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Posts Tagged ‘Panglao’

All along the strip of shops and bars on Alona beach, but mostly at the junction of the road inland, were men with laminated sheets bearing photos of the two tours that everyone seemed to operate. They’d ask you if you were interested in a boat tour, and if you said no, they’d flip their card and ask you if you wanted the inland tour of Bohol.

On our way back from the beach one afternoon after we’d done the Chocolate Hills, tarsier sanctuary etc on the mainland Habiba and I took up one offer. The guy showed us his laminated flyer and explained that there were four things on the tour, dolphin- and whale-spotting, snorkelling, lunch on one island and a visit to a ‘virgin island’. He asked for 1,800 pesos, but I offered him 1,500 (about £21) and he accepted that readily enough.

Unlike our Bohol tour it was just going to be the two of us – except that, when we found the man again at dawn the following morning, there was another person joining us on our boat – a Filipino tourist and relative of either our guide or the boat’s pilot.

As the sun rose over the sea, our narrow boat, slender outriggers like spider legs to either side, chugged out into open water. Along with several other boats carrying tourists doing exactly the same thing.

The first thing on the itinerary was the dolphin and whale spotting. We spotted lots of the outrigger boats, but not so much in the way of sea-going mammals. There were a few black specks to be seen in the distant water every now and then, but it was a case of blink and you missed them. The guide explained good-humouredly that the dolphins were scared of all the boats in the water.

After another journey across the water we arrived at a small island – Balicasag, I believe – with a broad coral shelf stretching a hundred metres from the beach until dropping off sharply. We landed on the beach and rented flippers for an extortionate 300 pesos each or something. Then a lad rowed us out to the edge of the coral where we went snorkelling (we’d brought our borrowed goggles and snorkels with us). The other tourist in our boat gave us some small bread rolls with some sort of pink filling to feed to the fish.

Once we got into the water and opened up the plastic bag of bread we were swarmed by plenty of small tropical fish who would dart in to snatch bites of the bread in your fingers. And then a much larger fish would swoop by and grab the whole piece.

The drop-off at the edge of the coral was quite impressive. Below you, the coral would simply end and beyond was the rich, deep tourquoise of the empty sea.

After maybe an hour enjoying this experience, exploring the coral, watching tiny fish go about their lives and trying diving down in the deeper water, it was time to leave. Back in the outrigger boat, the guide said something to us about visiting another island tomorrow, but we said we weren’t interested.

And then we were back at Alona beach and confused. What happened to the rest of the tour, the lunch island (which, to be fair, we’d also said we weren’t interested in) and the virgin island. Maybe that was part of the proposed tour the next day. Anyway, we paid up feeling short-changed, but still happy about the snorkelling experience.

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Habiba and I have been back in Korea for a couple of days now. I’ve just finished uploading photographs and videos from the trip, but, while we were away, I had very little time for blogging, so now I want to write about our travels.

As you’ll appreciate, it’s winter here in Korea, so it’s pretty chilly. We planned to head off to the airport immediately after Habiba finished work on Friday the 24th of December, catching an express bus to the airport. I carried both our large backpacks and my small one to the bus stop and bought a couple of tickets. Habiba turned up after six o’clock and we waited. And continued to wait. It was rush hour, so eventually, as Habiba lost the feeling in her extremities, to take a taxi. The ride took a long while, creeping along the expressway while we anxiously eyed the driver’s navigation display and its ETA. The nearly two-hour ride cost about ₩60,000 – about £34.

The nighttime flight out was fine – I read Moby-Dick most of the way. Once at Cebu Airport, arriving in the early hours of the morning, we had nothing to do but wait for morning and for the first ferries to run. There wasn’t even any where to buy water, as far as we could tell.

Our plan was to take a ferry from Cebu to Tabilaran, the capital of Bohol, an island province immediately to the south of Cebu. From there, we intended to take a bus or taxi from the city on the south-west corner of Bohol to the nearby island of Panglao, specifically a beach on the southern side of the smaller island called Alona Beach.

We took a taxi to the ferry terminal – Pier 1, I think – and tried to buy a ticket for the early ferry at six o’clock. The terminal was a pretty run-down, dirty place, populated with various tired Filipinos and foreigners. We asked a man at the terminal fee desk where we could buy a ticket and his response was a vague, Over there. We didn’t really know what to do, but I overheard some other travellers talking about tickets that they’d bought. With their help, I figured out that there was no 6 am ferry, it being Christmas Day, but we could take a 7:30 ferry to a different place and take a bus from there to our destination.

I queued up and bought us a pair of tickets, and some water, and, as I headed back to Habiba, was button-holed by a couple of young women who asked to tag along with us. After more uncertainty over where to go we squeezed through the crowd waiting to board and got on a small orange speed ferry. The trip to Tubigon took an hour or so, during which time I heard the first of three renditions of Bryan May’s ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’ that day, and also got my first sleep of the day.

Habiba and I and our fellow travellers, Ivy (a Singaporean living in Hong Kong) and Mara (a Romanian also working in Hong Kong) hired a man with a minivan to take us to Alona. However, we needed the bathroom before we went anywhere and Habiba spent a while changing into more summery clothes – which made the guy frantic to get us on board. Once we did and got underway, Ivy realised she’d dropped her wallet somewhere. After heading back to the ferry terminal and looking for it, she concluded it was lost. One of the other people in the van said she worked for a radio station and would put out an announcement about it, although nothing came of that as far as I know.

The drive to Alona was another hour or more. We entered our hotel, the Citadel Alona Inn, a fairly modest but nice place, and left our bags in their small, empty bar. We couldn’t check in for another hour or two, so we had breakfast and walked down to the beach.

Alona Beach was a fairly narrow strip of sand about 500 metres long backed by a dense row of mainly bars and restaurants and a few shops. Our hotel was a five-minute or so walk from there, along a dirty, uneven road that was home to more shops, eateries and hotels. Many of these places were run by ex-pats – the resorts seemed to be especially popular with Germans; there was a Helmut’s Place, for example.

Although our hotel served food, on the evidence of our one and only meal there, it wasn’t terribly good. Apart from that, and the diminutive dimensions of our room and double bed, the Citadel Alona was a good place to stay. It was clean and attractive, and – very importantly – provided free drinking water. There was no hot water in the taps, though – so all showers were cold. That’s not too bad in a tropical climate, but I think showers, like tea and coffee, should be hot.

Just across the road from our hotel was another one called ChARTs, which had a restaurant called the Art Café. This was a very nicely designed place, all artfully moulded stucco walls, and – surprisingly enough – lots of artwork. This place became our favoured location for breakfast and coffee, lunch, too, sometimes.

Another nice thing about the Art Café was that the staff were friendly and attentive – but not too attentive. Many of the other places we ate and drank at were quite relaxed – to the point of being difficult to get served or pay your bill at. Our main hangout at the beach was like that. At Oops Bar, near the left-hand extremity of the beach as you look out to sea, we often ordered smoothies first thing and then didn’t pay for them until hours later when we left – and we had to remind the staff that we’d bought them.

Oops Bar (which I’m guessing is owned by a Brit – I saw him directing the young waiters in moving some huge plant pots) had about five pairs of sunbeds beyond its beach tables and chairs. These are open to anyone who claims them – and with no apparent pressure to buy drinks or food. And claim them we did, on a pretty much daily basis. One night, we also had dinner there – ostrich steak. It was good, but very tough – it was particularly hard to cut. It look and tasted much like beef.

Amongst other culinary delights, we tried a fish grill one one occasion. The restaurant had a table with shallow containers holding ice and a selection of fresh fish, big prawns, squid and so on. We shared a green parrot fish. One of the more interesting drinks we had was a calamansi juice. Calamansi is a green citrus fruit about the size and shape of a large marble; it’s also very sour. It’s used to good effect by squeezing one over a fish or other food. Perhaps our favourite meal was Thai curry, fried rice and spring rolls at a place near our hotel that specialised in hot woks. Although we waited a long time for our meal the one time we were there, when it came it was delicious and huge. Experience had taught us to expect much smaller portions.

There was an ice cream place that took your two scoops of ice cream and put them on a circular plate that seemed alternately heat and chill the ice cream while the woman chopped and kneaded fruit into the ice cream with a pair of spatulas. Finally, the mix would be scraped off into a roll and put in a polystyrene cup with a couple of toppings of your choice. We had that a few times.

Whilst eating, it was very common to be approached by a small group of young boys who would start a half-hearted rendition of a random Christmas song. Whenever this happened to us, we just shook our heads and the kids moved on to the next table.

In terms of activities, we spent lots of time on the beach and in the water. Our friends Ksan and Jun-hong lent us their goggles and snorkels, so we swam out into the warm, shallow waters to gaze down at the hidden world of little fish, sea urchins and starfish. Our first such expedition took us quite a way out among all the boats anchored offshore. Habiba and decided to head back – she suggested we swim fast. However, I’m not such good swimmer, so I quickly got tired – and then got seawater in my snorkel, which doesn’t have a valve on the top. Scared of drowning I had to stop and try and stand on the sea bed, hoping I wouldn’t stand on a sea urchin. After a rest, I was able to swim back to shore, which, while it wasn’t far away, seemed to take about ten minutes. That aside, the snorkelling was lots of fun. Maybe in twelve months’ time, I can get some more swimming practice in.

I think Alona Beach compares favourably with Ko Phi Phi in Thailand (where we went last year). It’s a little less touristy, less intense. Although the quid pro quo is that there’s less choice – less in the way of eating, drinking and shopping. On Ko Phi Phi, there were lots of diving shops and travel agents lining the narrow avenues leading to the beach and the hotels. While such places were present here, lots of business seemed to be conducted by guys who would stand around by the entrance to the beach and ask passersby by if they wanted to go on this or that trip. We did both this trip and that trip, but that’ll be the subject of another post.

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Yesterday, having finally caved in to gentle pressure from Habiba to exercise more, I went with her to the modest gym she attends near Wangsimni and joined up for a month. I once went to a gym as a teenager with a friend (who subsequently developed the body known, in popular parlance as ripped), but apart from that distant memory, such halls of exercise have been strangers to me (although, of course, I did do taekwondo for a while here in Korea). Habiba showed me round the machines and recommended a few things to do.

By the end of our hour, I felt pretty enlivened and not suffering at from the experience. Today, I felt a little sore, but nothing terrible; nothing nearly as bad as my thighs when I first started taekwondo. And we went again. I read while I did six kilometres or so on an exercise bike. Still haven’t finished Moby-Dick.

For much of the day, however, I’ve been preparing to leave the country this evening for a week in the Philippines. I changed a load of money at the bank, packed, cleaned up at home. Soon, I have to head out to meet Habiba at the airport bus stop. After we arrive in Cebu in the early hours of the morning, we’ll be taking a ferry to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island (hopefully – the Philippines is a Christian country, but it’s also Asian; I’m guessing things won’t close down as much as they do in the west). From there we’ll have to get to our hostel on nearby Panglao island, probably by taxi.

I’ll post some pictures from there as soon as I can. I hope everyone enjoys their holidays, whatever they do.

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