Happy New Year to everyone! This year, I had the opportunity to spend Christmas and ring in the new year on the tropical island of Boracay. The island, one of over 7,000 in the Philippines, was voted one of the most beautiful in the world by Yahoo travel and I can attest to its ranking being so high. This place was great.
I left Seoul with 8 other friends on Christmas eve and landed in Manila an hour before the 25th. I booked a hostel near the airports for us, which cost $5.70 for the night per person. We spent the night there and flew out of the domestic airport for the town of Kalibo, which was about an hour's flight from Manila. After landing, we took an hour and a half bus ride to the port of Caticlan. Caticlan actually has a little landing strip, but its been closed down due to a landing accident a few weeks ago. This is according to the Filipino man I was sitting next too. Apparently, domestic flights don't have the same safety measures as international flights. Not the most reassuring thing to hear, but whatever, when have I ever been afraid of something like a little airplane flight.
Once we got to the ferry terminal, we were directed away from the port to the "luxury private" ferry boat. There was nothing luxurious about this thing. Basically, if you want to get to Boracay, you have to take a little ferry, which is half built from bamboo poles, for a 15 minute ride. Boracay isn't very far from the main island (I wasn't able to figure out what constitutes a main island) but there are no bridges going here. Transportation is very water based. After hitting the beach in our ferry boat, we had to jump into the water, with our luggage over our heads, and wade on over to the beach. There, we hired a van/truck/vehicle thing. I felt like a sardine sitting in the back of this windowless, bumpy, third world truck. The van dropped me, Jon, and Kevin off at our hostel, Trafalgar Cottages. The girls decided to get a hostel with AC. Being the rugged men that we are, we thought an $8/night room would be just fine. Anyway, the hostel owner was a really nice British lady (Trafalgar...can you make the connection?) who met her Filipino husband while volunteering for the UN in Africa. After unloading our stuff in our room, we met up with the rest of our group and had a predictably fantastic seafood themed dinner. Unpredictably, we had this at a Mexican restaurant, which was recommended by the girls' hostel owner, who was from New Zealand.
Boracay is a pretty small island, about 9 km in length and only about 1 km across. White beach is the main beach, which stretches for almost the entire length of the island on the side that is protected from the ocean winds. The sand is absolutely wonderful and doesn't get hot in the sun at all. The water, a perfectly cool, clear, and refreshing temperature, could not have been better. Wading around on the beach knee deep, I could see tropical fish swimming around me.
A few things that really struck me over the course of this 8 day adventure was how nice Filipinos were. No one would bump into me, jump in front of me while waiting in line for something, or rush me like people often do in fast-paced Seoul. In addition to speaking Tagalog, Filipinos also speak English, which was convenient and a nice change from the charades I've grown accustomed to in Korea when trying to get my point across. The people are much poorer though, compared to Korea or the US. I got to see where the locals live, and a lot of these homes seemed like places I could build with my own two hands. Definitely a different world.
Another thing that was surprising but really cool was how diverse all of the vacationers were. There were people from all over the world. I met people from Norway, France, Russia, UK, Korea, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Poland and overheard Indians, Africans, South Americans. The majority of people vacationing on the island were non-Filipinos.
One of the days, we went to a beach called Bulabog Beach, which apparently is one of the most famous beaches in the world for kite surfing. The sport, which I had never seen before, consists of a snowboard like board strapped to a persons feet and a parachute pulling the body across the water. Bulabog beach is on the opposite side of white beach and has strong winds, which is perfect for the sport. There were literally hundreds of kite boarders surfin' up a storm. We just stood in awe watching the action for over an hour before finally moving on, it was that cool. I was told the sport is very difficult and believe it, based on the couple of brave souls clearly still attempting to control the free-willing parachutes doing what they please.
One side note: Korean tourists were the easiest to spot on the island. Boracay is a popular destination for Koreans, especially for newlyweds. I've learned that once in a relationship, Korean women pretty much dress their men from head to toe. Vacation gear entails wearing matching outfits, which was pretty funny to us. Peace signs are ubiquitous when taking pictures. I also saw a Korean girl driving an ATV crash into a parked moped. Hilarity ensued.
I took an island hopping tour one of the days with my group of friends and a couple other teachers we ran into that were mutual friends. The tour consisted of going to an island that had some caves to explore, a nice beach, snorkeling, another island with an all you can eat seafood buffet, some more snorkeling, and then back to White Beach. While coming to our second snorkeling spot, we asked our guides if it was deep enough to dive. We were told that of course its deep enough, dive right in. Turned out it wasn't, as I got a nice cut on my foot from the coral reef right below the boat. Apparently, corals grow under a persons skin so I had to clean out my wound that night, which turned out to be a bit of nuisance. Be careful where you dive! (my foot is fine now)
There is only one road on Boracay, that runs the length of the island, which is full of tuk-tuks running around. These things were great. A tuk-tuk is simply a moped with a side car attached that will fit as many people as are willing to get on. Safety didn't really seem like a priority, which Jon experienced first hand when he fell off of one them. I had never been on one of these before but I can't wait to get on one again!
I don't know if I'll ever be able to beat the new years I had. There were fireworks along the entire stretch of White Beach that lasted for about half an hour. Very memorable.
We left Boracay at the horrible hour of 4am on January 2nd. This time, we were able to use the official port and didn't have to go into the water...getting onto the ferry boat. Getting off was a different story. I don't know what happened, but the ferry couldn't get close enough to the shore for whatever reason and we were about 25 meters away from dry land. Jon and I were the last two to get off the boat and when I stepped out of the enclosed passenger area, I had to rub my eyes because I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. Everyone that had been on the boat was being carried by little Filipino men on their shoulders. Since we were still kind of far out, there were skinny and what looked like malnourished men in their 50's hoisting people, which held their luggage above their heads, onto their shoulders and walking them to shore. I couldn't help but laugh. A kind looking man tugged on my arm, directing me to jump onto his shoulders. I looked at him in disbelief and said "thank you, but I don't want to break your back". He tugged on my arm harder but I just went ahead and jumped into the water. The man was probably 5'2" and 130 pounds! A little water never hurt anyone, so Jon and I were the only ones that waded to the shore on our own two feet. This last ferry experience was probably my favorite part of the entire trip.
The travel back to Korea went without hiccups, and before I knew it, I was back in Korea. Cold, snowy, freezing, Korea. The weather went from 33 degrees Celsius to -15. This January has seen the largest snow fall since Korea started recording weather. And it is soooooo cold here. It hit -20 Celsius a couple of times. It feels like someone punches you in the lungs when stepping outside.
On another note, a friend of mine from Seattle visited. We both worked on a final GIS project in Geography my senior year and have since become pretty good acquaintances. He now works for a Korean bank in Seattle and came here for business but crashed at my place. He is actually Korean-American, having emigrated with his family to Washington when he was 5 years old.
Below are some pictures from my trip.
The people I went with at the airport on Christmas day. 4 Americans, 5 Canadians.
This is the "luxury" ferry boat we took to Boracay.
The crew on the way to the island.
Boracay sand castle
Ice cream man coming out to our snorkeling boat
Filipino kids dancing on the boat and singing a Korean pop song!
A cave on one of the islands
The view from a ferry boat
The sunsets were unreal
My buddy Yo (that's his name) visiting from Seattle