Mylene and I approached the Philippines in much the same way that Lachie, Scott and myself approached South America. Completely unplanned, somewhat unprepared, and utterly ready to wing it. Turns out it works pretty well.
We arrived in Manilla to meet our couchsurfing host, Jay, with little idea of what we’d get up to over the next 10 days. More concerned with catching up, hanging out and getting to know Jay, it took until about 1am for us to think about our little stint in the Philippines. At this point, neither of us had slept more than 3 hours in the past 36 due to our respective flights. After an hour or so of planning, we had booked a flight to Siargao Island, Moalboal and then back to Manilla. The only catch was that the flight was from an airport just out of the city, and it left in seven hours. By the time we had packed everything we would need into one carry-on bag, it was only a few hours before we needed to leave to the airport.
Utterly exhausted, we arrived in Siargao ready for a week of island life. However, it turned out not to be the slow relaxed days that many might be used to. Being in the surfing capital of the Philippines and home to the famous Cloud Nine, it was the obviously place to start. Surfing is a little bit more luxurious out here though, and $10 can secure you a board, wetsuit and little boat to take you to the outer reefs and your own private break.
In two sessions, Mylene managed to clock a board to the head (may have been her own board…) and I got rather intimate with a Blue Bottle. For those of you who are yet to experience that joy, it's about as fun as getting a CD of Dixie Chicks stuck in your car at the start of a 10-hour drive (although less emotionally scarring).
Surfing was soon followed by the inaugural Siargao Rally. With neither of us keen to ride two-up, Mylene got a 30 minute crash course in riding a motorbike and we were ready. The Philippines have adopted the ultralight style of motorbike touring, and so without any motorbike gear or a helmet, we set off for a two-day lap around the island.
It was an arduous journey, with veggo restaurants, coconuts filled beaches and rock pools conveniently placed every 20 minutes or so. Things only got better on day two when a tropical storm soaked us to the bone and gave us just the muddy roads we were looking for.
Passing a blocked dirt road that was filled with mud and potholes from the storm, our previous luck on closed roads immediately came to mind. Unfortunately, I still haven’t taken the time to learn sign language and so we quickly skirted around the barrier and prepare the bikes for a thrashing.
It’s safe to say we returned the bikes appropriately mud-splattered and crusty with dirt, and were ready for the next escapade. We finished up our Siargao experience exploring the mangroves and some bang on lagoons (which had only just reopened after a local had been eaten by a crocodile there a few weeks previously). Pretty sure they don’t like frogs so Mylene wasn’t too worried.
I can’t think of many ways to explain how much fun we had in Siargao, except that by the second day, Mylene and I were already planning to come back, open a hostel and live the rest of our lives surfing and eating coconuts.
Sadly we moved on from Siargao to a dive town on the island of Cebu, Moalboa. While the Philippines had been great up until then, there had been a significant lacking of hummus and falafel. We rectified this swiftly upon arrival and were able to get back to business. And by business, we mean three days of SCUBA diving amongst the sardine run, freediving and canyoning. The three days came to an end all too soon and we woefully dragged ourselves onto a plane back to Manilla.
Unlike in South America, where we could spend 10 days in Santa Cruz waiting to see if we could go into the TIPNES, we just didn't have that luxury in the Philippines. We stayed much closer to the beaten track and unfortunately had to opt for the ‘sensible' and ‘reliable' choices sometimes, as much as that pained us. In saying that, it's hard to complain about spending 10 days gallivanting around a few of the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines.
We were able to fit in a lot more ‘fun and easy’ adventures and do a lot of different things in a short space of time. In the 10 days, we did a little moto road trip, explored a cave system, surfed, free-dived, SCUBA dived, canyoneered and more. Contrast this with South America, where we spent more 10-days organising and buying our bikes, or about a week getting to and preparing for the Huayhuash trek.
I don't think either way of travelling is better than the other, and each has a time and a place. In saying that, given the choice, I would hands-down pick the long and slow style of adventure where there is less of a plan and more leeway for amazing opportunities and adventure that present themselves. However, those big plans might have to go on hold for the next little while as I face the return to Oz, full-time work and a dreaded four weeks of leave a year. But I've got a feeling it ain’t going to be that long before the next hurrah.