Philippines - Day 10 (Boracay)
This is entry #12.
Link to entry #11.
Jolayne is also chronicling our trip here.
Day 10. Monday, April 8th.
Next: Philippines - Day 11 (Boracay/Manila)
On Monday, we managed to sleep in until 7:30 or so. That was the best sleep of the trip for Jo and I. The kids seemed pretty cranky in the morning. Misha got a full 12 hours of sleep and still woke up cranky. I imagine it was a bit of vacation overload and of being in so many strange places. Really, I'm surprised how good they've done through the trip. It's a pretty rough thing to go to such a foreign place where food, language, and practically everything else are different from what you know. Poor Kristen was crying about most everything and was pretty much unconsolable. Come to think of it, that's not so different from how they can all be at home! Guess they were doing just fine after all!
We took it easy in the morning, ate breakfast on our own in the room once more and let the kids swim. I spent some time chatting with the hotel manager, Maricel. She just LOVED that I could speak Tagalog. She said I was the first western guest in her several years there who spoke her language. We chatted about lots of things: the people here, the way the premier vacation spot is still a juxtaposition of resorts and poverty, with roads that are incomplete and power that goes out. We talked of corruption and how it takes from these people. She relayed that the hotel owners get charged for everything. They pay all sorts of fees for required permits. The barangay (neighborhood) is supposed to care for cleaning the beach, but they don't. Maricel and staff thus clean the beach near the hotel and the local leaders have even gone so far as to charge them for doing it! Very frustrating, she says. I really enjoyed learning from the locals as I conversed throughout the trip; it's what separated my experience from a tourist trip. I only wish we'd had more local folks to get to know in some of the places.
At the same time, Maricel and I talked about how kind the owner (she's Canadian) of the villa was to her. Maricel had risen up through the jobs at the villa and was now running the place. She started out with pretty much nothing and now has a decent home and job and is able to care for her children well. The experience--having someone believe in her and go out of her way to make a difference--has changed Maricel's life. It was a great story. In that way, the tourism dollars really do make a difference, despite all the government corruption.
I also made more calls to Manila to the airline. I kept running low on minutes. It was P8/min ($.30), so my P100 "top-offs" didn't last long. However, I was finally able to confirm that the iPad had been delivered to the Caticlan airport. Absolutely amazing! Even now, months later as I finally finish composing my notes into the blog, I'm amazed at the good people and also at the hand of the Lord in my life.
For Monday's adventure I decided we should go to Puka beach. It was the one remaining part of the island we had yet to see. Puka beach is at the very north end of the island and the sand is very different. There's lots of crushed up coral and shells in the sand. It was much more remote than the other beach areas we'd seen, so I was happy to go check it out. We walked down the hill towards the town center with the intent of getting a trike. I managed to hire one on the way for only P150 ($6), a good fare. Jo thought it interesting how the trike drivers held their change in their hands while they drove.
I felt like I had improved in my transport-negotiating skills each day and was finally doing all right. It was a long ride up to Puka Beach, probably 10-15 minutes. We drove through a couple different barangays and got to see much more of how the people on the island live once we got out of the core tourist areas. Really it looked like most anywhere else I've been in the country. Like I mentioned previously, it was a little surprising that Boracay wasn't more developed and spiffed up. But once I got over that expectation, I was happy to see the "normal" area; we came to the Philippines to experience the people and a different way of life. This was that.
Puka Beach was not at all crowded. It was clean and quiet, with only a few dozen people around.
I liked it. Too bad it didn't have much shade, though, so we baked in the sun while playing in the new-and-different sand; it felt funny on my feet. Sort of rough but at the same time smooth. I swam around for a while while the kids looked for shells and played in the sand. I'll take a moment here to talk about Kristen and her shells. She has always enjoyed hunting for shells, for as long as I can remember. Each year, if we go anywhere near water, we wind up coming home with a water bottle full of shells. Some years those shells have stunk something nasty. Last year the shells we brought home from Washington stunk up the laundry room for months. And so Kristen had spent much time both in Zambales and now in Boracay finding a new crop of shells to add to her collection. She was super content hunting and picking them.
The water at Puka Beach was beautiful. It was the clear, deep blue that you see in postcards. I went out snorkeling and found a couple cool starfish; one was bright blue and another was large and very thick, 10-12 inches across. I really enjoy snorkeling. It's not terribly hard and it's neat to see so many beautiful things. Not sure how I would do with scuba, but snorkeling has been a fun activity to pick up over the last few years.
After an hour or so swimming, we were hungry. It was well past lunch time due to our late start. We walked around a couple of sort-of-touristy restaurants and didn't find anything that suited us, so we went a little further inland, back where the locals go. We settled on a barbecue place (referred to as ihaw-ihaw) that was much more like what I'd experienced as a missionary years ago.
It was open air (but covered), with multicolor plastic tablecloths. BBQ is always good no matter where you are, and I settled on a snapper fish. They cooked the thing whole, and it took quite a while to cook. It wound up a good choice, though I may have had a little American pricing in my bowl as well. Even Kristen said it was yummy, though they really didn't like all the bones they had to pick out by hand. It was a cool place to sit (tall roof). Wound up being $30+ for the meal, which was quite spendy, but was one of the best meals we had while here. It was definitely native; we could eat with our hands if we wanted, and the rice was quite good as well. For me, it was just the type of immersive (but not offensive to the fam) experience I craved on the trip.
We had a quick lesson in spices with the tiny "seely" (no idea how it's spelled) peppers. The tinier they are, the hotter they get. Jo learned that first hand. Mush them up in vinegar, calamansi (lime) juice, or similar.
After lunch we perused the sidewalk stands near the water and Kristen found a cute island dress. Prices were very reasonable and I was able to bargain down even. Good experience.
Once we were done with the shopping, we decide to head back into town and walked over to the trike depot. Most trike drivers just sit in the shade waiting the bulk of the day for a fare to show up. We saw some local kids playing at a house across the street. They had some starfish and were playing a "chinese throwing star" game (made up, of course), which was cute to watch. We hopped a trike back into town for the same P150, so we were doing well. By this time, the kids were ready to go full-on shopping for their souvenirs, so we went to a place called D'Talipapa (recommended by Maricel).
It was back near station 2 (the main drag) but set back away from the beach and main mall area. This was closer to a palengke experience and we had perhaps a couple hundred stalls to peruse. Over the course of the next couple hours we looked for just the right think for everyone. It wasn't easy; we'd all become a little more discriminating with our purchases.
Misha checked several stores 2 or 3 times over for just the right tshirt. Of course she wanted one that was like $25USD (in an air-conditioned shop, which is a dead give away for pricing strategies), and I kept pushing her back to things more local and affordable. Amy took quite a while to finally find the island dress she'd been craving. She knew what she wanted in her head and despite all the stores just couldn't quite find it. For Jolayne we found a lantern we hope to use in our new house. Lots of the shopkeepers were amazed at me speaking Tagalog, and we had fun with the same jokes over and over. It also helped secure better prices, and I felt like there were no ripoffs for the afternoon.
Amidst our shopping we paused for some mango/watermelon shakes. I liked the mango much better. Then we finished up (it was early evening) and headed back over to White Beach (the main party beach) and played in the sand as the sun went down. The kids really enjoyed the super-powdery sand there. The beach was FULL of people; I suppose it was a good place for people watching. There were folks from all over the world here. Unfortunately we didn't have either of our good cameras with us; we'd only brought the waterproof one since we'd been at the beach all day. The many paraws out on the water in front of a setting sun were so picturesque; they were backlit and really described the place very well.
Just down from us were several little Filipino boys playing together and doing backflips over and over on the beach. Filipino and Japanese visitors alike asked to take pictures with me because I'm tall (and a bit of a freak I suppose!) and also Kristen, who is apparently just a cute kid to have in your picture no matter where you go. Pretty funny how we were just approached like that.
Once the sun went down we headed back up towards McDonalds for some air conditioning and dinner. We ate more McDo on this trip that perhaps in the last year combined. But the aircon felt really great, even after sundown. Our lunch had been quite large (and late), so we weren't super hungry anyway, and McDo fit the snack-only requirements, giving us our umpteenth fix of fried food for the week. Finally, we walked back over to the main road and hit the grocery market one more time, buying more crackers and snacks for the ride home tomorrow.
We still had a mile walk back to the villa, but we'd learned it wasn't worth the fare on the trike since they couldn't make it up the hill anyway. We walked along the water, where the tide had now come all the way in, looking up at the stars and chatting with the family about the experience we'd had and the last night we were sharing. It was a nice moment. The trip had become all that I had hoped.
Once we got back to the villa, we were pretty tired, but it was a good tired. We swam in the dark for a little while until Kristen cannonballed (purposely?) onto Misha. Of course tempers flared and thus it was time to head in. We all got showered up, had a nice family prayer for the great trip we'd enjoyed, and then headed off to bed. Tomorrow we'd head back to Manila and meet up once more with our friends the DeOceras.
By this time my legs were pretty lobstered. Of course the kids seemed to soak it up; they'd be red one day and brown the next morning. Not so for me.