Pictures and videos here and stories and recap below.
One of the many boat rides
My 2 dollar plastic shoes I had to buy to go in the Indonesia embassy
My friend Anabella from Argentina that I met in el Nido and we found out we were neighbors on Bohol and hung out.
After the failed attempt to extend my stay in the Philippines because I had tried to go on Good Friday in Puerto Princesa and of course was unable as it was a public holiday I had to wait for it to be Monday so I stuck around Manila and on that Sunday night we got a group from the hostel and some Czech friends I had met in El Nido to go out for a few drinks. After some beers at a bar and street-side eateries we finally started trying to find a fun karaoke bar to go into that supposedly had all you could drink. It was a Sunday at 1am and we began our negotiations to get a good entry price for our group.
Our group of 3 Norwegians, 2 Colombians (the other guy was a half-Colombian, half-Spanish dude who I found very annoying as he was a bit full of himself, but was also highly entertaining because he was kind of clumsy and a train-wreck in action), 3 Czechs, a Swede, a Belgian and an Italian had fun written all over it. After realizing it was hard to find a karaoke bar that wasn’t really a prostitution place in Makati and Malate (we tried to go into a few and they seemed like just karaoke bars but when you went in there were no other people beside maybe fifty 20 year old attractive girls in nice dresses). We finally went into a club with no cover and (as far as I know no prostitutes). The club was called Exclusive (lame-name) but was actually pretty good and fun, and the best part. A beer-pong table in the back that no one was paying attention to.
After a few 2 v 2 and 3 v 3 games it was clear that Europeans were no match for someone who grew up in the states and basically went to Syracuse on a beer-pong/quarters Scholarship 😉 It was a blast to play and that gave us the drinks and energy to dance and terrorize the club until 6 am. There was lots of dancing and laughing all night and the one of the Norwegian boys even managed to get this cell phone taken and even recovered it in an amazing story.
We made it back to the hostel as the sun was coming up over the Makati skyline and we watched it from the rooftop with some poolside time before running off on no sleep and much rum and beers in the blood to the Indonesia embassy in Makati. Since I was still drunk and hadn´t slept I had a brain-fart and found myself in really heavy Manila traffic in a jeepney (20 cent colorful and stretched out jeeps that are cheap mini-busses of Manila and a tight squeeze) on my way to Intramuros before I realized that I was on my way to the official immigration office and I actually had to go to the Visa Extension Office in Makati (on opposite sides of the city).
After hopping off and making the necessary adjustments which included bike cabs, attempted scams and many blocks walking I finally got a taxi and fell asleep in the taxi in the traffic and then arrived and extended my stay at the Immigration office and fortunately had no penalty for overstaying my visa. Since I had to leave my passport and return in 3 hours I decided to go to the Indonesia Embassy to make sure I had all the information of requirements for the my Indonesia visa. After walking in boiling sun like 20 blocks to the Indonesia embassy and getting all the instructions that weren’t on the website including a “managers check” I had to buy they said I could get at ANY bank… but after spending a few hours afterwards going to 8 banks with all telling me I couldn’t buy the check if I wasn’t a client, and even after trying to open account, they realized I couldn’t without an immigration letter saying I was living there. I was really frustrated and disappointed and was even considering not going to Indonesia anymore if they made it this difficult to visit…
The next morning after waking up early to be able to make it between 9-11am when the embassy accepts visa applications, I ALMOST didn’t make it… Around 9:30am I was about to walk into the embassy and let them know it was impossible to buy the manager´s check and ask for a different solution, I noticed a bank and thought I would try one more last time. I walked in and they informed me that it was ONLY at the banks DIRECTLY in front of the embassy that would allow you to buy the check without having an account…so luckily I was able to pay for the visa!
Now another problem:
Since I hadn’t been able to pay for the visa request (manager´s check), I hadn’t put much effort into getting the papers they requested of print outs of the flight and accommodation reservations. I had only saved a few screen shots of some options for beds in dorms in hostels and an option of a flight. My desire to get out of Manila to explore more of the country led me to just print these screen shots in hope that they didn’t really care about that detail. Then I started looking for an Internet café type place and they are hard to come by in the neighborhood. After finally getting to one that would allow me to print from internet, I was able to print the documents and make it to the embassy by 10:45…15 minutes early! I was so proud of myself!
Even though I had been warned that you had to “dress up” for immigration stuff and hearing that they would not let you in the offices if you were wearing tank tops, shorts or flip flops, but when I went the day before to find out the visa details it didn’t look like anyone cared about that, I managed to assume it was OK to wear my hiking sandals if I was wearing pants and looking presentable …so I went in hiking sandals. When I got there and went to register to go up to leave my visa application the guard proceeds to let me know I couldn’t go up with the sandals…he said I needed to be wearing shoes.
My heart dropped.
I got outside and frantically started looking around the neighborhood and asking people if they knew of shoe stores but there weren’t any right around there. Only like 10 blocks away at a place I actually knew and knew the traffic around there was a nightmare if I were to go in a cab. So I start running over to the Makati Cinema Square (Black Market stuff shopping mall) and on the way even walked in to the shoe repair store and tried to buy or borrow any shoes they had including the shoes of staff of the people working there! They were weirded out by my request and did not like the idea, so I had to sprint almost 10 blocks to the shopping center and I quickly grabbed a 200 peso ($5 usd) plastic pair of black shoes and put in my bag and sprinted the 10 blocks back in burning sun and made it back to the embassy at 10:58 drenched in sweat, but I had defied the politically correct fashion laws that stood in my way and left my visa application processing (it would be ready in 4 days, but I asked if I could come back in 2 weeks ((the day before my flight to Jakarta)) and they said it was fine.
After that small victory and satisfaction of finally getting the papers in I went back to the hostel and picked up my backpack and went to go to catch a 14 hour overnight bus to Donsol, and when I arrived I went and checked in at the hostel and went to go see if I could go on the Whale Shark tours where sometimes you see them and sometimes you don´t (which is where I wanted to see them since I didn’t want to go Oslob in Cebu where most people go to see them and the reason the Whale Sharks go there is because they feed them and are changing up their feeding behavior and ecosystem), So I took the chance in Donsol that I might not see them.
I got on the boat with around 5 other people and it wasn’t long until our experienced guide spotted one so he yelled at us to jump into the water with our masks and fins and then after a few seconds of waiting to see one cruise by a few meters away, I realize it isn’t going to go past me, but a HUGE one (probably 10 meters as they can get up to 18 meters (50 feet) is 1.5 meter away and coming DIRECTLY towards me and it did not look like it intended to go around me if I didn’t get out of the way. As soon as I saw him I scurried and dodged that train as it almost brushed me going by! So of course I had to start swimming chasing after this gigantic and magnificent creature to be able to see it… and wow are they beautiful. They have spectacular designs of white dots and kind of prints on them with a charcoal type background color.
After around 7 jumps into the water to swim with or near the whale sharks that we were lucky to spot that day, and swim with for many meters which was a little tiring, as I tried to stay with them as long as a I could and wanted to swim over, under, beside, around these amazing creatures.
After this beautiful experience I left Donsol the next day and continued on south and spent a few days getting down there on boats, ferries, motorcycles, buses, I made it and was able to get to and explore the islands of:
–Bohol (stayed at a really quaint Coconut Farm run by really friendly local family that even treated us to a dinner banquet since it was the owner´s wife birthday) and renting scooter and exploring the island and some beautiful spots on the way to the famed Chocolate Hills and visiting a Tarsier sanctuary (rare mini bug eyed monkey type guy I think only lives on two islands in the Philippines and in Madagascar),I also was lucky enough to run into and spend time with a lovely girl from Argentina I had met in El Nido, Anabella…
then off to
–Siquijor Island with some new french friends I had met in Bohol at the Coco Farm, and Siquijor was a really pretty and chilled out island I was also lucky enough to run into Lauren, an Australian friend I had met in Boracay. Then I went further south over to the northern tip of Mindoro the southern part of the Philippines I had been warned not to go to (but Colombian´s who grew up in New York City aren’t scared easily) and I actually had zero problems and found the the northern coast of Mindoro to be really pretty and nice. ..Then I went to
-Camiguin Island that is described as a Mini-Hawaii with 9 volcano´s on the beautiful island with lush vegetation and cold springs, hot springs, soda-water springs, huge waterfalls and explored it on scooter and met some nice local people that I toured with and had dinner with, and met some other nice local guys at the cold springs and had some Tanduay rum (amazing 2 usd 750ml bottles of rum) and Coconut wine with them.
After almost 48 hours of many buses, ferries, motorbike cabs, and having to spend nights in ports I hadn’t planned on and missing ferries and waiting for ferries that never left when they were supposed to…I finally made it to fabled
-Siargao Island and ended up being blown away by the place. After arriving and negotiating and getting a ride to look for a hostel I went to the famous Cloud 9 Beach (Considered to be one of the top 10 surf spots in the world) and then met some nice Dutch girls and met them for dinner at Kermit´s, the famous hostel and restaurant in General Luna (town in Siargao) that actually has a great drink special 24 hours for Rum and Cokes.
Single Rum and Coke: 60 pesos
Double Rum and Coke: 50 pesos
Triple Rum and Coke: 40 pesos (80 cents of USD)
This is because Coca-Cola is actually more expensive than the rum 😉 and after dinner met some nice people and had a few drinks and the next morning I got up to get to the port like 40 mins away to try to catch an 8am boat to an island 2-3 hours away to visit some famous caves, but sadly learned that no boat was going …so I rented a scooter and went to explore the island on my own and lamented that I had not chosen to go explore the island on motorbikes with my new half-german friends Evelina and Jason as now I´d be doing this on my own after the failed attempt to go explore the Caves.
But actually as if it we had planned it I ran into them at the intersection going to the Magpapunko natural pools that you can swim in at low tide in Pilar (like an hour away) so we went together and stopped a few times to gawk and appreciate and take pictures of the gorgeous lush vegetation landscapes on the way there and back. That night…street food and drinks at Kermits and there was a jungle party at a local disco so a bunch of us went to have drinks at my hostel, Pagloam… and luckily I made it up the next morning for some island hopping I had signed up for and wow was it beautiful. We went to Guyam, Daco, and Naked Island (where of course I got naked for a while) and all were spectacular, but the most amazing thing was the color of the water in Siargao. The ocean looks like a palate with an endless supply of blues, turquoise, greens and all in between with gorgeous blue skies and white clouds and blazing sun with white beach islands….perfection. And there is something very special about Siargao that goes beyond the gorgeous lush green mountains and beaches and waters and beaches…it has some great energy that most of the people you meet tell you that this is their 3rd time to the Island, and most people are there for a month, and it is not rare to hear stories of people saying they went planning on staying a week and spend 7 weeks…and as proof, I vow to return!
This was probably my 2nd favorite place in the Philippines, and that says a lot! Sadly I only had 4 days on the island and I was REALLY sad to leave that place and the amazing people I met there. It might be an exaggeration, but it felt like the Siargao airport was the saddest airport in the world as no one wants to leave that island!
But sadly my time in the Philippines had come to an end and it was time to get up to Manila to pick up my passport and hopefully visa at the Indonesian embassy. After a big scare of getting there and finding it closed and seeing a sign and me being terrified of thinking my flight to Indonesia was the next day and it would be tough to fly there without a passport and Indonesia Visa! Luckily the sign just said it said they were opening one hour later) I did get it and am now sitting and typing in the spectacular Singapore airport (it is insanely nice with tons of nice amenities like swimming pool, gym, free wifi, tons of stores, indoor gardens, etc) as I had a connection here on my way to Jakarta.
The Philippines…wow. Excuse the language, but what a FUCKING BEAUTIFUL country with really friendly people (towards the 2nd half of my visit I felt they were even nicer than I had originally thought) and loved all the smiles and hello’s, the basketball being played everywhere from slums to mud fields with hoops, the conversations I had with the local people including a beautiful one with an elderly woman in Siargao that spoke Spanish and we spoke of the years of the Spanish colonization and she was really happy to practice her Spanish. We laughed and exchanged anecdotes and was a beautiful person.
On this trip people spoke of how amazed they were at how well kept a secret the Philippines are with better beaches than Thailand, friendlier people than most S.E. Asian countries, and so much to offer with half the tourists. Some people believe that if you find an amazing place don´t tell people because they think that if many people go it will ruin it…. This is a dilemma I can understand, but I love sharing from my thoughts to my food and want to say that if you ever get the chance to, GO to the Philippines!
My top 3 recommendations for the Philippines:
1. Palawan. Spend at least 2 weeks if you can on in the Island of Palawan.
Go to Coron. Shipwreck Dive if you can and island hop down to El Nido. Explore El Nido and the Bacuit archipealogo (hopefully with overnight stays/camping). Go to Port Barton.
2. Siargao. Spend at least 2 weeks in Siargao and surf, relax, do nothing, explore the island by boat, motorbike, snorkel, etc. And go for dinner and drinks at Kermits and stay at Jings Place if you can or next door at Pagloam hostel.
3. Spend time in the southern islands like Bohol or Camiguin. Or Go to Donsol and hopefully you´ll see and swim with Whale Sharks!
1. I lost my phone (not sure when I arrived at Siargao) so I had to replace in Manila…30 usd smartphone.
2. I went into the hot springs and killed my 2 dollar watch and after a few days it woke up on its own.
3. I dropped my small camera in the water getting off a boat and it´s been sitting in a bag of uncooked rice and hopefully will wake up too)
4. I was told I went to the jungle party in Siargao for a while when I have no recollection of it….
5. Finally tried Balut (hard boiled egg with chicken embryo inside) thanks to my friend Sheila who I had the chance to hang out with in Manila after having met her in Oslo when she hosted me on CouchSurfing! and it wasn’t bad!
A few interesting foods I tried in the Philippines were:
Avocado shake, Blue Marlin, tons of mystery street food, eating food offered on buses and boats, bike stand food, rice treats…and my stomach is getting pretty tough as I had no stomach problems and I’ve been eating everywhere…even eating bus terminal food and all street food and most of it is tasty and cheap!