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.

Nemos

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 (2)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Eat Pasties, Hate Disco, Watch Dolphins and Contemplate Thailand.


Sunday, 11th July 2010

First, a word on last night – we did NOT get a good night’s sleep. I was passed out by 9pm, just how I like it because, as Rhys says, I “could sleep through a war.” This is a trait that served me well, because it meant I could also sleep through the dodgy boom boom-ing of the Oops Bar Saturday night disco (!). Rhys however, was tortured by the dodgy 80s tunes. He decided to wake me up the best way he knows how (his usual subtle combination of nudging and boob-grabbing) and complained that I HAD to wake up because he didn’t want us to be on different sleep cycles. Um…what? The sad thing is that in my barely conscious sleep-deprived state, I absolutely believed him. I even recall propping myself upright against the headboard in a desperate attempt to stay away and sync up our bloody sleep cycles. Only in the cold light of morning did I realise that he was, in fact, talking utter bollocks.

Oops Bar Restaurant

Today was spent in typical chilled fashion – morning swimming, afternoon sun-bathing, beach meandering and of course, room “cabbaging” (a Rhys-ism meaning chilling/chillaxing/doing nothing much out of sheer exhaustion/laziness). Of course, all these activities have been interspersed with eating delicious foods. There was a time in my life when I swore never to be one of those Britons who travels abroad and then insists on ordering egg and chips or similar, but nearly three years living in Korea has given me an (un)healthy appreciation for Western food. It would shock people to see how excited Rhys and I were after discovering that the bar where we were staying served Cornish pasties! Pasties, for the love of God!

This evening was the long-awaited World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, which really interfered with the 9pm bedtime I was trying to cultivate. It wasn’t the best match of the tournament (and kick off was at about 2am, so my judgement may have been impaired) and I think pretty much every Dutchman got at least one yellow card. In all honesty, I was not in the mood to stay up til 2am to “watch a Spaniard get kicked in the heart.” (Thank you Richard Hammond for putting that so eloquently on Top Gear). But anyways, I’m glad Spain won. And David Villa, if you’re reading this, SHAVE OFF THE SOUL PATCH! Damn.

Tuesday 13th July 2010

Needless to say, Monday was a complete write-off. After staying up til sunrise to watch the football, we collapsed in our little hut (this time, without the accompanying disco soundtrack) and slept and slept. The next day was devoted to more sleeping, and to planning some actual activities that involve more than eating, drinking and tanning.

Which is why, this morning, I was awake at 5 AM. What?! What happened to syncing up our sleep cycles? Well, today we had to sync up with dolphin-time. It turns out that these fun-loving mammals like to have breakfast like, really early.

What 5am looks like (who knew?)

Banca

Sigh. So, with the sun barely up, Rhys and I mounted a little white banca and headed for the ocean on a dolphin watching trip. And it did not disappoint. Although the sea was worryingly choppy, and it took a while to find any, every dolphin sighting was ridiculously exciting, although you only got to see them for a few seconds at a time. This is why I love travelling – for these experiences that make you feel such fresh and innocent excitement and enthusiasm. It’s like being a child again. Albeit, worldly wise child with a passport full of stamps who can legally travel alone and drink in bars.

After the dolphin watching, we headed for the Virgin Islands, not to pick up a virgin, but to check out the 7km sandbar which curves out to sea. Unfortunately, it was high tide, so we couldn’t walk along the sandbar so much as paddle along it. The most notable thing about this part of the journey was that Rhys managed to take the single most unattractive photo of me that’s ever been taken:

Future Miss World

This was followed by a snorkelling trip off the coast of Balicasag island, which is rumoured to have some of the best snorkelling in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the water was ridiculously choppy (due to the typhoon the previous day which had hit Luzon in the north of the Philippines, but blessedly left our little island in the Visayas in tact). Even with my ever-chic bright orange life jacket, I was finding the whole experience somewhat terrifying. It’s difficult to marvel at a kaleidoscope of fish folk when you’re trying not to (a)hit your head on an oar (b) float out to sea (c) die. My poor boyfriend sans lifejacket, ended up drinking a lot of sea water, which we know from reading Life of Pi and watching Bear Grylls, is never a good thing.

Some fish

Dolphins aside, it’s been a bit of a disappointing day. We are both trying (and failing) not to make comparisons between this holiday and our last one, which was in the most perfect hotel ever in Koh Samui, Thailand and included hot water, calm seas and a breakfast buffet. Not once did I have to wash myself using a bucket of cold water, as is my privilege on Panglao. Sigh.