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The Philippines

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

“Happiness Is Only Real When Shared” -Into The Wild


I arrived back in Manila with a day to spare and decided to spend it at Friendly’s…I was hoping to have one last night to catch up with Guillaume, and well, it was wine night at the guesthouse. I got settled in, got some laundry done, repacked my bags and chilled out. I got chatting to Bruce, an American Unicef worker, whose specific job revolves around disaster relief. He definitely had some stories to share about his job, but we also got to talking about life abroad and how it changes you as a person, and how when you return home, whether it’s for a holiday or a longer period of time, you are never quite the same person as you were when you left.


I asked Bruce how it was when he goes back to the states now. He is in his 40s and single, and spends some time at home each year, visiting family and catching up with old friends. He said to me bluntly, “people just don’t get it….you have been on this amazing journey, seen things many people only ever dream of seeing, seen another way of life. You feel you have grown so much, and you go home and your buddy wants to show you his new flat screen TV he just bought. You realize that life just goes on.”


This is one reason why I think friendships formed on the road are so special and why they are so easy. I’ve never met one traveller who doesn’t have the time of day for another traveller’s tale. The excitement a traveller has about his or her journey is palpable. And after a conversation with someone on the road, your list of things to do and places to see can double, simply through their enthusiasm for what they have seen and done. These friendships are fast and easy, because you already know that what you have in common with this other person is something so unique…you already know you are going to have a blast with this other person, simply for the fact that you are so like-minded, you crave that sense of adventure, and you are open to anything.


I spent my last evening reflecting on the past 3- 1/2 months since I had returned overseas and been travelling solo. I thought about Lorne and Dragan and our crazy scooter excursions in Langkawi. I thought about Jena, my friend in Hong Kong, who took me in and showed me her bussling city. I thought about Flo and Marty, our adventures climbing Rinjani, our happy hours, and our promise to have a reunion one day in Paris. I thought about Aaron and our never-ending journey to seek out this faraway island I had my heart set on seeing, and our conversations about life. I thought about Kate, my boisterous dive buddy from Sipadan, who I continued to run into throughout Malaysia, and I thought about my early days in Borneo with Kat and Doris, the three of us crammed into little bunkbeds sharing our most horrific stoires of stomach problems on the road, and giggling away. I realized that as much as I thought about the places I had been and the adventures I had experienced, I thought more about the people I had met and shared the journey with.


I finally found Guillaume around this time, and was glad for his company. I can’t describe the feeling I had my last night sitting in Manila at that guesthouse. It was certainly bittersweet and sentimental. I guess you could say it was surreal. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how the last 3-1/2 months passed so quickly, and what about the last 2 weeks since I had arrived in the Philippines? All I know is that I was leaving on a high note. And although I was sad to leave, I was taking some irreplaceable memories with me.


Bruce came back from the store with ingredients to whip up some truly authentic mojitos, Benjie (the owner) was popping open bottles of wine left and right, the music was blaring, and everyone sat around talking over the music, sharing stories and making plans. For some people, Manila was a starting out point, for others, it was a return trip, but for me, it was my last evening abroad (until the next trip), so Bruce, Guillaume and I toasted. This already had the makings of another memorable night!
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Coron, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

Wrapping it all up in Coron

From El Nido, I made my way by overnight boat to Coron. There are a few ways to travel between El Nido and Coron, but the cheapest is the night cargo ship, and seeing as I was at the end of my trip and on a budget, I chose this. I was with a few others from El Nido who were also heading the same way, so we boarded, found our cots and settled in. This was at about 11pm, and at 5am, we actually left the port. What can I say, it was going to be another long, hot boat ride, but it was going to be my last long, hot boat ride for a while, so I embraced it.
After arriving, we made our way to a guesthouse that was situated closer to town and closer to the dive shops, and minutes after dropping my bag and heading out to sit on the upstairs balcony, I looked down and saw Flo walking across a bridge in the distance. I called out to him and ran down to meet him. We had talked about meeting up here, but we’d both had sporadic internet connections and I wasn’t sure if he’d been able to get a flight or not. Fortunately, he had and we had run into each other. Unfortunately, Marty, my other Frenchie had ventured North to the rice paddies for treking, so we were minus one.


Still, Guillaume, who I had met in El Nido was also with us in Coron, and I couldn’t wait to introduce him to Flo. We headed out for dinner locally and had a blast catching up on the last few weeks and sharing our past adventures with Guillaume. We adopted Guillaume for the rest of our time in Coron. We arranged some awesome wreck diving, spent the days on the water and spent the evenings at a local grill that we couldn’t get enough of.


It was about this time that I wanted to hit pause. My time in Coron was slipping away. Soon it would be time to head back to Manila to begin the journey home. I was envious of those around me who were just starting out, and those who still had months left on their journeys. It was all beginning to sink in that this chapter was coming to a close. Still, I had been adamant about not slipping into “home” mode and had truly milked everyday of my time in the Philippines for all it was worth.


On one of my last nights in Coron, Flo and I ventured out to buy a decent bottle of wine. His parents had recently flown over from France to meet him for some diving and they had brought him some foie gras. We decided to pop open some vino, and have one of our traditional happy hours, complete with appetizers. Not too long after, Guillaume showed up with a bottle of Matador Brandy. It was his last night, so we bid farewell and I told him I hoped to see him at Friendly’s Guesthouse in Manila in 2 days time.


Two mornings later, I was saying a final goodbye to Flo and making my way to the airport to fly back to Manila. Getting on this flight was more upsetting than the entire journey home because it was the beginning of the end. Everyone else was staying on in Coron and venturing off to the next port of call. I had to part with the group and make my way. It was really sinking in now that this was the end of my journey.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, El Nido, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

El Nido Baby!



I arrived late in Puerta Princessa, Palawan, but found the really nice, earthy guesthouse that my friend Kate had recommended to me. This place was constructed with the elements in mind. The back patio area was open and airy, and trees grew all around. Hammocks hung in each corner, and even power was optional – translation – the generator wasn’t always working. So I arrived to candlelight, but it sort of added nicely to the vibe . My first day was spent enjoying the ambience. I find myself coming to the end of my trip and being ok with chilling in a hammock at the guesthouse for a day and not feeling too guilty about it.
From Puerta Princessa, I headed two hours west to the sleepy beach town of Sabang. This is home to one of the longest subterranean rivers, which I saw by kayak in the rain. The weather had sort of put a damper on my plans of getting a beach bungalow and having some one-on-one time with a beach towel and the sand and sea before going home. I was running out of time, so instead of wasting anymore time in rainy Sabang, I decided to head directly north to El Nido. I said goodbye to the people at the guesthouse, and began the journey.


The journey was a bit torturous. Seven hours on unpaved roads in a van with AC that functioned at about 20%, and about 30K from town, the axel on the van broke so we were stranded while we waited for a new van. Needless to say, I was ready to get there already. But when I arrived, I knew I’d made a good decision to head straight here.


El Nido has a laid back beach vibe and affords for some amazing island hopping. I checked into my long sought after beach bungalow, that while aging still had a lot of charm, and then went to meet some fellow travellers for beers. The plan for my last 8 days was nothing. Aside from some island hopping and diving in Coron, I wanted to completely chill out, not see, do or move around.
Five days later and I was still doing just this and I was still in El Nido. The island hopping had become addictive. The vistas are absolutely breathtaking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so blue and clear. Pair this with being able to be dropped on a deserted island for a day, complete with a lunch of fresh grilled fish, fruit and vegetables, and you can see why i started to fall in love with island life. The days were spent lounging on boats and beaches, and the evenings were spent with a newly forming crew of people that had been growing since Sabang. I met my Australian neighbors at the bungalow, and headed out to meet their other friends for dinner, and it turns out to be the same people I had met in Sabang. Small world!


Having a good crew of people made for some fun nights, one of which we spent at the local discotheque. Yes, no matter the size of a town, there is always a disco…sometimes you just have to look a little harder. The Filipinos love their current American pop music and they loved that we were at their disco.


El Nido was a definite highlight of my trip to the Philippines, but after six days there, it was now time to head North to Coron, for some wreck diving and a reunion…
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Donsol, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel, whale sharks

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Donsol

I arrived in Manila at some unearthly hour in the morning and made my way to Friendly Guesthouse (highly recommended hostel accomodation in Manila, complete with BBQ’s, wine nights, interesting brownies ;-p and the ever so friendly owner, Benjie).


As I was making a cup of coffee and waiting for a bed to become available, I ran into a guy who I had met at my guesthouse in Langkawi, Malaysia. Talk about coming full circle! I had met Bart over 3 months ago, and he had since been traveling through Australia and New Zealand. What a small little world we backpackers travel in?


Unfortunately, because of the eruption of Iceland’s volcano, he, along with many other Europeans, found himself playing the waiting game before he could get a flight home. Fortunately though, this afforded him an extra 10-days to see some of the Philippines. We spent the morning catching up, and I told him of my plans to head to Donsol to swim with whalesharks. By the end of the morning, I had a partner in crime.


He and I boarded an overnight bus the following evening and got the hell out of Manila and headed to Legaspi where we caught a van to Donsol. Donsol is a dusty little town, surrounded by some decent beaches, but the main draw is the fact that it’s a migration sight for whale sharks, and you can organize trips to swim with these gorgeous animals.


Bart and I checked into a cheap homestay in town, sorted our whale shark excursion and spent the afternoon on the beach, playing scrabble with an eccentric bar owner, Julia. We then ran into a couple of other travelers from our van ride, and soon had a crew for happy hour and dinner. We went back to Julia’s for dinner, where she fed us fresh grilled fish, salads, even pasta! After dinner, she insisted we drink Brandy with her and then roped us into another game of scrabble. I had to redeem myslef from the afternoon game.
The following morning we headed back to the beach and got checked in for our whale shark interaction experience. We were paired up with other travelers to make a total of six and we headed out on our banga boat with Ebbie, our captain, and the rest of the crew. Ebbie was our main man- the one who actually jumps in with us and leads us to the whale sharks, but there are four others on the boat- a driver, two men on lookout and one who controls the engine. Ebbie explained to us to stay ready (maks, fins and snorkel on). He would let us know which side of the boat to be on, and as soon as they killed the engine, he would call out “go” and we would slip down off the side of the boat and let the boat glide by us. Then Ebbie would jump in and lead us to the whale shark.
At this point I was so damn excited! I really didn’t know how I was going to react to seeing one. This is not just like seeing a 1 to 2-meter reef shark, these whale sharks are huge…I just didn’t know what to expect.


Not long after making our way out to sea, Ebbie informed us to make our way to the left side of the boat and called for us to “go!” We did but unfortunately we had missed this one. We all climbed back onto the boat, anticipating the next go-round, but you could tell Ebbie was visibly disappointed. I started to get nervous…was there a chance we wouldn’t see any? They said morning was the best time and that you can see these creatures until the end of April?


Only a few minutes later we were ligning up on the right side of the boat to jump in. I stayed close to Ebbie and saw him give me the signal underwater to watch him. As I did, I saw this huge mouth literally moving towards me. I think I yelped into my snorkel as I moved out of the way of an 8-meter whale shark. Awesome is the only word to describe this experience. We didn’t stay with the first one too long, but we had about seven other swims that morning, at times being able to cruise along next to these giants for five minutes at a time.


It was so surreal to watch their spotted bodies glide through the water below. They are quite gentle animals and were rarely phased by our presence. This was truly such a unique experience and well worth taking the time to get to Donsol for.


About the only other eventful thing to report from Donsol was the other not so cute animal we found living in our guesthouse. I awoke in the night to Bart yelling that a rat had bit him on the toe. I thought he was just talking in his sleep, but he carried on about it to the point that I was now wide awake. I tried not to make a big deal of it so he would forget about it too, but then I saw it, and it wasn’t just any rat…it was a big rat and it was scurrying along the wall towards the window.
It was HOT in Donsol, so the doors and windows were open. The windows were like horizontal shutter blinds that you could wind one way to open and the other way to close. Miraculously, Bart managed to catch the rat between two shutter blades, where we found him hanging the next morning. Before leaving, we politely pointed it out to the owners so that the next arriving guests wouldn’t be too alarmed by this oddly positioned animal. Eeeew! Now it was time to head back to Manila and back to the uninfested Friendly’s Guesthouse to await my flight down to Palawan.