Waterfalls, Carabao Ride and Canoeing on Mindoro

Even though I liked the Coco Beach location very much, I’m never totally happy if I feel I am being coralled.  The resort is set apart from the town and has everything you really need to just stay there the whole time, but the instinct to explore is too strong and the family agreed to participate on a canoeing trip on the nearby river.  I had already been sea kayaking in Palau earlier in the year, and loved it!  Exploring the scenery at the slow pace of a boat was very inviting, so next morning we headed off on the resort-organized tour with a private jeepney and canoes strapped to the roof… off into the semi-jungle on the still tarmacked road.

The first stop was to visit the Tamaraw Waterfalls, which is touted as a major attraction near the town.  Attractive though they are, I am so glad we didn’t rent a car just to go see them.  By ourselves it would probably have pretty much been all we saw, we would have never found the subsequent stops scheduled on the tour, which turned out to be much more interesting.

Tamaraw Falls

Tamaraw Falls

Next up was lunch as at a place they called Hidden Paradise, and hidden it was indeed.  After about twenty minutes of driving on the main island road, the jeepney turned off onto a dirt road and continued for about another 30 minutes past coconut and banana groves, rice paddies, and cocoa trees to what I can only describe as a dead end.  Why had we been carried all this way to a field?  Moments later another jeepney showed, and a few small wooden carts pulled by carabao, the heavy beasts of burden that are so vital to South East Asian agriculture.  I vaguely remembered something about a carabao ride, and while I was still figuring out what we signed up for, we loaded into the cart.  Three adult males, plus me, plus the driver and the cart – we must have been close to half a ton – and the carabao set off.

Our carabao trek took us down small jungle tracks, across the shallow river bed numerous times and along the riverbank further for about half an hour.  I think I loved this part the most.  We saw unemployed carabao lazing in the river mud, more crops and farmers working in the fields, and coconut tree, after coconut tree…

Just as we saw our carabao was starting to flag, our destination came into view.  Hidden paradise lived up to its name: a pretty valley complete with waterfall, sculpted water-eroded rock pools, a pretty stream and bamboo shacks on shady banks where they were ready to serve us a barbeque lunch.  Our hardworking engine took a well-earned dip in the river, and we dropped off our stuff in the shade and headed over to the rocks.  Latham – rock boy – did his favourite thing in the world, climbing up the rocks and planning to jump from a safe spot.  Robert and I swam and floated in the surprisingly cold water.  It was a beautiful place.

Rocks eroded by rushing water

The obligatory rock jumping picture

Lunch was fantastic too.  It was probably the best meal I’ve had in the Philippines yet:  BBqed blue marlin, chicken, rice, salad, and excellent fresh fruit.  Proof that delicious does not have to be complicated.

Here’s a short video of the scene:

With full bellies we returned back another 30 minutes by carabao to the jeepney.  A short ride away was the river for our canoeing trip…1.5 hours downstream in the fast flowing water.  Ankle deep in some spots, neck deep in others, the banks were covered in reeds, silt, and the occasional grazing carabao.

The water was so fast and the river terrain so varied that I could not take my hand off the paddle for even a moment to take a sip of water. I learnt to watch the river ahead and try and spot obstacles before they were upon me, a skill I learnt the hard way.  A fallen tree, half submerged in the river took me out, and I capsized, turning the canoe over completely.  The river was just too fast, and I had been too slow to react.  But no harm done, and we all managed to arrive safely at the mouth of the river about 1.5hrs later.  I loved the river ride, but I wish our guide had been better.  He just paddle way out in front, frequently disappearing around a river bend well ahead of us and wasn’t around to help when we needed him.  Like the time a bunch of lively local kids decided it would be fun to jump into the river and hang on to the back of my canoe…talk about drag…I almost went backwards…  Fortunately, Robert was behind me and shouted them off.  The Palau kayak guide had been excellent and stopped frequently for us to regroup, letting the stragglers catch up and shared his knowledge on the flora and fauna.  This guy just wanted to get back to the jeepney asap.  The canoes were crap too.  The Palauan tour provided an excellent quality sea kayak, complete with backrest.  These were cheap, beaten up tourist canoes for renting by the hour.  Our backs hurt badly by the end.  The last downer was the water quality as the river broadened and we entered back into town.  It had been clean and drinkable upstream.  Here I didn’t even want to put my feet in it and would certainly never have entered the river if it had looked like that to start with…  Yet, despite these gripes, I really did enjoy the river ride, and the trip as a whole was well worth the investment of our time and money.  Anyone fancy another trip?

Coco Beach Vacation!

Unbelievably, its coming up to the one year mark when we first arrived in Manila, which extension aside, is the half way point through our tour.  How quickly it goes, and settling in took the usual amount of one year, it seems it just takes that long, no matter how experienced  you are at moving around.  Anyway, I raise the subject because last year we arrived on December 23 and faced a Christmas in a foreign country with no tree, no presents, no family and certainly very little idea of which way was up.  In November last  year I worked at trying to find us somewhere to spend a couple of days over the Christmas holidays.  Somewhere close by for the couple of days that the Embassy was closed.  Coco Beach was recommended to us, but I failed to book anything from Stateside.  I see now a plethora of reasons why that was, not least of which was the fact that Christmas vacations are a very big deal here.  Book as late as November at your peril!  Coco Beach fits the bill though for a pleasant getaway that isn’t too far away from the city, nor too pricey…so I managed to get us a villa for the four day break at the beginning of the month.

Photos of Coco Beach Resort, Puerto Galera

Located about 2hrs drive south of Manila, plus an additional 1 hour boat ride, Coco Beach is on Mindoro, one of the largest islands in the Philippines.  The resort is outside the town of Puerto Galera, set up on a hillside coconut grove with views out to sea and lots of native character.  We booked a small villa with two bedrooms, bathroom,hammock and balcony, and set about relaxing and exploring.   Coco Beach doesn’t have a service staff like a usual resort.  Room service, daily cleaning and miscellaneous concierge-type services are provided by your assigned service family.  This is a local family that lives in a villa close by that services about 10 villas.  It was much more personal and friendly than the usual staff setup.  And no “dial 9 for room service” either.  Just pull on the string that runs from your balcony to their house.  The bell at the end of the rope rings and they come outside and call up.  Our service family took many a trip down the hill for food, drinks and ice, and we were sure to leave them a thank you tip at the end.  We liked the service family concept very much.

Four days was about right to settle in and learn the resort ropes, figure out what to do and where to go.  We took a canoeing trip (see separate post), hung out on the beach, took an evening jeepney trip to an authentic pizza restaurant, and took evening trips out on bancas to go to dinner and see the sun go down over the ocean.

Despite the fact that it was the end of the rainy season, the weather held all the way until the morning of departure.  As we waited at the breakfast table of the beach to be called for our banca, the heavens opened.  We watched the first boats leave in the rain, and the service staff quickly ran inside and returned with umbrellas for the departing guests.  There was something about life jackets and umbrellas that amused me.  I took a photo.  We will return…

Manila Marine Ball

Almost three weeks ago now, Robert and I attended our first Marine Ball and it has taken me forever to get around to posting it…  so before it becomes too much of a distant memory, here’s how it went….

Every year the Embassy throws an annual party to thank the Marines for their services.  Every US Embassy is protected by a core of Marines and Manila is no exception.  They are the ones that guard the Embassy on a 24/7 basis, plus provide assistance to individuals and the whole Embassy community in an emergency.  If memory serves, the invitation told me that it was the 236th Ball, which means that these events have been going on quite a while.

Its a black tie event.  Women are in long evening dress, and men in monkey suits or — as Robert chose – formal Filipinno attire, the barong.  I think he selected it to avoid wearing a tux, but the bonus was that I think we both expected it to be cooler.  Not so.  Turns out coconut fibre with a thick cotton undershirt equals plenty of opportunities to sweat.  And for anyone that knows the hubby, he took full advantage….

Anyway, it was really fun to dress up and here are a few posey photos taken before we went:
The hotel that hosted the event held about 400 of us in the ballroom.  After dinner the Marines do a presentation of their services and finish by bringing in a ginormous cake, pictured here as best I could in the dark.  Look for the snazzy uniforms in the background.  A great evening!