and I'm hoping to capture some great photos of the skyline and possibly try some more exotic foods. Stay tuned!