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Honeymoon Recap 3: Tall Taal

January 7th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

The next region we stayed (after a brief-as-could-be jump through the hectic capital of Manila) was Taal Lake.  Taal Lake is beautiful and boasts within it the eminently hikable Taal Volcano, which if you didn’t know about upon arrival, you would within minutes of stepping off the bus.

For it appears on the surface as though hiking Taal Volcano is the only reason for non-locals to visit the region.  So if you look like Tracy and I do (ahem, tourists), everyone who works at hustling tourists has but one question to ask you: “So, you guys want to go to the volcano?”  It seems everyone knows someone who has a boat by which to take you, and can get you a good deal, too (without fail, their friend will take you for 1500P).

Even the tricycle driver who took us to our hotel seemed intent to sell us on a tour (“tricycles” in the Philippines refer to motor bikes with a sidecar attached to them–you should have seen the feat of Tracy and I squeezing in with our huge traveler’s backpacks).  I give him credit for holding the bike so steady in 30mph traffic while poking his head in the sidecar to make his pitch.

On our second day we did make the trip across the the lake (1200P, as it turns out we were able to find) and hiked up the volcano.  Feeling fit, young and sexy enough to decline the many offers to ride a horse up, we were only a little winded when we reached the top, and I was all too happy to then enjoy a coconut cut right for enjoying the juice from a straw (best 50P of the whole trip, in my estimation).

Our final hours in the Taal Lake district were spent learning how to sail a Topper at the Taal Lake Yacht Club (there might have been a few liberties taken on the club’s naming, that, or all the Yachts were out that day).  It was my first time, and I’m delighted we got to double down on our reasons to visit the lake.

I actually did find yet one other reason to visit the region: buko pies.  As evidenced by the fact that I have coconuts on our honeymoon registry, I am, um, cuckoo for coconuts.  Buko pie is a traditional Filipino pastry made of tender slivers of young coconut meat, and is absolutely nummy.  So much so that I bought three of ’em just before boarding the bus back to Manila, and somehow managed to stuff them all in my bag like some seasoned pie smuggler.

Best 360P of the whole trip, in my estimation.

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Honeymoon Recap 2: Beautiful Boracay

January 6th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

You may recall my mention earlier of the Philippines being a little too rugged and not touristy enough.  Well, I apologize for sloppy storytelling when it comes to continuity because Boracay, the first major stop of our trip, was an exception to all that.  The small island only 7 miles long and as narrow as one mile wide in the middle is sublimely gorgeous, your true-to-form typical beachy paradise with white sand and warm, clear turquoise waters.

In fact it’s so typically paradisey that I’m actually going to skip over describing most of it.  It’s the sort of stuff that if you’ve already been, you know pretty well what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, well, who wants to hear the ramblings of some dude’s time on a beach when you’ve been rockin’ the non-beach thing all along?  So instead I’m going to opt for telling the weird stories.

Two of the three mornings in Boracay I found myself waking up around 3am, bright eyed and ready for adventure (jet lag can be fun if you embrace such early morning shenanigans).  The rooftop of our resort offered choice views of the partially clouded night, painted purple and yellow by the low hanging, jumbo-sized moon.  It was the kind of serenity you hope for if you’ve ever yelled out “serenity now”, and made a fine occasion for doing a few Sun Salutations (though in fairness to the sun, I was totally saluting the moon instead).  The sandy beach below at 4am, I found, makes a great time to sit on your butt and read Heinlein by the beach-facing floodlights of Fridays’ Resort while giving out respect nods to the occasional jogger who passes by.

One morning (after enjoying beach-side ninja training of a run plus bonus cove abs) I took to exploring more the beach with a single-minded mantra of “keep going”.  I just wanted to see how far I could take it to find what I would find.  Rocky ledge to shimmy around?  Keep going.  Some stairway through dense foliage with a couple dudes standing on it in my way?  Keep going.  Looks like I’m trespassing on someone’s private property?  Keep going.  Obscure, narrow, winding path with many steps leading upwards?  Keep going.  Resort security checkpoint?  Play it cool, like you belong there.  Actually I just let ’em know straight away that I was wandering about, checking out other cool beach-side places to stay.  I was welcomed right in, which gave me rights to strut about the property with impunity.

And what a find!  What I’d stumbled upon was this Ewok village-like formation of cabins and foliage strewn about a dense maze work of stairs and narrow paths, which opened into a system of interconnected sea-facing terraces with many nooks of cabanas and lounge chairs at varying elevations, all with spectacular views.  The place seemed deserted, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise since there were about 4 occasions during my journey to it that I thought I should turn back because I didn’t belong.  (In fairness, it is also quite new and “Secluded luxury” is one of their marketing tag lines.).

While staring transfixed by the view the nice lady appeared and handed me a rate card for the rooms on property.  At $20 less a night I was a little crestfallen that we’d already prepaid our 3 nights at the Two Seasons.  We did get to experience at least some of the awesomeness when we returned the next night for sunset drinks.

A now a tale from the Poor Planning Diaries.

Just minutes before we took to the beach bound for the nearest SCUBA dive shop, I realized I forgot my contact lenses (oh I had the case, it was just empty).  My vision is poor enough to make the natural splendor of tropical coral reefs look like boring blobs, so even when you discount the whole “safety” thing my lack of lenses might’ve rendered any diving opportunities this trip completely moot (and I do love me some diving).

I opted that we head for the dive shop anyway, reckoning that I’d “think of something”.  Along the way [confronted with the possibility that surfing would also be ruined for me] we contemplated zany schemes for damage control, like having our house-sitter ship ’em to Manila and we’d somehow pick ’em up there (terrible idea for its complexity).  Hey, what if I could just, you know, buy some contacts here?  On this tiny island?

I had my doubts given my state-side experience, which teaches me that no “respectable” optometrist will sell you contacts unless you present a prescription given during a complete eye exam within the last year (it’s been 3 for me).  But hey, we were in a new world here, presumably a little less sue-happy and perhaps a little less stringent in their dispensary of prescribables,  and I happen to remember my magic prescription number (-5.5)… so why not find out!  I had an hour or two to do it while Tracy got schooled in the PADI basics for her first dive.

Now then, on the beach of Boracay there exists a reckless abundance of people brandishing little cards featuring small pictures of activities with large, inflated prices just beneath, so many so that “Water sports today?” may be confused by the untrained eye to be a traditional island greeting.  With such eagerness to help me get onto a sail boat for only 5000P (about $125 US) I figured I’d reply in earnest what I did need.  “Water sports today?” said the next such fellow along my sandy path  (how do they know I’m a tourist?  Ah, right: I have been judged [accurately] by the color of my skin!).  Instead of the “No thanks” that I was getting good and polished at saying,  I stopped in my tracks, looked him square in the eyes, and replied: “Right now, no, but what I am looking for is some contact lenses, can you help me with that?”

As eager to be helpful as any good salesman is, my new friend Dwayne offered to wander along and help me on my quest to and through D’Mall in search of my odd need.  We talked as we walked of hobbies we enjoyed, he when not hustling activities, me when not saying no to them, and found common ground in dance and bemusement that I suck at basketball.  He was a cool guy.  The second shop we tried at had just what I needed.  The friendly woman who tended the counter asked only for my prescription number in answer to my question (as opposed to demanding to see my papers like in the US, which now seems kinda fascist by comparison), and then wandered over to the display case to pluck out a small box.  900P and a quick use of the backroom with a sink and I was set.  Perfect vision.  No wacky postal pickup in Manila required.  Dwayne you’re the man, and a gentleman for making me work to convince you to take my 200 gratitude pesos.

Ah, and the diving was most beautiful and laden with 20/20 visual goodness.

I’d like to end my recount of Boracay with a tale of how even in splendorous paradise the simple joys never go out of style, and that simple joy is a happy hour bucket of beers.  During a beach walk when things were not yet happening at the tender hour of only 9pm, one of the hustlers at a club bar smoothly offered and got us situated at a cheap plastic table whose legs were planted in the sand just 10 feet from the rising midnight-tide.  200P (about $5 US) for six bottles of cold beer is a bargain at your local friendly dive bar, and seems triply so on the beach in Boracay.  We partook of a local brew called Red Horse while staring out at the sea.

By the time we finished the first bucket and started on our second, the bar scene behind us had filled out with a great mix of both locals and tourists, and the DJ was cranking out some bumpin’ tunes.  A Lady Gaga came on and, perhaps thanks to the graces of moderately consumed alcohol, Tracy was game to rock it out with me (yeah I like to dance to Lady Gaga, so what?).  We gave it our Red Horse best in our center, solo spot on the dance floor, and for it entertained locals and gringos alike.  I know this because they were both clapping and cheering at song’s end.  (That now makes 2 countries abroad in which I have been applauded for dance prowess, sweet!)

The night was rounded out in perfection when we happened upon a beach-side food vendor, serving up some tasty meat thing between 2 weird pieces of bread toasted nicely on his little grill of hot coals.  Ah, the simple joys.

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