philippines

Palawan: A Spectacular Island to Visit Even if You're Violently Ill

When you look at a map, it looks as though Malaysia decided to cut off a sliver of itself and throw it over to the Philippines. If so, was it a gesture of good will or because of a lost bet? Only the geography gods know unless they’ve had too much to drink. 

Palawan Map.png

This post shouldn’t be long though I suppose it’s already in the TLDR category. I don’t have too much to say about Palawan, but I have put together a video which includes a bit about my kayaking experience off of El Nido, which was the highlight of my time on the island.

A quick note about my videos: I’ve decided to put my efforts into photos and writing. What this means is that I’m ok with the videos being of sub-standard quality. I’ll be posting them so that you can get some glimpses into what I’ve experienced, but don’t expect anything within a 7 million kilometer radius like the work of J.J. Abrams. 

Palawan is cool, and I imagine I may have found it a lot cooler if I wasn't consistently experiencing some illness or getting rained on. Maybe not, though, maybe I needed to be “down with the sickness,” as the Disturbed singer said long ago (I have no idea what he really meant by this, and I’m not looking it up). 

Initial Impressions

Puerto Princesa

I flew into the Puerto Princesa airport, then rented a bike from Palawan Days. It was a red beauty and looked like a badass bike though it basically had a scooter engine. 

Puerto Princesa is just kind of…eh. It has too many people packed into it, and really isn’t that cool. I did enjoy the Robinson’s Shopping center though. 

Tip: If you’re riding your bike through rain, invest in a rain coat. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t have one, and for the life of me, I couldn’t find one anywhere. For some reason I was more fixated on finding something to cover my bags that I attached to the bike behind me, so was asking around more about something to cover up my gear with. It was like a collective conspiracy by the city to make sure I didn’t find anything. People would tell me they had no clue, or that “maybe that shop over blah blah blah has one.” I even stopped at some shops where they had laundry done and the like, and asked if I could buy a big plastic bag they use for clean clothes. Nope. Not for sale. It was fucking weird, but whatever, I know persistence. 

Then I ended up at Robinsons. I was going into every shop that could conceivably have anything. There was a luggage compartment in one of the stores, and they had rain bags but they only came with expensive bags. Everyone said no, there wasn’t anything, or to try a different store. 

Then something dawned on me. 

Shower curtains! 

They used shower curtains in the Philippines right? I was in a store not unlike Macy’s or Target, and headed to their bath section. Lo and behold, I found myself a beautiful cheap shower curtain. I was proud. I was practically high-fiving the young ladies that were working there, who looked at me like I was part lunatic, half-crazed madman. I ended up using that thing extensively because I drove around in the rain A LOT. By the end of the trip, it looked as though someone wore it in a tough mudder race.

The Roads and Countryside

What can I say? Gorgeous. Despite the rain, the tour van drivers driving a million miles an hour, the big trucks spewing out plumes of exhaust that put the Lost monster to shame, the loss of hearing in one ear, the construction on narrow windy unpaved mountainous roads, the food poisoning, and the extra portion of rain, I loved it. Seriously, it was awesome, even if sometimes it was pretty uncomfortable. Here are some of the roadside views:

Port Barton

I spoke with a lot of people who made Port Barton sound like a long lost paradise, filled with chilled out leprechauns and magical dragon dust. Usually, when I get that kind of strong advice from more than one person, I feel the need to check it out. In this case, sorry, I wasn’t impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool and all, but the place I stayed in was overpriced and overall it was lackluster. I was able to capture some cool shots, though. 

El Nido

The town itself isn’t much. It has a lot of shops and people trying to sell you things. What’s AMAZING about El Nido is the natural beauty of the place. Check out the Wikipedia page for some good info on this beauty. 

For me, kayaking for a day was the highlight of my Palawan trip. You can find beaches that you can have all to yourself, and row past breathtaking rock formations jutting out of the sea. It’s best just to see pics of what I’m talking about:


Things to Know About and Possibly Avoid

  • If you are traveling domestically and have a flight transfer in Manila, know that you have to exit the airport and go to the entrance of the domestic terminal cuz the two ain't connected in the building yo.
  • If you go on an island hopping tour, be careful with the food. Well, be careful with the food anywhere on the island. When I first arrived the front desk person at my hotel told me a lot of foreigners were getting sick. I was feeling fine at that moment so of course arrogantly thought: “Hah! Those other Westerners with weak stomachs. I feel sorry for them, that they do not have a robust gastrointestinal system that exudes the very essence of ballast!”

Then I got violently ill 3 days later. I’m pretty sure it was from the meal they cooked on the island hopping tour. Some sea creature I ate just did not sit well. I’ll spare you the details, but my body was trying to use every available orifice to get rid of what felt like an alien invasion in my stomach.

Anyway, I have some footage of my kayaking experience in the following video. It starts at 2:24 into the video if you want to skip the other stuff. 

Thank you for reading my friends and family. 

Bohol Belieber: A Bohol, Philippines Review

Just what does the Canadian pop-star J. Biebs have to do with this blog? Nothing, that is, until I came to the Philippines.

Maybe this is a worldwide phenomenon, but during my ENTIRE time on Panglao Island/Bohol, I heard the song “Sorry” every single day. 

When I think back to that time now it seems as though that song never stopped playing. It was like a jettisoned chapter from 1984 where Orwell's government decides to play some pop song over and over again until even the hipsters (some of whom normally start despising bands when they achieve a modicum of success) start bobbing their heads and mouthing the parts.

You don't need to look the song up…it will probably invade my brain somehow by a quasi meta-transitive effect. It seemed like it was a religious thing after a while. The House of Bieber! Even when it wasn’t playing it was as if some airwave somewhere in the world was being picked up by my brain. Or maybe the song just played in my head. Near the end of the month, I even started to wonder if I was beginning to like it.

Yes, I began to experience the musical version of Stockholm Syndrome.  I really don’t have anything against Bieber, though I don't subscribe to his musical creations; it could have been any song and it would have ended up seeming like someone was taking a drill to my head and injecting an ooze of pain in my head because it was just played so damn much. Don’t worry, this post isn’t about Justin Bieber, it's just that whenever I think about my time there that @#$%@#$ song comes to mind. 

Do I like the song now you may be wondering? I honestly don't know. I'm super confused and need a therapist. 

Initial Impressions

The Tagbilaran Airport

It's a small airport, and there is no long winding air-conditioned tunnel leading to cushy airport hangars with tons of restaurants from the airplane. They place some stairs in the front and the back, and you walk to the airport on the tarmac that would probably blister your feet if for some odd reason you decided against shoes that day. 

As is the case in many countries at small airports you will be immediately bombarded with offers for taxi rides, tours, and god knows what else once you exit the airport. I wouldn't be surprised if someone offered me a kidney at a "special price just for me." It's just how it is. Be prepared to ignore a lot of people. 

The Weather

The nice thing is that on the way to my apartment the air was cool, as though an air conditioner was caressing my skin.

Of course, that was the taxi ride in, and it had air conditioning. 

Otherwise, it was usually hot like a couple of suns making sun love (you're welcome for that odd fiery mental image). When I wasn’t in air conditioning, I could feel the UV rays smashing down on me, browning my skin as if getting me ready to be dished up to the gods as an appetizer. 

So yeah, it was hot and sunny most days; perfect beach weather ya know. By the end of my Philippines trip, I had a nice head-to-toe tan…except for my midsection. So I guess you could say I looked a bit like a very elongated Oreo. I can’t think of a better simile at the moment. 

Another day on the beach - the rough life ya know

Another day on the beach - the rough life ya know

The Air

After a couple of days, I rented a bike from a guy named Winston. His friend also had a cigarette brand name, but I don't remember what it was (it would have been awesome if it was Virginia Slim). As I drove my 125cc cool-as-hell Yamaha scooter through town and around the island it smelled as though people were burning things. This happened in town too, as I was walking, running, or standing there looking lost. 

I found out that it’s because people were burning things. I mean, they were burning everything. I wouldn't be surprised if someone just decided to say "fuckit', let's burn this car, it doesn't work anymore anyway."

The trash burning thing is kind of a turnoff, probably because I wasn't burning things along with them. After a couple hours of inhaling acrid trash pollution combined with the vehicle exhaust that is never-ending you start feeling a bit like cheap cigarette chain-smoker. So my advice is this: when you rent your motorbike make sure to wear a mask, bandana, or even clean underwear (or dirty if you're kinda freaky) around your face, because you don’t want to be breathing everything that is in the air as you cruise around. I think it would be kind of funny to see someone using underwear as a breath mask anyway. Please send pictures if you do this. 

Seriously, please do this and send pictures.

TIP: Unless you like breathing in exhaust and acrid rubbish fumes, cover that schnoz up.

 

It's cool renting a bike because you never know what you may see along the way, even if you do inhale a football field's worth of C02 emissions.  

It's cool renting a bike because you never know what you may see along the way, even if you do inhale a football field's worth of C02 emissions.  

Things Seen or Experienced

Alona Beach

I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Alona Beach, but overall it's pretty cool. 

The Good

  • The sunsets are incredible. Seriously. They just don’t quit, and every 30 seconds or so change colors. Just when you think it’s about to get dark, WHAM! more color and plenty of light. It’s almost eerie. More than once I thought to myself: if only orgasms lasted this long, people may be happier...but probably not.
At the Bohol Bee Farm restaurant. 

At the Bohol Bee Farm restaurant. 

  • The snorkeling can be decent. When you hit the beach from the main road in just go left all the way to the end. You can swim out to where an area is roped off (if you go in the roped off area like I did you’ll get yelled at from a person with a megaphone while sirens go off). I guess it’s a protected area. I just thought it was a misplaced swimming area.

Side note: I have some video that I need to get around to editing, so maybe within the next 5 years or so I'll get something out there so you can have some cool POV Philippines action. (Wow, that just sounds wrong.)

  • It’s pretty safe as far as I could tell. 
  • There are some decent roads to run on if you're into that sort of thing. 
  • Generally, people are pretty cool
  • It's a good place to find some good food, have some cheap drinks, and listen to old grunge covers by a Filipino dude with a seriously good voice. Just hang a right from the main road during dusk and you'll hear it. It's right before the Thai restaurant called "Isis." Yes, it's a rather unfortunate name, but I assume they, like the band Isis or the fictional International Secret Intelligence Service from the ultra-rad show Archer had it before the murderous terrorist organization. Oh, and as my friend Lo pointed out the original name attributed to an Egyptian goddess.

The Not So Good

  • It gets annoying as hell walking around there because every other person is trying to sell you something. I can ignore people, but damn, these guys can be relentless. Used car lots should make this prime scouting territory. "No" is not really part of their vocabulary. “Sir, motorbike sir, sir, island hopping tour sir, sir sir sir sir sir sir sir sir.”
    • You will be offered everything from sunglasses (even if you are wearing a pair, have a couple strung around your neck, are selling them too, they’ll still to try and sell you some), drugs, motorcycles, massages from the massage ladies on the beach, “massages” from girls or ladyboys at night, shoes, taxis, island hopping tours, etc. It gets really old really quick though I try and maintain a respectfully indifferent disposition, politely declining or pretending that there isn't an incessant and annoying human trying to extract money from me.

Recently I've taken to just saying "HI!" really loudly with a half maniacal smile plastered on my face when someone tries to sell me something, or when I can tell they're trying to engage in "sales foreplay." 

What is sales foreplay? Following is an example: 

Person on Street: "Where are you from?"
You: "Norway"
Person On Street: "Ohhhh! Norwegian Wood. You want girl?" foreplay has officially ended and it's selling time now
You: "Ummm, no."
Person On Street: "You need taxi?"
You: "........."
Person on Street: "Where you going?"
You: "HI!"

I've found the "HI!" method to be both fun and 67% effective in deterring them from pursuing anything further. 

  • It's a bit of a party place, which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your particular disposition.

The Whatever

  • There is a lot of coral and sea urchins once you go a few meters in on the beach, so pack your coral shoes. 

White Beach

I was here for a day. It’s cool enough, and is wider than Alona. Don’t try and walk in a “resort only” zone; the guards will stop you. I kind of felt like straddling the free beach zone with the resort beach zone just to see if I could make an eye twitch, but I don't think I did. I guess this beach just didn’t have much allure for me overall. 

Danao Beach

I’m not sure about the parts of the beach where people actually go swimming. The only part I went to was where sunsets are incredible, but trash is everywhere. It was a terrible beach and a wonderful beach. It was beautiful and it was disgusting. 

danaobeach

 

Bacsilag and Virgin Islands 

These are the main hop islands, that is, they are usually offered together as part of an island hopping tour. Don’t worry, you don’t need to ask around about them. By the time you actually make it to the beach you will have been asked about 20 times if you want to buy one. Be ready to negotiate. I got pretty lucky in that an English couple offered to take me along in their tour that they had already negotiated the price on. Score for me. 

Bacsilag is great for snorkeling. I saw some pretty amazing things out there in the deep blue, however I really wanted to be scared out of my mind by a large sea creature. I was disappointed, but there is still plenty of time!

The Virgin Island is actually a really cool little island for snapping pics. 

The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary

These little mammals are nocturnal and sensitive. They are incredibly small, (about 4 inches tall) one of the smallest primates on the planet in fact, and can be found only in a few SE Asian islands. Supposedly (I’m going off of this Huffington Post article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/12/tarsiers-threat-humans_n_1143915.html) their eyeballs are as large as their brains and they can rotate their heads a full 180 degrees. Pretty crazy eh?

To be honest, it was cool seeing them, but you really only need about 15 minutes and you’re good. I have to say that I felt like I was encroaching on their territory a bit, and that there were just entirely way too many white westerners wandering around there snapping photos. Evidently it’s gotten a lot better, but something about it all still felt a bit off. 

Evidently some places used to have the Tarsiers in cages, or tourists could be loud and demanding of them. This in turn was a catalyst for the Tarsiers to commit suicide. Yes, they do not like the stress of tourist demands, nor do they like being in a cage. Can you blame them really? 

Loboc River and Nuts Huts

The Loboc River is located on the main island. It’s so lush around there I wouldn’t be surprised if I threw a pumpkin seed on the ground I wouldn’t have a pumpkin in an hour. After I saw the little Tarsiers I was speaking to a Swedish couple who told me about Nuts Huts. No, it’s not some weird sexual thing, but the name is rather unfortunate. Pretty easy to remember though. 

They told me about swimming up the river to a waterfall, which was about 600 meters up from Nuts Huts. I thought, what the hell, sure why not. So I cruised over there and got out the go pro and my waterproof thing with my iPhone. I asked some others who were swimming in there about doing it, and they said they had just been swimming there and to be careful…with a “I’m kind of fearing for this bald white guy’s life right now.” So I swam and soon discovered that I was going against the current. 

About 3/4 of the way there I noticed a group of people just hanging out on a dock. They were just chilling, but they were all dressed the same. I said hi and asked them how much further it was to the waterfall. One dude told me to come on up, and I was grateful because I was a bit tired and could use the break. Then a boat came to the dock. This is where things got awesome. 

You see, Loboc river is renowned for its boat cruises, and it turned out that this is one of the stops some of them make. All those people that were dressed the same on the dock? Well they were performers, and I felt really lucky to be part of it. I was filming it when a lady gestured for me to join the stick dancing while she held the camera. Why not?

It was kick ass, but I had to move on. I had a waterfall to see, and my body wasn’t swimming with me out of the water. This is where the current started to get pretty strong, and I noticed that just my average swimming strokes were barely getting me anywhere. Boats passed me. Two Canadian women passed me on kayaks. I spoke with 2 German dudes who said they did the same the other day, and that the current starts to get pretty damn strong. I couldn’t give up, so I kept going, and going, and going, until I finally made it to an outcropping of rock that I stayed on for a bit. It was like my own island, and boy did the tourists get a kick out of seeing me hanging out on my little island. There has to be a number of “crazy bald guy living on rock” pictures out there in a variety of Asiatic languages. They were super cool though and I invited some to join me. There were no takers, and I was okay with that. It was an exceptional workout, and I’m pretty sure I got an earache for about a week because of it. Totally worth it. 

Oh yeah, the waterfall itself? I’m not really sure it qualifies as a waterfall. That part was anticlimactic, but in all other respects that was just super cool. 

Here's a short video (not the best quality) with the Loboc River Performers:

Super cool...

A taxi tryke swooping past above the Loboc river. 

A taxi tryke swooping past above the Loboc river. 

Sagbayan Peak

Nothing much to say except it’s pretty cool. I didn’t see any other Westerner along the way to and from the place, which was pretty nice. Don’t get me wrong, nothing against my own western self and crew, but it’s always good to have more of a solid cultural experience. 

The view from Sagbayan peak

The view from Sagbayan peak

Chocolate Hills

I’m guessing this is what Bohol is most known for. During the dry season these hills turn brown, hence the name Chocolate Hills. When I went they were more like Avocado Smoothie Hills, which was fine by me. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Avocado Smoothie Hills

Avocado Smoothie Hills

 

Loboc Eco-Tourism Adventure Park

This is a fun place to go and zipline 1 kilometer above the Loboc river. My super cool hot geek friend Lo and I checked this place and CHAP out.

The view from the tram

The view from the tram

Chocolate Hills Adventure Park

You can read up on it, but CHAP is the adventure park with zip line bikes. Yes, you actually have to pedal across a steel line, though it’s not as scary as it may sound. If you want to bring your GoPro you need to have a head strap, which I didn’t have so I left my Session behind. You’re secured really well on the bike, and really all you have to do is pedal. There is no steering involved. At about halfway across I had the sudden impulse and strong desire to go really fast to the other side. It was a whim, but the boys on the other side felt the need to do some polite reprimanding. 

“Regular speed sir.”

“Enjoy the view sir.”

“Remember, normal speed sir.”

I’m pretty sure they told me to go a normal speed about 10 times. On the way back I played nice, but made sure to stop halfway through because my friend Lo was on her way and I thought it would be fun to do a nonchalant “hallo there lovely, fancy seeing you here. What are you doing so high up, I thought you were going to be at your cousin’s fundraiser…” 

When I got back to the other side I believe I received a few more “regular speed sir”s or "you go fast sir”s. There was a Korean couple that were laughing their asses off as they mimicked how fast I was going. They were pretty funny as they were describing it. Evidently it was a bit of a spectacle. 

They have some other things there too like hanging bridge walks and stuff. That was my favorite part because my friend Lo kept on yelling at me thinking that I was making the whole bridge shake on purpose. I was laughing my ass off. For whatever reason there was a group of people below us all dressed the same watching the spectacle. I guess they thought I was doing it on purpose too, according to Lo.


Hinagdanan Cave

Well, I was expecting more. It’s a cave, and it’s pretty cool, but not really all that cool. I think I was in there for 5 minutes max then jetted off into the sunset on my scooter. 

Bars and Restaurants

This isn’t really my forte, but I’ll throw in my 5 cents nonetheless. For the top pics you’re better off just TripAdvisoring, but if you want to escape all the beach bars and just go somewhere to have a chill beer with amusing people, there’s a place just down the road from the Wok Bar. For the life of me I don’t remember the name, and it’s possible I never knew the name in the first place. 

This is where I encountered the following one night: Hans the German who liked to balance glasses on his head, burn his arm hair, arm wrestling other patrons, sing German opera, and generally be awesome. Tom is a good ol' English boy who has an affinity for Belvedere and bought me one with Coke even though I had 2 drinks in front to me already. Then there’s the incredibly crass owner Bob, who will definitely say something that will make you cringe, but I think he’s really just a stand-up comedian on duty at all times. Plus he does not shy away from buying drinks for the patrons (I had to walk home that night). Then there’s Bob’s girlfriend Geraldine, who is calm and collected. There are 2 servers there, Karen and Cherry Mobile. Karen is very nice and cool. Cherry (obviously not her real name) is a jokester and has very absolute thoughts on God. Anyway, at the end of the night, I paid 2 dollars, that’s it. Go there, it’s cool. I wish I knew the name of it. They have reggae on Thursday nights. 

Oh, I definitely recommend checking out the Bohol Bee Farm restaurant as well.

Interesting Tidbits

Tally

How many times I heard the word sir: 4,352

How much car exhaust inhaled: the equivalent of 459 cigarettes, though that's probably being modest.

How many stray dogs: infinite

How many times I was offered a massage: 139

**these calculations were done by writing down the first number that came to mind, which is of course 99% accurate.

End of Post

OK, that's about it for now. I really wish I could adequately describe all my experiences, but until I have a full-time camera crew who knows how to use decent equipment, this kind of thing will have to suffice.  I'm going to put together another post about essential things you should know when traveling to the big PH, as well as a review of Palawan.  

Thanks for reading!  

Travel Destinations - The First 6 Months

Ticketed!: I finally have my travel iItinerary from October 14, 2015, to March 12, 2016. 

I’m still in Austin and have a month before I skim a slice of blue dot rondure. What I've been finding is that it takes a shitload of time researching countries and trying to determine when to go, how to get places, and where to stay. It’s worth it, especially if you want to save some cash and avoid terrible accommodations. I'll provide some inside tips throughout this article, and will call them out in bold. 

Without further adieu here's the breakdown. 

October 14 - October 15, 2015: San José, Costa Rica

The first night I'm there I'll be staying in the city of San Jose, cuz my flight gets in pretty late. 

I thought about going with Airbnb, but found a pretty rad deal at a place called Cocoon Hotel. We’ll see if I emerge as a butterfly resplendent in beauty and stuff. 

October 15: I’m taking a shuttle from my cocoon and going to my loft over on Coco beach. It’s only $52 to take a shared shuttle there. Details can be found here: http://www.transportationincostarica.com

Notes: Initially I reserved a place I found on Craigslist about a mile away from Montezuma beach in the jungle. I reserved it with $100 which I'm not getting back, which is fine by me. I changed it up for a few reasons:

  1. I had a weird feeling about the place
  2. Being so isolated I wondered if suddenly I would have a number of friends that no-one else could see
  3. It was too far from the beach (major first world problem)

Tip: Be flexible, and trust your instincts as long as those instincts aren't based on irrational fear. This is sometimes hard to navigate because we deceive ourselves daily (we are our best and worst lawyers). It's better to lose a bit of money in exchange for a preferred living situation.

An Even Bigger Tip: Go with Airbnb for your worldwide renting needs. Here are the reasons why:

  • The people renting out their places are vetted by Airbnb. Not only that, previous renters leave reviews about how good or bad the place is. 
  • You don't have to sift through a million foreign real estate sites. 
  • You don't have to deal with Craigslist and the risk involved therein. 
  • You know exactly how much to pay, and the transactions are all handled via Airbnb.

October 15 - November 20, 2015: El Coco, Costa Rica

I’ll be staying in a loft at the Tropical Gardens in El Coco, Costa Rica. This is right by Coco beach, which I intend to lay around on when I’m not laying around other beaches. 

View Kayak CR Itinerary

November 24 - December 11, 2015: Sao Paulo, Brazil and other parts of bigass (no euphemisms, stereotypes, puns, or otherwise intended) Brazil.

I’ll be there with friends in the vicinity of Sao Paulo, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to magically speak Portuguese. Carol is from Brazil and Josh is a white dude from Maine. They’re a vivacious married couple doing the ceremonial thing in her home country. How could I miss that shit?

View Kayak BR Itinerary

December 16 - January 5, 2016: Minden, NE.

Christmas with the fam!

January 6 - January 10, 2016: New York, NY.

I’ve been wanting to go back to NY anyway, because I’ve only been there once and it was about a million years ago when I visited just briefly. Additionally, the plane ticket to the Philippines was effin’ cheap from there (like $399.80). A friend asked me to show him the way of finding cheap tickets. Well, it comes down to a couple of things: Research, flexibility, and awesome sites like Kayak and Skyscanner. Because I was willing to spend a few days in NY I found a fuckin’ deal. Maybe the trick is to be flexible a bit. 

View Kayak NY Itinerary

January 11 - 12, 2016: Manila, Philippines

 

January 12 March 12, 2016: Panglao Island, Philippines.

I’ll be about a 5 minute walk away from Alona beach, pictured below. If it's half as awesome as it looks I'll be happy.