Category: Travel

Danube River Cruise

 This year Dave, Bob and I did our first European river boat cruise together. Last summer Viking River Cruises was having a 2-for-1 sale so we decided to venture out from the usual university trips and try something new. The Viking River cruise ships are much bigger than anything we have done before, our trip had 188 guests on board. Although the ship accompanies a lot of people the layout is the same, two levels of rooms with the dining room and bar/lounge on those levels as well. There’s a third bottom level where the staff sleeps, and there’s a rooftop deck that spans the whole boat. The rooftop is covered in turf and has lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a life size chess set, and a shuffleboard court. 

 With this group we had at least four coaches for daily excursions instead of the one or two that we’re used to. There’s too many people on board to meet everyone, which makes the trip less intimate. Also, many of the daily activities, like a music concert and bike riding costs extra; and alcohol is not included in the price. All our previous trips have been all inclusive, but they have also been much pricier so I can’t complain.

Passau, Germany

We did a Danube River cruise from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary. The three of us took the train from Munich to Passau. Here we got a taxi which was driven by an older Bavarian woman. She drove us down the river to the far port where we boarded the ship. About an hour later the ship moved ports to be in the Old Town in Passau. After dinner Dave and I left the ship and walked through the town. It turns out it’s a university town full of young people. The Old Town is incredibly cute with a bunch of cobble stone streets. There is a long pedestrian shopping street and in general everyone looked very cheerful. It was a Monday night and the Irish pub the boat staff recommended to us was closed, so instead we just wandered.

The next morning we did a walking guided tour of the Old Town. A lot of the windows have painted trimming instead of the usual stonework which was a bit odd.    
That afternoon the boat cruised down towards Linz. Dave and I went to the roof deck and played shuffleboard; it was my first time playing and I loved it. The scenery was amazing. Deep greens hills, wooden country houses along the lake, and random bike riders peddling along the river road. The sun was hot and the drinks were cold. The boat had to cross two locks on the way down and I was able to touch the bridge as we passed under one. 

Linz, Austria

After dinner Dave and I walked through the the downtown city area of Linz. It was a Monday night and the city was pretty quite. We found ourself on an endless shopping street. We ended up in Sax bar, which ended up being a gay bar. There was a drunk dog owner and I took the leash to play with the dog. We got back to the ship and finished watching The Sound of Music which we had started earlier. 

   [After Salzburg the next day Dave and I walked back into Linz and got haircuts. We went to a nice place but our hairdressers seemed untrained and we both walked out with German-looking hair. My girl did not know how to properly layer or angle and my hair is stiff and dead straight across in the back.] 

 

Salzburg, Austria

The next morning we took a two hour bus ride to Salzburg. Along the way we had a rest stop at a restaurant overlooking a lake. The alps were in the background and it was the most amazing view. We sat and sipped coffee taking it all in. 

 We were dropped off in the New Town of Salzburg and with our audio tour walked across the bridge and into the Old Town. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and I was incredibly excited to see many of the places they filmed. We saw the fountain and arbor where Do Re Me was filmed, as well as the hotel Julie Andrews stayed at while filming. 

    Mozart was from Salzburg. We saw his birthplace which is a yellow apartment building on the main shopping street in the Old Town. We also walked past his residence which is a pink house in town. Many places in Salzburg are named after him. There’s the Mozart Hotel, the music school, the restaurant, the bar, the park, a statue, etc. 

 Each of the stores in the old town has an iron sign that represents what the store originally sold. Many people used to be unable to read and therefor pictures were useful. There’s a key for key store, dressed women for the clothing shop, a Lion for Lions den bar (which is now McDonald’s,) etc. 

 After walking with the group we set out on our own and took the tram up the mountain to the fort. We had lunch at the outdoor cafe on the top overlooking the city. We tried to do the interior tour but the wait was too long so instead we walked around the exterior.      Back in town we met up with the group at the square where Cafe Tomaselli Seit 1703 is. It’s the oldest coffee shop in Salzburg. Before getting back on the bus I stopped at the farmers market and bought tomatoes to snack on.   

 

Melk, Austria

In the morning we took a walking tour of the Stift Melk abbey. The exterior of the abbey is traditional with great views of the Danube River and the town below. The interior of part of the abbey has been turned into a museum with neon lights. 

     The tour stopped at the library which had floor to ceiling bookshelves which reminded me of the library in Beauty and the Beast. Then we went through the church and were able to stand in the back and observe the end of a prayer; locals sat in the benches. When the priest was finished speaking Bob walked all the way down the aisle and asked the priest if he knew where the toilets were. 

There was an optional 30km biking excursion from Melk port to Durnstein port which about twenty of us younger-ish folk opted to do while the boat cruised down. Dave and I started last and went to the right, which we saw the group do as well but we were no longer with them. About fifteen minutes down the river pathway we went onto a bridge that crossed over the Danube. We decided to stop and take a photo on the bridge, and then also to check google maps to make sure there would be another bridge eventually so we could get back onto the right side of the river. It turns out we were going in the opposite direction, we were going towards Linz and not Vienna. We also realized that neither one of us knew which town our ship was docking at. We peddled back to our ship and discovered that it had already left. Luckily there was a different Viking ship there so they called and found out all the details for us, and gave us directions how to get onto the river path going in the right direction, towards Vienna.  

The road to get out of Melk was very confusing. We thought we finally figured it out and then we ended up in an army area and had to turn around again. Eventually we made it to the scenic bike path along the river. Along the 30km we drove past a castle, a few small villages, and through a lot of forest. On the other side of the river there were ruins of castles, farming along the mountains, and a few slightly bigger towns. The last hour or so of the trip we rode through vineyards, specifically the Gruner vineyard which is the wine we’d been drinking frequently on the ship. We also passed many apricot and peach farms but they weren’t ripe yet. 

  
 Luckily our GPS worked because there were absolutely no signs for Durnstein. We reached a playground near the waterfront and immediately realized we were on the wrong side of the river and there were no bridges anywhere nearby- we saw our Viking ship on the other side. Luckily there was a motorboat ferry that we were able to take across. We saw the group of bikers approach the ship and it turns out we made it (sort of) before they did. I played in the playground and we admired the view of Durnstein before we took the ferry across. The captain of the ferry was a British guy from London; we chatted with him for a while. 

  
  We dropped off the bikes then headed for a stroll through Durnstein, a tiny village on the hill. Many of the shops made their own apricot schnapps, so we made sure to try a shot. We wandered around and discovered that one man owns almost all of the property including the five star hotel.

We came back to the ship and played shuffleboard. We even got Bob to play with us and it turns out he’s great and be beat both of us. He did injure himself once by banging his thumb against his hip- OPP (old people problems.)  

Vienna, Austria
We woke-up in Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Almost every single building is old and ornate. We did a bus tour along the famous Ringstrasse. We passed the Opera House, which is famous for Mozart performing there, the Imperial garden, Parliament, Town Hall, the last remains of the city wall, a votive church with a double tower facade, and more. 

        We then got out of the bus for a walking portion. We walked into Place Maria-Theresa, then Heldenplatz. We saw the Archbishop of Vienna giving a speech outside; it happened to be a religious holiday that day.

We walked past the city horse stables, and down the high end shopping street to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the cathedral but we did sit at Do&Co coffee shop across and watched the procession with the archbishop go by. 

   That afternoon we went to Schonbrunn Palace, a UNESCO site. It is a former summer residence, most recently decorated during Maria Theresa in the 1740-50s. It has 1,441 rooms and we were able to see about ten of them. The palace is compared to Versailles and although the interior and exterior of the palace is vast, rich and beautiful, it cannot compare. 
     Later that evening we went to a Mozart and Strauss classical music concert in a Viennese palace, wiener borsensale, in the city. The musicians were occasionally joined by a ballet couple, and an opera singing couple. It seemed that all the performers were has beens, or just never made it; not to say they weren’t talented. 


Bratislava, Slovakia

The next morning we woke-up in Bratislava and had a bus and walking tour. We first went to a palace on the hill, then into the old town. A few buildings were run down but it still looked like many other old European towns with small streets and tourists shops. After the group tour we walked on our own down a tree lined plaza and stopped at Good Mood coffee shop where they gave us creamy coffee topped with ice cream when we ordered iced coffees. 

  
     
That afternoon we spent on the roof deck of the ship playing shuffle board and sun bathing while we travelled down the river. We entered into a massive lock and another Viking boat came in next to us. Together we sank at least 60 feet before the opposite lock doors opened. 

 Budapest, Hungary

That night was the Captains farewell cocktails and dinner, then at 10:15pm the whole ship gathered on the roofdeck to watch our entrance into Budapest. We were all decked out in jackets and blankets although it ended up being warm enough to walk around. The entrance was magnificent. The city completely lights up and sitting near the Danube is the Huge ornate Parliament building, as well as many grand churches and a palace. The view from our cabin that night was of the old Chain Bridge and the Buda Castle. 

    We woke up to the same great view of Buda from the Pest side of the Danube. In the morning we did a bus tour of the Buda side of the city, then did a walking tour through the old town. We stopped at Matthius Church which is one of my favorites of all time. The exterior and interior is decked out in different patterns. The exterior roof is decorated with colorful tiles, and the interior with bright colorful paint. 

     Right next to the church is Fisherman’s Bastion, which looks like a princess castle entrance. 

    We walked around the old town which was full of old colorful doors. Every apartment building had one. 

We then did a bus tour around Pest. After lunch on the ship we drove out into the country to Lazar Equestrian Park for the Puszta horse show. We sat and watched a performance and then rode on a carriage, I got the front seat. There was also a small farm area which had lambs with antlers and rainbow colored chickens. 

      After our last dinner on the cruise we watched a traditional Hungarian dance show. The men and women who performed wore traditional ballroom dancing outfits- tuxedos and princess gowns. When all the adults went to bed a few of us went out. Along the waterfront local teenagers and adults drank bottles of wine and/or vodka; this seemed to be the place to hangout. There’s no railing along the edge of the water and people get pretty smashed.

We walked right under the Chain Bridge to an outdoor bar. The bar was a mix of tourists and locals, and it drew a nicer crowd. We drank rose spritzes and took a shot of traditional Hungarian flavored liquor, which a lot of locals were drinking. We danced and I met a bachelorette group where the bridal party all wore white and the bachelorette wore red.

Budapest continued on next post…

Munich, Germany

 We landed in the airport and took Subway 8 to Marienplatz, the main town square in Munich. The ride was approx. 45 minutes. The city center square has the massive neo-Gothic new town hall as the focal point. The clock tower soars into the sky and the facade of the building is adorned with gargoyles. At noon we watched a figurine show below the clock. 

After we walked through the old town hall and down the pedestrian street to Hofbräuhaus, a massive beer hall. We sat in the patio out back. We each ordered a liter of beer and shared a big pretzel and a platter or sausages with sauerkraut. Although it seemed like a tourist spot most of the people sitting outdoors were locals. One table of guys was drunk singing German beer songs. There were women walking around in traditional outfits selling pretzels, and there was a traditionally dressed band with a harp and an accordion. 

   After lunch we walked over to Vikualiennarkt, an outdoor food market. It was Sunday and unfortunately that was closed along with all the shops in the city. There wasn’t much to do so we decided to make our way to the train station for our next destination. We bought tickets to Passau then boarded our train. After an hour we got off and boarded a bus, then another train. It was orderly and I felt like I was back in Asia, just on a much shorter commuting trip; it only took 2.5 hours to get to our destination. 
 

Warsaw, Poland

 Our flight departed from NYC at 6pm and we landed in Warsaw at 11:30am the following morning. We flew KLM (also Delta) and had a 4-hour layover in Amsterdam where we ate smoked salmon sandwiches, a must-do when I’m in that region. In the past seven months I became accustomed to non-American airlines and it was incredibly disappointing to go back to one- the food and plane were crappy.
We grabbed a taxi at the airport which ended up costing $25 USD to get to the Old Port. I booked us four nights at Castle Inn, a unique boutique hotel in the main square of the Old Town. Each room in the hotel is unconventional and decorated differently. The three of us stayed in the “Comic Book” family room, which has black and white cartoon images of the city on the walls and grand pre-war furniture. 

 When we first checked in we took a nap. Dave and I didn’t sleep at all on the trip over here and by this point we were exhausted. Around 2pm we made our way outside and walked along the cobble stone streets of the Old Town. The medieval buildings are all different muted colors and each has a decorative design ex. decorative painted facades or window panes. 

We ate lunch at Bazyliszek outdoor cafe in Rynek Starego Miasta, a big square in the Old Town behind our hotel. The square is lined with restaurants; we chose the most popular one that still had some sunlight hitting the tables. Dave and I tried some Polish beers, I had Ksiazece red lager, which tasted like a mix of Heineken and a decent Canadian red beer. For food we split pierogis and polish sausages.
After lunch we walked back and took another nap. We then headed back out around 9pm to Portretowa, a cute restaurant we passed by earlier. The outside is covered in vines and florals, and the inside was the perfect old European feel with tall ceilings, a low wooden bar, walls adorned in oil paintings and eclectic vintage accessories, and lace linens. I ordered the beetroot soup with dumplings, and the steak tartar, which was tasteless. Bob’s roasted duck was delicious. With our bill we each received a shot or cherry vodka (tased like real cherries,) the perfect nightcap. 

 The next morning we slept in then went to Cafe Baguette for breakfast. We sat outdoors in the sun and I munched on a (real European) tomato mozzarella panini and sipped an Americano. After we walked all the way down the trending Nowy Swiat street. This street is touristy as it stems from the Old Town but it is cute and not too overcrowded. There are outdoor cafes and shops, and the sidewalk is dotted with Chopin musical benches; Chopin was from Warsaw. There’s stencil graffiti on the side streets. We stopped to look inside a church which was decorated differently from any I had ever seen. The walls were white and there were vintage crystal chandeliers- the beautiful type I want to steal from my grandmothers house. 
 We kept on going all the way to Lazienkowsi Park, the largest part in Warsaw. Within the park we saw the Chopin monument and the Lazienki Palace on the lake. We did the palace audio tour. The interior was beautiful with gold accents and jewel toned walls. There was a lot of artwork which sparked my dads interest. After we had lunch at a outdoor cafe behind the amphitheater. 
   At night we took the cable bus line 227 to the other side of the river to Soho Factory, a new industrial square which has a neon sign museum, a restaurant, etc. Here we ate at Warszawa Wschodnia, a trendy Polish/French restaurant that was recommended to me by someone along my travels. The restaurant was in a massive loft space with brick walls and an industrial ceiling. The design is very Scandinavian with light wooden furniture, white table wear, and green plants throughout. There is a live jazz band and the piano looks like the tale of a whale, sleek. As a foreigner the prices are almost half the price as they would be at home, which allowed us to indulge and feel good about it. David had the quail which was served in a ceramic pot and came with a side of mashed unseasoned beets- very Polish. 

The next morning we went back to Cafe Baguette then walked to the Polin museum, the new Jewish museum. It took us about three hours to walk through the museum with the audio guide. The museum tour leads you from one room to another very smoothly. Each room has a different layout and is incredibly interactive; it’s one of the best designed museums I’ve ever seen. The most interesting thing I learned here is that Poland is still antisemitic and that there aren’t many Jewish Pols in the country. 

   After lunch we walked down Gen. Wl. Andersa street towers the city center. We stopped at a Sphinx for lunch, a Polish version of Applebee’s. The food was good and place wasn’t as cheap looking as I expected.

We then walked over to Nozyk synagogue, the only surviving prewar synagogue. It was closed so we couldn’t go inside but from the outside it didn’t look like we missed much. The synagogue had a double barrier all around, two metal fences to protect it from cars. After Bob tried all the entrances we put him into a taxi and sent him home. 

 Dave and I walked across the street and watched a small legalize marijuana march where everyone looked under the age of twenty-five. We then circled the base of Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland, looking for a way inside. Eventually we made it up to viewing deck on top; we were soaring over the city at only 30 floors up. The city is incredibly green with parks every few blocks. We saw this as we walked around but it was even more apparent from above. 
     When we exited the building it began to rain and was on and off for a few minutes. It ended with a double rainbow. We shopped right nearby in the city center, and walked down the pedestrian only Chmielna street which was hopping with locals and tourists. We stopped for ice cream which we constantly saw people eating. It was early evening Saturday and this time Nowy Swiat street was packed. There was a live traditional Polish band with the lead singer also playing a flute. There were random music performers, and a “ghetto” white break dance group that was choreographed. [They have nothing on our NYC performers.] I was attacked in the Old Town square by a massive collection of balloons. When it got dark a fire dancer came out.

For dinner we stayed in our lively neighborhood and ate at Trattoria Rucola. The interior walls were covered in wallpaper that looked like we were in a park. I ordered the big Prosciutto pizza which was massive and delicious. 

 The next morning we left for the airport at 7:30am. It only took fifteen minutes to get to the airport. We flew Lufthansa to Munich. 

Manila, Philippines

  I landed in Manila around noon and took a white taxi from the departure floor; the yellow taxi’s on the arrival floor charge twice as much. The taxi driver had absolutely no idea where he was going even though I showed him a map. NYC taxi drivers are so smart, sometimes I forget that. I stayed at Z Hostel in Makati, the high-end financial district. The hostel is on the outskirts near the river in a more local area. The hostel is sleek and modern with a trending rooftop bar. I paid $10 for the 10-person dorm. 

I happened to be checking in the same time the owner was leaving and he offered to give me a ride to Greenhills mall, the bargaining mall aka all the local stuff. I went to buy gifts and I walked out with nothing. For one thing I thought it was going to be local handicrafts but it was all just knockoff stuff. It was a mad house of people screaming at me “hello mam,” ” buy this mam.” I ran through the clothes and pearls and couldn’t handle it. I did ask about a few pearls but I knew they were more than quadrupling what it should cost and I didn’t have the patience to deal with it.
I waited on an hour cab line and then got stuck in typical Manila traffic trying to get back downtown. When I got back to the hostel I ended up talking to a few of the other owners and went to Chinese dinner with them. I then went out that night to the soft-opening of the new speakeasy Ocean Telephone Company. The place reminded me of a bar in New York but in the nineties with all the cigarette smoke.
That night my phone was stolen from under my pillow while I was sleeping. There’s a local Filipino checking into hostels and stealing from other guests. He left around 5am without checking out and took his key.
In the afternoon I headed out phone-less to the Fort area, the old Spanish part of town. I walked around through the local streets and saw the two big churches. I walked up onto the fort wall to see the view of the neighborhood. 

      

 I decided to take a jeepny and the metro to get back to my hostel. I boarded a jeepny and ended up riding in it for over an hour during rush hour. I didn’t mind the heat or the crowd but I felt like I was riding in the wrong, and I didn’t have a cell phone to follow google maps. When I did get off I decided to jump into a cab because the metro looked like a nightmare. It turns out I was on the opposite side of town. The taxi ended up costing the same as it would have cost from the beginning, and it took about an hour from there.

I got dropped of at Ayala Mall in Makati. It’s a five mall complex. I ended up being completely overwhelmed and got out within thirty minutes with no purchases. 

 

I took a cab back to my hostel area and had two back to back massages, Thai followed by Swedish, for $14. I stayed up late having my last few Red Horse beers at the hostel bar with one of the owners. The next morning I woke-up and had my last cheap manicure and pedicure for less than $10. I then had lunch at a local chicken place with the owner before heading to the airport.
My flights to NYC were with Saudi Airline. At the airport I was asked to keep my shoulders covered otherwise they wouldn’t check me in. My first flight was 13 hours to Jeddah. I then had a 6 hour layover and and another 13 hour flight until I got home. 

 

Dumaguete, Negros, Philippines

 

I arrived in the Dumaguete pier from Bohol and took a tricycle ride to Kav’s Beach Resort. The hotel was much farther from Dumaguete than I expected. It was a forty minute ride and cost 300 pesos. I stayed in the dorm for $8 not including breakfast. Kav’s is a hotel on the beach with a pool. It got great reviews on TripAdvisor for the beach so I came for that, but it turns out the beach is gray sand and dirty.  I was the only person in the 8-bed dorm, and in the hotel there was a couple and a Chinese family. There’s a restaurant with wifi and a tv right next to the pool so that is where I spent most of my time. [I attempted to do a beach walk and it was too dirty so I went back.]

My first afternoon I lounged by the pool and in the restaurant. Before dinner we watched The Truman Show on TV and the locals found the entire concept very amusing, but they really liked it. For dinner I had halang halang, a Filipino chicken soup made from coconut milk. I then sat there and watched tv/ chatted with the workers.
At the restaurant there was the couple, an American guy around my age and a Filipino girl whose maybe eighteen. He asked if he can call her sexy mama and she said yes- I don’t think she knew what he was asking.
The Chinese family sat at another table. One of the boys brought a pineapple and asked for a knife. He then sat there and attempted to cut the pineapple with a butter knife. The locals and I couldn’t stop laughing.
The next morning I had breakfast then the chef drove me on his motorbike to Acqua Divers, a hotel and dive shop owned and run by a Korean woman and her Australian husband. Diving here was 5,150 pesos ($115) for 3 dives, equipment, lunch and the park fee. This was the most expensive spot I’ve been to but it was worth it.
My dive that day was with my dive master KF, a Thai couple and the owners. Except for me all the divers had massive underwater cameras and were there solely to take photos. 

         

Apo Island is famous for it’s coral formations and it did not disappoint. The coral at all the dives looked like a beautiful underwater secret garden. Our first dive was at Rock Point West and it was my favorite. 
Second we went to Coconut, which is the most famous site but also the most dangerous. There was a drift and I went flying over a wall. Luckily I found coral I could grab onto, and one by one people started to fly by me and grabbed whatever they could too. To top it off I had mask problems so I really didn’t enjoy this dive that much.
We then docked on Apo Island shore for lunch. After eating my boxed lunch I walked down the beach and collected a handful of beach glass. 

     

Our last dive was at Katipanan. This dive we stayed shallow to admire the garden and turtles. We saw five turtles and I took a photoshoot with one.
After diving I relaxed at Acqua Dive for a while. I swam in the big pool and took full advantage of their wifi. The owners are really nice and took great care of me; they even had a worker drive me home for free. Mark, my chauffeur driving a motocross bike, pulled over because there was a checkpoint. The cops randomly put up check points checking for vehicle licenses. Within ten minutes there were about a hundred motorbikes on the side of the road waiting for the cops to leave. It took about thirty minutes but eventually we made our way. In he meantime I watched the sunset and did a photoshoot with a cow. 

   

The next morning I woke up early to enjoy my last morning at my hotel. I had a muesli and mango breakfast and lounged by the pool. At noon I walked to the main road and flagged down a jeepny. It cost 20 pesos to get back to Dumaguete. 

 

I got off the jeepny in the middle of the city near the park. I then walked to Harold’s Mansion, the backpacker hostel on the other side of the university. The hostel is the only backpacker spot in town. I paid 250 pesos for the girls dorm with ensuite bathroom. There’s a restaurant/common space on the roof.
I really wanted to go trekking again before leaving the Philippines, and before throwing away my sneakers. One of the draws to staying at Harold’s was that they organize day tours; however, when I checked in they said no one ever signs up for them, and it’s too expensive to pay for it alone.
So I then walked into the city to the Tourism Office. I asked there if there are any tour organizers in the city and she just stared at me, apparently there aren’t any. It’s very bizarre since there’s a massive mountain behind the city with a bunch of trekking opportunities. She called the park department for me and it’s possible for me to hire a guide for the day for $23 plus I have to pay a park fee. So I decided to walk around a bit more and see if there really aren’t any companies. I checked with a few hotels and guesthouses and they also arrange tours but no one is signed up to go. 

       

After trekking around the city I went to Bristol Massage & Spa (past the police station) for a massage. The place feels like a five star spa and costs the same as one of the dingier place, 300 pesos for an hour Swedish massage. I had that plus a 30 minute foot massage. My masseuse was a male and he was incredible. It felt like he was designing pottery on my skin; I was a piece of artwork.
Later on I walked to Hayahay, a restaurant/bar complex on the waterfront. I met up with a girl that I met in Borneo. For dinner we had steamed grouper with onions and ginger, sautéed spinach with seafood, and fried rice. The fish melted in my mouth.
After dinner I went to the rooftop of my hostel and chatted with the few people sitting up there. I met one girl whose my age from Binghamton. Like everyone else she thought I was from Southern Cali. 
The next morning I woke up and walked across the city to Robinson’s Mall. I saw Avengers 2 for $3.80. I’m going to miss going to the movies when I get home. I then ate lunch in the promenade.
For dinner I went to Mooon Cafe with the Binghamton girl and two boys from the hostel. We split loaded nachos and feasted on the fake cheese. 
The next morning I took a flight to Manila from the Dumaguete airport. 

Alona Beach, Panglao, Philippines

On the ferry to Bohol I sat next to a Filipino man from Cebu who lived on 72nd and West End Ave and worked at Sherry Lehman for eight years in the 1990s. Small world. We shared a tricycle ride to Alona beach on Panglao Island, then went our separate ways.

I scoured the beach for a budget room but was unable to find any on the beach front. I had read online that many of the resorts have budget rooms in the back but I found that not only are these budget rooms usually unavailable but they are also not really budget. I ended up getting a room at Alona Bamboo down a narrow rocky road for 500 pesos ($11.) The room is simple- a small room upstairs in the back with a mattress on the floor, and the bathroom is the public bathroom in the breakfast area. 

The older woman who works behind the desk seemed lovely and answered all my questions about the town. It wasn’t until I stayed a few nights that she showed her true colors and became rather unfriendly. After checking in and talking with her I wandered the beach checking out dive shops. I ended up choosing Valm Dive Shop because they’re the only dive shop that still had space the following day for Balicasag, the reason for diving here. I also lucked out because it’s the cheapest dive shop I could find, 2,300 pesos for two dives including the park fee ($52.)
I then wandered up and around town and down the road parallel to the beach. I was looking for local food because all the restaurants on the beach from are too expensive, approx. $4 for a plate. I ended up finding Dahon Dahon, a local street restaurant that was recommended by the woman at my hotel. It’s a food stand with three small plastic tables with chairs. I particularly liked the turquoise table clothes and colored umbrellas. 

  

I asked the man behind the counter for his speciality and was served the pork steak in black bean sauce, and a banana shake, for $2 total. While I was eating an Swedish woman came by who seemed to be associated with the stand but she also ate as a customer. I began talking to her and it turns out she’s Swedish but has lived in Alona for almost twenty years as a dive instructor. 
Eventually the three of us were talking and the woman and the local invited me to join them for dinner the next night to celebrate Fiesta. Fiesta is a local celebration throughout the town where everyone goes to each other’s houses to eat, non-stop, for a couple of days. Technically it’s a time to celebrate saints, this time was Saint Carlos, but in general more people seem to care about the eating than the religious side.
After my late lunch I walked the beach and had a foot massage. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was but I fell asleep right away when I got home. 

Later on I went back to Dahon Dahon for dinner. There were a few locals already eating there. I grabbed the only remaining table and ordered the chop suey and chicken fried rice ($1.50.) While I was eating a few French boys came and they joined me. They are still in university and are volunteering abroad as part of their major. They were in Bohol just for a few days and we’re eating only white rice and sleeping on the beach to save money. I’m traveling on a tight budget but they bring it to a new level.

The next morning I woke-up, had breakfast at my guesthouse, then walked down the beach to Valm. I got my equipment together and the boat headed out to Balicasag Island at 8:30am. I was the only diver with Valm that day so we joined another company’s boat since and I ended up lucking out twice. First off the other companies boat was huge, and second I had my own dive master for the day, Raffy. 

 The first site we did was Rico’s Wall and I honestly didn’t like it. It was a wall dive but the colors were dull and the sea life and coral were mediocre compared to what I’ve been seeing. In many way it reminded me of a Caribbean dive which is not what I want to see here.

The second dive was at Black Forest, which was better. It was a drift dive  and we split our time between the sand bottom and the wall. Here I saw a massive tornado of jackfish in the blue- Raffy had to pull me back because I was drifting too far off to get closer. I got up close to a turtle, and saw a lot of really cool FAUNA moving with the drift. I love watching fish try to swim against the drift as well. And I especially love this one plant I found which had floral pods that opened and closed non-stop. 

            After diving I stopped at Aquatic for lunch, the cheapest restaurant on the bean. All the local places were closed because of Fiesta. I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce which was risky but it was the cheapest thing on the menu. I got a plate of overcooked spaghetti covered in some type of a ketchup-y sauce with bit of pork meat and sprinkled with Filipino fake cheese. 

 

I took a nap after lunch then at 6pm went back to Dahon Dahon to meet up with my new friends to celebrate Fiesta. We walked down the road, and into a local neighborhood to a family members house.
For Fiesta the grandfather went to the nearby town and bought a dead pig the day before. The whole pig then came home and was chopped up. Every part of the pig is used for cooking including the blood. When I arrived at the house the pig leg was in a large round metal pot over fire in the kitchen out back.
I had a great evening and felt incredibly welcome the whole time. 
For food we were served pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork in ginger, pork blood, and a soy/vinegar beef dish. The beef and sautéed pork were delicious. All night we ate, drank and chatted. Randomly different friends and family arrived to eat too.
The next morning I bought beer and went back to the house to celebrate day 2 of Fiesta, and to watch the Pacquiao Mayweather boxing match. Everyone in the Philippines was riled up about the match, so proud that Pacquiao (one of their own) made it all the way. When Pacquiao lost no one was upset and they’re all still just as proud of him. [Manny Pacquiao should have one that fight, he won 8 out of the 12 matches.]

Watching the match on a local Filipino station was amusing. There was a commercial break every few minutes and then the same commercials played every time and in the same order. Of these commercials about a quarter of them had Paquol as a sponsor. But my favorite commercial was for canned chicken called Sexy Chix.

This day lunch was served buffet style indoors. There was pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork with root vegetables, roasted pork, pork blood, pork spring rolls, pork cordon bleu, coleslaw, rice and sweet rolls. I ate twice here just in the early afternoon. The house was crowded with family and friends to watch the match, and to eat and drink.  

Around 3pm we left and went to another house for Fiesta. This home was a friend of the Swedish woman. Again I felt incredibly welcome. Food here was different and more variety. There was fish and eggplant in spicy coconut milk, chicken curry, pork, vegetable spring rolls, and pork balls. I sat outside with a few locals boys and was given a never ending glass of coconut wine, which was surprisingly not sweet.
Around 5pm I headed home with the desperate need to jump in the ocean. It had been incredibly hot all day and I was constantly drenched in sweat, in normal clothes. So I changed and headed to the beach. I laid in the shallow water and admired all the starfish. Then I had an hour body massage on the beach, watched the sunset, and headed home for the night. I had already had five meals and it wasn’t even 7pm yet, so I didn’t need dinner. 

 

The next morning I took a motorbike to the pier in Bohol and bought a ticket for the 10:30am boat to Dumaguette with OceanJet. The ticket cost 700 pesos plus the 15 for terminal fee ($16 total), which seemed very expensive for a 3.5 hour ferry. I got on the ferry and it turns out the woman put me in the last seat upstairs, which was soaking wet from the rain and was the only seat now in the blaring sun. So I waited downstairs for the ferry to board and then I grabbed a open seat in the AC.

Cebu City, Philippines

  I landed in Cebu airport and took a white meter taxi to Tune Hotel near the Ayala Mall. I had a cold and needed to get some real R & R outside of a hostel. Tune is a budget hotel at $40 a night but it’s modern and clean.  

I mostly stayed in the room watching tv, sleeping and doing errands online, but I did venture out during my one full day there. Cebu looks a lot like Spanish Harlem in NYC. There are fried chicken joints, Spanish music playing, and NY references all around. 

     

I went out to find a post office and ended up on a four hour wild goose chase. On Google it says there’s a post office near the Capitol. I walked the thirty minutes there and was told by a police officer that it no longer exists. He sent me 2km away and when I got there nothing existed. I asked a shop and they sent me to San Carlos University post office. When I got there I was told they don’t have one. The security officer there sent me nearby to Cebu Normal University and across the street I found a post office that doesn’t ship boxes to the U.S. I then walked towards home and went into Robinson Mall where there was a local shipping carrier, the only one around. It would cost me over $100 to send a small package home so I skipped it.  

I went to the grocery store in the mall and bought veggie snacks. I then took a cab to Ayala mall where I spent an hour walking around the insanity looking for a camera shop. I found three and none of them carried the GoPro red filter. I doubt I’ll ever find one in Asia.
For lunch/dinner I bought a pepper roasted chicken from Metro Supermarket then headed back to the hotel. 

 

The next morning I headed to Pier 1 for a ferry to Bohol at 10:40am with OceanJet. I was encountered with the most crowded and unorganized terminal I’ve ever seen. The ride was 2 hours and cost 550 pesos. 

 

Coron, Busuanga Island, Philippines

  In Coron town I stayed at SeaDive on the waterfront. I got one of the budget rooms for 450 pesos ($10) a night but since I dived there I got 10% off the room. My room was behind the dive shop. A basic double with a shared bathroom. The hotel complex is directly on the water and I could see the sea through my bedroom floorboards.  

I came to Coron to dive the Japanese shipwrecks so right away I headed to the dive shop. Switzerland and I signed up for 2 days of diving. We then walked into town to Big Mama’s restaurant for dinner. After ordering the power in the whole town went out but our restaurant seemed to be the only place with a generator. 

 

The next morning we woke-up and had breakfast at the hotel overlooking the water. We ordered and forty minutes later we got our food. The chef forgot and then I ended up getting my eggs cooked wrong. A bit annoying. I had an egg with the homemade pork sausage which was delicious but a greasy fatty mess.
Our first dive of the day was at Lake Barracuda, a fresh and saltwater lake in an old crater. It’s thermocline ranges from 28C at the top to 38C at the very bottom. There are three layers of climate.
The boat parked and we had to swim to shore with our gear on, and walk up and down stairs to get to the lake in the island. Luckily I didn’t slip because it would have hurt a lot.
The dive was interesting. There wasn’t much sea-life except for a bunch of small catfish, and colors were non-existent. There were massive rock formations and a few underwater trees. Although the dive was visually boring the temperature changing was very cool. At 38C it felt like an insanely hot jacuzzi and the water looked like oil in between levels. 

 

Our second dive was at Tangat wreck. I was having mask issues with this dive but we penetrated the boat and saw a jail cell and a family of lion fish. 

 

The third dive we went to Olympia Maru wreck. Here we went through the cargo door and small passages. I really liked the coral garden on the top deck of this wreck. 

 

That night we ate dinner at the local street food spot right next to our hotel. There’s a chicken man selling whole roasted chickens. Then there’s the guy who grills everything- meat skewers, calamari, fish, pork slabs, minced pork, corn on the cob, etc. There’s the convenience stand lady in the back with the cheap mango shakes. That night we got a whole chicken, a whole calamari, 2 corn on the cobs and a mango shake each. There were 3 of us and we paid 160 pesos each, which is not even $4. 

 

The next day we went out for our full day of shipwrecks. Our first site was Akitsushima wreck, the only battleship in the area. This is my favorite wreck to date. The lighting inside this ship was incredible with tall windows throughout. There is a ton of moss and sea life on the walls. 

 

Next we went to Taiei Maru wreck, the longest ship at approximately 200 meters. This boat was huge and very dark. There is a Japanese jaw bone left for divers to see.
Last we went to East Tangat wreck, the smallest wreck I’ve seen. There were a lot of divers around and not enough wreck to go around. It was not a great last dive, except that the boat was shallow enough that photos show the true color. [I still can't find a GoPro red filter in any stores.]

   

After diving we headed to Le Bistro Coron to play pool and have dinner. A few locals raved about this place but we were disappointed. There were children running around the pool table while we tried to play, and at one point they were playing soccer with a dead cockroach. We also encountered the male western owner scolding his local femal employees. As for dinner the portions were small and the food was mediocre. I ordered the kinilaw and it was covered in mayo.
The next day we went island hoping. We did Tour A with JG Travel. We first boarded a boat and realized we were the only non-Filipino. There was a long bench on either side of the boat- one had four people and the other had two. Before we even had a chance to sit the two people switched to the other side leaving us alone on one side, and doc people on the other. We told them to come back but they wouldn’t. 
About five minutes later we were switched to another boat with other westerners. There was us, two Polish boys, a Peru/Japan couple, an African/Thai couple, and a Danish/Filipino couple. Very multicultural. In general people were antisocial even though I attempted to talk to everyone, and the two Polish boys were especially unfriendly when I guessed they were Russian- one of them looked incredibly Russian.
On the tour we went to five islands. First we went to a tiny dot of an island with a small beach. I snorkeled but the only thing to see were Black Sea urchins.      
Next we went to a snorkel spot. Then a hidden beach where we had lunch. 

       

Then we went to Coron Island for the famous Kayangan Lake, the clearest freshwater lake in Asia. Personally I loved the freshwater but it didn’t seem any clearer than the other lakes we went to. 

     

There were two bamboo rafts in the lake and I hoped on one of them with a local boy and two British girls. The boy paddled us around the far corner of the lake and I got a chance to see how big it is. When we got pretty far out I could see that he regretted bringing us there. He was exhausted and struggled getting us back. We offered to help but we were pretty useless.
When we got back Switzerland and I walked home from the boat port through the local tourist market area which sits in a massive empty sand lot. 

 

That night we went to Coffee Kong for the wifi, then had street food for dinner. I then got a mani/pedi across the street. The woman who did my pedi asked me what was wrong with my voice and I told her it was my normal voice. 
After we went to HellDiver, the bar at our hotel. At first it was almost empty but by midnight it was crowded and we were drinking with the local hotel employees. One was obsessed with me so I made a quick exit when I was ready to leave.
The next morning I took the shuttle to the airport. I had a flight to Cebu at 10:40am. I had a slight fiasco with my backpack because it was overweight at 12kg but eventually I got it through as carry on; this was the first time I’ve ever had an issue this whole trip.
The one airport waiting room was packed as we waited for our plane to arrive. When it finally did there was a drum percussion for the entering passengers. It felt just like I was back in the Caribbean.
More dive photos: 

                    

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

  I arrived at the bus station in El Nido and was greeting by a bunch of tricycles, the Filipino version of the tuk-tuk. The tricycles look like they came out of back to the future. Each one is decorated differently, and they all look and feel like they’re about to fall apart.  

My first two nights I stayed at Our Melting Pot, the popular backpacker spot. I was shocked when I first arrived and saw that the only hanging out spot is a tiny narrow room next to the reception downstairs. Advertised it says that there’s a rooftop deck but apparently that’s just being built now.
I stayed in the 6-bed dorm upstairs which was clean and quite. However, on my third day I came back to the hostel and the guy at the desk tells me I have to move to the 10-bed dorm because no one wrote down that I was staying longer, even though I told two of them. The 10-bed dorm was cramped and crowded. They were triple bunks and I was shoved into the top bunk (third up) in the corner. I got attacked by bed bugs within two hours of trying to fall asleep and after killing a few I got out of bed to complain. It was 5am and the guy manning the front desk just stared at me. He said he would change the sheets in the morning and that the hostel is full. An hour later I checked into Egay’s Budget Room, 600 pesos for a single room. The room was clean and that’s all I needed. I stayed there for two nights.
———-
My first night I went out to dinner with people from the hostel. We went to Lonesome Carabao Lounge, the Mexican spot in town. I’d read great reviews but the food was mediocre. I had the shrimp tacos which lacked spice, although they were at least cooked properly. The restaurant was out of avocados (guacamole,) coconut and beef. A joke for a Mexican restaurant.
The next day I did Tour C with a few people from the hostel. There are four tours that are advertised all around El Nido- tours A-D. They’re all island hoping just to different islands. 
With Tour C we went to islands that are farther away. First we went to Hidden Beach, a small beach hiding behind the rocks. There were other tour boats around and the beach was jam packed. I attempted to snorkel but the snorkel I rented was broken. The only thing to see underwater were massive jellyfish, and the goggles were enough. 

 

Next we went to Secret Beach, which wasn’t much of a secret. There were boats everywhere. To get to this beach you have to swim through holes in the rocks. 
Next we had lunch on a tiny beach, which was relaxing. We were served eggplant kinilaw, grilled pork and chicken, a grilled fish, and yellow watermelon for lunch. 

   

We then stopped at a small church hidden in the rocks. We walked up a few steps and had a great view of the islands and the water. 

 Lastly we went to helicopter beach. We pulled up and there was an ice cream boat which we indulged on. I then walked the beach collecting sea glass and shells. This beach has the most incredible shells I’ve ever seen in a wide range of colors. I had collected a few tiny different ones to bring home but when I got back to the boat I was told it’s illegal to take shells from the Philippines. Sad at the time but a great law.

For dinner we went to La Playa, one of the many beach grill restaurants. I had a grilled calamari. Late night we went to Reggae Bar, the only real night bar. There’s live reggae music before midnight, then a DJ after. The bar is covered in neon paint and the locals look like stoners. I danced a bit but it was too hot to stay too long. 

 

The next afternoon a bunch of us took the 45 minute tricycle ride to Nacpan beach. The ride was mostly off-road, and an incredibly bumpy ride. The motorbike gauges didn’t work and parts of the tricycle housing were about to fall apart. However, the journey was worth it. Nacpan beach was a long white sandy beach like you see in postcards. There are a few beach restaurants where we got food, shakes and coconuts throughout the day. There were only a handful of people on the beach which was the best part. 

     Nacpan beach is famous having the twin beaches, two beaches almost touching each other. 
   

After the sunset we headed home. For dinner we went to Art Cafe and I had the traditional kinilaw, Filipino style ceviche. This one was mackerel with ginger.
I went to bed early and had the whole bed bug fiasco. The next day I woke-up late in my new guesthouse and wandered around town for the first time. I stopped at Silog Republic for lunch and had the sizzling tofu. 

 

At 5ish I met up with a Swiss guy (one of the people I’d been hanging out with) and we took a tricycle to Las Cabanas beach for sunset. The beach was a different vibe from Nacpan. It was crowded and the sand wasn’t as white, but there were beach bars playing music and the view looking out towards the islands was spectacular. The sunset was better here. 

   

Later on we went to Seaslugs, another beach grill restaurant, and I had calamari again. The restaurant had a live band which was nice. I also had a calamasi juice with honey. A calamasi is a Filipino lime; however, it looks more like a small tangerine with green skin.
We then went back to Reggae Bar for a few beers. Apparently there’s a law that kids under 14 have to be at home past 11pm, but that night there was a group of local boys who were around 12 years old dancing at the bar. They were grinding on each other  and doing a dance circle (just them.) As a westerner it was definitely a sight to see.
The next morning Switzerland and I caught the ferry to Coron at 8am. The ferry was a small boat with the typical bamboo pontoons. We were packed like sardines, using our life jackets as pillows. The trip is only 80 miles north but it takes the boat 7-8 hours. We were served lunch around 11am, white rice with a handful of boiled vegetables. 

   

Sipidan + Mabul Island, Sabah, Borneo

 

I arrived in Semporna at 2pm. I only had one night there before heading out to Mabul Island in the morning, and after 2 early mornings of sunrise river cruises I needed somewhere to really relax. I checked into Best Bunk Beds, which is newish but had great reviews online. The hostel is one of the nicest I’ve stayed in. The girls dorm is spacious with 8 bunkbeds in a massive room. The attached communal bathroom is modern, and the dorm has floor to ceiling windows facing the water. There’s a communal space and big kitchen with a lot of Asian condiments to choose from, although I didn’t cook there. It cost $13, which is a lot, but other than a really crappy hostel this was the next cheapest. I was the only non-Chinese backpacker staying there but for my night of relaxing that was perfect.

I walked around the town, grabbed lunch at Restoran Bismillah, an Indian spot. I had a roti and a vegetable soup, which were both tasteless. I ended up pouring the roti dipping curry into the soup. 

I then went to my dive shop to pay. I signed up for Sipidan two months ago. Only 120 divers are allowed per day and there’s a long wait list to be able to dive there. I signed up with Billabong, the cheapest company to dive with. I paid $330 total for 3 days/ 2 nights, which included diving, equipment, accommodation and meals. I got 6 dives: 3 Sipidan, 2 Mabul, 1 Kapelai. Billabong was far from horrific; however, it’s definitely a backpacker place and not somewhere I would stay if I was on holiday. It was also full of big groups or Chinese tourists who were loud, and Muslim Malay’s; so that put a damper on the mood.
The one terrible thing about diving in South East Asia is all the Chinese divers. Every single one I came across should never have been given a license. They’re incredibly disrespectful of the nature and of other divers around. I got kicked and pushed repeatedly and more often than not it was so they could take a picture. They also touched and kicked all the coral and sea life, which is a no-no. It’s not safe to have divers like that around and I actually had my first under water panic attack because of it.  
———-
In the morning I had breakfast in my hostel then headed to the dive shop and then the shuttle ferry. The ride to Mabul Island took an hour. As we approached be island we slowed down and took a mandatory scenic route along the water hotels until we got to ours. Almost all the dive resorts are housed on stilts on the water. The fancy resorts look just like the glamorous pictures we see back home, and the cheap resorts look run down but still pretty incredible in the sense that they’re on the water. Billabong is a lilac color towards one end of the resorts; it was actually a great spot. 

When we arrived at the resort there were local gypsies selling crabs and shrimps on the deck. The crabs came in a chain, 4 for 20 rm (approx. $6,) and the shrimps were extra large in plastic bottles. I got crab with a Malaysian brother and sister who I shared the ferry with. 

I checked into my own private room which had an attached bathroom. The toilet didn’t have a seat and the shower was a mandy shower- a bucket and ladle. I actually like this method because it’s better than a shower than slowly drips water. There were two twin beds and a fan. The electricity on the whole island only works from 6pm-6am so each morning at 6am I woke up sweating from the heat. 

I settled in then headed out for my first dive of the day, which was at Kapelai House Reef off Kapelai Island. The site had bunches of man-made structures that looked like skeletons of houses. They were covered in moss and full of fish. On the dive I saw big turtles, the face of a moray eel hiding under a structure, trumpet fish, hornet fish, lion fish and stone fish, which look like a rock. The dive was 21 meters deep. 

Sometime when I’m diving I kick with my fins together, like a fish, because I can get places faster. During this dive I lost my hair tie and apparently when I did my fish kick I looked like a mermaid. I was then nicknamed the mermaid.
The second dive that day was Panglima Reef off Mabul Island. There was a slight current at the end of the dive and the visibility throughout was bad. Here I saw lion fish, nudibranch, stone fish, trigger fish, and big colorful cuttlefish. The cuttlefish looked like massive colorful caterpillars with black tentacles coming out of one end. The dive was 22 meters deep.
After diving I walked around the island with a few girls who were on holiday from Kuala Lumpur. The entire walk took us about 45 minutes but that’s only because we stopped a few times. There are two really nice resorts, one of which we stopped at for Magnum’s. Then there are some local shops and a big local village area before the cheaper dive resorts start-up again. 

When we got back to the resort I did the initiation and jumped off the resort bridge into the water. For over an hour guests (the non-Chinese,) dive masters and locals jumped and swam around our area. The sun set in the clouds but the colors were still incredible with the water village setting. 

That night was a bunch of people’s last night and we all drank local rum and listened to music on the bridge. I called it an early night because I wanted to be fresh for Sipadan; however, I ended up being wide awake for a few hours in the middle of the night listening to the rats on the ceiling.
In the morning I had breakfast then we left for Sipadan for the day. The boat was me, an English boy, a young unfriendly Russian couple, two Chinese men, and Otto and Oneal, the two dive masters. Since the British boy was only open water Otto was my dive buddy, which was awesome because he regularly took my GoPro and filmed for me.
First we went onto Sipadan Island to register for our permits. The island is incredibly small and while it used to have two resorts now those are gone and all that is there is a registration shack and a wooden shelter with a picnic table for each dive resort. When we arrived there was a big group of Chinese divers ahead of us. They had two flags and were doing karate poses and large group pictures in the check-in area.
Our first dive was at South Point. I saw an eagle ray, barracuda, white tip shark, black tip shark, gray reef shark, and turtles. We went 40 meters here. I had my first panic attack ever on this dive. I had been having trouble with my mask and it was continuously fogged even after cleaning it. We were in the blue at 40 meters and working with a slight current that was pushing me down and out. I was exhausted from continuously kicking, I couldn’t see a thing and all of a sudden one of the Chinese guys kicked me in the head because he wasn’t paying attention. Luckily I have my rescue training and did not completely panic but I did grab my dive master and we went up to 10 meters where I was able to breath again. I knew I’d be fine since I know what to do but it was terrifying being in darkness and not being able to breath in the moment.
I came up from the dive with a terrible headache from the depth and lack of oxygen. I’ve done that depth before but not in years. We relaxed for an hour in between dives and I put myself back together. 

Our next dive was at Barracuda Point, ranked one of the top dive sites in the world, and it did not disappoint. It was the best dive of my life. We saw huge Napolean fish, schools of humpheads (large fish,) massive schools of jack fish in tornado form (from the currents,) big turtles, and white tip sharks. Otto took my camera and filmed almost the whole time which gave me the chance to fully enjoy the dive. We went 21 meters but most of the dive was near the surface which also meant the light was amazing. I did the signature Sipadan move and swam inside the tornado of jackfish which was surreal. The fish move if you come near and they will reform around you. Otto shot a great five minute film which captures everything the dive offered. 


  

The most shocking and yet not so shocking part of the dive was seeing all the Chinese divers underwater with their massive cameras. I’m talking huge professional cameras with two large arms for flashing. The divers were standing on the sandy bottom of the water holding their cameras like walking sticks. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in a long time. 

We were all all smiles after that dive. We had lunch and I rested on the beach and I still couldn’t stop smiling.  For the last dive we went to Hanging Garden, a wall dive. Here we saw gray reef sharks, white tip sharks, big turtles and most amazingly a leopard shark. Otto found it sleeping in an alcove and called me over to come next to it. I was almost there when all of a sudden one of the Chinese guys pushed past me with his huge camera knocking me into the coral. For the first time the dive master took charge and signaled at the Chinese guy to get back and let me through. We were about a foot away when it woke-up and swam around us to escape. Another incredible experience. 

  

I went 40 meters on this dive too and although my breathing was affected I practiced on controlling it. Halfway through the dive I was hit by jellyfish particles and got stung on my legs, arms and face. 

Almost all the guests had left while we were in Sipadan. The only westerners left were me, a British girl who I had become friendly with, and two Danish girls who I kept thinking were Spanish. The British girl and I took a walk around the island. We stopped for chocolate strawberry Magnum’s and ate them on the fancy resort porch. We then went to a local shop so that I could buy a seashell chandelier I had seen the day before- I hope it survives the journey. 

 

It was a quite night of staring at stars on the bridge and listening to a local play the guitar. The next morning I slept in and then went snorkeling at 10:30am with the Brit. I only lasted about five minutes in the water. I was stung by sea-lice and bored; it’s hard to snorkel the day after diving at Sipadan. I relaxed on the boat for the rest of the time and watched all the Chinese snorkel, which was like watching the tv show were Chinese do obstacles and people laugh when they get hurt. 
There were five snorkel boats in the area and me and the Brit were the only non-Chinese and the only ones not wearing bright orange life jackets, or matching striped snorkel wetsuits. They all can’t swim, or at least think they can’t, plus are terrified of the water. Two women on my boat refused to let go of the ladder, and one boy refused to let go of the safety ring even though he also had a jacket on. One family held onto two rings and ropes while they all kicked to the coral area where they then proceeded to stand and walk around on the coral. Some of the them were walking on the coral under the resorts in their snorkel gear. I’m not entirely sure why the workers don’t stop them from doing this but it’s terrible how they are ruining the natural habitat. To top it off on the boat ride back one of the Chinese reached into the water and grabbed a starfish and all of a sudden a bunch of cameras were out. A few of us started screaming for them to drop the fish and they did, however, they did not understand why.
When we got back to the resort I checked out of my room, had lunch, and chilled out until 3pm when the ferry came. Brit and I went down the road to pick-up pastries from a local bakery, a window in her home. We bought four pastries for 50 cent rm each, about $.15. 
The ferry back was an hour, then we took a shuttle to the airport which was another hour and cost 30 rm each. I then waited at the airport for 3 hours until my flight to Kota Kinabalu. The flight was 30 minutes. When I got to the terminal I found a money exchange place to covert my Malaysia ringgit to Philippine Pesos. The lady at the counter asked me what airline I was flying before doing the exchange. After it was done she informs me that the terminal my flight is leaving from is actually a 15 minute (30 ringgit) taxi ride away that is not walkable. Cebu now flys from Terminal 1. I then had to exchange back pesos for ringgit. She tricked me so that I would have to pay the exchange rate and agent fee twice.
When I got to Terminal 1 I went to check-in to my Manila flight and I was told that I needed to show proof of a flight leaving the Philippines. I had not yet booked my flight home and was waiting for early week for prices to drop but now I had no choice. I booked the cheapest flight home, which is a day later than I wanted and over $100 more than it will be in a few days. 
My flight to Palawan left at 7:25am, and landed at 8:30am. I then waited for almost an hour at a restaurant nearby the airport for a shuttle bus to leave for El Nido. It was a 6 hour roller coaster journey north, part of which the driver had a friend sitting on his lap.