After Marks invitation to go on holiday with him and his wife's family and buying the tickets, follows what seems like a last minute rush for passport renewal, vaccinations, travel insurance, new camera and clothes.
The holiday begins with a 10pm flight from Heathrow with a brief stopover in Hong Kong, before arriving in Manila at 10pm, just an hour before Mark and the USA contingent. We are welcomed by Boyet who takes us to our 5 star hotel for our first couple of nights.
Once settled in Mark, Jack and I hit the hotel bar, and then the other hotel bar, and then the breakfast bar! After breakfast Mark thinks it'd be a great idea for us to go with the family on a day tour of nearby Corregidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay - Corregidor Island became a US military station and it was used by General Douglas MacArthur as one of his major defence positions following the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. That evening we're unsurprisingly out for the count and fail to make a big family dinner - opps, sorry.
Monday and Tuesday is family time. We all gather together for a flight to Kalibo in a neighbouring island, and from there a short drive to New Washington. Our near deserted hotel has a definite year long Christmas theme, which feels kinda spooky. In the evening we pile into the back of a truck before dinner at relatives. The following day we visit family at their new house on the sea front, the original family home, and more family.
Boracay is a long MPV ride, boat trip, and truck ride away. Once there we drag our suitcases through the sand to our beach front hotel - sweet. We soon find the restaurants, bars and nightclubs right on the beach, and begin celebrating Marlou's birthday. In the morning we eat breakfast in the hotel within feet of the sand, the palm trees and the sea. A tour of the local area and we discover the local shops, Hobbit House and launderette. Later, we all get drunk and get tattoos (well, temporary ones).
Thursday we take a short truck ride before jumping into buggies for a drive up a dirt road, arriving on top of a hill for an uninterrupted view of the sunset. The following day we take a boat tour of local islands, where we have lunch, get wet, go swimming and later snorkelling in the open sea to spot the fish and coral. Later we take a short boat ride to deeper water and a jet ski each! We make it back to the beach in time for a fantastic sunset.
Saturday is Bobet's birthday, with more jet skiing, sunset and cocktails, dinner and party time. At this point people are flagging, like Mark G after dinner "I'm just going back to take a shower", not to be seen again. A few of us party on into the night, until 5am when we collect our suitcases, hit the beach and feeling like smugglers, try to flag down a boat by torch light. After a false start we make it to the airport only to find a slight (four hour) flight delay. While hanging around the airport, Mark F shows off his basketball skills with the locals.
Back in Manila we hit the shopping malls for fake Rolex watches and fake designer bags. For lunch I get sizzling pork and rice for under £1. In the evening we head to the Financial district and another mall where we eat dinner in a Forest Gump themed restaurant, "Run Forest run".
On Tuesday we travel 50 miles from Manila to Mount Pinatubo, a volcano which last erupted in 1991 sending plumes of ash into the air. Once at the range we jump into jeeps and are driven to a foot trail which follows a river to the top, and a crystal clear lake that formed in the crater following the eruption.
Wednesday is another two hour drive to Villa Escudero, a working coconut plantation open to the public. We tour the museum, before being driven by water buffalo to lunch in a river below a waterfall, very cooling. After lunch we hit the lake above the waterfall for a raft race before heading home.
Thursday, the last full day, we hit the Mall of Asia, the biggest mall in the Philippines and the third largest in the world, boasting an Olympic sized ice rink, IMAX cinema and science museum, all within four mini malls. We spend the afternoon doing some more souvenir shopping before dinner.
Thanks everyone for a top holiday, wish we were still there.