Beaches for Christmas.

In the UK, I spend my time between the beautiful Edinburgh, and countryside Kent. In Japan, I live in the self proclaimed sunshine prefecture. However beautiful these three places are though, something they share is how freezing cold they are in December. With 10 days break from university, I took the opportunity to get some winter sun and jetted off to the Philippines to spend Christmas lapping up the rays as the waves lapped my toes. I can't even tell you how good that sweltering humidity felt on my skin, after being hidden under a thousand layers for the last month or so.

But this story doesn't start with a beautiful beach, it starts with a police station.
I spent my first night in the capital Manila, in a police station after a guy I had met in the hostel got beaten up in the bar we were in. Just about the worst place I possibly could have imagined ending up. It was a classic case of too much alcohol and an angry bike owner who claimed our friend owed him thousands of pesos for breaking his motorbike. What had actually happened was the poor guy had fallen against it as punches rained down on him. After preparing myself to be wary on the streets of Manila, knowing there are plenty of areas not to wander into by accident - my brain went into overdrive as to how the situation would play out. All I could think was this poor tourist was going to end up in a Filipino jail, and the more he argued and shouted his case, the more it looked like it would go that way. Trying to keep a guy I had met only a couple of hours before quiet and apologetic whilst his fingers went numb from the handcuffs was certainly not the way I had intended to spend the night. I cried a lot. I cried so much in fact, that a small child came up to me in the street, held my hand and told me in perfect English that 'it's going to be okay ma'am, don't cry'. I had gone out without my phone or anything that could be taken at the suggestion of a local guy we were out with, so I had really no concept of time but I know my friend and I finally made it back to the hostel - a five minute walk from the bar we were at - at around 5am. Exhausted and overwhelmed, we rolled into bed. The next morning I saw the guy who had been arrested and he was pretty beaten up, his phone and wallet stolen. Somehow he had avoided paying anything and was even taken to hospital. I'll never know how the situation was resolved but I imagine the Filipino guy we were with was an extremely helpful person to have fighting your corner.

After possibly the strangest and craziest night of my life, it was time to head down to Cebu and finally see some beaches.

Lapu-Lapu island is a resort island just off the coast of Cebu city. While there are beautiful beaches, they're all owned by the resorts and the public beach we thought we would spend the days on, was not the picturesque beach we had imagined but a patch of rocky shore used to moor small boats. While we were sussing out how to get ourselves to the kind of beach we had imagined, we explored the area which still had lots to offer.

The whole island is painted in geometric patterns and the roads are lined with similarly painted busts of Lapu-Lapu: the ruler of Mactan who resisted the Spanish colonisation and defeated Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. As a result, there is colour and culture everywhere on this little island and is a good blend of beach and city. Ultimately however, it was time to go beach hunting, and what better day to do so than on Christmas Day. Three of us hired a boat to take us to the Olango Reef Islands. I couldn't have even imagined a beach so beautiful.

I didn't take a huge amount of photos for fear of dropping phone but rest assured it was beautiful, there were fish galore and the sun was hot. Too hot for my pasty British skin - there's not many more unattractive things than a really burned tourist and I was that idiot. It was my first warm Christmas and it did not disappoint. For dinner I had freshly caught fish at a waterside restaurant with other travellers and then we made our way back to Hostel Seven, a very chill hostel with a cool bar, outside area and connected restaurant which served fantastic food for under a fiver.

Keen for more beachtime, we headed down to Oslob, on the southern tip of Cebu Island, to go swimming with whale sharks. After a 4am start, we made it to the beach at 7.00 to catch the sunrise before seeing the gentle giants.

Unfortunately I didn't take any photos in the water for lack of underwater camera, but my plan is to invest in one before my trip to Bali in March. It was an incredible experience and even though I was assured they were harmless, they were enormous and I made sure to stay far enough away from a mouth that could gobble me whole. Luckily people aren't the kind of food whale sharks go for, they stick to the considerably easier to digest plankton. I may not have any photos but it's not an experience I'll forget anytime soon.

We also made a trip to Kawasan Falls for some swimming in cold but beautifully blue pools. I jumped off a cliff without a second thought which surprised me for the few seconds while I fell, then got out and did it again. After a slightly dodgy jump and a bruised bum later, we called it a day and climbed back down the rocks barefoot, squelching through the mud. There's something so wonderful about drying off in the heat, then wading back into a chilly pool. Palm trees don't get old, either.

What a way to spend the last few days of December than from a floating restaurant as the sun goes down. Armed with a deck of cards (and admitted very limited knowledge of good games) we sipped melon and pineapple shakes and watched as the sun set on this little slice of paradise.

We headed back up to Manila to fly out to Hong Kong and stayed in the trendy Makati neighbourhood at Z hostel, one of the coolest hostels I've ever stayed at. With immaculate rooms and a rooftop bar of dreams, it was the perfect place to see out the Philippines. With a wrist band pay system that simplifies the whole money situation and live music, looking out over the sprawling city that had been so terrifying at the beginning of the week was magical.

From beaches to bars to police stations, the Philippines was an adventure to say the least. Being back in a land of bargaining was exhilarating and getting some much needed sunshine was such a treat. I know I'll be back - for smiling faces, fresh fruit and fish, and that paradise life.

Next up: The Hong Kong Rundown


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