A Travellerspoint blog

JEEPNEY Drives and SCUBA Dives

Ever since I started traveling to the Philippines on business the islands and people have held a special place in my heart. On one business trip I took the weekend off to travel by bus, jeepney, ferry and then jeepney again to the island of Pandan.

sunny 35 °C

7,107. That’s the number of islands that form the Philippine archipelago - at high tide. With so many of them it is hardly surprising that this country has some of the most fascinating beaches, island retreats, coral reefs and dive spots in the world and if it’s not obvious, it becomes so quietly clearly as the plane descends towards Manila’s NINOY AQUINO International Airport. I often travel to the country on work, always ask for a window seat and eagerly await the last 30 minutes of the flight hoping for a sunny cloudless sky. What I’m looking for is the visual delight of gazing at some of these outlying islands with their green forest cover, fringed at places with thin slivers of powdery white beaches and the clear blue-green waters of the South China Sea. I have often looked at the small fishing villages that border these islands and envied their luck at having the good fortune of living near such an abundance of nature’s bounty.

The urban chaos that is Metro Manila quickly becomes obvious as soon as your taxi drives out of the terminal. Amongst the hundreds of cars jostling for space on the roads you cannot help but notice a colorful contraption. In India it would go by the term jugaad. However, in this country, it has been turned into a form of popular art that I find extremely fascinating. It takes no explanation, especially to Indians, to deduce what they are for. I’m talking about the Jeepney – the ubiquitous form of public transport in this island nation.

Jeepneys are a way of life, practically everywhere in the Philippines. Although they are mostly found in the larger cities and towns as a means of public transport they also ply from town to town in the ‘provinces’ as rural Philippines is popularly referred to. Although it might appear daunting at first, once you are used to it they become an indispensable and cheap method to move around the country. Destinations are displayed by boards on the windscreen and if you are in doubt you can simply ask. The driver does everything, they go from anywhere to everywhere, stop anywhere to drop and pick passengers and invariably come with a small plastic trash can with the swiveling lid fixed to the floor. Practically everybody speaks good English – a remnant of the American days – and is always willing to help you get around. For fares you simply pay the driver during or after the journey. If you’re right at the back, simply hand over the money to your fellow passenger who will pass it on until it reaches the driver. After a while loose change, if any, does the return journey. Multi-tasking is the key-word for the driver who keeps the currency notes between fingers in his left hand and a plastic box with change riveted to the dash-board. In between navigating the chaotic traffic and roads he will find time to register your destination, take your fare, calculate the change and hand it over back to you. Psychedelically decorated as per the owner’s fancy and named “John Carlos, JESUS, Jason, JOMER, JOSH” or whatever, no two Jeepneys are alike. The answer to the question “How many passengers does a Jeepney sit?” is “One more”! I find them a unique form of popular art akin to the graffiti that you find on walls in New York and London. I cannot think of a parallel in our country.

Although Metro Manila has a throbbing night-life and offers all sorts of entertainment and restaurants especially in the central business district of Makati City, you should take the opportunity to get out of the city preferably over a weekend and enjoy the delights that the provinces have to offer. Hiring a private car is not very expensive if you’re not up to the rigors of public transport and there are destinations galore of all kinds just a few hours drive from Manila. You can visit the hill-town of Tagaytay (ta–gai–tai) with its lake within a volcano crater within another lake and another smaller volcano crater. From there you can carry on towards the coastal province of Batangas at the southern most tip of Luzon – the largest island in the country. If you’re heading out on a Saturday morning it is advisable to start as early as possible. By late morning the south Luzon Expressway is crawling with cars and busses and the 100 km journey to Batangas city can take up to 4 hours.

If you don’t have much time the Batangas province is the best place to find some great dive spots – both for snorkeling and for serious SCUBA diving. Dive Solana and Eagle Point Resort are highly recommended though I have personally only stayed at Eagle Point twice and would rate it as an excellent place. If you have more time and, most importantly, the inclination then the neighboring island of Mindoro across the Verde Island Passage is also another option. The pier in Batangas city is where the ferries for Mindoro depart and although a bit chaotic it’s possible to get a ticket at short notice on any of the ferries leaving for the one of the ports in the Puerto Galera area.

The resorts in and around Puerto Galera are very popular and on weekends the beaches and the hotels just behind them can be packed with people from Manila out to have a good time. However, the water and the beaches are picturesque and amazingly clean even though at all the beaches the resorts have packed themselves with little or no elbow room and with very little space between the high water mark and buildings. The locals seem to take it seriously to keep the waters clean and pristine and the local geography of the coastline is extremely pretty with white beaches, numerous coves and lagoons, and high mountains with an abundance of greenery disappearing into clouds immediately behind the beaches. Lonely Planet recommends Coco Beach Resort as “Author’s Choice” as a place to stay in this area and when I passed by it on a boat ride, it appeared to be more up-market than the rest of the places at Muelle Pier or at White Beach. The resort consists of accommodation in large thatched huts built on the slopes of the hill as it merges with a thin sliver of white beach.

During my last trip in April since I had a long weekend to kill, I decided to take the Jeepney, bus, ferry and then again bus combination to go further south of Mindoro. I had read that a French couple run a private resort on Pandan Island and nearby are some of the best coral reefs in the region. Since I was finding my way around it was late at night by the time I reached the coastal town of Sablayan from where I was lucky to get resort’s last service to the island. It was a moon-less night and during the 20-minute ride by ‘flat-boat’ I could see phosphorus plankton jump out as the outriggers sliced through the water on both sides of the boat.

Pandan brands itself not a luxury resort but as “a place for people who like to spend time in tropical surroundings without cars and television. A place where you are woken up by the singing of colorful birds, where there is only a palm tree between you and the sea and where you may even meet a sea turtle before breakfast.” Most of the island is still covered with primeval forest with two secluded beaches. The resort consists of sixteen clean and simple bungalows, a restaurant, a beach bar and a dive center. The bungalows are all built from native material and care has been taken to create a simple yet comfortable atmosphere. True to style there is no electricity, no fans or air conditioning nor any running fresh water. Except for the dive center all lights are powered by solar panel and fresh water is ferried from Mindoro. Each bathroom has a big barrel of fresh water with a ladle that you can use to clean yourself after a salt-water shower. All the bungalows are elevated and the cleverly designed bamboo floor has gaps that ensure that the floor remains clean even if you walk in with sandy feet. There is a large verandah with a hammock and as soon as you step down from it, you can literally dive into the cool waters of the South China Sea. Around the bungalow and on the beach you can find shells and corals of all shapes and sizes. It’s better to enjoy them as they are and not pick them up to bring home. The bar is well stocked and Sonny, the bar tender has his own recipe of local cocktails in addition to plenty of chilled beer and other drinks. The restaurant serves a blend of Filipino and European cuisine. Tess, the chief cook, combines local dishes and exotic ingredients with European recipes to offer a varied dining experience. Fish often comes directly from the local fisherman on the way home from their fishing trips.

Having snorkeled a couple of times earlier in the Batangas, I decided to upgrade to SCUBA diving at Pandan. The resort’s dive school offers an hour’s “INTRO” dive for about $50 and for another $40 also offers to film it for you. Initially I had some reservations about how much different could it be from snorkeling and whether it was worth it, but once I got the hang of it and learnt to stay down comfortably, I knew how wrong I had been.

The first few minutes were spent getting to know the basics – how to breathe only thru the mouth, what to do if retrieve the mouthpiece if it slips out, negating the pressure on your eardrums and keeping water out of mask. Then began the magical journey or a prolonged stay under water in a totally different environment – the feeling of zero gravity, the ability to twist and turn “mid-air” and be surrounded by the wonders of the deep rather than just look down at them as happens during snorkeling. The high-point of my maiden dive was, of course, swimming in the company of a group of fairly large sea turtles as some of them fed calmly on the sea grass and let scavenger fish clean their shells and underbellies. But that was not to deny the sheer joy of trying to catch little colorful clown fish as they stayed out of reach and hid amongst sea-sponges only to emerge as soon as you withdrew your hand, swimming warily around a large lion-fish as it guarded its den and admiring the seemingly inanimate coral in its myriad colors, shapes and sizes. Sunlight filtering through the surface to the shallow sea-bed made ever changing patterns and added to the surrealism of the experience.

I did not have time to take the day trip to Apo Reef, about an hour’s boat ride from Pandan. Reputed to be amongst the best coral reefs in the region, the resort offers day long dive trips to it leaving early in the morning and returning by late afternoon. For a die-hard and seasoned diver, there are “Live-Aboards”. As the name suggests you live aboard a ship that takes you from place to place and you spend your time diving at different places. Check out the website given the Facts box.

With thousands of islands there are literally thousands of holiday opportunities. Frequent flights and ferries offer great connectivity to most of the attractions. And surprisingly the facilities at the airports and ferry terminals far exceed your expectation of a country that is supposedly lower on the economic scale than our own. During a trip to Cebu I had the opportunity of taking the ‘Jet-Cat’ to the island of Bohol and the chance to see the Philippine TARSIER and the unique geographical phenomenon locally called “Chocolate Hills” Having experienced the wonders that some of these islands have to offer, it is my unrealistic ambition to spend my final days attempting to visit each of the 7,107.

Facts for the Traveler
There no direct flights to the Philippines from India. Thai, Singapore, Malaysian and Cathay Pacific airlines fly to Manila via their respective hubs.

A valid visa is required for entry and can be obtained at the Philippine Embassy in New Delhi (http://www.newdelhipe.com/) or any of their Consulates in Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata.

Eaglepoint, Mabini, Batangas Province - http://www.eaglepoint.com.ph/
Phones - +63.2.813-3553 or 813-3560 Mobile +63 (0) 917-8544944

Dive Solana, Mabini, Batangas Province - http://www.divesolana.com/
Phones +63.2.8485788 or Mobile +63.917.300.1086

Coco Beach, Puerto Galera - http://www.cocobeach.com/main.shtml

Local Car Hire Companies in Manila – JB Rent a Car +63.2.526.6288, KEI Transport - +63.2.524.6834

Pandan Island, Mindoro - http://www.pandan.com/index.php
Phones – Resort - +63 (0) 9193057821, Manila - +63.2.523.7007 / 525
To get to Pandan Island by air – www.asianspirit.com – from Manila to San Jose and then the resort will pick you up by van. By private seaplane contact http://www.seaplane-philippines.com/

To get to Pandan Island by bus and ferry – get to Batangas pier by bus from Manila and then take the ferry to Abra de Ilog. Check timings with the shipping company +63 (0) 43 7238243. Note that there is no road to Abra de Ilog from the various piers near Puerto Galera. From Abra de Ilog, take one of the air conditioned vans that go direct to Sablayan. You have to be fast to get off the ferry as the vans fill up quite quickly.

Diving in the Philippines - http://www.divephil.com/

Tourism in the Philippines - www.philtourism.com, www.tourism.gov.ph, http://www.happymanila.com/

Jeepney Enthusiasts – For those of you who have either known about the Jeepney and/or have been enthused by the description, here are some websites
http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/748d2/ (A Jeepney enthusiast’s webpage describing everything you ever wanted to know about a Jeepney – and then some. Recommended Reading)
http://www.philippines.hvu.nl/transport2.htm
http://www.livinginthephilippines.com/philculture/philippine_articles/manila_amazing_jeepneys.html
http://www.jeepneygang.com/2001/reservations.htm

Posted by nilesh 15:05 Archived in Philippines Tagged philippines manila scuba_diving jeepney philippines_way_of_life jeepneys tagalog philippine_food scuba_diving_in_the_philippines pandan pandan_island mindoro mindoro_occidental puerto_gallera scuba_diving_in_pandan_island Comments (0)

No Cars in Lamu

Describing my experience - a three-day stay in the town of Lamu in the Lamu Archipelago off the south-east coast of Kenya. It's an ancient Swahili bastion that has so far survived the onslaught of modern life.

sunny 25 °C

NO CARS IN LAMU

Lamu_Archipelago.jpeg

Even the plane ride from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport to the small airstrip on Manda Island, the getting off point for Lamu is a throwback in time. The plane is a rather ancient twin propeller Beechcraft with only 19 seats, no onboard services, no cabin staff and you can clearly see both the pilots doing their stuff from take-off to landing – the most exciting being when they maneuver for landing and the landing strip seems to sway from side to side thru the cockpit windscreen. Eventually when the plane stops, with one propeller still running, close to the rudimentary airport the co-pilot climbs out of his seat, lowers the door-cum-gangway and announces, “Lamu”.

And thus began an enchanting three days at one of the last bastions of ethnic Swahili towns on Kenya’s south east coast. Lamu town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest town on Lamu Island which in turn is the largest island of the archipelago by the same name in Kenya. We arrived there after a rather hectic week at three of Kenya’s wild life game sanctuaries hoping to wind down and at the same time savor Kenya’s oldest living town’s promises of tradition, market places, dhows, lack of cars, walks thru narrow lanes, Swahili architecture and of course, fresh sea food. We were not disappointed.

Since there are no cars in Lamu, you have to walk 3 minutes from the airstrip to Manda’s jetty and from there get into a dhow for the short sail across the channel to Lamu Island. On the other side Frank was waiting for us as, thanks to high tide, the dhow docked right in front of his hotel – LAMU HOUSE HOTEL – a lovingly restored place by combining two old Swahili houses. Both houses have been renovated and adapted for western-style living, yet at the same time preserve all the charm of traditional Swahili architecture and are designed to satisfy the needs of clients and travelers that choose to stay in the historic centre of Lamu for their business or holiday. After Marianne, Frank’s partner, explained some more about their hotel she showed us to our room. It had a spacious bedroom with a four-poster and a large balcony with arched openings that overlooked the swimming pool. The flooring, walls and ceiling were of limestone with the ceiling embedded with large mangrove poles. And surprisingly for a coastal town in September, only a ceiling fan was enough to satisfy our cooling needs. Since it was already late afternoon, all we did that day was to walk along the channel promenade past the Lamu Museum, the District Commissioner’s office to loosen up after the hour long flight from Nairobi and the long ride from Amboseli National Park before that. The hustle bustle near the main jetty, the dhows coming in after a day’s outing and lowering their mainsails, the donkeys baying in protest at their loads and the children playing with abandon was a great curtain raiser for the more detailed exploration of Lamu’s inner delights that we had planned the next day. Dinner was at the hotel’s rather charming restaurant perched high enough above the promenade to look directly onto the channel. The night’s boat traffic and the blinking navigational lights of the buoys provide a quiet backdrop to a sumptuous meal of fresh sea food.
We were somewhat apprehensive the next day when we began our walk thru Lamu wondering whether the humidity and the sun would prevent us from enjoying it as much as we would have liked. However, the narrow lanes and the closely built buildings with walls of coral-rock blocks close together ensured that the weather remained quite tolerable. Frank had organized the services of Mahmood, a local guide, and with him we dived into Lamu’s insides.

Lamu has a rich and colorful history. The town was one of the original string of Swahili settlements that stretched from Somalia to Mozambique. It remained a thriving port town through the turbulent Portuguese invasions and later the Omani domination of the 17th century. Lamu had a slave-based economy until the turn of the 20th century. When slavery was abolished in 1907 the economy of the island suffered greatly. Only recently has the influx of tourist dollars revitalized the town’s growth.

The town itself appears frozen in time even now, although at places you can see a few buildings that have been bought and renovated by affluent Europeans as private residences. In deference to the tourists there are also a lot of shops selling stuff that tourists normally purchase. The narrow, winding streets accommodate only pedestrian or donkey traffic. The population of Lamu remains almost exclusively Muslim. Men still wear full length robes known as khanzus with kofia caps while women cover themselves in the hijaab common in other Islamic cultures. When we took photos we had to be careful not to include women in hijaab in our frames in order not to offend them. Although now quite far and few between, buildings with the traditional coral-rock material still do exist and to us they made a very pretty sight. Another aspect that was particularly attractive was the numerous styles of heavy and ornamental wooden doors with elaborately carved frames. Finally I would be failing if I didn’t point out the buildings sporting wooden balconies some of which overhung the lanes below – definitely a throwback to the days in India when these were common in Chandni Chowk in Delhi or Girgaum in Mumbai.

Just as we thought we had seen all there was to see in the narrow lane that we were walking thru suddenly opened into a large town square bang opposite the fort. As it was the day before the last day of Ramadaan, the square, that doubled as a market place was full of people of every sort engaged in everything from selling to lounging around and chatting. It was fascinating to see how the women using just a knife were able to produce thin strips ‘noodles’ out of papayas and shred spinach to such a fine degree. The fort itself does not offer much to see and is best admired from outside. There is a 500 shilling fee to go in but there is nothing but local government offices inside. It was built in the early 19th century by the Omanis when they dominated the region to protect themselves from the locals. On the way back to the hotel from the fort we dropped by at the Lamu Museum where a few more details of Swahili culture, tradition and the way of life is on display. The District Commissioner’s Office is next door – parked outside was the only car permitted on Lamu Island.

In the afternoon we went by dhow to the island of Manda to see the Takwa ruins. The route was thru thick mangrove channels that cut the island into many slices. It was a great experience to be powered solely by wind and to see how Fareed, the dhow owner, manipulated the rudder and the sail as the wind changed speed and direction. As the dhow sliced thru the water, it banked steeply from time to time and brought back memories of being capsized when I was attempting to learn sailing. But Fareed was a much better sailor that I was and we safely arrived at the mangrove pole bridge that served as a jetty for the ruins. There is not much to see at Takwa but the use coral-rock as a building material and how it is prepared can be seen. We also admired the giant Baobab trees that were growing amidst the ruins. The story is that Takwa was never a large place and it was set up around 1500 and abandoned around 1700 because the drinking water turned brackish.

Shela is Lamu’s richer cousin and is located at the southern tip of the island. A motor boat can take you from Lamu to Shela in 5 mins while a dhow with a sail will take a little longer. You can even walk along the channel to Shela from Lamu and we saw many people do that when during our trip. While Lamu retains the rustic charm to a large extent Shela has been almost completely taken over by foreigners who have restored several old buildings that are now chic boutique hotels. Consequently accommodation and food is significantly expensive. All the same it is a worthwhile trip if only for the great views of the town from the dhow as you approach it and also the way some of the buildings have been reconstituted into hotels. A walk thru the lanes is also recommended but there are some steep slopes to negotiate. The upside is the view of the Indian Ocean and the channel and a unique white-washed mosque with a tapering tower as a minaret. Peponi’s serves some good food and drinks and if you have the time we recommend that you try it out too.

By the time we got back to Lamu House Hotel there was just enough time to have a quick lunch head across the channel to the airport for our flight back to Nairobi. Although there was an x-ray machine and a walk-thru metal detector, security check was, “Hope you haven’t got any knives, etc in your hand luggage?”! Laid back security for a laid back vacation – the way it should be.

Lamu is perhaps not a place that you would go to all the way from India but it is a great option to combine with a safari holiday. It’s not too far away and there are several daily flights daily from Nairobi and Mombasa. It would be ideal to end your safari at a park near Mombasa and then take one of the flights from there. Driving or travel by road is not recommended.

I don’t want to end this on a pessimistic note but I read on my return to India that the Chinese are planning to build a port at Lamu to transport oil from the Southern Sudan region to China. I hope that this project will be located in an area away from Lamu town and also protect the pristine nature of the region. In any case, I hope to one day to return to Lamu before it changes for good.

Photos - http://www.flickr.com/photos/nileshkorgaokar/sets/72157625163387160/

Fact File

Time Zone – GMT +2

International Dialing Code - +254

Exchange Rate – 1 US$ = 80 Kenyan Shillings (approximately)

Getting There – Kenya Airways www.kenya-airways.com/home/ operates daily from Mumbai to Nairobi. From any other city, Emirates (www.emirates.com/in) is a good choice as they operate from several Indian cities and have daily connections to Nairobi. From Nairobi to Lamu and back there are several options – 540 Aviation (www.fly540.com), Safari Link (www.flysafarilink.com), Air Kenya (www.flysafarilink.com/). While 540 Aviation and Safari Link operate from Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Air Kenya operates from Wilson airport. From Mombasa to Lamu Mombasa Air Safari (www.mombasaairsafari.com) is the only option.

When to Go – May to Jul are the months when most rainfall occurs. For a detailed matrix on temperatures in Lamu visit http://www.climate-zone.com/climate/kenya/celsius/lamu.htm

Visas – Indians require a visa PRIOR to travel. The Kenyan High Commission in New Delhi located at E-66 VASANT MARG, NEW DELHI, 10057, issues visas for a fee of approximately ` 1500. No interview is required and it is best to apply for the visa thru a reputed travel agent even if you are located in Delhi. Website - http://kenyamission-delhi.com/ (doesn’t always work!)

Yellow Fever Vaccination – As with any travel to Africa Yellow Fever vaccination is also required and must be submitted along with the visa application. This vaccination is available only at some selected government hospitals or facilities. Try googling “yellow fever vaccination <city>” or ask your local doctor.

Accommodation – We stayed at the Lamu House Hotel (http://www.lamuhouse.com/) and found it entirely satisfactory in terms of location, accessibility, comfort and food. There are other hotels, hostels and lodges and they can be found on the internet. The Lamu House’s advantage is that it is located on the channel promenade and is more open than some of the others that are located inside the town and consequently lack space and views. If you decide to stay at Shela then the Peopni Hotel (http://www.peponi-lamu.com/) is recommended amongst the others that are also available. Keep in mind that accommodation in Shela is likely to be more expensive than Lamu town. Talk directly to the hotels for rates or if you’re combining your holiday with a safari tour, then ask your safari tour operator to negotiate a combined rate for you.

Food – Normally Breakfast should be included in your room rent. For other meals we recommend that you ask the restaurant what is the “catch of the day” and go for it in the way you prefer it to be prepared. Chicken and Lamb are got from Nairobi and sea food would be the preferred option. For vegetarians it’s likely to be a bit difficult but ask the chef or the restaurant manager for options.

What to Do/See – A walk thru Lamu’s inner streets with a knowledgeable English speaking guide is a must. Take time to stop and appreciate the entrances with their ornate doors to the older residences that still exist as well as the renovated buildings now being used as private residences by Europeans. Notice how some of the newer buildings have tried to give the appearance of coral-rock walls by using it only as an outer layer. Stop by at the Town Square in front of the Fort for a breather and then interact with the people who have set up shop. Observe the way the women use the knife to slice papayas and shred spinach. Our last day happened to be Eid and we were fortunate to also be witness a dhow race right in front of our hotel. It is also possible to go snorkeling in the channel from December to April when North East Trade winds bring in the calm and clear waters. Dhow trips with a group of like minded people to appreciate the sunset or to dine together can also be organized. Some hotels can also organize deep-sea fishing or simply fishing from a dhow.

Posted by nilesh 06:15 Archived in Kenya Tagged kenya lamu shela lamu_town lamu_island swahili shela_town island_holiday east_africa Comments (0)

Philippine Diary

Random Thoughts while traveling thru this beautiful Archipelago

rain 35 °C

Jeepney in Makati City - Metro Manila

Jeepney in Makati City - Metro Manila


7,107 give or take a few hundreds, is the number of islands that compose the Philippines archipelago. At high tide. I’m of the firm opinion that airlines should have a protocol amongst themselves whenever the destination is an island nation. They should agree to fly in low with the early afternoon sun shining in a cloudless sky. Passengers are then able to appreciate what lies beneath even before they land. Fortunately in the case of the flight from Bangkok to Manila this rings true and if you have a window seat you can see some of the powdery beaches and the coral reefs in the South China Sea before the urban sprawl of Metro Manila slides into view.

In India it would go by the term jugaad. However, in the Philippines, it has been turned into a form of popular that I find extremely fascinating and eye-catching. I’m talking about the Jeepney – the ubiquitous form of transport in this island nation. A first timer simply cannot help noticing them within minutes of arriving and it takes no explanation, especially to Indians, to deduce what they are for. These improvised contraptions that are basically ‘stretch jeeps’ are the most popular form of public transport and they have their origins in the tens of thousands of JEEPS that the Americans left behind after World War II. Back in 1953 or so Leonardo Sarao, a horse drawn carriage driver, started to convert them. He put a roof on the top and lengthened the back to take more passengers on each side. They proved so popular he opened a factory south of Manila, and Sarao became the first name amongst jeepneys. Although the original vehicles have long since been dumped, they continue to be put together in numerous workshops across the country in the same tradition. Nowadays the chassis, engine and running gear all come from Japanese light trucks. It's all "surplus", i.e. second hand. The bodywork and interior are from sheet steel, and just about any bits of metal that happen to be about. Once the basic structure is complete I guess the owner lets his imagination run riot while decorating it, resulting in a unique, psychedelic form of transport that defines public transport in this archipelago. Consequently no two jeepneys are alike.

Lack of direct flights from India is probably the reason why the Philippines is not a very popular holiday destination. Otherwise the fact that everybody speaks English, the American culture so blatantly visible in all the larger cities and the plethora of amazing beaches make it an ideal place to spend a week or two. Although the southern provinces of Mindanao and Sulu are Muslim majority and have an endemic insurgency that has been going on for many decades, there are plenty of other beach resorts to choose from for a holiday that can include scuba diving, snorkeling, sun-bathing or doing nothing and simply enjoying the warm hospitality of the Filipinos. The island of Cebu, an hour’s flight from Manila is so popular with Japanese and Korean tourists that restaurants catering to their food abound and there are direct flights from Hong Kong and Seoul. An hour’s fast-ferry ride from Cebu is the island of Bohol that is home to the tarsier believed to be about 45 million years old, and perhaps one of the oldest land species to continuously live in the Philippines. The Batangas province is only a couple of hours drive from Manila and home to some amazing diving and snorkeling spots as well. On the way is the hill-resort of Tagaytay from where you can take a boat and horse ride to an active volcanic crater in the middle of a huge lake. For the traveler with different preferences, the main island of Luzon also has trips to the mountainous regions to the north with the rice terraces of the Cordilleras, a world heritage site.

Being an archipelago the main mode of transport are the numerous ferries that ply between the main islands. The larger ferries have ‘roll-on roll-off’ facilities that permit vehicles. Fast ‘super ferries’ cater to the normal passengers, run smoothly, efficiently and can be accessed via clean jetties with very good passenger facilities. Due to the latent fear of terrorism security is as tight as at any airport without being bothersome. This is not to say that air connectivity is poor. A brand new domestic airport caters to the air traveler and connects Manila with all the major cities. Low cost airlines like Cebu-Pacific and internet access with e-ticketing also mean that the shoe-string budget traveler is not discouraged.

Tagalog, the most popular of Filipino dialect is full of iterative words. Halo-halo is a popular dessert that is a mixture of shaved ice and milk to which are added various boiled sweet beans and fruits, and served cold in a tall glass or bowl. Lapu-Lapu is a popular grouper fish delicacy, is generally fried and served with rice. Ilo-Ilo and Tawi-Tawi are names of places, the former being a popular domestic tourist destination while the latter is a no-go area for tourists being the happy hunting grounds of the Islamist Abu Sayaf Group.

Filipino street food is not for the faint hearted. One of the most popular delicacies is balut - a fertilized duck egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut are mostly sold by street vendors at night and often served with beer. For the not so adventurous foodie, head to Sea Food Wharf overlooking the Manila Bay. There is an enormous variety of live sea-food that you can pick and choose and have it cooked your way. I was pleasantly surprised to see ‘bibinka’ on the dessert menu and realized that it must have come here via the same route that it came to Goa – the Spanish/Portuguese connection. Although it’s much lighter in colour and not as rich as our Goan variety, it’s a great way to finish a delicious meal.

Intramuros, located along the southern bank of the Pasig River, was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century and is the oldest district of the city of Manila. Its name, taken from the Latin, intra muros, literally "Within the walls", meaning within the wall enclosure of the city/fortress, also describes its structure as it is surrounded by thick, high walls and moats. Golfers must play a round at the Intramuros Golf Club. It’s a tight course with plenty of water built around the ramparts of the fort. A bad round can always be blamed on the fact that one is not used to petite female caddies!

Posted by nilesh 22:48 Archived in Philippines Tagged ferries philippines manila ferry intramuros business_travel random_thoughts_on_philippines fun_in_philippines philippines_way_of_life life_in_the_philippines jeepneys tagalog halo_halo philippine_food Comments (0)

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