During my time in the Philippines, I have travelled on more boats than ever before and drank more rum than I can remember (literally)… Never have I been closer to becoming a pirate.
Removed from the well worn backpackers’ path through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the Philippines can only be expected to differ from my trip so far. A country made up of over 1,000 idyllic untouched islands ensnares all those on the quest to discover paradise. However, this scattered geography makes travelling problematic. Having to designate entire days to relocating, whilst alternating between modes of transport, proved exhausting. From planes, to wobbly motorbike taxis, to shaky wooden ‘ferries’ where the waves crashed onto the passengers unlucky enough to be sat at the front (i.e. me) leaving us so drenched that we might as well have swam there, to ‘Jeepneys’ (army trucks converted into buses, decorated in brightly coloured graffiti, often with Bible quotes printed along the back).You can also travel by ‘tricycle’ which is a motorbike precariously attached to a side cart. These are very cheap, very loud, and VERY uncomfortable. Most of the journey is spent gripping as tightly as you can to whatever to you can to prevent yourself from bumping into the sharp metal edges.Venturing from island to island became a testing mission.
Nevertheless, the incomparable beauty of the Philippines is something I will never forget. Seas so clear that even on dimmer evenings, where clouds mask the fading daylight and waves disturb the water’s surface, it is possible to peer down at the curious fish surrounding your toes. Sunset fills the sky with a pink and red glow, light leaking through the cloudy sky like ink drops spreading on white paper. Every landscape brims with a vibrant colour. Turquoise lagoons lined with coconut palms, towering mountains of green jungle, to darker forests shaded by slender pines. Hidden waterfalls slip through dense jungle to form a series of electric blue pools. Thick vines dangle towards the pool’s surface, brushing the foam created by the pressure of the falling water. If you swim behind these you can clamber onto rocky ledges and perch, unseen, in the waterfall’s belly. An ubiquitous beauty finds its way even to the large and steady river that snakes through the Bohol jungle. What should be stagnant is instead a startling and sickly blue, an enormous vein running through this Edenic country. By night fireflies illuminate specific trees, their glittering bodies like the glow of a hundred scattered fairy lights.
On every stall, no matter how tiny (sometimes a single woman standing at her window ledge) you can buy the locally brewed Rhum, notoriously known by travellers as ‘Blackout Juice’. For those keeping to a budget, £2 per litre is a hard bargain to walk away from. The locals (unlike all the foreigners) can drink this like water, occasionally flavouring it with lime juice. This creates a deliciously sweet taste but hardly dilutes this deadly liquor.
Whilst the Rhum was extremely popular the common local dish, Adobo, proved more disappointing. A combination of fried chicken, plain rice, and soy sauce (if you were lucky) meant we ended up eating far more western food than I would have liked. Somehow, there was a McDonalds and a Dunkin Doughnuts everywhere we went… However, we did enjoy some large beach barbecues with lots of fish and smoked aubergine turned into a sort of mash. Perhaps the Asian take on baba ghanoush?
This is a country of excess. Paradisiacal beaches, hot springs of up to 43°, large bakeries overflowing with doughnuts and other sweet breads, to extensive and overly complicated travel (taking up to two days) between islands; nothing is in moderation.
This glittering country, with its myriad islands, has provided me with unforgettable moments that will undoubtedly seem no more than a hazy dream when I am back in the impossibly grey English winter.