COVID-19 curbs give Keralite traveller eight months to explore the Philippines

COVID-19 curbs give Keralite traveller six months to explore the Philippines
Tony Sebastian at Cambanog waterfalls (L) and at Cancalanog Falls (R) in Philippines
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Tony Sebastian is on vacation in the Philippines, an archipelago consisting of 7,641 islands with stunning beaches and mountains. With a perfect balance of island and cosmopolitan living, the Philippines was an obvious choice for a getaway from his work life in the Merchant Navy. But little did the Marine Engineer from Adimali in Kerala's Idukki district know that his three-month vacation to Indonesia and the Philippines would turn into a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He has been there for eight months now!

Tony decided to take his 2020 tour to Indonesia and the Philippines in February. He started from Kerala and took a flight from Chennai to Jakarta in the first week. Everything was going as planned till Tony reached the Philippines - ten days in Java island of Indonesia where he would climb Mount Bromo, one week in Bali where he would go scuba diving, from there to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. But two days after he reached Cebu Island, the world came to a standstill due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Tony poses for a photo during snorkeling at Panagsama Beach

With curfew and strict restrictions in the Philippines, most of the tourist destinations were closed. "Even swimming in the beaches were not allowed, and most of the tourists like me were confined to our rooms until they slowly removed the restrictions," says Tony. Since then, he has been staying in a one-bedroom-kitchen rented house. With the number of COVID cases coming down, the authorities gradually allowed tourists to explore nearby areas and closed the borders by not letting in any new tourists.

While many tourists returned to their homelands, Tony and a few others happily opted to remain on the island for an unforeseeable future. Ever since his extended stay started, Tony has been snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, and camping. Most of the islands rent out bikes and scooters to the tourists to explore their land, and it came handy for Tony as well. He went around exploring Cebu every day after finishing the breakfast cooked by himself. "I mostly plan my trips one or two days before. At times other tourist-friends too join. One can visit waterfalls or indulge in snorkelling. The Philippines have much to offer," says Tony.

The hospitality of the people of Moalboal in Cebu island also made his stay a comfortable one. "I had a nice time interacting with the locals, and many invited me to their house parties and functions," said Tony while getting ready to head out for one such party.

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Tony at Candi Borobudur in Indonesia

Travelling during COVID-19 was also a different experience for him. "Mask is compulsory here if one is boarding a bus or use any public transport. Face shields are also recommended in a few places. But here it is not that strict; could be due to the low number of cases per day compared to India," says Tony.

Even though his work demands a lot of travel, Tony's first trip all by himself was a tour to Nepal three years ago. From then on, he made sure to take a break from his work every year to explore new places. In 2019, he took a four-month break and visited Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Thailand. "I have also visited other countries as part of my work. I have sailed to Japan and was there for 20 days. But such visits do not let me explore places and therefore taking a break is essential," says Tony.

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Nusa Ceningan (L) and Tumpak Sewu (R) in Indonesia

Tony saves money for his travel and accommodation and plans all his trips meticulously. But he is right now enjoying his extended stay in the Philippines by trying to blend with the locals there. He is now planning to visit neighbouring islands if more restrictions are eased. When asked about his return plans, Tony said that presently his priority is to enjoy each moment he spends in the Philippines. "I will come back once they allow international travel but right now, but I don't want to be overly concerned about my return plans,' says Tony.

Meanwhile, Tony has also started a YouTube vlog called 'trippingtony' where he shares all his sojourn. "Though the number of videos was very less in the beginning, I have now improved my vlogging and editing skills that the number of production has improved now. It's fun," says Tony.

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