We landed in Cebu on Wednesday evening and as one does in the Philippines, headed to the departures area to catch a taxi ($4.50) which took us to Palazzo Pension ($30/night). Hungry for dinner, we walked through the dark sketchy streets to Mango Square. After examining all the greasy fast food options, we wound up combining sour cream ‘n onion fries from Jollibee ($1) and a veggie pizza from Greenwich ($5.50). Tired from our travels, we took a taxi back ($1.50) and went to sleep.
Not quite sure what our next few days would look like, we dedicated Thursday to figuring it out. After a slow morning and some online research, we had most of our plans in place and so, we decided to enjoy the afternoon at the SM City mall ($2.50 taxi ride each way) where we watched the only movie being screened in English, IronMan 3 ($5 each plus $5 for popcorn and a water). The other highlight of the mall was finding the first fresh vegetables we had seen since arriving in the Philippines and greatly enjoyed our supermarket salad bar salads ($2 each). After the movie, we walked over the the salon where Felix got a haircut ($3 with tip) and Jordan got a mani/pedi ($4 with tip, but only after a short detour to the department store to pick up $0.75 flip flops). While Felix was getting his haircut, Jordan asked the barber to recommend the best beach in the area. Without blinking, he responded, “Panglao Island” and we were intrigued. Once finished at the salon, we used our ticket stubs to get 2 -for-1 gelato ($2.50) and dined on pasta and salad at the Old Spaghetti House ($9). Back at our hotel, after looking up some more information on Panglao, we decided to take the barber’s advice and booked a room on Alona Beach. Happy to have a solid plan, we turned in for the night.
After taking a taxi to the ferry terminal on Friday morning, we purchased round trip tickets on the 2Go Ferry to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island ($21 each). The turquoise glasslike water which we could see through the windows during our two hour ferry journey was gorgeous. Upon arrival at the port, we quickly spotted a mother-son duo and asked to join their taxi ($5 for our share) to Alona Beach. We arrived at Lost Horizon Annex Resort ($42/night), put our stuff down and went out to the beach. The beach was not exactly what we had expected. While the water was turquoise, it wasn’t as crystal clear as we had seen from the ferry, but rather dull, and the beach was full of algae with boats anchored up and down the shore. This wasn’t a beach in which we were excited to swim. A bit disappointed, we decided to have some lunch ($10 for a lame salad and a veggie curry with rice plus a beer) at a beachfront restaurant while sinking our feet into the soft white sand.
We walked around and explored while we searched for food for Shabbat dinner and lunch. The local bakery supplied some standard rolls and excellent crumbly tea cookies ($1.50), and the supermarket supplied some staples: tuna, eggs, and veggies ($8). Once again, we found ourselves boiling eggs on the floor of a resort. At least we are consistent. As the sun set, we went for a dip in the pool in the rain and after drying off, sat on the balcony and enjoyed a quiet Shabbat dinner. On Shabbat morning, we enjoyed some yogurt with granola, but not as much as we enjoyed sleeping in, and set out to walk along the beach. Along the way we stopped to interview some of the many dive shops and found our match when we met Barry and Neik at the Go Scuba shop. Happy to have a plan for Sunday, we headed back for a dip in the pool and a nap. Later that evening, we ventured out in search of dinner and way at the edge of the touristy area, down a dark lane, found the restaurant/deli that we had been searching for since Friday afternoon. Owned by a Swiss chef, CU’s restaurant was a little pricey for us, but the deli was just right. The friendly girl behind the counter prepared for us a cheese platter with a side salad and we chose an end-of-day half-price loaf of delicious whole wheat bread to go with it ($4). She invited us to sit at a restaurant table and, along with the almond croissant appetizer, it was a lovely meal all around.
Felix had been waiting for his next dive since Koh Tao and finally, the day had arrived. Jordan was a bit apprehensive to dive without Andreas by her side, but she decided to push through. After scarfing down a yogurt with granola, we reported at Go Scuba headquarters for our two dive excursion to Balicasag Island ($68 each). Our Divemaster, Barry, helped us get all of our equipment in order and we all (8 in total) piled into a mini truck (Jordan took shotgun while Felix was hanging on for fear life in the back – it’s good to be a girl) that took us to the other side of the island where the boat was waiting. Once on board, we set up our gear and Barry briefed us about the dive including the types of sea life we would see below. We jumped in and started our descent to 18 meters. Jordan felt surprisingly comfortable in the water and enjoyed the time with her new dive buddy, Felix. We saw many fish and a few sea turtles, but the highlight of the dive was the nudibranchs, a kind of colorful sea slug that wears its lungs on the outside of its body in the shape of stubby tentacles.
After the dive, we hung out on the boat as it moved toward the next dive site. We went down to 15 meters where we saw oodles of cool fish: rock fish, trumpet fish, box fish and more. Toward the end of the dive, we encountered a trigger fish. Barry had prepped us for this as one needs to know how to behave in the event that this aggressive fish decides to attack. This encounter was a text book case- the fish spotted us entering his vertical cone shaped territory and immediately went after us as we swam away horizontally…except for Jordan. Since it was the end of the dive, her tank was much lower on air and therefore, she was more buoyant. Instead of escaping horizontally, she began to ascend toward the surface much too quickly. Felix, worried about his buddy, quickly signaled to Barry to give him an extra weight for Jordan, which he took and bravely swam up to place in Jordan’s suit. It was like a superhero swimming up to save the day! Jordan remained surprisingly calm throughout the whole experience and joined the group below for the safety stop before surfacing and climbing back aboard the boat. What an experience! We were chased by a fish – right out of the water! Just when we thought the day couldn’t get better, we spotted a pair of pilot whales (which are actually the largest species of dolphin) swimming beside the boat. We watched them excitedly and Barry and Niek even jumped in and tried to swim with them. What an amazing day and it was only 2:30pm!
Back on land, we found a great boutique and deli called Tarsier Botanika. There, we perused the cookie samples, purchased a tuna sandwich ($4) and enjoyed some ice cream (Felix had java chip while Jordan had chocolate caramello Cornetto cones – $1.50) for dessert. Back at the resort, we took a nice dip in the pool and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Ready for dinner, we ventured out and ran into Barry and his girlfriend who recommended the Chinese restaurant down the road. After meandering along, we decided to take their advice and enjoyed some cabbage with tofu and a mushroom with broccoli dish along with steamed rice ($7.50). Needing to pick up previsions for the next day’s journey, we stopped off at CU Deli before heading back for some much needed sleep.
We had planned to take the earlier ferry on Monday morning in order to guarantee we would make our 5:30pm Cebu Pacific flight to Kalibo ($36.50 each). This is how it went down… We walked out to the street to find a ride to the ferry terminal and 30 seconds later, a pair of Chinese tourists who were staying at the hotel next door walked out behind us – tout in tow. Five minutes later, the four of us were in the back of a comfortable SUV headed for the terminal ($6.50 for our share). Having no choice, we paid the obnoxious $2.50 terminal fee and sat in the sweltering hot waiting room with hundreds of Filipinos. A painless 2 hour journey later, we arrived back in Cebu City just after 11am. Confident we would make our flight on time, we were now faced with a new challenge – what should we do until we had to go to the airport? Being the Philippines, we did the only thing we could do and went to the mall. A short taxi ride ($1.50) brought us to the “travelers lounge” where we dropped off our big bags ($1.25) and settled in at Bo’s Coffee (2 coffees – $5 and a $1 Krispy Kreme donut).
Felix checked the flight status on the Cebu Pacific website which stated the flight was delayed until 6:10pm, so we killed time at the mall. At 4pm, we collected our bags and hailed a taxi to the airport ($4.50). We searched for the correct line to check in for our flight, but the first agent we encountered told us it was too late as the flight was scheduled to leave at its original 5:15pm departure time. Sensing commotion, the supervisor came over and after Felix’s dramatic and over the top cartoonlike performance (Jordan was just trying to stifle the laughter), agreed to let us check our (overweight) bags and handed us our boarding passes. Jordan was waiting for Felix to climb over the counter and give him a bear hug. The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Kalibo to be greeted by a man from Island Star Express holding a sign bearing our name. How exciting! We know its lame, but these things excite us. Our true vacation was about to begin!