15.12.2008 - 18.12.2008 30 °C
Our China Southern Airline tickets had been the cheapest I could find on the net and I was pleasantly surprised, perhaps a little shocked, to find us boarding a splinter new Boeing at Kathmandu for our 1130pm red eye flight. Unfortunately we were not prepared for Gangzhou airport (our stopover), which was also splinter new and sporting huge cavernous glass walled terminals. We were advised as we landed that the ambient outside temperature was 10C and it felt as if somebody had turned the terminals climate control system onto "fresh air intake only" - it was freeeeezing. After two hours the sun came up and after scouting around we found a few southern facing windows at a gate right up at the very end of the terminal where we could rest on a piece of sun drenched carpeted floor.
The first thing I noticed about Manila was the colourful long wheelbase Jeepney taxis plying the roads outside the airport. The next thing I noticed was that it was quiet in the clogged traffic. Yes, in the Philippines people actually only use their horns if it is absolutely necessary. Pure relief! I had really never gotten used to the noisy chaos on the roads and pavements of Nepal.
Come on, really, how long has it been since you have eaten real fresh ripe mango? I didn't realise what I had been missing out on until I was gently picking my way through the fruit salad I had ordered for breakfast at our guesthouse in Manila. This was no Delhaize Mango that had half ripened in a cushioned wrapper whilst sitting in a box as it travelled a few thousand km to Antwerp. No, this was the real thing, and I realised then as another slippery taste sensation found my palate, that this was one of the important reasons why we had come to the Philippines.
Following everybodies suggestions we were in and out of Manila within 24hrs. I managed to snag some tickets to Puerto Princesa on the Palawan Islands and we landed here yesterday. Puerto has a nice calm and friendly vibe, slightly enhanced by pre-christmas festivities which are being actively celebrated the good catholic locals. Influenced by the festive ambience I yielded to some tin can drum beating youngsters who were attempting to serenade us with christmas carols through the door of the vegetarian restaurant we were dining at tonight. I had Victor give them 5 Pesos and was relieved when they promptly disappeared. Unfortunately they must have gone around the corner and told every other kid in the neighbourhood that there was a soft touch at the restaurant and we subsequently had at least 10 more drum beating serenades before we had finished our meal. Lesson learned - never hand out cash when you are unable to relocate!
On the advice of a taxitricycle driver (Jun) we met yesterday we hired one of those long speedy (and very noisy) boats with bamboo outriggers on either side and went on a tour of three tropical islands in Honda Bay today. At the first island (Starfish Island) our skipper and his mate cooked up our fresh fish, veges and seaweed we had purchased (with Juns help) early at the local markets in Puerto . We dined on their efforts at 10am on the sand under a bamboo and thatched palmleaf roofed shelter overlooking the bay. Sweet.....
The snorkling visibility in the bathtub warm waters around all the islands was not great but the diversity and colour of the fish made up for it. Maybe I did notice that some of the coral was dead (not being an expert it's hard to tell) but the coral gardens certainly aren't as fabulous as those we swam around off Aqaba in the Red Sea. The boys stayed in the water all day and Lute also spent a good slab of time snorkling. Unfortunately we weren't diligent enough with the sunscreen resulting in us having to spend some time in Puerto this evening shopping for Aloe Vera gel to soothe the pink skin on Victors back and thighs.
Tomorrow we are heading to Sabang on the western side of the island and then we will probably drift northwards in search of a "tropical paradise" to nestle into for the christmas/new year period. There are not too many tourists floating around this end of the woods and some of the guesthouse owners are saying that they are slower than they were this time last year. This is actually good news for us and our no-prebook spontaneous wanderings.
I suspect that this will be the last entry for a few weeks so I would like to extend seasons greeting to all my friends, family and fellow bloggers.