For those of you with insufficient time or interest to read the whole this, I can summarise thus: I have returned to Sabang via Siquijor, Alona Beach and Boracay. If you want to know more, please read on.
When I left you last I was in Dumaguete drowning in my own snot, so let me tell you where my travels took me from there.
My next destination was to be Siquijor, which is renowned in the Philippines as being home to witches and healers and many Filipinos will not visit the island even today. I took the Delta to the island, a nasty little boat that was built to work in sheltered harbours not the open sea, and lurched frighteningly from one side to the other through the rough ocean.
I had read about a place called Kiwi Dive Resort that sounded quite nice, so headed there (once I'd kissed the ground and thanked Buddha for delivering me in one piece!). The place was wonderful. I sorted out a basic-but-nice en suite room for under £4 then headed down to look at the beach. I've seen some nice beaches over here, but this one has to be my favourite. At high tide the sea lay in strips of turquoise interspersed with delicately darker hues. Once the water receded strips of sand emerged to separate shallow pools where starfish slid slowly along the silken sand, and bands of soldier crabs scurried around, burying themselves as I approached.
The staff at Kiwi were lovely and friendly, and the menu included a large number of vegetarian options; you will be aware by now that this is a real rarity over here, and was courtesy of Kiwi Bruce, the owner, being a veggie himself. As if all that wasn't enough to make me an extremely happy bunny, there was also diving to be done! I spent a week there, one day of which I hired a motorbike and went off to explore the rest of the island - although I didn't find any witches. As far as I am concerned it was a little patch of paradise, and I could easily have stayed much longer.
I managed to drag myself away though - travelling back on a different vessel to the death-trap I'd come over on - and returned to the same room in Dumaguete, where the staff seemed pleasantly surprised to see me. I'd was determined to dive Apo Island, which was nice . . . I cannot show you how nice because my camera was playing up, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
Bruce had told me that Panglao Island off to the south of Bohol was well worth diving, so I backtracked and headed to popular Alona Beach. This too was an attractive place, though it lacked the low-key charm of Siquijor in my eyes. I stayed in a great two story nipa hut for another low price, and arranged for a pro discount for my diving (there has to be some advantage to being an instructor!) with Alona Divers.
The best diving from there is around Balicasag Island, which is home to what I think is the country's longest running marine sanctuary, so has some great fish and coral life along with impressive drop-offs. I split my diving between there and the reefs just off of Panglao, where I saw some amazing things thanks to my sharp-eyed guide. Before I knew it another week had gone by, and I felt the time had come to continue on my way.
I returned to Negros and travelled to the north-west coast of the island and a place called Silay, which is famous for its ancestral homes. One of these has been turned into a guesthouse, so I thought this would be a good place to stay. Now I don't know about you, but the term "ancestral home" conjures up certain images to me . . . and Fortuna Pension House didn't really fit them. The family who still own it were ever so sweet though, and the sign on the back of the door to my room read that they hoped my "stay in Fortuna will remain a brightly coloured ribbon of memory always." Bless!
The following day I checked out the town, where a couple of other ancestral homes (these were more as I had imagined) have been converted into museums. It was a pleasant town to stroll around and had a lot of charm. At one stage I passed a playground where a number of children shouted and waved to me. As many of you know, I am rather childophobic, but decided to break the habit of a lifetime and went over to speak to them. They were thrilled when I asked to take their photo. I said goodbye and walked away thinking to myself how easy that had been, and wondering why I didn't do that more often when the sound of scuttling feet behind me gave me my answer! They followed me around for the next half an hour, even paying to get into the museum I had entered; I started to feel like the Pied Piper. In the end I jumped in a tricycle and waved them goodbye as I made my escape.
The last major destination on my itinerary was Boracay, but I decided to first visit the city of Iloilo (pronounce 'ello 'ello), although with hindsight I am not sure why. I did go to the rather disappointing museum there, and spend some time wandering around a shopping mall, but that was about it really. The next day I crossed the island of Panay to Caticlan where I caught the bangka to Boracay.
Boracay is the tourist destination within the Philippines, and is predictably pretty touristy. I was surprised, then, to find that I really, really liked it. I believe that there were three major contributing factors to this: the rest of the Philippines is so underdeveloped that it made a nice change to be somewhere touristy; being low season the place was pretty much deserted; and I managed to find nice digs for £2.50 a night, much to my amazement. My feelings towards the resort did have me questioning a basic premise about myself though. I have always thought of myself as a "road less travelled" kind of a girl - but maybe I'm actually a "well trodden path" sort after all! Time and further travels will tell.
Boracay's White Beach is really very impressive, and my camera and I enjoyed strolling along it. I've been to beaches that are technically better - longer, wider, finer and whiter sand - but there is definitely something special about this one. As I mentioned visitors were thin on the ground, and those that were there were mainly Filipinos, Japanese and Korean. This meant that during the day the beach was practically deserted, and only as evening drew near and the sun began to sink did they appear on the beach. The "grass is always greener" mentality that humans seem to share means that those with brown skin strive to become whiter while those with white skin go all out to improve their tans.
Not everything on Boracay was as affordable as my accommodation (where I even had a remote-controlled fan! How's that for posh?). I only drank one night, as the beers were quite pricey, relatively speaking, and the food was not cheap - although with easily a hundred eateries spread along the lengthy beach path, finding meat-free dishes was not the challenge I have grown used to over here. I had a curry one night, and was shocked when the bill came to a massive £7 - I hardly even spend that on a Ruby at home. That said, I did make a total pig of myself, and had to sit there for an hour after I had eaten before I felt confident enough to move without fear of splitting at the seams.
You can dive in Boracay too, but I was having far too much fun lounging around to be bothered to do any. I treated myself to a massage every day, sunbathed, swam, read my book and generally chilled. One afternoon I opened my eyes after my massage to find the sun had just set leaving a pale orange glow in its wake. I took my camera and waded out until I was waist-deep in the warm water, to watch in wonder as the colours deepened and the sky became a mass of fiery tones, which were mirrored in the oily surface of the water. It was one of the most sublime sunsets I have ever had the good fortune to witness, and I found myself literally jumping up and down in glee.
I had toyed with the idea of travelling back to Sabang via the Romblon group of islands, returning to Mindoro by sea. I liked the idea of making my whole looping journey over land and sea, but I scrapped those plans when I found out I could fly to Manila for £16. So after five nights I waved bye-bye to Boracay and returned to nasty Manila for a night before catching a bus, boat and jeepney back here to Sabang.
As I had promised the owner I would, I headed first to my old digs to see if the room I had last time was available. I didn't expect it would be, but it was, having been vacated that morning. This is quite fortunate, as I was a little concerned that I may return home pissed one night and try to get into my old room, but its perfectly fine to do that now. I retrieved the stuff I had stored at Atlantis and caught up with old friends, which was nice.
Pedro, who runs the diving here, told me that they had a busy weekend coming up, so I was to spend ten days learning the sites so I could help out when they needed me. Unfortunately yet another cold kept me above water for five of those, and meant that I could only get down when I did return by dosing right up on decongestants and going back to snorting salt water up my nose before each dive - eugh!
The busy weekend came, and we were swamped with Chinese, and ex-pats working in Hong Kong. I was assigned to assist with a group of nine Open Water students and there instructor - with that many students PADI require there to be a certified assistant helping out. The first day was pretty boring, as I didn't understand a word of what was said (it being Chinese) and was just needed to attempt to keep some kind of control. I was interested to see that the first thing he did in the pool was to get them to drop to their knees (standard) and get them to hold hands (different); this meant that in their minds the most important thing to do underwater was hold hands, and they'd get rather anxious if they had a free hand. Sometimes, while the instructor was going through a skill with one or two students, the rest would shuffle around into a circle, looking for all the world like they were having a seance. By the second day things were behind schedule, so I got to do some teaching, which was good - and fortunately most of them understood English, and translated to those that didn't.
Things have quietened down again now, and I'm no longer required to help out. I'm allowed to dive at a discounted rate though, so that's OK. There's under four weeks left before I return home, and I just know that's going to fly by. I've a few things to occupy my time, like updating my websites, and I'm also teaching myself HTML, just for fun. I'm enjoying spending time with the friends I've made here too, and combining that with making the most of the cheap alcohol before I leave - my last bar bill hit an all time high, nearly £15!!! That covered eight hours drinking, and buying shooters for the whole bar too. I'm going to miss these prices!
Last thing to tell you before I sign off is that we had an earthquake last night. I was lying on my bed watching TV when the bed and room started shimmying from side to side. My first thought was that it was the after-effects of the previous night's alcohol, but after a few seconds I realised it was outside of my head. Not trusting Philippine buildings (they're all pretty crumbly) I got myself outside, just in case. I guess it was only little (here at least), but it's the first one I've experienced, so I found it pretty exciting.
Here's wishing that the earth has been moving for you, too.