The Philippines: The Good, The Bad and The Airports

I’ve always liked airports. There is something calming about them to me. Everything has an order and a system and you work your way through it. Check in. Security. Duty Free. Gate. Boarding. Up, up and away. A few years ago when I travelled Italy by train, I thought that skipping that routine would be a relief but actually it was being back in an airport to fly home where I felt most relaxed.

That being said, I think I’ve had enough of airports to last me a lifetime…

Day  38 – Everyone’s advice is always to get out of Manila as soon as you arrive in the Philippines. Apparently there is nothing to do, its kind of dangerous and the traffic is horrendous. So I booked a flight straight to Cebu but ended up with a 6 hour lay over in the airport. That’s all right though, I thought. I’ll get some food, have time to switch terminals and make the most of airport wifi. A bit of a waste of a day, but not too bad. I stayed one night in the aptly named Stopover Hostel just long enough to plan my trip: A couple of nights in Cebu, then on to Bohol and maybe spend my last 5-7 days in El Nido. Oh if only it had all gone to plan…

Day 39
– Getting to Moalboal, my first stop in Cebu, meant a lengthy bus journey. My taxi driver, after breaking down twice before realising we had run out of fuel (his car was so old the fuel needle didn’t work) dropped me off by a bus he insisted was going to Moalboal. I looked down at the maps on my phone showing the bus terminal a minute down the road and across the street but nervously got out of the car and went over anyway. The ticket conductor and a couple of others immediately started saying Moalboal and pointing at the bus enthusiastically and I was ushered on board. 

I spent the majority of the second half of the journey leaping out of my seat at every stop, of which the bus made many, being completely confused over when we would reach Moalboal. I watched with curiousity as the bus conductor gave a whistle every time someone wanted to get off and the bus would slow, allow them just enough time to disembark and then with another whistle we would be off again. I needn’t have worried so much, when we reached Moalboal the conductor let me know, helped me off with my bag and before I could take it off him had given it to a man who had been waiting eagerly by the stop. With no other choice I followed him, quickly realising he was a driver who could take me to my hostel. He got on the back of a motorbike and wedged my heavy rucksack between his legs. ‘No, no, no. I can’t get on that,’ I stuttered pathetically. I had never ridden a motorbike before. But he wasn’t moving and he had my bag. Fuck it. I thought. This is what travel is all about, trying new things, besides what’s the worst that could happen. Apparently nothing. I reached my hostel quickly, easily and cheaply but starving too and immediately went out to explore.

Down the road, ten minutes walk from the hostel, was a little strip of restaurants, bars and dive shops. I ate, booked some diving for the next day and then didn’t feel like going back to the hostel yet. Instead I wandered down the windy dirt path in search of a nice bar. I had heard Chilli bar was good so I decided to celebrate finally reaching paradise, a place where i could rest up on pretty beaches for the next couple of weeks, with a classic holiday cocktail. As I sipped my pina colada, sitting in the perfect spot to watch the sunset, a bunch of children stood in the shallows of the sea below and sang Christmas carols to anyone who would listen. Such a surreal experience.

Day 40
– It was an early start for my first dive and I had three lined up for the day. I had been itching to get back in the water the whole trip and now was finally my chance! I felt a bit like a newbie all over again with no dive computer and everyone sorting out my equipment for me, but it was also nice to be lazy and not worry about those things. Especially when I’m busy watching the thousands of sardines that reside there, the shimmering, mesmerising shoal like an ever changing cloud underwater. This is what Moalboal diving is famous for and I can understand why. But there’s much more than just sardines to see; I counted twelve turtles, swimming majestically through the water or lying on the coral, resting and nibbling. I even spotted a bright blue sea snake, which was a highlight for me as it was something I never expected to see. 

In the evening I went out for drinks with some guys from the hostel and met a bunch of cheeky Philippino kids. They quickly gave up trying to sell us souvineers and began trying to beat the boys at pool, insulting them and calling them Losers. They took more of a shining to us girls, showing off, especially “Jason Derulo” with his spiky hair and mischievous grin. In the end we couldn’t resist buying souvineers from them.
Day 41 My Birthday! I had been really worried about spending my birthday alone but luckily my hostel roommates, Izzy, Daisy and Louie were determined to make sure I had a good time, which meant one thing: canyoning. We squeezed in the back of a tricycle, the typical way to travel short distances around here, and consists of a motorbike with a side car attached. We kitted up and took another motorbike ride (I was getting used to them now) past lush jungle that looked like something out of Jurassic Park, then it was the longest walk ever to the beginning of the canyon but working up a sweat made diving into the crystal blue water all the more refreshing.

We paddled through the water, sliding over rocks and small waterfalls but the best part was scrambling along the side of rocks and leaping off. We jumped from 10 feet, 20 feet and the highest at 35 feet, with a few more in between. I can’t describe the adrenaline rush of falling through the air and plunging into the water below. Although the 35 feet was the scariest the best by far was when you had to take a running jump off the edge, the aqua blue water rushing up to meet you. It was incredible. The day ended at the beautiful Kawasan falls and after that, some celebratory drinks! No cake this year but Izzy, Daisy and Louie did their best with a candle in a beer bottle – the staff at Chilli Bar even sang to me! An incredible way to spend my birthday abroad.

Day 42 – Part of travelling is changing your plans when a better idea comes along so instead of heading to Bohol I made plans to follow my new friends to Borocay. There was one stop I had to make along the way first though, something I couldn’t miss out on. I hopped on the bus to Oslob ready for my adventure with whale sharks.
Day 43 – Apparently whale sharks are early risers. I dragged myself out of bed at 5am and was in the water by 6:30 am. As we neared the spot I could already see their massive gaping mouths moving through the water, eating the food the fisherman throw in the water for them. I knew they would be big but as I dived in the water and caught a glimpse of their long spotted tails and huge heads I realised I didn’t have a clue. They were magnificent. Unfortunatly I couldn’t spend all day in the water though and it was time to catch my flight to Borocay. So began another long afternoon at the airport, having over estimated how long the bus back would take. Thank God the airports here have good wifi!

Day 44 – I finally arrived in Borocay late the night before and joined up with everyone from Moalboal. One of the things the Philippines is known for is island hopping tours so I couldn’t miss the opportunity. Finally I was seeing the white sandy shores, palm trees and clear blue water I had been promised. With a drink in hand we spent the day snorkelling, floating in the sea and relaxing on the beach, not to mention dancing with the locals after lunch. We had the option to cliff dive but since it was extra we gave it a miss… besides after canyoneering we had done our fair share of jumping off high things! 

Day 45 – After so long travelling I finally got my wish to lie on a beach and just do nothing. It was bliss! Even more fun was the famous pasta night at Frendz hostel that evening. With free food, live music and singing and chatting to all the new people I had met, I didn’t think the night could get any better. An email pinged into my inbox, distracting me from the amazing rendition of the Spice Girls going on by all the English guests at the hostel. My MA grades were through and I had passed! I rushed off to tell someone and was immediatly being congratualated. Within seconds I had a shot in my hand. I started to wonder whether I should have stayed at Borocay after all…

Day 46 – Another early start for the airport but it was okay because I knew I would soon be on my way to El Nido, ready for more exploring, island hopping and diving. At the terminal I got on a bus to the plane but when we got there we were made to wait. And wait. And wait. Then we were told there was a problem with the plane and we would have to go back to the airport, potentially meaning I would miss my connecting flight. They put me on a new flight to Manila with empty promises about making my connection to El Nido. So I waited some more. And some more. I watched the board constantly changing the time both of my original flight and the new one, delaying it further and further. By the time I finally stepped on the plane there was no chance of making my connection and I had been in the airport a total of 9 hours! A day in paradise wasted. 

Back in Manila airport (which was starting to feel like home after spending 6 hours there on the first day) I headed straight to the transfers desk only to hear the news I dreaded. There were no more flights to El Nido today. The silver lining was that they would put us up in a nice hotel for the night with dinner and breakfast and I was definitely going to take advantage.

Some things you miss when backpacking: feeling clean and dry from a real towel and not your highly practical micro-fibre one, using a hair dryer, wearing slippers, watching TV in bed and most of all a big comfy double bed (with 4 pillows) all to myself! This was luxury!

Day 47 – In the morning it was back to the airport AGAIN with hopes and prayers that somehow we would get on a flight. Me and another couple who had also been on the same missed light to El Nido had to wait an hour just for the ticket desk to open. When it finally did we were given more bad news. All the flights to El Nido that day were booked up. This was just getting ridiculous. We had been promised a place on the flight and now that had fallen through too.

Our next best option was an offer of round trip tickets to Busuanga. I quickly searched up some accommodation and saw beautiful beach huts opening right up to the sea and my spirits lifted! We all agreed and tried to wait patiently while the tickets were booked. Finally we were led to check in, handed over our new tickets and began to put our bags on the conveyer belt. The stewardess tapped some keys on her computer and a frown appeared on her face. “I just need to check some details,” she said and I felt a familiar sinking feeling. When the stewardess who had booked our replacements tickets came back I thought she might burst into tears herself as she told us our flights, along with many others across the islands, had been cancelled due to a cyclone. 

I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream with frustration! What had begun as an adventurous break in a beautiful paradise islands had turned into a nightmare. I remembered sitting on the bus from Moalboal to Oslob and thinking about how lovely this place was. The people had been so friendly and helpful, there were so many amazing things to do here that I couldn’t wait to see more from the Philippines. I was even already planning my return one day. Yet sitting in traffic for three hours on the way to my hotel in Manila, the place I had been told to avoid like the plague and now would be forced to spend three days at, I found I couldn’t wait to leave and get to the next part of my trip.
Day 48 – A new day and a new start. When travel plans change you just have to make the best of it and in this case it meant using my refund money to enjoy another few days of luxury. I spent my time swimming, lazing in the jacuzzi and roasting in the sauna. Not to mention enjoying my free upgrade on my room, which has given me an apartment all to myself!

In the Philippines I’ve experienced some of the best and worst parts of travelling – from having an amazing time celebrating with people I’ve just met to spending around 3 days worth of my trip in various airports. Although it’s tempting to let this experience ruin my view of the Philippines I think maybe these islands deserve a do-over. One day I’ll make it to El Nido but on this trip, it just wasn’t meant to be, not to mention I’m now slightly less enamoured with airports. Now if you don’t mind I think I’ll curl up in my big double bed and watch another movie…


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