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11th - 21st April

Always look on the Bright Side Of Life - The Life Of Brian - "He's not the Messiah - he's a really naughty boy." That should have been the title of my last E mail. And I'm getting so many comments from Koreans on my 'See You in Pyongyang' T-Shirt. Lots of Koreans in the Philippines. It's a real ice-breaker.

Up to San Fernando (La Union) and the Ma-Cho Temple - Taoist/Catholic fusion - the Virgin of Caysasay overlooking the South China Sea. Lots of Chinese in the Philippines as well. Then to Vigan, the best preserved Spanish colonial town in all Asia. So quiet up here over Easter. Well apart from the motorised trikes. Banner over the road "Circumcision Package - 750 pesos." at the local hospital. Just over 10 pounds or 15 US dollars. For that price, I wonder whether thay use anaesthetic.

Vigan was spared American bombing in WWII, when the Japanese left suddenly. Became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Lots of horse-drawn 'kalesas' over the cobbled streets - very European feel to the place - lots of craft and souvenir shops - so much Spanish heritage was lost in the Philippines in WWII. St Paul Cathedral in baroque style with massive walls built to withstand earthquakes. Easter Service, but no fiesta - I thought it was going to be quite jolly, but rather a solemn occasion. Unfortunately I didn't get to stay in the Villa Angela, where Tom Cruise and Willem Dafoe stayed during the making of 'Born on the 4th of July.' But it was a great film.

A Mamon Mocha - a rather sickly Philippine pastry - a bit like Buco (coconut) Pie - made with mashed up mammonite. But if you bite hard enough, you might just get a credit crunch.

Mount Mayon (2462m) - from 'magayon' meaning beauty.'The iconically perfect volcanic cone, until 2001 when an eruption disfigured the shape, but did form a lava flow in the shape of the Virgin Mary??? One of the world's most dangerous volcanoes. Flying into Legaspi, you do see it in all its splendour in the clear morning air. Just before the volcano are some drumlin-like structures, reminiscent of the Chocolate Hills of Bohol.

Went up to the Planetarium and Starship Cafe by Jeepney for a better view, but had clouded over by then. The Jeepney driver brought his family with him, so I had some company and some interesting discussions. He had worked for the Philippine Red Cross. Just before sunset, the clouds parted and it was pretty spectacular with sweeping views over the Philippine Sea. They were testing a zipwire - looked very dodgy to me. Needed a lot of improvement before it was safe. I would liked to have organised a trek further on, but time precluded it. Actually you're not allowed to go right to the top, because of the poisonous fumes.

To Talisay and the weather pattern is definitely changing. The wet season has come early - nice bright mornings and very wet windy afternoons. Taal Volcano - worlds's smallest, but deadliest. Over 47 craters and 35 volcanic cones. Volcano Island emerged in 1911 in a savage eruption. If the whole lot went up, half of Luzon would be blown away and there would be climate change on a massive scale. So beware.

A very small island within a sulphurous lake which I swam in, but fortunately didn't dissolve. Apparently it's very good for the skin. Also steam vents and mud pools. Within another island which is also in a much bigger lake. Like Russian dolls. Westerners were walking down to the lake, but the Koreans were using the tired old horse option. Different perspectives on life.

Next day to Tagaytay - great views from Ferdinand Marcos's decaying 'People's Park In The Sky.' Doric Columns, an ampitheatre and a Roman statue, in keeping with the classical style. Have to mention the Filipino Cover Band playing Zombie - again - I'm afraid I requested it. And Videoke - enough said. Well that just about wraps up the Philippines - until next time. So Pinatubo, Palawan and the Whale Sharks will have to wait - I'm sure they won't mind.

Now in Ko Samui to chill out for a few days.

STOP PRESS: A really nasty aggressive dog has just taken a chunk out of my leg, while I was walking on the beach. So had to go to the hospital to have a rabies jab and will have to have several more. And no swimming for a while, as I have to keep the wound dry. Sob! Sob! I think I will call the dog Gordon or Alistair. It was certainly no darling, but it was brown. Not my favourite colour.


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