Philippines Diary #4

Greetings from Bohol. We arrived here from Palawan after an epic 12+ hr journey that took us through road, air, ferry and Tricycle cab but it was well worth the effort. The water is crystal clear and the beaches are soft white sand that can only be described as baby powder.

There aren’t many local tourists here. Most of the crowd comprises of European, Korean and Japanese travellers, some Americans too.

Being brown skinned I’m quite used to the sun and don’t sunburn easily but for the first time I’m peeling away burnt skin off my nose and that’s from lying in the sun all day and loving it. I’m sure some people at home and the makers of fair and lovely are scratching their heads but we love being out in the sun and don’t mind the tan at all, especially when it comes from enjoying a lovely day on the beach doing absolutely nothing. Kritika waded around the coastline today spotting fish and coral in the many colors of blue water that line the coast and I took a nap, the time just flew away.

There isn’t a single speed breaker on this gorgeous island but people drive with such courtesy and discipline that it’s heartbreaking when I think of how we honk and push each other around in India. Nobody here is in a hurry and very happy to wait while you to cross the street or stop your car to take a photo of the beautiful coastline.

People are warm and friendly and everyone says good morning or good evening as you pass them by. Blind people are included in society like I’ve never seen before. They are singing and playing instruments on the beach and at the ferry docks, giving massages and back rubs to tired travellers at travel stops and trying their best to live a fulfilling life by bringing joy to others. It’s a lesson everyone can learn and seeing someone less able than you smile makes you smile even more.

I’ve learnt that there are many languages and cultures in the Philippines, much like India and they have 19 nationally recognised languages which means most of the Tagalog I learnt so far is now useless here. The only common words across the many languages are hay-low and babay so it’s still easy to make friends here but I wish I could say more. Most of the times I just smile at people and they do the same which is oddly enough to make you feel at home amongst complete strangers.

This island is full of great Eco tourism alternatives like cycling instead of renting motorcycles and using kayaks or paddle boats as an alternative to motor boats which disturb the marine life. It’s also very clean and green thanks to great rubbish segregation and a trash can is easy to find every few hundred feet which helps to keep the island clean.

We’ve travelled through a stunning man made forest, across lush green rice fields and over lovely rivers and bridges to see the famous chocolate hills named after their soft conical shapes and brown color in the dry season. They look like giant Hershey’s kisses dotted across a vibrant green jungle and this geological formation is unique to the region, not appearing anywhere else in Asia.

They range in height from about 30 to over 100 meters and there’s over 1000 of them in the area. It’s quite a sight to look across the horizon and see these giant hobbit homes and you can explore the area through a lookout point or rent an ATV and take a guided tour though dirt paths that bring you up close to the hills. We would’ve liked to do the ATV tour but had just recently stuffed ourselves full of pork fried rice and Shanghai lumpia and even the thought of a bumpy off-road ride was enough to make us woozy so we skipped ahead to the next stop.

This island was hit by a 7.2 earthquake a few years ago but they’ve rebuilt really well and the only signs still visible are the sadly ruined beautiful churches. Most of these churches are historically significant monuments and featured beautiful stained glass and hand painted murals on their ceilings which were greatly damaged but the local people are working hard to repair and restore them to their colonial glory and hopefully in a few years only photographs and memories will remain to remind people of the earthquake.

There’s plenty to sightsee and shop and the food and drink options across the Philippines are so good and affordable that it puts most Bombay and Pune eateries we visit to shame. Portions are large and we usually get by sharing just a single serving between the two of us. Sometimes with enough to spare for a third person if we had one on this trip. Apart from local cuisine there’s Japanese, Korean, continental, American, Thai and Chinese food options, all of which have been amazing and I’ve often wished I was much fatter so I could stuff myself with more delightful treats and yummy iced fruit shakes. We’ve tried some crocodile meat on this trip and all I can say is that it tastes like chicken, I’m still to scared to eat ‘sisig’ which is advertised everywhere and from my understanding is mince meat from the less than choice parts of the animal like the innards and face of the pig. The locals relish it and describe it with a lot of enthusiasm as they offer it and we try our best to keep a straight face and not wince as we politely decline it. It doesn’t seem to deter the many Korean and Japanese tourists though and the locals love it anyway, but we might turn vegetarian after this trip just to balance things out, I feel now like there is an entire zoo living in my stomach after all the meat I’ve eaten, but we haven’t been sick or suffered from indigestion a single day so I can safely say it’s all prepared very well with good quality and fresh ingredients.

We’re staying at a lovely bed and breakfast run by a French lady and her Filipino husband. It’s very tastefully built and decorated in a Balinese style and decorated with treasures from around the world collected during their 15 years of working on cruise ships and sailing around the world. They also have three lovely and well mannered dogs — Chico, zoey and puto who live on the property and love to be played with and pampered. Being around them is helping us get over the withdrawal from Simba who we’ve missed very much all this while.

Like most home-stays service here is limited but our hosts are very friendly and most guests understand that you can’t expect room service or 24 hour concierge from a homestay. I say ‘most’ guests because last night we were woken up at 2am by someone repeatedly ringing the doorbell for over 30 mins. Thinking it must be an emergency of some kind or maybe someone needing serious assistance we ventured out to find a drunk Lithuanian boy who just wanted the wifi password. At 2am in the morning! He did apologise profusely after he realised he had woken us up but then armed with the password, proceeded to get on the Internet and Skype loud enough to wake up even more people. Our hosts were not pleased and told us that he had also left his taps running emptying the entire properties water supply by the next morning.

He still wasn’t their worst guest though. That distinction went to a Chinese girl who visited a few seasons earlier and brought home a French boy from the beach then slipped into an empty room for a noisy lovemaking session that woke up the hosts who knew the room was supposed to be empty and thought they were being burgled. An embarrassing confrontation followed along with lots of apologies and locks were soon installed on all rooms in the property.

I’m proud to say we’ve been good guests and very lucky to get great hosts and great transport everywhere and I’d like to give a big shout out to all the sweet taxi and tricycle drivers who’ve been our guides along this trip, providing great companionship and trying their best to communicate in whatever little English they speak.

Our adventures over the next few days will take us to the island city of Cebu and onwards to the party island of boracay. More updates to follow as we continue our exploration of paradise

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