Justine and the guest house dogs killed our sleep on our last night in Tudela. We had to be ready for the bus to the ferry port at 4am. We got the ferry to Danao, then had another bus to Cebu. We stopped in Cebu for lunch with Justine’s Peace Corps friends at the Abaca Café (where I was actually able to get a n the reuben, a REUBEN people!!) and then parted ways with our dear red headed love and jumped on a long bus to Moalboal. When we finally arrived at our hostel in Moalboal after the long day of travel we were ready to sleep… but the owner had different ideas.
Le Village hostel in Moalboal is owned by Unun, a wonderfully friendly and incredibly flamboyant Filipino, and staffed by his friends who happen to be mostly lady boys. Gay culture is a little different in the Philippines. For men, it’s okay to be gay here… as long as you are extremely flamboyant. It’s even more acceptable to be trans, which results in the well known cultural phenomenon: the lady boys. They are anatomically men, but dress and identify as women, although they have no desire to change their anatomy. And they are so much fun to be around. They invited us out on the front patio for a free dinner of spaghetti and then began to set up a tower of rum and coke. It was flip cup night!
Their version of flip cup is basically the same, except the loser of each round has a punishment chosen by the winning team. It was a battle of the sexes, and the punishments got pretty silly. First we had to dole out spankings, then the girls formed a human period. Next we had to remove one article of clothing. Then the boys all had to body shots out of Keenen’s belly button, and later from between his “boobs”! As we drank more and more the night faded into debauchery and good times. We tucked in early because drunken adventures are a single person’s game, but at least we got to hear about it all the next day.
In the morning we enjoyed a simple breakfast of “red spaghetti” from a local eatery. The most cost effective way to eat here is at eateries. They are just small, local run shops with aluminum pans full of different foods on the counter. You tell them what you want, they fill up a little plastic bag, and you take it. No silverware, no frills. And it only costs about 20 to 30 pesos per serving (less than 50 cents). It’s always a bit of a risk because you never how long the food has been sitting out, or if it will taste good, but we’ve eaten at many and never gotten sick.
After our simple lunch we went hunting for a dive shop with the best price along the street, intent on jumping in the water for the first time since April 2016. We finally found a five star PADI shop for only $22 a dive, including full gear rental. This is an absolute steal compared to the states, where one dive can run upwards of $150 including gear. We scheduled our dive and jumped in the water for a quick snorkel off the beach, and were utterly amazed by what we saw. Plentiful corals and fish mere yards from the shore, more life and brighter colors than we’d ever seen in the Caribbean, and it seemed to be mostly healthy! Brimming with excitement we went back to the dive shop an hour later to suit up for our shore entry dive. The sardine run.
Huge shoals of sardines swim along the coast just off the shore in Moalboal. It was a beach entry dive, so we walked into the water until we reached a steep drop off- a wall, in diving terms. Most of the coasts with coral in the Visayas (Central Philippines) seem to be formed this way. At only 50 ft deep, we worked our way north along the wall. There were unique, bright neon corals, several nudibranchs (our favorite), pipe fish and a banded sea snake, a mantis shrimp, and I even got to see a mandarin dragonette, my favorite fish species in the world! All the while above us the huge shoal of sardines circled around. The most picturesque moment of the dive: looking up at the wall above us, covered in hundreds of colorful corals, sunlight filtering through the cloud of sardines in rays, and a large green sea turtle pops our over the edge and meanders slowly above us out to open ocean. I still get chills now describing it. Immeasurable beauty. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to record any of it. We discovered the dive housing for our GoPro five leaks, and it’s not worth risking the camera, so we didn’t even bring it down. That’s okay, this one is just for us.
After our dive we got Indonesian food for dinner with a new hostel friend, Antoine, and then laughingly watched him play basketball with the local boys- who were half his height but 10 times more talented on the court. We went back to hostel with intentions of a quiet night… then the tower came out again. This time most of the crew from the night before were hesitant to join, and we all drank slowly at the bar across the street. But free alcohol and friendly Filipinos are hard to turn down, and eventually we all ended up back at the hostel, this time playing “Pim Pom Poom”, a simple Filipino drinking game that’s actually incredibly difficult to play. After a few rounds our charismatic host Unun added the rule that every time you lose, you must also remove one article of clothing. Since people lose a lot, by the time we finished playing there were several of the guys down to their birthday suits (including Keenen!). The night faded away with too much in our systems to feel good for our morning dive.
Nonetheless, we made it to the shop for a trip to Pescador island. The diving here was also beautiful, but hampered by our headaches and upset stomachs. We’re fairly certain we saw a woman get the Bends, and our dive master wasn’t the best. None of the boats or shops seemed to care too deeply for the safety of the divers. It was frustrating for us, because as rescue divers we felt slightly responsible for watching out for our group, and it gave us less of a chance to enjoy the dive ourselves. The dive site was crowded, but the reef was lively and gorgeous and there were schools of thousands of tiny, brightly colored chromis and damsels.
After the dive we rented scooters and drove on the coastal highway to Mainit hot springs to see the waterfalls and bathe in the water, then to Kawasan Falls, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Visayas. The water at both falls was bright blue and gorgeous, but the sites were touristy and crowded. They were surrounded by locals constantly pestering us to buy their wares. The Filipinos are generally incredibly nice, but sometimes it’s clear that all they care about is what’s in your pocket. It can be frustrating and annoying. Our favorite part of the day was simply riding along the coastal road. Around every corner were beautiful vistas of the beach or mangroves, and through the more local towns we got to see the lifestyle of the locals.
Daylight evaded us quickly as it gets dark around 6 here in the islands, so we rode back towards Moalboal with a goal of visiting White Sand beach. The beach is surrounded in resorts that all charge a fee to visit, but we were determined to get there for free. We finally found a resort with an open door and no security, but then a man came up and asked what we were doing. He told us he would let us onto the beach… and then locked us out, so we couldn’t get back to our bikes! After a few frustrated minutes trying to figure out how to untie the gate or climb the fence to no avail, we strolled down the beach and found a neglected open gate. We used our secret agent skills to sneak unseen through the resort property and back to our bikes, then rewarded ourselves with giant burgers once we got back to the hostel.
The next day we intended on diving in the morning, but I felt sick and exhausted and wasn’t up to the task. Instead we cleaned up and caught a bus back to Cebu city in search of a new GoPro dive housing. When we arrived, we called every camera shop we could find in the city, and then some others… and every single one was out of stock. How can a whole country be out of stock?!? Frustrated, we destressed at our hostel and prepped for an early morning ferry to Bohol the next morning. The Philippines is beautiful and wonderful in so many ways, but can be incredibly frustrating in others. The tourist areas are filled with distrust and scams, and the lack of infrastructure makes travel long and confusing. It’s hard to find accurate info online or from a local, so every location change involves a good bit of waiting and luck.