Saturday, February 7, 2015


Boracay is a small island but one of the most beautiful destinations in the Philippines. The sand is white, the weather is balmy, people walk barefoot on the two-kilometer beach promenade shaded by palm trees. There is a dive shop every fifty meters, and the dive boats have trouble finding a spot to park on the beach.

My first dive this morning was a big wreck at 30m, with several paths below deck that are safe for divers. It's an interesting experience to float down through the hatches and float through the passages below deck, where people have once worked and schools of fish now seek protection.

Boracay has its darker side too: the road running through the middle of the island is just as congested, noisy, and filled with smog as Manila, only it's the two-stroke tricycle engines that produce the filthy air. Getting here wasn't easy either, after a sequence of jeepney and van rides down the coast of Mindoro I found myself on a rust bucket of a ferry for four hours to Caticlan, arriving to late at night to catch a boat to Boracay. So I spent the night in a tiny room with a bricked-up window and a comfort room that allowed no feelings of comfort. "Comfort room" is the local euphemism for bathroom or toilet.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Diving in Sabang

Sabang is a typical beach town. Laid-back, slow, sunny, and not very crowded (a fact that has the shopkeepers very worried). The big business here is diving, and keeping the divers supplied with alcohol in the evenings.

I went out with a very relaxed long-haired dive master ate South Sea Diving who has been here for 30 years. They have a beautiful reef with colorful soft corals and fairly good visibility, just a few minutes by boat off the beach. Many fish, but no large ones. The first dive was a drift dive, meaning it's hard to stop and look at things close up, like the wreck we were passing. It's essentially a side scroller.

The dive master complained that the water was very cold, only 26 degrees C, but someone told me that it's even colder at home in Berlin. Hard to believe, sitting here at the beach sipping pineapple shakes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First beach

The Philippines consist of many islands and countless beaches. I am going to visit a few, beginning with Puerto Galera, the galley bay. Getting here from Vigan took 15 hours by bus, van, and ferry. This is going to be a short post because I need to catch up on sleep, but I still wanted to show the shivering folks at home some subtropical beach photos. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vigan Food

I don't like Vigan food.  It's mostly deep-fried greasy animal pieces, like pork belly and sausages that resist description. I don't see people visiting the Philippines for the food.

Vigan,  the city,  is very pleasant. Its entire downtown has completely preserved Spanish colonial architecture.  A Spanish traveler I have met has felt right at home, right down to the details. Except that many of the buildings could use a touch of paint and maybe a roof. The weather is balmy and sunny. It does appear that the city's entire Internet traffic,  including mobile, runs through a single slightly psychotic router though.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Cordillera mountains

Another short seven-hour gut-wrenching bus ride up the mountains brought me to Sagada, a tranquil village in fantastic scenery that just so happened to be in the middle of a festival with competitions, music, and other events. They have UNESCO-protected rice terraces nearby, waterfalls, and caves. I spent much of the day hiking, although frankly, Longshen in China and Sapa in Vietnam - both described elsewhere in this blog - are more impressive.

There is more in neighboring villages like Banaue, where the rice terraces date back two millennia. Unfortunately, the mountain region is already quite chilly and the weather forecast is soaked with heavy rain for the rest of the week.

So, I got up early today and used a series of jeepneys, vans, and buses to pass through Bontoc, Cervantes, and Tagung to Vigan on the coast. The connections were untypically perfect, and I am now back in a subtropical sunny climate. The roads were unbelievably scenic, through craggy mountains, deep valleys, and lush forests; unfortunately there is a law of nature that photos taken from a moving bus are never any good.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

North of Manila

Manila is a huge, congested, and noisy city filled with smog, so I caught a bus North to escape to the hills. Baguio turned out to be a small, congested and noisy city filled with smog. I think it's the jeepneys: essentially an ornately decorated stretch jeep with a long passenger cabin, emitting great clouds of diesel fumes.

But Baguio has its upsides too: it's much cooler, and it has a leafy Park in its center with open spaces, fountains, a lake packed with boats, and even a bumper car ride. It seems that everyone is out in the evening to enjoy it. Baguio also has the inevitable outdoor markets. As a city it's otherwise pretty desolate though, and almost all the restaurants I found are US fast food chains or local copies. Well, I only went here because it's the gateway to the Philippine Cordilleras...