The journey continues: Welcome to the Philippines
February 7, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
February 13, 2015
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
A pretending Pinoy
February 20, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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