Destination 1 – MALAPASCUA – white sand beach, crystal clear water, diving and snorkelling paradise, yummy food and complete relaxation – if you are in for all of these then head there before it gets too popular and overcrowded.
Manila -> Cebu -> Maya -> Malapascua (you will spend pretty much the entire day in the air, on the road, and in a boat)
This tiny island (2,5 km long and a km wide) was our first pin on the Philippine map. How did we choose this place? Well, good question. There is a very famous and extremely touristy island, called Boracay, which has a white sand beach. And that’s what we wanted – white beach – but with no Boracay crowds. After some research I found this tiny island, which turned out to be a paradise for diving and snorkelling, none of which I did certainly because of my lack of swimming skills, but that’s a completely other topic and besides we are working on that 😉 So the blindingly white sand beach or bounty beach as they call it was one of the reasons. The other decider was more romantic. Malapascua sounded very cute. It actually means “bad Christmas” in Cebuano as according to the local legend the Spanish conquerors first landed on the island on a stormy Christmas day.
To get there we flew from Manila to Cebu, took a taxi to Northern Bus Terminal, which is located near the SM City Mall, a huge mall, offering many of the western brands combined with cheap local prices. Note: There are no ATMs on Malapascua so remember to take out cash at the mall, alternatively the second-last bus stop before Maya also has an ATM. From here we changed to yet another form of transportation – a Ceres Liner bus heading for Maya the northernmost point of the Cebu island. The journey took 4 hours and was quite memorable – besides the nice landscape you had the occasional pleasure of hosting very friendly chickens and other creatures. Another thing we learned quickly was the custom of stopping the bus. In Armenia we are used to small indulgences like a stop button in the end or front of the bus, which mostly doesn’t work, so you have to test your vocals and let the driver know that he has got to let you out at the next stop. In Berlin or in Denmark this small indulgence is taken to a degree of utmost luxury – in all the buses you have stop buttons by all the seats, which do work, so you can refrain from socializing and comfortably let yourself out. In the Philippine buses you quickly forget about buttons and concentrate on metal objects, especially a ring (if you are married that will come very handy). People use their rings to knock very loudly on anything metal in the bus and announce that they would like to make an exit. Creativity has no boundaries across the globe…
So off the bus and on you jump aboard a small boat, operated by Malapascua locals, taking you to the bounty island. The journey took less than 30 minutes, but the negotiation process of getting the last boat to take its course took more than that. Being the last one the owners were very tough of course, but our haggling skills have largely improved in China and besides nothing could beat the stubbornness of two Dutch divers who were refusing to pay just 2 EUR more for the journey (usual fare is 1-3 EUR). Nevertheless a mutual price was set finally, considering that the alternative would be to spend a night in Maya. One thing you should know is that even if the boat is calculated for 6 passengers, there will be at least 4 other island locals waiting quietly to make the journey with you, paid by your overcharged fare of course.
After an entire day in the air, on the road and on the water by the dusk the Robinsons finally discovered the shore. And our real adventures began right there. We were naive enough not to book a hotel in advance as the island has more than 30 resorts of varying levels of luxury. So burdened with our luggage we walked back and forth the southern shore looking for a hotel. Alas, the tiny island was completely overbooked. Were it not for one kind villager helping us with the search, we would probably end up sleeping under the starlit sky. The hard search paid off – we found a wonderful room overlooking the water at Slams Garden Resort for PHP 1500. It was for one night only, so next morning we found another more modest accommodation for the rest of our stay (Borggren Resort, bamboo bungalows for PHP 1000).
Despite the overbooked hotels, the island was not crowded at all, probably all the visitors were out diving. Taking care of our hunger was much easier. Almost always we went to this famous diner, Ging Ging’s Eatery, which served absolutely delicious and amazingly cheap Filipino and some Western food. For breakfast go for mango pancakes, for lunch some sandwich combo, and for dinner try the chicken adobo! Of course don’t forget the calamansi juice and San Miguel beer.
If you are into diving and snorkelling many resorts and locals offer tours. We went with our local friend on a snorkelling tour and drive around the island, including a trip to a lighthouse in the north, a coral reef and an old shipwreck. Of course you can walk around the island, then you will come across many villages and secluded bays. For a complete relaxation we couldn’t forgo a Thai massage for less than 5 EUR.
After 2 full days on the paradise island we had to move on to our next adventures which would take us to Bohol and the Chocolate Hills. But more about this later. Now enjoy the scenery
(Photos © Andreas Eriksen)