Whale sharks are considered a threatened species, and it turns out one of the largest populations of Whale Sharks in the world are in the Philippines – with Oslob in Cebu being one of the most famous swim sites. We had to leave the house really early (which was a feat in a large group and Oslob some 3 hours away), as visitors to the Whale Sharks are controlled by the local government; and all the watching and swimming had to cease by midday.
This was at the briefing, before going in:
Hopping on to the motorless bangka (traditional wooden boat):
There’s some protocol. You’re not allowed to put sunscreen on for example (you can wash it off before going in), which is partly why Craig and I decided to stay on the boat (we had put some on at home), while the rest of our group dived in. We had an underwater camera with us however, which we dangled beneath the surface from the side of the boat.
There are also Marine Biologists on site and small local boats without rotary motors are used (to prevent accidental harm).
The local name for Whale Sharks is “Butanding”.
One of the main reasons for our trip to the Philippines was to attend the wedding of my cousin Earl and his fiancee Mia, especially as my mother was too ill to attend the wedding at the time. We arrived in Cebu from Palawan at lunch time on September 24, with just enough time to drop off our bags and freshen-up for the Soltera that night.
The wedding, attended by some 420+ guests a few days later on September 27, was an opulent affair designed/organised by Earl’s eldest sister Abigail (who we affectionately call BomBom).
Congratulations to the happy couple! x
Day 5: Baywalk Breakfast
Flying to Cebu in a few hours…. One last look.
Freshly baked goodies are the main attraction in Baker’s Hill. The Ube (Taro) Bread & Hopia were especially addictive & was our favourites. The owner instead of just opening a bakery though, turned the place into a small private (but free) fun park. Aside from the fun park, there’s a reptile park where patrons can pet and have photographs taken with large geckos.There’s also a restaurant, which was where we ate our last meal in Palawan and where we, with some egging on from my grandma, tried the local delicacy called Tamilok. It’s a kind of wood worm and she said it was harvested fresh by the restaurant . It’s served raw cured in vinegar and various spices. Like many exotic dishes, Tamilok is an acquired taste I think… I recommend swallow over chew…Hehe 🙂
Day 3: CBD + Spelunking at Ugong Rock
Palawan is still a very quiet port city and we love it because of that. This is the main street in the CBD, with the most popular form of transport being a tricycle.
Tried spelunking and zip line for the very first time. In rubber thongs no less! A bit scary. The guide made us do a prayer for safety before starting out the cave climb as well.
Day 2: Sabang Island and the Subterranean River
A beautiful boat ride to Sabang. Feels quite isolated to get there, but is actually a reasonably popular place to visit.
After being dropped off the island we had to walk through a jungle trail populated by wild monkeys & geckos. The guide told us to make sure we had no food item before going through the jungle because the monkeys are sometimes hungry. I had woken up really early that day to get started for the trip to Sabang and had wrapped my half eaten Pan De Sal (local bread roll) in toilet paper (as you do) and placed it in my bag for later. I had forgotten all about it of course by the time we got to Sabang and proceeded down the jungle trail, when within a few minutes a wild monkey had grabbed my bag, unzipped it and taken the bread roll out. I was scared from the unexpected experience of having to wrestle my bag from a monkey and Craig had tried to shoo it away. It bared it teeth at him, made an awful sound and ran away with his loot. He was harmless really and was just focused on getting my/his breakfast.
The river that is open to the public is about 1.5 kiloetres long, which we paddled through in the dark with the use of strong flashlights/floodlights. But the actual river itself goes even longer underground the mountain/cave – some 8 kiloetres long, and unsafe for people to go to. There were constant drips of water which the guide told us were bat droppings. We saw, heard and smelt the bats constantly – which wasn’t really terrible because it was more of a faint scent rather than something putrid. At the highest point the ceiling of the cave looked like looking up a cathedral ceiling. Artists in the past used to talk about the sublime, when faced by something extraordinary that leaves them in awe. We felt a bit like that.
Tourism is carefully monitored in Palawan & eco everything is taken very seriously. The tourguides at the river itself are very well trained and are also members of the local tribe from the area. Would recommend this place to visit for Filipinos and foreigners alike.
The Underground River Palawan is a UNESCO & World Heritage Site and considered one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
Day 1: Island Hopping
We finally made it to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. One of my maternal grandmothers live there with her husband and their young children – so we were very lucky, as we had a very knowledgeable local to show us around 🙂
They take eco-tourism very seriously in Palawan, so there are lots of bicycles and pedicab bikes available for hire. This is at the Baywalk. It’s a bit like an Ai Wei Wei installation… 🙂
On our way to Palawan. Airport after Typhoon Mario 🙁
We’re only here 4 days but what can we say, Manila is full on. Here is the view from our balcony from WakWak in Greenhills. Not many hills and only a little green…
Except for the exclusive golf course to the right for the lucky few. Everywhere else, as far as the eye can see, are built-up.
Craig (my partner) wanted to see something historical and somehow came across a walking tour online called “Walk this Way“. It was being run by an artist called Carlos Celdran at Fort Santiago in Old Manila. I didn’t really know what to expect, as I didn’t know the artist (only what Craig and I read together online); nor much about Fort Santiago- despite the fact that my father’s family used to live in and had businesses (which all had fallen into disrepair and sold over the decades) in a nearby place called Ermita (some 2 kms away). So being the clueless Filipino coupled to the even more clueless foreigner, I tagged along.
It was a very powerful show, despite the simple production values (one man with a few props) and we learnt something about Philippine history too. I’d say this tour is definitely a better way to see Manila, and worth the effort to go to, even if you are short on time. It gave humanity and context to what seemed like a chaotic city on steroids.
Part of the show was a ride on a Kalesa (a horse drawn carriage) through Old Manila, with the Kalesa driver (in costume) acting as a guide as well. It was a really fun way to get around – to be out in the fresh air, with the feint scent of the horses and hearing the musical clip-clopping of their shoes. I’m not really sure if I’ve ridden in one before or not. My mom told me in passing once, that my maternal great great grand-father composed a song about Kalesas before I was born (I never had a chance to meet him). So I’ve always had a soft spot for one because of that. Also I was born in the Year of the Horse 🙂
Sylvia La Torre, a famous Filipino singer, singing “Kalesa”
Not much of a holiday yet, but very stimulating all the same.
Thank you Manila! x Vienna