Should I Go to Indonesia?

In the past month, Indonesia has been hit with several devastating earthquakes. Many of the people I met in Lombok and on the Gili Islands were surely affected by these deadly events. I’ve found myself thinking about our time there a lot.

Below is a post I began writing in Spring, but never got around to finishing until now. Through this post, I hope to inspire people to visit this beautiful island country and to better understand it as well. Whether you are an avid traveler, or simply dream of one day being able to travel, this post is full of all the reasons why I would recommend Indonesia as a travel destination for pretty much anyone.

In the last 4 years, I’ve done a lot of travelling. I’ve had a lot of experiences, eaten a lot of different food and met a lot of different people. From the Hongs of Thailand, to the Thar Desert in India, I’ve never visited anywhere that didn’t offer some sort of spectacular adventure.

Sometimes though, you find a country that offers more than just destinations and good food. Those countries captivate you and take a piece of your heart. They change the way you see the world. Cambodia did that for me, and it became the country I compared all other countries too. Now, Indonesia has also been added to that list, and today I’d like to tell you why.

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Cambodia had it all: Beautiful architecture, rich history and kind people

Diversity & Tolerance

Before going to Indonesia, I’d read a lot of things. I knew, of course, that Indonesia is the country with the most Muslims in the world. I also knew that for the most part, Indonesia’s a pretty peaceful place. We’d heard of some problems in Jakarta, so we avoided the city, but even there, you’re never in any real danger.

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We read ahead of time that some of the guides in the Bukit Lawang area could be pushy. We experienced nothing but awesome interactions with both of our guides, as well as every guide we ran into. When people asked us if we wanted to book a tour, we politely told them we already had. In many other countries, guides will keep hounding you and chasing you. In Indonesia, people politely wished us a good trip.

Similarly, Aceh province has a bit of a bad reputation, as its provincial government tries to enforce shariah law. There is a large group of fundamentalist Muslims in the area, and as a result, Indonesia makes news headlines with some of the things that happen there. The important thing to remember, however, is that Aceh does not represent all of Indonesia. Everyone we went in the rest of the country, we saw tolerance and friendliness.

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I was honestly very surprised by the diversity in Indonesia. Right from the moment we arrived in Sumatra, we saw it. On Samosir Island, you find Christianity and Batik culture. When you move to Bukit Lawang, you see more Islam. Jogjakarta is also primarily Muslim, but the world’s biggest Buddhist temple is nearby along with a very famous Hindu temple. Flores was Christian while Lombok and the Gili Islands had several mosques. There are all sorts of people in Indonesia, and contrary to some of the things I’ve read in the news, everyone seems to get along pretty well. They were polite and friendly not only with tourists…but also with each other.

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Many women in Indonesia wear Hihabs. I loved the way these ladies contrasted with the beautiful stone behind them

Ecotourism & Positive Tourism Experiences

Of course, ecotourism was a huge pull for me in Indonesia. All over the country, responsible tour operators are running businesses that encourage care for the environment and all the living things within those environments. With Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking, we were able to experience Orangutans in their natural environment. In addition to learning about these beautiful primates, we also learned about the other flora and fauna in the area, and about what it’s like to grow up in Bukit Lawang. Getting to know Sardi and Jimmy was one of the absolute best parts of my time in Indonesia, and I feel good about having chosen Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking for my tour, because I can see the difference they are trying to make their community better through a variety of initiatives.

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Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking employs excellent guides who help protect the animals and the environment in Gunung Leuser National Park. This helps to protect beautiful orangutans, like this one.

Similarly, when we decided to go Komodo National Park, we looked at many tour operators before choosing Flores XP Adventure. While we did have some problems with the boat they rented, overall, Komodo XP was an excellent Eco Tour operator. Archer was very knowledgeable about the marine life, as were the rest of the XP crew.

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Manta Rays are just one of many marine species that live in these waters. Komodo National Park actually boasts some of the most incredible marine diversity in the world, so it’s very important that companies like Flores XP Adventures

Most importantly, Flores XP takes ecological conservation seriously. No garbage was left on Padar Island when we left. Archer stopped the boating crew from fishing more than once (they were not part of the XP team, but had been hired out because the XP boats were in for maintenance.). I like that Archer and his team followed the laws that were set to help protect this incredibly bio diverse area.

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The last thing I want to do is to mess with this kind of beauty!

Even Jogjakarta was a good destination for good tourism practices. Our hotel was run by two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Similarly, the staff at ViaVia, a fair trade store Dave and I discovered, went above and beyond to make our experience a good one. The money spent for our time at the two temples on Java was also put to very good use. The restoration and protection of both Borobudur and Prambanan was evident and we felt good about spending a bit more to be a part of preserving the culture on Java island.

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We were so happy to discover Viavia! Not only did they sell fairtrade goods, but the staff were incredible too!

The People

Which leads me to the #1 reason why I loved Indonesia so much.

If you ask most people who travel extensively, they’ll tell you that it always takes a day or two to get a handle on what things are suppose to cost. Currencies are different from country to country, after all, something that costs $2 in Canada, might cost 5000vnd in Vietnam.

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When I go to the ATM in Canada, they give me $20 and $50 bills. In Vietnam, you get 500,000 bills. Inflation is crazy!

Foreigners are also charged extra in many places, to the point where the practice has been dubbed ‘the foreigner tax’. When you combine that tax with a new currency, it’s a recipe for scams and rip offs. So, when we arrived in Sumatra, and everyone kept charging us 3500rp for water, we just assumed the real price was 2000.

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India had the highest foreigner taxes we’ve seen. Foreigner entry prices were usually 4-5 times higher than local prices, with even more additional fees added on for the use of a camera at those sights.

It took us a few days, but soon we realized that the prices we were being given, were legitimate. People in Indonesia simply charged us the cost of the water, without additional fees. It wasn’t long before we realized that even when vendors did bring up their prices a little bit for us in the market, it was never outrageous. We simply weren’t ripped off in Indonesia.

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I don’t know what these things cost, because signs rarely include prices there, but I can tell you that I’d probably pay the same amount for magic mushrooms as a local…if I ever felt like doing them, that is!

But the honesty we saw in Indonesia wasn’t even the thing that made our interactions with locals so good. What I loved most about the people in Indonesia was how incredibly welcoming and warm they were. Everywhere we went we were greeted and welcomed by locals. Every now and then someone would want a picture of us, but usually, they were happy just to say hello.

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This is one of my favourite pictures I took during our entire month in Indonesia.

The Negatives

Of course, no country is perfect. There were some things about Indonesia that I wasn’t crazy about. Their coffee, for example, was a bit disappointing. Although some of my favourite beans come from Sumatra, coffee culture within the country is not what I expected.

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Although coffee grows all over Indonesia (each bean on the map represents a coffee growing zone), they mostly sell their beans to other countries for roasting and production.

More importantly, while Sumatra, Jogjakarta and Lombok were full of honest and friendly people, The Gili Islands and Labuan Bajo were actually a bit disappointing. In Labuan Bajo (the capital of Flores island), the service industry is very lacking. We honestly felt that we weren’t wanted at our hotel. The employees were often absent, or sitting around, talking with friends, and any time we tried to order food or drinks, we were told they were out. Worst of all, the Wifi at the hotel wasn’t working (and Dave had a deadline to meet), although it was working everywhere else on the island. When I asked about it, I was told that I ‘should have gone to Bali’.

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The hotel looked fantastic. The pool was clean and the rooms were nice. Unfortunately, the staff really didn’t seem to care for their jobs or the tourism industry at all. We talked about this with our tour guide in Komodo and he said that although things are slowly changing for the better…this is just the way Labuan Bajo is. It’s strange because it’s SO different from everything else we experienced!

Gili T is well set up for tourists, but there, you encounter the ‘foreign tax’ that didn’t exist elsewhere in the country. The people were nice, but we were paying 3-4x more to do basically anything on Gili Trawangon.

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Boat prices were the same for everyone, at least, but with no cars on the island, the horse and buggy prices sky rocketed if there was even a bit of rain, if it was after dark, or if they could think of any other reason why they could double the price.

A perfect example of this was when I sent my post cards in Lombok. I had people dropping what they were doing to help me put stamps on all the post cards. We chatted and laughed together and raced to see who could finish first. When I tried to buy stamps on Gili T, the guy at the post office tried to tell me that the stamps were 4x the price I knew they should cost.

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I’ve been particularly worried about these people since the Quakes hit. They all worked at the post office and helped me send my postcards. Unbelievably friendly and warm people. Although we clearly had different beliefs and cultures…everyone was nice to everyone else. There was no element of discomfort or of judgement or racism.

To Summarize

One last thing that is worth mentioning, is that this was MY perfect trip. I love wildlife. I love ecotourism. I love culture and I love adventure. I also don’t mind getting dirty or being cut off of the internet now and then. Bukit Lawang was what some people might consider ‘rugged’ and a lot of work. That was very much part of the appeal for me. If you like staying in a 5 star resort with a saltwater pool and a swim up bar, Sumatra might not be the best place for you, and perhaps Bali is a better option.

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But if you do have an adventurous spirit….definitely consider booking with these guys! They made our trip such an incredible experience!

The way you travel will also affect your experiences in the country. I’ve heard from many people that taking long distance buses in Indonesia is a nightmare. Dave and I opted to pay a bit more and fly for time’s sake. We also rent motorbikes whenever possible so paying taxis and taking public transit was never really necessary. These are all things that can impact your holiday.

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Our flights in Indonesia were pretty spectacular as well!

So, should you go to Indonesia?

Yes….Because from Bali to Bajo, there’s something for everyone!

The Bee Farm

One of my favourite aspects of travelling is all the new foods I get to try.  Going to the Philippines, Dave and I were especially excited because we’ve always enjoyed Filipino cooking in Winnipeg (where the Filipino population is huge!).  Unfortunately, the food on Cebu Island was a bit of a let down.

There was one exception to this rule, however, and luckily, we discovered it early in our trip!

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The Bee Farm is so much more than just a place with a lot of bees.  We stayed at the Bee Farm hotel on Panglao island, but we also visited the restaurant in Cebu City as well as The Buzz Cafe in Tagbilaran.   All 3 of these locations had honey products for sale, and so much more!

We stayed at the Panglao Bee Farm Hotel, which was quite an experience!  We shared the family room with Deb and Dedrick, with us taking upstairs, and them taking the main floor.  The whole cabin had such a rustic feel to it.  The bathrooms even included soap made right at the Bee Farm!

We didn’t take the Bee Farm tour, because Dedrick and Deb had actually visited a few weeks earlier (they were leaving the Philippines just as we got there), but we still walked around and admired the very well-kept grounds.

What I loved most about The Bee Farm was the quality of fresh and organic food.  With so many of our options being processed food, it was so nice to eat good whole grain bread, and proper coffee with honey instead of sugar!

The only problem I had with the Bee Farm was that their products were mostly in containers that were too big for carry-on luggage (we had traveled to the Philippines without any checked bags).  Still, I couldn’t resist making a stop in Cebu city, on our way out of the country, to pick up my 2 favourite Bee Farm Products:  Honey Spread and Chili Honey.  I knew there was a chance that they would be taken from me at the airport, but it was worth the risk.

They did make it home..and I’ve been putting spicy honey on all my farmer sausage all month!

That’s it for the Philippines!  I still have posts about Malaysia and Indonesia planned, plus several posts about Southern Manitoba.  Stay tuned!

Cebu Island – Part 4: Snorkeling

It’s no secret that Dave and I love snorkeling.  The ocean life fascinates both of us, and although I can find it mildly anxiety inducing (I get claustrophobic), I never let it stop me from diving in, taking some deep yoga breaths and enjoying the world below the surface.

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Usually, I relax as soon as I find an animal to follow.

The Philippines boasts some of the best snorkeling in the world, so we were very excited to see what there was to see off the coast of Cebu and Bohol Islands.  We had 3 snorkeling trips in total and I’m sad to say that only one of them was very enjoyable.

Punglao Snorkeling

Our first snorkeling trip was with our friends Deb and Dedrick off the coast of Bohol Island. They organized an exciting morning of snorkeling for us, which started with a boat ride through some rather choppy water, and ended up at a small island where there are sea turtles and plenty of ocean life to enjoy.

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One of several turtles we spotted

This was our first snorkeling experience in The Philippines, and as is always the case when travelling…we had to learn the ropes.  Every country does things a bit differently.  In Thailand, we booked day tours that would take us out to several islands on a speedboat, and took us to several locations to snorkel.  In Indonesia, we did 2 nights in a boat to see the Manta Rays in Komodo National Park.  In Cuba, we often just snorkeled off the beach, or hopped on a Catamaran for a day trip to various small islands.  Usually, the prices of the trip, boat, food, park fees etc are included in the package price you pay for the day.

Things are done differently in the Philippines.  We were told we needed to pay 1800 pesos to rent a boat to get to the island where there are turtles and fish to see.   Then, we were told there was a fee to get into the park.  Then, when we arrived, we were told we needed to pay another boat to take us to the ACTUAL snorkeling area (another 800 pesos).  In total we ended up paying nearly $70 Canadian and there wasn’t a whole lot to see.

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The second (smaller) boat we hired.  He actually had the guys swim back to the shore…I assert they should have been given a discount seeing as how they only get the service they paid for on the way there….

Unfortunately, the trip got worse, the longer we stayed in the water.  The boat we hired had a captain who wanted to go and take more tourists out to make more money…so after only 20 minutes of snorkeling, he was trying to get everyone back in the boat.  I obliged because I’d been stung by a few jellyfish and wasn’t feeling very well, but getting onto the boat was another ordeal yet.

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We were on a boat similar to this one

Filipino fishing boats have wooden bars that come out on either side of the boat to  help stabilize them and prevent capsizes.  The captain of this boat wanted to ‘help’ me get back on, but instead, I ended up hanging off the side as he bashed me into the side of the boat repeatedly…bruising my ribs in the process.  My friend Deb wasn’t as badly hurt in her trip back onto the boat, but she also didn’t find the task easy either.  Both of the boys just swam the short way back, because it was a much safer choice.

"You've suffered a contusion to the soft tissue below the fourth thoracic vertebra exacerbating the proximal sternum. Translation: 'you have a bruised rib.'"

Lessons Learned: 

  1. Don’t bruise your ribs when snorkeling.
  2. Wear sunscreen…even when it’s cloudy (we were out of commission for a few days we burned so badly!!)
  3. Bring good people with you on trips like this so that even if the snorkeling isn’t fantastic…the company is!

Sumilon Island Snorkeling

Our second trip snorkeling was on Sumilon Island.  I wasn’t sure whether or not to count this as a ‘snorkeling trip’ though, because we never actually snorkeled.  Allow me to explain…

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Sumilon Island is located off the coast of Cebu…near Oslob.

Sumilon Island is one of the things I’d read very little about.  We mostly went off of what locals told us….and it all sounded awesome!  We were told to expect:

  • Excellent snorkeling
  • An amazing beach with chairs set up for rental
  • Clear and calm water around the island where you can swim and snorkel

Of course, what we got was very different than what we expected.

As it turns out…it is a beautiful island and it does have amazing snorkeling…but only if you hire a boat (which we couldn’t do once we were there, from what we saw).  There was definitely no snorkeling from the shore because the water was simply too rough.  What’s worse, is that boats were coming and going constantly, taking up most of the public beach area.  They didn’t have anywhere to dock, so they’d just come up on the beach.

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Although the island is quite big, only a small part of it is public beach.  This small area in the photo was the only place to swim without being at risk of being hit by a boat.  It was very shallow and there were thousands of sharp rocks to step on.

There were 0 chairs or umbrellas for rent.  We arrived at around 3pm, and were on the west side of the island, so it was HOT!!!

It turns out that the only way to get beach rentals was to book with the resort that’s only the island….which was WAY out of our budget.  So, instead of the amazing afternoon snorkeling we had planned, we crouched under an area of rocks for shade until the next boat came around.

Lesson Learned:  Do reading ahead of time!  You never know what information you might be missing that will greatly impact your day.   We would have had a MUCH different experience if we’d organized a snorkeling or diving tour.  This island is an AMAZING place to snorkel / dive if you do it right!!!

Tingko Snorkeling

Our best snorkeling adventure was the last thing we had time to do in the Philippines.  Tingko beach is just outside of Alcoy on Cebu Island.  Our bus back to Cebu city only left at around 4pm, so we decided to try snorkeling one more time before leaving the Philippines.

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Tingko Beach

We were a bit worried when we arrived, because once more, there was nowhere to set up or put our things.  There were also no umbrellas.  We were about to walk away when a young Filipino man came over and asked us if we’d like to hire him and his boat for some snorkeling.

I was VERY skeptical at first.  We asked him about a price, and it seemed a bit high, but he quickly lowered it (probably more than he needed to).   When he said he had a ladder to get in and out of his boat (to avoid further rib bashing), we agreed to hire him for an hour to do some snorkeling.  I was so glad we did!

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A small Filipino fishing boat…similar to several others we were on

He brought us around to 3 different spots in that hour.  I only snorkeled at the first spot, because I wasn’t actually feeling very well that morning, but it was an amazing area to explore!  We actually even saw a sea snake swimming through the seaweed!  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the camera with us…but we’ve learned over the last few years that some experiences just need to be experienced.  The little snake swam away as quickly as he appeared, so I doubt we could have gotten any shots anyway.

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Dave did get a shot of a clown fish in an anemone on one of his solo trips under the sea!

While Dave explored stops 2 and 3 on his own, I chatted with our captain.  He was no more than 25 years old, but has 4 children, all under the age of 5.  He told me how much he loves being a dad and how he adores going home and hearing his kids scream ‘Daddy!’ when they see him.  He seemed like a really nice person, and in the end, I paid him his original asking price.

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Cebu island from our little fishing boat

Lesson Learned:  Not everyone in the tourism industry is trying to rip you off.  Some people are just trying to make an honest living while trying to be a top-notch husband and father.

Alright….1 post left about our time in the Philippines!  Stay tuned!  I’ll be back before you know it!

 

 

 

Cebu Island – Part 3: Osmeña Peak

Usually, if Dave and I take a trip, I do quite a bit of planning ahead of time.  I always leave a bit of room for free time, of course, but we don’t usually stay in the same spot long enough for us to discover more than what have planned for.  I did things differently in the Philippines.

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We were on a bit of a tight budget, so we figured that even if there was nothing to do in Cebu, our Air BnB included a gorgeous pool…so how bad of a time could we possibly have had?

When we first arrived in Dalaguete, we knew we would discover some hidden gems, but we didn’t expect to find a spot as beautiful (and apparently unknown) as Osmeña peak.

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Osmeña peak is the highest point on Cebu Island

We learned about this hidden gem while relaxing one evening with our Air Bnb host, Thomas.  He was very surprised we’d never heard of it, and told us that it was very beautiful and very worth the short hike up.  So, the following morning, we set off to check out the highest point on Cebu island.

We were using an app to navigate to the entrance of our destination, where we’d heard of a relatively easy hiking trail up to the peak.  When we arrived at our destination, a young boy hopped over and pointed us in the right direction.

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Our original path looked promising…

About 5 minutes into our walk, a little boy ran up behind us and started shouting in a local language.  He seemed insistent that we should turn down a tiny, mud-covered path.  It wasn’t long down that path that we realized we’d come in through the ‘wrong entrance’.  We head back to our motorbike, but not before getting some great pictures first.

We drove around a bit more and found the actual entrance to the peak.  In hindsight, it made a lot more sense than our original stop.  For one thing, there was a ticket office and a little store at Stop #2, instead of a couple of farmers sitting on the back of a truck, grinning at us.  Having said that, if you’ve traveled in South East Asia, you learn that things aren’t always as official looking as you expect, which is why we went with it at Stop #1.

The hike up the hill was nice….especially when we got high enough that a breeze made it through the trees.  The trail is well maintained and if you’re in reasonably good shape, it isn’t too difficult of a trek.  It took us about 25 minutes to make it to the top, but we also stopped for quite a few pictures along the way (and a dog followed us up, so I stopped to pet him quite often!)

Aside from our experience with scarf snarfing selfie seekers, our time on the peak was beautiful.  I managed to get some pictures without tourists in it, which is always a challenge.

I did actually manage to get the shot I waited so patiently for…after the selfie seekers left.

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Once more…I think it’s nicer without people in it…

I did take a few selfies myself.  I’m not here to condemn selfies.  But when you’re in a place as beautiful as this, please be considerate of other people.  You can take 1 or 2 selfies…but a series of 8-10 poses is excessive!

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I was sitting on some very sharp rocks here, so I wasn’t too interested in sticking around longer than necessary!

Osmeña peak is a very worthwhile trip.  If you’re looking for additional information about the hike, I found a fantastic website with lots of information including directions and fees.  You can check out that website here.

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Some last shots for you

 

I have a few posts left about our time in The Philippines, so stay tuned!

Cebu Island – Part 2: Tumalog Falls

Dave and I have done a lot of travelling for the last 4 years.  Each country we’ve visited has offered new insight into the different cultures, languages and history that make up our wonderful world.

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From the Grand Palace in Bangkok….
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To the beautiful sandstone architecture of India
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Our world is full of beauty...both man-made and natural!

Although there are so many differences between each place we’ve visited, there have also been similarities.  One thing that we find pretty much anywhere we’ve ever gone, is that every place in south east Asia has a waterfall for tourists to visit.

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My favourite falls in South East Asia:  Kuang Si Falls, near Luang Prabang, Laos.  

Of course, Cebu island has several waterfalls, but we only had the chance to visit one: Tumalog Falls.  Located just outside of Oslob, it’s easy to rent a motorbike to visit, or even hire a motorized tricycle (although, they may have a hard time getting up the hills if their motorcycle isn’t in tip top shape!)

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Surprisingly…these trikes don’t always run perfectly… 

When we arrived the entrance to the falls, we were asked to park our motorbike and walk the last kilometer or so to the actual waterfall.  It was a steep climb down to get there, and then, of course, a tough climb back.  The first time we tried to visit the falls (we tried twice), we were actually scared away by the mid-day heat and the idea of climbing a km uphill.  We normally wouldn’t be worried about a short hike like that, but after suffering from heat exhaustion for several days, we weren’t keen on getting sick again.  But, when our Air BnB host told us we could hire a special motorbike to bring us back up the hill, we decided to try again.

The falls were well worth the visit.  They were very tall and they trickled more than spilled, making them quite peaceful.

The area was very peaceful too.  There was lots of bamboo growing, and it even created a bit of a dome over the area, giving us the feeling of being enclosed by the jungle.

The small pools around the falls were also stunning.

Lots of people brought their swimsuits and were swimming in the pool at the bottom of the falls, but Dave and I hadn’t brought ours.  I’m glad others had more foresight than me though, because the shots I got of them in the water help to show just how high these falls were.

Tumalog falls was a worthwhile trip I’d recommend to anyway staying in the Oslob area!

Cebu Island – Part 1: Our Lady of Immaculate Conception

Our first real stop in the Oslob area was not planned.  We were driving around, looking for a market when we came upon this huge and beautifully old Church.

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It took 18 years to complete The Immaculate Conception Church, beginning in 1830. There are several buildings on the grounds, including the church itself, a bell tower, and a parish house.  All buildings have had some reconstruction over the years, due to fires and other damage.

The church is made of a made of coral stone, which was very popular in Spanish architecture during colonial times.  Coral stone is excellent at repelling heat, so it is a perfect choice for a church in The Philippines.  While we were walking around, we saw that a funeral was being held inside the church, so even now…this parish is active and the church is in use.

There are also several buildings nearby that were equally beautiful.  We spent a bit of time exploring the unfinished “Cuartel”.  This large building was suppose to house Spanish soldiers during colonial times, but for some reason, it was never actually completed.  Now, it serves as a beautiful place to take some pictures on a sunny day.

The area around the church and Cuartel was also beautiful.  There were a few vendors out, selling treats to kids and their parents.  There were some really nice benches as well, and some trees, providing shade.  Dave and I actually visited the area twice during our week in Oslob.  It was so hot the first day that we couldn’t stay for very long, so we came back a second time.

The part of this historical site that interested me most though, wasn’t actually the church itself.  Although the church was beautiful, the Baluarte, or watchtower, was even more interesting yet.

The Baluarte has an important place in Oslob history, having helped protect the town from attacks in the past.  Now, it serves as a photographic reminder of times past.  Most interestingly, there are chunks of coral built into the wall.  It’s really very beautiful, overlooking the ocean the way it does.

I really enjoyed this ‘surprise stop’ in Oslob, and I encourage anyone in the area to check it out if they have the chance!

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One of my favourite pictures of area

Oslob’s Whale Sharks

My sunburn has subsided, and the bruises I collected on our Cebu holiday have now all but disappeared, but my memories of our time in the Philippines have not.

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Some things….like this public urinal, for example…are unforgetable

 

Now, before I get into writing about our time in Cebu, I want to write about one activity we decided NOT to do.  Most people who travel to Cebu Island stay in the little town of Oslob.  We opted to stay in a town nearby this popular tourist destination, but we skipped the activity most people do while in the area:  swimming with whale sharks.

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Whale Sharks are the world’s largest fish. But don’t worry…they aren’t the type of sharks that eat people. They just eat tiny krill, so swimming with them is pretty safe.

For those of you who know me, this probably seems like the kind of thing I would love!  Swimming in the ocean…seeing incredible wildlife…learning about a fascinating animal… but after spending the last 4 years learning how to be a responsible tourist, I took the time to learn about the Oslob Whale Sharks, and I learned how human contact affects the fish.

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I learned that although the government has set up all sorts of rules that tourists and tour operators are suppose to follow, it doesn’t stop people from touching the fish.  Sharks have very sensitive skin, so a watch or a ring can easily hurt one of these beautiful animals. 

First, I should say that unlike riding an elephant, swimming with whale sharks is not as obviously harmful to the animals.  They are not captive or trained in any way, so on the surface, it doesn’t seem like swimming with them should be too much of a problem.  After all, they are just being given some free food.  What’s the harm?

Whaleshark feeding in Oslob, Cebu
The whale sharks are swarmed by people and boats as soon as they arrive.  Tourists are also only given a few moments in the water with them, before they are told to get out, to make way for more tourists…

Unfortunately, whale sharks in the area are becoming too comfortable around boats, and are frequently hurt when they approach fishermen, expecting food.  Some fish are also dealing with malnutrition, because the krill they are fed by the fishermen is only 1 of the various types of fish they need in their diets.  Unfortunately, if their bellies are full of this free krill, they don’t search for food, and don’t get all the nutrients they need.

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But there’s actually a bigger problem with feeding the Whale Sharks of Cebu Island.  The free food they receive is actually changing their migration patterns and many scientists believe that this will ultimately result in fewer whale shark babies being born.

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I’d be happier if these animals didn’t join the very long list of critically endangered animals in our oceans.

Ultimately, we decided that seeing the whale sharks was not as important as protecting them, so we chose not to go on that adventure.  We did, however, see Tumalog Falls, a church made of coral stone and of course, and the highest point on all of Cebu Island!

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Over the next few weeks, I have several posts planned about our week in paradise.  They will all be short, and full pictures, so stay tuned!