Saturday, November 27, 2010

Up on the shore they work all day, Out in the sun they slave away, While we devotin' Full time to floatin' Under the sea

Tonight, I am writing from outside Chris and my room on the island of Panglao, just southwest of Bahol. It is almost midnight, I'm sitting on the porch shirtless, watching the nightly lightening storms illuminate the sky, listening to the insects and motor scooters driving past.

As I mentioned in the last post, Chris and I had plans to leave Cebu City for the day and visit the city of Tagbilaran, a 2-hour boat ride away. In what has clearly become Chris and my style, we really didn't have a clue what we were doing because we did no research and had no plan.

That night, while talking to some Danish girls Chris and Charlie had met earlier, we got some sense talked into us and decided to move our operations to the island of Bahol because we were told the diving was better than the island of Cebu. We had a 6am ticket, but called and were told we could change it to the 9:30 sailing, but when we arrived that turned out to not be the case. We had to argue with the manager for 15 minutes, but in the end we got on the boat without paying any extra money. 

On the boat, we actually met a group of 8 people from Seattle, who were a group with the Mars Hill Church. Interestingly many of the Americans I've met down here have been of the missionary type... Anyways, Cebu City was a bit of a dump with nothing really to do, so we were glad to get out of it.

But again due to our complete lack of research and planning, we landed in Tagbilaran, which is a small town that is not very nice and has nothing to do, it's just a jumping off place to the actual good stuff. It started off particularly irritating however, due to the ever present issue of prostitutes.  On the advice of the tourist office actually, we took a tricycle out to a place called D' Cottages, which they told us was a very cheap place to spend the night. Upon arriving, we were asked by a nasty looking white guy if we “had girlfriends” and told the place was 200 pesos not for a night, but for three HOURS. Yep, that kind of place. We walked out and wandered down the road in typical fashion, not sure what to do next. We ended up catching another tricycle back into the main part of town, and finding what was actually a very nice room at the Travelers Inn for 500 pesos. Once we had our room, we wandered out into the unknown in search of a dive shop to ask questions about where we should go and get an idea of prices and whatnot.

We walked and walked, and realized we were once again, in the middle of nowhere and that it was getting dark. And once again in typical fashion, a local helped us out (to make a buck for themselves of course) and everything turned out perfectly.  We got a tricycle to a Alona Beach, found out it was a really cool place, a local grabbed us, lead us to a dive shop (with competitive prices) and told us he could find us a room that was at our budget of 500 pesos a night.

While we had a room back in Tagbilaran, we spent the evening at Alona beach, eating amazing food, drinking fresh mango juice, and drinking San Miguel (the classic Philippine beer).  The area wasn't too crowded, had lots of Filipinos rather than just tourists, and had an overall wonderful vibe.  We sat on the beach listening to reagee and watching a lightening storm, then took a tricycle back to our place in the other town.

After breakfast and picking up a new book (on the Civil War), we took a jeepney (25 pesos) back to Alona beach and actually saw it in the daylight. Perfect.  We paid up on four nights (500 pesos a night) in our room, a pretty nice one at that, and went to talk to the dive shop.  Starting tomorrow, I am beginning my open water certification, which costs 15,800 pesos. It is a big expense when compared to the rest of the trip, but for that price (~$360) I get a private instructor, four days of class, four dives, boat transportation out to the dive sites, all the gear, and an international certification that will allow me to dive anywhere in the world down to 18 meters, all on a tropical island. Yah, it seems like a pretty good deal when put into perspective.

So once again, time to introduce my new travel friend. Chris is (coincidentally) also from Cape Town, South Africa, and is 25.  He works in finance back home and does Brazilian j-jitzu, but right now is taking a year off just to travel.  So far he has been spending his time here in se Asia, and is planning on doing some j-jutzu study here in the Philippines where there is a black belt to train under.  Like most fellow backpackers, he is a great guy, a blast to be around, and a wonderful companion for my journey.

With no other plans for the day, we decided to go snorkeling, which was my first time ever doing it.  Renting the mask, snorkel and flippers was only 100 pesos, and we rented them from an ex-Californian who runs a business at the beach and who we had run into in line for the boat to Bahol the previous day. Oh, and Chris has an underwater camera which is awesome, but is already giving him problems...

Having never done snorkeling before, I felt a bit awkward, and had a little trouble with getting water in my goggles and getting saltwater in my mouth, but it was still a blast. The coral even just off this main beach is very cool, I swam through schools of fish, saw bright blue starfish, sea urchins, clown fish, and countless other things, all in about 30 minutes out.

 Another cool coral formation.  Once I have done the first two dives that consist of just drills really, we will take the boat out to the real coral reefs, which should be absolutely amazing. I'm excited about seeing a lion fish and sea turtles!

After snorkeling, we walked back to our place and got lunch along the way.  For just 220 pesos, we got a whole chicken, and two plates of rice and two plates noodles with vegetables.  We both thought it was one of the best meals we had eaten on our trips, and it's so cheap!

After an early evening rain shower, we left our room and headed back to the beach, a five minute walk, to watch the sunset.  We missed most of it, but it was still quite nice.

Back on the beach we got a bit of food, chicken and veggies with rice, and watched two fire dancers preform. While we were expecting a lively party because of a sign that promised a 'laser disco' on the beach, we found no such event.  In all reality though, it's just as well. Alona beach is such a nice and mellow place, where you find cheap diving,cheap food and drinks and a truly wonderful atmosphere.  And once again, dumb luck and a few tips have lead us to something amazing.
Well that's it for now. Tomorrow I start my dive course and we may explore the island a bit more. Take care everyone, and feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or thoughts. As always, please feel free to share my blog with anyone you think may be interested.  Peace!