First Trip: Busuanga

We took advantage of the long weekend and headed off on our first trip.  We wanted a chill weekend so we chose to go to Palawan. After some trip advisor hunting, we decided to head to the Busuanga Bay Lodge. We were able to get a really good deal from Expedia (half off I believe!) and two weeks later we headed off.

We arrived at the airport and they weighed our bags, ok normal.  Then they were like, ma’am, your weight please.  What? Please step on the scale ma’am. So, I weighed myself at the airport.  We arrived at a tiny airport in Coron with two terminals and easily found our ride from the airport to BBL.  We were greeting with music and singing, which was a bit over the top in my opinion, but I guess some people like that kind of thing.  All I cared about was the amazing view from the Pavillion.

View from the BBL entrance

We had a quick, delicious lunch, then headed over to check out our Deluxe Casita.  We were not disappointed by the view, huge room, and oversized bathroom.

Deluxe Casita at BBL

Day 1

Relax.

We headed down to the waterfront for some kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (SUP).  After about an hour of that we got to relax in the infinity pool with some cocktails and enjoy the view.  We finished up the day with an excellent meal.  They offer a free hike, so we opted to do that on day 2.  Our activities planner warned us that it may be too hot to go at 9am, but I assured her that my time doing Bikram CrossFit had prepared me well for a hot hike.

Day 2

Hike.

Two people from staff met us with a book about birds in Southeast Asia and we headed off to Conception Falls. To our surprise, one of our guides grew up in Conception. We had assumed the staff had gone to school for hospitality and jumped around from resort to resort, but that was not the case.  We asked where he had learned English so well, and he said, “In school, interacting with guests at the hotel, and reading lots and lots of books.”  The path to the falls was not built for a tall person, poor Mark had to spend half of it bending over, until the trail covered in arching branches opened up to a vast field with hip high grass.

Trail to Conception Falls

I was tempted to ask who maintained the trail, then I saw the guides removing branches as we went, everyone did their part.  It took about two hours to get to the falls.  We arrived hot and ready to jump into the cold water.  We even got to climb up and jump off from the top.


We walked back through the town of Conception where the nicest house was owned by the elementary school teacher, checked out the pier, and then took a nap.

Day 3

Coron.

We joined two other groups from BBL on a full day tour around Coron.  We started by heading out to the Twin Lagoons for a little dip.  Some of the water is warm from the ocean, and then there is a layer of cold “fresh water” on top.  The lagoons are surrounded by breathtaking limestone cliffs and are filled with unbelievably beautiful water.

Twin Lagoons

Next stop was the famous Kayangan Lake.  When you google image search Philippines, this undoubtably shows up.  The water is a shade of blue I have never seen before, and everyone takes a picture on the same rock.  It’s 150 steps up, then 150 steps down to the iconic lake.

Kayangan Lake

We stopped for lunch on the beach and finished the day snorkeling around Siete Pecados.  It was low tide though, which made swimming over the reefs a bit challenging and I believe was the cause of fewer fish to see.

Lunch on rhe Beach

Day 4

Illness.

Something didn’t sit right in my stomach.  I was up sick all night, thankfully we brought antibiotics, so by mid morning I was feeling better, but extremely exhausted.  I only got up to get a massage at 4pm and some plain rice for dinner, then back to bed.

This was a bit upsetting given the cost of excursions from the resort and the fact that we only ate at the resort or on resort trips.  I know it’s the developing world, but for that amount of money, I did not expect to get the worst food sickness I have ever had. I was also very thankful to one of my closest friends starting her 4th year of medschool who gave me some advice on an issue with the antibiotics, everyone should make friends with a Dr., they’re useful.

Day 5

Pass Island.

We finally got a day at a white sand beach! We were greeted by a cute 6-month old lab named Homer.  The snorkeling was pretty good, though I didn’t get great pictures on the go pro, and the beach was beautiful.

Pass Island

We left Pass Island in hopes of viewing a WWII Japanese shipwreck, but were greeted by a swarm of jellyfish, so that was a no-go. Then we headed back to the resort to catch our ride to the airport.

There were, of course hiccups in the trip. Most notably, getting sick. The resort also couldn’t get our credit cards to work, which was surprising since we both have Visas, so technically we still haven’t paid for the excursions and food. It was suggested that since we live here we should get a Philippine bank account because international credit cards often don’t work. To that I respond, this is the first time our cards have not worked, we have guaranteed fraud prevention and repayment from fraudulent transactions, our cards come with rewards, there are no international transaction fees, we will be moving every couple years, and do you suggest this to all guests? Because, I’m certain you have plenty of international visitors. All those things aside, the trip was, overall, very nice. Excursions were a bit overpriced if you didn’t have a large group, but they’re certainly worth doing. The room was fantastic, especially for the rate we paid, the food was good, the views were amazing, and every place we went was astonishing.

Cheat Meal

When I first got to Manila, another expat said it was about 6 months before he was invited into a Filipino’s house.  HA only took me 3.  I work on the local economy, which means I have become friends Filipinos.  This is something that, from my understanding, is not the norm.  The athletes at Primal Ape CrossFit work in a variety of fields, including as a chef at People’s Palace (whoops, still haven’t made it there, gotta get on that).  The Chef was discussing the cheat meals he likes with a coach and decided best to share in the meal.  So, he invited a group of us over for the perfect cheat meal.

Guacamole, Turkey Tacos, Korean Fried Chicken, Fish Tacos, and Chocolate Chip Cookies


The meal was amazing, I’d never had Korean Fried Chicken, but I would like to have it again.  I think I laughed so much during the night that it almost offset my overly full stomach.  Some wigs were even busted out, I’m thinking maybe I should chop off my hair and dye it green?  

  

As I get to know everyone here, it makes the new country feel a bit more like home.  Everyone has been very welcoming, regardless of the fact that they know we won’t be here permanently.  So here’s to many more fun nights  (and cheat meals!) I’ll close with a picture of Xena just because.  

Mount PinatuNoGo

Seven of us planned for a little over a week to hike Mount Pinatubo.  We booked a tour because it’s a pretty involved process getting up to the top of the volcano.  On Saturdays and Sunday’s the departure time from Metro Manila is 2:30 am, you then take about a 1.5 hour 4×4 ride, and finish with either a short (45min) or long (2-3 hour) trek up to the top of the volcano.

All but one of us arrived on time to our pickup location, the last one arrived 20 minutes late and was sent to the back of the van.  Neck pillows on, feet up, and seats reclined, the seven of us and Xena headed out full speed ahead, until we came to a dead stop in traffic.  We didn’t check the religious events going on and learned the hard way that an expected 1 million people would be celebrating the Iglesia ni Cristo 100th anniversary at a huge venue next to the road we were on.  This added over two hours to our journey, causing us to arrive after the allowed 4×4 departure time of 7:00am.  Our driver tried to convince them to take us up, but they had already started sending earlier arrivals back down the mountain due to expected harsh weather conditions at the top.  After over 5 hours in the car, we mentally prepared to drive right back to Manila (the tour company did offer to fully refund our payment), until one person had a brilliant idea – go to the beach in Subic.  We spoke with the driver, tour company, and got the go ahead and price for a beach trip, so off we went.

There are two beaches in Subic that are well known, All Hands and Camayan. We decided to check out All Hands since it was closest.  We drove up excited to head to the beach and saw a “No Pets Allowed” sign.  Which meant Xena would have to stay in the car with our driver and miss out on her first beach experience, I DON’T THINK SO!  After some quick googling we found that Camayan allowed dogs, so we decided to go with plan C for the day.  

We got to Camayan, rented a Cabana, and headed to the water. The beach was beautiful and had an amazing view.  Xena loved playing in the sand, but wasn’t too sure about the whole swimming thing.  After some sun bathing we grabbed a cheap, but good, meal at Meat Plus Cafe and checked out a friend’s box, CrossFit Subic Bay.  The box was awesome with a complete open air setup and covered outdoor area as well.

 

Beautiful day at the beach and an awesome open air CrossFit box in Subic Bay.

   
 
After the failed hike, failed beach attempt 1, and the long drive down, we came to a few conclusions:

  1. We enjoy the company. Despite being stuck in a car together for so long, we still had a lot of fun, made some jokes, and made the best of the situation.
  2. We still want to try and hike Mount Pinatubo.
  3. Next time we want to hike Mount Pinatubo we should drive down on Friday or Saturday, spend a day relaxing at the beach in Subic, then take a one hour drive to the 4×4 pickup location.
  4. Always check to see if there is a huge religious event going on.

The Fridge that Travels

Remember how I talked about pack out way back in early May?  Well, all that stuff that we packed out finally arrived at our house this week (I shouldn’t say finally, 2.5 months is a pretty standard amount of time to wait for HHE).  Aside from two missing shoes (which we hope will pop up in the next few days) everything arrived in good shape from the long trip by sea.

Prior to Thursday, I thought that I could live really well without all my stuff.  I still think I could live without most of these things, but I’d rather not live without a couple items.  It hasn’t been the clothes or shoes that have made it better, but the little things that make it feel a bit more like home.  We had the provided bookshelves and TV stand removed and replaced with our TV stand, bookshelves, and most importantly, our beer fridge.  After we put together the living room, I walked in to see the minifridge and thought to myself, wow, now it feels more like home.

  
I haven’t had to live with white walls and loaned furniture since college.  Back in college, I’d unpack the specialty tea mug I was gifted, slap my San Francisco poster on the wall and call it home.  I wish I had thought back to that, but next time I won’t dismiss the little things that make a house a home – a mug from a wedding that also reminds me of where I grew up, the reward from winning a kickball tournament on the mall, and the little mug that traveled to college each year.

  
I’m still waiting on facilities to come hang up posters (we have concrete walls, so we can’t do it ourselves), but the fridge and mug that traveled have made a world of difference already in feeling less homesick.  It’s also nice that our 50″ TV, Ikea bookshelf, Ikea stand, and mini fridge don’t look like a grandmother picked them out!

When it Rains, it Pours

I’m not trying to be depressing, just stating a fact about rainy season here.  When it rains, it pours.  It’s madness.  When I first arrived, it would rain for about 20 minutes and I thought to myself, “wow, rainy season isn’t that bad.”  I was questioning if rainy season had actually started.  Now I know, it hadn’t.  I also know that rainy season has officially started.  I wish I could video the extend to which it rains, but I don’t want to go outside.

I have learned to be very grateful for two things: my high clearance vehicle and a somewhat covered deck off my room.  There was about 1 foot of water on the road when I left work earlier this week. As all the low clearance cars were stopped and debating if they should go or turn around, my jeep plunged right in.  Then I got home and had to take Xena out.  She hates rain.  So, we decided to let her out onto the patio to pee.  Okay, maybe a little gross, but the ground gets wet and washes it away, I don’t have to get drenched (which takes only 5 seconds of standing in the rain), and I don’t have to deal with a drenched dog.

Rainy season does bring about cooler weather though.  The gym felt cool, going outside in the morning means not carrying Xena from one grassy patch to another so her paws don’t get burned, and I’m not sweating after 1 minute of being outside.

All this talk of Xena (follow her on instagram at xenawarriorboxer) and I haven’t posted any new photos of her.  She’s grown a LOT!  When we got her she was about 10lbs, now I think she’s about 20.  She’s fully vaccinated and can explore the world. We go to puppy school once a week on Fridays and she has gotten better, but there’s still a long way to go.

DSC_0969

She gets VERY excited to see dogs, and plays the way boxers do. Unfortunately, most dogs don’t appreciate her play style.  Poor girl, she will calm down eventually (right? In like 4 years…) Until then, I guess it’s soccer balls and big dogs for her.

DSC_0942 DSC_0945

We are all looking forward to some beach time in dryer weather and family visits at the end of rainy season.  In the meantime, we’ll be outside as much as possible between rain showers.

Biking in a Developing Country

When We lived in DC we biked everywhere.  Not because Mark and I couldn’t afford a car, but because it was faster (we also had Fred, my aunt’s ’88 pickup truck on loan for a year which we generally just used for the grocery store).  It was great to be able know I wouldn’t get stuck in traffic, I wouldn’t have to drive around for 20 minutes trying to find parking or have to pay for parking, didn’t have to pay for gas, and I got to enjoy the nice – and not so nice – weather.

Prior to my arrival in Manila I spoke to a handful of people about biking, everyone said it was not an option and that people don’t bike here.  The reason I was generally told I could not bike is that it’s not safe.  My first day here I bought a mountain bike.  It sat untouched near the front door for a little over a month, until last week.  Last week I pumped up, ok Mark pumped up, my tires, brushed off the dust on my helmet, threw on a sweet pair of Sperrys with socks, and hopped onto the bike.

  
I survived day 1 and even did a day 2!  I skipped day 3 because I had to work late.  So what was it like?  Well, it was quite warm.  I did have to stop a lot more than I would in the US and dodge a number of obstacles like push carts, people, mopeds, and jeepneys.  I have never smoked a cigarette before, but I’m pretty sure my bike commute added up to smoking one.  There’s a lot of smog coming out of cars and buses.  That being said, it was about 40 minutes faster than driving, liberating to pass all the cars, breezier than I expected, and I’m pretty sure that the roads are smoother here than DC.  Yes, that’s right, the roads were smoother than DC!  I’m also quite sure it wasn’t just the sweet shocks on my new bike.

Just like DC, I felt a common bond to my fellow bikers.  Maybe it was all in my head, but they still gave the friendly nod, and the general awareness of each other that was not as an enemy like cars.  This also goes to show that plenty of people bike every single day and how easy it is not to notice these bike commuters.  Sure they are all male here, but many of the bikers in DC are also male.

My safety, however, was a concern to my coworkers.  They told me to be careful since I am a woman, especially since I have a backpack on, which could make me look like an easy target.  I’m still undecided on this.  Okay, I didn’t feel completely safe at night, but there are always lots of people on the road and if I’m on a bike it might imply that I don’t have tons of money and may not make the best target.  This could be naive of me though.

All in all, I think it was a pretty positive experience.  I can get a mask to help with the air pollution, wear longer sleeves if the sun is beaming too much on my pasty northern american post-apocalyptic winter skin, and fasten a front strap to my backpack to make it more challenging to steal, and maybe just carry my knife in my pocket (not so sure about the last one).  

I learned that despite what everyone thinks, it is not too difficult to bike in a developing country. Just be smart, pay attention, be comfortable on your bike, and share with the world how awesome biking is.  It will, after all, help with the air pollution, which in turn makes biking more enjoyable. 

Are You Homesick?

Last night I was asked a question that I hadn’t really asked myself, “are you homesick?” I sat for a second before answering because I hadn’t been asked this very genuine question yet and I was grateful to be able to give an honest answer.  Yes.

Although we bid Manila high because of how welcoming people are to Americans, the warm weather, and the fact that you can get almost anything you want here, it’s still different in many ways.  Just like everyone back in the States, I commute in traffic, go to the grocery store, eat out, drink on weekends, and take my dog outside.  Yet, each thing presents a unique challenge, one that would be comical as a traveler, but hit me a bit harder when I realized, this is home – at least for now.

I already wrote about the adventure that is driving in Manila.  To be fair, the novelty still hasn’t worn off.  I follow all the rules at in the States and for the first time I finally get to drive the way I would want, without the worry of pissing someone off and having them get out of their car to yell at me.  On the other hand, the commute is draining.  I can’t somewhat mindlessly get to my destination like I could in the U.S., all attention is on the road.  I will, however, miss the lights when I get back.  They count down the green, yellow, and red lights, how do we not have this yet?!

Unlike the U.S., my trips to the grocery store never seem quite complete.  We used to shop for the week at a single store, now it seems like we can hardly fill up a grocery basket and have to swing by 2-3 stores.  You can get almost everything, but there are some hard to find items as well.  For instance, I got extremely excited when I found a tiny thing of arugula, a staple of mine at home. Once we got home, I couldn’t just whip up a salad, first I had to soak the arugula and veggies in vinegar for 10 minutes.  It was so delicious and comforting though.  The vegetable/water problem also presents a dilemma while eating out. Can I order a salad here? Do I think the ice cubes are from filtered water too?  On the plus side, I can have all the mangos, papayas and other tropical fruit I’ve never heard of that I want.  Blender is in the mail to make some delicious tropical fruit drinks for some poolside relaxation.  As if this wasn’t relaxing enough.

There are so many stray cats and dogs that I’m nervous to take Xena out, even once she is fully vaccinated.  I’m also missing out on the neighborhood dog parks to make friends.  We have a dog run nearby, but it doesn’t seem to get much use.  I have been told that on the weekends people gather on High Street in the Fort with dogs.  Will have to check that out after the last vaccine.

It’s the little things that make me miss the U.S. a bit, but I know that with time I’ll get adjusted, make more friends, and lose the homesick feeling.  Right now I’m still in the getting to know people better phase, but another EFM and I have a plan for socializing during the day once summer transfer season has come to an end: Balcony Club.  The townhouses where I live have balconies off every floor, but when on earth will I use the balcony off my guest room?  I’m not going to make coffee downstairs and walk it up the stairs just to drink on that balcony, it’s both inconvenient and a bit small compared to the main balcony.  See the difference?

Well, with Balcony Club, we will pick someone’s floor specific balcony and have a drink there.  It will give us all an excuse to make the balconies nice, take advantage of them, and get to know each other.

There are also things here that I will miss when I leave.  A huge help has been vet house calls.  I text the vet the problem or update and he texts back with a time to stop by or a solution.  Plus, it’s cheaper than the states – house visit, medicine, stool sample, inner ear sample, and microchip added up to about $60.  Also, a helper.  We will have someone starting in July who will cook and clean.  I know I sound spoiled, but I despise household chores, so this is a big win for me.  I’ve been told she makes more working for us than she would on the local economy, so I guess it’s not a horrible gig for her either.  She will also look after Xena while I’m at work.  Lastly, the travel.  Though I haven’t taken advantage of this yet, I know it will be amazing.

One thing I’m undecided about is the signs, some are inappropriate but hilarious, others are Taglish (Tagalog and English) and thus, entertaining.