The Philippines is basically the funkiest looking country in the world, it is pretty much a load of islands all sprouting up out of the Western Pacific Ocean. The archipelago is made up of over 7000 islands all of which are home to some 97 million people. It is touted as being one of the most beautiful countries in the world and is home to orang-utans, jungles, huge waterfalls and some of the best beaches in the world including the world famous Boracay which regularly tops most lists. With just 4 million tourists per year (compared to Thailand’s 17 million) it is still a country largely untouched by tourism and though principalities earn their entire GDP from tourism, largely, you will have much of the Philippines to yourself.
That said, the Philippines is also one of the most nutted countries in the world. It is home to volcanoes which erupt every now and again, typhoons and is on the ring of fire meaning every so often an earthquake passes by.
But with just about everyone speaking at least a basic form of English and prices exceptionally cheap (with water being about 20p a bottle, beer 50p a bottle and a room for around £8) It is cheaper than its main competitor Thailand, and arguments about which is more beautiful have been raging for decades. The main problem with the Philippines of course is that it is a 2hr flight from mainland SE Asia and so you actually have to want to come here and pay for it.
There is no visa fee for British with a complimentary 30 day visa a matter of course, but there is a departure tax. More on that in a later post.
Anyway, so we were in Sabang and no doubt about it Sabang is an gorgeous place, unfortunately we soon found out that after you tired of the amazing view out across the ocean with the palm tress in a soft focus, there wasn’t really much to do.
It is essentially a village isolated from the rest of the island and it has two main draws; diving and sex. I was talking to a Norwegian bloke who was formerly a mariner, he had settled in the Philippines some 20 years back making the most of his pension. He explained that of the few tourists that make the effort to get to Mindoro most are sex tourists looking for a lot of bang for a little bit of buck. And I saw quite a few westerners who felt they needed to travel over half way across the world to get a girl. I do try to keep an open mind whilst traveling and am fully aware of not judging others by my own morals and standards, but Filipino girls look really young at around age 18 or so. I reckon the average 18 year old looks about 13 or 14 and most of the girls hanging off these guys wallet look that sort of age. It was cringe worthy and in my mind, absolutely disgusting.
As far as diving is concerned it is supposedly world class and constant offers of “boat sir” abound. Obviously we couldn’t go diving and the best beaches were in malaria areas and I don’t have the precautions or think the risk is worth it for the sake of a local beach. That said, coco beach and white beach nearby are supposedly gorgeous, but since we were headed to Boracay next I just wasn’t enthused enough to make any real effort or pay any of the requested costs.
We were all still tired having slept until 1pm on our first night and the exhaustion was refusing to leave us. I decided that we would do nothing but relax, try to get into a routine that encompassed the three separate time zone changes we had made within the last 3 days and figure ourselves out. We were now +8 GMT.
By the second night we all agreed we were ready to move on and face our final big day of travel for the next few weeks and so at around 10pm we packed, showered and looked forward to making our way to paradise on earth.
Most people fly direct to Panay, and then take a quick boat to Boracay. But with most Filipino airlines being dodgy and me being unable to fit one onto a schedule that worked I decided we would take the long way down to Boracay. There was one other option which was an overnight boat from Batangas to Caticaln which costs around 800 php per person, leaves at 9pm and arrives 6am the following morning. But feeling like a bit of adventure we took the long way and it went something like this:
7.30am – Sabang to Puerto Galera = 150 php for the tricycle (£2.25)
– First we took a tricycle for the 20 minute journey to the minibus station headed to Calapan.
8am – Puerto Galera to Calapan = 100/80 php (adult/kids) (£2.70/£1.20)
– Then we fired along the Mindoro coastline toward the capital for about an hour and half.
10am – Calapan Pier – Roxas = 170/85 php (£2.55/£1.27)
– The longest part of the journey was a coach to Roxas which is the jumping off point for the South of the Island. We ended up heading to the pier rather than Calapan City because our driver reckoned he couldn’t find the bus station and only a tour operator. Expecting me to actually fall for it I took the next best option which was the port, where sure enough buses were waiting.
2pm – RORO (roll on roll off boat) Montenegro Lines to Caticlan = 391/230 php (£5.88/£3.40)
– There are only a couple of boats per day, but we arrived into Roxas port and didnt have enough money. There was of course not ATM and the ticket office didn’t take visa/mastercard. We had to jump in a tricylce to Roxas city and then find an ATM that actually worked and then raced back to the port where we literally had to run down the harbour to the boat that was just about to leave. The last to board we got comfy for the 4 hour crossing.
The crossing from Roxas to Caticlan is notoriously choppy, but it was ultra smooth for us and the only issue was on arrival where the boat already in port couldnt be arsed moving and so we had to chill for an hour before we could get in. This pissed me off because we would have arrived in day light, but it was now dark and lightening was beginning to illuminate the night sky. But other than that the crossing was pretty uneventful, i read my kindle and the kids played UNO on the deck with the wind every now and again retiring an UNO card to the sea.
7.45pm – Caticlan to Boracay:
There is an absolute scam going for boats to Boracay which is just a mini sized pump boat. There are three costs and they break down like this:
Boat fee = 25/30 php (day/night) (£0.37/£0.45)
Environmental Fee = 75 php (£1.12)
Terminal Fee = 100 php (£1.50)
The three windows are next to each other and you must buy every ticket for every person with the exception of the environmental fee which doesn’t apply to under 12’s.
Its a blatant scam as you don’t even go to a terminal and no one even checks the environmental fee. But nonetheless you must pay and then make your way onto one of the dodgy looking wooden boats outside.
The walkway onto the boat is less than a foot wide with a hefty drop into the water beneath if you take a wrong step. Thankfully the boat handlers helped us out holding the kids across whilst I did the macho man. I almost grew a porn tash in recognition of how I negotiated that walkway.
The boat was dodgy, and I mean proper dodgy. It had those wooden stabiliser things on it and everyone was made to wear a life jacket as per the norm which gave me absolutely no confidence in the skinny bloke in flip flops toking away at a roll up and negotiating the boat through the darkness with nothing but a torch.
To his credit he got us there safely and in about 15 minutes. We bailed the boat before it sank and walked out to the island.
More about Boracay proper in the next post. But its only around 3km long and so is a tiny island. Nonetheless we hopped in a tricycle (20 php per person) and made our way to the old boat station Number 3.
Some bloke touted me a good price for his hotel and we checked in, banged on the discovery channel and relaxed. We had not just managed to get to Boracay the long way, but we had notched up our final day of travel for a while. We had 5 days ahead of us where we had absolutely nothing to do other than relax on the best beach in the world and all of us were a little excited about that.
We had arrived at a place I had dreamt of, where paradise comes as standard with cocnut trees a bonus, and where we could go back to basics as a family. Where nothing matters but each other, where we could swim, dig to England, run in the sand and maybe bomb around on a jet ski. Everything had built up to Boracy, our hopes, our dreams and a mass of anticipation.
And when we walked the beach the following morning we realised it was all true, the sea really was turquoise, the sand white, the beachfront littered with coconut and banana trees.
We really were in paradise.