I’m currently waiting until 2255 (local time) so that I can check in online for my Singapore to London flight tomorrow. I’m hoping that if I check in early enough I can choose a decent seat, although BA seem to hold back some of the more desireable ones.
The overnight bus trip down from La Union province was much as expected: freezing cold (air-conditioning vents that you can’t turn off) and lacking in sleep.
Anyway, once I get back to Stirling this coming weekend I’ll upload my pictures and write more about what I’ve been up to in the Philippines.
After a cold week up in the mountains I needed somewhere warm to relax and worked out that I could get to San Fernando (La Union province) without too much difficulty. The guidebook mentioned that there were some nice beaches nearby.
So after a long day on cramped buses I arrived in the little town of San Juan, just north of San Fernando. It’s full of surf resorts, so I just wandered along the road until I found one with a room at a decent price. I ended up with a nice little en-suite room right beside the beach for P500/night at Hacienda Peter’s Surf Resort. They also do lovely meals for only P50 and there’s a fridge full of beer, you just have to tell them how many you’ve drunk.
I had a very relaxing few days there, lounging around, occasionally swimming and watching the surfing. On Friday, when I was leaving, they were holding a surf competition on the beach. Of course, that was the day when there were almost no waves at all, I felt sorry for the competitors bobbing about and desperately waiting for a wave before their time ran out.
Late on Friday night I caught a bus to Manila, the start of my journey back home.
From the airport in Manila I took a (very expensive) taxi straight to the Victory Liner bus terminal and caught the bus to Baguio.
Baguio’s an interesting place, once the American summer capital of the Philippines it has pleasant peaceful areas as well as the jeepney-clogged, grimy, polluted areas. It was only really a stopover on my way further into the mountains though.
I then spent a few days in Sagada, one of the tourist centres of the Cordillera. It’s a nice little town, with plenty of hotels, cafés and restaurants and you can get a really good cup of local coffee there. Unfortunately the cost of guides to go and see most of the local sites was beyond my budget, but I did spent a morning sightseeing. Sagada is famous for coffins, both hanging off cliffs and stacked up in caves, as well as the rice terraces found all around that area.
Not having had enough of rice terraces yet I made my way up to the village of Batad, via Bontoc. It’s the most famous of the terraced areas, and a little difficult to get to. From Banaue I hired a tricycle, which took me along the terrible road to Batad junction and then struggled up through mud and rain (with me pushing some of the time) to reach the saddle from where I walked down into the village. The weather was terrible while I was there, almost constant rain and low cloud, but I managed to wander around a bit and visit a nearby waterfall. I stayed in the only house in Batad village with electricity, owned by Gilbert who runs it as a homestay. On the evening of the first night we joined his next-door neighbours as they made the local rice wine.
I’m currently in Sagada, in the mountains to the northeast of Manila.
I probably won’t get a chance to upload pictures until I’m back in Manila, around the 23rd.
After Vigan I had the long bus ride back to Manila, another night at Friendly’s Guesthouse and then boarded a disturbingly rattly old 737 for the Air Philippines flight to Cagayan de Oro city, Marebec’s hometown. The approach to the runway at CdO was especially interesting, with the plan veering from side to side as the pilot apparently kept overshooting and then overcorrecting.
Marebec met me at the airport with her niece and took me back to her parents’ house. We went into town, where we kept bumping into people Marebec knows, met her sister and had dinner at a restaurant there.
The next morning we took a bus to Malaybalay in Bukidnon province, where we met Tanya (another former VSO) and her friend Mavic (a former colleague of Tanya’s) at a nice café. There are some nice caves in the area, so the following day we took various buses and jeepneys to reach the ‘blue water’ cave.
The next destination on Marebec’s plan was Camiguin island, just off the coast near Cagayan de Oro. We took an early bus to the port, then a very slow and rusty old ferry across to the island. We ended up staying at the Caves Dive Resort, their cheapest room was right by the beach (admittedly with a shared toilet and no air-con). We spent the afternoon lounging around or in my case mixing lounging around with trying to get through to Qantas’s office in Manila. On our second day on the island we hired a ‘multicab’ (a small truck with a minibus body built on the back) to take us around the island. Highlights were the Santo Niño Cold Water Spring (nice for swimming but quite cold), the ruins of a church destroyed by a local volcano and the Ardent Hot Spring, where we stayed for the night. On the way back from Camiguin we were incredibly lucky and saw some dolphins.
Back in CdO we had a free day to do laundry, drink coffee, do a bit of shopping and buy tickets back to Manila. Then in the evening Marebec picked us up and took us to the company she works for: MORESCO UNO. As the culmination of their company sports competition they were having a cheer-dancing competition and Tanya and I had been roped in as judges. It was one of the more surreal evenings of my life, sitting watching teams of electrical company staff performing their dance routines and having to award points.
On our remaining days in CdO we went to see “Sweeney Todd” at the cinema and spent a morning rafting on the Cagayan river. Then I had a much less worrying flight with Cebu Pacific back to Manila.
I’ve been visiting Marebec in Mindanao for the last week, Tanya is also around so it’s a little former-VSO-Nigeria reunion.
We’ve spent a few days in Malaybalay and another couple of days on Camiguin island. There are photos but I’ve not had a chance to upload them yet. In fact I might not get around to it until I’m back in Scotland.
On Monday I’m planning to fly back to Manila then catch a bus up to Baguio to start a bit of a tour round Northern Luzon. If all goes according to plan this will include the rice terraces in Batad and Banaue and some time in Sagada. For any remaining days I’ll try to find somewhere peaceful and relaxing before heading back to Manila and flying home.
Manila is interesting, but not a place I’d like to spend very long. As I had a few spare days before heading down to visit Marebec I decided to go north and visit Vigan, a fairly well-preserved colonial city.
It’s a nice place, much quieter than Manila, and on one street in the old town they’ve even banned motorised transport. Instead horse-drawn ‘calesas’ take tourists around. Not all of the old buildings are in very good condition, ‘beware of falling debris’ signs abound. Some of the old houses are open as museums, so you can see how the wealthy lived during the Spanish colonial era.
The unfortunate thing for me was that prices had shot up since the guidebook had been written. Many of the hotels seemed to have been renovated and the places with dormitories only wanted to hire out the whole thing, not just one bed. I ended up paying P700 a night for an en-suite room with no air-conditioning at the Gordion Inn, well over my accommodation budget.
I’d arrived in time for the last few nights of a local festival (programme), so there were lots of stall in the main square selling street food. This included a local speciality, empanadas. These were a bit different from the Chilean ones, fried and with pork and cabbage filling, but very tasty and cheap.
Bizarrely the cable TV in the hotel included some African DSTV channels, I was a bit worried that the channel would suddenly be changed (in the middle of a film) to Africa Magic!
Here are some pictures showing transport in Vigan (the motorbikes with sidecars are common in most Filipino cities) and the ‘Earthquake Baroque‘ cathedral.
The flight to Manila was uneventful and boring. Qantas seem to still be catching up with entertainment technology; we all had to watch the same films on a large projector screen, very quaint. The films were good though: “Across the Universe” and “September”.
I’m staying at Friendly’s Guesthouse in the Malate area of Manila. It’s quite busy but in a good location for local bars and restaurants.
On Sunday I wandered around town a bit, visiting Rizal Park (a memorial to the Philippines national hero), Intramuros and Fort Santiago.
It was interesting to note that on one side of the fort is a golf course that follows the old walls, on the other small boys were paddling rafts cobbled together out of scrap polystyrene foam up the river as they gathered rubbish.
I’ve been enjoying local food, there’s an interesting article about filipino food which also mentions the fondness for “doorbell names” (I saw a poster for a film starring someone called Ding-Dong today).
My last stop before leaving Australia was Sydney. I had a couple of days to wander around and see the sights, trying to avoid spending too much money (I was way over budget by this point).
Here are the standard ones: the Harbour Bridge (complete with some people doing the BridgeClimb) and the Opera House (the foyer reminded me very much of a 1970s dull and gloomy concrete shopping centre — the pre-refit Thistle Centre in Stirling being a fine example).
I also went for a tour around the city on the monorail. Although it consists of a single one-way loop it actually has a driver taking up the whole front carriage, reducing passenger space quite a bit. I’m guessing the unions had something to do with that as it looks like a prime candidate for automation.
Leaving Sydney was easy, there’s a fast and frequent rail service from Central station — about five minutes walk from where I was staying — in comfortable double-decker trains. My flight departure was delayed a bit though, they’d lost power to the gate so the staff had to process us manually and light our way down the airbridge with torches.
I arrived in Manila last night and I’m now trying to work out what I’ll do during my time in the Philippines.
Once I get the chance I’ll upload a few pictures from Sydney and maybe even some from here.