“All I’m trying to do is to keep going and keep evolving.” -Juliana Hatfield
So, I was lost in Panama. Sounds frightening, right? It was. And this isn’t me being dramatic, I was genuinely afraid.
Let me start from the beginning: I was travelling around central America, after flying more than 5,000 miles to escape the smog-filled bubble that is London.
I was used to travelling alone and honestly enjoyed the freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sociable person, but to have the ability to go where you want, whenever you want, without having someone by your side, is all I have wanted in life.
After two weeks of sunbathing (burning) on the beach and drinking too much (alcohol) in Costa Rica, it was time to cross the border into Panama.
A few people had recommended a remote hostel, aptly named ‘Lost and Found’, that was hidden in the western hills.
It’s a steep stretch to reach the hostel, but the view from the top is so worth the mid-morning hike in the sweltering sun. I dared to lie in the swinging hammocks, overlooking the stunning mountains. It was breathtaking.
A while later, I started to feel peckish and headed out on my own in search for food. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ – *sighs* Aaaah, I’m glad I can now look back and laugh at that thought now.
The nearest store was a 10-minute walk away once you reach the bottom of the hill, and after a 15 minute walk, it was clear, that I walked in the wrong direction. Or the shop had moved. Either or, I guessed.
So, I had no idea where I was, I was tired, my feet were aching and I had no water or food on me. It was only late in the afternoon but I was scared. More than scared. Where was I?
I was out of my depth, with no idea what to do, I slumped down not the ground, and all the confidence I had previously felt about ‘travelling alone’ was starting to fade away. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw a glimmer of hope driving towards me in a white van. I held out my thumb, and closed my eyes in fear it wouldn’t stop, or worse still, in fear it would stop.
A short man with the biggest smile on his face, stepped out of the van, took one look at me and we stood there in silence.
He gestured me into the van, and so I took a chance. I breathed a sigh of relief as I sat in the passengers seat, with the cool breeze of the air conditioning and smiling family pictures posted all around. I told him where I wanted to go, and he just handed me bottle of cold water and turned the engine on.
I was starting to feel better when I heard the Spice Girls singing on the radio. Viva forever? Oh yes. I was going to be ok.
The Philippines has never been high on my long list of countries to visit, but when a friend asked if I wanted to spend to escape the bitter January weather and spend two weeks in a foreign country, I jumped at the chance.
There are more than 7,000 islands across the Philippines, and I had a mere fortnight to try and see as much of them as possible. We travelled a lot more than I thought we would, and looking back I am glad we saw as much we did.
However, a two week break isn’t a very long time, and worrying over which bus to take at what time, isn’t worth it. After all, a holiday should be relaxing and stress-free time.
So, here is my guide of what to see, where to go when travelling across the Philippines.
It was a long 13-hour flight to Manila, and the hot muggy weather infused with the traffic noise hits you right away.
All I wanted to do was meet my friend at the condo we had booked, and go to bed.
Taxis queue right outside the departure terminal and most drivers are willing to haggle on the price, but of the very little advice I did read, the pound to PESO ratio was good, and 150 PESO for one person is less than £3 each and was enough for journeys that taken more than 10 minutes.
Skyscrapers, Starbucks and McDonalds’ restaurants were around every corner, but the streets were dirty, full of rubbish, cable leads were hanging from poles, crowds of people barged past you on the sidewalk, and trying to cross the road at anytime of day was no easy task.
It was hard to escape the crime stories plastered all over the local newspapers, sharing news of gun and knife crimes, and local drug dealers being shot by police.
After spending 20 minutes walking around the city’s two green parks, situated right near the main roads, we found the nearest seven eleven store.
We had barely walked through the door when a group of children barefoot and wearing very little came running in, throwing their arms up, poking us, yelling at us and begging us for food, pointing at the sweets on the shelves and rubbing their stomachs.
I have travelled to poor parts of Thailand and Panama before, and have often travelled alone, but despite walking arm in arm with a close friend, I have never felt so uncomfortable and unsafe in one place.
From Manila we flew to Cebu, another busy town, with a great big bus terminal, that will take you to all the main ports across the island.
We took a four hour coach journey from Cebu at midday – never again. Temperatures reached 28/29 ºC most days, and despite the air-conditioning and plastic covered seats, it was an uncomfortable journey and looking at the blue ocean and the green fields, just weren’t the same from behind glass windows.
To our relief, Moalboal was only a 2 hour bus ride away and, avoiding the bigger restaurants, we found a small local cafe, run by a Philippine family, who served a delicious helping of fresh fish and rice, for as little as £3-4 each.
Tricycles lined the main roads, and most relied on pedal power alone, with no engine what so ever.
One person can sit comfortably in the front seat next to the driver, but two people sat in the back is a tight squeeze. But a one way trip will cost you as little as 100P each, (less than £2), and is the cheapest way to travel through the town.
I was excited to visit this tiny town, and if you’re a big fan of sea life, like I am, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Do not miss out on the chance to swim with whale sharks, the town of Oslob is famous for it, and for just 3,000P each, just over £50, you’ll be glad you did it.
Not my pic (from creative commons) as it was hard to take photos on the sea, but this is what we saw when whale shark watching^
Despite a 6am wake up call and just a slice of left over pizza for breakfast, we headed for the beach, and arrived in time to watch the orange sunrise over the sea.
This alone would have been a good enough reason to wake up at silly o’clock, but with our life-jackets zipped up and snorkels on, we headed for the choppy waters.
The sheer size of the creatures doesn’t hit you until you’ve jumped in the water and you realise you really just feet away. Fortunately, they don’t spot you, and they’re more than happy to float around, eating fish and minding their own business.
This experience is definitely worth the price and early start, and as you’re done by 8.30am, you can always go back to bed.
Named the Isla del Fuego or the island of fire, Siquijor is famous for its witchcraft and known healers, and was the first green lush area with a lot less tourists than we had expected.
We booked a small wooden hut, complete with a huge double bed and mosquito net, and a tiny bathroom with one toilet, sink and a shower head. This was a typical Philippine style bathroom, and hot water was a rarity.
With help from friendly locals, we found the island’s 400-year-old tree. It was an impressive size but we were pointed in the direction of the island’s stunning waterfalls. After a ten minute walk downhill on rickety wooden steps, we discovered four stunning waterfalls, and spent the afternoon swimming around in its clear blue waters- the best way to cool down.
After a week and a half of travelling around, staying just one or two nights in small hostels, we finally arrived at the stunning island of Boracay. Now, I do not use the word ‘paradise’ lightly, but I can’t think of another word to describe how I felt when I saw the 4km stretch of white sand at the White beach in Boracay.
The area was an obvious tourist spot and if you want to avoid overcrowded beaches, the typical souvenir shops, small cafes and chain-restaurants, this is not the place for you.
Fortunately what we had planned to do was to spend out last few days relaxing. We did as little as sunbathing, swimming and eating too much Italian ice-cream. Im so glad we went Island hopping (boat pic below), I think it was the best way to see Boracay. Guides will take you to secret caves and stop at beaches to swim or snorkel along the way.
^Island hopping with my friend, Fran
^Delicious ice-cream at an Italian cafe in Boracay
^Sunset on the last night
If I could change anything about my time in the Philippines, it would be to travel a lot less and to research all the places we had planned to visit beforehand. It’s a beautiful country and I would fly back there tomorrow – but on my own terms.
It’s hard to pack everything into a two-week holiday, and experience has taught me to prioritise what you want to do and where to avoid, and if that means travelling a group or venturing on your own path, then so be it.