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.)

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