To leave El Nido we caught another beautiful minibus (we might be changing our minds on the hatefulness of minibuses if this keeps up!) that left on time, had great AC and everyone had their own seat. AND there was even a person on the road trying to flag us down and we continued to just drive on by. That has NEVER happened in Asia...there is always more room! Not in Philippines! The bus took us back to Puerto Princesa where we caught a flight onwards to Cebu City... after we waited in the lobby area with about 700 other people until they opened the check in counter.
Even though Philippines is a relatively small area and it's connected through relatively cheap flights so is generally easy to get from one place to another, it was actually a bit tricky to travel on an open ended one way ticket like us. There was no problem with the flights themselves but in order to move, you had to be ironed into a specific plan (i.e. booked flight) and thus, lacking in flexibility. Usually we go to a place, hang out until we're ready to leave and then make a "get out plan" one day or even hours in advance. With flights, you have to book in advance, estimating how much time you might need which is really hard to know and then you can't change these dates without fees/forfeiting your bucks so ultimately you sacrifice flexibility a bit. If I were to go again, I think I would just bite the bullet (though maybe they're not even that much more expensive?) and just buy last minute domestic flights to afford myself the flexiblity to explore the Philippines properly. But I digress.
When we arrived in Cebu we grabbed a "twin room" in a hostel for one night. Turns out, twin means for two people yes, but on bunkbeds so we slept on upper and lower bunks in a private "fan cooled" room for that night. By this point it had been so long that Bridger had AC in his room (he is now on financial make up for the "Manila Massacre" on our bank accounts) that he was starting to go insane. This was not made better by the fact that his bag was soaking wet when he landed in Cebu because the vodka container he had in his bag leaked everywhere. I personally secretly gloated a bit because I felt like it was universal payback for what a drunk he'd been recently.
Bridger had a friend named Jasmin who was in the Philippines at the same time as we were so our next stop was to meet him and his friend Anqi who lives in Philippines on the island of Bohol.
We taxi'd to the ferry terminal where we encountered perhaps the smoothest most systematic transport to date. We went to a cunter to check in, then another to check our bags in and they gave us a collection ticket and then everyone lined up orderly at the gate and slowly boarded. And then the boat left on time! Haha we didn't realize how normal disorder and tardiness had become in our lives until we got to the Philippines and were amazed every day. It truly was much more North American than Asian in so many ways! On the boat they played the movie "Captain Phillips"- hardly seems a good choice on a boat in the middle of the ocean huh? Bridger always stays in the air conditioned cabin where I like to go outside on the roof of the ferry which I did. And for the love of god, there I was in the middle of the ocean, and sure enough a freaking rooster bellowed out! They had them in boxes on the ferry...you literally couldn't get away! I think I'm going to start having rooster nightmares.
Because this was Bridger's gig, Bridger and Jasmin were in contact "planning" and I was completely out of the loop with absolutely no information because, I'm not sure if you know, but when men plan, they're pretty well lacking in all details. Even when I asked questions about where we were going/what we were doing/where we were staying (because I like to know these things!), Bridger had no freaking clue and his answer was "I'll text Jasmin today" (which he did and consistently relayed one the same level of no information as prior to the text episode!). We knew we were going to Bohol and after that, as far as I was concerned, we knew nothing...which, of course as a details person, rattled me even though it was a bit fun too. All Bridger knew and I through osmosis was that "Jasmin would send someone" for us whatever that meant. So pretty well we got off the ferry in Bohol not even knowing what would be next. Sure enough, there was, for the first time in our lives, a driver holding a sign with our names on it! After so many times of getting off transport and looking wistfully at the endless signs of people's names who we secretly envied for having such an easy transition to their next destination when we were about to wander, fight off a million people in our faces offering us stuff and gesture all our questions to figure out where to go/what to do next, our day was finally here!! We got in the beautiful vehicle and said "sooo where are we going?!".
True to promise, the car dropped us off where Jasmin and Anqi were staying, at a beautiful place called "The Fox and the Firefly" right on the Loboc river. I would absolutely say that this was one of, if not THE best accommodation and city/village in the Philippines. The accommodation was absolutely perfect with so much character and had the best bathroom we'd ever seen and an even better shower that was ringed by bamboo with an open roof with banana tree leaves over top of you and the sky...it was more spa-like than shower-like and so incredible we took lots of pictures in it!
The accommodation was right across the street from the amazing turquoise river that you could swim in or if you were really brave, drop off a giant tarzan swing. Bridger did it, I went off the baby one from the dock.
We also had an adventurous lunch (for me anyways) where Bridger completely stuck his foot in his mouth passionately glorifying Newfoundland yet again with an exuberant declaration of "The warmer the water, the shittier the fish" as our host walked by with a giant plate of tropical fish for our lunch. It turned out to be really delicious even though it had a head, as always. There was also some squid "cooked in it's own juice" which I took a pass on. Not there yet.
The owners of the guest house also ran a stand up paddleboard company (SUP Tours) and took people on SUP tours down the river. There was loose talk about going out on the paddlboards down the river which sounded really awesome but at this point Bridger and I were just going with the flow, but hoping it happened. As we found out when we got there, the owners and Anqi were going to start a new partnership offering retreats teaching yoga on the river on paddleboards...and they wanted to go out and get some promo pictures for the website. Enter us. Haha neither Bridger or I had ever even been on a paddleboard let alone done yoga on one, or in Bridger's case yoga at all, but we gave it a go. It involved alot of trying and alot of falling into the water. Bridger was atrocious (remember he can't bend in air let alone on a paddleboard) but hilarious to watch but it wasn't long before him and Jasmin completely threw in the towel and left the yoga'ing to the girls...two of them much better than the third (in case you're wondering, I was the weak link!). Nonethless, I was pretty impressed with what I did pull out of my ass.
Around the yoga photoshoots we paddled down the insanely beautiful river that was lined by endless bright green palm trees. It was definitely one of the highlights of the Philippines and highly reccomended if you ever make it down that way.
Once again, going with the flow, the group was going down to Loboc town centre because as we found it, it was the mayors birthday and it was going to be a big celebration. Sure enough, there was a stage, live music, fireworks, all the people in the entire town and of course the obligatory bar which is where we all spent most of our time. There and the local delicious pizza store, or so I hear because I ended up too drunk to remember...imagine my uncontainable happiness to find out that finally I found a destination where rum was cheap!!! And strong, my god do they ever not cheap out on what they put in your cup. One thing I do remember through my strobe light memories was when the Filipino specialty, balut got passed around. I can't even begin to describe this. Balut is duck egg except there was an almost fully formed fetus inside marinating in egg juice that people slurp out or if you're really lucky, dig the fetus out with their long pinkie fingernail and then eat it. Google it. It was kind of like a horror movie and every time we saw a balut cooler on the back of a vendors bicycle we had PTSD like flashbacks. The next morning I woke up on the couch in the lobby of the guest house (so much for paying for that dorm room!) totally disoriented, missing my base layer sweater (only the most expensive thing in my pack) with an absolute blackout for how I got there but figured it probably wasn't a good sign either way that I, for some reason or other, couldn't make it back to the room we paid for. We all spent a good few hungover hours until a local guy, his lady and two kids invited us to go to the beach with them. So myself, Bridger, Jasmin and Anqi jumped in the back of the truck and went with them. Somehow I got nominated to go in the ocean with one of the little 3 ish year old girls and it was like she'd never been in the water before because she was completely enamoured by everything I did (jumped over the waves, lifted her over the waves, stepped on the waves, let them knock me over, caught the waves etc. etc.) and was in stitches with every new action and not long after she was copying me. Super cute. We stayed for the next few days with Jasmin and Anqi in the same unit where Anqi lives...with a pool so Bridger was actually happy because, my god Philippines was so hot. It was nice spend a few days hanging out with Jasmin and Anqi and a few days catching up on stuff and researching our next stops as we really still didn't know anything about Philippines (with the last minute change of plans and the Bohol visit backseat stopover). Though getting the wifi password to do so from the owner of the apartments was a bit of a challenge! It never ceases to amaze me how fiercely protective people are about their freaking wifi passwords! We asked "Is there a wifi password" and she said "yes". Now being nice, indirect Canadians we clearly assumed that this was a polite request FOR the wifi password and not just a curious question. Unfortunately the awkward silence went on a bit too long for comfort so we had to bust out of our Canadian form for moment to say something so direct as *gasp* "Can we have it?". Her response was that she can't say it out loud because her hotel workers might hear and tell all their friends and they will all access the wifi. She said she has actually seen people outside the hotel on the street trying to log in to the wifi haha. So she said she'd write it down on paper for us. Again, just something that had never in a million years crossed our minds before travelling but once again another reminder not to take anything for granted.
One of our days in Bohol we rented a motorbike and drove around the island. Now I must say, Bohol is so highly reccommended. It really is stunning...along with Palawan, some of the best day to day landscape that we've encountered so far. And it was green!!! Coming from SE Asia in dry season (so much of it was brown and dusty), it was so nice to be around lush green vegetation again AND an added bonus that for some reason, an abundance of rain wasn't even part of that package. Can only imagine how fresh and beautiful Philippines would be in rainy season. The whole way was a combination of thick, green palm or banana trees which occassionally broke way for vast farming fields with an ever mountainous backdrop with blue sky and big billowing clouds. Even outside of stopping at any attractions per se, the drive and scenery alone would have been enough to keep you enchanted.
Anyways Bohol is really cool because, in addition to the gorgeous Loboc River, there is actually a few really amazing things to see. We drove our bike up to a place called the "Chocolate Hills" which were these incredible, mysterious, huge hills, more like bumps, that dotted the land and still nobody knows how they were formed. At the risk of sounding like an ungrateful piece of shit and please don't interpet this as such, sometimes when you travel you see alot of stuff that ends up being pretty similar and as such, stops being as exciting as it was the first time. So it's really amazing and energizing to see something that is so original and unique! Though, that's my perspective. Bridger I think was underwhelmed.
On the way there we drove through this absolutely incredible forest called the Bilar forest (I think). It was so thick and fresh and all I could think of was how much it reminded me of a fairy tale forest. Haha, maybe that is attributed to the fact that it also reminded me so much of the amazing Enchanted Forest in BC.
Bohol is also one of (the?) only places to see that teeny tiny little nocturnal monkey with gigantic eyes called the tarsier. Now I knew these little darlings were tiny but I was truly in shock about how tiny when I actually saw one for the first time...thank goodness there were guides in there because I never would have found one on my own. And my gosh there has never been another creature so so ugly that it is absolutely adorable. They really are a mix of like, a monkey, a mouse, a squrirel and a bat or something. It was a quick but super excitable trip through the sanctuary. No wonder the lady at the admission gate looked at us like we were scum for asking for a discount because we made it there only 15 minutes before closing (oh the things we never bother bartering for and then the things we spontaneously feeled compelled to barter for)...that is more than enough time.
Also on the way back I stopped to peek in this huge Catholic Church from the 1700's that was not open because it had been damaged by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in October 2013. And then I started to notice how common crumbled buildings were throughout Bohol and realized that those were probably a result of earthquakes too. The poor Philippines, as if typhoons ravaging their shores is not enough, they are also plagued by a history of earthquakes as well, an unfortunate byproduct of its location.
On our ride back we were riding into the most spectacular sunset I ever saw (I know I say this every time). Where Laos had these giant glowing balls of brilliance in a clear sky, the sunsets in Philippines actually again, reminded me of Canada as they were mostly made of the sun and various spectacular colors as it permeated the clouds around.
Actually Philippines as a whole really reminded us of Canada and I found myself constantly drawing these comparisons: Bilar forest to Enchanted forest, same sunsets, same supermarkets and type of food, English speaking, polite and friendly people who always say their pleases and thank you's. Except the Filipino people are even nicer! Filipino people even thank you for the things that you should be thanking them for. When housekeeping at our hotel came, they thanked us because Bridger passed them a full garbage bag that they took away for us. And when Bridger broke a plate and the staff came up for what we thought was to give us a broom to clean it up ourselves, the guy ended up sweeping it himself and when Bridger passed him a bag as requested to put the shards in, he thanked us again and when he finished sweeping up our shattered glass, he thanked us again! And then of course we thanked him mulitiple times through this event. How nice! Also, at work I always have these Filipino families who call me "miss" and "ma'm" and are always incredibly appreciative and respectful. This made so much more sense in the Philippines when I realized that "sir" and "ma'm" are just a regular part of their vocabulary...you hear these words constantly throughout the day, sometimes, multiple times in a single sentence. So interesting because I've never experienced this before.
After a solid chunk of time in Bohol, we decided that we would pop over to the nearby island of Pamilican for a few days, what we thought was going to be the beautiful tropical Philippines oasis beach island that we had been searching for the whole time yet never really found yet (seriously for a land of islands, a solid beautiful swimming beach was elusive as ever...we since met another couple who traveled to the Philippines and said the exact same thing and the guy said after so long of searching he was "literally reduced to tears" when he asked a local where the beach was and he pointed to another disappointing plot of sand. I'm sure that they're there, we've just yet to find one and it's not as easy as it seems!). We also decided that we would aim to be at the pier for noon to head over to Pamilacan. And then Bridger decided that he would get drunk and assholeish the night before and then not have the foresight to set his alarm to actually get up to follow through on this plan nor move to go there as, you know, planned. Having so little time in Philippines to start with, this was just not happening for me so I followed through on the plan...myself. Enter the second big "divorce" on the trip so far. I had found out that though it can be really expensive to hire a boat from the main beach on Panglao island to Pamilacan, if you just take a tricycle ride a bit outside of town and show up at the pier, you can basically hitchhike a ride for much cheaper by just privately arranging to hop on a Pamilacan locals boat who happened to be in town gathering supplies or whatever it may be. So that's what I did, by myself (fuming I might add), not having any accommodation booked and really having no clue exactly how this was going to turn out.