World Trip — Philippines

30 January 2014

The Philip:pines is not very Asian. It feels a lot more like Latin America. If I had to describe the country in a few words: beautiful landscapes, extremely friendly people, stunning beaches and possibly the worst cuisine in Asia. The island of Palawan has some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen so far. We stayed one week there, first in a city called Puerto Princesa and then we moved North to El Nido. In Puerto Princesa we visited the so called Honda Bay. I'll try to describe the beaches: the water was very clear and light green, the sand was white and there were a lot of green trees. Because it was not high season yet, the beaches were relatively empty.

The sunset was a red—orange fireball sinking in the ocean — the clouds were dyed in different colors. It looked better than it sounds. And nothing goes better with a sunset than a Mango—Daiquiri. Sometimes we had our sunset drink even if there was no sunset, because the sky was cloudy.

After Puerto Princesa, our next stop would be a place called El Nido. If Palawan is the top destination in the Philippines, El Nido is the top destination in Palawan. It's a very small city full of hotels. We booked a boat tour. The boat sailed out to the ocean through the archipelago of Bacuit. The Archipelago is full of little rocky mountains scattered all over the ocean. So you sail on green water, passing by little mountains all the way. Some of them are green and have sand, so that the boat can land and we could swim to the shore. These beaches really look like those beaches you see on TV ads: emerald green, with little stripes of white. All clean and desert, except for our boat. But this beach was only the beginning. The next stop on the tour was the so called "Hidden Beach". After you get there you know why. The boat stopped in front of a rocky mountain in the middle of the ocean. I thought: "really? Do you want us to jump out here?" And yes — we got off the boat in the middle of nowhere and we were supposed to follow the guides. They started swimming towards a hole in the mountain and explained we'd have to dive under a rock to get inside of the mountain. In order to take our cameras along, we put them in a water—proof bag. "This better be good" I thought. So we swam about five minutes and dove through a hole into the mountain. When we emerged on the other side ... There was the hidden beach — a very shallow shiny green lagoon with a white sand border. What a reward! We sat in the lagoon, enjoying a sun of probably 30 degrees and looked at the beauty of nature for a couple of minutes without saying anything. We were surrounded by a black rock covered by different types of plants. It was like being inside of a volcano, only instead of lava there was the green lagoon. Well, this was breathtaking.

I'm using "we" because I'm traveling with a friend from Munich. The good thing about traveling with an experienced German Globe—Trotter is that they think of everything possible. Is this hotel located in a good area? What's the weather forecast for this city in the coming days? What do they offer for breakfast? Does our balcony face east or west? That's how German my friend is. My contribution to the trip was more like: Are the drinks strong enough? Do we need another drink? Let's try this with passion—fruit instead of mango now. But it turned out to be a very good combination! Thanks, Frank!

The Philippines has lots of good qualities. But the food is horrible — it has different levels of horrible. What you see on your plate is either out of can, overcooked, cold or all of it together. We did not look forward to breakfast at all. I looked like I was going to a funeral, every time I went for breakfast. The so called Filipino breakfast consists of rice, a fried egg and corned beef. Corned beef is one of the grossest things I ever put in my mouth. It's meat torn to pieces, out of a can and cold. The Filipinos are very nice and friendly. But don't let them get anywhere close to a kitchen. People who pay the minimum of attention to what they eat, should bring their own food when they come to the Philippines. Colorants and sugar are simply everywhere. One day we were in a hotel and when they came with the breakfast it looked acceptable: fried egg, bacon and toast. All of it was cold. Cold oily fried egg, cold oily bacon and cold toasts with cold butter. We complained that the breakfast was cold. They took our plate put it in the microwave — including the butter — and brought it back. That's what you get for complaining. Do you think this is enough? No! The coffee was instant coffee. The milk was powder, too. I can't say they are very service—oriented either. We did find restaurants who managed to serve edible food. But they were exceptions. Once I was asked what my favorite Filipino dish was. I almost choked on that question.But I came up with an answer: fresh mango juice! Anything that is not prepared by them. A salad is a bit of lettuce, raw carrot and raw onion. All of it dry — no olive oil, no balsamic vinegar, no pepper, no salt. We experienced this in several restaurants. Sad, sad food.

The trip was also adventurous sometimes. We wanted to go to a beach on the north of the Philippines. We decided to save some bucks and do like the locals do: we took the bus. When we got to the station I did not like the driver — young kid, probably 19 years old, smoking with a cigarette on the corder of his mouth. Well, as long as he drives safely, I thought. But he didn't. The kid would race down the road, entering curves at a speed that felt like 150 km/h — my panic made everything worse. It felt like being part of a video game — only I did not like the game. Nobody else seemed to care — they where either playing with their cellphones, sleeping or listening to the a show playing on the bus radio — all in Tagalog, the official language in the Philippines. As if the "ride of hell" was not bad enough, the driver had to stop at a gas station to fill up. I was watching that driver all the time! Then, in the gas station, while filling up the tank, the kid decides to light up a cigarette! My friend turned to me and said — don't look out of the window now — you're going to flip out. I saw him panicking for the first time. That made me panic. When I looked outside, not only the driver — apparently everyone was smoking at the station. But the driver was holding the cigarette with the same hand he was filling up the tank now — while flirting with the attendant at the gas station. Well, I survived to that, as I'm writing this now.

Another highlight of the Philippines was the famous Chocolate Hills. The Chocolate Hills are a series of mountains that look like they were all put next to each other on purpose. Beautifully homogeneously shaped green hills, as far as the eye could see. When we tried to book a hotel at the Chocolate Hills, the lady on the phone announced: "We've been totally damaged and we're not functioning yet." We thought they had been damaged by the typhoon Hayan that had swept through the country. But the hotel, as well as churches and other bridges, had been destroyed by an earthquake that happened two weeks before the typhoon. Talking to one waitress in a bar, she told me that the day the earthquake happened, she was supposed to be working in the morning shift. At the moment of the earthquake she was sleeping (heavy sleeper, she said). She woke up at the end of it, got up and ran to the bar where she worked. Everyone was crying, because they were afraid a tsunami would come after the earthquake. But the owner of the bar wouldn't close for the day. She said: "We're 24 hours open, also during earthquakes and typhoons." We also rode a four—wheeler through the hills. It was shocking to see churches and bridges destroyed.

Next Stop: Vietnam

The Trip in Numbers

Days: 27

Average cost of a double room: 40 EUR

Average cost per day per person, including 3 domestic flights: 55 EUR

Highlights: Chocolate Hills, Palawan, El Nido, Honda Bay, Hotel Angela Villa

Cities: 10 — Cebu, Tagbilaran, Panglao, Dumaguete, Laoag, Pagudpud, Vigan, Puerto Princesa, El Nido, Manila.

Hotels: 14