You thought it was all over, right?
You’re wrong. The Silk Road journey was just the beginning.
It’s the heat that hits you first. Stepping out of the densely air-conditioned supermarket into the street and feeling a blast of hot air hit you like a blow of a hammer: especially in the concrete jungle of Manila. However, the weather could also turn particularly nice and cool in the early evening, after the rain most days.
Talking of Manila, it was a city full of contradictions- the tall skyscrapers were majestic and grand but the slums next to them were dilapidated and poor. But wait, I’m getting off track. Wasn’t the journey over? Why are we continuing? Why the fish are we in the Phillippines??Ah. Good question.
Well, my mum has a very good friend, Sam, who had recently moved from Cambridge, UK, to Manila with her family for work. The kind person she is, she offered to host us in their home for a week. So we booked a flight from Hong Kong to Manila and soon enough, we were there.
The building where they live is amazing, with an outdoor and indoor swimming pool, gym and playground. The flat itself was gigantic and I had plenty of fun playing with Sam’s children, Alexander and Freya.
Indeed, we had so much fun, we decided to stay an extra week. But, of course, the children had school, so I spent my time studying. It was a struggle and I had to admit, it was a relief when 4 o’clock came around and the door opened to Alexander and Freya back from school.
So really, the first two weeks, we didn’t do much, except for one day when we walked to the tube to go to Central Manila and spent half the day wandering around. We had to queue up for the tube entrance, and I was astonished by the massive crowd surrounding us. I wondered whether this was just because it was around Christmas time, but my mum assured me this was an everyday occurrence. Turned out that the tube was not so much of a tube, but more of a bunch of rickety old carriages bundled up together, going along at a speed slower than a car. To make matters worse, we were squashed so tightly against our fellow passengers I could smell their sweat. It was an experience nonetheless and something to bear in mind next time I take the London Underground.
We also took a walk through the old city, Intramuros, former Spanish fort and stronghold. What I found funny was that there was this huge golf course which was specially groomed and trimmed for the customers. I thought it was a bit silly considering it was smack right in the middle of important historic ruins: there was even a sign warning people to watch out for ‘flying golf balls’. Finally, we managed to catch the beach at sunset which was astonishing (even though the water was very smelly and dirty).
In Manila I saw, for the first time, a Jeepney, a common vehicle the Filipinos inherited from the Americans. Londoners may take a bus or a taxi, but Filipinos chose to create an entirely new system – you can hail a small bus (where you have to stoop when you come in, as the roof is very low – you cannot possibly stand inside) if it is not full. You then pass along your money to the driver, who collects it in a little box. What I found impressive though was that people trusted each other to pass along the money without stealing it and that the driver would trust all the passengers to pay.
If the Jeepney ever got full (which it often did) there was still space to stand outside, literally hanging off the roof (see above). Unfortunately even when there was no space inside the Jeepney, my parents still didn’t let me ride outside.😔
Talking of ‘inheriting from the Americans’ I guess I should go into the details of the history.
Buckle up, readers. It’s history lesson!
So the Phillipines had been faring pretty well in the beginning. They had their own civilised society and instead of money, they used a barter system. The country was comprised of a huge bunch of kingdoms, mostly at peace with each other. Interesting fact: according to thorough research, it is believed that the Phillipines has been inhabited before the origins of Homo sapiens. Then Magellano, a Portuguese explorer bankrolled by Spain, came over, he made friends, fought with them, he died a gruesome death. Spain sent some more people and slowly, they managed to take over the Phillipines. They introduced Christianity to the Phillipines but they couldn’t go much further south where Islam was rooted very strongly (to this day, the Philippines is still a Christian nation, the only one in Asia). To sum up after that, Filipinos revolt, U.S.A gets involved, Filipinos win, Americans take over, Filipinos get angry, Filipinos revolt, failure, slowly gaining independence, conquered by Japan during WW2, Filipinos revolt again, Americans help and now they’re finally fully independent in 1946.
What a hell of a ride.
The last weekend with Sam’s family, we stayed in an awesome resort on the island of Mindoro. This is when we realised how popular the Philippines are among divers, especially Asian: we were pretty much the only ones not in a wet suit. I was so eager to go diving, but I didn’t get a chance… yet.
Even though I couldn’t go diving, the resort was my idea of a dream vacation and I was with friends, so the weekend was a bliss. It was situated by the beach, which was stunning too with soft sand and sparkling water. It really broke my heart having to leave and even now I reminisce on the excellent weekend.
We returned to Manila and spent our last day with our hosts before starting the second part of our trip.
We thought we were taking a plane to Bohol, but it ended up landing in Panglao, which was coincidentally our next stop (and literally next to Bohol – the two are connected by a bridge). We had already booked a place in Bohol though so we took a bus to cross into our first intended stop.
As cheesy as it sounds, I was already feeling homesick, not for London, but for Manila. We had had such a great time and it was nice to be reunited with friends after being cooped up with my family 24/7.
To make matters worse, I was uncomfortable in our next reside in Loboc, deep in the forest where the bathroom and shower were outside and also the home of many thriving insects. Our mosquito net around the bed was laden with spiders and bugs and the room didn’t feel very…. roomy. There was also almost no wifi connection which was a disaster on its own.
We rented scooters for the next day. I was used to riding on the back of the scooter by now and I’d already decided that it would be my ideal use of transport in the future. I would like to use electric bikes however, as they are better for the environment. I also made a plan to ride all around America on a motorbike with some friends, inspired by a similar idea my mother had.
With the scooters, we visited a stunning waterfall Pangas Falls, from which we jumped,
and the Chocolate Hills, named so after their bizarre round shape and brown colour in spring.
Our next stop was probably the most anticipated and adorable visit of the country: fUrrIeS (this is for all you Gen Z kids). More specifically: tarsiers. And I promise you, these were eXtrEmeLy cUte, guarenteed to make even the toughest person melt.
I mean, look at the way it’s clinging to the branch as if it’s all it has. Look at the curved ears and its soft hide encompassing all its heat and comfort. You can imagine how tearful I was leaving the Tasier Centre.
Here are some interesting facts about these adorable little mammals, which I learned at the rescue centre:
-they’re the size of a squirrel
-each eye is as big as their brain
-they are nocturnal
-they are arboreal, spend most of their time on trees
-excellent sense of hearing and sight
-they can rotate their head for 180 degrees without moving their bodies
-tarsiers spray urine on the branches to mark their terrority
After such an action-packed day, we returned to the dark, desolated forest and that night, my feeling of uncomfort returned. To my relief that was only our second and last night in the place. I couldn’t get out fast enough.
My dad bargained with a tricycle to take us to our next place, in Panglao. Thus we hopped in, the three of us and the luggage inside the tiny structure, and my mum behind the driver on the motorbike. It was an hour of balancing acts. Despite our moments of doubts, we eventually arrived to the funky Reggae guesthouse, owned by a French couple, where I was much more comfortable staying in (and as a bonus, the wifi was excellent 😉 ).
We rented scooters for a day again and explored Panglao’s beaches. I was in awe because the sand was WHITE which was strangely satisfying after being used to the coarse, rough, yellow sand in Italy. We also visited a water cave, Hinagdanan, where you could swim in, (the water was freezing but still an amazing experience!)
We stopped for lunch by a really nice place, Bohol Bee Farm (I found the title a bit confusing since we were in Panglao😂). It was an ethical project helping bees and locals thus my parents decided to book a room for the next couple of days, which I was elated about. As a bonus, it had a swimming pool, and you got a free ice cream every 1000 pesos you spent at the shop or restaurant.
I was amazed by the vibrant tropical sea life you could observe there, which was absent back in Italy. At Bohol Bee Farm, I spent long hours along with my mother, snorkeling nearby, watching the small fish darting about and the colourful corals and seaweeds waving in the water. There was also a vast amount of humongous sea urchins and being so close to their prickly spines, made my whole body shudder. I watched Surf’s Up enough times to know just how dangerous it could be😵.
We mostly relaxed at the Bee Farm for the next couple of days. This was around the time Marvel finally released the first trailer of Endgame, so my family had to endure at least three hours of me freaking out. Cue eye roll.
Moving on, we took a boat to Argao, Cebu Island, stopping by another great guesthouse, owned by a really friendly American married to a Filipino lady (who was also a wonderful cook).
We took scooters again (it was now our common transport in the Phillipines) to visit some popular sights, including a mesmerising viewpoint at Osmena Peak. We decided to finish off the day by visiting Kawasan Waterfall, a major highlight of the island. We started to park our bikes in the free space but then suddenly people began clamouring over us, telling us we had to park in their lot (which we would have to pay for). Otherwise, “something would happen to our bikes.” In other words, they would go all pyscho on our bikes and slash the tires. Such nice people. Pressured and disgusted by their threats, we decided not to give in to the bullying and we renounced going to the waterfall. It was quite a long and tiring day.
And already onto Cebu City! It felt weird, being back on the road again, moving from city to city. I was getting used to the long stay in Manila so now everything felt so rushed.
Cebu City was our first Airbnb apartment out of what will be many more. It was a studio, the kitchen crammed into the living room which was basically one big bed along with an inflatable bed (which me and my sister slept on). At least the toilet and the shower were separate. Even though it was small, it was a nice place anyway. And it had an Infinity Pool. And WiFi. So I was settled.
Cebu’s main highlight and pretty much the only thing we went out of our way to see was the Magellan Cross. Remember Magellano? The guy who went to a foreign country completely across the world and died horribly fighting with a Filipino tribe? Yeah. That guy. On March 15th, 1521, a cross had been built in honour his arrival. This also marked the birth of Christianity in the Philippines.
Cebu was also where we really started taking Grabs. Thanks to Sam, who had suggested the app, we now had a reliable and cheap (or at least, cheaper than the local taxi) way of transport that could take us to our desired location at the click of a button. No need to bargain. Fair price. (no affiliation😉) It was very useful, especially for my father, who found it annoying and tiring to bargain (also because you never know, they might cheat you *cough* our Kazakhstan scenario *cough*).
Wow. The whole journey through the Phillipines felt so busy and full of action, even though we practically spent two lazy weeks in Manila.
Our next stop was Singapore, but that didn’t mean we were done with the Phillipines yet…