From North Luzon we travelled back to Manila, where we stayed again at the hostel with the rooftop lounge. After a cab ride, a flight, another cab ride, a bus ride and a ferry ride, we finally made it to Malapascua Island, just north of Cebu in the evening the next day.
Malapascua Island is an island about 10km north of Cebu. It is very small, maybe 3km by 1.5km. The island became popular in the 1990s, mainly as a dive destination. There are several local dive sites around the island with coral gardens and coral walls as well as a few dive locations close to Malapascua, such as Gato Island or Monad Shoal, where thresher sharks and manta rays can often be spotted.
George(s) & Theo(s)
We were supposed to stay at our resort for at least 4 nights. At the first glance the room had already been quite a disappointment. When I opened the toilet lid I found three dead cockroaches in the toilet. No idea how they got in there. After dinner when we got back into the room, there were two more cockroaches. We had had our first cockroach fight back in El Nido and decided to name that cockroach George, in order to reduce the disgust and give it a character that we associate cuteness with. Since then all cockroaches have been called George. Although we were not really freaking out about our new Georges in Malapascua, I asked the staff for some cockroach spray. By the time all cockroaches had been removed, there was a giant (the size of a plate – I’m not kidding!) Huntsman spider that had just crawled out of the old, broken aircon in the room. I think Isy and I must have screamed quite a bit, so that the guy from reception came running. He tried to grab the spider with his bare hands, which, obviously, didn’t work cause it was bigger than his hands. Eventually, it crawled back in the aircon and the guy assured us that “it is gone now, it is back in the aircon, it lives there”. Even though we were scared as hell, we stayed overnight (thank god for our mosquito net). Perhaps it also helped us that we gave that spider the name Theo. In the morning we woke up to another Theo. This one was black, hairy and about the size of a domestic European house spider. We checked out immediately and left the accommodation. From this day on, we stayed with a German, who had opened his own guesthouse on Malapascua Island. Lovely place and only little more expensive than the open terrarium.
Apart from that exciting night, we spent our days on Malapascua Island relaxing, trekking around the island, swimming, snorkeling, meeting new people, eating lots of good food and, of course, diving. We had to wait for three days until we were finally able to take a dive trip to Gato Island. Half the week the trips had been cancelled due to strong winds and currents, so we had to find alternative things to do in the meantime. Finally, on the fourth day, the boat was cleared to cross the waters to Gato. Gato Island is mostly famous for being a sea snake sanctuary. However, it’s not only a great dive site to spot sea snakes, but all kinds of sea horses, smashing mantis shrimp and the lovely whitetip sharks (1,5m). It was really fascinating!
Also a Lonely Planet tip, Ging-Gings is a Filipino-owned restaurant and bar. They serve a variety of Asian and European foods for great prices (mains are all between $ 1,20 – 2). We literally went there every day to try out a different dish. Their banana pancakes with marple syrup are the best! Accommodation-wise I would recommend Hilteys Hideout. Although a little more expensive than what we usually spend on a place to sleep, this German-owned place offers great rooms with good European standard.
After almost six days on Malapascua Island, we decided it was time to move on. We’d originally planned to continue our journey in Leyte. Apparently, the ferry schedule had been changed, so there was no affordable boat connection to Leyte on that day. We spontaneously changed our itinerary and decided to go to Bohol instead. By the way, a few days later, we found out that there had been an earthquake in Mindanao and south Leyte while we were staying in Bohol. If the ferry company hadn’t miraculously changed the schedule, we would have taken the ferry to Leyte and would have travelled to south Leyte by the time the earthquake happened. Everything happens for a reason after all.
There’s one remarkable thing about the journey to Bohol I’d like to share with you all. The pier in Cebu is pretty modern, compared to most piers and passenger terminals we’ve seen so far. While we were sitting in a cafe on the second floor of the terminal overlooking the whole waiting area, we noticed a bunch of masseurs offering their services to waiting passengers for a low price. Most of the masseurs looked kind of strange, especially the way they gave massages looking around very absently, but very much in the zone at the same time. To be honest, I don’t even know what exactly it was that stroke both of us as strange. A moment later we understood that they were all blind. A man with the same white uniform guided them from one passenger to the next and also found new passengers to massage for them. I felt kinda ashamed that Isy and I had made fun of them in the first place. When I realized these masseurs were all blind, I was really impressed. Mostly impressed by the fact that disabled people in the Philippines are actively being integrated in society. And that it’s even done in a public place like the passenger terminal at Pier 1 in Cebu where thousands of people are transiting every day. Impressive.
Seeing Philippines Tarsiers was one of my goals on our trip to Bohol. From Tagbilaran we took a jeepney* towards Sikatuna and asked the driver to drop us at the Tarsier Sanctuary.
(*Jeepneys form the main urban transport in most areas in the Philippines. The first Jeepneys were former army jeeps left behind by the Americans after World War II. They now look colourful and are clearly marked with the route it takes. They’re usually packed, sometimes people even have to sit on the roof. However, the starting fare in downtown is about Php 8 ($ 0.16) making it the best budget option for transport within a region.)
The Philippines tarsiers are mostly nocturnal animals that look a lot like a very crazy species of monkeys. However, they are the world’s smallest primates and are mostly famous for their big eyes, especially in relation to their body size. We learned that tarsiers are extremely territorial and need at least one hectare of forest just for themselves. Since they need so much space and their habitat is subject to destruction, they’ve become an endangered species over the years. Currently, Bohol is running numerous tarsier conservation projects in order to ensure their survival.
After visiting the sanctuary, we took a jeepney to Loboc and walked to an accommodation we’d booked on booking.com. When we got there, they told us that they’re fully booked and that they hadn’t been able to access their booking.com account for months due to a misplaced password. Seriously? I mean seriously?? How can you misplace a password and then don’t even care about it for months? It was pretty useless to argue with the lady, so I politely asked for the WiFi password and started looking into other options. In the end, we decided on the Nippa Huts Village, a place that had already been recommended to us by the staff of our accommodation in Cebu. Again – everything happens for a reason! In fact, this guesthouse was much better than the one we had booked. We were given our own little Nippa Hut, including hammock on the balcony. Apart from that, they had free water, meals available and motorbikes for rent. It served as the perfect new headquarter!
Of course we took the chance and rented a scooter for the day, which we rode to the Chocolate Hills. The Chocolate Hills, probably Bohol’s main tourist attraction, are majestic grassy hillocks that get their name from vegetation that roasts to chocolate brown in the driest season of the year (between February and July). We were told that they’ve formed over the years as a result of erosion, but the local traditional belief is that they were tears of a heartbroken giant.
On our way back we stopped at a butterfly conservation area, the Butterfly Habitat and immersed ourselves into the world of moths, cocoons, caterpillars, and received tons of useful (and useless) information on butterflies, most of which I’ve already forgotten. 😀
At night the owner of the guesthouse asked us whether we wanted to take a night trip to see the fireflies. The Loboc River is a famous place to spot them and there are a number of tour operators that charge a great amount of money to take tourists to see the fireflies. The guy gave us a pretty good price, so half an hour later we jumped in a banka and chuggled down Loboc River until we reached a surreal looking tree, lit like a Christmas tree with one million LED lights. It was insane. I’ve never seen so many fireflies in one place, switching on and off their lights in the same rhythm. It was one of the most fascinating things to see and for some reason I was constantly reminded of the movie “Life of Pie” and that beautiful scene on the magical island. It was magical. And in fact, it was probably one of the most romantic situations I’ve ever been in. The river was calm, it was all silent, there were Isy and myself in a banka with a Filipino guy who spoke no English and a glowing tree surrounded by nothing but darkness.
Panglao Island is directly connected to Bohol and just a 30-minute jeepney ride from Tagbilaran. We stayed in a very nice, discounted aircon room that we’d found online, pretty close to the very touristy Alona Beach. Accommodation there is super expensive, so we were quite lucky to have found this place. We rented a scooter for three days to be flexible and to be able to get to internet spots quickly. This was the first accommodation that didn’t have WiFi connection – not even a paid Wifi, which is quite inconvenient if you are a backpacker trying to plan the next steps of your itinerary.
Our main activity in Panglao Island was, you might have guessed already, diving. We did two dives around Balicasag Island, a world-class location for diving. Our first dive site was Rudy’s Rock, which I had requested to go to in hope to finally see some green turtles. We were lucky and swam with two or three turtles in a depth of only 10m. The second dive was in Black Forest, another coral wall, where you can find tons of colorful fish species as well as occasional turtles. That day also happened to be Valentine’s Day… can’t say I didn’t like spending VD with my valentine underwater. 😛
Beside the two dives, my personal highlight in Panglao Island was the fact that we found a German speciality shop just across Alona Beach. They even had real German dark bread, which we bought three days in a row for dinner. German food is probably the thing I’ve missed most about home so far, so eating this bread made me incredibly happy. 🙂