Mercurial traveling is definitely an apt description of this last week. With no definite plan in mind and a very basic level of correspondence with a few dive shops, we've navigated from northern Thailand through 6 islands of the Philippines. The goal destination has changed a few times but we've narrowed it down to somewhere in Palawan.
Wherever we land it will center around a dive shop where we will drop a few bills on divemaster certification and commit to stay for 1-2 months. So why, and more importantly how, have we cost-effectively zigzagged over to this majestic island of shitty wifi, breathtaking limestone cliff views and winding roads?
(Note 40 Thai baht and 45 Filipino pesos ~ 1 usd. Also, follow the day to day breakdown of our finances HERE! )
November 27th: Pai > Chiang Mai > Bangkok (14 hours) = 2 buses totaling 1500 bht for 2 - purchased at one of the ticket offices on Walking Street, Pai; 3 hours down from the mountains around 762 hairpin turns in a bus holding approx 14 + driver. Then overnight bus with half-reclining chairs and a miserably sticky toilet bowl with no cover, bum gun or flusher (not complainin' just sayin').
November 28th: flight from Bangkok to Manila to Cebu (total 28 hours) = 260 usd for 2 | Hangout in BKK for about 4 hours, lost one of our microfiber towels, had silly argument about how I lost my debit card and said towel (lol... fail... ugh... YOU ARE THE WEAKEST LINK). 12 hour layover in Manila at the Pink Manila Hostel (decent sleeping arrangement - on one another's nerves again, oh loveeeee). 4am back to airport and onto Cebu for extended visas + our divemaster clearance from a doctor.
November 29th: ferry from Cebu to Dumaguete (4 hours) = 400 pesos for 2 in economy class | Turns out our productive days in Cebu are a bust as it's a national holiday, change of plans and sail straight for a dive shop called Liquid Resort. The dive shop extends a fairly warm welcome when we arrive at night but then drops the ball by:
- Never communicating "all-in" pricing for the divemaster course (we ask numerous times)
- Their cost effective lodging was "full" so we had to book our 2 nights in an expensive bungalow
- When we checkout 1 day early from their nearly empty resort, they refund none of the 2nd night in said bungalow
- They charge 375 pesos each for a ride from the ferry, which they had offered "free of charge" should we go with their shop to dive (this is an absurdly high price seeing as a Jeepney would have been 12 pesos each)
- We are charged for a our 2nd round of beers that the owner, Tim - basically ordered for us at the bar on our first night... nice...
On the bright side, we saw a historic church from 1876 in Dauin and then attended an exciting cock fight in Dumaguete, saw some guts spill, won some pesos, lost some pesos (betting help from Danny, a really great local who I didn't completely understand but who made sure we got our winnings and paid up correctly).
November 30th: overnight bus from Duamente to Bacalod (6 hours) = 720 pesos for 2 | This is just an interesting experience. And by interesting I mean aggressive, hilarious, scary, random and strange all at different times. Filipinos are either indifferent to us or really enamored and we are seeing less and less westerners as we travel along. At the bus station it's chaos and T's saltiness has hit epic levels. I takeover and even I need to get a little aggressive to get the last remaining 2 tickets for the overnight bus to Bacalod.
We've been trying to be extra cost conscious and decided to save the 100 pesos (literally ~2usd) by walking to the port using the scenic route. By scenic I mean... Don't fucking walk this 3km route alone, especially at 4am, except if you are a little batshit crazy + love breakfast sandwiches, karaoke and seediness. Every little home (tinroof, clapboard / fence sides, 2x4m) is chained up and there are dogs barking from every angle. As we turn onto the main drag we hear some loud karaoke and a 24h Angel's Burger stand where we proceed to hit the grease hard and devour 1 breakfast sandwich and 2 cheeseburgers each for just around 100 pesos. Next, we bushwhack to the ferry station where we recline across 4 hardback chairs each and sleep for another 1.5 hours.
December 1st: ferry from Bacalod to Iloilo (1 hour) = 200 pesos for 2 | I remember none of this ride as I continued my fragmented sleep, however we did economy seating which was fine.
December 2nd: ferry from Iloilo to Cuya to Palawan (36 hours!) = 1400 pesos for "admirals" quarters / aircon for 2 | Be sure to book the day ahead or earlier at Milagrosa office in the port and see pics below as there are a few versions of their schedule, none of which are online, this being the best site for info I found. We bid adieu to Iloilo after having exhausted the possibilities within walking distance of our hotel (the market, the aircon malls, the motorbike repair shops, the karaoke at all hours...) and board the ferry loaded with Tanduay rum, mixers, pbj sandwiches, cup'o noodles + fruit. After sitting in the port for 3 extra hours filled with gin rummy and new friends we leave port at 10pm and attempt sleep on a very turbulent 12 hour ride to the first stop in Cuyo - the windsurfers paradise. Cuyo is so wonderful that we almost skip the 2nd portion of the ferry and post up there for a week, but decide that the island feel will probably continue on once we hit Puerto Princesa + the rest of Palawan.
One of Cuyo's main hilites was the sparse toothed, fluently English speaking Heidi from the market (down by the Cuyo sign) and her homemade guacamole. Also amazing were the tiny blue burrowing crabs that burrow when they feel tremors on the sand. We stopped moving right on top of them and they unburrowed all around our feet. And then I freaked out ;)
The rest of the ferry ride was uneventful, but I was able to get in a workout on the deck + we arrived in Puerto Princesa for a 3 night stay at Sheebang Hostel - cheap, social + the site of murder!!!! Of note: the hostel felt quite safe but this is just a reminder that things can get buried in the news... (read a few of the 1 star reviews here then compare to the Palawan News version here).