Phillipines: Hello Friend Again

Let this completely out of context and somewhat bizzare picture start off this insane adventure of our return to the Phillipines:


If you thought our first journey in the Phillipines was adventurous, you should stop everything you’re doing and read this. Because it’s a freaking rollercoaster ride.

Let’s start off from the beginning.

We took a plane from Brunei to Manila before taking another plane, domestic, to Dumaguete, Negros Island. The main reason we returned to the Phillipines was because we had heard of a shaman there, who could supposedly ‘heal’ Malena from her fatigue (my sister had started behaving bizzarely during the last few months of our journey).

But the crazy stuff already happened before we even started! Our international flight arrived in the middle of the night, to an airport buzzing with life like if it was in the middle of the day. We were meant to connect to a domestic flight after an hour but soon found out the plane was delayed! We ended up sleeping there, spreading on the airport plastic chairs, shivering under an invisible blanket of cold air, the air conditioner blasting at full power. It felt like forever when it must had only been two hours. Eventually we got on the plane but the temperature was just as freezing in it as well.

In Dumaguete, we got picked up by the owner of our guesthouse which was a little group of houses around a garden, sometimes guarded by a duo of turkeys.

What are you looking at?

Dumaguete, in general, felt like a relaxing quiet city, pleasant to walk around and full of young people. It is a university town, actually home to the first American university in not only the Phillipines but the whole of Asia.

The shaman was a quiet, religious man, and he set up a schedule for my sister: she had to wear a small flask around her neck for 3 weeks, get sprayed by water from a special bottle twice a day and there was specific food she couldn’t eat.

That didn’t stop us from sightseeing. We rented scooters and visited two waterfalls: Pulangbato and Cosaroro.

The first one was really wonderful surrounded by little cold pools of water.

Water falls

The next waterfall took some time to reach. It was about a half hour drive away from the first and we had to walk up the river. This meant going on top of dodgy rocks, a slip away into the rapid waters. Several times, we almost fell in. Once, my dad dropped our shoes but luckily immediately picked them up before they got washed away.

This waterfall blew me away. Almost literally, (but not quite, that would have been a disaster XD) and it made me reconsider calling our previous one “majestic”. It did kind of lighten the mood after the exhausting trip, but on the way back, my sister fell in the freezing water and things were moody again. Welp.

After a few days at the guesthouse, we moved to a hotel closer to the shaman’s place. This resort was amazing! It was a fancy group of bungalows, right by the sea. The rooms were spacious and there was a swimming pool. We were staying here for about a week so it was the perfect time to go diving.

And diving we went. I was so excited I finally got the chance, even if it meant a full three day dedication to it. It wasn’t fit out for my dad or sister so only my mum and I did the course.

The first day, we watched some films on diving and took a theory test. We both passed with flying colors and got on to the next phase – practising in the pool. The pool was only about five feet deep but I could already feel my ears popping. Wearing the diving suit felt weird but it was an exciting process. What was especially surreal was having to breathe through only the mouth and block the nose. It took me a while to get the hang of it, so for the first few times, I kept creating bubbles from breathing through the nose 😂.

We took a test again the next day but this time diving in the open. We only went 20 feet here and even after equalising (the act of balancing the pressure in your ears), my ears were still ringing! It was really fun, even though we didn’t see anything as we were only practicing diving skills. Unfortunately that day I also started feeling sick. I rested as much as I could but the next day, I was still quite ill.

I’d come this far. I couldn’t go back now. So, I summoned all my strength and did the last mandatory open water dive. We got to see a bit more colourful sea life this time – including a school of fish shaping up interactively with us, but, I have to say, it still didn’t match the colourful sights I had often seen on TV. Moreover, it wasn’t particularly good weather and the waves were quite choppy. We had to hold out for a bit longer on the boat (at some point, I felt like throwing up) but I managed (even though my mum didn’t… She vomited over the side).

And then that was it! We had officially passed the course and were now divers! If no one believes us, well, we have our PADI (diving licence) in hand🤪😉.

And thus ended our stay in Dumaguete. Adventure was calling though, so we moved on. Our next guesthouse was a little dwelling on the highway by the beach in Negros Occidental, owned by an American and guarded by a huge aggressive dog.

We mostly spent our time in Sipalay, not far off from there. We rented a tricycle (it was a cool one actually, one that blasted music from speakers) and the driver took us around, going to a few beaches. We also walked to a small island, which linked through a very short bridge to another island. We climbed to the top from where there was an incredible view of the sea: small hills, a bit like the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, sprouted up everywhere from the water. The island itself, though, felt empty and isolated, with a forgotten hotel encompassing a void swimming pool.

We managed to return just in time to catch the beach by our guesthouse at sunset and was it beautiful…

While walking on the beach, we passed a friendly Filipino family who owned cocks and they treated us to a dramatic cockfight. It was somehow fascinating to watch the two birds go at each other, their wings flapping as they screeched and swiped their claws.

We stayed a few nights in Sipalay before moving on. The American helped us wave down a passing bus on the highway to our next destination: Bacalod. As we walked on a street there one night, my father commented that the city felt like some dystopian abandoned zombie apocalypse story setting. And to tell the truth it did give off an empty dark vibe. But it was like a werewolf – it only came out at night while during the day, it had a pleasant feel. The main attraction in the area was the nearby city of Silay, where one could find well preserved ancestral houses: they were grand and very posh, oozing Spanish character and colonial influence, definitely not my taste of housing.

Our next stop was Iloilo City, Panay Islands. We arrived at our accommodation, a majestic old heritage house, but there was no one there and the gates were locked. After waiting for half an hour and after a few panicked phone calls from our side, the staff came over and let us in.

We only had one day, and of all the attractions, my mum insisted to go to Molo Church, St Anne, nicknamed the feminist church because all the saints represented in the church are women. Nearby is a square surrounded by Greek goddesses, to the delight of my sister. She is really into Percy Jackson at the moment.

Well, a visit to each country isn’t complete without, at some point, going off the grid. Our next stop was the Gigantes Islands, which, contrary to what their name seems to suggest, are a cluster of small and scarcely inhabited islands, just a few miles off the cost of Panay island.

We arrived at the port several hours too early for the ferry.  Normally it wouldn’t have been a big deal, as we were in no rush, however, that same day, a big festival was on and many massive speakers were pounding on at a deafening volume just by the waiting area. Cue three hours of us wincing and trying to muffle the noise. I was the lucky one – I had my hearing aids off. I can’t imagine how the rest of my family coped – even I had a throbbing headache at the end. I also don’t understand how the locals stood it – they were walking around casually as if their ears weren’t just being attacked by a tsunami of music.

Once on the island we reached our accomodation on the back of four Enduros, dodging through the narrow muddy roads, my mum and sister clinging on to their backpacks and driver for dear life.

Our accomodation in Gigantes was really basic. It was a small room with two tight beds and a bathroom that consisted of a toilet with a big bucket of water to be used both to flush and shower. At least it wasn’t surrounded by leeches…

Even our food was basic. For all meals, including breakfast, our host served us local food: dry fish, freshly caught scallops and crabs. It was surprising how good it actually was.

Most of the time, I was then lying outside the guesthouse, on the hammock reading my kindle, occasionally sleeping and eating at the appropriate times. Eat. Relax. Sleep. This is the new generation.

But that didn’t account for all the time. We also walked all the way through the heart of the island to the lighthouse at its end. The historical building was hosting a school drawing competition aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of hookah diving. This is a cheaper and simpler way of diving: the diver uses a tube connected to an air compressor which is manned by a person in the boat. It is incredibly dangerous as there are many risks to take into account: the tube could break, the air compressor could be at fault, the boatman could make a mistake, the divers themselves might have a malaise and surface too fast etc. As scallop harvesting is the main sustenance of the island’s economy, and diving equipment is expensive, most islanders still feel they have no choice but to practice hookah diving to put food on their table. It is a depressing reality.

One day we hired a fisherman boat (by the way did I ever mention Filipino boats have the most curious shape? They look like giant Jesus bugs) and went island hopping. We passed by many incredible sights, including an island filled with cairns which held a great bird eye’s view at the top.

Wait, two days without any cell service? Yup, we had to get out of there *wink* so we moved on. Behold, the city of fish, Roxas!

The only big attraction here, apart the food, was a huge statue of Jesus. It was initially planned to have hands out open, to welcome people but after complications in building it, it was changed to hands upright, which looks as if Jesus is surrendering. This, combined with signs, dotted throughout the field, that said “no dating here”, made for what we thought an hilarious sight.

… okay 🙁

Finally, we couldn’t leave the Phillipines before visiting its hotspot: Boracay Islands! It’s the most famous island of the Phillipines and is absolutely crowded with tourists. I spotted at least 50 divers milling all together in the water.

A victim of its own success, Boracay Islands had just been closed to the public for 6 months to decrease the concentration of sewage into the sea. So you needed proof of lodging if you wanted to visit the island. It was still incredibly busy so I can’t imagine what it was like before.

The sight of many sailing boats out in the open immediately caught my mum’s attention. As soon as I saw her determined look to go sailing at last, I ducked into the shadows. I had a more intent desire to try jet-ski or parasailing. Indeed, I spotted many parachutes floating past the horizon. My parents didn’t think much of the immense crowd of tourists, but I felt delighted – this is my type of entertainment, even more so surrounded by fellow foreigners.

Boracay was the perfect place to go diving – as all the islands in the Philippines for that matter – but I was still so reeled from the last experience that I passed on the opportunity.

Instead, we relaxed: swam a bit in the transparent turquoise sea, walked across the powder white beach and took thousands of pictures, especially at sunset.

This was also where my mum changed her style, braiding her hair all shades of blue. It took four women three hours but it was so worth it 😎.

It was an incredibly beautiful and relaxing island so I was sad to leave. Had it been up to me, I would have skipped next destination and stayed longer but once in Malumpati Spring, I regretted having that thought 😂.

The cold spring of Malumpati was another amazing place indeed. The spring pool is filled by really, really freezing water which cimed out from somewhere at its bottom. It’s so deep that not even divers could venture all the way down, so to this day, we still don’t know what exactly is down there and how deep exactly it is.

I immediately took possession of the very high springboard.

Dang, that does like pretty high

I was quite impressed with my own bravura till a big group of local teenagers took the stage, flipping in all sort of form and shape and, once they climbed and jumped from a very tall tree nearby, it was clear I was surpassed 😔😂.

The spring resort also had tyre tubes on offer which we could take and float around in, just embracing the beautiful setting. The rest of my family though, unable to cope with the cool temperature of the water, could not enjoy such activities and soon left for the accommodation. The spring was bustling with people, however, thus it wasn’t long before I made friends with some locals.

Lunch atop a Skyscraper… Well, almost

My family did join me in doing something else though: paddling down the spring on a float. At the end of the stream we were treated with a surprise: the staff jumped off the springboard, right in the middle of the floating circle we had formed, landing, with a big splash, scarily close to us. It was fun.

Wait! We’re not over yet! Our final stop before flying out was Kalibo. We stayed in an old heritage home furnished with some original pieces. There were a couple of big chairs with incredibly long armrests. It turns out this was so that you could put your legs on top in order to relax, genius. Apparently a similar version was used for women to give birth.

As we had a couple of days, we went sightseeing, starting with Bakhawan Ecopark: a reforestation project on the seaside. This venture was started in response to the floods and storms that plagued the city. Creating a forest of mangroves proved a very successful way of preventing shore erosion while also sheltering the city from natural disasters. Mangroves were the perfect tool as these trees are unique on thriving in sea water.

Bakhawan Ecopark was a stilted passageway snaking through trees and bushes for 1.1km. About two thirds in, there was a little cafe selling woodworms!

As disgusting as they looked, I was determined to try them and to be honest they tasted all right. Woodworms reside in dead logs, rotten by seawater, but as soon as they’re exposed to the outside, they die. First, the shopkeeper cut the log in half, took the worms out, cut their heads and tails, cleaned out their excrements (oops, I hope you weren’t having your lunch) before seasoning them and then we chucked the slimy little animals into our mouths. If you’re curious, check out this website which put it in a very…. uh interesting way😅:

Remember in my first Filipino’s post how I complained about not getting to ride in the back of a Jeepney? Well, at least I got to ride on the back of a tricycle. Another common local vehicle, it is composed of a motorbike (sometimes even a bicycle) attached to a cart. If it’s too small, there is space to ride in the back, which was exactly the case, the time we went to visit Kalibo’s massive church bell. It was fun. Next step is to convince my parents to get one when we settle down 🤪🤧.

As for the church bell, it was a strange experience. We were guided by a man who was very wary of us: the gate to the stairs leading up was locked and as we entered, he locked behind after us, led us up the stairs, looking behind every few seconds, making sure we were following closely behind and once at the top, he was watching us like an eagle, which made taking pictures incredibly awkward. The bell itself is considered an important attraction in the area as at 10,400 kilograms and 7 feet in diameter, is very big indeed: the four of us could fit underneath.

And that’s it folks. We cruised all over the Phillipines. Actually still plenty of islands to see but, after a total of almost two months (counting the first adventure) and already a lot of crazy stories to tell, it felt that way.

We were sad leaving the beautiful country, especially because the locals are extremely warm and friendly (ah, plenty of them at least😂). Most times, when they saw us passing, they, would yell out “Hello Friend!” slowing down if they were driving.

And thus the crazy adventure ends. You may now return to your business.