January 5th 2014
This holiday we seem to be making quite an art of needing to travel and change money on a Sunday. Travelling is fine, Filipino infrastructure is highly efficient and despite being a Catholic country runs a normal schedule on Sunday. There must be some sort of law against money changers in PP as there are none. I’m sure they are there but we just can’t find them.
PP is a large enough city to have the food scene below the evening restaurants dominated by McDonalds and Jolibee. Small breakfast outlets found in more touristed areas are completely absent. We find Ito’s on the main drag a coffee shop who’s owner by the look of the various photos and autographs around the walls must be mega famous or an unashamed social climber. Anyhow the coffee is good enough to have a second cup.
I’m repeating myself but apart from almost never leaving on time Filipino infrastructure is remarkably efficient. We take a plane to Cebu City at mid day, jump in a cab at Cebu aiport to pier 1 of the enormous ferry terminal, catch the 2pm Oceanjet fast ferry to Tagbiliran, Bohol and at 3.30 we are searching for a car or trike to take us to the 25minutes or so to Alona beach on Panglao Island just off the south west tip of the main island.
We plan to be here for 3 nights and spend a day snorkelling on the reef around Balicasag island and another in the Bohol interior to see the famous chocolate hills.
Also looking for transportation is an Israeli couple Shimon and Mor and we agree to share the cost of a taxi. They are honeymooning in the Philippines for a month and on the way we agree to share the cost of of a boat out to Balicasag island the next day.
One final thing: Bohol suffered a large earthquake just prior to the super typhoon and there is evidence of it highly visible from the ferry with huge scars in the green hillsides left after massive landslips.
Less than 24 hours earlier from the hotel lobby in Puerto Princesa I booked and payed for our next 3 nights accommodation via agoda.com on my iPad. This is perhaps the most striking difference between travelling in the Philippines ten years ago and now. WiFi is everywhere and mostly free.
We check in to a decent, comfortable aircon room at the Paragayo resort just up from the beach proper. £71 for three nights is no longer cheap in Asia but it is Alona, it is high season and it’s still a third of the cost back home.
Now my memory of Alona beach back then is scant. I remember staying in an atap hut that was above the beach. I remember the snorkel instruction on a quiet beach given to my buddy in advance of the trip to Balicasag island the following day.
What I don’t remember is the beach being wall to wall bars, restaurants, grill joints, endless dive shops and hotel/resorts. Take away the white sand and the coconut palms and you could be in C’An Picafort. A worse analogy: if Ryanair could fly here then it would be Magaluf. Of course it depends upon your point of view but Alona beach in the opinions of two travellers of a certain age has been completely f***ed up.
The one advantage to a couple of old soaks such as us is that all the competition for the tourist dollar makes happy hour a very happy hour indeed and we drift from bar to bar looking for gin and tonic at 80 Pesos or under (£1).
Time to eat and yet again one of the advantages of having a concentration of tourists is that the fish is fresh and readily available. There are number of barbecue joints on the beach where the fish is displayed on slabs next to a barbecue grill. You select the fish you want they tell you the price and they cook it for you while you sip a beer on plastic tables and chairs on the beach. Well at least that’s the theory.
Chris has no great hunger so just chooses 4 large prawns, for myself a it’s a squid, lightly grilled as remember the Filipinos overcook everything. We are given a number to display on our table and there we sit on our plastic chairs on the beach sipping beer and admiring what still is a very fine tropical beach. We sit, we sit and we sit. No food. After 45 minutes C is getting very agitated and marches up to demand to talk to the President of the Philippines.
The stall has by far the best seafood selection on the beach but we should have seen the problem straight up. Good fish, postage stamp barbecue and 25 full tables. They simply cannot cope.
After an hour and more super heated steam vented from Christine’s ears we are served our food that was probably cooked 30 minutes before. I have to decide whether to eat my squid or make shoes from it.
We both have a bad feeling about this place but tomorrow is another day and I am going back to Balicasag which, ten years ago, was like swimming in a vast, overpopulated aquarium.
We retire to bed far, far to early for Alona with the sound of “duff duff duff” from a nightclub some way up the street. Despite my protestations and rose tinted memories of ten years ago Alona is still a fine tropical beach especially in the early morning. It’s just a shame about all the people.