The Philippines

The journey continues: Welcome to the Philippines

February 7, 2015

Local living quarters

Local living quarters

Leaving home has never been easy. I said goodbye and watched my family slowly fade. I was completely overwhelmed with emotion and it was good to have a 26 hour flight to work things out before heading into the madness of Manila. Exiting the airplane I was quickly engulfed with the heat and humidity of what is known as Asia’s biggest sauna the Manila international airport. The air conditioner had broken down years ago and still hadn’t been fixed, I am sure by now most the employees are used to it. I watched the luggage conveyor belt spit out all sorts of odd luggage the most common being large card board boxes covered with inches of tape and rolls of string. Each box was not complete without the words Mania Philippines written in bold black ink with a Sharpe.

One of the many local bakeries

One of the many local bakeries

Putting together Gaby created quite a sensation and I was quickly surrounded by a group of Filippino security guards. They were extremely curious and felt right at home inspecting my bike and gear. Gaby has definitely gained a few pounds since leaving Japan, and now In addition to carrying a Traveler Guitar she also has a beautiful but large saddle bag.

Downtown

Downtown

I didn’t quite feel the shock of being in the Philippines until the airport road merged with main street (Roxas Blvd). The road was so suddenly packed with trucks, motor bikes and jeepneys (the independent bus), that I wondered how I would be able to make it across the country. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was a lone cyclist in a jungle of motorized transportation. Pedaling into downtown I passed a hospital and went inside to see if I could get a J. Encephalitis vaccine. The hospital was full of pregnant women waiting for the operators of the ultrasound to return from lunch. I was in luck the doctor who gave vaccines was working that day I just needed to wait till she also returned from lunch. I then took the opportunity to visit the hospital canteen and experience some local food.

Jeepney

Jeepney

In my two days of being here I have not found the food too interesting or especially tasty. Most meals consist of vegetable or meat stews with lots of white rice and deep-fried pork hinds to add a bit of spice. If you are lucky the food vendor will have a cooked papaya and coconut dish to go with the rice but this is usually a rarity.

A rooster selling his services

A rooster selling his services

The streets are packed all day and only seem to quiet down a few hours before dawn. Prostitutes, street vendors, rickshaws, kids and wild dogs seem to be waiting around every corner. Where are you from I am constantly asked ” USA” I respond…”Me too” (often the response) “I am from the United Squatters Association, we all live in this abandoned building down the road”.

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My friend Willy Gutierrez

This is definitely going to be an adventure getting Gaby and all my excess luggage to Bali. Tomorrow I head south planning on making my way across the islands before hoping a ferry to Malaysia. Touch base again as soon as I can.

Rickshaws waiting passengers

Rickshaws waiting passengers

Opening up

February 13, 2015

Filipino local roadside

Filipino roadside

Local lounging at the bakery

Local lounging at the bakery

Manila is by far number one on my list of worst cities to cycle. On my last day I decided to make a small trip north of downtown to the Chinese district, hoping to meet some interesting Chinese-Filipinos. Little did I know that I was about to pedal through one of the most polluted and dense districts in the city. The road suddenly became a frozen maze of jeepneys, pedicabs, and street vendors. Continuing was so difficult that I decided to forget about visiting my potentially long-lost ancestors and return to a quieter region of the city.
Sanding the bamboo clean for a kubo, bamboo house. This boy spent hours sanding with a butcher knife

Sanding the bamboo clean for a kubo, bamboo house. This boy spent hours sanding with a butcher knife

village alleys

village alleys

The conditions were much similar leaving the city, that morning while packing my bags I made a resolution ” Even if it takes me all day to get out of Manila, I am not going to give up”. 6 hours later, with lungs full of exhaust and half covered in silt and dirt I reached the city limits. I quickly learned that one big difference between the Philippines and other countries is that there are no address numbers! In my 6 hour effort to get out of the city I got lost several times and tried looking up my location at a local internet café hopeless! Most locals have also never ventured outside of their barrio which means that they are of little help.
Cristos and Elle

Cristos and Elle

So often in my travels I have felt that if I only had a better understanding of the local language I could figure out where I am trying to go. Here in the Philippines almost everyone speaks some English but there is nothing that they can say to help you.
The heat was intense, and the humidity only made matters worse. I had forgotten to wash my new clothes and my sweat seemed to just stick to my body rather than be absorbed into my clothes. When the city faded away I pedaled through village after village perched on the edge of a thick jungle. As the sun began to set I thought about my plans were for sleeping, I would have to venture far into the jungle to avoid being seen.
Cristo's Bamboo retirement home

Cristo’s Bamboo retirement home

I climbed a steep mountain and near the top I stopped for a drink of water, looking to my right I saw an old man with kind wrinkled eyes. “Sleep here” they seemed to say to me, I walked over and introduced myself.
“My name is Cristos” he said and if you like you can camp here tonight….you and your bicycle will be safe”. I was relived and after a long day felt that I could let my guard down.
Inside the Kubo

Inside the Kubo

A car pulled up, and a group of five walked out Cristos was suddenly busy looking into the palms of their hands and joking around. I noticed that there were several couples sitting in chairs and benches waiting to be seen my Cristos, and I guessed that he was some sort of important doctor or tribal elder. Soon I was told that he was a famous arbolario, (fortune-teller). I talked with several of the couples waiting for their turn and watched as Cristos took their hands in prayer position and slowly blowed on them whispering something to himself.
Local girls seeking their future

Local girls seeking their future

The sun began to fall and soon all the clients had been seen and I was left alone with Cristos and his wife Elle. I was invited to dinner and welcomed into their Kubo, bamboo home. They told me that they had 5 children and after watching them grow decided to move to the jungle, where Cristos built their bamboo retirement home. We ate rice and deep-fried fish with papaya sauce.
“I looked at your hands when we met” Cristos said.
“You are a good man”, ” I hope you stay will us again when you return again”.
Cristos' tricycle

Cristos’ tricycle

Riding in Cristo’s tricycle we traveled through the dark jungle roads to his family home in the village. The lights from the bike seemed to painted the road green around a dense bamboo jungle. We turned down a broken muddy street and continued through a long narrow alley, finally reaching our destination. It was an old brick house that looked as though it had been built the same year of my father. The house consisted of two rooms a kitchen and living quarters, with a bathroom and shower in back. The concrete walls and floor were oily and worn. “I will call my family, wait here a few minutes” he said a few minutes later he returns with a group of about 30 people. “This is my family, please say hello”.
Fried fish dinner and lunch

Fried fish dinner and lunch

An hour later I return with Cristos to his bamboo kubo. He offers me his bed, but I declined and pitched me tent in his bamboo forest. I listen to the wind in the leaves, and the sound of a jungle around me.
Jungle abode

Jungle abode

Sacred medalion

Sacred medallion

The next day Cristos reads more into my future and tells me not to go to Mindanao ( A large island in the south). He tells me that his father was also an arbolario, and that ever since he can remember he has been able to look into the future of others. More cars pulled down his driveway and Cristos is suddenly busy with clients. “He does not charge money for his services” his wife tells me “If he does he gets sick”.
I leave the bamboo house in good spirits and continued on through the tropical mountains to the port city of Batangas. There I carry Gaby down a long skinny walkway onto a local ferry that takes me to Puerto Galera, a famous diving resort. While on the ferry I strike up a conversation with a Dutch man who asks me why my clothes are so dirty. He says that all tourists here have clean clothes and don’t look quite as tired as I do. I tell him about my bike trip and he invites me to at his beach house.
Sabang beach

Sabang beach

Scenes from the coral reef dive

Scenes from the coral reef dive

I soon learned that he is a scuba diving instructor who is in the process of expanding his business to Puerto Galera. ” I mostly teach the locals” he tells me. ” I first teach them to swim because 80% of Filipinos can’t swim, then I teach them to dive”.
“It’s a really rewarding experience” he tells me “as long as you have patience you will always have clients”.
View from my porch camping spot

View from my porch camping spot

Camping on his porch overlooking the sea we became pretty good friends and the next day he asks me if I would help him paint his kitchen in return for taking me diving. I accepted but with a little resignation as scuba diving has always seemed a bit scary to me, but I would be stupid to decline.
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On my first dive all goes well except my tank runs out of air! Luckily I am only about 4 meters below the surface and can make it to safety. When I arrived at the surface I can barely float with all the weights, and without air in my tank I couldn’t fill my buoyancy jacket. Jeroen comes to the rescue, and within a few minutes I was back on shore. “Next time I will give you a tank gauge” and apologizes.
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We dive again the next day, this time at a coral reef off the coast of Sabang beach. I go to a depth of 15 meters and swam with turtles, and rest under coral trees on a white sand ocean floor. It is amazing to be that deep under the water and feel completely relaxed. From the sea floor I looked up trying to see the surface, only to see a world of water around me. Fish were flying above me and all around and I was swimming through a magnificent garden of coral.
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Getting on the road again tomorrow! I hope to keep in touch with Jeroen and return to dive again, or at other locations in my travels. The island of Mindoro (my current location) seems to have a lot less traffic and tomorrow I will cycle passed a famous waterfall.

More time to dive

February 16, 2015

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On the eve before departing Puerto Galera I asked my friend, host and diving instructor Jeroen if I could stick around and train with his students to become an open water diver. In return for filling tanks, hiring tricycles, carrying equipment and parking and retrieving boats I trained with his class and as of last night have become a certified open water diver! This bold and fancy title allows me to rent and procure scuba gear without having to hire a guide or book a tour. Giving me freedom to choose when and where I want to dive as long as I can find a diving partner. I look forward to continue as there are many beautiful locations that I will pedal through in the next few months.
During the training course Jeroen’s small one bedroom apartment was transformed into a guest house and was filled with four other students. It was fun having a full house and walking over people as l they slept to reach the bathroom, it reminded me a lot of growing up with the family.
I have been invited to dive at another location and plan to return in about a week to explore a ship wreck on the northern coast of Luzon. Today, with no further delay I hit the road and explore the island of Mindoro.
I had just gotten used to being alone again when I met all my new diving friends. In some ways I am getting tired of traveling alone, when diving one is always partnered and I have learned to enjoy working with people. I say this all with cold feet as I pack up Gaby again for the open and unexplored jungles of Mindoro.
I will be in the Philippines until March 7th, where I will then fly to Brunei and head south into Malaysia and Indonesia.
Friends on the road
February 17, 2015
Tamaru falls

Tamaru falls

Charlot, and Bob Calipan Videoke bar

Charlot, and Bob Calipan Videoke bar

Jerone, Joyce, Helene, and Ciaro

Jeroen, Joyce, Helene, and Ciaro

Taking the local jeepney to Tamaru falls

Taking the local jeepney to Tamaru falls

A crew of 6 divers on a tricycle

A crew of 6 divers on a tricycle

Jerone and Joyce

Jeroen and Joyce

A pretending Pinoy

February 20, 2015

My rice farmer hosts 30 km north of the port city Roxas

Rice farmer host, and his two daughters. 30 km north of the port city Roxas, Mindoro Island

Closing my eyes I hear the rumble of tricycles and machines grinding metal. The smell of coconuts marks the entrance and exit of small villages. I pass signs advertising Bibingka (local cake) and Halo Halo (An iced drink consisting of many ingredients many times corn), sometimes even signs selling love. The age of most Filipinos can be determined by the number of teeth left in their mouth, where most women and men over the age of 30 have lost their rear teeth; which becomes noticeable with their huge smiles. Motorbikes sometimes carry whole families and many times there is a baby sitting on someone’s shoulders.

A smile goes a long way and many times pays the rent. When looking for a place to camp; I ride up, make a camping gesture and smile.

Halo Halo, this one didn't have the much favored corn but rather marshmallows! The local ice is probably not the greatest thing to consume but while taking my malaria medication my stomach is pretty invincible.

Halo Halo preparation, this one didn’t have the much favored corn but rather marshmallows! The drink usually consists of grass jelly, jello, corn, beans, evaporated milk, sugar and ice. The ice is probably not the greatest thing to consume but while taking my malaria medication (an antibiotic) my stomach is pretty invincible.

All day I am greeted with the phrase “Hey Joe, where you go”? I have been called “Joe” so many times that when asked I say I am “Joe”. Locals are completely distraught at the sight of me pedaling by and stop whatever they are doing to wave as I pass.

Local gas station, unleaded gasoline is bright green with is counter part (leaded) being bright orange

Local gas station, unleaded is bright green with is counter part (leaded) being bright orange. All sold in used cola bottles.

One of the only vegetarian local dishes. Cooked jack fruit

One of the only vegetarian local dishes. Cooked jack fruit and rice. After cooking for two hours in coconut milk even the seeds become edible.

Dealing with locals seems to take up most of my energy; as most are looking for an opportunity to take advantage and make a few extra Filipino Pesos. I once ordered two Halo Halo’s for 20 pesos then was told that if I wanted to make a local call it would cost 50.

Fruit stand, Local price for Papaya is close to $0.50 dollars a kilo, and close to a dollar for Bananas.

Fruit stand, local price for Papaya is close to $0.50 dollars a kilo, and a dollar for Bananas.

While staying with new friends in Calapan I decided to visit the relatively unknown islands of Romblon. I pedaled south to the port and noticed when boarding the boat that I was the only foreigner. After carrying my bike across a narrow plank, I stacked my gear next to a wall of rice bags. The boat was completely filled with locals carrying plants, fruits, vegetables and enough rice to sink the small ship. Each passenger had a large sack rice so much that I began to wonder if I would find food on the islands. Halfway through the 3 hour journey the boat encountered rough seas and many of the passengers rushed to the few windows and began vomiting. I started to feel sick my self and was wedged between two sleeping locals, and a pregnant women vomiting to my right.

Leaving the Roxas port, a rough 3 hours at sea to Tablas island

Leaving the Roxas port, a rough 3 hours at sea to Tablas island

Upon arriving I noticed that most if not all the businesses were closed for Chinese New Year, a Filipino national holiday. A few kilometers later I learned that it was also prom night. I pedaled south and eventually found a quiet white sand beach for camping.

My vision of the Philippines realized. The rural country on Tablas island

My vision of the Philippines realized. Rural rice plantation on Tablas island

Binucot beach

Binucot beach during a new year low tide

There are 3 islands to explore in Romblon province and plenty of great diving. Today I road on a small provincial road which traveled past rice plantations, hog farms and villages. Tomorrow I will travel to the smaller island of Romblon to dive.

The heart of the Philippines

February 20, 2015

TOUR AND ROUTE UPDATE: Visa permitting once I arrive in Jakarta I will fly back to Kazakhstan and cycle the Karakorum highway into Pakistan, head through India, Nepal, Sikkim to Myanmar than proceed through Thailand and Laos to China. This will be my last year on the road.

Gaby aboard a local pump boat

Gaby aboard a local pump boat

While on Tablas island I met a retired American couple (Peter and Sally) who had spent the last month cycling the three islands of Romblon province. Our paths crossed on a quiet dirt road and talked about some of our recent travels. I quickly learned that this aged couple (probably in their late 60’s) had been on the road for the last 10 years, and in that time had cycled many of the extremely remote islands of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Peter and Sally, retired Americans cycling south east Asia

Peter and Sally, retired Americans cycling south-east Asia

They shared with me their fascination with the small island of Romblon, and spoke of how friendly and happy the locals were. It so turned out that there was a ferry departing to the island later that day, so I decided to see for myself what Romblon had to offer, as well as see if I could find a good place to dive.

Local man prepares fresh coconut juice

Local man prepares fresh coconut juice

Upon arriving at the San Augustine Tablas harbor, watched a small pump boat come to shore which would be my transport to the island. Before even attempting to figure out how I would get Gaby aboard I was quickly overtaken by a group of 5 local porters lifting a motorcycle aboard. The pump boat bobbed up and down and the local porters were stunned by the weight of the motorbike the roughness of the sea. Finally the motor bike was aboard and without waiting I quickly jumped from land to boat and back carrying panniers and eventually Gaby. Once inside I avoided sitting next to any pregnant women as well as anyone who looked as though they would vomit on the short passage to Romblon, and watched the Long Island of Tablas fade into the horizon.

Welcoming sign to one of the many Barangays

Welcoming sign to one of the many local Barangays or villages

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Soon Romblon island came into full view and I could see the dense jungle throughout. The sea between the two islands was so shallow that at many areas the blue water turned to turquoise over sand bars. It was a day or two after new moon and off the north coast I could see a long sand bar connecting Romblon to a smaller island.

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The town of Romblon was very quaint with a market, church, a few restaurants and a hotel all situated around the post office. The very few foreigners could be seen hanging around the deli drinking beer and looking at their fancy cellphones.

Inside of a cockfighting area! This place was crazy with each fight only lasting less than a minute

Inside of a cockfighting area! This place was crazy with each fight only lasting less than a minute

roadside cellphone repair

roadside cellphone repair

The perimeter of the island is only about 50 km and the road passes through 20 or so small villages known as Barangays. Each Barangay is marked with a sign, and most have small markets or stores built out of bamboo homes selling snacks and ice candy. Finding “real” food however can be difficult and as I pedaled around my diet consisted mainly of young coconut water “Buko”, cough drops, and homemade fruit popsicles called “Ice Candy”.

Tricycle filled with school children

Tricycle loaded with school children

Rice soup and chili sauce breakfast

Rice soup and chili sauce breakfast, 5 pesos

I pedaled past a dive center, and enquired about diving. 20 minutes later I was on a boat with 4 Australians heading to a nearby coral reef. By far my longest dive I spent 70 minutes watching scuttle fish, turtles and snakes at a depth of about 10 meters. We surfaced just as the sun was setting and I see the brilliant colors through the water I neared the surface. The painted sky slowly become starlit and we rode back to shore. I spent the next few hours making friends with divers and eating fruit soup. The owners of the dive center were half Filipino half German, and it seemed like they had a very nice life living on the island and diving each day.

Low tide, Romblon harbor

Low tide, Romblon harbor

Romblon city

Romblon city

The next day I decided to climb the tallest mountain (Mt. Bundok) and watch the sunset and rise with a 360 view of the neighboring islands. To get there though I had to pedal around the island on the perimeter road to the north-eastern side “Romblon Oriental”, where I would find a small Barangay road that would take me to the top of the mountain. I followed the perimeter road and stopped at many of the different Barangays, often buying fresh coconut water and conversing with the locals. The Filipinos on the island were just as the American couple described them, friendly and always smiling!

Julio and his son Angelo, another friendly tricycle driver

Julio and his son Angelo, another friendly tricycle driver

I stopped to swim at a favorite local beach, and found myself swimming with dolphins and schools of fish. Back on the shore I met a Barangay official who asked me if I wanted a fresh coconut from the tree. He then scaled a 40 foot tree with bare feet and hands, grabbed a large coconut from the top then climbed back down with one hand still holding the nut! When he got back down he asked me if I had a knife to open it with, when I told him that I didn’t he used a sharp stick to peel off the skin, then cracked the top with a rock! It is situations like this that leave me completely amazed at the ability of locals. On Romblon they almost seem more like natives of a tribe rather than locals as many can live directly of the land and sea.

Barangay official free climbs tree to get me a fresh coconut

Barangay official free climbs coconut tree

Cycling this part of the world not only introduces me to a new culture but also gives me the feeling that I have traveled back in time. In many ways the island seems timeless, bamboo shacks, fresh fish cooking over palm tree biomass and children playing with sticks and road. There are no toys, computers, T.V’s and in many places no electricity.

More roadside food, pork wraps

More roadside food, pork wraps

the server was one of the many transvestites I have seen on the island. Filipinos seem to be very open about this

the server was one of the many transvestites I have seen on the island. Filipinos seem to be very open about this

I climbed Bundok mountain a few minutes before sunset and pitched my tent having he whole mountain to myself. To the west I could see the island of Tablas and to the east Sibuyan. There was no sound except for the wind which kept the mosquitos down. My tent was almost completely hidden by the tall grass.

Sunset from Bundok Mountain

Sunset from Bundok Mountain

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Later the next day I boarded an overnight ferry to Batangas, Luzon (the large, busy main island of the Philippines). I purchased the cheapest ticket available and spent the night in a room full of bunk beds watching Filipinos feast on cup of noodles and rice all night. At 2 am the lady sleeping underneath me got into some political debate with the porter selling bananas, resulting in me having to move beds. I arrived in Batangas at 4:30 am and before pedaling off I noticed something wrong with my rear brake. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the attachment to my rear rack broke inside the brake stud rendering my rear brake completely useless. There is no way to fix this other than having a new stud welded on, and even if this were possible I would still need a new rack bolt made only by my American sponsor Paul. Considering difficulty in getting this done, It looks like I am going to have to finish this tour with only one brake.

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Hog and chicken feed store

Hog and chicken feed store

I am taking a break from cycling and will be diving with my friends for a few days. The tour will officially continue when I fly to Brunei where I will then cycle through Malaysia and Indonesia before heading back to Kazakhstan.

Waiting on an infection

March 5, 2015

facebook xanya

I had so much fun diving and making new friends this last week. I camped near the sea and dove everyday. I dove one warm evening and swam though a huge pool of iridescent algae. Turning off my flashlight the water lit up like sparks from a bon fire and I could see fish swimming through similar pools in the distance.

Last night I noticed that many cuts and scrapes from diving in the coral reefs were beginning to swell, and become infected. Today I went to the hospital and was quickly given large doses of antibiotics. I am resting but Saturday I take the red-eye to Brunei.

I am sorry the photos are not of the beautiful sea and coast but this is my current situation. Touch base again soon. -Julian

 

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knee

knee

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