Okay, so the previous blog was getting far too long so I've chopped it into two manageable entries so I don't scare you with a mini-novel. Our 11 days in Boracay have been the longest we've stayed anywhere in the past 5 months, so we've got a lot to say! (And the free wireless is an added incentive)
One evening, about a week into our stay, we met up with an American named Keith who is teaching in South Korea. The following day we teamed up with Keith to hire another sailboat to tour around the entire island, stopping at a more remote beach (Puka Beach) and snorkeling at Crocodile Island. It was here that we swam within metres of a sea snake, one of the deadliest creatures on the planet. Nicole quickly swam back to the boat, followed shortly after by Cameron and Keith. The snake swam to the surface about 5 meters from Keith, looked at him casually and then swam off into the distance (well, it actually swam in the direction of a Japanese tour group snorkeling the same waters).
Were we freaked out? Absolutely! But our crew informed us that the sea snakes were not aggressive reptiles and that they had yet to hear of an attack locally. Nevertheless, it was time to get back on the sailboat. It was fun having Keith around for a couple days, it gave us someone else to talk to and swap stories with. Spending 24 hours a day together for 5 months straight limits the amount of fresh conversation between us.
On our second last day in Boracay we came to the realization that our time was quickly running out, and we hadn't gone suba diving yet. So it was a must that we squeeze in a dive before our departure. Typically we'd go diving with a 5 Star Padi operation, one that looks to be of the highest quality. But when we had stopped into a smaller dive shop out of curiousity we met a Filipino named Cheeva (I think that's how he'd spell his name?). We got a very good vibe from Cheeva and liked the fact that he grew up in the area and new the terrain well. Cheeva's English is great, he sounded like he had studied in Canada or the USA. Out of curiousity, I asked him how he learned such perfect English. His response, "from American television". He had self-taught himself English by watching television... how impressive is that?!
We had spoken to several other dive shops throughout our stay and found that the majority of dive masters were foreigners looking to earn some money while they lived in paradise for a couple months. Not that there is anything wrong with that, in fact often times foreign instructors bring higher safety standards (a very good thing!). We just felt that our dollar would go a lot further in the hands of a local, and we sensed that Cheeva was very passionate about diving and wanted to ensure that we had a fun and safe dive. The equipment was also in good condition so we elected to use this small, let's say intimate, dive operation (I think it's called Beachcombers Dive shop? It was next door to the Blue Mango - which is another good dive shop from what we saw and heard).
The majority of boats were beached on the opposite side of the island because the waters were much calmer there. In order to get there, we had to ride on the back of a two-seater motorcycle. Yes, you heard me correctly. Driver, Nicole & Cameron. Three people on a tiny two seater (including some equipment). Our driver & captain for the morning (Jeffrey) actually had to drive Cheeva and our equipment to the boat first, then turnaround and come back for us. Having never been on a motorcycle before, that 15 minute drive was an adventure in itself!
The boat was just as 'intimate', having a capacity of about 8 people. The four of us ventured out to Crocodile Island (about 300 meters from where we had snorkeled a few days prior). It was a major contrast to the massive 60 person operation that we experienced at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It was definitely more personal, but both dives were very different and unique experiences.
In one word, the reef at Crocodile Island was 'magical'. Like nothing we had ever seen underwater to date! The shallow dive was only a max depth of pprox 8-9 meters, and we dove at around 10:30 am, making it the perfect time of day to get maximum sunlight on the colourful reef. Bright orange, blue and purple reef of various sizes, shapes and depth. We even saw our first seahorse. A spectacular dive! And to Nicole's delight, no repeat sea snake sighting. We left the dive just in time too. We literally just stepped back into the dive shop when a high wind monsoon hit the island with a fury. Now that surely would have been an interesting boat and motorcycle trip back!
That evening we had our last supper of fresh grilled jumbo prawns, our fifth time in 10 nights. We got to speaking with our server (another name that I was told but cannot remember). We learned that she only made 5,000 PHP per month, equivalant to $125 CDN. I'm not sure if that included tips though, it wasn't really a topic we wanted to pry too heavily into even though she was very open about it. She actually had a lot of questions for us and was very curious about Canada and our culture. I gather she's looked into trying to leave Boracay for a different life in another country - she knew the exact process and pricing for a passport and the appropriate paperwork (approx 100,000 PHP or roughly $2,500 CDN). Isn't it ironic that we momentarily contemplated relocating to Boracay? It was a sobering reality check for us, and reminded us that life in other countries is often nothing like living in Canada.
A few random observations while in Boracay are that English is widely spoken and all signs are written in English, making it very easy to navigate. The English is also very Americanized, so the slang and pronounciation was very familiar. The majority of the tourists were from the Orient (Japan, Korea and China). Cockfighting is televised on popular stations - who knew the questionable sport had such a big following?! Basketball is also very popular - especially the NBA (they televise NBA Finals re-runs from the 90's all the time). The common mode of transportation around the island is on tricycles (little motorcycles with side cars that can fit around 5 people)
Our original plan was to island hop back to Manila via ferries and buses, but these plans changed when we learned about the ancient rice terraces of Banaue. Banaue is a 9 hour bus ride north of Manila so we decided to fly back to Manila to safe us time and money.
So we're leaving our island paradise fully charged and ready to explore the remote and mountainous side of the Philippines... next stop, Banaue!