Islandhopping 101: Five Questions to Ask for People Who Wish to Venture on Island Hopping


Rizal Boulevard, Dumaguete City- a fine place to start your Island hopping adventure.

 “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Almost everyone of us for once in our life would want to be a tourist and at the same time a traveler-exploring island after islands, roaming around valleys, hills, and seascape; meeting people from far away places, taking selfies of oneself behind famous landmark. Spending quality time with friends and families while basking the summer heat along the sandy beach of Coron, Panglao, Siquijor or Apo Island. But how?

There are several ways to do it. Among the favorite choice is the guided tour packages. I think every tourists are well accustomed with these kind of set-up, all you have to do is choose the package you preferred and settle the necessary payment, then voila! you’re good to go. One thing I don’t like about package tour (no offense to my lady friend, just my personal opinion) is the fact that you will pay the cost for the actual tour plus their service fees, commission, sales tax etc. ouch! Not only that, it limits your freedom to go anywhere you want- after all you’re just a tourist and not the explorer you should have been.

Then there’s this what they called the self-guided “Do It Yourself”  (DIY) tour, a tried and tested way mostly done by young, and independent generation of adventure seekers. Basically doing your own planning and researching before going on a trip cut the need for the costly tour middleman! If you plan your own itinerary yourself you get the freedom to choose your own adventure- whether on a bumpy ride of a Jeepney, or at the comfort of an inter-modal buses; why not on a roller coaster like ride of a ferry boat? Pretty sure you’ll discover every town and cities in this country even when you’re on a tight budget. But exactly how?

One way I know is through Island hopping. Here are five questions frequently ask about Island hopping.

1. What is Island Hopping?

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It is simply going to island after islands on a slow boat. If your fast paced, jet-setter type of person,  I am not really sure you will loved the idea simply because ferry travel in a Philippine setting is unlike American or European type of cruising. Traveling on a ferry boat can be a little disappointing and chaotic sometimes, especially to first timer. But for those who tried it once you would surely feel the need to try it again and again simply because it’s a lot cheaper and  it is the most convenient mode of transporting people and cargoes to far flung island  destination;  plus the fact that it is said to be more fun and exciting than the usual and boring air travel.

Island hopping is all about going to as many islands as you can without over-spending (making you broke upon returning home is a non-sense). Compared to packaged tour wherein you fly to your destination, and then visit famous landmark during daylight, and then stay in a  cozy hotel at night-for a couple of days- and that’s what it is. I say No, island hopping is far more better than that, believe me.

2. Why Island Hopping?

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It is an old and tested, fun and exciting way of reaching your dream destination. I mean it’s like going back to about a hundred or less  years ago  wherein air travel is virtually unheard of, and the only means of reaching another island is by way of sailing. My Spanish-Moorish ancestors have done it centuries ago where they too went on island hopping coming from their homeland Spain. Looking, searching, and finally discovered an island here where its beauty and mystery were then explored. I’m pretty sure you have it too.

Island hopping adventures are tailor-made for young generations of thrill-seekers whom are in a look out of something new and something different. Young professionals now adays have these type of drive because they’re typically more creative, inventive, idealistic, pro-active and successful. Island hopping will surely improved once concentration, broadened its own perspective, and will test its own limits as you will leave from your comfort zone.

3. What can I achieved doing Island Hopping?

Honestly, it depends on each individual. I remember I was wandering from Manila down to Bicol on a bumpy, back-aching bus ride; then went on island hopping to Samar and Ormoc in Leyte Province for two non-stop days. Feeling not satisfied after, despite lack of sleep and rest, I embarked on a slow ferry boat to Cebu and Negros Island (Dumaguete to be exact); and a few days thereafter I went back to Manila again via Bacolod all the way to Iloilo City on a slow boat, t’was my first Island hopping trip way back 2008. What did I achieved on that trip? a lot, I got answer to my prayers… short of a miracle.

And it was followed on year after year since then, island hopping trip all over Visayas and Mindanao. On last January of this year alone I took a week-long trip from Dumaguete City (my hometown), took a six hour bus ride to City of “smiles” Bacolod then hopped to Iloilo, then took a ferry-boat crossing the choppy and stormy weather of Sulu Sea heading to the remote island of Cuyo. Several hours after we went sailing again heading to Port of Puerto Princesa, and all the way to the capital City of Manila (after a few hours strolling around the beautiful City of Puerto Princesa) by way of Coron Island, and then back again here in Dumaguete through the Queen City of Cebu, all of which by means of a slow boat.

Another successful island hopping trip were just concluded again just few days ago- this time covering the island of Panay, Mindoro, Batangas, Manila,  Romblon (my first time here), Masbate, Leyte, Cebu and Negros via bus and Ro-Ro boat. The trip took me about a week to complete with minimal cost and without any difficulties of whatsoever, an amazing experience indeed.

What did I got out of these grueling, back-breaking and butt-burning trip?  It made me realized the need for more adventure, contemplating the chances to do the ultimate island hopping to the island of Cagayancillo or Tawi-tawi for change.

It’s tricky to find the right reason on activities such as I mentioned. Maybe you should ask yourself first, is it worth? I’m sure you will find a convincing reason for yourself.

4. How to stage a successful Island Hopping?

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Accomplishment for your week to month-long island hopping trip will be measured upon your return to the comfort of your own home. That’s the way it is, no one for sure can foretell the hurdle you will encounter during your journey to discovery- remember you’ll opt the Do it Yourself  vacation trip, it means you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime. It’s not a guided tour wherein you pay someone to take you safely and without any inconveniences- and let you take a snapshot of landmark… for the sake of you being there. Instead you’re going on an island hopping on your own or with your friends because you knew well enough how to be an explorer and not as a tourist.

Looking for a successful island hopping adventure trip would depend on a good planning of course.You should consider as many things you can imagine, you need to do a lot of research. And sometimes it will involve your family and friends for an advice; consultation to people with experienced doing such kind of activities so as to make your trip easy and safely. Always remember that each plan of action may work or not work along the way, most of the time your travel plan may fail (that is why God created tour guides)  but it’s normal. What I did when my plan didn’t work? Well I got some back-up plan instead.

Here are few things to consider while you’re in a planning stage. Do you prefer luggage or backpack? Island hopping is all about mobility, you will be in constant motion doing a lot of walking , transferring from one mode of transportation into another. Luggage will surely keep you uncomfortable throughout the journey.

Do you prefer staying at cozy hotel or at the comfort of a bus or ferry terminal’s benches and floors? Island hopping is not about being a tourist who goes for a sight-seeing and shopping spree, it’s all about being a traveler who knows how to be simple and adapted to ones environment, and most of all, he/she had a slightest discipline on spending. Island hopping is for people who are in search for the elusive “something new and something different ” for their life.

5. When is the best time to do Island Hopping?

Yes tanaw ko na ang Negros Island

You may do it anytime of the year whenever and wherever, there are no rule as to when will be the best time. But a good island hopping traveler must knew when will be the best time to travel, they usually knows the perfect weather, the less crowded and cheap fares around. He or she knows how to get in and out of the island with ease, and as much as possible prevent him/her from being stranded for a long time.

A good traveler knows to how plan well and expect that a plan may not perfect after all. The ideal island hoppers are usually those that are mobile, flexible, tough, free wheeling, determined and got a good timing. And of course just like a tourist, one must have enough money reserve inside the pocket just to make sure.

Where is the best destination to start on island hopping adventure?

We’ll see about that in the coming months. Have a pleasant day everyone!

 

Islandhopping 101: Guides and Tips On Your Trip in a Ferry Boat


A fun and inexpensive way to do Island hopping in this country.

“The trail is the thing, not the thrill of the trail. Travel too fast and you’ll miss what you’re travelling for.”

– Louise le’ Amour

Are you one of those people who dream of going on a holiday trip to far away land, but worries over the cost of getting there… at your dream destination? Do you often wonder what was it like cruising on-board a ship? – and feel the gentle summer breeze, while smothering the salty warmth air at sundeck as you anxiously scanning the horizon waiting for the right moment before pressing the shutter button of your camera. I say wonder no more! traveling on a ferry boat is a lot cheaper and more exciting than flying a commercial aircraft. Imagine cruising for an hour to a day or two, then after inspiring evening spending on the loneliness of the turbulent sea you woke up and saw your dream destination slowly coming at you almost within arms length, isn’t it a melo-dramatic like epic of some sort? Whatever.

Island hopping is a trend nowadays for young and not so young generation of adventure seekers who’s not really on a tight schedule and doesn’t mind being in a slow boat while it cruises the sea heading to the summer get-away islands of Cebu, Bohol,  Boracay, Siquijor, Palawan and many more.

Below are list of my own tips, guide, and suggestion on how to Do It Yourself  (DIY) island hopping adventure via ferry boat. These information are based on my experiences while on-board a ferry on a countless years of traveling, covering wide sort of passenger ships/boats plying on different ports in this country. You as first time ferry traveler will gained insight and ideas on what to expect on buying a ticket, to getting around the ferry terminal, on boarding and dis-embarking a boat, and most importantly getting your way in and out of the pier safely.

First Three Important Tips

  1. Ferry travel in a Philippine setting is far more different from that of American or European standard on sea travel. Why so? head further to learn more about it.
  2. Be prepared. Do some research about Philippine culture, tradition, the settings, its people, and most importantly the weather (click it here).
  3. Island hopping via ferry boat is generally safe- the country’s Maritime Safety Standard have been improved over the years- so need not to worry. It can be tiring and boring especially during long voyage, but rest assured that upon arrival on each and every destination you will be awed with what every Island can offer.

Eager for more? here it goes.

One of the many outrigger boats found in Boracay  Island.

On Choosing a Ferry, Delays, and Cancellation of Trip

  1. There are ferry-boats that carries passengers and cargoes, and connects to one or more islands in a single trip.
  2. There are long distance passenger ferries that regularly sails from either Manila or Batangas, with destination to major ports in the Visayas, and Mindanao. Overnight ferries, on the other hand, sails to and from Port of Cebu, Batangas, and other ports along Vis-Min area for example falls to this category. Whereas, short-distance ferries usually travels less than an hour or to more than hour,  from one island connecting another island.
  3. Meanwhile, medium to large sized ferry boats are typically the RORO (Roll on-Roll off) type of vessel that carries passengers and rolling cargoes. These types of boats are commonly used in a long or short distance haul.
  4. Medium sized freighter like ferry-boats on the other hand, has a forward crane mast generally used to haul palatalized cargoes. These boats by the way accommodates passengers on a short trip, some on an overnight trip.
  5. Small ferry boats normally are those single hulled or catamaran fast craft that you may often see in Port of Batangas or in Cebu Port. These type of boats are the most convenient among the last two mentioned type of boats as it is fast, on-time and comfortable, although the drawback is its not so cheap fare tickets. There are also motorized outrigger boats that plies on a regular short distance route and can take passengers on a daily basis, they are normally cheap, often slow and uncomfortable especially when crossing a rough sea.
  6. When buying a ticket, there is one or more accommodation to choose from. The more expensive are the one that offers first class amenities (a Filipino standard amenities), the least expensive are mostly preferred by locals but it usually has minor inconveniences for passengers.
  7. Most ferry companies doesn’t have website, but many of them does have Facebook page wherein you may inquire or view their posted schedule.
  8. Most ferry companies doesn’t have online booking arrangement either.
  9. Foreign tourist planning their travel itinerary and would want to try a ferry trip may book in advanced through travel agencies which are often found over the net.
  10. For locals, buying a ticket is usually done on a ticketing office or booth found on every port, and even inside a shopping malls located on a major thoroughfare of a city.
  11. Tickets are commonly issued hours before departure, sometimes a few minutes before the vessel departs. As a general rule tickets are sold at first come first served basis.
  12. Buying a ticket at least a day or week ahead will save you from long queue of people, and usually tickets are priced lower.
  13. Ticketing offices/booth does not accept credit or debit cards.
  14. If you’re traveling on holiday season (particularly Christmas and Lenten vacation , long-weekend, etc), I recommend you to secure your ticket as early as you can. Tickets during this time are often hard to find or none at all, sometimes tickets double its price-why am I not surprised! And more often the inexpensive economy accommodations are fully book, and you will likely opted to buy the first class tickets instead.  FYI: Port of Cebu, Port of Batangas, and Port of Matnog in Sorsogon, Caticlan Jetty Port are few of the many ports in the country with heavy concentration of passengers during holidays so expect some delays, long queuing lines and crowded terminals during this time.
  15. Tickets by the way are refundable and re-bookable, but seldom re-routable. Normally refunds are subject to fees, and honored only in a ticketing office where you actually bought it.
  16. Tickets does not include terminal fees.
  17. A purchased ticket may include charges for Insurance fee, government tax, fuel surcharge and other fees. It may also include Filipino meal for long distance route. You may chose not to pay the fees for the meal should you prefer, just inform the ticket issuing officer ahead.
  18. Normally toddlers, elderly person, and person with disabilities are subject to discounted tickets. Foreign tourist/travelers unfortunately are not covered on these privileges.
  19. You can transport your motorized vehicle from one island to another island with ease, just bring those necessary papers and have it all photocopied.
  20. Ferry schedules are posted here in Islandhopping Geek’s Travel Guide, they are all updated every now and then.
  21. Bringing pets is possible, just secure a permit to carry from the Bureau of Plants and Animal Industry’s office found near every port. Reminders: office hour’s is until 5 PM,  and to my surprise there were no fees for my pet when I requested for a clearance.
  22. Some ferry company charges you a minimal fee for every pet or animals brought on-board.
  23. If you’ve been notified ahead that your planned trip were cancelled due to non availability of a ship… don’t get surprised! most likely the ship undergoes repair.  You see almost all ferry boats plying between every port in this country are old, and acquired second-hand from Japan.
  24. More often, areas affected by weather disturbances would likely caused shipping delays on departures and arrivals. Expect trips will likely be cancelled for a day to a week should the government’s weather agency PAGASA, declares storm strength as it is approaching a land mass- it can be heard all over radio and television station nationwide, better have Plan B set aside.
  25. Delays on departure or arrival can also be attributed to cargo loading and unloading process. Cargoes by the way are the lifeline for every RO-RO boats plying on every route, more often these ferry boats carries a full load of vehicles on its cargo bay to compensate for their expenses- indeed a long waiting time for passengers.

    CPA's Passenger Terminal Building

    CPA’s Passenger Terminal Building

    On Getting Your Way To These Seaports

  26. The convenient way going to a major ports like the one in Manila, Cebu, or Davao is through taxicab. Normally the cost of flagging down a taxi depends on what was on the taxi meter’s display, other taxi driver may charged you for a  fix price which is normally expensive especially if you’re a foreigner-don’t bite it if I were you; try to find a taxicab that would rather charge you based on what was on the taxi meter’s rate.
  27. Ordinary metered taxi (white) from NAIA terminals to North Harbor Port Terminal would normally cost in between 300 to 500 pesos, that’s if it never encounters heavy traffic; it may also cost you a little more during late at night. Whereas airport taxi (yellow) will cost you double than the normal but you can be assured by their well mannered and professional service. You may check the link here to learn more about taxicab fare rate.
  28. However port access on a smaller cities are conveniently reached through public transport such as Jeepney, multi-cabs, tricycles and commuter buses. Fares for this vehicle are per person or per trip basis.
  29. There are uniformed porters inside the terminal area ready to assist every passengers.  Manila North Harbor Terminal by the way regulates the collection of fees to passengers for every baggage checked-in, so no need to haggle for the price for each of the porter’s services. Other port does not have such arrangement like in Manila so the rule is you need to find amicable deals.
  30. If you happen to take the services of these porters make sure you have his name, or the number of his uniform, or at least remember his face, after all you are entrusting your belonging in his hands…don’t get too confident.
  31. Before entering into a passenger terminal, you will be required to present your boarding ticket together with the terminal fee (ticket).
  32. Terminal fee will cost from fifteen pesos to a hundred pesos more depending on a port terminal.
  33. Terminal tickets are issued only to passengers.
  34. Major ports have spacious passenger terminal building, with modern facilities to handle and accommodate large numbers of passengers on a given time.
  35. During holiday rush and weather disturbances, ship’s  schedules changes more often thereby resulting to delays and cancellation of trip; passenger terminal building- on this situation- are normally busy accommodating crowds of stranded passengers. These passengers often littered on a terminal’s benches, floors, and corners together with their baggages, luggages, and boxes they brought in; and most likely a hundred more passengers are waiting outside eager to get inside the building .
  36. Arrived three hours ahead of scheduled departure. When I was island hopping in Palawan a month ago, I was actually at the terminal six hours ahead of the scheduled departure. Later on after spending five hours in the terminal waiting for a boat, a ferry company representative went to announced that the boat’s arrival would be delayed for another more hours (what a poor Press Released). It turned out that the announced “more hours” of delay means it would reach to agonizing 12 hours of waiting until the boat departed from the port.
  37. Is these are the normal settings? I remember I was once asked by a confused foreign couple the same question, honestly, in such circumstance wherein weather is the main caused I’m looking at it as a normal phenomena. The best thing to do when your in such unbelievable situation, is to ready your option A and C, which is to either wait or ask for refund. 
  38. Most of the ports implements port security; expect your bags, luggage and other things you brought in with you are gonna be checked and subjected to thermal scanners. Passengers will be required to undergo metal detector and body frisking as well.
  39. Filipinos loved to travel that’s the fact. If you find them around jolly and very friendly- sometimes noisy to the point it would distract other passengers- some are walking back and forth endlessly, while others are laughing to the point it would annoy fellow passengers… just relax they’re just  too eager to board a ship, you see almost all of us pinoy are first time ferry boat travelers. 

    Expect long queuing lines during peak season

    Boarding a Ferry Boat

  40. During boarding calls almost all Pinoy travelers would want to board a ship as quickest as possible… too eager as I noticed. Some would resort to pushing and hustling with one another, others will create their own lines instead of following what was the normal queuing lines… while foreigners calls it “Chaotic”, I call it culture. You have to understand that these Filipino travelers do not have the luxury to travel more often, so they have this tendency to get too excited on a feeling of what was like traveling on a ship. Why join the euphoria? relax and wait till the situation calms down.     
  41. Don’t lose your ticket.
  42. Always carry your ticket with you.
  43. Your seat or bunk assignment will be based on what was indicated on your ticket. If someone other than you occupies your assigned seat or bed, tell the boat crew.
  44. If you’re on economy accommodation then expect that you will be staying for the rest of your journey together with the other passengers on a non-air-conditioned, crowded, noisy, and a bit of chaotic surrounding.
  45. Why chaotic? Most of foreign travelers on a first time ferry trip didn’t expect what was it like being on a budget accommodation. Actually for us locals what was in there were pretty normal…you would be sleeping with fellow fellow human being on an inch apart- more often than, you will be sleeping side by side with people who snores and cough like a German guard dog. Families with kids often running here and there sometimes knocking out things; annoying passengers keep on talking, laughing, and singing on a videoke machine in the middle of the night; ship’s engine is quite noisy especially if your near rear section. Others are eating in front of you and not on a dining or mess hall; luggage’s, boxes, pets, electronic appliances and other household stuff are blocking your way almost like occupying the entire ship.
  46. And oh, you might wondering why do most Filipinos carries almost every stuff inside their house when they travel? That was a question asked by a puzzled foreign guy…a question were only Filipino travelers knows the exact answer.
  47. Never leave your bag open or display any valuables – laptop, smartphone, jewelry, money- to anyone especially if your on a crowded room or public places (a disaster waiting to happen).
  48. Person with disability will find it a little difficult while on-board a ferry as most do not have facilities that would address their needs.

    Sometimes you have to deal with reality…toilets are closed and under repair.

    Sanitation & Hygiene

  49. Here’s more…you wish to use a toilet (“loo”, “john”, or “room 100” as what foreigners call it) and you’ll be stunned with what you see when opening the door. If you’re traveling on a ferry carrying a hundred to a thousands of passengers, then expect that most of the hundreds of passengers before you will be using the same toilet room on a given time. Most ferry does not have dedicated crew whose task is to clean the toilet every now and then.
  50. If you are traveling on an overnight ferry, the best time to visit the toilet is during late at night wherein almost all people are asleep, and more likely toilets are cleaned and sanitized.
  51. If you’re traveling on a short distance trip and you can’t live with the toilet, try to hold on it for a while. Or visit a comfortable toilet before boarding a ferry boat.
  52. Almost all toilet found on every ferry do not have hand soap in a soap dispenser, neither do have any toilet paper on its tissue paper holder.
  53. Expect that toilet flush isn’t working, more likely you will be using a bucket!
  54. Toilet exhaust fan maybe working maybe not.
  55. Neither have any hand washing facilities near mess area, more often you need to visit toilet room to wash your hand.
  56. The general practice is you bring your own toiletries or buy it in a store on-board.
  57. Let me reiterate that what you pay is what you get. You choose for a budget accommodation then expect those mentioned above inconveniences.
  58. But if you wish to venture for more comfortable and relaxing trip on board you may upgrade to cabin or suite accommodation, rest assure you wil have the luxury and the privacy on your entire trip.
  59. Meals are not free unless stated on your ticket. Meals serve are often local dish of various taste and style, first class dining offers better meal experience suitable for tourist and well to do passengers . On-board stores offers snacks, sodas, instant coffee, and more choices of instant noodles- hey, don’t ask me why first thing you would notice on an on-board stores is nothing but instant noodles, I, too, get puzzled.                                                                                                                                                                              

     “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”– James Michener

    Got a good camera? moments such as this are worthy of a snapshot.

    What to Bring On-Board

  60. Bring ear plugs or earphones. This may help you sleep soundly even on a noisy environment.
  61. Buy pack meals, snacks, bottled water, motion sickness tablets, and toiletries while your in the city. On-board store sell this stuff but often at higher price.
  62. Smartphone or your ordinary phone. Smartphone will help your kids ease their boredom on a long distance trip, especially if they can play their favorite games.
  63. You can bring your cellphone charger and have it hook-up on a wall socket on-board. Just ask the crew where you can safely plug it.
  64. Telephones services by the way (i.e. Calls, SMS, and 3G mobile internet) can also be access even far shore- usually your phone may pick a not too strong signal but good enough to send or receive a text message. Often a 3G signal will only be picked-up by your smartphone only if there is an island nearby.
  65. Identification papers in case you need it.                         
    Zaragoza Gate Pier 4 Manila North Harbor.

    Zaragoza Gate Pier 4 Manila North Harbor.

    Upon Arrival

  66. Check your belongings especially when dis-embarking a boat, make sure that all things are within your reach.
  67. Arrival on a daylight posed no difficulty when finding a public vehicle going to a city. During late at night things maybe difficult especially when few public transport vehicles are found, most if not all will charge you high. The best thing to do (if you think fare is too stiff and not safe to travel at night) is to stay for a while at the port’s passenger terminal until daylight.
  68. Arrival at night in Manila is a bit of a test for those first timer especially for foreign tourist coming from Palawan or Cebu. Once outside Zaragoza Gate of the Manila North Harbor you will find  hundreds of passengers looking for a transportation just like you do; public transport like jeepneys are common here and most have different route with different fare, some will charge you minimum while others will charge double. Just ask the driver how much would be the cost before boarding any of these jeepneys. Be alert of snatchers and crooks lurking around.
  69. If you’re heading to the NAIA terminal’s 1 & 2 or at any of those hotels in Makati, Pasay or Manila, it’s better to take a taxicab as public transport like jeepney or buses are not available for this route. Again if you can find a taxi that is willing to charge you based on what was on the taxi meter’s reading the better, if not try to haggle for a better deal.
  70. If your boarding a vessel from Caticlan (Aklan), Romblon, Puerto Galera or Calapan in Oriental Mindoro and you wish to travel to Manila, the easiest way is through the numerous ferry boats that connects these provinces to the Port of Batangas. Upon arrival on this modern port located in Batangas City several bus companies (almost all of them offers air-conditioned buses) are waiting outside the terminal round the clock, some bus will take you to Alabang in Muntinlupa, others will go to Cubao in Quezon City, but most buses will end up to Buendia in Pasay City. There are a good bus competition around here so expect each bus company will offers nice and well air-conditioned coach, a well mannered driver and conductor, and a cheap fare.

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

 ― Clifton Fadiman

That’s it for now. If you have questions feel free to comment here, if you think this blog help  please do share it!  Thanks.