From Manila to Apo Island

Friday 23rd Dec 2016
I kind of ‘woke up’ at 5.45am if we can call that waking up considered I was awake on and off all night lol. Of course when putting back the netbook fully charged in its protection pocket is when I found the cable that could have helped charging my phone which had driven me crazy by hidding the evening before, ahah. Then I got ready and went downstairs, refilled my 500ML Nalgene water bottle at the water fountain and then walked on 12th Street, the street on which the airbnb / bed & breakfast was on, near the airport.

As soon as I stepped out, there was this couple carrying a huge teddy bear.  This was just the start of my trip.

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Now, the ironic thing is that at the end of the trip when I came back to Manly, a huge teddy bear which had got stolen was making the front page. It would have been funny if this was happening at the same time. Here it is! Found it! In Manila!! 😀

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I photographed my first Jeepney which is an army Jeep left behind by the Americans after WWII and customised the Philipino way in a kind of mini-bus taking people everywhere as the main transport.

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It was so nice to be right back diving into some street life!
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There was the fishing shop.
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The neighbour shop selling veggies.
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The street seller of cigarettes falling asleep.
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Some more street life all over. This is what I love in South-East Asia. Life is booming in the streets with everyone having their little local business or cruising around. Life is in the streets. So buzzing with colours, smells, noises. I felt good and excited being back into it. I felt for the first time since landing: ‘This is it! I am back in South-East Asia!’

I walked to the 7’11 then walked along the highway like a lot of people towards the airport. At some point when I was about to turn left and go through some construction site, one guy on his bike stopped me and said in friendly way: Where are you going? I said ‘To the airport’, he said ‘Ok, here is the walk’ and put me back on track quickly.
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Anyone willing to enter the airport area needs to have their bag scanned. Good way of ensuring no one can go through with a bomb!
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I went upstairs to the Departure level. Philippines airline counters were straight on the left.
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I checked-in and then did the baggage x-ray thing and then went to check where gate 131 was and then went back and sat in a cafe.I had the Manly ferry cup in my small backpack and proudly asked for a hot chocolate to be served in it. I thought, hey, we should all always travel with our take-away cup in our bag. So light and easy and then we would not use paper cups anymore. Here is the cup hold by the icon of the cafe place where I stopped, chilled, had a muffin and chocolate and blogged a bit. I had planned to do a series of photos of this cup in each spot I went but didn’t buy further hot drinks in any place afterwards so this is the one and only picture of my ambitious series ahah.
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There I went to the toilets and rinsed and dried the cup and put it back in my backpack. The toilets were interesting with this huge fan placed at the entrance.
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Then I walked to Gate 131 and sat. Shortly after a guy name Virgile and his wife and 2 daughters arrived.

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Vergil and his wife were from a small island called Biliroc but had been living in Abu Dhabi for the past 8 years. She worked as a nurse and he worked in the marine police in Dubai. He explained to me that Dubai was really close to Iran and got many Iran refugees coming to Dubai illegally by boat. I had never realised that both places were so close to each other. He told me about his past life before moving to Dubai during which he used to be on ships cruising all around the world and how his favourite island was Pitcairn Island which belongs to NZ. He told me a bit about the 7 United Arab Emirates that could be seen in a day and about the weather seasons and wrote their names in my little notebook. I love carrying a little notebook to write or get written everything and nothing in it!
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I already wrote that in previous travel blog entries but this is what I love with travelling. You always travel twice, as you also travel through the journeys others you encounter have made, which is so magical. Then I said good-bye as they were waiting for another plane and went to board my plane to Dumaguete which was an hour late.
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I had the last seat at the back, on the left side. Seat 28A. On my right was a German guy from Dusseldorf who was travelling for a month in Philippines with a colleague of him. They were working for a dutch company which had just been bought by Dassault. From Dumaguete, they were heading to Sugar Island to a resort called Kutakapa where they would chill for 10 days. Then he had no plan yet and was thinking that he might go to Palawan after. He slept most of the way while I looked at the landscape and wrote this entry in the netbook. The flight attendants had distributed some newspapers and the front-page had some interesting headlines about Rodrigo Duterte, who has been the president since 30th June 2016 and has the reputation of getting rid of the drug dealers by simply killing them.

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Here is a map of the plane journey.
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From the plane we first saw a stunning island called Taal Volcano Island which had a crater lake in the middle and looks awesome to visit!
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We could see from the plane the shorelines of some other spots during the flight but no idea where that is!
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About to land!
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We landed at the small Dumaguete airport. Sounds like it had just rained heavily!
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I had organised a transfer with the hostel from Dumaguete airport to Apo Island and a driver called Edmar was waiting for me with a sign, I jumped in the car and off we went for about an hour to the little harbour. On the way, there were lots of street sellers on the side of the road. We stopped and I bought a bunch of bananas from this woman for 2 pesos the banana (1AUD=35.80 pesos, 1EURO=52 pesos), they were very small bananas and so good.
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Here is a map giving some context about going from Dumaguete to Apo Island.
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Zooming in.
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We arrived at the Malatapay pier and walked to the little embarking point. There were 3 tourists who were in the middle of negotiating a boat to go to Apo Island, probably there since a while and trying to bargain too much.

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When I arrived in there, a local guy said: ‘You, put your name down here and come, come!’ So I wrote my name down and off I was to a boat immediately while the three other tourists were still stuck there negotiating something. I was so glad for once that I had followed the Lonely Planet advice!

Everyone boarding the boat.
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Going on the boat was funny, I took off the zips of the long hiking pants I still had on so I could transform it into a short and walked in the water like all the locals and we boarded the super famous Filipino boat, the bangka.
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Off to Apo Island, the island in front! Yihaaa!!!
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During the ride, I chatted with a local woman, Burma. She told me she had grown up on Apo Island and that the typhoon of December 2012 had destroyed a lot of the reef on the other side of the island but also that since then the turtles had started coming. I asked her how much they were  all paying as a local for the ride and she said it was free for the locals but that for tourists, it was a fixed price of 300 pesos which was half the price of the taxi + bangka package I had been told by the hotel I would pay which was correct. We joked that the 3 tourists we had seen must have been trying to negotiate too much as they were still stuck there. I also realised that basically I was paying for the ride for everyone. But hey why not! After all, I was coming to visit their island and best way to support the local economy that day was to make it possible for all of them to navigate back for free!

Arriving at Apo Island.
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The green building we see here was the Liberty Diving Lodge where I was about to spend 3 nights sleeping in the hotel area at the top and diving with their dive shop located at the bottom, very handy!
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We disembarked and I went first to the office in front to write down my name and pay the Island entry fee which helps the community to protect the reef.
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I went to the upstairs hotel, it was 1.45pm. I dropped my bags then ordered some lunch knowing it could take a while for it to be cooked and went to check the dive shop and booked in for a dive at 3pm.

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Here is the map of the dive sites which can be dived around Apo Island.
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View of the sea from the dive shop.
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Going back upstairs, started my Filipino food journey by having some proper Filipino chicken dish called adobo. It is funny how they scoop the rice everywhere in the country with a round deep spoon like we would scoop ice-cream and then serve it like this on the plate.
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I went for the dive at 3pm and we went with two Swiss girls and two dive masters to the dive spot called Largahan and I realised that…I had forgotten to put a card in the go pro! Ahah. Looking at my dive book, I wrote that we saw some titan triggerfish, sea snakes, one turtle, and that the site was interesting because at some point we were diving above a sulfur volcanic area with lots of bubbles coming out of the sand. We also saw some garden eels and a lion fish.

Then we had a break during which we just watched the sunset over the ocean while listening to Archer, one of the dive master who was playing popular guitar songs such as ‘Wonderwall’, such an old song now and still one of my favourites. He was an awesome guitar player and it was great to start the holiday on a remote island doing nothing else than watching the sunset listening to great guitar between two dives. Loved it!

We got ready for the night dive and went diving between 6pm and 7pm as a shore dive to Chapel, walking right in front down into the water. Under the water, first we could see hundreds of very active black sea urchins slowly making their way around to eat, with their little floating eye above their round body between their very long thin black spikes. Sea urchins are so weird creatures! They look like aliens. During the night dive, we saw a lot
of decorative crabs, white-and-red shrimps, some lion fish. The best of the dive was the Christmas tree which is actually a kind of worm. We put our torches against us to stop their light and once it was kind of super dark, the dive master shaked the Christmas tree work with his aluminium stick and suddenly it was making tons of light like if fireflies had just invaded the underwater world. While writing this back home, I still have this incredible image in my mind of this sparkle of thousands little lights in front of my eyes on that dive which was really magical.

After that night dive, we went back to the hostel located just above the dive centre, I went for shower and then down for dinner. I didn’t like the atmosphere too much, there were only tables of 2 or 4 quite spaced out and a very sad image of our modern way of living which was couples all at their table not even talking at each other..as they were…on their bloody smartphone!!!! Damn it!!! 4 years ago, when I travelled South-East Asia for 6 months, smartphones were quite rare. People bloody talked to each other!!!! Hate that!!! Phones should simply be forbidden during dinner time (at least!). Seriously!!!! Arrghhh. What a side scene. I didn’t have my camera but I am sure you can picture that scene because just go to the restaurant tonight and watch your neighbours, no matter where you live in the world. I guarantee you that in most cases they are on their phone too. Anyway. I joined the dive instructors at their table where no phone was and we passionately chatted about diving and the underwater world, laughing about some species and having a great time communicating with words to the person next to us.

Then I went to bed around 10pm, having the entire dorm of 6 beds for myself. Nice!

Tomorrow, simply…more diving on Apo Island!!!

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