We checked out of 'McSherry's' and had breakfast at 'Petes Restaurant', the fresh fish and rice was pretty tasty. We flagged a taxi and made our way to the ferry terminal and checked our bags in, we had an hour to wait so I made the most of the free WIFI which was also active on the boat; the Ocean Jet arrived and before we knew it we were in Bohol. Situated between Leyte and Cebu, in the south of the Visayas, Bohol is the 10th largest island of the Philippines.
Our first impression of Bohol was pretty good, it was a lot cleaner and not as busy as Cebu, we headed to Tagbilaran which is the capital of Bohol province, we knew we would be able to rent bikes there. The motorbike taxi with side car - type of thing, dropped us in a central location but it took us maybe another hour to find accommodation; apparently there was some kind of seminar going on and everywhere was full. Eventually we found refuge in 'Uptown Hotel', and dropped our bags off in our two man grotty cell.
We headed out to McDonalds for a bite to eat and to steal some toilet roll; Uptown Hotel seemed to lack these basic necessities. After locating a motorbike rental shop and basically getting our bearings we picked up a litre bottle of San Miguel each and headed back to our pit for an early night. Outside our door was a huge cockroach which James flipped over onto its back; these ghastly looking insects are suppose to be suburb at surviving anything from a flood to a nuclear fallout, however they can't seem to turn themselves back over once on their back - combine this with a spray of deet and the cockroach has no chance.
Just before we turned off the light a small mouse ran into our room, so we spent another half hour coaxing it back out and sealing the bottom of the doors.
After a mango and Langsat breakfast (langsat - local fruit that looks like a small potato, inside the yellow / brown skin is a delicious flesh) we picked up two motor bikes which would allow us to visit the chocolate hills at our own pace. We set off along the coastal road and followed the turquoise sea to a small town called Baclayon where we booked a dolphin watching excursion for the following day. Back on our bikes we headed east to Loay before taking a turn off and headed north to Carmen, after about 25km we could see some of the chocolate hills. Just before we got to Carmen there was a view point, we paid a small entrance fee, parked our bikes and climbed up one of the hills to get a panoramic view of the chocolate hills. The unique view boast 1268 hills covered in grass, when the grass is dry the hills look chocolaty, resembling a level from Super Mario. Even though the geological origin of the hills has not yet been explained beyond doubt, the consensus is that they are weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone lying on top of impermeable clay soils.
After a bite to eat at a local bakery in Carmenwe cruised back on some lovely roads, stopping off for a dip in the sea. We left our bikes at the road edge, jumped over a small wall and straight into the bright turquoise water. I walked out about 100m and the warm water was only up to my knees, the only other people around were a Filipino family who were playing nearby.
When we arrived back at our hotel both bikes had parking fines attached to them, we'd have to take the fine to some kind of court in the next seven days, within two days we'd be long gone.
We had a 5.30 start the following morning so decided to have a beer sat outside the small convenience store, however one beer led to another and we ended up drinking 3 litres each of red horse.A group of young lads who were on school holidays joined us; they were knocking back rum like it was juice. The heavens opened and the rain bounced down in front of us whilst the small group which had formed, sat under shelter exchanging stories. On our way back to Uptown Hotel we stopped off for a street bbq where I picked up two baluts to take back to the room; this popular Filipino snack for between meals is said to make you fit. A Balut is a half-boiled, ready to hatch duck or chicken egg. You can distinguish the beak and feathers! I ended up eating both eggs which looked horrifying but didn't taste that bad.
6.10 I jumped out of bed, we should have been at the jetty in Baclayon at 6.00. We gathered our stuff together and jumped onto James's bike and headed back to Baclayon arriving on the jetty at around 6.40, the women we'd bought the tickets from was still waiting there with the captain of the boat and a dolphin spotter. We hopped on to the wooden vessel and headed towards Pamilacan Island, the spotter claimed to see a dolphin, I was quite dubious about his spot thinking are we going to see anything at all, however I couldn't believe my eyes when hundreds of dolphins emerged, jumping out of the water and playfully following the boat. I thought we'd be lucky to see one or two, I never imagined seeing so many; I lay on the front of the boat with my hands in the water and the dolphins swam next to me - a truly breathtaking moment.
After we'd seen what must have been hundreds of dolphins we headed to a small beach on Pamilacan which was a perfect place to nurse our hang over's. I had an early morning massage under a tree before basking around for most of the day. The island didn't seem to have any roads just a few huts where families lived, it was a beautiful place and we didn't want to leave however we had to ride the rough waters back to Bohol which left me feeling a little sick.
After a lengthy phone call with my bank about a recent fraudulent transaction I was shattered and ready for bed. Back at our hotel we noticed mouse dropping on our beds, and later that evening we had to get rid of another mouse; I don't mind cute little mice but don't like anything defecating on my bed so the plan was to check out the following morning.
I woke up only to spot another mouse; we immediately headed out for some breakfast before picking up our bags and catching a motorbike taxi to the bus terminal. As soon as we arrived at the bus station which was only a few K out of town, we were ushered onto an already crammed bus and squeeze onto the rigid uncomfortable seats for four hours. The journey was picturesque all the way to Ubay, however the beautiful scenery only took my mind off my sore backside for an hour or so. The bus constantly stopped picking up people and there live poultry, bus conductors jumped from the moving vehicle and helped passengers load their belongings onto the roof of the old bus. We passed trucks and motorbikes crammed with commuters, the most dangerous vehicle sighted was a motorbike with three people on it, three people on a bike is nothing here but the bike also had a hefty (full) fuel container strapped to itand one of the passengers clutched a colossal chain saw.
We arrived in Ubay at around 16.30, I think James and I were the only westerners in town and we seemed to get a lot of attention. We were directed to GV hotel where we checked in to a much cleaner room where we freshened up before eating a delicious sizzling fish meal and a Halo Halo for desert. Halo Halo is a combination of fruit, milk, cornflakes, jelly and ice-cream, quite a crazy amalgamation of ingredients however it was very refreshing and somewhat tasty.
After a lengthy tête-à-tête with my abode in Preston (where Mel was at the time) I was quite tired after the lengthy journey so we had a relatively early night.
Our ferry to Maasin in Leyte was due to leave at 12.30, we embarked the ferryat around 12.28; however after an hour waiting we wondering to our selves why we bothered rushing - nothing is on time in the Philippines. Another hour passed and I asked a member of the crew "is there a problem" he replied "yes a small one! but we'll be leaving at around 15.00". 16.00 we set off on our 'better late than never' voyage to Maasin; after maybe 10 minutes I decided to go for a stroll to the front of the seating quarter just in front of the cabin where I could watch the low sun shimmering on the sea. Below me were a number of vehicles bound to the deck of the vessel and an engineer operating some buttons near the huge ramp / door.
The engineer had a slightly distressed look in face which worried me slightly, a loud siren went off and at around the same time water started to gush through one side of the door. I now had a distressed look on my face as I watched the water gush into one side of the boat, knocking over barrels and submerging the wheels of the vehicles, the boat was now starting to lean to one side. I noticed life boats above the seating area so calmly walked back to my seat to explain the predicament to James, I told him to get ready the boat is going to sink; the boat was now tipping that it caused a bit of panic with the other passengers but everyone was told to stay calm, which is pretty difficult when you've just seen water gushing into the lower deck. I dashed to the front of the boat to see if the boat was still letting water in, luckily the onboard water had been eradicated, I overheard and SOS call back to the jetty so knew we weren't out of trouble just yet; the boat slowly made its way back to mainland and all the vehicles had to be removed from the lower deck. It was about 17.00, nobody told us what the problem was and what time we'd be setting off. My guess was that the vehicles were being repositioned to distribute the weight of the larger busses, the hydraulic linear actuators which operated the door seemed to be jamming and even though the doors could probably be closed manually the crew must have wanted to fix the problem first. I thought a grease monkey with a bag of spanners would take a matter of minutes to sort out the problem however we didn't end up leaving until 23.00. We both left the boat on separate occasions to stock up on supplies however this was no compensation for spending a total of 14 hours on a hard bench; we arrived at our destination at 2.30. Both feeling weak, tired and confused we strolled a few hundred metres up the jetty and turned right onto Tomas Oppus Street and checked in the GV pension Hotel for 330 Pesos per night (£2.25 each).
After the nightmare of a journey on the 18th we spent most of the day relaxing and planning our onward trip. There wasn't a lot to see in Maasin but it had a pretty good internet connection speed, we managed to book an onward flight from Legasbi to Manila £35), book a camper van for Australia (£15 each per day) and catch up with email replies and blog updates. When travelling you come close to natural disasters and extreme climate conditions but after reading the news today it seems that England is also having its fare share of chaos what with the big freeze and now the ash clouds formed by the volcano in Iceland; fingers crossed that the ash recedes for when Mel flies out to Australia and joins us.
After breakfast we jumped on a multicab, loading our bags onto the roof rack before taking a seat on the congested vehicle. The multicabs are designed to carry maybe 14 people however in the Philippines people cram into the back and if there's no room in the back they clamper onto the roof.After maybe half an hour we were dropped off in Padre Burgos which is tiny place about 23km south-east of Maasin. The reason we decided to head south before travelling north again was because Padre Burgos isn't on the regular tourist circuit yet and over the last few years there has been many sightings of the illustrious whale shark which is a rare creature to find.
From Padre Burgos port we caught a motorbike taxi to Davliz Travelodge which was suppose to be owned by and English couple called David and Liz, however after walking around the small beach cottages and into the bar shouting 'David' a Filipino lad called Marlon told me some bad news 'both David and Liz are dead', 'I'm terribly sorry about that' I replied. Marlon took us to cottage number 3, a room with a double mattress and bath room and fan, 700 pesos seemed reasonable for a cottage only a few metres away from the beach; we dropped off our bags and headed down some steps to the sea. There wasn't a tourist in site and the water was idyllic, we were surrounded by coconut trees and coconuts that had fallen onto the soft ground below.
We followed a small pier into the clear water and dropped off a ledge armed with our masks and snorkel, the water and coral reef below were both beautiful, and visibility was excellent so we swam further out but the current was pretty strong so much so we could drift back to our entre point.
After a shower a Cumbrian 39 nine year old bloke called Gary came to chat to us for a while, he explained to us that he'd been living in the Philippines for 14 years and that he could take us to try and spot the whale sharks,Gary claimed to have a 100% record for spotting the graceful giants and because it was the end of the season he would let us charter his boat for £30 per day each; this is quite a bit of money in the Philippines but where else would we get the chance to spot the world's biggest fish. Gary and his son Travis would pick us up in the morning at 6.30 so we really needed an early night, however we spent the next few hours getting drunk with Gary, being from England Gary had a lot in common with us. We sang karaoke with the locals and ate fresh fish before retiring for the night; hopefully we'd spot the sharks in the morning.
Gary woke us up at 6.00, we grabbed our stuff and jumped into his Honda XR 200 side car which resembled a cage. We picked up Travis and our shark spotter Danny who would stand on the boats mast and keep watch. We lifted Travis onto the wooden banker whilst the four of us struggled to push the boat out of the shallow sea into deeper water; we eventually freed it and climbed up the small wooden steps to take a seat on the deck. Gary's wife had made us a fish breakfast which was delicious; we ate the fresh fish and drank coffee whilst Gary sailed towards Limasawa Island where we hopefully spot a shark. Limasawa had a picturesque bay with white sandy beaches and clear water; local fishermen brought in their early morning catch whilst children played in the shallow sea. James and I had our flippers, snorkel and mask already on, all we needed now is a shark to swim with, we zig zagged up and down the bay a few times and an hour must have passed without a sighting.
Suddenly Danny shouted "shark" and indicated to Gary its location, my heart doubled its rate and I felt a surge of adrenaline as the captain shouted 'now now now', James and I submerged off the side of the boat, toes pointing downwards to prevents us splashing too much and scaring the giant. Once in the water we ducked down to prevent the out riggers hitting our heads and kicked away from the boat, my head was now under the water and I'll never forget my first sighting of this huge creature swimming next to me.
The whale shark is basically a shark the size of a whale, they can grow up to 18m and can weigh up to 40 tons, the shark which was only a metre away from me was about 5 - 6 metres but still a colossal thing, I was on one side of it and James on the other, it was only until James was on the far side of it I could really appreciate the size of the shark. It had beautiful markings with numerous white spots and stripes on its dark back and even though the shark is a harmless feeding only on plankton, krill and small fish it was still a daunting experience, its mouth was huge and looked as though it could have swallowed me whole. After maybe 10 - 20 minutes we were exhausted and the shark swam to deeper depths so we returned to the boat and had a coffee, my legs were shaky and I was thinking there is no way I can do that again, but after a small rest I couldn't wait to get back in the water.
Danny spotted a huge shadow in the water which we could all see, the Gary fired up the engine and we headed over to it cutting the engine a few metres before we made contact. James and I lowered our selves in and got alongside the shark, this shark was huge, 7m long and a massive body; we were dwarfed by this colossal fish. The poor shark had a fishing net caught to its tail but had swam to deep for us to snatch it off, we got back onto the boat and waited for the shark to submerge again, after about 10 minutes we spotted it in the distance. James and I swam with the shark for quite a while before James tried to grab the net from its fin, its huge tail lashed out nearly swinging into us both and the shark propelled itself forward, we caught it up and tried again however the net had cut into the fin and even though we managed to free it slightly we failed to remove it completely.
Gary told us that on a good day he would spot maybe three and take the customer home, that day we spotted seven sharks and swam with six, this was Gary's record, he told us that when we tell people back at the port they'll never believe us, James and I couldn't believe it and even now when I'm typing this blog the whole thing seems rather dream like. We must have been in the water for a total of two hours swimming with the gentle giants and my body felt like I'd run a marathon, James and I were both drained so once we returned back to our cottage I had a massage and a well deserved sleep.
Later that evening we met up for a few drinks with Danny, Gary and Pete. Pete had lived as a local for one year and was apparently quite shy when he moved to town after a messy divorce however it wasn't long before he disappeared for a short while with Michelle who was one of the local girls half his age. James and I borrowed Pete's bike and went to a local restaurant for some food before heading back to base for a few more drinks with them.
The next morning Gary knocked on for us and told us that he had a plan that we may be interested in. Gary had sold a speed boat to some guy in Manila, he needed to tow the boat to Tacloban which is on the North East coast of Leyte (the island we were on), once in Tacloban Gary would transfer the speed boat into a HGV and leave his banker in Tacloban. James and I was already wanting to pass through Tacloban and this would be a more scenic route and Gary wouldn't need to take a crew because we would serve as deck hands.
That day Gary, James and I rode back to Maasin via Garys house which overlooks the sea; his house is still under construction but you see how impressive it's going to be. In Maasin we picked up supplies for the journey which would span over two days. We bought bread, jam, tins of meat, fruit, water, Rum and beer, on our way back to Pedra Burgos Gary pulled his bike and sidecar to the side of the road where some locals had congregated on a bench outside a cemetery. Gary told us that we were in a pretty rough area but he knew the main guys here, I was a bit worried because I had my bag with me containing a laptop, camera and over £2000 worth of traveller's cheques; however Gary told the gang that we were all brothers and before we knew it one of the guys had been to the liquor shop to buy a load of drinks. It was about 13.00 and we must have sat on the bench for hours chatting to the locals, everyone in the village came out to say hello, mothers to granddads all wanted a glimpse of Gary's long lost brothers. After exhausting our magic tricks on the gang we headed back to Pedra Burgos stopping off at a lovely hotel where Gary introduced us to the owner 'Jamelia', who ordered her workers to prepare the Karaoke. A huge screen dropped down behind the swimming pool and we spent the rest of the evening singing, eating, and drinking; we were all shadowed by Jamelia who use to be a singer professional singer, she could sing any song effortlessly.
Gary dropped us off at Davliz and told us to be at his boat for 7.00 the next morning.
6.30 James and I both felt a bit groggy but managed to gather our stuff up, pay the bill before flagging down a bike taxi who took us to where Gary Moore's his boat. We transported our heavy bags through waist height water and onto the vessel, we then had to free the vessel as it was lodged in the sandy sea bed; after about twenty minutes of freeing the banker and adjusting its out-rigs we sailed around the coast and picked up Peter and the speed boat from Gary's home.
We sailed along the Eastern coast, taking it in turns to man the steering wheel whilst the rest of the crew sunbathed and rested. After our ham and pate sandwiches which we ate for breakfast, Gary sliced a couple of bottles up making four cups from them, he then cracked open a litre bottle of San Miguel; we couldn't believe we were drinking so early in the morning. By midday the beer had gone and we'd started on the rum, I felt like a proper sailor; steering the vessel with one hand and drinking rum with the other, every so often I'd turn around just to make sure the speed boat was still there.
At one point Gary took back the wheel because we headed through a narrow channel and under a bridge which was notorious for whirl pools, you could see the whirl pools on the top of the water and you could feel the boat struggling a little however we successfully made it through and headed towards a small island in the distance. We stopped off at San Pablo Island which was a breathtaking small island on the eastern coast of Leyte, we all had jobs to do as we approached the small beach; I operated the anchor whilst Peter and James tied the front of the boat up to a palm tree on the beach. James and I had a quick snorkel in the clear water before the four of us strolled to a local convenient store. The tiny wooden hut located down nearby dirt path sold only essential things, the only essential thing we'd run out of was rum, so we bought 4 bottles for less than a pound each.
A woman approached us and asked where we were from, she said she knew Bolton very well, I thought she was joking but it turned out that her partner who was busy exploring the island was born in Bury. The women took us to a small hut on the beach and introduced us to the rest of her family, the family shared their food with us; bbq fish, rice and noodles she was extremely generous. She told us that her husband had gone to a nearby lagoon where a WWII submarine was located, Gary was tempted to go and explore it as we had a diving equipment with us and a couple of tanks, however we still had a big journey ahead so decided to leave the friendly family and return to the sea.
We sailed further North for a few more hours before we started to run out of light, we were going to sleep on a small island and catch our own fish with Gary's spear gun however we had made it to a small town called Abuyog. We moored up our boat and had to walk across a series of other boats and planks to get to the main land, this was extremely difficult with a bag on my back and after drinking rum all day but we all somehow managed it without getting wet. It was pretty obvious that the Abuyog didn't get many tourists passing through because I've never seen so many people watching a boat dock and greet us on the mainland. Gary told a boy to look after our boat and equipment and that we'd pay him when we return, the four of us where transported to the main town where we ate; everybody was looking at us, "Hey Joe" they'd say, referring to the American GI Joes based there for years.
On our way back we stopped off in a small hut where there was a karaoke machine, we were told we could sleep there but I'd already spotted two mice on the floor so decided not to. There was a number of girls from the village who had come to take a look at us foreigners and even a few lady boys amongst them, one of them had taken a particular shine to Pete.
Much later that evening the four of us had completed the krypton factor walk back to the boat where the boy was waiting to be paid for looking after our stuff, however a bag of food had gone missing including a premium spam, Gary gave him a telling off before he left without payment. Under the deck I had a guitar, fake watches, cloths and diving equipment and all that was missing was a tin of spam and some bread so it wasn't too bad a night.
I took off my t shirt and whipped the wet deck down before placing my sleeping bag on the hard wood, for a night under the stars. I heard a voice and lit up the other boats with my head torch, I could see people making their way over to our boat, Gary told them to identify themselves and a soft voice shouted "can I meet you". Pete was already at the rear of the boat helping the four youngsters aboard, I was so tired and really not in the mood for meeting anyone, I lay there in silence whilst Gary went to see who it was. Gary and I thought it was two girls and one boy but when he went for a closer inspection he realised it was one boy and two lady boys, he came and whispered this to me. James was at the rear of the boat and was well aware of this but I don't think Pete had cottoned on, so I started to shout to Pete how beautiful she was and if I didn't have a girlfriend I'd be straight in there, at this point one of them was lay over Pete kissing him, Gary and I was in hysterics at the front of the banker. James obviously knew the situation but because he was near Pete and the tranny he felt slightly uncomfortable. Sahara the other tranny came to try it on with me and Gary but we just explained how we both have women in our lives and after a while it left us alone.
I was lay on the lid to the deck so there was no way anyone could get our belonging in the night unless they physically moved me, Gary warned horn dog Pete about his cell phone but Pete seemed too busy to care less. After Pete had finished whatever he was doing with 'Beauty' (the tranny) the three left the boat and the piss taking began. I'm pretty sure Pete knew it was a man all along but the old horn dog didn't seem to care, James slept a few metres away from Pete that night with one eye open.
I didn't sleep to well but still had a smile on my face, the night had been hilarious and to top things off I spotted five shooting stars. The only down fall of the day was that I was unable to ring Lucy to wish her happy birthday however I'm hoping she received her card.
The heat of the sun woke me up at around 6.30 and at about that time everyone else was getting up. James and I jumped into the water to wake ourselves up and after a jam butty we were sailing north again; I had to smother myself in sun cream when it was my turn to sail because the heat was so intense. At one point the rest of the crew were asleep, I was listening to my walkman spotting dolphins and barracuda, it was like I had the whole sea to myself, and didn't seem to have a care in the world. Garry woke up and we shared an early morning rum and chatted about last night shenanigans, we couldn't believe the whole transvestite incident, he told me a little more about himself and how he'll never return to England again, after the whale watching season is over Gary makes his money from making swimming pools and boat building in fact the boat I was steering through the water was built by Gary only one year ago. Gary was an interesting bloke and had done and seen a lot of things whilst being in the Philippines, he originally came over to the Philippines as a diver looking for a WWII carrier, Gary and his friend employed a crew and spent seven years searching for the vessel which they never found. After seven years his friend located a Spanish galleon which Gary helped to salvage sending the gold bullion straight to Hong Kong; Gary got a payout but his friend is now very rich indeed.
James took the wheel and I lay down for a sleep in the shade, when I woke us we were travelling down a narrow river which resembled a scene for Apocalypse now, we passed tiny villages who's residents came to riverbank and waved at us. We moored the boat in the Tacloban province and got about twenty boys to load it onto a HGV whilst we drank a few beers in another hut where we were introduced to one of Gary's good friends, a 65 year old local man who has know Gary for years. Local children played on Gary's banker which will remain in Tacloban until Gary returns from Manila. We all piled into the cabin of the HGV which drove us back to its compound in Tacloban city, In the city centre Peter immediately jumped onto a bus which would take him home to Pedra Burgos, I was shocked by his quick exit - maybe because he was slightly nervous of the prospect of leaving Gary who was well connected or maybe he was now sober and slightly embarrassed that he'd been with a lady boy.
Gary introduced us to a friendly local Chinese billionaire called Allen who runs the logistics company Gary was using to transport his speed boat. Allen who seemed to own half of Tacloban told me and James that should we need help with anything or if we run into trouble just mention his name and we would be safe. Gary helped us check into 'La Rico' which was a central hotel with a nice lobby, he mentioned Allen's name at reception and the price was immediately discounted. I bought Gary some lunch for taking us on such a wild adventure we exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes, Gary raced off to jump catch his ride to Manila and James and I were on our own again.
I slept from tea time straight through to the following morning, I was slightly sunburnt and absolutely exhausted.
I woke up pretty early after a marathon sleeping session and had a shower and washed my cloths before heading out onto Chowking for some breakfast (halo halo). Tacloban is the provincial capital of Leyte and famous for General Douglas MacArthur's promised return to the Philippines in 1944 to liberate the land from Japanese occupation; in fact MacArthur would have arrived into Tacloban the same way we did, sailing into Palo before heading a little north into the city.
We had it a little easier than MacArthur because there were no angry Jap's in the city just curious locals starring at us as we bought fresh fruit and browsed around a few shops.
Later that evening it was bouncing it down so after our McDonalds which tasted particular good after being at sea for a couple of days, we headed back to the hotel to use there wifi and watch a few films.
I'd set my alarm for 6.30 because James and I wanted to visit the Basey and Sohoton National Park which requires an early start. Although Sohotan National Park is on the island of Samar, the simplest way to get to it is by catching a bike taxi to the bus stand and then an onward 'packed' multi cab to Basey. The journey to Basey only took an hour, once there we had to check in at the tourist office to pay for multitude of fees including entry fee and permit, boat and guide fee and a few hundred pesos for a kerosene lamp. We bought some food to take with us and waited a while until our speed boat (banker) turned up. Joel and his son Joman helped us aboard and started the noisy engine; we cruised for about an hour up the narrow Basey River which had dense jungle on both sides and palm trees jutting out from the side and overhanging the water.
We eventually arrived at the Sohoton cave where we had to wait a good while for another guide to take us through the cave. Heavy rain bounced off the floor around us and it was nice to seek shelter in the cool cave; we had helmets and torches and I couldn't wait to see the cave however I was slightly disappointed, I thought we'd be crawling through holes on our hands and knees there would be an element of danger involved, but I really think James and I could have found our way through the large caverns without a guide.
Outside the cave there was a large walkway on the cliff face resembling a scene from Ewok village, the guide told us that previous backpackers have jumped off this walkway into the deep water below, a little disappointed with the caving I fancied an early morning adrenaline surge to wake me up. James and I climbed through a cave and out onto the walkway whilst Joel and his son watched from down below as we both climbed onto the hand railing and hurtled our selves off the steep drop.
After our jump we trekked for half an hour through dense jungle as Joel wanted us to see a huge limestone natural bridge over the river, in my opinion this was more impressive than the cave. The four of us jumped off a huge rock and into the warm fresh water below admiring the panoramic scenery surrounding us.
On the boat ride back we passed tiny houses on stilt, because the sun was out children were playing in the shallow water, each one of them had a big smile on their face; no Playstations or gaming consoles available here, yet the children here seem happier than any child I've met in England. Back on dry land we caught a multicab then bike taxi back to Tacloban where we indulged in a Jolibees before having a power nap.
We packed up our belongings ready to move on again in the morning and had a few beers in the hotel before calling it a night.
7.45 checked out of La Rico and headed to the main bus stand to catch our onward bus to Calbayog which would take 5 hours. James and our bags were on the bus but I was grabbing a bite to eat for us both, I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the bus pull away, however James shouted to the driver and I made a dash to the moving vehicle and jumped on like a true Filipino.
The 5 hour journey was beautiful and we followed the coast north all the way, however the scenery only distracted me from my numb ass for an hour or so. I had to let a women share my seat; her ass was not only sweaty is was also on the big side, when she exited the bus which was maybe after an hour my shorts had a huge wet patch on the side where the fat Filipino had made contact with me - I felt sick.
When we arrived in Calbayog we were both hot and tired we caught two peddle cyclos to La Vista Pensionne and checked into the spacious room for a sleep.
In the evening we ventured out onto the dusty streets for a drink and some food, I asked one lady does she serve alcohol, the elderly lady scowled at me and commented 'this is a Christian house' I kindly reminded her that not only did Jesus drink wine but he apparently converted water into it. We made a sharp exit and found a tatty shop which sold us one red horse each, we needed a drink after the long journey.
After checking out of La Vista pensionne we caught a cycle taxi (each) to the bus stand where a jeepney was waiting to leave for Allen. I raced into a shop and bolted down some beef for breakfast before the driver shouted to me that he's leaving, James and I tried to get into the Jeepney but there was no room so we spent 3 hours on the roof of the vehicle. Being on the roof was perfect I lie down on some big bags of rice and sunbath whilst listening to my walkman; the road was beautiful, we hugged the coast line stopping at small village where the locals would wave at us. In Allen we jumped off the top of the Jeepney before passing through a police check point and had another bite to eat (Siopao - a white steam heated dough ball, containing duck) before hopping onto a coach that would transport us onto a ferry and then onto Legasbi, however as usual we were waiting on the bus for a few hours before it eventually drove onto the ferry. In the time it took for the coach to drive onto the ferry an old women in front of me had had her nappy changed twice, it was thundering and raining outside so I was stuck behind her, the smell was like nothing I've ever smelt before - hellish.
On the ferry James and I went to take a seat on the upper deck and watch the local sing to the videoke which seems to be the number one past time here in the Philippines, as usual the ferry was late setting off and when we arrived at Matnog we had to wait for another two hours to dock as we missed our slot.
Our coach carried on North to Legasbi but was hours behind schedule, the old women needed her nappy changing again, I lay on the back seat with my t-shirt over my nose listening to podcasts to pass time. 23.30 we arrived on the outskirts of Legasbi, the driver shouted to us to get off; we were both half asleep fighting to get our bags off the bus and onto the dirty pavement below. A couple of motorbike taxis approached us so we piled into one of the sidecars and headed to Legasbi Tourist Inn which was lovely and clean, I felt very groggy after riding on 5 vehicles through Samar to Legasbi in South Luzon so after a quick shower I jumped into bed happy that we'd made it so far in one day.
I woke up pretty early so went for an early breakfast and a walk around the block, Mt Mayon is situated on the outskirts of Legasbi but I didn't realise how close the volcano actually was, I walked around the corner of our accommodation and there it was dominating the sky line. Mayon stands 2462 above sea level and is famed for its perfectly symmetrical cone. The last serious eruption was in February 2000 when the volcano spewed ash and steam seven km into the atmosphere. Rivers of glowing hot mud, rocks and stones rushed down the south-east slope, totally destroying villages and farmland on the way. Nearly 10,000 people had to be evacuated and only after a series of smaller eruptions lasting until March did the volcano calm down again. The most recent, albeit less dramatic eruptions occurred in July 2000, February 2001 and July August 2006.
I wanted to take a close up of the volcano so I arranged to hire a motorbike from a guy who runs a travel agent below our accommodation; I'd pick the bike up at 10.00 the following morning.
Once James was up we ventured into a nearby shopping mall to buy a few essentials, James had lost three t- shirts on route so we needed to get him fixed up with some new ones however the t-shirts in the mall where ghastly so we gave up looking and had lunch in the Jolibee instead.
In the evening we struggled to find anything of interest, we spent an hour in an arcade then back onto the street to find a bar, however everywhere was shutting and everyone seemed in a hurry to get off the street like there was a curfew at 21.00 or something. We luckily salvaged a bottle of red wine before the supermarket shut so after a few doughnuts in 'Dunkin Doughnuts' we retired to our sauna like room for an early night
James and I decided that one bike would be suffice for the day so after paying the local lad 700 pesos we headed back to Dunkin Doughnuts for breakfast. The guy who rented us the bike for the day only had one helmet so I had to wear a builder's hat which had a make shift chin strap attached to it. We topped the bike up with petrol and rode North East and turned down a dirt track towards the huge volcano. The tracks were pretty dangerous and the bike was all over the place struggling to get through deep volcanic ash, we came to a point where we could no longer take the bike any further so ditched it on a very narrow track before making our way on foot.
It wasn't until about an hour walking when we realised how little prepared we were for the trek, we were so thirsty and had no water and James's blisters were giving him grief. We stumbled upon a local felling some trees and I jokingly asked him does he have water, he walked off into the distance and like a mirage appeared again ten minutes later with a bottle of water which we necked; It wasn't until after we drunk it that I realised that was the only water the bloke had with him. The friendly local told us that we were going completely the wrong way and if carried on the way we were going we'd run into trouble, we tried to correct our mistake by heading west but we became more lost and thought it would be best if we found the bike and started again. We were completely lost and every volcanic ravines looked the same, the ash beneath me feet were scorching and sweat was pouring form us both, it was midday and the suns heat was blistering but after an hour of searching we thankfully found the moped.
Back on the ashy track we stumbled upon a golf course which looked like it was under maintenance as some workers were cutting the grass; I accelerated past the locals and up the fairway towards the volcano. We eventually run out of track and got off the bike for a better photo of our surrounding, on one side of us was the beautiful blue sea and on the other Mt Mayon.
Back on the road we crossed a bridge and saw locals swimming in a natural pool formed by the volcanic lava flow, we followed the ravine to the beach where the fresh water from the mountain flowed back into the sea. I've never seen a beach like it, the sand was jet black formed by volcanic stones and the water was lovely and warm, we immediately jumped into the sea and washed ourselves exfoliating in the black volcanic mineral sand. We glanced back at the enormity of Mt Mayon and to our disbelief we had the whole beach to ourselves.
Before returning the bike back we visited the shopping mall for a Chow King (orange and chicken and a halo halo), we both got fixed up with a couple of t-shirts. Showered and changed we went outside to take a few shots of Mayon whilst the sun was setting before a bite to eat and another bottle of red wine.
The Philippines has been an unbelievable place to visit, I've never been to such a diverse country in terms of its topography, from the rice terrace to the North to the white idyllic beaches of Palawan. I think the key to enjoying the Philippines is to immediately get out of the cities and off the beaten track, this require a little effort and can be sometimes frustrating as the only thing in the Philippines you can rely on 'time wise' is the sun rising and the sun setting but with a little patience and perseverance the rewards are exceptionally high. Of the countries I've visited so far the Philippines would definitely be a runner up for first place along with Vietnam.
Favourite area - El Nido
Favourite accommodation - Traditional hut, Batad
Favourite person - Bazza (dive instructor from Huddersfield, based in El Nido)
Favourite food - Stuffed Squid, El Nido
Favourite drink - Banana and rum milkshake
Favourite moment - Swimming with whale sharks
Worst area - Cebu City (Seedy)
Worst accommodation - Uptown Hotel, Bohol (mice droppings on my bed)
Worst person - Viagra pundits in Angeles City
Worst food - Balut egg (didn't taste that bad but looked horrid, poor chicken)
Worst drink - Straight rum for breakfast (courtesy of Captain Gary)
Worst moment - Back end sliding out on the Honda XR whilst on Halsema pass
Favourite area - El Nido (Palawan)
Favourite accommodation - Tribal huts in Batad
Favourite person - Captain Gary
Favourite food - Chicken Tinola served in a coconut
Favourite drink - Red Horse beer
Favourite moment - Swimming with Whale Sharks
Worst area - Cebu City
Worst accommodation - Uptown Lodge in Tagbiliran
Worst person - All the dodgy peddlers in manila
Worst food - Some kind of beef marrow and fat soup in samar
Worst drink - Tap water
Worst moment - Waiting 8+ hours for the ferry to Leyte to depart