Faith over Reason -- Malapascua, The Philippines
Reason dictates that in a country with seven thousand islands, and with ten days to spare, I should at least have seen two of them, following a perfect 10-days in the Philippines list.
I went for only one: Malapascua.
Malapascua is a throw stone away of Cebu, six hours north by bus and ferry combined. Being an undeniable fan of Anthony Bourdain I had the visual imagery of the The Cebu Lechon episode stuck in my head. I made myself believe that I just had to find a bbq party to get invited to. Easy. Once in Cebu, the sight of the city send me directly on the look for the islands.
Malapascua - what-a-name - is a 2.5 x 1km island, a tiny paradise of sandy beaches, almost no WiFi and a fairly poor 4G signal. To make up for your lack of Instagram facilities, there are thresher sharks. The thresher are an endangered specie, incredibly elegant in their use of their seriously long tail as a hunting weapon that helps them catch the tiny but overwhelming sardines that populate the Visayas (see video and get amazed).
Friends from the road are another endangered species since the addiction to social media became the norm for ego sustainability amongst world travellers, millennials or not. Both easy enough to find here.
The island has many dive-shops to choose from but I can personally recommend French Kiss Divers. I reckon an addiction to remain lost in translation but they are also an excellent crew, and they have the best sunset bar. Evolution Divers are also highly recommended, sure the Irish flag on their boat gets me all inspired. In both cases having technical divers around helps a lot to the curious mind. There are two main dive sites not to be missed: Monad Shoal for the thresher sharks - advanced level, 4.30am, better with nitrox - and Gato Island, with caves, white tips and sea-horses if lucky.
By day two I’ve already extended my stay, my diving schedule has increased, my crave for lechon is gone thanks to the unbeatable heath, and I’m basically living in a reggae bar.
Villa Sandra is the place to be. You will think you know better, even dare to explore, but you will come back because there is no place like home. Jon Jon, clearly a local elevated soul, has built this forest of bungalows, dorms and vegetarian restaurant shaping it into a social experiment: to see what happens when you let people restore their capacity to socialize freely with the absence of wifi and great music on the background. Jon Jon himself also experiments with the food using moringa, rice and coconut, dreaming new ways of boosting happy people.
We, me an my new friends, also find La Isla Bonita, excellent seafood joint, think diving-island levels, that serves everything but specializes in the grill. They make kinilaw, the filipino ceviche, that gets in my list of daily dishes, and we get a blue marlin that is just to die for, from the next beach around. Then we find the fishermen from the next beach around, and learn that filipinos love to share their grills. Tasty nights on the go.
Fiishing though has become an issue here, and in all The Philippines.
Many have gone for dynamite fishing, the short term killer of the ocean. In a creative effort beyond any digital campaigns, the divers have gone for an action that I call The Sinking Virgins of Malapascua, sinking religious statues with the hope that this will actually make the fishermen retrieve. This is a catholic country after all, three-hundred years of colonial brainwash could have left a way, and where reason does not work, maybe faith can make it. Naif but proactive enough.
I leave only because I have to board a plane from Bohol, with enough time to make a last dive and taste one of Bohol Bee Farm famous ice creams, made with local fruits, coconut milk and honey, in choices of Ube, Pandan, Moringa, Seaweed, Mango, etc. I’m addicted to Pandan. It doesn't make up for the feeling of leaving this time, but is fresh and sweet.
I know I will come back.
Any place is a leap of faith when you travel alone. This one made me smile, so openly.
Beware though: accommodation in Malapascua is not top notch, so if you are looking for luxury, think that here you have a full island of empty beaches, white sand and transparent water covering corals. This surrounded by interesting people with no wifi and a real will to share. Get over the five stars. Go for it.
I saw three sea-horses and I was very lucky.
Flying to Cebú is easy, from either Manila, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Getting to the Visayan island involves a bit more patience. A taxi to the North Terminal (180P), a bus to Maya Port (220P with A/C) and a boat to cross to the island (100P, every half an hour). Ideally, this can take around 7hrs, but the ideal part is not the one that improves from backpacking to flashpacking.
Check this Complete Non-Divers Guide of Malapascua for more info and probably better pics.