Thursday, March 20, 2014

[Throwback (Travel) Thursday 03.20.2014] Alone in Malapascua

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How inviting, isn't it? This was taken back in October 2004 in Malapascua Island in Cebu. It was a trip by my lonesome, one of those side trips I normally make when I'm out of town for some audit work. I have long read of Malapascua and it has been on my travel wish list ever since. So when I finally had the chance, I seized it, even if it was just for 3 days.

I knew I took some notes of my trip but I just couldn't find them right now, so I'm writing this all from memory. Yeah, it can get a little sketchy given that all this was 9 years ago.

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Getting there
I hopped on a van at a terminal beside the old White Gold Club at the North Reclamation Area. I don't know if the terminal still exists but you can always take a bus bound for Maya at the North Bus Terminal. I've read then that the bus trip takes really long because of so many stops, plus there were no air-conditioned options. So I went for the more expensive--but what I thought would be--the faster and more convenient option.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most public utility vans in the Philippines, the departure time was "alas-puno," meaning, departure would depend on when the van is filled to capacity (Alas-puno is a local slang. Alas is used with a number to denote time, like alas-dos, which means two o'clock. Puno means full.). We waited for an excruciatingly long time before the van was on the road.

The trip to Maya was around three hours. Because our departure was delayed, it was already dark when I arrived at the port. And to my horror, I was told there were no more passenger boats going to Malapascua. I surveyed the area and I wasn't sure if they even had a pension house or something there where I could spend the night.

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Storm clouds gathering over the horizon in Malapascua Island.

Then thankfully someone said there was a fishing boat going to the island and that I could hitch a ride if I wanted to. Of course I wanted to!

It was a huge fishing boat, an outrigger type, and without any second thoughts I hopped aboard. The fishermen were kind enough to find me a spot that didn't smell too much like fish, even offering me a cigarette. While on a normal day the boat ride to the island takes only 30 minutes, we sailed for maybe 45 minutes to an hour because the waves were quite huge and it was already dark.

Out of gratitude I handed the main boatman a bill. I was just thankful I made it to the island. It was around 9pm already. Now where to stay was my next problem because I haven't made any reservations whatsoever.

I found a habal-habal (a motorcycle fitted with contraptions for extra seating capacity, used as public utility vehicle) and I just asked the driver for a cheap place to stay. He brought me towards the edge of the main beach, to some native cottages owned by a Danish guy. At Php 150 a night, indeed it was cheap. However, it was a back-to-basics kind of thing because he didn't have electricity. Well, the whole island didn't have electricity. He did, however, offer to turn the generator on if I wanted to but thinking I didn't want to come off as some prima donna, I declined.

White sand beaches
The next day I immediately checked the main beach, Bounty Beach, hungry for some sunbathing and swimming. As expected, the sand was white and had a fine consistency, peppered with a few stones and dead coral in some spots. The beach, while not very wide, was beautifully lined with coconut trees and fishing boats (apart from tourism, Malapascua is also a fisherfolk's town). The water was very inviting in varying shades of blue. With the sun up and clear blue skies all over, it was a perfect day.

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Gorgeous white sand beach. Perfect day!

But I was going to tour the island first. So right after breakfast (this Danish guy baked really good bread!) I hopped on the same habal-habal from the night before. The driver offered to take me around the island. It's their primary mode of transport, by the way. Otherwise, people just get around on foot. After all, it's a small island.

Touring the island
My driver/tour guide took me to the other side of the island. This part had less sandy beaches but still offered a gorgeous landscape of karst rock formations (not the towering type, though). He also took me to other points but I barely remember anything else apart from the seaside cemetery and other pockets of white sand beaches.  We then went for a bit of hiking towards the island's highest point where a lighthouse proudly stood.

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Crystal-clear waters and the gorgeous view marred by a less than gorgeous me.

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Limestone rock outcrops are also all over the island.

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The lighthouse from a distance. We're almost there.

Even if it's not so high a vantage point, the view from atop was still really nice. For a few minutes I soaked it all in, then the sight of the white sand beach and surrounding sea down below told me, "Are you gonna go swimming or what?"

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A slice of the magnificent views from the foot of the lighthouse.

Combing the shoreline
As I am wont to do, I went for a leisurely walk along the main beach under the scorching sun. Along with just laying on the beach, it's something I simply enjoy doing, earning that dark, sun-kissed skin in the process.

Despite having a good number of resorts both premium and budget, Malapascua still has that rustic charm, at least at the time of my visit. To me, the sight of dried seagrass and the occasional driftwood washed ashore forming a tide line lends a nice, unpolished look to the island. Add to that the fishing boats lining up the beach, even catching some fishermen prepping up for a night at sea, it's a really cool vibe.

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Fishing boats are commonplace here. In the distance, the floating bar.

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Flag of our fathers, all beaten up by the elements.

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Father and son preparing their fishing nets, unmindful of the approaching thunderstorm.

I soon realized, though, that the island's landscape doesn't make it an ideal place for swimming. I mean, of course you can swim but the seabed near the shoreline is not all white sand. Similar to Alona Beach in Panglao Island and Anda, both in Bohol, it's shallow, punctuated by rocky surfaces and lots of seagrass and some sea urchin. So the best time to take a dip is during high tide.

Nonetheless I was happy with the beach. And oh, sunsets here are spectacular.

Dining and entertainment
There was no shortage then--more so now--of places to dine. I sometimes ate at my resort and other times tried some restaurants that interested me. But when I was looking for cheap stuff, and upon everyone's recommendation, I went to Ging-Ging's. It's an eatery that's almost always packed with people, not because there's anything special with the food but because their meals are really inexpensive, perfect for budget travelers.

Life in Malapascua is generally unhurried and back then, there wasn't much to go to for entertainment (probably even up to now). Apart from a floating bar, which I usually swam up to in the afternoons, there was Malditos if you wanted some dancing or some drinks. Hardly anyone danced, so there I just chatted with some foreigners over beer.

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Ah...perfect view to cap the day.

While it's not the best place for swimming, Malapascua is great for diving. No, I did not dive but one night I found myself in the company of Filipino divers who gladly regaled me with their stories of how awesome their dives were, with underwater images to boot. I was especially intrigued about the thresher sharks, which were arguably the island's main under-the-sea attraction. Thresher sharks, I was told, are normally harmless to humans and are characterized by their magnificently long tails. Such beautiful creatures!

I remember making some inquiries at a dive shop and I found their rates to be really cheap. Unfortunately because I didn't have a PADI certification, I was only qualified for a fun or intro dive, which costs more than a regular dive and which certainly does not include going to see the thresher sharks. Since I didn't have enough cash with me and there were no ATMs on the island either, I just went for a swim instead and vowed to pursue a PADI certification and come back one day.

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I think I blend in perfectly.

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Well, 9 years and 5 months later I still don't have a PADI certification, nor have I been back to Malapascua. Okay, the diving thing may not materialize but at least going back to the island is not a remote possibility. So I'll be back.


  1. Awesome place !
    beautiful pics.


  2. wow ! just stunning pics

  3. This post makes me miss Malapascua


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