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Philippines

 (3543 km - 110 days)

 

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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 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. http://www.sunstar.com.ph/breaking-news/2013/09/09/palace-condemns-zambo-clash-boat-air-trips-disrupted-302255

 

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.

 

Camiguin Island

 

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 04h30 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.

 

 BOHOL

 

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

I had plenty of time to cycle to the port; the ticket was 650 Pesos and 128 Pesos for the bike. We left at around 11h00, and no sooner were we underway and the seas became very rough. The ferry rolled and pitched, and people yelled and hung on for dear life. 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 one could do but sit tight and hope for the best. 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 be better by the following morning.

 

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 thousands of islands, but there are nine 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!!!

 

25/27 September - 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 and cannot 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 may be 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.

 

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 - 85 km

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 busses, 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 was 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 - 130 km

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, busses 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.

 

1/3 October - 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.

 

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 Ocktober - Bacolod – 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.

 

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. I had quite a following and felt something like the Pied Piper!!

 

24 October - Altivas – Caticlan - 107km - Caticlan by 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 ordering a pizza!!  Fitting in with the rest of the tourists did not take me anytime at all!!!

 

25/26 October - Boracay

Things are rather expensive and I suppose I could get a dorm room for much cheaper, but I had a rather nice room at a good discount, so I stayed put. I did not dive, or do any of the other nice looking things on the island, as the prices were nearly double than what they were anywhere else in the Philippines. Only the beers were the same price, if you have one at one of the places that advertised specials, so I had a beer or two and sat watching the madness.

 

Sometimes I feel like such an outsider - I’m not Filipino but I’m not a proper tourist, either.

 

MINDORO

 

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.

 

LUZON

 

I gathered my stuff and headed to the tiny ferry jetty from where large motorized Bangka boats departed for the “Mainland” or Luzon Island. It was a quick crossing (about an hour) and once in Batangas City I headed north in the direction of Manila.

 

Unfortunately, the toll road does not allow bicycles (which is a pity) and I had no option but to take the much smaller and narrower road. Strange how the dangerous roads allow bicycles and the safer ones, with the wide shoulder, prohibits bicycles??

 

It felt like I was going slightly uphill (maybe I was, ha-ha). I continued on, past Lipa City, and once I reached Tanauan I decided to turn off and cycle to Talisay and see if I could get a boat across the Taal Lake to the Taal Volcano. I was rather disappointed, as the price for the boat to the island was quite steep and more than what I wanted to spent. I hate it when I get a feeling that I’m being ripped off. I took a rather basic room on the lake and just sat and watched the sun set over the volcano.

 

I really wanted to walk to the top of this tiny volcano as I find it quite fascinating. It is reputed to be the world’s smallest active volcano. It also (like all volcanoes in the Philippines) forms part of The Pacific Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped area of about 40 000 kilometres where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.

 

7 November - Talisay – Manila - 88km

I was not looking forward to cycling up the hill I came down the previous day, but it turned out not as bad as expected. Far worse was the traffic into Manila. I followed what is known as the National Highway, which runs through all the towns and villages along the way. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper and Jeepney-to-Jeepney, all the way into the city. It took me nearly the entire day to cycle the short distance of 88 kilometres into Manila. Hectic stuff!!

 

Once in the city I looked for the suburb of Melati and found myself a decent-looking place to stay. I was happy to be in a solid-looking room ahead of the forecasted typhoon. A super typhoon was forecasted and the weather people estimated that it would be the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall in the Philippines.

 

Due to the typhoon, most flights and ferries were cancelled. I stayed at Pension Natividad, not the cheapest, but very comfortable and centrally located. The place was packed with people who missed their flights and ferries. A kind of jovial mood prevailed while everyone was waiting to see what to do next.

 

8 November - Manila

Although it was overcast and rainy, Manila was out of harm’s way and nothing came of the predicted high winds. The islands to the south were more affected and judging by the pictures on the internet, many islands were hit badly. Still people waited to see when flights and ferries would be operating again. Many of the guests in the pension could not make contact with their families, as lines were down and there was no way of contacting them. There was not much one could do but wait it out and see what will happen next. I went with John and Matthew (both living on Coron Island and waiting for a ferry) to the harbour to see if there was any other ship going to Palawan. There was none so we returned to the Pension and had a beer instead.

 

9 November - Manila

The weather was much better on this day so I took a walk around town. Manila is a very populated city (20 million people!!) and the city is therefore plagued by traffic and pollution. I was surprised to see an extraordinary large amount of homeless people. They, however, seemed very friendly and content living on the pavement amidst the fume belching trucks and Jeepneys.  I ventured on along the seafront, past Rizal Park, to what is known as “Intramuros”, the old Spanish capital. A crumbling wall still half surrounds the area, and although it was mostly destroyed in World War II, it was an interesting area in which to wonder about.

 

I walked back past Robertson’s Mall and picked up a few supplies, seeing that they have a rather well-stocked supermarket. Back at the Pension I sat talking to John, Mathew and Bjorn; we shared a pizza and had a few beers. I also learned that there will be a boat leaving for Coron Island on the Wednesday which sounded like a good idea.

 

10 November - Manila

I took a walk with Bjorn to the National Museum, which turned out to be rather interesting. I found the discovery of the Butuan Boats fascinating. The boats were excavated in 1997 and dates back to 320AD. These boats are evidence that early man in the Philippines was seafaring and that they were relatively technologically advanced. The discovery also revealed that they had contact and traded with areas outside the Philippines, as shown by the artifacts found on site. Even more fascinating is the fact that the largest sailing vessel of its kind yet discovered is currently being unearthed in Butuan City in Mindanao. Estimated to be around 800 years old, the plank vessel may be centuries older than the ships used by European explorers in the 16th century when they first came upon the Philippines.

 

After nibbling on some street food, we wondered off in the direction the Palace to see if we could have a glimpse at the 3 000 pairs of shoes, ha-ha. Along the way we passed a Sikh Temple celebrating the 544th birthday of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of the Sikh Religion. We went inside and were soon issued with headscarves and invited to sit down and partake in the festivities. I had the best Indian food since leaving India. What a wonderful experience.

 

We walked past the Palace but there was nothing much to see, so we carried on to Chinatown which was a bit more interesting. Back at the Pension, I heard that another storm was moving in and once again the ferries and boats were not going anywhere.

 

11 November - Manila

It was Monday and I waited to see what the new storm was going to do. I took to the streets and cycled around the city looking for a bike shop but was unable to find the one I was looking for. It was not important so I gave up and returned to the Pension. I wanted to take a few pictures of the city skyline at night but was unlucky as it started raining, so I returned to my room with nothing to show for my efforts.

 

I had one more boring thing to do and that was to contact my bank to arrange with them the use of my bankcards in a foreign country. Apparently, there is now a new ruling. The South African Reserve Bank has made the ruling that South African bankcards cannot be used by clients living (i.e. temporarily, permanently, working or studying) overseas. Clients will be required, by law, to apply for permission from the SARB to be able to use their cards abroad. I, therefore, had to contact the card division, who then wanted to speak to me in person. I emailed them my telephone details and sat waiting, hoping that they would return my call while I’m still in Manila.

 

12 November - Manila

I had a rather interesting day as I braved the sea of Jeepneys and cycled (what felt like) straight into the lion’s den, LOL. I found the bike shop down a small residential lane, and while the professionals worked on my bike, I took a walk down the street. The street was blocked off, as a TV crew was moving in the following day to record a programme. In the meantime, a choreographer gathered the locals and in no time at all had them doing a wonderful routine!  Professionals can make everything look easy!!!

 

Once my bike was done, it was already dark and it was quite an experience cycling back, without lights, in the heavy traffic!!  Best was to follow a bicycle rickshaw (pedicab) as they don’t have lights either and they are pretty good at weaving in and out of the traffic. I was quite pleased with myself for making it back in one piece. LOL.

 

13 - 14 November – Manila

I took a stroll to Robinson’s Mall and found the ticket office for the ferry company. Friday was just two days away and so I bought a ticket to Puerto Princesa, on Palawan Island. The weather should be much better by Friday and hopefully the ferry will not be cancelled again.

 

Back at my Pension I was pleasantly surprised by a phone call from the card division regarding my bankcard authorization. That now seems to be taken care of for the next six months and then I will have to contact them again.

 

I was a bit baffled by the large contingent of American Peace Corps staff that moved into the Pension. They have been evacuated from Central Visayas after the typhoon and are now, indefinitely, in Manila.  They are staying here for free and still they are complaining that some of them have to sleep in the dormitory!  When I asked one of them when they will be returning he answered that the situation is uncertain as there is no way they can be taken care of!!  ……… Should they not be the ones taking care of the people who need help??   

 

I thought of going there to help and spent the entire day on the internet in order to locate someone to contact, but all to no avail!  That is not good - asking for help and then there is no way of contacting them.

 

Palawan

 

15 - 16 November - Manila, Luzon – Puerto Princesa, Palawan

I cycled off to the pier and was pleasantly surprised by the ferry. It was large and very nice with air-con sleeping quarters, entertainment on the deck, and we even had the staff dancing for us as we left; very cool!!  We sailed out of Manila Bay in perfect weather; I sat outside on the deck listening to music, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, until after midnight, fantastic!!!

 

I awoke the next morning to find that we were surrounded by islands; it was quite a spectacular sight and it looked strangely more Mediterranean than tropical. Food was included in the ticket and we all lined up to receive our polystyrene container with a boiled egg, rice and……ummm, now what was that?  Mince of some sort…. it was very tasty!

 

We only arrived in Puerto Princesa at 0h30, but unlike the other ferries, we all managed to get off quickly and orderly. I cycled up the road looking for accommodation and found the recommended Casa Luna. The rooms were reasonably priced and were conveniently situated around a quart yard. That was just what I needed so I had a quick shower and dived into bed.

 

17 November - Puerto Princesa

I arranged a trip to the underground river for the following day, went to the mall to draw as much money as possible (this is the only ATM on the island), and just hung around, not doing very much.

 

18 November - Puerto Princesa and the underground river

Early morning I was collected and we drove the hour or two to the underground river. On the way we stopped at Ugong Cave which I could not resist exploring. Ugong Rock stands about 75 feet high and you can climb through caves and crevices (with the help of some ropes) right to the top. Instead of walking all the way back, I used the zip-line!!  In a mere 20 seconds or so, I was back on the ground, how cool is that? Once at Sabang Beach we had a buffet lunch (all included) which was delicious.

 

The underground river is located in a national park and although the whole affair was very touristy, the underground river was definitely worth it!  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site and therefore very well protected. Turquoise, crystal clear water disappears into the darkness of the mountain and runs for about eight kilometres. The river winds through the cave before flowing directly into the South China Sea. We only explored 1.5 kilometres of it before turning around and heading back the way we came. It was rather spectacular to row past stalagmites, stalactites and strange limestone formations, created millions of years ago.

 

19 November - Puerto Princesa – Honda Bay - 13km

What a remarkable day it turned out to be. I left Puerto Princesa, prepared for a long day on the road. In the end, I cycled a record breaking 13 kilometers!!  Shortly after leaving the city, I saw a road sign for Honda Bay; I turned down (only to have a look). I found a small jetty with boats leaving for the nearby islands. I enquired about a boat trip to these islands and in the process met Edna (who is in charge of selling the boat tickets). She had a small property with two nipa rooms (and a pig in the yard) and offered me one of the rooms for the night at 200 pesos (R50.00) and she offered to make me supper (all included!).

 

The boat ticket was a bit expensive for one person and in no time at all Edna arranged for me to go to the islands with another group. A lovely family from Manila was kind enough to allow me to join them and what a wonderful day it turned out to be. They were the nicest people out, and invited me to share their food and drinks. I got to eat typical Filipino food including salted eggs, eggplant in garlic and chili, fried fish, and loads of other things I can’t remember the names of!!  We had a wonderful time, visiting three of the nearly islands before returning to the mainland.

 

Edna was waiting for me at the jetty and together we walked the short distance to her house. While she prepared the rice, fresh fish and octopus for supper, the power went out but that was no problem as she quickly carried the food next door to where they were having a barbeque and continued cooking there.

 

After dark, a few visitors came to have a look at the stranger in their village, and to make matters even more interesting we took a walk up the road to the nearby basketball court, the centre of town and all activities in the area!  On one half of the court youngsters were shooting for the net and on the other half kids were doing cartwheels and jumping elastic rope. On the sideline, you could get something to nibble on, or take part in one of the many games on offer. Kids hopped, skipped and jumped in the street or did silly tricks on their bicycles while the older ones just hung around, trying to look cool!

 

What a wonderful village. In the short walk to and from the basketball court, I am sure, I met the entire community. I love travelling!!!

 

20 November - Honda Bay – Roxas - 128 km

It was a rather tough day on the road. Not only was it extremely hot, the hills were also rather steep. I, for some reason, did not feel very well and had an upset stomach and felt nauseous all day. Halfway through the day I started vomiting and soon afterwards started cramping, something that has never happened before!  What a terrible day!  Pushing the bike up the steep hills, cramping, rubbing legs, pushing, cramping, and rubbing!!!! 

 

What a day!!  It took me nearly the entire day to reach my destination. I found a room and collapsed exhausted on the bed. I had no appetite, which was also not a good thing. I tried to eat a bit of food but was in no mood for stuffing food down my throat.

 

21 - 22 November - Roxas – Taytay - 80 km

I expected the day to be difficult but did not expect it to be so hard. My lack of food intake did not help and still I felt nauseous. At least I stopped at the chemist to get some medication for cramps and in the process also stocked up on some vitamins (for what it’s worth).

 

I struggled along all day and had no energy. The hills were rather steep and once again I had to push up the hills, stopping every few metres to take a rest. What an awful day on the road. I was more than happy to reach Taytay, an old colonial town with an old fort and church.

 

I found myself a room and flopped down in utter exhaustion. Fortunately, there was a restaurant on site and I ordered some soup which seemed to do the trick. I also got some rehydration salt from the chemist and drank as much water as I possibly could.

 

I stayed in Taytay the next day as well, trying to get my strength back for the road to El Nido. By the evening I felt a lot better and could only hope that I would be back to normal the following day.

 

I visited the historic Taytay Fort, (Fuerza de Santa Isabel) built in 1667 and named in honour of Spain's Queen Isabela II (it was completed in 1738). The fort's small chapel and cannons are still intact.

 

23 - 24 November - Taytay – El Nido - 70km

Most people warned me about this stretch of road (that it is gravel and very hilly) and I was not particularly looking forward to it. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that it was not as hilly as expected, and it was only a dirt road in places. In fact, I found most of the road to El Nido paved. Once in El Nido there was no shortage of accommodation as it is a rather popular place, and rightly so as well. I found a lovely place a street or two back from the beach at a reasonable price and with very friendly owners.

 

It rained on and off the following day so I did nothing - just hung around and explored the tiny village of El Nido. It is famed for its diving so I booked myself a dive drip for the following day to the nearly islands. The trip cost 3 000 pesos and included three dives, the boat trip to the islands, and lunch. That night I spent some money and had food and a beer on the beach.

 

25 November - El Nido

We left El Nido at around 8.30/9.00 a.m. The first dive was along a wall and as beautiful as it was, it was nothing spectacular. I was, in fact, quite surprised at the lack of coral and life down below. The scenery above water was, however, rather spectacular, with limestone pinnacles and steep cliff faces. It is so spectacular that it is also the location of choice for a good few movies.

 

Our second dive was far more interesting, with very large fish, octopus, giant shrimp and many more. Both dives were about 55 minutes, around 25 metres with a water temperature of 28c. After the second dive we had a lunch break at a tiny white beach with crystal clear turquoise water…..just like in a movie!!!  The time flew by and soon it was time for our last dive - A wonderful dive amongst large coral and other sea creatures.

 

Once back on the boat the strangest thing happened - I became complete dizzy and disorientated, with blurred vision and a strange distant sensation. WOW, that was the weirdest thing ever!!!  I drank some water, laid down, and by the time we got ashore I was already feeling better. How weird was that?!!  All I can think is that it was some or other balance disorder. I have had a sinus infection for some time now and took some medication for it just before I left, or it could be plain dehydration!

 

BUSUANGA ISLAND

 

26 November - El Nido – Coron Town, Busuanga Island

The ferry from El Nido to Busuanga Island (Coron Town) was a lengthy seven-hour affair.  At least it was scenic and they gave us food (a small piece of fish and a large amount of rice). The area around Coron town is famous for its World War II wreck-diving.

 

In September 1944, a fleet of Japanese ships hiding in the harbour was sunk in a daring raid by the US Navy. The result is around ten well-preserved underwater shipwrecks surrounded with coral reef. There is truly not much to do but dive and watch the sun set over Coron Bay. I found myself a room at SeaDive Resort, a large ramshackle place with rooms, a restaurant, bar and dive shop. The diving looked well organized so I booked myself on a three boat dive for the following day.

 

27-28 November - Coron Town

Our first dive was to a very interesting and unusual spot; a lake/hot spring. The dive, firstly, involved a boat ride, then a short swim to the shore, after which we climbed (in full diving gear!!) over a rocky outcrop to the lake. We entered the rather scenic lake and after descending for about 15 metres the water temperature shot up to a boiling 38c!!!  The variation in temperature is so large that one can see the thermoclines!  We followed the wall for about 20 minutes, and then turned around, making it a 40 minute dive in total. Back on the boat we were given brunch for our trouble.

 

Our next dive was the Olympia Maru - a WW2 Japanese shipwreck.  She lies on her starboard side at 25 metres. Like all the other Japanese ships in the Bay it was sunk on 24 September 1944 by an US Air Attack. The Olympia Maru was a 112 meter supply ship. We had appalling vision but penetrated the wreck and headed through the prop shaft and into the engine room past two huge boilers. We even saw a crocodile fish hiding away as we passed old kaolin bricks, used for firing up the boilers.

 

Our 3rd and last dive for the day was the Tangat Wreck, a small gunboat or submarine hunter 40 metres long. She was lying in shallow waters, making it a good 3rd dive.

 

29-30 November - Coron Town

It was another 3-wreck boat dive and as the wrecks were quite far out it was a whole day affair. First up was the IJN Akitsushima, a seaplane carrier. She is now lying on her portside at 37 metres. The ship displaced 4724 tons, had a length of 118 meters and was 15.7 meters wide. The ship was powered by four diesel engines driving twin props, a total of 8000 hp, giving a maximum speed of 19 knots.

 

Akitsushima was armed with ten 25 mm anti-aircraft guns, four five inch guns and carried one large Kanwanishi flying boat. She was hit near the stern where the flying boat rested on the metal tracks and sank immediately. The flying boat unfortunately disappeared; it is assumed that it took off before the sinking. The crane used for lifting the seaplane out of the water is intact. The crane is lying on the sandy bottom and attracts large schools of fish. One mounting of a 3-barreled AA (anti-aircraft) gun is still present at the front of the flying boat tracks. We entered the wreck and swam along on the inside until we reached the huge crack that almost split the ship in half. We maneuvered through the crack and continued on to the engine room through dark and narrow nooks and crannies.

 

Then it was the Taiei Maru, a Japanese freighter 137 meters long, lying on her starboard side. The big cargo rooms and the engine room allowed for easy penetration of the wreck and it was a fun dive.

 

Lastly it was the Lusong Gunboat. She is lying in shallow water of between 3 – 18 metres, making it a perfect 3rd dive. The wreck is nicely covered with hard corals and although the vision was poor we saw plenty of fish. At least today was a fun bunch of divers and we had loads of fun between dives. That evening we were all too lazy to go anywhere, so we sat in the restaurant, drank beer and ate pizzas.

 

SeaDive Resort is situated in the middle of town and right on the water’s edge. It is a rather convenient place to hang out at, and the days came and went without me noticing. I met the nicest bunch of divers one can imagine - they were as crazy as hell. We ate, we drank, we dived and we laughed!!  It’s always a bit sad to say goodbye after having such a good time, as you know you will most likely never see each other again.

 

1 December - Coron – Manila - By ferry

I settled my bill, loaded the bike, and after lots of hugs and kisses cycled the short distance to the ferry.  The ferry was late and we only left at around 19h00 instead of at 15h30. It gave me time to wonder around town. Coron Town was very much in the eye of the storm and the damage from typhoon Yolanda is still clearly visible.

 

2 - 7 December - Manila

It was a comfortable journey and we arrived back in Manila at around 8h00 or 9h00. I cycled the short distance in the heavy traffic to the Pension where I stayed before. By 10h00 I was all settled in at Pension Navadidad.

 

The following day I went to Makati, a completely different part of the city with a totally different vibe. Makati is the heart of the financial district and jam-packed with high-rise buildings. The area is surprisingly orderly and clean. I applied for a Taiwanese visa and was surprised at the large amount of people in the waiting room. Surprisingly enough, it seems that Filipinos need a visa for Taiwan. I patiently waited my turn and it was 13h30 by the time I walked out of there. The visa would be ready in three days’ time so I had some time to kill. I had a haircut for 150 pesos and while they were cutting my hair another lady gave me a pedicure for 100 pesos (40 pesos = $1). Not bad!!

 

The following morning I woke at 4h00 to paddle with the Manila Dragons. Pam, from the South African Dragon Boat team, put me in contact with Sandy. Sandy kindly invited me to join them in practice and what an awesome experience it was. I knew I was going to be incredibly sore the following day!!

 

It was good to be back in the boat after many years and it was equally nice to hear the familiar “Crew.……………, are you ready? Attentiooooooooooooon!  GO!!!”

 

I bummed around town for a few days until it was time to collect my visa from the Taiwanese Embassy. Again it was a lengthy process and it was after 17h00 that I finally got out of the building. It was peak hour on a Friday in Manila City and the traffic was bumper to bumper. It took forever to get back to my Pension. I was finally ready to leave Manila.

 

8 December - Manila – San Fernando City - 81km

It took forever to pack up but finally I left the Pension and cycled to the waterfront where I knew the Dragon Boat races were on. I watched for a while, cheering for my favourite team, took a few pics, and then got on my way. It was a Sunday morning and the traffic was much better than in the week. It is, however, an eye-opener to see the other side of the city. The shacks encroached onto the road and the three-lane highway has become a two-lane road. It was fairly easy to get out of the city (or at least that is what it felt like).  If I did go wrong I knew nothing about it, as I was blissfully ignorant whether I was on the right road or not.

 

I was never quite out of the traffic and it was a busy road all the way to San Fernando where I found a room, got something to eat, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

 

9 December - San Fernando – Santa Juliana - 70km

I had a relatively slow start to the day as I was in a windowless room and only woke at around 8h00. I packed up and stopped for breakfast just down the road at the 7-11.

 

The area immediately north of Manila is so completely different from the rest of the country that I was wondering if I was still in the same country.

 

Along the way I met up with Ray Cayabyab who was cycling to his home town at San Carlos. He was doing quite well on his old bike with a basket in the front. He had to stop at every petrol station to pump his back tire. We chatted away (when the traffic allowed) as he spoke quite good English.

 

I wanted to visit Mount Pinatubo and soon had to wave him goodbye and turned off for Santa Juliana. Mt. Pinatubo is a volcanic crater lake. On April 2, 1991, people from the lower slopes of Mount Pinatubo witnessed small explosions, followed by steam coming from the upper slopes of the supposedly dormant volcano (the last known eruption was 600 years ago). On June 12, the first of several major explosions took place. The eruption was so violent that shockwaves were felt in the Visayas. A giant ash cloud rose 35 kilometres into the sky.

 

It was quite an interesting ride as I noticed the kilometre marker-boards for the “Death March”. A short while later I found the Death March Memorial site.

 

Santa Juliana is a rather small settlement with just a few houses and a tourist office. They gave me all the info and pointed me in the direction of Bognot Homestay, a rather comfortable place run by Alvin and his wife Angie. As it is the only place where one can stay, I soon met other travellers and we made arrangements to go to the crater together in the morning, as it is much cheaper that way.

 

10 December - Santa Juliana Mt Pinatubo

We were up shortly after 5h00, had breakfast, and then took a walk down the road to the tourist office where we got into a 4x4 for the hour long drive to the crater. It was a rather bumpy and dusty ride along a riverbed. The scenery was stark and barren with just the odd water buffalo.

 

Interestingly enough there are some people living up in the hills and they look completely different to the Filipinos in the rest of the country. They are known as the Aeta and are indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated, mountainous parts of Luzon, Philippines. They are thought to be among the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines. One theory suggests that the Aeta are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines, who, contrary to their sea-faring Austronesian neighbours, arrived through land bridges that linked the country with the Asian mainland about 30,000 years ago. Unlike many of their Austronesian counterparts, the Aetas have shown resistance to change. The attempts of the Spaniards to settle them in reservations all throughout Spanish rule failed.

 

We continued on until the 4x4 could go no further and then it was an hour’s walk to the top. It was an easy walk along a stream until we finally reached the Crater Lake. The lake was much larger than expected; we took a few pics, sat chatting for a while, and then retraced our steps back to the jeep again.

 

By the time we got back to Santa Juliana it was already after midday and I was too lazy to carry on, so I stayed the night.

 

11 December - Santa Juliana – Camiling - 77 km

On my way back to the main road I stopped at the Death March Memorial and what a depressing site it was. It was the final stage of the tragic Death March and a concentration camp. Thousands died and today they are remembered by a large memorial and a wall bearing all the names of those who died. War is such a sad thing!

 

The rest of the day was a nice and easy ride. I got to Camiling around midday - it was boiling hot and there was a cheap place to stay and, as there was no reason for me to push on, I stayed for the night.

 

12/13 December - Camiling – Lucap - 88km

I knew it was not very far to the 100 Islands National Park so I took my time in packing up. I first had breakfast, my normal Philippine breakfast of garlic rice, a fried egg and a Longanesa sausage. Again the road was fairly flat and it was an enjoyable ride to where I met up with the coast at the Lingayen Gulf. I throw a left and headed in a westerly direction to the small village of Lucap.

 

Lucap is the gateway to the 100 Islands National Park and I was keen to see what it all entailed. Once in Lucap I found everything rather well-organized. I found a reasonably priced room at Sweet Honey’s and this family run place was rather welcoming, and they soon organised a boat to take me to the islands the following day.

 

When I woke the following morning the boatman was already waiting. My host had packed lunch and water (all nicely in a cooler box) and I was ready for a full day of island hopping. It was a stunning and very interesting day. The islands (there are actually 123 of them) are mostly tiny, mushroomed-shaped islands with a few shrubs. A few of them are larger and have beaches and some even have caves. We explored a good few of them and there was plenty of time to swim and snorkel. The snorkelling was wonderful and there were plenty of fish and fantastic corals to be seen. Giant clams are being reintroduced in the area after dynamite fishing destroyed most of them. I was a fantastic day - well worth the money I paid.

 

14 December - Lucap – Agoo - 111km

I backtracked the 35 kilometres to the junction and then headed in a northerly direction along the coast. Past small villages with interesting looking churches, past the furniture makers and the crab sellers. Again it was easy riding and the slight headwind did not bother me; it was a kind of a blessing in the heat. It was a rather fishy day as I crossed many rivers and interesting and ingenious fishing methods. I cycled past many stalls selling clams, oysters, dried fish, fresh fish, crabs, and just about anything that comes from the sea.

 

Once I reached the tiny village of Agoo with its Basilica it looked interesting and a good place to overnight. Finding a room was, however, more difficult than expected. I first cycled the few kilometres to the beach but only found one dilapidated and overpriced establishment. I headed back to the village looking for a “Transient Room”; a room by any other name is only for a few hours and for a completely different purpose than what I had in mind.

 

I find a room for 300 pesos with a rather nice restaurant across the road. I had a quick shower and then headed in the direction of the restaurant, as by that time I was starving. The waitresses, decked out in their Christmas hats, looked wary of me and I suspect that I was their first western-looking client. They kept their distance as they took my order and I was very tempted to go “BHA!!!!.... (making claws and big eyes) LOL. I refrained from any such behaviour as I was far too hungry and was afraid that I would not see them or my food ever again.

 

15 - 18 December - Agoo – San Juan - 50 km

I had a quick bite to eat down the road and then ambled along to the tiny village of San Juan. San Juan is known for its surfing and I was keen to take a lesson or two. At first I cycled around looking for a room, and in the end settled for a rather pricy room (but known as a surfing hangout and a place where one can get surfing lessons). I found the place rather dreary (maybe it was just the “cool surf” attitude, looking bored and disinterested).

 

The next morning I moved to a cheaper and friendlier looking place. While having a bite to eat I also bumped into Lionel (from Coron) again. It was a pleasant surprise to see a friendly, smiley face amongst all the other emotionless faces.

 

I had the grand plan of taking the bus into the mountains to see the rice terraces and the famous hanging coffins. I packed up, arranged to leave my bicycle and bags at the Inn where I was staying, and with just a small bag headed to the bus stop. I waited and waited for the bus, got so irritated and decided there and then to give it up and return to my room!!

 

The following morning I woke with a sore throat and blocked nose. The weather came in and it was raining and the wind howled. I stayed put in my room, took a few flu tablets, and hoped that I would feel better the following morning. I looked into the options of cycling north to the city of Laoag and fly from there to Taiwan, but it did not look like a good choice as all the flights from there appeared to be going via Manila, making it rather expensive.

 

19 December - San Juan – Urdaneta City - 100 km

I was getting bored and was happy to be back on the bike. I swallowed a few flu tablets and headed back in the direction of Manila along a slightly different road. The day was marked by slow traffic, road works and loads of dust. It was a frustrating and dusty day, and by the time I reached Urdaneta City I was ready to find a room. I found a good room, went looking for food, and then spent the rest of the night watching TV, something I have not done in a long time.

 

20 December - Urdaneta City – San Fernando City - 120km

Cycling with a cold is probability not the best thing to do but I swallowed some more flu tablets and got back on the road. Fortunately, it was easy cycling. I passed some rather interesting roadside stalls, some selling dried fish and all sorts of interesting things. I even passed a place where they were making huge statues!  In the end I found myself back in San Fernando and at the same hotel where I stayed on my way north.

 

21 December - San Fernando City – Manila - 76 km

The last leg of my Filipino journey in Manila was marred by slow moving traffic and more dusty road works. I cycled into the city and somehow found myself in the middle of China Town, midday on the last Saturday before Christmas!!  My word, what chaos!  I ducked and dived and maneuvered through the traffic, avoiding Jeepneys and tricycles like a pro.

 

22 December - Manila

Back in Manila I found the city in a festive mood. The waterfront was packed with food stalls, people strolled and biked along the promenade, and hawkers peddled their wares.

 

I achieved very little in the way of organising my trip to Taiwan, as both the bike shop and the travel agents were closed on a Sunday. I did, however, find out that I can upgrade my luggage to 45 kilograms for a small fee. That was good news as flying with the bike is always an expensive affair.

 

23 December - Manila

I finally bought my ticket from Manila to Taipei, Taiwan. I took the bike to the bike shop so they could box it and spent the rest of the day sorting out my gear. That evening I went down to the promenade again and I can understand why Manila was called the “Pearl of the Orient”.  It was a stunning evening, and the sun set like a huge ball of fire, not a drop of wind and a very agreeable 28°C.

 

24 December - Manila, Philippines – Taipei, Taiwan

My flight was only at 10:40 p.m. so I had the entire day to play in Manila. Actually, I did not play much but rather did some much needed catching up on both my social and business side of things. I went to the bike shop to pick up my bike and had to take a Jeepney back to the Pension. LOL, what a performance.

 

I went to the airport rather early as I thought I could still have my bags wrapped but the wrapping stall was deserted. Fortunately, there was no restriction on the amount of bags one may load, and as I upgraded to 45 kilograms of luggage I was not worried about being overweight. I jugged well as my baggage came to exactly 45 kilograms. Not bad, taking that it included the bike. 

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