The Giraffe Ranch (which I wrote about in my last Funemployment Diary entry) offers a very complete tour. You can start with a short camel ride, learn about how camels and giraffes are related, learn about animals from the savannahs of Africa, see monkeys, lemurs, wild guinea pigs, chickens and all manner of animals that like warm weather — and then you go on a grand tour of their sprawling ranch. The grand tour — which takes at least 90 minutes — can be taken on camelback or by open-air covered bus. The camelback tour is much pricier and unshaded, so we opted for the short camel ride (once again, covered in the previous Funemployment Diary entry) and took the bus.
Yes, we saw giraffes, and I’ll post those pictures. But this article’s about a camel who found me irresistible.
Unlike the other camels, who spend much of their time in the Giraffe Ranch’s “front yard”, this guy hangs out in the “back area”, where most of the other creatures live. He’s one of the stops on the grand tour, and while the other camels like guests, this one loves them.
There was something in my left pocket that he really liked. I didn’t have any food in there; just kleenex.
This is a bit forward for a first date, isn’t it?
Here we are, posing for a lovely head shot.
Awww, he likes me. You’ve got good taste, camel.
He’s now at that point where he’s all “Let’s kiss, just to break the tension.”
In addition to giraffes, the Giraffe Ranch Farm has a number of other animals who feel at home in areas similar to African grasslands. One such animal is the camel, and they offer camel rides.
It turns out that camels, when treated well, absolutely love humans. The camels at the ranch love greeting visitors and almost beg to be petted.
The ranch offers a couple of camel rides: a ten-minute ride, where you do a quick tour of their large “front yard”, or a much longer ride, where you take the grand tour of the ranch on camelback. Since that’s considerably pricier and the sun was blazing that day, we opted for the ten-minute ride, preferring to do the tour in their covered open-air bus.
Here we are, about to start our camel ride.
Here’s Anitra after the ride, petting the camel she rode. His name is “Doofus”.
They make it simple to hop on a camel for a ride: you climb a set of stairs onto a raised platform, which makes it easy to board them.
After the camel ride, we were given a short presentation about the animals on the ranch. They passed around a number of bones and horns from the various types of animals there, and I couldn’t resist playing with them.
I think I found this year’s Halloween costume idea.
For a little extra money, you can go inside the lemur cage and feed them grapes. There was no way that we’d pass up this opportunity.
The lemurs are more than happy to hobnob with humans. They’re a lot like the way they’re depicted in the Madagascar films, minus the I Like to Move IT musical number and Sasha Baron Cohen’s fake South Asian accent.
You can feed them either by holding out a grape, which they’ll take with their teeny hands, or pop it in their mouth. They’re pretty gentle either way.
Here’s a lemur taking a grape from my hand.
One of them decided to get a closer look at my leg…
…while another preferred Anitra’s.
There’s a matriarchal social order to lemur society, and it showed in the way they lined up to be fed.
We were told not to choose which lemur to feed, but rather to let them work it out. It seemed to work out pretty well, and even the babies got to have some grapes.
While posing for pictures with the lemurs in the background, a few of them got pretty friendly…
…and a couple of them even climbed on me. They didn’t have claws like cats; their hands feel more like those of a tiny baby human’s.
Here we are, looking contemplative.
And here were are, best of buds, having a grand ol’ time.
One last blast of random photos from my trip to the Philippines before I move on…
Here’s a view of The Ascott, the hotel-like apartment where my family and I stayed while in Manila. This is one of a chain of such “serviced apartments”, and it’s located in Makati, the financial and shopping district of Manila. As such, it’s smack-dab in the middle of an area that’s packed with hotels and shopping, and the Ascott itself is packed with locals and travellers in all sorts of clothing, from shorts and sandals to suits and ties to black tie and evening gowns to thawbs, hijabs and chadors – just about everything except for Bermuda business attire, and I suppose I should consider myself fortunate (it’s the socks that get me). There were 7 of us, so we were in the 3-bedroom deluxe unit, which is actually 4 bedrooms if you factor in the small but comfy maid’s room by the kitchen); its floor plan is pictured above (here are the floor plans for all the rooms). The place has a 4.3 out of 5 rating on its page at Hotels.com, and I’ve seen them offer the 2-bedroom deluxe for CAD$211 a night — and yes, the 2-bedroom actually has 3 if you use the maid’s room.
I spent a fair bit of my vacation hanging out with my 10- and 9-year-old nephews, which means spending some time at an arcade. It’s nice to see that they like doing what I liked to do at their age.
Pictured above is Crazy Birds, a shooter game chock full of what I’m sure are unlicensed Angry Birds images and sounds. It’s proof positive of the adage “Copyright violation is your best entertainment value”. Here’s a video of the game in action:
If the glimpses of Filipino soap operas that I caught are indication, an arcade is a perfectly legitimate place for a date, and the karaoke booths at the back are a perfectly good way to get to know your date a little better:
Shops Filled with Nothing But Cute
This is Asia, and nobody does cutesy stuff the way they do.
Take Ikea, mash it up with The Gap and do it all through a Japanese lens, and you have Muji.
Here’s a view of the left side of the Muji shop in Makati.
Here’s their dinner set…
…their shoe/slipper thingy, which rolls up into a convenient little ball that won’t eat up all the storage space in your tiny japanese apartment…
…and their womens jeans, which max out at US size 30. Apparently Muji does not like big butts — relative to the Japanese phenotype — and it does not lie.
The Tiangge (Flea Market) at Greenhills
Greenhills Shopping Center is part conventional shopping center with typical shops and restaurants and part tiangge (chong-GEH) or flea market with its stalls. The flea market is by far the more interesting part. I snapped a lot of photos here, many of which appear below.
You can’t escape internet memes such as ragefaces, even this far away from North America.
And yeah, Manny Pacquiao is a big hero over here. His face is on ads everywhere, too — he endorses everything!
This is what I came for — something pretty for Anitra.
Wow, are there a lot of pearl stalls here.
If you love pearls, you really should come here.
If there are two things we love in the Philippines, it’s cell phones and chicken.
If you want to eat in the true traditional Philippine style, you don’t eat off a plate; you eat off a banana leaf. Places like The Banana Leaf (the restaurant where I ate the meal pictured above) let you do just that.
For my last meal in Manila, I got taken to a relatively new buffet place near the Mall of Asia called Vikings. The place and its selection are huge.
This is the sushi bar, located on one end of the restaurant. The other end is the dim sum bar. Awesome.
Here’s a sampling of the dessert bar. Note the three fountains. The center one is chocolate, the one on the left is strawberry and the one on the right is ube (a sweet local purple yam).
How fresh was the sashimi? Carve-it-out-of-the-fish fresh.
All in all, a wonderful trip! The day after my big farewell dinner, I boarded my flight back home, and a day after that, I was on my way to Tampa.
The Funemployment Diaries continue! I’m going to turn the clock back for a couple more entries with more photos from my trip to the Philippines.
On our last day in Bohol, we decided to get up early to meet with the Holy Infant 4, a dolphin-viewing boat at 5:30 in the morning. There’s a fair bit of dolphin activity in the Bohol sea just after the sun rises, and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of these creatures.
The Holy Infant 4 is one of several pontoon boats — I assume the Holy Infants 1 through 3 are among them — that stay moored a short swim away from Alona Beach, ready for varying types of tourist service.
We saw many of these other boats as we made our way northward in search of dolphins.
We looked about for a while in the usual dolphin places, but none were to be found. It was a bit of a windy day, which meant that there was a fair bit of chop to the waters. That meant less small fish and squid — dolphin food — were less likely to be about, and in turn, a lower likelihood of seeing dolphins.
Plan B was to make our way to Virgin Island (Holy Infant, Virgin Island; the Philippines is a very Catholic country), a little atoll with pretty views and shallows where you could get the feeling of standing in the middle of the sea.
It was easy to approach the island: just head straight for it until you got close, cut power, and drag the boat right onto the sand.
Island photo op with your handsome host. If this “computers” fad blows over, perhaps I should see if I can land some kind of show on the Travel Channel or take over hosting The Thirsty Traveler.
A giant sign marked the actual “island” part of the island, the part with the trees, as off-limits. That was all right, as the really interesting stuff was on the sandy reef area that formed a giant crescent around the island.
Free enterprise abounds, even on remote islands, where some locals were already waiting on their boats to sell us shells, starfish and sea urchins.
Another had shot for my portfolio, complete with atoll in the background. Not your standard Facebook self-portrait.
Eventually, it was time to leave the island and make our way back. I took the shot above before hopping back on the Holy Infant 4.
Another Travel Channel-worthy headshot featuring Yours Truly’s rugged yet trustworthy mug. Seriously, Travel Channel, you need me as a host for your next travel adventure series.
A short while later, we made landfall back at Panglao Island’s Alona Beach, where our trip began.
We gave each of the guys a couple of hundred pesos as a tip, and headed for breakfast.
Later that afternoon, we made our way back to Manila. Tagbilaran’s airport is smaller than Toronto’s bus station, as it was built before tourism really picked up on the island of Bohol. The photo above shows the security screening and the airport’s entire set of boarding lounges.
Here’s the view from the lounges. No jetways here. One of the advantages to this approach is that you can actually see your luggage making its way to the plane, which is pretty reassuring.
While Tagbilaran airport isn’t going to compete with Hong Kong’s or Schipol, it more than makes up for it with live entertainment. Shortly after a took a spot in the lounge, these guys were guided in (they’re blind, or at least claim to be) and they started playing to the crowd.
At this year’s South by Southwest Conference, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain talked about how “no matter where you go in the world, there’s always a band of Filipino musicians doing note-perfect rock and pop covers”. These guys carried on that great tradition, doing some great Beatles, Elvis and CCR tunes, even throwing in some two- and three-part harmonies. I was impressed and threw a few hundred pesos in their till.
Our plane arrived, and with a quick turnaround, it was our turn to board.
Once again, no jetways here. You walk right up to the plane, and board it via staircase, just like the 1960s. They probably could’ve sped things up by having us help load the cargo bay. “Everybody take a bag, walk it to the plane and put it on the conveyor belt!”
One advantage of boarding from the tarmac is that you can speed up boarding by using both the front and rear doors. Here are the last of the passengers making their way to the back of the plane.
Tagbilaran airport is right in the heart of Tagbilaran City, which means that just past its walls are houses, shops and roads. The local kids like to gather by the chain link fence at the end of the runway to watch planes take off. It’s a double-thrill for them, as jet exhaust is incredibly powerful; just before the plane spun around to do its takeoff run, I saw a bunch of them get a good grip on the fence as they girded themselves to see if they could take the hurricane-force winds from the engines.
Here’s the safety video we were treated to just before takeoff. Philippine Airlines has a pretty good safety video.
(Who knew that Barack Obama had a side gig as an actor?)
A couple of days later, we went to another beach, this time in Laiya (La-EEE-yah) in Batangas province, a couple of hours’ drive from Manila.
As with Alona Beach, there were a number of places to grab a bit quite close to the water, and there were some pretty spectacular views.
We stayed at White Cove resort for the night, and in the morning, we properly hit the beach.
The mountains in the distance were the source of a slang expression that you’ve probably used: boondocks or “boonies”. It’s derived from the Tagalog word bundok, which means “mountain”. The mountains were a fair distance away from Manila, so the American soldiers stationed in the Philippines during World War II started used the Filipino word for them as a way of saying “the middle of nowhere”.
It was less windy at Laiya than Bohol. In fact, there was so little wind that the waves were almost non-existent. It made the beach quite good for swimming, snorkeling and diving.
For a few hundred pesos, you could get a guy to give you an inflatable “banana boat” tour of the surrounding sea.
Take a look at that water!
I wasn’t going to turn down a chance like this, so I caught the next “banana boat” ride, and it was lots of fun. I’m not sure you could offer this sort of ride in North America, what with all the legal liabilities and costs. For the price of a Big Mac, I got a very fun 20-minute ride and a good look at the beaches in the area.
With the “banana boat” ride complete, I got in a little more swimming and took some photos before it was time to leave.
The beaches and resorts in Batangas province are still relatively new, and if you have the chance, you should check them out before they become too popular. They’re still relatively uncrowded and inexpensive, but they may not stay that way for long.
(It also helps if you come during low season, when the rainy season begins. There are still lots of sunny breaks during that time.)
Today’s the last day of my secret side trip. I thought I’d drop a few more hints of where I am and what I’m up to. I got up, had some noodles for breakfast and got dressed, as you can see above. I rather like this look.
My local benefactors are wonderfully generous. Not only did they give me a place to crash, they even loaned me their “beater” car! It drives like a dream, and my only quibble is that the GPS could stand to have a much better user interface. If that’s not a First World Problem, I don’t know what is.
It took me a half hour to reach my destination, and it took me half that time to find a place to park.
Between the parking lot and my destination, a poem.
I spent from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in a place that had the view pictured above.
Afterwards, a coffee break at a little boulangerie, some more walking about, and then dinner with friends.
Tomorrow, it’s an early bird flight to Tampa and back to Anitra. Tomorrow night, we’re going to be like this.
Star Alliance Gold status has its privileges: I got myself moved to a bulkhead seat…AWWW YISSSSSS! While this flight was a mere third the length of Cathay Pacific’s Toronto-Hong Kong butt-numb-a-thon, the extra legroom was still welcome.
There’s that gap between the jet and the airport — right in the jetway, by the door where passengers pick up their gate-checked luggage — where you get your first sense of the weather at your destination. At this stop-over airport, I was hit with a blast of heat and thought to myself “wow, nice sunny day”. Then it dawned on me: it was 10:30 p.m..
The sun had long since set, and it was 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) outside. The high tomorrow was expected to hit 47 C (117 F), but I’d miss it — I boarded the flight to my final destination an hour later.
Once I got my luggage (again, hooray for Star Alliance Gold powers — mine came was on the carousel first), it was time to take a cab to my hotel. Judging by the price on the meter, I took the photo above about a third of the way there.
That’s my hotel lobby pictured above.
And here’s what I saw just before I turned out the lights. The funny apparatus with the hose is my CPAP. Although it’s a pain in the ass to bring along on trips, I still function much better when I use it.