- The Thrill-ippine Dream (Manila-South Luzon)
- Island Hopping the Thrillippines (Palawan)
- Taking it in around Cebu – Another Spill around the Thrillz (Regional Cebu)
- The Last Splash for my Thrillippines (Antique/East Panay)
A quick flight from Puerto Princessa, on Palawan, got me to Cebu City, where I was to meet two ladies I’d met in Laos and Australia, already before. I wanted the good times to continue, on the off-beat and from the look of it, on a map, Cebu was surrounded by small islands. If we played it right we could do a pretty nice tour around a decent amount of them and have a laugh along the way. And my first approach was to head as far north as possible then circle back, starting with
Getting to the island is not so complicated and not at all expensive comparing to somewhere like Thailand. Its a short trip from the North of Cebu. From Cebu City (where you are getting out of fast because it’s shit), the local bus is slightly more pricey than the boat, but after 6 hours of travel to the island, its not too bad. You have to pay a little dingy to come out and pick you up, but even that was hella cheap (50-75 cents) compared to other experiences in my past.
Its reputation stands for what is underwater; the island is small enough to walk the circumference in a day, thereabouts, and though we didn’t have our PADI we could still take a boat out and see a little shipwreck, a few clusters of coral, a good amount of fish, and a few sparkling, chain-linked water snakes -to be avoided. Our accommodation was great; a thousand times better than what I’d experienced so far, but it was also hitting the wallet slightly more (like I said in ‘Island Hopping the Thrill-ippines’ you’ll get more with a couple room-mates).
The ladies I was with, they liked to have a good time, were not afraid of having a long night and were far from lame. It wasn’t long before we sank ourselves into the ongoings of the spot. There isn’t much for the wild night of a glutton, but if you take it to the beach there’s plenty of opportunity for a little fire and some coastline dancing. It’s a calm setting, the locals are chill -like just about everywhere else- and though can be a bit inquisitive, when it comes to a party they either know how to join in or just let it happen and go home.
If its food you are looking for there is one place; its basically in the middle of the island, and this is where the cheapest can be found -it’ll get old twice a day, but it will save ya while you are here. Otherwise you have a few bars and spots, opened as tourist spots -for the FEW tourists (when I was there anyhow). This place, however, helped things and kept it pretty local. After a couple days of wandering around I finally found some spots to get some cheap, salted fish -which are in little plastic bags; about 5 sardines for a buck.
There is another very small, and very remote island north of Malapascua called Carnasa, and before arriving this was my target -but the price of the dingy tour there and back for three of us was too much. I tried to organise with the only other group of travellers we’d met on the island, but they were there for the underwater action; the hammerheads for example, and barracudas.
Without the trip to Carnasa, we had plenty of time to spend on the backside of the island, on its, white as a Kleenex beach, basking face up in the luke-warm to heated pool waters of the Visayan Sea. It couldn’t have been any more tropical for me, and not a single fool around but us to embrace it -aside from a couple of kiddies selling turtle necklaces.
Despite the miss on the island trip, things got more than a little romantic after I fell on a group of lads from Cebu -after asking for a cigarette up to their balcony, ‘Hey, we don’t have a cigarette, but we got Tequila!’ Nough said.
They were on the island for a small holiday and invited me up merrily. Their bungalow was second story, and when I realized what was happening, I quickly ran back to my spot to grab the girls. Not only open to sharing their tequila, had a plate full of them marinated pork chops, too drunk to eat I guess and one man’s big surprise, a couple pieces of blotter paper -later on in the evening- for an intoxicating sunrise inside of turquoise bathwater.
Not quite as glorious as Malapascua, the beaches were much more cluttered up and dirtied by fishing lines and broken up boats; there were still lovely spots, however. Our accommodation was in little bungalows not far from the port -we walked there- and in the little complex you had everything you needed; it was a reasonable price as well, something around 5 bucks a piece for two in the room. And after meeting two others on a drop-in between islands -and after a few drinks through the evening- five of us got on a boat, for a couple bucks each, the next day, to a few of the nearby corals and scattered little islands. Truth of the matter is, a lot of the coral is dead around ‘my’ Philippines, from what I’d seen, because of dynamiting for fish. Who can blame the hungry, but unfortunately they had no vision for the fish, who’d have nothing to eat after the locals killed all the poor fishies food resources. In any event there were still a couple of spots to huddle around.
And an excuse to hop on a boat, boot round a couple hours, catch the sunset, and take in the sea breeze with a couple of companions? Doesn’t seem bad no matter what.We spent two days on mopeds scooting around before taking off to Negros and Dumagete in the south. Bantayan is a decent stopover from Malapascua to Negros, instead of returning to Cebu -but there are other options as well depending on which direction you are going. Its a nice island, but it is very large. As the island is very large, if you wanna go anywhere you gotta have a bike. Things were getting tough to compete with after the off-beat trip in southern Palawan, after the lovely villages in South Luzon and the pristine, white sand contrasting against a perfectly teal sea at Malapscua. Shoes were hard to fill. Dumaguete is not exactly it either, but there is more than this around these parts for sure.
The ride from Bantayan is pretty long I suppose; another six or eight hours. Its a little more touristic than other places, something like Bohol I suppose. We were told by our friends on Bantayan that it would be hard to find something available, let alone cheap. I made the mistake of not eating before the hunt and lost it on a guy who seemed to think his place was worth the fee of a Holiday Inn back home. Everything had been easy up to this point; lots of very chill spots with very few tourists (not one in south Luzon I met and not one in South Palawan; two on Bantayan and another couple handfuls on Malapascua). Suddenly, I felt like I was back on the tourists route and didn’t like it much, and taking it out on a poor pension owner. Hindsight is twenty/twenty.
If you want to get a nice accom and you don’t mind paying, you can get into a dorm at Harold’s Mansion and meet the backpack, like at Wanderers in Manila. I didn’t want to pay for a dorm at a price like that of Australia or something, when I’d been getting private rooms all over for five bucks or less.
One of the girls and I got into a huge blow and I took off on my own. Somehow I managed to find the other, as I wandered the streets stubbornly. They found a little shit-hole for a few bucks each and I felt like a dumb-ass -sometimes its better to step down and move aside. For some reason I was constantly taking the reins, and felt a bit exhausted by it; they managed perfectly and all I could do is feel about as squared up as a mule.
The reputation of Sipalay came to us quite highly; a nice beach coast of little huts and we decided to get mopeds to reach there -but firstly, take em to an area on the mountainside where a few waterfalls were about. The rainy season was upon us so they were quite full, and the one we found, tucked into some very sexy jungle, a spot for ourselves, it brought me back into the nature of things a bit.
It was pretty hard for us to get up there, to this basin, and on the way Lori crashed pretty roughly, scraping up her thigh and burning herself on the exhaust pipe. I felt horrible, and the mud heading up was only going to get worse. She put on a good face and we managed up -but afterwards a trip to Sapalay along the southcoast was out of the question, she wasn’t getting on a bike again for a little while.
The girls were psyched on the idea of some night-life, but there was none, and I guess that was when they decided on Borocay as an objective. It was the last place I wanted to end up, surrounded by Korean tourists. I wanted to get back into the countryside and the village atmosphere. After one more night in Dumaguete, disappointingly quiet, we decided -with the help of a guy named ‘Barefoot’ from England- to hit up Siquior before moving towards Panay -and to the north of Panay to Borocay.
From Dumaguete, you can get a small ferry to Siquior; an island known for witchcraft. This is what brought my attention to it back in Palawan, but what we would find was something much more magical and unique.
Barefoot told me to find this woman at the port and she would give us a nice place for a very reasonable price. Immediately off the boat we were swarmed by toutes groping and grabbing. I was pretty uncomfortable by this and on edge. The hope for something different was sizzling away -I felt very discouraged.
The port was quite nice as far as ports were concerned and the woman, I found, but was a dead-end. The girls managed ahead of me in a tricycle to San Juan, where it was meant to be a little more ‘civil’. And it is the place to stay.
The island is huge and there is basically one road. A moped is necessary, but we had to find one first -after digging around a woman rented them down the road from our accom in San Jose (on the ‘national’ road).
The toutes refusing to drive me after all the commotion, I started to walk -and attempt to hitch-hike. An older man, in his tricycle came along after about twenty minutes and drove me to San Juan until I found the girls. They, again, found a nice place, though pretty steep actually, it had a pool and a bar of its own, so it really was quite the deal -I’m unfortunately not the type to give a fuck about a pool with sea all around us, but sure fuck it, should make for some good, messy late night swimming.
We were told there was a fiesta at the centre of San Juan (5 minutes away from our guesthouse) as the evening arrived; the girls got ready as I went out to find some street food -Bola-Bola (Filipino meatballs) something of brilliance. We arrived at the fiesta separately, and what a great Fiesta it was!!!
If you hear about a fiesta and you are 100 km away I advise getting your ass there. There was so much dancing and one huge, monster of a man, drunk as fuck -who everyone wanted to escort away from the huge gathering of families and friends (but as you know Filipinos are quite small -except him).
There was a live band, and everyone was into the sound -especially the massive drunkard. The sound wasn’t half bad compared to the horrible karaoke you found in every corner and main street of the Philippines. And in the end, like most nights if you wanted it, finished on a beach with some Red Horse and Tanduay, and a few of the local heads -two of which would drive us home on their bikes afterward. A great start to our new spot!
The boys agreed to give us a tour inland to what I’d heard about; a group of voodoo shamans, able to heal people with their black magic.
The woman who was said to be ‘the oracle’ of the scene, waved her hand over my wrist that had been giving me problems on and off for years -since I broke it as a teenager. There was this eerie feeling I had as I put my wrist out for her to wipe some herb oils on it, and as she blew on it and said a few words I wondered if I would actually end up with an infection from the oils against my skin. Possibly an allergic reaction. After some chatting with our new friends, they explained that the woman was a Christian, and not a Pagan of Wicka. So much for that.
There are some nice coastal areas all over and instead of spending another trip on little boats looking for dead corals, we got two bikes and took off to find, yet another waterfall we’d heard about. But this one was certainly special!
It’s a few kilometres away before you would have to fill up with petrol; there are few petrol stations along this coast so it is best to take advantage -and be careful not to run out (maybe carry a little extra in a bottle or two).
It was about an hour -I think- of driving around, looking about, before we found a very small sign, that directed us to this set of falls. To be honest I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about it, but happy to be on a bike at least. All I wanted was something I could huck a couple backflips off of. We had to walk down a very narrow dirt trail and as we’d come down the trail we could hear some locals swimming and laughing; this was also a bit discouraging. What comes into eye-sight at ground level can be best explained in a couple photos.
There were two sets of falls, the first were lower than the second. The second were the first we saw. And because of the limestone underwater, the streams running down the thick chutes seemed to be that magical colour of turquoise.
If I was given the choice I would build my little house right here, right in this little spot. A couple of goats, a couple chickens and a moped. I’d build myself a wood house like Doc Poncho on Palawan and I’d look out my little cut-out window at this thing every morning.
The night had momentum; we spent the day touring around the south end of the island and barely made it back to the petrol before it closed up. As the sun came down the bugs started flying into our mouths; before dark we made a stop at one more watering hole to play around, but nothing could compare to this turquoise little cove of paradise. The things fairy-tales and folk stories stem from, right there for us to glory in -and as long and as much as we’d like. Free from the constant clicks of a thousand cameras, free from the tour buses and free, especially, from toutes.
The boys were meeting up with us for a drink, and after a day like this its hard to hold back. That’s all I can say about that. Their poison of choice -gin and lime cordial mixed through a funnelling volcano of gravitational mastery. The local specialty (finally found that ‘witchcraft’ in a bottle of Gin).
Consider the Options
From Siquior you can keep going -but not without returning somewhere else (Dumaguete -Apo Island- or Cebu -Camigan) except for Bohol (known for its ‘Chocolate Mountains’ and a very nice little organic guesthouse) if I can remember.
In south Negros you have Apo Island -also known for its diving- and Sipalay, as I already mentioned. Also, you have the black sands of a volcanic island on Camigan, in north Mindanao. From North Mindanao, if you are adventurous (in your year of living dangerously) and willing to take a chance you can reach the south -where its pretty heavy on the radicals- at General Santos, the closest you would get to Sulawesi and the top of the Indonesian Archipelago. A brilliant way to arrive to Indonesia, FOR SURE! but something I can only say will be very difficult and done with the best of precaution.