a regular travelog entry, complete with missed connections, improvisation, and beautiful scenery
The plan was simple: Jerome, Arvin, Gwyneth & I would take a ferry to a public beach resort and spend the night. Arvin preferred a tent to a hut, so J. would pick one up on his way over to meet me. Nothing is ever that simple though. First, J&I thought we should go first thing in the morning, but A. is a DI (dance instructor) so he works until 2 in the morning. I received a text (on my phone. — for those who have not been to asia in the last 5 years) at 3:30 in the morning asking what they had to bring and if we could leave after 1pm. I said fine, I’d talk to J. in the morning, now I’m going back to sleep. Three hours later, I wake up, text J. and tell him the new schedule, he says that’s fine, he’s picking up a tent and would meet me at the hotel. The new meeting time is 3:30 to be at the pier at 4, since the boat leaves at 5. That’s the only boat in the afternoon. I think, too bad we’ll be there so late (and sun sets here around 6:30), but it’s ok since we’ll have the whole next day on the beach before returning.
That afternoon we arrive at the pier just before 4 to discover that the boat left an hour and half early because the waves were too big. Hm. After getting over my disorientation at having a ferry leave so incredibly ahead of schedule, we decide to take the alternate route. “Really adventure!” laughs Jerome. We pile back into our taxi and head over to the other wharf near Sasa (the cargo shipping port). This is the pier I think my family has never seen. As we walk through all the vendors’ stalls in the ramshackle market, passing by all the fish, backpacks and vegetable stalls, the stares and “hello!”s we got made me guess that we were an unusual sight in this corner of town. Even Jerome, the most at home here of us all, looked out of place with his big backpack and 2 white girls in tow (ok, we’re both mixed 1/2 filipina, but to just about everyone here we look white. Only other mixed people recognize us). We were crossing the gulf to one end of Samal Island on the ferry (think wooden outrigger boat with benches and seating for around 100). Once there, three of us waited behind while Jerome arranged for 2 motorcycles to take us across the island. He knew he could get a better price if he set up the deal speaking Visaya and if they didn’t know that 2 of their passengers were white. So then we took a 45 minute ride across the island on some paved, some dirt roads. Some were roads which J. uses to train for the mountain biking segments of his adventure races — just so you get an idea of their not-so-smooth quality. I had a great time, shot some bumpy video & digital stills with one hand while balancing myself and my pack with the other. A&G were a little less at ease, but they were game. Along the way we had to dodge a dog, a pig, a chicken, and a number of children in school uniforms. (No, they weren’t travelling together.) The bikes dropped us in Kaputian, where we then hired a small banka (outrigger boat) to take us from Samal to Talikud Island — just under 1/2 hour away. Barely wide enough for 2 people to sit side-by-side, A&G sat in front of the driver and J&I sat behind, where I had the tiller running under one arm and both of us propped our feet up on the sides of the boat to avoid the exhaust from the motor. Finally landing at Isla Reta, we happily discovered that we had the entire beach to ourselves. On the downside, that meant that no one was at the restaurant and we were really hungry, but J. somehow found the staff in the town, and we (eventually) had dinner. It took a long time I think because in addition to both inihaw and paksew fish, we ordered barbequed chicken. Native chicken. There’s every chance that it was still alive when we ordered it. Prep takes a long time. After dinner, we wrapped up our night swimming in warm-to-me-cold-to-jerome tropical waters off a white sand beach under a full moon, then drinking and talking until our (especially my) heads were nodding.
I admit sleeping in a tent placed directly on sand is a little hard. Sand seems so much more pliable when you’re not on it for very long. But it was fine. I like being in a place so warm you need no sleeping bag. Just crash out on the floor of the tent. In the morning I set up a hammock under the magnolia trees and watched the dawn fishermen. (Tip to future tropical travelers: never hang your hammock under a coconut tree. Too much danger of coconuts falling on your head). There followed a lazy day on the beach trying to get a tan to make you all jealous, and more swimming. We walked into the little town to the market (a long sectioned tiled counter with faucets outside where a woman had seafood for sale on one end and someone was doing laundry near the other), bought a fish caught that morning & had it cleaned and scaled, and had it grilled for lunch, served up with chicken soup we bought from another vendor. Somehow the boys arranged with a guy from the town to have another banka pick us up at the end of the day. Just before we left, several boats arrived with weekend visitors to Isla Reta so we had to share the beach. The real benefit for me from this was getting to try some “native goggles” offered to me by one of the boatmen. These are swimming goggles with eyecups carved out of wood and fitted with small pieces of glass, tied behind the head with string secured with a piece of rubber that looked like it was cut from a thong. They actually worked pretty well, although the eyepieces were very small and therefore rather painful. I loved trying them out and may cause a future boatman some amusement by asking to buy his goggles to bring home with me.
The return trip was completely uneventful. All boats were where they said they would be, we had no difficulties changing from one to another, and got home safely. All in all, a fine trip. Especially since I happen to love it when we have to improvise. I’m what they call here a “cowgirl”, meaning that I can adapt and I am fine getting dirty. Tomorrow I go diving in a spot that’s only a 15 minute boat ride away. Tonight I’ll be ballroom dancing. This is what my life is like here. So do you understand why it’s hard to resist all the pressure I’m getting to live here? Of course, I’d have to work if I were here. But the white sand beaches, coral gardens, dances, and unexpected adventures would still be here anytime I could slip away.