Friday, February 21, 2020

Country 50: The Phillippines

It took me longer than I had expected to get to country number 50. Well, say hello to the Philippines.  For me, The Philipinnes has always been an afterthought. There are 7,641 islands in the Philippines, so think you can see and experience the entire country in a month is a massive understatement. As I said, when it comes to Asia the Philippines has never been a priority. It took me less than a week on my first island to see how wrong I was.

There are no visa requirements for Canadians so I showed up with a smile and they immigration officer stamped my passport with a grunt and waved me through. Everything I read said that the best exchange rates are at the airport, and surprisingly they were really good.  I exchanged my remaining Ringgit from Malaysia and discovered that the Philippines peso is an unusually large note. I overpaid for a SIM card, walked past all the airport touts and headed out into the Cebu sunlight. From here I checked my hotel location and it was a short 25-minute walk so I saddled up and off I went. I can not count the number of taxis, tricycles, motos and random cards who beeped or pulled over offering me a ride. They must have never seen a foreigner walk from the airport. There is a reason for that. As I neared my destination, yet another OYO hotel it became glaringly apparent that I punched the wrong hotel into my GPS. There wasn't an ocean anywhere near where I was headed. This was confirmed when I tried to check-in and the hotel had no record of my reservation. I showed them my OYO reservation and the desk clerk rolled her eyes, yes, she actually rolled her eyes. I ordered a GRAB and was on my way 10 minutes later.

I had been in touch with SIDivers which was located in the town of Maribago in the Lapu Lapu area of Cebu. I was only 40 minutes away in the opposite direction. I found my hotel in Maribago easy enough, checked in and walked to the SIDivers shop to check-in. To be honest the entire area was a bit more rugged than I had expected but once I found the resort area with all the dive shops my world changed. Crystal clear water with an incredible array of blue hues. I would be shore diving which was a new experience for me. This was going to be fun.

Question. What does Maribago and Lapu Lapu have that so many other places do not have? Koreans! This place was overrun with them. For whatever reason, over the years the Koreans have settled in here. They have build hotels, own dive shops and most restaurants have the menus written in English and Korean. When the world is not in lockdown with this Pseudo Pandemic, yes, there are Chinese that vacation here but they are in the minority. That in itself is odd for a popular Asian destination. From what I gathered after talking to a few people, the Koreans are aggressive and demanding with absolutely everything. Most people with the Chinese would come in droves and drive the Chinese out. How is that for Bizzaro?

I found everything I needed and there was quite a bit to choose foodwise. My hotel had a dozen uniform clad ladies sitting around the lobby ready to follow you up to your room for a message. I was assured by a few Expats sitting in the dining room that there are plenty of extras if I wanted. I didn't. As I said the town was a bit beaten up but it was trying to look nice. There were new restaurants, hotels, and shops but they were mixed in with a long history of living. There was one main and very narrow road running through the town and it was busy in both directions. There were no sidewalks to speak of so you had to be on guard at all times plus there were the laziest street dogs I have ever seen. It was going to be an interesting few days.

I had one goal and one goal only. To get wet and start diving. I had booked 4 shore dives and 1-night dive. It was only me and my divemaster Carlos. We would prep in the shop and walk across a dirt courtyard to the edge of the water. Here various steps were leading into the ocean. It was here that we would enter the water and start our dive. The resort was home to about 20 dive shops including a huge and well-established one called Posiden. I think there is Posiden Diving in every country on the plant. This shop catered to Koreans and we were surrounded by novice divers learning the sport.

We finned up and swam up the reef to where it dropped off and became a long reef wall. What a great mix. Normally you come off a boat and swim to either a reef or a reef wall. This was the best of both. I am still not taking my camera with me on most dives for various reasons. The first being I want to focus on learning to dive and improving. This includes my buoyancy, my observations, navigation and slowing my breathing to conserve air and increase the dive time.

On these dives, there were great colorful reef fish, a few turtles, tiny crabs, and other very colorful creatures that Carols found and pointed out. The night dive was a surreal experience, to say the least. Just the divers and their flashlights. We did not go very deep but it was enough to see some very interesting creatures of the night. The lights were always pointed towards the reef wall and naturally every once in a while I would look away into the blackness of the ocean around me. It is a bit more unnerving at night than in the day, that is for shizzle.

I hit the ground running in the Philippines. Like anywhere you can read about it all you want. When you are in it, talking with people and doing your thing, that is when it begins. I have a great feeling about the place, but I have only been here for less than a week. I am going to get wet here as much as I can.

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