Sea, sun, sand, Philippines
Even at 11:30 pm the streets of Manila are choking. Zig-zagging motorbikes, minivans, and overflowing jeepneys (a hybrid jeep-bus) weave together to form a solid wall of slowly moving traffic.
Although Manila undoubtedly has lots to offer, we take the advice we've read to heart - "the first thing you should do when you arrive in Manila is to leave". We stay less than 24 hours before heading to Moalboal on the island of Cebu. With over 7,000 islands, travel in the Philippines includes plenty of short flights and boat rides.
Astrid has a knack for seeking out unique places for us to stay. Moalboal is no exception. We spend several days at an archery-themed camp - sleeping in bamboo huts, honing our skills with a bow, and taking cold water bucket showers.
One of the highlights here is snorkelling with a massive school of sardines. Difficult to describe in words, the fish form a massive, shimmering underwater thundercloud. Occasional lightening-like flashes of light reflect off their silvery skin.
From Cebu, we take a ferry to Bohol where we will spend Christmas. Friends have helped to arrange a bit of luxury for the holidays - a fancy resort with an infinity pool, buffet breakfasts, spa, games room, and a white sand beach.
Unfortunately, a typhoon hits while we are here which means wet weather and a lot of time indoors or under cover. Regardless, the boys enjoy video games and time with grandma. I rent a scooter and prove my abilities in the local traffic, and we generally have a relaxing time.
It is Christmas Day. We make our way to the river in the dim twilight of evening. The thick, brown water flowing at our feet, we carefully board our kayaks. We are paddling at night - making our way down the twisting river to see the fireflies that make this a popular destination.
We are rewarded with clouds of green, shimmering lights that hug the trees against the darkness of night - unlike anything I have ever seen. Not a random gathering, the glowing insects move in careful coordination like a school of fish - Nature's expertly decorated Christmas trees.
Soaked and tired we finish off the evening with a traditional Filipino meal in the warm cabin near the water's edge.
Leaving Bohol, we catch a prop plane to Palawan. The combined effects of Christmas and typhoon weather mean the airports are a mess - long, slow-moving lines at every turn.
More of an airstrip than an airport, we arrive in El Nido - the northern tip of Palawan. We will spend New Year's here. A chorus of Filipino singers and a bamboo bench for the baggage claim, the airport is minimal but charming. Before long we are whisked away in several tricycles - small motorcycles with cosy sidecars that fit up to four people in relative comfort.
From the airport, we arrive in the lazy, beachside town of El Nido. Our hotel is just outside the centre and to get there we must pass through a treacherous passageway that we come to call "the squeeze".
We are here to celebrate New Year's Eve and to relax with friends from Vancouver – days at the beach, island hopping tours, scuba diving adventures.
As with other places we've visited, safety standards are different in this part of the world. New Year's Eve fireworks begin with shimmering lights reflecting off the water and end with screams and fleeing, panicked crowds.
Apart from this, we have a great evening with friends and family – looking forward to continuing our adventure in 2017.
I am weightless. Gliding through an endless expanse of blue. Sebastien and Isa - a close friend from home - have spent several days becoming certified as divers. Seeing the permanent smile on their faces has convinced me to give it a try.
This is my first time breathing under water and the experience is overwhelmingly amazing. I feel like an astronaut stepping onto the moon for the first time. Three dives and an all around amazing day also leave me with a permanent grin and a craving for more.