Shoemans Trail

The quest for liberation

Category: Philippines

The Philippines – How I felt the country

The last cities I visited after Legazpi and before heading back to Manila were Naga and Lucena, both not touristy at all and me being the only white guy around.
Naga was the most honest city in the Philippines I’ve been at, the tricycle was 8 pesos for one ride, everywhere else it cost at least 20, mostly 50! At the time of writing 52,5 pesos convert to 1 euro. I saw poverty on the street, children begging, the prices for goods the lowest ever and still people were friendly wearing big smiles, pavement dwellers next to western dressed college guys walking past the fruit lady selling mango’s for 20 pesos, crowds of worshiper heading for the evening prayer and the street jammed with everything that moves – that’s the Philippines!
I could feel the stares, being the only European person all around made the people check me out – a few might not have seen a stranger like me with a big red beard 🙂 at some stage the stares were pinching and I felt distracted, I could not look the people in the eyes anymore…strange energy!

Quick facts about the country:

  • English is spoken throughout the whole island state
  • Churches are dominant all over the place, big catholic belief!
  • Jeepney’s (old converted American truck’s) used as public transport – most of the time they have a Mercedes or Volkswagen emblem in front – tuning is king 😉
  • The tricycle is the Filipino answer to the Thai Tuk Tuk and the Indian moto rickshaw
  • Double moral: Riding a bike with a helmet is mandatory but riding on top of tricycles is allowed too
  • Loud two-stroke bikes keep noise-polluting the streets
  • Generally a lot of fumes in traffic and bad traffic jams in the big cities
  • Everything looks fancy on the outside but if you look behind the façade it’s crumbling, that applies to material things but also to people…
  • More expensive than India and Indonesia and also
    • More chains in restaurants, fast food and groceries, like 7 Eleven, Mc Donalds, BK, Wendy’s, …
    • People are dressed more western and got bigger bellies
  • Food is all about meat with lots of fat and oil
  • Karaoke is widespread and somewhat of a national sport, it also happens that people spontaneously start to sing on the street
  • Whitening products are heavily used, which results in white faces but a more darker taint on the rest of the body
  • Liberal in terms of gender topics, being gay is not a big deal

But what really struck me the most; it’s a retirement place for mostly western man. You’ll see so many with a Philippine lady on their side. When I talked to them, most seem to hate the country and consider the local dumb and lazy. Of course some people aren’t the smartest and I saw a lot of women working their asses off while the man fool around but the ignorance of those westerners was just so wrong! The only thing which came to mind: White trash!

Although the Filipino’s are very friendly and talkative I’m sick of answering the same questions: “Where you’re from?”, “Name?”, “Age?”, “You’re single?”, “Not married?”, “No wife?”, “No children?”, “Why?”  I did that for half a year now but still in India it wasn’t that offensive and Indonesia was more gently, somehow I’m tired of repeating it over and over again. I’m also sick of the typical American words and slogans used more often. Every guy is a “Sir”, but I don’t want to be a Sir! “Thank you for shopping with us, Sir” or ”Come again, Sir” no I won’t come again, even if you’re crawling more up my ass! That’s a thing I didn’t like in the states either…

I won’t miss my experiences; even the bad ones made me grow! Some brilliant moments still happened and a handful of good people I met, but I’m looking forward for a change, Indonesia here we go again…

Legazpi – home of a perfect volcano

Mt. Mayon looking over Legazpi, wherever you are, you’ll spot the perfect cone shaped stratovolcano. Measuring 2.462 meters in height and being super active with the last eruption just 3 years ago Mayon is a buddy to count on. More info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayon_Volcano

I went all around with a motorbike, the so called Mayon 360°, roughly 80 km. It can easily be done in half a day with stopping at some scenic spots in between, all offering great views of the mighty mountain that killed 5 trekkers on their way to conquer the summit during the last eruption. Since that tragedy climbs are prohibited. Looking at the perfectly shaped mountain from its base, offers better view anyhow…
I stopped at the Cagsawa Ruins, a former town that was destroyed by the volcano in 1814 killing more than 2000 people and Daraga church, the place where all remaining people moved after the deadly eruption.
Riding on the highway was a bit of a mission as cars, van, trucks, tricycles and people share one lane and the highway is busy as, going all the way north to Manila, the capital city. Dust, dirt and exhaust fumes were 50 % of my air consumption 😉 After I followed the signs for Tabaco City I rode in peace leaving the busy highway behind. The road went uphill in a wide open valley, always the symmetrical Mt. Mayon to the right and Mt. Masaraga to the left, an extinct stratovolcano. The clouds were moving in just in the left of the valley and the wind was pushing through, taking care of the chill. I could even smell the rain but didn’t feel it. Tabaco city itself is not a place to hang around for long; the name is still from the former Spanish era where the area was used to grow tobacco. Humidity levels and temperatures rose again when I went the last leg along the cost.
Finally I have to admit the almighty mountain really had the same shape all around, just the texture and color changed when riding it 360!

The city itself has a small beach boulevard with restaurants and again nice volcano views including the sleeping lion hill, named because of its shape, after a couple of beers one could maybe see the lion in the mountain I didn’t 🙂

Views from the tallest peak within the city limits Lignon hill are spectacular as well. But the most scenic spot I found was the Quitinday Green Hills, a bit out of town, small green hills most of the same shape and a lot of them next to each other. The place that offers the climb is very cautious about conservation. Steps just hewn in the soil, no wood or rock was used, bamboo rails, small bamboo huts with palm leaf roofs! And the way to get there, also a little adventure on its own, the concrete road is getting smaller and smaller until a rough dirt road takes you the last kilometers.

Ecologically green and fantastic, if all the touristy locations would be like that more people would get the idea!

Donsol – Swimming with Whale Sharks

A small rural beach town on the main island of Luzon is in the tourist focus from December to May each year, that’s when the whale sharks migrate through the area. There is also another town in the Philippines advertising whale shark tourism but there the animals are fed and they stopped migrating and just stay in the area, plus they’re not properly treated with too many people swimming around them and boat numbers are not limited, this should not be supported!
In Donsol it happens a more ecological way. A so called Butanding (Filipino word for whale shark) Interaction Officer, a BIO, is assigned to each boat, advising the people and watching that the animals are treated the right way (no touching, no feeding, no underwater flash, max 5 min interaction, one boat at a time,…). The big fish still get a bit distracted and sometimes hurt when multiple boats with tourists venture out every morning, wanting to see the gigantic fish and chasing it, the back fin can get hurt by the boats propeller as the whale shark swims close to the surface to feed or the fish just gets distracted while feeding with some humans swimming close by. That’s why the tours just happen in the morning from 7 to 11. One must decide for his own good if this can be supported. The whale sharks come around this particular area every year though and haven’t chosen another spot that looks as they still like it here and are treated not that bad.

So early in the morning I got in the boat with 5 other guys, hardly 10 min later in the open water Jerry our BIO told us to wear the fins, snorkel and mask and sit on the side of the boat, ready to jump. 2 min later we were all kicking with our fins, following Jerry, heads down in the murky water and yes there he was, the first whale shark, massive in size I could not see the complete fish at once as the visibility wasn’t that great but it was a magical moment swimming along the giant which just dove down after a couple of seconds.
Having a white belly the rest being grey, the skin marked with pale yellow spots and striped, individual to each – it just looks friendly. The largest fish on the planet can grow up to a size of a bus! In Donsol they range between 5 and 10 meter. More info’s on the worlds largest fish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark

The second time we were more lucky swimming a minute next to it and getting quite close. We cruised around the area for about 3 hours and got to jump in the water a couple of times, sometimes we missed the giants as they dove down, sometimes we saw them so close almost able to touch and there was that moment where we got into the water as we saw another group already swimming with the fish for some time. We could trace the route of the whale shark got in some 20 meters ahead and all of a sudden the only thing I saw was the fish swimming straight at me with its big mouth wide open – uaahhhh!
They use the area as feeding ground and mainly feed on plankton and grill just opening their mouth and swimming. I knew that fact but still in this particular moment I was a bit scared and swam aside as fast as I could seeing the mighty fish slowly swimming past.
The last one we saw didn’t swim that fast so I could keep up with him and let me fall back, filming the tail, a couple of kicks later I would be back at his mouth investigating the cleaner fish around and checking his teeth and eyes, magnificent, swimming a couple of minutes next to the biggest fish on earth and also the biggest one we saw today, maybe 10 meters in length – just an unforgettable experience!

Apo Island & Dauin – Diving the Philippines

I flew into Dumaguete, a booming town, since the last 4 years property prices have quadrupled, no wonder with world class diving round the corner and a tall mountain right next to multiple beaches. The town also has some 400 years old buildings to offer, erected by the Spanish back in the days. A bit away from town I found a place called La Fiesta – Ralf the owner is German, living around with his family for quite some time now. I was longing for some nice German food and I found it right there, Gulasch, Schnitzel, Spätzle also the pizza was bloody tasty. The only down part – the noise from the road, everything else, food and social life is superb, not talking about the amazing live music every Thursday. Hooray to the good times!

What made me come to the area initially was a hint from Sanny, to dive Apo Island… For the first couple of dives I went together with Joe, Martin and Kasper to Dauin, which is famous for macro diving, looking out for the tiniest things underwater with sandy bottom and just a few spots like old tires, sunken jeeps or old ropes – we still managed to spot some wired critters and tiny creatures, but the diving was different, the colors more greenish and you really have to look for stuff. Apo Island the next day was just the opposite, more the diving I’m used to, corals as big as cars, colorful and in all shapes some smaller schools of fish, the typical reef fish and turtles, lots of them, the biggest we saw measuring 2 meters. I was stoked by the corals, Raja Ampat will always be number 1 on my list I reckon but Apo gets pretty close. Of course we saw dolphins on our way back to the shore another perfect day diving!

I’m still drawn to the mountains, not as strong as to the sea but all the peaks send out a magnificent energy and the area has some taller hills to offer, so I went up the slopes to the base of Mt. Talinis at round 500 meters, the peak itself is at 1.903! Volcanic activity, vivid colors, hot pools, sulfuric air and some nice waterfalls can be found up there, I was totally reminded of New Zealand! It was a sweet day with the bike, off-roading is so much fun, way better than riding a simple scooter. I managed to handle the semi-automatic bike quite well, feels even more like getting the bike licence now as soon as I’m home!

A pretty versatile week, learned a lot about the Philippines and the people and had some great fun outdoors. Whoop whoop!

 

Philippines – The former Spanish Americanised colony

After 36 hours of travels I met up with some friends in Palawan the so called last frontier of the Philippines. The country itself is influenced by the Spanish for more than 300 years, so current names still are Spanish like El Nido or San Fernando, the food is Spanish and American influenced as is the language, which is a plus as English is widely understood. If you wanna know more about the history, read along: http://wikitravel.org/en/Philippines

At a first glimpse, the country looks pretty sweet and the people smile a lot, of course – tourism is booming, it’s more expensive as in Indonesia so far, and we’ll see how this develops in the more remote regions without that many tourists.
So after I met Flo, Jules and Krische in San Fernando beach we organized food, drinks and transport for a couple of days, chilled one more day and set sail for an uninhabited island one hour off the main island.
When arriving on Calibangbangan we couldn’t believe the sweet waters which were crystal clear, memories of the Andaman’s shot back to my head. We paid the owner and went for 3 days to the smaller island nearby called Tacling, beautiful sandy beach, an ok coral reef and some rocks.
After setting up a camp and taking care of firewood we did what we could do best, relaxing.
There were also some small expeditions round the island with beautiful trees, full of fern and an access to the hill as well as 3 more bays but all pretty rocky. The only down part was that every day some tour boats arrived with a loads of selfie stick throwing tourists and snorkeler. Luckily every boat went away after one hour, giving us peace again.
On the 3rd day our boats man Marc picked us up again and brought us back to San Fernando.

I relaxed for a bit in El Nido after the trip and the guys went back to Manila to tackle the next big thing, maybe we’ll meet again, I don’t know where, I don’t know when!

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