The Hike to Casaroro Falls

“So we have 2 choices: do you want to go to the beach today, or hike to a waterfall?”

“Umm, I think hiking to a waterfall sounds good.”

“Okay, great. Apparently people have died on this hike, so it’s gotta be pretty cool.”

And off we went to Casaroro Falls outside of the tiny town of Valencia, Philippines.  We climbed the winding roads up the mountain until the pavement stopped.  We left the car on the side of the road and continued the climb on foot which ended up being about 100 meters to the trailhead.  At the trailhead there was a woman under a shelter with a large book.  She asked for 10 PHP per person and had us sign in to the log book.  She was very adamant about Carter having his own entry and we were to specify his age and gender.  We also had to pay for him, which caught us off guard, since we’re used to everything being free for ages 2 and under.

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I guess they’ve become very particular about keeping record of everyone who’s attempted the hike to make sure they account for them as they finish.  After walking 10 feet onto the trail, I was very glad they kept a log and had us sign in.

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The first 10-15 minutes of the hike was stairs.  Tall, cement, slippery stairs.  Luckily there was a handrail and I quickly got over my fear of grabbing a spider, caterpillar, worm, ant, etc and clung to it.  We thought the cement stairs were pretty bad, but then we came to metal stairs that were even taller than the cement ones.  And then, halfway down these stairs, the handrail just disappears.  We laughed at how crazy this hike was the entire time we climbed down, mostly to keep me in good spirits since I was actually pretty scared considering I had Carter on my back.

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We finally made it down to the river and thought the waterfall would be pretty close, only to find that our trail came to an abrupt stop, and then picked up again 50 meters away.  Our option was to climb down off the trail, over the large rocks, and through the water.  We thought that the trail was going to be fine on the other side, but we kept coming to broken pieces of it.  I was pretty hesitant to keep going because all I could think about was how we’d have to climb all the stairs to get back.

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At a point when I almost called it quits and requested that we start heading home, a group of men in plastic flip flops met up with us.  They were cheery and all wished us good morning and continued climbing over rocks and through the water like they did this every day.  In plastic flip flops.  I was in Chacos, and very, very glad that I was, and Scott was in his flip flops getting a kick out of how slippery they were.  I was a little embarrassed about how slow we were going after seeing this group, but then I remembered I had a 20+ pound baby on my back and they didn’t.  I then decided that I would totally conquer this hike and make it to the waterfall.

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Not too long after, we made it.  When we first arrived there were 4 or 5 people around, but not 10 minutes later we were surrounded by over 20 people.

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Carter was excited to get out of the pack and stretch.  He was really excited to touch the water… until he did, and realized it was ice cold!  He eventually got used to it and enjoyed kicking his legs in the river.

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We crossed the river, found a rock with a good view of the water, and Carter and I refueled on crackers and water while Scott got closer to the falls.  There were a few smaller pools closer to the falls where the water was an incredible bluegreen color.  Right when he came back to grab the camera, it started to rain heavily so we quickly packed up and started the hike home.  Before we made it to the ridiculous stairs, Scott commented that he would like to do this hike again before we leave Dumaguete… I smiled and wondered if he would be so eager after we got to the top.

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The stair climb up was more brutal than we realized on the way down—besides each step being about 14 inches tall, now they were slippery and wet!  Luckily there was a handrail that made all the difference, and helped keep some of the weight off of my legs.  Carter and I powered through the stairs without stopping once!  I was heave-and-ho-ing, but Carter kept patting me on the back and jabbering to keep me motivated.  The weird thing was that it actually worked!

It was an intense hike to take with a baby on my back, but making it to Casaroro Falls was very rewarding and we look forward to doing it again!

Getting Settled

Each month we move into new living arrangements in a new place, and each month we spend about a week or so getting settled in and comfortable.  Our place here in Dumaguete is no exception, but settling in has seemed so much easier here.  It really does feel like we’re living in a little part of paradise and we feel very blessed to have found this accommodation.

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The front of our home.

 

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The living room as you walk in the front door.

 

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The “bedroom” to the left as you walk in the door.

 

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The “dining area” and a doorway to the kitchen.

 

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Carter is loving playing in the cabinets!

 

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The kitchen.

 

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Yeah, we’re settling in quite nicely here!

Meeting Dumaguete

A mildly scary experience–combined with a weird stomach ache–made for a not so fun two-and-a-half days in Manila.  Luckily, our hotel was decent and we felt very comfortable in our room.  Carter was able to stretch and play and I was able to recover from being sick.  Even though we had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to the airport, leaving Manila and heading to Dumaguete has been so worth it.

When we stepped off the plane it was like heaven compared to Manila; the lush greenery and palm trees welcomed us with open arms, and was such a different experience from the city.

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We were greeted at the airport by an arranged taxi driver who held a sign with our name on it.  I’ve never had that experience before, it was exciting!  The drive from the airport to our new apartment was interesting, to say the least.  There were random goats and cows tied up in fields, small huts next to large, extravagant houses, and lots of produce vendors alongside the road.  There were people washing clothes in a littered river, and I even saw a man walk out of a hut to a cement wall next to the road and relieve himself.

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When we arrived at our residency for the month, my mouth dropped.  Even though we had already seen some pictures, we were not expecting what we saw—it was beautiful!  We’re staying at a self-declared “mini resort” on Negros Island in the Western Visayas.  Surrounding the large house in the center of the property is a small hut for the workers, the guest house that we stay in, and a small home for the owner’s sister.  There’s also a large swimming pool surrounded by covered tables and sitting areas made of bamboo.  The far edge of the property is lined with huge cages full of exotic birds.  There are at least 20 different kinds of birds, and Carter absolutely loves talking to all of them.  If he had it his way, he would sit and squawk at them all day.

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^^The guest house we’re staying in for the next month!

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^^The view from our front door!

Because the internet is very spotty (it doesn’t reach in our little house, we have to sit on the other side of the pool to get reception), we’re actually looking forward to the break from being constantly connected and getting the chance to spend time learning a bit more about photography, web design, and writing. Despite having less connection, I think it’ll help us be more focused and diligent with the many tasks we always set out to do but never get done.  We’re excited to share more of the story portion of our trip rather than just featuring the activities.

We’re so excited to be here in Dumaguete, and in the Philippines! If you have been in this area before and want to share any cool things to do with us, feel free to let us know in the comments below! If not, we’ll be having plenty of fun sitting by the pool, going to the ocean, snorkeling, hammocking, and relaxing together in this little part of paradise. 🙂

How To Get Swindled in Manila

Though we haven’t spent enough time in Manila to know quite how to make the most of the trip, we do have a firm grasp on some good ways to be taken advantage of.  I understand that this sort of activity may not initially sound appealing, but I’m sure a few of you are gluttons for punishment or you wouldn’t keep coming back to our website. This article is for you.

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Step 1: Be a Tourist

The first and most important step to being parted with your hard-earned money is to look as close to a tourist as you possibly can. Don’t have a camera strapped around your neck? No half-unbuttoned Hawaiian t-shirts in your bag? No problem!  Basically everyone who’s not Filipino is a tourist in the nonjudgmental eyes of your taxi driver, and having baggage, backpacks, or suitcases to throw in the trunk is just extra pesos in their pockets. After all, you’re not gonna be walking out of the airport.

If you’re confused about where to find your taxi, don’t fret—they’ll find you. All you have to do is step between the sliding glass doors to the Arrivals section and voila! There they are, in nicely tucked-in white polos and an official-looking lanyard. “Where are you going?” one says; “What hotel?” says another. As soon as you turn your body toward them, they know they have you. “Come over here, let me show you the rate,” and when you do, you’ve got yourself an overly expensive taxi. For extra measure, pull out your smartphone and show them on Google Maps exactly where you’re headed—if you’re lucky, they’ll pretend to be interested and put a hand on your phone, then tell you they need to show their driver the map. Hello ignorance, goodbye smartphone. (For the record, I wasn’t dumb enough to let our hand off the phone… but I was dumb enough to whip it out in the first place.)

Step 2: Don’t speak Tagalog

Everybody knows that when you’re in a foreign country, the locals prefer to haggle in anything other than their native tongue. It’s the best way to let people know that you respect them, and even gives you the upper hand since you already know it.

Wait, I got that backwards.

Not having any Tagalog (Philippines’ national language) in your linguistic repertoire is about the 2nd best thing you can do to ensure your opportunity to overpay in Manila.  Everyone in Philippines speaks, or at the very least understands, basic English, but if you’re not familiar with at least few Tagalog phrases you too can be targeted as easy prey without even trying.

For example, just before I bought a local sim card for our phone in a tiny little shop away from all the touristy zones, the lady at the counter asked, “You speak Tagalog?” When I said no, she smiled for the first time since I appeared, reached down for the sim card behind the counter, and followed up with a quick, “70 pesos.” I was fine with that, since the equivalent was under $2 USD, and happily walked away from the booth, sim card in hand. When I returned to our hotel and plugged it in the phone, however, I saw on the packaging that the hand-written price was covering some more numbers. A little saliva and close inspection showed me that the actual price of the card was a mere 15 pesos, or roughly 38 cents. She could have milked 300 pesos out of me if she wanted to, but maybe she was new to the game.

Step 3: Look Lost

Mostly applying to taxis (and people with cars pretending to be taxis, which are common), a surefire way to lose that dough is to step outside and make a face that implies you don’t know what’s going on. Fortunately for you, that’s pretty easy in a city the size of Manila, boasting 25 million people and about that many roads and alleyways. Even locals get lost if they’re not in their own barangay.

If your destination is somewhere between 5-25 kilometers, it’s likely your taxi driver will say something like, “hmm, that’s really far” or “I’m not sure I can go that distance”, then give you a rate anywhere in the vicinity of 2-10 times the price that it should be. If you’re extra picky and have the taxi use the meter instead of taking their offer of a “special rate”, you might be lucky enough to have the tampered meter run really fast, rendering a 2100-peso taxi ride when it should be around 220. And yes, that did happen to us.

Even though the likeliness that you’ll run into totally amazing and honest people in Manila is much higher than the alternative, you certainly don’t have to poke your head into too many doors to find someone willing to sell you snake oil. Try it out yourself and see how much you can lose today!

 

Getting Lost in Manila

It had started raining for the third time that hour. I found it rather pointless to yet again pull out the umbrella just in time for the rain to stop, but I kept it at the ready in case it turned into a torrential downpour. Besides, having the umbrella in my hand made me feel more protected somehow, as if it would double as a clubbing stick should the shirtless man walking close behind me start to get violent. I realized then how pathetic the notion of fending off an angry and possibly armed man with a $3 fold-up plastic umbrella sounded. Only one man could pull off shenanigans like that: Jackie Chan.

I am no Jackie Chan. I did, however, fancy myself as an international spy, for here I was traveling by my lonesome in the streets of Manila beyond the hotels and sit-down restaurants armed only with my hands, several thousand Philippine pesos lining the insides of my pockets, and trying my very hardest to blend in, despite being almost a full head taller than the going average. I fixed my face into a cool demeanor that reflected the essence of “I don’t want any trouble” and “I’ll break your arms before you can pull out your shiv”. At least that’s how I imagined it. I don’t really know, I wasn’t looking into a mirror.

My assignment was to pick up a local sim card for our phone so we can make calls and have access to internet during our month. I didn’t know the language, but I pretended I did, using words like “magandang umaga” and “salamat po” in my conversations with employees of the establishments I perused nonchalantly through. I pretended I was planting “packages” so my spy buddies could come by and pick it up later. When I exited the store, I didn’t look around to get my bearings – I knew where I was going, and I didn’t need people to think I was lost.

But I was lost. Very lost. Lost in Manila, Philippines, a city of over 25 million people.

About 15 minutes before, I turned the corner after entering a drug store and went down a different path than the one that led me here. “Never take the same route twice,” the spy handbook points out. Besides, I was confident that this road lead to the main road – how could it not?

It never occurred to me that the road curved, leading me to a far different place than I could have expected. It never occurred to me that in this part of Quezon City, the roads aren’t all straight and on a grid. Instead of seeing the busy intersection I was anticipating, I was greeted with a huge day market full of tchotchkies and really smelly fruit. People weren’t wearing shirts. My time blending in was now over.

I saw a familiar sign – one with a logo of the phone company I was trying to buy a sim card for – and casually made my way to the stand below it. A nice lady stopped her conversation with her friend long enough to glare at and ask “what?” in Tagalog. I asked her if I could buy a Sim card for Smart Mobile (most people speak English here, even if they pretend to not), and she stared blankly. I pointed at the sign above and said “sim card” again politely, and she pulled one out from behind the counter. I looked it over, confirmed that it was in fact a sim card and not just a piece of paper, said “salamat po”, and moved on, slipping the card casually in my pocket and making like I meant to be there. So professional, Bond himself would be impressed.

After getting lost in the market for another 15 minutes (it’s hard not to look lost when heading straight for a dead end), I walked past a few hundred more shirtless men and got back to the road in front and advanced forward, passing the tricycles and taxis who were looking at me like Guy Fieri looks at a trendy diner. I could feel the dollar signs painted all over my body, and I clutched tighter to my umbrella as I passed them one by one. I reached another intersection, still unfamiliar, but at least a bit busier, and assumed that I was at least heading the appropriate direction when I turned right. After a few meters (and crossing a stench-ridden river with more trash than the Hudson in NYC), I came to terms with my inability to navigate in unfamiliar territory and decided to pull out my phone with GPS before I got myself in any more trouble. This act left no room for casualness, and my feeble attempt to hide my smartphone with the open umbrella only resulted in me looking even more foolish. I had no idea if people who were passing me even cared about my phone use, but I wasn’t eager to invite more stalkers either. The GPS wasn’t picking up my signal, and Spy Handbook rule #34 states that you need to stop for no longer than 39 seconds. It was time to move on, lest my position be discovered.

One road led to another, and I followed my intuition and took another right. There were no street signs to verify road names, no landmarks I recognized, and no way to find out where I was, except to keep walking. I trudged on. Then I finally saw something familiar; if I hadn’t taken a gander out the 4th floor window of our tiny hotel a couple hours prior, I wouldn’t have recognized it. “Good thinking, Scott,” I told myself, “your training has served you well.” I got my bearings and discovered that I had walked completely around the hotel in a semicircle, avoiding every street that would have led me back home. If anyone was on my track, I would have confused the heck out of them. So, in a way, mission accomplished; all I had to do was confuse myself.