The Philippines, not just underwater beauty

A short two hours flight with the laid back Airphilexpress, the only airline whose air hostess receive you wearing shorts and runners, brought us to Cebu, the capital of the Visayas in the Philippines. And, just there, our almost 3 weeks of underwater beauty, friendly Filipinos, meaty barbecues and Philippines’s San Miguels started. Poverty, dirtiness and a bit of insecurity were the first impressions after our first night in Cebu, which after having spent the last few weeks in modern cities like Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai, made us want to run away. But the the warmth of their friendly people, the authenticity of a country that hasn’t yet changed much due to tourism, the unspoiled scenery and the incredible sealife won us back in no time.

Philippines had been a Spanish colony for over 300 years since Fernando Magallanes claimed it for Spain in 16th century, and the Spanish past is still very present all around the country. Not only on the architecture and on the names of the streets, but also on the endless fiestas, on the vocabulary and on their way of living. Catholicism is also an inheritance from the Spaniards, and nowadays Philippinos are now much more devotes than most people in Spain, some could even say they are fanatics. The 300 years of Spanish colonialism came to an end with the Spanish – American War, when the Philippines came under US control. And, it wasn’t until 1946 when the Philippines attained its independence after the end of World War II. Filipinos eat “merienda”, basketball is the national sport, English is spoken by everybody and they go to “misa” to pray! Undoubtedly, nowadays the Filipino culture reflects the country’s complex history.

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Buceando con tortugas

Una vez que Marta se recuperó de su otitis nos pusimos de nuevo rumbo a Bohol con la intención de bucear un par de días en Alona Beach y la ilusión de encontrarnos con tortugas bajo el agua.

Alona Beach es una playa muy turísitica, relativamente pequeña y abarrotada de restaurantes, resorts y escuelas de buceo que incluso han llegado a invadir la playa en algunos puntos. Lo bueno es que cuando estuvimos nosotros era ya temporada baja y la playa estaba bastante tranquila. Lo malo de estar fuera de temporada es que el tiempo estuvo un poco revuelto, pero como allá donde vamos llevamos el buen tiempo, al tercer día desaparecieron las bajas presiones y con ellas se fueron las nubes, la lluvia y el viento.

Por fín después de dos semanas en Filipinas de solo comer carne encontramos restaurantes donde comer pescado fresco a la brasa! Todas las noches la playa se conviertía en un enorme restaurante lleno de sillas y mesas, pero con unos precios dignos de un restaurante con estrellas michelín. Sin embargo en los restaurantes locales a lo largo de la carretera también encontramos pescado a la brasa, y con precios más locales. Nuestra táctica por las noches era clara, barbacoa de pescado rodeados de locales, y birras con los pies en la arena!

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Exploring the Visayas

With our freshly printed Advanced Open Water card on hand, we were heading to our next underwater destination, Alona Beach and the beautiful Balicassag. But our plans of diving non stop got somehow truncated when we got to Bohol. The discomfort I had felt in my ears after diving in Malapascua worsened, and the itchiness had become pain in the middle of the night. A visit to a local specialist Dr Yu, who as it happens is also a diver, confirmed it. I had otitis. I was told I wasn’t allowed to dive for 5 days and that I had to take antibiotics for 7 days. What a bummer!

After the news we had no choice but to re-arrange the plans. We decided to take the opportunity to explore the Visayas lifestyle, to do a bit of sightseeing and why not, to rest for a couple of days at the beach.

Tagbilaran became our home for the 1st few days of our diving blackout. The capital of Bohol is a very local town, with its hundreds of colourful tricycles, a few shopping malls, the mandatory church and with really not very much to see or do… most of tourist just pass by on their way to the beaches. The locals are very friendly, as soon as they realize you are Spanish they start asking for your family name and comment on how they have Spanish roots and how their grand grand mother had a Spanish family name like Perez or Lopez.

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Ya somos advanced divers!

Nada más aterrizar en Cebu bajamos de golpe y porrazo de la nube en la habíamos pasado el último mes y medio recorriendo la China más moderna y el futurista Tokyo. Y aunque éramos conscientes de este cambio y ya sabíamos como funcionan las cosas en el sudeste asiático, no voy a negar que al principio se nos hizo duro.

Nuestra llegada a Cebu no fue la mejor. El cajero del aeropuerto no funcionaba y tuvimos que cambiar algunos dólares a pesos, con la correspondiente comisión que se quedó el tipo que nos ayudó. El táxista que nos llevó a nuestro hotel nos timó de todas las formas posibles, primero con la bajada de bandera, segundo nos llevó de ruta turística por Cebu, y tercero decía no tener cambio para quedarse con 150 pesos de propina de los 350 pesos de la carrera. En el hotel en el que habíamos reservado nos querían vender una habitación con cama individual como si fuera doble… Todo esto sumado a la extrema pobreza que se veía por las calles hizo que nuestras primeras horas en Cebu fueran un poco angustiosas.

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