It's impossible to get a good night's sleep in the Philippines. If it's not a rooster waking you up at 4:00am, it's someone blaring 80's/90's american love songs at 6:00am, or a motorcycle in bad need of a new muffler, or a tricycle (that's what they call their form of tuk tuk here) blasting happy hardcore style techno as it putters by your window, or the power going out at 1:00am causing your fan to die so you wake up in a hot sweaty mess. We've started getting into the habit of going to bed around 9:00pm since you can't sleep solidly for more that a few hours at a time, and it's impossible to sleep past 6:00am.
The people here (on average) have a more... American physique... than locals from other countries we've been to... Coming from Vietnam it was especially noticeable because everyone there is SO skinny. It's no real surprise though if you examine the food options here. There's minimal fresh vegetables (and even when you order vegetables, sometimes they come completely enveloped in batter and deep fried), lots of processed foods (instant coffee, fast food chains, creamer powder, pop, gatorade etc.), carbs galore (pasta, rice, white bread) and ample pork fat (I know pigs have other parts, but here they mostly just serve the belly). One day I'm pretty sure I had pork belly twice, a whole BBQ chicken leg, sausages, fries, rice, white toast, 2 instant coffees, 4 beers and a gatorade. After about 5 days in the Philippines, I was developing a healthy muffin top that has now verged on billowing over my waist belt. We've decided to go easy on the pork fat and chicken skin for a few days.
They have light beer here. San Mig Light. It's the only country we've been to that has a local light beer. It's okay, I guess. It's good they have some option to counterbalance the food.
Pawn shops! They're everywhere here. That's all, I just thought it's weird.
Anyway, after a horrible 1:00am flight from Vietnam with a 5 hour layover in Manila we made it to our first destiniation in the Philippines: Coron. Coron is a sea side town with no beaches (you have to do an island hopping tour to get to a beach), sporatic power (one big diesel generator powers the whole town and the power comes and goes at completely random intervals) and has some of the best wreck diving in the world. There are a bunch of sunken Japanese World War II wrecks nearby Coron and you can explore them at anywhere from 10 to 45 metres deep. And boy did we! We thought before arriving that we might just do two days of diving, max, but we ended up doing 5 days and a total of 15 dives. We couldn't get enough. It was so awesome. As I'm writing this now, I'm sad that I'm not still in Coron, diving everyday. On some of the ships we penetrated (that's the term they use) through the rear hole (also known as the propeller shaft) and explored all through the narrow passages inside. Sometimes going through holes not much bigger than ourselves. It was quite challenging and really fun. We had a great Dive Master (technically she's an instructor, but we weren't paying for a class) with us on all our dives, Angy. She was the best, and super fun to dive with. Also, her Nazi impression was especially funny since she's German.
This was before doing a dive in Barracuda Lake. There's no wreck there, but at about 16 metres, the water gets to be about 38-40 degrees celcius. It's like diving in a hot tub. So awesome.
They had a foosball table at the Dive Shop. I schooled the them most games.
If there's one thing that's for sure about Filipinos, it's that they love their Karaoke and they love their sappy love songs. One night we went to Karaoke with some people we met diving and a couple of the Filipino Dive Masters (Ronaldo and Wizard - yeah, that's his name. Wizard. So awesome). It was pretty much non stop slow jams. Afterwards we went to the local disco. Not so many love songs there, but plenty of American dance pop to keep the party going. Too much Tanduay rum that night...
Another day, we rented Motorbikes and Ronaldo took us to some waterfall. On the way there we stopped at a cock fight. Yeah, they do that here. And it's legal. It was crazy. Just before each match (while the trainers parade the cocks around the ring) the betting starts and all hell breaks loose. The guys taking bets (which seemed like half the crowd) would stand up and start shouting out their odds. Anyone interested would flash a hand signal and make eye contact to indicate how much they wanted to wager (you had to be careful not to wave at someone across the room because you might accidentally place a 10,000 peso bet!). Eventually the betting would die down and the the match would begin. It was pretty much over in about a minute, then the betters and bettors just start tossing money around to each other. It all seems to be on the honor system as far as I could tell. None of us placed any bets, but I would have won on the first two if I had.
The cock fight ring.
They also outfit the roosters with these knives tied to their feet for added "excitement".
Renaldo is a funny guy. He has so many stories and they seemed to have to do with brutal car accidents, late night bar stabbings (usually related to prostitutes or karaoke) or deep water diving nightmares. And yet every tale was told with a smile and a laugh which always threw us off since most of the stories ended with him saying "...and this guy, he was dead!"
We did an Island Hopping tour even though I vowed never to do one again after the Phuket fiasco. It was okay. Only 10-15 people on the boat, and it didn't break down or run out of gas.
After Coron we made our way to El Nido. To get there we had to take a 6-10 hour boat ride on the open seas on one of these bamboo outriggers they have here. A year ago one of the boats called the "Jezebel" sunk while trying to battle the waves on it's way to El Nido. Needless to say, we were a bit nervous. It turned out okay though. We had the wind at our backs and made it before sun down. Our boat only almost tipped over twice. Woo hoo!
El Nido is pretty cool. It's a beach town so we were mostly just beach bums while we were there. The power situation is a bit better in El Nido. It shuts off at 6:00am-ish and comes back on at 6:00pm-ish. At least it's predictable and you can count on the fan staying on all night. We did a day of reef diving, but it was boring compared to the wrecks. We saw a couple turtles though which was cool.
Maremegmeg: Probably the best beach we've seen the whole trip, we went there 3 times. The only drawback of the beach is the number of coconuts that fall from the trees providing much needed beach shade. They should probably change the name to "Falling Coconut Death Trap Beach".
Okay this is the LAST sunset picture, I promise. I couldn't resist! Look at it! It looks like a painting!
Anyway, I'm writing this from Puerto Princesa. It's our last stop in the Philippines. Today, we went to this underground river thing they have here. It's one of the "New 7 Wonders of Nature". All in all it was only okay... I guess... Kong Lo Cave was better. Although there were a LOT of bats in this one which was cool.
Because this underground river thing is a protected UNESCO site, you have to get a permit from the government before you go. Getting this permit was a bit of crap shoot. The permit office is the epitome of beaurocracy at it's finest. There's no instructions anywhere, you just have to push your way past everyone else to one of the five tables lined up and hope it's the right one. When you finally get to the right table, they give you a sheet of paper. You fill out the paper. After pondering what to do with the filled out form, you pick one of the five tables again to return it to. When you finally get it to the right person (which happens to be the same person that gave it to you), it goes on the bottom of the stack of forms. This person calls names from the top of the stack. When your name is called, you have to push your way to the front (again) and wedge yourself between all the people crowded around the desk waiting for their names to be called. At this point one of two things happens. Since they only issue a certain number of permits per day they could potentially tell you that you can't go the day you want. Signs posted around the office listed the days they were "officially" full (which was practically every day until May). But according to someone at our guesthouse, if you go down in person, and you're an "international visitor" (white), they will most likely give you a permit. This is what happened to us. 500 pesos and an hour and a half later we were done, and still not quite sure what had just happened.
Anyway, tomorrow we shove off to KL for a few days, then it's back home. We'll be back on March 16th in case you were wondering. I'll proably do a final post just about SE Asia as a whole, so I guess this is my penultimate post. That's right. I used the word "penultimate" in a sentence. Mr. Pentland would be proud. I learned the definition of that word in his class.