I arrived in the Philippines with a vague plan of vaguely meeting a friend who was two islands over from the airport on Cebu. The plan got even vaguer when specifically her emails stopped coming through to my email account. Email’s not supposed to be prejudiced… I think this Artificial Intelligence thing may be further along than we know.
My only real bit of knowledge was that in order to get from the airport to the seaport I should take a white taxi, not a yellow one. Fine doesn’t bother me, and I never really liked the colour yellow for a car anyway. Turns out the white taxis are metered taxis – aaahhh, and the other taxis are not. To the other taxis, you are a walking wallet, an ATM on mosquito ravaged legs. For example, a rep for the yellow taxis quoted me a flat fee of 450 pesos to the port, the metered white taxi came to 260 pesos. When you convert it the difference is about $5 which may not seem much in the grand scheme of things but the thing about quitting your job to travel is that you’ve got no job.
The sea port is efficient and confusing at the same time. Buy the ticket first; now join in this line to pay a terminal fee; now join in that line to go through screening; now join in this line to pay to have your baggage checked…which you really don’t need to do but you’ll be told you need to do it because you are a member of the walking ATMs, not that dissimilar to the walking dead really: same vacant look, clothes that have seen better days, dark circles under the eyes, probably a few scabby bits from falling off scooters, crashing into rocks, infected mozzie bites etc.. and a tendency to follow anyone who looks like you.
I had a very pleasant ride to Bohol, one of the Visaya islands to the East of Cebu island – unless you’ve got your atlas out this most likely means nothing to you. Bohol’s pretty, quieter than Cebu, less developed and people go there to see the Chocolate hills (sadly naff all to do with chocolate, the hills are the same shape as those of your childhood drawings, and they happen to turn brown in the hot sun, honestly it looks like a field of boobs), and the Tarsier monkey which is a titchy little thing only six inches tall, its massive head and eyes taking up half its body. Basically it’s an adorable pokemon character. I didn’t make a trip to see these little critters, I‘m always a little wary of tours that take you to see animals if I’m not sure how it affects them. (I desperately wanted to see whale sharks but the tours that take you out to snorkel along side of them feed the whale sharks to attract them which is screwing up their migratory pattern.) All of this concern and yet I merrily tuck into steak and bacon and all sorts of dead animals… hypocrite, moi? Yes, big, huge, ginormous hypocrite.
Anyhoo, back to the Tarsiers. Apparently these little critters cannot be captured as such, to be put in zoos, but instead large perimeter walls are built around their natural habitat, because they are rather nervy little things and will commit suicide if trapped. They hold their breath until they die. As defence mechanisms go, they got royally screwed by evolution.
But back to my vaguest of vague plans.
I arrive at the Tagilbaran seaport, in the dark obviously because this is what I do, and politely decline a dozen or so tricycle rides. Tricycles are motorbikes with a really big side car, large enough to hold between two to four people depending on their design. Two to four skinny people that is. Me and my tiny bag are a cosy fit. I need to find a cafe with wifi, which is where I discover that my friend is on Panglao island, not in the city where I thought she’d be. But there’s a bridge which connects it to Tagilbaran and after an hour of trying to email her and looking at mapquest, I exit the cafe to find a tricycle rider who’s been waiting for me the whole time. It made me feel ever so loved, I haven’t received that type of attentiveness since my first proper boyfriend when I was 14. (Have tried cyber stalking him many times, he is nowhere to be found. Either he’s living off the grid, or he turned into a master criminal and changed his identity… he was always quite good with computers.) I didn’t feel quite so loved after the driver made me pay for his petrol and didn’t take it off the price, then he reminded me of a totally different type of boyfriend.
Tricycle rides are a great way to see the world, you have a roof over your head to protect you from the harsh sun, but the sides are completely open giving you uninterrupted views. Bumpy as hell though, ladies make sure you’ve got some decent scaffolding on.
I get dropped off in the centre of Alona Beach, which is where the last email from my friend stated she had ended up… not where she was actually staying but hey, I’ve got the location down from an entire island, to a 2 mile radius so we are getting there. I make my way to the closest pace with wifi, a Hungarian bar -what else would one expect in the Philippines?- and email my pal to tell her to come find me. Following this, I make a glorious discovery: beer is cheap in the Phillippines.
I know how this sounds, I do, and I don’t care. I’d been pretty much tee-total in Malaysia for months (apart from the infamous Malaysian Ladies’ Night where women get endless supplies of sugary poison for free all over the cities) because booze is expensive there unless you want to drink paint-stripper and coke, and whilst I’m not a huge boozer because of my propensity for hideous hangovers, I am from the Welsh-Lithuanian gene pool… long term sobriety, well it’s just a bit odd.
Anyway, a bottle of San Miguel for a dollar, $1.70 tops, put me in happy cloud land. And halfway through that, in walks my buddy with a big smile, a bunch of stories to tell, and a place for me to stay. Winner.
Alona beach has the yin yan nature of most beautiful, easily accessible beaches. Its gorgeous, but its very built up. Commercialism, construction and crowds detract from the beauty. There’s nothing like snorkelling into a plastic bag to wryly remind you that as a tourist you’re a parasite. On the flip side of that though, there was a lot of good food, and we were able to sit at a table on the beach every night and listen to live music. Luxury wouldn’t be so popular if it wasn’t enjoyable.
We did walk a long way down the beach trying to find a deserted stretch of sand but the reality is that Panglao is lined with expensive five star resorts that lay claim to those beaches, and have things like handy cliffs to stop you from entering them. We did also take a kayak out, which was a far more effective method of getting to the secluded little bits of paradise.
Oh, so there we are in a kayak when we pass two divers who are on the edge of a marine reserve. They are at the surface, masks off, looking quite excited. Because I believe in talking to strangers IF they look interesting, I steer us closer and ask them what they’ve seen. To which one of them replies, “There’s a sea snake down there, a really big one! Be careful!” I give a genuine but uninspiring “Oh wow, really? Cool.” reply before paddling on, all the while thinking to myself, “ ‘Be careful’??? I’m in a f*@^ing boat, sunshine. You’re the one swimming with a venomous serpent.”
This marked the last of a few lazy days on Panglao. The next morning I headed back to the seaport with no clue as to whether I should take a ferry back to Cebu City, go onto Oslob, or fly to Boracay. I did the only sensible thing under the circumstances – I left the decision until I got to the ticket booth.