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Last stop: Philippines

Last stop: Philippines

Less than a month left. I see the end of my trip and that isn’t cool, not cool at all. Few days ago to be fair, after a terrible food poisoning in Laos I was kind of ready to get back home. I felt that I was not living the experiences in the same way as I did in the beginning of the trip. Conversations with backpackers started to be repetitive – I don’t give a shit where you’ve been and where you’re going next -, I felt lazy to do things – I’ve seen enough waterfalls and caves, I’m done with temples – and I was fed up with Asian food.

I should have left then. Instead I made a mistake, a mistake I had planned before, going to the Philippines.

The Philippines are just amazing, from day one when I arrived in Manila – definitely not the best destination in the country – I felt a new, different vibe. I loved the place and the people. I suddenly wanted to explore the whole country and, by all means, not felt the desire to go back to Europe.

The Philippines are probably the most difficult country to visit without planning in advance and having an itinerary. Which is generally my situation. I never plan in advance. I just get to a new country and then I start planning. However, just looking at the map you can see why it’s difficult to do that in the Philippines. There are a lot of small islands, with point of interests pretty much everywhere. Then there is that blue bit between an island and the other. That’s commonly known as the sea, in the Philippines I call it “problem”. Incredibly, despite being a country made of islands and so supposedly of sailors, there aren’t many connections between an island and the other. There are flights which are generally not cheap and not frequent. So a little advice here: plan your visit in the Philippines a bit ahead.

In the hostel where I stayed in Manila, everyone had the same problem: making a plan. We were in a room with a big map of the Philippines sticked on a wall. It looked like we were making war plans, staring at the map, pointing, drawing lines with our fingers and taking notes. Everyone was going in a different direction, to a different island. It was not like Vietnam going South to North or North to South, that was easy.

In the end I picked my island and booked a flight, although the only reasonably-priced one was 3 days after. I had to spend 3 days in Manila then, a place which I had been told was not worth to visit not even for half a day…

Manila is surely the most unsafe place I’ve been during my trip, but it’s very interesting. As per the rest of the Philippines, all the location names are in Spanish, given by the Spanish who ruled the country for over 300 years. After all, also the name “the Philippines” (Las Islas Filipinas) is after King Philip II of Spain (a bit of culture here 😏). The city centre is very decadent and presents an old district called Entremuras (Inside the Walls) which is entirely in colonial Spanish style. Besides that there are some rich districts such as BGC, which is really modern and clean, it looks like Singapore.

This is a Jeepney, the characteristic Filipino city bus a ride cost something like £0.1. They’re spread all over the country and they’re just uncountable in Manila.
These are Manila’s street children. Unfortunately due to the number of homeless in Manila a lot of kids live in the street. They live stealing.
Taking a picture of them was really risky, right after I shot it, these kids jumped on the Jeepney I was in. They surrounded me surely intending to steal my camera. I crouched, keeping the camera on my lap, protecting it with my body, then all in a sudden as the Jeepney was slowing down, I jumped out of it and managed to escape. In Manila you ought to keep your eyes wide open especially if going out with something valuable.

Manila is also the most density populated urban area in the world, 44% of the population lives in slums and with 3.1 million are homeless, it has the largest homeless population of any city in the world. It’s quite a place.

Traffic in Manila.

Usually when travelling people tends to go only to the “best” places, the ones with monuments, nice landscapes and so on. However, I believe that to visit a country for real is worth to visit all its aspects. Especially if they’re as big and characterising as Manila. I’ve now seen some beautiful places in the Philippines and sure I’m gonna see many more, but I’m grateful to have seen Manila too. I feel that without it my Philippines experience wouldn’t have been complete.

From Manila I flew to Palawan, which apparently is one of the country’s wildest islands. The south of it is not explorable, at least for tourists. From what I’ve been told, you could try to go as south as Brooke’s Point, but after that it’s really no-zone. You’d risk to be kidnapped by terrorists or pirates. Legends? Maybe, but I’m not gonna check their veracity.

The most popular destination on the island is El Nido, all the best pictures of the Philippines seem to be taken from there. So definitely a place where to go, despite being probably overly touristic. That is going to be my next stop so I will be able to check that.

For now though, I stopped in Port Barton a place way less popular, probably because of inaccessible location. It’s a small isolated village on the west coast, enclosed by the mountains and reachable only through a dirt road which takes about 4 hours ride. The route is panoramic, but very rough and bumpy.

This is the kind of bus which brings you Port Barton. Mine wasn’t full though so I could sit inside rather than on the roof. It would have been certainly an experience and it looks nice from here, but imagine 4 hours under the scorching sun on a very bumpy road where you feel you could fall down anytime.

This is definitely one of the best places I’ve ever been, although unfortunately I won’t be able to stay here for long. The wi-fi here is basically non-existing and also the phone signal is very low – so no hot-spot either-. In these internet connection conditions it’s almost impossible to get any work done.

Sunset on Port Barton beach.

Overall, electricity is quite an issue here to be fair. There is no electricity grid system, all the electric power is provided by gasoline engined power generators which they switch on only for few hours per day. From 8am to 11am and from 6pm to 11pm in the evening. I mean, there are probably some places which generate a bit more energy and probably for more hours, but I’m pretty sure that after midnight there is no electricity in here. A problem? Not really.

I honestly noticed the lack of electricity only after 3 nights… Alright, I might have been a little drunk… but at night the beach is entirely peppered with torches and all nightlife happens there, specifically by two beach bars (both called Reggae Bar…very creative). There are always people playing live music and singing. The drinks are cold, so what else you need?

Maybe it’s just  bit unsafe when going back alone as there are packs of dog attacking you sometimes, but that’s a risk a bit all over Asia.

Given the small size of the place, here it’s very easy to meet almost everyone who’s in the village. At least I feel I know everyone, but I must say that I’ve been all day and night around.

From Port Barton is possible to reach a lot of very tiny, paradisiac islands like this one. From this pic you see half of the island, the other half was of the same size behind me.
To go around the islands you only need to find a group of people and organise a boat tour. The prices are very low, lower than in the more popular El Nido from what I’ve been told.
We found these guys at Reggae Bar at night and they brought us around for a “special price”. I mean they said it was special just for us, but they look like the kind of guys who hang out at those Reggae Bars every night giving “special prices” to travellers the following day. Filipino style, I like it.
While we were on the boat tour, we finished our drinks and wanted to buy some more. So the boat crew took a detour for us and brought us to a fishermen islands where usually tourist tours don’t go. All these kids run to us from everywhere surprised to see a bunch of white people.
The fishermen playing their games (and some of my friends in the background trying to find some alcohol I think).

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