Australia, Sydney: What do Walt Disney, Saint West and I have in common? Probably not a whole lot, but we do share the same birthday.
Sydney, Australia: While Sharon’s away, Christine will play.
I am currently rocking a white shirt and a silk leopard print tie at a café at Queen Victoria Building. For money. ‘Cause it’s my work uniform, you see. It’s a terrible job with terrible hours and mean supervisors that hates the way I talk and how I look. I work up to 6 days a week, and I’ve still never been paid less in my whole life. On the plus side, I get the pleasure of serving coffee to some really sweet people. I make friends every day, so who cares that they’re senior citizens.
Manila, the Philippines: a failed attempt at going anywhere
So, let’s talk about another annoying day on the road! We fly to Manila and from there, we have to get a bus from a certain terminal and then we’ll be on a 12-hour bus to Sagada, which is way up North. There, you can see the hanging coffins and zipline over the rice terraces, and on the way, you can find Mount Clitoris. I am excited about both things.
We wait for a metered taxi, which takes a while. Someone sings You’re Beautiful by James Blunt to us for the second time today as we get in the car. Our driver doesn’t know where the bus terminal is,so we drive around for a good 2 hours, our driver stopping to ask locals for direction every now and then.
We drive around a dangerous neighborhood and the driver asks us to lock the doors, so when we find a bus terminal in the neighborhood, we decide we don’t want to get out and wait for our bus there for the next 3 hours. So we ask him to take us to Lion’s Den Hostel. Of course we don’t have the address, since this is a spontaneous decision, but the driver keeps asking us anyway. Eventually, after another hour in traffic, we see a McDonald’s and ask him to drop us off so we can eat and find the address using their WiFi. It is around 7 PM by then. We walk into the busy place, the only Caucasian people around, with all of our luggage, so it’s safe to say all eyes are on us. After some food and getting the address, we walk outside and try to get a cab. Just like 20 other people.
Eventually, a trike stops and says he’ll take us to a taxi terminal. 5 minutes and 50 pesos later, he drops us off at a bridge and tells us to cross it. What a rip-off. So we basically end up just outside one of the airport terminals, where there is a lot of traffic, but no empty taxis. I am surrounded by begging children, and then two police officers come to our aid and hail us a cab. We try two drivers before one says he can take us to MNL Hostel – yes, like the one in Boracay – and one hour later, we arrive. It is basically opposite Our Melting Pot, which we stayed at when we first arrived in Manila, almost a month ago. We are put in a female dorm and pass out not too long after.
The next day, we head to Glorietta Mall and find an H&M – it’s one of those places I just love to go, because it’s familiar. Also, I need a new purse, since my other one got stolen back in Cebu, remember?
After buying a purse, we go to Forever 21 and I get a skater dress like the ones I used to wear at home, before packing all my stuff down and putting them in storage. I feel like me again! Even though I am not wearing any make-up for the first time in 10 years. I also buy a book, Gone Girl, because I miss my Kindle so much.
At night, we go to the street market, where they have stall after stall with chicken blood, intestines and liver on a stick. This was the reason why we never ate here a month ago, but the second time around, we notice some good fried chicken and STREET PAD THAI. YESS!! So we have that and we’re full and happy and we go to 7-11 and buy some alcohol and end up attracting a group of fellow backpackers and a staff worker back at the hostel. Sophie and I sing Let It Go with an Irish guy joining in, a Dutch guy tries to teach us how to dance to EDM, and then we’re off to go see midget boxing. Exciting.
The midget boxing happens at a bar on the Red Light District called Ringside. I think. I am pretty drunk by the time we get there. A few girls in bikinis are dancing like they hate their lives in the ring, and we sit there sipping on our overpriced beers, when Irish guy runs into the ring and starts dancing. Awesome.
I have a dance-off with a girl working in the bar right in the ring, and then everyone joins in and dance until the midgets start fighting. Then it gets kind of sad. For some reason, it just looks exploitative to us, so we get out not too long after that. Meanwhile, the weird American roommate from Bohol is staying at MNL as well, and he decides to show up at our table, so while we work out the bill, he and another American from our hostel are motorboating prostitutes. Classy and awesome.
I buy a hot dog at 7-11 and fall asleep by 2 AM. I wake up pretty hungover the next morning. We’re going to climb a volcano today.
Staff guy from last night, Rafael, Lucie, who was also drinking with us, and two English ladies, Susie and Toni get on a jeepney, a bus and a boat, and around two hours later, we’re on Luzon island where the Taal volcano is.
We walk through a small village full of tree huts and people playing basketball or staring at us, eyes full of curiosity. An old lady sells us the kind of face mask you always see people wearing in Japan or Vietnam.
We do a 45-ish minute walk up a steep, dusty hill until we reach the top of the volcano, looking down into the lake right in the middle. We take some embarrassing pictures and just enjoy this amazing view. Plus, we’re kind of scared of walking down this steep hill.
Of course, we aren’t back until 8 PM, when we were supposed to be back at 6. We go to a falafel place nearby and have an amazing dinner with the girls. This is my second time eating falafel ever, and the first time was in Boracay! I am getting hooked. Anyway, full and ready to go to Lion’s Den, where we have a booking, we look for a cab that knows where it is. So we have to wait quite a while. Eventually, a guy takes us to the area, which is a gated community full of fancy villas(!), and he asks a few people for directions. We arrive, tired, full and just ready to go to sleep.
Our last day together, Sophie and I sit out by the pool and get some sun. I read half of Gone Girl, I’m so interested in what happens next. We get lost trying to find an ATM – the first and only one in the neighborhood rejects my very last credit card and I almost cry – and then we buy food at a supermarket. It’s very odd walking around a giant, very rich neighborhood after passing by so many tree huts and seeing so much poverty around. Back at the hostel, we watch Maleficent on TV at night and then we go to sleep.
I have a full day by myself, since my flight is at midnight. I just sit on the balcony of my room, eating mangos and writing this blog post and itching to get back to my book. Must. Not. Read. Before. Departure. I have an 8 hour flight ahead of me and nothing else to keep me entertained.
So, now that I am leaving the Philippines after almost a month, I should probably once again include my observations about this country.
First off, this country is much bigger than I expected. Looking at a map, I thought all these islands were relatively small and that they all had great ferry connections. I forgot this isn’t Thailand. I am sorry. Sophie and I did the thing you are never supposed to do when backpacking: pre-book the first few destinations. Hostelworld made all the hostels look like they were almost booked out, so we decided to book flights and hostels up until Boracay. We didn’t know the island of Palawan was that big – 6 hours from Puerto Princesa to El Nido! It messed up our plans a bit, since we needed to cancel a night in El Nido in favor of a night bus back to Puerto Princesa so we would make our flight.
Secondly, I have had the hardest time eating healthy (and cheap at the same time) here. McDonald’s, Jollibee, Burger King, KFC, they’re everywhere. Elgin, who we met in Boracay did tell us that the local fast food places, like Andok’s and Mang Inasal, had the best chicken. There is fried chicken everywhere, by the way. I even saw a poster outside of KFC of a hotdog (they love those, too) with fried chicken instead of a bun. I wonder how the locals keep fit, but of course there are healthier options. The salads are at expensive Western restaurants, and there are sketchy-looking street kitchens everywhere. I know those are usually great in SE Asia, but when the finished food is just lying on a silver tray all day with the cooks just shooing away the flies and scooping up a portion for you, buffet style, it doesn’t look too promising – or sanitary.
The locals are friendly and quite the opposite of shy. Not only did almost all of them greet me, even if I just passed by them, they also break into song. A lot. They really love karaoke and pop songs: Shakira, One Direction and so on. All the time. They are definitely curious about tourists, and I would say that even though some parts are very touristy, it still seems to be a kind of undiscovered country. I give it ten years though, and it will be the new Thailand.
Traveling with Sophie, whom I met through TravelBuddy, was fun! I am glad it worked out so well, and would definitely do something like that again if I am in a similar situation. It’s odd saying goodbye after a month together, because even though you have been clinging to each other for so long, there are still so many things you don’t know about each other, and you don’t know if you’ll ever see the person again. Saying goodbye was definitely weird for me. Luckily, I won’t be alone for long :-)
I did expect the Philippines to be Paradise on Earth, but I was too much around dirt and poverty and skyscrapers and giant malls to feel like I was in Paradise. I will say that nature is quite stunning, as long as you get far away from civilization. Trash, the sounds from a nearby cock fight, pollution and other things kind of ruin the surroundings, but as soon as you get on a boat to see islands around El Nido, or swim with Whale sharks, you forget the dirt and the noise and just enjoy this place. I know I did. Salamat, Pilipinas, from this redface!
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia: I have found the Indonesian Corfu, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. And I love it.
After arriving on Gili Trawangan and getting lost on our way to our hostel, Gili Backpackers, we hear about a legendary shot called the Joss shot, which is a packet of energy powder and a shot of either vodka or tequila, mixed in your mouth rather than in a glass.
As if this is the mandatory check-in ouzo shot, we immediately head to the bar to get one, then we go snorkeling. We walk along the beach until we reach the northern point of the island, where the beach is emptier, and there are no boats. From here, we see a giant sea turtle and we haven’t even been in the water for 3 minutes, so we squeal with excitement.
Back at the hostel, we celebrate our turtle sighting with more Joss shots. We join a table of some English and Germans and before we know it, everyone’s joined the table. Since we watched The Interview like three times back in Kuta, our new thing is to quote Katy Perry’s Firework, and as I am doing that, a German girl with an English accent, Clara, comes up to me and a new friendship is established. The rest of the night we quote Taylor Swift, The Little Mermaid and other artists that we oddly enough know too much about.
At 10 PM the bar at the hostel closes, and we are all kicked out to respect the nearby village and mosque. At this point I am the best kind of drunk I can be, so as soon as we get to a new bar, I introduce our group – Belgian guy whom we call Waffles, German Pervert, Clara, Pete and other people I don’t remember – to Troll dancing. Troll dancing is when you dance with or on people without them noticing. So basically, me and German Pervert walk behind people and start dancing on them, and as soon as the victim turns around, we pretend that nothing has happened. It’s way more fun than it sounds, so I keep going for God knows how long, much to the amusement of everyone else.
The next day I am obviously not feeling very well. Pete and I hurry up and go snorkeling, which temporarily gives me some relief, but after some turtle sighting and diving, I am swimming back to shore and the nausea hits me again. Hard. One of the main reasons Pete is my friend is that he encourages me to throw up right there, on the beach, not even flinching as he says it. So I do. In unrelated news Gentlemen, I am still single.
After some food – they do not have good food here, which is such a bummer – we go back to Gili Backpackers, and while Pete is being social in the pool, I fall into my bunk bed. My equally hungover roommate, Tim, and I then discover the hard way that AC is turned off in the rooms from 11 AM to 4 PM. Even though it is slightly colder just outside our room, where the pool and the bar is, we decide to stay indoors and sweat through our bed sheets, suffering loudly. Pete walks into the room occasionally to get stuff from his locker, and at one point, while I’m soaking wet and in fetal position, he laughs and says I suck at life before walking out. He does this like 4 times a day, but at this point I am so mad that I have to get away, so I get up and go for a walk. That’ll show him, right?
The guys at the hostel bar are telling stories from last night, most of them involve me, so I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself. With my hangover, I know I am only going to disappoint tonight. Still, the guys manage to force some Joss shots in me, which both sickens me and oddly enough, also stabilizes my stomach a bit. I get started on a Bintang lemon beer and eventually reach an acceptable level of drunkness. I am wearing Pete’s Indian headdress and lipstick as facepaint, and call myself Dripping Tampon, the Chief’s favorite daughter. Yes, that’s my Indian name.
In my drunken state, I force Pete out for a second dinner – our first one is at a pretty good Thai place really close to the hostel, but I throw up on myself immidiately after eating there – and we go to one of the restaurants on the beach, where all the locals are cheering loudly, and the tourists are staring. After some food and ginger tea (WTF Pete, now we’re sweating even more), we head out to a silent disco party with our group and two English girls. A silent disco is where everyone is wearing headphones, listening to the music through them, but at this bar, the music is pretty shit, so we go to a ninjas and nurses party instead. I tell people I am a nurse. You know, traditional medicine. It is completely crammed, and I am very much in the way with this Indian headdress on, so I head home. It’s around 11 o’clock.
A few hours later, my roommates come back to the room after having sex in the shower, and then all my other roommates come back home, turn on the lights and talk for an hour. Our Kiwi roommate gets back at 4 o’clock and has forgotten the code to our room, so he is banging on the door until someone opens for him, and then he immediately goes back outside to go to the bathroom, and once again bangs on the door for ages. Since my bed is by the door, I have to open it for him. An hour later, morning prayer starts at the mosque.
We’re supposed to get on a ferry at 11 the next morning, but we end up staying another night. We follow a now regular pattern of getting breakfast and then going snorkeling. This time we bring a few people with us, and end up going really far out in the water. We see like 4 sea turtles, and Pete and Ferdinand from Germany even tries to touch them.
We go back, less than two hours later, and I am looking very sunburnt. A few hours later, I am bright red, and blisters are forming on my hips and lower back. My German roommate lets me borrow her aloe vera and she even slathers it on my back for me while I moan loudly. Clara, Pete and I rent bikes to go see the sunset on the other side of the island, where swings have been put out in the ocean. We sit on bean bag chairs on the beach, drinking mojitos and watching the sun set through the clouds. Suddenly, the sky is bright red, pink and orange and it’s just the most beautiful thing ever.
A bit drunk, we go back to turn in our bikes, get some Thai food and then start drinking. Again. After like 3 Joss shots I call it a night and just enjoy the cool air on my sunburnt skin in the dorm. I sleep till 8 the next morning.
It’s time to leave this amazing island that I’ve enjoyed so much, but I am happy to go back to Kuta that actually has good food and WiFi, so I can plan my next adventure, which will be happening in the Philippines.