Here’s the second half of our Filipino adventures:
Day 141, continued: Electricity is overrated?
Once I had my pants back, I was a much happier woman. My stress (and anger) levels were reduced enough that I could happily take a nap on the ferry ride back to Cebu with the assistance of my wonderful travel sweatshirt:
Once we got to Cebu, we grabbed an Uber to the airport for our flight to El Nido (on Palawan island). Shoutout to AirSwift, who officially takes the cake for the airline with the most ridiculous baggage fees I’ve ever heard of. Apparently the original flight tickets we purchased only included up to 10kg per suitcase (and both of our bags are around 20kg each) AND you’re supposed to call them (because it’s 1994 apparently) if you want to add extra weight (for approx $10 per 10kg). If you don’t call them ahead of time, they now have the right to charge you $10 PER KILO. Extortion much? Anyway, that’s a battle for another time. To top it off, the plane then ends up being a tiny propeller plane, so that was just lovely for my flying nerves.
The weather was less than ideal in El Nido (torrential rain) but we managed to make it to our Airbnb ok. It was definitely a less than ideal room (tiny bed, very odd bathroom set up) but it was clean and beachfront so it was hard to complain. Things only got dicey when the power went out maybe an hour after we arrived and we were told that this is very normal for El Nido and would likely happen every day, for several hours a day. *sigh* All we could pray for was that it wouldn’t happen at night so we’d at least have AC while we slept. Of course this also meant that the wifi was a complete and total tragedy, but apparently that’s also normal in El Nido. Lesson learned? You go to El Nido for the scenery, not your creature comforts. Fair enough.
Day 142: Lagoons and Islands
Ben booked two different island hopping tours for Palawan, and first up was “Tour A” (apparently each tour company uses the exact same tour itineraries and so they’re always referred to as Tour A, B, C, or D—at least it makes things simple!) as part of a small group. Stops included: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and 7 Commandos Island.
Main takeaways: 1) definitely invest in water shoes (preferably the full coverage neoprene ones) because you’ll end up having to walk on or swim around coral and it can lead to some nasty scrapes, 2) bring your GoPro or waterproof camera, 3) consider investing in a dry bag because you and your things will undoubtedly get pretty wet (or in some cases completely soaked), and 4) bring cash so you can buy a beer or a coconut from one of the canoe guys.
Dinner that night was at Bella Vita and MMM MMM YUM. Can’t recommend it enough.
Day 143: Variety isn’t always the spice of life
No tour today, just relaxing and taking time to check out ‘downtown’ El Nido. Given our experiences from the day before, we decided to stop by a dive shop in town and buy some gear. First up, our own snorkels. This is something we should have done ages ago but kept telling ourselves wasn’t necessary, but really, if you want to snorkel more than 2 or 3 times on a trip, it’s probably worth it. Snorkels provided by tour companies are 1) not always free and 2) not always clean. I’m pretty sure I’ve inhaled some black mold from snorkels we’ve borrowed on this trip. Not cute. We decided to go with the full coverage ones and after using them a couple of times, I’m definitely a fan. Next: a dry bag. This is a cheap buy and totally worth it for essential items you want to keep dry (money, phones, change of clothing). Lastly: water shoes for Ben. I already had a pair (a cheap, sort-of-crappy-but-good-enough pair that I’ve had for ages) but poor Ben only had his sandals, which are water friendly but provide ZERO protection for the kind of coral contact these Philippines tours involve. He got some major cuts and scrapes and didn’t want to deal with that again, so bought some pricey neoprene boots. Again, worth it if you plan to snorkel (or generally walk on uneven ocean floors, etc) a few times.
We grabbed lunch afterwards at Mezzanine and I couldn’t help myself but to try the bottomless pasta since it wasn’t going to cost me anything extra compared to the dish I was already planning on. Sadly, neither pasta plate was stellar, but the views from the restaurant’s balcony were quite nice.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful and, because I’m a creature of habit (and also I am always tempted to go back to places I love), we went back to Bella Vita for dinner. Not a single regret!
Day 144: Beach, beach, baby
Time for Tour C, this time as a private tour. Stops included: Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Talisay Island, Secret Beach, and Helicopter Island.
It was definitely a nicer experience to have a private tour because the guides can be on a slightly more relaxed schedule and can provide more assistance if you’re having trouble swimming, etc. It was good that we had a private tour for Tour C in particular because one of the stops (Secret Beach) is pretty intense to access and there’s no way I could have made it without a life vest and one of the guides dragging me along (you have to swim through a cave-like entrance but the waves are insane here—one wrong move and you’ve hit your head on limestone and probably cracked your skull open). Don’t let that scare you though! Had such a great time. (On the way back, the wind was so strong that there was constant and heavy sea spray…thank goodness we had that dry bag! Our snorkels didn’t quite fare so well; mine turned out to be the wrong size and Ben’s got sand stuck in one of the air vents so it kept leaking water into the mask and THEN he broke the snorkel part…whoops.)
Day 145: Beer, rum, or water?
We really didn’t do much of substance that day besides head back to the dive shop to deal with our mask mishaps (they agreed to exchange mine and Ben was given contact info for the manufacturer to see if he could get the snorkel replaced–which they did eventually). We did end up going out to dinner that night, this time at a place called Angle Bar, chosen because I saw reviews about good burgers and then of course it turns out that they don’t have burgers at all. Murphy’s Law is real. Anyway, our food was good enough but much more interesting was learning the story of how the bar owner and his wife came to the decision to completely uproot their lives and move to the Philippines to start a family and a new business. Apparently this is a real thing! Brave souls, mostly because their house is in the middle of the jungle and so I can only imagine the size of the spiders.
Day 146: To Puerto Princesa we go
We had a pre-arranged driver pick us up that morning to drive us to the other size of Palawan island, from El Nido to Puerto Princesa. It was a lengthy drive and I mostly naped through it so there’s not much to say there, though we did make a pit-stop halfway through at a roadside restaurant for lunch and I finally ate Adobo Chicken—a popular Filipino dish that I kept seeing on menus but hadn’t yet gotten—and it turns out that it tasts quite a bit like a Dominican dish called Pollo Guisado and so for 10 minutes I felt like I was home.
Our initial hotel room at Ala Amid Bed & Breakfast was a bit of a tragedy (terrible lighting, dark and dreary paint, a slightly shambly bathroom, and a non-working AC) so we soon asked them for a switch and ended up with a significant improvement (everything was better except for the bathroom which still had the weirdest shower ever, but you can’t win them all), though the room still left something to be desired. I was too antsy to stay in so I convinced Ben to head to the mall but of course we picked the more boring one so that was kind of a bust…
Day 147: So. Many. Bats.
Our one planned activity for Puerto Princesa was the Underground River Tour, where you get to travel by boat through a massive cave along the longest underground river in the world. The whole point of this tour is to experience 3 things: 1) classic cave stalagmites and stalactites, 2) say you’ve been on the longest underground river in the world, and 3) get pooped on by a bat. That’s right…this cave is filled with hundreds and hundreds (might as well be millions) of bats. The guide’s advice? Don’t look up, and if you do, close your mouth. ICK. Needless to say, I did not look up.
Day 148: Coco is adorable, please see it!
We decided to retry the mall experience and this time head to the other, and reportedly better, mall in Puerto Princesa for a movie. The most important thing to take away from this day is that Coco is GREAT and everyone should see it. Done and done.
We also went to Captain Ribs for dinner based on rave reviews and found it to be pretty decent given that we’re slight snobs about BBQ (America has ruined us for life).
Day 149: To Manila we go
After a quick flight to Manila and an even quicker check-in at our hotel, we headed to yet another mall–this time so I could shop for a couple of items for our upcoming Christmas plans. After I found some closed-toed flats, my next goal was to find some tights–it was winter in Luxembourg after all and I didn’t want to freeze to death in my planned dress for a family birthday party. My advice? Don’t try to buy tights in Manila.
First, I’m not sure that they really know what tights are, and it’s not their fault because who on earth would wear tights in year-round 80 degree weather? Second, when I decided that panty hose were a good enough substitute (though less warm), much like my experience in Thailand, I soon discovered that the concept of sizes larger than ‘Small’ is just not a thing. At one point–and Ben can attest to this–I was surrounded by not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, but FIVE female store employees trying to convince me that these tiny panty hose were very stretchy and would definitely fit. Ladies…lying does not a good saleswoman make. Needless to say, I left the mall sans tights. At some point during this quest, I did take the time to try Filipino Mickey D’s, so the mall trip wasn’t a total waste. (That said, Filipino Mickey D’s is not my fave…something off about the breading on the chicken nuggets AND no BBQ sauce. Trag.)
Day 150: Filipinos take Christmas VERY seriously
After a froofy brunch at Single Origin (mmm mmm good)…
…We headed to the mall across the street so Ben could find a barber shop for a quick haircut. As we walked through the mall, we came to the firm conclusion that Filipinos LOVEEEEEEE Christmas and take Christmas decorations very seriously.
I left Ben at the mall to his own devices and headed to another part of the city for my very own hair appointment to retouch my roots (I had Japanese hair straightening before I left on the trip and my hair grows fast enough that I need a 6 month touch up or else I end up with unwanted ‘volume’–read frizz and odd bumps–in my roots). The next 4+ hours of my life were spent sitting in a chair and having my butt go numb a few times…highly exciting stuff.
Day 151: The longest flight of my life
Time for Christmas! But first, a long layover in Hong Kong (HK). We decided to spend Christmas with family in Luxembourg and we figured out that our best bet was a flight from HK to London and then a short flight to Lux–all free (!) courtesy of our hoarded British Airways Avios. I would like to point out that 1) the flight from HK to London is approx 14 hours and thus the longest flight I’ve ever been on and 2) we booked it so early that we could afford business class with our points and that was the greatest decision of our lives.
So, first step was a morning flight from Manila to HK so we could give ourselves the day to explore HK a bit before leaving for the holidays. This worked out pretty well except for the part where we had to leave the airport with our luggage in order to re-check it at the HK city train station (where they would then send it right back on the train to the airport…) since we were too early for normal check-in for our flight. A bit dumb but whatever.
We took the ferry to the city, and our first step was to have a very (unintentionally) froofy lunch at Hutong. The prices were obscene but it was pretty damn delish so… #YOLO.
Afterwards, because of the very intense fog/haze in the city, we opted for a quick walk around downtown HK to people watch, etc and then headed back to the airport so we could thoroughly enjoy our lounge access (hello, free food and booze).
And so ended our time in the Philippines (and our brief stint in HK)! The next two weeks were spent with family for the holidays and it was a lovely break from the insanity of constant airplanes and hotels and questionable food. Lesson learned? Don’t ever take the comforts of ‘home’ for granted.
Next up: Greece!