48. Where are the golden sands? Bohol-Panglao-Balicasag

This time we left on time. The boat was really small and before noon we were in Ubay. I expected Bohol to be more touristy and rich (?) than the previous islands but I didn’t see much of a difference. The island in reality is really small, stretching 100 km from the west to the east. It doesn’t change the fact it takes forever to get from one side of the island to the other and driving 50 km/h is usually maximum you can get. The roads destroyed in 2013 are still in terrible condition, the money from donations was lost god knows where. We got to Chocolate Hills, one of the major attractions of Philippines, in the afternoon and there we saw the first tourists on our way. Most of them were honeymooners or families but we had also a nice chat with a Spanish (sorry, Catalan!) couple travelling around. The hills, although not “chocolate” were still beautiful. Well, I would only remove a bunch of builders right in front of the viewpoint that were covering most of the scenery. It seemed like anywhere we went there was some construction going on. In the evening we got to Sandingan island where we had a German host. I was expecting a bit more luxury that time but what we got was more than we dreamed of.

Wandering the roads of Philippines
“Almost Chocolate” Hills 😉

Bernd was a 68 year old German married to a 36 year old Filipina, of course. Living in Philippines for around 20 years he considered it home and, certainly, his piece of land was a perfect place to retire. He welcomed us to his mini villa right next to the beach with a beautiful garden and separate hut for the couchsurfers. During the dinner we had a first glance of his story. After many exciting travels (I bet they were in the 70’s…) around Asia he worked in Manila and then settled down in Sandingan where he got married and got a child. Sadly, his wife happened to be a drug dealer but as divorce was not “church approved” he had to stay married and provide for her and the son. Now he is with another Filipina and her 2 kids who visit him only for the weekends as he needs “his own space”. It was my first encounter with a grandfather-daughter marriage and in the beginning I was very, hmm… “open-minded”. Bernd was a really kind and hospitable guy, quite relaxed for a German. However he had something in him that I didn’t like and I understood what it was in the end.

Our couchsurfing oasis 😀
Beaches of Sandingan island

We spent 3 days at his place finally having some time and space to chill. The island was very tiny so exploring it wasn’t a challenge. One day I climbed the top of the island passing the huts of local families living in the palm tree forests. It looked so idyllic and quiet. On the top there was a cemetery with amazing views and the whole southern part of the island was completely remote, covered with lush greenery. The coral around our place was impressive so I spent most of the afternoons snorkeling and testing my Chinese GoPro underwater. The second day Bernd sent us with his friend Ed to Calape for their weekly expat meeting in a local bar. There were Swiss, Germans, British and even a Macedonian. All of them 50-60 years old with their families and fortunes settled in Philippines. I didn’t spend much time with them busy buying our return ticket to Manila but Callum told me they were all pretty… stereotypical. I’m sorry but if you enjoy having a potential granddaughter as your wife and lie to yourself she is with you for love then there must be something wrong with you. Well, it’s easy. Most of the Filipinas having a choice between Filipino drunkard (nothing rare) and a 70 year old rich German will still probably choose the second option.

The forests of Sandingan island
Little treasure found by the beach 🙂

As Callum got sick our diving on Cabilao island had to be postponed. After we found out it’s not actually that easy we decided to do a course on Panglao island. The last day we had a chance to meet Bernd’s kids. A girl (15) and a boy (12) were lovely but I couldn’t get rid of the impression he treated them like they were in the army. Make the table, don’t eat too much, clean the dishes… I understand you wanna teach them life but come on! We had to listen how much he pays for their schools, how lovely marriage he has etc. Everything about him. Finally I understood what bothered me in him- his arrogance. He was always right and seemed to enjoy making you feel uncomfortable and stupid. He reminded me of my partner that I traveled around US with. We were ready to leave.

Thanks to his obvious wide “connections” we had a diving course arranged the next day. Passing Tagbilaran we got to Alona beach with another international couple but this time I refused talking (or rather listening) at all to our American friend who in 15 min managed to tell us what motorcycle he drove and how many friends on the island he had. We stayed in Genesis center where we got a comfy room right on the beach. Our instructor, Jesus (adequate name for Philippines!), a Spanish guy from Alicante started to teach us the very same day. Surprisingly, diving wasn’t as easy as I originally thought. We started to read some theory before we got to the water to practice first skills. Actually it wouldn’t be bad at all if my fear of removing the mask underwater didn’t make me choking with water every time I tried it. The first dive was weird: you don’t really know what you’re doing but you wanna try it again. The truth is I was so concerned and confused at the same time that I didn’t enjoy the diving experience itself. You just focus on not making any mistakes and follow your instructor. The second day was better although my mask problems and impatience of Jesus made me think if it was really for me. After entering the water all doubts disappeared. This time I was more relaxed and enjoyed diving 100%. The last day the skills were done so we had time to do 2 dives. Unfortunately I caught the cold from Callum so I started to have problems with my ears and equalizing. The coral was absolutely gorgeous, though, and I definitely wanna do it again.

Learning how to become “a buddha” 😀
Incredible coral reefs of Bohol
Tired but happy!

Alona besides its diving centers was all about spending money. The beach was full of restaurants and shops so you could forget about peaceful afternoon on the sunbed. But there was plenty of places to go out. Filipino food with its American influence didn’t amaze me too much but there was a plenty of sea food and the main specialty of Philippines- balut. Half cooked little chicken in an egg maybe doesn’t sound delicious but the taste wasn’t actually bad at all. Alona beach was full of Korean shops, Korean restaurants and Koreans themselves. But there was also many European restaurants so we didn’t miss a chance to spoil ourselves with a delicious pizza at Giuseppe.

Alona beach
The weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten. Balut

Once we both got a little better we rented a bike in order to explore the island. Little “bat-rat” creatures- tarsiers- were first on our list. Tarsiers sanctuary was small but well maintained with the guides helping tourists to spot the animals hidden in the shadow of the trees. Truly cute little monsters. Loboc river, famous for its boat tours, was a green and peaceful area with many villages around. In Albuquerque we visited one of the old Spanish churches where the local kids spent their school break. Hinagdan cave on Panglao island was nice but nothing special comparing to the caves in Laos. Surprisingly it was really difficult to find any nice remote beaches. The ones we found were tiny or littered so in the end the only option was to come back to Alona.

Little tarsier ❤
The church in Alburquerque

As I heard about the beauty and turtles of Balicasag island I booked a tour the next day. Like always on the tours, I had to share a boat with 10 other people, surrounded by a dozen of other boats around. There was no other way to get there, though. In the morning we saw dolphins jumping above the surface and showing off with their acrobatics. Diving in Balicasag was quite expensive so I chose snorkeling. I didn’t get too close to the sea turtles but it was enough for me to fall in love with these beautiful creatures. The coral and the marine life was really impressive, I spent more than an hour snorkeling by the shore and didn’t have enough. The last spot, Isola di Francesco island, was one of the uninhabited islands around Panglao. That one was clearly owned by a very religious dude as the first thing you could see there was a huge statue of Father Pio along with crucified Jesus Christ and 7 apostles in a boat settled in the sea, 100 m from the shore. Perfect decoration for a paradise island.

Ready to snorkel!
Underwater world
One of the virgin islands

Once our jefe announced we passed the exam we could come back to Manila as certified divers. Early in the morning we got to Tagbilaran airport that was perhaps the smallest airport I’ve seen in my life. Small, but well prepared for an amount of tourists who were constantly entertained by a local band of blind performers that really did a good job there. At noon we were at Nuki’s and after a short rest the worst of all came- we had to go to Manila center. It was Friday and traffic was even worse than normally. In a post war Panasonic office I got my camera back and after being stuck a few times in the traffic we walked back home, being still faster than the cars around us. It’s insane.

We left Manila the day after, giving up visiting anything else in the capital. Somehow when we entered the airport at 8 pm I felt kind of relieved. Vietnam surely won’t be an easier country to travel around but I felt like I’ve seen enough of Philippines. Once again I learnt that not everything looks like on Google images… In Philippines I was looking for beautiful beaches and waterfalls while I accidentally discovered an enormous poverty and corruption but also one of the most genuine and laid back Asians I’ve met in my life 🙂


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