I kept my social media entries to a minimum whilst I was away in the Philippines recently, but those on their Instagram game will have seen a couple of stories and posts, enough to know that I was essentially floating around in paradise, eating copious amounts of fried fish, roasted pork and partially developed duck embryos, straight out of the shell. Delicious. Those mere glimpses only told a fraction of the story, however. Fortunately, I also spent a shit load of time writing notes on my experiences, and so here marks the start of my documenting them.
The Philippines as a holiday destination, and more specifically, Tao Philippines Expeditions as a bucket list item, came on to my radar five or six years ago. I read about the expeditions in a Sunday travel supplement, subsequently checked out the website, and have positioned it at the top of my list ever since. The model is simple, you jump aboard a specially customised boat and for five days and four nights you drift from island to island, snorkeling, eating and exploring remote beaches during the day, whilst spending the nights feasting, eating and drinking in small camps of handmade bamboo huts. Simple? yes. Wonderful? YES. More on that later.
I landed in Manila on my first day and spent the night in a small serviced apartment near the airport. I wasn’t particularly keen to explore the city, I just wanted a base prior to boarding an internal flight to Coron the next day. That said, the serviced apartment was tiny, the TV offered up little of interest, and I hadn’t got stuck into a book yet, so I ventured out to eat. What was for dinner? Mini burger patties that tasted completely unlike beef, but came with a side of butter; chicken livers sauteed in some strange brown sauce; and fried eggs. Not delicious, but not bad. Oh and there was a side of white rice, which as I came to discover throughout the trip, is standard with all meals in the Philippines. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all come with a massive bowl of white rice on the side. I’m one of those Keto wankers though, so I wasn’t touching it.
I spent my morning in Manila walking around, looking at pretty much nothing. There was a gargantuan shopping centre, all the shops inside were closed, except McDonalds, Starbucks and KFC, which had opened its doors at 4am…. Who the fuck is eating KFC at 4am? Well, it turns out that at 8am, pretty much everyone is. The place was heaving. The other noticeable thing was the number of cyclists out on the road on this sunny Saturday morning, thousands of them. All in Lycra, all with expensive road bikes, mostly men, and mostly sporting small pot bellies (see comments re: rice and KFC). And so I spent my morning in Manila dodging overweight middle aged dudes on bicycles, and drinking water, tons of water, because it was freakin’ hot, at 8am. I live in Sydney, I thought I was equipped for it. I wasn’t.
I got back to my cosy (read: cramped) apartment, donned a fresh t-shirt, threw on my backpack and headed to the domestic terminal. Here’s a tip, if you go to Manila – download an app called ‘Grab’, it’s their version of Uber. My ride from the airport to my apartment in a private taxi cost 1200 pesos (circa $25 USD), my ride to airport from my apartment with Grab cost 150 pesos ($3). I checked in my bag, ordered a cardboard pot of slow cooked beef (I think it was beef) and settled down into one of those massage chairs that you pop a few coins in and get your calves massaged. I underestimated the chair. Inadvertently I’d just booked myself a thirty minute full body massage. It chucked me, ungraciously, into a horizontal position and proceeded to throw me about like a gimp, the chair my leather clad dominatrix. Except it was faux leather, and it was about 30 degrees in the the small, crowded departure room. I literally had to peel myself out of prone state after about 20 minutes when my flight was called to board. Sweat poured from both armpits and the small of my back, slow cooked beef ran down the front of my shirt. My back and calves, however, felt a million dollars.
The flight to Coron, a small island at the very North of the Palawan region was short and uneventful, the highlight, apart from changing my shirt in the toilets, was undoubtedly the views from the small window of turquoise waters and picturesque tropical islands.
Paradise was calling, I’d been wanting to come here for over six years, finally it was coming to fruition. Thanks in no small part to a stockpile of British Airways airmiles, and the surprising willingness of my employer to let me take two weeks off despite the complete lack of days in my annual leave balance.
I landed in the small airport of Busuanga, it’s one of those airports that are so small that your hold baggage makes it to the carousel before you do, except there is no carousel, just a bit of floor where they dump the bags. Love that. I slung the red bag back onto my shoulders and headed off to find a transfer to my hotel. Which took all of about 15 seconds. I walked out of the bag collection room and found myself outside surrounded by Filipino men with keys to Toyota minivans. We agreed on a pricey $2 to take me on the 30 minute journey to where I needed to go. Newsflash: The Philippines is cheap.
After dropping a number of other passengers at their hostels, we parked up outside mine. It looked good, clean, friendly, away from the main strip and a bit ‘Western’. I sat on a rock outside the front door and watched the tricycles speed past whilst some Dutch girls occupied the front desk attendant. I breathed out a huge breath. It was time to chill the fuck out.
Part two to follow..