First Encounters of the Philippines
The Philippines is quite a complicated country. Just try to figure out all of its history of colonizing powers, dictators, guerrilla movements, revolutions, etc. With that said, the Philippines is actually quite a gem and offers some of the most beautiful scenery and people I have ever encountered. Before I first travelled to the Philippines, the first thing that people said to me was usually along the lines of, “Isn’t it dangerous there?” or “You better be careful.” So on first landing in Manila my guard was up. The grittiness of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and the heat of Manila in February after coming from a Korean winter didn’t do much to help me think of the Philippines as a welcoming, safe place. I went straight into the Asian Spirit domestic terminal and jumped on a plane to Boracay. I was surprised that certain metal objects I have carried on planes in numerous countries were not allowed onto Asian Spirit flights. After depositing said objects in my suitcase I went aboard, only to find that during the whole flight the door to the cockpit was left wide open. It was then that it started to dawn upon me that people here were not too concerned about this ‘ever-present’ danger that people of many other countries believe exists in the Philippines.
Photo by yougottadance
On Landing in the tiny Caticlan Airport I experienced its basic but friendly service. After a quick ride to the port and a short boat ride I landed on Boracay. Still alive and safe. I then made my way to station one. Walking onto Boracay beach I found myself on the whitest and finest sand I have ever encountered. It was truly paradise! However, I was soon to learn that this paradise like most others has been over-commercialized. Taking a walk on the beach I was continually approached and asked to buy sunglasses, boat rides, parasailing trips, and girls. The beauty of the place was constantly shattered by the sound of jetskis and touts. And that wonderful long stretch of beach was impossible to photograph properly because of all of the tourists walking into my shot. While I enjoyed the beautiful beaches and waters of Boracay, I was ready to leave after 3 days. So I headed back to Manila to catch a connecting flight to El Nido, Palawan.
It was my second time in Manila that I was scammed. As the Manila airport is so huge, it is necessary to catch a taxi between terminals. Beware that many taxis have cards with prices that appear completely legitimate and bear the stamp of the Transport Department. For the western tourist these prices appear a bit steep, but they are not going to break the budget. Between terminals I paid $20 for about a 15 minute trip. Apparently taxi drivers have these same cards with cheaper prices in pesos for Filipinos. Don’t get scammed by them, ask for them to turn on the meter or just get another taxi. But with that experience out of the way, I headed off to Palawan.
Forget Halong Bay, it pales in comparison. El Nido offers the most pristine scenery I have ever encountered. El Nido opened my eyes to the fact that the Philippines is really one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The people are very friendly and you can experience something that is hard to do in most part of Asia, you can have a beautiful beach all to yourself.
I had not even planned to travel to the Philippines; at the time all the tourism commercials sowed was shots of Manila, jeepneys and smiling people. Also with the CNN stories of devastating poverty and danger (which I am still yet to really encounter, hopefully not, fingers crossed), I was a bit deterred. However, like many foreigners after travelling here I became hooked on the country and have been here for a year now. The beauty of the Philippines is not just in its people or its scenery but also in its secrets. It is the ultimate place to get off the tourist trail and experience the feeling of seeing somewhere most people have never heard of.
Walkabout is an Australian aborigine term which means a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work.
Scott M. Allford has lived and worked in Australia and South Korea and has travelled extensively throughout Asia- Mongolia, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan – fell in love with the Philippines and decided to allocate at least two years to comprehensively cover the country.
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