Monday, April 11, 2016

The Philippines

For Chinese New Year Amy and I headed to the Philippines. We’ve been hoping to reach this island nation for quite a while. A short flight from our new home, we took the opportunity to explore a few different regions while Hong Kong was inundated with visitors from the mainland.

Our first stop was the capital city of Manila.  I was out of commission for the first two days due to a bug that I picked up in HK. Thankfully, I had a comfortable room with interesting neighbors to keep me company.

Amy was able to get out and explore the countryside around Manila. Situated in the Ring of Fire, the Philippines is dotted with volcanos. The most well-known volcano, Mount Pinatubo, is responsible for one of the largest eruptions of the 20th century. Amy visited the Taal Volcano, the second most active volcano in the Philippines. The volcano’s caldera is so large you can hardly tell that you are inside of it. The pictures below are of a cinder cone inside the actual caldera.

On the way back to Manila, Amy toured a Jeepney factory. Jeepney’s are unique to the Philippines and have become a national symbol. Originally created from jeeps left over from World War II, the cut, dropped and stretched jeeps are used for public mass transportation. In order to entice more business, Jeepney drivers decorate their Jeeps with lavish ornamentation and paint jobs. Even though the golden age of Jeepney’s has past, you still seem them everywhere.

The day wrapped up at the Las Piñas Church, known for its pipe organ made from bamboo. This unique and historic organ was originally built in 1816. Over the years, it has been damaged by earthquakes and typhoon's but has recently undergone renovation so that it can be played during services.

I recovered from my illness in time for us to hop on a puddle jumper and head to El Nido, on Palawan island. Often compared to Phuket in Thailand, El Nido's geography consists of towering limestone mountains, sheer cliffs, and beautiful beaches. We stayed at a hotel with an incredible view of Cadlao Island, which in my opinion, could be the inspiration for "Skull Island" in the King Kong movies.

Consisting of over 7,000 islands, it’s impossible to visit the Philippines without island hopping. Amy and I spent the next two days hopping in and out of catamarans as we explored the northern Palawan region.

Some of the most beautiful features of this rugged terrain are the secret beaches formed by tidal erosion of the limestone cliffs. From the water, many beaches are impossible to see, and in some cases, the entrance to the beach is underwater. We had to hold our breath and take the plunge in order to access these hidden gems.

Another perk of the hotel we stayed at was the use of a private island for lunch. Our boat beached itself on the white sand and we were treated to a copious island feast. Before coming to the Philippines we’d heard that the food was not the best, but we found all of the dishes we ate to be delicious.

Our time in El Nido came to a close way too quickly. But, the weather was clear, and Cebu City was calling.

After another puddle jump, we ended up on Cebu Island and headed south to the town of Oslob. We traded in our clothes for wetsuits and jumped into the water with the largest known fish on the planet, the Whale Shark!

Our dive with the Whale Sharks was incredible. We capped off the day visiting the nearby Tumalog Falls. The falls are beautiful, and different from most waterfalls that we've seen. They're covered in moss and vegetation, with scores of orchids growing over the face.

The next day we hopped a ferry to Bohol. Known for its "Chocolate Hills", Bohol is also the home to some very special creatures. Tarsiers are small primates that live almost exclusively on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. They are easily recognized by their big eyes.

These guys are nocturnal and sleep through the day. They're also extremely sensitive. If they get too stressed out, they will actually commit suicide by banging their head against a tree! Because of this, locals have created sanctuaries to help protect and foster healthy habitats for the Tarsiers.

After a fantastic stop at the Tarsier sanctuary, we motored on to the Chocolate Hills. We visited during the Spring, and not the Winter when the Chocolate Hills really show their Chocolately color. The hills are ancient limestone deposits that were formed by a combination of erosion and uplift... and just happen to resemble Hershey's Kisses.

The residents of Bohol have capitalized on the Chocolate Hills / Hershey's Kisses resemblance by producing their own, local, Peanut Kisses.

After visiting the Chocolate Hills, we stopped by a local botanical garden and butterfly sanctuary. Apparently, Tarsiers love to eat butterfly's, so Bohol needs lots of sanctuaries!

The butterfly in the picture above is actually playing dead. It's a defense mechanism that it has formed to fool predators. It sprung to life and flew off right after I snapped this photo!

We ended our trip with a late night paddle on the Abatan River. This is a special place because of the firefly's that call it home. The firefly's found here live in enormous colonies, usually on a single tree. The firefly's communicate using light, so the tree's shimmer like the water in the moonlight.

Our trip to the Philippines was incredible. The best part is that there is so much more to see. I can't wait for our next trip, and our next sisig dinner!

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