Travel in the times of Coronavirus

Just another day in the Philippines

By Lyn Harley, 12 March 2020

Dear Friends and Family,

While you were in the throes of virus-mania, we escaped to remote islands in the Philippines where no one is hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and paper towels. We do not hear daily disaster reports except on CNN (if we choose to watch) and everyone is happily enjoying the warm sunny skies, azure blue water and strolls on the beach .

Yes, our temperature has been taken at airports and upon entrance to hotels and malls, but there doesn’t seem to be any urgency or sense of panic. I know that this is a temporary illusion, which will disappear as soon we will travel home and back to life in the “real world”, but first let me tell you a little about our crazy adventures.

A “Jeepney” bus in Manila

We arrived in Manila after 29 hours of travel. It is a huge city with modern skyscraper buildings juxtaposed against dilapidated shanty huts with corrugated metal roofs. The traffic is horrendous – a 5 kilometer trip might take an hour. We crawled through Chinatown with its rundown old buildings, crowded streets, tuk-tuk’s, colorful Jeeps serving as minibuses, crazy electric wiring and hordes of people shopping in the street stalls and malls selling every conceivable item. This is a bargain town where the prices are dirt cheap – $2.00 bras! 

We were soon joined by our fearless LA friends, Igor and Elena, and our young friends from Valencia, Spain, Bea and Raffa. We toured historic sights in the city and learned of the ONE national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, who is memorialized with museums, stories, paintings, parks and even a sculptural re-enactment of his execution before a firing squad! Now that was scary!

Laguna Waterfalls

The adventures continued with an “easy” hike to a waterfall that turned out to be 4 hours and truly hazardous through slippery, slimy mud, hoisting ourselves up by poles and ropes, stepping on rocks in streams, and at the end, scaling boulders to get to the top! Oh, and we opted not to go to the next waterfall where we would be lowered down by rope into a boat. Super crazy! 

We flew on to two other islands (Palawan and Panglao) where every day was filled with excursions: a boat ride in massive underground caves (complete with bats), island hopping, snorkeling and kayaking (where Steve and I capsized and then separated to be safely rowed by the guides).

We feasted our eyes on the most magnificent sunsets, rowed in turquoise water lagoons encased in limestone cliffs, and swam in crystal clear waters dotted by some of the thousands of Philippine islands. We saw the tiny, bug-eyed Tarsier primates, a 17th century church created by limestone hauled from the sea and pasted together by egg whites, and the famous Chocolate Hills.

We ate picturesque feasts on the excursion boats prepared by the crew, and along the way we made improbable friends. In the beach town of El Nido, which reminded us of the wild west with its rutted narrow, crowded streets filled with young beach-goers, tuk-tuk’s, motorcycles, hawkers, and rows of grungy-looking open front stores and restaurants, we came across an  unbelievable sight – a restaurant named “Odessa-Mama”! What are the chances of that a Ukrainian restaurant with food beloved by our Ukrainian friends? It was also a microbrewery with cool graffiti written on the wall and a jazzy playlist. Igor and Elena instantly connected with the owners, Tamara and Eugene, and after rounds and rounds of vodka, beer, and tasty Ukrainian treats made as authentically as possible given the circumstances, we all became instant friends. I think I actually began to understand the Russian conversation (or maybe it was the vodka)!

New and old friends at Odessa-Mama, El Nido

We went back several more nights and Tamara joined us on an island hopping excursion. Igor and Elena even hooked up with their daughter and son on their return to Manila and had a lovely dinner. I know that this will be a connection they will foster and hopefully, someday see these friends again! 

Yes, the Philippines brought unexpected adventures and surprises. The scenery and the warm, smiling, people with the their sense of humor and willingness to please will surely be unforgettable. I hope that these memories will stay alive as we re-enter the worry, and mania abounding in this scary world situation.

I pray for everyone’s health and safety and a return to blue skies and happy adventures.

Love and good health to all!

Mam Lyn (that’s what I’m called here)!

See the photo album – press here

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