Friday, February 13, 2015

Hey Joe Viagra?

Went back to Manila. It's a monster of a city with an unbelievable traffic problem, but the oldest part of it, walled Intramuros, is a (mostly) quiet oasis with restored historic buildings, narrow streets, and a much slower way of life than outside. Part of it is given over to tourists, but just a few blocks away the locals have their shops and markets, with children playing on the street and the locals laughing and bantering.

Tourists for some reason don't like to stray from the paths laid out in their guide books, and the few who do, like me, become part of the banter. For some reason, we always seem to be called "Joe". I have been offered three wives along with various chemical enhancements. Despite the great colonial facades these people are quite poor but love to laugh a lot.

Also checked out a few other neighborhoods, but none with the charm and friendliness of Intramuros. Chinatown is a claustrophobic maze of traffic, shops, and noise, and the business districts are just faceless traffic disasters with the usual gigantic malls that the Filipinos are so enchanted with. Rizal Park, next to Intramuros, is a nice place for ending the day with people watching.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Logon to Maya

Malapascua is still unspoiled, beside the few dive centers at the beach most of it is still villages, fields, narrow sandy paths, and friendly people. I have walked for many hours on the island and chatted with people. They went through difficult times after the taiphoon, but there is a smile on everyone's face.

But I need to move on, so I went back to Logon beach and took a boat back to the town of Maya (were you expecting a CGI reference?). In fact I missed the last boat and bought a bunch of seats to make another one go. I am one of those annoying people with more money than time.

After a five-hour bus ride, which went fine because I got a front seat (Asian vehicles are not designed for long European legs), I found myself in Cebu City. There is nothing to do or see there so I simply checked into a random hotel,  got a windowless room that looked like a prison cell, and was asleep 15 minutes later. Next stop Manila.


Malapascua is a small island off the northern tip of large Cebu Island. Like on Boracay, diving is king here, but it's no party island. No McDonald's, no souvenir shops, no fancy resorts, no crowds of tourists. Apart from a few motorcycles, there are no motor vehicles on the island. You can walk all around it in an afternoon. All the dive centers are on the narrow south beach, the rest is where the locals live.

Taiphoon Yolanda hit Malapascua hard. It took roofs off, damaged ships, and destroyed 70% of all palm trees. There are countless stumps on the beach, dead bleached coral litters the beach, and all over the island people are repairing boats and buildings. The tourist village is already completely restored.

Stayed at the Little Mermaid dive center. For the first time, it all came together: a pleasant little resort, large bright rooms, a competent staff, and - for the first time - excellent food. The owner, Manfred, is German and he is a perfectionist. The big reason to come to Malapascua is the sharks and mantas; elsewhere marine life tends to be small.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Negros Occidental

Left Boracay. Beautiful place that reminds me in some ways of Bali away from Kuta and the Australians. But it's also clear then the Filipinos lack the Balinese's sense of beauty.

Time to get away from the beach crowds. From Caticlan it's a long van ride along the coast of Panay to the town of Iloilo. It's remarkable how much poorer the interior if the islands is - wooden buildings, straw roofs, and bamboo mat walls dominate outside of the few larger towns. The scenery is great, gently rolling green hills. Iloilo itself has little charm, and neither does Bacolod on the other side of a two-hour ferry ride on the island of Negros, which is divided in the Occidental and Oriental sides.

The van ride over the mountains of Negros Occidental is even more stunning than Panay, and also evidently poorer. My day ended at San Carlos on the southern end of Negros. The ferries won't leave until the morning so I stayed overnight. A nice green town with wide streets, used almost exclusively by three-wheelers, and the inevitable huge shopping mall in the middle with what must be the world's largest drugstore filled with brightly colored plastic knick-knacks.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Airplane dive

There is a large airplane not far off White Beach in Boracay, at a depth of close to 30m. They floated it there from the airport and let it sink. Unfortunately it flipped and is now upside-down. One can look into the cockpit and the cabin, see the toilet hanging from the ceiling, and admire the intricate design of the three jet engines. Odd that I had to dive to 30m to touch a jet fan blade; on airports this is discouraged. There are no seats, the plane was stripped. Eery.