The Philippines: An Ode To My Havaianas

To wrap up my twelfth month of living abroad, I decided that instead of going home with my additional 2 weeks vacation, I would go and travel to another exotic land for a couple weeks.  I decided I wanted to go to the Philippines after hearing rave reviews from some friends who went in the winter.  For starters,  I was trying to think who from home would drop life in a snap and meet me in the Orient.  Other than my sister, that person would be Brianne, and life she did drop for a couple of beach basking weeks in the biggest archipelago in the world!  It didn’t even take any coaxing.  The mere question was asked and the dates were secured off from work within a week.  BOOM!  One thing that I am extremely grateful for is having friends who are so eager to travel and come meet me all over the world.  It definitely helps to ease a little bit of the homesickness that could easily have crept in far earlier.

Going to the Philippines was actually both mine and Brianne’s first trip where the primary activity that we’d be doing would be relaxing, so to begin, we were both in unfamiliar territory.  What? Vacation? RELAX?! NO! Oh, but YES! However, our vacation did not start out relaxing.  Not in the least bit.  We had to work up to that one.

Lack of relaxation began all the way in LA, starting with Brianne’s trip.  Her flight was delayed I think 18 hours, then it was rerouted, and even had an emergency landing in Hawaii, just because the other delays weren’t enough. My trip also started with a bit of high strung action as I bolted through Incheon airport like I had a Buzz Lightyear jet pack on my back because the security did not understand “GATE CLOSED” while I was still standing in the security line. Zest Air apparently had some technical difficulties at their check in counter.   Despite the momentary airport nerves, I made it to Manila on time, unlike Brianne. I had half a day before her new scheduled arrival, so I treated myself to a 2 hour massage and some dinner amidst what we would later find out to be the Red Light District of Makati in Manila. I knew it felt sketchball city when all those creepy eyes were following me. The next morning I had a brief panic attack because Brianne still hadn’t arrived and it was already 8:30am.  Thank GOD for my sister  who called the airline to get an update on Brianne’s flight for me.  This was when I learned about all the rerouting and whatnot.  Of course I was expecting only the worse.  Around noon, I decided to go get a coffee while I waited for her arrival, when cue yellow cabby coming up the street with a very exhausted looking Brianne in the backseat, and me bolting after the cab as if my life depended on it.  She was trying so hard to tune me out (because she thought I was a mother begging for money) that she didn’t even realize it was me til I was pounding on the window.  I retrieved her (and her Peruvian money) safe and sound and we rejoiced in each others arms! Let our vacation begin!!!!

We started our first official vacation day together off with a bang.  After Brianne did a quick freshening up, we hitched a cab to Intramuros, which from my research is really all there is to see in Manila that’s of any historical note.  Intramuros means “The Walled City,” and it’s the original portion of the city that is still standing after the Spanish colonization and destruction.  We were given a less than romantic tour through the walled city via horse and carriage in the rain by our tour guide, Nestor, and his horse with the ever-growing poop bag.

Manila Metropolitan Cathedral, as seen from our horse and carriage.

We befriended some girls in leopard pants who just wanted to sing Justin Bieber and “Call Me Maybe.”

We also got a little frisky with the Filipino presidents.

We got some awkwardly angled photos taken by Nestor in St. Agustin’s Cathedral.  Fun fact, the ceiling is painted, not carved.

We made a lovely little friend, Jonathan, at the Casa de Manila. He was precious and we were practicing our Korean with each other.

We went to Baluarte de San Diego, which was where the Spaniards kept their prisoners.  When the water would rise they would be tortured and drowned.

After our tour of Intramuros, Nestor decided to give us even more of a tour.  He took us through China Town, which continued the shitholeness of Manila. The streets were unlike streets I have ever seen.  Gah!

He even took us almost all the way back to our nook in the Red Light District, until his wheel broke. He hustled us far too much for our day’s journey, and why I didn’t pitch a fit, I don’t know.  But Nestor got away with murder that day. Oh well, twas a grand day nonetheless and I’m sure him and his mistresses ate well for a week!  Adios Manila!!

Next we were off to Donsol, which proved to be a bit of a bust, but still beautiful! First, we flew into the further of the two airports and had to take a 3 hour van (with many Disney stuffed animals) to Donsol that cost an arm and a leg.  Second, I should have trusted my gut on this one, but of course I didn’t. We went to Donsol because the region is famous for Whale Sharks!  My homie 4names told me that you can go there and snorkel with them and I instantly wanted to jump on that opportunity.  However, I knew it was the off season and that they’d migrate, but I didn’t realize that they completely stopped taking boats out to find them, which they do.  Boo.  For future travelers to Donsol, the best time to go is in the winter months!

Unfortunately, this is the closest I got to a gloriously large Whale Shark (they’re the largest fish in the world, are vegetarians, and known as gentle giants….so they’re not Great Whites mom!) I WILL be back to do this eventually!!

So, instead of swimming with whale sharks, we drank red wine on our patio, got a buzz, went on the river to watch fireflies mate, and then retired to our boudoir to read our books side by side.  Totally the same, right?

The next day we were off to the spectacular city of Naga (where the airport from hell was).  The owner of our hotel in Donsol, May, was the sweetest woman ever.  She reminded me of Chaz Bono in appearance, but what an angel she was.  We were her only patrons, so she took it upon herself to accompany us to Naga and make sure we got a place to stay while we were there.  She hopped in a tricycle with us when the van broke down upon entering Naga, and was just the kindest.  I’m a strong believer in people living up to their names (I love Mays, and Joshes can suck it).  So, we finally found a place that was quite luxurious, a wee bit out of our budget, and had “beds” which as far as we are concerned, were only box springs.

The next day is the worst day in the history of our Filipino adventure.  We were supposed to have a full 4 days in beautiful Boracay, but instead we were stranded in the Naga airport for 8 hours while Manila flooded and every Air Phil Express plane had to be rerouted, while every Cebu Air plane took off according to plan.  Long story short, we finally got out of the foodless airport and into Manila late that night, and I had to pitch a fit for them to actually put us up in a hotel in Manila that was infested with hookers and pee.  We got on the first flight out the next morning, after I reached my limit and pitched another fit when our flight was delayed ever-so-slightly….. again.

OH!  HELLO LOVER!! Never have crystal clear aquamarine waters looked more beautiful than after spending 8 hours in the worst airport ever, and another unwanted evening in the slums of Manila.  We finally arrived in Boracay!!! We checked into our hotel, none other than La Isla Bonita, grabbed some breakfast and a cocktail (but not after I had a cranky “bacon” moment), snagged some new sunnies, sucked back a coconut and HIT. THE. BEACH. and got very very burnt.

The rest of our stay in Boracay consisted of snorkeling, meeting other awesome teachers from Korea that I can’t wait to see again, beach basking, drinking and shopping.  All that’s really necessary is a pictoral journey of our stay in paradise.

I enjoyed my favorite tropical snack.

While Brianne felt otherwise.

We snorkeled amidst the glorious waters…

With Panama Ji-ho and all of his closest life-jacket clad Korean chingus. Fun (or not so fun) fact, Asians suffer the most drownings in the Philippines because many can’t swim.

We went to Crystal Cove Island, where we saw stalagmites/tites, and climbed on rocks while pretending to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

We got back to our dancer/cheerleader roots and put on quite the performance with a rope.

Played with electric blue sea life.

I also got this heinous photo of me with the living water balloon, Flounder, the puffer fish!  He was slimey and gross and gave me the heeby jeebies!

We also went out and met some hip peeps, and some tools who ended up being kind of fun as well.  Can you spot the toolbox keeper?

Boracay was everything I had hoped it would be!  Alas, we were off to the final island of our hopping, and boy was it our fave! Last but not least was Palawan, home of El Nido, the cutest, most quaint and lovely little place.

Palawan is the biggest island on the west side of the Philippines.  For the first time on our trip, our flights were all on time and we landed in Puerto Princesa as planned, found the De Loro hotel with the sweetest staff ever, and got to booking our excursions.  Right when we arrived we signed up to go to the Underground River tour the following day, which is one of the 7 Wonders of Nature, and boy was it! Immediately after getting our permits for the river, we were off on a 4 hour tour of Puerto Princesa.

We caught a quick Filipino mass at St. Agustines Cathedral.

Despite my frustrations, I learned how to weave a rug, or place mat, or towel….or something, out of dyed grass. He was not a very good teacher.

Gazed at Honda Bay in the distance, and also creeped on cute kids and a horsey.

Then I turned into a beautiful butterfly at a butterfly garden.  It was random.

The next day we were off to the Underground River in Sabang bright and early!  We had an 8:30am appointment, and Sabang was about 1.5 hours away by van. We got on one of the earliest tour groups because they regulate the amount of people who are able to enter the cave each day due to excavations and research that are being held there.  They allow 800 people to view it each day, so lucky us!

The boat ride was about 45 mins – 1 hour, and was really cool, but a bit long.  Brianne and I were exhausted and regret to say that we took mini snoozes here and there.  The cave is filled with bats, so they are all over the ceiling!!  Our guide kept telling us that when we look up to not say “WOW” or else we’d get bat shit in our mouths.  MMMMM! It was interesting, despite our snoozes, because the different stalagtite and stalagmite formations looked like different things, so the guide kept pointing out “this is the cathedral and The Last Supper” and “here we have broccoli in the garden” and “oh, and there’s a penis!” It was magnificent!

It was kinda hard to get good pictures in the cave, but these are pretty decent considering the lack of lighting combined with my shitty camera.

After floating thru a natural wonder, we were off to scour and repel rocks and zip line….all while in our slippery havaianas! We had no idea we were about to be rock climbing, or we would have packed the appropriate footwear.  Oh well, hakuna matata!!

The journey wouldn’t have been a journey had we not been hammin it up for the camera along the way, now would it?

Oh! Welcome to our rock home!

Say a prayer….or hug a rock. I LOVE THIS ROCK SO MUCH!

Just hanging out with some lopsided stalagtites.

If it looks as if I’m barefoot, it’s because I might as well have been.  Havaianas are not proper rock climbing attire.

I’m coming outttttt, I want the world to knowwww, gotta let it showww. That’s what comes to mind.

Finally at the top, ready to go down in our sexiest garb.

Stole these from the computer screen because I’m Jewish.  Flyin highhh


The final destination of our stay on Palawan was the little nook of El Nido, mine and Brianne’s favorite place on our whole trip.  El Nido is so special because it’s still not a hot tourist spot, so you have to take a 6 hour van ride up from Puerto Princesa just to get there, and then once you’re there, there aren’t ATMs anywhere, so you gotta come stacked with the cash monies. It’s this quaint little backpackers haven interspersed with locals and everyday Filipino life everywhere.  The people were so kind and helpful, and then on top of it, the village is surrounded by island after island for miles and miles.  It is STUNNING and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. You look out into the ocean and it’s like you’re in this cove encircled by mountainous islands on every side of you.

We took a private van overnight up from Puerto Princesa, which is actually really unlikely because they pack these vans to the brim.  We just happened to be the only ones who booked to leave at that time so they were gonna try and cancel on us, but of course we pitched a fit, and got our van for a little extra money, but we were fine with that as long as we didn’t miss another day of our trip because of travel delays. So, we left at 6pm, and it took us more like 8 hours to get to El Nido because our driver kept stopping to fist bump his friends, pee, and sleep on the side of the road.  It was sketch, but we made it there in one piece.  We actually crashed at some random hostel called Full House because we got in around 2am with no accommodations and our driver happened to know the owner.  It sufficed, but we didn’t see Uncle Jesse 😦

The next morning we woke up to this majestic view, then hitched a tricycle into town to grab our bearings.

We stayed at a nice little place called the Garnet Hotel.  It stood out to me initially because it was bright orange.  Then it also had an adorable staff, so it was perfect. It’s on the main road of El Nido, and the little guy working there helped us set up our snorkel tour for the next day, and got us a personal driver to take us to Las Cabanas beach, which is situated just outside of El Nido, and then 2 guys to motorcycle us around up to Long Beach and a glorious waterfall.

The only downside to our time in El Nido was that it was really overcast, but it was a small price to pay.  It was breathtaking no matter what.  Here we are gallavanting and enjoying Las Cabanas beach and all the islands!

All that lush flora on our walk to the beach!

How cliche of us….it says Dani & Bree in a heart.

Our next day was spent island hopping.  It was a ridiculously rough day, and the boat ride out to the islands was SO choppy that we were soaked by the time we got to the first lagoon! But, this was some of the most magnificent snorkeling I have ever done.  I wish I had pictures to document it, but they will just live in my memory.  In one dive spot I felt like I was in a starfish graveyard that was scattered with roses everywhere.  There were fish that looked like they jumped right out of the 80s in their flourescent scales, and I even felt like I was swimming amidst Ariel and King Triton’s palace beneath the sea. The snorkeling was so unbelievable that we found ourselves snorkeling way far out away from the boat, until our nerves got us and we’d swim back just a lil bit closer.  We swam into a secret lagoon where we could barely see in front of us, and also happened to be where part of the Bourne Legacy was filmed.  I swear I also saw numerous jellyfish swim past me.  Later we came to find out that the Box Jellyfish, which is apparently the most deadly thing on the planet and can kill 100 people with one sting…..resides in the waters we were swimming in.  Comforting!!

Above Ariel’s Kingdom, where Bourne Legacy was filmed.

A bomb ass lunch was served on one of the islands, with a side of our new friend Cucoy’s underpants.  That man would touch anything and everything under the sea.

The next day was our favorite day of the trip by far!  We had two young guys, Wang Wang and Neil, and their motorcycles at our service.  We were driven way out of El Nido up to Long Beach.  We drove through remote little villages and got to see how the other half lives, let the wind catch our hair, walked as close as I ever have to cows, had a monkey man fetch us coconuts up a tree, and then hiked (in havaianas…again) to a gorgeously refreshing waterfall.  I can now check riding on the back of a motorcycle off my bucket list 🙂

We had some fans as we passed through…

And only drove on the safest of terrain.

Met some ballers as we drove through their hood.

Next came the hike to that delightful waterfall.  We got stuck in the mud along the way, forded many a river and scoured many a rock.  And we might as well have been barefoot whilst doing so.

Here is Brianne pretending to like my coconut.

What woman doesn’t want an au natural brassiere straight from the earth?

MADE IT without any falls along the way.  That’s saying a lot for me.

Rewarding ourselves with a dip.

One of my absolutely favorite things about El Nido was that everyday we saw the same people.  Whether it was other foreigners, or the local children playing hopscotch in the street.  I had one of my favorite nights at a local restaurant called Squidoos, where we met a young couple who’d been traveling for the past couple months on a tight tight budget, a young British Indian couple who had just come from visiting a cousin teaching in Korea, and the most fantastic little French family who reinstilled my faith in the French people.  We had a couple of those amazing nights just filled with great conversation and travel stories.  Loved loved loved!

A trip is never a trip without the addition of cute Asian babies.  So, here I am playing a most adorable and rigorous game of High 5 with the cutest little babes on the planet!!  They were so cute they took my attention away from my most delicious nutella crepe!

After 3 wonderful days in El Nido, we bid adieu and were off on yet another 6 hour van ride back to Puerto Princesa where we spent our final night.  My friend Mandy and her boyfriend Luke were actually having their first night on our last night, so we all met up and went to dinner at a burger place called Skybox.  It was really nice to get to say bye to Mandy in person since she obviously left Korea while I was gone.

As you can see, it was an amazing trip and I’m so glad that Brianne and I had the opportunity to meet up on this side of the globe and see each other while I celebrated 1 year of life abroad.  We were wonderful travel buddies, and until our next worldly journey….Daniel & Brian will always have ze Peens…and our little warrior Havaianas ❤





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