I've been taking a break from work lately because we've been entertaining visitors all month! What a tough month it's been... seeing friends, getting treats from home, eating out, beach holidays, city holidays, mountain holidays, Disneyland... oh wait, it's actually been a pretty great month for me.
Our first guests were my friends Jess and Caitlin - Jess and I went to uni together (she was also my bridesmaid) and Caitlin is her sister. As soon as they arrived in Manila, I attempted to take them to as many of our favourite restaurants and bars as possible - we ate a lot that first weekend!
The three of us flew to Palawan to enjoy a week of total back to basics beach time. We stayed at Secret Paradise Resort which is very much as the name describes. I still couldn't tell you exactly where it is because I have no idea. We drove for about three hours from the airport through farmland, jungle and along very bumpy, narrow mud tracks until we reached the tiny seaside town of Port Barton. We arrived during a typhoon (no, not that typhoon... that was still to come) so we sat at Port Barton for awhile waiting for the rain to die down enough for us to head out on our little boat. Of course as soon as we set off, it started raining again, but we were so wet by that point that it didn't really matter.
At least our boat had a bit of a roof!
The rain had stopped by the next morning and we had a few beautiful days of relaxing, swimming, snorkelling and reading. I took lots of photos with my film camera which haven't been developed yet, so all I can show you for now is one of the many sunset photos I took on my phone.
The day we were due to leave Palawan, Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan was hurtling towards the Philippines. Of course we had no idea, because we'd been gleefully frolicking around the beach all week with no internet or TV. We wanted to see the Underground River at Sabang so we arranged for the boat to pick us up at 6am. This was a stroke of luck because as we sailed away from the cove the sea was very rough and the heavy rain had just started.
Any later and we wouldn't have got out at all - a bamboo hut with no electricity is fun for a quick holiday, but not where you want to be during a natural disaster. We drove through pouring rain to Sabang, where a man greeted us at the car with 'You can't go to the underground river today! Don't you know there's a typhoon?!' If you're wondering why I wasn't tipped off by the crazy weather, let me explain. We're at the tail end of Philippine rainy season and big storms happen almost every week - sometimes it can be sunny one moment, then raining so heavily you can't see the end of the street, then stinking hot a few minutes later. So without seeing a weather forecast, the weather didn't seem unusual to me at this point. That is, until we got back to Puerto Princesa and accessed the internet. Messages, emails and missed calls popped up from our families and text alerts from the airline telling us that flights were grounded. We found a hotel and spent two days sitting on our beds watching America's Next Top Model with the volume turned right up to drown out the incredible torrential rain outside. We were extremely lucky in many ways. Lucky that we were staying on the west coast and not the east, where the typhoon hit most violently. Lucky that we got on that boat just in time. Most of all, we're lucky that we could afford to wait it out in a nice hotel and fly out as soon as it was over. As I'm sure you've heard, many people weren't that lucky, so please consider helping them any way you can.
After Jess and Caitlin left, my parents arrived fresh from a big European adventure. They were in the mood to relax for awhile (and so was I after the typhoon) so we spent the first week doing exactly that before flying to Hong Kong for a few days. Mum and Dad haven't been to Hong Kong since we went as a family in 1997 so it was fun for them to see what's changed. As with my last trip to Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time in the haberdashery shops around Sham Shui Po being overwhelmed by choice.
We also spent a day at Disneyland and got to see Mickey and Minnie lighting their Christmas tree! Totally magical.
Our next trip was to Baguio, a little city up in the mountains of Northern Luzon. James and I went earlier in the year and absolutely loved the place we stayed (The Manor at Camp John Hay). It's like a giant log cabin hidden away in a pine forest, but with a fantastic restaurant and wonderful five star service.
One of my favourite things about Baguio is the relatively cool temperatures - such a novelty after living in Manila! They also had the place all tizzied up for Christmas and that made me very excited.
Now we're back in Manila and Mum and Dad will be leaving soon so I'll be back to work next week. For now I'm doing that quintessentially Gen-Y thing where I regress into childhood while my parents do all my housework and make dinner for me.