25th-31st January, 2015
For Part 1 of our time in the Visayas, click here.
Apo Island is only one and a half kilometers long and seven hundred meters wide, a tiny dot in the hundreds of islands dotted across the Visayan Sea, but it sparked upon on the tourism radar a few years ago, and there is one particular reason for this:
James, Chloe, Jody (my three travelling companions), and I arrived there in the afternoon and, after quickly checking-in to our rooms at Liberty Lodge, we were eager to jump into the ocean. The first thing I saw when I put my head under the surface was a banded sea snake swimming up to get a breath of air. I watched it, but maintained a wary distance, remembering being told by someone once that they are poisonous.
Shortly after, I saw my first green turtle – one did not have to go very far: the four of us merely swam in the shallows that afternoon and we found five of them, all munching away at the algae growing upon the seabed.
James and I ventured out a bit further out the next day and found some very beautiful coral gardens, but we were unfortunately not allowed to go into the Marine Park as it has been closed off for a few years after the damage it suffered during the typhoon which occurred in 2013.
In the afternoon we went for a walk around the island’s hilly interior and discovered that there was much more to appreciate about Apo than its turtles: we found other gorgeous beaches, a mangrove forest, and a couple of charming villages.
Dumaguete has a young and hip vibe, for a Filipino town, which is probably due to its large student population. We stayed at backpackers’ guest house called Harold’s Mansion and decided to go on a day trip to Twin Lakes.
The road there was windy and steep, and our tricycle driver struggled at times, so we occasionally had to jump off and walk parts of it. Aggressive hable-hable drivers trailed us for over an hour, trying to get us to jump onto the back of their bikes for the rest journey, but we told them that we didn’t mind walking. Their persistent pestering only fuelled our determination to not give in. The views, along the way, were fantastic.
We eventually reached the park headquarters, and ate a quick lunch at a café before we made our way down to the lakeside.
We discovered that it was actually quite cheap to be taken out on a boat for a couple of hours, so we hopped on and our boatman rowed us to a waterfall on the other side which was surrounded by jungle and had clear waters. We were also taken to the nearby Danao lake, Balinsasayo’s twin, which was very picturesque.
The couple of days which followed were spent mostly on buses. We made our way across the mountains of Negros and over-nighted at a town called Bacolod before we caught a boat out the next morning to reach Panay. After another day on a bus we reached the port of Caticlan, where we caught one last final boat to Boracay.
Often when places become famous destinations, as frustrating as all the things which come with its fame (such as inflated prices, hassle from the locals, and overcrowding), one can usually scratch beyond the surface and see why these places are popular.
But sometimes, you really can’t.
I have seen much better beaches – whiter sands, calmer waters, and much, much better scenery – and I didn’t even bother snorkelling, because even the travel guide admits that it is a bit naff. We spent three days in Boracay, in all, and I can honestly say that I still don’t have a clue why so many people go there. If you want a short, uneventful holiday, on a mediocre tropical beach, where you’ll mostly meet the same kind of people you would in bars back at home, while enjoying all the comforts of the western world such as McDonalds, pool tables, shopping malls and swimming pools, you might have a good time, but if you’re quite well travelled you will probably find Boracay extremely underwhelming. The only reason the four of us stayed there was because it was conveniently placed by Kalibo airport and Jody was just about to fly home. She is being replaced by another friend of ours – Pedro – who will be accompanying James, Chloe, and I for the rest of our time in the Philippines.
After an evening of drinks to say farewell to Jody and welcome Pedro, we left the following morning.
More photos from Apo Island and Dumaguete can be found on my Flickr account. Underwater photos from this blog were donated to me by James and Chloe. James also owns a DSLR and he has his own photography website which is worth a browse.