Getting Around in the Philippines
It is easy and fun to travel the Philippines by Bus and Ferry. It is very economical, but you must be careful because it can be extremely time-consuming. Carefully weigh the window of time needed to make each connection, not just the travel times themselves. Busses make many unplanned stops, so there is no way to really predict departure or arrival times. From my experience, ferries seemed to run right as scheduled, but I have read about cancellations occurring due to sea conditions. I planned a 14 day adventure in the Philippines and made quite a few mistakes (unusual for me) in the planning process.
The Philippines was my 25th country to visit and I can honestly say that to date, Filipinos are the warmest, hospitable, and smiliest people I’ve ever met. I still have a hundred or so more places to visit, but… Most people do not have much money or property and perhaps this is the source of their generous helpful way. Whatever it is, I found it intoxicating, enough so that I am now looking at buying some property in the Philippines.
Planning a Trip in the Philippines
The Philippines are made up of 7,104 or so islands, so some serious thought should be put into planning the trip. I try not to overplan any trip, but made the grave error of not planning enough for this one. The planning method I used was to drop pins on a customized Google map to show places I found in my Lonely Planet Guide, Facebook groups, or other sources. Once I plotted enough of these out I worked out a general route to take to hit as many of these as possible. Then I worked on fine-tuning the route by checking ferry and bus schedules and finally booking accommodations. This was very difficult as ferries often travel during the day and take up large chunks of time or the overnight ferries go too far and bypass areas where I really wanted to visit. In addition, I did not take into account the slow bus service which caused long wait times at some ferry ports with nothing to do but sit around.
CouchSurfing in the Philippines
I posted a couple of public trips on CouchSurfing for major areas in the Philippines and was overwhelmed with people offering to host me or show me around. After weeding out some that were sexually or financially motivated, I still found a lot of people that genuinely wanted to show me what their country had to offer. I met one amazing person in Manila (Don Santos -above) that I spent some time with as well as a whole family in Cebu City who I joined on their family weekend get-away. It was truly incredible.
Highlights of the Trip
By far the best site I visited in Manila (and my top 10 of the world), was North Cemetery. This is a very unusual cemetery as it is inhabited by the living as well as the dead. Literally thousands of squatters literally live inside the mausoleums with the more permanent residents. As shown in the photo above, tons of children run wild among the mostly above-ground naked. Many clad only in birthday suits. The people here were super friendly, loved posing for photos, and were very excited to have a foreign visitor.
Sablayan was a bit of a disaster as I had big plans for diving Apo Reef as well as visiting the nearby prison farm. Sadly the staff of Gustav’s Place “Resort” foiled all of my plans and the trip was a waste. However, I would say that the highlight for me was wandering through an impoverished beachfront neighborhood as I was greeted by a continual chorus of “hello” from so many friendly children.
I did manage a cursory visit of the Sablayan Prison Farm. It is a peaceful place about 30 minutes away from town. Their lake is shown above.
I didn’t care for Boracay. It was kind of like Daytona Beach on steroids. The place was crawling with drunken tourists, stray dogs, begging children, adult peddlers, and very little peach and quiet. However, I found a great gelato shop so the highlight was eating this amazing sundae at Aria Gelato!
Iloilo was only planned as a stopover for the ferry to Cebu City. However, at the last minute I read about a lot of abandoned sugar cane money mansions in the outlying area called Jaro. There wasn’t really much time to explore, but I did score a private tour of one place called Casa Maraquit.
Definitely spending time with my CouchSurfing host, Hunny, and her family was the highlight for me. They took me on a road trip across the island to visit Kawasan Falls, Mainit Hot Springs, and their family town of Malabuyoc. A couple of local boys are shown above playing on an old tricycle.
Siquijor Island was slated to be the highlight of the entire trip. Unfortunately, my carelessness on a rented motorbike led to a meeting with the pavement and cut the visit short. This was too bad because the island is serene, friendly, and full of uncrowded gems to explore. The dorm room at Villa Marmarine Resort proved to be a great place to recover. I hobbled out to the beach a couple of evenings at sunset to capture the photo above.
Here is what I looked like a week after the crash!
Philippines by Bus and Ferry
Despite the motorcycle accident and poor planning, I still consider this trip a success and cannot wait to return!