Sunday, 28 July 2013

And then the cops took us home (Philippines)

My last weekend in Asia came and went, spent in the Philippines, the 9th country I visited this summer.  Alissa had heard amazing things about the country, especially the chocolate hills and the 5-6" tall big-eyed monkeys called tarsiers so it was off to Bohol we went.
We flew into Cebu then took a ferry almost immediately to Bohol, excited about relaxing at our beachfront resort.  When we landed at the ferry terminal, we figured we should take advantage of arriving in the largest city on the island to do some exploring and grab a much overdue lunch.  Honestly, we were quite shocked- poverty isn't a foreign concept after spending a summer in Southeast Asia but it hit us in the face here.  Immediately after leaving the boat, we were surrounded by a swarm of dirty, young kids looking for money, food, water or even empty water bottles. I had gotten a restaurant suggestion from the official tourism board and it turned out to be a dingy seaside shack with food sitting out on the table in assorted Tupperware containers.  No thanks!  And we weren't going to try the street food, where a woman was fanning flies of sticks of meat.  Dodging drivers who wanted us to enlist their ricks has services, we finally arrived at what we thought was a semi-acceptable place.  We enjoyed our meal but Dawn got food poisoning from her pork and rice.  After eating, we were all ready to get out of there and we hired a driver henry to take us to our hotel and he became our driver for the weekend since he was so adorable and eager to please.  It was a pretty drive through tidal beaches, fishing villages and lush rain forests.  When we arrived at our resort, we were "lei-Ed" with shell necklaces and a warm welcome by the American owner, John (after our experience in the city, this was a relief!).  Then we enjoyed a leisurely evening of a delicious dinner, swinging in the hammocks on the beach to the sound of the ocean, swimming in the pool then a feisty game of spades where the blondes (Alissa and I) decidedly dominated the brunettes (Ken and Dawn).  We went to bed relatively early to prepare for an early saturday morning start.
On Saturday, our driver picked us up nice and early to beat the crowds at the chocolate hills.  Legend has it that these 1200 hills were created by giants in a mud fight.  Now people know the hills are made of coral and the chocolate hills turn green in the rainy season (which is when we visited), but they were still pretty cute.  Originally, we hoped we could hike the hills but it turns out that visitors can only visit several outlooks because an abundance of snakes and pythons in the area.  We decided to do an atv tour to get a little closer which was a good choice.  We drove through the heart of a small village, where we passed families of four on mopeds, smiling children sandwiched between their poncho-wearing children.  Dawn was going to skip the tour since she didn't feel week, but the guide invited her on the back of his motorcycle and both of them were grinning the whole way.
Tree pose in front of a tree and a chocolate hill (not so chocolate during the rainy season)
ATV/dune buggy team!
The next major stop was the tarsier conservation center.  Alissa loves monkeys- she's the one who wanted to do orangutans in Kuching, let a monkey climb her on the monkey forest in Bali so this was on her bucket list, because tarsiers can only be found on this island.  The monkeys are nocturnal (but several woke up to peer at us through their big round eyes) and teensy tiny.  They hung out throughout the center, curled up on tree branches underneath palm tree umbrellas and they were pretty adorable.
Alissa and I being tarsiers at the tarsier conservation center
Dawn, Alissa and I and a real tarsier- so tiny!
All morning it had been raining so we decided to skip the river cruise, hanging bridge and butterfly garden and head back to our resort.  After lunch, it cleared up enough for Alissa and I to o snorkeling off the hotel beach.  The boat man hooked us up with snorkels and flippers and even paddled us out to the conservation sanctuary that was supposed to be the best spot.  Unfortunately, with all the rain, the water wasn't clear and couldn't see much even though we knew we were above extensive reef.  However the water was lovely, we had a good swim and most importantly, we made friends with that boat man who encouraged us to come out to a local joint for karaoke that night.  I met a Filipino at marina bay sands on Wednesday who wrote an extensive itinerary, including all the night life hot spots, food and drink recommendations and a day trip to swim with whale sharks.  It turns out that we couldn't do most of it,being based in Bohol so when he heard this, he seconded the boat man's advice "When all else fails, karaoke with Filipinos is always a good time".  
After a leisurely afternoon, reading in hammocks, talking to the bartender over piña coladas and an early dinner, rumor had gotten around to the staff that we planned to sing and they were so excited that we'd be hitting up their after work hangout.   the boat man insisted on walking us over to the karaoke bar at the neighboring seaside resort.  As the only foreigners, we received a celebrity welcome.  It took awhile to drag Alissa away from the new puppy lucky at the entrance, but they stationed us front and center and plopped down an incredibly massive songbook.  Dawn fearlessly took the stage and we later attempted some "vanilla ice ice baby" , sweet Caroline and gangsters paradise in between some of the wait staff who stranded us with Filipino songs.  In the meantime, I talked to the owner who just bought the property three months and had quite the ambitious vision for the place.  Bohol is supposedly the "next big tourist destination" and the owners want to build the biggest pool in the island, 20 villas and expand their reputation for the nightlife.  it seems to be the only place to go in central Bohol but its only frequented by locals- i think most tourists are superlame and don't leave their resorts.  The owner wanted our permission to switch from karaoke to "disco" then the party really got started.  Besides the waitresses and a couple older fearless Filipinos, it was definitely mostly us on the dancefloor.  Accompanied by our admirers, who literally lined up for the chance to dance.  Ken said "you literally made those guys night.  Week.  Year.  They probably thought they were dancing with an angel with your white dress, blonde hair and blue eyes".  An Angel who can't dance, I replied, especially considering Ken was literally sweeping the waitresses off their feet!  But we had an amazing time, especially when the bartender from our resort joined us after her shift.  Everyone wanted to take pictures with us and by the time the night was over, i think we had pictures of everyone, thanks to the click-happy bartender documenting the ridiculousness.  And we still got extra perks- the kitchen staff brought us over barbecued pork sticks (which made Ken happy) and the owners took us up to the roof to explain their vision for the place.  When we had danced our hearts out and were ready to head back, the bar tender convinced the local police to give us a complimentary lift back to the resort and three of them happily squeezed together in the front seat to make room.  We decided the night was a type I success: "good times, good story" and the perfect way to make the best of a rainy day.
Sunday, we slept in a little with the hopes of heading into the city to see a parade and dance contest.  But the rain was back so the parade was postponed to the afternoon.  Fortunately, Henry had a back-up plan so we saw one of the oldest coral churches in Asia, a cave where soldiers would hide out during WWII and the blood table ancient human sacrifice area.  It cleared up a bit, so he took us to Pongol, the famous beach that stretches 4 km and houses most of the main resorts.  He dropped us on the local beach, which earned us some weird looks and worried Henry who thought we'd want the white sand exclusive tourist parts.  The beach was beautiful- we wanted to stay but we had to catch the ferry to begin the journey back to the airport.
Overall, the weekend was excellent.  I don't know if I'd recommend Bohol (especially not for a weekend trip from Singapore- between the four hour flight and two hour ferry time, it's a lot of transit for three days).  The Philippines in general would probably be nice- filipinos are awesome, its cheap and the snorkeling/scuba is supposed to be some of the best in the world.  But we had a blast, we were able to thoroughly explore the island and it was nice to relax and catch up on sleep for once... I'm giving a talk to nus high school on Tuesday morning and we have to do a couple final presentations for the closing ceremony, so it'll be nice to start the week with some energy.  Thanks for reading- link to full photos here.