DISCLAIMER: I was, to be frank, a pretty hungry, grouchy traveller for the 2 weeks we were in the Philippines, so I’ve tried to keep this post brief, lest any grumpy words slip in.The Philippines, though FULL of lovely, smiley, friendly people and brimming with beautiful picture-postcard spots, was the place we experienced the most low blood-sugar-blues. We found it hard to find good, cheap, veggie food pretty much everywhere (“can’t they just leave the pigs alone?!?!”) and the disparity between the gorgeous photos we were taking and the actual condition of the areas we were taking them in sadly seemed to me to be the largest in all the places we visited in Asia.
Irritating Nat: a series
We first land on Coron Island to a DOUBLE RAINBOW, which naturally leads one to believe that there must be two pots of gold nearby. Sadly, we find none, but we do find our totally dingy guesthouse, so we drop off our bags and start exploring the little coastal town of Coron. The reason Coron gets such large footfall is because it is the point most accessible to the marine national park. Coron is bustling, a little bit smelly and a little bit dirty and we spend most of the first day climbing Mount Tapyas, nipping between air-conditioned cafes, scrounging wifi and sipping smoothies (mango’s my favourite). We arrange a private boat with Alfred, a sweet Filipino who loves Ed Sheeran, and we set off early to hit up our checklist of marine park destinations to avoid the huge tour groups who don’t favour 5.30am starts (not that I do, to be honest).
From Coron we catch a 5 hour ferry to El Nido, on the island of Palawan and also situated next to a beautiful marine national park. Nat listens to 5 hours of continuous podcasts and I watch a documentary on human sacrifice. We spend most of our time in El Nido kayaking (well - Nat does, that’s the beauty of a two-person kayak) and avoiding the monsoon downpours. Though we planned on doing one of the obligatory A, B, C or D tours around the park, we are pretty horrified by the SWARMS of packed boats lined up on the beach on the morning of departure, so we decide to give it a miss and go kayaking again - this time not avoiding a downpour.
From El Nido we suffer a completely infuriating minibus journey to Puerta Princesca. I’m talking - we board our bus at 9am, the bus leaves at 10 am, only to do a circuit around town, then we are back in our starting position at 10.30am, finally leaving at 11am - although of course there are several unannounced stops throughout the entire journey so that the driver can catch up with his friends in random towns. Keen to miss the Dengue breakout in Puerta Princesca, we catch a flight to Cebu City, on the island of Cebu. The next day, exploring the quite dilapidated Cebu, is the crowning glory of my 2 week grumpy patch and I am magnificently, outstandingly crabby. We see three instances of animal abuse within 25 minutes, it’s BAKING hot and I’m hungry for something that isn’t fruit or spring rolls (surprised I haven’t turned into a vegetable lumpiah at this point). From Cebu we catch a local bus to Moalboal. We’re meant to be staying at Deden’s pizzeria but unfortunately, Deden’s is literally a dead end. Where our hostel should be is a derelict, empty building (as you might imagine, this does nothing to help my monster-crab state of affairs). We’ve already booked and paid for the accommodation, so we find some wifi, settle down, and tap away furiously on Nat’s phone, asking for new accommodation- comfier, if you please, than what we’d originally booked (for the hassle, you understand), money for the wasted tuk-tuk journey, compensation for our troubles and reimbursement for the phone bill Nat’s wracked up. Hotels.com are very obliging, and before we know it we are comfortably ensconced in Allegra’s Dream Resort. Turns out Allegra doesn’t have outrageously extravagant dreams, but I’m not complaining - no verruca paranoia for THIS GIRL with her private ensuite bathroom.
Moalboal is rainy and tiny, but we explore the area and visit Kawasan Falls, snorkel in the VERY treacherous looking sea with the sardines (Moalboal is famous for its sardine run) and find our favourite restaurant in the whole of the Philippines (and consequently eat there six times). My phone gets wet again and Nat barters a bag of rice from the local market for me. After three days it’s time to go to Siquijor, our nine-part journey goes surprisingly smoothly and by the evening we’re being shown our little room on the tiny palm-treed island. I ask, as you do, whether there are any little puppies nearby (always worth asking in Asia) and the girl showing us our room bursts into uncontrollable laughter. Granted - it’s an unexpected question, but who wouldn’t want to know?? She splutters “you…like…puppies?!” Shakes her head in disbelief. Now, I’m going to chalk this up to some sort of cultural/language barrier, because, really, it’s as if I had said I liked sticky hairy lollipops.
Yes, I was stupid enough to try snorkelling. No, I didn't see anything.
Nat orders the national dessert of the Philippines and is unimpressed with the bowl of milk with floating bits of sweetcorn, unidentified gelatinous objects, banana, ice cream, granola shavings, cranberries (?), knobs of butter and smearing of custard which is served.
Whilst in Siquijor we go on a waterfall-bender, enjoy sunsets, vegetable lumpiah, many mango smoothies, and then catch a ferry back to mainland Dumaguete. We’re only in Dumaguete for one night but I am DELIGHTED to discover that the one night we’re there there is an en-masse public dance class being held in the middle of the city. Fate. I dance so enthusiastically I notice several Filipinos taking videos on their phones, but I have a great time (and Nat watches from the sidelines because he’s developed a convenient “headache”). The next afternoon, with a (relieved) tear in my eye, we wave goodbye to the Philippines, hoping for some appetising veggie food and ready for whatever Cambodia has in store...