Friday, May 13, 2016

Cebu, Philippines: Beaches, Balut, and Bad Luck

The Philippines is a country I've been dying to visit for a long time.  I've had many friends visit and recommend it and after reading way too many travel articles saying the Philippines' beaches are some of the best in the world, I knew this was a place I had to get to eventually.  Despite only being a short 4.5 hour flight from South Korea, I hadn't ever had the opportunity to go until this past February. After my solo-trip to Singapore and Malaysia, I was craving some social interaction and familiarity, so I went with my fellow Jecheonian Casey.  This was actually a bad idea on so many levels, because every time Casey and I travel together, it seems like the world is constantly working against us and we have the worst luck.  So why we decided to test the waters in the Philippines I don't know, but not even the beauty of the Philippines couldn't save us from our fair share of obstacles we encountered throughout the duration of our trip.

Alona Beach

First things first.  We went to the Philippines during Chinese New Year, which is a crazy time to travel, but when you have time off of work, you have to take what you can get.  We left for the airport pretty early because we knew the usual schedule of getting to Seoul in 2 hours flat wasn't going to happen, and we were correct, as it took about 4 hours to get to Seoul because of the holiday traffic. We also left early so we could grab some Taco Bell before we boarded the plane.  Incheon Airport just opened a Taco Bell in the airport so it was a no-brainer that we were going to get some before we jetted off (we don't get these luxuries in Jecheon, ok?!).  After we got trapped in the check-in line at the airline counter for at least an hour, got through security's massive rung of people and headed to our gate, we stopped at the Taco Bell only to be informed that they were closing at that very minute. We could even still see the cooks in the kitchen!  This was extremely upsetting given the fact that we had literally talked about what we were going to eat at TBell multiple times that day.  That was our first major upset and we had only been on this trip for 7 hours at this point.

Our flight left around 10:30pm and we landed in the Philippines around 3:00am.  The Cebu airport was really small and we didn't see any chairs or lounge areas around, and since we couldn't catch our ferry to the island we were staying on until 6:30am, we found a spot on floor of the airport and tried to sleep.  We were really curious as to where all the other people on our flight had gone because we were the only ones still at the airport it seemed.  Around 4:45am the security guard at the airport kicked us out and told us we needed to go somewhere else, so we took a taxi to the ferry port.  It wasn't until we got into the taxi and drove off that we spotted the outdoor lounge area where a lot of people had gone to relax. After more waiting, we finally caught our ferry and headed 2-hours away to the island of Bohol where we would be staying for 6 days.

After smooth sailing to the island and then taxiing to our beachside resort, we thought that our luck had maybe turned around and we could begin to relax and enjoy ourselves, but little did we know that the biggest problems were yet to happen.  After presenting our check-in information to the front desk of the resort, a place we had booked about 4 months prior as to secure a room in preparation for the holiday, we immediately felt an uneasy vibe that something was wrong and we were right in our assumptions.  The front desk lady informed us that they didn't have our reservation on file.  Ummm what????  We were told to wait while they double-checked their records with the head office.  At this point it was 9:30am, we were tired from traveling, and this is the last thing we expected to go wrong because we had been so prepared.  After waiting, checking with the front desk again and again and waiting some more, we were told that the hotel would help us find accommodations elsewhere but that we would have to stay inland on the island and not beachside as there was no vacancy due to the holiday.  I was not about to take this for an answer as we had all the paperwork to prove our confirmation and had put a deposit down on this place 4 months ago!  I was not about to settle for a room that was not on the f**king beach!  So after more waiting, the resort told us that they had someone cancel their room last minute and that we would be able to stay here.  Again, umm what?? Something definitely seemed a little fishy about this, and my theory is that they had accidentally double-booked and had to fix their mistake.  But, around 3pm we were able to check into the room and finally begin our vacation.    

Alona Vida Beach Resort

The street along the beachfront

I love Southeast Asia because of all the exotic and cheap fruit.  If you ever come across mangosteen, I can't recommend it enough!

Halo-Halo, traditional Philippine ice dessert topped with tropical fruit and Ube (purple yam) ice cream.  If you every come across ube ice cream, I cannot stress enough how much you need to try it.  I think it's my new favorite flavor, no joke.

A lot of this vacation was simply spent on the beach, trying to soak up the hot Filipino sun, and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the south Pacific.  What I had read about the Philippines' beaches being among the most beautiful in the world?  I would absolutely agree with those statements, and I've been to some pretty beaches before.  We did manage to migrate from the beach a little to actually do something productive though.

One day we took a small group tour to see some of the inland sights.  During the tour, we stopped at a Tarsier Conservation Center, the Bohol Island Chocolate Hills, a bamboo bridge, and a random building that had an exotic bird and a couple of pythons.

This is at the Tarsier Conservation Center.  Tarsiers are gremlin-like, nocturnal primates that are found in rainforest-like habitats.  They have large, round eyes that enables them to have excellent night vision, and they are really hard to spot as they try to hide in the comfort of trees.  They only grow to be around 3.5-6.5 inches in height.    

The Bohol Chocolate Hills are a popular tourist destination because of the 1,300 perfectly-shaped mounds that seem to pop up out of the ground.  The hills are actually grass-covered limestone mounds and contain coral deposits.  During the dry season the hills turn brown, hence the nickname "Chocolate Hills".  Since we were here in February, the hills were still green. 

Oh, I guess Casey should maybe make an appearance in the blog since he was a part of the trip too.

At one point during our tour we were driving along the road and stopped at a run-down building in the middle of nowhere.  Once inside, we were greeted by a large exotic bird and two pythons.  Since I've been amazed by snakes since I was a kid, I never say "no" to a good snake picture.  These two weren't camera shy at all...well maybe the yellow one was.  

 Me on the bamboo bridge.  It was quite scary because this bridge is 100% shucked bamboo tied together to form a bridge.  Don't let this smile fool you, I felt like I was going to fall through the bamboo at any minute. 

Another day we decided to take a lunch cruise down the Luboc River.    

We met some new friends on the cruise.  The girl next to me used to live in MO!

During part of the cruise, we stopped at a remote village, interacted with some of the locals, and saw some cool structures like the one behind me.  I felt like I was in an episode of Gilligan's Island.

Me, a Bohol local and a lizard on a leash.

One day we hired a private boat and driver and spent the day on the water. We headed out at 6:30am to go dolphin watching, and we got lucky because quite a few wild dolphins decided to make an appearance and entertain us.  Then we went snorkeling at a nearby coral reef.  After snorkeling, our boat driver took us island hopping to a couple different islands.  Since the Philippines is made up of around 7,600 islands, we unfortunately didn't have time to see them all. 

Our resort was located along the beachfront shared by many other resorts and shops.  At nighttime the beachfront would be filled with Filipino entertainers and bands.  We were watching this group perform a fire dance when they asked for volunteers.  I obviously volunteered so I could get a cool blog picture.  But some things have consequences and I think I came away with a forehead sunburn.  
Totally worth it for this "fire angel" picture. 

And now the moment you've been waiting for...

My Philippine balut egg experience...

This balut egg looks similar to the one I ate.  (This picture does not belong to me)

Growing up, my family used to watch the travel channel a lot and we would often watch the "strange international food" shows or something along those lines.  So, before going to the Philippines, all I really knew about the country was that they ate balut eggs, because I had remembered seeing it on the travel channel.  Well, by now you should know that I'm no stranger to trying new, sometimes weird, food, so my one goal in the Philippines was to hunt down this balut egg and try it for myself.  So what is it exactly?  Wikipedia's definition calls it a fertilized, developing bird embryo that is boiled and eaten after an incubation period of around 14-21 days.  The Filipino people believe eating balut eggs helps with one's sexual stamina and can help ease hangovers.

Because the balut egg is so popular, I figured it’d be easy to track down, but finding it proved to be quite the challenge.  After asking around to various locals, we were told that we had to keep our eyes out for the “balut guy” who rides a bike carrying the eggs.  Eventually we found him and I bought a 16-day old balut egg for $.20.  The locals told me that the balut is the best after a 16-day incubation period.  After breaking open the hard-boiled-like egg, you pour some vinegar into it, which the balut guy conveniently carries with him.  I downed the egg fairly quickly and was surrounded by other balut-eating locals, and when they told me how well I did, I felt really good.  The egg didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would; it reminded me of a hard-boiled egg that happened to be a bit more solid and crunchy.

The video above was actually the 2nd balut egg I ate.  Yes, I ate two.  I had to eat the 2nd one because after eating the first egg, and videoing the evidence on Casey's phone, Casey lost his phone on the beach.  Bad luck strikes yet again.  

   After looking up and down the beach, all through our room, and calling/texting his number from my phone, we finally decided Casey's phone was a goner.  After all, who in their right mind would hand over a brand new iPhone 6s that they happened to find?  Well, low and behold I received a message from the person who had found the phone, but their was a catch; we had to go to Eduardo's Place to pick it up.  Thoughts going through our head at this moment went something like this: "Who the f**k is Eduardo?", "We're not going somewhere called Eduardo's Place", "If we go, we might not make it back alive", "Is this phone really that important?".  After consulting our resort front desk, giving them a head's up that if we weren't back in 45 minutes to call the police, we caught a ride on the back of a motorbike (the most popular form of transportation in SE Asia, and yes we were 3 adults on 1 bike) to Eduardo's Place.  The new possessor of Casey's phone had told us that people around the area would know this place, and sure enough our motorbike driver did.  

After going out of town a little ways and down a dark, gravel road, we finally arrived at Eduardo's Place to find that it was a type of private campground that the Cebu Russian community occupied.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a group of Russians who were waiting for us around the outdoor bar.  I immediately wanted to leave, as this just looked like a sketchy situation, but we kept in mind the fact that these people were nice enough to contact us saying they had found the phone and were willing to give it back.  So after giving Casey a 20-minute speech in a heavy Russian accent about the importance of locking his phone with a passcode so that people like them wouldn't be able to access all his information, we were able to leave with the phone intact...well almost intact, they did leave a selfie on the phone to remember them by.  Once the phone business was finished, we took off on our taxi-motorbike back to our resort and the front desk people seemed relieved that they didn't have to call the police to report missing tenants.  

After our week's worth of bad luck and a little relaxation thrown in, it was time to head back to the land of kimchi.

Our tuk-tuk ride back to the ferry port.  Is our driver even holding the steering wheel?

Goodbye Philippines!  I definitely plan on coming back sometime, so until we meet again, a beach selfie will have to do.


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