The ‘Thrill-ippine’ Dream

Its winter time in Australia is it? Or it’s time to get out for a while before returning for your second working holiday visa? There are so many option in front of you. South Pacific, starting with New Zealand and of course the fan favourite, Fiji –tropical paradise.DSCF2646

From Melbourne there are some cheap flights to Auckland. But you noticed a deal to Manila as well. As a Canadian (along with many other countries) you get a 3-week entry visa free, but for an extra 60 bucks at the airport -if I can remember correctly- it gets ya a full two months.  All across the S.E.A (South East Asia) tourist trail you rarely hear -if ever- gap years talking about a trip to the Philippines -or at least when I was around.DSCF0841

A country of 7,107 islands makes it a very provocative region to visit.  An equatorial country prone to typhoons and earthquakes, influenced by every Asian nation around, having gone through Spanish colonization for 300 years, only to be passed on to the U.S.A and then through some wars for independence, one of which overturned a dictatorship through non-violence! gives this archipelago a very diverse cultural whirlpool of very intricate people.

Loads fill up flights to Indonesia and hop on Mopeds across Bali -only to crash them and scratch up their thighs and faces. It’s a surprise DSCF2416the island doesn’t sink with all the tourists -along with every island surrounding Krabi, in Thailand.  Maybe it’s worth getting that flight from Melbourne to Manila, to investigate this ‘quiet giant’; and seeing how you can manage three months away, why not consider trying out a little stopover in Jakarta for some more island action in Indonesia -after the Filipino visa expires.

Seems like a pretty righteous idea.

And it is!

The first thing to know, like in Indonesia, avoid the cities. Stay the fuck away! Like I told you to avoid the east coast of Aussie a while, though you cannot avoid landing in Manila, don’t stay long. And if you end up in Cebu city, or any of the other wretched cities -overpopulated, super poor, and hella Americanized- get out as quickly as possible. First bus in the morning to the nearest, distant island!

Secondly, prone to typhoons, try to time your visit before or after the monsoon season.  The good thing about the monsoon season is, considering there are so many islands, you can still avoid the hard rain in many parts of the archipelago.  If Cebu is in the centre, then it is protected by a circumference of islands.  Most of the hard hitting areas will be found on the outer ‘ring’ -Luzon, N. Palawan, Coron, Mindoro, S.W Leyte and Samar.

Now. The plane lands in Manila so in order to situate and build your program, you will have to stay a couple days (2 or 3 max). You’ve only got 2 months remember, and like I said, over 7,000 islands! The place to stay in Manila? You’ve got two options and I’m not even going to list one of them.
-Friendly’s Backpackers (now called Wanderers Guesthouse)

This is the joint and across the street there is a little, dirty, horrible burger truck that is totally worth taking a bite out of the ‘buy one-take one’ strategy.  There is also a little street bar with little red, plastic chairs serving beers at about -if my memory serves correct- 75 cents! Fuck me? How is that even possible?  The Thrilippines baby.  The down side is you’ll probably see a few dirty fucking pervs trying to score under-age girls. I don’t know how to coat this one. It’s fucking sad, but it’s there. And its very, very hard to bite the tongue.

At Friendly’s you will meet other backpackers -there is no other place in Manila like it- and there is a ’round’ table on the roof-top 11106218_10205880729394882_917080146_nwhere you will gather with a global community and Carlos ‘Old Schoolah’, the race-car driver from Mexico -he’ll likely save your ass a couple times, from the cops, drunk in public, sipping Red Horse into the wee hours after a visit to L.A Cafe (Bay Cafe).

282114_260438617305989_3927155_nL.A Cafe is the hub of ex-pat debauch as far as I saw it, and I’m not going to spoil anything more.  It will either be the lead-in to your corruption or a hella good laugh at the expense of others.  And all of it will be helped by very large, plastic tubes of beer.

From Manila, a lot of people decide to head up to

Baguio

for the huge, critically acclaimed rice terraces.  My goal was to stay away from the first choice decisions.  It’s 13 or so hours north of Manila. My first course of action was to find a volcano, any volcano! I’d found on the web, Mt. Mayon. A picturesque volcano, still smoking away like a chimney. And to get there, like Baguio in the north, you need about 13 hours –with local transit– on a local bus to Legazpi City –the hub of south Luzon.  You can book a tourist bus and spend about 800 pesos when I was there.  Or pay 400 and spend a few extra hours on a ghetto-assed bus with rugged school bus-style seats.  But are you travelling or are you just frontin’?

MT. MAYON and South Luzon

DSCF0036What a fucking beauty.  Walking up, into the village areas away from the centre (remember, keep out of the cities) and passing the old Spanish churches, I found a nice countryside view -one hoDSCF0050ur walking from my guesthouse.  The guesthouse was a five minute walk from where the bus let me off.  Very close.  And the place was very basic, but quite cheap, seriously.  It was all quite easy.

From this countryside area I got to mingle with the locals a little.  And they were more than kind, sharing drink (coconut wine), pancitDSCF0042 (fried noodles), salted cucumber salad and some dried, salted fish.  There is a spot to sign up and note that you are walking up to the summit.  From there they will tell you it is about 100 dollars for three days -this DSCF0043is when I was there.  They will tell you that you need a guide.  But more importantly, someone explained to me that it was too hot and unstable near the summit to make it all the way up.  In fact, a man with charts and a projector screen, explained to me thoroughly -as I thought it was all part of the coax to get me into a tour package.

Instead of doing this bullshit 3/4 up, guided tour for a billion pesos, I decided to tour around the region.  This led me to a couple of remarkable little villages.  And some even more, remarkable hosts.

Into the remote villages on the sea level I found this place, Bhuatan.  From others, I’d been told about a nice beach in the area, and thought I would try it out -it’s otherwise quite messy.  The deal with transportation is that it’s cheap, hella cheap -as long as DSCF0008you go local.  That means taking the pimped out, swagga jeeps (at a few cents a ride) or the motor-bikes with side carriage (tricycles).  Those side carriages will carry people, rice and butane on the roof-top.  They will pack about 15 people into a space meant for three.  But its cheap.  And that’s all we need to make it stretch (the money).  Plus.  The local way IS the right way.DSCF0115

In Bhuatan I found myself at a huge sheet of coconut trees and a man offering me a lift with his moped to this ‘magical’ beach.  When he told me his price -the price for gasoline (after a bus, swagga jeep and tricycle)- I was no longer interested.  They invited me for some pancit, some vodka and a bunch of laughs.  I ended up on the coast all night with their whole family and stayed the night with this man -with the bike- his wife and their kids in their home.  It was brilliant -and the sunset, the best.

DSCF0122After this incredible turn-out I was so motivated to carry into some other regional villages I took off on another swagger jeep and found, by chance, a small tourist information building.  I couldn’t tell you the name of the village because there are so many.  But, inside the woman told me her colleague did regular trips up the mountain and if I bought him lunch he’d likely take me up (if you are thinking about solo, it is through jungle and jungle like mountains can be very deceiving).

She told me to come back the next day because it was too late.  How excited was I!  And to make things even more interesting, after leaving the office I met a man while waiting for a local bus who’d mentioned a few waterfalls nearby.  Another magical element of the Thrilippines…  Lots of random, big, long waterfalls.

DSCF0059There was this kid and two of his friends.  The trail led up to another three little chutes into some serious jungle expeditioning.  Before getting too lost in a thick, uphill, assortment of brush, streams and small chutes I turned around.  Again, there was  huge patch of open field, just before this beauty, with an exceptional view of Mayon.

The following day, meant to meet this man, the weather unfortunately went sour for me.  It rained like crazy all day and when it broke I figured it was too late.  Instead of wasting the DSCF0145rest of my day I went to a high plateau region, with a huge lake and a second volcano (Bulusan) called Sarsagon.  Here I met, again, some absolutely wonderful hosts -who likely would have adopted me as a cousin- and some lovely, remote areas.DSCF0184  We ate fresh fish at Jose’s place -who I’d met at the lake- and a friend of his, Grace, had us over for a bottle of wine.  Her Mum had leftovers from dinner, still on the table when I’d arrived -and noticed me staring, drooling, curious to try her cooking. Amazing homemade dishes -that you could buy aDSCF0149t restaurants at half the quality.

The thing is, since mainland S.E.A, I’d had few local experiences to be honest -except in Myanmar.  Few times wDSCF0150here I felt integrated.  And here, after a few days in the country they made me feel at home, instantly.  I didn’t give a fuck about hiking a volcano all of the sudden; unfortunately, I had a flight to Palawan -from Manila for about 50 bucks- to meet a travel mate, ‘Dr. Poncho’, who I’d met months before in K.L .  And really, two months means : no time to waste if you wanna ‘take it in’.  What I’d felt already, in a very quick moving, thoroughly experienced week, was that I wanted to ‘take it all in’ and treasure, longer this instinctual, smiling hospitality.

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Savvy Out!

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