Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Bohol, Philippines: FINAL STOP & I Attempt to Sightsee (Also, TINY MONKEYS)

We are finally onto the last blog post!  It has definitely been a (very, very, very slow and very, very painful) marathon to finish these last couple of posts (and I usually love writing this blog so very much!), so I have to thank everyone (....anyone...? ....hello?) for their patience!

On the topic of thanking everyone, thank you for all the incredibly sweet words and support on my last blog post. That was definitely one I did not love writing (and I hemmed and hawed for ages on how to write things in a way that wasn't too "woe is me") - but the amount of people who reached out afterwards was beyond touching.  Thanks, guys. Really. You all never cease to touch my heart. Like, get all up in there.

I stayed in the Philippines for almost two weeks after my accident, before I got the doctor's OK to fly home.  The last couple days before my flight, I even tried to get out and about and do a tiny bit of touristing.  Like, at 20% levels.  With Nurse Jesse monitoring me, of course.

What It's All About:
As mentioned before, I had, until this point, spent most of my time in bed in Cebu City. But a short(ish) ferry ride away from Cebu, to the Southwest, is the island of Bohol.  Bohol is beautiful and tropical (standard in the Philippines), and has some gorg, mention-worthy sights of its own - including beautiful beaches, the Chocolate Hills, and tiny Tarsier monkeys.  DID SOMEONE SAY TINY MONKEYS. Injured or un-injured, I'm there.

Chocolate Hills!

A tiny tarsier!!! Ugh, I have such a thing for mini animals

Two days before I was to head home, I was finally feeling like I might be OK enough to venture further than the mall.  Jesse and his patience took great care of me and made sure that this mini-trip to Bohol for a couple nights was very low-key and slow-paced. From Cebu City, a (very slow-moving) ferry runs hourly for the ~2.5 hour cruise to the capital of Bohol, Tagbilaran City.  Jesse had been to Cebu/Bohol/the same area last year on vacation, so he was super familiar with what to do and where to go and where to stay, so it was super reassuring and very low-stress.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Oh man, that 2.5 hour ferry ride from Cebu City involved a taxi ride to the port and a 2-hour wait when our ferry was delayed.

I was not doing too well in the heat, but I was doing better than I look in this photo, I swear. I told Jesse I was going to pose like this the entire weekend because movement was not. fun. 

On the ferry!  They only had first-class seats left, which means we were in the A/C - no complaints here!
P.S. Also clearly staying true to my plan.

But our ferry delay meant we got to arrive in Bohol right at sunset. UGH STILL LOVE SUNSETS.

We took a nice air-conditioned (I was very focused on A/C at this point in my life, in case you haven't noticed) car about an hour south to the resort-y/beachy area of Panglao Island.  But this would be the normal mode of transport - kind of like a tuk-tuk but with a side carriage! Favorite.

We got to Panglao Island and went to a restaurant where you can choose your own fresh seafood.

So many parts of the Philippines have tons and tons of Korean stores/businesses/tourists (the entire mall in Cebu City was basically filled with Korean tourists - Jess says they come here because it's so cheap and they can learn English #Jessefacts).  And now it becomes clear to me why sometimes the locals greeted me in Korean...

And then we walked down the beach at night, which is chock-full of outdoor cafes, restaurants, and bars. And people selling delicious mango juices.

  • The next day, we planned to rent a vehicle and drive out to see the TINY TARSIER MONKEYS (I actually think maybe they're just called 'tarsiers', now that I think about it...) and a sight called the Chocolate Hills (some kind of geological formation that looks like rolling hills of chocolate....amazing).

Unfortunately (or fortunately), the only cost-effective vehicle was this motorbike. Which, in case you're wondering, I did NOT do well on. Every bump on the road felt like someone was taking a mallet to my head. Poor Jess had to cruise along at the slowest, slowest speeds the entire way, in an effort to be careful and avoid me throwing a fit at every bump.  Needless to say, the trip took forever.

Whaaaaaat, a roadside coconut stand?!

....which I possibly made us stop at for a fresh coconut

For the most part, the roads were super small, smooth, not too-bumpy, and relatively empty. Hallelujah.

And then we arrived at the Tarsier sanctuary!

  • The tarsier sanctuary involved a lady leading us into a section of the forest with tons of tiny little tarsiers perching in the trees, and she would gently show us the location of each one.  1.) TARSIERS ARE TINY. TINY. With HUGE eyes. Is there a cuter combo?? I think not; 2.) They're also incredibly delicate - you can't yell or get near them or scare them or make noise at all really, because apparently they're very talented at dying of fright.  

Our first tarsier sighting!!  Does anyone else see how it's artistically gazing through the palm leaves?!?!?  SUCH A PENSIVE TARSIER.

I'm dying. Look at this tarsier's humungo eyes

Can't. Even.

  • After the tarsier sanctuary and the ridic tiny tarsiers, we continued on our journey to the Chocolate Hills!  The Choco Hills were formed way, way back in the day as karst (there's that word again!!! Thanks, China!) or limestone deposits.  The deposits created thousands of these giant bumpy hills - which are green in the wet season, but turn brown in the dry season. Hence the name "Chocolate Hills."  They're a really gorgeous sight - just tons of giant brown mountains extending in all directions and rising out of a blanket of green.

And the views the entire way were these amazingly gorgeous rice paddies and palm trees

Jesse drove (like a tortoise), and I took photos from the back of the bike


  • A couple hours later, we got to the Chocolate Hills!  You can hike to the top of this viewpoint to look over the landscape, although I will mention that they are doing tons of construction everywhere. But still very pretty.

Chocolate Hills!

Seriously, these things are everywhere, 360 degrees around

Look, alive and well!

Driving back to Panglao during dusk. I have to say, the return trip was pure misery for me. But made slightly better by the gorgeous views.

  • The next day was my last one in the Philippines before the end of my entire journey, so we spent the final morning at Panglao Beach. 

Panglao Beach was beautiful!  Talented me forgot my (multiple) swimsuits back in Cebu City, so I had to purchase a shiny yellow monstrosity on the beach that basically made me look like I wrestled in the WWE.

Jesse's floating in the water - which was super, super warm. Like tepid bath water.

I basically laid under a palm tree all morning

  • And before I knew it, we were on the ferry back to Cebu City - where I had a flight to Manila that evening (and then a flight to Guam, and then a flight to Hawaii, and then a flight to Denver - but digressing).

And in the spirit of full disclosure, the status of my head bruise 10 days post-fall

One final chaotic repacking of the bag. This is the #1 thing I will not miss. I ended up donating 90% of my clothes and leaving them in the Philippines, because after 15 months of the same clothes - I was OK never seeing that clothing ever again, for the rest of my life.

  • Standing at the airport in Cebu City, none of it felt real: it didn't feel like this was the culmination of 15 months of an incredibly epic journey.  It didn't feel like I was headed home, or that my world trip was over, or that this was going to be my final moment in another country before my feet hit U.S. soil. I was probably more focused on the long journey home and getting through it all, mostly because I was still in recovery mode - and being able to go back and recuperate in a consistent bed, in a comfortable, familiar place sounded really, really nice.  Jesse escorted me to the airport (mostly to be the greatest person ever and carry my backpack through security for me), and it was so weird saying bye to him for the (4th? 5th?) time too.  None of it felt real.
  • Now that I'm home (and have been for a bit), it still hasn't really hit me that it's all over.  Everything while I was traveling was so day-to-day, and that's what I've been living since being back- living day-to-day, and enjoying all these random familiar, yet weirdly unfamiliar, moments (reverse culture-shock is definitely a thing).  I may as well be traveling in a new country, what with all the things that have surprised and delighted me since I've been back.
  • I'm sure I'll get around to writing a "final final" wrap-up post sometime soon - because there's literally (and this is one of those instances where I literally mean 'literally') a million things/thoughts/moments/conclusions/wonderings I want to say, and reminisce about, and communicate, and ponder over, and throw out there.  Even thinking about what I want to say gets me all choked up, for serious.  Until then though, here is the final blog post about my travel adventures - it makes me a little sad that it wasn't a "I skydived out of a plane & then landed on a wild tiger and raced it into the rainforest while fireworks exploded in the background" kind of grand finale, but it's almost perfect how imperfect it is. Because isn't that what traveling is all about? =)

(Final) Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Cock fighting is a huge sport in the Philippines. Everywhere you go, there are tons and tons of roosters EVERYwhere, without any hens anywhere.  Because there is such an overabundance of roosters, the roosters are especially competitive and aggressive, so you literally will hear them crowing at ALL HOURS OF THE DAY. EVERYwhere. You do not take naps in the Philippines.
  • MALLS. Filipino malls are INSANE. The cities themselves look rough, with cobbled-together buildings and sketchy workmanship and dirt paths - but the minute you step into a mall (they're everywhere!), it's like BAM. The entire thing changes. They love their malls here (and all the Asian tourists who come here do too!), and the malls are usually huge and beautiful and gleaming and pretty and overwhelmingly amazing. Crammed to the brim with shoppers and restaurants and stores and services. On. crack.
  • Tarsiers' eyes are the largest comparative to their size out of any mammal in the world (their eyeballs are the same size as their brain! Imagine if we all had brain-sized eyeballs!). They're so huge that they can't rotate them fully, so they're able to rotate their necks a full 180 degrees in either direction, like an owl.  ADORABLE.
  • Everyone in the Philippines is always trying to rip you off.  Always. Wages are so low here, that everyone tries to make an extra buck off you wherever, and whenever, they can. Keep in mind though, that it's literally just that - an extra buck.  So even if someone is conning you so badly that you are being robbed high and dry, it's usually such a small amount (to our Western standards) that it's not even a huge deal. 
  • Flights between the Philippine islands are SUPER, super cheap. You can get from most major cities one-way for about $15-30, which is amazing.  One of the most popular local airlines, Cebu Air, has the most inventory of island-to-island flights - but they are ALWAYS delayed. And I seriously mean always - I have not seen or heard of a single Cebu Air flight that hasn't been delayed by an hour or two or three, at least.  And I not only flew them a lot (heyyy $30 flights are practically free!), but met tons of other people flying them. See proof below:

A photo I took of the departure board at Cebu City's airport. Note the STD (scheduled departure time) vs. the ETD (estimated departure time) for EVERY flight. EVERY SINGLE ONE before the current time had been delayed. Insanity. Build in a lot of buffer time.

This is not good-bye - I refuse to end my blog with a photo of a delayed departure board.  I'm sure I'll be writing some wrap-up posts soon, so I'll see you guys then.  But until then, thank you so much for all your faithful (and not-so-faithful) reading of my adventures.  XO!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cebu, Philippines: Swimming with WHALE SHARKS


We are moving onto the last stop of my world adventure.  Who knew that we'd ever reach this point??  I'm not even sure that I did...

My last country ended up being the Philippines, and not for any kind of deep, insightful reason.  Searching for one-way flights home in the middle of summer does not bring up many affordable options, and it turns out that Manila -> Denver is one of the most affordable legs you'll find.  Never mind the fact that I had previously chosen the Philippines as my future honeymoon spot (why pay $3000/night for a private cabana on the beach in Tahiti when you could get one for $100/night in the Philippines, which is equally stunning?!) - I'll just have to change up those plans, because duhhhh, the flights home are the most affordable from there right now!  I'll worry about the needing-someone-to-marry part later too.

Joining me on the last leg of my trip was my friend Janie - she's one of my bffs from when I lived in Austin, and had reached out to me to see where'd I be since she recently left her job as well. And before I knew it, we had plans to meet up in the Philippines!

What It's All About:
The Philippines! I have no idea why these islands are so often overlooked as a paradise-y spot, because this country is made up of over 7,000 islands! And it is stunning. STUNNING.  I would say the only downfall is that the bigger cities (at least the ones we saw) are pretty ugly and sprawl-y and have terrible traffic and congestion. But seriously, step outside of the city, and it's like pure jungle tropical beauty. There are so, so many incredible islands and places to visit in the Philippines, and because there are so many islands, it is super easy to go off-the-beaten-path and find your own personal paradise.  There are no shortage of private beaches, or crystal-clear turquoise waters.

Stunning sunrise from Boljoon in Cebu

And Jurassic Park-like jungles!

Also, it doesn't hurt that it is dirt cheap here.  Most nights, we paid about $20 for a private room for two.  And the local airline, Cebu Pacific, has incredibly cheap flights in between most of the major islands - so you can on-the-fly decide to go somewhere and fly there for ~$30.  It's amazing.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Arrived into Manila from Sydney and stayed there overnight to meet up with Janie, who got in about 5 hours later than I did.  All I have to say is that Manila has the most atrocious traffic of all time - seriously, it will take you like, an hour to go 5 miles.  
  • Reunited with Janie, then we flew out together the next morning to the island of Cebu!  I had chosen Cebu (which is not as tourist-y as the more well-known islands of Palawan or Boracay) because Jesse had been there, and you can swim with whale sharks here!  WHALE SHARKS.

We flew into Cebu City, then had to take a 3.5 hour bus south to the tiny village of Boljoon

We had a full day of travel, but at least an epic sunset to look at out the bus window

  • We arrived at our hostel in Boljoon, Noordzee Hostel, in the evening. We spent the next day exploring some of the nearby waterfalls and sights of Bojoon (spoiler alert: there aren't a lot - the village is seriously SO TINY - yet so charming and picturesque!).

One of our fave parts?? Riding a moto taxi to a nearby set of waterfalls, called Dayhag Falls. We may have selfie'd the entire way.

Some of the tiny village roads we passed through

And then we arrived at Dayhag Falls! Which consists of 5 sets of waterfalls you can visit

As Janie and I were descending to some of the falls, there was a group of local guys hanging out together at the falls - these two guys from the group immediately saw us, came over to meet us and introduce themselves, and then asked if they could hang out with us and show us around. 

They also took it upon themselves to leave us a selfie on our camera. This is Vincent and Thirdy, they are 20 years old, and they tried real hard to spit some game later (even after finding out how old we were.  Bless their 20-year old hearts. They were actually incredibly nice)

One of the waterfalls had a rope that you could scale up or down, which the boys led us to

Thirdy is scaling down the waterfall on a rope, and I am dubious

But I finally scaled both down and up (note to self: time to work out the arms)

As did Janie! And the guys stationed themselves to make sure we were safe the whole time #hesgotgame

I'm gonna go ahead and say that I have zero idea how many photos of us the guys have on their phone #mustbeamillion

Another one of the five waterfalls and its tiny adorable pool

Post-waterfalls, we moto'd back to Boljoon and took a walk through the village.  Lunch options found: none. Chickens found: a billion.

We did find a cafe that only had dessert, however, so I ordered the traditional Filipino dessert called halo-halo!  Halo-halo can be made tons of ways, but usually consists of shaved ice (nom - approve), condensed milk (approve), fruit, jellies, tubers (what is a tuber), sago, nuts, etc. It usually comes in an array of shockingly vibrant colors.  Mine, of course, had ice cream. Diabetes, y'all.

  • As the food options in Boljoon were, let's say, limited, we headed back to our hostel for lunch and to hang out - since our hostel was awesome and right on the beach (funnily enough, it was another Jesse recommendation to stay there!). 

Overlooking our hostel's outdoor space - perfect

View from the hostel's 3rd floor open-air café

Best part of the hostel was arguably the stray dogs - as one of them had three baby puppies that were always hanging around. AND THEY WERE THE CUTEST. AND COVERED IN FLEAS. BUT STILL THE CUTEST.

Here comes the mama dog, whom we always saved our leftovers for. 

We spent the afternoon wading in the ocean waters, then moving to the pool, then THREE BABY PUPPIES.

Moon view <3 (I want to live on the beach now)

  • Next morning, Janie and I (and a German guy from our hostel, Jerome) got up super early (at the crack of dawn, really) to GO SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS.  The whale sharks are in a town called Oslob, Cebu - which was about 30-min by bus from our hostel.  You can really go anytime before noon, but (spoiler alert) the whale sharks are fed, which is why they all gather in this one spot - so it's better to go earlier when the sharks are hungrier. This does not sound like a smart idea as I'm typing it out. But trust me, it is a good idea.  The craziest thing is that there's no real bus timetable - you just go outside to the road and wait until you see a bus and flag it down. And hope it goes where you're headed.

Sunrises are so rare for me to see - like white elephants

Jerome, Janie and I arrived in Oslob and got put onto tiny boats to paddle out to the whale sharks.

And then you're instructed to dive on in for 30-min with the whale sharks


IT WAS ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS EVER. Photos don't do them justice, but the whale sharks are GIGANTOR (um, hence the name "whale sharks" maybe...)  

And it seems scary but it wasn't AT ALL because the sharks are so concerned with following the boats that are feeding them that they totally ignore you. 

Plus they have TOTALLY ADORABLE round-shaped mouths, which somehow just makes them seem totally harmless. Unclear if this is justified or not. This is Janie.

There are so many of them everywhere (free food is apparently a draw for all species) - seriously, SO CUTE

My favorite photo - look how huge (AND ADORBS) this whale shark is!

  • It was seriously one of the coolest things in the world - the size and scale of the sharks are completely unbelievable.  Even getting to swim next to them, you're just completely and totally in awe. And seriously, I have no idea why, they really seem more like whales than sharks, so it's totally not a thing to have them so close to you.  I'm not sure the mass feeding of them is so ethical, but hey, when in the Philippines..  

Moment of the Day:
Literally the second I touched down in the Philippines, I felt it: that feeling that every single person there is trying to rip you off.  I get it: the country is incredibly poor (seriously, everything is so cheap you wouldn't even believe. I think that hostel we stayed at on the beach was $5/night), and it's another one of those places that people have to hustle to get by in life.

Leaving the airport, there were several different lines for taxis - there are "regular taxis," "official taxis," and a bunch of other ones I've now forgotten. The "official taxis" are apparently government-approved and monitored - while they always use the meter and the cabbies won't try to rob you blind, they are usually 3-4x the cost of a "regular taxi."  I had done my research, and I opted to take a "regular taxi" - yes, the cabbies will try to rip you off, but it's not like they try to kill you or anything.  And the regular cabs are so much cheaper!  And ok fine, I have a weird passion for grittier/more local experiences. And saving money. And arguing.

Getting into the cab, I was prepared.  I told the cabbie my destination, and he goes "Ok, 300 pesos."  I replied with, "No, I want to use the meter."  "Ok," he goes, "but if you use the meter, you have to add 50 pesos onto the final price for gas."  "No," I said, "I want to pay exactly what's on the meter and that's it."  "Ok," he goes.

AND THAT WAS IT. No arguing, no fighting back, no disagreeing, no nothing - it was THAT easy.  I was shocked.  It was like we were having a totally normal conversation.  Well that was simple. I loved the Philippines instantly.

(On a side note, I found out later that Janie had a much harder time negotiating her price - so I probably just got lucky. But still. Amazing.)