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Philippines & Taiwan

a travel blog by bennedich

I go to Philippines and Taiwan.
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Manila, Philippines

I land at 3.30am in Manila after a ~13h flight. After passing immigration, I realize that I printed the wrong page from Wikitravel, I printed only an overview of Manila, so I have no detailed information or maps. Moreover, no information is available at the airport. I wait for daylight then take a series of "jeepneys" (minibuses) to reach the historic center of Manila (cost: about 60 cent).

I am pretty lost, but there's a 10k run going on called "Freedom run". I decide to join (walking) which turns out to be a wonderful sightseeing tour of the historic center. Then I have breakfast, visit Fort Santiago, Rizal park, Bayview. I meet some Filipinos who tell me there's not much to do in Manila, better head to Taal Volcano. I go there after lunch. My plan is to take a nightbus to Banaue in the evening, so I'm very pressed for time to reach the Volcano and back. Luckily, on the bus to the Volcano, I meet tricycle driver Lui-Lui. Upon arrival in Tagatay, the rain is pouring down (it's rain season), and Lui-Lui takes me in his tricycle down to the lake where the Volcano is, then I take a boat over to the Volcano.

On the foot of the Volcano, some people tell me it's too muddy and steep to climb the Volcano by foot, so the only option is horse. Never having ridden a horse before, I climb terrified and my budget nine-year old guide Cherry jumps on behind me, grabs hold of me and yells something in Tagalog and off we go...

Back in Manila I barely make the night bus to Banaue (I get the last seat). Next to me sits a guy from the Mountain village Batad about 16km outside Banaue. He tells me I definitely should go to Batad.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 24, 2010 from Manila, Philippines
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Getting to Batad

Batad, Philippines

I arrive Banaue around 5am. It's a town about 9h north of Manila, in the Philippine mountains at about 3500ft. I'm determined to go to the mountain village of Batad, but due to the typhoon last week, a series of landslides have closed the roads up to the mountains.

After breakfast, I find a motorcycle driver called Freddy who claims he can ride on top of the landslides to drop me off close to Batad. I hop on, and indeed he rides on top of the landslides, it's pretty cool, I just have to get off and walk one of them. After 6 miles we reach a really massive landslide, and Freddy says he can't take me longer. So I hike from there, around 6 miles on bad roads, climbing numerous landslides, then another 3 miles descending a small mountain trail to reach the village at around noon.

Batad is a truly remote place. The village is set on a mountain side surrounded by rice terraces. The only way to get around is by the steep trails they've created along the mountain. There are no motorized vehicles, I don't even see any electricity! In the Philippines, this area is called the Eighth Wonder of the World. It is so beautiful, that even the locals seem to spend most of their time just gazing at the rice terraces. Unfortunately, I'm so exhausted after the hike and the two nights without proper sleep, so I have some lunch, a shower, then collapse and sleep no less than 15 hours!

permalink written by  bennedich on October 25, 2010 from Batad, Philippines
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I never want to hear the word "landslide" again

Batad, Philippines

After breakfast at 6am, a 60 year old village man named Yun says he'll take me for a walk along some Mountain trails. It's been pouring down heavy rains all of yesterday afternoon and night, so it's very muddy and slippery. After about an hour hike we're almost back in the village, when I suddenly hear what sounds like gushing water. Yun stops as the sound grows in intensity, soon sounding like there's a roaring waterfall right next to us. Seconds after, some villagers come running along the trail shouting "landslide! landslide!" (same word in Tagalog). It turns out the slide has taken out a big chunk of Mountain, right where the trail was, only about 150 ft ahead of us! Had I not just stopped for photos, it could have meant the end of us.

Yun then takes me another route back. The hard route. It involves some pretty scary moments such as climbing on small and slippery outcrops of rock with 100+ ft drop under us (guaranteed death if fall). Yun helps me through some tricky parts by pulling me up and telling me where it's safe to put my feet (he's climbed these Mountains all his life). I am so relieved when we reach back to the village center.

There, I meet a Filipino called Steve and his German boyfriend Adrian. They have learned about an alternative route back to Banaue which involves a 5 mile hike along a Mountain trail (unfortunately with numerous landslides) until we reach the same road I arrived on the day before. So there are another 5 Miles hike along that road until my driver Freddy meets me with his motorcycle.

Back in Banaue around 2pm. I have a really bad headache probably from lack of food and water, so I just have lunch, some Internet, and then sleep approximately 12 hours.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 26, 2010 from Batad, Philippines
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Caving in Sagada

Sagada, Philippines

I spend the morning sightseeing Banaue, then hang out with Steve and Adrian for a while until our jeepney leaves to Sagada (mountain adventure capital). We arrive Sagada about 2pm after driving along some pretty spectacular scenery. Steve and Adrian go to bed, and I meet a guide who suggest we do a cave tour. He says we can either do normal cave, or adventure cave. I tell him adventure cave sounds nice. Little do I know that my guide is insane. Completely deranged, in fact.

30 minutes later we arrive at the cave. He lights up some lantern from the 18th century and when he sees the look I give him he says to not worry, he has a backup flashlight. He asks if my camera is water proof. No, why? Oh, because we will be walking with water up to our necks. After about 15 minute descent into the cave he stops and looks very puzzled. "Strong water has moved the rocks around. We need to find another route." Ok..

10 more minutes and we reach a hole. He tells me to take my shoes off, and proceeds to throw them down the hole. Seconds pass before we hear them land. Seconds. He says "don't worry, there's a rope, you know how to rappel?". Yes, I've rappeled, but not with a slippery rope without safety line. 10 more minutes and we reach another hole. Same procedure, except this time he tells me "here, nowhere to put your feet, you must use only arms. can your arms carry your bodyweight?". After we climb down, he tells me how one girl he guided fell there. I ask if she was ok, he says yes, yes. So she could continue with the tour? Oh no, she had to be rescued, but at least she survived. Great.

About 10 more minutes and we reach an underground river. This is what he says: "Oh, river is strong today! Dangerous! Are you strong swimmer?" I ask him what happens when it starts raining. He says then the cave fills up with water by flash flood; you must never enter the cave while it's raining. I ask him, but what about if it starts raining if you're already inside the cave, then you don't know? His expression is blank. As if he never thought of that. The rain has been pouring down every afternoon for the last three days. Our next step is a free climb around a slippery boulder above the river. I tell him there's no f*cking way I'm doing it. After promising him I will still pay him, he agrees to go back. The last memorable quote on our way up is "Shit! (lantern starts to flicker) SHIT! (complete darkness) (1 minute pass) SHIT, I forget the flashlight, can you climb the rest in darkness?"

When we're back outside the cave, he tells me it probably was a wise choice; FIVE tourists have died in that cave. Three fell to their death while climbing and two have died by flash flood. We have some time before darkness, so he takes me to Echo Valley to see the hanging coffins. Of course, on our way he happily points out the spot where an Italian tourist took a wrong step and fell 100m to his death. When we arrive back at my guest house, he says we've had such a great time so he invites me for some shots of local alcohol. I kindly decline, have some dinner, then stagger to bed.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 27, 2010 from Sagada, Philippines
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Sagada - Baguio - Manila

Baguio, Philippines

I do some early morning sightseeing of Sagada, then leave on a 6 hour bus to Baguio. The views are even more spectacular today. We're driving over mountains, rivers, through clouds, rice terraces and all sorts of plantations. I spend the afternoon sightseeing Baguio, it's a pretty big town. At night I catch a bus back to Manila (I have a flight leaving at 7.40am).

Quick summary of what I've seen of Philippines:
- Food is ok, nothing spectacular. Mostly rice, eggs and some kind of Chicken stew.
- Very cheap. I paid $3.50-$5.50 for a private room (shared bath), and $1.70 is common for a complete meal (soup+main course).
- People are generally poor but friendly. Most women I see are either pregnant or carry a baby. Tourists are few and far in between.
- English is widely spoken, in fact all official signs seem to be in English. The country also has a strong Spanish heritage. This is evident in many foods (tocino, chicharron, longaniza, etc), words and numbers. (E.g. you'll hear someone ask about the time in Tagalog and the reply is "las once".) This makes traveling here very easy.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 28, 2010 from Baguio, Philippines
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I arrive in Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan

I have a rough night at a Manila bus station and airport, fly out at 7.40am and land in Taipei at 9 something am. I quickly discover that Taiwan is a very Chinese country. English is not very widely spoken. This makes getting around a bit of a challenge, especially since I don't have a good map. After having a delicious lunch near the railway station, I spend about 1.5 hours looking for my hostel. Apart from the map situation, I learn that a street name can be transliterated in different ways, so what I see on the street sign and my map is not necessarily the same. Wonderful. So after 1.5 hours I finally get a hold of someone who speaks English and she tells me the hostel has moved, she doesn't know where. I am very angry at Taiwan at this point. Were it not for the good food, I would probably fly home right away. 45 minutes later I find another hostel.

I spend the afternoon sightseeing the city; visit Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Longshan temple and the Xinyi shopping district. I don't go to Taipei 101 since it's raining a little and the view wouldn't be that great. I also buy a train ticket for 7.18am tomorrow morning to the Taroko gorge (3 hours south of Taipei).

permalink written by  bennedich on October 29, 2010 from Taipei, Taiwan
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Taroko Gorge

Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園, Taiwan

I wake up at 5.30am, have breakfast at the train station and set off to Hualien, a medium-sized city about 2-3 hours south of Taipei. There I rent a scooter and drive up to Taroko Gorge. Spectacular scenery! And driving there on a scooter makes it so much better. This might have been the best experience of the vacation. It was supposed to be light rain and overcast today, but luckily the weather report was wrong; it's a sunny 23°C (73°F). I drive up to about 1000m altitude (~25km into the gorge) before turning back, stopping for lunch, photos and several small hikes on the way. I return back to Hualien at 6pm, and Taipei at around 9.30pm. Then I go to Shida night market. It is very busy. It's funny, whereas in Philippines, almost every woman was pregnant, here I don't see any pregnant women. And whereas in Philippines, almost no-one wore glasses, here it seems to be stylish to wear them. Many girls even wear glasses without any glass in them! It is a strange place, Taiwan.

permalink written by  bennedich on October 30, 2010 from Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Philippines & Taiwan
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My name is Max. I like to travel.

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