25 Nov

Mike and I belong to a service that finds international airfare deals, which is part of how we’ve managed to go to some interesting trips in the last few years. (For example, last year, we flew round trip to Japan, the three of us, for like $1,800.) In May, we got an email about cheap flights to Philippines and decided we’d go for Thanksgiving. I was excited because I love to travel, but also a little ambivalent because it was so random… and because it was a beach vacation and I don’t know how to swim and don’t need to tan! But I figured the worst that would happen was I’d sit on the beach reading while Mike and Michaela did water stuff, and there are way worse things in the world.

Our lives have been very hectic since May, so we sort of put planning on the back burner. Mike always does our itineraries and he didn’t have it all nailed down until a week or so before we were scheduled to depart. It was a hard trip to plan! The Philippines are an archipelago of 7,000-plus islands and traveling from place to place often involves ferry rides.

On the day in question, we drove up to LAX, taking advantage of our fancy credit card that gets us access to an airport lounge. The flight is 15 hours, so there was a lot of sleeping (or trying to anyway) before we eventually made it to Manila. Once in Manila, we went through immigration, got our bags, and then took a shuttle to the domestic terminal, to grab another flight. The crazy thing about the airport there is the terminals are basically in different areas of the city. To go from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4, we had to take a bus ride through the city on a shuttle with no doors!

The flight from Manila to Puerto Princess was pretty easy. No snacks or drinks on the plane; it was like Southwest light. Our hostess (Mina) picked us up from the airport and took us on a tour of the city before we drove the hour to the Tarabaran Cottages, a rustic sort of resort in Palawan. We spent several days there, lounging by the beach, fighting the bugs (so. many. bug. bites.), island hopping, river cruising, eating, and yes, reading on the beach. We even took a hike through the jungle to visit a native village; as a show of respect, we had to bring tobacco for the men and cookies for the women and children. Mina – and our driver Elmer and Elmer’s son Derek – were lovely. Our last night, they serenaded us with songs in Tagalog and also some American favorites. Watching Michaela sing “Jambalaya” with them was a hoot. It almost made up for the placing not having hot water. (Fun fact: I didn’t know how much I loved hot water until I didn’t have any.)

If you follow me on social media you already know this, but if not (or for posterity’s sake), we flew from Puerto Princess to Cebu City. We were supposed to grab a ferry to go to a place called Bohol that’s home to tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills and some other cool stuff, but we were waylaid by Typhoon Samuel. The Philippine Coast Guard stopped all the ferries, so we ended up finding a hotel in the city and exploring Cebu that day. The next morning, we tried again but still no ferries, so we took a taxi three hours southwest to Moalboal, another beautiful beach town. (The taxi ride cost about $50 in American dollars. Can you imagine what it would cost here to take a taxi from, say, San Diego to Thousand Oaks? It’d be outrageous!)

We stayed at the Quo Vadis resort for two nights. I was expecting there would be a lot of vendors walking up and down the beach selling trinkets, but there really weren’t (we only say two the while time we were on Philippine beaches), which would never happen in Mexico, for example. Quo Vadis had really beautiful grounds, with a big blue pool, stellar ocean views, and whitewashed buildings. Like everywhere else in the Philippines, there were some stray dogs, and we saw giant crabs (like the size of my fist) each night skittering around the sidewalk after it got dark.

Moalboal itself was pretty sleepy, at least while we were there. It was gray and a little bit drizzly due to the typhoon, but our last day it cleared and was sunny and hot and I could imagine the place being even more amazing. We took a tricycle (a motorcycle with a sidecar bolted onto it) to Kawasan Falls one morning. I surprised myself by getting in the (cold!) water and wading out before Mike or Michaela. I was trying to be adventurous and break out of my comfort zone! (I also ate a few bites of fish and tried fried pig knuckles, so I would say it was a success.) Michaela was super brave, too– she went out to under the falls!

Our last morning in Moalboal, we took a trike to the famous White Beach, which was exactly what the name implies. The water was soooo clear and warm. There were schools of fish swimming by, and coral in the water, and shells everywhere. I didn’t wear my bathing suit (stupid me!) so I sat on the beach and read (are you sending a theme) while Mike snorkled and Michaela played on the water.

Then it was back to Cebu City. Mike and I both agree it’s one of our least favorite cities we’ve been to. A ton of traffic and really bad smog, plus trash everywhere.

Speaking of ubiquitous Philippine sights, I have never seen so much livestock in my whole life! I saw hundreds of roosters, many of which were for cockfighting (we passed a number of cockfighting rings in various cities), plus pigs and cows and even a couple of water buffalo. And the roosters crowed all. the. time. Day and night.

From Cebu City, we headed back to Manila. I was actually really excited to spend some time there because of the World War II-related history, but the city was practically impossible to navigate! We literally waited two hours for a taxi before giving up and deciding to swim in the hotel pool instead. Uber used to be there, but they sold to a company called Grab that is a taxi-hailing app. We didn’t have great luck with it. It didn’t help that while our cell phones worked great in the rest of the country, neither Mike nor I could get online on our phones in Manila. So while our flight from Manila wasn’t until 9 p.m., we spent our day going to the amazing Art in Island 3-D museum, then wandered around the world’s 5th-larges mall, and headed to the airport early.

I am incredibly glad we visited the Philippines. The beaches were beautiful and we really enjoyed our time relaxing on the shore and in the water. If we’d had more time, I would have enjoyed visiting even more of the country’s various islands and taking in the different sights. That being said, as is the case in so many places, we also saw heartbreaking poverty. Homes made of flimsy scrap metal with no indoor plumbing, people washing clothes at communal open taps. Kids with tattered or no clothes. Lots of public urination. I spent a lot of time talking to Michaela about how lucky we are that we happened to be born where we were and how much we have compared to most people in the world, and working on her to say thank you in Tagalog to show our heartfelt appreciation for people’s service. I hope those are lessons that will stay with her as much as her memories of holding a starfish and collecting sand dollars and drinking fresh pineapple shakes.

Because we really are incredible fortunate.

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