Friday, February 15, 2008

In d Philippines

Lots has happened since we last left you and went to Ati Atihan festival. We'll start with the two days we spent at the street carnival. Since it was an absolute nightmare finding a room in Kalibo, which is where the festival was held, we found a tiny village by the sea about 30 minutes drive away. We stayed really in the middle of nowhere, but it was really beautiful spot and it saved us a fortune because all hotels in Kalibo had put their prices up by around 5 times!

The whole Ati Atihan festival lasted for weeks, but we were there for just the last 2 days, which were the biggest with dance & costume competitions. All the local villages enter a team into the festival, all of which have their own distinct costumes and dance style, so for example there was a duck-village, which had these very cool duck-like outfits, and there were also spiders, owls, bats, coral, butterflies, and other less obvious themes. We've got some very cool photos which we'll try to get onto flickr, so you can click on the pictures on the right and see more. All of the dancing was done to very loud and enthusiastic drumming and music as well, so it really was a proper fun carnival.

It was a very cool thing for us to see, because it's apparently the biggest festival in South East Asia, and we've never been to anything like that before. There weren't many western tourists, just loads of Philipinos dancing and - mainly - drinking. It had a very relaxed atmosphere, and anyone could just join in with any of the groups and wander in and out taking photos. We came back with a new hat that an excited dancer gave us, and I got covered in black face paint as well.

Having festivals and fiestas in the Philippines means that the locals are super hospitable. We even got given free lunch. We went into a cafe to get some lunch and coffee, and they just gave it to us for free! In the evenings we got jeepneys back to our hotel. They're "buses" made from old American army jeeps, which they extend back massively. They were so many people travelling on them in the evenings that all the men including Dan had to travel on the roof, and just hold on for dear life. It was fine until it started to rain... He looked like a drowned rat when he finally climbed down. All in all, a great weekend!

After the festival we went to Boracay island, which is the country's main tourist destination. Although obviously it was veeery touristy, it was actually a lovely place, with hugely long pure white beaches fringed with coconut palms and no big buildings near the coast, so the beach where we were was very tranquil and it felt like it was a lot more unspoilt than the reality. Some of it was very busy and not very nice, but we just didn't go to that area. What Dan loved was that it had one beach that never got any wind and was great for swimming & sleeping, whilst the other side of the island had a beach that was always very windy and full of windsurfers and kitesurfers.

It was my birthday on Boracay as well, and Dan got me a number candle to blow out, but he only got number 1 for me, it never crossed to get the first number as well, so I guess I had my 21st birthday there! We had some lovely cocktails and some beers to celebrate. But after a few days relaxing on the beach I managed to get really ill, it started with really high fever and developed into acute bronchitis (first doctor thought it may have been pneumonia) and I was totally out of it for over a week. The two doctors I saw both wanted to admit me into the hospital, but they both said the hospital is so bad it might not make me feel any better to be there... So we decided I'd stay at our bungalow instead! Dan was a great, although a little bit bored, nurse for me, and I got through lots and lots of medicine, and I'm now finally better. So our few days on Boracay island turned into 20 days before the doctor finally allowed us to fly out to Laos via Manila and Bangkok. Dan finally managed to windsurf on our last day on the island, and he had a great time.

The language is a funny thing in the Philippines, because they quite happily mix English, some Spanish words, and lots of the regional local dialects. All the signs tend to be in a sort of ghetto English, so they use "d" instead of "the"! And they use speechmarks around inappropriate words or phrases, for example: We are "happy" to serve you. It's great!

We're now is Luang Prabang in Laos and it's freezing here! But we're having a great time because we happened to bump into Heiko & Nicole whom we got to know in Halong Bay in Vietnam, so it's been fun seeing them again and playing lots of cards. And we're also loving the food here, there's so much fresh fruit & vegetables and yummy things here, so we're eating all the time!

We'll write more once we've seen a bit more of Laos. We've also put up lots of really nice photos from the Philippines, so make sure you go see them as well.

By the way, we only have one more month to go, yikes!

Jenni & Dan

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Filipino times

Hi, this time we've both written bits so it may be a bit confusing.

We have been meaning to write something for ages, but have come up against a new hurdle in our quest to bring you interesting travel stories, loud shouting computer game obsessed young Filipino boys! every Internet place here is full all the time with kids playing this war game at full volume, slightly drowned out by loud music which they then try and shout encouragement over, it makes sitting writing anything a rather stressful activity! Jenni has just put in her ear plugs as we have given up trying to find a quieter one, so here goes with the beautiful sounds of war, shouting and Bon Jovi!

Getting to the Philippines was fun! It took us about 24hours to get to our hostel here from Taru and Ville's house in Malaysia. We had a few stressful "the last bus to the airport has already left" moments, and a lovely sleep outside the Manila domestic terminal from 5am till 2pm! But we got there eventually, and met the owner of our hostel (Harold's Mansion) at the airport in Dumaguete on Negros island, and he basically adopted us for the next week! Harold, us, and Hanna & Elin from Stockholm went on daytrips all over the place, and visited Harold's auntie (who served us lunch), his beach house, a 30m waterfall, and nearby Apo island (great snorkelling!). In the evenings we were taken to cool bars and clubs in Dumaguete and we saw local reggae bands and "normal" bands. We had a great time there, and the food and beer were also brilliant & cheap!

We then moved on to a quiet part of Negros called Sipalay which was basically 4 very basic beach side bungalow resorts - and not much else. But it had a 400m stretch of beach with fantastically clear warm water. The beach didn't have the "dazzlingly white sand" the Lonely Planet described, it was more of a browney grey, but I guess "dazzlingly browney grey sand" isn't going to entice too many people! But despite the colour of the sand the place had a really cool feel, very laid back and friendly and rustic. The only boats on the beach were traditional fishing boats with outriggers that the local families took out to fish each evening, or to take us out snorkelling etc. We went snorkelling on a wreck which was really cool, it was quite a big sunken ship with loads of beautiful fish and covered with corals. We had never seen a wreck before so it was great fun, and it was shallow enough that you didn't need scuba gear, 2-7m. It was great diving down and looking through the ship with the sunlight coming in through the holes and cracks in the hull and seeing all the fish living inside.

We had another lovely animal encounter in our bungalow in Sipalay. It had been a while since we shared our room with anything bigger than a cockroach, so we were delighted to see a huge 10cm diameter fat hairy spider staring down at us from the roof of our hut! We were very brave and just let it be and climbed into the cocoon-like safety of the mosquito net, and prayed it would go away. And it did until the evening, when he crawled out again just to scare us. We think the very big gecko that was also sharing our room might have eaten it, because by the third evening we didn't see the spider anymore, and the gecko was looking extra fat and happy.

The language here is very bizarre, it's a mix between English, Spanish, and the local dialects which differ from island to island. So we can often understand what the locals are saying to each other! And we feel the country has somehow a different feel to the other South East Asian places we've been to. It may be because it's Christian, or it may be the American influence. The locals call Dan Joe (a hangover from the GI Joe times) and they tend to be veeeery excited to see us walking down the streets, and often they really just want to have a chat with us and go out of their ways to help us. We had a very funny moment in Dumaguete when we went to the local fish market. The ladies there basically gathered around Dan to admire him and smile and giggle. We were with Harold and he translated to us that they wanted to know whether Dan was married, and were very disappointed to find out he was, but they still wanted to know whether they could be pen pals with him... Dan didn't know how to take all this attention from the circle of new admirers, but the rest of us were having a lot of fun!

So far we've really liked the Philippines, so much so that we've extended our visas so we can stay here for about 5 weeks instead of the 3 weeks as we initially had planned. We changed islands yesterday to go to the Ati-Atihan festival for the weekend, which is a huge fiesta, a bit like Rio Carnival. We think we have a room booked through a travel agent (most rooms have been booked for over a month now), but we haven't heard anything from her for a while, so we've decided to just turn up and hope for the best...

Sorry again that it's been so long since the last blog, we blame the local noisy kids and the very strong Red Horse beer which is ridiculously strong, and very cheap at just 50pence or 0.70cents for a huge litre bottle!

We'll let you know soon how the festival went!

Dan & Jenni