Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chilled First Night in Boracay

Boracay Island is without a doubt one of my most favourite places that I've been to: a beautifully lush island with white powdery sand, warm, clear blue and rock free ocean water and a chilled and party-island ambience.

We first visited here as part of our Asia trip in 2008 and knew we had to come back. And so here we are on our first night at this paradise island on Wed. Nov. 24 - the 4th leg of our Philippines trip - where we will stay until Sunday Nov. 28.

Our agenda? If it's anything like our first night tonight - on which we strolled along the lit beach, ate, watched TV and updated my blog - a whole lot of chilling and nothingness.

But I did make sure to grab a picture of the beautiful sunset on the island this time around. It was one thing I didn't get to do last time.

The one distinct difference I've noticed right away is that in just two years the island has become much more commercialized. A few new resorts have opened up and a major fast food chain has opened shop.

One of the things I loved about Boracay during our first visit was its remote state and the fact that it wasn't so crowded and commercialized. I hope the island does not lose this spirit.

But nonetheless, Andrew and I look forward to enjoying the next few days on this heaven on Earth.

Pink sunset in Bohol

As we ended our nature tour of Bohol on Tuesday, Nov. 23, our driver sped through town, as if racing against the sunset to get us back to the resort - making a short stop at a church (see pictures above/below). This guy was a mad ass driver, swerving around cars, pedestrians, cows, chickens, and dogs like a skilled race car driver. If we were ever on The Amazing Race, I'd want this guy to be my driver.

While clutching on for dear life, I couldn't help but admire the gorgeous sunset to the left of the car window. The sky turned a bright pink and the puffy clouds looked like giant cotton candy and the reflection from the water added to its hypnotic quality. As the sun became engulfed by the mountains, it turned one final stunning flash of red, before night descended upon us.

Adorable Tarsiers: When Yoda Met a Gremlin

China has its pandas and Thailand has its elephants. The poster boy animal for the Philippines surely must be the adorable Tarsiers.

Tarsiers are one of the world's smallest primates and native to Southeast Asia, primarily the Philippines, Sulawesi, Borneo and Sumatra. And in the Philippines, Bohol is the known destination to view these adorable - but unfortunately, also endangered - creaures.

We visited a Tarsier Reserve as part of our full-day nature excursion on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The Reserve had 10 Tarsiers on site, but because of light overnight rainfall, they were hard to spot and the tour guide was only able to spot four of them for us.

The reason they are so hard to spot is because these adorable nocturnal creatures are literally the size of a human fist. The few that we saw were clutched tightly around a tree, their massive eyes staring at us.

One of them eventually scrunched its face and looked like a cross between Master Yoda and a gremlin. It was absolutely adorably priceless.

Sweet views of Bohol's famous Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills are an unique geological formation in Bohol that look like giant Hershey Kisses rising out of the ground. To be exact, there are approximately 1,750 hills spread over an area of more than 50 square kilometres.

They are covered in green grass that turns brown during the dry season - hence the chocolate reference.

We got to enjoy this sweet view on yet another sunny day on Tuesday, Nov. 23. While we observed the hills when they were green - not brown - I still found them quite stunning and adorable.

And I just have to say this: I surely can't be the only person in the world who thinks these hills also look like giant boobs rising out the ground.

Diving In: A Crash Course in Scuba

Water is - without a doubt - my favourite element. It has a refreshing and cleansing quality on many levels: from the literal to the spiritual. It's always a treat when I get to swim in the ocean and snorkel. I feel at home and at ease in water.

Scuba diving is something I've always wanted to learn how to do, but never got around to doing it. We didn't plan on scuba diving during our Philippines trip, but when we found out that Bohol had great dive sites, we just had to dive in, so to speak.

After our already long day of island hopping on Monday, Nov. 22, we crammed in an introductory course with a German dive master at our resort in the afternoon. After showing us a quick video demonstrating some of the theory, we went right into an open water dive.

Most divers have to practice closed water diving (swimming pool) first, so we really lucked out by getting a chance to take this crash course. We learned the few basis skills from putting on our regulator (the air mouth piece) on above water and in the water, to equalizing as we got deeper into the water, to emptying the water in our mask if any got in underwater.

We then proceeded to explore the water near our resort and went as deep as 11 meters, which was quite a feat for our very first time. It was really neat being underwater for as long as we were - about 45 minutes - and not having to up for air once. Really strange and cool feeling.

Diving really depends on good communication and teamwork - and for someone with massive ADD like me, I really had to pay attention. But the three of us worked really well as a team - and used hand signals to communicate effectively with each other. The trainer was very attentive and always checked in to make sure we were ok.

I both love and am terrified of the deep water. Staring into the foreign marine life both fascinates me and also frightens me. And as I looked down the sloping cliff where the water went from a dark blue into pitch black, I literally felt my body grow lighter than it already felt suspended on the ocean water.

We scaled around a beautiful coral formation and admired the interesting fish and vegetation, including this cool brown, shaggy carpet like plant. There were also a lot of those Nemo fish. We then slowly swam up the sloped cliff.

Some of the cool moments included swimming right above Andrew and seeing his exhalation bubbles rise up towards me; small bubbles - dozens of them - just engulfing my sight line and then fizzing away above me.

I'm definitely going to work on getting my diving license when we get back to Toronto. This won't be the last time I do this and next time, I'd definitely like to go deeper.

Island hopping in Bohol

On our first morning in Bohol, on Monday, Nov. 22, we were treated to our 10th consecutive day of sunshine. Am I dreaming? I thought to myself that when we returned to Canada after 3 weeks of sun and heat, our bodies are going to go into major shock.

We spent our first full day being taken on a boat ride to hop from one island to another, starting with the beautiful and small Damog Island - the size of a small school gymnasium.

On our way to Damog Island, we went past a school of three wild dolphins as they swam and flipped in the air. But they vanished as we drove closer to them, because the sound of the motor terrified them.

With just a small tower and Andrew, our two tour guides and me, Damog Island truly felt remote. We snorkled in the shallow waters that surrounded the Y-shaped island for a few minutes - and pulled up quite a few starfish.

We then proceeded to Calibao Island, the famed diving island in Bohol, and hung out there for lunch and enjoyed the remote feeling of it. As I stared out into the clear blue water and the blinding white powdery sand, I had to literally say a moment of thanks for the amazing few days that we've had and the many more that will surely transpire for the duration of our Philippines vacation.

Remote Getaway in Beautiful Bohol

While Cebu was nice, it was also crowded and the traffic was intense. We wanted a dramatic contrast during our three-night stay in Bohol, the third leg of our Philippines excursion, from Nov. 21 to Nov. 23.

We stayed at Isla Hayahay, located just one hour from the Taligbaran Airport. It's a small bed and breakfast like operation located right by the sea that has a very charming cottage feel. The 8-lodge resort is run by a husband and wife duo and a small group of hired help.

What I loved about the resort was its simple and down-to-Earth nature.

Sitting on the veranda overlooking the water while enjoying our meals was quite amazing, especially at night when we'd look at the mountains across the water and see less than two dozen dots of light. We truly felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

Because we were so far off from the city, we were also cut off from the main water supply, so we showered in collected rain water (very refreshing and clean feeling).

And the wife, what an amazing cook. We were treated to amazing dishes, primarily fresh seafood caught the day of; from giant prawns (see below) to curried crab (see below) to a giant steamed red fish. Delicious. Give me a home cooked meal over restaurant food anyday.

The package the resort offered was really great and included all meals, pick up and drop off at the airport and two full-day excursions (see next posts). So if you're longing for something more remote, cottage-like, not crowded, with beautiful scenery and food, we strongly recommend this resort.

Tropical island breeze, all the nature wild and free, this is where I long to be...