The bulletin is that I've been to seven islands since I wrote last, seen thresher sharks under the water and tiny primates above. Current location: Dumaguete, Negros. Current condition: full of cold, but hey, at least the sun is shining.
So where was I last? Oh yes, Legaspi in the south east of Luzon. I left after a couple of days and caught a tricycle, bus and jeepney down to the southern most town of Matnog, to catch the ferry to Samar. A number of small, soaking-wet beggar boys wandered around the boat, and their scam was to pretend they would dive off of the side of the boat for a few pesos . . . of course once you gave them the money they would grin scamper off to the next mug. Bigger boys sat in little boats at the side of the ferry, shouting up for people to throw coins down, while others wearing dive masks tread water, ready to dive down for any coins that missed their mark.
The ferry crossing was enlivened by the coin-operated kareoke machine that I had the lack of foresight to sit too near to. One unexpectedly pleasant surprise was the scrotey-looking man with no front teeth who had the voice of an angel. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water as we pulled into the port of Allen.
I spent that night in Eduardo's Tourist Hotel, in a room called Dee, and continued my journey through Samar the next day, in what has to have been the bumpiest bus ride I've ever been on. It was lots of fun, and I sat at the back with my head out of the window, smiling and waving back at the people who seemed surprised to see a white girl on this less-travelled isle.
The island is linked to Leyte by a nice bridge and on the other side the bus deposited me in the town of Tacloban. Before leaving the next morning I visited the Santo Niño Shrine and Heritage Centre, a palatial building erected for that infamous collector of shoes, Imelda Marcos. As well as a number of rooms for family members, there are thirteen themed guest bedrooms; no one has ever slept in the house. The building is a fine example of squandered money, and well worth a look if you ever happen to find yourself in the area.
My next stop was Biliran Island, to the north of Leyte, where bad weather put paid to my plans in the area. I stayed just one night at a quiet resort, where they woke me up at 0730 to deliver my breakfast!
I planned next to visit Bohol, so spent the best part of a day travelling to the port of Maasin, where boats to Bohol leave from. The weather continued to mess up my plans though, as in the morning I discovered that the sea was too rough for the boats to run. I was told that I may be able to catch a boat from Bato, and hour up the road, so this became plan B and I jumped aboard a jeepney - whose driver spent an age drumming up business before leaving the town.
I decided it was best not to wish too hard to catch the boat, as the three-hour boat ride was bound to be bumpy, and I may well regret making it. Because of this I was not too disappointed when I saw that the double-decker, wooden bangka had just left the pier as I approached - and I do mean just left, it was only a couple of metres away. I was offered a ride in a tiny boat, which I was not too enthusiastic about, and happily agreed with the coastguard (whose permission I had to ask to catch it, as it was not licensed for passengers) when he advised against it, saying it may prove dangerous.
I was told of a boat leaving nearby Hilongos bound for Cebu so I invented and invoked plan C, and went there instead - on a ferry that had no seats, only metal framed bunk beds. Rather strange, but actually a nice, relaxed way to travel.
I spent a two nights in Cebu city, and visited a couple of Chinese Temples, an old Spanish Fort, a church and a museum or two. Cebu is so much nicer that Manila, and was relatively pleasant to walk around.
I caught the bus north the next day, destined for Malapascua Island, where I had read you could see thresher sharks. The island has taken off as a tourist destination in the last few years, and I could see why - beautiful, white-sand beaches, relaxed and friendly locals, and diving. There were also a fair few people willing to rip off the tourist - including the Dutch-run place where I stayed, where the prices advertised were less than they expected you to pay.
The bad weather meant that visibility was pretty dismal under the water, and on the first early morning dive the sharks didn't show. The next day I was in luck, and got to see some of these beautiful creatures. I would have liked to have shared pictures of them with you, but - dozy bism that I am - I forgot to put batteries in my camera. D'oh! I did another dive that day, in rough seas and a ripping current. I remembered the batteries this time, but was gutted to have my camera fog up. Looks like I'm going to have to send it back to Japan again.
After having a big row with the hotel over my bill as I went to check out, I walked the kilometre down the beach to catch the boat back to Cebu island, and was scammed again. Public boats are meant to run every half an hour, 100 pesos for the trip. I was told though that today there were no public boats, they were all busy. If I wanted to leave the island I would have to pay for a "special trip", normally 600, but because the guy felt sorry for me he'd let me have it for 500. I had little choice, but talked him down to 400 when I realised that I would be sharing my "special trip" with 22 locals.
My next stop was Panagsama Beach, near to Moalboal, another diving destination. I just did two dives, as the conditions were so poor. It was like swimming in pea soup, and at depth felt more like a night dive. I could see enough to tell that the sites would be spectacular in good weather - definitely one to go back to. My camera lasted 20 mins each dive before fogging up, so I did manage to get some photos.
By now the dull weather was getting to be a right pain in the arse, so I decided to abandon any diving plans for the time being and head back to Bohol and inland to Nuts Huts. I arrived (via boats and jeepneys) at nearby Loboc, and from there caught a small boat up the river to the low-key resort. For the first time in a couple of weeks the day had been a gloriously sunny one, and the sun was just dropping behind the tops of the palm trees as I climbed into the small craft.
Nuts Huts has a number of basic rooms on stilts in the jungle overlooking the Loboc River. It was a major hike to the restaurant, but the views over lush vegetation and down to the green river were nice. At night bats would flit around, and the trees would fill with twinkling fireflies, as if some of the stars had fallen into them. The best thing about Nuts Huts was the peace and quiet - no traffic noise or kareoke, just the sounds of nature.
I took advantage of their sauna the first night I was there - an unexpected treat. A fire heats the water and fragrant leaves, and the steam is then piped into a small wooden room. I climbed into the warm cloud, which had settled a couple of feet off the ground. A faint glow lit the room, and I could barely make out my hands in front of my face as the moist hotness engulfed me.
I used the place as a base to visit the Chocolate Hills by motorbike, and then to go to the Tarsier Foundation. The road there was pretty hairy, but I managed to make it in one piece, and got to see the freaky little primates. Their huge eyes are each bigger that their brains, and they can swivel their heads by almost 360º. What really took me by surprise were the manic grins on their furry faces. Seeing one of them slowly turn his head to look at me with this insane smile on his face was actually a bit creepy. I was torn between thinking they were cute and malevolent.
I also took a river cruise from Nuts Huts with a Korean girl who was staying at the place. We went to see a low waterfall, swam in bubbling spring water, and travelled all the way to the mouth of the river. We passed under a bridge in Loboc built during the Marcos era. It could not be finished - to be completed the 17th century church that is the pride of the town would have to be demolished. Roger, our boat driver, told us that he country is still plagued with corruption.
Whilst I was staying at the jungle retreat I came down with a cold, which a week later I am still suffering from. I sometimes wonder if someone up there isn't trying to drop me a hint to stay out of the water - first the conditions are not good for diving, then the weather clears up, but my ears are full of snot and I can't dive. I've spent the last few days in Dumaguete, doing nothing other than blow my nose and update my website.
Fingers crossed the ears will clear, and I'll get to dive Apo Island, which is meant to have some of the best diving in the country.
Well, enough of my waffles. Most of you probably stopped reading after the first three lines anyway! Peace and prosperity to all. Until next time, adieu.