Travel between islands that I went to in the Philippines is all about the Super Cat Ferry. As an aside, I read a great book years ago that I make reference to once in a while, The Lunatic Express
by Carl Hoffman. In one of the chapters, he addressed why so many people die when ferry boats run into trouble throughout the world. Passengers get into the seating area and there is only one door in, usually at the back. There is no escape. I thought of that when I climbed aboard my Super Cat Ferry to Bohol from Cebu. I went down the flight of stairs, through the door and into the seating area. It was his observation becoming very real. I ignored it, as you do.
From Cebu to Tagbilaran City on Bohol takes about two hours. As tourism is way down right now you can just walk up to the Ferry Port and buy a ticket an hour before you leave. When I arrived it was not busy at all. The ticket, the port fee, and the fee to check my bag totaled about $12. The terminal was near empty and with time to spare I grabbed a coffee and prepared for my first Philippine Ferry ride. Much like a plane, there was a safety briefing that nobody listened to followed by a safety video that most people also ignored. I just wanted to know where my life jacket was and where the exits were. There were actually four, not one. Two at the front and two at the back. I put my headphones on, put my head back and fell asleep. The trip was quite uneventful
In Tagbilaran, I was greeted by various touts of every shape and size but they were easily ignored. I was on the hunt for coffee and there was a MacDonalds within walking distance. The easiest way to get to Panglao Beach, my ultimate destination was by tricycle. A Motorcycle with an attached covered sidecar. Here is a Google Image Search
so you know what I am talking about. The bumpy and noisy ride was 300 Pesos, or about $8 Canadian. I am sure for the locals it is much cheaper but that is just how it goes sometimes. They dudes at the Ferry Port were charging 400 so it was a bit of a moral victory.
Panglao Beach is another one of those overrated Philippines beach towns. I was here for the diving and the touristy bullsh** was easy enough to ignore. Now that being said there were lots of coffee options which is a big plus for me. The beaches were really nice and the water was the beautiful blue that one comes to expect in SE Asia. As we passed through the town on the way to my hotel the options for food and drink were not limiting and I had not even gotten out of the tricycle yet. I wondered what the beachfront would bring.
Sometimes when I am using booking.com I don't pay attention as much as I should. This time it cost me. I survive as long as I do on the road because I find reasonably priced hotels and take advantage of them. I am not going to stay in dorms any longer regardless of how attractive the price is. I can usually find something in the $15 to $30 a night range, depending on where I am. I have found $10 rooms and $8 bungalows in various places and will "treat myself" to a better hotel once in a while.
I was headed to Panglao Beach on Bohol with an eye on diving. I knew this was a busy beachy tourist place so I wanted to stay a bit out of the main part of town. Nothing a 20-minute walk, or 5-minute scooter cab could not cure. With that in mind, I found the Kalachuchi Inn
. I thought I read US$35 a night, but it turned out to be US$55 a night, oops. Plus there were various taxes including the dreaded room tax per night. Fu** I hate tourist towns. It was really a great place. The pool was clean and I used it every day. The small restaurant had basic but delicious and reasonably priced meals and the staff were great in every way. They figured out pretty quick that I was a coffee before anything in the morning kind of person. My big mug was on the table as I walked the outside corridor every morning to the restaurant. With happy singing voices..."Here is your coffee sir".
I paid with my credit card and figured "screw it". A bit of real comfort for a change will be nice.
This town had more dive shops than I could count. I had three shops in mind. Tropical Divers, Seaquest and Haka. They were at the top of various lists of reviews. I walked down to the beach and checked in with SeaQuest first. The shop was busy which is always a good sign. We had a great talk about what I wanted to do but they were all about the "upsell". I wanted five dives, they pushed for ten for a good discount. They lost me. Next up was Tropical Divers which was at the very end of the beach. The ladies were great. I said I wanted to try them for 2 dives and they were happy to help. The price was good and I could go out the next morning. I filled out all the forms, geared up and found all the equipment in really good shape. I had the rest of the day to wander and explore.
The next morning I headed to the dive shop for 9:00. I got there at 8:45 and was greeted with a big "There's Ken".
It was weird but nice. My dive would be with 4 Russians. The Dive Master, his daughter, and two other comrades. Their English was terrible and my Russian consisted of about five words I picked up here and there. However once on board to break the ice I used a few of them to which we had a good laugh. They spoke to me when it was important but other than that it was all Russian. That was fine, I just enjoyed the boat trip. Naturally, the predive was in English and as we were diving as a group we made sure our hand signals were clear.
We dove two reef walls and got to a depth of 30 metres on both dives. I felt good and focused on my breathing and buoyancy as well as enjoying the tranquility the diving provides me. The corals were brilliant and alive. However, it is the fish that garner most of my attention. The colorful reef fish are fun to watch. The funny clownfish (Nemo) who will attack your mask if you get to close so naturally, I do that whenever I can. The Dive Master pointed out small crabs, shrimp, and a small moral eel. What I learned what that the moral eel is a scary looking bugger as it sits there opening and closing its jaw. This is not a defensive mechanism to scare you or a threat they will bite. This is how they breathe, pushing water through their gills. They still look scary no matter how small. We say a turtle in the distance swimming along doing its turtle thing and that is always exciting. Again, no camera as I am focusing on becoming a better and safer diver. Photos will come. In the end, both dives lasted 60 minutes which is excellent on a 200 Bar tank.
I liked Tropical Divers. They were friendly, safe, professional and the equipment was new. What I discovered was that HAKA Diving was a ten-minute walk from my hotel. Tropical Divers was 30 to 35 or I needed to jump on the back of a motorbike cab. It was Haka Time! The guy who owned the shop was Filipino but he grew up in New Zealand, so HAKA diving. The Haka
is a traditional ceremonial Maori dance made famous by the New Zealand Rugby Team. I liked him and his shop immediately.
He did not want to be on the beach with the other Dive Shops when he opened his business about a year ago. Remember this is an island and there is beach access everywhere. His gear was brand new and his questions were testing me to see if I was lying about my diving. The staff was great and I immediately signed up for 3 dives the next day. In the end, the day went great. There were six divers on the boat and we were divided into two groups, each with an experienced divemaster. They were young but skilled and very safe conscientious divers.
When not diving I found a food cart that served really good burritos, a couple of beach bars that were full of EXPAT drunks by noon. I had a few beers and minded my own business. The beach and the town were nice to wander around but I had a nice hotel room with a great pool that was paying for.