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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.


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.


We got a little excited about Cinnabon giving us knives!!

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.


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.


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 ....


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

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