A Very Comprehensive and Totally Objective Guide to the Philippines

For a long time I’ve thought that 95% of bloggers simply aren’t interesting enough to maintain a blog. People’s day-to-day lives are dull (mine too!), and that’s okay, but maybe you don’t need to tell the world, huh? When I was informed that I am to prepare a blog entry for the Zoox website asap, my internal groan was deafening. Until, of course, I realised that right now… I AM doing interesting stuff! Or I WILL be. Or I HOPE to be. Actually no, allow me to be frank here: I don’t really know what I hope or expect to gain from the ZEP, but doesn’t “interesting” just seem like a marvellous adjective to start with? But for now I give you:

 A Very Comprehensive and Totally Objective Guide to the Philippines

Tricycles: When I first read that motorbikes with sidecars were the standard answer here to travelling short distances, I was desperately hoping for something along these lines:

Oh, my kingdom my aviator goggles! But it was not to be. Instead, they are blinged-out Japanese 175cc numbers, painted a particularly fast (or at least, enthusiastic) shade of red, with chrome and leather trims. Not a bad consolation prize.

Jeepneys: On the other hand, when I read that Jeepneys are “stretch Jeeps”, I pictured this:

But no. Keep thinking chrome and dyed leather tassles from the aforementioned tricycles, but add an air-brushed Maria (or mermaid… or both… or whatever totem took the fancy of the owner), and you end up with something more like this:

Which in my mind is vastly preferable. Jeepneys are retro-fitted Jeeps from the US military days, and ply the main routes between towns. They operate on a strict policy of “there is always room for one more”, be that a person, boxes of produce or, so I hear, livestock.

Vicious locals: The humans of the Philippines have thus far been mostly wonderfully friendly. The rest of the animal kingdom, however, wants to bite you, sting you, drink your blood, paralyse you or make you really, really itchy. And I’m Australian.

Manila: Manila is the capitol of the Philippines. Nobody likes Manila (though it’s possible that my sample size thus far has been too small, or at the very least highly biased towards jet-lagged foreigners). With almost 12 million people, no real centre and a 40-hectare shopping mall as its prime attraction, the only reason I plan to return is to catch a plane very quickly out of there again.

Typhoons: According to all the guidebooks, December should be pretty well the end of the wet season, but typhoons are increasingly occurring later and later. And, as they interact with the hotter weather associated with the (nominally) dry season, are stronger for it. Hello climate change, perhaps? This is how the Zoox family ended up on high alert for the biggest typhoon the Philippines has seen in 30 years, which was at one stage due to come straight through us. After changing path overnight we were spared the worst and instead just lashed with strong wind and heavy rain. Sadly, other areas were not so lucky and sustained substantial damage and loss of life.

Typhoon Bopha (5th December, 2012)

Typhoon Bopha, 5th December, 2012 (from typhoon2000.ph)

Diving: Being in the “Coral Triangle” (the patch containing the highest marine biodiversity on Earth, roughly bounded by the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), the Philippines is a diving Mecca. This industry has exponentiated, with little in the way of environmental guidelines to ensure it does so in a sustainable manner. Suffice to say, there are a few issues. Indeed, that’s why we are here! Green Fins is a United Nations Environment Program initiative that aims

”To protect and conserve coral reefs by establishing and implementing environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry”.

The ZEP #5 are the newest Green Fins assessors; one half of our group will be heading to the established Green Fins diving town of Moal Boal to follow up on how dive centres have progressed in the last 12 months, while the other half will be heading to the island of Malapascua to launch the Green Fins program and engage new dive centre members. Bring it on!

48kg of debris removed during a single reef cleanup by the ZEP5 team, including ghost fishing nets, fishing line, tyres and clothing. From left: Jonny, Rietta, Rachael, Wai, Ing (me!), Michal, Meaghan, Sam and the dive guides from El Cañonero.

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