Umbrellas are deadly weapons.

Day 51, Friday 24 Feb 2012, Cebu – Bangkok

Last day in the Philippines today, shame to have spent it in Cebu, I would much rather have my final taste of the place on one of the dive islands – but it is too risky to rely on getting from anywhere to the airport in time for the flight to Manila and then on to Bangkok. I have mostly enjoyed the Philippines, I have done some great things here and met some good people. The poverty in parts did get me, but that was possibly more because I was on my own and it was more in my face. I will have to get used to it as it is no better than in many other places I am going to visit soon.

I had breakfast with Mike in the hotel and we booked some accommodation in Bangkok,  hoping they get the message in time as we probably wont arrive there until close to 2.00 AM and most places lock up at midnight – well the quieter ones that I am attracted to anyway.

After breakfast I spent some fruitless time on the slow internet in my room trying to do some emails as I have a big backlog to reply too – sorry 🙂 and doing my weekly data backups to usb drives etc.

The hotel was covered in icons, awesome.I checked out at 12.00 and spent a couple of hours in the hotel cafe using the internet and planning a loose route for the next month before Mike  I caught a cab to Cebu airport for the first of the days two flights, firstly to Manila and then on to Bangkok in Thailand.  The blind boys of Cebu were playing in the airport, they got all my change.

Airport check in went OK but as we were going through security to the departure lounge and had our bags x-rayed and we were told we were not allowed to take umbrellas on the plane. I said “What ! my umbrella is 6 inches long” I was told it was Cebu airport policy. I got my umbrella out and threw it on the desk and got told off for being grumpy, I said that this was my 10th flight in 2 months and I had never had an issue with my umbrella – I walked off and had a coffee… Very annoying ! My mum bought me that travelling umbrella and it was really useful in those sudden downpours.

Loved the guitar centre in Cebu airport, Auckland – you are missing out by not having one !

The flight to Manila was pretty smooth and we landed on time, just on sunset.

One of the key features of Cebu Pacific Air is the ‘fun’ time in the middle of the flight, where the crew host a group activity, often this is some people – either the crew or volunteers, singing a song until someone guesses the title. It was amusing, and on this flight we had a woman who could actually sing !

We had a three hour wait at Manila airport so occupied a corner couch in an Italian cafe and used their, mostly hopeless but free, wifi. Just before the flight to Bangkok I managed to knock an almost full glass of red wine over my shorts, ran round in a panic trying to find a new pair in the airport shops, but nothing really fitted or appealed – I need a new pair of boardies as mine now have a hole in them. By the time I had found there was nothing to buy the wine had dried and wasn’t too obvious so I just rolled with it. The flight was delayed anyway…

Not a bad flight, a bit bumpy and a bit squashed for three or so hours. I couldn’t sleep even though it was 1:30 am when we arrived in Bangkok. Immigration was all straightforward, though long queues but our bags were there so we grabbed a cab and headed for our hostel – HI Sukhumvit, and hoped they stayed up to let us in !

Sukhumvit is a road in Bangkok, that has an area named after it, our hostel is on one of the many small side streets, and our cabbie really had no idea… The main drag was very busy, traffic jam at 2.00 am ! you first hit the street at the western end and for me it was an OMG moment – and not in a good way. We passed girly bars, street bars and scores of older men with young Thai girls at the street bars. It was all my Bangkok nightmares come true, and I was really thinking if this is what Bangkok is like I am gone tomorrow! Fortunately, that is only one end of the street and a few kms down the road (after a miss turn or two) we found our nice YHA hostel in a very quiet residential street, and they let us in at 2.30 am as well….

We had a three person room booked as there was no two’s left but it is still cost effective has aircon and the wifi works ! it also proved to be very quiet too !

Ah, bed – but little sleep.

Time to step away from post rock today, had a wee bit of a noisefest session late this afternoon when Mike went out for some food as I was meeting an old friend for dinner. I am writing this post tomorrow, is that confusing ?

God bows to math are an Auckland noise rock band (named after a song from the brilliant old school punk/alt rock American band The Minutemen). They release their first album at the end of 2011 and it is pretty damn good – if you like noisy guitars and yelling – which I do…  Slow decline

Diving over – back to semi-reality

Day 50, Thursday 23 Feb 2012, Malapascua and back to Cebu

Last morning in Malapascua, shame to leave as it is a nice place, could have done with a few more English speakers for it to have been great. I was surprised at how little I spent considering I stayed in  a resort, did seven dives and my advanced open water certificate. After a final breakfast I packed up my stuff and went down to the beach to find a boat back to Maya.

I didn’t have to work too hard on the boat and was soon being made offers for a ride, but was only interested in a shared boat at under one tenth of the price of a private boat.  I got on board one and spent a good thirty minutes waiting for more passengers as they only leave when close to full. Three Poles arrived and we were chatting away when 2 (I think, they were defiantly tourists) Filipino’s arrived with two motorcycles… This was going to get interesting…..

These guys are obviously used to moving large and heavy objects off the bangka boats as both bikes made it on board with no dramas.

Had a good ride back over to Maya and when we arrived the tide was out so we call had to move to a large dingy to get to the wharf (of course for a few more pesos). I was really interested as to how they were going to move the bikes….

But again no dramas!

The Polish trio and I agreed to share a private car back to Cebu, significantly quicker than the bus and with the four of us it was only a couple of dollars more and we got dropped at our hotels. They have pretty much convinced me to visit them in Warsaw in June when the football European Cup is on, so I am likely to take them up on the offer, if I have any money left by the time I get to Europe. I have pretty much been convinced to go dive the Red Sea on the way over as well…

The road to Cebu

Back to the Mayflower Inn again, different room with lousy internet this time. Caught up with Canadian Mike, who I met on Malapascua, at the hotel and we are going to travel together for a few days and see how it goes, we are on the same flights from here tomorrow afternoon to Manila and then Bangkok. It will be great to travel with someone again!

We spent a couple of hours discussing travel options and trying to find some last minute accommodation in Bangkok for 4 days. We arrive at midnight Friday so will stay the weekend and then try and get Myanmar visas on Monday morning. Plan from there is to go to Angkor Wat for 5-6 days and then on to Myanmar for 2-3 weeks.

Had dinner at a local bar, food was OK but it was thick with cigarette smoke and just too unpleasant to stay in. So back to the hotel and a night in front of the TV and my first shave in nine days – that took some time !

If you have been reading my blog for the last couple of days you will have read that I am a big fan of instrumental post-rock music, today’s post will be the last post rock one for a while, don’t want to over  do it 🙂

Sora Shima were (I am calling them split up, though an album is coming) are from Hamilton, New Zealand and I have seen them quite a few times, and photographed them more than any other recent band. This track “tornado versus trailer park” is probably my favourite post rock track and this video was shot at the last gig I attended at the Kings Arms Tavern in Auckland, a great venue but lousy for photographers. I was standing next to the videographer and those early flashes were me, though I hate using flash at gigs!

Wall dives and sunsets

Day 58, Wednesday 22 Feb 2012, Malapascua

I will start this post with a minutes silence to remember the earthquake in Christchurch a year ago today. I have a few good friends there and thankfully none were amongst those that died or were injured. Though, all my friends were impacted by the event in a real way, through loss of job, damage to property or serious injury to a close friend. Christchurch – today our thoughts are with you.

It was nice to not have such an early start today, considering the large rum I had just before bed and the very early start I had lousy sleep last night, really hoping this is not a return to normal as I have been enjoying some good sleep.

Breakfast at a leisurely 7.30 and then meandered up to the diver shop for the 8.45 dive briefing, I have not worn shoes or sandals or even jandals for three days it has been great to just be barefoot on the sand!  There were thirteen of us on the boat but my group was a dive instructor, a trainee instructor and one other diver (he had 12 years diving) which really put me in the junior diver position – as well as the oldest diver… That I was the junior became quite obvious as the day went on!

Kids on their way to school as the dive boat is loaded – it must be so much better than walking to Green Bay Primary!

The first dive was about an hour and a half away by boat and from yesterday I learnt to bring some entertainment and secure myself a decent spot on the boat – so once on board I plugged my ears into some sounds and lay down for some faux sleeping.

The dive site at Nunez Shoal is an underwater atoll with a shear wall drop to 220 metres. The current was quite strong as we dropped into the water but the visibility was amazing. We cruised across the atoll and the lead dive master gave the sign to drop as we hit the wall drop and stared into big blue. If you have never gazed into the blue depths off the edge of a reef and looked down into the blue fading into black (I am sure there is a song title there somewhere) you will not understand how awesome it is !

We dropped down the wall to the maximum allowable depth of thirty metres and then just let the current move us along the wall for a while. There was not a HUGE amount of life on the reef, though plenty of things to look at, with some great coral, and lots of things below in the dark…. We slowly drifted up towards the top of the atoll and spotted a good array of nudi branches, moral eels and all the usual tropical fish suspects and all too soon it was over as my tank ran low. Being a noobie to the diving, and deep diving especially I suck air a lot faster than the pro’s, the instructor used half as much air as me, as we talked about the dive he commented on the amount of effort I put into fighting the current ! He also uses the same rig everyday – and for renters it takes a while to get used to even the smallest change in gear.

It was a good dive, stunning visibility  – wished I had the same on the shark dive yesterday!

From Nunez Shoal we motored over to Calangaman Island where we stopped for lunch – and a few photies.

A new definition of outside

The dive on Calangaman was similar to Nunez shoals in that we dropped onto a flat bed around 8-10 metres and then over the edge and down a wall to around 30 metres, though there was far less current on this dive.

This dive was pretty crap ! Someone used my rig from the last dive so I ended up with a tank with less air than I would have liked, given I suck more than others, this was not good. I started with 190bar rather than 220 that was in MY tank. I have also been using a fairly crap weight belt for the past three days and when I hit the water from our “giant stride” entry, the belt came off,  I managed to grab it but a 2kg weight came off and, well dropped like a 2kg weight. I got another couple of weights from the boat and guides but they were placed in the pockets of my BCD (buoyancy compensator) and I was out of whack for the whole dive, I really struggled to get buoyancy sorted and was up and down all over the show, which resulted in fast air consumption and a rough dive. This was a shame as the wall was amazing! Again – great visibility, even at 30 metres, we saw a huge tuna and swam in the biggest school of fish I have ever been in as well as the most beautiful soft coral forest. It  was such a shame to cut it short and surface 😦

The weather really packed in on the hour and a half ride back to Malapascua, with a massive downpour of rain – though no wind ! so the sea was flat calm and the rain drops on the surface looked fabulous – and not captured here at all.  it goes to show how fast the weather can change, from baking sun shine to heavy rain in an hour.

Soon after the rain stopped we were blessed with a visit by the local dolphin pod ! fantastic, we were all whooping and cheering as the dolphins frolicked –  slightly out of useful camera range !

The once deserted deck became popular again.

Finally getting back to the island for sunset.

All up my seven dives and advanced open water cert cost me about $480 NZD ! I loved diving here, and the sleeping shark was my personal highlight even though the thresher shark dive is the big one and the reason I came here in the first place.

After a good dinner in the resort and a couple of very cheap – and alcoholic cocktails I went back to my room to blog.

Tonight’s musical treat is from the last of the big three post rock bands, Texans – Explosions in the sky. I had the privilege of seeing them live just before I left New Zealand, and was blown away by their show.  I have listened to these guys for a while now and have used them for photographic inspiration a number of times, in fact a few of my old images – back when I bothered to name them, used titles stolen from EITS songs, as they have the most wonderful song titles. I guess being lyric-less the title of the song helps to invoke the image you want the music to portray.

I have been a big post rock fan for a while now, probably the genre I listen to most these days.  Oh, how tastes change, all those years of listening to punk rock and fuzzy pop and sneering at the idea of ten minute instrumental tracks, and here I am relishing a new fifteen minute opus…

Not my favourite track of theirs, but the most appropriate – six days at the bottom of the ocean

Sharks !!!

Day 57, Tuesday 21 Feb 2012, Malapascua

Today was 2102 2012 – If I had been home in New Zealand, this would have been a photography day, one of those cool dates that need to be documented somehow. But anyway, I did something way better!

Up at 4.00 AM, coffee, stagger about and then walk to the dive shop along the dark sand hoping that stingy, bitey “things” were not under my shoeless feet !

This morning was the deep dive that is one of the two compulsory dives for the advanced open water certificate I started yesterday (the other is the navigation dive). Co-incidentally the most famous dive at Malapascua, and the main reason people come here is at Monad Shoal, where you get to see thresher sharks and this is a deep dive so perfect for training.

The boat ride to Monad takes about an hour and a half and we got to watch the sunrise on the way out, I took a couple of photos but they were crap. The thresher sharks live way down in the deep and the reef off of Monad is one of the places they call home. Early in the morning they rise up to the shallows to be cleaned by cleaner wrasse, a small fish that, well cleans !  Contrary to David Attenborough’s (apparent) opinion thresher sharks also jump out of the water to clean themselves and I was fortunate to witness this twice, albeit at a distance, but seeing a shark (especially a thresher with its massive tail) jump is pretty cool!

The dive itself was tough, there was a strong current and this was my first time to 30 metres and I did get a bit of mask squeeze, though I was able to release it by loosening the strap – I found out later how to do it properly by blowing through the nose, which is pretty damn obvious. We also had to do a few of the exercises for the PADI deep dive certification. however, the reason we were here was to see sharks and we were not disappointed!

Visibility was a bit crap but we clearly saw 5-6 threshers, 1 quite closely and a couple did a circuit around our spot on the bottom. It was very cool, they are magnificent creatures, with the massive tail. All too soon our time was up and we headed for the surface. I could have stayed a lot longer !

After the thresher dive it was back to the main island for a couple of hours where I grabbed breakfast and a couple of provisions and was back to the shop for 8.45 (yes it was still early) and we headed out for the second dive of the day at the wreck of the Dona Marylin. A wreck dive was also part of my course and something I was very keen to do. The Marylin went down in a typhoon twenty or so years ago with the loss of about thirty lives, so is not the most popular dives amongst the local dive masters. Again visibility was pretty low at five or so metres, but the dive was great, we did not go into the vessel –  that requires a whole bunch of training – which I can really understand, but enjoyed the dive immensely – there is a lot to see on a wreck, so many recognisable things, like chains and wheels all covered in shells and small corals.

After lunch we dived Gato Island. Again crap visibility, unusual apparently for the site. As part of this dive I did the navigation test, along with a Finnish guy who was more unco in the water than me ! Me, looking rather feral and in need of a shave!

Gato Island –  it has a cave you can dive through, but need more experience to do it.

This reef dive has a number of white tip reef sharks and we saw the first almost as soon as we hit the water, for some reason I was completely at ease with the concept of diving with sharks, these are totally different to the threshers, who were only visiting the shoals for a clean, the reef sharks live (and feed) on the reef. But completely ignore us, we are way too big to eat.

Jules, our dive master was trying to get us to look into a cave when she had to back out as divers were coming the other way, as I backed out I put my hand on a  large sea urchin and got a couple of splinters in my fingers, not poisonous (I hope, and yes I checked) but painful at the time! We negotiated our way around to the other side of the cave and Jules beckoned me in and there was a 2.5 metre reef shark lying asleep on the bottom of the cave, with a smaller shark next to him. We stayed and watched, me in complete awe, for a couple of minutes – it was just AMAZING. Highlight of the day ! all the other sights, the navigation test, the moral eels, the lion fish  – everything paled into comparison to the site of a shark sleeping – stunning !

After the dive and the boat back to Malapascua, I had a great pizza dinner on the beach with the Canuks, Mike and Matt, a couple of beers and went to bed – a happy man ! Thresher Sharks and a sleeping reef shark, who could want more from a day.

Sharks – one more fear conquered !

I also talked to an English couple at the bar who have dived for years and everywhere and they said Mozambique is THE place to go…

Staying on the post rock theme, Scotland’s Mogwai are another of the big guns and one of the older groups, forming in 1995 and still gigging.  The majority of their tracks are instrumental, though they do some great vocal tracks, including a stunningly good cover of Guns and Roses, “don’t you cry” – only on a John Peel session and 1 of my top 10 songs of all time. I have a few Mogwai albums and their sound varies between each, some I like and some I don’t. Unusually, I really like the last album from 2011, “Hardcore will never die, but you will”. This is possibly also my most favourite album title of all time and I had a sticker of it on my last car.  (Though I will say punk band Chaotic Discords 1986 album “goat f**king virgin killers from hell” is pretty awesome as well.)

This track “I know you are, but what am I?”  is from the  2003 album “ Happy songs for happy people”

Advanced Open Water cert – day one

Day 56, Monday 20 Feb 2012, Malapascua

Considering the amount of people at the resort who are not diving it was very quiet after dark.  There are lots of Russians and Germans in this particular resort – and listening to people as I walk around, it seems the island is mainly populated with Europeans rather than native English speakers. I slept Ok, not great – tonight I medicate as up at 4.30 or something for the early morning dive to try and see thresher sharks.

I had the morning to read three chapters of the PADI adventure dive book before the review at lunch time and the first dive at two, so I had a leisurely and unexciting, breakfast at the resort – included in the room so I ate a bit. I can tell I am the only backpacker in this particular resort as I am only one who has a deck half covered in washing.

Then again, I guess not many backpackers stay in resorts !  It is great to be static for a few days as I got my sandals and bed liner washed as well as a load of clothes. I bought a small waterproof bag at the dive shop today so tomorrow I can wash my day bag as well as it is pretty feral now.

I spent the morning on my bed studying and listening to music , it was great to be inside and let my peeling back be out of a shirt as well as out of the sun.

Lunch time soon came around so I was off back to the dive shop for my first reading reviews – Peak performance buoyancy and night dives. These are basically rubber stamping exercises and are partly revenue generating tools for someone, I don’t approve really as I didn’t really ‘learn’ much but I got all the answers right…

Bounty Beach – Malapascua.

After the review we hit the water, Jules our German instructor and Moritz (that is how it sounded, and yes I think of ice cream too) a German kid, who was the other pupil. We spent an hour under water doing some basic buoyancy exercises, some of which I was awful at, but we all pass ! I love PADI –  everyone is a winner. At least  I understood the concepts, my old body and complete lack of co-ordination hindered some of the exercises –  that and maybe 1 kilo too much weight on the weightbelt for the depth we were in – 6 metres.  It was fun anyway.

After the buoyancy session is what back to land for a quick break before heading out to the night dive at lighthouse reef – the second of my skill sessions for my advanced open water cert.

One of the “boat guys”, heading out to the night dive. He had to take a dive as the mooring line from another boat got tangles around the prop.

The dive starts at sunset and finishes in the dark. The key feature of this dive is the mating mandarin fish, they are only found in a few locations so this dive was popular.

And by popular I mean chaos  under water – i hated it, far too many divers in a small spot, my lack of co-ordination and fine control just did not work here, trying to slot smoothly into a circle of proficient divers looking at small fish is damn hard ! and not enjoyable.

After watching mandarin fish make out for a while we then spent some time scoping the rest of the reef, again a lot of divers in what was a small space and fairly shallow, so all in all, not my best dive. I did see some nice sea horses which  was most cool.

After the dive it was rush back to the hotel, eat dinner and study three more chapters as up at 4.00 AM to do the deep dive and see some thresher sharks – cannot wait !

Following on from yesterdays post-rock gem from Jakob, I introduce Mono, a Japanese band that have been around for since 1999. They recently played in Auckland and for some reason that I cannot recall now I did not go and see them. I have this album “one more step and you die” on vinyl and it got utterly hammered in my last few days at home. I particularly love this track – Com(?),  ignore the lack of video, turn the volume up and close your eyes  – warning, it does get noisy…


Day 55, Sunday 19 Feb 2012, Cebu – Malapascua.

Today I am off to Malapascua Island, which is about thirty minutes by boat off the northern tip of Cebu Island, so I need to catch a bus to Maya to get the boat. Have heard the road is rough !

Another reasonable sleep, this is almost becoming habit forming ! up at 7.00 and packed ready to go, got a coffee in the hotel restaurant but skipped breakfast as I don’t like to eat and drink too much before a long bus ride, you just never know! I got a cab to the long distance North Terminal and as we approached we saw the Maya bus leaving so I jumped on board, pack and all. For about five minutes I had a seat for the pack too…

I caught one of the local non-air-conned buses, it was only a four ride so I had heaps of time and I knew the bus would stop every few minutes  and it was about time I went local. With all the windows open it was as cool as the air-con busses anyway, except when we were stopped waiting in a bus terminal about half way, then it got really warm! The journey was long, though not too uncomfortable considering I had my pack on my lap the whole way, the scenery was interesting with a good mix of stunning beach views, small villages and hill towns.

The Philippines are a lot cleaner and tidier than Malaysia, though appear to be significantly poorer, you can see where infrastructure had been built  20-30 years ago before the worst of the corruption set in and things stated to decline. The bus arrived at the wharf in Maya just after 12.00 and I was soon joined by a Canadian couple and a couple of Canadians and we waited on the bangka (outrigger boat) for it to fill up before departing to the island.

I had my accommodation booked at Ocean Vida resort for four nights, but none of the others had anything arranged. I got talking to the two Canadian guys, Mike and Matt and Mike is considering Myanmar as well so we are going to catch up later and discuss a possible joint trip. Once checked in I spent a couple of hours wandering around bits of the island and looking for a good deal on dives. The island is (I am led to believe) about four and half kms in circumference, though that doesn’t seem right, feels bigger. On Bounty Beach there are a number of resorts and the place has a diving focus so lots of dive shops. The Island has a large indigenous population as well and I got rather lost wandering around the interior as it is a warren of twisty sand paths. There is a massive contrast between the local village and the resorts that back onto them though and there are a lot of armed guards walking around the resort areas. Then again there are armed guards all over the places I have been in the Philippines – I got searched by an armed guard going into the mall yesterday!

One of the primary dives at Malapascua, and the reason for its popularity, is an early morning (5.00 am !) dive to see thresher sharks, one of the few places in the world to do this. Unfortunately they are generally found around the 25-30 metre depth and my open water cert only allows dives to 18 metres. After some pondering and counting of beans I have decided to do a PADI Advanced Open Water Cert. The course includes five dives, one of which is a deep dive, which can be the thresher shark dive. It costs a bit more than individual dives but means I get my advanced cert and I can pretty much dive anywhere. So tomorrow I do my first dive, which will be visually dull, but probably fun as I learn a bit more about buoyancy. Tonight I have to study !

I caught up with Mike and Matt over an early dinner at my hotel bar, they are staying somewhere else, and then I went and snapped a couple of sunset shots and went to my room to internet, listen to music and study ! Early night and lucky no TV. My room is pretty cool by the way 🙂

Going to start educating you music illiterates, if I remember, each post with some musical awesomeness, mostly from New Zealand, but whatever takes my fancy and likely to be what I am listening too. Will start with a NZ band.

Jakob, from Napier. One of the worlds best instrumental post-rock bands, they have been around for just over 10 years but do not release a lot of material, recording a much anticipated new album at the moment. This track “I’m on your side” is off the wonderful subset of sets album – my favourite Jakob recording.

Cebu city

Day 53/54, Friday/Saturday 17/18 Feb, Puerto Princesa to Cebu and Cebu

A couple of non-event days really, so only deserving of one post. You may have thought I have had a few non-event days over the past few months but I still managed to write about them. I am not sure if the steam is running out on my blogging, I have certainly lasted  lot longer than I expected at the start, or whether the steam is running out on my travels.

Saturday was one of those days, very hot and sunny in Cebu, no shade on the street and little wind. I mean no offence to Cebu, but I didn’t enjoy the day, not a lot to see and walking the streets of the older part of town was just unpleasant. A lot of traffic, a lot of air pollution and the drains stank, and then I discovered I had been shooting an hour long video of the inside of my camera lens cap, so when I got to one of the few things to see my camera battery was flat ! grrrrr.

Back to Friday ! I didn’t really get a lot of sleep again after we all went back to bed with the basement flooded, though I never really made it out of bed till eight or so. Surprisingly when I did look the basement was almost totally dry and the hostel staff were mopping up the last of the water – the downside was the kitchen was down there so breakfast was totally off the menu – bugger it ! My flight to Cebu was not till 12:40 and I had planned on a last great Banwa breakie to keep me going for the day, oh well.

I pretty much did nothing for the rest of the morning except pack up my stuff, check out and get a tricycle to the airport. Did nothing much at the airport either, eating a muffin was the highlight of the airport.

The one hour fifteen Airbus A320  flight from Puerto Princesa to Cebu was possibly the gentlest flight I have had since I left Auckland, though the landing was interesting… Cebu is one of those places where it is recommended you get a legal metered cab from the airport rather than try to find a cheaper alternative, nothing unsafe, just less likely to get ripped off, so that is what I did.

I had two nights booked at the Mayflower Inn, Lonely Planet didn’t recommend any budget accommodation in town, so I picked this place based on their recommendation and some good reviews on Tripadvisor which is becoming a bit of an accommodation bible for me – I must do a post on travelling via the internet.

Hotel is Ok, very friendly, very clean, ok shower, decent wifi. Appears to be miles from anywhere, but I am not sure if there is an anywhere to be that the hotel could be closer to. I pretty much did sod all else, went to the bread stall next door and grabbed some rolls, had dinner, which was shite – the hotel kitchen has gone down hill since lonely planet reviewed it.  I did discover there are about fifty TV channels though ! so I watched bad movies and caught up on email and blogs. Once I found the air con was not on cold I slept OK…


Up and breakie around 7:30, breakie was dull – but at least fully cooked and filled the gap. I was really considering spending the whole day in the room and having a major planning session. Having good internet and a free day I could have got a lot of things organised. However I decided to look at both highlights of Cebu instead and then hit a mall and pick up a few things on my list, I needed a new t-shirt after wrecking one while diving in el nido,  my boardies are falling apart and I need to get more trail runners wallets (Glad bags).

I got a cab to the Sugbo Museum from the hotel with a Swedish couple travelling with a baby – good on them, but insane! Museum was kind of interesting, housed in the old prison building in Cebu. Cebu has an old and illustrious history with Magellan meeting his end near here in 1521.

Selfie – looking scruffy and un-illustrious, need a haircut and a shave – but I do like my fake Nike shirt.

From the museum I took a walk down to Fort San Pedro, which could have been interesting if there was some information (or more) about the place. The fort was also hosting a wedding so I cannot say a lot about the place, apart from it was old…

From there I walked and then caught a jeepney to the SM Mall, Pizza for lunch, failed to buy the things I wanted or needed,  but did stock up on cheap water and a bottle of shiraz. Back to the hotel for the late afternoon and evening –  skyping and messaging friend and family over a red, a nice end to the day.

Loved this wall in the hotel stairwell

I can tell a bad couple of days, only 8 photos taken and no effort made in the editing either !

And back to Puerto Princesa

Day 52, Thursday 16 Feb, El Nido back to Puerto Princesa

When I got back from diving last night I booked myself a seat on the seven am van back to Puerto Princesa. This meant for a fairly early night last night as an early start this morning. Lousy sleep for some reason so pretty much got up when the fan went off along with the power at 6.

I packed up and got a tricycle up to the bus depot, I wanted to get there early to try a score a decent seat for the six hour ride – may as well have stayed in bed… I was lucky I got there early as I went to text a friend in NZ and couldn’t find my phone and knew exactly where it was – lying on the bed in the hostel with the alarm clock going off ! I grabbed a tricycle and got back to the hostel in time to get my phone and get back to the van before it left at 7. Come 7.30 we finally got on the van and I got the second crappest seat, middle front (middle back has to be the worst). There were fourteen passengers on the van and it started raining soon after we left town, neither of which made the driver not want to set a new record…

At Roxas,  about two thirds of the way into the journey we shed a few passengers and I got too sprawl a bit. Which was part blessing and part curse – at least when you are squeezed in you don’t roll all over the place !

We arrived in the Puerto Princesa one hour early after five hours on the road.  I was glad to get out… I grabbed a tricycle back to the Banwa Pension, where I had stayed a few days ago. – yes it did have a front wheel and no that was not our van.

Crap !

I had a shower, some food, water, more water and more food and did bugger all else apart from blog updates and email catch ups.

Seems I ate or drank something a bit dodgy as well as I spent the rest of the day not moving too far from a loo. Lay on the couch reading until bed time, the crowd here was not as good as last time I was here !

In the middle of the night I woke to the sound of very heavy rain, and at 2 am, the hostel people came into our dorm with some of the guys from downstairs, we all got up to have a look as it was flooding ! We watched the water rise in the basement for a while and helped move all the soft furnishings up to the ground floor, the water was a foot deep when I went back to bed.

El Nido – Diving !

Day 50, Wednesday 15 Feb, El Nidoc- Diving !

After the island hopping tours, diving is the number one activity in El Nido. With numerous limestone islands and white sand beaches scattered around the bay there are a vast number of wall, reef and beach dives to be done – and are a number of companies willing to take your money and get you diving. For no specific reason I chose Palawan Divers.

I overslept a little, so up at 7.30 and no breakfast after yesterdays near debacle, grabbed a bottle of water on the way out the door as a bit dehydrated from last night, though not feeling hungover. I got to the dive shop on time for 8 and hung round for thirty pointless minutes before gathering that they had not written my booking up on the board. Luckily there was only a couple of people going today, or I would have been left dry and  furious !

Fortunately that was the only dodgy part to the day and the rest of the organisation and dive management practises were good, and the dive masters were fun too. We had three dives scheduled for the day at three different sites, but for good reason we only ended up diving in two of those places.

The first dive was at a place called Populcan forest , as you can see from the location photo it is right near a vertical cliff face, so it was a boat entry. In Borneo we dived off proper dive boats, but here we were diving off the traditional bangka outrigger, which introduced a new set of challenges as they are quite narrow – and there is a lot of gear !

Once in the water we dropped down the wall to the bottom at around 20 metres, slightly deeper than my licence “allowed”, but the sea doesn’t always obey PADI rules! The forest is a reef dive through some interesting coral, the visibility was OK, a lot of plankton in the water – which proved to be an awesome thing ! There was a reasonable amount of sea life, not a huge amount and the coral was Ok.

I was thinking that this was no where near as good as the diving we did in Borneo when AJ our lead dive master started banging on his tank with a metal rod (used for pointing out things of interest) I was right behind him and looked to where he was pointing and approaching us in the gloom was a massive whale shark !! I don’t think awesome can describe how exciting this was – fortunately I knew whale sharks are very safe only eating plankton. The shark passed about 7-8 metres from us and we followed it for as long as we could keep up. It was a real wow moment – and another trip highlight.

The whale sharks can grow up to 20 metres long, so this one, at around 5 metres was a juvenile. They are common in Feb / March in some locations in the Philippines but apparently quite rare in El Nido waters, AJ has logged over 1000 dives here and has never seen one, so we were all extraordinary lucky – and got some major cudos back in the shop at the end of the day !

We carried on with our dive and were heading back to the boat when I spotted the shark coming back our way, I grabbed AJ’s flipper and we all stopped and watched it pass by again. After a few under water hi-fives we surfaced to much excitement and got back on the boat for a very animated hour between dives

The crew proposed we flag dive site two and do the second dive here, but dive the wall rather than the forest, with the hope of seeing the whale shark again, us customers were very happy with this option. After an hours break we donned gear and dived the wall, staying around 10-15 metres where we saw the shark the last time. Alas, though it was a great dive we did not see the shark again.

We motored over to Dilumucad Island (well the dive was called that, no idea what the island was called, assuming the same !) and had a nice lunch on the white sand beach. The sun was so bright I could not see the screen on the back of the camera so missing the front of the boat – I should have brought the GF1 with the view finder! But you get the picture – its pretty nice here !

The dive site was at the end of this point, yeah I know – doing it tough 🙂

After the required number of hours break (and no – I didn’t work it out myself – fun dives with professional dive masters – are supposed to be fun!) we dived a sloping reef. This was definitely the best dive site of the day, some great coral and lots and lots of small fish life, tropical fish tank stuff, but lots of it and all around you !  We had quite a bit of sun on this dive so visibility was very good –  and I found a decent size turtle, which we followed for a while.

I think of all the dives I have done I was the best in the water on this dive, my buoyancy was about right for the whole dive – this is quite hard to achieve !!! I also used very little air as well, which meant I moved efficiently in the water, so very pleased. It is so much easier underwater when you have the basics right!

El  Nido from the sea

After the dives it was back to the shop to do log books (great thing with tour dives is they clean the gear !) and then to the hostel for beer, dinner and an early night.

Another good day !

El Nido – tour B

Day 49, Tuesday 14 Feb (Valentines day !), El Nido

Once the racket from the restaurant stopped and the Russians stopped screaming at each in the street I actually got some good sleep- untill the power went off at 6 AM and the room started to heat up. I got out of bed and got myself organised for my island hopping and snorkelling tour which left the guesthouse at 9.00. I got to the cafe at 8 and ordered breakfast, waited, waited, got my coffee, waited waited, got my shake, went and did a couple of chores, at 8.55 my omelette arrived, at 8.56 the tour people arrived… gulped breakfast, which was quite nice and ran out the door.

The main tourism activity in El Nido is island tours, there are four tours to do, imaginatively named A, B, C and D, with multiple operators doing each tour, the Palawan government has fixed the cost of the tours so no real need to shop around.  I chose tour B as it was supposed to have some good snorkelling, though I suspect  they all do…

We left on the Bangka at 9.00, myself a young couple from Melbourne, an older Italian guy with his Philippine GF and four Norwegians. I pretty much hung with the Norwegians all day, but chatted to the Aussies over lunch – they had similar music taste to me! Alex the Norwegian was as keen on doing as much snorkelling as possible, which suited me as that was why I was there.

The first stop was on an island that I cannot remember its name, the snorkelling was great ! I took the small camera so I could use it underwater, it is rated to 3 metres and managed to survive the day OK. I was actually reasonably happy with some of the shots, though it is quite hard to take photos while underwater and holding your breath – and the damn fish don’t stay still ! some of the coral was pretty cool too !

From there we went to Snake Island, and walked up a small hill to look down on the sand bar – supposed to look like a snake, the water was so clear here, but unable to swim due to jellyfish.


Next stop was Cudugnan Cave, the cave was cool, but nothing compared to some of the caves I have seen ! 

We had a snorkel here as well, I used flippers to get some depth and didn’t take the camera, a very good reef here, so enjoyable snorkel. 

I meant to pack a t-shirt to swim in this morning, but totally forgot, so got quite burnt on this snorkel, Alex and I were out for quite a while.  A great lunch was served here and then on to Cathedral Cave. We were not allowed into the cave here unfortunately, but would have been an awesome place to snorkel. I really like the way the sea has eaten away at the limestone here, a lot of the small islets are like this, it is most extraordinary.

Finally we stopped at Pinabuyutan Island for more snorkelling for those of us who wanted to snorkel I cannot believe people didnt! I got a few reasonable shots here, and got Alex to grab a couple of me as well.

The Bangka got us back to the hostel for six PM, so a good long day and well worth the $40 or so it cost. The snorkelling was really good and a very promising sign for the diving tomorrow!

I had dinner with three of the people I met in Puerto Princessa, and then French Vanessa and I  went for a few drinks at the local music bar Balay tubay, where I drank too much considering I was diving in the morning ! But Vodka tonics did make the covers band sound so much better –  even that bloody awful Hotel California was survivable – and it is my most hated song.