07 November 2013

CYCLING MINDORO, PHILLIPINES



 
27 October - Boracay – Roxas, Mindoro Island - By ferry
I was getting the hang of things around Boracay, but it was time to move on and I cycled the short distance to the ferry port where I got a Bangka boat back to Caticlan. Once in Caticlan, I looked out for a ferry heading north. The tourist information in Boracay told me that there was a ferry to the port of Batangas City every two hours. This was, however, not the case, and there was only one ferry leaving for the small port of Roxas on Mindoro Island. There’s not much I could do but get on-board.
 
The trip took about five hours and I had plenty of time to haul out the old iPod and listen to some very old music. Once again, I must admit that I really enjoy listening to these old albums. I went through them all:  The Who, Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors……fantastic stuff.
 
At around five o’clock we sailed into the sad looking port of Roxas. There was a tourist office but it was closed (it was Sunday). If I wanted to cycle to the northern part of the island, I needed a map of Mindoro. I understood from the locals that the following day was to be Election Day and that the tourist office would therefore be closed. It was too late to take to the road, so I found myself a room for the night.
 
28 October- Roxas – Calapan - 128km
I headed north in the direction of Calapan. From Calapan ferries sail to the main land at Batangas City. No one could really tell me exactly how far it was, but as soon as I left the city limits the road signs indicated that it was around 126 kilometres (so I did not need the map after all). It was Election Day and a public holiday in the Philippines; even the rice mills were closed. It was amazingly peaceful on the road.
 
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are still indigenous tribes living on Mindoro Island. Collectively known as Mangyans they comprise of twelve tribes, each with its own language, culture, and way of life. For centuries, they lived peacefully along the coastal areas of Oriental Mindoro, where they fished for a living. That was until migrants from nearby islands settled on the island. To avoid disputes, the mild-mannered and peace-loving people gave up their land, moved to the mountains, and came down only for food and other necessities.  Sadly, they have been treated as second-class citizens, similar to other indigenous people of the world – often exploited, neglected, and discriminated against by lowlanders. They have experienced being misjudged as uneducated and uncivilized people.
 
It also turned out not to be as mountainous as I first believed, and with that in my favour I continued on to Calapan. It was a long day but I made it to Calapan in good time.
 
29/30 October - Calapan – Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera - 54km
As I’ve said before, each island seems to come with its own vibe. Mindoro seemed more tribal/traditional than the other islands. I passed farmers riding their water buffalo, and villagers working the fields in ways that are more traditional than elsewhere in the Philippines.
 
I learned that Puerto Galera is the place to go, and that the area’s extensive and diverse coral reefs have been declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. It sounded good and I set off in the direction of Sabang Beach. It was more mountainous as I headed for Puerto Galera, but, as always, it came with stunning views. There is nothing like huffing and puffing up a hill, then rounding a corner to see the most beautiful waterfall cascading down the mountain.
 
After more hills I finally arrived in Puerto Galera from where it was another six hilly kilometres to Sabang Beach. I was totally blown away by what I saw: A tiny beach settlement geared for diving with as much as thirty dive shops, numerous restaurants, and places to stay. It was a beautiful setting, with turquoise water, cliffs, beaches, coves, etc., etc…….
 
Once again I found myself a room on the water (I could have gotten away much cheaper if I took a back room) and I just drank it all in. To think I nearly gave the island a miss altogether!
 
The following morning I went for a dive and, as promised, it was stunning. I dived with Capt ’n Gregg’s and we went out by boat at around 09h00 to Sabang Point. The dive lasted sixty-five minutes and the average depth was around twenty meters. It was a pleasant dive on the local reef, with plenty of coral and fish. The water was a rather comfortable 28°c and I was very comfortable in a three millimeter wetsuit.
 
I can’t believe something stung me on my lip again!!!  Years ago, the same thing happened and up until this day, I have a small scar across my lip. The most amazing thing is that every week or so it forms a small, loose skin that I can pull off…. thank the Lord it’s not a hair or something worse!!!! LOL
 
Besides the diving, Sabang Beach also seems to be the place where mostly (older) western men hangout. The trend seems to be for them to settle here for an extended period, may it be a few weeks or a few months. They all seem to have Filipino girlfriends for the time they’re here, and I cringe as I watch how the girls cater to their every need!!!
 
31 October - Sabang Beach
I stayed one more day as I realized that the time has come for me to renew my visa again. On closer inspection, I realized that my current visa expired on the 2nd and I therefore had to do something quickly. The local tour operator also acted as a visa consultant and I handed my passport over and left it to them to organize. The problem was that I could only pick it up on the following Tuesday. That’s five days of waiting, but I did not mind as there was plenty of diving to be done while waiting.
 
I again dived with Capt ’n Gregg’s at around 09h00. It was a rather short boat ride to Sabang Wrecks where we did a drift dive for around fifty-five minutes. Again, the depth was around twenty meters and it was an interesting dive with plenty of fish. I took hundreds of photos but have now realized that one needs to be very close in order to get any kind of shot.
 
1 November - Sabang Beach
I thought I was spending too much money so went snorkeling instead. The colours were amazing in the shallow waters. The problem with scuba diving is that one loses the colours so quickly. Red is the first to go at around fifteen feet, followed by orange at twenty-five feet, yellow at thirty-five to forty-five feet, and green at around seventy to seventy-five feet.  (The colours disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the colour spectrum.) Strobes are normally used to add colour back to subjects. Objects can also appear up to 25% closer underwater than they actually are, and up to 33% larger.
 
2 November - Sabang Beach
Today’s dive was a bit of a pain as my BC kept self-inflating and the dump valve did not want to expel the air. Bummer….. It did however half-worked when I turned on my back. Any kind of equipment malfunctions always makes for a stressful dive. Besides the equipment, it was a lovely dive with plenty of colourful fish and coral.
 
3 November - Sabang Beach
I, as has now become the norm, went out for an early morning dive to Dungon Wall, a pleasant dive with loads of fish and interesting corals.  In the afternoon I did a rather unusual thing: I went to watch a cockfight! 
 
Cockfighting is, after basketball, the most popular hobby/sport in the Philippines. I was a bit hesitant to enter the arena, but found a well-organized setup with a proper “ring”, surrounded by ascending rows of concrete benches. I sat down and after a while two men entered the ring, each clasping a cock under their arms. They placed the cocks in the middle of the ring, and with neck feathers erect they suddenly hurled themselves at each other. There was a flurry of feathers and razor blades, blood squirted from open wounds, spectators cheered, money changed hands, and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. LOL, I’m such a wimp!!
 
4 November - Sabang Beach
I went completely overboard and did two dives. Firstly, we dived out to the wreck of the Alma Jane. She was scuttled in 2003 and now rests upright at a depth of thirty meters. Currents on the wreck can sometimes be strong (and the visibility not always so good). Local skippers therefore maintain a buoy line which is tied to the wreck, making it easy for divers to descend along the line without floating away into the blue yonder, never to be seen again. On the second dive we went to the Dungon Wall.
 
Both were wonderful dives. During the first dive I teamed up with our dive master, Mads, who has the best buoyancy control I have ever seen in any person.
 
5 November- Sabang Beach
I finally collected my passport from the travel agent and was now ready to move on. It was, however, quite late so I decided to stay for the night and get the ferry to Batangas City in the morning.
 

28 October 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES – PANAY


22 October - San Carlos – Bacolot – Dumangas – Iloilo, Panay- 30 km

I took a ride back to Bacolod where I could get a ferry to Panay. The ferry was cheap but went to Dumangas instead of Iloilo City. It was not a disaster as it was only a 25 kilometre ride into the city. Along the way I met Roger Gonzales Aristoki, who was planning to cycle to Ajuy the following day. We cycled into the city together and he was kind enough to point a cheap place for me to stay. There is nothing like local knowledge and he saved me a good few Pesos.

23 October - Iloilo – Altavas- 120 km

I, for once, managed to get up early and was on the road earlier than normal. It was a great day for cycling as I had a slight cloud cover all day, making things much easier. I felt good and the kilometres ticked by without me noticing. I zooted across large rivers and past small villages, past basketball playing kids, rice paddies and grazing water buffalo, never even wanting to stop.

By the time I reached Altavas, I reckoned I had enough for the day and looked for a room. There was only one place but the owner was out of town, and there was no one to let me in. Normally, people think that cycling to the next town is too far to reach by bicycle.Today, however, I was told that the next town (which was 40 kilometres away) could be reached within an hour!!  The man was quite convinced that cyclists travel at 45km/h!!  There I was, thinking I did well for the day, but was quickly put in my place….. LOL.

I was pointed in the direction of the hardware store, which had some rooms above. Although basic, it was cheap and had a fan!  People here always call it an electric fan…. I wonder if one can get any other type of fan??

I had a quick wash and then, to the delight of the villagers, went on a walkabout around town.

24 October - Altivas – Caticlan - 107km- Caticlanby ferry to Boracay

Again, I woke up early (what is happening!?).  Good thing too, as it is much nicer to cycle in the early morning. I’m sad to say that it took me much longer than an hour to get to Kalibo!!!  The last part of the day the road ran next to the coast, and although hilly, it was absolutely stunning. I can say very little else about the Philippines, other than that it is beautiful!  Again I felt good and sped up and down the hills, past more villages and roadside stalls, until I reached the small village of Caticlan.

At Caticlan I had a taste of what was to come!!  Bangka boats lay ready to cart the many tourists to and from idyllic Boracay Island. It felt a bit like a madhouse compared to the last few days. I joined the crowds and boarded a boat for the short ride to Boracay Island. On the island, the madness continued and there were tourists everywhere!! They ate and they drank, they swam and they shopped!!!  Bali is nothing compared to this!!! 

I soon found myself a room and it was hardly anytime at all before I sat wriggling my toes in the sand, sipping a beer and nibbling on a pizza!!  Fitting in with the rest of the tourists did not take me anytime at all!!!

25 October 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - NEGROS



5 October - Moalboal – San Carlos, Negros- 60km

I was reluctant to leave Moalboal, but eventually I packed up and headed north along the coast. A mere 20 kilometres down the road I saw a sign for a ferry to Negros. As there was no reason I wanted to venture further north along the Cebu coast (except for getting the ferry to Negros) I decided to cross at this point. It was a short ride (about and 1.5 hour) to the small village of Basak.

Negros seemed to have a more rural feel and I passed children carrying firewood on their heads and people bathing in canals next to the road. The road was less congested than in Cebu and it was an easy ride to San Carolos, where I found a rather comfortable room at the Traveller’s Inn.

6 October - San Carlos – Cadiz- 85km

After a quick breakfast I followed the road north past sugarcane fields and small villages. The road deteriorated considerably and the going was rather slow!  Overloaded sugarcane trucks wreaked havoc with the road and it seemed that all attempts by the authorities to repair the road were in vain. The going was rather slow, as I tried to avoid most of the potholes. It rained on and off during the day,making the road a rather slippery and muddy mess. By the time I reached Cadiz, I kind of had enough for the day and found a cheap room at the Pension house in town.

7 October - Cadiz – Bacolod- 67km

It was a boiling hot day but I soldered on past Silay and Talisay, known for its Ruins. I kept an eye open but did not see it. I was also too hot and bothered to explore.

I rolled into Bacolod to find the city at the start of its annual Masskara festival (meaning a multitude of faces). The word is also a pun on mascara (Filipino for "mask"), a prominent feature of the festival. The masks worn by participants (I understand) are always adorned with smiling faces. Fortunately, it was only the start and I could still easily find accommodation.

I found a room down one of the side streets off the main road -a wonderful place in the middle of a residential area where bicycle rickshaws carted people up and down the narrow lanes. Dogs lay sleeping next to their owners, who sold kebabs from small fires in front of their houses. Kids ran out in the road to have a wee (LOL, good thing it rains a lot in this part of the world). I guess it’s easier than going to the toilet.

8 October - Bacolod

I stayed in Bacolod the following day and took my bicycle to the very professional Dan´s Bike Shop for a good service. I, in any case, had to pick up the handlebar mount for the GoPro from them. I zooted up and down the main road in Jeepneys, which ran the length of the main road.I took myself off to one of the malls (of which there was no shortage in Bacolod) while leaving the work to the professionals.

At the mall I had my laptop cleaned, as the keyboard seems to get stuck from time to time. They gave it a thorough cleaning and did not even charge me for it. I put the money to good use at a real café and had a delicious slice of cheesecake!

Then it was off to the market area, which was hardly 5 minutes away, but miles apart from the mall and all its fancy lights and shops. This, however, was where I took most of the pictures for the day. At one of the stalls a friendly man offered me a bread roll-  it was oven fresh and still piping hot…….delicious!  How very kind of him.How much can a bicycle rickshaw man make?  He most likely needed the bread more than me.
That evening the bike shop phoned to say they were still working on the bike and I could pick it up the following day.

10 OcktoberBacolod –Kabankalan- 90 km

With my bike running like new, I headed further south, across large rivers, past rice paddies and sugarcane fields. Once out of the city and back in the rural area everyone seemed very busy as they harvested both sugarcane and rice. The poor old water buffalo was in high demand, pulling and tugging in both the rice paddies and the sugarcane fields. Large trucks, loaded sky high with sugarcane, dropped bits as they drove along, leaving the road littered with pieces of sugarcane.

I passed Bago, Valladolid, Pontevedra and Hinigaran, all with century-old churches. I stopped at a few to have a look and once again was so impressed with the children of the Philippines. They came running along, asking intelligent questions and wanting their picture taken, all while extremely polite.


One of my 365 friends lives in Kabankalan and I was hoping to meet up with her. It proved, however, more difficult than expected to find a complete stranger in town, LOL. With no phone and an intermitted internet connection I was sadly unable to contact her.

11 October - Kabakala –Sipalay- 83 km

It was a misty morning with smoke from pre-harvest burning hanging thick in the air.  Sugarcane field burning is carried out before harvesting the cane. To make the process easier the leaves are burned off the stalks.The pre-harvest burning of sugarcane leaves is a common practice all over the world that enables manual pickers to collect the crop quickly and with less personal injury.

12 October - Sipalay

The reason for me coming to Sipalay was to visit the nearby beaches. The weather, however, came in and it was pouring with rain all day. I was happy to stay put and enjoy a day of doing nothing.

13 October - Sipalay – Bayawan- 79 km

I left early, as I wanted to get across what looked like a mountainous bit on the map, before it became too hot.  It was a nice ride in the morning air, still nice and cool from the heavy rain the night before. Once over the hilly bit, it was a flat ride along the coast.

It felt like a real Sunday afternoon cycle as I pedaled along, past Nipa houses on stilts, sari-sari stores, and buffalos lazily grazing in the rice paddies. Past small villages where joyous singing was coming from makeshift churches and where Sunday markets were in full swing along the main road.

14 October - Bayawan – Malatapay - ferry to Apo Island- 77 km

It was another easy day of cycling; the road ran flush next to the coast for most of the day, offering stunning views. The heavy rain of the past few days caused large landslides, taking with them some electrical cables. Road workers were frantically busy clearing the road; it’s quite amazing to see what big chunks can just slide off a mountain.

Around midday, I arrived at the tiny settlement of Malatapay (not even indicated on my map) and saw a road sign for Apo Island. Down a narrow lane, I found boats ready to whisk me off to the nearby and pea-sized island of Apo. With bike and bags loaded on the boat, we sailed away. The boat dropped me at a spot straight out of a tourist brochure, complete with a beautiful beach, palm trees and turquoise water.

On the island, I found a tiny village with friendly folk, a few homestays, and the rather well-organized Liberty’s resort and dive centre. The price for the room was 800 Pesos (at first I thought it expensive) but it included three meals. The best of all was that dive prices were 1 000 Pesos a dive (which is considered very cheap). Once again, I sighed deeply, put my feet up and ordered a San Miguel beer!!  As they say…………. “It’s hell in the tropics”! 

I soon discovered that the food was fantastic; freshly caught fish was at the order of the day. I wasted no time in organizing a dive and subsequently learned that Apo Island counts as one of the top dive spots in the world!

15 October - Apo Island

The following morning I woke early for the 8 o’clock dive. It was a short boat ride to the dive site and soon we plunged happily into the lukewarm waters of the Visayan Sea. After arriving back, I discovered that a strong earthquake had hit the region. Although it was felt on Apo Island, I was unaware of it while diving. I understood that the epicentre of the quake was in Bohol, where I took the pictures of Chocolate Hills.
We sat around chatting for a while and then geared up for the 11h00 dive at Coco Point. Once again, it was a great dive and I even had a glimpse of a coral snake, which I have never seen before, but sadly failed to capture it on film.

16 October - Apo Island – Malatapay by ferry Malatapay – Dumaguete City- 25 km

After a breakfast of pancake and fruit, it was time for me to leave the island and head back to the mainland. I cycled the short distance into the city where I found a room at Harold’s Mansion. My notebook packed up and I went in search of a replacement. The new Tablets looked rather nice but it was much cheaper (less than half the price) to get another notebook. The shop assistant was rather nice and suggested that I use my old hard drive as an external hard drive. How clever of him - I would have never thought of it. Paying proved more difficult than expected as the card machine was off-line and so were most of the banks. In the end I managed to find a working ATM which was prepared to spit out some money.

Back at my room, I was looking forward to connecting to the internet after a few days of no connection, but the connection was so intermittend that I soon gave up and rather went in search of food.

17 October - Dumaguete – Siquijor Island (by ferry) – Sandugan Beach- 20 km

There was no need to stay in Dumaguete, and so I loaded the bike, not knowing exactly where I was going. I first made a stop at the ATM to draw more money and on my way a Swedish guy, who was having breakfast with his girlfriend, stopped me. He invited me for coffee and as he is also a cyclist (when in Europe), he was quite interested in what I was doing. He also told me that Siquijor Island is very nice and only an hour by ferry from Dumaguete. So that was my problem solved, and I had plenty of time to get the 12h00 ferry.

Once in Siquijor town I set off in a clockwise direction around the island. Just about 20 kilometres down the road I spotted Sandugan Beach with a few places to stay. All these places were smack bang on the beach, and I could not resist and parked off for the night. Soon, I was sipping an ice cold beer while watching the sunset ….gorgeous.

18 October - Sandugan Beach – Siquijor Town- 57 km

I had a quick breakfast and continued my tour around the island.  The interesting thing about the island is that even today, many Filipinos refuse to visit the island due to its reputation for witchcraft and black magic. I’m sure that the annual Folk Healing Festival contributes to this superstition. I did not see any such thing, except for a store or two selling herbal remedies. LOL. I kept my eyes open for the magic Lumay (Love Potion - one never knows when such a potion may come in handy). I understand that a mere sip or sniff by the target will have the desired effect!!  

What I did find was a rather friendly island where people were constantly calling me to come have a rest and a drink of water. The road workers looked disappointed that I did not want to join them. I explained that I don’t normally eat during the day, which totally blew their minds!!   It appears that eating three full meals a day is considered too little for the average Filipino, and that one needs to eat smaller snacks between meals, let alone skip lunch!!   LOL, as one commented: “You are starving.”

The island was smaller than expected and after 57 kilometres I was back in Siquijor town. It was only midday but I did not feel like going back to the city. It was rather easy to find a room for the night, as there was plenty of accommodation scattered along the coast. It therefore took no time at all to find myself a nipa-hut overlooking the ocean.

19 October - Siquijor - Dumaguete City By ferry

I cycled the short distance to the jetty and waited for the ferry back to Dumaguete City. Once in Dumaguete, I went back to Harold’s for the night. There was no ferry to Iloilo and the only option was to cycle back to Bacolod from where I know there is a ferry to Iloilo. There was, however, a rather nice street party that night, so I took a walk to the waterfront where things were rather lively.

20 October - Dumaguete – Hanseatic Resort- 92 km

Instead of going exactly the same way back to Bacolod, I continued in an anti-clockwise direction around the island. It was a surprisingly scenic ride as the road ran next to the coast for most of the day. I was in no particular hurry and continued at leisure until I reached a rather nice looking place right on the water. The lady was quite friendly and we sat talking for a while until the sun started setting. I had a much needed shower and a beer before consuming a rather large plate of fried rice.

21 October - Hanseatic Resort – San Carlos- 82 km

While having my early morning coffee there was a frantic knocking on my door. It was the owner who thought my bike was stolen!  I put it inside the room whenever possible. The reason for her concern was that the guests, who arrived after I did, left without paying. I guess she thought we were all in cahoots. I felt sorry for her as I thought she really needed the money.

It was once again an easy ride along the coast and soon I passed the ferry port where I first arrived. There is not much fun in doing the same route twice, this time, however, it started raining and I cycled the last 40 kilometres to San Carlos in bucketing rain. I went straight to Amu Tourist Inn, where I stayed previously. As I was early I did some laundry and then went in search of food. That also completed my cycle around the island of Negros. I now had to get myself back to Bacolod where I can get a ferry to the next island.

05 October 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - CEBU


28 Setember- Alona Beach, Panglao Island - Cebu City, Cebu Island- 26km

I cycled the short distance to the ferry port in Tagbilaran from where there was a ferry nearly every hour to the island of Cebu. I bought my ticket (P500) and pushed my bike on board. The weather was perfect and the sea as smooth as anyone can wish for.

Two hours later we arrived at the large and chaotic city of Cebu. I quickly found myself a room and set off to one of the multitude of malls in the city. The purpose was to see if I could find a GoPro camera. There are so many shopping centres around that I reckoned if I could not find it in Cebu, then it does not exist at all. I spent more money than what I should have, but was now the proud owner of a GoPro camera!!  The only drawback was that I could not find a handlebar mount for it. I understood that there was one in Bacolod, which they promised to keep for me until I got there. I spent the entire evening trying to figure out how it works and how to change the waterproof housing. Quite a nifty, little thing!!

29 September - Cebu City – Blue Pot Resort- 85km

I was a bit sleepy as I went to bed rather late but eventually got underway. I first stopped off at the Old Fort, took a few pictures and then cycled through the old part out of the city. The old part of Cebu is rather interesting, with its narrow lanes and what smells like open sewerage canals. Soon, I was on the highway out of town, heading clockwise around the island.

The going was a bit on the slow side as the traffic was hectic (although it was a Sunday). The road was jam-packed with buses, cars, trucks (loaded to the hilt), tricycles and colourful Jeepneys. I kept as much to the side of the road as possible, but still had to veer off the road from time to time to make way for oncoming traffic overtaking. I spotted many cyclists along the way and guessed that they must be part of a cycle race. Soon, I saw one of the participants pushing his bike along and stopped to ask if he needed help. Fortunately, all he needed as an inner tube, of which I had two, and I could help him out.
Just after passing the town of Argao it started raining,and right there I saw a sign for the Blue Pot Resort!!  I turned off to see if they had a room. It was not much of a resort, just a few rooms, but I was happy to be out of the rain and in a very comfortable room. I cooked myself some pasta, had a beer and played with my new toy.

30 September - Blue Pot Resort – Moalboal- 130km

It was a long day on the road, past roadside gasoline stalls selling petrol by the liter in Coca-Cola bottles. Amazingly enough, the price is similar to what you’d find at the gas stations. Judging by the number of motorcycles and tricycles that stop at these stalls, business is booming.

I passed drying crops taking up the entire one lane!!  It’s not the fact that they use the road for drying their produce that surprised me, but that no one ever drives over it. In fact, buses and trucks will come to a complete halt and carefully manoeuvre around it before continuing.

Eventually, I arrived in Moalboal and turned off for Panagsama Beach, about 4 kilometres down the road. It is a real diver’s hangout with plenty of accommodation and a few dive shops. A couple of bars and restaurants line the single dirt road. It is a laid-back place where the beers are cheap and dive boats are eagerly waiting to take divers off to the nearby Pescador Island.

1/3October - Moalboal

I was eager for a dive and to try out my new camera. There were, however, still a few things I wanted to check online, just to make sure I had it all correct. I did my laundry and went into town to draw more money………..diving is an expensive business!!Again, it felt that I spent just about the entire day eating.
The following morning I was up and at the dive shop first thing in the morning. Oh, and what a fantastic dive it was!!  We went out to the near Pascador Island and dived for about an hour. Taking pictures underwater, however, turned out to be more difficult than expected and I came away with a flat battery and hardly anything to show for it. Lots to learn!!!  The second dive was just off the beach and even more amazing. It turned out that the Sardine Run was on at the time and we saw the most amazing formations of thousands and thousands of sardines!  Unfortunately, by that time my battery was flat so no pictures to show for it.
Oh, the underwater world is so amazing and so incredibly rewarding.When I’m underwater, I experience this amazing feeling of peace and calm;it feels like I could just stay there forever…. it is completely surreal.Being located in the Tañon Strait, the dives around Moalboal tend to be along steep, near-vertical walls. The strait drops to around 600 metres (I’ve been told) yet currents were non-existent while we were there. Visibility was not crystal clear but the water was around a very comfortable 28º C. I´m going again tomorrow - this will be my last dive for a while as I´m spending all my money on diving!  Time to move on!!

In the process I made some friends and together with three other travellers we set off on a tricycle to the Whale shark diving area. Getting there was a bit of a pain, as first we took the tricycle and then two busses, only arriving at the dive site at around 11h00, if not later. It was, however, quite a unique experience diving with as many as 9 or 10 whale sharks in close proximity. They lazily floated about, looking for food, sucking in each and every morsel floating around. With their huge mouths wide open it, from time to time, seemed that they could easily suck me right in!!  I played with my camera and in the process learned a few things, but still was not happy with my shots.

After an hour or so it was time to get going again, and after a bite to eat we went back to the roadside to wait for the next bus back to Moalboal. That night we had something to eat, shared pictures, and had a few beers at one of the local joints.

4 October - Moalboal

I did not waste any time in the morning. I just had a quick breakfast and then headed to the main road for a bus to Cebu. The bus ride was very comfortable and the bus even had Wi-Fi on-board, not bad at all. We arrived in Cebu about 2.5/3 hours later.


I took a taxi to the Immigration Office, where I found a room packed full of people all needing a visa or visa extension. As usual, it was a long and slow process but the day passed quickly and at 15h00 I was on the bus back to Moalboal, visa extension securely stamped into my passport. 

28 September 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - BOHOL



22 September
Port of Benoni, Camiguin   - Jagna, Bohol
25km & ferry



I had plenty of time to cycle to the port; the ticket was 600 Pesos & 128 Pesos for the bike.  We left at around 11h00, no sooner were we underway and we hit rough seas.  The ferry rolled and pitched wildly, people yelled and hung on to one another.  Seasick bags were in high demand as our ferry rocked and rolled in the high seas. I started looking around for some kind of floating device but did not see any.  There was not much I could do but sit tight and hope for the best.  Water poured in through all conceivable nooks and crannies not fully sealed.  To everyone’s relief we arrived at Jagna, Bohol two hours later.  The wind was still pumping and I was in no mood to battle into a head wind.  I found a room for 250 pesos and hoped that the weather would subside by the following morning.

Later in the day I took a walk to the old church (1808) which still seems to be the center of activity in town, there seemed to be some kind of celebration going on, complete with food stalls and balloons.  I understand that it is one of the oldest and the largest in Bohol. 

I passed many stalls selling Bohol's best-known delicacies, Kalamay (Kalamayhati), a sticky and very sweet paste of sticky-rice flour and coconut milk, packed in a coconut shell, sealed with a characteristic red tape.  I did not buy any, as it looked rather sweet.


Bohol forms part of, what is known as, “The Visayas”, a large cluster of islands in the middle of the Philippines.  The Visayas consists of 1000s of islands but there are 9 main islands, being Cebu, Bohol, Guimaras, Samar, Leyte, Panay, Negros, Romblon and Siquijor.  I seriously feel I´m going to need more than one visa extension!!!

23 September- Jagna – Talibon -90km
First thing in the morning I headed to the Municipality to get a map of the island. While waiting for their doors to open, I had breakfast at a roadside stall across the way. Map in hand, I set off in an anti-clockwise direction around the island. It was a fascinating ride and very different to Mindanao. I passed mangrove swamps, strange looking hills, a multitude of small villages, and sari-sari stores. I even spotted a giant lizard or two.

Once in Talibon I was surprised to find yet more history. The town is home to a beautiful old church built with blocks of coral rocks (not very eco-friendly); ironically it was also built by slaves!  Construction started in 1852 and was completed in 1899 (it sounds like they were not in a great hurry). Even more bizarre is the history of Talibon: Ferdinand Magellan escaped from the hands of Lapu-Lapu's men who were seeking revenge for the raping of fifty virgins of Cebu. The ship, Trinidad, sailed towards the direction of Getafe-Talibon, where some of the crew disembarked and mingled with the natives, educating them in Christianity!!!

24 September - Talibon–Tubigon- 60km
I packed my mobile home and continued on around the island. It was boiling hot and the locals kept calling me in to sit down and have something to drink, as they were convinced that I was going to get heatstroke. Although it was very hot I did not think I was going to suffer from heatstroke!!  I soon reached Tubigon and decided to go and have a look at the famous Chocolate Hills.

Chocolate Hills - all 1268 of them, and there is a legend!  Apparently, these hills are the calcified tears of a giant, whose heart was broken by the death of a mortal lover. No sooner were I there and it started raining, so I did not come away with any good pictures.

In Tubigon I looked around for a room and cycled down a dirt road, past locals’ prized possessions, their fighting cocks, until I reached Tubigon Beach Resort. Resorts come in all shapes and sizes, from five-star to rickety huts on stilts…. I guess this was the rickety hut on stilts. The walkway did not look all that secure and the floor of the room was rather springy, to say the least, but at 350 Pesos I could not complain.It even had a shower and toilet. The water, however, drained straight through a hole in the floor and ran out underneath the hut. The toilet was halfway between a squat toilet and a throne. I did not check the toilet to see where it drained.I hope it was not the same as the shower!!!

25/27September - Tubigon – Alona Beach, Panglao Island- 75km

I knew it was not going to be a long day on the road, so I took my time and stopped at each and every conceivable place that looked interesting. I followed the coast past small villages, each with its own fascinating history. The road ran past large areas of mangrove swamps, which also turned out to be the habitat of a species of crab-eating macaques.

I soon reached the busy city of Tagbilaran from where there is a bridge to Panglao Island. About 25 kilometres down the road I found the famous Alona Beach, and saw some European tourists for the first time since arriving in the Philippines. Things were a bit more pricy than elsewhere in the Philippines, but I found a room and settled in.

The following day I went to the Tarsier Sanctuary - how very fascinating!!  The Philippine tarsier is tiny, measuring only about 85 to 160 millimetres (3.35 to 6.30 inches) in height, making it one of the smallest primates. It was therefore rather difficult to spot and even harder to photograph, as it is only about the size of a human fist and it can easily fit into a person’s hand. The interesting thing is that its eyes are fixed in its skull andcannot turn in their sockets. Instead, the head can rotate 180 degrees. I also understand that they have the largest eye-to-body-size ratio of all mammals. The tarsier is a nocturnal animal and the big eyes provide for excellent night vision.The tarsier maybe small but has a home range of 1 to 2 hectares, a lot of ground for such a small animal. The females give birth to one thumb sized baby per annum, and carry their infants in their mouths.These little creatures are now sadly endangered. I stayed on the island one more day, not doing much at all, just hanging around.

10 September 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - MINDANAO



3 September - Sandakn, Sabah, Malaysia - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines - By ferry

At last the 3rd arrived, and although the ticket stated the departure time at 16h00, I was told to be at the port at 18h00. I packed up and left Sandakan Backpackers, which felt like home by that time. Just before leaving it started bucketing down, and the last thing in the world I felt like doing was cycling the short eight kilometres to the ferry in the rain. Fortunately, as rain goes in the tropics, the rain came down hard and quick, and by the time I was ready to leave, it was all over.

Once at the port it was a madhouse of people, trucks, busses and minivans, picking passengers up or dropping them off for the next trip. Once my bike and I was on the ferry I had time to explore, and found double bunk beds on the deck (better than sleeping on the floor). I found my spot, being no. 317, and that was only on Deck 1!!  People kept pouring onto the ferry and it was no wonder that two or more people had the same number for one bunk!! 

It was after 22h00 when we finally departed. The tiny canteen was jam-packed, trying to serve all the passengers; it was hardly worth the wait to buy something. The bunks were rather close to one another and it was a noisy night under blazing, florescent lights. I eventually fell asleep to the snoring, phlegm-coughing, burping and farting of the other passengers.

4 September
I woke rather early to more chattering, coughing, farting, burping and radio’s playing - each to their own tune. Our vessel was moving at a snail’s pace, and I understood from the other passengers that there was some or other problem with the engine. As I was the only foreigner aboard, I had my fair share of attention!!  They had no shame in coming to have a look and some gathered at my bunk, staring openly (no picking your nose discretely!!). At the same time it made it rather social, and the ladies on both sides of me took it upon themselves to take care of me and tell the onlookers when it was time to go… ha-ha. This was a really good thing, as there was always someone to watch your stuff while you were not there.

The hours came and went, and in the end the sun started sinking below the horizon, and still there was no land in sight. I sat on the deck, watching the Moslems perform their evening prayers to the soothing sounds of the (impromptu?) mullah. It was calming and peaceful against the rich colours of the setting sun.




We reached the port of Zamboanga City at around 9.00 p.m. but it was 11.00 p.m. by the time I got off the ferry. The going was particularly slow, as not only did everyone want to get off first, but one had to take a bus to the immigration office. While waiting to get off, one had to be particularly alert as small kids hopped on-board, scavenging for whatever was going - might it be unattended luggage or some leftover food. They were like monkeys, climbing up and down the side of the ferry; it was quite amazing to watch them operate - they were as quick as lightning, and even the on-board security had no chance of catching them!!!  They were under and over the sleeping bunks without the guards even seeing them.

Eventually, I was off the boat and at the immigration building. The queue was snaking from the one end of the building to the other. People were pushing and chafing (not sure where they wanted to go, as no pushing or chafing was going to get them to the front any sooner!). It was stuffy and hot inside the building, and the perspiration was running down our faces; people were fanning themselves vigorously with their passports (not that it helped, at all).

By the time I got out of there it was fairly late to go in search of a hotel. There was nothing I could do about
it and, in the dark, I cycled off. In the light of my headlamp I followed the deserted streets, with just a few homeless people for company. The first two hotels were full, and the third too expensive. The fourth was more my style, and so it was 1.30 a.m. by the time I was in the room….what a day!!

5 September - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines

First thing in the morning I took to the streets, looking for a bank. On the boat I changed my Malaysian Ringgit for Philippine Pesos, but I still had to get some more local currency. I also desperately needed a roadmap. The Philippines is the world´s second largest archipelago (after Indonesia) with 7107 islands, and although most are uninhabited, I planned to visit a good few.

This is a small country with a fascinating history!  In 1521 the islands were claimed by Spain, the British occupied it for a while, but soon gave it back to Spain. Then the U.S. came. The U.S. war officially lasted for three years but skirmishes still went on for another seven, killing 600 000 Philippines in the process. After the U.S. eventually left, the Japanese troops came and only in 1946 were the Philippines granted full independence!!  Sjoe, and then they still have to deal with volcanos and typhoons!  Today, political violence is still widespread, and I’m constantly being told to be careful along the road, and NOT to camp along the way.

While walking about the heavens opened up, and everyone ran for cover. The temperatures hover around the mid 30° C, and I understand that I am now in the wet season (May to October). Fortunately, the rain comes quick and hard and does not last very long.  I hailed a tricycle (more a bike with a sidecar) and found the going not much faster than walking. I found the bank but no roadmap.

6 September - Zamboanga City – Vitali - 72km

I joined the other tricycles, bicycles, Jeepneys, busses and trucks and cycled out of town. As I was now cycling on the right-hand side of the road, I first stopped at a bike shop to change my mirror back to the left-hand side. (Once again, the owner warned me not to camp next to the road and advised me to rather to go to the small village of Vitali and check with the Police for a room in the village.)

With the morning pollution hanging thick and yellow in the air, I followed the road north, out of the large and busy Zamboanga City. It was a stunning ride, past numerous small villages flanking both sides of the highway; every now and again the villages made way for emerald-green rice paddies. Water buffalo waddled in the muddy puddles and tricycles carted small kids to and from school. Amazingly, even the smallest village had a large school.


As is always the case on my first day in a new country, I stopped countless times to take photos. This is an especially photogenic country and I could easily fill a 36GB card in no time at all. Nothing much came of the mountains they warned me about, and although hilly, it was not too steep.

At around 15h00 dark clouds gathered and I was sure I was going to be caught in a thunderstorm. I made it to Vitali without being rained upon, and found a fair-sized village with plenty of roadside stalls. I stopped at the Police Station to ask about a room in the village, and was directed to a Karaoke Bar with rooms above. As was to be expected of a room above a Karaoke Bar, it was noisy, dark and dingy, with three-quarter cardboard walls. The owners were, however, super-friendly. It had a bathroom at the end of the hallway with a large drum filled with water, which one could scoop out and pour over oneself. It was very refreshing!!! 

That evening I got myself a takeaway rice-meal. At first I sat on the balcony overlooking the road, but soon three others joined me and watched every morsel I consumed, so I removed myself to my half-private room, ate my meal, and sat under the fan, writing my diary and editing photos.


7 September - Vitali – Ipil - 65km

There was no need to hang around, and I soon left my humble abode. Before I left I had a quick bite to eat down the road. No sooner had I finished my meal when I was lead off by the restaurant owner to view the corpse of her sister!!  I was informed that she died of a heart attack (fortunately not from food poisoning) and I was encouraged to take pictures!!  I politely declined, and before they could escort me to the funeral, I swiftly made my way out of there.

It was another stunning day. Although this was the coastal road, the road did not run flush next to the coast. But, every time I reached the top of a hill, I could see the bright blue ocean below, sprinkled with tiny islands.

It felt that I was cycling through a long, drawn-out village. There was hardly a time that I was out of the public eye. It was a short ride, and I soon reached the larger town of Ipil, where I found a nice hotel at a very reasonable price. It also had a great restaurant and even a swimming pool. Not bad for 600 Pesos.

8 September - Ipil – Buug - 75km

It rained for most of the day, and once or twice I had to pull over and wait for the worst to pass. Once again it was slightly hilly, but not as bad as expected. I passed plenty of tiny villages where their main occupation appeared to be doing the laundry. Palm-woven huts and Sari-Sari stores, selling everything from crackers to shampoo sachets, lined the road.

Once I reached Buug, it was easy to spot a hotel, as it was not a very large town. It, however, had a very large and interesting fish market, selling all kinds of fish - fresh and dried, as well as big and small.
The fact that I’m frequently asked if I´m an American journalist or a missionary, most likely indicates that only foreigners ever visit Mindanao. Seeing that my answer to both is negative leaves most people puzzled, and it is normally followed by a polite: “What is your purpose in the Philippines?”  “Just travelling,” I answer, by which they appear a bit disappointed and normally repeat:  “Oh, just travelling,” rubbing their chins, as if such a thing is not possible.

I am not taking as many pictures as usual, for as soon as I take the camera out I can hear them whisper: “journalist, journalist”. This is one part of the world where I do not want to be mistaken for a journalist. The reason being that through the years, the island Muslims (Moros) have launched repeated attempts to establish autonomy on the island. Since the Maguindinao massacre in 2009, when fifty seven civilians were killed, amongst them four journalists, Mindanao ranks only second to Iraq for being the most deadly country for journalists. I now keep my camera well hidden!!

9/10 September - Buug – Pagadian - 63km


It was a rainy day as I headed for the mountains. It was another scenic day, past more rice paddies and farmers ploughing their land with Water buffalo. I cycled across rivers and past waterfalls, while small kids along the way run away as fast as their little legs could carry them. People in palm-woven huts looked at me in utter amazement. In fact, I had a little giggle all by myself today as I saw a man fall right out of his hammock!!  He was relaxing under a tree while guarding his stall, selling petrol in Coca-Cola bottles, until he spotted me - he spun around at such speed that he fell right out!! Ha-ha-ha!!

I felt a bit sluggish and struggled up the hills - they were long and steep, (or at least that’s what it felt like). Some days my legs don’t want to cooperate. I was happy to reach the downhill into busy Pagadian. The roads were jam-packed with tricycles and Jeepneys, and I weaved through them like a pro!!  I soon found a hotel room, had a quick shower, and set off looking for a supermarket. Upon my return, I also found that I seemingly made it out of Zamboanga City by the skin of my teeth.


At least I found myself a map of Mindanao Island. Taking into account all the trouble here I will be happy to get off the island all together, but there is still a long way to go. I also understand that the North-East coast is safe, and once I get to Cagayan De Oro I should be fine.

I stayed in Pagadian the following day, did laundry and ate just about anything I saw being sold on the street.

11 September - Pagadian – Tubod - 80km


At first it was a nice, easy cycle and then the road turned inland along a rather steep road over the mountain. I must have been climbing for the first forty kilometres, as suddenly the road started winding down to the ocean, which also came with fantastic views. Once on the coastal plains, it was an easy ride into Tubod.

I was directed to a rather fancy and expensive hotel. I thought: what the heck; I will stay for the night!  As the hotel was on the outskirts of the town, I also ate at their restaurant that night which was also a bit pricy. The food was excellent; well worth the price I paid!!

12 September - Tubod – Iligan - 66km


I had a thoroughly enjoyable day. It started off with me meeting the nicest bunch of people one can imagine. They stayed at the same hotel for a three-day conference, and invited me to have breakfast with them. The Filipinos are so hospitable and friendly and always ready to share a meal!   They are also terribly polite; always greeting me with a polite “good morning, ma’am”!

It was a short and enjoyable day on the road, as the road ran close to the ocean with excellent views. Just before Iligan I turned off the road to view the Maria Cristina falls - a magnificent sight. I was rather disappointed in the outcome of my photos…. oh well, there is always another day.

13 September - Iligan – CDO - 88km


It was a particularly difficult day on the road. The traffic was hectic, the road narrow, and the drivers were on a suicide mission. I had to watch both oncoming traffic and traffic coming from behind. Vehicles overtook without regard for anyone, with the result that I had to dive off the road quite a few times to avoid being road kill. In the process I picked up a puncture from a metal pin - the pin was so tightly lodged in the tyre that I had difficulty getting it out. I don’t fix punctures with any elegance and came away with grease all over myself.
I was hot and sweaty, full of grease and in a bad mood as I cycled into the large and busy city of CDO. To make matters worse, I soon found myself amongst fume-belching tricycles and Jeepneys, so tightly gridlocked that I could not even get through on a bicycle.

At least that gave me plenty of opportunity to ask a local where to find a hotel, as no one was going anywhere. I was pointed down a hotel-kind-of-road and was lucky to find a hotel at a very cheap rate.
The air-con did not work and I had to transfer to the next room (sigh) where the air-con half worked, but the toilet kept running!!  Instead of lying in bed listening to a running toilet all night, I got up and fixed the darn thing. As I crawled into bed a final time I had to laugh at just how bizarre things can be some days.  Just before I finally fell asleep, I saw a mouse running across the floor…. I just giggled, ignored the mouse, and I slept soundly!!

The following day I did the laundry, bought two new inner tubes, and on the way back spotted a river rafting company. That was just what I needed; I decided to go rafting the following day and what a good decision that was. It was a great trip!  The river was scenic and the guides very good - it was such a good day that I changed my mind about CDO altogether. (The mouse was still running around the room, poor thing!!)

16 September - CDO – Balingoan – ferry to Benoni, Camiguin Island - 90km

It turned out quite an eventful day. Leaving CDO was quite stressful as I weaved through the Jeepneys, tricycles, busses and trucks to get out of the city. Along the way I stopped, as usual, at one of the Sari-Sari stores to fill up with water. This time, however, I decided to have one of the boiled eggs on the counter (not so usual!). To my surprise and utter horror (and to the amusement of my onlookers) it turned out to be a Balut - a half-boiled duck embryo in the shell!!  No encouragement from the locals could get me to devour that soupy fetus. I understand that a person is supposed to crack open the top and drink the “soup” (embryonic fluid) before devouring the fetus and its eggy surrounds.

Along the way I passed many places with huge piles of coconut shells, and smoke billowing from boilers or shacks. My curiosity got the better of me and I finally stopped to have a look at just what the heck they were doing. It turned out that they make charcoal from the coconut shells, which explained all the smoke coming from these sites.

Satisfied I set off again, past more stores, all selling deliciously looking food as well as the famed Balut. The Filipinos do like their food and I don’t think they can go anywhere without it (albeit their portions are quite small). Roadside stores, therefore, sell all the local favourites. On the counters dishes are displayed neatly, from big to small. These normally contain fried fish, fried chicken, pork (in various forms), veggies and noodles.

I soon arrived in the small town of Balingoan, from where the ferry departs to Camiguin Island. A ferry was waiting, so I quickly bought a ticket and got on-board. It was a short ferry ride to the island, but it was already 4h30 and too late (I thought) to cycle to the main town. I found myself a palm-woven hut on stilts over the water and settled in!!  What a life!! 

First things first, and I got myself a San Miguel Beer, put my legs up, sighed, and looked out over the zip-line passing right in front of me, wondering whether I should do that in the morning. Soon I was starving and went in search of food. I had one of the local favourites - Pork adobo with garlic rice - at a roadside restaurant. As usual, the food is very tender, as in this part of the world they only eat with a fork and spoon. With the fat still on the meat I, however, found it way too fatty to my liking.


17 September - Benoni – Caves Dive Resort - 25km

I loaded the bike and continued along the coastal road. The road runs around the island, all along the coast, for about seventy kilometres. Nothing is therefore very far.
I cycled into the tiny city of Mambajao, the capital of the island. I found a bank (which was off-line), a market, various stores, bakeries, and eateries. I continued down the road and enquired at the popular Action Geckos about a room, but they were rather expensive (900 Pesos) so I tried the next-door Caves Dive resort, which was slightly cheaper at 700 Pesos. I was desperate to go for a dive and thought it a good place to stay and to organize a dive.

In order to dive, I had to retrieve my dive certificate and needed an internet connection. I soon found that although they say they have internet, the internet is often not working!!  I was pissed-off, to say the least, as I felt that I have now wasted a day and the money for the room. It really takes some getting used to the laid-back manner of the Filipinos! To me, having internet which is not connected is the same as not having internet at all!! Give me strength!!!

18 September - 20km

The next morning there was still no internet, so I packed up and went to Jasmin by the Sea, which was a much better deal at 500 Pesos for a large room with a bathroom, right on the water. They, at least, had an internet that was actually connected, albeit a bit on the slow side. At last I managed to retrieve my dive certificate with the help of my sister back home. Besides editing and uploading pictures, I did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.

19 September

The south-western monsoon came in during the night, and I woke to a howling wind and bucketing rain. There is nothing quite like crawling back into bed in bad weather!! Eventually, it cleared and I took a walk to the dive shop and arranged a dive for the following day. Then I caught a tricycle into town to do a bit of shopping, but I found the supermarket closed, as it was lunchtime. At least the ATM woke from its slumber!! 

I thought of going to the internet café to pass the time, but they were off-line, so the only thing left to do was to have a pizza. It was not a bad pizza - I could only eat half and saved the rest for supper. With my shopping done I hopped on a tricycle back to Jasmin, which was about five kilometres out of town. Once there, I discovered that the power was out, so not much to do but sit down and have a beer. I must admit it is not a bad place to wait out the weather.

20 September
The following day the weather looked much better, so off I went for my first dive in ages!  It was a fantastic dive with an abundance of fish in all shapes, sizes and colours. The coral was plentiful and of a wider variety that I’ve ever seen before. The water temperature was at a very comfortable 29°C, and I was in my element!! 

After the dive I went off to explore the rest of the island. It is truly a remarkable island, with active volcanos, waterfalls, hot springs, a ruined church, an underwater cemetery, and even a spring that squirts soda water. I ended the day with a ride on the zip-line, which was so much fun I nearly went twice!!! 
21 September
I felt that is was time to get going again, but could not resist one more dive. So, off I went to the dive shop again. Along the way, the dive master came past and gave me a lift on the back of his motorbike, to plenty of comments from the locals. It was an interesting dive, as we went off in one of the local boats, which was a novelty in itself. It was a short ride out to White Island where, once again, there was an abundance of sea life.

After the dive I went into town. The internet was so slow and sporadic that it was better to go to the internet café, which was slightly better. Once done with the internet, I was starving. Again, I decided to have a pizza - I was sure living the high life!!  With all my money spent on diving, zip-lines and pizzas, I desperately needed a bank, but the ATM was off-line again. I could only hope that it would be back on line in the morning, as I did not want to spend another day on the island (I was spending way too much money).


I understood from the locals that is was possible to get a ferry from the island to Bohol. Instead of going back to the main land, I thought it a good idea to go to Bohol instead.  Apparently, there was a daily ferry at around 10h30 from the Port of Benoni to Jagna, Bohol.