1 pound sterling = 100 pesos, therefore, checking my calculator, 1 peso = 1 penny!
19/3/05 (Paul writes...(so he claims, anyway))
No problems at the immigration, stamped in for a stay of upto 21 days. Assembled our bikes in the arrivals hall, under the gently oscillating fins (I like that word, fins) of a air conditioning unit. Rumour had it that it was hot out there, and for once the rumours were true. It was baking.
After an hour and ten miles of sweaty cycling, some nifty map reading and a few clever (well I like to think so) guesses on my behalf, we arrived at our chosen hotel. Not too much to look at from the outside, but it was near an Indian restaurant (spotting a pattern yet!) and the rooms were big and quite cool, even without the air-con. 690 pesos a night, not bad at all.
After a refreshing cold shower and sorting out our laundry for the shop down the road (its also a hairdressers, a grocery store and a place people go to watch TV) we decided it must be time for food.
The Indian restaurant was only supposed to be 200 yards away, up the road and around the corner. But as we approached where we expected it to be, we were hailed by a stranger from across the street. At first I thought I didn't take any notice, this often happens when we're walking down the street and 9 times out of 10 they're talking to somebody else. But then I realised he was saying 'Taj Mahal?'. Slightly surprised, I replied that we were indeed looking for the Taj Mahal restaurant. At first I was quite awed by his insight into why we were there, but then it dawned on me that any foreigners walking around that area at around tea time were more than likely looking for the Indian restaurant. Then he dropped the bombshell. The restaurant had closed. There was some good news, it had re-openned in a Ayalla shopping centre, a couple of miles away.
Hopped into a taxi and headed for Ayalla.
The shopping centre was a huge place, with a number of large department stores and hundreds of smaller shops and restaurants. It took quite a time to find the restaurant we were seeking, mainly because it had been renamed the Persian Pallette. The food was OK, but not quite what we were expecting, and we left a little disappointed.
The taxi ride home was not straightforward either. We had to queue outside the Allaya for 20 minutes for a taxi. The taxi driver immediately recognized the name Mercedes, and sped off. We thought he must be taking antoher route, maybe a shortcut, as we didn't recognize any of the streets he took us down, but then he pulled up outside another Hotel Mercedes, one that definitely was not ours. We then remembered that ours was called the Villa Mercedes, not the Hotel Mercedes! Doh! Luckily he knew that one too, but the taxi fare had crept up to 90 pesos by the time we reached our abode for the night. Just to show we didn't blame him for the mistake, I rounded the fare up to 100 pesos, a whopping whole quid! What a generous person I am. He was quite chuffed as well.
20/03/05 - 26/03 Rita writes
Because we are behind with our diary update I will summmarise the following few days to give a broad picture of our events.
Sunday 20th we made tracks to Cebu Doctors hospital for more drugs for Paul's toothache as much as a precaution as the pain was gradually receding and after great help from the staff there after making arrangements for folowing day we were off for luch to a philippino all you can eat lunch. Fortunately we arrived to early and were able to take pics of this fine spread, are we putting on weight you ask - ofcourse!!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing and later caught a sci-fi horror film called 28 days later-scarey.
Monday (21/03) we revisited the hospital for x rays - then cycled off to the port of Cebu in order to catch a ferry having missed the supercat at 8am. Dont ask me how, but we got persuaded into taking a taxi to the next town Toledo to catch a ferry to San Carlos - as the next and first available option - This we did and after this journey of couple of hours we caught a four hour bus trip to the town of Dumaguette where we were due to stay at the hotel resort Bahia de bais - We were expecting a bit of time share luxury here which didnt materialise and this resort is presently under investigation!!! fawlty towers springs to mind -we were in shock I think compared with our expectation, but we had a great laugh on arrival with a couple or three beers. The following morning I got up early for a run to the bottom of the hill on which the hotel stands and back to the top (feeling a bit sluggish with all these rice and noodley meals)
We met with the hotel manager for discussions about the hotel facilites for it included none of those little luxuries one expects from a time share, not even a connected phone - they had been cut off for non payment of account, and we later walked into town some two or three miles and spent most of the morning and some of afternoon on internet (but slow connection her too).
When we arrived by bus the town looked miserable and untidy as we pulled up by the market but seeing it with fresh eyes it improved and had a fair bit to offer in terms of food and interest, including a large market, a few soft drink cafes
and plenty of good vendor stalls for pics.
We lost a couple of hours updating in an internet cafe in the air con and then made our way walking back to the hotel. En route we came across a superb jewel of a place, Hotel La Plante, a beautifully decorated hotel with pool and dining area, completely devoid of customers and a with a global menu. We enjoyed a snack here then continued up the hill for a late dinner at the Bahia de Bais.
The following day (23/03) I decided on another run - this time Paul came along, so he could show off the sprinting abilities which he still has ) and we again did the hotel hill, which is very steep.
After breakfast on the lawn in the brilliant sunshine we took our bikes and cycled the peninsula of Bais and found the delightful lanes and original old stilted houses, cockerel farms and people fishing, kids swimming off the pier catching fish with string and bait only. An old woman with a bucket full of fish she had caught was stood by the pier admiring her catch and pleased to let us take pics.
It is lovely to be cycling while the sun is so hot but as soon as we stop it becomes 2intense to wander around without lashings of sun tan
cream, factor 30 only will really do.
After developing a thirst on the ride we returned to La Plante hotel for swim and food. Paul ate Thai beef curry and I ate Pork/chicken adobo and we enjoyed a bottle of wine for the first time since Vietnam.
After a couple of hours we found another internet cafe and Paul did some updating while I chatted with the locals. I met three lovely young ladies called Liselle, Cerena and Risa who had been attending the local university (NOSU - negros oriental state uni) They had just taken and passed their exams and Cerena and Risa had their names on a huge banner outside the uni for getting distinguished passes. We later saw their names on the banner as we cycled around the town a little more. The whole town gets to know who the bright kids are!!
We made our way back to the hotel Bahia and a starchy rice dish for energy for our cycle tomorrow as we plan to cycle to dumaguette.
We decided to cycle early as ususal before the sun too high and headed off down hill from the hotel after fruity breakfast. We made good progress and the bikes rolled along. Around ten getting a bit peckish we stopped off at a chicken burger type vendor stall and regretted having a bready meaty thing, but the water helped with dehydration.
After several picture stops and refresh stops, including electrolyte for rehydration we reached dumaguette around 12.30 and cycled immmediately to the ferry terminal to check out times of ferry to Suquihor island, bought ticket and returned to a little sea front bar for liquid refresh for half an hour b4 sailing.
On arrival at Siquihor island we cycled some distance poss 10kms to a chosen guest house called Kiwi resort, right on the beach, down a cliff front, most difficult carting our cycles down there but worth it. Sun was setting as we arrived for dinner.
(25/03)We slept again under mossie net last night
This is the 3rd time
1. Chinese hotel Phan Rang
2. Mut mee, Nong Khai, Thailand
3. Kiwi resort cabin. Siquijor, Philippines
These are permanent mossie nets in situ, however we used our own for first time back in Saysulah guest house Vientiane, Laos
They are great protection against mossies' the only problem is letting the devils in when you get up in the night for a pee. Our own is huge and easy to use providing we can reach ceiling for a central hook. Also an excellent one at the mut mee guest house because it was blue and also huge (mossies donâ™t like blue).
This room at the kiwi resort has wicker walls,one double'en suite COLD shower and loo, flag stone floor and small table plus a large balcony ouside.
Water is in short supply in this the dry summer season -March to June, hence when I went out for early run and acclimitization- there were people already up and washing their clothes and selves in the nearby river at back of resort.
Egg plant with fried veg for brekkers- and found book of commission report re 9/11 so decided to give it a go-very interesting but had to give it back on leaving at page 137 - must finish it another time. I
spent the day chilling with paul in front of beach.
Earlier I met a local out at seven on the beach, cockle picking with his wife while the tide was still out - he told me he was working for norwegian in the large private house along the front.
He told me the large camouflage painted castle/ house on the cliff was owned by a german(figures) natiohal as was our kiwi guest house He had a bucket full of snails in shells,half a sea snake and some cocckles and small fish.
He spoke some english and he was happy to discuss tony blair and the muslin issue in the phillippines, osama bin laden's wife who is allegedly a philippino and promised to meet for chat 2morro morning.
There are loads of good fishy things on the beach to photo e.g sea snakes, sea urchins, and star fish many of which are sitting on top of one another!!!!
We spent the day in and out of water and reading and eventually walked along beach to north and found another resort so we booked another couple of days there in advance in a lovely little cabin for 800pesos- casa de playa resort- with cooking facility - because Paul is missing his smeg double burner which is in store in the cowshed at brothers in okehampton and wonâ™t see the light of day for a while. I ate
salad for lunch and curry for dinner -the menu rather americanised unfortunately, even though place is german owned. A bottle of plonk from chile is very red and good-theres a bonus.
Paul is absorbed by his book by andy mcnab, "last light".
Today altough up early I am tired after a hot sleepless night and started a run but lost interest and walked along the beach southwards and met with the fisherman and his wife from the previous morning.
He asked after Paul (they are so keen on marriage here!!) who came out later and they showed us their bucket of collected seaweed, urchins and snails for breakfast.
We moved on to Casa de playa as the tide was coming in and we had a short walk along the beach front with our bikes and ate there !!! After waiting 2 hours for our cabin, we were finally told it would b ready in another half hour -we had gone off the idea and caught ferry to dumaguette. We cycled on arrival to our regular(well we have visited it once b4) bar at the ferry termnal waited only 25 mins b4 boarding. The safety procedure film was accompanied by a very long prayer to aid our crossing. I thought we would have been better off having faith in the crew. Anyway we proceeded on a wing and a prayer and on arrival we made for the Private Garden resort,
Which had been also recommended.
The aircon in room was a rip off-too noisy to use-and a boring,and unusually arrogant canadian left us unimpressed with his travel tales and we showered b4 a Hot chilli. We watched the 2nd half of Sparticus then
27/03/05 (Paul writes...)
We Decided to move on, Private Garden Resort not quite what we were looking for. Beach not very good, dirty water, no kitchen facilities, no internet, aircon too nosiy to use
Cycled back to town to get sme cash from ATM. Easter Sunday, town busy with pedestriansnad cars. Cycled southagain, found Castaway resort after 10km, full, recomended Matapalay resort in 12km, the place to get boats to Apo island.
Had problem with Rita's back tyre, wall was splitting and bulging out. No chance of finding new tyre here, swapped front and rear tyres and put a strip of rubber behind the split to stop the bulging. Seemed to work quite well,(it lasted very well, infact we left it like that til we reached singagpore and were able to find a repair centre) as front tyre not under as much pressure as the rear one(for obvious reasons)
Beach hut on stilts at the Matapalay resort costs 850 pesos. Nice friendly place right on the hore, open sided restaurant, several huts along the beach, run by German couple, mainly Germans staying there as well. Our hut set back from the beach 30 meters
Nice place for swimming, water deep enough within a few meters.
Lovely spicy pork curry for dinner, made with coconut, bit like a Thai green curry but without lemongrass. Rita had steamed fish and garlic rice, the fish is steamed wrapped inside a banana leaf over a copra fire.
Up early for super breakfast of baguettes loaded wit bacon, onions, tomatoes and cheese, not quite a trad Filipino breakfast but there wasn't much option. Oh, and a fruit salad.
Planned to go to Apo island, just off the coast from our resort. There is an association that runs the boat service out to the island, on pump boats. Wasn't quite sure what a pump boat was, although looking around the shoreline, I guessed it must be one of the many fishing boats linin=
g the shore. They vary in size, but most are about 15 feet long, with a narrow canoe shaped central section no more than 3 feet wide, and with a bamboo stabiliser on each side 6 feet from the main section, kept in place with bamboo struts. I wondered if, when they get really confident, they take the stabilisers off, like we do when learning to ride a bike.
The Apo Island Boat Operators association had been formed to protect the livelihood of the boat owners and operators, mainly by fixing the price at 1000 pesos for a boat that could carry up to 5 passengers. We rolled up at the booking office, hoping to find other people wanting to share a boat, but no such luck. The dispatcher said yesterday, Easter Sunday, had been very busy, but now everyone had gone home, it would be quiet today. We opted to wait 30 minutes in case somebody turned up, which they didn't.
Handing over our 1000 pesos' we were assigned Ray as our captain and were told that he would take us out to Apo, then wait for us until we wanted to return. There was no further explanation of the procedures, e.g. Where do we board the boat, do we need to take our shoes off, where do we put our luggage. So we followed Ray along the beach until we came to his boat, which he and his mate (didn't know if it was his first) pulled into the shore, about 10 feet from the beach. From the look on their faces, I sensed we were expected to wade out the rest of the way, so off came our shoes and wade we duly did. They took our bags and shoes and put them into the hull of boat, which I assumed to be where we would be sitting as well. Wrong! They slid a lid over the cargo hold and invited us to sit on top. Ok, that's fine, it was only supposed to be a fifteen minute trip anyway, we could sit flat on our arses for that long.
I was on the boat first, still wondering where the engine was, if any. Looking at the distance to the island, there must be an engine to make it in fifteen minutes, surely! Rita boarded the boat next and was ordered to sit facing the beach. Oh, that's the front, is it? Another hatch behind us was removed to reveal an engine, only a small one, but definitely an engine. Captain Ray and his mate paddled us out a short way, turned the boat around in the light swell and started the engine. We we on our way.
One more thing they should have warned us about when we booked the trip was, 'prepare to get soaked'. Luckily for me, Rita was sat in front of me, and so, bravely I thought, took the full force of the spray as the waves broke over the bow. (Do I mean bow? The front, anyway, whatever it's called).
The waves were not big, no more than a couple of feet, but they were quite relentless, and we got several good soakings and many minor ones. It was a good job our bags and shoes were in the covered hod, I wished I was in there with them. Might have been a bit cramped and stuffy though. But looking on the bright side, I wasn't getting a wet as Rita.
30 minutes later, not 15, 30 soaking minutes later, we arrived at the island. Squelched off the boat and arranged for a return sailing at 2pm. Checking my waterproof watch, it had just turned beer o'clock. What good timing! Into the first (and possibly only) restaurant and ordered a couple of Beer Na Beers, made by the Asia Brewing Company, tastes pretty much like San Miguel but is cheaper. Left a trail of sand and water into the bar, and a pool of water under our chairs. I got the impression the staff were used to it.
Time for the main event of the day, snorkelling. I'm not a great swimmer, but ever since my first experience of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef (name dropper!), I've forced myself to overcome my in built fear of deep water just to glimpse the fantastic underwater world around coral reefs. We'd been told that Apo had some fairly good reefs, so we trundled off to Paul's Diving School (no, it's not mine) and hired us a snorkelling set of mask, snorkel,
fins and booties. Just the one set, we'd take it in turns to use them, and Rita isn't over keen on snorkelling but enjoys swimming in the sea. What a fussy couple we are.
There are two good places for snorkelling on the island, the main bay where we were dropped off at, but that had too many boats coming and going, and Sanctuary Bay, on the other side of the island but no more than 10 minutes casual walking. The main "street" on the island was a concrete path that meandered through clusters of small wooden houses and a large tin roof church. Traffic appeared to be limited to pedestrians and the odd hand-pushed three-wheel cart. No cars and we didn't see any bikes either.
Sanctuary Bay was fairly quiet, a couple of boats a hundred yards off the shore and a couple of snorkellers at the Southern end of the bay, a little way out. The beach was covered in rocks, with patches of shale made from the crushed remains of broke coral, typical of a beach near a coral reef. Most of the shoreline was roped off, and a hand-written sign at the southern end said Entry and Exit point. The island is taking several measures to preserve its reefs, such as no fishing zones, and restricting the entry points to the reef were obviously another measure.
Donning the snorkelling kit, I struggled into the water, over a very rocky and slippery entry point. The rocks dipped steeply under the water, so I was soon able to launch myself off into the unknown. And what a spectacular sight it was once I put my head under the surface. An explosion of colours hit my eyes which I was quite unprepared for. The contrast of the blue sky and blue/green water when I was above the surface and the riot of colour just below was awesome, in the true sense of the word. There were corals of all shapes, colours and sizes, some round, some with spindly tentacles waving gently as the tide ebbed and flowed. There were a large variety of fish casually moving about the corals, keeping a wary eye on my movements. There were stripey fish, gold, blue and yellow fish, big, small, flat or long, fish of all colours of the rainbow. On the sea bed, on small sandy patches between the coral, there were large sea slugs, some black or a dark inky blue, others brown with white camouflage markings, and a couple of large blue starfish like creatures with five limbs.
Anyone who has dived or snorkelled on a half decent reef will know the excitement of being there and experiencing the wonderful sights first hand. To those who haven't, all I can say is, one day, you must.
After 15 minutes I returned to the shore to let Rita know how good it was. With only a little coaxing from me, she was soon kitted out and clambering across the rocks in to the water, and from the excited look on her face when she re-emerged some time later, she enjoyed it every bit as much as I did.
On my next foray into the reef, I tried to swim out further over the reef, but with the tide being fairly low, the swells of the sea meant that sometimes I dropped suddenly and came dangerously close to the sharp coral, and was in danger of damaging the coral. To be more honest, I was more worried about gashing my leg than damaging the coral, but either way I wasn't happy about trying to swim over the encircling wall of coral, and was quite happy drifting around the 100 square yards area I could easily access.
The sun was incredibly hot today, and I could feel the backs of my legs taking the brunt of it, even with waterproof factor 30 on them. So it wasn't too long before we called a halt to the snorkelling and returned to the main beach area. As an indication of how hot it was, I had laid out my soaking wet shorts to dry, and after 15 minutes they were crispy dry on both sides without being turned over!
For lunch, Rita had a lovely tuna salad, with a good portion of tuna with black olives, carrots, shallots and lettuce. I opted for the pansit
canton, the local version of fried noodles and vegetables.
Returned to the beach just before 2pm, looking for our boat but couldn't spot it. After 10 minutes I spotted a information kiosk along the beach. The woman behind the desk new our captain, and said he was on the other side of the island, probably having lunch, he wouldn't be long if we'd like to wait. And oh, by the way, you have to pay 100 pesos each for coming onto the island. Now they tell us. She explained that there was a sign displayed in the boat booking office on the mainland. (Which I checked when we got back and there wasn't). I insisted on a receipt and left in a huff.
We waited on the beach until 2:15, by which time I was starting to get burnt by the scorching sun, so I took shelter in the bar, having a cold beer to cool me down.
10 minutes later, Rita spotted our captain and his boat at the other end of the beach, unloading a cargo. He walked along the beach and said he'd be another 15 minutes. It's not that I minded him doing another job while he was being paid by us to wait, but it had been explained at length when we hired him that the reason it was so expensive for the hire was that the boat was ours for the day and would wait for us until we wanted to return. I don't mind anyone trying to earn a living, but why not be honest about it. I'll get off my soap box now.
The journey back was not quite as wet as the outbound. I managed to get on the boat first again so Rita took the brunt of the splashes again. Te-he-he. It was far too dangerous to swap places once aboard, I explained. She'd just have to be quicker next time!
Back on the mainland, we walked along the beach the short distance back to our resort and settled down for a gentle evening of eating, drinking, and watching the tide come and go.
29/03/05 Tuesday (Paul writes)
Lazy day on the beach, interrupted by the occasional meal and beer.
30/3/05 Wednesday (Paul writes....)
Up early to shower and pack. No electricity for most of the night, came back on at 630. Loaded bikes, had chat with Hans the owner. He brught the change from what we hd paid for our drinks last night, told him t put it in the staff tip box.
Flat tyre on Ritas back wheel, pumped it up and hoped for the best, someone may have let it down. By the tim we had cycled the 400 meters to the road, it ws going down again. Got past the busy wednesday markt. In full flow now, then removed wheel, found and repaired puncture. Only 100 meters later, tyre going flat again. Removed tube and found patch we'd just put on didn't look right, replaced with new one. Set off again and yet again tyre went flat, this was getting beyond a joke. Found a second puncture next to the first, repaired it but then decided to put a new tubes in.
After 10km we were joined by two students from Dumaguete, out for a training ride. They were keen mountain bikers and were preparing for a competition in Cebu this weekend. They cycled with us into Dumaguete, and took us to a good cycle shop where we might be able to get some new tyres, because we asked them to, not just because they spontaneously felt like it.
Bought some cycling shorts and shirt, a new pump, a new quick releae bolt for my handlebars (the folding part) which had got bent during one of our flights, and some spare brake blocks. Took me hlf an hour to find a working ATM to get some more money to pay for it all, but it only came to 1300 pesos.
After a swift beer at our regular bar, outside the chinese restaurant on the seafront, we trollied off to the port to cathc the 1pm fast boat to Cebu.
31/03/05 Thursday (Paul writes...)
Our last day in the Philippines. Tried to get my watch repaired, the altimeter, barometer and compass had all packed up, and there was a recommended service centre in town. The service guy spent 15 minutes grappling with the watch in his air-con workshop, just out of my view, before returning it saying he could not even open it! Apparently, they had never seen a watch like it in the Philippines.
Next stop was to collect our tickets from the Malaysian Airlines office. Took a while to find, then had to wait while they prepared the tickets and all the associated paperwork.
By now we were running out of time, we had to be at the airport by 2om for our 4pm flight. So much for spending a couple of hours on the internet to update our diary.
Had a quick lunch of paella (Rita) and something that was allegedly a fajitta for me, resyed for a little while, then set off into the heat to cycle the 12km to the aiport.