Australia · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

A Weekend in Shoal Bay, Port Stephens

Port Stephens is full of bays. Starting from Salamander, you can work around the clock: Nelson Bay, Shoal Bay, Fingal Bay, and Anna Bay, and there’s plenty to do in each.

You can ride camels, go sandboarding, take a dune safari, or encounter sharks (this is a planned experience) near Anna Bay. Likely the most popular spot is Nelson Bay, where you can swim with dolphins, visit fish and marine life sanctuaries, and attempt to sight whales. Besides nature, there’s also go-karting, toboggan rides, “hot ice skating”, rock climbing and a slew of other active things to do.

Port Stephens

But what they don’t tell you is that you can also do nothing.

IMG_20181014_112406200

Nothing but enjoy being here.

At first, I was considering an Airbnb in Anna Bay so we could be close to the action for sandboarding and camel rides. However, when we found this cozy and affordable spot in Shoal Bay–which drew us in with the beautiful environment, idyllic waterfront, national park, and of course beaches–our decision was made.

IMG_20181012_210921236

As peaceful as this little haven may seem, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a bustling nightlife at the Shoal Bay Country Club (a five-minute walk from our Airbnb) when we went to explore the town after a late arrival from Sydney on Friday.

Right across the road from the Country Club, you’ll find a beach with a concrete wharf that juts out far enough for a casual 10-foot plummet into some piercingly cold water. If you’re hungover from the night before, this may help.

IMG_20181013_132451539-EFFECTS

IMG_20181014_104000724-PANO

After a lazy morning in bed with a gorgeous view of Tomaree Mountain from our quaint attic window, a salt-water dip, and cold drinks to sip on the beachfront, we made up a meal at our Airbnb kitchen and spent the night chatting with a pair of medical students from Europe who had booked the room next to us.

The next day, we packed up our things and–now that we were finally ready for action–made the trek up to the Observation Post on Tomaree Mountain. The hike is only about a half-hour to an hour from the Shoal Bay Wharf, very doable–even for small children–and absolutely worth it.

IMG_20181014_113953112_BURST000_COVER_TOP-PANO

After getting back on Shoal Bay Road, we still had time for a drink at the beach before catching a bus back to the Newcastle Interchange and another train-replacement bus from there to Sydney.

Typically, a single train and bus will get you from Central Station to any of the Port Stephens Bays in under five hours. Of course, you could rent a car using the Car Next Door app and get there in less, as our fellow Airbnbers did. However, there’s something quite enjoyable about heading out of the city without a car–I mean care.

And if one thing is cheap in Sydney, it’s the trains; gotta love ‘m!

Philippines · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

6 Things to Love about Metropolitan Manila

Though I left life in Manila behind about a year ago now, I have spent many years in this behemoth of a city. Recently, I’ve been spending months at a time in Sydney, and what a contrast that is.

For quite some time, I’ve had a post bobbing in drafts titled “Things I Love About Sydney” but I still haven’t gotten around to writing it. Perhaps because it’s so obvious.

Yes, Sydney is a beautiful (and expensive) city, what with its beautiful parks and beaches and picturesque points, and it’s been a pleasure staying here.

However, re-experiencing life in Manila last month has inspired me to write about this swelling metropolis instead.

In the past, I wrote about the struggle to survive in Manila and revisited a few remarkable memories. Now, I’d like to write about things to love in Metropolitan Manila.

1. Warm Greetings

From the thick, warm blanket of air that wraps it’s welcoming arms around you when you first step out of the airport to the hospitable nature of its people, Manila sure knows how to give a warm welcome.

2. The Slow Life

Life meanders here at about the same pace as the traffic along EDSA and it’s certainly not a place for the impatient. However, there is something quite enjoyable about settling into the slow pace–certainly for awhile, at least.

3. The Cheerful Optimism of the Happy-Go-Lucky

Years ago I did some work as a language assessor for BPO companies and every other Filipino candidate I interviewed described themselves, word for word, as “happy-go-lucky”.

I found it quite amusing at the time but, truthfully, the easygoing nature of Manila locals is quite a pleasant contrast compared to how people can be in other parts of the world.

One of my favorite Tagalog expressions is bahala na si Batman or “leave it up to Batman”. Indeed, Filipinos are so relaxed and optimistic about the future that they don’t even need to leave it in God’s hands: Batman will do.

bahala_na_si_batman

3. The Abundantly Friendly (and Surprisingly Ever Unserious) Nature

A former manager and fellow foreigner once told the story of being mugged in Paranaque–one of Metropolitan Manila’s seventeen cities, located just south of the CBD.

It was late and he was on his way home from work when two young men approached with what I believe was a knife and asked for his money. He was tired after a long day and told them woefully that he had nothing on him. The muggers showed such pity that they apologized for the disturbance before going on their way.

Honestly, when people ask me if Manila is dangerous, stories like this often come to mind. That’s not to say you can’t get in trouble–certainly, you must be vigilant–but more often than not I have found the nature of Filipinos too innately friendly and accommodating to warrant fear of confrontation.

If you asked me who the most serious people in the world are, I’d probably say airport security. Yet, in the Philippines, they’re still friendly enough to comment “Nice hair!” during a pat down.

In truth, Filipinos can make light of just about anything, from airport security checks to devastating typhoons.

4. The Spirit of Bayanihan

Bayanihan

No, it’s not a ghost. Bayanihan would more or less translate to the value of extending a helping hand without expecting anything in return. It is best embodied in the picture of a whole house carried on the shoulders of a group of neighbors.

I’ve never seen my neighbors carry a house but I have had a total stranger pick up my motorcycle and carry it to a mechanic for me when it broke down on me. In fact, I’ve never needed more roadside assistance in the Philippines than the Filipinos on the roadside.

On another occasion, trying to find the way back to Manila on dark and unmarked roads after a trip out of town, the car ended up in a ditch. Stranded and hours from home with a baby in the car and little else, my companion and I had all of two minutes to worry about what we were going to do before people starting crawling out of the woodworks, so to speak, and lifting our car out of the hole.

They were gone as quickly as they had appeared. Bayanihan, indeed.

5. The Vegetarian Challenge

Nowhere in the world has the struggle to be vegetarian (for the past six months or so) been as real as in Manila.

The local diet is built on pork and seafood, with a side of chicken and beef, and lots of rice. When I asked for vegetarian dishes on the menu at one Filipino restaurant, I was pointed to one small plate vegetables.

Though, in the spirit of optimism, the quest for vegetarian food in Manila makes for quite a fun challenge.

I became vegetarian earlier this year before going back to Europe. In Holland, it was easy; in Luxembourg, doable; back in Australia, fantastic. (It’s almost like meat doesn’t exist in Newtown anymore.) In Manila, on the other hand, it’s been quite the opposite.

Still, it has drawn me out of a comfort zone and into new experiences. I’ve even discovered a couple of great all-vegetarian/vegan restaurants that serve plant-based versions of Filipino favorites such as sisig and adobo.

Indeed, if you’re a vegetarian in Manila and you haven’t been to these places yet, check out Corner Tree Cafe in Makai and the Vegetarian Kitchen or Greens in Quezon City.

6. The Pleasure of a Cold Beer at a Low Price

Last but not least, there is nothing quite like an icy cold San Mig on a hot Manila day. This local beer will cost you a dollar at many establishments and set you back no more than three bucks at even the swankiest venues.

It’s an easygoing beer and surprisingly good for the price. In addition to the light and pale Pilsen, you can find the far less easygoing Red Horse (read: crazy beer) at about the same price. Only for the brave (read: crazy).

Europe · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

Three Days in Malta

Malta is an amazing country and was it not for a wedding, I could have easily gone my entire life without setting foot on its islands.

Dividing vacation time between Manila and Malta almost seems like a mistake: a typo when booking, perhaps. One is a metropolitan city on a tropical island in South-East Asia and the other an ancient Mediterranean archipelago now popular among European tourists.

Regardless, it was the itinerary of the month.

IMG_20180911_131459287-EFFECTS

A Bit of Maltese History

From Saint Paul’s shipwrecking to Cersei’s naked walk of shame, the small island of Malta has hosted many significant events.

Malta has been occupied by the Romans, Arabs, and a horde of others. The famous Maltese knights arrived in the sixteenth century and the stage was set for the Great Siege of Malta–a tale that quite frankly puts the Battle of Blackwater to shame.

Eventually, it was Napoleon who took Malta from the knights at the end of the eighteenth century. It took the French only two petite years to surrender, leaving the Islanders in the hands of the British Commonwealth and forever fated to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Malta also played a role in the Second World War. With so much historical bloodshed, the islands of Malta have offered an excellent setting for blockbusters such as Troy, Gladiator, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Curiously, for all the testaments to Malta’s rich history, the most renowned monument appears to be King’s Landing.

Things to do in Malta

A: Visit historical sights
B: Go to the beach

At least, that was the debate for my partner and me as we only had three days on the island–one of which was fully occupied by the wedding.

Upon arrival at the airport, we met up with a few family members and were spirited to Qawra Point in St. Paul’s Bay.

We stayed at Seashells Resort (great place, very friendly and accommodating staff) and enjoyed the nearby Qawra Point Beach as well as a sunset swim in the infinity pool, followed by dinner, at Café Del Mar.

Also in St. Paul’s Bay: the National Aquarium. Which is where you go if you haven’t been able to find any fish in the ocean.

The following day was spent at the wedding venue. Popeye Village, named after the spinach eater and apparently the only film set still standing in Europe, is now functioning as a small amusement park. This charming film-set-turned-theme-park located along the beautiful cliffs of Anchor Bay becomes quite magical when the sun begins to set.

On the third and final day before departure, we decided to explore one of the other islands.

The largest island of Malta is (you guessed it) Malta. Next comes Gozo and in between the two lies the smallest of the three and home of the Blue Lagoon: Comino.

IMG_20180911_134438998-EFFECTS

009-troy-theredlist

From Marfa in Mellieha, which lies in the north Malta, you can catch a ferry straight to the Blue Lagoon.

IMG_20180911_123452217-EFFECTS

Getting Around the Main Island

1. Public Busses
They have routes and schedules but also, apparently, a mind of their own.

2. Taxis
There is no Uber in Malta but you can use an app called eCabs to book taxis from your phone. Most trips ranged from €18 to €25.

3. Car Rentals
Cars can be rented at the airport for anywhere between €16 and €28 per day. Keep in mind that the Maltese don’t drive on the right side of the road.

The turquoise bay was awfully crowded when we arrived, so we trekked to another point on the island and found a quieter spot to enjoy the Mediterranean sun and sea.

IMG_20180911_134501536

We ended the day with dinner at Ocean Basket back in St. Paul’s Bay and for the first time in my five months of vegetarianism I felt sincerely envious as lavish platters of seafood were brought to the table.

That being said, I did enjoy their vegetable dishes and a plate of tasty vegetarian sushi.

We saw castles and fortresses all along the landscape but didn’t visit any of them. Among other interesting places which I didn’t get to see but heard good things about are the walled city of Mdina–which embodied King’s Landing–and the Dingli Cliffs. You can also find St. Paul’s Catacombs more or less in between those two locations.

Malta was entirely a delight, though I must say I was a little disappointed that they had knights in all the souvenir shops but Maltesers were nowhere to be found.

Here a few aerial views of almost the entire island on the way out:

And thus the end of this staccato account.

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews

Hunter Valley Wine Tour

The first sighting of European settlers in the Hunter Valley was in 1798 when a lieutenant drifted into the Hunter River in search of escaped convicts.

While it is said that the region was named after Captain John Hunter, I’d say there’s a good chance the colonists chose the name for how well it reflected their motives in the valley.

Regardless, the region continues to attract hunters from around the world searching for some its finest fruity intoxicants.

Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours

Today’s tour took us to four cellar doors in the Hunter Valley and one chocolatier.

With pickup scheduled at 6:55 near Sydney Central Station and some road closures due to a gas leak in the city, we were on our way to Pokolbin around 7:30 and arrived at our first stop twenty minutes later than the planned 10 am arrival.

IMG_20180707_125050125_HDR

I’ve seen the sunset over the Harbour Bridge numerous times but catching its rise this morning already made the day worth getting up for–that early, I mean.

The two-to-three-hour drive up to Hunter Valley was both scenic and informative, with our driver and tour guide occasionally popping up with interesting facts about the area.

IMG_20180707_111947149.jpg

For example, as we crossed the Hawkesbury River on the Pacific Highway, he explained that the area was named Brooklyn because a New-York based company won the bid to build the bridge with their then-leading underwater welding technology.

More interesting still is how the bridge divides the fresh water of the river on one side from the salt water bay on the other–a perfect environment for bull shark, apparently.

Having arrived in Hunter Valley, we received more information about the winemaking region itself. For example, we were told that the area was home first to a penal colony and only to vineyards after the penitentiary was relocated to Port Macquarie.

Another change in the Hunter region with an equally monumental impact on its winemaking history was a Sydney hand surgeon’s decision to buy up over two dozen hectares of vine territory.

As winemaking in the valley had begun to whither, Dr. Max Lake’s brassy purchase brought new life to the region when the first boutique vineyard was planted in 1963.

Though the land changed hands at the turn of the century, this gutsy buy is reflected ironically on its wine label. Lake’s Folly is now one of 150 wineries peppering the Hunter hills.

On to our first tasting stop:

McGuigan Wines

IMG_20180707_111528421.jpg

Although McGuigan only planted its first vineyards in 1992, it is now Australia’s largest wine producer and four-time international winemaker of the year.

If you are a lover of full-bodied white wines, a trip to Hunter Valley won’t disappoint. As the Bordeaux region is to its wine, so Hunter Valley is becoming to Semillon.

Though this French grape hails from Bordeaux, it is McGuigan Wines that has produced the best Semillon in the world for seven years straight. You’ll indubitably get a taste of their Semillon on your Hunter Valley wine tasting tour, along with sips of Portuguese Verdelho and German Gewürztraminer whites.

Tastings flow from whites–and sometimes roses–to reds and end with tawny-colored dessert wines.

Our wine of the day–since we’re both red drinkers–was McGuigan’s 2015 The Farms Shiraz, a limited new release provided for tasting at the cellar door.

Besides pouring the first glasses to quell the thirst of our drive from Sydney, the McGuigan tasting also provided some curious information on such things as Australian wine regions, the difference between American and French oak barrels, and the impact on local wines.

Hunter Valley Resort

At the Hunter Valley Resort, our wines were paired with cheese. At such occasions, one is reminded never to venture to the moon without crackers. Additionally, a Pinot Gris might not be a bad addition.

IMG_20180707_113819167_HDR

At the cellar door, we tried a pleasant variety of wines, each paired with a different cheese–from labna to feta and cheddar to brie.

IMG_20180707_113805637

These tasty bites of milk and yogurt curds certainly whet our appetites for lunch, which was also served at the Hunter Valley Resort.

IMG_20180707_114452442

The meal was enjoyed by a blazing fireplace and the warmth was a more than welcome respite from chilling winds.

IMG_20180707_121101359

Hunter’s Dream

After lunch and a cup of tea, we were ready to resume the sampling of inebriants.

Next on the tasting tour was Hunter’s Dream, a small vineyard now owned by Nature’s Care–a manufacturer of health food and skin care products.

This gorgeous, small-scale winery had a wonderful appeal to it but unfortunately its bottled goods were somewhat lacking compared to earlier tastings.

Mistletoe Wines

Our last wine stop on the tour was a true Aussie-family-owned vineyard with a defiant and somewhat loud overture into the winemaking world.

Mistletoe was certainly the most generous of the wineries, providing nearly a dozen wines for tasting. In addition to whites, reds, and tawnys, Mistletoe offered us our first and only rosé of the day.

As the third-generation daughter of this family-owned estate prepared tables for the tasting, her grandmother explained considered rosé to be old-fashioned. However, her husband–in his seemingly stubborn nature–chose to make it regardless.

I’m not sure where this idea comes from, by the way, but back in Europe, we love our rosés–especially on a picnic or a midday terrace stop.

My only complaint about the Mistletoe experience was that is was very text heavy, with signs, posters, and pamphlets filled corner-to-corner with black ink. It’s not that I don’t respect the choice to use refrain from the environmentally unsustainable use of cork or to give your Muscat the Aussie “Mozcato” twang, but why not let the wine speak for itself?

Hunter Valley Chocolate Company

After drinking our fill of Hunter Valley wines, a chocolate stop was well in order.

At the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company, Peter the chocolatier gave us a sampling of the fine Belgian chocolates used to make their tasty treats and we had a few bites of their fudge as well.

Remarkably, in the last moments of the day, as we stood near the van waiting for our return to Sydney, rain began to fall from a sky that had been otherwise perfectly blue since sunrise.

Just as all the members of our group were fastened in and the driver revved us on our way, the downpour began and we fell into a blissfully inebriated sleep.

Just after sunset, we found ourselves back in the center of Sydney.

In all honesty, after an entire day tasting wine, my man and I were ready for a beer. Having been dropped off on the outskirts of Chinatown just after 7 pm, we were minutes away from Chinese Noodle House–a favorite stop for dumplings.

The cold, crisp brew we picked up along the way paired fantastically with dumplings, braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and more.

So yet another beautiful day was concluded.

Signing off, with gratitude.

Cheers.

Day Trips · Europe · Travel Reviews

A Brisk Day at Burgers’ Zoo

Standing on a riverbank inside Burgers’ Zoo, it feels as though you’ve stepped right up to the edge of an African safari.

Not long along, the zoo announced the birth of a baby rhino and from here we watched the stout little creature chase giraffes ten times its size: quite a spectacle for a random passerby to take part in.

DSCN8791_Fotor

A generational zoo with a myriad of ecosystems and Europe’s largest live coral reef, Burgers’ is unique for being managed by the same family since its meager beginnings as not more than a petting zoo over a century ago.

My daughter–who had never been here before–insisted that she had a number of secret places to lead us to as she mock followed the map and picked random directions. When we stumbled into a beautiful aquarium, she announced that this was it: her secret place at last.

DSCN8790_Fotor

There’s a restaurant in “the bush”–a domed section mimicking the hot and sticky topics–where you can grab a terrasje even in winter. Coming from Manila, I found the humidity almost comforting on this otherwise chilly day.

(As Dutch as een terrasje pakken is–enjoying food and drink in the outdoor seating area of a cafe or restaurant–the wait for warm or at least sunny weather can be long.)

Besides the safari, tropical bush, and aquarium, there is a reptile area, a dessert zone and a vast expanse of outdoor enclosures with lions and tigers, no bears (oh my) but lots of other animals.

DSCN8807_Fotor

P_20180423_125307_Fotor

There is a massive apenkooien playground, another smaller outdoor one, and an indoor playground by the restaurant as well.

(Literally, apenkooien translates to “monkey cages” and refers to an obstacle-course style play area where kids can climb, swing, and jump around.)

The zoo is a beautiful place where unexpected things can happen and when you’re watching animals in near enough their natural habitat every visit provides a new experience. We watch animals do crazy like be born, chase each other around, and get into fights, yelling matches, and displays of power.

But we people do crazy things there too. Maybe we carry to our day out ordinary worries and fears and maybe our time there is so otherworldly that it brings us to tears. We see the bond between human and animal and our mutual dependence on nature. We see children and parents and couples and maybe even proposals.

Burgers’ Zoo is a wonderful place for all of this because it is respectful to all: people, animals, and nature.

While I’ve only discussed snippets of Burgers’ here, I would strongly encourage making a zoo trip of your own if you find yourself near Arnhem.

P_20180423_122839_Fotor

Australia · Day Trips · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

First Swing at the Sydney Surf

Summer is slipping away here in Sydney and I realized that I’d been here since December and had yet to have an Aussie surf.

Back in November, I went surfing for the first time in Baler, Philippines and it was an unforgettable, totally affordable experience. Of course, a one-hour lesson here in Sydney costs nearly seven times as much as a lesson over in Baler.

Fortunately, board rentals are more affordable.

As far as city beaches go, I’d only been to Manly and knew that it was good for surfing. However, both Manly and Bondi beach tend to be insanely crowded on sunny weekend days.

I found this Beginners Guide to Surfing Sydney’s Beaches, which has a brief and helpful overview of beaches in the city, listing the pros and cons of each.

We ended up opting for Maroubra Beach because it’s only an hour from Newtown and the bus drops you off right in front of Let’s Go Surfing. (Check out their website if you want to book lessons.)

Board rentals here are $15 for one hour, $25 for two, and $40 for the day. The shop guy was super chill about us being able to start off paying for two hours and extend if we wanted to surf longer.

He told us to take whichever board we wanted and said we were welcome to come and switch it out for another one if it wasn’t quite right.

We showed up around 1pm and went straight for the waves; when I wandered back to the shop to check the time it so happened that he was ten minutes from closing up.

What I enjoyed about Maroubra:

  • It wasn’t particularly crowded. The surf guide I mentioned earlier said it’s always crowded on weekends and to watch out for locals but I found the crowds fairly sparse and the locals non-threatening.
  • The waves were both fun and manageable at more or less a meter high–similar to what I was used to from Baler.

Surfing setbacks:

  • Later in the afternoon, blue bottle jellyfish swarmed the beach and everyone pretty much had to clear out of the water.
  • Although it was a nice hot, sunny day and the water temperature was initially great, it did get quite cold when the wind set in. If you’re used to a place like the Philippines where you can stay out in the water till the sun sets and hardly feel a chill, you might find that your hands are starting to feel numb and your teeth are chattering come late afternoon down under.

If you’re in Sydney, what are you waiting for? Catch a ride to a beach, pick up a board at a shop, and give surfing a shot.

Even if you don’t catch any waves the first time around, it’s an excellent arm workout and exercise in salt-water tolerance.

Seriously: if you’re a beginner, you’re going to have to work hard for a wave. When you catch it, though, and manage to get yourself upright on the board, the momentum of the ocean below your feet will make you forget every preceding hour spent struggling and want to spend every successive one trying to have that again.

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

IMG_1831

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.

IMG_1848

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.

IMG_1982

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.

IMG_1852

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.

IMG_1858

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.

IMG_1888

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.

IMG_1868

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.

DSCN9205

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.

IMG_1913

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.

IMG_1880

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.

IMG_1976