20 October 2011

Vacation 2 has commenced. Destination: Cebu City, Philippines. Length of stay: 4 nights…. assuming you count that we get in @ 1:00 am Friday and leave for the ROK at 2:00 am Monday morning. My buddy Phil told me about cheap tickets Tuesday morning @ yoga, I cleared a Friday vacation day with my school on Wednesday morning, bought the ticket that night, and was on the plane less than 24 hours later. Just the way I like it. Phil has attempted to orchestrate more of an itinerary than I have, him having figured out ferry times and prices and things to do and see…and all I’ve done is secure free ‘couch surfing’ accommodations in Cebu City, which is where we fly into.

9:20 p.m.: What? These seats really are for Asians. Or midgets. This ride better go by fast b/c its certainly not going to be comfortable.

3:35 am: Touchdown. Scratch that…it was more like a slam down, wait just kidding slam down again ok now stand on the brakes kind of landing. I guess that was our ‘wake up and get off the plane’ call. As soon as I clear immigration (and get my coveted stamp in my passport) I'm heading for an open corner of the airport and getting some shuteye before my undetermined plans commence.

We’re herded out of the airport, having no chance to secure sleeping arrangements, and so a taxi driver says he knows a cheap place for us to stay. Adventure 1 has started. We walk a few 100 meters/yards and pay for what can only be described as a closet. (Which is fine w/ me, if you’ve known me for at least 4 years, b/c this isn’t the first closet I’ve lived in….)

8:30 a.m.: I woke up and paid for a taxi to the island and my vacation was once again entirely from a local’s perspective. Shacks and shanties, trash and dirt trails, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any more behind the scenes than this. As we’re walking down the road now, we see a dive shop sign and walk towards it, greeted by a guy on the road that unbeknownst to us, will end up being our tour guide for the next 2 days. We look at a few beaches around the area, all with entrance fee’s…. and after negotiating, we decide that its better to just have him take us to the near by islands via boat so we can snorkel and have some beach time there. We get to feed the fish, and I actually see a ton of Koreans. They’re funny to me. They have shirts and shorts on, a hat, a life vest, goggles and snorkel, are holding on to ANOTHER life vest, and being taxied around the shallow water where they can see the coral and fish via their ‘guide’ who is paddling them along.

In our negotiated package with our tour guide, we will get to SCUBA dive tomorrow, and have a lunch prepared for us on the boat. This also includes the island hopping and snorkeling today, and it has cost me $100 USD. That is an awesome price and I’m pretty stoked because this is finally a vacation where I feel like I’ve been somewhere picture perfect.

We’re going to our 2nd island now where we’ll enjoy some chilaxing on the beach and (I expect) some overpriced snacks. 30 minutes later we arrive.

Once on shore, we have a walk-through of the island on our way to the beach. The lifestyle is very primitive. There happened to be an elementary school on the island, and so I walked up and smiled. Before I could even get out a “hello”… the kids had assembled on the front steps and in complete unison, said “Good afternoon mister. Nice to meet you.” I was beyond moved. Shocked I guess. I’m seeing over and over how societies and villages of people survive on fractions of what the majority of the western world has; yet they seem exponentially more content.

We finish our island hopping and make it back to shore. We promise Joseph, our guide, that we’ll be back around 9 or 10 tomorrow for diving and hail a cab into the city to find lodging. We decide to stop at SM Mall, the biggest in Cebu city, and this is where the disgusting differences of life become severely evident. In a span of 45 minutes, I go from an island that struggles to provide their children with pencils, to locals barely making ends meet doing services for vacationers, to seeing people shopping at Gap, eating Pizza Hut, using wireless on their smart phones, and being overloaded with shopping bags in a 4 story mall. It’s definitely true that the Philippines have no middle class.

We find a nice hotel near city center that will suffice and it sets us back $30 USD. Not going to break the bank…but I was really hoping my Couch Surfing contact would pan out. Oh well…maybe tomorrow. Time to check my eyelids.

Day 2

9:00 a.m. Ahhhh…. continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel. A McDonalds voucher, in the form of the Filipino cop-cat called Jollibee. I actually think I like the Philippines the best out of the 2 S.E.A. countries I’ve been to. It’s hard to explain why, but it might be mostly because of their English ability. Its kind of like Thailand and Mexico had a baby, except it grew up in the states and speaks English with a slight an accent. There were resemblances between Thailand and Mexico I remember…mostly because of the colors of things, and how they acted. But now, in the Philippines, it’s even stronger because they have Spanish roots from colonization and language.

We’re set to be strapped to cement blocks and swim with the fishies today. Not in the “I made the mob mad” sort of way…. just scuba diving. (You wear a cement belt to keep you underwater)

We finally met up with our guide at 10:30 and suited up for our dive. We boated to our spot, which ended up being somewhat close to the (not so pretty) island where we rendezvoused.  After reviewing a few basic shallow water diving techniques, we proceeded to deeper waters. The whole experience was nothing short of breathtaking, perfect coral or not (it was not). The only bad comment I have is not being able to TALK while I was underwater. I couldn’t tell anyone how cool it was. I guess that’s a good problem to have. We swam in somewhat shallow water for another 10 minutes or so, gradually going deeper to the depth of about 5 or 6 meters…. and then all of a sudden…. BAM! Drop off. I’m talking deep. Deep into the underwater abyss. It left me stunned, really. I had just went from shallow water diving, trolling along the coral looking at the ground, while not really paying attention to how deep I was…(not really needing to)…. To floating like a cloud, hanging effortlessly, suspended in the water by the perfect combination of added artificial weight and body buoyancy. I was experiencing my first true indescribable feeling of floating. Flying. Levitating. I was just there. No moving. No nothing, just breathing. I had turned around and positioned myself vertically where I could just look at that wall of coral face to face… as if it had a face…. and in complete awe at what I was doing. Never scuba dived? DO IT.

We descended down the wall of coral, maxing out at about 16 meters, and after seeing several more amazing creatures, started our ascent to the boat. Upon surfacing, we were greeted by our meal, complete with fresh bananas, and the best, most amazingly fresh, perfect mangos I’ve ever had.

6:30 p.m. We finally met up with our Couch Surfing host, Sean…. and I think he lives in the nicest high-rise apartment building in the entire city, no joke. 15th floor, and 18-foot windows that span the height of the 2-story corner unit he calls home. Two other CS’ers had been there about a week, Amy and Shannon, who were from Toronto and San Fran respectively. Two super cool girls with some awesome stories. The inspiration they gave me, and the zeal they both had relit my desire to travel...to go…to SEE…. something fierce. Ugh I can’t wait. We talked into the wee hours of the night, with discussions ranging from religion and politics to college and countries.

Our last day brought rest and relaxation, and we walked part of the city. We say some of the ancient city history, as well as the original cross Magellan had planted. It is apparently still in its original spot. He was actually killed here also. Later that evening we had another amazing dinner then tossed my towel and book in my backpack and headed out the door. Back to the ROK I go. Good morning students…..