There’s nothing like waking up on the cold, tile floor of the airport. I didn’t really sleep much, so I was too exhausted to move. But since I wasn’t moving, I was gradually becoming colder and colder, making it impossible to actually sleep. In an attempt to warm up, I sat cross-legged and cross-armed and was so sleepy that I folded forward over myself and fell asleep for what could have been thirty seconds or thirty minutes. I’m not sure which, but it was long enough to wake up with pins and needles in my feet. The joys of traveling. It's all part of the experience.

By the time I did wake up, the check-in area had gone from a couple of people besides us to completely packed. Fletch and I weaved our way over to our gate through the small mass of people and dropped off our bags. Then continued on to the boarding area. I left to get coffee and came back to find Fletch talking to a young Filipino guy. His hair looked like something out of Teen Vogue. Half the men’s hair did. It seems the guys here style their hair more than then women do. He was asking Fletch something about religion and I groaned internally. I knew the Philippines was a Catholic country but I didn’t expect them to be preachy. They aren’t. They’re just really really friendly. And the guy was just making friendly conversation and wanted to know what two Americans’ beliefs were and how many religions there were in the US. Shortly after that he changed the conversation to other foreigners he had met at the airport, including an Italian supermodel.

We boarded our flight from Maila to Cebu just as the sun was rising. Once we were at cruising altitude, the beverage cart rolled around and I ordered a cup of hot tea without thinking twice. “90 pesos,” the stewardess said. Surprised that there was a price tag, I dug out my wallet and handed over 100. She handed me a 20 and asked if I had another 10. I searched and when I found the 10 peso coin, she handed me another 20, apparently forgetting she’d already handed me one. I didn’t say anything because I was still trying to figure out if I had missed something. That, and paying $2 for a dixie cup of hot water seemed completely ridiculous. Worst deal ever. And I had been lead to believe that the Philippines would be dirt cheap. Next a cart of AirAsia teddy bears was rolled around.

The flight was barely an hour. Fletch and I made our plan off attack during descent. We had read and been told about various scams, people who would grab our luggage wanting a tip for carrying it, taxis who would’t run meters or would take us around the long way. We decided that we just had to be adamant about what we wanted. And we had done the research to know that we wanted a taxi to the Northern Bus Terminal, and from there the yellow bus to Maya. What could possibly go wrong?

We walked off the plane, bracing ourselves for beggars and scam artists, but managed to collect our luggage and find the taxi line without a bother. Outside the Cebu airport there was a sign pointing straight ahead for yellow taxis, or to the right for white taxis. Seeing that it was much longer, we chose the white taxi line. We knew we had made a good decision when guys in yellow polos for the yellow cabs starting singling out the few white people in the line, asking where they were going and to follow them. We said we were fine standing in line.

Our turn finally came and we stepped into the cab of an old, little Filipino man. He only ever asked where we were going, turned on the meter, and brought us to our destination. The ride was about 30 minutes and cost less than my dixie cup of hot water had.

We were dropped off at the bus terminal where there were dozens of busses coming and going. Someone asked if we were going to Malapascua and tried to wave us towards his red bus. We stood our ground and made an entire lap of the bus terminal before we found the yellow bus heading to Maya, just as promised by one of the various emails. Why trust a stranger over the internet telling you which bus to take over a stranger in front of you telling you which bus to take? You learn to sort those things out quickly as travelers.

We found two empty seats on the open-window bus. Apparently there were air-conditioned busses too for a greater fee, but this was the only one heading to Malapascua at the moment. Fletch hopped off again to buy us a couple of bottles of water, and the second he retuned, the bus left without any warning.

The seats were tiny, much smaller than the ones they cram you into on airplanes. I barely fit into my window seat so Fletch was sitting partway in the isle right next to me. We ate some sandwiches and proceeded to stare out the window for 5 hours. Starting out the window after a sandwich in a new country proved to be thoroughly entertaining. Everything seemed so foreign, so raw and rugged. Cebu City seemed dirty and polluted, but then again we had just breathed the air of a little rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for the past year so maybe we were spoiled. Once out of the main city, kids played in the streets, right next to where the bus zoomed by. Pigs were being skewered on the side of the road, which was not big enough for the bus and the motorbikes, so the bus just laid on the horn, warning everyone to get out of the way. It was a wild ride.

The more I felt the sandwich, the crazier it seemed the bus was driving. If you’ve ever read Harry Potter, it felt like the scene on the Knight’s Bus, where the bus was zooming along on the brink of crashing into everything, but the mailboxes and the fences would jump out of the way just in time. I had to stop myself from thinking about the fatal bus accidents I’d read about before Semester at Sea and remind myself that these guys drive these routes every day. But that’s the problem isn’t it? They drive these routes every day, all day, for days in a row, with no sleep, drinking half the time to keep themselves up. But then again maybe that doesn’t happen in the Philippines. Let’s go with that.

At some point Fletch and I had to trade seats; he was sore from sitting halfway in the isle for several hours. My turn didn’t go much better. By that point we were zooming around the corners with such tremendous speed, only to slam on the brakes at the stops, that I had to grip the handle on the seat in front of me with all my strength. Otherwise I would have slid right out of my seat and into the lap of the Chinese girl across the isle. She was having the same trouble. At least it was mutual.

Five hours of that thrilling experience later, and 160 pesos apiece, the ferry dropped us off in Maya, the end of the line. I was expecting more of a city from Maya. Maybe the city was just a ways away from the road the bus was on, but our surrounding slowly became less and less populated, with more and more jungle, until out of nowhere we arrived at the end of the road, the pier. There was just a small bay full of boats, a rock wall lining one side of the bay, and a small hut like a bus stop to grant shade to those waiting, or shelter if it were to start raining. 

Maya pier

We had read ahead about how the fare is supposed to be 50 pesos but the boat guys will try to play any trick possible to get 100 out of you. Granted that’s a 100% increase, but we’re talking about $1 vs. $2 for a ferry ride. After waiting in the scorching sun for quite some time, when a guy came around offering 100 pesos to go right then, we took him up on the offer.

Philippine boats are the coolest looking things. The wooden hulls themselves are quite narrow, but they have bamboo outriggers extending out from either side, making them quite wide and spacious. They are the most unique boats I have ever seen, and look like those water bugs with the long legs, water striders, extending their legs out to glide over the water. 

Philippine boat, or banka

The walk to get out to the boat that would take us was quite harrowing. As I said before, there was a stone wall surrounding half of the bay. No walkway built in, just a mound of rocks sloping towards the water at a 45 degree angle. We had to walk along the slope, down the line of boats until we reached the one that was ours, whilst carrying all of our luggage. Fletch paid a guy a few pesos to carry our larger bags for us, and I watched in awe as the little Filipino guy gracefully stepped from one rock to the next whilst balancing a 30 kg suitcase on his shoulder. Quite an impressive trick.

The ferry ride was maybe 45 minutes, and when we landed on the sand beach, I felt immediately like this is what Koh Tao must have felt like 10 years ago. Boats landing directly on the beach, no dock, no road, no vehicles except a scooter or two, just sand and some wooden shacks that barely had a sign to say what business was inside. Fletch kicked off his flip flops but I realized immediately that the beach was littered with a saddening amount of broken glass and warned him of such. We tipped another boy a few pesos to show us the way to Evolution Dive Resort and to carry my bag. It was only supposed to be a fifteen minute walk along the beach, but the boy led us the back way, down some back alleys and through a few people’s yards. When questioned if we were still going the right way, his story changed several times. First this was the only way, then when we questioned him another 15 minutes later, he said that with low tide the sand was too soft to carry the heavy bag without feeling tired. He still felt tired halfway though, and asked if we could take a break. We stopped, not minding either way, he was the one carrying the heavy bag after all. We had to stop a second time when he somehow managed to get poo on the bag. 

Evolution Dive Resort

Finally we arrived at a cute little beach resort. Fletch went to check in and a lady ran out to greet me with a cold glass of ice water. After we’d dropped our bags in the room, we went to the restaurant, an Irish Pub called Craic House to find some real food. We’d heard some bad reviews for Evolution’s restaurant before arriving, but whoever was complaining obviously had not just spent a year in Palau. Everything tasted fresh, home made, and wonderful. It was so nice to see vegetables incorporated into every dish. And there was a list of fresh fruit juices on the menu! I was so happy. The food probably wasn’t all that great in reality, but to me it was wonderful. To me it was the first real food I’d had in ages.

Happy hour started at 4:00. Two drinks for the price of one. They had something marvelous called a gingerinha. A mix of rum, ginger syrup, and muddled kalamansis. The result was a mouthful of gingery goodness. It’s so hard to find good cocktails that disguise the alcohol flavor but aren’t overly sweet. Turns out the answer is ginger. Who would have thought!

We signed up for a full day of diving the next day, including the early morning thresher shark dive. That was the reason we had come to Malapascua after all. After a full day of traveling and a night of no sleep, we headed to the room and passed out.

Travel Tips: 

I'm going to try something new and start including a small paragraph at the end of posts regarding exactly what we did to get from point A to point B. If you are reading my blog for the stories, then you can skip these extra bits. If you are searching Google for travel advise and came up with this blog, then these sections are for you. 

We opted to take thee local, "more adventurous" route from the Cebu City Airport to Malapascua. 
  • From the airport, stand in the line for the white taxis and ask them to take you to Northern Bus Terminal. If they try to haggle a price, insist they use the meter. I'm still not exactly sure what the difference between the white and the yellow taxis were, just that all the locals were standing in the white taxi line. 
  • At Northern Bus Terminal find a bus going to Maya. Some will even tell you Malapascua, but know that the bus doesn't go all the way there, only as far as Maya where the boats are. Maya is the end of the line so no need to worry about missing the stop. The yellow, Ceres busses were recommended to us, and worked out just fine. The bus ride is 5 hours and 160 pesos. Be careful at the rest stop, because the bus will leave again with no warning. 
  • The bus drops you off directly at the pier in Maya. Boats leave every 30 minutes to one hour. The price is supposed to be 50 pesos, but I also heard that foreigners almost never get the fare for less than 100 pesos. The ride is about 30 to 45 minutes. 
  • The boat will drop you off on the beach. There may be boys walking the beach who offer to porter your bag. There aren't a lot of motorized vehicles on the island so you will probably walk to wherever your final destination is.