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  • Landed in Manila about 5pm and went straight to Quezon with Benjo, his wife Joyce and their baby Arianny to Tim's sons birthday. It's roasting so far, just back at wir hotel, surprisingly no too bad jet lag

  • Drove to El Nido yesterday and stayed the night, in a room wi a lizard (Ian freaked oot). Daday we went on an island hopping tour, it was so amazing! We hired a GoPro so hopefully wir photos fae dat will be better. It was so amazing, we swam through two lagoons and had snorkelling stuff to see all the fish 🐟. We saw monkeys in trees too which was pretty cool but I couldna get ony good photos. Just waiting noo on wir run back to wir proper hotel.Read more

  • Yesterday we just spent the day at the hotel in the pool and went on a kayak. Been to the underground river daday, it was so amazing!! But really hard to take photos when you wir inside the cave, de wir tonnes o bats and we saw a snake and a monkey ageen. Leaving the Philippines damorn 😢

  • First proper day in Boracay. We were pretty keen to hit the beach, but unfortunately the weather wasn't looking great. Very overcast, low clouds and dark clouds on the horizon, though it wasn't actually raining. Shandos had a short swim while I lazed on the beach, then we had a wander over to the nearby outdoor shopping mall.

    We'd hardly gone anywhere before it started sprinkling. First stop was an ATM followed by a bakery where we bought lunch pastries, followed by a trip to the convenience store for beers and some snacks.

    By the time we'd finished it was raining moderately, so we retreated to our bungalow and spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing. It's a nice enough spot, though our room is much shabbier than we'd expected from the photos.

    By evening the rain still hadn't let up, and if anything had actually gotten heavier. We ducked out in the early evening to grab a burrito at a decent looking place we'd seen earlier in the day, but that was basically the end of our adventures for the day.

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  • Rain rain go away. It rained almost the entire day today, so we spent pretty much the entire day on our bungalow balcony reading and relaxing.

    Ducked out around lunchtime to grab some more bakery fodder for lunch. I had a brief swim in the rain after lunch, but the water was pretty choppy and had lots of seaweed crap floating in it, so I didn't stay long.

    Late afternoon the rain stopped so we went for a walk northwards along the beach to the rocky outcrop at the end. There's a large cross up on the bluff (you can't get up there), and there's also a small grotto with a shrine to the Virgin Mary. More reminders that we're in a Catholic country now, first one of our trip (and first Christian country too!).

    Our walk was quite nice, and on the way back we stopped for a chorizo burger from a beach vendor. Each burger was literally just two large slices of chorizo, barbecued and served on a toasted bun with sauce. Very simple, but tasty! Afterwards we had our main dinner at the same restaurant from our first night, as they were doing half-priced crepes. I had a minced beef crepe with tomato, onion, garlic and cheese, while Shandos had one with chicken and spinach. And of course we finished off with a sweet crepe - apple and cinnamon with vanilla ice cream.

    We ate this on beanbags on the beach, as it wasn't raining and seemed to have cleared up. But as we went inside to pay the bill, the rain came lashing down, sending everyone scurrying for cover. Although we had an umbrella between us, we both got semi-drenched on the 10 metre walk back to our hotel entrance!

    Spent the rest of the evening relaxing, not much to report other than a huge thunderstorm passing overhead late at night. Boracay is a nice enough place, but I'm not really feeling the love at the moment, sadly. October is just on the cusp of the end of the rainy season, so we weren't expecting perfect weather, but we weren't expecting this either.
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  • Woke up at the usual time for breakfast on our balcony, and it was looking like a beautiful day, same as yesterday. All the wind and rain had disappeared, and it was just blue skies and nice swimming conditions. Which sucked for us, because we were leaving!

    Since I'd gotten ridiculously sunburnt yesterday and we didn't have to leave the hotel until midday, I decided that I was going to stay inside our room in the air conditioning. That was about the only way I could stay comfortable! So that's what I did.

    Shandos ducked out around 11:30 to get us some bakery fodder for lunch, and then by midday we checked out and grabbed a trike. Some slight confusion over our destination (we said "ferry", he thought we meant "hotel berry") and a 20-minute jaunt in the wrong direction later, we eventually arrived at the dock. On to a boat which was very heavily loaded (I had both bags piled on my lap and was jammed between the edge of the boat and a man in an army uniform), but thankfully the ride is only 10 minutes and we departed pretty promptly.

    On the other side we were told to wait in a waiting area for our minivan transport to the airport, which we did. At 1pm the lady said we'd be leaving at 1:30, so Shandos disappeared in search of food. Less than 5 minutes after she'd left, the lady said everything was ready for boarding now, so I grabbed all our bags and tried to get a good seat, but with no luck. Unlike the minivan a few days earlier which had spare seats, this one was packed to the gills with passengers and luggage. 18 people in a 15 seater must be a new record!

    I managed to reserve the seat directly behind me for Shandos, though communicating this took a bit of difficulty. Although it still wasn't 1:30, she hadn't come back, and the van was fully loaded and ready to go. I couldn't jump off and go looking either, as I was wedged in and several people would have to get out for me to get out. After another 5 minutes or so Shandos arrived back, carrying two fried chicken burgers. Apparently she'd ordered them, come back to check on progress while they were cooking, discovered that everyone was waiting for her, ran back to the chicken place and couldn't cancel the order, but the staff pushed the order through as quickly as possible.

    As we set off, I bit into my burger to see fairly pink chicken - I guess they'd really done it quickly! Although I'm sure it would've been fine, I didn't want to risk an urgent spewing or spraying disaster with a 90 minute van ride ahead of us. The trip was much quicker this direction - middle of the day meant that schools weren't letting out (it was also Saturday I guess), so the driver was going a lot quicker and there just seemed to be fewer motorbikes and stuff getting in the way. It still reminds me a lot of Bali though, where your average speed is always low because there's just a constant stream of slower vehicles in front of you.

    We arrived at the airport just after 2:30, where we breezed through check-in and security as usual. For a small airport with only a couple of gates it was actually surprisingly busy (though a very small terminal). We went upstairs to a deserted mezzanine level and set about using the Wifi as our flight wasn't until 5pm.

    I'm generally a fan of Air Asia, but clearly their Philippines branch has a lot of work to do. The aircraft arrived way before our flight was due (like 90+ minutes, normally the plane turns up at the scheduled boarding time which is one of the ways they save operating costs), but apparently nothing got done to it (maintenance, cleaning etc). Eventually our flight was called at about 5pm (due to depart at 5:10pm), but after checking boarding passes and allowing us out on to the apron, we then stood around for about 10 minutes, and nobody seemingly had any idea what was going on.

    Finally we were allowed on the plane, where everyone got seated and settled quickly and .. nothing happened. At about 5:20pm the captain told us we'd be leaving at 5:47pm sharp, so a long way behind schedule. So in the mean time, we just .. sat there. Not allowed to use electronic devices of course because the staff consider it in taxiing and takeoff mode, even though you're idle on the ground with the engines switched off. The flight was pretty full, I was uncomfortable with the sunburn, oh and this was one of the first flights we've had with a lot of screaming babies. So they all screamed their heads off.

    5:47pm exactly, and we took off. We even sat on the runway with both engines at idle power just to make sure. Finally we were off on a 45-minute flight north to Manila. Annoyingly, after the 20 minutes of climbing and cruising, it was time to descend again which means time to turn off all devices, put your seat up etc. That's fine, except we then were in a holding pattern for another 30 minutes, which again the babies all screamed through. And you're just sitting there with nothing to do but stare out the window at inky blackness.

    Finally we landed, then a long taxi to the budget airline terminal. Walked straight through the terminal and found the GrabTaxi counter (Grab is similar to Uber) and waited 10 minutes for a car to arrive. Normally at airports there are large carparks, landscaped grounds and so on, and it can take a few minutes before you actually leave the airport. Not in Manila! Once we got in, it was literally a case of driving 10 metres, turning right and you're on the road - the terminal building is basically against the main road like a bus station or something. It is the budget terminal though (#4).

    Heavy traffic getting to our hotel, so another 25 minutes or so. Not much to see in the darkness other than a concrete jungle - Manila isn't known for being a beautiful city. Checked in OK, room is very large and with fairly modern furnishings, it should be comfortable for the next few days.

    Shandos wanted to go exploring for dinner but given it was after 8pm and Manila isn't a particularly safe city, I wasn't keen. Eventually I agreed to McDonalds about 50m away on the corner of our hotel's road, when we saw a Jollibee's diagonally opposite. It's a Filipino fast food chain that competes with McDonalds and is all over the place selling a bunch of different foods though mostly fried chicken. I had a burger which was similar to a junior Whopper, while Shandos had a spaghetti meal.

    Back to the hotel where we collapsed exhausted after a long and trying day of transit. Manila starts tomorrow.
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  • After last night's big storm, we woke up today to mostly clear skies! Hurried breakfast and time to hit the beach, which we did at 9am.

    A good long swim followed by a long lounge in a beach lounger. This place is so much different when the sun's out, it's actually startling. The sand is very white (though not quite as pristine white as southern NSW beaches), the ocean turns a beautiful shade of green and blue, the palm trees sway, and the little sailboats all line up along the shore. Given the difficulty of getting here and the issues we've had, it's not my favourite place in the world, but today I'm definitely feeling glad we came here.

    Spent the day reading and hopping in and out of the water, as well as doing a bit of people watching. It's still National Week in China so there's more Chinese tourists than usual, but they aren't in big bus groups and seem to be wealthier than average, so have much better standards of behaviour and etiquette. I haven't seen any brazen displays of shouting or spitting, anyway. Just people having fun on a holiday (and taking a LOT of selfies).

    I had a sandwich from a shop in the outdoor mall for lunch, then resumed my spot in the beach chair. Listened to music, finished Book 10 of War & Peace, had a few swims. And best of all - we saw our first dachshund of the trip!! A Japanese lady was walking him just in front of us, so we of course made a big fuss over him and gave him a few cuddles. Didn't quite catch his name since it was Japanese, and he was an overweight Standard dachshund, so much larger than Schnitzel's slim Miniature size. But still great to see and cuddle!

    Evening rolled around and we realised we were both quite sunburnt, despite putting on a decent amount of sunscreen during the day. Headed a few doors away to a Greek restaurant for dinner, where I had an enormous lamb gyro (kebab) with capsicum rice as a side. The rice "side dish" was also enormous, and would've easily sufficed for a main on its own! Out the front of the restaurant they had fire-twirler dancers who were quite good, though we only had an intermittent view as people would stop in the walkway to watch. Entertaining, though I started to get a bit lightheaded from the kerosene fumes!

    Back to the room around 9pm, where we wound down for bed. And to cap off a great all-round day - a massive rainstorm started at about 9:30pm, by which time we were both safely ensconced in our bungalow for our last night on Boracay. Flight to Manila tomorrow!
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  • Time to have a day out and about, exploring the city and seeing what it has to offer. After a hotel breakfast we decided to spend most of the day in the Intramuros district, which is basically the Old City - where all the ruins and colonial buildings etc are. Thankfully it was only a 15 minute walk away, so off we went.

    First stop was San Augustine Church, the oldest in the Philippines and UNESCO World Heritage listed. Originally built by Augustine monks in the 1580s, it had been variously damaged and repaired several times, and is now in pretty good condition. The last damage to it was during the Battle of Manila in 1945, when the Americans bombed it quite heavily. So the interiors are fairly new, but the exterior is fairly old.

    Attached to the church is a large convent for the Augustine monks which is now a museum, and a very good one at that. We spent a couple of hours here browsing around the artefacts, walkways and relics. Though a lot of stuff is missing as well - apparently the British had plundered it quite heavily during their brief occupation in the 1760s.

    Since we'd spent quite a while in the museum, it was now lunchtime! So we hit up another fast food place that we'd seen a lot of - Chow King. This one mostly served Chinese food, so I had a wonton noodle soup and Shandos had a pork & fried rice dish. Decent food, though nowhere near the quality that we're used to for Chinese food.

    Our restaurant was opposite Manila Cathedral, so we had to head over and check that out afterwards. Again it had been heavily damaged over the years due to earthquakes and wars, so the current building was actually quite new - from the 1960s. It had been ratified as a minor basilica (whatever that means) by Pope JP2, and it's a very large and impressive building. It was also packed with people wearing identical t-shirts, pilgrims of some kind from I guess some far-flung part of the Philippines.

    Next stop was a few blocks over - Fort Santiago on the riverfront. It was built by the Spanish conquistadores when they arrived, and had been variously used, built on and modified by all the occupying powers in the meantime (Spanish, British, Japanese, American). It's now a park and ruin, and also houses a shrine to Jose Rizal, one of the fathers of Filipino independence. He was a doctor and poet who wrote some subversive literature, and was executed for his troubles by the Spanish (literally a few months before the Americans kicked them out and handed the country to the Filipinos). His trial and prison cell were inside the Fort, so the area was turned into an interesting museum. A little too much detail, but good to learn about someone I'd never heard of before.

    Last stop for the day was Casa Manila, a large mansion in the old town that has been furnished and preserved as it was around the turn of the 20th century. Great insight into how the 1%ers of the time lived, and interesting to see as well the balance between traditional art and furnishings versus some rooms full of European pieces. Apparently the opening of the Suez in 1859 had a huge impact on the Philippines, since a six month journey around the Cape of Good Hope suddenly became a six week journey instead.

    We tried to have a coffee at the Casa Manila shop, but after waiting 20 minutes and the waiter twice saying to just have a seat and wait, he'll be right over, we walked out. On the way back to the hotel we walked through Rizal Park (a huge manicured park dedicated to Jose Rizal), which was teeming with locals enjoying their sunny Sunday evening. We walked around for a bit enjoying the atmosphere, eventually ending up along the bay front where the sun set slowly into the mountains across the bay.

    Growing dark, we retreated to our hotel where we were both a bit footsore, hot and dusty. But always onwards, we knew we were out of clothes so it was down the street to a laundromat where we spent an hour of our lives we'll never get back.

    Decided that for dinner, we'd try the hotel restaurant. Shandos had a grilled pork dish with rice that was quite nice, but my pork soup was totally not what I was expecting. The soup was tangy and sour, and the pork meat was extremely fatty. I struggled through half of it (and ate the entire portion of rice), but could make it no further. So I committed the cardinal sin - we went straight to McDonalds afterwards, where I had a small cheeseburger meal to actually fill me up!

    Then back to the hotel and upstairs to read and sleep. I like Manila more now than I did this time yesterday, but I still don't like it that much. Nobody seems that friendly, and after all I've read about pickpockets, scammers and thieves, I find myself on edge constantly because of all the people lolling about. It seems like a place where it's very easy to take a wrong turn and end up in a dangerous slum. And of course it's hot, smelly, noisy and very pedestrian unfriendly. I've smelled more fresh urine today than on the rest of this trip combined.

    But I'll cope - only a few more days here until the conference.
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  • Three countries in one week - mission accomplished. So after India it was Malaysia, and few days earlier I finally arrived to Philippines. It was a hell long journey I should say :) 5am ride to the airport, then connecting flight in Manila (huge plus for Malaysian airlines, big minus for Philippine), 2 hour waiting for delayed flight, and then 6 hour bus ride from Puerto Princessa to El Nido. But beautiful blue sea was totally worth to wait! Not mentioning that I finally met with M&M (aka Mantas and Monika:) And I love Philippines so far - friendly people, nice accommodation, lovely little town we are staying at, feels like well worth holiday!Read more