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1/4-24/4 2005 INFO and DIARY  1

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Diary 1 2 3   

Morten and Jesper intended to take a diving vacation to Indonesia. After examining security and Foreign Ministry recommendations, it became the Philippines. Here, a few foreigners were kidnapped a few years ago, but there has been quiet since. I've been home for a year and a half, so I join whatever! Only there is warmth, nature and experiences. Rikke chooses to stay home, as she has to prepare for her final exam.

1. Birthe drives us to the airport, and at five we fly to Amsterdam, wait two hours and then continue to Manilla. Two hours' wait again, and then we fly, in a fantastic sunset, to the large island of Cebu, where we immediately book into a hotel.

2. The 22 hour journey has brought us to 35C degrees of warmth, incredibly sweet people and amazing idyll. Prices can also not be complained about: Taxi for one hour: 60 kroner (and it does not get more expensive, if you do not take it from the airport!). Nice hotel room with clean shared bath: 35 for double. Large pepper steak: 19 kroner. All cutlery we get in the Philippines is carefully wrapped separately in paper. 

We live in a converted villa, with polished hardwood floors and bamboo decor. Dinner in the hotel restaurant, which is just on the terrace. Not a lot of people here, actually just some smiling and nicely dressed ladies. Big bats remove the worst insects, and here, as on the rest of the trip, there are mosquito-free and good beds. I discover a good and a bad thing: I still have all my shampoo, but there is very little left it in the bottle.

3. The temperature was as low as 25 degrees last night, but there were blankets. During the day, it sneaks up to comfortable 34 degrees; we have come to the right place. Breakfast at the hotel, then out into the street to find a taxi that could take us down to the harbour. We are dropped off in front of a large and modern terminal with security checks of big smiling guards and stray dogs. We board a modern catamaran, where the taped security information ends with a Catholic prayer in English.

Almost every sign we see is in English, most people we meet can speak English, it can't be much easier. Here were Arab merchants in the 13th century, the Spaniards conquered the islands in the 1700s, then the English seized them, and after the Japanese had occupied them during World War II, they were liberated by the Americans, who took worryingly long time to leave them. In fact, it was only after Markos and his shoe-collecting wife were thrown out, that the Americans pulled out. Australians took care of the islands a bit, but now they are pretty much their own. They are mainly Catholics, some Jehovah's Witnesses, original religions, and down south there are Muslims. One does not notice much about religion, apart from the writings of the jeepni, which are biblical quotations.

We land in Tagbilaran on southern Bohol, in a large port city, and walk along the  ouses on poles to land. Here, as everywhere else we come, all boats up to medium ferries are outfitting boats. Even tiny rowboats are a narrow canoe have a couple of bamboo rafts way off to the side. Very fast and comfortable boat type. It may not be much used on big waves, but they don't have much of it, and we won't meet anyone.

We find one of the numerous motorcycles with sidecar and large superstructure which brings us to the bus station. Here we find a minibus that can take us to the Chocolate Hills. We pass countless one- and two-story wooden houses, almost all of them without exception, have a lot of potted plants in the front yard, and a collection of piles of orchids. A sight that follows and on the whole trip. Another, very pleasant thing about the Philippines is their muffled and unnoticed music as well as their quiet and lumbering dogs, who are very cuddly.

We follow the coast with its mangroves, and a little before lunch we arrive at the Chocolate Hills area. A longer walk brings us to the viewing point. A large group of ancient coral reefs, shaped like old-fashioned haystacks, are overgrown. In the dry season (which is now), they are sweated off so that they stand like huge cream balls in the otherwise green landscape. We make a lot of photos, both the hills and the vegetation. Here are passion flowers and a euphorbia, closely related to the poinsettia, as well as a myriad of other green things. Here are also some birds, some with a beautiful song, but they are not photogenic!

We head down to the touristy restaurant (where, like so many other places, we are the only tourists) to have some food. We feed on chicken or shrimp, get San Miguel beer and Sprite as well as coffee, but then have to drop 30 kroner in total. This may well be a cheap holiday! We take the bus back to Tagbilaran. We should have actually gotten of at a Tarsier reserve, but it slipped. Instead, we find a taxi that can take us out.

Tarsier monkeys are the world's smallest primates. They are the size of a hamster, but have a 30 centimetre naked tail to their ten centimetre body. The most special thing is their eyes: They are about two centimetres in diameter! The largest in any mammal, similar to that we should have 25 centimetre eyes. When they close them, it's all the forehead and scalp that slides down. They give birth to the relatively largest cubs: 1/5 weight of the mother.
They are insectivorous, and exclusively night-active. We make a donation to the reserve and are guided into the enclosure, or more: The exclosure.

In a large area on a slope, over 20 Tarsiers sit and sleep. Everyone is at eye level, and totally unimpressed by our presence and the photographer. At night, they jump out over the fence to hunt insects. The fence protects them from wild domestic cats, that might otherwise walk and "pick" them during the daytime. They have their name after a specially developed bone in their legs. This particularly long bone lets them jump many meters.

After the visit we will be asked for some research on ecotourism in connection with Tarsier monkeys. On the way out to the waiting taxi we see a species of toucan, which unfortunately disappears quickly. Back to Tagbilaran, and by bus to Panglao Island. We drive through fields of rice and sweet potatoes. In mud puddles under the trees water buffaloes dart, at small "dog houses" fighting cocks are tethered to one leg.

In the last rays of sun, we arrive at a Bounty land. A variety of small cosy hotels, mixed equally share restaurants, bars and scuba diving. The road down to them is a dirt road, the road between them is the perfect white beach. Very few tourists and no hustlers. We will pay 80 kroner for the rooms, which are a strip of wooden houses with grass roof and porch. Dinner at a nice restaurant costs 6.50 for the main course, and the beers are for 3.50, so it works well.

We find a dive shop that looks reasonable, and instead of a test dive, I just order a dive license. The company is owned by a German, and my teacher is German, so it can't be quite bad. It costs US $ 200, and applies worldwide. It takes 3-4 days, but there are plenty of diving opportunities for the brothers as well, so they don't get bored.

As something new we find postcards. I can't decide if it's good or bad to send cards to Rikke with mini apes and bounty lands, but decide to do so. It turns out later, postcards and especially post offices are something close to an unknown phenomenon in the Philippines. We do not see a single mail or mailbox. Rikke would have had the most difficult withdrawals here!
We sit alone on the cosy restaurant balcony, enjoying beer and coffee while watching the phosphorescent waves and the clear starry sky. It seems almost completely wrong, there are no mosquitoes!

4. After breakfast we head down and send the brothers out and dive. I meet Peter, who is a civil engineer, among other things. He agree to let me have the Padi Open Diver proof fast, but there will be nothing to shoot shortcuts. I'm the only student, so it gets pretty intense. I watch video films, read a thick book in English and answer endlessly many tests over the next few days, while Peter draws and tells. When I a few times don't get Peters English, I do understand his German.
We dive once in the pool and then it's off to the reef. He is well satisfied, despite the fact that I myself think I spend most energy on emptying the mask. I have only once, out of all the snorkelling dives, tried a mask that did not fill quickly.

We meet for dinner and then I head home to do homework. Have read a few chapters in Jesper's Danish book from home, but it works fine in English. A cup of common goodnight coffee, and then I tilt just over nine. It has been a rough day!

5. The brothers take off to dive, and I watch video and being tested in the morning. In the afternoon, Peter and I head out to the "House Reef". It is 200 meters outside the beach and is fantastic. A large surface, and some wick, covered with a mixture of hard and soft corals, mushrooms and a myriad of animals. We try different emergency procedures such as sharing air, removing mask, salvaging and removing lead. After lunch we take another dive and then the brothers come home.

Morten has rented a motorcycle from Peter, and is sweeping the island. Jesper and I take it more leisurely, with a long walk in through the sparsely populated hinterland. Here is a low scrub with, among other things, Jatrophas. We pass some scattered pole houses with smiling and waving residents. All have beautiful gardens and orchid stakes. There are beautiful Adenium obesums and blossoms with the Bougainvillea.

Somewhere, a man is smoking coconut in a large wooden tub. There are coconut palms across most of the Philippines, but these are incredibly few times we get coconut. We are philosophizing about how coconut palms grow on the top of the steep islands. Do the nuts roll up?

A full-fledged police car is followed by a truck with an orchestra and then one with the local basketball team. Afterwards, a lot of people cfollows, that's really something they are into!
We have a little trouble getting home. Finding the little dirt side-roads we need to go down works pretty well, but it's been high tide. In many places, the water reaches up to the 10-15 meter vertical cliffs. We find home in the last daylight, and meet with a broad-smiling Morten. He has reached most of the island and has more than doubled his personal motorcycle mileage!

We order shrimp cocktail. It turns out to be a slightly different composition, than we are used to: finely grated cabbage and carrots, cheese sticks, pineapple, papaya, banana with a very bold pink cream to it. Tastes delicious! After this, Morten gets "seething reef" (toasted all-good-from-the-sea on a glowing cast iron plate). Jesper gets sizzling Blue Marlin and I get grated cow with a delicious sauce. After several cups of coffee, I give up fighting and crawl to bed.

6. I pass the last written exam and then I'm then Open Water Diver. and then we go out and dive. Home to learn more theory, and another try, followed by another dive. This time at a depth of 28 meters, where the reef is still incredibly beautiful, and it is teeming with colourful life. Thanks to the incredible visibility of the water, life goes a long way. New test, and then I'm Advanced Diver. It has cost me 2200 kroner, with the dives.

Home to take a quick bath, and hand over the key - a little late. We had agreed with the hotel, we could stay until three o'clock, with it hanging a bit. We walk up through the "town" to find a taxi that can take us to the bus station. A fairly new BMW - with a customer - stops by, and asks if we want to go into town.

When he get back - without a customer - we negotiate a good price; 250 kroner. He drives us all the way to the ferry town on the opposite side of the big island of Bohol. It takes three hours as there is some road work and there are 200 kilometres. The driver is in doubt about the road, and asks us for advice! He is only used to driving tourists up to see the Little Monkeys and Chocolate Hills.

We arrive, expectedly, too late for today's ferry, and have to find a hotel. Two double rooms of 35 kroner in a brand new hotel. We head out into town to find dinner. Three servings with 1½ litres of soda: 25 kroner. We sit outside and drink coffee as a quirky lady shows up. Despite our obvious disinterest, she sits japping away in an almost understandable English. Then she apologizes a lot, she has to go. Here we get to know karaoke for the first time, which in turn pursues us for the rest of the trip. After all, it is the only loud music we are bothered by.

7. We get up early, to reach the ferry to Massin at nine. It just doesn't work. There is a ferry to Bato at ten. Then we just have to drive 50 kilometres south, when we have landed. Never mind, then there will also be time for breakfast. We look around a lot and find the first floor of the big market. And then the lady shows up from last night. Despite our total indifference, she sits down at our table. Still haven't figured out, what she is selling. We swollow the breakfast, and make the Houdini.

Going through the market, which mainly consists of household items made of tin and plastic, huge quantities of sun-dried fish, clothing and various cereals. Most transport in this city takes place on mini-bikes with a sidecar. There are also some motorcycles with covered sidecar and some old trucks as well as the ubiquitous jeepneys.

We have come a little far down in finance, and are looking for a bank. As they finally open, they will have nothing to do with Visa cards. They won't even exchange dollars! After some joking around, we are shown to a bank, a good distance from the centre and the harbour. They want to exchange dollars - for people living in the city. The bank is well packed with locals, which we have elegantly skipped. Then a smiling supervoiser arrives, and is very helpful.

We are allowed to exchange $ 100 each, and by skipping everyone back in the queue, we get some of them into small banknotes, that can be used in regular shops and restaurants. Here, like so many other places in the world, it is the customer's problem to have equal money. The change ??? We leave the bank with most of their banknotes. Hope none of those we skipped in the queue, should have had ...

With our newly won capital, is a doomed feast: We immediately ferment in one Sprite and two coffees for a total of three kroner. Have been sitting a little too long, and get pretty busy finding the pier, to reach our ferry. A large outrigger boat, where the two outside decks are filled completely with water buffaloes. They are good-natured and chew on the entire crossing, although they are sometimes hit by the swells. On the other hand, I envy them a little. We sit under tarpaulin in a dense diesel smoke, without much view, but with the chef's fish in the nose.

After about three hours we arrive on the big island of Leyte. It's starting to rain a lot, just as we enter a restaurant. It gets rattled off as we eat, and after a bit of searching, we find the bus to Massin. From here we continue, after waiting a minute, to Padre Burgos in a jeepney.
Despite many offers of motorbikes, we are walking out of town. We pass fertile fields of rice, banana, coconut, cucumbers and fruit trees. Turns out, Peter's Dive is well outside the city! Stops at a small, new bar that two or three, 14-16 old girls open for our sake. It smells awful mouldy, even on the terrace. People we pass greet the classic "Hey Joe". Morten invents the perfect answer: "Hey Phill".

Even further out, we finally find Peter's Dive - where there are no more available rooms. They also do not have so much diving gear available. Hmm? We walk a mile back to Davliz. Here, an English engineer has built a hotel with bungalows. There are no other residents and he even has some diving gear we can rent.

We sneeze a bit around the area. A long staircase leads down to the water, where the beach is made up of rocks and very rough coral reef. There are countless mussels and snail encasings, some of considerable size. It starts to darken and we head up again. On the way we find a walking stick insect. It turns out David is renovating his kitchen so we have to go out to Peter's for dinner. Fairly expensive: 17 kroner for the main course, but it is so reasonably good. That kilometre back to Davis gets longer and longer!

8. We can at least have breakfast with David, before heading out to Peter to dive. After a bit of rooting back and forth, we are all equipped with full diving gear. We are six divers and two guides: Divemasters. One is an Australian friend of the owner, who is training the other (local). We sail across the strait and dive on a wall at Sister Island.

 Here is an incredible amount to see, both fish and corals. I have been given a mask that leaks badly, but still has the surplus to enjoy the dive. I use more and more air than the others (mostly on emptying the mask) and empty the bottle to the extreme. Actually comes up with 0 bar. Had to pull out the last mouthful! A little wrong, but I stay close to the Australian all the time, and have made him aware of the situation. He just thought I was close to the usual 30 bar bottom limit.

After an hour and a half break with biscuits and coffee on the boat, we jump in again. I borrow the dive master mask, which is fantastic! A new and totally crazy feeling with a tight mask! It significantly reduces my air consumption and I have a bit left on the bottle, as we come up. Unfortunately, I can't buy the mask, but know what to look for. Photos from the dives.
After lunch, we take a walk along the road. Everyone we pass by greets smiling. The gardens in front of the scattered huts are beautiful. Here is a mixture of useful and ornamental plants: papaya, batata, obersins, bananas, taro, many "houseplants", sensory, philodendrons, orchids and much more. In many places we see beautiful bee-eaters and leafy birds.

We turn into the jungle. First we pass a well with a hand pump, which is used extensively. The path meanders through the jungle, along a ravine with a small stream at the bottom. We end up inside a primitive cabin, surrounded by coconut trees.

After dinner, it is time for a night dive. In addition to being dark, the coral reef changes drastically at night. It is another guard team that waking up. We drive into the city, where the ferry pier offers masses of life. Especially in the night. We've been getting suited up at Peter's, so there are five divers crawling out of his car and down the barge. It does not fail to arouse some excitement among the few locals!

We crawl down to the water and a few meters out, we are surrounded by life: it is a thick soup of five millimetres of small fish or seafood, which is further attracted to our lamps. Jesper has brought his big "artificial sun", which just loses strength quickly. Not because it runs out of power, it just can't penetrate the amount of small animals!

We swim between the mole posts. There is a lot of current, but also a lot to look at. Here are seahorses, dragonflies, crabs, ranging from brightly coloured to some camouflaging themselves from the bottom. Tiny little brightly squid squirting ink. Huge starfish in wild colours, slender needles, sea urchins with a myriad of variations of spikes from club-shaped to incredibly long. Trumpet fish, sweetlips that look like 70s ripe with brown and bait spots. Sea anemones sleeping with the clownfish inside. We swim for a long time in the shallow water, before we fight. When you swim in the swimming pool and crawl up, it feels like you weigh a ton. It doesn't get any better, as you have a huge bottle on your back, regulators and twelve kilos of lead on your stomach!
Dinner with Peter, and inventory of the bill. Don't have enough money, but can owe it tomorrow. The three dives with equipment each cost almost DKK 500, the food DKK 50.

The tour continues in Diary 2

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