THINGS I LOVED:
» Family Time: I think this portion of the trip was extra-special for me because I got to see family that I don’t see incredibly often. Even though Stacey and I were out & about quite a bit, I really loved getting to have family dinners with Steve & Karen and spending extra time with Karen shopping and going out for drinks!
» Friendliness of People: We encountered some truly incredible people. Karen’s family was amazing, our drivers were phenomenal & even strangers on our bus back from Sagada were amazingly friendly trying to help us out to find the right place for us to stop!
» The Natural Beauty: I was blown away by all the amazing natural sites that are in the Philippines. We only went to a handful of them but seeing photos & hearing stories has left me dying to come back with Matt and explore even more for even longer!
» Jollibee: Stacey and I ate here in Cebu… Twice in 24 hours! Our driver, William, said it’s the McDonald’s of the Philippines. We really enjoyed this fast food option, and if you visit be sure to get the peach mango pies; they’re incredible.
» The Sweet Tea: I am a lover of sweet tea so I was so excited when we were out for lunch one day and Karen said I HAD to try the sweet tea. It was red iced-tea, had a sort-of fruity flavor to it. I really liked it, but the real love affair came when Karen introduced us to the tea sweetened with calamondin. I was hooked. (Don’t worry, I still love Southern Sweet Tea.)
THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE:
» Jeepney Rides: Our first jeepny ride was kind-of fun. Our driver, Ed, paid for us to go to the Palace in the Sky in a jeepny (it was a 4 minute drive) so at that point riding in them wasn’t too bad). However, when we rode from Banaue to Sagada (about three hours) in one, we were not fans at all. These are the common, quick and cheap mode of transportation here, and look a bit like something The Munsters would have driven. The seats were just really small and uncomfortable for a three-hour ride.
TOP THREE SITES / EXPERIENCES:
» Swimming with Whale Sharks: This was truly one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever done! I have a massive fear of the ocean and this was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. I was so excited to see these gentle giants up close that I didn’t even think twice about jumping in that water. These whale sharks are basically always in this cove because boats go up and down this area feeding them so that they swim past the snorkelers. I never would have thought that, based on my fear of the ocean, I would have done this so successfully, but this was an I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-moment for sure! This is one of those things that we might not have done if it weren’t for the amazing-ness of Steve & Karen. They really encouraged us to do this (which I’m glad because it was on my top 10) and not having to spend money on other things allowed us to have the major splurge of buying a decently pricy plane ticket.
» The Cave Connection in Sagada: Even though Missouri (the state I grew up in) has over 6,000 caves, I can’t say that I had ever been spelunking before I came to Sagada. Stacey and I opted to take the Cave Connection tour where you start at Lumiang Cave and hike, climb, crawl, squeeze, get pushed & pulled and wade through over three miles of cave ending at the entrance of Sumaguing Cave. It was tough and I was incredibly sore the next day, but holy cow what an experience! I got to see a cave unlike I’ve seen any other in my life! There are stunning formations and pools, extreme darkness, sketchy moments, and bat noises and poo. This is one of those experiences I hope everyone gets to have because it’s a whole different kind of adventure.
» Visiting Taal Volcano: Taal Volcano was really cool because it felt like this multi-level adventure! Well, that’s because it was! I loved driving to Tagaytay to catch a boat across a lake, to take a horse to the top of a volcano to lake at a lake inside of that volcano. We got to see smoke coming up out of the cracks in the earth and bubbles in sulfur pools.
I feel that the money section of the Philippines needs a disclaimer. My cousins took us in and truly spoiled us, so our costs aren’t what they would have been had we had to pay for the 9 nights we stayed with them & we wouldn’t have been able to do as much. Aside from accommodation, they graciously fed us most meals while staying with them and allowed us to get rides around Manila & Cebu from their personal drivers. Words cannot describe our gratitude for these experiences and for their generosity. I hope that if I can’t repay it to them personally, I can at least pay it forward.
PHILIPPINISMS (“oddities“ and culture shock):
» Bribes: This was probably the biggest shock for me. While driving in Manila we were riding with the personal driver, and a police officer waved us over to the side. Stacey and I watched as Jun, the driver, and Karen talked to him when suddenly they pulled out 100 pesos, handed it to the officer and we were free to go! What a weird experience! Apparently the police force is quite corrupt and we were amazed to see this (twice) and to hear from several, several people that this is truly the way.
» Manila is Full of Malls: We had no idea that there were SO MANY MALLS in Manila! It seemed like there was one on every street corner. We learned that malls often have grocery stores or pharmacies in them, some malls have expensive Western brands at Western prices, some have Kimonos for less than $3 (I know because I bought 5, don’t judge). If you want to shop and get something for you and / or others, there is a mall for you in Manila to fit any price range!
» Generosity: I have never experienced such hospitality and generosity as I have in the Philippines. Karen and her family were nothing but generous, and it didn’t stop with them. People smiled, shared, explained and welcomed us. Our drivers were incredibly friendly, we had great conversations with them, they showed us Filipino treats at markets and they shared their lives with us.
» Really Research the Islands Before You Go: There is truly so much to see in the Philippines, and with that means island hopping! Be sure you have at least top highlights planned on which islands you want to visit!
» Spend Longer Than Two Weeks: When you research the islands you’ll see that there is so much you’ll want to do. I wish that we had had so much longer to spend on this trip. I loved everything we saw, but there are several islands I still want to visit & so much more on the two islands I did visit that is still left to see. I suppose I’ll just have to wait for next time….
THE PHILIPPINES IS ESPECIALLY SPECIAL TO ME BECAUSE I GOT TO SPEND TIME WITH FAMILY THAT I DON’T GET TO SEE OFTEN. I ALSO FEEL LIKE WE REALLY TOOK ADVENTURES ON THIS TRIP: FACING FEARS, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, SPELUNKING FROM ONE CAVE TO ANOTHER, LOOKING INTO VOLCANOES AND MORE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR NATURAL BEAUTY, AND I TRULY CANNOT WAIT TO COME BACK AND EXPLORE EVEN MORE!
XOXO, THE PHILIPPINES
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