Philippines: A tale of pirates & mermaids

Somewhere in the Pacific ocean, a pirate fell in love with beautiful mermaid. One night a mighty storm appeared, wrecking the pirate’s ship on a lush green island,  an island surrounded by ridging reef, that no ship could pass through. Heartbroken, the pirate could not go back to the open ocean to his beloved mermaid. One night as the pirate was desperately wondering on the shore, he saw a huge wave rising in the ocean waters. ‘What if I can get on this wave? If I ride it, it will take me to the arms of my beloved one’, the pirate thought. He spent the day crafting a board that could help him ride the wave and the following night he took it to the ocean, waiting for the big wave to appear again. Soon the ocean waters started rising, the pirate stood on his board  and rode the wave to his beautiful mermaid. The next morning, the pirate had to return to the shore. The mermaid splashed her tail, creating a wave that could bring him back to the island.

Since then every day at dusk and down, when the surfing waves appear near the shores of Siargao, a mermaid’s calling for her pirate.

Regardless if you believe in stories or not, the beauty of the Philippine islands will enchant you in a true fairy tale.

I spent only two weeks on these paradise islands, just enough to taste their magic,  making me craving to return very soon. It took me quite a lot of time, changing three flights, missing one, rebooking another, followed by a tricycle and a ferry ride to reach my first destination, but once I felt the white sands under my toes and the ocean breeze in my hair, all this travel hustle was long forgotten.

My first destination in the Philippines was the island of Bohol, where I spent a bit over two days. I decided to stay in Panglao – a small island, connected via bridges to Bohol. Panglao offers soft white sand beaches with several very good diving spots, however I found it a bit busier for my liking. My favourite part of the island however was its green  lush heart, where the Loboc river winds gracefully through the dense jungle.

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Loboc river, Bohol

For my second day I had booked a paddle boarding tour on the river from SUPTOURS Philippines which I would highly recommend. Paddling through the jade colours of the Loboc river was an amazing experience. So was learning to swing jump in the river from the hanging ropes on the leaning over the water palm trees. I was a complete swing jumping failure compared to the mastery of the local kids, which  I though was just a proof that I needed more palm trees in my life to practice on!

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Twin hanging bridges, Bohol

After the SUP tour I had planned a ride to the Chocolate hills, however I ended up wandering through the scenery with no particular direction, just riding where my scooter would take me. I stopped at the twin bamboo bridges which apparently are some of the most dangerous bridges to cross!

Bohol is also home of the smallest primate in the world – the cute big eyed /in some cases larger than their brains/ tarsiers. You can see the tiny tarsiers in the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary near the town of Corella, the base of the The Philippines Tarsier Foundation, devoted to restoring and protecting the population of the shy little creatures. There is another place to see them too, which is located conveniently for tourists on the way to Chocolate hills, however the crowds are bigger and it feels much more like a zoo than a convention area.

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Cute little tersier

In the evening on my way back I treated myself with a super yum dinner with a breathtaking view to the ocean, followed by jungle jazz drinks and some wild dried mango shopping in Bohol Bee Farm. Make sure you stop for a lunch or dinner as this place is a true gem!

The next day I had an early ferry to catch to Cebu and from there a short flight to the paradise island of Siargao, where my love affair with the Phillippines truly begun.

Siargao is know as the surfing capital of the Philippines, with its famous Cloud 9 surf break and few world surfing championships taking place every year. Although it’s getting more and more popularity among travel bloggers, Siargao is still a bit off the tourist radar. And I really, really hope it will stay like this a bit longer, because this place for me is a real heaven.

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Along with stunning palm-dense inland, the surf breaks, the sandy beaches, the lagoons, the chilled and friendly vibe, one of the most amazing things I found about Siargao are the sustainability practices that are so widespread among both locals and tourists on the island. I found Siargao as a true example how tourism and development can happen in the most environmentally friendly way. Recycling bins are found everywhere, plastic straws and bags are banned, buying single-use plastic water bottles is discouraged as you can fill in your refillable bottle for free almost everywhere. I haven’t seen many places in Asia like this and I only wish these practises become the standard very soon, rather than an odd exception.

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In Siargao I stayed for few nights first at Lampara hostel in General Luna, which is an amazing, stylish and quite fancy hostel and a great place to stay if you are travelling on your own. Few hours after I arrived I ended up feasting with a delicious Thai curry in Buddha’s Surf Resort and the BEST coconut ice cream topped with fresh mango (of course) from Harana Resort and I was already certain that you, Siargao and me, where meant to be.

Curious to explore the island, the next day we went on a scooter road trip though the stunning covered with palm trees interior right up north to Alegria beach. Cruising through the lush palm trees forests was probably one of the most picturesque rides of my life. No wonder why when the Spanish discovered the island they named it Isla de las palmas!

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What a view! Minutes before the storm to arrive!

On the way we stopped at the famous palm tree swing over Maasin river. You would imagine I had mastered the art of palm tree climbing and swing jumping by then but nope, still dropped as a sack of potatoes but lets blame it (this time) on the tropical storm that hit us right than, making the tree and the rope so so slippery! (as if it wasn’t, it would have made any difference, but lets leave it like this).

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Swing jumping over Maasin river

After a master performance from the local kids we continued on the beautiful road up north. And I kept thinking what if this was the road to work every day. What if we the wind does the hairstyling and the feet don’t have to meet shoes any more. What a beautiful world!

Soon we reached the white sand, the crystal clear water and palm trees lined beach of Alegria. Stunning as a postcard! We were lucky to arrive at high tide, allowing us to enjoy a swim in the warm ocean waters.

On our way back, we stopped at a cute little cafe – Lokale which was worth the detour. I had my very first halo-halo and despite my openness  to local desserts I would have happily kept it to the coconut ice cream.

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Favourite fruit stall in General Luna

The next day was devoted to exploring General Luna, while I waited my cousin Dea to arrive on this dream island. For the rest of our time in Siargao we stayed at Malijon, which has few cute little cottages with everything you need for this island life.  In the afternoon we went on a discovery mission looking for the Secret Beach. The secret was successfully revealed and well rewarded with a swim after.

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Mermaids on adventure

The next day we decided to follow the mermaid call and go surfing as how can we not when we were after all in Philippines surfing mecca!

We ended up going a bit later than high tide which left me countless dramatic reef cuts on every bit of skin of my legs, but I guess that was part of the experience. (Plus how cool is it to say you got your scars from the reefs in the Philippines 😉

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The local kids learning to surf at Cloud Nine pier

The next day we decided to repeat our surfing experience, this time more wisely with an early start at high tide at 6:00 precisely. Now despite I am still not convinced this type of surfing is my thing, it was a joyful and well energising start of an epic day.  After quick mango breakfast we headed on a boat trip about an hour away from Siargao to a paradise island. There are few popular island hopping spots around Siagrao which get often too crowded. And now there are some other places that you can have just to yourself. I feel I have to keep this one a secret, but here you go and you can thank me later ;). We headed to the island of Manon which is what you would imagine paradise looks like. The clearest water, the whitest sand and of course the perfectly shaped palm trees.

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Manon island

Together with few locals we were the only people on the island. Snorkelling was generous with plenty of colourful fish and Nemos lazing in the anemone. We had a lavish local lunch with the best pineapples and mangos ever! We hopped onto the next island, to greet some of the locals there and admire the breathtaking view to the vast ocean and those little pieces of heaven on earth.

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Exploring the island

For our last dinner in Siargao we went to CEV Ceviche & Kinilaw. I of course am not the right person to share appreciation towards raw fish but their vegetarian kinilaw was absolutely amazing! With marinated aubergine, spiced mango, sweet potatoes crisps and I don’t know what other goodness, this was a true happy belly moment! I was a bit sad that this was our last night in Siargao, but a scoop of my favourite coconut ice cream took me out of the blue. And I knew somehow my inner mermaid will make a call very soon.

For our last few days we headed west to Palawan. Transferring in Cebu, we flew right into El Nido with AirSwift. This was a very smart choice as it saved us few hours bus ride if we’d arrived at Puerto Princessa, plus when would be the next time we exit an aircraft on a red carpet! The airport of El Nino is a private airport of Lio resort but AirSwift flights tickets can be easily bought online. After our posh welcome on the airport, we dived back to island life reality on our 45 adventurously bumpy tricycle ride to our next home, north near Nacpan beach. We stayed at a cute glamping place, surrounded by cashew trees and and peacefulness.

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Exploring Bacuit Archipelago

The next day we went on an island hopping tour to explore the stunning Bacuit Archipelago. You have four routes to choose from, simply named A, B, C, D. We went first on tour A, which took us to the Big and Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, 7 Commandos beach and Shimizu island. The lagoons are overly popular and you might find some spots crowded. Luckily there is a limit on the number of tourists on tours daily, which is helping somehow protect these natural phenomena.  The scenery of the steep limestone cliffs meeting the tranquil waters is truly spectacular! On the way we stopped for swimming and snorkelling, kayaking in the Big lagoon and just to laze carelessly on the white sands.

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Our second day in El Nido was dedicated to beach blissfulness. After a morning yoga class in Lio resort, we spent the rest of the day chilling at Lio’s beach line, accompanied by delicious smoothie bowls by Shaka .

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Smoothie bowl packed with mangoes and goodness from Shaka

In the afternoon, pushing my scooter driving skills to a whole new level, we reached Duli beach. The road is really a struggle, however the beach is worth the adventurous ride. Duli beach offers nearly 2 km of wide white beach, very few people and inviting ocean waters. If the weather allows, you can also surf there with a little beach shack offering board rentals and lessons.

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Pure bliss on Duli beach

On our last day, we decided to join another island hopping tour. We chose tour C, which gave us plenty of snorkelling opportunities and picturesque lagoons with emerald waters to swim in.

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Cruising in El Nido

This was a beautiful ending to our Philippine journey – a two-week worship to the sun, sea and island adventure in all its forms.

 

 

 

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