Saturday, January 23, 2010

Small La Laguna

Getting here to our new location for our final week of beach was a comedy of errors, it seems. Things started out well - we were picked up even before 10 am by our driver in the nice big Toyota van with great air-conditioning and we set off for the Sofitel where the other couple who were to go with us were ostensibly waiting.

That didn't take too long, maybe 20 minutes - I had wondered why we were picked up so early since the story was that the couple would be ready at 11 am. Well, first we had to go through hotel car security and then weren't allowed to wait in front of the hotel. Security was serious - we had a sniffer dog to check us out. But we were shunted off to a parking lot where we were left by the driver - with the air-con on, at least - and were left there for about 30 minutes before he came back without them.

So they were at the airport? He had gotten a call from his office. Off we went to the airport where we parked again, and the guy checked - no passengers for him there. So back to Sofitel - and just before we arrived there he got another phone call - and only two blocks from the hotel we made a U-turn and went back to the airport - to another terminal (there are 3). More phone calls - I even got to talk to Katherine at our hotel who explained things a little and said she would make amends when we arrived.

Finally at the second terminal we found the couple - who were Americans here to dive at El Galleon (a present for Dave's 60th birthday from his wife Karen - nice - my 60th is coming up this year - wonder what I'll get?

So we spent almost two hours in the van before even finding Dave and Karen. There had obviously been lots of crossed wires. They were fun companions for the travel though and apparently Karen is going to be spending her time here knitting, so we can talk about that - lol - as well as hear about Dave's dive adventures.

The drive down to Batangas took another two hours - mostly on a good toll road so except for the bottle-necks of the toll booths, we made good time. Until we arrived in Batangas where it seemed every vehicle in the city was on the road - it was really a jam. Turns out one of the bridges that crosses whatever water course we had to get over, is out so everyone is channeled through the same route.

At the private pier where the hotels for Puerto Galera/Sabang moor their boats, we were ushered to our very large 50 seater boat - all four of us! The ride over took an hour through some decent swells - thank heaven the outriggers are flexible because they took lots of stress. At one point I was moved to the other side of the boat to help balance it out and then at another point a big wave breached the plastic water screen and drenched my shirt and pants. The sailors were quite apologetic and immediately came over to swab me, and the cushion I was sitting on, down. No other mishaps although when we arrived at the beach it took the pilot quite awhile to maneuver the boat into the wharf.

Our hotel, El Galleon, has a small pool and our room was right outside it - if someone had jumped in we might have been swamped there too since it was a foot lower than the pool. It was a nice room - smaller than expected but comfortable, and with hot water in the sink as well as in the shower (that's a luxury in this country). We relaxed there until the couple in the room above ours started moving the furniture around - maybe they are amateur interior decorators. It was quite noisy and accompanied by an odd wailing tone.

Later we realized that the couple was having a little tiff - this is an American man and his Filipina partner. She appeared to be in a little snit - cried, whined, went off in a huff - at one point the guy said sotto voce, "It's going to be a long night!" Geordie wasn't too thrilled with the sound effects so while I sat drinking a beer, he went off to the hotel desk and when he came back he announced that we were moved. He had been gone about 10 minutes which I thought was a little long, but in that time he had been offered an upstairs room and had moved all the stuff. Now we get to be the people who are redecorating the room for those below us.

Today it poured rain in the early morning - I slept in quite late, so missed the serious rain that G sat through wondering if I was ever going to arrive so he could have his breakfast with me. He is a patient man. The weather is really nice now though and since we seem to be in the shadow of a hill, it's actually cooler in our room at night so after awhile we didn't even need the air-con. That's nice.

Today we went exploring a little and found out that we can get a direct boat/bus transfer to Manila at a sensible hour - 9:15, for only about $7.00 for two. About a ninety percent saving from the hotel transfer costs. Guess we should be sensible and take it. It even gets us to the area near where we are staying so we can walk to our hotel.

Back in Manila two nights ago we had a great time with John (Vancouver), his good friend Gary from Manila, and James from LA/Mobile, Alabama. We ate in a really good Filipino restaurant - some of the best filipino food we've had on our trip. And so close to our hotel. Then we walked to the gay area of Malate and had a wonderful evening sitting outside the O bar with lot of great people watching and laughs with our friends. It was a late evening for us and made it hard for us to crawl out of bed at 8 am so we could have breakfast and get ready for that 10 am pickup.

We are back in Manila in a week - so we'll have to get in touch with Gary again - John will be flying home by then. It's a Saturday night so we could have a great time with all the people hanging out in our hotel neighbourhood. We will look forward to it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fun, food and Film in Manila

Lots of firsts yesterday. Who would have thought that we would take our first public bus ride this late in our trip. I think we were spoiled in India where we had personal taxi service all over the country which was so freeing that we can't give it up anymore.

In any case yesterday morning we left Tagaytay on an almost sunny day taking one of the motorcycle trikes down to the bus stop area. I got to ride pillion, just like Geordie did the night before - side saddle on the bike itself. At the bus stop a bus pulled up as we arrived and after confirming that it went to Manila (well, to Baclaran, which we'd never heard of) we got on. The bus was airconditioned - we were glad we were still wearing our long-sleeved shirts.

Once we were settled we pulled out the guide book and found that Baclaran was indeed in the neighbourhood of Manila and actually closer to our hotel area than the area we thought we needed. The ride down to Manila through the province of Cavite was lovely - the road for a long way was full of garden centres selling plants which lined the road. Certainly if one lived here one could have a gorgeous garden. We had seen a bonsai in a garden centre in Tagaytay itself that would have set us back about 65,000 pesos (about $1500.00) - a goodly bit of money but so beautiful.

Baclaran turned out to be not quite as easy as we hoped but as usual we coped. We were let off in a sea of buses and had to walk about 10 minutes through buses, jeepneys, people, cars and a large open air market before we found a street where we could locate a taxi - a bit of a rattletrap that still got us where we wanted to go. Good thing we'd been there before because we did have to help the driver find it.

At the hotel things did not go well. We had reserved a room on the 2nd floor (so we thought), although we also knew that we would have to spend one night climbing to the 4th floor. But when we showed up we were informed by a couple of surly and sullen young women that they didn't book specific rooms, that the room we wanted was occupied and we would have to spend all four nights climbing to the 4th floor. We went to look and discovered the "executive room" was about a third the size of the one we'd had back in November, and on the side of the building where the huge condo is being constructed with lots of banging, slamming, and other construction noise to entertain us.

No go! We went to have a coffee at Starbucks (attached to the hotel) and Geordie went off to check out other hotels in the neighbourhood. He came back about 5 minutes later and sent me off to look at room 301 of the Rainbow Hotel across the street. I went off and 5 minutes later was booking the room for us. From the little tiny noisy room we were to pay $1700 pesos, we moved to a large room with a queen sized bed, and a sitting area with a "pleather" sofa and two chairs, breakfast included in the price, $1600 pesos. In a hotel with an elevator!

Ok, on to more fun stuff. While we were on the bus heading down to Manila, Geordie's phone rang and our friend John from Vancouver was at the other end, checking on our arrival in Manila. We arranged to call him as soon as we arrived which we did. He and his brother Joey then made plans to meet us in Manila after we arrived.

It was great. Joey arrived in his car with John, we had our excited reunion and then we headed off to the Mall of Asia for a little tour of Filipino food. Joey apparently has learned the lessons of his mother well, according to John, and insisted we eat as much food as he could think of. We had grilled chicken on a bamboo skewer at Mang Inasal - a big chain that has restaurants all over the country. Then we had to go have huge fresh lumpia (a filipino egg roll) at Mannan Hang, and from there around the corner to have halo-halo - shaved ice with sweetened black banana, a milk based topping and a garnish of slices of creme caramel.

Joey thought this was hardly enough - there was so much more to try, but we were bursting at the seams. It was great fun. We also did a little shopping - got to go to the Costco of the Philippines, and looked at tv tables at the Mall. Joey is still refurnishing his house after last October's typhoon damage and needs 7 tv stands!

Our final stop was for coffee - Joey thought we needed dessert there too, but we resisted. Honestly, even I can't eat that much food. I think I've gained back the 3 pounds I'd hoped I'd lost in the last couple of weeks of eating my high-fibre, no beer diet.

And finally - we said goodbye to our two wonderful hosts and sent them off. We stayed because we wanted to see Avatar, and although Geordie didn't find it so comfortable, I thought seeing the movie in 3D at the Imax theatre was incredible. If you haven't seen this movie, the special effects alone are worth the price. This is the most vividly realized alien planet that I've ever even imagined in all my science fiction reading. The plant life, the animal life, the sky - it is impossible to put into the words the glorious detail. Certainly there are gaps in the storyline - this is not a perfect movie. As I'm sure you've read in reviews, the notion of a sentient planetscape does take simplistic aim at organized religion, the references to recent conflicts here on Earth ("shock and awe"), and the in-your-face racism of the military, and the "big business is king" attitude are way over the top. And the Avatar concept itself needs a little more development. Finding out only half way through the movie that the avatar just collapses when the original mind comes out of stasis was a stretch too.

However, go see this movie. And if you can see it in 3D all the better. The effects are astounding, the scenery is impossibly phenomenal, and the animal life is wild.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wind Doth Blow

We have been living a very sedentary life at the resort with nothing extraordinary happening at all. Geordie has had a dip or two in the "pool" (the ocean), and I have been his erstwhile lifeguard at times. (Not all the times - one night he decided to go in at 9 pm and the hotel guard watched him. I wanted to read!

The only news - is that the wind has been up for three days, so it's actually quite cool on the beach - last night we almost needed wraps to keep ourselves warm. Not quite like shivering in - 40, but hey, compared to the usual.

We have now arranged all our accommodation until we get back to Canada. We leave here early on Sunday morning for a short hop to the mainland of Panay and then a short flight to Manila, from where we have to figure out how to get to Tagaytay most efficiently. I'm hoping we can book a van from the airport but failing that we'll have to catch a taxi back to Manila then a bus to Tagaytay from one of the bus stations. (Yes, I've figured out which one.)

We will be staying at the Tagaytay Econo Inn for 3 nights - some people think that may be too long but we have our books to read so we'll be fine. From Tagaytay we make our way back to Manila and our hotel at Malate Pensionne. In Manila we will get to hang out with our friend James from LA for sure, and our friend John from Vancouver, maybe, and maybe his cousin Henry who we have communicated with about hotels.

From Manila on January 23 we are transferring to the island of Mindoro and the hotel El Galleon. It has a pool as well as being on the beach - maybe by then we can both go swimming. We are spending a week there before we transfer back to Manila for our last three nights at Malate Pensionne and then we will wing our way home just in time to be part of the Winter Olympics festivities in Vancouver. I may have to go down to the stadium and stand outside begging for tickets to see the men's figure skating, since we don't have tickets to anything, but I won't be standing on any ski hills watching the slalomers schuss by.

It will be nice to be home even though we won't be able to drive anywhere for a month what with the Olympic road closures, but at least I can go visit my regular coffee shop and get a little knitting in - there are socks to knit and lots of yarn at home to knit them with. Geordie is looking forward to getting to the library and stacking up on books too. Ah the comforts of home.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hey, You! Out of the Water!

Yesterday I got to go into the water at Boracay for the first time on this part of the trip. And the first time in over two weeks. Geordie gave me a clean bill of health even though there was still a scab on part of my scratch wound at my ankle. It was lovely to be there with my brand new swim goggles so I could finally do a little length swimming too - to get ready for our return home in February.

Oh that things would stay the same! I had not shared with Geordie my little niggling worry that there was something going on with the area where I suffered when I was in Thailand - the time that I rode on an elephant in agony because I didn't want to spoil our holiday and the time I had to go to hospital in Chiang Mai for an operation, and a healing process that took a year. But last night I decided that I had better let him know. Things weren't looking too bad but we decided that, yes, I should go back to the medical clinic and have an expert look.

So today we walked up the path to the clinic. Since it was Sunday the doctor was not in, but she was called by telephone and was there to see me in 10 minutes. This woman was not the child that I was expecting from my last experience. It appears that she is in fact the regular doctor and the two who were there the last time were just filling in for her for 10 days.

She invited me in, got me to get my clothes off and examined me. At first she didn't see the problem but I made her look more closely and she was able to determine that my diagnosis was correct and indeed my old problem had resurfaced. But, the good news was that this time I hadn't waited so long to seek help so the doctor felt certain that we had caught it in time.

Then she did her prescription. First an anti-biotic. Then the pronouncement - NO SWIMMING! Sigh and double sigh - what's the point of being at a beach if you can't go in the water. Then she announced a few more things - a high-fiber diet, at least 2 liters of water a day, no alcohol. Hmmm, I think she had noticed my weight and decided to be pro-active and has put me on a diet. Nothing to do with my new infection at all. Seems sneaky to me!

But she was really wonderful. We laughed a lot. We had a good conversation - she was on an Alaska Cruise recently that had landed in Victoria, BC, she was thrilled that we were a married couple. We discussed finance - I gave her a couple of pointers so she could retire early like we did and then when we were saying good-bye she hugged me and then Geordie. Now when was the last time your doctor hugged you good-bye?

I have to go back to see her on Wednesday to see my progress, so I'm expecting another hug then. Maybe it's part of her therapy - hugs are said to help with healing, so I'm expecting a quick recovery and the opportunity to get back in the water by the time we get to the beach in Sabang, Puerto Galera.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Back on the Beach

We finally left Siquijor four days ago taking the ferry to Cebu where we stayed two nights then flew to Kalibo on the island of Panay, then took the air-con van to Caticlan and finally the little boat to Boracay. Because we couldn't quite get the organization of flights to get us to Palawan we decided the least we could do was come back here to the nicest beach we've found on our travels.

It was like homecoming for us - as we walked down the beach we were greeted by all the people we'd said good bye to 3 weeks ago and welcomed back with open arms. People here really are friendly and genuinely welcoming. We are at the same place we stayed for the last 12 days we were here, and are quite comfortable. The beach is as nice as we remembered although I can't yet enter the water. I haven't mentioned that I scratched my leg somehow about two weeks ago and haven't been able to swim again, because it too got infected. I thought I was safe swimming in the pool at Coral Cay, but I was a little too cocky. The pool. water is mostly salt water pumped in from the ocean so whatever is in the water affected my leg. I'm taking care, it's almost fully healed but I don't dare go in until I'm certain it's complete. I think it may take a couple more days. Sigh.

We are off to lunch shortly with folks we met at Coral Cay. Charlotte and Anders and their their very young daughter are staying a long walking distance from us although on the same beach, so we are going to catch a tricycle on the main road to get there. White Beach where we are staying is 4 kilometers long which explains why we are so hot by the time we get to D'Mall where our favourite restaurant is. In order to look less than soaking wet, the tricycle makes eminent sense. And it's cheap enough.

We do have good news of a different kind. Our friend James from LA is in Thailand right now and is flying to Manila on the 21st of the month. Because we haven't seen him for some time and it's so close, we have rearranged our schedule again so we can meet up with him in Manila for at least a day. We are going to fly to Manila early then head to Tagaytay which is a community about 2 1/2 hours from Manila near a non-erupting volcano. We will spend several days there and then head back to Manila the same day James arrives there to spend two nights before going off to Puerto Galera and our last stint on the beach before we finish in Manila for the trip home to Vancouver and the Olympic games which we will watch on TV.

We look forward to your messages both on the email and on the blog. Do continue to keep in touch. We really do miss you all.