I arrived in the Philippines on 25th May, collected my 21 day visa at Manila airport and headed out into the unknown.
It was thanks to writers Megan Preece and Ally MacMillan that I went to the Philippines at all – my original travel plan didn’t include this archipelago of over 7000 islands, whose map looks like a fragmented, curvier version of the map of the UK. I took this to be a good omen!
Here are 10 reasons why I'm very happy I went...
1) The skies
They changed throughout the day from clear blue to powder blue with fluffy white clouds. Patches of indigo cloud like bruises on the skyline as the rain came over. Neon orange and pink as the sun set in Siquijor.
And I really felt like I’d stepped into one of those 180 degree cinemas where it feels like you’re watching the world from inside a giant transparent globe. The effect was panoramic.
2) The sea
Warm yet refreshing, the most perfect expanse of clear aquamarine and blue I’ve ever seen. Megan had written about this in her blog about the Philippines so I was expecting nothing less and I wasn’t disappointed.
3) A real sense of discovery
What’s great about the Philippines is once you go through Manila, you could choose to go to any one of many islands, there is no obvious ‘trail’ around the islands. You still meet other travellers but you don’t feel you’re on a conveyor belt.
For me, the island of Apo sums it up. I have to thank other travellers, Barbara and Igor, for the tip off about this gorgeous tiny island.
I catch the 6am ferry from Siquijor to Dumaguete. Always great to meet other travellers on board and watch the sun come up from Captain Tony's deck.
And on the ferry, I get the chance to meet this lovely Mum and daughter team.
Then it’s a catamaran over to Apo.
We arrive on the beach, welcomed by locals. There are only around 800 permanent residents on Apo and you live cheek to cheek with them.
Here's the whole village turning out for Sunday morning exercises in the village square (the basketball court) before raising the island flag and singing the national anthem.
In Apo I stay at Liberty Dive and Beach Resort at a cost of £18 per night - this is all inclusive of 3 meals a day and a room with a fantastic sea view – the only other cost I have on Apo is hiring my snorkel mask. So total spend is about £20 per day to live in PARADISE! Thanks to Rizz and Arlendo for making me so welcome.
4) Snorkelling with giant green sea turtles
Then there’s Aldo, the highlight of the Philippines experience for me. Aldo is the leader of the pack of green sea turtles. I snorkelled with Aldo and his mates for an hour each day as they chewed on greenery amongst the coral reef right beside the beach.
These turtles have no fear of humans, they occasionally looked over to see my snorkel mask then turned back to munching their dinner from the sea bed.
Two of the turtles were almost a metre in length, the others about half that size. Their perfect tortoise shells were a reminder of how indefinably magical Mother Nature is in her creations.
I love the way the green sea turtles came up to the surface for air, the pop their chubby heads out of the water and make a sighing as they suck in a full breath.
And the way they flap their arms like birds in a bright sky.
Here’s a video taken by a fellow traveller of Aldo the green sea turtle at play....
5) The starfish
Thousands of starfish in the sea. Really magical. Their arms and legs curl around your hand but the spikes don't hurt. They have thousands of transparent sucker tubes underneath their arms and legs.
6) Waving crabs
And little crabs that waved their claws at me then disappeared down sand holes when I made any movement. The sound they make as they come up from the sand is exactly like Rice Krispies popping in milk.
7) Crazy coral
The corals in the protected sanctuary on Apo were like giants cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli and alien brains.
8) Multi-coloured sea creatures
There were clown fish straight out of Finding Nemo, orange and white and chubby. And parrotfish, a rainbow of shimmering colours like oil on the surface of water. Powder blue starfish that looked like a kid’s stuffed toy. Black sea cucumbers. Black and white striped sea snakes.
In a word, wowsers!
9) Cheap internal flights
They have a fantastic internal flight network – I used Cebu Pacific to get around – you can get to many of the islands by air costing usually between £20 and £40 a flight.
10)And there's so much to go back for...
There is still so much to see in the Philippines, I didn’t go to Palawan, for example, which I’m told is heaven on earth.
And if you dive or sail, well you may as well move to the Philippines tomorrow.
PS Here's a goat up a tree...