Philippines

I recently spent a week diving, relaxing and lounging on the beach in the gorgeous Philippines. It was a great time in a fantastic place. The weather was perfect: sunny and warm. The people were great. And of course I loved the food; though in all honestly, I mostly indulged in western style grub.

 
First(ish) Stop: Boracay Island

I spent the better part of my first day traveling from Daegu to Boracay Island. My journey started with catching a taxi at 1:50 a.m. to get to the express bus terminal in East Daegu. After a four-hour bus ride, I arrived at Incheon International Airport, where I checked in for my flight and waited about two hours. We flew into Manila, where I waited for my next flight to Caticlan for another three hours. I arrived in Caticlan around 3:45 p.m. I was then taken on a short tricycle ride to the jetty port, where I hopped on a boat to Boracay Island. After another tricycle trip and a bit of walking, I finally arrived at Dive Gurus, my home for the next few days.
I was quite tired after my nearly 16-hour journey, but the beautiful ocean and powdery white sands quickly made me forget my weariness. I dropped my few possessions in my room and then headed off to stroll along the famous White Beach. It is a good sized stretch of sand; I was able to leisurely walk the length of the beach in about 45 minutes. The sand is some of the finest I’ve encountered. It was incredibly soft. And the sunsets are stunning.

Boracay is one of the places I’ve been that moments after arrival makes it very evident why it is such a popular destination. It had a great blend of relaxed beach vibe, water activities and nightlife. But even during the busiest time of year, I never felt like it was overcrowded or spoiled by a mass of tourists. There is a wonderful balance to it that left me wanting more. Certainly a spot I would happily return to time and again.
I spent much of my time sprawled out on the beach but nearly an equal amount of time exploring the underwater world. I got my Advanced Open Water certification from Dive Gurus. I would highly recommend diving, completing courses, and staying at Dive Gurus. The entire staff is wonderful, the equipment is in great condition, the accommodations are comfortable and clean, and it is in a great location. And my instructor, Jojo, was amazing. He was incredibly helpful and a great teacher. And I was lucky enough to get one-on-one instruction. During my course, I completed five dives: Dive Navigation, Wreck Dive, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Deep Dive and Night Dive. The course was much more fun than the Open Water, because the vast majority of the time is spent in the water doing the dives, rather than reading through copious amounts of instructions and theories or watching sleep-inducing videos. I enjoyed the wreck and night dives most. I actually did two wreck dives (the second counted as my deep dive). One was Camia II, a purposely sunk boat; the other Tri Bird, a purposely sunk plane. It was interesting to see how the sea life claimed them, building little reefs along the remnants of the wrecks. And the night dive was exciting, because the ocean was a whole new place in the dark. It was a bit nerve-wracking looking around and seeing a wall of black surround you. But with flashlight in hand, I was able to see lots of critters: hermit crabs, urchins and a huge crab. After my night dive, I had finished my course. Now I am officially and Advanced Open Water diver! I have grown quite a love for diving, so hopefully in the future I’ll be able to keep diving more and maybe work my way up the chain of certifications.

I opted for a little adventure on land for my last full day on the island. I did a (short) zipline over a beautiful secluded beach and then rolled down a hill in a giant inflatable ball. The zipline was over quickly, but the area was absolutely stunning. I then headed to the Zorb Park, where I jumped into an inflatable ball filled with a bit of water. I had hoped to do the dry Zorb, which you are strapped into, because it seemed like more fun. But sadly the wet Zorb was my only option. It was an interesting experience and mildly fun. Though once in a lifetime is enough for me. It was a pretty jarring ride as I flopped all over the place while the ball rolled down the hill. Thankfully it was a short ride, so it didn’t become intolerable. That being said, something I’m glad I experienced. I ended the day by lounging on the beach and soaking in the last rays from the sun before the beautiful, fiery sunset.

 

Next Up: El Nido
I spent my the next day on another epic journey of travel. I did the tricycle, boat, tricycle ride back to the airport in Caticlan and then flew into Manila. I had a nearly four-hour layover, including a slight delay of the flight, in Manila. Then I flew into Puerto Princesa, where I had to wait about two hours to catch the six-hour van to El Nido. The first parts of the trip were fairly smooth, but once I was in the van, it was bumpy all the way to El Nido. The road connecting the two cities is paved about half of the way. The rest is loose dirt and gravel. But the whole of it is spread with bumpy, jostling terrain that made for a turbulent ride. Had it been during the day, it wouldn’t have been too bad. But crammed into the van- that clearly was intended for one row of seats less than the five they had jammed in it- between 6:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. made for a terrible, nearly impossible, night’s sleep. I was ecstatic to finally arrive in El Nido, where I hopped on yet another short tricycle ride to my accommodation, Casa Cecelia. I checked in, dropped my bags and headed straight to bed, glorious bed.
A mere six hours later (I’m a girl who loves sleep), I woke up for a small breakfast and then headed to DEEP Blue Seafari to dive yet again! I dove three times with a great group of people. We spent our down time between dives hanging out on the ship. It was nice to have a group of people to chat with. Many of them were also around my age, and we are all avid travelers. Hearing about the places they have been intensified my desire to keep traveling and exploring the world. I really enjoyed sharing our stories about our trials and successes as we’ve traversed around.

 

The diving was also great as were the many islands dotting the ocean. El Nido reminded me a lot of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand. Giant rocks covered in greenery jut up into the air with little spots of powdery white sand beaches below. Truly a beautiful sight. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to do a proper island tour, which is the activity for El Nido. But moving between dive sites gave me a similar feel to what an island hopping tour would have been like with the added bonus of seeing underneath the water as well. The dive sites in El Nido were even more spectacular than those in Boracay. There were a whole array of coral and fish decorating the sea. I saw lots of amazing creatures. It was a great place to dive and definitely trumped doing just an island tour in my book.
After we returned to shore, I walked up and down the few streets of the tiny city. El Nido is small, but still has a lot to offer. I was famished after all the diving and walking, so I met up with my new buddy from the dive trip, Emily, and we headed to dinner. We ended up at a busy Italian restaurant, Altrove. It was busy for good-no, great-reason: the food was scrumptious! We shared a delectable brick-oven baked mushroom pizza and a fresh plate of pesto pasta. Even with the Moroccan-like decorations and knowing I was in the Philippines, my mind was transported to Italy. The food was fresh, authentic and perhaps the best Italian food I’ve had outside of Italy (even better than some of the Italian food I ate while in Italy!). Definitely my favorite meal of the whole trip. After dinner we parted ways. I got a massage, indulged in a Nutella mango crepe, and then headed to bed.
The next morning was my last in El Nido; it was a short trip! I got another massage in the morning, lounged on the beach, and then prepped to leave back to Puerto Princesa after lunch. The van ride back was equally long and bumpy as the ride in but more tolerable during the day. And I rode shotgun, so I had plenty of leg room. I arrived in Puerto Princesa around 6 p.m. and headed straight to my hotel, By the Bay Jacana Bed and Breakfast. It was in a fairly secluded and forested area, which was perfect for my last night in the Philippines. I was able to rest and recuperate after a long, but rewarding, few days of travel. The staff were fantastic and the room was comfortable and clean. I ordered take out from a restaurant and then spent the evening relaxing in my room.
Saturday I slept in as late as I could and then headed to the airport after a bit of breakfast. I got into a bit of a squabble with another young woman when my line was merged with hers. My check-in line had been clearly marked for the Manila flight, but when the single neighboring check-in line for the Cebu flight was closed, my line was transformed into the Cebu line. So naturally, we all just shifted over in the line to our left, which was still dedicated to the Manila flight. Well, homegirl found that upsetting and took her frustration out on the nearest line merger: me. We proceeded to engage in a bit of a quarrel over line etiquette. She approached me saying that she supposed the line was several people back behind her; to which I responded that obviously it would be unfair for our line to have to wait behind a bunch of people who weren’t even in the airport when we first queued simply because the staff decided to change things on us. Apparently my logic didn’t suffice and she felt personally injured that I would try to “cut” in front of her. With rumors of the flight being canceled do to inclement weather (thankfully it was not!), I had more important things on my mind, so I took the space behind her instead. She seemed mildly appeased, but certainly in the mood to continue arguing if I proved a participating opponent. I still get a bit ruffled up thinking about it, but mostly it makes me laugh. Made for a more exciting morning.
I caught the flight to Manila, and then had to rush to Terminal 2 to catch my Philippines Airlines flight to Korea. (Note: Domestic flights are in Terminal 3, international flights (and some domestic) via Philippines Airlines are in Terminal 2 and international flights via other airlines are in Terminal 1.) I was originally under the impression that I could take a shuttle from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2, but apparently you must go from a Philippines Airlines flight to another Philippines Airlines flight. Since I flew into Manila with Cebu Pacific, I had to use the regular transportation to the other terminal. I was originally planning to use the bus, which is the cheaper method, but the next one was not scheduled to leave for another hour. The clock was really ticking at this point. I had a two hour gap between landing and taking off for my next flight. The first thirty minutes were quickly eaten up with waiting to exit the plane, mistakenly going to the shuttle and then looking for the area to catch the bus. I finally was able to get a taxi for an obnoxious and obviously overpriced 1,100 PHP or roughly 25 dollars. But I was desperate and needed to get to the terminal quickly. Better to pay extra for a cab than for a new plane ticket because I didn’t make it to the terminal on time. Communication error at its finest, the taxi driver took me to Terminal 1. Though it was not his fault, rather the man with whom I spoke at the airport wrote down the incorrect terminal. Thankfully, I figured it out before the driver dropped me off and let him know I needed Terminal 2. He was very sweet and quickly remedied the situation, assuring me I would be on time. And thankfully I was. I only had a few minutes to spare, but I had enough time to check in, pay my terminal fee, go through customs and squeeze in a quick snack before boarding my flight back. I made it to Busan after a smooth flight, then caught the 9 p.m. bus to Daegu. Finally I took the subway to my stop and walked the short distance to my little home. It felt great to finally be back, though I certainly wouldn’t have minded if I had been reclining on the sandy beaches in the Philippines instead.
The Philippines are really a treasure: the people are so kind and helpful, the beaches and cities are beautiful and the food is scrumptious. Something tells me I’ll certainly be returning. For one reason or another!

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