Well it always takes me a ton of time to finally get back to writing the final wrap up of one of these trips. By the time I get home I’m exhausted and there are usually a million things to take care of and by the time I’m settled I’m not thinking about the final journal entry. Sometimes it takes time to really digest the trip. Needless to say we’re home. We survived.
To be to the point, The Philippines is a tough country to travel around, there isn’t any public transportation at all, it’s all private. Ayn Rand would be proud. There isn’t much organization either, it’s a parking lot or maybe a street where buses park. Nor is the transportation reliable. There aren’t enough people to make the flight profitable? Cancel the flight. Before I left this didn’t seem like such a big deal, but now I realize how big of a deal this is. A lot of what makes a trip enjoyable is the easy of which you accomplish your day’s goals. If you’re foiled day after day or waste tons of time trying to just get from point A to point B, waiting or lost it’s not fun. It’s not enjoyable. I can see how hard California would be to travel around without a local’s help. Unlike Manila we do have a public transportation system. It’s not very efficient though and I have to imagine if you wanted to get from say Griffith Park to Santa Monica Pier it would be a trial. And it subtracts a lot from that time warp feeling I like to describe. I’m convinced that when you pack day in and day out tons of new experiences into your days it makes them feel longer, and so the weeks feel longer, the months longer until it feels like you lived an entire lifetime within a lifetime. But when you spend so much time trying to get somewhere, sitting on a bus, sitting waiting for a bus to leave, waiting on a delayed flight, trying to find the right taxi to get you to the right bus, you lose experiences, your days become shorter, and the warp decreases.
The level of harassment to buy this, take this tour, this taxi isn’t something I haven’t seen before, it’s not quite on part with Thailand, but it’s very close. A lot of the time it’s counterproductive and makes me want to just get further away!
I wasn’t struck by amazing culture or extreme beauty quite like I’d expected. And the best Filipino food I’ve had has still been what I’ve had in America. The scuba which had been highly touted was murky at best, dynamite fished at worst. The years of colonialism (the USA included) had the effect of making everything familiar and not that different.
All that negativity above seems depressing. But all in all I’d call it a successful trip. I sometimes joke that any trip where you come back in one piece is a good trip, and I feel like I’m pushing that sentiment a bit here, but honestly I travel for the experience not the relaxation. Oddly our brains are also wired I’ve learned to remember negative stimuli stronger than positive, and it makes me wonder if negative stories stick with us more than positive ones. Either way at the end of a trip there are so many new experiences. New stories.
Waking up and looking out my window in Banaue was definitely one of the high points. And the day walking down to the hot spring was as well.
The trip was also an eye opener in a way with my relationship with Jenn. We had some tough times, much tougher than I had ever expected heading into the trip. We had lots of stress. We even had a trip to the Police office. And yet we never fought once. When things got tough we laid out our options and ideas, figured out what worked best and moved together. I think for a lot of people tough spots like this could drive a wedge, but I feel like we came out stronger for it, more confident we fit together. And now we have more shared experience. I feel like I’m getting sappy though so I’ll stop here.
Like most of these posts I like to reflect on what I did right or was happy I packed. It’s useful for when I hit the road again to remind myself what worked and what didn’t.
• I loved the money belt I brought with me. It’s made of nylon and looks like a normal belt, only on the inside there is a zippered compartment you can slide folded money into. It’s easy to hide at least $300 in $20 bills in there.
• I was happy I remembered to bring a small LED flashlight with me, that little guy has helped me on so many trips now.
• The Canon D10 Underwater camera was definitely the star of the show yet again. It’s rugged and cheap enough I’m not worried about breaking it, but with the CHDK hacked firmware allowing me to shoot in raw I get some amazing underwater shots with just natural light. It opens up a whole new set of possibilities I wouldn’t normally be able to afford to shoot. With our destinations this trip I didn’t feel comfortable trekking around with $2.5k worth of camera gear, so this little $200 guy was my sole camera.
• On the advice of a local lady on Nevis I brought along a new setup for bug spray. I took 100% deet and Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard pump sprays and mixed the two hoping to get a strong deet spray with some of the benefits from the Avon suggested to me by the old lady. And it worked. When we wore it we never got bit.
• Jenn brought a random pack of stuff like hand sanitizer, lip balm, etc. that was really quite useful. Especially the hand sanitizer.
• From experience I brought plenty of emergency snacks in the form of a whole box of cliff bars split between the two packs. This was well worth the weight. They’re so satisfying in a pinch and can even tide you over.
• Another star of the trip for me was the prescription mask I brought. I had heard in Saba that you can get little stick in lenses for your mask made to your prescription. I didn’t find those, but what I did find was that for $60 you can order a mask with your prescription down to the closest 0.5 diopter. It was night and day going from my crappy vision to crystal clear.
• My Capital One credit card to the rescue again. We did the math, and for $250 it’s cheaper to use the credit card and take a 5% charge from the vendor than to withdraw from Wells Fargo. The ATM charges both ways, the 3% charge, and then foreign exchange charge all make $200 quickly become $216. That’s expensive money!
Like always there are things I’d wished I’d brought as well.
• I wish I’d brought a watch that was submersible. I usually bring a watch but mine broke on my last trip and I didn’t want to look like I had money.
• I wish I’d brought a long sleeve shirt, it was often chilly in the mountains, and the sun and mosquito protection would have been nice.
• Despite my love for that Canon D10, given the money I’d love to take a serious underwater camera diving. It almost makes me want to hold off on a trip to Belize until I can afford a stellar setup with strobes and what not. I enjoyed the underwater photography so much. It’s just hard to justify the price.
• We both could have used warmer jackets for the bus.
• I wish we’d brought better sunscreen. I don’t like copertone and the aerosol bottles sprayed inside their ziplock wasting most of it… This isn’t a new problem, and I think I’d done with anything aerosol.
• I also wish I’d brought a rash guard, I got nice and sunburned. Once I bought one there it saved me a bunch of jellyfish stings.
• I also wish I’d brought more cash with me. It was hard and expensive getting money in the Philippines. Credit cards though were useful in most places at least.
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend the Philippines as a destination unless you have family there, or are already in SE Asia with plenty of time on your hands. A lot of what we didn’t like and trouble we ran into was in not having enough time or not being willing to just blow an entire day on travel. And yet several times this trip we did blow an entire day because of travel. Given a second chance, and I know Jenn doesn’t agree, but I’d rather have stuck with going to Vietnam and Burma.