Thursday, January 29, 2015

Island Hopping in Honda Bay--Jan. 28, 2015

After a quick breakfast of rice, eggs, tocino and 3-1 coffee, the mini van picked me up with the tour guide Tessa along with two Filipino family groups--one group from LA with their two recent college grad sons---and a newly wed couple from Alberta, Canada. Weaving our way through the morning rush hour traffic, we first stopped to get our snorkel gear. We then bumped along until we came to the Honda Bay wharf area. The place was filled with mini vans unloading mostly Filipino tourists to an armada of bankas waiting to transport them to the islands.




We would first go to Pandan Island where the snorkeling was suppose to be the best with lots of colorful fish, an amazing variety of coral along with other sea creatures such as sea urchins with their very long, hurtful spines, sea anemones, seastars, and sea slugs.



There were kayaks we could use as a part of our tour, but I spent my time snorkeling and eating.


I think I must have snorkeled for about two hours until my fingers turned into prunes. Many of the snorkel places sell small loaves of bread which they encourage people to buy to feed to the fish so they swarm all around you. The problem with that is it is not good for either you or the fish. In close to shore the water was a bit murky from all of the bread crumbs so out further it was much clearer. The fish still came up to you expecting to be fed. Both the coral and fish were very colorful with pinks, blues, yellows and greens along with very spiky sea urchins. There were also seastars, sea anemones and sea slugs.


Upon returning to our seating area, Tessa, our guide was busy preparing quite a gourmet spread for us which included designer cucumbers, green mango with shrimp paste sauce---an acquired taste, fried whole fish, shrimp, fatty, sweet spare ribs among other treats that some of the families were sharing. That included sea urchins, abalone, and crabs along with all types of chips and treats.



We had a very good feast all afternoon while on Pandan Island.

One of the fun events there was that the local guys had some set ups for some interesting photos like these shown below. They would use your camera for these shots and the going rate was to give them a 20 peso donation for their work.

Check out these little people behind me.












Afterward we gathered our things and headed to Cowrie Island our next and final stop. The Snake Island was closed for environmental restoration---someone else said some bought the island. Who knows? After all of the snorkeling I did on Pandan Island, I was glad to be going to just one more island.

Again some local guys had set up the photo shots for the tourists. There was a buffet restaurant, a full bar, toilets with fresh water showers along with a number of covered seating areas, tables, and a massage area.
Most of us just went swimming for a bit since the snorkeling wasn't so great. We also continued munching on the leftovers.
We then got on our banka for the short cruise back to the Honda Bay harbor and our waiting mini van. Although I got a bit redder, the suncream and wearing my shirt while snorkeling prevented any more sunburning.
After a shower, and watching a bit of TV, I fell asleep exhausted and still full from today's feast.





Monday, January 26, 2015

Exploring Palawan Island--Jan. 26--27, 2015

Whoa! I just lost the beginning narrative of my arrival in Puerto Princesa. The Cebu Air Bus landing right in town so all I had to do is walk along Rizal Ave. I decided to check out all of the Lonely Planet recommended spots because the place I was planning to stay at was about 1 km or so from downtown and the public market. A moto-trike would have been just 50 pesos though---just over $1. My walk gave me a chance to check out some the Lonely Planet recommended restaurants and accommodations.
I ended up at the Circom Business hotel for 850 pesos per night for a single room with A/C, hot showers, breakfast and TV with my favorite channels---CNN, BBC, and Al Jeezra. They also had a tour agency where I booked an island hop tour of Honda Bay for the 28th.
For lunch, I headed to the Badjao Seafront Restaurant by jumping on a moto-trike for the long 50 peso ride. As you can see, I would not be a very good trike driver since I could not fit into this trike in front of the restaurant. To get to the restaurant, you walk on an elevated walkway through the mangrove forest until you reach the restaurant which is on pilings over the water.
The food and surroundings were wonderful. I had the fish steak with rice and vegetables along with some delicious smoked eggplant cooked in coconut milk. It was delicious.
As it was getting near dinnertime, I walked through the public market place on my way to the Baywalk. There I saw several families strolling along with their kids having fun riding the small rented tricycles. I also saw the cruise liner I had seen sailing by while having lunch at the Badjo Restaurant.
All along the Baywak I saw souvenir shops and restobars. I stopped at one and had a dinner of crocodile sisig, with rice and grilled eggplant washed down with a San Miguel. This was one of the many foods that Donna Bender---my wife's college roomate and long time friend--- recommended that I try while in the Philippines. The waitress said the chopped up crocodile with onions and other spices tasted like chickent---and it did. Still no balut though.
Not to give you the impression that I was just eating my way through the Palawan Islands, the following day I rented a motor scooter. I met a chicken farmer from Negros Occidental who was over here on a business trip to get farmers here to establish chicken raising farms---for the meat, not the eggs. It turns out that he has been importing chicken meat to Palawan Islands since they do not grow enough to meet demand. His idea is to find and train farmers in how to raise and harvest chicken to meet the demand for chicken meat. He arranged for having Myke's Bike Rental to bring a motor scooter to our hotel and give me a discount so the 24 hour rental would only be 500 pesos.
After a short orientation on where the gears, brakes, lights and gas tank were I drove the rental guy back to the rental company where I paid the 500 pesos and gave them my passport for security. Made me a bit nervous, but that is how the rental companies do business. It was a herkey jerky ride to the rental company and I was glad to get to the outskirts of Puerto Princesa. Once on the outskirts, the road was well maintained,empty of traffic, but very windy which made for a fun ride at least out to Langognan and Sabang. The return ride was a bit tiresome.


Along the way I crossed several bridges where some boats were moored that would travel out to the sea
At Langogan, several fishermen were stringing out their nets preparing for their next fishing venture.

Fish drying in Langogan.



One of the other villages along the way. I stopped at a couple of them to gas up using one liter coke bottles instead of a gas station since there were none along the way. The gas cost 50 pesos per liter.



Ugong Rock area has these karsts that just jump out of the ground and are quite picturesque.


I finally reached Sabang where there are fleets of bangkas that take you to other islands and to the Subterranean River National Park.




Near here is a marker that show where a 2012 Amazing Race challenge occurred.
It was getting dark as I approached the outskirts of Puerto Princesa and the rush hour traffic was tremendous. I kept the scooter in 2nd gear all the way to Myke's Rentals while occasionally dragging my feet on the pavement to keep my balance.
After I dropped off the scooter and retrieved my passport, I stopped at the Kalui Restaurant---the Lonely Planet's "TOP CHOICE" restaurants in Puerto Princesa. The floors were slickly polished wood, thanks to their policy of leaving your shoes at the entrance.
For dinner I feasted on cordon blue stuffed fish, wild ferns cooked in sesame seed oil with accents of shrimp, jicama, cauliflower strips, seaweed that had clusters of what tasted like fish eggs, and slivered Dalkon radishes. The meal ended with a desert of fruits in a coconut bowl.

This was a great way to celebrate the end of a long motor scooter ride where I discovered I had sunburned my arms and lips.

Tomorrow, I will go on a guided tour to three islands by mini van and bangka in Honda Bay beginning with a pick up at 6:30 AM. The cost of this all day tour including lunch is 1300 pesos--about $29.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo--January 2015

It was another raining morning as I left the Check Inn Hotel by moto-taxi to the fast boat pier in Bacolod to Iloilo. The cost was 250 pesos for the 1 hour 15 minute journey. The seas were pretty rough with water occasionally washing over the boat as it plowed its way to Iloilo.

It was good to finally arrive at the Iloilo pier.

As I left the pier several touts wanted me to take their taxi or moto-trike, but I was planning to walk into town which looked like a short distance on the map. I then came to a partially filled jeepney so I hopped aboard and passed up my 10 pesos and was passed two pesos in change. Good thing I jumped on the jeepney for it was a lot longer ride than I figured. When I heard some incredibly loud chorus of drums and chanting, I got off. There was a grandstand, but all of the tickets had been sold so I just stood behind the crowd getting a small glimpse of the performance. They called this the Dinagyang Festival which occurs here during the 4th week in January---lucky me. I continued on until I reached Iznart St. There I saw several groups along the street lined up to enter these area where they would perform their dances in front of the grandstand. There were lots of crowds, food stalls and souvenier sales folks along this street as well as three or four other parallel streets where they had other performance areas in front of other grandstands.


The Dinagyang festival celebrats Santo Nino and is much like a mardi gras party with tribes from all over the Philippines compete for a 175,000 peso prize. Included in the parade were also several corportations like Pepsi, local food chains, mobile phone companies, etc.



There were also floats of hugh tree houses, monsters, monkey filled trees and woodland creatures





Here I am with one of the ram characters--not sure if this was a guy or gal though

Just as the parade ended, we had a huge rainstorm that got everybody running for cover. I just retreated to a local Resto bar for some bbqd chicken, calamari, and fried eggplant washed down with a San Miguel. I then returned to my Riverside Inn hotel that had doubled the room rate during the festival to 1765 pesos for the night.
Early tomorrow, I fily to the Palawan Islands by Cebu Air at a cost of 1961 pesos--about $40 for an hour flight.