Philippines, Part 12: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island . . . (Panglao)

Last time we destroyed Tony’s personal luggage and discovered a serious case of Travel Guide fraud in Philippines, Part 11: Nuts to the Huts (Bohol). If you’ve missed a previous episode, you can find them here:

Philippines, Part 1: Have Baby, Will Travel
Philippines, Part 2: Do You Know How to XOOM?

Philippines, Part 3: Confessions of a Carseatless Baby (Vigan)

Philippines, Part 4: Strawberries and Cotton Candy (Baguio)

Philippines, Part 5: Hanging Coffins! (Sagada)

Philippines, Part 6: Voyage of the Icebox (Banauae & Batad)

Philippines, Part 7: Revenge of the Cockroaches (Manila)
Philippines, Part 8: Please Don’t Feed the Sharks (Anilao)
Philippines, Part 9: “Sexy Chic” at the Playboy Fashion Show (Field Study Research)
Philippines, Part 10: Luxury Travel, Filipino Style (Cebu)

From Bohol’s capital of Tagbilaran, we took a long, hot, slow, noisy, bumpy ride on a motorcycle sidecar to little Panglao Island, which is connected to the main island of Bohol by a land bridge. Once on the island, we continued through the mostly uninhabited jungle-like interior. We finally arrived at our coveted destination, Alona Beach, in the midafternoon, and the sun came out over the white sand and the sparkling ocean.

As soon as we gratefully debarked from our noisy conveyance, we were met by a stranger who greeted us like a long-lost friend. She was so insistently helpful that we could hardly help allowing her to lead us to to a resort called “Charlotte’s Divers.” Master negotiator Tony haggled the price down so far that the bemused staff decided they needed to confirm it with the absent manager. They sent him a text message and told us it was fine, so we moved in with our bags (which yes, we had dragged over several meters of sand to get there) and went to get some lunch at a beachside restaurant. However, a few minutes later, the eminently helpful person who had shown us the resort in the first place came up and sheepishly told us that the manager had arrived and was very upset.

We went back to the resort to find him, hands on hips, lecturing the staff and confiscating their tips. He was a very irate Korean who spoke almost no English and seemed to be angry at the whole world, but especially at us and his staff. He looked ready to throw us all out, and insisted at the top of his voice that there would be no discount. His interpreter and the two hotel staff were standing around looking mortally embarrassed (this was all an extreme breach of normal Filipino etiquette, which always treads on eggshells around anything that could in any conceivable way embarrass anyone). We were more amused than anything at the way he was carrying on. With a little judicious diplomacy on Tony’s part, he eventually calmed down and agreed to let us stay there at something between the normal rate and Tony’s discount. Still, we elected to find another place, reasoning that at least we wouldn’t lie awake at night wondering if our volatile host would come pounding on our door in the middle of the night and demand that we leave or pay exorbitant fees.

Although we didn’t relish the thought of dragging our dilapidated bags back over all that sand, we were soon glad that we had left. We were cordially welcomed at Isis Bungalows, which turned out to be the only accommodations where we stayed during our four-month Philippines trip that I would even consider labeling “luxury” (besides the dubious Superferry, of course). I mean, this place had a refrigerator and a real, king-sized bed with a mattress that wasn’t two single mattresses pushed together. Our room was a hexagon with three sides of big sliding glass windows right on the lovely beach. Off-season being what it was, we netted the whole thing (including air conditioning and the privilege of actually turning on the refrigerator, thank you) for the equivalent of $20. It was a splurge, but it was worth it. I immediately went out and bought two fresh coconuts to stock my fridge.

Thus it was, that when Grandma Familia called as Tony and Axa were playing in the sand on the beach and Sarah was swimming in the crystal clear water, and asked if we could possibly come home early, she was doomed to disappointment. Most of our time on Alona was consumed in romantic walks along the beach, swimming, and eating at our favorite beachside restaurant, Trudy’s Place. We liked it because of the excellent food, reasonable prices, and waitresses who didn’t mind at all when our baby fussed, and in fact entertained her whenever she seemed less than content. We still dream about the seafood curry at Trudy’s Place, which made coconut milk seem like the natural habitat of calamari and shrimp. And their British and American breakfasts were a welcome change from an endless succession of Filipino -silog breakfasts (greasy rice, greasy egg, and greasy miscellaneous strange meats).

While staying on Alona Beach, we traveled inland that Sunday (on another noisy sidecar) to go to church on the main island of Bohol. Not even Tony could understand much of church, since the southern islands of the Philippines speak Cebuano rather than Tagalog.

Much to my dismay, Tony actually did find one Filipino to talk to. He was a young, idealistic Boholan who later visited us in our Alona Beach refuge and spent several hours one night describing what he thought was an incredible business opportunity. He had a friend who had discovered an island with some great nickel deposits. Now I guess in a pinch, nickel is great if you can’t get gold or diamonds or something. The crowning excitement, though, was that the Chinese government had agreed to buy the entire island. If it could be systematically dismantled and carted off to China by barge, that is. The only catch was that he needed someone to finance it, and whoever financed it could own the whole operation! (whatever that meant. He was a little hazy about the details of the actual financial return. Mostly he thought we were or knew rich Americans who would fork over a lot of cash in return for the excitement of owning the whole operation.) Oh yes, and the only other catch was that he wanted Tony to visit the island with him and see it for himself. And it was only a two-day journey by boat through whirlpool-infested waters. Needless to say, I was neither excited nor amused. It took me quite a long time to detail the negatives of the plan, including the imminent danger to the environment and Tony’s personal safety, as well as the dubiousness of any actual financial return. In the end, I managed to rain on the party long enough to diffuse all the excitement. The young, idealistic Boholan was no longer welcome at my house. Nor was I in the least interested in going to his house to watch his snake devour a pig the next Sunday.

However, we did have another somewhat more agreeable meeting at church. We had expected to be the only Americans there, and instead were surprised to find that half the congregation that week turned out to be Caucasian and from Utah. They were in the Philippines as members of a foundation called “Vaccines for the Philippines.” It was a health clinic organized by some BYU and U of U students who had raised $30,000 selling rubberband bracelets at U of U games to buy medicine for the people of Bohol, and then came over with their families and friends to distribute it. That week we traveled to the mainland again to help with the clinic. It was funny appearing on the scene of a vaccination clinic with my unabashedly unvaccinated baby, but we weren’t there to discuss the philosophy of vaccination.

By this time, though, I thought we had spent plenty of time on the mainland. So the next Saturday we got up at 5:30 a.m. to go out on that indispensable tropical outing, island hopping. As a bonus, our guides told us we were also going dolphin watching, but sadly, no dolphins were forthcoming. We did, however, visit the island of Balicasag, where we went snorkeling and took pictures with our disposable underwater camera. We even saw the inimitable dog-faced puffer, over whose picture we had giggled when we were getting scuba certified, and who really does resemble nothing more than a busy little canine sniffing around underwater. There was also an abundance of those funny starfish that look like chocolate chip cookies.

Our next stop was Virgin Island, which looks like a tiny little desert island straight out of a movie. After circling the whole island in our boat, we landed to pace the beach, feeling like the first explorers of an undiscovered country. The island is almost wholly composed of beach, and inhabited only by ghost crabs and a few coconut palms. When we had had our fill of pristine island solitude, we boarded the boat to return to Panglao. Storm clouds were gathering in the sky, and we were seriously doubting the wisdom of bringing our three-month-old baby out in a rickety little boat where we might get caught on an unprotected beach in a tropical monsoon (I promise, I haven’t done it since).  Unfortunately, the engine made only ominous sputtering sounds when the boatman tried to start it. After several tries, he said, “sira” which Tony translated to me as “broken.” Starkly confronted by the hopelessly cliche-ish probability of being stranded on a desert island, we looked at each other and shrugged. But the boatman gave one last mighty pull, and the engine roared to life, so our trip concluded relatively uneventfully.

When we arrived back on the island, we had some urgent business to attend to in an internet cafe. We had ordered some basketball uniform samples from one of the companies we had interviewed in Manila, hoping to take them back to the United States and start a business marketing them to high schools. If we wanted them finished before we returned to the U.S., we needed to confirm the final prototype specs immediately. It looked a bit like rain, so Tony went by himself, and I stayed in our cozy bungalow with the baby. Unfortunately, a cozy bungalow seems a little less cozy when you are alone in it on a tropical island with your baby and no husband, three sides of it are plate glass facing the beach, and there is a monsoon going on outside. I had never seen palm trees bending all the way to the ground before, nor had I ever seen rain coming down literally in sheets. But I didn’t really get worried until I discovered that the rain was coming in the seams of the windows and quickly pooling on the floor inside. The ocean was coming pretty far up the beach too, and our bungalow was only yards from the water on a calm day. Fortunately, though violent, the monsoon was short-lived, and Tony had waited it out in the internet cafe. We were soon reunited, and spent our last night on Alona Beach together again.

Having given ourselves some distance, we decided that Bohol was not so bad, and were contemplating going back. A taxi driver on the beach kept tempting us with offers of a “Choco tour.” It sounded like something out of Willy Wonka. Stay tuned next week for Philippines, Part 13: The Chocolate Hills (Bohol Again)

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