A Travellerspoint blog

Day 61 & 62- Busy Bohol

Island number 4


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2nd February- Chocolate Hills, River Cruising & More Waterfalls
We’d planned to watch the sunrise at the chocolate hills but due to the late running of our boat yesterday, we arrived too late to find anywhere to hire motorbikes. A little relieved we didn’t have to get up at 4am, we set off for the day at the still too early time of 8am. Having rented scooters in Cairns we hadn’t really contemplated the difference. The scooter we got here was a two person one so much bigger, much faster and much more powerful than the little beat up ones we’d had a practice run with. Having had the most road experience I was nominated to drive first. Not as bad as Manila but the roads are still mental here, weaving, beeping, seemingly no lane control or rules.

Very quickly working out that the beeping is scooters telling other vehicles they’re about to over take (the Jeepneys are incredibly slow) or pedestrians and dogs to watch out; there are a lot of stray dogs that just lie in the road. I was anxious at the extra weight of another person on the bike and controlling corners and such forth, however, once on the road it was fairly easy. There was much less traffic on the highways and it was actually pretty fun.

The chocolate hills are a phenomenon on Bohol. They were formed ages ago by the uplift of coral deposits and the action of rain water and erosion. The grassy hills were once coral reefs that erupted from the sea in a massive geologic shift. Wind and water put on the finishing touches over hundreds of thousands of years. They get their affectionate name as in the dry season these mounds are lacking the grass we could see and instead are brown. Climbing up the many steep steps and standing at the view point was impressive. We marveled for a while before the other tourists annoyed me too much.

The amount of travelers visiting places to get the perfect photo for social media is outstanding, no one seems to be there to actually see or learn about the place, just take the picture and go... Well, take 50 photos to make sure you have a perfect one, then go.

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As previously stated, we love a gift shop. Having spotted some at the entrance to the hills we headed back down to see if we could find any treasures. All the gift shops just seem full of tacky slogan t-shirts and hundreds of keyrings and magnets. All of which had the large eyed tarsier monkey in some form (an attraction we had opted to skip). Nothing for us we headed for our next destination of the day, Loboc River Cruise, everywhere we’d looked highly recommended this tour. After a bit of confusion as two different companies and boats we were settled in at a table on a barge. The tour included and all you could eat buffet so we filled out plates with noodles, bbq meats and seafood (minus the seafood for andy). The boat sailed up the river with a singer entertaining the guests, twenty short minutes later the boat turned back, the woman stopped singing and the food was taken away. Feeling rather underwhelmed, I couldn’t really understand why everyone had raves about it. Half way back we pulled over to a platform where there was about 30 local women, men and children dancing, playing ukuleles and singing. Once they finished their routine they asked guests off the boat to join in with routines, games and even gave me a ukulele to play (clearly unaware of my complete lack of any musical talent). It was a nice display however the five minutes it lasted still didn’t sway me to feel the tour was worth it.

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With a day full of activities planned we made our way to the bamboo bridge, another highly raved about tourist attraction in Bohol. The bridge was originally built in (check year) for farmers to transport live stock over the River to the market. It had since just served as a tourist spot, charging 35 pesos to cross the bridges. We paid the fee and started across, this was another stop that was purely for tourists to snap pictures for social media. In all honesty, it’s just a bridge. Granted it’s cool that it’s made of bamboo. We’d read there was some market stalls the other side so went to have a look around, hoping for some cool local merchandise, there was just two more stall selling slogan t-shirts... who buys all these t-shirts? There’s about 100 different designs, all as tacky as the other. We sat down for a bit, partly due to the heat, partly to decide what to do before our next activity in the evening and partly to get our money’s worth.

We headed back on the second bridge (there’s a one way system), past several groups taken 50 photos, we took a couple and moved on. Deciding to go back to the village to have a look around, we past some small waterfalls and pulled over to go and explore.

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We came across a huge pool at the bottom of two separate waterfalls and about 50 locals swimming or swinging on the rope swing. We decided to join them in the water and the current from the falls swept us both half down the river. After a local grabbed on to me and dragged me to a rock to recover we sat there for a while just watching them all playing around. Three of them trying to persuade us to follow them to a cave behind the waterfall, skeptical as ever, wondering what the decoy was for. Slowly realizing they were actually just friendly locals trying to show us their playground, we followed them in to the waterfall and the cave was admittedly really cool.

We watched them swinging on the rope swing in to the water or jumping off the waterfall for a little longer before deciding to dry off. We’d spoken to one of the older guys who said he lived in the village round the corner, seemed disappointed we were getting ready to leave and offered andy his bamboo raft to float up and down the river, we both had a bit of a play around on the raft (much to the amusement of the locals, we weren’t very stable). We were the only non Phllippinian people there. There was even locals washing their clothes in the river above the waterfall. For us, this is more what traveling is about; immersing yourself in the local culture, learning about their way of life, speaking to the people who have lived and grown up in those areas.

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Time to make our way to the paddle boarding trip, since we’d missed it the previous evening. Being early, we enjoyed a cocktail in the bar (limiting ourselves to one to avoid being at a disadvantage on a trip which entirely relies on balance). Suited and booted with board and life jackets we were given a quick briefing and simple instructions on how to use and control the board and paddle. I’ll say I think we were both a little nervous, I was strapped in and padded off to the middle of the river to wait for Stew to join me. I was surprised at how easy I found it, stew took a little longer to get to grips with it. As a group of 15 we all made our way up the river while the sun was shining it’s last few moments on this side of the world before going to wake up everyone back home. Once it was dark we turned headlights on and continued, it was so peaceful to only hear the waves hitting the boards, children playing along the river bank after dinner and the occasional music from a distant village (they really love music in the Philippines).

The main attraction of this tour was to see the fireflys- I just love any kind of light, fire, fairy lights, glow worms, fireflys. Once at the tree they all congregate at everyone sat/lay on their boards and just looked up at the tree; these little insects lighting up looking like they were all dancing together. Sitting there for about 15 minutes in complete silence just taking in the view.

We got back to the bike and realised we had to make our way back to our hostel in the pitch black with a very dim headlight. Nonetheless, we got back in one piece, this scooter malarkey is actually pretty easy- luckily as it’s the only way to get around the island!

We decided it was time to try the roadside bbqs, part of the experience and curious to see how cheap we could fill up. We had been reluctant due to a couple of factors, one it is on the side of the road with cars and bikes kicking up the dust and must be polluting the meats, we didn’t know how well it had been prepped or would be cooked or how long the meat had been sitting there. The locals were buying bags full of it and we decided since it couldn’t be that bad we’d give it a go. We opted for two bbq chicken breasts and two pork kebabs with a rice to share. The food arrived at the table (literally at the side of the road) and it was glazed in some kind of soy and honey sauce, it was delicious! Both impressed we paid the 80php and worked out that conversion on the way home, we just paid £1.20 for dinner for the both of us! Crazy!

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3rd February- Caving and Cantering Onwards
Only having two days in Bohol we had to make sure we did as much as we could. We’d heard about a pool in a cave that we wanted to check out. Another weird attraction with a small cost but totally worth it. Descending in to the cave down some questionable steps we waited for our eyes to adjust, while ducking to avoid the bats flying into our faces. More locals just swimming and jumping off the rocks built in the side of the cave. It was quite an experience and not a bad way to waste a few hours. Refreshing ourselves with a fresh pineapple slushy we discussed our time in the Philippines so far.

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With not much else on the list of things to do we decided to go to the beach. Sharing the entire beach with only two other girls (and a couple of stray dogs), both wishing there was a bar close by as it was so hot.

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On our way back to our hostel before our ferry to the next island we stopped off at a bar, there appeared to be two customers consuming the four women working in the bars attention. We sat at the table next to them and started chatting, one was Canadian and one was Danish, both living in the Philippines for four months of the year for the last 12 years, every year coming back being reunited as friends with each other and with the women in the bar. Seems the way here; there’s a lot of old white men with Phllippinian wives or girlfriends they visit for several months in the winter months Of their own countries.

During the conversations the Dane got out a bottle of liquor he’d made himself offering us some shots! One of us needing to drive back, it was fortunate I don’t like liquorice but Andy was definitely up for having a drink with them. Everyone here is so friendly, it takes some getting used to being addressed as ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ but the locals can’t do enough for tourists, so attentive and helpful.

The ferry from Bohol to Siquijor (Seek-E-hor) was only four hours, thankfully as the bench we had reserved seats for was pretty hard. There was two decks with six rows of beds with about 10 beds in each row. It was like the night bus in Harry Potter. A couple of episodes on Netflix, a couple of walks around the ferry and we were there.

We’d purposefully booked a hostel close to the port knowing we wouldn’t get in till late (11pm by the time we were off the boat). Once there the German owner expressed his disappointment that I wasn’t also German, having assumed from my surname I was. It was a small guest house but the owner and his wife couldn’t have been friendly with good German humour thrown in. Both disappointed we were only staying one night we made it to bed.

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Posted by Bears on Tour 02:29 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Day 57- 60: "No hurling on the shell dude, just waxed it!"

Turtles of Apo Island, Dumaguete, Oslob & Ferry to Bohol!


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29th January- Tan Awan to Dumaguete
From what we could work out there was only one bus a day from Oslob to Dumaguete that ran through Tan Awan. Our plan was to get the bus to stop and jump on. Estimating what time it would arrive we were waiting on the side of the road in the light rain hoping to see a bus. Then a bus did pull up saying Dulaguette on. When we asked if he was going to Dumaguete we were told it only went to the port not our destination. So we didn't board the bus and waited a few more minutes before concluding that bus was probably the one we wanted but something must have gotten lost in communication although we still have no idea if it was or not. We that hope seemingly now out the window it appeared our only option would be to grab a trike to the port and try to board the ferry ourselves from there.

Having haggled with the driver for a reasonable price for the 20 minute drive to the port and the little metal cage attached to his rather rickety bike rammed full of us and all our bags we were on the way. His bike definitely struggled under the 55kg of luggage and us with it wheezing up the hills. There were moments we were unsure if it would get us there but somehow it did and we boarded the short ferry with little issue. Once the other side we grabbed yet another trike road, after deciding against what would have been a 20 minute stroll from the bus stop, and checked into our hostel. With the heat beating down outside we were thankful that we paid the small amount extra for a room with air con.

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Once settled in we headed for a tour of Dumaguete stopping for lunch at McDonald's (you know to compare to other countries and to compare to Jollibee, the Asian equivalent) and finding the start point for our Apo Island snorkel tomorrow. Apo Island is a small volcanic island located at the southeastern tip of Negros Oriental. Its surrounding marine habitat is a marine preserve, with about 400 species of corals and 650 species of fish. It’s also a popular sighting spot for sea turtles! Something we have been hoping for our whole trip and the main reason we trekked out this way. Needless to say we were very excited. In stark contast to the whale sharks, Apo Island is also one of the best eco-tourism sites in the Philippines. It’s one of the few places to create a balance between tourism and conservation.

We both like the look of Dumaguete more than the other places we had seen so far in the Philippines. It has much more going on than Tan Awan but not as much pollution as Manilla. With blog updated and snacks consumed we headed to the hostels rooftop bar for dinner and drinks. The drinks are so cheap here that we nearly ordered two cocktail pitchers assuming that the price reflected just a glass. The bar was lovely; sprinkled with fairy lights and a good buzz about the place. The food was some of the best we have eaten here but the name of the dish escapes me.

As we were finishing up dinner the hostel owner came and sat with us. As we got chatting we learned a lot about her life and the bittersweet story of how the Antwet hostel came about after the loss of a close friend in London made her decide to live her life and do something she enjoyed before it's too late. I think we can both relate to that and it is a big driver behind our trip. We also came to learn that during her time in London she actually lived in Sutton, about a 10 minute walk away from our flat. There is nothing like traveling to make you see contrastingly how massive the world is yet how small it can also feel. She also owned a little puppy that we were both more than happy to keep occupied.

During our conversation another girl staying at the hostel came up with a glass of beer for our new friend to drink and shouted Tagay! We were informed that Tagay is actually the shot of drink you are supposed to chug in a Tagayan session. In a tagayan, a glass is shared by the members of the drinking group and the tangero is the assigned person to refill and pass around the tagay. You will know it’s your turn to chug the tagay when the tangero shouts “Tagay!” and pass you the shared glass. The moral behind this is "my drink is your drink" and although you can't afford to drink tonight I still want you to join in and share my drink! We love learning little cultural traditions like and somehow we got roped into the session.

This is one of the first hostels whereby we have really interacted and connected with other travelers. One of the main reasons for this is probably to do with the beer being so expensive in our previous countries and meeting up with people we already knew there. The tangero (Amanda, a South African currently living in China... We think she was clear from the infection) seemes to want us to catch up as quickly as possibly as it seemed to be our turn pretty much every round. Lubricated up we got chatting to people from all over the world; America, Sweden, the Philippines, and China to name a few. Time just flew and as the beer was around 7% we were both pretty drunk.

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30th January- Turtles & Hangovers
This and the 12am bedtime is not something that helped the next morning when we needed to be at the meet point for 6.30am. Both feeling a little tender we headed out, putting on a brave face for the turtles. The sea was pretty rough and was playing havoc with our sensitive tummies. The first snorkel spot felt like a mission as the waves crashed over us and made us both feel even worse. We luckily got to witness two turtles among the most colourful coral we had seen so far. However we were both too conscious about not throwing up to fully enjoy the experience. We did both in fact embarrassingly throw up in the water We felt like silly naïve teenagers and were a little annoyed at ourselves.

Luckily however there were two more snorkel spots. This time we both opted for life jackets and held on to the ring being pulled by the guides. It was a lazy way and something we both wouldn't normally do but needed, to limit the affects of the waves. We saw two more tutles and they were just amazing. So majestic. So beautiful. So awesome. The guides were great at spotting them and largely they were in really shallow waters, except for one who hid under a rock. But the guide took our camera and swan down to get us some amazing pictures.

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After lunch it was time for another spot. Iz decided to stay on the boat this time. I was feeling better and hungry for more tutles. This snorkel was the best of the day. We saw two more tutles and these were both swimming around more activitly than the others. They swam so close to you. It really was unbelievable and everything I hoped for. One, who I have named Archie, came right up to me and stared me in the face before gliding off. The guide with camara in have got some incredible photos to help me remember the moment. I just wish Iz could have also shared it with me. The snorkeling in general was some of the best we have done. So many diverse fish and beautiful colours, yet they do not show on the go pro so will have to stay in our memories. Although a shame we can't fully share what we saw I kind of like that you had to be there to witness the full beauty.

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We even found Nemo:

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I spent the whole afternoon with a massive smile on my face. Just thinking of the turtles makes me happy. I only wanted to see one. I got to see 6 up really close. Plus there was only me, another guy and the guide for the last two. I could have stayed swimming with them all day.

Back at the hostel we decided to skip the bar to avoid a repeat of last night. Instead we ordered takeaway in, a Turkish style wrap, which came to the total price of £2. I will stop going on about how cheap everything is but it is very much a novelty at the moment.

31st January- Brief stopover in Oslob
With a much needed early night and late in lay in behind us it was time to head back to the port for our onwards bus journey to Oslob. This is in preparation for the booked ferry from there to Bohol. Oslob although only 15 minutes up the road is much nicer than tan-awan. On our walk we were surrounded by streams of school kids all of who wanted to say hi to us. It was a little strange, we were like celebrities. We had experienced it on a smaller scale elsewhere but here it was intense. But all were friendly enough. After escaping we enjoyed a relaxed sunset as we tried to work out what the locals were doing. They appeared to be practicing some dance to an annoying song that was played on repeat. Once we didn't listen to the song anymore we went in hunt of food. Having had an upset tummy I went with a sweet and sour chicken I knew. Iz being more adventures tried another local dish but as we haven't been eating as much here, due to the heat, time and convenience, she could only manage half of it.

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1st February- Arrival in Bohol... Eventually
We had checked out the port location the day before which in the relenting heat with our bags on we were thankful of. As getting lost in these conditions is a sure fire way for frustration to arise. Our boat was due to sail at 11.30am and we were on board by 11am. After a little boat ride out to the larger ship. Yet for some reason we did set off until around 1.15pm. We were told it was because the coast guard hadn't approved the boat to go yet. The same happened with our Apo tour. They seem to work on their own time and are in no hurry despite the planned schedule. Due to the choppy sea the journey also took longer than the promised 90 minutes and we only got off the boat around 3.10pm. By the time we got our bags and were shuffled into these vans that were conveniently parked there it was 3.30pm. We didn't wish to pay the extortionate 400 peso's they were requesting for the 20 minute journey but with little choice and running low on time we sucked it up. Unhelpfully during the boat journey the paddle board company had advised that our evening planned activity would depart 1 hour early! This made us both a little stressed as after dropping off other passengers and the driver arguing for around 20 minutes with the security outside one of the group's accomodation we knew there was no chance of us having time to hire bikes and hot tail it over to the start point. Luckily they allowed us to rearrange but this didn't eradicate the frustration.

After checking into our accommodation we planned out the next few days and located places to rent bikes before heading to satisfy our hunger at afried chicken restaurant with decent reviews (both traveler and tourist having not eaten all day. After a little wander to gain our bearings it was bedtime in preparation for a full on day tomorrow.

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Posted by Bears on Tour 00:03 Archived in Philippines Tagged turtles philippines snorkeling ferry bohol oslob dumaguete apo_island Comments (0)

Day 51- 56: Having a whale of a time in the Philippines!

Vanilla Manila & whale shark watching in Oslob.


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23rd January- Manilla
Boarding an 8 hour flight with no entertainment was a first world problem but one we could live with. The flight was a sneak peak in to the Filipino way of life; conclusion- laid back, no rush for anything and rather inefficient.

Getting from the airport on public transport seemed almost impossible so we opted for a Grab taxi (basically their version of Uber). This gave us our first insight to the country; conclusion to this- mental. Absolutely anarchy! Cars constantly changing lanes, motorbikes weaving in and out of cars with three people on the back, including babies, people hanging on to the back of Jeepneys and pedestrians just stepping out and holding traffic back with a simple hand up. Everyone with a horn attached to their vehicle beeping it. There was no lane control from anyone. It’s very similar to how I expect India to be. Carnage. It was a bit of a bump into the Asian way of life and a jump start into the "real" traveling aspect of our trip after being eased in.

Our first morning was spent at the embassy getting our visa extended as we ended up with longer than the allowed 30 days due to hastily booking cheap flights out. This was a drastically easier process than the Chinese visa (ironically the one we may not even need ). After we had a walk around the city until the pollution got the better of us. We finally now understand the reason for the medical masks!

We haven’t got up to much in Manila, as far as we can tell there isn’t too much to do here.

A few facts about Manila (and possibly the Philippines in general);

  • They don’t use knives, they’re just not a thing here. Everyone eats with a spoon and fork, seems very inconvenient.
  • They love Karaoke! They also get super offended if you mock their singing. We looked this up, not speaking from experience!
  • The pollution in Manila is visible, the air is grey and thick. You can taste the fumes and feel it layer on your skin. My white shirt turned grey by the end of the day. Sky scrappers blend in to the skyline behind the haze. (Not great when we both already have chesty coughs).
  • They love fast food. Jollibee's and McDonald's are everywhere!

Since it was Chinese New Year we decided to head to China town for dinner, both dressing in red for the occasion. After some quick research we decided where to go, pulling up outside Chinatown didn’t look quite how I’d expected; not very busy, no decorations. The restaurant itself looked like it would be a kebab shop back home. A Lemon Chicken with rice and a roasted duck with chicken rice ordered we noticed in minutes it had filled up and decided maybe we were judging a book by its cover. Minutes later, our food arrive... suspiciously quick. As soon as we tucked in (cutting duck up with a fork and spoon since they don’t have knives here) we realised- we’d picked a fast food restaurant! Our food barely tepid with pretty terrible cuts of meat. We ate all we could till deciding to have a wander through Chinatown and see if it was more lovey further in.

A dodgey walk up the same street, very aware of looking like tourists, with locals eyeing us up and down I thought maybe we should just hail a taxi back to our hostel. We sped up a little and soon enough we were amongst music, lights, lanterns and so many stalls, people milling around us. An air of excitement for the new year. Still not quite as big as I’d expected but happy to be amongst the buzz. We walked through the whole area until we came to a bridge, with beautiful candelabra lamps illuminating the street. Over the other side was like an enchanted forest, fairy lights wrapped around tree trunks and tiny lanterns hanging through the trees. We walked towards music and the trees opened up in to a huge fountain show, similar to the one in Barcelona just on a 100 times smaller scale. After a disappointing start to the evening, it ended much happier.

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Time to make our way to the islands that the Philippines is known for (171 of them to be exact). Before our flight we spent the day mainly catching up with the blog and planning activities for the coming days (but I won’t go in to that for now, you can read about the later). We got to the airport at 6pm and decided rather than visiting the food court in the arrivals hall that we’d go through security and eat that side. Huge mistake, everything was closed, at 6pm! It didn’t make sense, there were loads of passengers. Luckily there was one stall open serving ramen, since we didn’t have much choice we shared a ramen and a teppanyaki. It was actually made fresh in front of us, which compared to the previous evenings disappointment was a treat. Unsure if it would fill us up Andy dashed to Cinnabon (also closing up for the night). He was amused by something when he returned. Turns out the cinnamon rolls were almost the size of my head! However, they were still warm and so soft, so satisfying.

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We got a little excited about Cinnabon giving us knives!!
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28th January - Tan Awan
A fairly nondescript flight later we arrived late at our Cebu hostel and got the bus further down south the morning after. The four hour bus journey only cost £3.20 which is crazy cheap when back home the bus from any village to town is the same cost. The experience (I think experience is definitely the word for it) was an interesting one. Every stop two or three vendors would climb on the bus with huge pallets over their shoulders selling dried fruit, cakes, some interesting looking things that we didn’t even know what it was and even pizza! We were on a local bus so we were the only tourists and strangely all the locals were buying loads of it all.

After our first Asian bus journey (which although was an experience was actually better than we expected it to be, expecting the worst) we checked into our hostel. Pleased there appeared to only be one other guy in our 8 bed room we opted to go in hunt for somewhere cool to grab a beer. This was much harder than it sounds. Tan-awan seems very much a day place thriving purely on the whale sharks, which it seems most people only visit as a day trip. Therefore everything we passed seemed to be closed despite it only being 5.30pm. It was like the airport all over again.

There is only really one main street that runs the whole way around the island and Tan-Awan occupies a small section of this. Small huts and shops prop up the dusty sidewalks, with a scattering of accommodation. With the realisation that virtually everything was closed and it would be futile walking any further we headed back to a place with some fairy lights that shown some promise of life. We ordered two beers; paying less than £2 for both was a novelty we could definitely get used to after NZ and Aus! Then we sat in the deserted bar area. We were literally the only people there as we watched the last of the sunset. It was a beautiful spot and so peaceful yet a little disconcerting being the only people.

We started to worry about dinner with very little around open and the fact food delivery or taxis seemed to also be nonexistant. After checking out back up options in a convenience store just in case, which would mean a crisp dinner, we made our way to one place Google told us was still open and serving tasty looking food. We found the restaurant along with the most activity and tourists we had seen all day. Clearly this place is capitalising on everywhere closing early. Having had no lunch, again, we were both peckish so ordered pork belly with rice and a pizza; both of which we would share. Thankfully the reviews on Google appeared to be truthful as the food was good and most importantly hot! It actually seemed like a luxury after all the tepid food we had eaten so far. It actually felt like a little date night as we chatted, ate and enjoyed each others company. It is great that the food is so cheap here as it makes a difference but having to just have pasta every night. With full bellies it was back for an earlish night ready for the whale sharks tomorrow.

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Whale Sharks
Now we were a little torn about this activity. It had looked so cool online to swim alongside these huge beings but on the bus down here and reading into what to expect a little further it put a bit of a dampener on things. It seems the whale sharks are so popular in this area as the locals feed them large quantities of plankton throughout the day and therefore they, similar to the animals in the zoo, have no reason to leave. This is one thing but we also read that because of this the whale sharks often approach boats that they now associate with feeding and get injured. In addition it sounded as if they take huge hoards of people out on these 30 minute experiences in multiple boats that sit close to each other and only around 60ft from shore, meaning it is very crowded. If all that wasn't enough and the part that was most concerning is that it appeared that despite warnings tourists touch and hold on to the whales. However some of this did sound unintentional and is just due to the lack of space due to the mentioned popularity. With the knowledge that these sharks can be anywhere between 6-10 meters long it isn't difficult to see how accidental collisions can happen.

Knowing all this we were really in two minds whether to do it. But we had come this way and it would be a very unique experience to see creatures so large up close like this. Our curiosity, rightly or wrongly, got the better of us and we decided to join the circus. We paid for our tickets, heard a quick briefing about protecting the whale sharks and sat amongst the waves of people there awaiting our turn. Everything about the number of people, boats, and wait times appeared accurate and it was so odd seeing this place heaving when last night it was dead. One interesting fact we learned that the spots and stripes on each animal is as individual and distinct as a fingerprint,

But it was now our turn, 3 hours later! And actually the number of boats seemed to have dropped off as the tour groups stopped arriving. This meant by the time we got in the water there were only 4 other boats. I know having told you all I have about this activity the next line will be controversial... But we loved it! It was so surreal seeing these beasts literally swimmingly alongside and underneath you. We saw around 6 in total and had seemingly come at the best time of the day as with less boats the whales were condensed in a smaller area where the feeding was happening. It is difficult to describe what it was like being right next to such huge animals. Although harmless it was as nerve wrecking as it as amazing. You could get so close and they swam right up to you. Iz did have an incident whereby she accidently touched one but she hadn't seen it underneath her and it was tricky to avoid, especially with the current being so strong.

The guide was also great and took a number of photos and videos of us swimming right next to them and we came out exhilarated. Yes clearly more needs to be done to protect these wonderful animals and their habitat. Also the constant feeding can not be good for them and tighter restrictions are definitely needed to avoid the way this activity is currently run. But if it can be managed in a more sustainable way it is a wonderful experience. However from what I've read it doesn't seem like that can happen and therefore unfortunately should be suppressed like the riding of elephants and pictures with tigers. Would I do it again? Despite really enjoying getting to marvel at these sharks I wouldn't as the whole thing feels far from natural now. If we had known what we do now before we had organised our transport we would probably have decided against joining in this time.

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A brief clip of our encounter:

Afterwards we showered and went to check out the Tumalog falls. This involved both of us having to get on the back of a rather small and sketchy looking bike. In all honesty it was terrifying! These guys clearly know what they are doing, the roads and the route, but with us both in shorts, holding on to whatever you could grab as he navigated some poorly laid rural roads barely even sitting on the seat it is safe to say we were praying for our lives! Needless to say we made it in one piece and got to witness these idyllic looking falls. Usually there is a 20 pesos charge to view these but as it hasn't rained for a while the waterfalls were not as impressive as they should be and therefore they were not charging. It is true the waterfall did not quite look like the pictures online but I'm sure you will agree it is still pretty magical and we were pleased we still came. Then it was back to our new favourite restaurant and bed for our next adventure ....

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Posted by Bears on Tour 01:57 Archived in Philippines Tagged manila oslob jeepneys whale_sharks Comments (0)

Day 48- 50- Blue Mountains & Featherdale Wildlife Park


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Be warned this entry is a long one and you may feel pangs of jealousy.. So settle in

We had planned to go to the airport for about 11pm the previous day and hang around there all night, but turned out it actually closed throughout the night so instead we ended kipping on some sofas in the hostel garden. Luckily it was undercover as it thunder stormed all night!

Up at 2.30am to make our way to the airport we were both apprehensive about flying due to our stinking colds. But with only a few hours broken sleep, the second we sat on the plane we both pretty much zonked out most of the flight. The only problem with staying up all night is landing at 9am with nothing to do but wait to check in to our hostel. We bumbled around Sydney like a coupe of zombies and drank the worst tasting Guiness known to man. We had a super early night as both of us were shattered and had an early morning.

The Blue Mountains
At the sound of our 6.15am alarm, after a terrible nights sleep (for Iz), we dragged ourselves out of bed and made our way to the train. Today we were going to explore the Blue Mountains. We decided to book the hop on hop off bus to try and cram as many sights info the one day as possible. Once we had our bus passes in hand the day was underway, getting on our first bus, the driver was humorous and factual, keeping us entertained on the way to our first stop.

First up, an easy 2.5km walk from Katoomba Cascades to Katoomba falls, then on to Furber Stairs. We got our first breathtaking view of the expanse of trees and mountains in front of us. It made you feel so tiny. It was a glorious day too meaning you could see this natural beauty in its full glory. The rainforest was a lovely cool cover from the heat that was already beating down even though it was only 9am!

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Back on the bus the driver explained the reason the mountains are called blue mountains. The eucalyptus trees disperse oils in to the atmosphere, the distinctive blue colour is an ‘optical phenomenon’ called Raleigh Scattering. The sun causes the oil to scatter rays of light, similar to a rainbow, these are predominantly blue in colour as the red and yellow molecules pass through the light without leaving a hue. The blue hue throughout the national park is undeniable and definitely adds a magical misty effect to the place.

Our second stop was a short one at Narrow Neck Lookout. The driver pointed out a large area that had been destroyed in bush fire- quite obvious in the different colour of tree area. Being so close to areas so affected really brings home the reality. We walked through an area that we were surrounded by scorched trees and forestry, the smell was overwhelming, just a week ago the path were walking on would’ve been the center of an inferno. It really is quite heartbreaking. We were informed that around 80% of this stunning area had burnt. The fact you can only see small pockets of this evidence tells you just how vast this area is, while also putting a scale on the heartbreaking devastation these fires have created.

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To cheer ourselves up we headed to the Blue Mountain Chocolate Company; aparently serving world famous hot chocolates and milkshakes. Far too hot for a warm drink we opted to share a chocolate milkshake. I must say, it was a good milkshake; not too thick or creamy/heavy or too overwhelmingly chocolatey. Despite trying to hold back we were also tempted by the amazing looking chocolates so treated ourselves to a little bag, comprising of four to share; a white chocolate strawberry champagne truffle, a dark chocolate spiced rum truffle, a salted caramel milk chocolate and a heart shaped white chocolate and raspberry ripple chocolate. We were too tempted by the rest so added two more each- I went for; a white chocolate St Clements and a milk chocolate pineapple and coconut while Iz went for; nougat dipped in chocolate and a milk chocolate mountain mint. YUM! We did somehow manage to hold off trying one until we got to our lunch spot later in the day.

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Back on the bus we headed for the next walk, a 2km hike from Honeymoon Lookout. Here again we gawped at the view, the expanse something you can’t capture with anything but the minds eye. Iz told me it is pretty much a tree covered version of the Grand Canyon. I think this is a pretty accurate way to sum it up, although I've not yet visited the Grand Canyon myself.

The walk then took us right up to the Three Sisters, with the following fable: This tale begins with Tyawan, a witch doctor who had three daughters; Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. Whenever Tyawan had to pass by a hole to get food, he would leave his three daughters behind a rocky wall on a cliff. He did this because down this deep, dark hole there lived a Bunyip who was the most feared creature on the land.
One day as Tyawan passed by the hole off to get food, a large centipede crawled next to the girls and scared Meenhi so much that she threw a rock at it. The rock then fell down into the valley and angered the Bunyip. He came up to face the girls, and Tyawan who saw this from a distance turned his daughters into stones to protect them from the Bunyip with his magic bone. After he had done this, the Bunyip began chasing him so he turned himself into a lyre bird. All was well and everyone safe, however in the scuffle Tyawan had dropped his magic bone somewhere, leaving him a bird and his three daughters into the rock formations we see today. It’s said that you can still hear the call of the lyre bird around the rocks even till now; Tyawan in search of the magic bone.

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Then on to Echo Point, probably one of our least favorite places. Don't get me wrong the views still incredible but this was the Instagram money shot pont and therefore filled with every bus tour going, crammed full of tourists trying to grab the perfect Instagram photo (obviously I say photo but they take 15-20 to make sure it’s right). Pretty much everywhere else on our walk it felt like we had the place to ourselves other than a small number of like minded ramblers. We didn’t stay too long there and went to find a bench for lunch. Having been swarmed by wasps we decided this wasn’t the place and we’d get back on the bus to the next location and eat there instead.

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Leura Cascades, another short 1km round trip, a wooden walkway/stairs down some long Cascades. We decided to perch on a wall at the top for our picnic, not a bad view for a Tuesday afternoon when everyone else would’ve been at work (well ignoring the time difference). We sat, ate, chatted and enjoyed our surroundings and appreciating how lucky we were to be here. As we sat there we knew this was going to be one of the best days of our trip. You can see a selection of the many pictures we took but none can demonstrate how perfect this place is. After a little explore around the top one we headed down to the main cascade.

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Conscious of the fact it was turning in to late afternoon and the buses stopped soon we made our way to our final walk, another 1km. We had an hour to make the most of the things to see and be at the next bus stop. We headed down to Gordon Falls, another look out, no matter the angle you look at this scene it is just as impressive as the last! The air so fresh, knowing this was probably one of the only places in the word with so much oxygen we made the most of it, standing taking big breaths in. We almost ran to the Pool of Siloam, slightly disappointing. We’d planned to come here with enough time for a swim, although we didn’t have time for that the amount water wasn’t anywhere near large enough to even paddle in.

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Shooting back up all the stairs (there was a lot of stairs in one day 163 flights to be precise- according to Izzy's Fitbit) to make our way to the Lyrebird Dell. Our tour guide had told us that we’d come across some caves on our left on the way. It was definitely a relief when they came in to sight, as for the last twenty minutes we’d been walking blindly on what could not be considered a path, I had started to worry we were going to end up sleeping in the rainforest, running through the animals that would be most likely to kill us.

We stumbled upon a little waterfall and river and a more substantial path seemed to appear, although still completely overgrown. This clearly isn’t a route for the tourists just wanting a stroll, probably the same reason we didn’t see another person on this walk. We came to a clearing and a road, realizing the little waterfall was infact the Lyrebird Dell we’d been looking for. We weren’t about to scramble back down to it so decided we were done for the day. Still relieved to be back in civilization and not sleeping in the Australian jungle (if only I was famous I could’ve just shouted ‘get me out of here’ and Ant and Dec may have appeared to rescue me) we headed to the bus stop to take us back to the train station. Iz slept most of the way back after an exhausting day and us both not feeling a 100%.

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Featherdale
Next day was another full day this time at Featherdale Wildlife Park to view their impressive collection of Australian animals. Here you could also get up close and feed wallabies and kangaroos which was a unique experience. Talking of unique experiences we had also booked to get a photograph up close with a koala! Unfortunately in New South Wales you are not permitted to hold one but we both could stroke him and pose for a cute picture.

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After we spent the day looking around the park running to various wildlife talks and learning about Australia's odd but fascinating wildlife. For example some facts we learned were; that despite the Tasmanian Devil giving birth to around 40 cubs only 4 make it, in a real survival of the fittest contest and echidnas make a temporary pouch for childbirth and have tongues around 12 inches long despite their short snouts and tiny mouths. It was crazy watching the crocodile leap for some chicken and learn what makes this reptile the ultimate predator. Safe to say I have a new found love and respect for the croc. What an impressive beast!

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We spent a good deal of time ogling these unusual animals must of which we hadn't seen before running back to the train to escape the heat and get ready to meet Nick (another old housemate.. Seems we scared them all off to the other side of the world) for drinks. Once back we showered and made a bit of an effort to dress up, something that feels like a bit of a luxury when traveling as you spend most your day hot, sweaty and feeling a little gross! We also realised it was our 4 year anniversary of getting together! I can't believe it has been that long! Time has just flown and I've enjoyed every single minute. I'm happier now then I ever have been and I have Iz to thank for that. Like every couple we have our ups and downs and I know I'm not always the easiest to live with but this trip has reconfirmed we are better together and we can overcome any obstacle.

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Anyway enough of the mushy stuff. It was good to see Nick and catch up on his own time and tribulations in Australia over a few beers. As Nick had work tomorrow and we had an 8 hour flight (which we somehow only thought was 4 hours) it was time for everyone to head to bed.

And this concluded our Australian adventure. It is difficult to sum up really as in comparison to New Zealand on the whole it isn't as naturally pretty. We also didn't love the cities as much, however having said this the trips to the Whitsundays, snorkeling and Fraser are some of the best experiences we have had so far. Next stop, the Philippines capital of Manila! Join us there for the next entry ????

Posted by Bears on Tour 21:11 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney koala scenery blue_mountains bush_fire kanageroo featherdale_wildlife_park Comments (1)

Day 45- 47 Land, Sea & Air

Mopeds, Scuba in the Great Barrier Reef and flight to Sydney.


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Land- Mopeds in Cairns

We arrived into Cairns at 5am after not really getting much sleep. With nowhere to go we headed for the only place we knew that would be open... The golden arches. After a 3 hour wait and a quick facetime to the parents and fighting off the flies we tried to check into our hostel. We couldn't but could drop our bags.

While choosing what to do for the day we fairly randomly decided to hire scooters and explore the area around Cairns. Having never driven a scooter before the initial practice session and first stint was a little scary. Yet we soon got the hang of it and were zooming (when I say zooming I mean about 50kph) to the Crystal Cascades. There were a few hairy moments especially on the 80kph highways when our little machine couldn't get over like 53kph!

Despite our lack of speed and experience we made it alive. And after a short walk (fighting off some killer flies that bite) we came across a little clear water river. With it being 38 degrees outside we striped off and jumped straight in. It was sooo refreshing and there were so many fish swimming around. Once we had cooled down and eaten lunch we walked a little further up in search of the main waterfall. There we spent the next 3 hours just relaxing in the water watching kids nearly kill themselves by jumping down it into some sketchy water with loads of hidden rocks and shallow points. Fortunately there were no casualties to ruin our afternoon. It was so fun just being with my best friend chatting about random stuff while chilling in the water. The only thing that was missing was a beer.

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Back on the bikes we shot back to Cairns. We had a few directional problems mainly as the airpods kept disconnecting from Izzy's phone leaving us guessing where to go. Because of this we got back to the hires shop late but the owner was still there and just said to fill up and bring it back tomorrow. We only had driven about 30 minutes away but we only had to pay about £2 to top up both bikes which was funny! Pretty stressed and tired it was back to the hostel for a shower and a much needed happy hour, before retiring for an early night in preparation for our scuba tomorrow.

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Up early we whizzed the bikes back to the shop before getting to the mariner. Which stinger suits picked and waivers signed we were off. The first stop was a short snorkel opportunity before kitting up for our scuba. Again we were memorised by the fish but a little disappointed that it didn't seem as good as the Whitsundays one. There were some coloured coral but the colours were fairly dull and these were surrounded by a lot of dead coral. Not the pictures of the barrier reef you are used to seeing but we also were prepared for this reality and is one of the reasons we were determined to see what we could of what is left.

We were really excited as well as a little apprehensive. I was just getting over a cold and Iz had one coming. We knew that the depths we were diving would play havoc with our sinuses and were worried that we may not be able to compete it. Shortly before our turn Iz also had felt a little sick; probably due to a mixture of little food and not taking her travel sickness tablets. But she powered on as always and we were kitted up with some heavy weights and an oxygen tank.

Surprisingly we completed all the basics steps with ease and the instructor was convinced this was not our first time. I found breathing under water through the mask fairly natural and felt quite comfortable. However as we started the descend both of our ears were really hurting. It was similar to flying with a cold but worse. When you blew through your nose to equalise your ears it brought temporary relief but the pain was intense. So much so Iz said that she couldn't continue and we resurfaced for her get back on the boat. This was a real shame. And I was gutted for her. I was also feeling the pain and strain but I was determined to try and grasp this opportunity! So headed back under. Once we were down and laying horizontal the pain largely disappeared which was even more frustrating as we literally were getting to that bit when Iz wanted to get up.

It was a cool experience. Getting to view the marine life up close. It kind of felt like snorkeling until you looked up and realised that it was water not sky above you. I had been really hoping to see turtles but again was disappointed. Although I didn't mind too much as it would have sucked for Iz to miss it. The dive was shorter than expected and only lasted about 10 minutes. Also it was a little disappointing that we couldn't take our GoPro. So we didn't get any pictures of us in action. It is definitely an experience and it is awesome to say I've scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef! But I was a little underwhelmed. I probably built it up too much in my head! Although saying that we are both willing to give it another in Asia. Maybe next time we will get to see these allusive turtles!

Next up was lunch before another snorkel opportunity. With both our ears hurting and Iz feeling really queasy we largely stayed on the boat for the reminder of the time. At our final stop a few of the group went for second dives and we headed out for a little snorkel.

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Back on shore we dried off and found a brewery with happy hour for a beer and a bit of travel admin.

19th January was another day whereby nothing elaborate or excited happened. We basically just stayed in the hostel pool awaiting our 5am flight back to Sydney, so I'll save you the boring details. We did however reunite with 'the kids' from Fraser so spent the evening with them.

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Posted by Bears on Tour 22:10 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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