07-08-09/03/2018 CEBU ISLAND

Polished skyscrapers by the beach, broad boulevards with wax palms, traffic jams, hot weather and feel good music playing at every corner… If it hadn’t been for the massive amount of Japanese tourists around,  both me and Isa would have mistaken Cebu City for Miami.

Very popular between Filipino and Asian tourists, not so appealing to us, we left the island’s main city after being stuck in a taxi for more than one hour. Luckily the otherwise pretty annoying experience was made more interesting by our taxi driver, a kind beyond any possible expectation man who told us everything and more about Filipino culture, including how boiled duck eggs with an embryo are considered a delicacy. He offered to get us one. We kindly declined…

After a 2 and half hour sweaty and uncomfortable trip on an extremely crowded minivan for locals, some breathtaking jungly landscapes by the sea, and coconut cakes wrapped in banana leaves, we eventually reached our destination: Moalboal, also known for being home to millions of sardines.

We had to come to terms with the fact that randomly showing up without a reservation to our homestay of choice in Panagsama beach, was not as successful as we expected it to be.

Which translated in having to put up with the only room available in the whole village…

As soon as we checked in we finally put our swimsuits on and immediately plunged into the warm sea, eager to see at least a few of the famous sardines… Nope! Not happening. “How come you haven’t seen any?! There are literally thousands!” – imagine our reaction few hours later when the Italian couple we met on a hippie beach bar, incredulously asked us this question. It was still our first sunset on the beach in the Philippines, something that we had dreamt of for a long while, and as we sipped the best mango daiquiri we ever drank and chilled to the sound of lounge music, the golden hour made the sea shine as if the water was made of glitter. Could we really be bothered?!

After a pretty average dinner and a WiFi hunt to make plans for the following morning’s canyoning session, me and Isa, pretty much devastated from the few hours of sleep of the previous night, made it to bed at 9 and fell asleep to some trashy pop ballads covers (something we soon realised, Filipino folks LOVE), playing from next doors.

7 AM. Another day, another rooster alarm.

Finally opted for a healthy breakfast option (granola with fresh tropical fruit @ Tipolo Beach Resort) and got ready to hit one of Cebu Island’s landmark: the dreamlike aquamarine coloured Kawasan Falls and its series of natural swimming pools and lagoons. We took part in a few hours long canyoning tour, which basically consisted of cliff diving into the waterfall’s canyons, something that neither me or Isa had ever tried before. As a result of our inexperience and the pretty awkward inclination our bodies took during the free falling (which was way higher than we both expected), we ended up hitting the water in pretty painful ways. Which, after a few days, resulted in humongous blueish/greenish bruises on our bums and thighs. Something I could hide underneath my beach trunks, but something Isa had to put up with for the rest of our holiday…

When we finally made it to the picture perfect last lagoon, all wrapped up in canyoning gear and wearing a very unsexy red miner’s helmet, we tried a few times to take a selfie. Nah, didn’t work out. There was no way we could live up to the the flawless and sultry poses of all the Instagrammers that had been there already. We had to take a laugh while going through our unsuccessful attempts.

While having lunch with our tour mates, we once again coped with super greasy food and the smallest one-layered napkins ever created on earth (why Filipino people, why?!). Eventually, after another packed and arguably safe tricycle ride, we made it back to Panagsama beach where, FINALLY, we seemed to have found the right spot to snorkel with the biggest school of sardines, somebody can possibly come across. Swimming amongst them, making a whole wall of fish change its direction and seeing the underwater light games of the sun reflecting on the silver fish scales was simply a mesmerising experience. And easily kept us busy for a good couple of hours.

Before getting ready for our evening trip, we spent the golden hour sipping coconut water while watching a bunch of kids playing on the beach.

In most islands in the Philippines bus trips come with no fixed timetables. Which means that the bus might hit the station once in a hour. If you’re lucky. While waiting for ours to Bato, Isa grabbed some street food in a nearby stall: spicy pork skewers, sausages skewers and sticky rice wrapped up in banana leaves. I still remember how every single bite took us to cloud nine! Once we made it to Bato, while waiting for the next bus to Oslob, we killed time in a bakery for locals and got us a fair amount of carbs for less than 50cents. Despite of the waiting times, moving around in the Philippines, as Isa stated multiple times, seemed really to be dummy-proof.

We reached our final destination around midnight, after the whole bus, as to prove us once more how kind these people were, did the impossible to locate the homestay we picked for the night, Germaroze. We said goodbye to the whole crowd to find out, once again, that no beds were available… After almost giving in in the shabbiest motel of all, we came across an unexpectedly good solution. 1AM, sea salt rinsed off our skin, collapsed in bed as soon as our head touched the pillow. Next morning alarm: 5 AM…

So, why going to Oslob? But, above all, why, waking up so early once again?

Oslob has become a proper tourist magnet in the last years because of its whale sharks and the fair price (less than 20 euro) you get charged to have the chance to swim with them. There’s a proper debate going on whether supporting this activity is fair or not. It’s true: the sharks are lured with fish baits to the coast which leads to messing up with their migration cycles. On the other hand, there’s no captivity involved and the animals’ welfare doesn’t seem to be dramatically compromised (everybody has to go through a quick class about how to behave in the water, do’s and dont’s…)

Everybody’s entitled to make their own decisions. Both me and Isa decided to go for it, and, again, swimming with these gentle giants, was doubtlessly one of the most jaw dropping experiences I had in my entire life.

After witnessing  a celestial dawn, we made it to the sharks at 6 AM, and, as much as the crowd was already considerable, we made it in the water in a matter of ten minutes. The following 30 minutes had to be pure bliss and astonishment. Absolutely overjoyed and smelling like we had rolled for hours on fish carcasses, we hopped on our tricycle, whose owner had patiently waited for us and looked after our belongings, and made it back in time for breakfast.

We both kinda felt like it was literally impossible for the day to get any better. But it didn’t get any worse either!

First we motorcycled to Tumalog waterfall and freshened up in its natural swimming pool’s icy water, then we hopped on a paraw boat and, after making the most of it for a while with nobody else around, we sailed to Panglao Island. Two hours of sunbathing and daydreaming on the bow while listening to music and staring at the sea and at its countless flying fishes.

09-10/03/2018 PANGLAO ISLAND

The ship docked at the pristine Danao Beach, which was, with the only exception of a group of toddlers having the time of their life, absolutely empty. We grabbed our backpacks and hopped on a jeepney that dropped us right next to our bungalow (@ Alona Grove). This time around, against all odds, we had been clever enough to actually arrange everything before showing up. It was rustic and the absolute opposite of fancy, but very affordable, 1 minute walk away from Alona Beach (the so-challed “place to be” on Panglao Island), and with the most helpful staff you can possibly think of. We dropped our stuff on the bungalow’s floor and rushed out to Alona Beach. In a matter of no longer than 30 seconds since it had started, our stroll stopped when we spotted Trudis, which came highly recommended on our Lonely Planet, and realised that we were actually starving. There I tried another locals’ greasy favourite: sisib (a pork based dish, with eggs, a crazy amount of spices, rice and hoisin sauce). Slighty slowed down by the beers we drank and the postprandial dizziness, we dragged our bodies all the way down the promenade between myriads of Japanese and Korean tourists, to eventually collapse on the beach and recover just in time for sunset, that, funny enough, happened on the opposite side of the island, right behind our shoulders. We found Alona pretty, nothing against it, but definitely overhyped and not better than any other beach in Panglao.

The few hours of sleep started to take a toll on us. We made it back to the bungalow where we chilled, while listening to some music on the wooden veranda, showered, fell asleep at 7.30 PM and woke up 11 hours later…

On the following morning, by the time the sun rose, me and Isa had already walked back and forth the whole promenade, filled our bellies with a delicious organic breakfast with a view (squash bread with spreads, squash muffins, ham&eggs, waffles with exotic fruits and lemon yoghurt) at the ever so worth it Buzz Cafe, and seen the whole village coming to life.

We spent the whole day riding around the empty roads of the pretty petite Panglao Island on a rented scooter and trying everything was in our power not get sunburnt (the sunscreen 50+ didn’t really seem to be of any help). At Dumaluan Beach, known amongst the locals for its picture perfect fine white sand and warm shallow waters, we found the peace we hadn’t come across on Alona Beach. We then picked the Bohol BeeFarm for lunch and, from a shadowed sea view terrace (that obviously played acoustic pop covers), we ordered a spectacular Filipino veggie meal with aubergines in coconut and ginger sauce with red crispy rice, washed down by buko (coconut) and mango shakes. [Ok, I’m literally drooling while writing this]

After a quick visit at the Hinagdanan Cave, a naturally lightened cavern with hundreds of limestone stalactites and stalagmites and a deep cold pool in its centre, and a quick dip at the solitary Danao Beach, we took a quick refreshing shower before covering our skin in a thick layer of insect repellent and being picked up for the “Kayaking with Fireflies tour”.

We reached Kayakasia head quarters in about one hour, and, after a quick introduction about how the business, the first and the only sustainable one in the area, started and how the situation has changed since new tours on speed boats have been made legal, me and Isa hopped on our kayak and spent two amongst the most magical hours of our trips together.

We picked the original business, not only because of how romantic the idea of kayaking at night along the shimmering riverbanks was, but also to support the eco friendly philosophy behind it. Allegedly, only 6 out of the 26 fireflies-riddled mangrove trees are still there to be seen. The speedboats and the waves they create are the responsible for this change, since they’re causing the erosion of the mud that serves as a nursery for the fireflies’ larvae.

While me and Isa took pride in the realisation that, in comparison to our pathetic attempt in Florida, our rowing had gotten so much more synchronised, our volunteer-based guide and unstoppable chatterbox, fed us with a ridiculous amount of notions about these bugs and their curious habits. For instance: did you know that red is a firefly’s favourite colour? or that a firefly lives only two weeks and its only goal in life is to mate? Well, I didn’t know that either.

On the spooky, actually to me extremely romantic side, some ancient legends say that places that attract fireflies are haunted: every light is there to represent a soul that struggles to leave the human dimension…

Nikon N55, Petzval 58 Bokeh Control, Fuji Superia 200

Olympus OM-10, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Lomochrome Purple 100-400 (35)

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December 9, 2019

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