The Islands of the Philippines on a shoestring (part 1)

(December 2015)

With just two weeks to explore the islands of the Philippines and wanting to experience as much as possible without stressing myself out with a full-on itinerary, I decided my best bet was to leave the planning to the experts and join a Gadventures tour. After a little deliberation, the best option for my time and budget seemed to be the ‘Islands of the Philippines on a Shoestring‘, covering the islands of Siquijor, Bohol and Panglao (replacing Cebu on the original itinerary), which promised a mixture of beaches, snorkeling, sorcery and a dash of culture. Followed by a few days of solo travel on party island Boracay. Perfect!

tour

But first came the spanner in the works.

I walked into work the day before I was due to depart feeling positive and excited, a welcome change after having spent the two weeks prior feeling mainly a little down in the dumps after the stress and emotions of the past few months had taken their toll. After one tense evening too many with my housemate, she finally moved out to be replaced by the more laid back, arty Kate. That was one weight lifted, but there was also the on-off fling with the handsome doctor that had somehow managed to go on for the best part of a year and was beginning to leave me with a deep feeling of loneliness after tearing myself away time and time again. I knew it was up to me to put an end to it, but that’s easier said than done when someone is seemingly so perfect for you in so many ways. I was hoping the trip would take my mind of things and give me a new focus for the coming year. I was looking forward to some sunshine to lift my spirits and that feeling of freedom you can only get when walking barefoot along a sandy path, sea salt in your hair, bikini still damp from a swim in the sea and a gentle breeze fanning your face as the sun begins to descend behind the ocean for another day. Ahhhh.

I was swiftly snapped out of my daydream by my colleague “Lauren! Have you seen the news about the Philippines?!! There’s been a typhoon…

typhoon melor

Que a panicked call to my parents, the Flight Centre and Gadventures. Thankfully they each assured me that all was well and that it was safe to travel, but it was with a mix of fear and trepidation that I boarded the 15 hour flight until I touched down in a rainy, albeit not flooded Manila.

By the time I arrived around 1am, exhausted from the flight, the nerves and the sleepless night the evening prior, I was fully expecting to sink into a long and deep restful sleep but instead of sweet slumber, it was tears that greeted me. Solo travel is amazing for throwing you out of your comfort zone but it is also really frickin’ hard sometimes too.

Thankfully a good nights sleep and a stroll around the poorer side of the city the following day, where families were cooking food at the side of the road yet still stopped to smile and say hello, reminded me just how lucky I really am and my mindset quickly shifted back to one of gratitude and excitement for the adventure ahead.

Siquijor

After an initial meeting in Manila, followed by dinner in the city with the rest of the group (just six of us in total including the tour guide) we each retired for the night ready for an early flight to Siquijor the following morning.

A short delay, a stop over and quick tour of Dumaguete and finally we arrived at the beautiful Casa de la Playa where our beautiful bungalow was literally a stones throw from the beach.

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We threw our bags in, swapped travel clothes for swimming attire and hopped right in to the lukewarm sea. We lasted roughly five minutes before persuading Mike, the only guy amongst four girls, to head to the bar and crack open a couple of San Miguels. Sunday sessions in style!

That evening, not wanting to bundle into yet another mode of transport, we opted to dine onsite in the open air restaurant where we took up the centre table at what was otherwise a chilled out and relaxing restaurant. The Philippines aren’t especially known for their food and I must admit, for the most part it left little to be desired. Vegetables were scarce, the meat and fish were generally deep fried and the service was slow but served with a smile which made each meal pleasurable all the same.

The next day we headed out to explore, three on one rickshaw-style tricycle, three on another. We sped slowly along the winding roads of the 330+ sq m island until we reached our first destination, the old enchanted Balete tree. As well as the ancient tree, we also had the pleasure of dipping our feet into the pond below where flesh-eating fish nibbled at our dead skin (not for the ticklish!)

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Next it was onto my favourite stop, Cambughay Falls for rope swings into the turquoise pool, or for the more daring (me and Mike), there was the option to jump from the top of the falls. Bombs away!

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Adrenaline junkies sated, we moved on to Salagdoong Beach for a spot of lunch in the sunshine. We cracked open some more beers and enjoyed a tasty shrimp curry before we eyed a platform in the distance which seemed to offer more opportunities for throwing ourselves from a great height into the sea. As we climbed up, we noticed some fellow travelers perched atop the platform urging one of their group to make the jump from the almighty 20ft jump into the waves below. She stepped aside and allowed us to peer over the edge, a mistake for me as the fear set in and I thought better of it. Mike was a little braver and took the plunge, hats off to him!

That evening, having worked up quite an appetite, we ventured downtown for dinner and more beers, returning home via the Viking Bar.

Same same, but different

The next day followed much the same suit. We took the tricycles down to another waterfall, this time Lugnason Falls where there were more options to jump from a greater height which kept Mike entertained whilst us girls mainly chatted and swam before deciding it was time to hurry along and grab some lunch en route to the next stop, Paliton Beach.

Lunch was a well chosen spot by our guide Olive, where frozen cocktails and delicious seafood salads were the order of the day in a funky bar / restaurant where I could have happily returned for the rest of our trip.

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But the beach was calling…

And what a beach it was. Google images of the Philippines and row after row of white sanded splendor will appear before your eyes, one of the many reasons that drew me to the islands for a slice of picture-perfect paradise, without the price tag of somewhere like the Maldives. Paliton was one of those beaches, and lucky us, we had the whole stretch to ourselves.

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We played in the shallow water for hours, taking photos with this stunning backdrop as our landscape, creating the kind of instagram pictures to salivate over later at home in your cold London flat (or maybe that’s just me?!)

Afterwards we headed back ‘home’ to get ready for a night on the town. Our brief stop in the Viking Bar the night before had resulted in an invitation to the local Christmas party, Filipinos certainly live up to their friendly and welcoming reputation. We had dinner at the bar and then made our way over to the dance floor to join in on the festivities; present swapping secret-santa style, dancing the night away to cheesy music and drinking double gins for less than 2 quid!

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By now on the tour, friendships had been firmly established. With just five of us in total, we largely hung out as a group but it was clear that roommates Sarah and Rachel were a good match, being the party animals of the bunch. Jas and Mike seemed to bond well too and I floated in between. It was nice but I missed having that strong connection with someone that I usually seem to find wherever I go. I guess there was always Boracay left to explore too, but first, Bohol…

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