08.05.2017 - 18.05.2017 30 °C
Waving Dumaguete goodbye we boarded a ferry to take us across to Siquijor island. The ferry ride was actually part of the fun as it was a beautiful journey crossing from Negros. We had our first experience of jeepney (a DIY extended open sided van) travel, mixing in (as much as we ever could in The Philippines!) with the locals to get to our accommodation.
Siquijor’s main road runs around the coastline, and at 72km in length it’s not too big an island! This made it a perfect opportunity for us to rent a moped and do some exploring. Our two main stops for the day were Cambugahay Falls and Salagdoong Beach. Cambugahay Falls is a beautiful waterfall ending in a crystal clear blue pool which is popular with tourists and locals alike. The locals have built a pretty complex rope swing system but Richard decided to do it the simpler way and jump in from the top of the falls! Salagdoong Beach is a white sand beach in a gorgeous setting in the sea-beaten rocks. It’s a popular spot for cliff diving but unfortunately we timed it wrong for high tide. Although we saw a few Filipino children diving at low tide, being quite a bit taller (and heavier!) than your average Filipino we decided to give it a miss!
From Siquilor we boarded another ferry, this time headed for Bohol. One thing we can’t get used to here is random charges such as ‘terminal fees’ which appear to just be a way of creating an extra job (and an extra queue!) and is a charge just to sit in the terminal for the boat or airplane! In Bohol we shared a car with a group of 4 Polish people for our journey to Alona Beach. It was good fun swapping stories with them. We particularly enjoyed hearing about when they missed the ferry to Siquijor so had to hitch a ride on a local fishing boat. By the time they arrived in Siquijor it was dark and they had to wade shoulder deep through the sea to get to the island, with their cases aloft overhead. It made me particularly glad of Richard’s impressive organisation keeping us safe and dry so far!
Alona Beach is a popular spot with tourists, who seem to be predominantly from Korea, but there were also plenty of Europeans too. Our Alona Beach hotel came inclusive of a motorbike for the duration of our stay so we were able to scoot about quite independently, enjoying our Filipino meals (rice rice rice) on the beach, as well as a cocktail or two. Our primary aim for our stay in Alona Beach was to continue our flourishing diving career in an area called Balicasag. Thankfully I’m feeling much better so was able to dive too (it’s dangerous to dive if you have any ear or sinus problems due to pressure). We did two dives, the first at ‘Black Forest’ and the second at ‘Sanctuary’ and both were brilliant. Black Forest gave us our best experience of swimming with turtles so far as we spotted several, as well as a huge school of jack fish. Sanctuary offered an amazing coral wall with a big variety of fish, and at times we were actually swimming under coral ledges which was surreal.
On our journey from Alona Beach to Loboc we joined a bus tour to visit a whole range of different sites. A few were a little odd (including a monument without a plaque which left us fairly perplexed) but others were fantastic, particularly the tarsier sanctuary and the Chocolate Hills. Tarsiers are tiny little mammals with legs and a tail twice the length of their body and huge bug eyes. They are nocturnal but we were still lucky enough to see two staring back at us with those big googly eyes!
Our group hired quadbikes to tour around the Chocolate Hills which was great fun (giving Richard his much-needed daily adrenaline kick) even if I did manage to drive mine into a ditch trying to keep up with my kamikaze husband! It was great to meet the other people in our group, including a Welsh couple called Dan and Jess who are travelling for 15 months, making our trip seem like a short break! We spent one night in Loboc staying in a cool riverside hotel complete with hammocks and a rope swing. Our evening’s entertainment was joining the locals in the town hall to watch the high school basketball match. Despite being somewhat lacking in height Filipinos are very passionate about their basketball!
The next day we took another jeepney ride, then boarded a bus to take us on to our next destination, Jagna. We didn’t see any other tourists while in Jagna so it’s definitely the least touristy place we’ve been in the Philippines. That’s reflected in the prices as everything was the true Filipino price, but also in the entertainment the locals got from us, we posed for a photo or two during our stay!
From Jagna it was time to board another ferry for our crossing to Camiguin Island. We spent three nights staying in ‘Camiguin Souldivers’ for our last dives in the Philippines. Our diving of choice was at the much smaller neighbouring Mantigue Island. We have been incredibly lucky with all our diving in the Philippines as we have never been more than 2 to 1 with our dive master so we’ve certainly been getting the 5* treatment! Our divemaster for Mantigue Island was a Camiguin-born Filipino called Romeo, who was a very chilled out guy, brilliant at spotting the underwater sights. We saw scorpion fish, lion fish, sweetlips, a school of angel fish and pencil fish to name a few, plus a HUGE turtle which was amazing!
We’ve really liked Camiguin Island as it’s a very relaxed place (not that many places in the Philippines are particularly stressful!) with some interesting spots above sea level too. It has 7 volcanoes on the little island, 2 of which are still active! We visited the Phivolcs Volcano Observatory where volcanic activity on the island is monitored, and I’m happy to report there were no scares during our stay! We also climbed ‘Old Volcano’ which erupted in 1871 washing a graveyard out to sea which is now marked by a large white cross. The underwater graveyard is now a popular dive site but one that we decided to give a miss. Next we visited Katibawasan Falls, a 70m waterfall which was a beautiful place to relax and watch the Filipinos having plenty of craic as per usual!
On our last day in the Philippines we took an early morning flight from Camiguin to Cebu and spent the day relaxing and getting organised for the next stage of the adventure in Japan!
We’ve made sure to sample plenty of Filipino food during our stay, some of our favourites being halo-halo special (a crushed ice, condensed milk, jelly, fruit and ice-cream concoction which was made for any sweet-tooth), ube cake, ice-cream, bread, or just about anything ube (ube is a purple vegetable but the Filipinos use it with a heap of sugar to make sweet treats), banana cue (banana coated in sugar syrup and fried – healthy!) pancit canton (pork noodles with vegetables), kare-kare (pork with satay sauce), sisig (pork mince with an egg on top) and beef tapa (marinated, dried and fried beef). We’ve even embraced the Filipino silog breakfasts (meat, egg and rice)! Another Filipino favourite (which I must admit I’m not so keen on but Richard enjoyed) is Lechon, which is simply a very fatty pig on a spit! But for us the food which most embodies the Philippines is the barbecue! You are never far from a barbecue here and the smell of barbequed food is something that will forever remind us of our time here. We would highly recommend trying all these foods for anyone visiting the Philippines.
Another thing to mention is the security situation. Filipinos are among the warmest, friendliest, funniest and happiest people on earth. Their laughter and banter is very infectious and we generally felt very safe at all times of day and night. Unfortunately, despite the wonderful people we met, there are also some troublemakers. Rodrigo Duterte, the president, seems like a bit of a nutter. He is like Donald Trump on steroids, proudly making claims about shooting people and throwing enemies out of his helicopter! He has launched a war against drugs, although apparently drugs are only a minor problem in The Philippines. As a result of his tough stance, thousands of people have been killed by vigilante hit squads. A cynical view would be that the war on drugs serves as a distraction from the bigger issues affecting the country, namely poverty and corruption.
During our time in The Philippines there were also some scares related to terrorism. In the southwest of the country there is a Muslim terrorist group named Abu Sayyaf, who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. They have been trying to raise money by kidnapping foreigners for ransom. If the ransom is not paid then the captives are beheaded. When we booked our trip to The Philippines we were aware of this, however at that time the threat from Abu Sayyaf was mainly limited to the Sulu archipelago, far from where we were planning to visit. The Muslim region is one of the poorest parts of the country and they are a very small minority with over 95% of the population being Christian. It was bad timing, therefore, when a group of Abu Sayyaf terrorists travelled to Bohol Island just a few weeks before we were due to visit. We decided to change our plans slightly, as we had been due to stay in a small resort on Pangangan Island, a little island linked to Bohol by a bridge, not far from where the terrorists had based themselves. We had originally planned to go to Pangangan Island as it was meant to be less busy than the main tourist area of Panglao Island, further to the south. The reports in the media were a bit sketchy, but it was known that although some terrorists were killed in the initial raid by the army, some more had managed to escape. We therefore monitored the local news to try to stay up to date with developments. We changed plans and decided to stay in the more touristy area of Panglao Island instead, thinking that the army and police would be keen to protect the areas with the most tourists. This turned out to be a very good decision, as we found out that the last two surviving armed terrorists (out of an initial group of eleven) had gone into hiding on Pangangan Island during the time we had originally planned to stay there. President Duterte had advised locals in Bohol to shoot the terrorists on sight, saying that with an expanding population of over 100 million Filipinos they would be replaced very quickly! After a major search operation, both terrorists were killed by the army after taking a local family hostage. It is a shame that such a small number of people (they estimate Abu Sayyaf has only around 300 fighters) can cause such worry and terror to so many people. It is likely that the tourist industry in The Philippines will take a hit, which is a big shame as so many people depend on tourism for their livelihood. Although we had a wonderful time in The Philippines, if we were planning the trip now, as oppose to last year, we would probably not be going due to the risk of terrorism. Then again, there are risks with everything and we are very happy we were able to experience this amazing country.
Enjoying some halo-halo
Post-dive at Balicasag Island
School of jackfish
Spot the tarsier!
Travelling by jeepney
Post-dive at Mantigue Island
Looking across to Camiguin from Mantigue
Unfortunately Charlotte didn't meet all the criteria to work for the bakery
View from the Old Volcano