Friday, August 18, 2017

August 17 – Panglao Island

Our initial impressions of the Philippines yesterday were…not good. Cebu City was simply grey, congested, awful, and it didn’t feel safe. Today we wanted to have a fresh start, so the plan was to get down to the ferry terminal and get the hell out of here. After breakfast we went to reception to get a taxi and the girl there insisted the best place to catch a ferry to Bohol Island was at Pier 4 – not Pier 2 like they told us yesterday, and she claimed it was only a five minute drive away. I said you must be kidding – it took us 20 minutes yesterday just to get down the block. She looked surprised, maybe we just had bad luck? So we got a taxi and asked him to take us to Pier 4. The traffic was surprisingly light and we actually made it there in ten minutes, but when we arrived the people there told us there were no ferries leaving from here, and to go to Pier 1. I said Pier 1, are you sure? We were waved away and sure enough, we were able to get tickets at Pier 1 for the next ferry.

This is exactly how things work in most of the Latin American countries we’ve traveled in – nobody ever seems to know what the hell is going on, and when things do work out, it feels like a fluke. I love Latinos because they are crazy, love to have fun, are unpredictable, have the greatest music, and they are loyal friends. But Latino countries can be real hard work to travel through. They say “Yes” when they really mean “I don’t know” and they only ever say “No” when they’ve said yes and been challenged three times. So I’m thinking it’s got something to do with Spain, as Spain was at the reins of the Philippines for 300 years so they definitely left their mark. This is why traveling in the other countries of SE Asia is so wonderful and unbelievably easy - everybody seems to know what they are talking about and everything works, all the time. I don’t get it.

The ferry was clean, modern, and extremely fast. I had my face in the laptop, doing some writing and when I finally looked out the window I could not believe how fast we were moving and how smooth it was. After two hours we arrived at the port of Tagbilaran City on the island of Bohol, and were met by a young fellow holding up a sign that read “Veraneante Resort - Ana Olson”. We jumped in his van and were off to our hotel. Although we landed on Bohol Island our hotel was actually located on a smaller island south of Bohol called Panglao, which is connected by two bridges.

Veraneante Resort was located a mile off the main road, down a dirt path, right in the middle of nowhere, and we loved it immediately. It was quiet, had lovely bungalows, a fancy pool, many shade trees, and a young black pug named Woo Woo, whom the kids latched on to the moment we arrived. We had only booked it for two nights, but decided right there to extend it by four days which would take us right to the end of our trip, and allow us to fly directly to Manila from Bohol to catch our flight to Canada and avoid having to return to Cebu City.

After lunch at the hotel restaurant we walked down to explore the nearby Momo Beach, which was practically deserted and oh so quiet. Along the shoreline were many local houses, most of which had mangy dogs walking free and fighting roosters chained up in the yards. I went snorkeling but the tide was out, making the bay much too shallow to get out very far, but I did see a lot of fish and crabs. We decided to head back to the hotel for a swim and come back for snorkeling when the tide was back in.

We got settled into the room and made the sad discovery that there was no hot water. I spoke with the girl at reception and she told me their solar hot water system had died the previous week and they were waiting for warranty parts, and would not have any hot water until the following week. A day or two without hot water would be okay, but not six days so we let them know we would no longer be needing those extra nights. At 5 pm we took their shuttle to a place called Alona Beach which is the main tourist area on the island and where the majority of the hotels are located. Along the way we told the kids that we were going to change hotels, and they were not happy as they had fallen in love with the Veraneante, and hadn’t yet experienced their first cold morning shower. It looked like we had an imminent mutiny on our hands. Fortunately, things worked out rather well in the end.

Here is the thing about guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, and the dozens of others out there. They are simply the opinion of the writer. Throughout this trip there have been many times when our experience with a place has been the complete opposite of what we read in the guide books, and even in many comments in online travel review sites. When we researched Alona Beach, it sounded like a tacky, ugly, horrible place. What did we find when we arrived there? A long stretch of fully accessible, powdery, white sand with at least a hundred of the small, trimaran style Filipino boats moored offshore, making for a stunning view. A dozen hotels, ranging from a five star luxury resort, to midrange boutique hotels, to low end bunkhouses, to hostels, all beachfront. A string of restaurants, many of which had fresh fish spread out over a huge display rack of ice where you could select the fish you want and they grilled it for you. Live music at many of the restaurants, including a jazz trio at the restaurant we chose, playing groovy beats as we dined and looked out over the ocean and at the many locals and tourists passing by. Many dive shops, mini-marts, stores, and tour operators. In short, it looked to be a perfect little place to spend a few days. But like we’ve discovered so many times before, it’s not usually the place itself that makes it unforgettable; it’s who you meet, where you stay, what you eat, and the things that you do. That’s why everybody’s experience in the same place can be so different.

We found a hotel called the Bohol Divers Resort that had beach-front and pool-front rooms available for just slightly more than what we were currently paying so we booked it for our remaining four days. The kids loved the room, the beachfront pool, and the amazing beach, so all talk of mutiny came to a halt.

The shuttle returned at 9 pm and brought us back to the hotel after a very successful visit to Alona Beach. We looked forward to spending our remaining days here.

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