30 Days of Sun, Sea and Storm

Traditional BlowpipeA short three hours’ flight from Bangkok and we were landing in Manila, the capital of the Philippines and one of the dirtiest and ugliest cities we’ve seen so far. It’s nickname “Pearl of the Orient” couldn’t be more appropriate. It has a scarred, nasty outer shell that might reveal its jewel only to those who are resolute enough to dig deeply. We were definitely not brave enough to scratch the filthy patina and the very next day we fled to Puerto Princesa on Palawan. Although Palawan’s capital itself is only slightly more appealing with its never-ending traffic jam and concrete buildings abound, we had a pleasant time there discovering the secrets of its Butterfly Garden, which besides of giant butterflies also hosts some of Philippine’s less fancied creatures like scorpions and huge beetles and even features a demonstration of a native tribe who showed how to use traditional weapons and instruments. And the absolute best part about Puerto was its bristling market where we found 1kg of sea mussels for less than 50 Cents. No question that Gui transformed them into the best Spaghetti Frutti di Mare I’ve ever tried!

Sabang

Postcard Idyll

Outside of its capital, Palawan immediately reveals the reason why so many travelers describe it as paradise on earth. The widely uninhabited island offers an Amazonian interior with imposing limestone cliffs and untouched jungle forests and the convoluted coast comprises one breathtaking white-sanded bay after the other.

Typical Jeepney Art

Probably the first thing that you notice when arriving in the Philippines, is this special means of transport they have here called Jeepney. It’s a multicolored kind of mini-truck, excessively decorated with “God loves you” slogans, that can squeeze up to 30 people or the equivalent amount of chickens, ice blocks or bricks on its truck bed and roof. As you can see, it’s an experience you must not miss and therefore we pushed our luck and took a bumpy 5 hour ride to Sabang, the next village 50km from Puerto. During this bus ride that made our teeth-fillings jingle, we also discovered that these Jeepneys are not only a cheap way of transport, but also a motorized street hawker as well as a mobile post office and news stand. Funny Fact: throughout the whole Philippines we never experienced that a bus ride effectively took the assessed amount of time. After initial resentment, we figured out that it was entirely our fault since we completely misunderstood their way of counting travel time. Unlike the rest of the world, Filipinos solely count the time the bus is actual moving, skipping the hundreds of minutes that you spend in traffic jam, loading and unloading all different types of domestic livestock as well as stopping every 20 meters because everybody revolts against the restricting concept of a central bus stop. Particularly in those moments we were especially missing our bicycles and the freedom that comes with it most.

Water Buffalo

With its wide beach dramatically framed by mountains and warm calm waters, Sabang certainly has more to offer than the dubious selection of its underground river as its most famous attraction. Instead of hopping for a bumper-boat ride through a theme-park haunted house like tunnel system filled with hordes of day trippers, we were going for a sunrise hike through the jungle to a spectacular cave and the place where the famous underground river actually turns from an ordinary dirty runlet into one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’ by disappearing inside a rock formation.

El Nido

First Stop, already not bad

One of the traditional outrigger canoes that are actually not much more than a hollowed tree trunk with two bamboo bars attached left and right that seem to be held together only by the massive amounts of turquois paint, brought us further north to El Nido, an ugly “nest” cluttered with buildings that creep on the beach sandwiched between towering limestone karst cliffs, only heightens the contrast between the mundane and the sublime as it is the gateway to the stunningly beautiful Bacuit Archipelago.

Sunrise in the Lagoon

Together with Martina’s cousin and his girlfriend who happened to be in the Philippines at the same time, we set out for a three-day kayak tour to explore the crystalline waters of the Bacuit Archipelago, a fabulous fairy world of jagged limestone islands that hide hundreds of white-sand beaches, winding lagoons and light-flooded coves. And on top of it, for the male members of our little expedition team our overnight trip held the opportunity to fully live out their obviously genetically deeply embedded Robin Crusoe skills 🙂 And as if this wasn’t paradisiac enough, the food parcel lovingly composed by my mother, enriched the fantastic trip with the flavour of home in form of original Tirolean “Kaminwurzen” and REAL bread, yummy!

Sagada

Pine Forest

Believe it or not, after so much sun, beach and sea, we needed a change of scene and were heading back to Luzon’s North to visit the Cordillera, a river-sliced hinterland of lush green pine forests covering a wide jagged mountain range. In Sagada, the epitome of mountain coolness, we escaped civilization for some days enjoying the vast quiet pine forests, gazing at the bizarre burial tradition of hanging coffins on steep rock walls, and exploring copious cave systems armed with an old-school paraffin lamp.

San Juan

Dream Camp Spot

No visit to the Philippines would be complete without riding some waves and after our mountain hideaway, we were back in the heart of tourism at the surfer dominated little village of San Juan. accommodation was crazy expensive here but this only made us more creative and so we ended up in the lovely garden of a five-star Spanish Colonial style villa with a stunning view on the sea, quick access to our private beach and the best internet we had since months. This lucky opportunity saved us enough money to afford a surfboard for an exhausting, knee scraping surf lesson every morning J

Hundred Isands

Hundred Islands Nationalpark

For our last days in the Philippines we wanted to spend our time far from any tourists doing something adventurous and to tell you right away: it was indeed an adventure! We decided to head south to the Hundred Islands National park to do again a trip by kayak for some days since we had so much fun the last time. And although it was really complicated this time to find somebody who was willing to rent us a kayak for two days for an affordable price, we remained persistent and eventually found “Early”, a weather-beaten Filipino lady who was willing to give us one of her kayaks and a choppy lift on her tiny, hardly seaworthy hooker. Already the boat ride to the island where we were supposed to get our kayak was – to put it mildly – a bit unsettling. Big waves were swashing over boat’s side and when we arrived we were completely drenched with sea water. Nevertheless, a little bit of water can’t deter us and we set out with our kayak packed with enough for food for two days. As soon as we left the protected bay of the island, we couldn’t refrain from noticing that wind and waves here were by far stronger than suitable for a cheap tourist kayak and the dark clouds banking up on the horizon didn’t seem very promising. Hence we were quickly heading to the next beach to pitch up our camp for the night. It turned out that the next beach was actually a small sandy stripe between two major rocks but it provided at least some protection from the wind that had grown into full-blown storm in the meanwhile. Unfortunately, the only sheltered spot on the beach was not high tide proof so that we were forced to resettle our tent after the first big tidal waves.

Dream Spot Shell Island

During the uncomfortable night the wind had gathered strength and we decided to stop the next fishermen to ask for a lift home. Not a big deal, we thought, since there were dozens of fisherman chugging between the islands the day before. After some hours during which there wasn’t a single soul to be seen, we had to abandon this plan and take fate in our own hands. One hour of heavy fighting against the hurricane like wind and waves that threatened to capsize our tiny kayak later, we were at the end of our tether and both with bleeding hands when we eventually reached the safe bay of the nearest inhabited island. Much to our surprise we found this island that was bustling with tourist the day before completely empty. All the food, souvenir and photo stalls closed and not a single boat in the dock. This and the fact that we haven’t seen any boat in the whole busy nature park all day long, made us realize that it’s more than unlikely that the boat that was supposed to pick us up here, would come at the appointed time and we would probably be stuck here for one more night. With this in mind, shivering from cold, we didn’t hesitate long to gain entrance to one of the holiday villas here to finally get dry and spend the night safe from wind and weather. Surprisingly, a few hours later we heard the nerve-racking sound of the underpowered outboard engine of Early’s hooker. Never has a deafening engine noise sound sweeter and after another rough passage we were more than relieved to set foot on shore. In retrospect, a worth telling finale for the Philippines, land of the seven thousand islands 🙂

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