Coron: Wrecks and Burns

by Elizabeth

Our final stop in the Philippines was one that I had been looking forward to since arriving in the country: Coron.  The area is known for its wreck diving and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about.  Confusingly, the town of Coron is on Basuanga Island, which is next to Coron Island.  The whole area is part of the Palawan Province, but is actually north of the island of Palawan, which is known for its beautiful beaches (which we skipped because we decided that we’ve spent an awful lot of time at beaches for not being beach people).

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Looking down on Coron Town.

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Diving in the Visayas

by Elizabeth

One of the main reasons that we decided to visit the Philippines was the diving.  The country is generally known for its great muck and wreck diving, but also has some nice reefs to explore.  While we were in the Visayas (the islands that make up the central Philippines), we had the opportunity to dive from two different locations, Bohol and Malapascua.

Sadly for the purposes of this blog, we still don’t have an underwater camera.  I enjoy diving without a camera, but it certainly does make it more difficult to record what we’ve seen and how dive sites differ.  I’ve pulled underwater photos from various sources and noted photo credits below.

Diving From Bankas

All of the diving that we did in the Philippines was from traditional boats known as “bankas.”  While these aren’t the worst boats that we’ve dove from, they certainly aren’t my favorite.  Probably only of interest to divers…

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Cebu & Malapascua Above Water

by Michael

In order to get to Malapascua from Bohol for more scuba diving, we needed to transit through Cebu City on Cebu Island. Since Elizabeth is describing the diving in another post, this post is about food, transit, and running away from dogs.

We only used Cebu as a transit connection, so we didn’t take in any of the city’s (or island’s) cultural sights.  Instead, we focused on eating and drinking (surprise!).

Eating and Drinking in Cebu

On our first stop through Cebu, we stopped at Zubuchon, which apparently has good pork (lechon). Anthony Bourdain said so, and Elizabeth agreed. I can’t really comment since I don’t eat pork. I know that, as a vegetarian, I am “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.” Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential, p.70 (2000).

So here are some pictures:

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Kitchen within view. A good sign.

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Learning to Surf in San Juan La Union

by Michael

We had enough of the limited independent mountain hiking options in North Luzon, so we decided to learn to surf instead. At 400 Philippine Pesos ($8) per person per lesson, San Juan La Union may be the cheapest surf lessons in the world. Despite having lived in California for most of our lives, neither of us ever learned to surf so we were excited to give it a try.

We arrived in San Juan in the afternoon and relaxed for the rest of the day (recovering from our successful 2:30am efforts to obtain a PCT permit that morning), then surfed the next four mornings. Our first surfing day we were both terrible. By our fourth surfing day, we were both riding waves on the big floaty foam-ish surfboards they gave us (also used for stand up paddle boarding). We didn’t stay around long enough to graduate to real surfboards, but it was still fun.

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The beach where we learned to surf.

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Sagada: Hanging Coffins, Squeezing Through Caves, and Beer!

by Elizabeth

Described by Lonely Planet as “the closest thing that the Philippines as to a Southeast Asian backpacker mecca,” we were excited to head north from Baguio to the small town of Sagada to fit in some more mountain hiking.  We hopped off our 5-hour bus ride and started looking for a place to stay for the night.

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Looking down on the small town of Sagada.

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Trail Report from the Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail (aka the Philex Ridge Trail)

by Elizabeth

The Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail ended up being my favorite hike from our one-month trip to the Philippines.  It has the winning combination of great views, some nice climbs, and decent trail.  Unfortunately, figuring out some of the practical information about the trail, such as how to get to the trail head using public transportation, ended up being a bit of a challenge.  I’ve included some of those details in this post in case others may find it helpful.

Despite my difficulty finding helpful logistical information regarding the trail, it turns out that the trail is really popular.  There is a cap on how many people can hike the trail each day (I believe it is 500), and on weekends the trail is packed.  We visited on a weekday and saw several groups out on the trail.  Being only two hikers, we were the oddball group.  Filipinos appear to hike/travel primarily in large groups.

As an initial note, one of the things that I found most confusing about the trail was its name.  Is it the Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail or the Philex Ridge Trail?  Are those the same trail or different trails?  As far as I can piece together, the official name of the trail is the “Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail.”  Public access to and regulation of the trail appears to be relatively new (October 2015), so the flashy name may be as well.  All reports that I’ve seen of the Philex Ridge Trail describe the exact same trail, so I believe that it is actually an alternate name that refers to the same trail, or at least a portion of the same trail (maps.me shows Philex Ridge Trail possibly extending further than the Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail).

Getting There

The Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail begins near Ampucao National High School in Itogon.  We were staying in Baguio and wanted to take public transportation instead of hiring a driver or joining a tour.  We caught a jeepney on Lakandula street (which is more of a parking lot behind the Jollibee) that had an Ampucao signboard.  Other signboards might read Itogon or Philex Mines, but it’s best to confirm that they’re going to the right spot.  I confirmed with the jeepney “manager” (the guy yelling the destination, not the driver) that the jeepney was headed to Itogon.  This wasn’t specific enough for him — he clarified that the jeepney was going to Mt. Ulap.  I think that this is because Itogon is the region.  As it turns out, the trail is well known amongst the jeepney drivers for this route so it’s easiest to clarify that you’re going to Mt. Ulap.  I believe that you can also catch a jeepney on Calderon Street near Burnham Park (this is where we were dropped off at the end of the day by our taxi).

We waited about 45 minutes for our jeepney to fill up and head out to Ampucao.  I had pinned what I thought was the school where trail registration occurs on maps.me, so when after 30 minutes or so our jeepney turned onto a different road we became a bit concerned.  It turns out that I pinned the wrong location (in a town called Itogon, which is in a completely different location) and that while maps.me does show the “Philex Ridge Trail” it did not show the school or town where the trail begins.  Luckily, basically everyone in our jeepney was headed for the hike and the drivers know where to drop you for the Mt. Ulap trail.  I believe we paid about Php. 30 ($0.60) each for the 45 minute ride.

The jeepney dropped us off at an intersection marked with these signs:

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Hitting the Hiking Trails in Baguio

by Elizabeth

Drawn by rumors of cooler weather and mountain hiking trails, we opted to head north from Manila to the North Luzon region instead of immediately jumping on the more traditional island-hoping tourist trail.  We couldn’t figure out how to purchase a bus ticket in advance (without trekking through heavy traffic to the bus company’s terminal) so we took our chances and showed up at the Victory Liner terminal when we were ready to head north.  We lucked out and scored seats on a VIP bus headed straight to Baguio.  With only three seats across and an onboard toilet (meaning we did not stop for the entire 5-hour journey), we felt like we were living a life of luxury.

The rumors about the weather turned out to be true — it was actually chilly when we got off the bus!  No wonder Baguio was used as the summer capital during the American colonial period.  Our first morning in Baguio we headed to City Hall upon the advice of our hotel to find the tourist office.

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Carlos Celdran is my Thrilla in Manila

by Michael

Lots of travel guides suggests that tourists should “skip Manila.” It’s big, crowded, and for the most part, not pretty. But we needed a couple days to plan and manage the next segment of our trip (meaning we needed a reliable Internet connection) so we booked a place for a few nights. While much our time was spent chilling out at our hostel’s rooftop bar surfing the internet and drinking cheap beer (yay for Catholics!), we wandered some parks and neighborhoods too. There are two highlights that I recommend: Intramoros and El Chupacabra.

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It’s like being back in Latin America: find the Plaza de Armas and you found the center of town.

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Where to Invade Next? Our Constant Struggle.

by Michael

It may not always be apparent from our blog, but we often have no clue what we are doing tomorrow, let alone our next city or country to visit. Our experience dealing with Indonesian immigration is a perfect example of the kind of time suck the process can become and the various about-faces and deliberations we make (but that never make it to the blog).

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These poor puppies don’t know where to go. Then again, they live in a fabric shop in Bali, so life is good.

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