Vacation in the Philippines


After a crazy week at school, we had a rough 4am wake up to run and catch the bus to the airport. Everything went smooth getting into Cebu City. The climate change was dramatic. Manila was blazing hot! We were all sweating like pigs.

The Philippines, namely the area just outside of Cebu, was dramatically different from  Seoul. This was perhaps not the poorest place I´ve been, but it was a stark change from the posh streets of Suji—Half naked kids in rags, stray dogs, chickens on roofs. The cab ride to our hotel was an eye-opener.

The hotel in Cebu was called the Mayflower Inn. It was a quaint eco-friendly hotel with a pretty outdoor patio/garden and a friendly staff. It was a perfect fit for us. As an added bonus, they had delicious Pinoy breakfast served in the morning right next to the koi pond.

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Cebu itself didn´t have too much to offer, but we still had fun. We spent our one day in Cebu snooping around a fancy mall and doing a little sightseeing near the waterfront. That night we got pizza then went out for drinks in Mango Square, downtown. All in all Cebu is not  my favorite city I´ve been too but does provide a taste of everyday life for Filipinos and it is supposedly a much nicer jumping off point than Manila, for instance.

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Next day, we headed to the dock to catch the ferry to Bohol. It was more or less a painless process. The ferry itself was actually pretty nice and served beer (bonus!). We watched Soul Surfer on the TV. Best…movie…ever.

A long taxi ride and a windy rocky hike later, we made out way to Nuts Huts. The hostel was really amazing. It is right on the river in the middle of the jungle. You can hear all the sounds of the lizards and birds and insects amidst the dinosaur sized plants and tropical flowers. There were even little goats grazing between huts.

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First night at Nuts Huts was Christmas Eve. We paid for the set menu and it was really lovely to spend time with the other hostel residents from all around the world. The dinner was lovely; mango, pepper, and cheese salad, coconut chicken soup with rice, and a pumpkin soup appetizer. The owner of the hostel, a quiet but friendly Dutch man, even made us individual Christmas cocktails-a spicy, sweet michelada type drink with a hot pepper.

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After dinner, the children of the workers at the hostel dressed up in green and red outfits and performed a traditional Filipino dance. The kids seem to being having a lot of fun and the whole experience felt very inclusive and welcoming. In fact, the Dutch owner had created a series of events for the evening, including a music guessing game, charades, and musical chairs. He divided us up based on our countries of origin ¨Team North America¨Team Europe¨Etc. The whole evening was really unique and heartwarming and was a great way to spend Christmas away from home.

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Next day, we got up a bit earlier, had a delicious fried egg and fresh mango breakfast, and then head out to go cruising around on motorbikes! Ben was hesitant at first, but we finally coerced both boys to drive us around all day. This was probably my favorite day of the trip. Sightseeing on the island on a motorbike is the way to go. We went zip-lining, visited the Tarsiers, and just cruised around for a while. Despite a few setbacks (collapsed tire…oh, and I burned my leg on the exhaust pipe! Second degree burn!) we had a great day and a relaxing night hanging out in hammocks and sipping on San Miguel Pilsners.

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That night, Rachel and I discovered the biting ants. It retrospect, it was funny, but that night was pretty hellish. You could not even get up to go to the bathroom without being bit about 20 times and it hurt! There was some pretty nasty profanities streaming out of Rachel and I´s mouth for the next 12 hours of so. In the morning, trying to shower and put on clothes was a nightmare. The ants were everywhere and eating us alive. We were read to leave.

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Next day we check out and headed towards Alona beach. We had to take a boat down the river to  a stop where a taxi was called to meet us. The car was really nice and air-conditioned, and drove us all the way to Citadel Alona. Hurray for convenience!

Alona beach was breathtaking. White sand beaches calling my day and turquoise blue water. Heavenly! First day at Alona we grabbed some dinner and hung out at the beach until evening. First full day, was dedicated to the beach. At this point, my motorcycle burn has become a hindrance. It was pussing, oozing and exploding, even through my homemade bandages. Yikes. But, I ignored the issue, and  played on the beach until I burned my skin to a crisp. Day two, I started to fall apart a bit. Badly sunburned and badly motorcycle burned, I need to take a day out of the sun to rest.

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This day was spent mostly in pain, limping around drinking mango juice in the shade. Rachel and I got terrible manicures, and then I took an air-conditioned nap. By dinner, there was some more life in my eyes and we headed to the beach for fancy cocktails and mediocre seafood on the waterfront. The food at Alona beach was pretty hit or miss. Mostly any restaurant located directly on the beach seemed to have crappy food, higher prices, but oddly, fantastic cocktails. Also slow service. The next few meals we chose more inland options.

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Last day, Rachel and I got up at the crack of dawn (4:30 am) to do a snorkeling and dolphin watching tour. The beach was really stunning and peaceful at those early hours. Unfortunately, we did NOT see dolphins, but snorkeling was pretty fun and the Virgin Island was magical stretch of white sand with an endless sand bar. By the end of the tour I was fading; tired, burned, and limping around on my leg—but it was worth the pain.

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Finally, the day of departure arrived. We were sad to say go, but the time had come. We arrived in Cebu late at night, and a bit cranky. We had one final meal down the street, with outrageously slow service, then went back to the hotel to pack for the next day.

I´m not sure what I expected the Philippines to be like. The country is a historically complex mix of Spanish colonization, English culture and language, and local islander people´s traditions. Tagalog has a slew of both Spanish and English words and it was interesting to listening to it being spoken. The Filipino culture is a melting pot of influences, but the strongest still feels American. In terms of clothes, music, and tourism, American culture holds fast.

I can´t even begin to claim to know anything about Filipino food, but from what I tried, it centers mostly on pig and rice. Lechon is one of the most popular, treasured dishes. The whole pig is slowly roasted over an open fire until the fatty skin becomes crispy. Tasty stuff. There seems to be some Asian influence—noodle dishes similar to Vietnamese noodle dishes. But the majority is fried foods, rice, fried eggs, and pickled mango or tropical fruits. And of course adobo-which is a seasoning, typically applied to chicken, composed of vinegar and garlic and other magical ingredients. And man, the breakfast! Pinoy breakfast is awesome. I love the fried rice, with a fried egg, hot sauce, and some tasty pork on the side (bacon, sausage, you name it). And there was no shortage of amazing American breakfast—-fried eggs, omelets, bacon, all things Korea lacks. And the mangos…oh the mangos.

I´d love to learn more about Filipino food, but it might have to wait until I get back to the States, or go back to the Philippines!

So, back to work it is. First week back wash´t so bad. I´m enjoying a slower, laid back weekend post vacation to unwind a bit.

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