The Philippines - Boracay (White Beach) - The Visayas Islands

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June 2nd 2013
Published: June 2nd 2013
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We leave the Hostel for the Airport (P170) after a lovely breakfast – M treats himself to a local avocado to go with it. As its Sunday we get there in double quick time for the 11.55 am flight. As we are about to check in C notices a counter with Senior Citizens written on it. She goes to check if we can jump the queues and the PAL Express folk ask if we would like to go on the earlier flight (10.30 am) which is just about to board. Yes please – as this will save 2 hours hanging around and get us to a tropical island earlier – a no brainer!

The Flight is in a small plane and takes about 1 Hr to Caticlan, one of 2 entry points for Boracay. Having travelled to and from Manila a few times now, it has become apparent that as a city it is very spread out. The views from the air bear this out and also the huge pockets of shanty towns/neighbourhoods that exist next to plush areas in Manila. By contrast coming into Boracay, its lush vegetation, azure waters and white sand! The views coming into the island are best on the left hand side of the plane.

The Airport looks pretty new and smart with great facilities and well organised. We are out in about 10 mins. We take a trike (P25 each) and buy a combination boat ticket (P25 each) for the Cagban Ferry point 5 mins away or a 10 min walk we are told. Everyone has to pay P100 tax to get onto the Island (60 if a Senior Citizen like M) + P75 enviro fee and then get on any one of many Bangkas waiting to take people to the Island about 10 mins boat ride away. At the other end it’s catch a trike P100 to the Hotel. One of the features in the Philippines is how fixed generally the prices for most things are – so it’s unlikely that you are going to get ripped off.

We are booked into Ocean Breeze Inn – via Hostelbookers for P1500 per night, about 2 mins walk to the Beach! This is relatively cheap for the area. The room is fine, comfortable ensuite and comes with TV (poor reception) but a gap filler, free coffee at 6.30 am each day left outside your room, hot and cold drinking water which is great and saves us a £ a day. However, Wi-fi they charge P50 for per day which seems nuts when most other places provide it free – or, as we do, you can get 2 cocktails in Happy Hour from a local Bar for P50 and they will let you have free Wi-Fi; a no brainer really! (and bad business by the Inn as we point out to them). The staff – all from one family on an Island 2 days journey from here (wow) - are really helpful and friendly.

White Beach is a stretch 4km long and we are staying near Station 3, which is more like the old Boracay used to be like we are told –it has a nice feel to it. It also has the benefit that it’s away from most of the music bars and karaoke joints so no bum notes to annoy us as we sunbathe! Station 1 is the flash and overcrowded/overdeveloped section just beyond D’Mall – the main area for eateries and souvenir shops, and Station 2 the overdeveloped and less crowded section in the middle with a great local market and eateries. There are many businesses owned by foreigners here and property on the island is available for sale and rental. At the bottom end of the beach it is totally under developed – for now at least.

The main tourists here are Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese, with some Europeans and Americans. It’s fascinating to observe the Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese at play. The kids are into loud music Gangnam style on their portable iplayers - loud as ever. They even dress like Mr Gangnam – hat and all. Most of them are sensitive about being in the sun (the paradoxical desire to be fair skinned whilst we determine to become bronzed!) – especially the women who wear wide brimmed hats all day with shades, and to one extreme some dress in full cover suits to swim in – it does make us wonder why they would want to come to a place that is evidently hot and sunny? The other preoccupation especially among the younger women is them constantly taking pictures of themselves on their iphones – narcissism gone mad!

We go exploring as we have 5 full days here. It’s pretty crowded (and we realise on Monday that this was the Sunday/Weekend crowd as it got less frenetic). The sea is a lovely blue and the beach whilst not the Maldives is clean and soft white sand. The only downside (if there is one) is the huge number of Bangkas on the sea and along the shore. The sailing ones add to the colour and glamour of the place but for some reason have to leave each night after the sunset tours are finished.

The sea and beach gets a bit transformed nearer sunset. The tide is out and hundreds of folks walk into the sea to witness sunset. It’s supposed to be really nice here. The Sailing ships get a last chance to make some money so offer ½ hour sailing into the sunset cruises for P600 each – a bit steep we think for what you can see from the shore. The Koreans, Chinese and Taiwanese are into this in a big way and dress up – the women especially with long flowing dresses and floppy hats and have their pictures taken many times. What is odd is the fact that many of the trips start 1 hour before sunset so a lot of folks actually see sunset on the shore as their trip has finished. The sea is peppered with bobbing heads hundreds of locals and travellers awaiting the moment. Its good fun and interesting to watch. All the iphones and ipads are out taking pictures. Quite a scene. On a good day the sunset takes on a panoramic colouring of the sky right across the bay – it’s pretty impressive and lasts for some time - so it caipirinhas in hand enjoying the view. Boracay is quite nice after all.

There are alcohol and smoking bans along the seafront – not totally enforced we notice. The atmosphere is very relaxed other than folk checking out every 10 yards whether you’d like a massage (P350 per hour) or an Island Hopping 3 hour trip – which includes snorkelling at Crocodile Island and a stop off at Puka Beach (a quieter and secluded beach at the top end of the Island). Definitely something we will try later though we discover prices range from P1700 to P2500 for 2 of us inc snorkelling gear!

We are directed to D’Mall, the main shopping area about 20 mins walk away along the beach. D’Mall is an arrangement of shops (fashion, souvenir, supermarkets) and restaurants between the beach and the main road. It’s pretty colourful and busy. We come across a lovely place called “I Love Backyard BBQ” which is packed and seems to have a fab menu of seafood (what else would one have on a tropical island?) and BBQ pork, chicken and beef dishes – all washed down with cold cans of beer of course. So we go for the mixed seafood platter (great large prawns and squid though the fish & Mussels were disappointing) and the recommended baby Back Ribs (to die for!). A hefty P1000 (£15 to you and me!). We also try The Bite Club in D’Mall which does a Burgerella – Burger stuffed with Mozzarella and with potato wedges. It is pretty special and we are back for more during our stay.

The main village behind the Beach is lined with poor ramshackle homes & stores, with trike traffic jams. There’s really not much to commend it here. It’s where and how the locals live. There are signs of poverty around and some poor families live/sleep on the beach with a few malnourished kids playing on the beach all day and begging by night along the main walk along the shore.

A side of Filipino life we so far haven’t commented on is the sex trade in the country. In Manila and here it seems more noticeable where there are many older European and US men escorted by young Filipino women. The guide books refer to the fact that many European, Japanese and Korean magazines promote the country as a place for easy sex and we can’t help feeling that two needs come together here – the desire to escape from poverty of the local women at any cost and the loneliness of older men with money looking for companionship.

As it’s Sunday we are not totally surprised to see a congregation of folk who go about celebrating Mass on the Beach just before sunset …… however, what is surprising is that the devotional ceremony lasted for hours well into the night.

We discover near us a Bar called Bei Kurt & Magz (German guy & Filipino woman owned) doing Happy hour from 2pm to 8pm, where beers are P30 and Caipirinhas P25 and most cocktails the same. We indulge here a few times during our stay. Awesome drinks and amazing value. The food menu – a combo of German & Filipino is not inspiring though for us and seems rather expensive. There’s a little shack 2 doors away which does simple local BBQ – pork and chicken - and we eat there and it’s really good and cheap.

We set off for D’Mall just to enjoy the evening and come across one of many (but this one seems more popular than most) Fruit Shakes stalls – we try the Mango shake for P60 and it’s delicious and very cold as they make it with crushed ice. This is the first of many we enjoy. The beach front is alive with music of all varieties – the best is reggae records – good sound at the bar near us. There are many sessions of live music at Buffet Meal stations (eat all you like – price range P300 to 650 per person) along the beach front. The quality of the food and the entertainment is variable and any Karaoke distinctly crap - enough to make you want to get a gun and pull the trigger and put the singer and their poor listeners (or 1 listener in some cases) out of their misery!! This is the rough end of coming here – it’s pretty dire singing.

We have been struggling to get some fruit for breakfast so after some enquiries the staff direct us to D’Talipapa another market area we hadn’t heard of. We assume it’s a basic market for locals and are surprised to find another relatively large market in full flow but at the centre of it is a Fresh Seafood Wet Market where folks are selling their fresh catch of the day from fish to prawns, tiger prawns, lobster and crab to cockles, oysters and whelks. If you’d like some fresh chicken that’s available too. Next to this are eateries offering their “Cooking Services” for fixed prices per Kg – grilled, BBQ, steamed etc with rice and veg as extras. We treat ourselves several times to red Lapu Lapu (Philippines National Fish dish) 1 kg P 400 steamed really good, snapper and later prawns and calamari and get it cooked at a place called Sabibi - we had to make the most of it as back home this stuff costs a fortune. We seem to be the only Europeans there each time we went – our little secret. Dinner for 2 with beers came to about £12 (P800) not bad at all. The locals definitely seemed to buy and eat a lot in one sitting (crab, fish, clams, lobsters etc) and picked the shells/fish completely – really impressive – so much so that all the cats we see (in spite of all this food) are pretty skinny and mangy.

We take a boat trip round the island – one of the main trips to do around here (P1800) for the boat. We stop at Crocodile Island for an hour’s snorkelling – pretty good even though the sea here is a little choppy. The crew feed the fish bread to attract them to the Bangka. Visibility is good and there are lots of fish though the corals not so good. Next stop is Puka Bay after a ½ hour crossing over the other side of the island which is choppy seas and windy and only a few pockets of small beach. As we turn the corner at the top end of the island the sea is calm and beautifully clear again. We arrive at Puka Beach which according to the guide book is quiet and deserted. Unfortunately no one seem to have told the others this - its packed with other travellers doing the same as us so not quite the tranquil bathing spot LP had described. You can get here by trike from White beach as well. The place is pretty kitted out for tourists with eateries and souvenir shops etc. After an hour’s R & R we head back to the starting point which is Station 3 and see some very fancy resorts on the north west of the island – one even looks like it may have been designed by Gaudi (Barcelona Architect for the uninformed).

We try the Yellow Cab pizza co. for lunch – a 10 inch 4 seasons – quarters of cheese, anchovies, pepperoni and prawn and garlic. Pretty good with chilli oil - wow. Then back to base to rest for the afternoon.

The final two days are mixed – weather wise and C’s health as she contracts a tummy bug and has to stay in most of the last day when we had a full day’s power cut. So no A/C for her. Though she does watch a few movies on TV (HBO stuff) as the generator keeps this and the fan on. M does the Baby back ribs routine for lunch and has to settle for squid and king prawns on his own at Sababi.

On the day of leaving we get up early and prepare to get to the airport – same routine in reverse – Trike from the island to port P100, Bangka across the Bay to the port – we have to pay P100 each port tax again!! Then Trike again to the airport P25 each and what we didn’t realise after checking in we have to pay an airport tax P200 each – boy these guys know how to extract money from visitors. The flight to Manila is delayed ½ hr or so we are told at check in but thankfully that’s the only delay and we’re back to Manila and the hostel by 2.45 pm to get some lunch, repack our bags and then an early night for an early start next day back to India.

We catch a cab at 5.30 am and the poor guy finds many of the main road arteries closed so we zigzag about and have what seems like a tour of Manila uncovered. The traffic is amazingly heavy for this early on a Sunday – the sights around are a photographers dream – colour, grief, grime and grunge in equal measure – M feels we didn’t quite do the place justice as we didn’t explore it enough. Perhaps on a Photographic assignment one day?!

The check-in formalities are as usual - Q and more Qs. We get a bit lucky as we had checked in online for our MA flight – good move – they take us to the head of the Q here at least. There is a Departure tax though – P550 each (June’13 price!) so be prepared. C is still not well so we skip breakfast and board the plane for the 4 hr nice flight to KL where we have to spend 7 hours in transit for the Delhi connection. With internet and recharging facilities it goes pretty quickly.

We try and see if anyone handed in M’s Leki trekking pole which he accidentally left in a loo here when we left for Manila. The Lost Property office is outside we are told by the Information desk. To avoid the hassle of security checks etc C decides to find the office while M looks after the travel gear – she has to “immigrate out” only to find the office closed and then “check back in again” – so for a 5 min walk out she has her passport stamped twice again for nothing! Bizarre!!

All in all - The Philippines have been the surprise package country in our trip – despite all our misgivings about its tourist infrastructure etc and some of the trouble we had on various fronts. We have really enjoyed it, though we’d advise anyone to do their homework and be prepared for delays and cancellations and go with the flow if you come here. It definitely offers something different to travellers. The countryside is green, lush and tropical, the weather hot and humid, the beaches are beautiful, the Islands varied in style culture, cuisine and colour and most of all the people are really fun (despite their poverty and hard life) and very friendly. We could just come back one day…………………………………………………………!

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