After 24 hours of trains, taxis, planes, buses, layovers, delays and ferries we managed to make it from Tokyo to a tiny island called Malapascua, on the northern tip of Cebu in the Philippines. On the way we'd flown through a progressively worrying lightning storm, and once we landed it hadn't taken long to realise that it wasn't appropriate weather for snow boots.
The contrast with Japan was immediately noticeable, electronic toilets had been replaced by bowls where you had to use a jug to flush away any contents left by yourself or previous users.
Our first real glimpses of the country came from our taxi ride to the bus station, weaving between ridiculous traffic and hoards of people. The radio was blasting out an interview of a government official screaming about the country's war on drugs, before the news reporter told of extrajudicial killings by the police. We decided at that point to stay clear of narcotics.
Once in Malapascua we settled into a routine which even the most talented writer would struggle to make interesting for a blog. Early nights, early mornings, eating, drinking and laying in the sun. I settled into a week long gym routine which lasted 13 minutes of the first day, with my only other exercise consisting of poking Sammie with a stick every 30 minutes to make sure she was still breathing.
The island was beautfiul, we were staying in a basic little wooden shack on the beach only a few yards from the water, with the sound of breaking waves sending us to sleep every night. This was all very soothing until a storm hit one night with the water nearly up to our door and the flimsy wooden walls threatening to fly off into the night.
We managed to escape our daily routine only once, going on a boat trip around the island to some snorkeling sights. We hadn't managed to make it onto our boat before Sammie once again impressed with her ability to locate and stand on sea urchins, this time managing to fall into a hole in ankle deep, clear water. After a good day swimming around some coral reef and through a shipwreck just off the island, we were rushing back for happy hour and our £1.15 cocktails.
Another day of travel started as we left Malapascua to head back to mainland Cebu. Our 30 minute boat ride took well over 2 hours, with half the passengers having to unload onto dinghies before we left because we were stuck on a sandbank, followed by a long wait at the other end as we couldn't make it to the pier in the low tide. Once across we took a couple of buses to Moalboal at the opposite end of Cebu.
Our time here promised to be a bit more energetic, with plenty of activities to try and lure Sammie away from her sunbed. The first of these was Kawasan falls, a series of waterfalls and turquoise lagoons which looked like something out of a Peter Andre music video. We spent the day here swimming, playing on rope swings and arguing when Sammie forgot to press the button to record me jumping off a waterfall.
The next morning we were up at 5 to head across the island to Oslob, where whale sharks had been lured towards the coast for tourists to queue up and swim with. It was an amazing experience, swimming a couple of meters away from fish which looked like they could swallow you whole. The staff were pretty strict, making sure that you kept your distance and didn't touch the sharks. Riding one was out of the question.
Back at the hostel we rented a couple of snorkels, the decision to save a tiny amount of money by renting from a local woman backfired, when what she gave us were basically oversized straws. We were staying on panagsama beach, where virtually as soon as you step into the water you can see coral reef and colourful fish. About 20 meters from the beach there's a steep drop, where millions of sardines swim together, making huge black clouds in the water. After spending some time swimming with the sardines we spotted a huge green sea turtle slowly gliding along below us. In my excitement to get near him I sliced my foot on some coral, cancelling any plans for our last day in Moalboal.
That was about it for the Philippines, we took a taxi back to Cebu City to get some sleep before an early flight. The country exceeded our expectations, it was completely laid back which was a refreshing change after Korea and Japan. I'd recommend for everyone to visit, particularly if you're old, fat, white and male as they seemed to have a real knack at finding young, slim, attractive Filipino women. Dirty old bastards.
In our taxi to the airport the driver created a festive atmosphere, singing along to 'Santa Claus is coming to town' before nodding off at the wheel. Merry Christmas.