Monthly Archives: February 2013

Unlucky On Siquijor

Siquijor (siki-hor) is an island that when mentioned to a Filipino, will always get the same reaction, ‘ohhh Siquijor, witchcraft, be careful!’ Yes it is true, Siquijor has been known as a dwelling for healers, but this is an old tradition fading fast. Filipinos are generally very superstitious people whom believe that spirits should not be provoked in anyway, so what I had been warned about could only be taken with a pinch of salt.

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We opted to camp on the beach around San Juan. We were treated to djembe/didgeridoo jams every night by our free spirited friends camping nearby and welcome to cook our own food on the fire. All was well and we were optimistic about the next few days exploring the island’s beautiful beaches and waterfalls.

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Before doing anything we decided, why come to ‘the Mystique Island’ and not visit a healer. We managed to track down a ‘Mangkukulam’ as they’re known locally, by driving around the hills waving a picture of an old woman to some of the locals until we were pointed in the right direction. Once we arrived at the healers gaff, we took turns to receive a diagnosis. The healing practice ‘bolo-bolo’ involves the mangkukulam blowing on a black ball through a bamboo pipe in a glass of clear water and manoeuvring around ones body until the water turns brown to reveal your ailments. Not the most conventional of treatment, but better than the last time I visited a doctor when the local GP was more concerned about finishing his sudoku and munching a Gregg’s cheese and onion pasty…

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When the diagnosis was complete, the healers son told us we were both fighting fit and off we went. I always go into these things with an open mind so had no real opinion on it at the time. Mind you the experience lost a little of its atmosphere because of the blasting karaoke coming from the healer’s family, I safely say I loathe ‘the power of love’ by Jennifer Rush even more…

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From then on in, things in Siquijor went horribly wrong. First, we got riotously drunk on local rum ‘Tanduay’ which cost 60pence a bottle (the coke cost 70), the weather took a turn for the worst and instead of exploring the island, we were confined to the inside of a cheap Aldi tent. I then had a bout of severe, unexplained fever and a small blister on my foot managed to get infected to the point where it became green, smelly and very painful…

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It was almost time to leave the island when the storms finally started to settle. On our way to the port to buy our boat tickets we got a flat tyre…

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The motorbike was repaired and thankfully, I made it to the port in time before the ticket office closed. On the way back, we were running low on gas after horsing the bike to catch the ticket office, petrol stations can be few and far between. You can guess what happened next…

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So maybe the Filipino’s superstitions are right and we shouldn’t have disturbed the spirits, either that or it was all just one big coincidence. We didn’t get to explore much of the Mysterious island, but everything happens for a reason and we met some great people and lived like like castaways for a while. Ironically, just before we boarded the boat, the sun got out…

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Grandaddy Of Negros

Auf wiedersehen Zucker beach, hello to the other side of Negros Island, Negros Oriental. Filipino bus rides can be quite entertaining at times, on this one in particular I was lucky enough to witness what might have been a world record for the most passengers on one tricycle, and had an interesting conversation with a local about toilets. In the Philippines a toilet is also known as a comfort room, I explained that where I come from we sometimes call a toilet a ‘bog’. The word ‘bog’ is a strange word for a Filipino tongue to pronounce, ‘bo…borg…b-hog’ the guy couldn’t get his head around it…

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We spent a night in the provincial capital Dumaguete before heading down the coast to the small town of Dauin, pronounced the same but not to be confussed with Darwin in Australia of course. The purpose for coming to this place was to dive.

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Apo island is just off Negros and is said to have some of the best diving in the Philippines, although the guide books say that about pretty much every dive site, even though their so called travel writers don’t dive or even check out some places they write about. Apo means Grandfather in Tagalog so I’m hoping this island is going to be the Grandaddy of diving, lets wait and see.

The underwater real estate around the island was exceptional, in three dives around Apo, we saw many extra large turtles, pretty hideous frog fish and some black and white super poisonous sea snakes. We also swam through some volcanic water coming from the sea bed and encountered new breed of underwater creature called ‘the Korean diver’. We came across the large school of Koreans at the start of the first dive and I was not surprised that all they seem interested in doing was what they do best, taking photos of each other doing the peace sign underwater, with a camera which looked like a robot. All the gear, no idea…

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Ready to dive Apo?

When not swimming with the fish, we spent our time riding into the highlands to visit Casaroro falls around the area of Valencia and the hot springs. The hot springs were a nice place to spend a few hours, that is if you like sitting in a pool of scolding hot water reeking of rotten eggs…

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Eggy Water

The final dive of our stay here in Dauin was the ‘car wreck’. I’d like to say there was a cool story behind how the car got there, such as the Mitchell brothers of Dumaguete drove it into the azure after an argument got out of hand when one found out the other was having it away with his missus. But no, the car was just put there for divers 25 years ago. The wreck at 25 metres deep, barley resembled a car, but now serves as a meeting place for the local Lion fish.

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Car Wreck Briefing

For anyone heading into the area to dive, I recommend organising it through Bongo Bongo divers in Dauin. A new place with a relaxed home stay atmosphere. They do trips to Apo and excellent home-made sausages for BBQ nights! What more can you want! Check out their Facebook page here

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Ten Great Cities

It’s not easy doing nothing on Sugar beach. When lying in a hammock all day sometimes boredom can set in, even for the best of us. I was recently asked ‘what is your favourite city?’ after
much debate I have decided to put together a list of my top 10 great cities which I have visited. This is all personal opinion and I’m sure this list will change in due course, but here it goes. What would be in your top 10?

10. Edinburgh, Scotland

Stepping off the train at Haymarket station to the sound of bagpipes, you
defiantly know you’re North of the border. Kilts, haggis’, castles, shortbread, tartan, Robbie bloody Burns! Edinburgh reeks everything Scotland!

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9. Kandy, Sri Lanka

This holy hill station surrounded by tea plantations, has a much more laid back feel than the nation’s capital Colombo. Riddled with colonial and Buddhist history, Kandy is a great place to explore in a few days. Just watch out for the terminator rickshaw driver…

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Kandy War Cemetery

8. Casablanca, Morocco

Overlooked by travellers by the favoured Marrakech, Casablanca could easily be mistaken for a series of Parisian walkways. With a drinking strip to rival South Shields, Casablanca can defiantly be the beginning of some beautiful friendships…

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7. Vilnius, Lithuania

My favourite of the Baltic capitals, Vilnius is not yet ruined by the British stag dos, throwing up and pissing all over the streets. This city of churches serves up excellent, cheap beer and great food. What’s not to love about a city with dodgem buses?!

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6. Sydney, Australia

‘Sydney, the poofter capital of Australia!’ to quote backpacker slaughtering lunatic Mick Taylor, has the nightlife to rival anywhere in the world and beautiful beaches only a boomerang throw away. From ‘Country Bondi’ to Wollongong, Sydney has something for everyone.

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Taking part in the annual Sydney Mardi Gras

5. Beijing, China

If you can get past the thick layer of smog, Beijing’s history is unlike anywhere in the world. This thriving metropolis may have lost some of its old character as we move along with the times. But thankfully there is still plenty of it out there to concrete Beijing’s place in my top five.

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4. Hong Kong

The British Empire handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. I wish they hadn’t. There’s something around every corner in a modern day ‘melting pot’ which good is enough to rival the capital of its founding father. There’s nothing Pete Tong with Hong Kong…

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3. Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

Charms, charms, charms… I’m all about charms. Saint Petersburg has so many charms it may as well be in Ireland. Beautiful architecture, stunning canals, lovely people…and many more. If Peter the Great was still here I’d buy him a vodka, or ten…

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2. Mumbai, India

I’l never forget the moment I arrived in Mumbai for the first time. The chaos going on around me was an unexpected culture shock at first, but from that moment I fell in love with India and travelling. There’s so many things going on in Mumbai, dozens of secret temples, Bollywood, trendy nightlife, huge cricket arenas, laughing meditation ashrams, mysterious holy men hiding in the enormous Divali slum. Mumbai is not for everyone, but if you like it, you will never get bored of going back.

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1. Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.

Areet, I surpose this is a bias approach. The Toon has it all, super friendly locals, the best nightlife in England (if not Europe) apparently, a Greggs bakery around every corner, a football team that havn’t won anything for 40 + years but still has the most passionate supporters, world famous Broon Ale, Homeless Jimmy’ R.I.P, Fenwicks window, Gazza, Ant and Dec, the way the newspaper vendors shout ‘chronicurrrllleee!’, Geordie Shore, woooaaaa Shola Ameobi, stoti kyeks and of course the world’s largest half marathon the Great North Run, the annual event where you can go and laugh at your mates being overtaken by a giant banana. All these reasons and many more is why Newcastle tops my list of great world cities.

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Courtesy of Emily Corr 🙂

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Zucker Beach

The problem with visiting somewhere as remote as Sibuyan, is that it’s always going to be a quest getting to the next destination. We were able to catch the twice weekly bangka to Roxas on Panay island. I wondered why there was a placed called Roxas on many of the Filipino Islands, the name Roxas refers to Manual Roxas, the first president of the Philippines as an independent nation, he is to the Philippines as George Washington is to the US. A bangka by the way is a small wooden boat with stabilisers (try this, stick your index fingers in either side of your mouth and pull your cheeks apart while saying bangka, see what happens). Anyway, after five rough hours of holding onto the roof of the boat we arrived at Roxas, dripping wet and feeling like a drunken sailor, but I could think of worse ways to spend my Monday morning.

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Typical small bangka

A bumpy and cramped ride in the back of a mini bus followed to the Provincial capital of Iloilo, where we spent the night. The following day up at the crack of dawn to board the first speedboat to Bacolod, Negros Island. That was followed by a five hour public bus, quick tricycle ride, a two minute paddle through the tidal river in a tiny wooden raft then a difficult climb over the razor sharp rocks to finally arrive at our destination, Sugar Beach.

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Sugar Beach, or Langub Beach to the locals, gets its name from the booming sugar trade present on Negros, making it the Philippines’ wealthiest island. Confussingly it seemed like we were not in the Philippines at all, but more like a hot and tropical German länder due to the influx of Deutsch speakers, who flock here in their droves. You’ve got more chance of getting a frankfurter or some Swiss chocolate than any fish and chips, and if you want a sun lounger, make sure you have a can of Carling and a pretty good throw. Click here

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Wor Billet

The overall atmosphere of Sugar Beach wasn’t great if you ask me. But the odd game of volleyball, (or wolleyball as it’s called in these parts) a swim, eating my favourite Filipino dish chicken adobo, and generally having a beachy old time was good enough for me, the only worthwhile sight here being the unbelievable sunsets…

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Rambling On In Romblon

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In the Philippines, if you happen to miss your boat to one of the smaller islands, it’s a long wait for another one. We missed our bangka by 20 minutes, so had to wait 23 hours 40 minutes for the next one. We spent the day in the dusty town of Roxas, eating peanut butter biscuits, listening to very bad karaoke and getting a 70 pence haircut from a lady boy.

Romblon province is awkward to reach and a less explored region by foreign travellers, a place I was eager to visit to see the real Philippines and escape the ‘Sexpats’ of Sabang. Tablas island is the largest in the province of Romblon, and is known for its beautiful waterfalls. Garing falls was a mission to get to, we asked a local woman in the town of Odiongan how to find it so she managed to drag her nephew out of bed to take us on his motorbike. After the sweaty trek through the jungle, we arrived at the waterfall to find a large group of locals, sporting camouflage clothes and AK-47s fooling around on a vine swing. It happened to be the entire local police force having a skive. I don’t suppose there’s much crime on the island so I don’t blame the friendly bobbys.

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Romblon town, on Romblon Island, the capital of Romblon province, is so good they named it thrice. The small town shows signs of Spanish colonialism in its architecture and in my opinion, would not look out of place in rural Mexico. Over looking the town is the 17th century San Andreas fort. I expected the crumbling Spanish building to be a huge defensive masterpiece, I fort wrong…

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Local kids love their picture taken

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A short drive away from the town is Bon Bon beach. The crystal clear waters were perfect for swimming, and we were the only people there. It brought back memories of the strange role play game I used to play in primary school with a friend of mine which went by the name of ‘Andy Cole and Barry Venison, stranded on a desert island’…

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With Romblon island being so small, it felt essential to circumnavigate, and the only way to do this was by motorbike. We drove through many barangays, along remote beaches, through the marble carving centre and eventually back to Romblon town. There was nothing like the Sea breeze in my face and lush views of the surrounding islands. During the ride I found out that Romblon is home to a rare species of invisible bird, that sits on your shoulder and tries to tell you how to drive a motorbike while squawking in your ear the whole time, strange that…

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San Pedro Beach

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The third main island of the Romblon group we were to visit, Sibuyan, is nicknamed the ‘Galapagos’ of the Philippines, for its diverse range of flora and fauna. They say Sibuyan has more unique species of plants and animals than any other island of its size, this is largely due to the fact that it has been cut off from the rest of the archipelago since the beginning of time. Sometimes this still felt like the case, I wouldn’t call it ‘off the beaten track’ as there was no track to get off in the first place as Sibuyan doesn’t have a proper road, it was hard work even just finding the most basic amenities in the town of Magdiwang…

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San Fernando (can you hear Paddy Mcguiness’ voice from Take Me Out, ‘you’re off to, the isle of, Fernando!’) was the last port of call in Romblon. We got a lift from a local man to the mighty Cantingas river where we spent an hour or so jumping into the refreshing water from one of its platforms. We were then invited along to the local cockfighting rally, a very different way to spend my Sunday afternoon, sucking on ice pops and watching two chickens destroy each other. For the record, this is not the first time I have seen this, as anyone will know if you want to see some cocks fighting, just nip down to Sunderland on a Saturday night…

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Where’s Wally?

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