April 22, 2011
Puerto Princesa itself attracts a number of Filipino and foreign tourists as well, mainly because of the nearby Subterranean River National Park, which is enlisted as Unesco World Heritage site. The mayor, Edward S. Hagedorn (we remember his name, because he kinda has a cult of personality in Puerto Princesa) does his best to develop the region, and a huge number of visitors arrive every day to the caves. The crowd is so big that the whole visit gets a little bit spoiled, so if you can, try to avoid the peak times between 10h and 15h, and go when there are no organized tours. The cave itself is nice to see once, and your Taglish speaking tourguide will enthusiastically tell you a number of times "Sir, mam, we are inside the mountain, sir, mam!"
Leaving Puerto Princesa behind, we embarked on a ride to El Nido, which normally can be accessed via regular bus service taking 6-8 hours, where you can enjoy a ride on the rooftop (special funk factor in the rain) or on one of the Filipino-sized baby-seats. Alternatively you can book a seat on a minivan, which will take you there in 5-6 hours, and only gets broken down twice in average. This was the first ever minivan service that I saw equipped with 4 extra tires and for a good reason: the road is rough and the driver feels no mercy for the hardware.
Once you get to El Nido, you can relax a bit. The city is not much developed yet, no big hotel complexes, most little hotels you can reach by walking on the sandy beach and ask them if they have availability. You can score a nice seafront room for very little money, although at most places you will have issues with electicity and water supply:) Also, dont expect to have any ATMs in the city, so better cash-up before:) The size of the place is just comfortable enough to walk around, and after a few days you will actually start to recognize the same people over and over again, and they will also recognize you:) A lot of places have a slight Bob Marley-complex, which is quite common not only here, but for some reason in the south of Thailand also.
Definitely recommended places are Pukka bar (Ryan, the owner is a cool Marley fan:)), and Squidos for a nice seafood dinner and shakes.
The most common activities in the city are scuba diving and the island hopping tours. The island hopping service is standardized, and you can choose between tour A, B and C. Prices are also pretty much the same everywhere. We embarked on two different tours and both times we were amazed by the natural rock formations, the beaches, the underwater wildlife and the majestic lunch we had. All these for a more than reasonable price!
Not described in any guidebooks, yet one of the most amazing things I have ever seen were the fluorescent planktons right in front of our hotel. We went out for some night swimming and at first we didnt believe our own eyes: whenever we made a movement with our limbs in the water, hundreds of little starlights were flashing up then fading away. The whole experience was surrealistic and a little bit like swimming in star-dust, or like the famous glow effect from around Patrick Swayze in Ghost. This we couldn't capture with our cameras, you have to see it with your own eyes!
April 15, 2011
April 4, 2011
One of our last destinations that we considered dangerous was Manila, the capital of Philippines. According to the statistics, the number of murders committed by firearms is one of the World’s highest.
Nevertheless, during our stay we have never experienced any violent happenings. What can be experienced though is the poverty. We haven't seen so many homeless since we left behind cracolandia in Sao Paulo. There were around 50 people sleeping on the street, right in front of the fast-food restaurant we had dinner at the first night. There are also a number of jobs created just to have jobs: there are people opening the door for you, people sitting all day long in the elevator pushing the buttons for you, people serving extra rice in case you want more, etc. The economic situation also forced a lot of people to seek jobs outside the country. In fact this phenomenon is so common, that the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), have their own queue at immigration, and they are greeted with a huge “Welcome home, OFWs, thank you for the hard work!” poster, once heading to the city from the airport. Currently there are around 11 million Filipinos living abroad, and their remittances represent some 13% of the country's GDP.
Another characteristic feature of the city is the omnipresence of the so-called Jeepneys. These are minibuses for public transport, but their shape is reminiscent to the original American Jeep. They are the equivalents of the Colombian corrientes, and they are also decorated in a similar colorful, attention seeking way. Don’t be surprised to see a Jeepney with a Darth Vader Lego figure painted on it (this is already mind-blowing), and at the same time having some generic wisdom, like “God is good” scribed on the side. You hop on and hop off at the back side, indicated by a de-facto standard “Welcome” text above the entrance.
The other popular form of transportation is the tricycle. In the center of Manila this can be foot pedal operated, but most other locations feature motorbike mounted tricycles. Passenger capacity of them can be up to an amazing 6 people.
The language is one of the funniest features of the Philippines. First of all English is so commonly used, that you will have no problems getting around in the cities: everything is written in English and everyone speaks some sort of English. In fact the Filipino or Tagalog language is so much mixed with English (the mix also referred to as Taglish), that when we were listening to the speech of the Prime Minister during the anniversary of the People Power revolution, we could pretty much understand half of what he said.
Apart from English, the language also has a lot of influence from the Spanish colonizers. Don’t be surprised to hear “Kamusta?” (Como estas?), “Keso” (Queso) or “Kabayo” (Caballo).
Besides all these, the average Filipino tends to mix “b” and “v” (a Spanish heritage) and “p” and “f”, resulting in funny words like “pood” (food), “pree” (free) or “passion show” (fashion show). To temporarily brain-damage a Filipino, throw a word like “photography” to him and watch him struggling with different versions of pronunciation until he settles with one version, but never really sure if it’s the right one.
Filipinos, like most Southeast-Asians are crazy about karaoke. Everyone owns at least one karaoke equipment at home and even the shy ones grab all the opportunities to step up in public places and show their skills. Karaoke bars (often called KTV) however are not always karaoke bars. If you enter and 10 young girls greet you and offer their company to sing with you, you can be sure there is some kind of prostitution going on. In fact, some KTV bars don’t even have a karaoke equipment.
Regarding the food, we came across a number of special places in Manila. Jollibee is the local fast food chain, which serves low quality dishes with rice. McDonalds also serves burgers with rice, instead of fries and another place (Inasal) offers unlimited rice refill for your main dish. The local ice cream specialty is the halo-halo, which is a mixture of shaved ice and evaporated milk, with added sweet beans and fruits, served in a tall glass or bowl. A typical street-food favorite is the balot: from the outside looks like a standard boiled egg, but inside there is already a chicken embryo. I tried it: the taste is not that bad (like boiled chicken meat, but more chewy), but the sighting of the embryo can be troublesome:)
The nose pulling. This is a custom we haven't met yet in other parts of Southeast Asia, so it’s worth describing: pregnant women tend to come up to people with bigger noses (especially non-Asians), and pull their noses. They do this in the hope of having their future baby a nice, big nose, which is considered an elite social feature:) We’ve been both nose-pulled:)
During our short visit to Manila, Lani, a local girl was guiding us around. Since she is aspiring to be a future tourist guide, I hereby recommend her as her overall factual knowledge is good and she is crazy enough to make a good company:) Lani, pass me your contact details!:)
Australia is well known for its unique fauna, and the good news is, you can get into close contact with pretty much all the creatures you normally only see in TV. Thus you can hug a koala, feed a kangaroo, wrestle with a Tasmanian devil, eat some green ants, tickle some jelly fish, surf with a shark, etc. I will never forget our first in-nature kangaroo sighting: we were driving on some abandoned road, and all of a sudden we had an adult kangaroo jumping up and down just a few meters from our car, following us for at least 50 meters.
The downside of all the abundance of wildlife is, that it brings you some limitations. So first you think you will have a nice swim in the ocean. It depends on the season, but February in Queensland is a no-no.
Then you think, ok, you will head to some lakes to cool down. Think twice.
Dammit, lets go to the river then!
Stinging tree? You’re kidding me?
In fact most seaside cities in the north-east have a kind of community open-air swimming pool, that is called lagoon, and during the stinger season, locals enjoy the sun and water in these facilities.