The Tarsier Diaries: Adventures in the Philippines (6)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Finally Find Paradise


Tuesday 20th July 2010

We have abandoned Dumaguette for the tiny off-the-tourist-map island of Siquijor. We have just arrived on at Coco Grove Beach Resort. There is a parrot in reception. There is a private marine sanctuary. There are hammocks (regular and, distressingly, banana). All ambitions to go on energetic cultural missions have dissolved like the ice in our complimentary drinks. We could stay here for a while.

After a somewhat turbulent couple of days where we could not decide what to do with our remaining vacation time, we have finally found the tropical paradise that we had both been craving. Siquijor is a 45 minute ferry ride from Dumaguette. We are both ecstatic to be staying somewhere fancy. Not only have I spent a pleasant day mostly eating and lying down (French onion soup followed by baked macaroni and cheese, if you were wondering) I also had the best massage of my life in the hotel’s own mini-spa. It was…painful actually. It felt like she was trying to rip my shoulders out of their sockets and snap my spine, but actually it was an oddly satisfying kind of pain, like getting a bikini wax, or watching reality TV.

Wednesday 21st July 2010

The day began with a delicious cheesy omelette but was followed by a disastrous attempt (on my part) at snorkelling the house reef. Without the reassuring orange life jacket strapped to me, my instinctive cave-man like fear of the ocean took over. My nervoursness of sea-urchins, horned star fish and other beach nasties left me paralysed in my flippers. I wimped out, whimpering and headed for the pool where I tried to calm my nerves with a rum heavy mango colada.

Later that day, I tried again. Rhys had come back from his solo snorkelling trip absolutely enchanted by all that he had seen, with tales of huge schools of parrot fish, baby nemos and caverns you could swim through. I had to give it another shot. This time was much better. I was so damn determined to reach the reef. After a few false starts and deep breaths, I started to enjoy myself. The coral and the fish were beautiful, and Rhys had slowed down to keep an eye on me and make sure I was okay. I actually started to enjoy being unencumbered by a life jacket and felt more mermaid-like than I ever had. (Except maybe that time when I was 6 and dressed up like a mermaid). All would have been fine in the end I think, were it not for the sudden appearance of a red rash on my arm and a burning, stinging sensations. Leaping to the wrong conclusion in a single bound, I immediately thought some killer sea creature had stung me and I was moments from death, so shrilly demanded that we head back to shore. The dive shop owners, looking somewhat bemused at my panicked expression – possibly because they’d witnessed my meltdown earlier in the day – calmy explained that I’d been stung by jellyfish. They then nonchalantly doused my limbs in vinegar and sent me on my way, smelling like a chippy.

Friday 23rd July, 2010

We awoke on Thursday to find that the sea was (mercifully) too rough for snorkelling, or in fact, anything. We decided to spend the morning relaxing by the swimming pool with all the families.

That afternoon, we rented a motorbike and took a short tour of the rest of the island. We were slightly nervous, because Rhys had left his driver’s licence back in Korea which, apparently, can result in a hefty fine if the police catch you. But we were suffering a little bit from cabin fever due to staying at the hotel all day, so decided to risk it.

Bombing around on a semi-automatic which spluttered and bucked like a rodeo pony trying to dislodge me, we realised just what a treasure we had stumbled upon. Unlike Bohol or Panglao or even Koh Samui, Siquijor, at least what we saw of it, is completely un-touristy outside of the whole town. All we saw were people going busily about their everyday lives, although not to busy too wave and smile a quick hello. The people of Siquijor are unfailingly friendly.

Friday was a bittersweet day. Despite feeling a little relieved at the thought of getting home and back into our routines, it was sad to say goodbye to Coco Grove. It really is a wonderful hotel. We paid our bill and discovered that all our accommodation, meals, massages, snorkel and motorbike rentals and even SHOPPING came to only about 110 pounds each! For 3 days! I love the Philippines.



The Tarsier Diaries: Adventures in the Philippines (5)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Are Burnt To A Crisp And Then Drenched To Their Bones.

Sunday 18th July 2010

Yesterday, Rhys and I were up bright and early at about 7am, and after a quick breakfast we met up in reception with some of our fellow guests for a trip to Apo Island, an island off the coast of Dumaguete known for it’s brilliant snorkelling and – get this – sea turtles. “Aayyye, sea turrrrtles!” (said in the voice of Mr Gibbs from Pirates of the Caribbean.)

We took a jeepney from Harold’s Mansion to Harold’s actual house (where we picked up the snorkelling gear) and then on to Malapatay port. At this point, we jumped onto an 8 person Banca and I once again had the opportunity to show Rhys just how graceful I can be during the mounting and dismounting of a sea vessel. It’s difficult when you’re short, okay?! While other people seemed to have little trouble, I stepped further into the water than my hobbit legs could carry me, drenching the bottom of my backpack, as well as my own bottom. Sigh.

Apo Island

Apo Island approached us over the horizon looking like something out of a movie – powdery white sand beaches, towering blue-black rock formations and  warm turquoise waters. Once we reached the shore, we quickly realised that the trip perhaps wasn’t quite as organised as it should have been…the banca docked, dumped us and our backpacks onto the beach and left us to our own devices with no mention of when (or if) they’d be picking us up later.
Anyways, we paid the entrance fee  and, after much debate, decided to hire life jackets for our trip to the marina sanctuary. In the end, it was just as well we did – it was much safer to be bobbing peacefully on the surface of the water than scraping ourselves on the sharp coral or impaling ourselves on sea urchins.

The trip itself was amazing – so much better than our first snorkelling attempt on Koh Tao (Thailand) which involved me snivelling and wheezing on the deck of a ship in the middle of the sea. Also a big improvement on the Balicasag fiasco. Not only was I much calmer this time round, the fish and the corals themselves were even more abundant and beautiful. We saw pretty much every fish that had a cameo role in Finding Nemo – I have never seen so many clown fish in my life. As my brother pointed out later: “See? They’re not that hard to find.” It was also the first time either of us had used flippers, so that was fun. That, in addition to the life jackets, made me feel much more relaxed in the ocean (which I usually regard as my natural enemy) and at one point we were lazily swimming hand in hand, like a very chilled and buoyant mer-couple.


The drop off (as seen in Finding Nemo)

There were only two slight downsides to the entire trip. First…well, Rhys got a little snap-happy with my camera. Because the DIKA pack we were using as an underwater pack was little more than a glorified plastic bag, no adjustments could be made to the camera once it was in the bag and under the water. All there was left to do was to point and shoot. A lot, apparently.

Rhys, to me, as we clamber out onto the rocks: “Stace…”
Me: “Yeah?”
Rhys: “I think I need to get a new memory card. This one’s full.”

That’s right. He’d taken about 500 pictures of fish. Throughout the holiday, he was destined to take more pictures of fish than he would of me. I try not to take it personally. After all, he sees me everyday, but there’s no coral or clownfish in Asan, South Korea.

The second downside was that my bottom got so sunburnt, I looked like a baboon that was “presenting.” Nothing has ever been redder. It’s not my fault. It floats above the water no matter what I do. Rhys had not fared much better – the backs of his legs looked as though they’d been given a once-over with a pink highlighter pen.

After the success of the Apo Island trip, which we followed with dinner at a groovy rustic fish restaurant that served beautiful fish and chips with mystery pink sauce, we decided to do another adventure through Harold’s mansion, this time with another couple we had met: Gareth and Ruth. The four of us decided to do the Twin Lakes trip.

We took a tricycle to downtown Dumaguette followed by a jeepney ride to the bottom of the mountain where the twin lakes are. After much bartering, we got a motorcycle driver to take us up the mountain to see the twin lakes, wait for us, and bring us back down for about PHP400.

The bumpy motorcycle journey took us up into the misty mountains. The views were breathtaking – lush green valleys; palm trees curling protectively over the trail; cows grazing lazily on the side of the road; water buffalo ploughing the rice paddies. Friendly local people waved to us happily from their homes and their farms.
As we ascended further and further into the jungle, the temperature dropped, the heavens opened and it was time to put the waterproofs on. Since I’d purchased mine from the corner of a supermarket for about a tenner, it turned out to have all the water-resistance of a paper bag. By the time we reached the admittedly beautiful lakes, I was shivering like a drowned rat. At this point, Rhys and Gareth went on an hour long kayak ride so, as beautiful as the lake was, conditions were not ideal.

In retrospect, I should have taken advantage of the scenery and the fact that they were on the lake, painted a white hand on my face and recreated that scene from the end of Lord of the Rings where the Urukai are running along the river bank.
A wasted opportunity.

What I look like in the morning.


The Tarsier Diaries: Adventures in the Philippines (4)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Leave Panglao, Hate Piers, Eat Goat and Love Sheets

Last look at Alona Beach, Panglao

Thursday 15th July 2010

Last night was our last dinner on the island. On the advice of some fellow travellers, we took a long and bumpy tricycle journey away from the beach and into the hills to dine at Bohol Bee Farm. It’s a very cool little hotel with an organic-only restaurant hidden amongst the cool, green and leafy grounds, overlooking the sea.
Our food was running a little late, so they brought out some complimentary snacks (always music to my ears): Compote bread with two spreads – mango and pesto. It was heavenly. Then came the starter – Cab Cab, which is crunchy dried cassava (like nachos) with a pesto and green tomato dip. For mains, I had a simple mountain of pasta tossed in pesto and (I think) a little bit of honey – because it was a little sweet, and we were on a bee farm.

A romantic moment, despite the vampire eyes we are both sporting.

We checked out of Oops cottage this afternoon and headed for Tagbilaran pier in the hopes of getting a boat to Dumaguette but still none of the direct ferries are running. So, now we are on a Supercat (best/worst super hero name ever?) Ferry to Cebu. Hopefully, from there we’ll be able to make our way to Dumaguete. Even if there is a boat from Cebu though, it will take another 6 hours to get to Dumaguete anyway.

Later that day, around 5.30pm

I hate piers. If there is a hell, it is a series of piers which I am forced to roam indefinitely.
We have been traipsing up and down, up and down the docks of Cebu in search of a ferry to Dumaguette. Now we have given up and are, in sheer desperation, sharing a van with another couple and driving down to Santander. Apparently, from there we should be able to get a ferry to Dumaguette tonight.

On the advice of our friends Nick and Vanessa, who’ve been to Dumaguete before, I have booked us a room at Harold’s mansion, a well-known hostel not too far from the pier. Hopefully we will get there sometime tonight?

Scenes from a van:

Even later, around 9.30pm

Result! After a three hour drive down the coast, we made it all the way down to Santander. All the fast ferries had already left, but we managed to get tickets for one of the slower crafts. After toasting the success of our mission with some San Miguel and a plate of goat (how else would we celebrate?) we hopped aboard the biggest cargo ship I have ever seen.

Goat 'n Beer

Some thoughts on Time.

Okay, so the ferry from Cebu to Dumaguete was tomorrow at 7pm and would have taken 7 hours. Our ETA would have been 17th July at 2am.
Instead, we took a 3 hour van drive and a 45 minute slow cargo ship (and will have another 30 minute taxi drive ahead of us once we get there). Our ETA is 15th July at 11pm.

I mean, seriously! I don’t know if our Lonely Planet guide is just kind of old and that’s why it doesn’t mention the van-boat route but SOMEONE should mention it.

Friday 16th July 2010 (Sometime in the afternoon)

We eventually got to Harold’s Mansion last night at around 11pm, with a driver who seemed to be playing Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ on a continuous loop inside his  own mind. Unfortunately, as I’d been unable to confirm our room via email (due to all the time spent pier wandering, goat eating and cargo ship hopping) it was ALL BOOKED UP. At this point, it took all my self-control not to collapse to my knees in the hostel lobby and let out an Anakin Skywalker style “NOOOOOOOOOO!” of utter despair. It was too much. Fortunately, the receptionist kindly managed to book us the one remaining room in the hostel up the street. We didn’t even care that it was a twin room with two single beds.

It was absolutely HEAVENLY to fall into a bed with clean sheets and a stiff mattress, after a blissfully hot shower, and flick channels between a mindless Sandra Bullock romantic comedy and Animal Planet, and have air conditioning, and not have sand in unfortunate places. It was magic. At one point in the evening, I said, “Rhys, isn’t it nice to cuddle on clean sheets?” To which he replied: “Yes! And so nice to cuddle a clean person too!” (Except we didn’t say cuddle. Um).

We woke up naturally around 8am (what?! Damn sleep cycles!) and walked across to HM to check in and eat breakfast. I ate some muesli with fresh fruit and rhys had a beautiful looking breakfast of eggs and bacon and some kind of fried potato deliciousness.

I cannot get over the joy of staying in a proper room with actual walls, and hot water, and plumbing, air conditioning, a good shower, a good bed and a TV – all for half the price of what we were paying on Panglao. Everything is cheaper here. The highlight of the day for me was discovering the most amazing little café near the promenade called Sans Rivals. Half is a restaurant where the lunch is served cafeteria style by a group of cheerful teens, who, despite all the time they spent teasing, laughing and flirting with each other, were very sweet and attentive.

And here, we had the best lunch of our trip so far. Nothing fancy – just a slice of home made lasagna and two slices of garlic baguette. Simple…beautiful. Whoever first thought to combine meat and cheese, I salute you. And all for about 85 PHP so…about 1.20 pounds. Perhaps this holiday has not been as relaxing or luxurious as we envisioned, but we have eaten some amazing food at ridiculous prices.