in Travel Journal

Moalboal, Philippines

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Another diving hotspot, Moalboal was where we turned a corner, completing three more dives, and starting to really grow in confidence. Other than diving, the town’s pretty much just a small strip of hotels and restaurants, and the atmosphere’s pretty chilled/non-existent, so we were really just there for the undersea action.

Typhoon Nona was in the midst of beating up the coasts of Eastern Philippines during our time in Moalboal, and although we didn’t feel any extreme weather, it meant a fair amount of rain and cloud, so our first day was spent largely drinking coffee, sitting on rocking chairs, and looking out to sea from our little hostel, chatting to the eccentric old Filipino lady who ran the place.

The highlight of our first day was snorkelling just off the bay with millions of sardines – a phenomenon known as the ‘Sardine Run’. I could barely believe my eyes as I snorkelled for just two minutes away from our hostel and was surrounded by an unimaginable number of darting, glinting, silver fish, moving in synchronised shapes – turning from one direction to the next, switching back and forth and leaving a hypnotic shape-shifting path in their wake.

After a couple of minutes of swimming into the swarm, hovering above and besides, I knew that Sam had to see this. I excitedly swam back to the rocky bay and ran into the hostel to get Sam, and he grabbed his snorkel and followed me to the point – now joined by a few other tourists on a snorkelling tour – and we all marvelled collectively at this, one of nature’s oddities, and a really unique and wonderful thing.

That day we also planned our next two days of diving at Cebu Dive Centre where we met the hilarious owner, a guy from Nottingham, and we discussed our successes and pitfalls at diving so far, and he gave us a load of good tips on breathing, weights and gear. We were pretty psyched up to get in the water the next day. That evening we managed to find a cheap local restaurant (pretty hard in a town that subsists solely on tourism!) and had some nice – albeit plain – food, by the sea wall.

Our first dive the next day was at Tongo Wall with our brilliant Dive Master Bro, and was our first real taste of Macro diving – where you see the weird and wonderful small creatures (as well as the large) that lurk on walls and drop-offs. I wasn’t sure I’d be that bothered by the tiny creatures, until we saw what crazy and freakish little beings awaited us. We saw crazy delicate barely-there ghostpipe fish, electric clams that shot volts of bright blue electricity between their shells, cornet fish, long-finned batfish, and more – plus TWO little families of false clown anemones – otherwise known as Nemo fish! We felt really comfy in our wetsuits and with our weights, and the dive felt great, exciting yet calm, as we slowly moved along the wall spotting tiny creatures as well as big groupers, giant angler fish, milk fish, and even a white tipped shark in the distance.

After a quick light lunch, we were back in the water for our second dive of the day – this time, to dive the Sardine Run. It was a pretty hilarious entry into the water as we were wading in from shore – something that sounds easy until you’re trying to hobble over coral in dive boots and put your fins on in the crashing waves whilst supporting a heavy air canister on your back! But once in the water, it was just amazing – even more serene and awe-inspiring than our snorkel. We followed Bro down under the swirl of sardines and watched from below as they moved in a dark cloud of formations above our heads, the sun squinting through the sea to cast shadows on the silvery glimmers. We swam for half an hour or so, with Bro filming us on our Go Pro as we chased in and out of the darting figures.

Exhausted, we had an early night after our two dives, managing to squeeze in a quick film – Silence of the Lambs – before bed time. What a brilliant film! I can’t believe it’s taken me until the age of 29 to see it. Wow.
Our last day in Moalboal saw our most anticipated dive yet – Pescador Island. This is pretty much what people come to Moalboal for, but given we only had 9 dives under our belt (including Open Water dives) we’d had to prove our ability/buoyancy in previous dives, so we were psyched to qualify for Pescador – a drift dive which can sometimes get pretty fast-flowing!

Luckily the tides were in our favour, and after a rocky entrance/strong current at first, the drift slowed when we hit the wall, and we were carried along at a perfect, easy pace, swimming up and down the wall to take in the incredible creatures. We saw green sea turtles – now a normality! – along with mad looking fish like big yellow trumpet fish (they look like it sounds!), banded sea snakes, giant/black spotted pufferfish, lion fish, titan triggerfish, dragonets and huge jack fish. The coral itself was stunning – all bright colours, brain coral, blooming coral that looked like huge bouquets of wild flowers. Bro took a whiteboard and marker with him, so he could tell us what everything was, and was fantastic at spotting and pointing out stuff we definitely would have missed otherwise!

High from such a great couple of days diving, we calmed down with a little sunbathe on what was left of the beach after the coast’s continuous ravaging by typhoons, then we decided to celebrate in true Sam and Chloe style, with lots of rum. One bottle of rum in the bedroom became two bottles of rum, chilled chatting became loud singalongs to Flight of the Conchords and Queen, and plans to go diving the next day morphed into plans to travel up North to another island instead.

The next day we awoke with fuzzy heads and dry mouths, and we heaved ourselves onto many many buses to the Northernmost tip of Cebu, missing the last ferry to Malapascua by about half an hour, instead staying in the lovely town of Maya….

Food blog: Laos

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A country flanked by Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Laos’ cuisine is really fusion food that borrows much from its neighbours. If I had to characterise the food I’d say it’s quite spicy and sweet, with pork and rice cropping up a lot, along with strange exotic bugs. You also see the regular curries and soups present, but with even more of an emphasis on fresh herbs and food foraged from the great outdoors. Here are some of the classics:


1. Laap

  

The quintessential Laos food, laap (or laab) is a delicious dish of ground pork made spicy with a mix of chilis, fish sauce, shallots, mint and lime. It’s tangy and delicious, usually served with sticky rice and sold everywhere.

2. Bamboo curry and parcels

  

Lao people are very resourceful and tend to get a lot of food from their vast jungles and rainforests (including sources of protein such as bat, which we witnessed first hand on a hike!). Bamboo is available in huge quantities, and is really delicious cooked soft into curries or fried into parcels with laap inside. We tried both from a local market and they were fantastic!


3. Sweet sausages

  

‘Laos sausage’ is a sweet red sausage that’s included in a lot of sandwiches and some noodle dishes. I found it a little too sweet for a savoury meat but Sam was a fan, and with gherkins it kinda worked.


4. Sticky rice!! 

  

This is literally everywhere, and people generally roll it into a little ball then use it for mopping up whatever delicious saucy thing they’re eating. We also found it in tubes of hollowed out bamboo, generally sweet mixed with coconut; and also in a delightful dessert, dyed purple using flower dyes and served with sliced banana.


5. Noodle soup 

  

The classic Laos breakfast, their noodle soups of ‘foe’ (rice noodles) are generally served with a dizzying array of herbs and leaves (just a huge pile that you get for free to mix in to your taste). It’s a DIY affair as you stir in just the right amount of fish sauce, lime juice, chillies and mint which also sit on the table.


6. PIG! 

  

They’re mad about pork in Laos, and we ate it as a huge hunk of meat in broths, fried with sesame seeds, and basically any way possible. When we went out for a fancy ‘traditional food of Laos’ meal for Sam’s birthday, we had pork three ways! And that’s without counting the laap and soup. They also serve spicy pork sandwiches (think Vietnamese bahn mi) for breakfast, sometimes with eery pork floss which has the texture of wool. Best to abstain.


7. Insects!… and other jungle food

  
During our jungle trek in the North, we dined on crickets fried in sugar and ginger (surprisingly delicious!) along with other jungle plants like banana flowers, rattan and mushrooms. Our guide informed us that for a lot of people living in hill tribe villages or in the highlands, this is pretty standard fare!


8. Curries and stews

  

Not much new here, but you see the same kind of curries here that pop up in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia like Penang, Massaman, green and red curries etc.


9. French bread

   

 A hangover from colonisation, Laos is now left with a fervent appetite for baguettes and you often see people hauling huge carrier bags full of them on long-distance buses (presumably as a gift for who they’re visiting, or out of sheer panic that they may not find bread where they’re headed). In more touristy places like Luang Prabang you can get them with delicious fillings like chicken and avocado, but generally they seem to be served with (you guessed it!) pork, or just plain as a substitute for rice.