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Xmas in the Philippines – Snowball In The Sahara

Packed and ready to leave Manuela resort in Panglao, we had our army of hotel helpers assist us in carrying our luggage down to the waters edge. With a private boat ready and waiting to take us across to our new island for the Xmas period.
For 1500 pesos(approximately £21) we cruised the sea towards, what looked like, a small hill protruding from the middle of the ocean. As we rode the waves with the sound of an old engine chugging away we were lucky enough to be followed by a few flying fish. Mistaken for low flying birds to start with until we saw them appear from the sea water. An incredible start to island life as we watched the hybrid like fish dive and fly in a playful way
We pull up into a bay and already see the snorkeling potential as we climb down into the crystal clear waters. Beautiful soft sand, lined with coconut trees and a few huts spotted between the them. We are greeted by a large islander, Wing Wing, our host who shows us to our Xmas dwelling, Nitas Nipa Huts. A two story bamboo hut with a bed on each floor and a bathroom. Like most accommodation in the Philippines, we were without a toilet seat and our shower consisted of a bucket and scoop. The beds were half protected with a mosquito net that looked as though it had been previously used as a target for an air riffle session. A quick stitch of the hand size holes and a prayer so that the smaller ones would go unnoticed we were invited for lunch.

A table set on the beach with a local fish caught that morning along side some rice and vegetables. A meal we soon became very accustomed to. The main variation throughout the week was the amount of fish served. There was a direct correlation between the ability of the fisherman and how full we managed to feel with each meal. As a backup, the local favored pork dish was substituted for our little sea friends.

With numerous turtles and variety of sea life living only meters away at the shelf of the coral, we embraced the snorkeling opportunity as much as possible. One day hindered our sea adventures as a typhoon swept across the Philippines, narrowly missing our island but given us some beautiful storms and some much needed shower water.
With a very gracious host we were informed of what there is to do on the island and given free reign of all resources he had within his property. We started by commandeering (but with permission, I am rarely in a position in my life to use nautical terms) his small boat. A beautiful sail around the bay with a spot of swimming for Daniella and Prevelly as I manned the ship. Followed by an afternoon of sandcastles and chasing chickens around the island. No chickens or roosters were caught but a successful sandman was created in preparation for Christmas day.

On the 24th, which is Christmas day for the Swedes, we set off at 6:30 am to watch the dolphins in there natural habitat. With no guarantee of a sighting we searched the sea for anything that resembled flipper. With Daniella’s positive Christmas spirit we ran into a school of the magnificent animals as they played around and searched for their Christmas breakfast. Taking it in turns to lay on the front of the boat as the waves splashed up and the dolphins continued to play we had started the festive day in a very different but incredible way. Prevelly was on form and became one of the top dolphin spotters before the morning was over.

We finished the Swedish Christmas day with a very different activity. Anyone who has visited the Philippines or watched any documentaries about the islands will know that cock fighting is an integral part of life here. We obviously do not condone this style of animal cruelty but when immersed in the community you get to see a very different side of this local ‘sport’.

Everywhere that you walk inland you will see roosters, either in little triangular huts, tied to a post or a tree via a long length of string. We were invited to a cock fighting tournament which involves one half of the Island take on the other. Everyone swarms to the fighting arena which consists of a piece of land dotted with coconut trees, a man made wooden structure, around 5 by 5 meters square and then a sizing up area. This is where the owners of the birds sit down and size up each other’s cocks. Size is extremely important here and if two, equally impressive cocks are matched then they are prepared for a battle. I will leave out the details as I appreciate this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I have written a separate post on the subject that will be available very soon. I will say that as an afternoon out we had a lovely time and it resembled the atmosphere of banger racing. Everyone sat, watched, drank and placed bets as the afternoons events unfolded. It was an amazing day and one that we will never forget but we are doubtful that it will become our new family tradition.

Christmas day, English time, was a lovely relaxing day with Prevelly opening her new toys and banging her frozen (as in the film) drum and also enjoying a wind up penguin, sent with us from the UK. A wonderful day exploring the island and listening to locals sing the same Xmas song throughout the day. After somehow losing a shoe I retraced the wonderful walk as Daniella loaded up with Prevelly, the buggy and bags, climbed the mountainous terrain beside the coast to take a short cut home. The night came and with Christmas still in our hearts, despite the plus 30 degrees temperature we cuddled up for a night of wine and good food, the statuary Skype home with a weak connection and a spot of planning for the remaining days on Pamilican.

Before we arrived here we had a few items that we wanted to try and the next item on the list was spearfishing. Quite possibly the most manly experience of my life and one that requires its own post which will follow in the how to guide of the Philippines. All I will say on the topic is that we were not well fed on that particular day.

Boxing Day saw us get back in touch into a loving animal world as we took a small boat and visited the local sea life sanctuary. A vast portion of the sea has been netted off and a wide variety of fish mingle together as the island preserves the coral life and its inhabitants. With a guide for the morning, costing around £7 which includes entry into the area we got to swim and Snorkel and admire the Schools of fish. With Prevelly on board and with the feeding pouch in hand we had a few moments of a frenzy feeding beside the boat as the food bag diminished quickly. A paddle back and we enjoyed our half a fish for lunch as we mumbled some unkind world’s under our breath towards the fishermen.

With only a few days left we spent our time wandering the island, finding deserted beaches and joining the locals in their festive period playing games. Daniella was asked to join a volleyball match that had been organized by a group of Polish tourists. With her game face on she joined team Poland to take on the islanders. Not quite as serious as Daniella is used to when it comes to any kind of sporting activity, she showed amazing patience as the slightly drunk Polish team saw the game slip away. Prevelly and I cheered on as she jumped around at the net, giving the opponents a few moments of doubt that they could easily take the title.

With our last check list item being to climb a coconut tree and pick our own fruit, we needed the obvious, a good tree to climb. With some winds passing over the island the locals were very reluctant to let us have a go and thought that we were slightly crazy for wanting to try. We managed to compromise and find a small tree to test the local method used to scale these exotic plants. With a machete at the ready we cracked open the very well protected fruit and enjoyed our semi victorious gatherings. A full post will follow on how to climb the giant trees when we stay on a more calm island and possibly have a volunteer who is a little less safety conscious than our insurance will allow us to be.

As parents on the go we have tried to keep Prevelly’s routines wherever possible. The daily nap is always a must and the hammock, that has previously been dead weight throughout the first stint of our tour, has now become a daily necessity. If we are out on a moped ride or at a restaurant we find any structure available and create our beautiful daughter her make shift bed. Coconut trees have been a real winner with this and Prevelly has continued her daily naps on cue. We have also been inspired by watching and being part of the island lifestyle, where creativity is in abundance among the children. With none of the western distractions that we take for granted in our daily life they improvise and entertain themselves in a way that millennials are unfamiliar with. We witnessed a group of children using crushed coke bottles as skies as they flew down the main hill of the town. The constant games and make believe is everywhere as you walk through each part of the community. Also the involvement in everyday activities such as cleaning and food collection is part of their daily routine when they are not at school. Its been a joy to see and hopefully something that we take on board as we go to hand Prevelly the tablet for a bit of quite time.

As always my thanks and love go out to Daniella for embracing each day with an incredible adventurous attitude. Also to my beautiful daughter whose smile has been contagious throughout this trip.

We look forward to updating you with the rest of our tour and send all of our love to everyone around the world over this festive period.


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