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A good start of the New Year
Guintubdan (Philippines) to Bangkok (Thailand), Jan-01-09 / Jan-20-09

It is the first time in our life that we went up at 05.30 in the morning on New Year’s Day, but this year it happened. We hoped that the New Year would start with a beautiful sunny day, because we planned to do some hiking in the national park where we were staying. But the reality was different. It was still raining. We looked at each other and decided to go back to bed again, because hiking in a rainy natural park is not the kind of hiking we like. After a couple of hours, the rainy clouds were chased off by the sun. We put on our hiking booths and started walking in Mount Kanlaon National park in the northern part of the island Negros. The park has some beautiful waterfalls, and we decided to walk to one of them. We hiked all the way to the top of the waterfall and had a spectacular view on the water clashing down tens of metres. We had to be careful because the rocks were very slippery because of the rain before. This is not the place to slide…

The hike in the national park was absolute great, but our highlight of our visit to the park was the owner of a little shop next to our hotel where we stayed. Because there was no restaurant in this area of the park, we asked the woman (and her daughter) to cook dinner for us, for the days that we spent in Mount Kanlaon NP. This was a great chance to taste some of the traditional Filipino food as it is made by rural people on a daily basis. The lady did her uttermost best to serve great Filipino food. She also made every evening a surprise because she wanted us to taste some unknown local food. One of the surprises was a fruit called Tisa, that we didn’t see on the markets before. The orange fruit was sweet and a little bit dry, and it stuck easily to the teeth. After brushing the teeth, the colour appeared also on the toothbrush, and it took several days before the colour disappeared.

Our private bath room in the Las Rocas hotel in Bacolod
From Mount Kanlaon National Park we travelled further south on the island of Negros and finally arrived in the city of Dumaguete. We did not see any other foreign travellers in the heart of Negros, but we saw them again in Dumaguete. For some reason this city is a popular destination to live in for old(er) western men and their young Filipino women. It was also raining in Dumaguete, so we decided to get some extra information about the weather on Apo Island, a popular diving destination in the Philippines just offshore from Negros Island. We planned to go there to do some diving, but only if the weather condition is perfect. Diving is an expensive hobby, so we only dive when we know that the conditions are optimal. That was not the case, so we decided to travel further to the next island, Siquijor. We checked in, in a beautiful resort in the little village of San Juan. The luxury is nothing spectacular, but the setting is. We had a cottage on a perfectly white beach that was lined with leaning over palm trees. There were even hammocks on the beach to enjoy the beautiful sunsets. We also did some hiking in Mount Bandila-an National Park that is located in the heart of this small island on an altitude of over 500 metres. We spend one day enjoying the dense forests and walking back through the little village to the coastline. After Siquijor we travelled by fast ferry to the island of Bohol. In this part of the Philippines, most journeys between the islands are nowadays done by fast ferries and not by the traditional Bangka’s anymore. The fast ferries are quite expensive, but the travel time is considerably less than with the small wooden boats. They are probably also much safer.

Already on the day that we arrived on Bohol, we travelled to the small island of Panglao that is connected by a bridge with the much larger Bohol Island. Panglao is also famous for its diving locations, and we decided to give it an extra try. The weather was perfect and we read in diving books that the small Balicasag Island, thirty minutes by boat from Panglao, offers some first class diving in the Philippines. Especially the diving inside the Balicasag Marine Reserve seems to be something special. At first I (Ivonne) decided not to dive, because I was still a little bit uncomfortable going under water again. But after we visited some dive shops on Alona Beach, I really wanted to give it another try. We discussed the issue with one of the owners of a dive shop, and he decided to send an extra (private) dive master with the group to give me more comfort. Edwin could join the diving group that was heading for 22 metres, while I wanted to stay below the 15 metres depth. The dives on the first diving day were already spectacular. Despite the fact that we were in two different dive groups, we saw the same highlights. Seeing a turtle was already very special, but the school of Jack Fish was spectacular. This group of thousands of silver coloured fish was moving like a glittering thunder cloud through the sea. Edwin was below the group of fish and when the school came over, it became darker because the sunlight was partly blocked.

Ivonne just after a dive on Balicasag Island

After two dives, my self-confidence was back again, and the second day we dove in the same group. The dives were again spectacular, and we saw again a big school of Jack Fish. Again we were below the school and when we looked up, we saw the school swimming in the formation of a tornado. Super! We also saw turtles again and a beautiful and huge Scorpion Fish. It is a pity that we do not have an under water camera to record these beautiful things. We tried to buy an under water housing for our compact camera, but the model is too old to find one here in Bangkok. And to buy a new camera and under water housing is extravagant, especially because we are not diving that often. But you never know!

After our dives on Panglao Island, we went back to the main island of Bohol. We decided to do a daytrip to the ‘famous’ Chocolate Hills that are located in the centre of the island. After two sunny days of diving, it was however raining again. Despite the rain, we travelled to the Chocolate Hills, a two hour bus ride from Tagbilaran, the capital city of Bohol. Edwin described the Chocolate Hills as a field with breast formed hills. The tourist bureau of the Philippines is of the opinion that the Chocolate Hills are very special. They even try to get these hills on the list of Natural World Wonders. The incite Filipino’s to vote on a special website for the hills to become part of the list. We are not so convinced about their beauty, but it is a nice daytrip from Tagbilaran.

From Bohol we took the fast ferry to Cebu City, from where we flew back to the Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. We spent there one day after which we took the bus to Clark, the city where we also started this great trip to the Philippines. The six weeks flew by and we did only see a small part of the country. We definitely come back again soon, and we hope to do that in a period that the weather is a little bit better. Now we are back in Bangkok again and we are waiting for the parents of Ivonne to arrive. They arrive tomorrow and together we will travel for seven weeks through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. We are really looking forward to show them this part of Asia. To be continued …


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