From Kuala Lumpur we flew to The Philippines, where we would spend Christmas. After we landed we got off the plane into 30 degree heat, to the sound of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” We spent our first night in Cebu City, which is the second largest city in The Philippines and then travelled to Oslob the next morning.
The main modes of public transport in The Philippines consist of clapped out but very colourful trucks called Jeepneys and equally ‘pimped up’ motorised tricycles. The Jeepneys are modelled on old American military vehicles and are generally very old and decrepit. On the outside however each Jeepney is adorned with bright coloured paint, pictures and logos (although I’m not sure that brands such as PlayBoy and Ferrari will have agreed the logo usage!), many have spoilers and each is christened with its own name. We had fun looking at the names, such as Tracy the Jeepney, Roger the Jeepney and Alex the Tricycle!
As well as being extremely colourful, public transport in The Philippines is also extremely cosy. In Jeepneys, the etiquette is to squash as many people as will fit onto the bench style seating, fill the middle with bags, boxes and chickens, then squeeze a few extra people on to ensure that someone is basically sitting on your lap, then add four more people hanging off the back and another 20 on the roof and you’re ready to go! The Tricycles (essentially a motorbike welded to a one wheeled sidecar with a roof) were equally as cosy and we managed to squeeze 3 people, plus the driver, three big rucksacks and 3 small bags into these on numerous occasions!
Whilst we stayed in Oslob we went swimming with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest known fish species and can grow to up to 12m. They are filter feeders, so are not dangerous to humans. This activity had really great reviews, however we were sad to discover that the whale sharks we were swimming with weren’t fully within their natural environment. We also visited the serene Tumalog Falls waterfall which had shimmering cascades of water and colourful rainbows.
From Cebu Island we took a ferry to Bohol Island. Bohol was the most beautiful island we stayed on in The Philippines and was covered in lush green rice paddies, surrounded by majestic coconut palms. The island is home to the world’s smallest primate, the Tarsier. We visited the Tarsier Sanctuary and saw 6 Tarsiers, which are smaller than your hand and incredibly cute! Bohol is also home to the unique landscape of The Chocolate Hills. Formed thousands of years ago by coral deposits when the island was under the sea and named after the chocolate brown colour they turn in the dry season, The Chocolate Hills consist of over 1700 individual conical and dome shaped mounds spread over 50km.
On the 23rd December we were very lucky to be invited to the local Loboc Barangay (community) Christmas party. The event was a street party held on an area of concrete by the river with a basketball hoop. The evening started with a dance competition with the locals doing a traditional dance, involving lots of hand waving and to a song they seemed to love. The DJ must have played this song more than 10 times that evening and every time it seemed to be a guaranteed floor filler! The locals shared their food with us and we drank lots of coconut wine. They got us to do some of their traditional dancing which they found hilarious. Alex also did ‘the worm’ and the locals seemed impressed. As the evening progressed the dancing turned to more modern dancing and we partied with the locals until 2am! This was one of our favourite experiences on our trip so far, as it was great to have a genuine experience of a culture and to have fun with the locals.
We awoke with slightly sore heads on Christmas Eve and took a Jeepney, an extremely packed bus and a tricycle to Anda. As a treat for Christmas we had booked to stay at a dive resort, which was much nicer than our usual level of accommodation. When we arrived the staff apologised for the delay getting our welcome drink, as they had to get someone to climb a tree to get us two fresh coconuts to drink! The Philippines have their celebratory Christmas meal on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day and that evening the resort served Lechon, a whole roasted pig as well as a wide range of accompaniments. After dinner we watched an entrancing fire dance display by the pool.
On Christmas Day we had to improvise a little bit with the tree and presents, which were beautifully wrapped in carrier bags! We had a very relaxed day and did the less traditional Christmas Day activity of snorkelling and ate the less traditional Christmas Day meal of pizza! The snorkelling was great and we saw moray eels, sea snakes, bright blue starfish, puffer fish, clown fish and a myriad of other sea creatures.
We stayed at the resort until the 27th and then had a long day of travelling (consisting of a tricycle, a mini van, another tricycle, a ferry, a taxi and then a flight) to our next destination, Manila…