Philippines Diary #5
We left beautiful Bohol by ferry, this time opting for the non AC outdoor seating, just for a change of scenery and I can only describe the experience as flying through the clouds but on the water. Stunning views of nearby islands and majestic fluffy clouds loom over the horizon, blue skies and blue water merge to complete the illusion of being on an airplane and the two hour journey passed in no time. Unlike the AC section there was no food service or Justin bieber music videos playing in the outdoor section but the view made up for that.
The ferry dropped us off in Cebu city, the second largest city in the Philippines, and the largest on the island of Cebu. It’s a busy business centre that’s quite reminiscent of Bombay. Infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the population growth and it’s filled with Crazy painted jeepneys, ridiculous traffic, beggars on the street, numerous slums and ghettos and all the other trappings of a big emerging city. We tried to get out and find something positive to experience but weren’t able to do much because of traffic and congestion and everything we saw just seemed dull and lifeless compared to the previous stops on our trip. It’s an unavoidable transit stop to many other parts of the Philippines so if stopping here I’d recommend you spend as little time here as you can and stay as close to the airport as possible or leave your hotel atleast 3 hours before your flight because traffic can be madness.
From here we got in a minivan arranged for us by our next hotel and proceeded to head to MoalBoal, another beach town on the western side of the island of Cebu.
The stay was a private hidden away mansion, off the main road and away from the main tourist areas. It’s a beautiful space and not very well known. There were only two guests at this property apart from us who had come there for a getaway from Cebu city and like us were just spending a day or two at the property. We spent the next two days just relaxing and enjoying the views and peaceful surroundings. The beaches here are treacherous and full of rocks and corals and you can’t walk around barefoot because of the uneven seabed but the waters are very deep and protected from fishing so the view is uninterrupted. Our room was a luxury bamboo hut on stilts and we slept very peacefully with the sounds of waves crashing in the distance and no other disturbances. It’s quite an expensive stay and the meals cost a fortune compared to other places, something we only found out at checkout, but the meals are home cooked and delicious and arguably worth their price in quality. Overall I think it would be a great spot for honeymooners or couples looking for a private getaway and we enjoyed the privacy and tranquility of the stay.
We then dragged ourselves back to Cebu city by local bus and had been warned by our hosts to only take the AC bus because the non-AC buses can be unsafe for people with bags and that drivers for them are only hired if they are crazy and willing to risk the lives of all passengers by overtaking at full speed on blind corners, that’s written in their contracts. So we took heed and proceeded cautiously back to the City centre by the AC bus and then spent the night at a basic hotel right besides the airport, proceeding early in the morning to catch a flight to Boracay.
Airports here have smoking rooms but require you to buy something, anything, just so you can use their facilities and most people inside can be seen reluctantly sipping overpriced beverages as they smoke waiting for their flights. Our flight was delayed, which I’ve learnt is another thing that matches life in India and the airport itself was nothing special. Our plane was a small turboprop aircraft, with just two seats on either side of the aisle and luckily Kritika and I were seated next to each, something you have to otherwise pay extra for on low cost airlines.
Many middle eastern countries offer flights direct to Cebu and on our flight we were seated behind some Arab tourists who soon after takeoff unwrapped something that smelled like a dead camel and proceeded to devour it vigorously. The locals not to be outdone opened their bags of deep fried pork rinds and matched them odour for odour. We found ourselves helplessly trapped in this inflight hostility, looking around at the European community on the flight for help but no help arrived and we had to turn the overhead vents away from us and direct it towards the bad food to try and fight the smell away. Apart from that and some turbulence at landing the flight passed smoothly with some stunning views of the islands below and we landed in Caticlan, ready to take a ferry to Boracay.
Boracay is a known as a party town and many people who heard we were heading here told us it’s a great place. We were very sceptical because we don’t like to party and our fears turned out to be true because it’s madness here.
There is a show called Scam City on NatGeo that shows people the different tourist traps in foreign places, I’m not sure if they’ve covered Boracay but I think they could definitely shoot a few episodes here.
The bullshit starts while you’re still on the plane with the flight staff trying to sell you a combination transport ticket that will cover your terminal fees and get you to your hotel for around 400 pesos per person, something we avoided and found out costs half as much when you do it yourself. On the flight they try to scare you saying it costs more once you land or if you do it yourself and that’s the vibe of the whole island, they prey on unsuspecting tourists and try to make money hand over foot everywhere you go here.
Once you land they tell you the ferry terminal is far and charge a fixed 50 pesos for a ride that’s literally just a 2 min walk and right around the corner from the airport. At the ferry terminal you have to get in line for a window where you buy a boat ticket then stand at the next counter for a terminal fee. Then go the next counter for an environmental fee. Then go inside and fill out a form for registration again. I’m left wondering why all of this could not be done at one window but it reminded me a lot about getting things done in India so we just smiled and keep pushing along. Once inside you pass baggage scanners and metal detectors that are mostly for decor and then through multiple other checkpoints, where they don’t check anything and you get on a ferry surrounded with armed guards and policemen. I believe the guards are there because of some political trouble but didn’t want to ask because people were already staring at us suspiciously.
The ferry ride takes 10 mins but most of that is the loading and unloading part. The actual trip is only 3 mins and by the time they make you put on your life jacket it’s already time to take it off and disembark. They have plastic shutters on the ferry to keep the water out but only lowered it on one side leaving us dry but all the passengers on the other side had water splashing over them through the ride and I could only assume they hadn’t paid enough and that’s why they had been selected to receive this treatment. Maybe they forgot to pay the “environmental fees”.
Once you get off the ferry agents try to sell you a minivan ticket to take you to your hotel for thrice the price that you would pay if you just walk outside the gate and get your own transport. Boracay is famous and recently featured as one of the top 5 beaches in the world. Many people arrive here straight from international destinations without seeing the rest of the Philippines so they make easy targets. We’ve had a chance to roam around the Philippines before this so we could tell when we were being fed bullshit but it seemed that most people just followed the herd and didn’t know better.
The island looks and feels like calangute beach on steroids and walking around town feels like strolling through Andheri station at rush hour.
We first took a tricycle cab from the airport to the town centre, just to grab a bite because we were tired of lugging around our backpacks. The town centre turned out to be a noisy open air mall packed to the brim with tourists and we wanted to run out of there as soon as we could but had to eat lunch so we decided to brave the crowd and stepped into a halal restaurant just to get away from the pork.
The owner was from Saudi Arabia and we chatted with him while waiting for our food. He tried to give us some insights into the culture here but was cut short by the sight of a tiny lizard on the wall. This is a tropical island city and its full of natural life, we didn’t mind the lizard, but he said Arab customers will freak out if they see it and then along with the staff proceeded to try and chase the little creature out the door with a broom in what can only be described as game of hilarious cricket. The lizard matched him turn for turn and with every stroke of his broom it changed direction and left him chasing it again. We ate silently trying not to laugh while enjoying the entertainment that this incident of man vs nature was bringing us, then politely loaded up our bags again and made the trek to our hotel.
Our hotel is a multi storied bamboo house, perched atop a rock at the edge of a little cliff and you have to enter through a little cave after a short walk across the beachfront. The rooms are charming and feature stunning views of the water, and every room is on its own level with narrow wooden stairs taking you spiralling around the hotel. Although lovely in construction, it was advertised as peaceful, quiet and away from the noisy parts of the town but in reality it’s still quite loud in the day and I can hear people down on the beach and in the water shouting and making noise all the time. Luckily though it’s still quieter than other parts of the island, but some ear plugs would be a wise investment for anyone trying to find peace.
I slept through the rest of the day only to be woken up by the sounds of Korean and Japanese tourists squealing in the water below our hotel. Too tired and hungry to venture out to town again for a meal we tried dining at the in-house restaurant of the hotel and after eating some grilled rubber that had been mistakenly labelled in the menu as beef teriyaki, we found the motivation to get back into town for a night out.
The night out options are limited to noisy and crowded or overpriced and lonely and we struggled to find something in between, finally settling on a burrito place which fed us really well giving us the strength to fight through the herds of tourists and tour guides and head back home to our hotel.
The tricycle driver we met tried to overcharge us at 3x the regular fare and we reluctantly only agreed to pay him double fare so he kept stopping at pimps and trying to force us to share the ride with prostitutes or pick up random people along the way just to trouble us saying we should have paid him more if we didn’t want harassment. I was happy to jump out when we finally reached our hotel and look forward to walking the rest of the time we are here.
After meeting the lovely people of Palawan and Bohol and the peace we’ve enjoyed so far on this trip, arriving here was shocking. There is overcrowding, the locals have a greedy and unhappy attitude at times and there is some terrible environmental misuse that’s happening here due to the sudden tourist explosion, it’s like nothing we’ve seen in the Philippines so far.
People don’t smile much here like they do elsewhere in the Philippines, maybe they’re wary of tourists now and walking around can be scary at times. Only after getting here did we get on the Internet and found out too late the warnings from other travellers about the scams at money changers, harassment on the beaches and the cheating by tricycle drivers that can happen if you are not careful here. If we had known more we would’ve skipped this tourist trap completely, because there’s nothing here that’s not cleaner, safer and friendlier elsewhere in the Philippines. But since we are here we will try to make the most of it and I’m happy to say our hotel does get quiet at night and sleeping shouldn’t be tough. Our room is semi-open air and there’s bugs and cats that enter at will, so they might be a problem but the staff has equipped us with a giant can of Baygon insect repellant spray that I assume it will work on both those pests and the stunning sunrise view from our balcony will somewhat make up for everything else.
I’m also hoping we can find some quieter places to explore over the next few days here and have happier things to say about life in Boracay.
You never know what you’re in for when exploring a new place, photos in magazines and trip-advisor reviews are always skewed towards positive experiences and people don’t usually take the time to post and promote negative reviews, sometimes afraid of upsetting the hosts or of starting a comment war so the truth can be hard to find. I’m very proud of Kritika for taking the trouble to experience everything first hand so she can give honest helpful recommendations to people and warn them appropriately of what to expect when travelling.
Stay tuned for one last post from the Philippines soon as our wonderful journey comes to a close and we can’t wait to be back home to our friends and family. I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts and sharing my travels with everyone and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.