We finally make it to the beach
29.11.2008 - 09.12.2008 28 °C
We left our accommodation in Manila after only two days. Even with the warnings people had given us, we found it all a bit overwhelming and the pollution made it difficult to catch our breath. We didn't see any of the sights in Manila, apart from the biggest shopping mall in south-east Asia, which really wasn't anything special - it's a bunch of shops and if you've seen one you've seen them all. The fun part was the journey there and back. We firstly took a tricycle, a motorbike and side-car contraption, found all over the Philippines, to get us to the main highway. Then a jeepney - another very common form of transport here, which is based on the classic US army jeep with a brightly decorated shell with an extended and open back; which dropped us at a busy market area. From there we took a smaller van to get to the mall itself. Jeepneys are very personally decorated and covered in inscriptions to loved ones and God, the most popular being 'in God we Trust', and at times it seemed faith alone was getting them to the destination. On the way back we took an fx - a shared 12 seater mini-van taxi that services a fixed route and although they do have a tendency to cram in as many as 16 passengers, who can complain when a 25 minute journey costs around 50 pence. After that we felt rather accomplished. At each stage we had nearly caved in and opted for the comfort and simplicity of a private taxi, but managed to convince each other that we shouldn't flake out and keep going with the methods the locals would use. We did a bit of research to find a beach, and settled on a place called 'White Beach' in Puerto Galera, Mindoro.
With newly found confidence after our journey to the mall, we decided that we wouldn't take the easy option of a combined bus and ferry ticket to reach our destination in Mindoro and instead did a little research and found out how to wing it. We flagged a taxi in the street that took us to the bus depot in Manila, from there we boarded a bus to Batangas, the port town where we were to catch our ferry for the short hop across to Puerto Galera on Mindoro Island. When we arrived, we got tickets for another, more indigenous method of transport - a banca boat instead of a ferry proper. This was cheaper and altogether more exciting as it was open to the elements and made for a more memorable crossing. We arrived in Puerto Galera and made our way by tricycle to White Beach, and went looking for accommodation. There were loads of people approaching us to offer rooms, and although it was tempting to take the easy option and just follow someone, we knew we could find cheaper. Brads went off on his own and found a place called Summer Connection, offering bamboo huts right at the end of the beach, which was ideal. It was cheap and offered basic facilities (no hot water and a fan rather than air conditioning), but it was exactly the sort of place we were looking for. Brads had managed to barter the guy down to 30% of the original price, so we felt that we were really getting into the swing of things.
Our Beach hut in White Beach
White Beach, Mindoro
So, we undertook our first week on a beach, and both us had to learn quickly how to do nothing. There were very few Western tourists, most of the visitors being from Manila as it's the nearest decent beach. There were quite a few options for food and with our favourite being 'Rice all you Can', because Brads could eat kilos of rice in one sitting. We also spent a lot of time at 'Paul's Place', chatting to Paul, and we even managed to swap a few books with him. We had spotted a few "ladies" who looked a little suspect, and there seemed to be quite a few very pretty men hanging around. They were all really friendly, sweet and seemed completely at home, so didn't seem like tourists. We didn't expect this of a staunchly religious country, but no-one seemed to be batting an eye. On Friday night, as a show began in one of the bars, we realised that the amazing looking "girls", dressed in dazzlingly glamorous dresses, were in fact the lady-boys we'd been seeing all week, and it all made a lot more sense. The show was great and a real laugh; we hadn't expected to see anything like this until we arrived in Bangkok. The beer was cheaper than soft drinks, so we both found ourselves drinking beer, even though we hadn't done so since we were teenagers. It is certainly an easy taste to re-aquire. So, apart from getting drunk in the evenings, we played pass-the-pigs, cards (although we could only remember the rules to one game) and in the absence of a board game, we made a chess/checkers set out of pebbles and a kids vest we bought for 30p.
Us on the beach, still looking a bit pasty!
San Mig and cards - our two favourite activities of the week
One of the main topics of conversation all week was what to do next. We had booked a week at Summer Connection, and so we had to decide something pretty quickly. One of the places everyone had recommended was Boracay, but our guidebook was putting us off the place as it talked of overcrowded commercialism, stray dogs and vendors. We were a little fed up with the pack of stray dogs where we were, and saying 'no thank you' to the vendors had started to get on our nerves, so more of the same didn't seem so appealing. After much umm-ing and ahh-ing, we decided to give Boracay a try, it had to be half decent if it had been named the fourth best beach in the world. Once we decided where to go, we had the next task of how to get there looming ahead of us. We couldn't fly - that meant re-tracing our steps back to Manila, and just didn't seem viable. So, again we asked ourselves 'what would a Filipino do?', and yet again we found the scary answer of 'take a long, tiring route over land and sea'. We took solace in the fact that it would at least be very cheap.
Early Monday morning we checked out of Summer Connection, hiked to the main road and hired a tricycle to Puerto Galera. Soon we were boarding an already packed to the hilt jeepney. After they had packed yet more people on board, we were off and soon traversing the worst road we'd ever seen. On a winding road, high up in the mountains, the jeepney drove through metre-deep mud, with the only other vehicle evident being a massive digger. The jeepney rocked back and forward and seemed to be magically held upright. We may not be very religious people, but we were certainly praying along with the rest of the passengers. After a few hours we came to the outskirts of Calapan. We knew there was a bus station somewhere in this city and as it grew nearer our anxiety about finding it grew. We stopped for a couple of minutes on the outskirts of town and a chap on the street tapped Anna's shoulder and asked simply 'Roxas?' - the destination we were hoping to get to by bus. We agreed a price, what we'd expected to pay anyway, and transferred to his air-conditioned fx van. He really looked after us, we got the front seats and he made a stop at a petrol station so we could use the restroom. He knew the port in Roxas, and it gave us great confidence that he didn't laugh when we explained we wanted to catch the ferry to Boracay. There were great views as we sped through the countryside, rice paddy after rice paddy whizzing past. We saw quite a few Tamaraws - the indigenous "dwarf" water buffalo, and towns totally off the tourist track. We arrived at the Port at 12.30pm and the fx driver said he was sure there would be a boat at 2pm. The board next to the closed ticket office said 4pm and a woman Brads spoke to in a cafe said 6pm. The wait wouldn't have been so bad, but all the bars had video-oke, and the truck drivers waiting to board the ferry were all signing along to terrible soundtracks, all at the same time. It was hard to even discern what any of the songs were. With our headphones for our MP3 players firmly stuck in our ears, we waited until 4.30pm to buy our tickets and finally boarded the ferry at 5.15pm. It finally left the port after 6pm, by which point it was totally dark. The smell hanging in the air and the slurping noises confirmed that everyone was having a supper of Balot - a Filipino 'delicacy' of a duck egg foetus, a couple of days off hatching. The duck is pretty much fully formed and apparently tastes like Chicken - we won't be able to confirm this. The one thing we had said we didn't want to do was arrive at the port late at night, but it seemed unavoidable. Another passenger confirmed that once we docked, there would be no more banca boats making the short journey across to Boracay Island that night. It was 11.30pm as we left the ferry, and after a bit of a scary 30 mins - where a guy with a motorbike followed us trying to convince us to come to a hotel he knew - we found a small pension house. It was clean enough, although the question of 'how many hours' rather than nights, put us off a bit. We were soon fast asleep. We awoke the next morning at 5.45am to the loudest music we'd heard for ages, it sounded like a nightclub had erupted in the bathroom. After making a quick exit, we were very soon riding the ten minute boat ride, bound for Boracay.