Our First Manta!!!

Embedded video similar to what we saw

We came to Malapascua to see the thresher sharks, but this island has gifted us with one spectacular animal after another from giant seahorses to schools of squid to mandarin fish to white-tip sharks. We are definitely getting our money’s worth here. But this afternoon, the gift of all gifts was a mind-blowing 5+ meter (16+ foot) manta which came hovering in over us like a massive underwater UFO at one of Monad Shoal’s cleaning stations.

As if that weren’t enough of a show, a thresher shark came swimming in behind us as we were manta spotting. An afternoon thresher is a rare sight at Monad Shoal. You’ve got to love those lucky days. Continue…

My Fowl Mood

Never a full night’s beauty sleep in rural parts of the Philippines. The constant cock-a-doodle-dos of a thousand roosters in training make sound sleep an impossibility. Cockfighting is to the Philippines what vodka is to Russia – the ultimate pass time.

Filipino men prance through the streets with their beloved fighting-cocks in arm taking them into restaurants or stores or wherever they want “to be seen.” Like Paris Hilton’s toy chihuahua, a colorful fighting-cock has become the ultimate living accessory, a must-have accoutrement for the fashion-conscious rural Filipino man. You can learn to breed them on Cock-Fighting TV. Or, if you are lazy but want to keep up with your pals, you can just order the Cock-in-a-Box starter kit. (No, I’m not making this up.)

Even if you don’t have a problem with people sewing razor-blades onto their pet chickens so that they can face off in gladiatorial battles to the death, you will have a problem with your hotel owner Continue…

Thresher Sharks

Finally we’ve come to Malapascua. This tiny island in the northern Visayas is said to be the only place in the world where divers can predictably see thresher sharks, a predator named for its long thresher-like tail. This also makes Malapascua THE place for recreational divers to see a deep-sea shark species close up at a comfortable 20-meter depth. Needless to say, Tony was as ecstatic as I was anxious about the thought of being in such close proximity to real sharks.

Embedded video similar to what we saw

Although thresher sharks are regularly sighted at Monad Shoal, a giant underwater plateau, there is no guarantee you will see these shy animals on your first dive. Our first time down, we ended up sitting near the edge of the rather featureless plateau staring out at an empty cleaning station. (A cleaning station is a spot on the shoal where schools of cleaner wrasse swarm around larger pelagics like sharks and mantas picking the parasites off them.) We were a bit hesitant to shell out more money to stare at nothing, but I’m glad we did.

Our second dive was much more successful. Just moments after hitting the 21 meter mark, a grey form slithering by in the distance made it clear that we were being watched. Suddenly, Continue…

Philippines: What a Dollar Can Buy You

There’s a reason why we haven’t encountered as many backpackers in the Philippines as we have in other parts of Asia. The island nation, caught between the developed and the developing world, can definitely break the bank especially if you want to engage in many of the activities the Philippines is so famous for: island hopping, caving, volcano trekking and, above all, scuba diving. If you want to have fun in the Philippines, you pay for it.

Generally, there are no super-great bargains to be had in the Philippines, and many other countries in Asia are a much better value for money, especially when it comes to accommodation. Having said that, we did find some special treats in the 2-3 dollar range. For this amount, you can see a movie, get a 1-hour massage or eat a Big Mac meal. But be warned, these little bargains add up quickly! If you happen to be on a tight budget, you had better stick to the $1 deals. And here’s what you can get for around a buck:

  • 45 kikiam (fried fish snacks)
  • 1 men’s hair cut
  • 9 lumpia (vegetable spring rolls)
  • 28 Marlboro cigarettes
  • 1 large freshly-brewed coffee at 7Eleven
  • 3 AA batteries
  • 2 fancy Halo Halo (shaved ice treat with cheese)
  • 2 hours of Internet access
  • 4 custard-filled donuts from Mr. Donut
  • 2 km taxi ride
  • 4 liters (1 gal.) of drinking water
  • 3 pounds of rice

The Visayas

From coral-hewn churches and underwater coral gardens to age-old traditions and jungle-covered volcanoes, the islands of the Visayas are a paradise for nature junkies and culture lovers like us. For the last ten weeks, Tony and I have been snorkeling, hiking, diving, and beach hopping spending as much time under water as we have above. And, of course, we’ve put the highlights in a short 4-minute video.

If you are wondering about the Latin-themed background music, it was meant to emphasize the lasting Spanish colonial influence.

The Name Game

In the Philippines, the name game is always fun. We’ve heard quite a few doozies here, some of which have really left us scratching our heads.

Filipinos love double names, such as Jayjay, Jojo, and Monmon. Even less flattering double names like Dodo seem to go over well here. Names which sound like bells are even more popular, like Tong, Tatong, Bong, Bibong, Bongbong, Dong and Dingdong. Apparently, phallic associations are no problem. Just ask Dingdong Dantes, the famous actor, he’s gone far with his most unfortunate name.

There are many names which sound vaguely familiar, such as Diday (D-Day), Kulit (Cool it), and Laygo (Lego). Occasionally, these familiar names take a darker turn. Poor Talabong and Recto really didn’t stand a chance. Continue…

Muck Diving in Dauin

Harlequin Ghost Pipefish

Muck diving doesn’t sound like much fun… but it is. Usually an exploration of sloppy shoreline shallows and decaying piers and pilings, muck divers forgo the glamours of brightly colored reefs and blue-water sea mounts for an underwater world of sand and seagrass littered with abandoned tires and rusty car wrecks.

‘Why?” you ask.

It turns out that a lot of very difficult to spot undersea life has a tendency to hang out in these areas. Muck diving is to scuba diving what bird-watching it to wildlife viewing. It is not for everyone. It is for people with patience who thrill at the discovery of smaller, hard-to-spot creatures. And Thomas and I are hooked.

In the Philippines, muck divers head straight to Dauin to begin the hunt. It is considered Continue…

Ladyboys vs. Dwarfs

Filipinos really know how to entertain.  A basketball showdown between dwarfs and ladyboys is not something you get to see every day! And you thought the Harlem Globetrotters were impressive.

As luck would have it, this event has long come and gone, so I guess we’ll have to give this piece of high culture a miss.

Who Cares about the Food?

I’ve been debating how to broach this subject for some time. Hmmmm. Let me begin by saying I love Filipinos. They are amazing, warm, friendly, hospitable people…

But they can’t cook.

Many travelers claim that the food here in the Philippines is the worst in Asia. I wouldn’t go that far – in my book, that honor goes to another people I love: Tibetans. But when I recently heard that Obama’s White House chef was a Filipina, my first thought was, “God, I hope she did her training somewhere outside the Philippines.”

So what is Philippine cuisine? It might best be described as Oklahoma Continue…

Choose Wisely

OK, you’re taking a bus across Negros and the bus stops at a small roadside place for lunch. You have to go to the bathroom NOW, so you run through the thatched hut-restaurant into a courtyard full of chickens. Off to the right, you see the sign “CR” in front of a small shack. You waste one second laughing at “comfort room” the Filipino euphemism for toilet, then you race towards the tiny structure with two doors. The doors are labelled “lalaki” and “babae,” which one do you enter? Continue…