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Cebu – Bohol – Siquijor – Negros – Cebu – Camotes – Cebu


 (1,200km cycled)

 

It wasn’t easy! Kurt yearned coconut palms. Darina didn’t want to suffer   40°C. The destination should offer enough cycling for 5 weeks and a coral reef or two. Eliminating previously explored countries, the Philippines came up trumps! It was a bit of a gamble with July/August being the rainy season, but it paid off nicely.

   


See detailed map of the route we took

   

Boasting over 7,000 islands, we knew we wouldn’t run out of road, or at least beach! Cebu city’s international airport right in the middle of the Visayas (central islands), was a very pleasant port of entry. We flew from Munich airport in Germany, via Doha with Qatar Airways, which we highly recommend for service, price and convenience. Although not necessary, we decided to use bike bags for the first time on this flight.

 


Bikes ready to go at Munich airport

   

Oops!

Unfortunately, we arrived in Cebu city to discover Kurt’s fork broken. Qatar staff were quickly at the scene to accept full responsibility for its replacement. Service with a smile!

 
   
Downtown, a suitable part was easily found and we were off!


No shortage of parts!

CEBU

   

It was here that Ferdinand Magellan stopped his circumnavigation of the globe involuntarily in 1521, but not after having planted the first Christian cross in the Philippines. Remnants of this cross are supposedly encased in the number one tourist sight in Cebu city: Magellan’s cross.

 


Magellan's cross, Cebu city

   

Fort San Pedro, Cebu city

Other attractions in Cebu city include the triangular fort, San Pedro and the Santo Niño Basilica, both easily accessible downtown.

 
   

Newer additions to the “to-do” list are a host of shopping malls, where you can walk around in an air-conditioned environment and eat to your heart’s content. You can even buy a flat on the complex because as the slogan goes: Home is where the shops are!

 


Ayala mall, Cebu city

   

Dim sums at the SM mall
   

Kurt's beautification

Bargain of the week: Wash, cut, colour and blow-dry for Darina, number one for Kurt, and a manicure thrown in for good measure came to the staggering sum of 5 euros!

 
   

BOHOL

   
Island hopping in the Philippines is the way to go. Frequent ferries will take you pretty much anywhere you want, and bikes are absolutely no problem. Our first stop was the island of Bohol, a 2-hour ferry ride from Cebu city.


The ferry to Bohol

   

Kurt in Tagbilaran

The pulse of life in Tagbilaran consists of motorized tricycle taxis. Their fairly erratic driving style means you should concentrate on those in front of you, and be ready for all sorts impromptu maneuvers.

 
   

The tarsier sanctuary 10 km out of town is a must see. These endangered E.T. lookalikes that fit into the palm of your hand are the second smallest surviving primates in the world. With gigantic eyes, a rat’s tail and a head that rotates 180° in each direction, these nocturnal critters definitely followed their own unique evolutionary path.

 


Tarsier

   

Off the main drag


Parasols in the midday heat

   

Nuts Huts, on the River Lobok

Accommodation often comes in the form of bamboo huts with palm roofs. Although malaria is not an issue, mosquito nets are a welcome addition in the jungle.

 
   
However, some 200 steps may have to be encountered to reach the hut!


Kurt, the porter

   

Captain's holiday home
The Philippines are famous for their seamen. Here is an example of one that made it internationally and returned home to build a holiday home in the shape of a ship.
   

Bohol’s second big attraction is the Chocolate Hills area. A former coral reef was lifted above sea level and eroded away over the years to give this landscape its unique shape. In the dry season the hills take on a barren brown appearance, hence their name. Around the area of Carmen, there are over 1,700 such rolling hills, just like little drumlins.

 


Chocolate hills & rice fields

   


The Chocolate Hills, Carmen

 


Harry Potter inspired shot of the hills

   

Bakery choice for breakfast

Distance is not an issue in the Philippines. Villages are never too far apart, meaning there is always a pit stop nearby. Bakeries abound and are handy breakfast joints that also sell the Chinese-influenced steamed buns: Siopao. One euro will see you nicely through.

 
   

Lunch time stalls consist of numerous pots of vegetable, meat and fish casseroles to choose from. Rice is the staple, but there are various versions of noodles too. Soy sauce, sugar, ginger and the local citrus calamansi juice are the predominant ingredients used throughout. A typical lunch at such a roadside stall would cost between 50 cents and 1.50€ per person, with a soft drink included.

 


Lunchtime roadside food stalls

   

Ready for the evening BBQ

In the evenings, little barbeques are set up on the streets where you can eat your fill of skewered meat including chicken intestines, chicken feet (known as Adidas!), fish, pigs blood, pork and sausages to name a few. Again a couple of Euros would be generous for a cyclist's dinner.

 
   

We continued along the inland road to Anda, passing beautiful paddy fields and colourful villages. There was no shortage of friendly smiles and hellos along the way.

 


Paddy fields near Alicia

   

Water buffalo at work


Planting rice

   

School kids


Roadside fruit stall

   

Flower Beach, Anda

Our first white-sand beach was at the beautifully located Anda, where Kurt had a field day diving the spectacular local reef and testing his new underwater camera. Julia and Heinz, the resident dive instructors at Flower Beach resort, were the perfect guides in this water wonderland.

 
   

Sea snake


Lion fish

   


Hey Nemo!

 

Although most buildings in the Philippines are relatively new, in Dimiao you can find the ruins of a church dating back to Spanish colonial times, with a unique walled cemetery forming the boundary of the hermitage.

 


Walled cemetary in Dimiao

   

Funeral home - Philippino style
There's no shortage of funeral homes in the Phillippines including a chain called "St. Peter Chapels: Death care Experts", that even have a Facebook account, like every other good Philippino. Beyond the pre-paid packages, what tickled Darina's fancy was the offer of two free 1.5 litre bottles of Coca-Cola with every funeral service. Now what chance would they have at a good Irish wake with this sales pitch?
   

Lunch time!
   
Karaoke is something of a Philippine craze. You can be assured that no matter where you stop, the melodies of the Beatles, Titanic and all sorts of tearjerkers won't be far away. These machines also rate your performance, according to emotional expression and the ability to be consistently off key!


Karaoke at any time of day!

   

Alona beach, Panglao Island

Probably the most visited place in Bohol is Alona beach on the island of Panglao. It was quite a shock to the system to see so many tourists, restaurants and hotels on such a short stretch of beach. However, we did enjoy the choice of meals and freshly grilled fish.

 
   

No worries, mate!


And for the ladies...

   
You do not want to build your dream house here - next to a cockerel farm.


Cock-a-doodle-doooo!

 

SIQUIJOR

 

Siquijor is a cyclist’s paradise with very little traffic, great views on the coastal ring road and a more strenuous interior network of roads through the hills for those requiring a workout.

 


Southern coast

   

Glad we missed this landslide...


Hard slog at times

   

Casa de la Playa, Sandugan beach

Among others, we stayed at the Casa de la Playa Resort, where for 16 euros a night we had a beautiful little cottage on the beach, facing west to catch sunset.

 
   

Gardens of Casa de la Playa


Casa de la Playa bungalow

   

Butterflies abound in the Philippines, but in case they are too fast for your digital camera, you can always visit one of the many butterfly farms for that perfect shot.

 


Loads of colour

   

Pupa


Dragonfly

 


White-sand dream, Coral Quay


Could get used to this!

 

NEGROS

   
Our first highlight in Negros was the beautiful Apo Island just off the SE coast. Ranked among the top ten diving destinations worldwide, this little island is ringed with an abundance of diverse protected marine life. For snorkeling and diving this is an absolute paradise, not to be missed.
   

Sea snail


Snorkelling paradise

   

Basic accommodation in the village came to the sum total of 6 euros for B&B for the two of us. Electricity in the village is limited to 2 hours per evening, meaning that we didn't have to suffer karaoke through the night. However, we did have the cock-crow chorus from 4am thrown in for good measure!

 


Fresh fish sweet 'n sour style

   

Shopping fix!


White-sand beaches all the way

   

Perfect sunset spot


Egg plant?

 

You thought you were off the hook?


Money well spent!

   

Rough road at times

Back on Negros, the road heading up the west coast was an absolute treat. We moved into sugarcane country and had some very unique accommodation en route, including Kookoo’s Nest and Takatuka Lodge.

 

 
   

Fun ahead!

   

Kookoo's nest bamboo hut


View from the hut

   
Inspired by the Pippi Longstocking series of children’s books, Takatuka Lodge, on Sugar Beach outside Sipalay, has eight huts individually designed round different themes including the cave, superstar, bongo bongo and the castle. We stayed in the treasure room with a unique décor incorporating pirates, swords, shipwrecks, jewels and treasure chests.


Takatuka Lodge

   

Treasure room


Bongo bongo room

   

Prawn coconut curry on a star of rice

The restaurant will certainly not disappoint either!

 

 
   

It's a wee bit of a hike out to Sugar Beach!

 


Day off!

   
If you ever consider moving house, be sure to call your Philippine friends... as they have got to be the world champions at packing!


How much can you fit on a tricycle?

   

The family vehicle
Actually, five on a motorbike is not unheard of! There are motorbike taxis with an extended seat for just this purpose. They are known as habal-habal which literally means "pigs copulating", probably referring to the level of intimacy offered by such transport options!
   
Streets and roads are shared with cows, buffalos, goats, dogs, cats and of course, chickens, all of which tend to be on the indecesive and lethargic side. Agressive dogs are not an issue in the Philippines. An interesting observation is that the only road kill visible was the odd flattened toad. This proves how accommodating the drivers are.


Roaming buffalo in town

   


Butchering a cow on the roadside

   

Most signs are written in English
There are no less than 120 languages in the Philippines. However, with Filipino and English being the two official ones, it's easy enough to find someone who will understand what you're looking for. Filipino is like a mix of Spanish, Malay and English with a slight Japanese intonation.
   

Rice planting


Rice threshing

   

Fish market


Basketball is the most popular sport

   
Being rainy season, we did have a few serious downpours, and were glad of the conveniently located bus stops at various intervals along the road.


Shelter from the rain

   

Grand!













Shouldn't all schools be...

 

Sari-sari roadside store

Sari-sari stores selling everything from shampoo sachets to 3-minute noodles were great places to shorten the journey and kill the heat with a litre of Coca-Cola. Incidentally, filtered water is 50% more expensive than Coca-Cola is most shops.

 

 
   

Busy bees


Wireless, what's that?

   
Mango shakes are the order of the day, but an interesting little refreshing dessert is halo-halo, meaning mix-mix. It’s a jolly mix of sweetened beans and fruits, red and white beans, sago, gaudy-coloured jelly, crushed ice and milk, topped off with leche flan and ice cream.


Halo-halo

   


Every day is washing day!

   

Caves near Mabinay

Half way up the west coast, we decided to cross the island to have a look at the limestone caves up on the watershed. No trip to the Philippines is complete without a cave stint, whether it be a beginners floodlit walkway or an advanced 3-day experience in shoulder deep water.

 

 
   


Sugarcane country

   

Beware - it's not Coca-Cola they're selling - these are petrol stations!

   
From Bais, we headed up the east coast of Negros, where we had magnificent weather and matching scenery the whole way to San Carlos. Resorts are low on the ground, so when you see one, check in!


North bound

   


Mangrove country

 

To market, to market...


They're everywhere!

 


Parasol power!

 

CEBU

   

Ferry from San Carlos to Toledo
Another ferry brought us back to the island of Cebu, where a stark contrast was immediately noticeable. Our 15km cycle from Toledo to Balamban highlighted the numerous industries in this developed island. This was the first time we saw industry of any form…and the result was more traffic and a load of hard hats.
   

Heading inland, misinformed by our two Philippine road maps, we ended up on the Trans central Highway, meandering up and down insanely steep hills for no man’s business. What should have been a minor workout to cross the island, turned into a nightmare, heading back to Cebu city instead of Compostela some 25km north.

 

 


The only way is up...

   

Taunting sign on the road!


Not a happy man!

   

Life savers!
Come nightfall, and still 20 km to go, it was time to change our strategy. Lawrence, Christopher and crew in the coca-cola lorry obliged in packing us up with their empty bottles and shuttling us on to the next hotel. Again, service with a smile!
   


Lawerence, Christopher and crew

   

We still had to make it up to Danao for our ferry to the Camotes Islands. This meant 35km, including 17km in hectic traffic through Cebu city (population 2.4 million). Of this 2.4 million, almost certainly 1.4 are on the move at any one moment. They generally choose to travel in a jeepney (mini bus) whose drivers are a law onto themselves.

 


Colourful jeepney

   

Could be better, mate!

What’s most entertaining is that they all have  a question painted on the back of their vehicles, followed by their phone number. After a few close shaves, we had no problem in letting them know exactly where they stood!

 
   

CAMOTES ISLANDS

   
To bring a beautiful holiday to a worthy conclusion, we chose the Camotes Islands for our last few days. Another great cycling destination, with next to no traffic and outstanding coastal views.


Land ahoy!

   

Beat this!


Collecting shellfish in Santiago Bay

   


Like cycling though a tropical botanical garden

 

On the road - the Camotes Islands

 


Leave nothing but your footprints

 

CEBU

 

The Philippine flag
Back in Cebu, it was time to bid farewell to this beautiful corner of Paradise. Our five weeks in the Visayas were just a sampling of what this splendid country has to offer.
   
With the Philippines being the world's greatest exporter of coconut, Kurt got more than his fair share of coconut palms. Straddling just above the the equator, temperatures generally hovered around the 30°C mark, keeping Darina happy.


Happy man!

   

Colgate smiles all the way!
The coral reefs and beaches were as good as they get, the scenery was marvelous and the drivers (with the exception of Cebu city) were generous with space. But what made the Philippines for us was the warm welcome and the friendly, smiling faces on every stretch of the road, from uniformed school kids to stooped rice planters and buffalo drivers. Watch this space - we will be back!
   

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