Trip Two: Bohol

It’s been a week since we got back from our second trip, so I figured I’d write a little bit about it and post some pictures. The pictures seem convince people they should come visit.

I snuck in a quick workout on Friday morning, you know back squats, snatches, cleans, jerks, handstands, rowing, wall ball, kettlebell swings, sumo deadlift high pull…just a couple things.  Then we headed off to the airport.  I learned two things this trip to the airport:

  1. Medical tape is considered a weapon.  I had athletic tape in my bag and they told me to throw it out, WHAT!? I could, apparently, use it to tape someone up and hold them hostage.  They then asked me the wrong question, “Have you ever tried to get out of athletic tape wrapped around you? It’s impossible.”  To the surprise of the security agent I responded, “Yes I have tried, I was taped as part of an initiation and managed to escape out of hockey tape which is much harder to tear.”   I still had to throw the tape out.
  2. Never show up more than 20 minutes early to a domestic flight out of the Philippines.

We landed in Bohol and headed over to our hotel, the Hennan.  The resort is new and it’s basically just one giant pool.

We spent the evening at the poolside/in pool bar then hit the hay early for a long day.

Half of the pools at our resort. There are more by the beach.

Day 1: Sailing

We booked a day on the Alona Blue, and did not regret it.  We met Captain Mike, Jenny, and their adorable little dog foxy at 10am.  A storm was coming so we tried to wait it out.  We “set sail” (it wasn’t very windy) around 11am and hoped to pass through the storm.  To our luck, we did.

Alona Blue had a mooring off the shore of a small resort with literally no one on the beach and good snorkeling.  We saw some little fish and a giant and terrifying purple jelly fish.  We got to hang out on the front of the boat with Foxy then were served a delicious lunch.  A couple hours later we headed back to shore with a little bit of a tan.

Alona Blue. We got to jump off the boat, hang out with foxy and enjoy a nice day after passing through a dark storm.

Day 2: Tourist

I’m not entirely sure why we decided to conform to society and do all the touristy things in Bohol that everyone expects you do to.

The Blood Compact Monument The view was nice.  The monument didn’t have a single sign explaining what the compact was or why it was important.  If not for wikipedia on our phones to read about the compact this would have been a pointless stop.

Baclayon Church Although the church had been badly damaged in an earthquake two years ago, it was still pretty cool.  We walked through the museum with a guide who explained the artifacts and thoroughly answered our questions.  I did feel like I was going to fall through to the floor below because we were walking on the original hardwoods.

Loboc River and Floating Restaurant I’m not going to lie, I’m shocked this has received so many good reviews.  The food was almost inedible. I think the experience would have actually been better without the food.  The views were nice, it was very lush and pretty (once it stopped raining).  The coolest part was watching the Tinkiling dancing.

The Man made Forest I wouldn’t exactly call this a “destination” but it was very pretty to drive through on the way up to the chocolate hills.

Butterfly Sanctuary This was pretty, only about a dollar or two to get inside, and I wouldn’t say I would have been happy paying more.  We saw some butterflies, the guide gave a nice little talk.  We didn’t see as many butterflies as I would have expected, but maybe I’m bias because I’ve seen the Monarch Butterflies as they migrate through Michoacan, Mexico.

Chocolate Hills This was by far the best stop on the trip.  I wish we had hiked up and through some of them, but it was still pretty cool to walk to the top of the viewing area.  There are a few legends about how they came to be that you should definitely check out.  My favorite is that they’re a mean carabao’s poop.

Tarsiers Bohol is famous for the tiny little monkey’s.  We saw four of them.  They’re nocturnal and antisocial.  Seriously, they don’t like having another one within a hectare of them. If one trespasses, they’ll often fight to the death.  Also, if you touch them they apparently freak out and bang their head against a tree until they die, or so someone said.

Blood Compact, Baclayan Church, Loboc River Tour, Man Made Forest, Butterfly Sanctuary, Chocolate Hills.

Days 3 & 4: Beach

We were not big fans of the beach our hotel was located on, Alona.  There were vendors everywhere, it was a marina filled with boats, you just really couldn’t relax.  So we did some research, asked around, and found out that Dumaluan was the best beach to go to.  We grabbed a trike and headed over.  After arriving, we discovered that the Bohol Beach Club was next to us and that we could pay an entrance fee of 150 pesos each (plus more, but that was consumable, as in could be used towards food).

We had originally hoped to stay at Bohol Beach Club, but it was fully booked the weekend of our trip.  Boy do I wish we had booked early.  The beach was beautiful and the food was fantastic.  We spent the day (and the next day when we returned) sitting in hammocks and reading.  Best part of the trip and exactly what I needed.

Bohol Beach Club Paradise

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SUP Dog

We finally got out on another adventure.  At 7am on Sunday morning we met four friends and our guide, Tono, at a gas station off of SLEX. Only about 1.5-2 hours later we arrived at Taal Lake, a crater lake inside Taal Volcano. Tono gave a thorough overview of proper stand up paddling technique and we headed across the street to the launch site. 

Before heading out to the water

As you can see, I had Xena with me. Xena coupled with the fact that two people in the group had never done SUP, meant we were doing a short(er) beginner paddle. We spent about an hour and a half paddling around the lake. The view is amazing, a lush green forest, perfect glassy lake, and a volcano in the middle. The longer paddle, which we will do next time is a 12km paddle around the volcano. Also on the to-do list is to hike up Taal Volcano and see the inner crater lake (a like in a crater, in a lake, in a crater). 

Paddling with Xena presented a whole new challenge. For starters, I forgot the peanut butter I had planned on giving her to make her happy to be on the board.  So, she was not the happiest pup at the beginning.  She fell in early on, thankfully she had a life vest on with a handle so I was able to easily pick her up and put her back on the board.  It took her about an hour of pacing up and down the board to figure out the safest thing to do was lay down.  She chose to do that directly below where I was standing, I think that was where she felt safest.  All in all though, I think she got over her fear a little, we will keep trying – next time I won’t forget the peanut butter.

 

Xena’s first time on a SUP


We finished the day with a delicious meal at Balay Dako in Tagaytay.  This massive restaurant has amazing views of Taal and delicious food.   We ordered a ridiculous amount of food, and all of it tasted great.  Family style was definitely the way to go, that way we all got to try everything.  To top it off, the bill was only 800php per person.
 

View from Balay Dako

 
I can’t wait to head out and do the 12km paddle around the island! Here’s to more adventures in the coming weekends.

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.

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.

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.