Thursday, October 31, 2013

little island paradise

At the northern most tip of Palawan, the western most Philippine island, is the tiny little village of El Nido. Set amongst limestone cliffs and beautiful inlets, it could be considered a sleepy town if it weren't for the influx of tourists.

It's a location so unique to the rest of the country, the bumpy 5-6 hour bus ride to reach it is more than welcomed.  For once you arrive, along with absorbing the laid-back atmosphere, there are multiple island hopping tours offered. And it's the tours that are the main reason for visiting.

The tours are categorized from A-D, the most popular being A and C. Sadly, due to a lack of time with only 3 days in the village and rainy weather, I was only able to choose one.

So I chose the first tour on the list which has been made famous by the latest Bourne movie, the last 10 minutes of which were shot above a small lagoon included in the tour.

To reach the small lagoon, you take a local fisherman's boat on a 30 minute ride which docks on the water near the lagoon. Hopping out of the boat you swim the crystal clear waters through a little archway opening which enters into the limestone cliff encircled lagoon. To call it magical would be an understatement.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Natural (and not so natural) wonders of the Philippines

Tagaytay's Taal Volcano

A volcano, within a larger volcano, which is one of three within an even larger volcano. It's also the second most active volcano within the entire country, and located a mere 55 kilometers away from Manila.

To reach the middle volcano in efforts to see the innermost volcano up close, a 15 minute boat ride is required to cross the lake-filled caldera. Then, upon arrival, you will be placed atop a tiny horse on another 15 minute ride to carry you up to the middle volcano's rim.

The Chocolate Hills of Bohol

Legends have it, giants created the large conical hills. Two of the four legends involve fecal waste.  A third is about two dueling giants flinging mounds of mud at each other.  And finally the last, which I was told, spoke of a giant who loved a mortal. Bereaved at her eventual death, he cried giant tears which dried to form the mounds.

Scientists claim the hills are coral reef deposits that erupted from the sea in a massive explosion.

You tell me, which sounds more plausible?  But... if we were to wager, my bet would be on the dueling giants.

During dry season the hills turn brown while the rest of the island remain lush and green. Thus, it's name.


The animal considered the smallest monkey in the world is not even a monkey at all. They're closer related to the lemur than anything else. The pint sized creature with eyes bigger than its brain are nocturnal. They're so small that unless a designated tarsier watcher is pointing it out to you, you're sure to miss it.

Mangrove Firefly Treehouse

Another wonder in the great island of Bohol is a giant mangrove tree forked between a split river. But it's not the tree that is full of wonder. It's the fireflies that reside in it that do. Millions upon millions of blinking yellow lights fly in and out and around the branches of the tree, making it appear like a natural oddly shaped Christmas tree. Or, if you stare at it long enough, like the Twilight Zone.  If only a camera could truly capture it...

The Underground River in Palawan

A part of the 7 Wonders of Nature, the underground river is a hot spot tourist destination on the isle of Palawan. The river flows into a cave. If happened upon by chance, the entire thing would be a wonder. As a Disney-esq tour, the river isn't entirely impressive.

Asia's Longest Continual Zip-line

At 840 meters long, or 1.3 kilometers, Mindanao is able to boast ownership of Asia's longest zip-line. Soaring through the sky on a cable that long is as exhilarating as it is terrifying.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

friendly filipinos

As an unbiased American with no ties what-so-ever to Filipinos, aside from being the aunt of one of the cutest half-filipino kids in existence, the people are some of the warmest and friendliest I've met.

the nephew

After spending a few days exploring Manila and its surroundings with friends, they invited me to the island of Mindanao for a road trip / family reunion. I was warmly welcomed into homes, given packages of treats for my continued journey, offered item after item of food, treated to free accommodations and activities.

One contact after another was called to welcome me onto the next island and tour me around. Not a single one knew of me a few days prior to my arrival, but took the time out of their day to make sure I was well taken care of.

So to all the Filipinos out there: I salute you.

Dinner with friends

quick Manila tours

family reunion dinner: lechon, a filipino pig-picking
family reunion breakfast
final family breakfast

final goodbye
farewell fruit at the Mindanao airport

Monday, October 21, 2013

"You're still young. I have eaten more rice than you."

A few interesting tidbits of the Philippine islands:

1.  Upon entering a new provence in Mindanao (the southern most large island) we came to a quarantine stop. A sign read "Help keep the Philippines Bird Flu free".  We pulled into an area resembling a gas station without the tanks, a few shops along the side. We were all required to get out of the van we were driving in and step across the 'disinfectant area'. It was a muddy looking rug. We walked across it and back to the car on the previously stepped on, with our infected shoes, ground.  Whether or not the quarantine stop helped is anyones guess.

2. Filipinos have no qualms in asking your age. It's generally a question that comes immediately after asking your name. But they're also quick to tell you you're beautiful, in total sincerity, with no want in return.

3. The Philippines is one of the few 3rd World Countries I've been to where children don't beg. They say "hello" and that is enough to please them. Granted, many children are just as poor as the other countries in which children beg.

4. Basketball is the pastime of choice, which they play barefoot or with flip-flops on. Another conversation starter they'll use on their newly American friends is "do you watch the NBA?" and "which is your favorite team?". 

5. There are many highly effeminate men. And many of those are transgendered. 

6. The country is overrun with South Koreans - visiting, learning English, playing golf, etc.

7. Most of the 7000+ islands are strongly Christian. Churches are everywhere. Prayers are said before ferries leave ports on their journey to a neighboring island.  While in Baguio City, a few hours north of Manila, I wandered through a mall. On the first floor, located near an open veranda, an international school was setting up for a music concert. I sat down as they were finalizing their preparations. Just as the wind instrument players sat down to perform, the skies opened and water poured down upon them. They all ran for cover where the audience was seated while a few ran to push a standing piano into the mall. Their 6pm performance was in the midst of being rained out.  The teenaged DJ of the night grabbed the mic and apologized for the delay.  "We can't control the rain," he said, "but there is something we can do. Do you know what it is? What we can do?" In unison, the entire audience around me shouted "PRAY!"

Friday, October 18, 2013

local hangout

Flying into Manila, I had a driver waiting to drop me off at the hotel my friends were staying in. They whisked me into the room to drop off my luggage and freshen up. Then we were off, to the hottest spot in all the city: the mall.

Malls are a big thing in the Philippines. They say it's a refuge from the heat. But whatever it is, it's love. In every city, on every island, the locals urge you to go to the mall. Because theirs is the best, they'll explain.

Entering the Mall of Asia, proclaimed the largest in all the continent (although I've seen seemingly greater), our bags were checked. Every entrance of every mall is the same. Though they're not the most diligent of security checkers. Some entrances also have added metal detectors.

The security is due to terrorist threats, I was informed. What better location to target a large number of people than a location where a large number of people enjoy spending their time.

A few short days later, a mall we were supposed to be housed near in Mindanao was targeted. Nine people died. The terrorists were angry with a former political leader who was reportedly near the mall and wanted him dead.

Political leaders are heavy targets in the country. Those who run for office do so for the wealth a local whispered to me, as his family is connected with politics. But it comes with a fatal risk to the individual running and their family.

Call me a risk taker though, since I ended up frequenting the mall in every city I entered. Thankfully I'm far removed from all things political. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

final farewells

I knew I would be leaving Europe. As soon as I knew I'd get a leave package from work, it was in the plans. But when it came time to press the purchase button for my flight to the Philippines, my fingers wouldn't move. I sat at the table in front of my laptop for a few minutes, my heart sinking to my stomach.

I'd be leaving Europe, with no projected date to return. And when I would return, would it only be as a tourist instead of a resident? As exciting as the prospects of continued world travel was, leaving Europe gave finality to a life no longer led in Amsterdam.

But my finger finally fell heavy. The ticket was purchased. And I then left the continent that felt like home.


amsterdam, netherlands

gruyere, switzerland

zaanse schans, netherlands

rome, italy

venice, italy

rothenburg ob der tauber, Germane

amsterdam, netherlands

santorini, greece

lisbon, portugal

gent, belgium

flam, norway


neuschwanstein, germany

krakow, poland

london, england

edinburgh, scotland

madeira, portugal

stonehenge, england

paris, france

split, croatia

paris, france

stockholm, sweden

tallinn, estonia

budapest, hungary

mostar, bosnia

lake bled, slovenia