Saturday, October 31, 2015

Taglibaran to Dumaguete

Monday, January 19th  Taglibaran to Dumagete

I wake at 5:30 A.M. to a distant chorus of cathedral bells. The musical serenade continues for 30 minutes and I drift in and out of sleep. At 6:30 I wake and shower and just before 7:00 Art and I go downstairs for breakfast. We Skype Alisha and she tells us about Emily’s and Graham’s wedding at Natural Bridges beach; that Molly was the flower girl and Sterling the ring bearer and how cute they were and how beautiful the wedding was. I wished we could have been there but their wedding was planned at the last minute and our trip to the Philippines was actually planned around Joe’s wedding to Julie-Ann in Samur, which did not come to fruition.

After checking out of our hotel, we take four separate trikes to the ferry terminal; reportedly an eight peso ride but we pay and tip our drivers 20 pesos each, about 35 cents. The sun is sweltering and we wait in line for seat assignments and then in line again to check our luggage ($100 pesos per bag) before going through security. We place our carry on’s on the moving belt of the ex-ray machine and I am gently patted down before entering the waiting room of the terminal.  Our four seats across are downstairs in a mid row and there are no escape doors should the boat capsize. The two hour ferry ride passes without incident and at 12:30 we dock at Dumaguete Port. 

I Love Dumaguete
The hotel shuttle picks us up to drive us the few short blocks to a Chinese run tourist hotel. Posted prices here are $1800 pesos for a delux king room. (About $45) Our 6th floor room with large windows should have a reasonably good street and mountain view but the view is clouded by severely fogged double pane windows and when we check in, there is no water.  I read the two pages in our guide book about Dumagete city and the four of us set out walking back towards the waterfront to find lunch.  The clientel at many of the beach side restaurants is mostly European and ex-pat and we choose a dingy little restaurant bar, order an uninspired lunch and watch the goings on.  Our ferry has arrived too late for us to do any real touring and after lunch we walk to the University and visit their archeological and history museum.

A Lovers Photo Opt at our Hotel
It is extremely hot and humid and the boys return to the hotel but I want to find the Stillman University cooperative listed in the guide book. The current cooperative is relocating and I go to the relocation and am disappointed to find it empty until “permits” are submitted.  I want to buy Alisha a special gift and have not seen anything suitable for her and I go into  two clothing boutiques but the styles are uninspired, cheaply made and much too small for our tall daughter.

The guidebook recommends several restaurants along the waterfront and at 5:30 P.M. the four of us hire a trike to take us to Labas Restaurant, just north of the ferry dock. It is a two story, open air establishment and we climb to the second level and choose a table at the edge of the balcony, overlooking the sea wall and ocean beyond.  Coincidentally, our travel agency has an office downstairs and Art and Joe go in to discuss tomorrow’s details of our snorkeling trip to Apo Island.  Because of the hurricane and the resulting ferry cancelations, we are missing one day of island hopping. Apo Island is reported to have excellent scuba diving and Art would like to adjust the plan so that he and John can go diving there. In the meantime, John and I each order a margarita, relax into Island time and watch the activity on the street below.  It is a balmy evening and trikes and scooters come and go and the restaurant begins to fill with patrons.
Trike Ride to Dinner
Trike Ride to Dinner

Art is able to adjust the plans so that he and John will dive from Apo Island and Joe and I will snorkel as previous planned.  There are a few minutes of disharmony since the change alters the price and pick up time which affects us all.  Ultimately, we get a refund for the tour day lost and end up getting a $3,000 + peso refund. ($75)  John and I enjoy or vegetarian meals but the servings are small and Joe and Art are not all that happy with the dining experience, recommended as the best sea-food restaurant in Dumagete.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hurry Up and Wait - Palowan to Taglibaran

Sunday, January 18th – Palowan to Taglibaran

Kathy and Alberto pick us up at 8:00 A.M. to take us to the neighboring Bee Farm. We have a brief tour of this organic vegetable, bee and raffia farm. There is only one demonstration hive of 60,000 bees because they buy the honey elsewhere and process it and sell it here. The short tour is far from inspirational and ends at the usual gift shop and Joe buys a bottle of honey wine.

Bee Hive

Bee Hive

Our next stop is at the island’s shell museum; an extensive, interesting and dusty collection of shells displayed in rickety wood cases with grimy glass tops. John and Art are fascinated by the scientific presentation but to me the most interesting of all the shells are the species, xenophora. These species of shells collects detritus and other bits of shell and seaweed to attach to their shells for camouflage

Xenophoridae Shell Species
Example of Xenophoridae Shell

Shell Museum

Giant Tridacna Clams

When we arrive at the port we find that the morning ferry to Dumagete has been cancelled because of the hurricane. It is doubtful if the 3:30 ferry will sail but we choose to find a hotel close to the port so that we can check easily on the ferry status.  Kathy drives us to a nearby resort hotel but we balk at the $90 per room price and we go instead to a very sweet backpacker/local hotel with double rooms for $1300 pesos. (About $30 including breakfast.)  It is 11:00 A.M. and our rooms will not be ready until 2:00 P.M. so we set out walking in the noonday sun to have lunch at the Buzz Café operated by the Organic Bee Farm.  We have not thoroughly checked on its location and the day is blazing hot. We cool off at a Chinese restaurant and drink Calamansi Juice, quite similar to lemonade. (In the interim, I walk back to the hotel to get better directions to the Buzz Café.)  We take two tricycles a few blocks further to the Buzz Café and enjoy an excellent lunch of organic lettuces and stir fried vegetables, fresh baked breads with herb spreads and a vegetarian pizza. Art orders a shrimp and noodle soup which unfortunately is not as good as our meals.

Ferry Ticket Pricing
Joe at the Ferry Terminal

 Our simple hotel rooms are ready at 2:00 P.M; each with a harbor ocean view and we rest for the afternoon. About 4:30 Art, John and I set out to explore our port city, (not highly recommended in the guide book.)  We take a trike to Rizal Plaza where on this Sunday afternoon, families and friends are gathered to picnic and relax. The adjoining cathedral is having its afternoon mass and with standing room only, people congregate outside the open doors and archways to listen to the music and hear the mass. We are all rather bored and Art and John get haircuts and shaves to pass time on this lazy afternoon.
John getting a shave

Bohol Park

Art getting a haircut

We wander several gloomy malls and find a K.T.V. bar at the top level of one. The tinted windows are grimy but with a birds eye harbor view and we order inexpensive (and terrible) drinks. Had they been decent we might have moved on to share a pitcher or a tower of margaritas. There is a basket ball game on the television and oddly enough, John identifies the stadium as our Santa Cruz stadium.

 It is dark when we walk back to the Sun Avenue Hotel stopping first at a Chinese Restaurant for dinner. We order spicy fried tofu, stir fry noodles, pineapple fried rice and sautéed broccoli. The servings are generous and reasonably tasty; especially when washed down by a can of St. Miguel beer. Joe has not joined us for dinner and we find him on the internet in the lobby of our hotel and turn in early.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

January 17th - Rest in Peace Show Off

January 17th, Saturday.  Snorkeling at Balicasag Island

We set our alarm for 5:00 A.M. for a 6:00 A.M. pick up to go dolphin watching and snorkeling. By 5:10, we are in the dining room for a pre-dawn breakfast and I call home and talk with Alisha. My beloved lizard, Show Off passed during the night and I know Alisha is as devastated as I am. Last night I dreamed about holding him to my chest, and I so wish I could have said good bye and comforted him. 

Show Off

Show Off and Marty in 2011
Shadowed by Show Off’s death, this will not be our best day. Our 6:00 A.M. pick up is late and we are confused, not sure if we are to be picked up by a van or if an outrigger boat is coming to the beach to collect us?  At 6:45 a boat arrives at our beach and we wade out and board a small outrigger that is lacking a muffler, making the 45 minute ride out to see the dolphins’ ear shattering. Apparently at dawn each morning, pods of dolphins feed at a particular spot between these islands and we are late. When we arrive, a half dozen outrigger boats, all larger than ours, are following the dolphins but in spite of being late, we see several pods of dolphins leaping in unison as they hunt for their morning fish.


Dolphin Feeding

We motor on to Balicasag Island and arrive at 8:30 A.M. and wade to shore. The island is quite small and not particularly pretty. A dozen village owned restaurants are just inland from the coarse coral sand beach and our two catamaran boatmen, apparently related to one of the restaurant owner, steers us towards one particular restaurant with rickety tables shaded by tarpolins stretched between the trees.  We order coffee and sweet bread and ask our boatmen what the plans are for the day?  A few small boats are anchored at the edge of the coral reef and a dozen snorkeler’s bob in the water, but the morning is cold and overcast and snorkeling doesn’t seem very appealing. 

Balicasag Island 
John, Balicasag Beach

Art and I walk inland along a narrow trash laden dirt pathway into the village.  There are a few goats with darling young calves, chickens and roosters. The houses are a mix of bamboo, correogated tin and cinderblock, all in need of paint and repair. There is an abandon lighthouse, replaced by a tall beacon light tower and a tiny immaculate church. I surmise that the tourists seldom venture to the interior of the island because we are greeted several times with surprise and one woman asks; “Lady, where are you going?” 

Balicasag Village Goats

Balicasag Light House

We return to the beach and negotiate a price to see the giant clams and to rent flippers. Snorkeling just off the main beach is included in the price of our package but we have heard that there are giant Tridacnid clams in another area and suspiciously, fins are not included as part of the snorkeling gear? We settle on $800 pesos, down from $1400 pesos for fins and a guide to take the four of us out to the edge of the reef.  I am the first one in the water and the snorkeling is amazing.  I swim along the rim of the reef, coral gardens to my right and a deep abyss to my left. The reef is pristine with table top coral growing and terraced down along the edge of the reef down into the abyss. Beds of stag-horn coral are the home to schools of tiny, blue-green and orange Damsel fish, undulating with the current. There are clumps of brain coral, beds of ribbon coral and countless anomenie each with their unique species of resident clown fish. The sea is calm and the boat follows us as we swim and snorkel together.  John free-dives down along the edge of the reef and I see his long lean body jet down, Go- Pro in hand to explore the life along the edge of the reef.  The Go-Pro has a digital timer and he uses this to time his free-dives, allowing himself 35 -40 seconds underwater before knowing it is time to resurface for air. I am surprised to see several scuba divers swimming up from the deep along the edge of the reef and know John is pleased with himself to be able to free drive 20 - 25 feet down. I spot an anomenie unlike any I have ever seen before; it is bright purple, bulbous and about 24” in diameter. John swims down and photographs it, gently prodding it’s soft membrane with the lens of his camera. 

I startle a sea turtle, foraging at the edge of the reef, and it turns and swims out to sea, seemingly in slow motion with remarkably graceful strokes of its flippers.  I swim after it, slightly anxious about leaving the presumed safety and shallows of the coral reef and entering the deep blue realm of the bottomless open ocean.  I call out “Turtle” and John follows, soon overtaking me with his strong kicks as he pursues the turtle. We have been snorkeling for over an hour and I am tiring and growing cold and my left leg cramps unbearably. I call to Art who in turn signals our small boat and our guide paddles to my rescue but I am unable to pull myself into the high wooden boat. Happily, John is focused on the turtle and does not have the Go Pro aimed in my direction as our guide hoists and pushes me onto the boat where I land hard and awkwardly. ( The large purple bruise on my hip is now the same color as the unusual purple anemone I spotted earlier.)

Art is snorkeling in circles just above a pocket of giant clams. Our guide rows over to the spot and I slip back into the water to see the tridachnids. There are a dozen of them in this area; 18” – 24” across with their shells open exposing purple fleshy lips and undulating spouts filtering the water. We caution John to keep a safe distance; one can imagine the Hollywood underwater nightmare of a limb getting caught in the huge jaws of these clams and the diver having just a few seconds of air remaining to wield a knife and cut off the ensnared limb. This is the most remarkable snorkeling experience I have had and Art tells us that this is what the reefs off Okinawa were like when he was a kid growing up.

It is 12:30 by the time we are back onshore and we order lunch at our “designated” village restaurant.  They have stowed our back packs, phones, cameras and money and it is all accounted for. We order two vegetable platters (a mistake) and French fries. We watch several teen age kids with grimy hands, peel the vegetables before they are stir fried in copious amounts of oil. After lunch we wade back out to our catamaran, plug our ears with Kleenex and make the hour ride back to our hotel. On the return trip, we see other resort hotels along the shore and one particular beach area that looks to be happening.

John, Trike to Alonha

John, Trike to Alonha

Art, Paying for our Trike Ride
At 4:30 we set out with a plan to go to Alonha and walk up the gravel road from our hotel to the main road connecting Pangalo Island with Bohol Island. At the crossroads we hire a tricycle to drive us the 7 or 8 kilometers into town.  Joe and I squeeze side by side onto the narrow seat of the side car and John contorts his long body and folds into position on the floor at our feet. Art rides side saddle behind the driver on back of the motorcycle powering our tricycle pod and we take Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride into Alonha. Motorbikes, tricycles and vans zip past us and by American standards, this overloaded tricycle ride is dangerous but it is also great fun and we arrive in Alonha safely. 

Alonha Tourist Shops, No Photos Allowed

Alonha Night Market

Alonha is a small tourist destination with beach front restaurants and bars lining the water front. We stroll along the promenade looking for happy hour specials and checking out the various restaurant menus and prices. Many of the restaurants have table out in front, displaying fresh fish, squid and shrimp on ice to be cooked to order. We choose a Thai restaurant at the end of the beach, order drinks from a transvestite waitress and watch a glorious fuchsia sunset over the shimmering icy blue ocean.

Beachfront Dining
Joe, Beachfront Restaurant.

Alonha Sunset
After dinner, Art and Joe take a trike back to our hotel but John and I wander along the beach front restaurants people watching and talking. John puts his arm over my shoulders and I ask him if he is not embarrassed to be walking with his mother; and he reassuringly replies both verbally and with his body language that he is proud and happy to be here with me. We eventually choose a tiny, colorfully lit bar for our final drink of the evening and talk about life and love. 

Alonha Bar
Alonha Bar

When we leave and walk up the main street, there are many waiting trikes but one driver in particular has been keeping an eye out for the rumored mother and son combo and tells John that his father told him to wait for us.  We negotiate the $200 peso trip down to $150, squeeze into the sidecar and make the bumpy ride back to our hotel.

There may be some glitches to our ferry departure to Dumagete tomorrow morning. 
*There is a category #1 hurricane in the Northern Philippines that may affect the seas and interrupt the ferry services. Joe calls our tour agent to make tomorrows pick up time earlier so that we will have earlier  ferry options to Dumagete Island.
*Pope Francis is visiting Tacloban, the area that was hit by the hurricane in 2013 and he has been forced to cut his visit short because of this tropical storm.
* The annual Sinulog Festival in Cebu is this weekend and ferry traffic and tourism is at its height for Cebu and the neighboring islands.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tarsiers and Chocolate Mountains

 January 16th – Cebu to Bohol

My alarm goes off at 4:30 and after pulling on some clothes I go next door to check on John. He has made it home and stumbles to the door and asks if he can go back to bed? I give him the bad news that we need to leave in 20 minutes and ask him if he had a good time on his date and what time he got back home?  “Yes….I had a good time and I got back about midnight; I’ll tell you about it later…please can I go back to bed?”

The Cebu Harbor at Dawn
Waiting for the Ferry

Cebu Ferry Terminal at Dawn
Our Seats on the Ferry

We catch a 5:00 A.M. taxi to the port terminal. Joe buys our tickets, regretfully buying the cheapest class seats for the two hour trip to Bohol. ($400 pesos each or about $9)  We check our luggage, go through security and listen to blind musicians perform for the waiting passengers. What is it with blind musicians and blind masseuse’s in waiting room terminals? They are reasonably talented and their favorite song seems to be John Denver’s, Take Me Home Country Road. We tip them as we board the ferry and head upstairs to find our seats; at the rear of the ship above where the diesel exhaust puffs out and across from the toilets. It’s not an ideal combination on an empty stomach. At the front of our rear section is a door leading to the enclosed business class section with cushioned reclining seats and a television. Although I wonder what the ticket price is for business class, I don’t asphyxiate on the exhaust and the two hours pass quickly as I catch up on this blog.

The ferry docks at 8:00 A.M; we disembark, collect our luggage and see a guide holding up a sign printed with Shoshuku Bobroskie.  We follow our guide, Kathy, to the waiting van and begin our tour with a stop at the Blood Compact Shrine, a memorial of the friendship between the Spaniards and the Fillipinos. We are hungry and more interested in the adjoining upscale hotel and restaurant and we ask Kathy if we can take time for breakfast before continuing on our tour? John, Joe and I order  simply; coffee, eggs and toast but Art orders an egg(s) benedict which takes a very long time to cook and although delicious and beautifully presented is egg benedict singular, not plural.

Breakfast in Bohol

Egg Benedict

We drive towards the tarsier reserve that is supposedly open 364 days a year, but for some reason it is closed today so our destination is the Tarsier conservation center instead.  Bohol Island is beautiful and pristine and not yet overrun with tourists although Joe, who visited ten years ago, tells us that most of the construction is new. We drive through secondary forests of bamboo and red mahogany and past ever so green rice fields, fringed with banana and coconut palms. The traffic is relatively light, although there are the usual scooters, jeepneys and buses frequenting the road. We arrive at the conservation center and walk a misty pathway where a dozen tarsiers are on view on their private platforms tucked into the trees. They are not chained and are solitary nocturnal creatures. We are cautioned to be quiet so as not to stress these tiny, wide eyed and alien fingered Tarsiers. 

Tarsier, Marty's Photo

Do Not Pet the Tarsiers
Tarsier, Conservation Center Photo
Tarsier, Marty's Photo

Our next stop on our tour is the Butterfly Farm. Throughout my travels, I have visited countless butterfly farms with jeweled chrysalis’s and alien looking caterpillars on view. This one is not much different except for our personable guide who allows me to hold a prickly, sticky footed caterpillar. Butterflies flit from flower to flower decorating the breeze with colorful flashes. Our guide positions me a few feet in front of a large glass pannel embossed with butterfly wings and standing on the opposite side holding my camera, he tells me to jump and snaps a photo, resulting in a photograph where I am inches off the ground and wearing gossamer butterfly wings. Quite fun! 


Red Torch Flower

Picture Perfect

Marty takes Flight!

Bohol is most famous for it’s Chocolate Hills, an unusual geological formation of rounded hills, seemingly hundreds of them, extending as far as I can see like oversized gopher mounds. We drive to the visitor center and climb the crumbling cement stairway up to the view point. During the rainy season, the Chocolate Hills are “mint flavored,” covered with lush green foliage. In the summer, they are reported to be a golden brown.
Bohol Chocolate Hills
Art, John, Joe and Marty

It is lunch time and I am looking forward to our scheduled jungle river boat cruise but when we board a tourist laden barge with an electric guitarist for entertainment and a picked over buffet I am disappointed. The food is passable but I was expecting a serene commune with the river not a rockaous party boat.  The river is wide and a muted emerald green color with lush palms and ferns growing along it’s banks. To me, the color of the river seems beautiful but John leans over and tells me that water color is because of fertilizer contamination. We do not see any wildlife, except for what is on board our party boat. Half way through the “cruise” we stop at a recreated “Pilippino Village” an extremely politically incorrect presentation consisting of drumming natives and dancers in grass skirts. I take one photo but am too embarrassed to take more.

Bohol River

Art, Bohol River Cruise

Party Boat, Bohol River Cruise
Native Village Embarassment

I’m not sure that we needed to stop at the Bohol Reptile Zoo, but we do and wander the sad facility of caged reptiles. For a price, one can pay to have the 12 foot albino python wrapped over one’s shoulders, but I  decline recollecting a story my friend Tabra told me just last week. The grounds keeper at a resort hotel in Bali rushed to the screams of several guests when they spotted a large python slithering across the manicured lawn. He calmed the guests and to prove how harmless the large python was, picked it up and draped it around his neck and shoulders. The python strangled him on the spot.

Albino Python and Reticulated Boa

Art as a Tarsier

Our final stop for the day is the historic Baclayon Church and museum.
Baclayon Church Bohol

Jo and John lighting candles 

We are staying at Flushing Garden Resort Hotel, on Panglao Island and the just the name sounds promising. The hotel is a thirty minute drive from Bohol and is at the end of a gravel road overlooking a pristine beach. My first impression is hopeful but our rooms are at the back of the property behind the tennis court and they are dark and without a view. The layout of the hotel is odd with a confusing network of pathways and terraces and there are life size dinosaur sculptures on the grounds. I am mildly amused by the dinosaurs but there are no other apparent guests. (Perhaps the tyranosaurus has eaten them?) Art rests, John dives into the very pretty hotel pool and explores the beach in front of our hotel. Joe and I settle down at the open air hotel restaurant and relax. It’s been a long and full day and we are all tired and there seem to be no other restaurants or hotels in our vicinity so we have drinks and dinner as prisoners in our beach resort hotel. Mark is our waiter and gives excellent service but the food is mediocre. Dinner and drinks for the four of us come to $2600 pesos (about $35) and Art miscalculates the tip and leaves just $115 pesos. (Tomorrow, he will make amends and hand Mark an additional $200 peso tip.)

I read a troublesome e-mail from Alisha; Show Off, our sweet and funny 13 year old bearded dragon is not well. It is hard to fall asleep, worrying about Show Off and wishing I could snuggle and comfort my sick lizard. I sleep poorly.