Long distances, airport brothels, typhoons in paradise and many Manila love songs
The four day camel hike in search of sun, sea, sand and... (Sangria of course! - The Philippines has a mild Spanish influence). Our (long) journey started with a 16 hour sleeper train in China from Hangzhou to Shenzhen.
A comfortable but hot and sticky journey with a few hours sleep. Luckily only three of us in the four bed compartment. Additionally we received much respect from the other passengers for eating our instant noodles using chopsticks.
Arriving in Shenzhen we followed the rather haphazard signage from the train station to Hong Kong. One useful sign is surreptitiously spray-stenciled onto a wall outside the station (Hong Kong -> ) that directs you passed a couple of pet shops and numerous money changers until an escalator takes you to China immigration. We then walked ten paces and went through the Hong Kong border control and immigration. Our next goal, navigating to Hong Kong Airport for a flight that was departing 12 hours later and bound for Manila, Philippines. Food stop followed by a metro for 5 minutes, and a bus for 50 and we arrived at the airport for the longest most frustrating eight hours of our lives.
Hong Kong Airports' free Wifi is the slowest and most intermittent we have had since leaving the UK! (Groan). There are better ways to spend five hours of ones time than trying to book a connecting flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan that we needed for the following morning. It took six attempts and only twice did we get to the payment screen! I guess Cebu Airlines' Web site is partly to blame – if the Web site is anything to go by then it is not surprising that it failed the very recent EU airline audit. (In fact all the mainland Philippine airlines failed this audit, which makes for some nerve induced in-flight squeaky-bum time. Ryanair – all is forgiven)
Ultimately we planned to fly to Puerto Princesa as soon as possible which meant that landing in Manila at 12.30am would leave us airport stranded till we could get the 11am flight to Puerto Princesa. So my bright idea was to book a room in the Manila Airport Hotel so that we could rest for 6 hours, eat and then get the flight at 11am! Wow big mistake, lets just say the Manila Airport Hotel is best described as a brothel! After 6 hours lying awake listening to a fake sex noises followed by a mediocre breakfast we left with haste and got the hotel jeepney to the Airport for the next chapter in our epic journey.
Landing in Puerto Princesa without a place to stay (result of Hong Kong's Wifi) it was like feeding ourselves to the Lions again (tri-cycle drivers desperate to drive us around to find a reservation).
Luckily we had done our homework and were armed with a list of promising places to rest our heads. This is how we found ourselves at Casa Linda's – a traditional Philippine abode with big rooms built with grass walls and bamboo and cold running water (brrrrrrr - brace yourself!).
We also had a visit from the largest and noisiest gheko i've ever seen!
Puerto Princesa is best described as a main street with shacks with side-streets coming off it lined with more shacks. This said they have sturdier shacks than we have houses in the UK as we discovered a few days later...
From here we booked a bus to our ultimate utopia; El Nido in Northern Palawan, a further six hours away! Hopefully where Monkey-Steve gets to stock-up on more bananas and Blondie-Jen will get a top-up on the sun bleaching, nice and cheap!
So here was the first taste of what came to be described as Philippino time. Bus to leave hostel between 6 and 6.30am, bus left at 7.15am! Breakfast apparently available at 5.30am, breakfast actually available after 6am! Ok so we are still running on London Time! Its cool! The bus journey, nice and bumpy, 30% on unsealed roads took us through the countryside of Palawan, very beautiful sights, bison pulling carts, makeshift basketball hoops in every town with plenty of children laughing and playing.
Lets recap. We left Hangzhou on the afternoon of the 22nd September by sleeper and we arrived in El Nido on the 25th September having slept only one full night in a hotel (If it's possible to get a good nights sleep in the Manilla airport sex hotel). But we had reached paradise! Well, paradise but no accommodation booked. On the bus we met a lovely couple from Holland. They had a booking already which happened to be one of the places that we had on our list of potentials so Steve and I decided to tag along with them and have a look. Chonas from the golden Monkey Cottages arrived on the back of a motorbike to collect Laura and Teun (introducing the lovely couple from Holland) and lead them by foot to the Cottages. The motorbike took their bags. So we joined them and the man on the motorbike, god bless him, he had two trips so as to get our bags (mine weighing in at exactly 20kgs!).
At the cottages we met Rose the lady that owns and runs the operation and her partner plus the two dogs, Brutus - a little, very cute and randy puppy and Betty - a much larger and older saint able to coolly ignore the randy advances from Brutus. Yes ironic I know however Brutus really did think he had the size and strength of a big dog.
So our room/cottage/hut was beautiful. Very big with cold running water and power from 6pm till 6am (if the power station was working!)
Overlooking the sea (warning: spoiler in caption)...
It had a hammock that could only make you smile!
The inmates were happy to oblige.
Kayaking in the sea to a very small sandy beach.
Oh my fav pic so far “check out the abs on Monkey-Steve” been working out since he left London!
An evening drinking beer on the beach enjoying the sea, joking with the bar staff at the Seaslugs resto and meeting the local stray dogs that become attached to your every move. This is something that happened to everyone even if like us you refused to feed them. Steve and I actually named the one that followed us and sat by our table, we called him Shipwreck.
So where's the but you ask? Well the pictures above were all taken on the first day, a dry, slightly overcast but warm day. The following pictures are of the same view I promise!
Yes they are of the same view but during the typhoon that hit Manila directly, we got the tail of it in Northern Palawan! On the second day that the storm hit fully Laura and Teun decided to leave so as to make the most of their holiday by finding some sunshine, the forecast was looking like 3 more days of the storm. Steve and I decided that as we had a little more time, we could sit-out the storm and get the good weather we had traveled for so long and so far to find. We returned to our cottage under the direct instructions by Chonas to stay in our room - and so we did. The Golden Monkey were brilliant, they made us lunch and dinner on that day that was better than any of the food we could get in the El Nido village. I can still remember the taste the prawn curry now. Mmmmm.
So two days later, with us both starting to suffer cabin fever we venture out to the village for lunch, so between the rain and wind episodes we had a stretch of the legs, food and decided that it was safe enough to venture out for dinner that night. Good food having met up with another couple from our hotel, Alvaro and Paula, who introduced us to Yoomi and Roy, lead us to Ricsons to book our first island hopping tour, the weather was looking up.
Nice early start and beautiful weather, perfect for sunburn! In the morning we discovered that a Canadian couple that we had met (Rodney and Julie) were also on the same tour.
What could go wrong? Perfect weather, perfect group of people, perfect crew. Ah shame the boat was a car in a boats body! Known as Bancas the boats in El Nido are cars with the shell removed and a boat built around the engine and drivers seat! Half way to our first stop we broke down, so the deck was lifted, a rubber band tied around a pipe and off we went. Thrifty Filippino ingenuity!
After the typhoon the water was still beautiful but had an layer of unsettled silt, plastic bags and old toothbrushes. It reminded me a bit of Steve when he is woken up but not given enough time to wake up - in other words it was a bit groggy and unsettled after the typhoon. This meant snorkeling was good but lots of duck diving amongst the plastic bags and toothbrushes to get the best view o fthe coral and fish. After a beautiful day we had a number of beers with Rodney and Julie before heading to get changed for dinner. Now that the weather was good I actually looked forward to a cold shower!
Having done an island hoping tour we had to decide how long to stay in El Nido as we did have a deadline for a flight back to Hong Kong. We decided that one more day would be enough before we headed back to Puerto Princesa and that would give us time to see the Underground River. (The Underground River is allegedly the worlds longest underground river and is visited by droves of tourists, there to float past its many stalactites and stalagmites).
With one day left in paradise we booked a private tour with the local boatman to take us for a morning island hopping to some quiet beaches for good snorkeling, peace and quiet!
This would be the toughest place to move on from so far, in fact we nearly stayed an extra day when a reliable source told us the underground river was politically over-hyped. (At time of writing the Philippine government were trying to tout this as a major tourist attraction and furthermore get it promoted to the status of UNESCO 7th natural wonder of the world. They still believe and advertise it as the longest underground river in the World. (however, the word on the street is that there is a longer one in Central America) Besides, the government obviously have not discovered the marvelous treasures to behold in Wooky Hole! :D). However we became strong and faced the 6 hour bus back to Puerto Princesa the following morning. In fact we spent the following day updating the blog rather than another eight hours traveling to see the over-hyped stalagmites and stalactite formations that the underground river had on offer.
With the Philippines section of our trip coming to an end it was the most emotional time for us so far. It was very hard to leave. This is definitely a place to visit in the future and explore more of. The people are helpful, beautiful and always smiling
We traveled back to Manila for one night (avoiding the Airport hotel/brothel) and stayed in a hotel with a bar on the roof where Steve and I had the most bizarre evening ever. That is until we had a few beers and Steve got up and started to join in the Karaoke! (I have the video to prove it!)
A very early start the following morning, hungover, 3 hours sleep and a flight to catch back to Hong Kong, all this and a dose of food poisoning, Yipee! This was when we realised we were going to need a whole load more Imodium!