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November 6, 2009 - November 16, 2009
Photos are here

The long first day...
Our flight left San Francisco at midnight on Friday, November 6th (or is it Saturday, November 7th?). Either way for my travel companions the few hours before was a mad rush of packing and rushing to get things done before the trip. Myself, however, was already packed and ready to go so I was helping conduct some last minute science experiment with Charlene. Eventually our chauffeur (Charlene's sister) arrives and we're off to the airport. The next 11 hours (en route to Taipei) taught us that those horror stories of babies on a plane really do happen! Crying and seat kicking (by both the baby and the mother) for the entire time! Wow...
Had a short layover in Taipei and then back onto another plane to Manila. Charlene's uncle picked us up and we promptly went to a mall where we had a tastey Filipino lunch (and then a bit of shopping). A couple hours after leaving the airport we were back there to catch our flight to Puerto Princesa (on the island of Palawan). Here Charlene's other uncle met us and we headed to our hotel (where "we" == me, her, her dad and her two uncles). After dropping off our stuff we had our driver take us over to check out the new boardwalk in town and before we knew it it was time to eat again (a common time on this trip)! Lobster and other fresh seafood was the theme as Palawan is know for its lobster.

Underground River
Went snorkelling the next morning. Water was nice and warm with good visibility -- of course this is what Honda Bay is known for so no real surprise there. Quick stop to check out a picturesque island on the way back and then back in the van so that we'd make it up north to see the Underground River. Of course we had a buffet lunch on the scenic beach beforehand. :) As we were boating over to the river entrance our engine died and we had to be rescued by another boat, the excitement never ends! The river itself was quite cool and Charlene and I got to sit in the front of the boat and were responsible for holding/pointing/aiming the light. The guide would direct us ("Left, left, more left, right, up, yes sir ma'am. More left ma'am sir.") on where to point it and then would tell us something about the formation we were looking at. Hard to take pictures in there, but I managed a couple decent looking ones On the way back we stopped to pick up some fresh lobster (which we had the hotel's kitchen prepare in not one, not two, but three different ways).

More travelling
Yet another flight, this time to Cebu. After landing we went to meet up with one of her uncles' friends and then off for another Filipino buffet lunch. Next we went and checked out the construction site of her uncle's new house. Pretty cool (all concrete houses here). Then it was van-time again while we drove to Moalboal. Upon arrival we had some pizza and then it was off to bed.

Up early so that we could join in on Savedra's 7:30am diving! Just Charlene and I went (well out of our party anyhow, there were a bunch of germans on the dive with us) and it was pretty sweet. My first dive in about 2.5 years but it all came back with no problems. This was my first wall dive and I found it pretty interesting. Saw a ton of sponges, coral, etc and even a lionfish (which I'll see a bunch more times).
Shortly after getting back on land we were headed back out for a 10am dive. This time Charlene's uncle joined us as well (while her dad and other uncle were in the classroom for the intro to diving one-day class). Another wall dive and this time we saw a large sea turtle too -- so graceful underwater! Also saw some nudibranchs (Charlene used to study these) which were very cool (they're like little slugs, but of varying colours). There was time for lunch but not much else before our next dive at 2:30: another turtle, nudibranchs, lionfish and tons more cool-looking-but-I-don't-know-what-they-are things! Having now gone off both of our dive charts in terms of our residual nitrogen time (the PADI and NAUI charts differ) we declined the night dive and took some time to explore the town. Picked up a bunch of souvenirs and had some thai food for dinner. Her dad and uncle both enjoyed their intro dive course and we all signed up for yet another dive early the next morning. All of us were up early and out onto the water! Pretty cool that all five of us got to dive together and we saw lots more animals.

Drove back to Cebu after that morning's dive where we installed a new plane radio (which we'd brought with us) in her uncle's 4-seater plane. When would we get to test it out? Tomorrow! We took two 4-seater planes and flew over the Chocolate Hills. I guess the new radio worked pretty good, however the one in our plane stopped working altogether and we had to communicate with the airport via visual cues (tipping our wings, etc). The excitement never ends! The Chocolate Hills themselves were pretty cool, though in the season we went it was more like the Mint Chocolate Hills (as they were still green).
Once on the ground we checked out a bamboo suspension bridge and then got on a boat for a buffet lunch & river cruise. Following that we checked out some tarsiers! They are the smallest primate in the world and are pretty cool! Creepier than expected but still cute. After this we checked out the 3rd oldest church (where they made Charlene wear a sarong to cover up her indecent apparel (of shorts). Then it was back to the airport and then back to Cebu.

On the way back from the airport we stopped and wanted to check out a guitar factory, but instead only found the shop itself. Undeterred Charlene picked up a ukulele (now whe just needs to learn to play it!).. stopped by our awesome 5-star resort (Plantation Bay) and got ready for a fancy dinner (where we had some wagyu)!
The next day Charlene's dad and uncle left for their 40th school reunion (the reason we were in the Philippines to begin with) while Charlene and I headed off for more diving. A little trouble getting starting, my tank wasn't sealing well with the octopus so I switched tanks with the divemaster. However he had a smaller tank so I then switched with Charlene (as I use more air then her). But then the knob on my tank broke off and the tank was left spewing out its air. Had to yell over to another boat and get them to send over another tank. Once in the water though the drift dive was nice and relaxing. Saw a bunch more nudibranchs, Christmas Tree Worms, clownfish and much more.
Getting back to the hotel we took a tricycle. Any local thought we were weird for wanting to do this, but we enjoyed it. Didn't have small enough change when we got there so left him at the gate, walked the long driveway to the hotel, got change then rode a bicycle-built-for-two back to the gate to give him the money. Spent the rest of the day enjoying this awesome resort: bicycling, shopping, archery, rock climbing, swimming, swim-up-bar'ing, eating, etc. I don't think I could spend too long doing nothing but it was a great way to spend at least one day!

Left the next morning for our flight back to Manilla. After her uncle picked us up, and after another buffet lunch, we went and got a tour of Intramuros. It was pretty interesting but between not being familiar with any Filipino history and my camera breaking I had a hard time concentrating on exactly what the guard was saying. Still picked up some bits and pieces though. Not really sure what happened to my camera either, my suspicion is that some water got in it the day before. Now it says thinks that the memory card is unformatted. Will need to borrow a memory card reader and see if the photos are still there. Luckily we'd burned DVDs with all our photos the day before so I'd only be out a day and a half even if it's ruined.
Once we spent the rest of our pesos on more souvenirs we went and checked out an aquarium. It was much more interesting now after having seen many of the plants/animals under water and now being able to learn about them. Dinner tonight was a larger affair with more of Charlene's extended family. It was at a nice chinese restaurant where we had a delicious 10-course meal (where I learned that I enjoy mantis shrimp)!
Charlene's ear had been hurting her for the last couple days (we even called the nurse to come look while at Plantation Bay) and since it wasn't getting better we went to the hospital to have an ENT look at it. After we all got a good look at her ear canal he declared it simple irritation, prescribed some antibiotics and we were off to the airport (over 4 hours early).

Back home
Lots of waiting in the airport... flying to Taipei... more waiting in the airport... long flight back to San Francisco... thanks to jetlag didn't go to bed until 4am and then up at noon... laundry, rest, trying not to get sick from all the people on the planes... then back to work the next day.
It was a great vacation with many firsts: first time trying balut, first time on a bicycle-built-for-two, first 5-star resort, first time eating mantis shrimp... I'd definitely recommend the Philippines as a travel destination (especially if you like diving)!
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