Browsing Tag

Paradise

Philippines

Coron Island, Philippines

Coron is a quiet little island north of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. There are a dozen Japanese ship wrecks from WW2 scattered around Coron that made it one of Forbes top 10 dive spots in the world!

On 24 September 1944, a squadron of 24 Helldiver bombers burst out of the sky above Coron Bay in the Philippines, located the Japanese supply fleet hiding among the islands below, and proceeded to blow it apart. The dive bombers, escorted by 96 Hellcat fighters, some of which were also carrying bombs, had just 15 minutes to sink as many ships as possible before their fuel would get too low for them to complete the 340-mile return journey to their aircraft carrier. The attack was ruthlessly successful, and left a legacy that wouldn’t be discovered until years later when recreational diving came to this remote part of the Philippines.

To get from El Nido to Coron can be done a few ways. You can take a 4 day cruise with companies like Tao that sail you to islands and snorkel spots during the day and you camp on beaches at night. You can take the slow ferry which takes about 5 1/2 hours or you can take the speed boat and be there in about 3 hours. I chose the cheapest option, the slow ferry.

It ended up taking about 6 hours and costed 800 pesos ($16). The ferry has no windows so its open air and you can climb on the roof if you prefer to get a tan. The views along the way are spectacular!

About 50 islands make up the Calamian Archipelago in Northern Palawan that separates the South China Sea from the Sulu Sea. The ferry boat passes many of these islands on the way to Coron. People living on islands in paradise, living the dream and they don’t even know it!

When you arrive in Coron at the port there is many tricycles out front waiting. To get to the town where most of the hostels are at is not really close enough to walk. I got a Moto taxi ride for 80 pesos to the front door of my guest house. I stayed at Guapos Guest House for 600 pesos ($12) per night for a private room with a shared bath. I don’t know that you will get a better deal then this in Coron and after staying in so many hostels a little privacy was nice. I would book in advance if it is the high season because there was not many budget options. But this place was good and clean and was located close enough to walk to everything in the town. You can also book tours, shuttles and diving through the office here. This phot was taken near the port.

As for the town there isn’t a whole lot going on. A few streets for basic shopping, a couple restaurants a handful of bars and agencies to book your tours or diving. No Name Bar is the only late night spot that I could find. Some Irish lads and I found ourselves there until it closed. After the bars close there is a restaurant down near the port that is open all night and also serves beer.

You can rent a scooter in town for 24 hours for about 500 pesos ($10). There is a few beaches on the island as well as a couple waterfalls. Once you leave the town the island is beautiful! Green hills, rivers, wild cattle roaming the fields. It was very peaceful! I didn’t have much time to spend in Coron because my 30 day visa was about to expire. (If you are in the same position, the closest place to renew your Philippines Visa is either in Manila or Puerto Princessa so I suggest you renewing before going to Coron. I believe the price is around $60) But I did manage to explore a good bit of the island, see a few beaches and catch a basketball game.

The flowing day I met near the port and border a boat set to explore a bit of the sea. My first stop was the Coral Gardens. I have never seen this much live bright beautiful coral in one place before. There was hundreds of different kinds of tropical fish, giant urchins, star fish, and if you’re lucky they say you can see sharks here some times.

The next stop was Kayangan Lake. When you google Palawan you will keep seeing this epic photo from the top of a viewpoint overlooking a blue and green bay. (the photo at the top) This is done from the walk to the lake. The next photo was taken about half way up the hill to the viewpoint.

After soaking up some of that view there is a path leading down the other side to the lake. The lake is half fresh, half salt brackish water so swimming is a bit more difficult then you have been used to but if you swim out to the middle of the lake the views of all sides is amazing! I don’t know what kind of critters are in the water but some Pinner fish were following me around everywhere I went.

It seems to be some kind of tradition with the boat captains that ever time the boat stops he must cook something! No matter what tour I was on in Palawan I would always come back to the fellas having a feast!

The next stop was the twin lagoons. The entrance to the other lagoon is a 1 meter across tunnel behind that blue boat! The fella that found this little secret was really looking for something. But on the other side of that tunnel is another big beautiful lagoon with green water surrounded by giant gray rock face.

These local kids took their bamboo raft to the lagoon to check it out.

And the final stop was this WW2 Japanese ship wreck. The nose of the boat was about 15 feet under water and went down to about 40 foot deep. Many fish and a few divers exploring the deeper part of the wreck.

Getting to and from Coron-

-The ferry boat leaves every other day to and from El Nido.

-Flights depart daily to Busuanga from Manila via Philippine and Cebu Airlines.

Where to stay-

-Guapos Guest House- 500 pesos per night. ($10)

Where to eat-

-Blue Moon Resto bar. I had dinner here every night. On the main street. Good food and wifi

-For dessert check out Pedros Gelatos. Made from scratch every morning.

Philippines

Palawan, The Philippines

The last frontier as they call it. This was it! The reason I absolutely had to go to the Philippines. For the last two years Palawan was named the number one island in the world by Travel & Leisure and many other travel magazines. I had to come see what all of the fuss was about!

Getting around the Philippines is almost a science in itself. If you improperly plan your trip (as I did) you will end up spending a fortune on flights backtracking all over the country to get to your next destination. To get from Boracay to Palawan is only about 95 nautical miles. But to get those 95 miles was one of the most ridiculous days of traveling in my life!

I woke up and packed my bags like any other day, hopped onto the tricycle and headed to the port. After a short ferry ride and I was to the mainland. That was followed by a 2 hour mini bus ride to Kalibo. (There is a much closer airport but the bus ride saves you a cool $75) From Kalibo I had to fly to Manilla for a 7 hour layover. The international terminal in Manilla are amazing! The domestic terminal is not so pretty. There is not much to do, the food choices are burnt pizza or pot noodles. I made the best of it and walked laps around the waiting room and watched the Chicago Bulls game on the television with some local guys. Basketball is kinda a big deal in the Philippines. I was then notified that my flight was delayed an hour. Its pretty standard in Asia. I don’t think I have had a flight leave on time yet. That hour went by and we started to board the plane.

After we all loaded the plane they then informed us that we would be delayed again because of runway traffic. Another 45 minutes later the captain came on the intercom to say those three magic words. Prepare for takeoff. After about 45 minutes in the air we began our decent for what seemed to be our landing. Another hour of the plane jerking side to side and the engine jets boosting and then not making noise I knew something was NOT right. The plane at one point was nose up in the air and you could just feel it float in the air. After two more unsuccessful attempts to land the captain gets on the intercom and tells everyone that the weather was to bad in Puerto Princessa and that we would be returning to Manilla!

By this point I thought I was going to have an actual heart attack! We turned back and half way to Manila he turned off the autopilot and we flew the next 30 minutes at the hands of Mr. Captain. The planes wings turning side to side for the rest of the flight. At this point I came to terms and realized that this guy had absolutely no clue what he was doing. After thirty minutes of this nonsense and the plane dropped to the runway like a skid of bricks and screeched to a stop. Everyone on the plane got up to get their bags and I needed to figure where I would sleep that night now that I was back in Manilla again. The stewardess advised us that they wouldn’t let anyone off of the plane. As you would expect that went over very well with the people on the plane.

A guy sitting next to me was speaking English to someone on the phone in Puerto Princessa and they said that not only was there no weather but there wasn’t even any wind. Another 30 minutes went by and they announced that the flight crew would be giving us some food. Their idea of food and mine are a bit different but they brought us all some kind of chocolate snack cake and water. Another 30 minutes passed and I see the pilots and the entire flight crew leave the plane. As the pilot was leaving I said “hey buddy, first time?” He just put his head down and walked off the plane. I got a chuckle out of that. A few minutes later an entire new flight crew and captains entered the plane and announced that we were going to Puerto Princessa. At this point all I could do is laugh hysterically in disbelief.

Another hour went by and we successfully landed to a beautiful summer night in Puerto Princessa. So 16 hours and $300 later after Air Asia put my life in jeopardy for what should have been a 90 mile boat ride (that doesnt exist) I finally arrived. This want going to be my last run with problems from Air Asia. And they are supposed to be the “good” airline! But it was in the past. They say the adventure getting there is half of the fun. That day I had enough adventure..

That night I stayed at the Airportside Inn. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t clean, it was quite run down but it was close to the airport and it was almost 12pm at night at this point. I had a 12 person dorm room all to myself with no locker so I spent most of the night waking up to see if my computer and camera were still next to me. I have a cable lock that I used to locked my small bag to my arm. The next morning I took a tricycle to the bus terminal to get the mini bus to El Nido.

It is a 5 hour ride in a cramped mini van local people trying to get across the island. Some of them transporting huge sacks of rice and spices. One girl had a lap full of picture frames. The AC worked and to me that was all that mattered. English is one of the recognized languages in the Philippines but you will see that the further you get from the cities the less and less English was spoken.

El Nido itself is a very small populated town on the ocean. The magic of El Nido happens in the sea! I stayed one night in the town at the Austria’s Guest House to get a feel for the town. Its a nice place a block from the beach and only cost 500 pesos ($10) for a private room with a fan. There is also a legit fruit and pancake breakfast with coffee included and a restaurant on the property to purchase lunch or dinner.

I spent the next three days aboard the Palawan Secret Cruise boat. This was a bit on the pricey side of a backpacker budget but it was really worth it!

The cruise included three meals a day, a tour every morning and afternoon, and a sunset cocktail. I slept in a bunkbed on the sea overlooking Snake Island. There was kayaks to use and a beach bar on land at the end of the sand bar of Snake Island. Other then that we were alone in paradise! During the day a few tour boats would visit the bay to see the island.

The first day we took a tour to snorkel some of the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life! I saw sea horses, parrot fish and my first puppy fish.

The evenings were filled with fresh seafood and cocktails with my new friends.

The morning we woke up to breakfast and a tour of the big and small lagoons. As we entered the small lagoon local guys brought us out kayaks to rent for —- pesos. Inside of the lagoon was truly a sight to see! Rock walls on both sides. Deep green waters underneath of me.

As I was paddling into the lagoon I started to see jellyfish. Big ones and lots of them! They looked exactly like the stingless jellyfish I had seen in the photos. The only place on earth I am aware of these things exists was in a lake in the island of Palau and on the island of Surigao in the Philippines. The lagoon in Surigao had recently been shut down because the population of jellies was almost completely gone in a few short years by tourists swimming in the lagoon. So maybe these guys migrated from there. I bet there was 100 of them I saw swimming near the surface. It was unbelievable!

When I reached back to the boat a spoke to the captain about what I saw. He said he had been to this lagoon many many times and he had never heard about any jellyfish there so I felt pretty lucky!

After arriving at the large lagoon if you arrive at low tide you have to walk down a valley of rocky shallow water to get to the lagoon. I swam in with a snorkel and paddled out to the middle of the lagoon. All was well until I put on my mask and looked down. I couldn’t see the bottom, not a fish, not a thing! Just the dark abyss. It was a really erie feeling!

I wrapped an amazing day up with a Coconut delivered to the boat by a fella on a raft for 50 pesos.

The following day we took a tour of Papaya beach. If you book tours on the mainland they all leave at the same time and they all arrive at the same time. The beauty of staying on this cruise was they were determined to get me to see the sights before anyone else arrived! We had the beach to ourselves.

 

I even got a game in with some local kids working on our boat. Im not real sure what the rules were but everyone got two shots and you didn’t have to dribble unless you wanted to.

There was one bamboo hut that someone lived in and another that they sold coconuts and rum out of. Two bucks for a coconut full of rum? Ill take two.

Im not sure if there was a school somewhere in the jungle or if the kids that lived in that hut had to take this boat to school but what a way to grow up!

Because coconut.

I would highly recommend staying on this boat for a couple nights when you make it to el Nido! It was the highlight of my Palawan trip!

After returning to land I spent one night again at the Austria’s Guest House and booked my ferry boat to Coron. From there I woke up at 5 am for the 3.5 hour speed ferry to Coron.

It’s not often you get the pleasure of seeing the real paradises of the world before they have been taken over by hotels and bars. I spoke to one gentlemen from the USA that had been living there for 13 years. He told me about a time when there was no streets and almost no travelers because no one knew about the place. Tourism will in time kill a lot of the beauty of El Nido but if you get the chance you must see it for yourself..

Getting in and out-
-Flight to Puerto Princessa from Manila plus 5 hour mini bus ride. From Boracay I paid almost $300 and spent a whole day traveling to get to Palawan. Don’t do what I did! Plan your flights properly.
-Flight to El Nido from Manila.

Where to stay-
Austria’s Guest house- $10 per night
Palawan Secret Cruises- $130 per night.

Where to eat-
Art bar- Really good food a bit on the pricey side and the best wifi in El Nido. (I promise you will pay $1 more for a chicken with good wifi)

Philippines

Boracay, The Philippines

Condé Nast Traveler readers choice recently named Boracay the number one Island in the world! To be completely honest with you in my opinion it is pretty far fetched but I have a few photos from there that say differently. I arrived to Boracay before Christmas and was just looking for a good beach to relax on and celebrate the holidays. Boracay is a place that you can spend as little or as much money as you would like. If you aren’t into partying then you better do your homework about where you are going to stay because this place knows how to do that very well! Boracay also has no shortage of things to do. From diving, snorkeling, helmet diving, sailing, day trips, island hopping, parasailing, sunset cruises to cliff jumping, there is something for everyone.

After arriving to Caticlan from Cebu upon arrival to the airport I grabbed my backpack and got onto maps.me (which I must say has completely changed the travel game! Its an offline map that operated from your location. It is completely brilliant!) So there was tricycles (Moto taxis) outside of the terminal picking up people to take them to the ferry terminal for Boracay. But after looking at my map I saw that the terminal was only a 5 minute walk away. When you arrive to the ferry terminal you have to pay three separate fees that add up to about 150 Pesos ($3) to board the ferry boat. A 10 minute boat ride will take you to the port in Boracay. From there you have to take a tricycle to your “Station.”

The beach area in Boracay is split into 3 stations. Station 1 is a bit quieter with ocean front hotels and guest houses. There is also many good higher end restaurants and bars here. Station 2 is where the party is at. This is also where you will find most of the hostels and the walking streets. And Station 3 is probably the most relaxed of the three. I stayed at the Boracay Backpacker which is right on the edge of station 1. It is close enough to the party and there is a bar on the property but you can also rest in the evening. It is a minute walk from the beach and lots of good restaurants. The walls, the sheets, the towels, everything is white. There is a tiki bar in the courtyard and bamboo cabanas to relax on.

(Photo- Hostelworld.com)

White sand beach is the main Beach in Boracay. It is the finest example of paradise lost I have ever seen. You can tell that 20 years ago this was one the best beaches in the world! One of those beaches where the palm trees go all the way up to the sea and thats followed by white sand and amazing aqua water. If you happen to walk the beach at sunrise while everyone is still sleeping you can get a good look at what it once was.

By 9:00 in the morning the entire beach is full of dive tanks and boats loaded full of people going to take day trips and soon after comes the guys selling sunglasses and tours. My first stroll down that beach I remember thinking man, I could live here. I think a day or two later that opinion had faded but at the right time of day it is still a sight to see.

I spoke to some local women about the island and they told me how sad it makes them because as children, they knew everyone on the island and it truly was paradise but now many businesses are owned by people from other counters and with that came big price increases. And now they do not know their neighbors. But there is still many amazing places on Boracay to visit!

After a good rain if you take the 5 minute walk to cross the island, on the other side Bulabog beach is good when the crouds aren’t there. When the weather is good the entire beach will be filled with kite surfers and wind surfers as far as you can see. This beach also has many hostels and hotels lining it but most are geared towards the wind surfing.

In my opinion the best beach I saw was Diniwid Beach. While I just so happened to be in Boracay I was watching a video of the top 10 bluest waters in the world and Diniwid Beach was on that list! A few minutes after watching that video I packed up my camera and started walking down white beach to do some exploring. After you walk north past the stations is when Boracay starts getting good! A beautiful beach and a few resorts in the distance. You will walk past the occasional tiki bar with a few locals and tourists hanging out. At the end when it looks like you can not go any farther follow the path and you will walk around a cliff face to a small shore of colorful fishing boats. Another 10 minute walk and you will arrive to Diniwid Beach. Women drinking tropical cocktails sun bathing on a white sand. The water is so turquoise its hard to believe its real.

If you keep walking past the beach and follow the trail will lead you to the Spider House. This has to be the coolest bar on the island! Levels of seating over looking the ocean, a giant raft in the sea to swim out to and a plank for diving. The Spider house is one of the best places in Boracay! You can grab lunch or a beer, take a swim, lay in the sun and watch the sun.

I had to move hostels before New Years for three nights because the Boracay Backpackers was booked. I moved to the W Hostel and I have to say, this was one of the best hostels I have stayed in many years of traveling! Pod bunks with curtains, your own plug and light, big lockers, All day AC, hot breakfast and good wifi. Those things might not mean much if you’re reading this and you aren’t a backpacker but to us those things mean the world! By this point I had been in Boracay for 8 days, which for me was about 5 days to many already but the flight prices were outrageous to leave because of the holidays. And after talking to people they told me that Boracay was the best New Years party in the Philippines so whats a few more days. New Years Eve was a blast though! I joined some friends in a pub crawl of three bars, two night clubs and a firework grand finally on the beach! It was one of the biggest firework displays I have ever seen! It went on for a solid hour from a pier, the shore and a barge. The whole sky was full of explosions in every color.

 

 

Getting to and from-

-From Caticlan it is just a short ferry boat ride away.

-From Kalibo you must take the bus 2.5 hours to the port in Caticlan and then the ferry. There is mini busses and taxis at the port when returning to Kalibo. The mini bus does not leave until it is full so if you are in a hurry the taxi is the way to go.

Where to stay- 

-Boracay Backpacker- 500 pesos per night ($10) Prices here seem to change by the day.

-The W Hostel- 700 pesos per night. ($14) I believe this is a fixed price.

What to eat- 

-Army Navy- Amazing hang over food. Burritos, steak sandwiches, burgers and french fries. Its owned buy a guy from the USA so you know its good and terrible for you.

-Cheaper local food, go to Munchies on Bulabog street. Good food fast and cheap.

-For cheap booze go to Coco Mangas in Bulabog. Basically a store in the back to buy convenient store priced booze and seating in the front to drink it! (make sure you go to Coco Mangas in Bulabog. The other one is a dive bar down the street)

Philippines Travel

Cebu, The Philippines

I have had a strong urge to visit the Philippines ever since the first time I saw a Photo of the Kawasan Falls. Every photo I see of the Philippines from fellow photographers looks like a post card from paradise! Recently Condé Nast Traveler recently ranked Cebu the number 5 island in the world!

I had a few concerns about traveling to the Philippines though. Muslim extremists in the south, Pirates on the seas and the new President that recently took office. The first two we will get to later. As for President Rodrigo Duterte, he wooed the people with promises of cleaning the streets of drug dealers and crime. He took office on June 30th and boy did he keep his promise!

By the time I had left for the Philippines there was reports of over 2,000 people killed from Dutertes “War on Drugs.” A few weeks later those reports were over 6,000 people dead. 2,000 by government officials and the rest by unknown gunmen in return for a bounty. The stories I was hearing sounded less like the present time and more like something from a John Wayne movie!

Here is a link to Time Magazines recent article. http://time.com/philippines-drug-war/

So I had a lot of thinking to do but the more that people told me I may not want to go there right now, the stronger my curiosity got! You can ask my mother, I was never one for listening. I do not use drugs, but me being a guy with tattoos and piercings, I was concerned that I might end up on the wrong end of this war. And then I looked at a few more photos of Kawasan Falls and that was all I needed to know that I had a flight to book.

That week waiting for the flight had come and gone and 30 hours of traveling later I had landed in Cebu. I grabbed my backpack and left the airport looking for the cheapest most raggedy taxi I could find. There were fresh clean white ones all lined up in front of the airport with men in proper uniforms. I knew that wasn’t for me. Then I saw local people around the corner standing in a line to get into these beat up yellow Nissan sentras. After waiting my turn I hailed my cab to the Pacific Cebu Resort on the Island of Mactan. The price seemed more than fair but of course I hired the one person in the country that doesn’t speak English! I got a laugh out of that.

I knew traveling to the other side of earth was going to take a toll on my clock so I booked a nice room for the first two nights in Asia. The first day by 3pm I couldn’t function any more. I rested my eyes for a moment and the next thing I knew it was 1am! After stalking the internet for photo ideas in the Philippines until sun rise I went to the onsite 24 hour convenient store and bought a few beers. The staff didn’t know what to do when I walked into the breakfast with 2 bottles of San Miguel in my hand.

This resort is definitely not the nicest I have ever stayed but the ground are full of views. Three pools, one of which is used for dive training, a small beach, tennis courts and a small gym. The breakfast though.. Now that was incredible! Everything you could ever want in a breakfast and many things that had no business being there but it was impressive. A table of food fit for a king! In front of the restaurant there is also a long pier that you can walk. At low tide there are local people scavenging the shores looking for anything that they can sell. “Hello sir. Would you like some souvenirs?” This gentleman asked me. That was one of the first things I realized about the people of the Philippines. They all seemed so polite! Even if they were trying to talk you into something they knew you didn’t want they were polite and did it with a smile. I also remember thinking this was one of the only places in the world that if you didn’t want something, no meant no. They give you a smile and let you go about your day. This fella spent hours sitting on the pier cleaning shells to sell. We talked about his shark tattoo and I showed him my shark tattoo. He told me anything that I needed from snorkeling, to boat tours, to advise, he was my man.

After a few days of relaxing by the pool it was time for the real journey to begin. I learned two lessons very quickly after leaving that resort. One don’t ever travel in Cebu City anywhere that you don’t have to during business hours! It took me about 2 hours to get three miles from Mactan, over the bridge to the mainland. The sun beating on my face the whole way to the bus terminal. And number two, just because you ask the taxi driver if he has a taxi meter does not mean that he is going to turn it on! A half hour into the trip I realized that the meter hadn’t changed. I asked what was wrong with the meter and he said it was broken. After refusing to pay the 500 peso he asked me for and tried to get out of the cab in traffic his tune changed real fast and we agreed on about half that. You always have to keep your eye on the cabbies. I think I have seen every single trick in the book done by these guys while traveling around the world. Its their job to make money for dinner and usually your job to keep them honest.

From the South Bus Terminal to my next stop of Boljoon, the ride from the city to the south of Cebu was about two hours. This was the first time traveling in almost 30 countries that I could sit on a bus with local people and have a conversation! That was really something special for me. I talked to a local girl about her growing up on a farm on the island south of Cebu called Negros. We talked about the local political situation, good places to hike and the mountains on her island. It was really nice to be able to travel a place and properly communicate with the local people. While we were talking, I showed the drivers helper a photo of my hostel and two hours later they dropped me off at the Noordzee Hostel. Now this place seemed less like a hostel and more like a resort! A swimming pool overlooking the ocean, cabanas on the shore, a restaurant bar with a view and even a koi pond.

The property had two armed guards on the grounds at all times which I thought was a bit much but hey safety first. That was my thought until I read about the travel advisory put out by the USA advising no one visit the cities of Dalaguete and Santanders. Advising against travel because of muslim extremist threats of kidnapping. I just so happened to be in between those two towns and I guess that explained the two armed guards at the hostel. But I walked these towns with my own two feet, got lunch and a haircut. Nothing seemed out of the norm and the people were exceptionally nice! Every person that I talked to about this travel advisory all seemed to know nothing about why it was issued and even the Philippine government asked for any evidence that there was a reason for concern. As for me I had no problems. I got a hair cut on a bucket in front of a chicken coupe on the side of the road for $1! Whats not to like about that.

From Noordzee Hostel you can organize your trip to Oslob to swim with the whale sharks. I have been chasing these majestic creatures for years. In South America I went to coastal towns hours out of my way just for the hopes that I could see one in person. I went to an island in Mexico that is a big part of their migration pattern during the mating season but of course I arrived a few weeks to late. So I figured this is one of the things that the Philippines is known for. I have to give it a try!

Oslob is only a 30 minute bus ride from the hostel and they drop you off right at the entrance. (Well they actually drop you off at the hotel next to the Whale Center and the hotel charges you 100 peso extra to do the exact same tour.) I left at 6am to make sure I beat the crowds of people I had earlier heard about. After arriving though I was really a bit disappointed at what I saw. They took me out in a boat about 30 meters from shore and there was another guy sitting on his boat dumping what I assume is some kind of plankton into the water. I did not feel good about it but I was already there so I jumped into the water and from there I have to be honest I was amazed.

There were five whale sharks swimming around me. They were so big and beautiful! One swam towards me with his mouth open and right when I thought my arm was going in, he turned away. This went on for about 20 minutes and then I looked to the shore and saw more and more people showing up. I really didn’t feel good about this at all. In my opinion any animal being fead by humans isn’t doing its job in the wild and this was no different. Though this was not a zoo, they do have the option to stop being so lazy and swim away any time they want! It just didn’t seem right. Then I went back to the hostel and read about how this is a terrible diet for the whale shark and it is going to cause reproductive issues for them. I also read that whats happening in Oslob is stopping the proper migration patterns for mating as well. I later found out about many other places in the Philippines that you have an excellent chance to see them in their natural habitat without doing more damage then good. The Miss Universe candidates went the there the day after I was and many were outraged at them for this as well.

From Boljoon I took the bus to Santander and switched to a bus going up the opposite coast for Moalboal. This town is a good starting point for many tour opportunities. Its a 45 minute tricycle ride to the Kawasan Falls, you can also do canyoneering here, the sardine run and there is also many good restaurants and bars in the vicinity. I stayed a few nights at Chief Mao Hostel. Nice beds, AC and a good breakfast. (Not included) It is also a 1 minute walk from the ocean.

After a long night of “exploring” all of the bars that the town had to offer until the early morning, on a few hours of sleep I woke up to go fetch a snorkel and mask. I rented one for 100 pesos ($2) for the day. I tried snorkeling a few spots off the shore with no sardines in site. Then I saw a local kid swimming and asked him where he was hiding all of the fish. He waved me to follow him. We walked a minute or two down the beach and he dove into the water. I followed him swim out about 10 meters as the earth began to drops off a giant cliff. As I swam out over the deep water I started to see the ocean light up like glitter!

Before I knew it I was completely surrounded by walls of sardines. They were everywhere! Local people said that a few years earlier they didn’t have the sardines in Moalboal. I don’t know where they come from but it truly was a site to see! If you have a bit more time and want the truly epic photograph you can go diving here directly from the shore and get a photo from underneath the sardines to get the true effect.

The next morning I was up early with one thing on my mind. The mighty Kawasan! And I really wanted to beat any crowds of people. I flagged a tricycle (rickshaw Moto taxi) and negotiated a price to take me to the Falls. They told me that 700 pesos ($14) was the standard rate to take me there and wait for the return trip but I talked him down to 500 pesos. Its amazing how far a smile and a couple of jokes will get you in the world. 45 minutes down the winding coast later and I arrived in a church parking lot. I didn’t know where to go so I just started walking down a path into the jungle. A beautiful green river lined the trail and a few bamboo huts with women selling fruit on the opposite side.

After about 15 minutes of walking I got to a little village and was starting to have my doubts if I was on the right track but it was so beautiful I wasn’t turning back.

Another five minutes around the bend and I started to hear the crash of water in the distance. Local kids with huge sacks of rice passed me and smiled. A few steps later and I arrived..

To be honest the falls themselves weren’t as big as I had imagined especially after already seeing some of the biggest in the world but I have NEVER witnessed water like this! There was just a few people here and most of them worked at the nearby restaurant. It was just me, this gal, a bamboo raft and the sound of the water crashing.

I don’t know how I got so lucky because I had heard stories of this place crawling with people but I just sat and admired the nature around me. This was what I came here for..

If you follow the trail on the left of the falls up you can get an unbelievable view from above!

After admiring the view from above for a while a police officer that was walking the grounds told me to follow the trail up another 15 minutes and there was another set of falls. I think lots of people come here and don’t know about the second falls. They also told me that if you have proper shoes another 20 minutes up a muddy trail there is a third set of falls that are meant to be really beautiful but I didn’t go that far.

Getting to and from-

Buses leave the south bus terminal every 30 minutes or less heading south to Santander. There is a bus also on the other side of the island that runs every 30 minutes. Prices depend on the pick up and drop off point. From Boljoon to Moalboal took about 2.5 hours. I took a mini bus from Moalboal to Cebu City and it dropped everyone off in Mactan. You can also take the public bus but takes about an hour longer.

Where to stay-

Boljoon- Noordzee Hostel- 500 Pesos ($10) Does not include breakfast but has great options to buy.

Moalboal- Cheif Mau Hostel- 400 Peso ($8) Also no breakfast but ala cart breakfast menu is good and cheap.

Mexico

Bacalar, Mexico

The Lagoon of Seven Colors as they call it. This place is unbelievable! This tropical paradise is actually a lagoon 50 miles long and far from the ocean shore.

During the first stages of Piracy in 15th century Bacalar, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres were targets for Pirate raids. During the second stages of piracy of the 16th century they set up hideouts here for better attacks on larger towns for greater plunder.

This was also during the time of the slave trade as well as the coffee, cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations. After Britain gained power of present day Belize, with this trade agreement England, France and holland gained entry to the American market.

  
In 1670 “The treaty of America” was signed between Spain and England and from that day forward they decided to combat piracy. Now I am one of the only ones left…

 

I only had two days to spend in Bacalar because I was on the fast track to Cuba for the Rolling Stones concert but I wish I could have gave a few more nights to this beautiful lagoon. The food was very cheep. Not many people spoke English, the sun was hot and the water was cool. Just how I like my Mexico journeys to be.. If you have time check out the water park/swimming area. There is also a reserve near by.

 (View from the hostel)


Where to stay-

I stayed one night at the Posada Lulu La Bruja. A newer hostel owned by a really nice French guy. Vegan food, yoga, very quiet place to relax for a night or two on the lagoon. Free fruit and coffee for breakfast. Good beds, AC -180 peso per night ($10)

Where to eat-

Pizzeria Bertilla has the best pizza in town. Authentic Italian for a very nice price!

Kai Pez is a nice restaurant within walking distance with water side dining. I had 4 tacos, nachos and 4 beers for $9 us.

Getting here and away-

From Belize- I took the boat from Caye Caulker to San Pedro for Immigration. Then to the Port of Chetumal, Mexico. From there you can negotiate a taxi to Bacalar for 200-300 pesos. It’s a 30 minute cab ride.

To Tulum- The bus terminal is on the south side of the town on the corner of Calle 30 and Calle 19 Libramiento. The ADO bus is the best. It wil have you to Tulum in 3 hours.

Belize

Caye Caulker, Belize

When you get off the boat at Caye Caulker you are greeted “Welcome to paradise!” And it sure was true. I don’t know that I have met a nicer people then the ones of Belize!

Mayan people lived here 2,500 years bc until Spanish explorers made their way here in the 1500s. In the 1600s the English, Scottish and the Pirates made their way. In the 1780s British took rule and brought slaves and slave bosses from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands to log mahogany woods. In 1833 slavery was abolished in the British empire. The country was named British Honduras until 1981 when Belize got its independence.


Caye Caulker is a magical place!
You can tell it has been discovered. It is no longer a secret. But it is far from a Cancun or a Cozumel down the road. You will not see a franchise of any kind. Local people either operate a restaurant, store, or are tour operators for the most part. There is a fruit guy, there is a bread guy. “Banana bread, HOT frrreesh out de oven!”

There are a hand full of roads on the island but there aren’t any cars! Everyone drives a golf cart. Even the taxis are golf carts! What’s not to like about that.
I was walking down the road the other day and a guy said “hey man you have to slow down!” I said ok. He said “no man, slower. Slower. Ok now you got it!” Haha the people of Belize are great!

We got a room at Raul’s Place. $30 US a night for a private room with bathroom and a refrigerator and coffee maker. The couple that own the two story apartment have been on the island all of their lives. They told me tales of the many hurricanes they have survived or how the two islands that make up Caye Caulker used to be one before a hurricane in the 50s. Now the area between the two islands is about 100 feet across! It’s called The Split..

After meeting many locals and discussing property in Belize and the way it has changed for the good and the bad over the years I heard some tales about “The Split”. It once was a place the local people would come for birthday parties, celebrations and holidays to relax with their families. There was a small bar there. The bar was bought not long ago and turned into an obnoxiously loud party spot with overpriced drinks and food geared towards partying tourists. But the owners told the local people that they do not want them there. They are no longer welcome at the split! The place they have been coming with their families for many years! So I chose to not spend a dime at The Lazy Lizzard and if you have respect to the local people of Caye Caulker you wouldn’t either. But enough about that. There are plenty of great local bars on the island with tons of amazing views! I went to Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen one night for amazing chicken kabobs and a sunset cocktail.

(Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen)

My days were usually started at Meldys. A small bright little shack a coupe back from front street. The price is good and the food is amazing! French toast, eggs, fruit and bacon. The Belizian breakfast, which is fry jacks (fried fluffy dough) refried beans and a chicken wing soup. It’s amazing! Food for two and all for $9. This is sure to cure any hang over! Just in time to go to Ragamuffins for a snorkeling tour. I chose them be because they have a fleet of four sail boats to take you out on!

A day spent sailing the Caribbean, snorkeling the largest reef on this half of the planet and eating fresh out of the ocean sea food. It was an amazing day! The first stop on the tour was Shark-Ray Alley.  The second I entered the water I was surrounded by 7-8 sharks and could see 4 big stingrays. There were some fish around as well.

The second spot was snorkeling around the reef. Lots of coral, small tropical fish and a few caves.

The tour ended with some time to wander on your own around the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Lots of little bright colored tropical fish and a few golden rays.

There is an hour sail back to the island wile listening to reggae music and drinking rum punch. One of the best tours I had in Central America.


And every single night that we were on the island we had dinner at Reina’s. The best jerked chicken I have ever had in my life! Jerked chicken with grilled pineapple, rice, seasoned cooked vegetables, and more pinapple on the side. And it comes with a free rum punch! You won’t find a better meal on Caye Caulker as far as I am concerned.

Where to stay-

Raul’s Place-60 blz ($30USD) Good breeze, refrigerator and coffee maker in room. Quiet

Getting there and away-

Belize City- The ferry boat from Belize City will get you to Caye Caulker in 45 minutes. I payed for a round trip ticked which for a traveling man is no good. If you are traveling north to Mexico buy a one way boat ticked and you can take the ferry to Mexico from the islands. I paid 28 blz ($14us) round trip.

To Mexico you can book a ferry boat from Caye Caulker to Chetumal. Two hour boat ride that stops in San Pedro for immigration. Cost-120 blz ($60us)

Nicaragua

The Corn Islands, Nicaragua

From Pirates to Paradise! The Corn Islands.. It was once called the Skeleton Islands inhibited by a local tribe of cannibals. The current local people are descendants of British prospectors and freed slaves. (I think Jamaican) These islands were a haven for Pirates in the 1600s. There is an untold number of shipwrecks that scatter the shores of both islands. There was a 99 year lease signed on the islands by the United States in 1914 but the lease was eventually terminated because of lack of interest by the States. (Dummies) Tropical water, tropical sunsets, no cars, no roads and a bungalow on the ocean. The best kept secret in the Caribbean!

I have been hearing stories since I was in Costa Rica about the panga (ferry boat) going from Little Corn Island to Big Corn Island capsizing a few weeks ago and 12 people drowning. I later heard that the coast guard said no boats were aloud to leave but was told the people bribed the driver to take them anyways so they could catch their flight. The engine failed and a wave came from the side and flipped the boat. There weren’t life jackets and many of the people couldn’t swim. (Not sure if that’s all facts) So I have been a bit uneasy about this boat ride for the last month. After the flight arrived to the Big island we went to the docks and boarded a tug boat delivering goods to the little island. We paid them $6 each to tag along. This was the slowest boat ever! This thing was putting over 8-10 foot waves for an hour before we arrived. But in one piece I was!

When we arrived to the docks on the main side of the island. None of the rooms looked to appealing so we walked down the shore and found a trail leading into the jungle. We followed that trail through a couple zig zags to the other side of the island. After a 15 minute walk I started to hear the waves crashing. I turned a corner and saw the most turquoise water ever! I have arrived..

This was the paradise! Tropical waters, nice beaches, a cool ocean breeze and not a person in site. We rented a bungalow with two beds and private bathroom on the ocean at Elsas place for $30 a night. (You can get smaller rooms with no bathroom for less.)

 Photo-bigcornisland.com

Every morning I woke up to a huge breakfast on the jungle at Rosas. A fruit bowl as big as your ass, home made coconut bread toast with jam, home made tea and juice for about $3.50. After breakfast we would take the two mile stroll around the island, sitting on the beaches of Yemaya. (Speaking of food you can find lobster dinners around the island for $8.)

Yemaya though, this place is not for the light pockets. A room starts at $330 a night but that’s the name of the game for a guy like me. I sleep with the poor people and spend my day living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Infinity pools, hammocks on private beaches, beers on penthouse balconies. Those are the things that get me goin wile traveling. And other then the beers, I prefer not to pay for any of it.

During happy hour from 1-4 at Yemaya the beers are $2 and they have lobster tacos for $4! Boom, that’s how you get it done.

Every bar should have swings for bar stools..

Sunsets and nights were usually spent at Tranquilo Cafe. (Buy one get one drinks from 5-7) Listening to the white stripes, eating smoked pulled pork sandwiches, drinking beer and eating homemade cookie ice cream sandwiches!


FTW! Life is good here.

After 6 nights of living the dream we packed up and took the actual little panga boat this time to the big island. 40 people on an oversized canoe. Half way through a storm kicked up some wicked winds and rain started coming down in buckets! There was a huge piece of plastic in the boat we covered up with as I am thinking about how they told me the plastic could have been part to blame for the others drowning. Now my concern was covering my passport and camera.  But after 30 minutes or so we reached solid ground. The boat ride wasn’t so bad I guess.

On to Big Corn island. We took a taxi to LuLu’s Place. Owned by a real nice retired guy from the states. You can get a private room with shared bathroom for $30. It also is next to Big Fish Cafe. One of the best places to eat on the island. There is also a little bakery shack a few doors down that has the best banana bread for .50 cents! We only spent two nights on big corn but did manage to do some snorkeling.

There is a dive shop Dos Tiburones is on the North End of the island very close to LuLu’s that has a $20 snorkel tour a few times a day.

Blue fish as far as you could see!

This was a random Mary statue we wondered across.

These are the anchors and cannons from a Spanish pirate ship from the 1600s. Most of the ships wood rotted away long ago but the heart is still here.

I think there are 6 cannons in this photo.

We snorkeled three spots. The 1600s pirate ship wreck, a reef and Steam Ship that wrecked into the shallows of Big Corn around 1946ish. This is part of the engine compartment above water.

Part of the prop from the steam ship.

The next morning we woke up with the sun to make the 2 hour early check in for our 20 person domestic 8 am flight. (Why) We scheduled a cab to pic is up but at 6am there was no one so we started walking. This was the sunrise on our walk to the airport.

We walked for about 15 minutes and looked down a dirt path and found the runway. Through the a hole in the fence and then we march. Those things are much bigger then they look! But 15 minutes down the runway and we neared the airport. Children on their way to school lined both sides of the runway.



Where to stay-

Little Corn- Elsa’s Place. $25-$45 per night.

Big Corn- LuLu’s. $30 per night.

Getting to and away-

Flight from Managua with no notice- $174 round trip.

Ferry to Little Corn- $6 each way.

Panama

Bocas Del Toro, Panama

In 1510 the Spanish settled in Bocas Del Toro, Panama as a port to stop between shipping Peruvian gold and treasures from Peru to Spain. Pirates were attracted to what was called the most dangerous waters in the sea, The Caribbean. The Spanish began rounding Cape Horn straight to Spain to avoid being sacked by pirates. Fast forward to the 1800s. Scottish and English families brought slaves from Jamaica and the Colombian islands of San Andreas to the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro to evade taxes. They came to harvest sugar cane, cocoa, and coconut palms. It is also the base of the banana boom for Chiquita Bananas. There was a tortuous shell and live turtle trade as well. Today islands are inhabited by some of the original Indian families as well as the Caribbean Creole. There are no cars on the islands but the walking streets are full of English speaking Rastafari accents and Jamaican music plays all day long. I haven’t made it to Jamaica yet but I assume it would feel a lot like this… 
I personally wasn’t much impressed by the main Island so I booked 4 nights on Isla Salarte. The island has only one hostel, The Bambuta Lodge.

  

 I can tell you what kids you won’t find a better place to sleep in Bocas!

   

Dorm rooms are $17 a night or there is very nice private rooms out back for quite a bit more. Complete with a beautiful pool overlooking the Ocean, full bar and a great breakfast and lunch menu. Dinner differs every night but it is always 5 star. You can book tours here or take a canoe from here to the Blue Coconut..   

Not a bad view I had on the way  either.. 

 

The Blue Coconut is a little tiki bar on stilts around the corner of the island a bit. They have lobster burgers, tropical cocktails, free snorkel gear and hammocks to use. 

  

Getting here is only possible by boat or canoe but worth every second! 

  

Where to stay-

Bambuda Lodge-$17 per night. Breakfast and lunch from $3-$8ish. Dinner options-$8-$12 Beers-$2 (Blue Coconut prices are similar) I also stayed one night on Basimentos Island at Bubbas House but not much to see there. 

Getting there and away-

-From the south. I took the chicken bus from El Valle to David for a night and then a bus from David to Bocas. It took 6 busses from Panama City total to go to el Valle for a night. Not worth it in my opinion. This trip was miserable and really confusing. I would highly suggest to anyone to take the night bus from Panama City direct to Almirante (the port city of Bocas). From the port you take a taxi boat to Bocas main island for $6. From there you another taxi boat to Isla Solarte to Bambuda Lodge for $5.

-Getting to Costa Rica. This can be arranged by any of the hostels. You taxi to the main island and your taxi boat to the mainland is included in your ticket. There will be a shuttle bus waiting that will take you to the border. Get your exit and entrance stamp and on the other side there will be another bus waiting that will take you to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica all included in the $22 shuttle ticket. 

Panama Travel

San Blas Islands, Panama

The archipelago of San Blas is off the coast of Panama. It’s made up of 365 islands that stretch about 100 miles. It was once a hideout for pirates and explorers.

 

We arranged the trip through El Machico Hostel in Panama City. There are a few options of islands to stay on but they told me Diablo Island was a bit more money but that it was the best. The next morning at 5am a guy in a land cruiser picked us up. After a pit stop at a 24 hour grocery store for supplies we hit the road for a couple hour jeep ride. From Panama City through the jungle from the Pacific to the Atlantic it took about two hours. We drove through the hills and farm land of Panama to the Kuna Reservation. The Kuna have rule of the islands and some of the jungle of the mainland Panama since Spanish conquest. They have their own borders, checkpoints and police. A few “taxes” paid and they welcomed us with open arms to their islands. They picked us up at the shore in basically a motorized canoe. We were taken to Diablo island. If you are backpacking for many months and want the best for less, this is the island for you!

  (the proper ratio)

 When we arrived we were greater and set up with a bamboo and palm leaf bungalow on the water for a few nights to stay.

San Blas like many places can be done on many different budgets. There are over water bungalows on stilts and many islands have 10 or so 40 foot catamarans moored in the waters surrounding them. It is also an option if you are traveling to Colombia to book a 4 day sailing trip. Three nights sailing around San Blas and one final passage from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia. All meals included plus transportation for $400. Next time I will give it a go..

 

The Kuna people fed us fresh sea food every day for lunch and dinner. I didn’t think a fish with the head still on it looking at me was my kinda thing. Boy was I wrong! These little guys were amazing!

Coconuts were available and snorkeling gear was there for the taking. Next to Diablo is Pero Island. It’s about a 10 minute swim across a really short, really deep channel to the other island. There you will be greeted by hundreds of tropical fish and a huge steel ship wreck!

 

Much of the ship as rotted away over the years about I bet about 100 foot of it still stands.

The evenings on the island were spend having a group dinner. Usually some kind of white fish, Latin music and many many beers. They also sold bottles of rum for $15 which as a bit of a problem. Watching the sunset in a hammock with a beer in had. This is what dreams are made of..

 

Waking up to breakfast and to start it all over again..

 

They also offer a free your every day. Every day it is different. One day they took us to a sand bar with star fish on the bottom. One day they took us on an hour boat ride to the last of the islands in the archipelago Isla Tortuga.

 

It was the finest paradise I have ever seen!

Where to stay- Isla Diablo (Devil Island) $40 per night per person. All meals, snorkeling gear and tours included. Beers $2.

Getting there- You need to organize your tour in Panama City. They will arrange for your jeep to take you from the Pacific through the jungle to the port on the Caribbean side. Cost-$70. There is also a $20 tax to enter the Kuna Yala land. It does add up but it’s worth every penny! Book through El Machico Hostel. They are very helpful!

.modalContent__image{ display: block; float: right; min-height: 300px !important; width: 450px; margin-top: 25px !important; background-position: 50% 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-size: contain; }