The Philippines always intrigued me as I love island life, maybe I even belong on a island. But 7,000 islands to visit & I was going to be there for just a month. My usual style of travelling I had no idea of currency or even the geography of the islands. So from Hawaii I decided to fly into Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
I flew in late afternoon, the sun was beginning to set. As we landed the first thing I noticed was the thickness of the air, smog as well as heat. Stepping out of the airport it was clear how busy this city was going to be, I went to grab a taxi but was soon overwhelmed by offers, my experience of this had told me to keep walking till you get outside the airport, here’s where you find the best prices. I mean I don’t even like to bargain so much, but I don’t like being ripped off because of my appearance or nationality. We drove through the city to the Bahay Kubo hostel in Malate (a region of Manila).
I woke up ready to explore, but really was clueless, so I began walking & decided to check out some city spots like the spanish quarters. I was alarmed when on taxi rides & walks to see a pretty high level of poverty. The traffic is also just crazy. I’m not a fan of cities so I recruited the help of the hostel owner who gave me heaps of information on where to go. Also whilst in the hostel a Philippine surf instructor from La Union in the north of Luzon, told me the swell was pretty good this time of year. This pretty much made my decision for me, that night I booked buses & planned a trip there.
City-Mountains-Beach in 24 hours.
I wanted to visit the Batad rice terraces, I was told they’re enormous & some of the best in the world. So I planned to link that in. It meant a 10 hour overnight bus ride from Manila in A/C which could freeze a polar bear. After a restless 10 hours we got to the end of the road for the bus. We were transshipped onto a Jeepny & continued further into the mountains. We stopped to discuss payments for a guide as you have to hike around a little. Honestly the guides aren’t necessary for you but look this is great income for them, they’re kind people, fun & it is their home so just suck it up it’s not expensive. The initial hike down is about 1km, then you turn a corner to a time stopping view. I live in the alps so im accustomed to mountain views but this was stunning. I was shocked at how it was such an inconsistent pattern, it was so secluded I wondered how they had even built the terraces & the village. We tip-toed across the terrace walls learning about their lives & farming. The walls can be quite high but the kids who grew up there just hop between them. At the other side there’s a waterfall which is worth visiting you can swim in it too, so although the return trip sucks because of the steep steps just get down there then you can cool off before the trip back.
I reached the Jeepny which bought me through the winding mountain roads again the same guide who drove me there had waited for 3 hours asleep for us, at which point he offered me a ride to San Juan, La Union for a fair price. This was another 8 hour drive. The driver took me to his place to pick up his van & some more beetle nut for the journey. He solidly drove the distance with only one break for chicken & rice where he showed me how to eat with my fingers properly.
San Juan at Xmas.
Finally in the middle of the night I arrived in Urbiztondo surf town. I had booked into The Circle Hostel, its pretty tough to find but we made it, drowsy from the unbroken 24 hours of travel & exploration. The hostel was closed so I crashed in a hammock they had inside. I had no idea just how special this spot was at this point.
I woke up to ocean air & a hunger for more surf, sceptical as I had just travelled from Hawaii, infamous for good surf. First impressions the hostel was homely with a great community mixed with locals, backpackers & a cute dog named ‘Peanut’. Its made from bamboo & recycled materials, all of which is painted with the imagination of other backpackers.
I found myself at the beach pretty soon after arriving, surfboard in hand within an hour of being awake. This is what I had been missing. Some guys from the hostel let me tag along on their surf trip to a beach further north. Still sceptical I hired a 7.5ft board as I had no idea of the waves. Board hire is cheap in the area & the instructors are always willing to help repeat customers, just head down to the beach & pick your ride. We strapped 4 boards & 4 people to a trike & headed to a spot named Bacnotan. Under the shadow of a factory & pier we paddled out. The waves were great, what a way to connect with new friends. I had already fallen for this little area. I spent my days surfing as much as physically possible, up at 5am most days to catch that sunrise surf. Unforgettable sunrises & sunsets as the background to some really good sessions.
Whilst I was in the Circle Hostel xmas rolled round. We all decided to get involved in a hostel family dinner cooked by the hostel manager Marc. Also we did a secret santa. This was a real fun time & a great way to celebrate away from actual family & friends.
Between surfing we found time to visit the Tangadan falls about a 40 minute trike north of the hostel. Its a small hike to the falls also but worth it for the cliff jumping & incredible scenery. The hike takes you through the forest until you reach a wide gorge with a 50ft waterfall. It can get a little busy so head there earlier or later, also no guide is necessary but support them if you can it is their job. As more people arrived at the hostel the friendship group became bigger. We would hang out on the beach, playing football with other nationalities. a lot also with the Surfstar surf school instructors, they were always fun, just happy to be there living a beach life, something i really admired. These guys seemed content with beach life, something I’ve always longed for.
New Years in Borocay.
I couldn’t stay for long unfortunately as I had arranged to meet my friend Jamie (Jizz) from back home, down in the south of Luzon near Zambales & Subic. We caught up together & spent some time just relaxing with his Philippino friend Marilou, or Mike for short, before making plans to visit Borocay for new years. It had been a while since I had partied as I gave up drinking for a long time but I hadn’t seen Jamie for a longer time. New years came round on the island of Borocay & we went all out. The party was huge & the fireworks were next level. We stood in the ocean watching the sparks fly over head, it felt awesome to be back with a friend from back home.
Although I had a ball in Borocay I have to say it definitely needs a break from tourism. It’s a beautiful island but its being taken over by bars, clubs & restaurants. I honestly feel like it’s an upmarket party island now. I like to hope that someday its restored to its natural beauty. My honest opinion is there are much sweeter spots out there, which aren’t in danger of being scarred by tourism.
Whale Sharks & Waterfalls.
We continued our trip together over to Oslob in Cebu, I love ocean wildlife & had heard it was possible to swim with the whale sharks down there. We missioned on via planes, buses & trike’s to reach Oslob. If only I had better recording equipment the journeys across the Philippines are long but looking back they’re pretty nuts & make for a beautiful adventure.
We reached Oslob & stayed in the Sharky’s hostel because here you are able to be on the first boat to the whale sharks at 5 am. The day came & we were out there, another unforgettable sunrise spent in the ocean, with some pretty special companions. The whale sharks are majestic, gentle & exactly how you see them in photos. Marilou couldn’t swim but we managed to pursued her to strap on a life vest & jump in. As incredible as it was I couldn’t help but feel part of a damaging tourist attraction. The sharks are supposedly taken care of but im not sure its great to have a huge bunch of tourists crowding around them. I would say that maybe this is my only ever chance i had to see them so I took it.
We spent a couple more days together on Cebu, hunting down waterfalls like Tumalog & Kawasan. Also jumping off cliffs & just staring deeply into more sunsets. Eventually our time together had reached its end. I was longing for more surf whilst Jamie & Marilou had their own plans so in a busy bus station somewhere near Manila we hugged out our goodbye. Heading in different directions but hunting once more for adventure.
Leaving people & places is the hardest part of travelling solo but like all those inspiring quotes state; leaving something implies arriving at something else. Anyhow another memory for the books Jamie. Thanks man, catch you soon.