Monthly Archives: April 2015

Thoughts in a hotel room in Cebu

1/23/15 Cebu City Philippines

I sit here in my hotel. A couple of days into a work-binge. Days spent resting, nights spent working. Room service and smokes. I will spend another few days doing this, or maybe another week on top of that. We shall see. I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been too busy doing the travelling and meeting people. I thought at one point, before I left the US, that I would write about everything that happened. I realize now that was a fools fancy. There are only a couple of stories that stand out now as deserving their own pieces of writing. I will write them, but for now I just relax and think about the Philippines.

I’ve been here for about six weeks now. I have a couple of weeks left on my visa before I need to renew. I’ve spent all of this time on Cebu island, and a large portion in Cebu City. I’ve made friends here, both locals and travellers. Most of the travellers are gone now, and I’m cordoned off and the locals probably assume I’ve left as well.

I’ve isolated myself right now so I can do a substantial amount of work and not be distracted by friends and fun. I think of my friends that I’ve met here. Jelmer, the dutch engineer, who I went through Southern Cebu with and who’s back in China now. Felix, the young Swede, who is back to finish his school. Teal, the Swedish manager, who is back after holiday. Hao, the Vietnamese software engineer who lives in LA, who is down in Australia diving. Maikel, the Dutch tour guide, who is on a Buddhist retreat in either Thailand or Vietnam right now. Shantae, the American diver, who is probably off looking for the next great shark dive. Nana, and Bella/Jaekun who are both back home now. Junior and Phillip, the Philippino couch surfing hosts that I met at a beach party and who let me and my friends stay with them and cooked us food. Keith and Emmett, the Irish backpackers that are now in Thailand before heading to Cambodia and Vietnam. Rafa, the Spanish expat who lives in Malapascua with Joon-Joon who owns the hostel Villa Sandra, one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. Shaira and Farieza the former of whom I think is in Indonesia, and the latter who is back home after her brief but tumultuous holiday. I think of my friends and how when you travel you make fast friends, but they leave just as fast. Technology helps, but is no substitute for long slow talks over fast beers and laughter. I could keep naming people for paragraphs, but it would just touch the people I’ve met.

It’s funny how people say travelling changes you. I’m not sure I believe that. I think I’m still basically the same guy I was before, but I have a better grasp of who that is. I find myself not worrying as much about who I am, or what I’m doing. I still worry some, about money, and my health. The money thing is actually one of the primary reasons I’m putting in so much time on working right now.

I know that I’m lucky to be able to work while I travel, as people so often tell me. It’s most traveller’s dreams, but it has it’s downsides as well. Staying up for midnight conference calls while everyone else is at a bar, or a party. Taking a week off to put in 40 hours on a project, and not being able to really let go of things back home. Letting problems percolate in your subconscious so that you can deal with them at a later date. I suppose that these are the realities that we deal with so that we can travel right? I don’t begrudge them, because my work, and the company that generously lets me work this way, make my travels possible.

As my friends enjoy pointing out to me, I’m not good at saving money, but I am good at my work. My skills allow me to continue my travels without having to leave the US with as much money as most people travelling for an extended period of time generally do. I’m grateful for that, and I need to get back to it now. Until later.

Cebu Island Part II

Bohol

The next day, on Christmas day, we went out to Bohol on the ferry, but Dora went off to meet up with a friend. It was pretty empty in Cebu on the way, especially compared to the madness of Cebu coming up to Christmas Eve. We stayed at the Tr3ats in Tagilarund (capital of Bohol), which was the same hostel we stayed at in Cebu. Till, Hao, Maikel and I arrived and woke up the other person in the dorm. A traveller named Vandana. We went out for food. Some of the only places to find food in Tagilarund are at the malls. Later we found out that there is some decent street food near the port, but not really in the rest of the city. That night, Christmas night, on the TV there was Frozen. I love that movie and own the soundtrack, so I started singing along. Louder and more effusively as there were more drinks had. The rest of the night was spent talking, drinking, and watching the stars.

I did very little the next day. I slept in and almost went to the beach, but didn’t. The next day or so I ended up at Alona Beach with Thomas and Felix, the Swedish guy that I might have mentioned earlier. We swam, and had some drinks and it was good times.

So it was right before New Years and everyone had plans except for Maikel and I. Felix had invited us out to meet up with him in El Nido, and Farieza and Shaira were there as well. It sounded fun, but there was no available accommodation and the tickets were a little pricey. After much waffling we said fuck it and booked the tickets. We high fived, and then ten minutes later someone asked us if we had heard all boats off the island were cancelled because of the typhoon. I believe our reactions were to swear and laugh. Yo get our refunds we had to go out in the storms and go to the pier, then wait in line for hours at the airport. It took almost the whole day. So after the next day the boats were cancelled again. The typhoon was coming and everyone at the hostel was stuck on the island just like we were. Some people were bummed, but as I always say when life gives you typhoons make TYPHOON PARTY!!!

We grabbed a huge amount of alcohol from the corner store, and waded through all of the rain that was already piling up. The hostel had BBQ in the evenings out back so food was taken care of, pay no attention to the plastic they use to start the fire. A few Aussies apparently had the same idea and brought a few more bags of booze and by the time everyone was out back it was maybe twenty of us. The party was a ton of fun, but it was cast in perspective the next day. We had been on the edge of the typhoon that hit Bohol and only had some light flooding and strong winds and lost power and water for a couple of days. There were about 140 dead on the island, bridges were down, houses were destroyed, and there was flooding in all of the rivers. To put it mildly we all kind of felt like assholes.

The boats were cancelled the next day and we were pretty sure that we were going to be spending New Years on Bohol. Maikel and I were OK with it, because when the boats were going again there was maybe a half kilometer line for tickets in the sweltering heat. We weren’t going to wait in that. Fortunately for us our friends Nana and Bella were already in line and got us tickets. We were set to go back to Cebu City for New Years. It wasn’t El Nido, but a sight better than Bohol.

We got business class tickets because that was all they had, and we got back to Cebu in the afternoon. Everybody ended up bailing except for me and Maikel. We met back up with Dora, and her friend. We hustled together more people from the hostel and were going out maybe 12 deep when we hit the bar district in Cebu. The bars in Cebu are not very big, and were all pretty full when we got there maybe an hour before New Years Eve. Corralling that many people is also inherently difficult. We ended up, at the recommendation of our Russian friend we met in Bohol, just grabbing some brandy, some mango juice and some cups and just going to the main square in Cebu uptown and hanging out and watching the fireworks. The fireworks in Cebu on New Years are impressive. We were in the center of Uptown, so some large buildings blocked some of our view, but you could still see a ton. Sitting on the grass around the giant Christmas tree was a great way of ringing in the New Year.

Malapascua

Maikel, Dora, and I had decided to go up to Malapascua, and one of the Americans that we went out with for New Years was heading that way too. Shantae was a backpacker/diver from Utah, and was going to dive with the Thresher Sharks. Malapascua is one of the only places to dive with them in the world. Maikel was a diver too and was psyched. Dora and I were not divers, and I was just looking forwards to some drinks and some beach. So we took the bus at like 5 in the morning. I think Maikel enjoyed waking me up much too much. Shantae, me and some other people from the hostel had been up drinking until like 2 or 3. I was not bright eyed and bushy tailed to put it mildly.

We took the bus to Maya, then the boat to Malapascua. The day was dark, and the water was rough, so we made it on the last ferry going out and it was pretty wet and very up and down on the way there. It is worth noting that this was the time that I decided to get a dry bag. A dry bag, for our friends that aren’t aware, is basically a bag made out of rubber that is waterproof and airtight. They are popular with divers because you can drop them in the water and they generally float because of the air trapped inside. My bag was soaked. This was mostly my own fault because the captain had told me that putting the bag below decks was going to be drier. Long story short, get a dry bag. They’re awesome. So we got to the “Pier” in Malapascua, but it was just a beach. They laid down some boards for us to walk to, and then we were on the beach. There are no cars on Malapascua, so you get around by walking, or by hiring a motorbike, which comes with a driver (20p/person). If you have two bags being on the back of a motorbike is a pretty tight fit. We stayed one night at Thresher Cove. It was a beautiful resort, and one that had dorms. The dorms were thin mattresses in a concrete room, but it had a private beach, a pool, and was meticulously maintained. It was a bit outside of the village though. We took it pretty easy that night and the next night, on recommendation of the resort, we went to Villa Sandra.

Villa Sandra was probably my favourite hostel I’ve stayed at. Simple, inexpensive, right in the village, and the people were amazing. It rained for two days, but then the sun came out. The beaches in Malapascua were some of the nicest I saw in the Philippines, and they were pretty empty. The island is still primarily a place for divers, so during the day most tourists are out diving. The nights were filled with drinking, talking, and the occasional bout of karaoke in the village. We all spent several afternoons at Maldito’s, a bar with the IQ special. 60p for a single rum and coke, 50p for a double, and 40p for a triple. It led to fun times, and harsh mornings. Malapascua was my favourite place in the Philippines and I’m not quite sure how to get across the charm of the place, and of Villa Sandra. I awoke each day to people drinking coffee on the patio, smoking cigarettes, and listening to reggae. You could ask about snorkelling places and someone would volunteer to take you. Maybe it was the people I was with, and the people I met, but it was a very chill place. It was also just what I needed right then. It was one of the only places I could see living/working for a month or more in the Philippines.

I stayed in Malapascua for 5 or 6 days, but I wish I could have stayed longer. However my visa was running out and I needed to renew it. I also wanted to get my diving (PADI) certification, but the money/time/scheduling didn’t work out.

Sinulog

I came back to Cebu City after Malapascua and just hung out in the city while I waited for my visa to be renewed. I met some more people. I was planning on going back to Malapascua sooner rather than later because Sinulog was coming. Sinulog is the biggest party/festival in the Philippines. For scope I’ll tell you this. The Metro Cebu area has a population of about 800,000. During Sinulog the city swelled in 2014 to about 3-4 million people. Every street in the city is a party. I wasn’t going to do it, but after a night with Keith and Emmett, who were in town for the party, they convinced me to do it. Red, Will, and Marina were all in town for the festival too, so we all made plans to do it, but there was a problem with accommodation. We didn’t have any, well, Keith and Emmett and I didn’t.

Keith, Emmett, and I all went out for drinks with some friends of theirs that they met on the flight into the Philippines. We had dinner, then went out for drinks. We were telling people that we were looking for accommodation, and they just laughed and said that we were screwed, which was funny, but ultimately unhelpful. It was two days before the festival and people generally book months in advance. However after the dinner one of the guys said that they thought they had a friend that owned a guest house that might have a free room. We said that we would take whatever they had as long as it had a floor, and that was negotiable. The room ended up actually being pretty nice. Will and Marina ended up grabbing a hotel. It was kind of pricey, but it was available..

It was Sinulog, so it was pretty hard to get back to the guesthouse, but I made it. I was burnt out. I did not go out on Sinulog, and my friends gave me no end of crap about it, but I was feeling kind of sick. By all accounts it was crazy. Marina made a Youtube video of it, and if I can track it down I’ll link it.

After Sinulog I checked into a nice hotel to get some work done. I sat in a room just working and sleeping for a week, then I was going to go back to Malapascua, but some friends invited me down to Boracay. I ended up going to Boracay, but that story is for another time.

Cebu Island Part I

Cebu City

When I started this post, I’d been in the Philippines for about two weeks. I spent the first few days recovering from either food poisoning, or just adjusting to the food. It was hard to tell. I had some KFC in the Mumbai international airport at midnight that didn’t agree with me, and yeah I know it was stupid, but it was late and I was hungry and not a lot was open (stupid chicken sandwich). I went up to the roof at my hostel and met a bunch of people including a friend named Jelmer from Holland. It was on the roof of that hostel that I met a lot of friends and people that I would later end up travelling with. It was a tiny little rooftop commons area. This was both it’s problem and it’s saving grace. It was so small that when people went up there to smoke, or to drink everyone had to be in one tight circle. This, of course meant that that everyone had to interact, and there were no small groups as happens sometimes. Jelmer invited me to Moalboal in a few days after he got some work done, so I stayed at the hostel and killed time.

I mostly recovered my health in the next days, but I did have a fun night with a Swedish guy named Felix. I asked Felix if he was going out that night. He said that he had just flew in from Sweden and was pretty jetlagged. I said I was recovering from food poisoning, but we both agreed that a couple of beers on the roof sounded good. Of course one beer turned into three, which turned into several bottles of rum as more and more people from the hostel came to the roof. People came and people left, but Felix and I remained. We couldn’t figure out why people were going to bed so early until the sun rose. Now the funny thing about Felix is that he couldn’t really drink, but he was keeping up with me all night. When the sun rose I was surprised he hadn’t passed out. I found out later that Felix was 18 years old, and then I understood. I could do things like that when I was 18 too.

Oslob

So Jelmer hit me up a day or two later, and we went down to Oslob, because the only hostel in Moalboal was booked up. We met back up with Matt, who we had met in Cebu. We all three went to swim with the whale sharks the next day and decided to stay in Oslob for another day because it was so chill and everyone was so nice. We stayed in Luzmin BH, which is ran by Lucy, and she’s helped by her son Mark. Almost every evening people come by and play pool on the pool table in the back. The cost for a game is 5p (about $0.10USD) and the standard bet is 20p (about $0.40USD). It was fun even if I almost never won. The people in that area play a ludicrous amount of pool, as did the people in Moalboal. Some of my fondest memories of Lagunda, and Oslob in general, are just hanging out in that back courtyard area and losing pool consistently to the local guys. While we trash talked each other and feigned pain when we missed, all without any grasp of each others language. It was good fun. Matt was actually the first person I met travelling who played serious pool. I used to, many years ago, but my skills have atrophied to the point where I can only beat my friends. Although they like to think I’m really good, I’m not, but it makes them feel better about losing.

We went to swim with the whale sharks pretty early in the morning, or at least for me it was. We got up and around 7 and got out there maybe 7:30. It was one of the more expensive touristy things I’ve done since travelling, 1000p (about $23USD), but it was so worth it. That included the snorkelling as well, so it would be a few hundred pesos cheaper if you didn’t want to go in the water, or a few hundred more if you wanted to dive. You go out on a little bangkha about 50-60 feet from the shore and just jump in. The snorkels they rented us were terrible and I kept inhaling water and ended up ditching the snorkel and keeping on the mask. The whale sharks were 8-10 meters long. That is around 30 feet. That doesn’t quite due them justice, because they are also very big around. Google some images, because I forgot my camera, but suffice to say they are HUGE! The people in the boat feed the Whale Sharks, so they are constantly moving around trying to get the food. You go through an orientation before you go, and it mostly consists of, “DON’T TOUCH THE WHALE SHARKS!!!” also maintain a 10-15 foot distance at all times. That is easier said then done and I had to frequently dodge the sharks when they almost ran into me. They are so big that you don’t even register to them. At one point I was hanging off of the side of the boat with a whale shark coming by beneath me with the man driving the boat yelling at me, “UP! UP! HIGHER!!!” I was completely out of the water at this point and hanging on trying not to fall on the whale shark inches below me, and then the man yelled at me, “BUT RELAX! RELAX!!!!” I wanted to yell back at him, “QUIT YELLING AT ME TO RELAX! IT’S NOT HELPFUL!!!” However I was out of breath and trying not to fall. Over all it was one of my favorite memories in the Philippines and I would highly recommend it.

So now we went to Moalboal. Unfortunately the rain started coming down. I was reminded that the Philippines doesn’t have Summer or Winter. They just have the rainy season and the not rainy season. Typhoon season is generally at the beginning of the rainy season. We had been making jokes about the rain for a bit while we were lounging in the sun, but then it started coming down. Jelmer sat on a little chair in the rain with an umbrella while we were trying to wave down a bus. It was one of the saddest most pitiful things I had ever seen. I wanted to take a picture, but it seemed inappropriate. Also my camera was all the way in my bag. I offered to take a shift with him, but he said that there was no sense in getting two of us wet, and I didn’t argue very hard.

Finally we got a bus. Unfortunately it was the wrong bus, but we didn’t realize that until we arrived at the end of the line. It was not the town we thought we were going to catch the next bus at. We asked the driver if we could just flag down another bus on the way. He assured us that it would not be a problem. It was a problem, and illustrates something that happens a lot in the Philippines. People will tell you where something is, because they are helpful, but they might not have any idea what you’re talking about. If you get directions I would recommend asking a few different people and getting a consensus. It will save you many of the days I spent looking for restaurants and landmarks. None of the buses stopped and we ended up taking a trike to the next bus station. We still had to wait an hour or so in the rain huddled with everyone else under some thatched roofs trying to edge out the vendors and the chickens.

Moalboal

We got our bus and went to Moalboal. When we got to Moalboal I thought immediately that I would hate it. It was packed, noisy, and everyone was yelling at you trying to get you to take a trike etc. I was pretty wet and beat so we grabbed a trike for like 150p (we found out later the going rate is 30p/person). So the way that Moalboal is laid out is that there are two major areas around the water, and the city. The city sucks. The other parts are called the little sun and the big sun. The little sun is where all the backpackers and cheap diving people hang out. The big sun is resorts and private beaches. I did not go to the big sun. The little sun was cool though. Good food, nice bars, not too expensive. We grabbed some beers, met up with the girls and just hung out. The next day was a bit of an adventure. I accidentally went canyoning. That day warrants another post, so I’ll link it here when I’m done. Although Seven Sins bar was pretty cool and is worth noting because it’s a little bar in Moalboal that takes bitcoin. It was pretty awesome and Jelmer and I had a great talk with Abraham, the owner of the bar, about cryptocurrencies.

I ended back up in Cebu after Moalboal. It’s a 4 hour bus ride North from Moalboal to Cebu City, but in rush hour its more like 5-6 hours. I relaxed in Cebu for a couple of days and met up with some guys. Till from Switzerland, Hao from Vietnam (but who lived in LA), and Maikel from the Netherlands. We were all thinking about heading to Bohol. We decided that after Christmas Eve we’d roll out.

We went out on Christmas Eve. We started the night at an Irish Pub, and there was a hilarious exchange when an American guy we we were hanging out with tried to order Irish car bombs. Keep in mind this was an Irish pub, that I’m pretty sure was owned by an Irish guy. After half an hour of trying to explain to the bartender and the bouncer how to make them he just asked for the ingredients. So if you’ve never tried to make 10 Irish car bombs from shots and cans of Guiness and pint glasses on a rickety table in a crowded bar I will tell you it’s challenging. We finally succeeded. Serge felt triumphant, and I was happy to get free Jameson and Guiness, and then went to the club. We danced our asses off, but the club didn’t seem very Christmassy to me. I headed back to the Hostel with Maikel and Dora, from Australia. We got back to the hostel and heard merrymaking across the street. The two shops were having street parties. One had house music playing loudly, and people dancing. The other shop had an amp, and two guitarists, or maybe a guitarist and a bass player. We grabbed beers and started listening to the music. However in the Philippines if you know the words to the song then they’ll just pass you the mic. I sang some Janes Addiction with Dora, but had issues because I blew out my voice at the club. I could only sing bass very low. We partied, then went to bed. I have a video of it somewhere that I might upload.