Experiencing Philippines 2015

Ah yes, another late blog post. But better late than never! So, long story short… Fell in love with Filipino while I was working on a cruise ship, so I decided to visit him when we were both off ships. I was thinking I might stay there at first, by my plans soon changed, so I just decided to have a time of my life, enjoy the country, travel and have fun!

This was my first visit of Asia and my first really long flight, but I wasn’t too nervous. I just took it as another adventure. My flight was from Venice (Italy) to Istanbul and then to Manila. It was really funny because I bumped into another Slovenian on my first flight and then in Istanbul two Slovenian couples were standing next to me, so we talked a bit which places are they planning to visit in Philippines and so on. Seriously, there is 2.000.000 of us Slovenians, but we seem to be everywhere… =D

 

Anyway, at the airport Joe was waiting for me and his dad picked us up. He took us to Joe’s brother’s house, where we were staying for most of the time. It’s just a bit south of Manila in a smaller town. For me this was my first “Asia experience”, first time being in such traffic, seeing all these weird vehicles, so many people, such different buildings, smell, noise and heath… Then followed the experience of living “as locals” in Philippines… Using the tricycles and jeepneys to get anywhere, buying stuff at some random stands in the middle of the street, watching local tv shows (there is one around noon that everybody is watching but I failed to see why it was so interesting), eating like locals (which means going to fast food restaurants too – they love it)…

The biggest shockers for me happened first and second night. I went downstairs to the bathroom in the middle of the night and there was small roach waiting for me in front of the door. I hate bugs, I seriously hate them and I’m scared of them and they are disgusting! Second night I nearly died because there was not one small one, but two large cockroaches running around the ground floor so I couldn’t even get to the toilet! Then one night I went to the kitchen (that’s where they originated) and I wanted to take a plate and another one crawled out and ran across kitchen counter. Holy sh*t! By the end I learned not to be on the ground floor after about 10 p.m., that’s when they come out… But sadly I learned later that they are everywhere around Philippines and that they get into any house, and they can get much higher than ground floor… Yay, great news… NOT!

 

Ok, let’s leave these disgusting menaces now… =) So, we did some sightseeing around Manila. We had to take few jeepney rides and a bus to get to city center. I managed to experience proper traffic, but actually I learned later that it can get even worse… Around 6 a.m. traffic already starts, by 8 all vehicles basically stop, or at least I have no idea how anything there moves for more than 1m. We went to the fortress and old city, which is kinda nice, but to be honest, I’ve seen so many more beautiful historic places that this one didn’t really feel special to me.

We even went to Tondo, area where most tourists don’t go because it’s more of a ghetto place and it’s considered dangerous for white people, but being with a local makes it a bit safer and easier. I was actually really happy to see this place, because you can see how so many people live in such small poor apartments. Eye opening experience, honestly. But funny, most still find a way to own a tv, smart phones and stuff that we actually consider as a bit of a luxury. We also visited Divisoria – shopping area with cheap stuff, fake brands and you can buy everything you can imagine! And it’s soooooooooo crowded!

Then we went to another extreme – to Mall of Asia, one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. It’s huge, at least for me… It’s posh, full of expensive brands, restaurants, cinemas and even ice skating ring, but every weekend they have fireworks in the evening… That day I went from one world to another in few hours, it couldn’t be more black and white. You can’t see this kind of extremes in Slovenia, not even by far!

Then one day we went to Enchanted Kingdom, small amusement park (that is actually the largest in Philippines), which had one or two really awesome roller coasters and some cool water rides. And I love extreme thrill rides… =)

 

Tagaytay was also on our list of places we wanted to see. It’s a bit south of Manila and it’s a town by a lake and there is the world’s smallest volcano in the middle of the lake. It was a bit cloudy, foggy and rainy day, but that didn’t really ruin the day. On one of the viewpoints they have zip-line, so we had to do that. That was fun (and cheap and you also get free photo)! But to be honest, I don’t know, it was ok, but I’m not sure if it’s worth all the drive… Maybe on a sunny day.

 

Our first “proper getaway” was when we visited “Joe’s island” Marinduque, an island not so far from Manila. We had to travel in night time, so we left house in the evening, got to ferry terminal around 2 a.m., had ferry around 4 a.m., got to the island around 6 a.m., got to Joe’s house around 7 a.m.. This was totally different extreme from what I saw around Manila. Peace, quiet, no traffic, just nature and palm trees everywhere! His house is kinda on top of a hill in the middle of the forest and rice fields. Beautiful getaway, which is cool, but also a bit too disconnected from civilization for me. But it was nice for few days. We got some fresh coconuts, pineapples, bananas and mangoes. I was also a huge attraction in the area, because apparently I was the first white person that came to that hill. All distant family members came to see me and we even got invited to a funeral. What the hell?! So ok, I went. But it wasn’t really a funeral, it was that thing where they all gather around deceased person. But Filipinos manage to make a party out of it, everybody is laughing, eating and getting drunk. And this time it was an opportunity for all the local kids to take photos with me… I felt so strange, I’ve never felt such an outsider before! They were all really nice to me, but still, when I walked into that area it felt like in movies where music stops and everybody turns around and looks at you. Creepy!

One day we went to the beach, but that took us one hour with tricycle (these things are so slow…). Well, it was a nice beach and it had some nice huts for shade. But I hated the water, because there were coral and stone areas in the water and soooooo many large black sea urchins! I love seaside and I love to be in the water, but I couldn’t really enjoy it this time. Another thing – most Filipinos wear t-shirts and shorts on a beach, especially girls. I was told a bit because they don’t want to get tanned, a bit because they’re not really confident apparently. This isn’t a touristic destination, so I was the only white person at the beach and I was in my bikini, so I felt uncomfortable that everybody was staring at me. Later on a white couple came by, so apparently I some tourists do come there…

Well going to that island took us about 6 hours, while going back took us about 12 hours… Seriously, don’t be surprised if your ride stays still for an hour because there is still one free seat that they need to fill. Yay… =) Almost nothing and almost nobody is on time there…

 

Then we had another great trip when we visited our friend from the ship that lives just a bit north of Manila. Funny, but his grandpa just had his birthday party when we arrived. Once again, everybody was so happy to meet me and they took me in as part of the family. We drank, sung videoke and had fun. It’s amazing how Filipinos make you feel welcome, even though you’re a total outsider.

 

My favorite part of the whole month I spent in Philippines was when we went to Palawan, which is considered the most beautiful island in the world. Well, first our flight was delayed and instead of arriving there 7 p.m. we got there 7 a.m.. Jaka, a Slovenian that lives there arranged everything during our stay there, so he got us some cheap but nice hotels and recommended which tours were the best to take.

As soon as we arrived we had our first tour to the Underground River. Another typical Filipino “organization” – whole group gets to the location, but then there is a line of tourists and your tour guide gets a number and then you wait for hours for your turn. You have to schedule a tour in advance anyway, so they could just tell you what time to come… Oh well, luckily our tour guide suggested we go on a canoe ride through mangrove forest while we were waiting. I always liked mangroves. Maybe because we don’t have them in my country. I felt a bit like Pocahontas. It was peaceful, you could feel and hear the nature, not just see it. Beautiful!

After that we had on a typical bamboo boat, fought with high waves and arrived to our destination – the Underground River. Oh, what a beautiful place! First you walk through meters through jungle, then you arrive at some hidden bay and you can see water going inside the cave. They put few of us in these canoes again and our tour guide paddled us inside. It’s beautiful because there are no lights, only a tour guide turns his flashlight in direction he wants. Quiet, peace, different stalactite above your head, you can hear water dripping and there is dark water everywhere around you… Truly one of the most mysterious and beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I loved it!

After our cave adventure we went to El Nido in northern part of Palawan. It’s probably the most visited tourist spot in the whole Philippines. It took us about 6 hours with a van from Puerto Princessa to get there, but it’s totally worth it. Our hotel was in the center of the small town, just second line from the beach. I felt so much more comfortable there, because that area is full of white people and a lot of them actually live there. We had a tour next day and it was supposed to start at 9, but it started 10 a.m.. As soon as the boat got out of the bay there was a gorgeous view on all the small islands and islets scattered around the area. We stopped at one beach for a swim in a tropical paradise. Then we went to another island and stopped in a bay where they offered kayaks to get to Small Lagoon, because rocks in the area are sharp and there are some poisonous creatures on the sea floor. So we rented a kayak and we had to go through a small tunnel to reach this hidden lagoon and once you get out on the other side it’s like a new world. It’s beautiful and mysterious, there are high grey cliffs around you and you really feel small. Then we were supposed to have lunch on another island, but our boat broke down, so we had to have lunch on a small “Robinson” beach in the bay. Oh, what a “torture”! Food, sea, sandy beach and palm trees… I really didn’t mind being stuck there for about two hours! =D

So after our tummies were full we got another boat. This one was named Fast and Furious, so we were confident it will work! =D We went to a Hidden Lagoon this time. I thought the last one was hidden, but at this one you actually had to climb through a hole in a rock to get into a small lagoon, again surrounded by majestic high cliffs. And our last stop was the Big Lagoon, where we had an option to walk into the lagoon or to do some snorkeling. Because I simply love snorkeling I decided for that and I’ll never be sorry I took this option. There is a coral reef full of corals and colorful fish! I had my underwater camera with me, but I never imagined fish would swim towards me and stop in front to “pose” for my camera. Seriously, I started laughing because some of them just stared at me! Hilarious and magnificent experience! I loved every second of it! =D

Sadly we didn’t have much time, so next day we spent a morning at the beach and then we had to go back to Puerto Princessa. In the evening we went to an Italian restaurant that I heard about and the owner is Slovenian. We bumped into our tourist agency guy, Jaka as well! But the funniest thing was when those four Slovenians I met at the airport in Istanbul came in the restaurant and suddenly we were a majority! =D

Ah, Palawan, totally worth visiting and I’d love to revisit it one day. Truly magnificent island and I can understand now why they say it’s the most beautiful in the world. Well, roads and houses could be better, as they could be everywhere in Philippines, but this is not why you travel and visit beautiful nature. =)

 

Before I left we still had few days and we couldn’t book a tour to Segada and rice fields in the north, so we decided just to go to Subic and have some time at the beach there. Well, not really what I expected, but still better than to stay in Manila. What I didn’t know and nobody told me beforehand, that this area is mostly famous for prostitution and not really for sandy beaches… =D Oops! Well, we still spent some nice time at the beach and they offer great deals for scuba diving, but we decided just for snorkeling again. Ah, bad idea! There is a port on the other side of the bay, so you don’t get that feeling of paradise and water is far from clear. Boat took us to a small island in the middle of the bay, but the whole area is surrounded with large sea urchins! Really, not much to see beside sea urchins. But the worst thing was when my whole body felt itchy and I couldn’t even swim anymore, I just had to scratch myself! Joe told me it was because sea urchins put some toxins into the water to drive away potential predators. So yeah, not really the best snorkeling site…

But the funniest thing at the Subic beach are the “floating bars”, that are built on a raft and they have some other raft that takes you there. What I didn’t know and believe until I saw it, was that around noon some girls in short skirts and high heels get on the raft to the bar. A bit later a group of American guys goes over and then it you can hear the laughter… Raft is just enough far away from the beach that you can but can’t see what’s going on there, but when you kinda figure out you know that it’s all kinds of “dirty stuff”. Kinda awkward if you don’t know and you might be at the beach with a kid or something. =) So if you ever go to Subic, expect that… But honestly, I wouldn’t recommend visiting that place, there are so many much more beautiful locations!

 

That’s how a month passed by really quickly and I had to go back home. Yes, I had planned to stay there, but once I got there I realized I’d need to have some more savings. And after being there for a while I realized there is just no way could I live in metro Manila area. It’s too different, to polluted, too dirty, too smelly, too much traffic, too crowded and really not what I want. And to be honest, when you’re a tourist there you don’t’ really care about make-up, you wear sporty clothes, you don’t care about sweat too much, but when I realized if I’d live there and go to work, meetings and have to dress up a bit better, I think I’d hate it! To dress nicely and then drive around with public transportation it’s easy to get clothes dirty or torn, but also you sweat like a pig, so if you just washed your hair, before you reach your destination you already look like you didn’t shower for a week. So yeah, I guess it’s true, moisture and high temperatures start to annoy you, because it’s always like that. Probably if your job is not an office job and you don’t have meetings or you don’t have to drive far away it’s ok, but otherwise I’d really get annoyed.

If I’d stay in Philippines I’d pick Palawan, but it would have to be a house on a beach or very close to the beach, otherwise that just wouldn’t be it. And I think I’d have to say goodbye to my photography career, because if you’re not a wedding or family photographer there is not really a chance to earn any money there. Or maybe I just didn’t see it…

 

So that’s it for now, but before I let you all go, I just made a bit of a sum-up of things that I found unusual, weird or “not expected” in Philippines.

  • Toilet paper is not really a common thing, most people just use water – I have no idea how that works, well, I can imagine, but I don’t really want to… =D So I rather just had tissues with me everywhere I went.
  • There is a security check every time you go in a larger grocery store or a shopping mall.
  • You can get normal shower, but a lot of locals just have a bucket of water… It’s not so unusual if you only have one pipe with running water inside or outside the house and you just use buckets.
  • In some remote places there is running water only few times per day for few minutes!
  • Around larger cities – traffic, traffic everywhere, all the time, but especially around rush hours!
  • Their weird roosters shout all the time! Seriously, every half hour or so, even in the middle of the night. And yes, they have chicken and roosters in the middle of the city as well.
  • A lot of stray cats and dogs everywhere.
  • If you’re white most locals assume you’re rich and famous, so most likely they’ll want to have photos with you, or they’ll ask for some money. And yes, everybody stares at you, especially at not so touristic places.
  • In Manila prepare for smog, bad smell and loud noise!
  • There is “Filipino time” for a lot of things – which means people will be late for few hours…
  • If you shop where most locals do (like Divisoria in Manila) you can get seriously cheap stuff!
  • Prepare to see cockroaches in the evening, sometimes even on the streets…
  • Watch your step EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME, because there are often some open shafts, holes, cables and trash lying on the ground, but also look above, because sometimes old electric cables are hanging really low and you can hit your head (almost happened to me).

My opinion overall – amazing country for adventurers, totally awesome to spend your vacation there, awesome islands and beaches and I would totally do it again and again, but I can’t see myself living there. After being at home for a month after the visit, I feel this even more, but I’m grateful I was able to experience it a bit different than most tourists. I could say I saw less, but experienced more. Next time I need to visit some more islands! =D

Sunset at Novigrad, Croatia

Finally I took some time for the seaside this season, though only for the weekend. I’ll divide these photos in three different blog posts, because they are all different themes and different days. On Friday evening we arrived to Novigrad, so we went for a walk along the coast right before the sunset. The sky was full of dark clouds and the sun rays were trying to peek from behind them, so it was very dramatic. I took some photos and yes, they are a bit edited, though to be honest, the sky really was like that – dark, cloudy, dramatic, interesting colours… Amazing.
And right when I said how cool it would be if that fishing boat in the distance would come closer, I noticed that it really was going our way and the seagulls were following it.
It was one amazing evening and here are my photos.

Old town Škofja Loka

Last weekend we decided to have a short trip to Škofja Loka. I’ve been to this town before, but never in the old town square or up in the castle. So basically this was all new to me. It was nice and sunny day until we got up to the castle. Moments after we got inside and started to view the exhibition when it started to rain outside. But hey, who cares about the weather outside, when you have so many interesting things in the castle. Luckily it stopped raining when we finished the tour and we had to go outside. Lucky us!
When we arrived to the castle some lady welcomed us. We were surprised when we learned about the ticket price, it was only 3€ for students. Really cheap, considering there is so much to see. And that lady was so nice and she told us a little bit about the castle and about the exhibitions, so we were really impressed.
The castle above Škofja Loka is full of history that is connected to the area. You learn about the coat-of-arms of the municipality, the area size through different decades, you learn about some traditions, trades and crafts that thrived around there. There is also a part dedicated to the hat factory that is in the town. Some rooms are dedicated to famous Slovenian impressionist painter Ivan Grohar and some are dedicated to famous Slovenian writer Ivan Tavčar. There are different objects from few thousand years ago and some that are relatively new – from World War I and II for instance. And for all the fans of modern art there is even a part dedicated to some modern painters.
We were very impressed by this renovated castle and we think they really did a great job. The whole museum is very interesting and there are different topics from very different part of history, so I am sure everyone can find something that he or she would like. And they even have a drawbridge, but sadly it wasn’t working when we were there. I think they are still trying to make it operational, but when it will actually work I believe it is going to be amazing. Especially for the kids!
So yes, I would definitely recommend this visit and I am sure you would like the old town square and buildings there. You can see this is a medieval town, because they are still trying to keep that feeling. Even all the commercial signs in the old part of town are iron and in antique style. And while we were there they were just renovating some streets and they were paving them with new granite cubes. So yeah, thumbs up for all that.
Anyway, here are some photos of the Škofja Loka castle, the town and some details in the area.

Walk through Radensko polje

Few months back I posted some photos from Radensko polje, but I visited it again. When I’m somewhere and I have my camera with me it’s hard to resist, I just have to take photos. I guess sometimes that isn’t so good, since you forget to enjoy the nature as a person, not as a photographer. But to be honest, I don’t mind. =) The more I take photos, the more I see everything the same way as I would be watching through the lens. =)
So anyway, some photos of nature again…

Kočevski Rog – WWII footsteps

Ok, so I’m a bit late with this second post… But it’s a long post… Sorry. =)
As I said in previous one – Camping in Griblje, Kolpa, these two topics are totally different.
Second day of our weekend away from typical civilization, we packed our tent and stuff a bit early. We thought about going in a water for a swim before we leave, but we decided we will swim at some other location, a bit more upstream. We had a plan to eat at some well known restaurant at the river bank, about half hour drive from where we were. We drove through some god forsaken villages and woods, and when it seemed the road leads nowhere, you get to that restaurant where parking lot is full of cars and water front is crowded with people. Restaurant was so packed we couldn’t get a table, so we waited in the nearby shadow for a free table. Finally one table was free and we headed in that direction. When we were about 1m away from the table a guy in his 60’s ran around the corner and practically threw himself on a bench and said to us: “Ha! You were too late!” We were so shocked that we didn’t really knew how to react on such egoistic act! Then the guy said that he actually had a table inside the restaurant so we can eat in there… At that point we were still shocked and hungry and this got on our nerves so we just left and decided to head somewhere else.

Our next stop was at Kočevje, a city I’ve never been to before. To be honest, I had no reason to go there, and now that I’ve been there, I must say there is not much reason to return, though the countryside there seems pretty nice and we even found a huge lake that we had no idea it was there… Slovenia – we live here for our whole life and we still find places we had no idea they exist! You have to admit, we are small, but we are really diverse country. =D So my idea about Kočevje is that this is another city that started to die when its industry began to fail… I wouldn’t know for sure, I never read about this part of Slovenia so I have no idea what actually happened to the area, but yes, it seems like it’s dying.

Anyway, we had lunch at some restaurant just out of the city and after that we decided to return home through Kočevski Rog. It was a larger distance and more or less nobody would pick this road unless they wanted to see the forest itself. Here is the oldest forest in Slovenia, and it’s by far the largest and most remote. I’ve never been to this area before, I just knew there is forest everywhere you look and that there are bears. So hey, why not, a road trip (with fear of crossing roads with some bear…)! My boyfriend knows quite a lot about this place, unlike me, so he was able to tell me a bit about the area and he knew which direction signs we had to follow (not that you have many options).
When you are driving on those empty woodland roads deeper and deeper in the forest, the more uncomfortable feeling you get. You know that there is more or less no people in the area, maybe some lumberjack here and there and maybe about five tourists like us in the whole 500km2 of forest. Suddenly freaky large wooden statues appear along the road that really make an impression. They all show some sort of suffering of people. All this is because of large caves full of few thousand dead people that were killed after the World War II. For decades people that knew about these caves had to be quiet, then the truth slowly got out and much later, about 20 or 30 years ago, some of these caves were actually discovered, or better to say, they were allowed to be found. There is still no one that would take the responsibility for all these deaths, though there are some proofs and speculations, but you know, when it comes to war and politics everything gets complicated. All I know about it is that Partisans killed the people that were considered the traitors, or traitors families, but if you ask me, nobody really had much choice. Either you joined one side or the other, if you didn’t obey you were good as dead. I am not here to judge or to point fingers, because I am no expert on this topic, all I know is that it is a fact many people were killed there.
At Jama pod Krenom – the cave with the largest number of victims – there are some ceremonial grounds, a pavilion and some place that I think it’s a church. I must say, these two buildings are impressive, almost amazing, though mosaics obviously tell a cruel and sad story. You are reminded of the deaths on every step because there is a cross almost everywhere you look. And when you look at the caved in grounds under which you know there are so many bodies you can’t stay emotionless. The whole empty forest makes the whole experience even worse.
The second cave we went to see, Jama pod macesnovo gorico, is a few kilometres away and you have to walk about 200m on a path through forest to reach it. The feeling there is even worse, because there are no buildings, only few statues, so you feel even more isolated. The sign there says that few people actually escaped from this cave and few others, so they survived and much later told their stories.
As we were driving through the forest from west to east we passed few more signs for these burial grounds, or better to just save caves, but we only stopped at two or three smaller ones, though they all look pretty much the same. To be honest, it’s not much to see, it’s just the whole story behind it and the feeling you get when you realize there are so many bodies in those holes… Man, women and maybe even some children.

After these depressive caves we made a stop at Baza 20 (Base 20), that was once a hidden military camp of Partisans, probably the ones that did the killings at those caves. The camp is on the east side of Kočevski rog and even though you almost get to see the valley and surrounding hills, you actually can’t. It is still well hidden and if there wouldn’t be any signs you probably wouldn’t find it. There are few wooden houses and on every one of them there is a sign describing the function of it. All the different signs tell the history and describe the life in that camp during the World War II. Quite interesting to see, though it’s hard to imagine people actually lived there. Buildings are scattered around the hill and once they were probably even better camouflaged so they were not visible from the air our the ground. There is also a bunker, but we didn’t go to see it because it’s much further into the forest and I was already panicking at every suspicious sound behind the bush, though usually it was just some bird jumping around… Stupid brains, telling me there must be a bear nearby… =D
At the main road that leads to this camp nowadays there is a huge parking lot and some large modern building that used to be a restaurant or something, but it seems that plans to make this a tourist attraction didn’t worked out as they wanted to, because the building is closed and parking lot is empty most of the time.

Ok, enough said, I’ll rather post some photos to give you a bit better perspective of what I’m trying to say, though I think all the feelings and fear reach you only when you are actually there.