January 1-13, 2015: The Visayas (Mostly)

As amazing as Japan was, we were so excited to get back to warm weather!! But as soon as we stepped foot off the plane in Manila, we very quickly regretted it, only partially due to the fact that it was 93,572ºF and 100% humidity. We very soon came to realize how much of a shit-hole Manila actually is. But don’t worry, once we finally left Manila, we began to discover the wonders of the Philippines. Read on to hear more about this beautiful, albeit slightly difficult and expensive (hey, I’m just being honest) to backpack, country!

Disclaimer:  If you’re considering backpacking this country on a tight budget, my advice is… don’t. Save this trip for your honeymoon or a nice vacation with a loved one. Accommodations and food are cheap for a two-week vacation standard, but not for a 6-month backpacking Asia standard. Furthermore, transportation is VERY expensive (you must take ferries and planes to get around, as the Philippines is comprised of about 7,641 islands), especially if unplanned, making travel in this country especially difficult for a traveler on a tight budget. Had we have known this before visiting this country, we probably would have opted out of the Philippines and added it to our “later in life” bucket list, but hindsight is always 20/20 😉

Another disclaimer:  Though the Philippines appears to be a pluralized entity that should be referred to in the pluralized form, it is actually a singular noun and I am correct in saying things like “The Philippines IS…” Just wanted to point that out so that you don’t read through this and think that I’m an idiot 🙂

Miles walked:                  35
Miles transported:      ~2,450

Jan 1-4: Manila

As I began to describe above, Manila is literally the biggest shit-hole either of us had ever been in (and we’ve been to some pretty intense shit-holes, such as Naples, Italy and Tallahassee, Florida, not to mention MANY extremely poor 3rd world countries). I mean, no offense Manila, but you HAVE to know this about yourself! Anyway, we very quickly realized that three full days there were three days too many. But no matter, we made the best of it. We ate shitty food (oh yeah, I should also note that the Philippines is not exactly known for its food), mailed a massive package full of all our winter clothes and trekking gear, went into the city center to book our ferry tickets to Cebu (which was canceled a day later, due to a typhoon that occurred… THREE weeks earlier. I know, I don’t get it either), blogged a bunch, and ran various other errands. I had also picked up a nice little bug in Kyoto and was hacking up some objects of beauty, so it was great to have some days to relax and recover. Anyway, long story short, as a result of our relative lack of activity in Manila, the only pictures I care to share (or have, for that matter) are of the cool Jeepneys (U.S. military jeeps leftover from WWII that were mostly repurposed as public utility vehicles and are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines) that roam around the city:

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Jan 4-7: Cebu

We ended up flying to Cebu, as our ferry was canceled (read above), where we were greeted by one of my bestest friends, Olga, and her boyfriend, Aaron. Together, the four of us tackled the Vasayas, starting with Cebu City. First things first – Lunch at the mall (because honestly, that was our yummiest option). Good thing I don’t keep kosher (sorry, Olga):

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Where Samsonite met his namesake!

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We then made our way over to the Cebu Taoist Temple:

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Where we enjoyed some great views of the city:

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And got to hang out with this groovy fisherman:

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And, of course, Samsonite made plenty of friends:

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We then headed to the port to check out Fort San Pedro, built by the Spanish as a military defense structure under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, first governor of the Captaincy General of the Philippines during the Spanish colonization:

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Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in the flesh (or rather, in stone):

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Making our way inside for a FREE guided tour!

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Where we saw model ships made of bamboo:

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And cannons:

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And fort walls:

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And a party being set up within the fort walls:

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Our amazing tour guide:

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Decided to try out some authentic Filipino cuisine in the form of BBQ. Larsian BBQ is an eatery where vendors display various assortments of meats and fish, you select your poison and they grill it for you in the center of the booths. Everyone sits at long tables, drinks beer, and eats meats and rice with their hands. My idea of a good time!

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Jan 7-9: Bohol

Took the ferry down to Bohol, or as Francy likes to call it: “Blow-hole”. Bohol is a large island just east of Cebu island and is known for various famous tourist spots and attractions, which we’ll detail below. But first, goodbye Cebu!

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And hello, Bohol!

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Immediately boogied over to Alona Beach (which is technically not on Bohol, but on Bohol’s baby island neighbor to the south – Panglao). To say it was beautiful is an understatement:

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After a hard day’s work of doing absolutely nothing, we rewarded ourselves with some delicious girlie island cocktails:

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The next day was actually quite jam-packed, as we ventured back onto Bohol to explore many of its famous sites, starting with Hinagdanan Cave (which is actually on Panglao, but everything else is on Bohol, I swear!):

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The cave is naturally lit, containing a deep lagoon and many stalactites and stalagmites, however none of the pictures we took came out. So instead, I’ll leave you with the photo of my excited self after purchasing ANOTHER straw hat (in case you remember how excited I was when I bought a straw hat in Paros):

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The four of us and my new hat then made our way over to the Tarsier Sanctuary. For those of you that don’t know what tarsiers are: first of all, shame on you! And second, they are teeny tiny primates with gigantic eyes and really weird looking extremities. If you happen to be my Facebook friend, you might remember that at one point in my Facebook history I had a funny little animal as my profile picture… THAT’s a tarsier! Anyhoodles, these little joyous creatures can be found in only a few places in the world and lucky for us, the Philippines is one of them!

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See how tiny they are?? Guides have to walk around and point them out to you, otherwise they are super easy to miss:

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After getting our fill of tarsiers (pssh, not possible, we were practically kicked out), we made our way to the famous Chocolate Hills. There are at last 1,260 hills and they were given their name because the grass that covers them turns brown in the dry season, causing the hills to look like chocolate mounds (or turds, but “Turd Hills” sounds like a much less appealing name for a tourist attraction):

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Made a quick stop on our way through the man-made forest to snap a photo:

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Played around with some butterflies at the Simply Butterflies Conservation Center:

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I am one lucky woman:

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Finished the day off with a visit to the Bamboo Hanging Bridge, which is exactly what it sounds like:

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Returned to Alona Beach completely pooped, but not as pooped as this guy:

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Took off for Siquijor the next morning in our very own Banca (a traditional Filipino outrigger boat)!! It was actually cheaper to hire a private one between the four of us than pay individually for the ferry… the Philippines is funny that way.

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Jan 9-11: Siquijor

Making our way across either the Cebu Straight or the Bohol Sea (I’m not sure what the exact body of water was), spotting tons of dolphins along the way!

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Arrived in Siquijor and hopped on a tricycle to take us to our amazing abode, Charisma Beach Resort in San Juan, on the south-western part of the island:

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Which looked like this:

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And was run by Jeziel, the AMAZING owner of this resort, whom we got to know pretty well over the course of our stay. If you find yourself planning a visit to Siquijor, this is the place to stay! Amazing resort, run by an amazing person and staff, very affordable, with delicious food and a ridiculously gorgeous sunset. We spent the day relaxing at the resort and nestled onto the beach to watch the fantastic sunset that San Juan is oh so famous for. Sorry for the absurd amount of photos, but be honest – you’re looking at these photos and thinking: “this can’t possibly be real…” Well, it is. And I’d like to add that NONE of the below photos have been doctored in any way:

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These cool kids and their dog kept running up and down the beach and dancing for us:

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And this cool kid tried to join in on the fun:

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Rented motorbikes for the next couple days and explored the island. But first things first, we filled up on Coca-Cola gasoline:

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Took the bikes out to Cambugahay Falls, which were BEYOND incredible:

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Loaded up on some fresh coconuts:

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And swam around in the waterfalls, pools and caves for hours and hours:

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Stopped at the 400 year old enchanted Balete tree to dip our feet into the fish spa and let the little fishies eat our dead skin (gross):

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Made our way across the island to Salagdoong Beach to splash around in the gorgeous waters and cliff dive off 15 meter platforms (well, Francy jumped off that one… I jumped off the littler one, which was maybe 10/11 meters, so still worth noting, I think!):

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Jan 12: Day Trip to Apo Island

Hopped on a boat and headed out for Apo Island, about a 2 hour boat-ride from Siquijor:

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Apo Island is a tiny volcanic island known for its incredible marine reserve and is a popular dive and snorkel site. Since we weren’t certified divers (YET…), we opted in for the snorkeling:

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And we saw a BUNCH of cool stuff:

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Such as beautiful corals:

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And Nemos (actually called Clownfish):

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And……. SO MANY TURTLES!!!!!!

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Check out this awesome video that Francy put together of our Apo Island snorkeling adventure:

We then hopped over to the nearby resort for a lunch buffet (included in our day-trip package!). This was the terrible scenery we had to suffer through during lunch:

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After another short but also incredible snorkeling bout, we said goodbye to Apo Island and made our way back Siquijor:

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Jan 12-13: Saying Goodbye to Olga and Aaron (and Siquijor!)

Said goodbye to Jeziel! Thank you so much for showing us an incredible time on the island. We’ll miss you!

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And spent our last night with Olga and Aaron basking in the Siquijor sunset one last time:

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