Diving in the Philippines – and narrowly missing Typhoon Haiyan

Those who follow me on Facebook might have noticed that I briefly went to The Philippines, but never posted anything about it. The reason is that I wanted to upload this diving video, but went from the archipelago to Tibet and then Nepal, both places where you often get horrible internet connections (when you are lucky; usually you get none). The Philippines post went on the back burner, and has been sitting there for many weeks now. So finally, here it is, starting with some diving around Coron, in a strange volcanic lake and in the Ocean, were the US Navy placed some Japanese ships at the bottom of the ocean in September 1944, in order to develop recreational diving in the area, I assume.

I arrived in Cebu straight from Seoul and I was not quite prepared for the assault on my senses. Having spent weeks in crazy but orderly East Asia (Beijing and the Koreas, both North and South), I got an intense and sudden dose of South-East Asia! Heat, humidity, noise, chaotic traffic, omnipresent prostitution in all its forms and everything else that comes with it. The one relaxing factor was communication, since due to its past as an American Commonwealth, English is widely and well spoken in the country.

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You don’t need reading glasses. It’s a blurry picture!

Rainy weather forced me to spend a fair amount of time inside and I just went with the flow, having gigantic burgers at the Irish Pub attached to my hotel, where ugly, bald, fat and old Westerners were watching sports on TV in the company of bargirls. Since the girls were chatting in English and seemingly having fun, it was a little less depressing than Thailand, where dudes eat with Isan prostitutes who speaks no English and just sit there like decorations.

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The capital Manilla is also not the prettiest place in the country. Here is a pretty picture in a park, but I had to look for the shot.

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The National Museum does not have a particularly impressive collection, but the building itself is quite something. Formerly housing the Department of Finance, its cavernous halls  are a little eery, given that the number of tourists is quite limited.

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The main attraction is the treasures of the San Diego, a large Spanish trading galleon sunk in Philippines waters by the Dutch in the 17th Century. The exhibit is important enough that it traveled around the world for a few years. The ceramic and porcelain objects are well preserved, but anything made of metal has mostly rusted away. Nevertheless, surprising discoveries were made, such as the presence of rusted katanas, which suggest the Spanish had hired Japanese mercenaries. Some reasonably well preserved handle guards even made it possible to identify specific family crests.

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This picture of a 40 year old woman from the Mandaya Highlands shows the local population’s spectacular mastery of the art of embroidery, as well as their not so spectacular accomplishments in the field of dentistry.

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My final stop was the island of Coron, where I shot the video at the top of this post. Christina, from Germany, was diving with me, and we had diner later that day in some local restaurant. Shahar, from Israel, had been travelling somewhere on a day tour with a bunch of Filipino tourists, and took us to where they were having a little karaoke party. We considered ordering drinks from the bar but, looking at the menu, thought it might be funnier to order the most expensive thing on offer. So, for the equivalent of $11.50, the cost of a double rum and coke in Canada, we got two bottles of Coke and the entire bottle of rum!

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Photo “credit”: the Evil Christina… ;-)

Thus, at some point, karaoke became unavoidable.

Finally, some random things from my little interlude in the Philippines (which incidentally was well timed, missing the terrible and deadly typhoon by only a week).

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I have a theory to gauge the status of employment rights in general and women’s rights in particular, before even setting foot in a country. If ALL the flight attendants are young and hot, neither are probably very advanced. In the case of Cebu Pacific, the job offer was quite clear: 26 year olds with non catchy smiles need not apply.

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If this is like Vietnam, the problem is that the network was developed without a real plan. When electricity goes down in a building, identifying the problem is too long and too complicated, so they just run another cable.

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People of a certain age will recognize this famous car. I would tell you its name, but of course I am FAR to young to recognize it. Why did I photograph it and how do I know it’s famous then? There is a very simple and completely logical explanation to this, but unfortunately, there is a big break dancing competition about to start, and I have to go get changed for my performance. Later!

#Philippines

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