Tag Archives: Philippines

Cebu: Kawasan Falls Victory (Water World Thingy Part II)

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Part of the track at Kawasan Falls

After the mass-tourism experience that was the whale-shark watching and visiting a near-by island, that left us a tat underwhelmed as we, the Magnificent Seven, were so terribly spoilt after our Tao expedition, we were driven to our hotel in Badian. Badian is an hour-and-a-bit drive away on the west side of Cebu island and once we reached our hotel, we chilled for the rest of the afternoon and evening. The next day we had another water activity planned namely, canyoning in the natural water park of Kawasan Falls.

Kawasan Falls Water Adventure

Dressed again in swimming gear and a life vest and this time around also a helmet, we were driven to a spot close by, away from the main road. We walked the remaining bit to the beginning of the water track in the natural park of Kawasan Falls. For a few hours we waded, floated, glided and jumped in and through the water, that runs through a narrow canyon and the whole event turned out to be another highlight of our trip. At several points along the track, you could jump of rocks into the water. As I have a certain fear of depths, I gave most jumps a miss. The first one was from a height of around 5 metres, or 16 feet, from which I did make the jump, but already found quite scary and there was risk of injury, as the natural pool was quite shallow at some places. Rick filmed that particular jump and on screen it didn’t seem that high at all. There were other points where other members of the Magnificent Seven bravely jumped into the water, while I gave it miss and just walked down whenever that was possible. After a few hours of wading and floating and an opportunity to sling like Tarzan over the water, we came to the end and the piece de la resistance of the track, which was a jump into a large pool with clear water from a height of 10 metres or 32 feet. It looked terribly scary and I didn’t see an alternative path to take me down. It helped that I was the first in line of our group and our guide told a ‘white lie’, that there was no other way down. So I jumped, which I consider a small victory. After the jump and a swim across the pool, we reached a seating and eating area, which was absolutely packed with people. As it was a Sunday many families treated themselves to a pleasant day out at the beautiful and cooling Kawasan Falls. After lunch we walked back to the car through the park, which was another 20 minutes, but no wading in water was needed and we could stick to unpaved paths. In the Philippines food is never far away and when we walked back to the van, several members of the Magnificent Seven were tempted by all sorts of treats vendors had on offer along the track, despite just having had lunch.  Once we reached the car, we got rid of our protective gear and made a short drive to the hotel, where we had 30 minutes to get our stuff and check-out, so we could be driven back to Cebu City.

Back in Cebu City

The van took about four hours to get back to the apartment complex, where we spent a few hours before we went on our whale-shark watching trip, as there was a fair amount of traffic on the road. As we were stuck in traffic near Carcar City, Louis took the opportunity to buy Buko pie, that was being sold at the side of the road. Buko pie is a traditional Filipino sweet dish filled with young coconut, that is consumed across the country. It would be the last night with the complete Magnificent Seven, as we split up the next day.

The following morning Lara, boyfriend Jason and paternal cousin Melody left in the morning to have another adventure on another island. Cherry left for her own adventurous action, although we did catch her at the airport. Rick, Louis and I also returned to airport in the afternoon to catch a plane- again with the budget carrier Cebu Pacific – back to Manilla, which was our last port of call before returning to Europe via Doha.

Buko pie

Buko Pie

 

Captured by the Mall

We spent a couple of days in Manilla, where the boys mainly went shopping at the very nearby Robinson Mall and I mostly worked as I finally could make use of a solid and reliable wifi- connection. I have therefor not seen much of Manilla, except the mall and the road from the airport to the hotel. The city doesn’t seem particularly pretty, but it is very lively and an event seems to occur on every street corner. The mall, which is massive to my Lowlands- Country standards, is an attraction for Filipinos of all ages and income brackets. Kids play truant to hang in the mall, as that is considered far more interesting, than being stuck in a class room. The place offers relief on very hot days as it’s fully air-conditioned. The affluent can shop western brands, that are far more expensive than in their native countries and the less affluent can window-shop. The mall also has a large food court, which is accessible to everyone as food is inexpensive.

On the third day, the time had come to return to Europe. We left for the airport on a heavily air-conditioned bus and spent too much time at a very uninspiring terminal of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. At around midnight we boarded a Qatar Airways flight to Doha, where we were to arrive in the early morning for another long stopover.

top image by Koen F Smit- Amor
Buko pie image courtesy of burble.com

 

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Cebu: Enlarging One’s Water World Part I

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Cebu’s Sea Circus; Whale-shark Watching

After the five-day Tao expedition during which we enjoyed beautiful sceneries, great food and lovely people, we arrived at the port of El Nido. We seemed to be quite a spectacle, as crew of near-by ships were watching us disembark, as if we were the latest instalment of the James Bond franchise. After having just been with Tao passengers and crew for a few days, being in El Nido was another contrasting experience, as the place is touristy as hell. The Magnificent Seven spent one night in El Nido to leave the next morning to Puerto Princesa to take yet another plane with destination Cebu. From El Nido to Puerto Princesa is a three and a half hour drive. I had already experienced Filipino-style driving, which involves overtaking in bends or just before a hill and tailgating, which surely makes driving exciting, but not necessarily safe. In Puerto Princesa we had lunch in a very atmospheric restaurant, where shoes are not allowed, so make sure you don’t have smelly feet or holes in your socks when you go. After lunch we boarded a plane to Cebu City, as on Cebu island we had a whale-shark watching and canyoning trip planned.

The Cebu Circus

One of the girls had booked a lovely house in an apartment complex in Cebu City, which would be our base for two days in total. It was quite a challenge to reach that base. After arriving at Cebu City airport a massive queue for the taxis awaited us and after four of us finally managed to get into a taxi, the driver was being difficult by refusing to switch on the metre and demanding extra money, despite it being an official airport taxi. After we forced him to pull over we found another taxi to take us to the apartment complex. The driver said he knew where it was and with the help of google maps, we thought we would have found the place in no time. We were wrong, however and the others, who had taken another taxi, seemed to have the same problem. After a lot have hassle and a lot of time passed one of the members of staff of the apartment complex picked us up at some central point- the 7-Eleven, an American chain of convenience stores and a popular meeting point for Filipinos- and arranged a van to take us to the place. We were only to spend a few hours there, as we were picked up the next morning at 3 o’clock to be taken to Oslob, near the southern tip of Cebu island, where we were to swim with whale sharks. I am not a big fan of animal tourism, but the trip was booked and I didn’t want to be a ‘bah-humbug’. I also secretly didn’t want to miss out on the experience of being in the water with large sea animals. We arrived at the whale-shark-watching beach at sunrise and the whole event was- obviously- a total sea zoo. Dressed in swimming gear and life vests we boarded boats and were sailed no more than 200 metres from the shore. As we were lying in the water with what felt like hundreds of people, the whale sharks were lured with bait, so we could witness them from very close by. Those poor animals probably don’t know how to feed themselves anymore and would feel ill at ease when they don’t spend  the entire morning with hundreds of people. But then, I’ve been in the water with large sea creatures, which I found, despite the zoo-like situation, quite a special experience and the local community could claim their tourist pesos for the day.

Too Many Selfies on the Reef

After the sea zoo, we had breakfast and after that we were taking to a nearby island, which was also some sort of tourist attraction. Yes, the water was very clear and light blue and I’m sure the reefs were beautiful, but after the Tao expedition, it was a very underwhelming experience. The island had a very tiny beach with little to no shade and it was packed with people, many being terribly busy taking selfies. The most underwhelming thing of all is that all we had to our disposal was that tiny, shadeless beach and the dozens of people, as the rest of the island was off-limits. After an hour and a bit or so, after someone might have said something, our kind guide led us through the water around a few rocks to another tiny beach. But at least this beach was in the shade and besides us there was no one there, giving us a mini-Tao experience after all.

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View on The Magnificent Seven

Imagery: Koen F Smit- Amor

Tao Experience; Be Human; Travel

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TaoHutsAfter a few days of Bukdinon Chill, we returned to Davao, the capital of the southern island of Mindanao, to catch a plane to Coron via Manilla. Coron is an island situated in the north of the province of Palawan, which is an island group in the south west of the Filipino archipelago. We made all our internal flights with the budget airline of the region Cebu Pacific. The flight attendants of this airline definitely look better than their counterparts of budget carriers in Europe, yet delays with Cebu Pacific seem very common. On every flight they also play a simple game, with which you can win prizes in the form of free merchandise, truly giving you a ‘I- am-on-a-bus-journey-to-Spain’ feel.

Some More Island Travel

Coron has the tiniest of airports I’ve ever landed at and, like with all Cebu flights, one’s luggage arrives super quick, something their European counter parts can take a example from. Coron is another beautiful island with a slightly different landscape, of which the capital with the same name is a rather touristy affair and a sharp contrast with Bukidnon and wider Mindanao.

Embarking on an Expedition

From Coron Town we were to depart on what ended up being one of the highlights of our trip; the five-day boat trip that is the Tao Expedition. Tao means man, human or humanity in one of the Filipino languages and is the name of a business organisation set up by two Australians. These Aussies had the wish to connect travellers and tourists with the local communities of Palawan without turning the experience into a zoo. We sailed for five days along the islands of Palawan from Coron to El Nido, 200 km to the south. Our boat was a traditional vessel predominately made from bamboo and wood, that accommodated our large group of 22 Tao explores. The boat had no sail, as, funnily enough, sail boats don’t seem very common in the region. In Coron Rick, Louis and I were joined by friends and family members to form the Magnificent Seven. These Magnificent Seven consisted of Lara, a Dutch-Filipina friend of Louis and Rick and her boyfriend Jason, who is half Dutch and half Filipino. They both also live in Amsterdam; Melody, who is Lara’s cousin from her father’s side and Filipina- American living in the US; Cherry, Lara’s cousin on her mother’s side, who lives in Singapore and then Louis, Rick and I. The boat crew consisted of men from the region, who had all followed a special course to become a Tao crew member. For them it was a special experience to have so many Filipinos on board, as that doesn’t tend to happen very often. The trip is relatively expensive and one is deprived of luxuries like aircon or even a fan and hot or even running water, something most Filipinos wouldn’t go for. We slept in simple bamboo huts on idyllic islands along the route and washing was done with rain water scooped up from a large barrel. Toilets were bowls without the seats, which were flushed with water also scooped up from a large barrel. Day times were mainly filled with sailing, snorkelling, exploring islands, social interaction and eating. Evening time entertainment consisted of some more eating, socialising and taking massages. At a few of the camps there were masseuses available, who would give you an absolutely fabulous massage for a whole hour for a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe and one’s first massage was even complementary. The food served during our expedition was absolutely amazing and all freshly made from scratch, including a pig they bought to have lechon on the last evening. Tao could easily be marketed as a foodie camping/ boat trip.

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Lower deck of our Tao Vessel

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Where the Tao Food-Magic happened

What is Humanity

After having spent four nights on different islands and having been on the water for five days, during which we’ve seen fantastic sceneries- both above and under water- got to meet new people, had several fabulous massages, absolutely fantastic food and I managed to read a 600-plus-page book, we arrived in the port of El Nido. What I enjoyed most about the trip was the experience of being on water and the relaxed feel that gives. In five days I barely checked the time and as there was no wifi, no one could get lost in their small-screen world. We also got a beautiful insight in how some of the islanders live, without having the idea we were on excursion trying to discover some special human species.  What I did find a challenge was being part of such a large group, as I’m not terribly good at following the herd. I think I managed it very well, which is very much thanks to the Magnificent Seven, who totally let me do my own thing if they wanted to do something else. The rest of the group was lovely, considerably younger and mainly focused on other stuff than whatever some solo-minded Dark Fairy is up to.

I would do the Tao expedition again, if only for the food and I would travel in the other direction; from El Nido to Coron. The organisation has a couple of dozen base camps on the route, so chances are high one would sleep in different base camps if one were to do the trip again. If I were to do the trip again, I’d like to be part of a smaller group that has a wider mix of ages, but I guess, one has no control over that. Unless one books a private tour, which is obviously and option.

For some Tao is a life-changing experience depending on which paradigm they have been living in. If you ask me what I have learnt about humanity on this trip, is that humans are open and kind and want to experience; whether it is new sceneries, meeting new people or enjoying great food.

imagery by Koen F Smit- Amor

Island Travel Filipino style; Bukidnon Chill

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Down the Garden Path; at Louis’ family home in Bukidnon

Stay Playful; Travel

The first stop of my Philippine-trip with my fabulous friends Rick and Louis after Manilla, was the island of Mindanao in the south of the archipelago, where Louis grew up and where his family lives.

Insight into Bukidnon Living

After having landed in Davao, the capital of Mindanao, we were picked up by Louis’ father and his best friend, who would drive us to Bukidnon, the region where Louis spent his childhood and where his family still lives, in the centre of the island. It was a good 3-hour drive to the town of Pangantucan, where the family lives in a small house surrounded by a large garden. Besides beautiful plants and flowers, the garden is home to a fair amount of cocks, hens and pigs. Being in idyllic mountainous surroundings, the cocks made a fair amount of noise especially in the middle of the night and at sunrise. Besides chilling at the family house and going to town, we also went to the family house of Louis’ ‘gay mother’, who, like Rick and Louis, lives in Amsterdam with his Dutch husband. Louis ‘gay mother’, Godwin, is also from Bukidnon and had been in the region for several weeks to deal with family matters after a death in the family. His family house is located an hour away in the town of Don Carlos. Louis is from a humble family with modest means. Godwin’s family, however, have done rather well for themselves in business and their family house is located in a large compound, which includes servants’ accommodations. Louis, Rick and I were very warmly welcomed by Godwin, a few members of his large family and staff, who have been working for the family for many years and are treated like own flesh and blood. Godwin showed us around the compound and around the town, that is to get its own airport in a few years, which is expected to give the area a huge boost. We were also invited to the birthday party of one of Godwin’s older brothers. Rick and especially I drew a lot of attention and we were treated like the guests of honour.

Lechon, Spaghetti and Karaoke

Like in many Asian cultures, life very much revolves around food and Filipino culture is no different in that aspect. At the party there was a large buffet, that included a lechon, which is a whole pig on a spit, traditionally served on festive occasions. The family cook, a lovely lady, took the effort to show me around the buffet and explain every dish to me, assuming I wouldn’t be familiar with the typically Filipino dishes. Spaghetti with tomato sauce is considered a typical birthday dish in the Philippines and has to be included in a birthday buffet. Unlike in Europe, in the Philippines it doesn’t seem the custom to bring presents to a birthday party. You just wear your nicest frock, socialise and eat a lot of food. Like food, karaoke is also terribly popular and a party is not complete without it. Filipinos LOVE taking pictures and as Dark Fairies are a very rare species in the region, I received a lot of picture-taking requests, making me feel like some sort of celebrity. After a lot food, talk and picture taking, I hit the karaoke machine, as singing is good for the soul.

After the party we spent the night at Godwin’s family house and were further entertained the next day until the later afternoon, after which Godwin was so kind to drive us back to Pangantucan, Louis’ town.

Despite the negative travel advice and a significant amount of stares, I had a lovely time in Bukidnon, Mindanao and it’s probably one of the most authentic, ‘off-the-beaten-track’ travel experiences I had so far.

image by Koen F Smit- Amor

Activation of New Dark Fairy Life

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Home in Bukdinon, Mindanao

 

It’s that time of year again when many people in some sort of way celebrate new beginnings. Easter is for Christians the commemoration and celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who they consider to be the son of God. Jews celebrate Pesach as the biblical belief, that the Jewish people had been released from slavery and left Egypt to form their own nation under leadership of Moses in the promised land. For neo-pagans, witches and practitioners of the dark arts, the vernal equinox or Ostara is one of the eight sabbaths of the Wheel of the Year, when one celebrates sexual union, fertility and conception.

New Dark Fairy Adventure

For the Dark Fairy, new life has been in the making for quite a while. I left the corporate prison and the Rock to lead a location-independent lifestyle after having had a delicious sample two years ago during my adventures in South America and I have longed for that lifestyle ever since. My first adventure in this new life consisted of a trip to the Philippines. This trip had been in the pipeline for several years. My dear friend Rick from Lowlands Country, who came to visit me several times during my London days and calls Soho his London home, is married to a Filipino. They have been going on a yearly basis for several years now, telling me that I should join them one day and that day had come.

Leaving on  Jet Plane

We flew to Manilla, the capital of the Philippines, via Doha with Qatar Airways, which was as much of a joy a long haul economy class flight can be and I’m a real fan. Rick had arranged cheap tickets, which meant a long stopover, which is actually not that bad on such a long trip. We arrived in Manilla in the evening going straight to our hotel located near the airport, as we were boarding a plane the next morning to the island of Mindanao. Mindanao is the second largest island of the Philippines archipelago, located in the very south of the country and the island where Rick’s Filipino husband, Louis was raised and where his family lives.

Mindanao: Land of Promise and Conflict

Parts of the island of Mindanao have been suffering from terrorist activities for many years and many countries advise against travel to the island. This was mainly noticeable by the lack of tourists and with our threesome being white, Filipino and black, it seemed like a special circus show had come to town. The island has a significant Muslim minority as the fast majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholic. According to conventional history Mindanao has been inhabited since the Neolithic age starting in 10,000 BC. Between 900 AD and the coming of Islam in 14th century, the island was subjected to significant Hindu and Buddhist influences. After the arrival of Islam, the region formed a large Sultanate, which has resisted Spanish rule until the late 19th century, unlike the rest of what was later to become the island nation of the Philippines. The island group, which had been under Spanish colonial rule from the 16th century until the Spanish- American war of 1898, became an American colony, as Spain’s ‘possessions’ became American after the Iberian country  had lost the war. The people of Mindanao resisted American rule and kept advocating autonomous governance after the Philippines gained ‘independence’ in 1946. The advocacy for a Muslim state independent from the Philippines has led to violent conflicts, which intensified and led to mass population displacement since the turn of the century.

Not much news comes from this region of the world, yet tragic events involving tourists and military and/ or guerrilla action, has led many governments to advise against travel to this region.

With the exception of heightened security around shopping malls, which I have seen in other areas of the Philippines and the lack of tourists as I mentioned previously, the area didn’t seem particularly dangerous to me and people were as kind and laid-back as anywhere else in the country.

image by Koen F Smit- Amor