A week on the rum
09.12.2008 - 18.12.2008 30 °C
Boracay, propbably the most popular island in The Philippines, has a reputation for being somewhat over-developed. We had been told many times that it was best visited in the 70s and 80s before hoards of tourists ruined the place. We may vote this the most unhelpful advice given about any destination, because it's obviously impossible to revisit during its heyday, and as such, a little depressing to consider. However, I'm sure we'll be imparting the same pearls of wisdom on people in years to come. We deliberated hard over whether to skip it completely, but in the end, we decided that we'd rather regret having done it, than regret having not. Our journey was long, and at times a little fretful, but we enjoyed it immensely. By the time the banca pulled in to the port at 8am, we were tired and hungry, and the sight of the biggest cock fighting ring we'd seen didn't fill us with loads of confidence. We took a tricycle to the hostel, checked in, dumped our bags and a few minutes later were standing on the White Beach, a 4km stretch of amazing white sand. We were really impressed. Soft white sand stretched as far as the eyes could see, it felt as though we were walking on castor sugar, and as there's a high concentration of coral in the sand it doesn't feel hot under-foot. The water was crystal clear, with the surface shimmering in the sun. It was a total cliche picture-perfect beach, so first impressions were good.
White Beach, Boracay
White Beach, Boracay
We found a cafe and treated ourselves to a full English breakfast, just as the heavens opened. It rained heavily for over an hour and we were concerned the weather wasn't going to allow us our dream beach week, but it didn't last more than an hour or so and turned out to be the only memorable daytime downpour. We spent the day indulging in some swimming and wandering around getting our bearings. By the end of the first day we had decided that we wouldn't continue our stay at Friendz resort hostel, due to the bathroom facilities being absolutely useless (if you flushed the toilet, the shower wouldn't work for about 30 minutes) so we knew that the following day we would be searching for somewhere to move to. That evening as we settled down to a rum and coke at Bom Bom Bar, the first bar we found with reggae and bean bags on the beach, we met Amy and Ryan, a couple from Bristol. We spent the night chatting and getting drunk and we all decided that as they were in the same position as us and were going to look for cheaper accommodation the next day, we should share a room for the week.
We woke up the next morning feeling decidedly hungover, and vague memories started seeping back into our consciousness - like Ryan trying convince Bradley to enter a dance competition on the beach, despite the fact that the locals taking part had highly polished boy-band style routines. We met up with Ryan and Amy in the early afternoon and due to Ryan's bartering skills, we secured their 4 person room in Seabird International for the next week at only 50peso more than we had been paying - but this came with a hot shower, free breakfast and a much better location, just a few metres from the beach front.
Ryan and Amy
For the next week, we mostly hung out on the beach; eating, drinking and dodging vendors (selling sunglasses, fake watches, wallets and activities), so rather than take you through a day by day account, we decided on a brief overview of the highlights, in no particular order.
The snorkeling trip - the four of us hired a boat to take us around the island, stopping for snorkeling, and having lunch on an almost deserted beach. The boat trip was a really nice way to see the island. The snorkeling was good, we thought, as it was our first real experience of it and had nothing to compare it to, but it turned out that the coral around Boracay is pretty much dead and as such the diversity of sea life has suffered. We've heard various reasons why this is, the boatmen told us it was damaged during a recent tornado, but the local divers told us it was simply because the area has not been properly cared for; a victim of years of pollution, careless tourists, and dynamite fishing by locals. We enjoyed seeing the fish and we're looking forward to seeing more on our trip - Ryan assured us we'll see some amazing sights under water. The tour was quite expensive for us, even after Ryan haggled them down to an apparently rock bottom price. To be fair they're obviously geared towards tourists with cash to spare than towards travellers on a budget, which was expected really as we were in a very touristy location. .We were even hit up for an extra couple of quid while we were on the boat snorkeling, when a guy in a boat approached us and charged us an extra 'environmental' fee. We put it all down to experience though, and we'll make sure that any extras are included in tours we take in future.
We visited a quiet beach for lunch
Brads first taste of Scuba Diving - After the snorkeling trip, it didn't take much effort on Ryan's part to convince Brads that he should experience proper scuba diving. As Anna wasn't keen on the idea, Ryan said he would be happy to take the discover scuba course with Brads, despite having been on some serious dives before. Rico at Victory dive was a great instructor and took Brads and Ryan through the safety aspects at the dive shop. It didn't take long to get them kitted up, and into the shallows on the beach practising the basics. Once the techniques and signals had been established, they went off for a practise run just off shore. The water was pretty cloudy due to a recent storm, so visibility was not brilliant but it was interesting to see the marine life that inhabits the waters so close to the masses on the beach. After completing the initial run, they headed back to the dive shop to replace their air tanks and joined the waiting boat trip for a proper dive, a kilometre or two from the shore. Some highlights were the giant clams, mantis shrimp, lots of brightly coloured fish and of course, the coral itself (or what was left of it). It was enjoyable, and something Brads was happy to have experienced, but at the same time, he felt slightly confused as to what attracted some people to spend thousands and thousands of pounds pursuing it as a hobby. Perhaps the damage to Boracay's reef systems had detracted from the experience, but as it is claimed to be one of the top locations in the world, Brads found it hard to see what all the fuss was about.
Hired ATV buggies for a drive - Again, there was a haggle to get the price down to something reasonable, and what we got was not what we'd been told to expect. We hired two buggies for a drive (Anna and Amy kindly let their respective partners drive) and we were led on a route by a guide on a quad bike. We were told we could not race, no overtaking each other or the tour leader, or anything else fun. The route was mostly on the roads (not 'up in the mountains' as we had been told) and was pre-planned to include a visit to a look out point (which included the most horrendous excuse for a zoo, which back home would certainly be shut down for animal cruelty) and a butterfly sanctuary, so more time was spent out of the buggy than in. It was frustrating as we had to haggle for more time actually driving, and opted to visit the butterfly sanctuary after our time on the buggies was over. That said, it was really fun and we had a good time. Again, lesson learned, we should have asked the exact details of the tour before agreeing to anything - had we realised that the 'off-road buggies' spent most of the time on the road, we probably wouldn't have gone.
Sandcastle building - Ryan built one on his own one afternoon, with the guidance of some local sandcastle builders and children, so the next day Brads joined in and together they spent hours building a masterpiece. It started as a strange arch, then Ryan decided it was going to be a football stadium but that turned out to be too complicated, so eventually it ended up looking like something like a citadel, complete with candlelight. Passers by stopped to watch, take photos and comment.
We really enjoyed our stay in White Beach and were very pleased that we didn't listen to the horror stories and miss it out. It is obviously over developed and we imagine it would have been even more amazing 20 years ago, but it's still well worth it, and popular for a very good reason. It doesn't feel as though the resorts 'own' too much of the beach, so you don't feel too overrun by them. We spent a lot of time in the beachfront restaurant of Red Coconut hotel due to the wifi facilities and the pretty little swimming pool (both free if you buy a drink). Their staff were really nice and it felt like we were staying there rather than at our own hotel. Brads even lent a hand fixing the wifi when it was down one day. If we do come back to Boracay when we're wealthy enough to take full advantage of the nice resorts, we'll definitely consider staying there. The added bonus was spending the week with Ryan and Amy. They're a lovely couple and we look forward to going out and getting trashed with them in Bristol when we get back.
After just over a week spent in Boracay, and with flights to Palawan beckoning, we once again gathered our things (minus Brads beloved cap which mysteriously disappeared, presumably while drunk...), bid our farewells to Ryan and Amy and caught our Seair flight to Manila - in the smallest commercial plane we'd ever seen, let alone flown in. There were 20 seats, no over head lockers, no seat back trays, not even any cabin crew. We could see the pilot and co-pilot, and the cockpit, which had little side-windows with clasps like the rear windows in an old mini. The safety demonstration consisted of the pilot turning around in his seat to welcome us on board and ask us to make sure our seatbelts were fastened - tightly. Take off and landing were certainly an experience as you can feel the velocity so much more in a small aircraft. We arrived back in Manila and headed to the other terminal to check in with Cebu Pacific for our flight to Palawan. After a couple of hours delay, which it turns out is quite usual for flights with Cebu Pacific, we boarded the plane and found that we had the privilege of sitting in the emergency exit row, giving us some extra leg room and the additional responsibility of having to assist if the plane did go down. If you are ever on a Cebu Pacific flight and hear the term 'easy victor' over the PA, then you're in serious trouble as that's the code word used to indicate that the emergency doors should be opened.
That's the pilot and co-pilot you can see at the front
Special thanks and acknowledgements.........
We would like to thank the following people for their part in our week in Boracay -
Ryan and Amy - for their company during the week, the drunken evenings, the hugs when Anna was feeling a bit down, and generally making us feel less homesick.
Shane - for being a very, very amusing Australian and falling for our little joke about the ladyboys.
The guys who worked at the Bom Bom bar for many extended happy hours and nice reggae music.
The sunglasses vendors and the boatman, for keeping such a good eye on our whereabouts, reassuring us that if we were to go missing, our disappearance would be noticed.