International · Interviews · Philippines · Travel Tips

Things to Know About Couchsurfing

An Interview with my First Host

Couchsurfing.

Sure, I’ve heard the word before and known such a thing existed, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that I took a serious look at it.

Although I no longer have a permanent home in the Philippines, I have been returning to the islands frequently and just last week I was there again before flying to the Netherlands.

With four days in Manila to sort out some business, run errands, and repack, I was looking into budget-friendly hotel and Airbnb options. Hoping to book a place with a reliable internet connection so I could still do my classes and online work, I was disappointed to find that nothing could guarantee that within the location and price range I was after.

On that account, I realized I might have to cancel or reschedule some of my classes and see what I could manage from some of the coffee shops in the area that I know have good connections such as Carpe Diem and Exchange Alley Coffee House.

It was then that Couchsurfing popped into my head: what if I could find a place to stay and make a friend along the way? It would certainly make the stay in Manila a little less lonely since I have, for better or for worse, cut most ties with my old life here.

I signed up on Couchsurfing.com through my Facebook account and seeing a number of my friends were users gave me more faith in the idea. Browsing through a few profiles of potential hosts in Metro Manila, I quickly thought: these are my people.

The surfers I encountered were world travelers and world learners, swapping stories, exchanging languages, and sharing jamming sessions. I got in touch with both locals and foreigners staying in Manila and soon made friends with Rhylie Villoria, a Dutch-speaking Filipina with six (seven if the Amsterdammer who popped in for a visit counts them) rescue dogs and a drum kit living in the exact part of the city I needed to base of during my stay. She offered to host me and my first Couchsurf was made official.

To be honest, I didn’t put much into my profile–other than a few short lines and a link to my blog–nor did I bother making the payment to verify my identity. I simply sent our a number of messages and requests and posted a “public trip” requesting a host, which other surfers can see.

I felt blessed to have found such a wonderful person as Rhylie and after staying with her, she took some time to answer a few of my questions about the Couchsurfing community.

How did you discover Couchsurfing?

My Norwegian brother-in-law mentioned it; that was a year before I started hosting.

How long have you been surfing and how many people have you hosted?

I’ve been on Couchsurfing since March 2015 and I’ve hosted 21 people so far.

Why do you host?

When I started hosting, my intention was so I’d have a diversion or distraction because I’d just gone through a breakup. But after hosting a few people, I realized it was fun and I was learning more about other people’s country and culture so I began hosting as much. Also, it’s my way of paying it forward since I’ve Couchsurfed at some hosts’ places too. Another reason is that I’m raised to be kind to people in need, so whenever I see couch requests, I do my best to help out.

Tell me about your most memorable Couchsurfing experience.

When I was in Genk, Belgium, I got hosted by a middle-aged man whom later became my “uncle Dave”. He gave me shelter for three days during my first visit to Europe–Belgium being the first country. He toured me around and drove me wherever I wanted to go; I saw things and places not a bunch of tourists have seen around Genk. The hosting didn’t end there because whenever I come to Genk, his house remains open to me and he even let me celebrate Christmas with his family when I had no one to celebrate it with while abroad. When you Couchsurf, you can gain lifetime friends.

Do you feel safe Couchsurfing alone?

I feel safe given the circumstances that I take time to get to know my host and listen to my gut feelings. I don’t just choose a host; I talk to them for a while, read their references, and do a little background check on what’s available online. Being careful has a lot to do with feeling safe so I make sure I take precautionary measures as well, but yeah, once I’ve assured trust toward the host, I feel safe.

What should everyone know about Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing isn’t just a free place to substitute pricey hotel rooms whenever you travel around a new place; it’s a community of people who are willing to help out yet not to have their kindness abused. It is a place where hospitality and kindness are the currencies and exchange rates are dependent on your faith in humanity. There are bad stories alongside the good ones every now and then but there will always be a huge percentage of people who keep upholding the true purpose of this community.

 

 

My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 12: Best of the Arts in Manila

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first stepped into a boxing gym for my first lesson.

After about six months of that, I tried my hand (and foot, knee, elbow) at Muay Thai for a few months, before taking a break for a trip to Australia.

Upon returning to the Philippines, I trained for a few weeks at Lakay, an MMA gym in the mountains of Baguio City. While there, I was introduced to grappling and–seeing how terrible I was at it–I took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu back here in Manila.

Now I’m packing my bags for the skies again and wrapping up my third month of jiu-jitsu at Fitness Unlimited.

Here are my favorite things about each art I’ve had the pleasure of trying in Manila (and Baguio).

Boxing

Elorde was my boxing home for some time and I had a number of good trainers but I must say that it was at The Den where I, shall we say perfected, my punches with the help of one of their head trainers.

 

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The Den Fitness and Athletics; get great apparel from Pinay Fitness

 

Here’s what I love about boxing: It’s fun to hit things, and in Manila, there are gyms on every street corner where you can do just that. If you want the real deal, though, I hear you have to train with the national boxing team and they have relocated to Baguio–another reason to head north for your training.

Bonus: nothing gives you tight abs like boxing. Jiu-jitsu comes close, though.

Muay Thai

I’ve done a bit of Muay Thai at Elorde, The Den, B.A.M.F., Team Lakay,  iGym Yaw-Yan Fervilleon, and Fitness Unlimited.

Why I love Muay Thai: it challenged my balance and improved my footwork, which was a weakness of mine when boxing. It also forces you to master your breathing–I nearly hyperventilated the first time I did 50 kicks–and builds serious leg muscle.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

With a 30-day trial at B.A.M.F. and then three months at Fitness Unlimited, I’ve enjoyed a fairly solid introduction to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

What I love about jiu-jitsu: it’s a struggle from the bottom up, but–comparable to say, rock climbing–nothing is more satisfying than getting past the point where you almost give up and making it to the top, in this case, of your opponent.

Jiu-jitsu is, in my opinion, humbler than boxing or kickboxing, or perhaps it would be better to say that it’s more humbling–and that’s exactly what I love about it.

Also, you can join amateur competitions after only a month of training, whereas competing in boxing or Muay Thai can be a little more daunting.

 

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Brazilian jiu-jitsu class at Fitness Unlimited Submission Sport Paranaque

 

MMA

MMA is a violent sport. To be honest, I’ve never watched UFC and, excepting names like Rousey and MacGregor that buzz around, I don’t know any of its fighters.

As a hobby, a workout routine, and a competitive challenge, however, I find it quite fantastic. It’s an excellent way to build physical, mental, and practical strength, fitness, balance, speed, and coordination and it never gets boring.

Plus, it feels good to know that you could sweep someone twice your size off of you and incapacitate them if necessary.

Hands down, my favorite place to practice MMA is Team Lakay in Baguio. There’s nothing quite like it.

 

Philippines · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Complete Baler Surf Experience

Destination: Baler, Aurora
Objective: learn how to surf in four days

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Planning and Budgeting for Your Surf Trip

Travel & Transportation

The bus from Cubao to Baler and back is 650 pesos each way if you take the Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe. It’s a faster and more comfortable trip than the regular air-conditioned Genesis buses and doesn’t cost much more.

Bus schedule:
Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe leaves Cubao at 1:00 AM and arrives in Baler around 6:00 AM
Deluxe buses also leave at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 AM, with another Semi-Deluxe at 3:30 AM. The Deluxe bus costs 730 pesos, while the Semi-Deluxe is only 650.

Two Semi-Deluxe buses leave Baler bound for Cubao, one at 4:00 AM and one at noon. Three Deluxe buses are scheduled at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:30 PM.

When you arrive in Cubao depends on traffic; in my case, I left on the noon bus and got to Cubao after 6:00 PM, meaning the trip back was a good hour longer than the night-ride to Baler.

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From the bus terminal in Baler, a trike to the Sabang Beach area will only cost you 15 pesos.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for something simple but nice, affordable and still close to the beach, I highly recommend Go Surfari House on T. Molina Street. You can book in advance on Airbnb for about 500 pesos per night. You’ll get a bed with a fan in a shared room and a tasty breakfast.

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I’ve been going for an omelet with pandesals, which they get fresh every morning from a bakery across the street and I have to agree with everyone else in this town and say these may very well be the best pandesals I’ve had in my eight pandesal-eating years in the Philippines.

Other breakfast options include tapsilog, longsilog, and bangsilog–a silog for everyone

The guest house is clean and cozy, with a few rooms and one bathroom upstairs and downstairs, a comfortable lounge, a workspace/dining area, a small kitchen, and a bit of a backyard where you can hang out and hang up your wet swimming gear.

Initially, I booked three nights here via Airbnb and with the booking and cleaning fee it cost me just under 2k. Later I decided to stay one more night so I could catch the first day of the Aliya Wahine Cup, for which the host instructed me to simply pay the housekeeper an additional 500 pesos.

I should mention that when a group of guests decides to hold a little house party it can get a little noisy.

One evening, sometime after midnight, I asked the host if there was a cut-off time when guests are supposed to keep quiet and while that didn’t seem to be the case, she did offer to move me to a quieter room farther from the noise.

I passed because I didn’t feel like moving all my stuff in the middle of the night; however, I can draw the conclusion that, while the accommodations may not be perfect, the hosts are perfectly accommodating.

Surfing Budget

The next item in your budget is, of course, surfing lessons and board rentals. From GoSurfari, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach and the nearest surf school is at Nalu Surf Camp.

While there are countless spots along the beach where you can take lessons and rent a board, I chose Nalu for two reasons: firstly, they have lockers for your valuables. Secondly, the going rate for a one-hour surf lesson is 350 pesos but at Nalu, you get a free beer and photo op with that.

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That’s a done deal.

In my case, I took two one-hour lessons before renting a board to try surfing on my own. Board rentals are 200 pesos per hour, 400 for a half day (from 7AM to noon or noon to 5PM/sunset), and 800 for the whole day.

My surfing budget was as follows:

  • Day 1: 350 pesos for one lesson
  • Day 2: 350 pesos for one lesson, plus 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 3: 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 4: 400 pesos for half-day board rental

That’s an average of fewer than 500 pesos per day and with that, I got in a good 16 hours on the waves.

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Food & Beverages

Since breakfast and (instant) coffee are included if you stay at Go Surfari, you only need to budget lunch, dinner, beer, and snacks.

You can sit down for a good meal for 100 to 200 pesos at Maple Inn Seafood Restaurant, which is right before Nalu Surf Camp on your way to the beach.

Alternatively, you can get those delicious pandesals at 2 pesos a piece, or other tasty pastries at Dialyn’s Bake Shop (also on the way to the beach). Moreover, Dialyn’s has the best-brewed coffee for on 45 pesos.

Another nice spot to eat is the Hungry Surfer, which is a little out of the way but easy to get to if you follow the signs. You’ll spend more like 200 to 300 pesos on a single meal here but they do feature some of the best wifi around.

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At most restaurants and bars, you’ll pay 50 pesos for a beer, while you can get them at a sari-sari store for 30 to 37 pesos a bottle. A bag of chips might cost you 12 pesos and you can get some tasty mani (roasted peanuts) for just a couple of pesos as well.

Altogether, you can get some nice food, tasty snacks, and a couple of cold ones for about 500 pesos a day.

Budget Summary
  • PHP 1,300 Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe, round trip
  • PHP 500 per night at GoSurfari House
  • PHP <500 per day for surfing (average)
  • PHP <500 per day for food and drinks (average)

Note: 500 pesos is about $10.

Stay for two days and one night, the trip will cost 3,800 pesos; stay for five days and four nights, as I did, and we’re talking 7,000-8,000. That’s about $150 for a five-day surfing trip–not bad.

The Surfing Experience

Learning to surf

Well, for starters, take a lesson. That’ll get you going with the basics but after that, you’ve got to rent a board and head out on your own to learn from the waves and from the local surfers.

Watch and learn, my friend.

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When you take your 350-peso one-hour surfing lesson, the instructor will make everything superbly easy: you simply lie on your board, he pushes you out to a good spot, watches the waves for you, gives you a push when the right one comes along, and tells you when to stand up.

All you need to do is perfect your getup and stay on the board.

When you go out on your own, for one, you’ll have to learn how to get through the waves without being tossed about and pushed two steps back for every one you take forward.

My advice: watch how the other surfers do it. When it’s a small wave, paddle into it and coast over with your board. When it’s big, turtle–as in, flip your board upside-down with you under it. I do recommend caution when trying this, especially with regards to the board and your face.

Once you reach a good spot to start catching the waves, you have to face out at least somewhat in order to watch them and turn around fast enough to catch one. Once again, watch the surfers and do as they do: use both arms to paddle in an s-shape–one moving down and one moving up–to turn faster.

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What I did, after a few hours of trying to figure things out all on my own was paddle near-ish to surfers who looked like they knew what they were doing.

I would watch them watch the waves, see which ones they caught and how they caught them, and try to imitate. That worked alright for me.

When I ended up in the area where I had taken my lessons, the instructors would yell at me to paddle harder when they saw me not quite getting the waves.

On my third day, I met a chill dude with dreads who let me tag along with him and his crew and took me to some nice waves.

On my fourth and final day on the waves, I met a group of local surfer boys down on the other side of the beach. They not only helped me catch my last good rides after what had been a tough day at sea for me but later, over beers and 2-by-2 while watching the sun set over the beach, they taught me some great Tagalog (Filipino) surfing lingo.

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Essential Tagalog Surfing Phrasebook
  • Lusong! – when you see a beautiful wave;
  • Wapang! – when you’re slashing that wave;
  • Langisin – when you spend enough time in the ocean and you get that sleek surfer skin;
  • Kamatis! – I’ve come up with this one myself, applicable if you’re like me the sea and sun get you tomatoed
  • Palong palo – when you’re a wild surfer
  • Kasung – as far as I’ve gathered this is the Tagalog equivalent of Tubular, bruh.

After the waves, we have buhay surf, or the surfer life, which includes such essential vocabulary as:

  • Katuga – a combination of kain, tulog, and gala, meaning eat, sleep, and wander around–which is an excellent way to spend your days in Baler (besides surfing, of course).
  • Sabog – getting high (not on the waves)
  • Manginginom – being a strong drinker (or an alcoholic, depending on who you ask)
  • Yosi – to offer or ask for a cigarette
  • 2-by-2 – the locals’ drink of choice, made as follows: buy a bottle of Ginebra (local gin) and C2 (a juice); open both bottles and place to C2 upside down on the Ginebra bottle; wait for it to slowly seep into the gin, and drink by the shot: old school.

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There you have it: an affordable trip and an unforgettable experience in the very chill and beautiful Baler, a place to still your mind, reflect on life, lose yourself in the waves, and wash away that city stress with an invigorating salt-water cleanse.

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Philippines · Travel Tips

Day Trip to Lakes Pandin and Yambo

It’s the morning of All Saint’s Day; as Halloween revelers are stumbling home in a stupor at the break of dawn, I’m having a quick breakfast and getting ready to head out.

I’ll reference this article on day tours at Pandin Lake as that’s where we got some basic information for the trip, plus give my own account of the day’s adventures.

Getting to the Lakes in San Pablo

From where I’m staying in Alabang all I have to do is get a jeep to South Station, where I’m meeting my friend and catching a bus headed to San Pablo–the City of Seven Lakes.

At South Station, you’ll walk down to the provincial bus terminal and catch a bus heading to Lucena. Before you get on, make sure it stops in San Pablo.

There’s a 7-Eleven at South Station where you can grab snacks and coffee for the ride, which is only about two hours depending on traffic and how many stops the bus makes.

San Pablo is the city in the south of Laguna province and it features seven lakes in its vicinity.

Lakes Pandin and Yambo are about 10 to 15 kilometers away from the city proper so you’ll have to get a jeep and a trike there.

This was a little complicated for us because we got bad directions and ended up at the wrong tricycle terminal, so instead of the 80-100 pesos we expected to pay for a ride the driver was going to charge us 300.

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If you find yourself here at the “Grand Terminal” you’re in the wrong place.

Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of useful information about trike rides to the lakes, so that’s something you’ll have to figure out when you get to San Pablo by asking for directions or consulting a map.

In our case, we ended up getting on another jeep to a different terminal-like area closer to the lake and getting a cheaper ride from there. However, the path to Lake Pandin–where we got dropped off–turned out to be closed as some rocks were blocking it.

A tricycle driver offered to take us around to another pathway but he did charge us a bit for it. Later, on our way back into town, we ended up walking that blocked path anyway and climbing over the rocks.

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The path was quite scenic.

The same driver was there waiting for us and took us to SM San Pablo where we had a late lunch after working up quite an appetite.

 

Lakes Pandin and Yambo

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Yambo is a small lake surrounded by heavy foliage and it’s one short hike away from the slightly smaller and equally scenic lake Pandin.

We were ferried across both lakes on simple bamboo rafts with covered benches and a picnic table and taken to a relaxing waterfall where we could dive in.

The only day open for an out-of-town trip was rainy and overcast so it was a bit chilly but not enough to stop us from swimming in the beautiful, clear water.

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The average depth of Pandin Lake, where we took a swim, is 63 meters and because many people can’t swim here they will make you wear a life jacket before getting in.

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The jackets were pretty annoying so I mostly kept mine nearby; one cannot go underwater with a vest on after all. Granted it made the ferry guys a little uneasy at first but who jumps into a lake with a life jacket on?

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The water was wonderfully refreshing and just a few hours at the lakes was enough to wash away weeks of city stress.

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Eventually, we got cold and hungry enough that we were ready to leave. After lunch and a coffee, we waited outside of SM San Pablo for a bus heading back to Alabang and two hours or so later we were back at South Station.

Because it was late afternoon, the bus we caught back to the city was pretty packed and we ended up standing most of the way home. Not to worry: the day was so relaxing that we couldn’t be bothered by a thing so slight as an over-crowded bus.

 

Trip Budget

Bus to San Pablo – 97.50 pesos per person, one way
Jeep – 8 pesos per person, per ride
Trike – more or less whatever you can negotiate depending on where you get the trike
Raft tour (without food) – 600 pesos
Fresh buko juice (water out of a coconut) – 25 pesos per coconut

For two people, you can budget about 1,000 pesos for the travel and lake tour and add some for food. There are plenty of cheap lunch option in town, including Inasal at SM San Pablo where you can get tasty grilled chicken and unlimited rice for just over 100 pesos per meal.

There you have it: that’s all you need to get out of the city and dunk your head in some fresh water to clear away the stress.

Day Trips · Philippines · Travel Tips

Breakfast at Antonio’s (and the Commute to Tagaytay)

And I said what about breakfast-at-Antonio’s…

This is quite a late post but here we are, regardless. Life has been life; it catches you up short sometimes.

Recently my mother visited the Philippines and during her stay, we had a wonderful family vacation at Coco Beach along with my daughter and her father.

Before her return to the Netherlands last week, I took her down to the cool and breezy Tagaytay for a break from the city’s smog and heat. We enjoyed the mother-daughter time without the constant demands of a wonderfully active handful of a toddler.

Tagaytay is a city in Cavite, south of Metro Manila. It’s about 60 kilometers from the airport and it can take one, to two, to three or more hours to get there.

It is a popular destination for day trips and weekend getaways because it’s close to the city and boasts a temperature drop of a good five degrees Celsius, at least. It’s not as cool as Baguio but it is a lot closer.

The small and temperate city of Tagaytay overlooks a beautiful lake, featuring Taal, which is–according to Google–“probably” the world’s smallest volcano.

Commuting to Tagaytay

Let’s start with the commute, which was quite an adventure for two Dutch girls.

Granted, I’ve been here eight years, but I’ve always taken either a car or a motorcycle to Tagaytay so the commute was, in fact, a new venture for me.

From an inquiry or two and a quick Google search, it seemed we would be able to get a bus to Tagaytay from Starmall, which is close to where we’ve been staying.

Instead, I was told there was no bus from here and that we would take a van first and then catch the bus on Emilio Aguilardo highway at Pala Pala. This is the road that goes straight down to Tagaytay from the coastal side of Manila.

So, the van. Expect to fit less comfortably into this vehicle than “Antonio’s” dubs into the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Let the van driver know you want to catch the bus to Tagaytay and he might pull one over on the highway for you to hop right onto. If not, you’ll get out at Pala Pala and catch the first one that comes along.

If you’re going to Breakfast at Antonio’s, be sure to get a bus with Tagaytay and Nasugbu on the sign because that’s the highway you’ll want to go down. Tell the driver you’re going to “Breakfast” and he’ll let you off right in front of the restaurant.

For the way back, catch a jeep along Nasugbu Highway heading back to Emilio Aguinaldo. Walk to where the busses are pulling over and catch one heading back up to Manila. If you live in the Alabang area, you’ll get off the bus at SM Molino and get a little jeepney-cab up Daang Hari.

Incidentally, you can get the same ride down from the corner of Alabang Zapote Road and Investment drive heading down to Tagaytay, meaning you’ll catch the bus at SM Molino instead of Pala Pala.

Brunch at Antonio’s

It was noon by the time we got to the restaurant but let’s not call it lunch.

We started our meal with some delicious pancakes, followed that with quiches, and ended with pour-over iced Sumiyaki coffee and their signature bread basket with jams.

What can I say? I’m not a food blogger but everything was delicious.

I found the coffee exceptionally enjoyable: every sip was bursting with that intense coffee-bean essence and I found that it hardly needed any sweetener. I thought it was great that a syrup was given on the side as an option for those who find the bitterness too overpowering and that the iced drink hadn’t already been sweetened far beyond my personal preference, as most tend to be.

That is that. If you’re in the mood for some good food and a great cup of coffee, venture out to Tagaytay: it’s worth it.

Philippines · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

A Coco Family Vacation in Puerto Galera

After a few hectic weeks of increasing work demands and a moderately intense diet and training regimen to prepare for my first jiu-jitsu competition, I was nothing if not ready for a vacation.

Last year, around this time, my companion and I had taken our daughter to Coco Beach for a wonderful family vacation and she loved it so much that, despite our separation earlier this year, we decided to go back for her.

My mother has been visiting us here in the Philippines as well and I hoped she would enjoy this beautiful resort.

The trip was booked: my mother, my daughter, my daughter’s father, and I would be sharing a family deluxe room at the paradisiacal Coco Beach in Puerto Galera.

Booking Your Vacation

A room like this–big enough for four adults and up to two children–will cost you about $120 dollars per night and it includes quite a nice breakfast buffet with lots of fresh fruit, a salad and omelet station, some bread and cereal, and hot dishes.

Hold up; let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

October marks the beginning of their regular season, which is when we booked this year, whereas September is still considered low season. Expect peak prices in December and January when the holidays are in full swing and the weather in the Philippines is at its best.

Last year we got a great deal on a regular room for two adults and one child for less than $50 a night and we lucked out with amazing weather in the middle of September.

I booked our trip using Agoda.com, which is what I’ve used to book most of the hotels and resorts we’ve stayed at in the Philippines. I typically find the best prices there and have never had any problems with a booking.

Getting to Puerto Galera

Since we live in the south, the Starmall bus terminal is only a short Uber ride away. Starmall is located along the SLEX in Muntinlupa just before it exits Metro Manila and becomes the Star tollway (and then another tollway).

From here, buses leave every hour to Batangas Port and usually make it there in two hours. In our case, it was a two-and-a-half-hour trip because the driver got off the highway early and made a lot of stops to pick up and drop off passengers.

When the bus isn’t full–which is often the case on weekdays–the driver will stop more frequently to get more passengers. On the way home we had a full bus and made it back within two hours.

Once you get to Batangas City, the bus will stop at a large terminal but you won’t get off yet. After this stop, it will take you straight to the port and if you’re going to Puerto Galera you should head to the far left of the pier.

You’ll liked get swarmed by guys offering to help you carry your luggage and book your tickets for you but it’s typically best to politely refuse.

They’ll often grab your bags without asking and expect you to pay them for helping you later.

Similarly, they will “offer” to take your money to purchase your tickets and pay the terminal fee but before they give back your change they’ll have taken quite a cut for themselves.

Carry your luggage to the smaller terminal on the left side of the pier and purchase tickets to Muelle in Puerto Galera from Father & Son Shipping lines (schedule available online).

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Having caught the 7 AM bus, we arrived in Batangas at 9:30 and were just in time to board the 9:35 boat to Muelle–although it didn’t leave until closer to 10 AM.

The seas were smooth and it was a fairly comfortable hour-and-a-half boat ride to Muelle, where we arrived in time for a quick lunch on the pier before heading to Coco Beach for our noon check-in.

Well, quick.

We sat at a bar dubbed “the place to be” because that’s where the people were but had to wait some time for our food. The power went out once or twice while we waited to be served and my mother had time to check out the souvenir shops.

The food was nice, the beer was cold, and after lunch we got a private boat to Coco Beach for 250 pesos ($5).

Travel Expenses

Here’s a breakdown of what this trip will cost you:
Bus to Batangas: P137 (<$3) per seat
Boat to Muelle, Puerto Galera: P230 (<$5) per adult; P200 ($4) per child
Terminal fee in Batangas: P30 (<$1) per adult
Boat to Coco Beach: P250 ($5)
Environmental fee in Puerto Galera: P50 ($1) per adult

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Conversely, you can have the resort arrange an airport transfer for you with a private van from Batangas directly to NAIA for P5,000 ($100).

Arriving at Coco Beach

When you step off the boat onto the shore of Coco Beach, you may allow the staff to carry your bags–they won’t ask you for money.

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You’ll receive a warm welcome and once checked in you’ll meet your service family, who will take care of you during your stay. They’ll carry your things to your room, bring you a complimentary early-morning pot of coffee if you so desire, and drop off little snacks in the afternoon.

The regular and family deluxe rooms are made of bamboo. They don’t have air-conditioning or hot showers but they’re nice and breezy and who needs a hot shower in the tropics anyway?

Check out this gorgeous view of the ocean from our bamboo porch.

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Food, Beverages, and Activities

Anticipating four days at the beach and thinking I would have lots of time to kill, I brought my Mandarin study book and downloaded the audio of my favorite yoga video from Do Yoga With Me on my phone.

Turns out I never did catch a peaceful moment to do yoga on the beach and I barely kept up with my one Chinese character a day.

Mornings were spent swimming in the ocean when the tide is high and you can float above the coral. After a good hour at the breakfast buffet, that is.

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Breakfast of champions

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When we got tired of the ocean, my daughter and I would transfer to the swimming pool for the following activities:

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1. Hurl into the water at the diving practice area

2. Play on the slide (no pictures; too wet)

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3. Have a drink at the pool bar
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4. Carry on with water fun

Afternoons are good for naps in hammocks, kayaking into the open ocean, and happy hour, heralded every day from 4 to 5 PM: two for one cocktails. Come one, come all, get drunk on our signature Weng Weng!

You can swim in the pool until 8 PM and in the ocean whenever you please.

For lunch or dinner, there’s pizza and pasta at the Trattoria on the beach, a varied menu at the main Carabao restaurant by the pool, and charcoal-grilled specialities up the hillside at the Coco Grill, located just in front of the silent pool only 200 steps up from the shoreline.

Coco Beach also has a dive shop, free diving lessons in the pool, snorkeling activities, free boat rides to a different beach every morning, island hopping trips with packed lunches, a basketball court, a spa, and a whole list of things to do if you get bored of the beach and the pool.

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On our way back to Coco Beach after taking the 9:30 boat to another cove

Thank you, Coco Beach, for giving us a beautiful escape from our crazy lives and a place to be nothing but happy. Thank you, also, for singing our daughter her favorite coconut song on our last night.

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🎵 It’s a coconut, from the coco tree, but it’s not a nut 🎵

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Philippines · Travel Tips

How Badly Does Getting a Tattoo Hurt?

If getting a tattoo isn’t a thing to do while traveling, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been in the Philippines for some time now and will be leaving soon, so this seemed like the perfect time to finally get one at the highly recommended Whiplash Tattoo parlor on Aguirre Avenue in BF Homes–my very own stomping grounds.

I’ve always been curious as to exactly how badly getting a tattoo hurts.

I’ll start by documenting the various levels of pain I’ve experienced in my life on a rough scale of one to ten so that I can see where getting a tattoo fits in. On this scale, one represents nothing more than a pinprick while ten stands for I’m literally dying right now.

For clarification, we’re talking about an entry-level tattoo here, on my thigh which is basically all muscle, so we’re not hitting any bones or nerves. Who knows, one day I might get one on the spinal cord or some other such sweet spot and rank that in too.

  • Laser hair removal: It’s just a pinprick: you can more or less pretend it’s not happening.
  • Practicing MMA with a bruised rib: When someone puts their full body weight on your chest and you already have an injured rib cage, you will definitely wince. It is equally unenjoyable when you get kicked in that same spot.
  • Sprained ankle: A fairly common sports injury, sprained ankles are no fun. You know you can’t get up and keep playing because it hurts too much.
  • Removal of wisdom teeth: Sure, I got anesthetics. I consider the needle the size of my hand they jabbed into my gums multiple times to be one of the most unpleasant parts of the experience but, then again, I do hate needles. Even after the numbness kicked in, the pressure and general discomfort of drills and tongs breaking up and forcing out bits of a tooth that hadn’t even broken the surface yet was not fun. Years later, my orthodontist said I could’ve kept them. Thanks for nothing, dentist.
  • Broken hand bone: This happened to me in high school and in the first couple of hours it hurt quite a bit. I think I even cried.
  • Frozen ear: Not fun. This was in high school as well. It happened when I rode my bicycle to school on -15 degree Celsius winter day and wore this little hat with barbed wire that I thought was so cool, only this hat did not cover my ears, at all. I barely made it through the first class before my ear and head started aching so much that a teacher got me a ride home. Laying on the couch that day with a frozen ear is one of the most uncomfortable things I can remember.
  • Phakic Intraocular Lens implant: So very worth it but definitely not fun for the first few days.
  • Reconstructive jaw surgery: More specifically, waking up after eight hours of reconstructive jaw surgery. I experienced pain of all sorts during my week-long recovery in the hospital.
  • Childbirth: Yes, giving birth to life feels like death. I have other no words for it, except that it was the only time in my life that I screamed in pain. The sound of it surprised me quite a bit, in fact.

I detailed the pain experiences above before actually going in for the tattoo, so it’s funny that it ranks in just below a sprained ankle.

On my way out the door for my booking, I missed a step and twisted ankle, which is still a bit swollen. It was only a light sprain but when I got home with my fresh ink and swollen ankle I was groaning much more about the latter far than the former.

And we have our finalized rankings:

  1. laser hair removal
  2. practicing MMA with a bruised rib
  3. getting a tattoo
  4. sprained ankle
  5. removal of wisdom teeth
  6. brokenbone in the hand
  7. frozen ear
  8. phakic intraocular lens implant
  9. reconstructive jaw surgery
  10. childbirth

So there we have it, getting a tattoo falls right in between a bruised rib and a swollen and receives a pain ranking of two: not exactly comfortable but certainly bearable.

What does it feel like?

I’d say it’s a little more uncomfortable than laser hair removal because there are actual needles burrowing into your skin, but the initial pain is mild, you get used to it quickly, and it only becomes unpleasant towards the end.

At that point, the artist is doing touchups on an open wound and the skin is already sensitive. Plus, I was getting quite stiff from laying on the table for three hours and I really needed to pee: much harder to deal with than the tattooing itself.

P.S. The tattoo artists at Whiplash are amazing; if you’re in town you’ll want to book them for sure.

P.P.S. You can check out my first ink here on their Facebook page.