Philippines, Part 14: Trouble in Paradise (Malapascua)

Good morning, and welcome back to our Friday in the Philippines. I hope you’ve enjoyed the new header photos, which come from the Philippines. I’ve noticed a lot of extra pageviews, and I suspect my faithful readers of refreshing the page to look at the pictures rather than to read my clever words. Shame! Last week we kissed neither tarsiers nor bats during the Bohol Choco Tour. If you missed that episode (or any others), links can be found 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)
Philippines, Part 11: Nuts to the Huts (Bohol)
Philippines, Part 12: If You Were Stranded on a Desert Island . . . (Panglao)
Philippines, Part 13: The Chocolate Hills (Bohol Again)
Philippines, Part 14: Trouble in Paradise (Malapascua)

Perhaps you manage things better, and unlike us, have never needed a vacation from your vacation. After three months of sticky, hot weather, various bumpy, loud, and sometimes heart-stopping forms of transportation, and a crash course in large insects, we were ready to just relax on some faraway, sandy beach. And we definitely intended that there would be no more adventures during our last few weeks in the Philippines. We had saved the best for last, and nothing was going to thwart our plans this time.

The most renowned island paradise on the Philippines is a little island named Boracay. Described by our (somewhat) trusty Lonely Planet guidebook as “The Pearl of the Archipelago,” Boracay is world-famous for its white-sand beaches, having been twice voted best beach destination in the world by Conde Nast. No trip to the Philippines, we were told, would be complete without a trip to Boracay. Unfortunately, the best beach destination in the world was incompatible with our student budget. Sadly, the wonders of Boracay were not for us.

Luckily, Lonely Planet had a solution for us: Malapascua, the latest of a long list of islands dubbed “the next Boracay.” In fact, Lonely Planet rhapsodized that Malapascua would be just as beautiful as famous Boracay, but even better, because it was still undiscovered by the common hordes of tourists. After everything we’d been through, from cockroaches to karaoke, two and a half weeks relaxing on a white sand beach and staying in a picturesque little nipa hut at fabulous off-season prices, promised to be the very pinnacle of our vacation to the Philippines.

So we set off on the ferry from Bohol back to Cebu. This time the movie was the comic book comedy “HellBoy,” and we were treated to several even more bizarre movie choices during the long bus ride up to the very northern tip of Cebu Island. There, at the end of civilization, is a little dock where boats leave every hour or so (whenever they’re full) for the sugary white sand beaches of Malapascua, which Lonely Planet went on to promise us was an undiscovered paradise that we would never want to leave. This had been the treat we’d reminded ourselves of countless times during the previous three months at sometimes less paradisiacal places, and we were excited that our troubles had finally come to an end.

It is true that the beaches were long, white, and deserted, and the water was warm, blue, and sparkling. But rumblings of disaster were in the air. I sat with my baby in the blistering heat that threatened rain as Tony went into the nearest resort to inquire about prices. He learned that the island has electricity (and thus, air conditioning, or even fans) for only about five hours a day. The more expensive resorts on the island own generators, but don’t really like to run them because they’re so expensive. That means that if you’re the only customer staying and for some odd reason want electricity, the price of running the generator for the whole resort is effectively added to your bill. So, bizzarely, during off-season (which by the way is called off-season because one of the frequent monsoons may cause you to be trapped in your room or delayed for five days or swept of your tiny boat and drowned) rates are tripled or quadrupled. Somehow, Lonely Planet had forgotten to mention this.

Still, we decided to make the best of it, so we settled down, rather unhappily, in a little hut with two small beds enclosed in much-needed mosquito nets. The windows, after all, didn’t close completely, and even if they had, we would have left them open to avoid being stifled in the heat. Even at one of the most expensive resorts on the island, the electricity still went off for a few hours every day. If it happened when you were in your hotel room in the evening, you had a choice between sitting and sweating in the dark with only an occasional mosquito bite, or opening the window for light and a bit of a breeze, and being eaten alive. But more indignities (also left as surprises by Lonely Planet) were yet to come. Later on, we discovered that the trickle of water that could be coaxed out of the shower and faucet was more than brackish. It was downright briny. If you have ever taken a shower in sea-water, you know that afterward you feel a little as though you’d been pickled and then rubbed with sandpaper. And brushing your teeth is a whole new experience.

Whenever we ventured out of our hut (even just to sit on the front porch), we were assailed by a flock of masseuses, desperate for off-season business. Tony took one up on the offer, but an average massage was rendered downright tortuous by the many mosquitos, who were also evidently desperate for off-season business. As soon as the massage was over, the masseuse tried to schedule another, but Tony politely declined, retreating hastily into our hut.

However, the real fun began after we went to bed. Some eight inches from our back window was a noisy disco that pumped out the same three chords and beat until two in the morning for a group of drunken Germans, whose cigarette smoke drifted into our window all night. Sweaty, tired, and disheartened, we got up the next morning to the crushing realization that we still had an entire month left in the Philippines. Our reasearch was finished, and so was any remaining desire to vacation. As I was reading about Malapascua before we came, I had wondered idly why such an idyllic place would be christened with such an inauspicious name (in Spanish it means “bad Easter”). I no longer wondered. At that moment, the glorious climax of our trip seemed like the worst letdown of our lives.

I am sorry to say that we barely glanced at the beautiful, long, empty beaches as we set off the next morning to trek around the island in search of an internet cafe, in the desperate hope that we might be able to change our super-discounted nonrefundable airline tickets and go home early. But the local village didn’t have much in the way of electricity either, and an internet cafe was out of the question. We finally tracked down a resort that let us pay an arm and a leg to use their one computer. Three phone calls later, our airline failed to take pity on us, and we realized that we were going to have to somehow survive another month. But we just couldn’t do that surviving on Malapascua. We took the next boat in to the mainland, rode the four-hour bus back to Cebu City, managed to change our superferry tickets for Manila, and then checked into a pension house, where we almost cried when we turned on the air conditioning.

Stay tuned next week as we meet Crazy Ralph and the six-legged carabao in Philippines, Part 15: All’s Well that Ends Well.

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