Our stop through the Philippines had one goal and one goal only: chill down. Two months in China, another one in Japan and two weeks in South Korea took their toll on ourselves (well, only on me). Don’t get me wrong, we loved traveling in each and every one of these countries, but they are not exactly what you can call a relaxing experience.
Panglao: The Trap
We landed in Cebu, and the last thing we wanted was to spend another day in a developing-world-big-city, we read the Lonely Planet on the flight, and made reservations for the hotel while in the ferry. A small resort by the beach with a pool, hot shower and clean toilets, not luxurious by any standard; but good enough to settle for a couple of days while we figure what to do next.
In Panglao, we discovered many great value restaurants: Local BBQ, French Boulangerie, American Bar, Italian Trattoria, a vegan restaurant and so on, mostly owned by expats looking for a quieter life and some by locals learning their way on modern tourism and hospitality.
As the days went on, we started to feel the urge move on, to discover more places, and while most places offer similar mostly the same attractions, the more we researched about other islands (There are over 7000), the more we felt like extending our stay.
In the end, we spent two weeks in Panglao, met amazing people from all over the world and after nine months on the road felt a bit at home.
Exploring the Island of Bohol:
It's hard to believe, but you can get sick of the turquoise colors of the sea and the white sand. It is time to go inland, and the best way to get a real impression on the Philippines Islands is to grab a scooter and drive the patchy road, away from the tourists and resorts, to the places where people actually live. The dirt roads damaged by an earthquake from three years ago and the continuing rain don’t make the task easy, but it rewards the ones willing to make the effort.
Our first stop was the Aso Mago falls, where we could swim, jump and chill by ourselves in this natural wonder.
We stopped at a small village for lunch, in a small shop with ready-made food in pots were served: fish-head curry, thick bacon cuts, potatoes, and soup. Just enough to get us going.
As usual, the village’s drunk came by to say hi. This is a common occurrence and it has happened to us several times, there’s a correlation between day-drinking and amicability to foreigners. And I’m an easy target.
Traveling inland happened to be easier than expected, in contrary to most of the countries we’ve visited before, in the Philippines almost everyone has a conversational English level, including these small villages. We got to exchange some friendly conversations with the people there.
After some more days in the sun, we went for an organized tour in the more remote parts of the island, our main destination was the so-called chocolate hills. They are not made with chocolate nor are cocoa plantations, apparently, during the winter they get a brown color that reminds of chocolate… These are hills created by wind and rain erosion on an elevated limestone bedrock that was once submerged. Anyway, the result is worth a picture session.
Next stop was the famous Tarsiers, from which I never heard before, but they are the most famous thing in this part of the Philippines: it’s basically a primate the size of a fist, extremely shy, nocturnal, with huge creepy eyes (which can’t actually move) that lives in this island. The only problem: their habitat is being destroyed and they get stressed easily, and if that happens, according to the ranger, they just commit suicide by holding their breath.
Some other stops on the way were snakes, butterfly farms, zip-line and other Thailand-like tourist attractions that we skipped. Reaching consensus in the van to skip it was quite easy.
Paradise with discount:
To be honest, one of the main reasons to stay in Panglao for such a long time was the discovery by our friendly security guard revealed: the owner of our hotel happened to be the same one as the owner of the biggest resort in the island and probably the most luxurious. We didn’t care as long as our room was secured with USD 30, but then he said that we could use their 700m private white sand beach, with over a thousand coconut trees, just 10 minutes ride away.
And that was all we needed. We spent the better part of the day just taking in the atmosphere by the sea on comfy chairs, using the resort facilities for no extra charge. When life smiles at you, just smile back.
The Expat Effect
Foreigners (mostly Europeans) moving to developing countries seeking a quieter life and taking advantage of the low cost of living in their new country. Contrary to refugees, they could return to their countries anytime.
It’s hard not to see the disparity between the local and expat economies: Nicely built and decorated multicultural restaurants are spread through Panglao side-by-side with local BBQs and mini-shops. The prices multiply but are still very low compared to Western's. A vegan breakfast combo would cost USD 6, which doesn’t sound too much, but it’s more than a daily wage of most of the locals here, including our security guard in the hotel.
Many expats come here to change their lives, but are in turn changing others’ too, real estate prices are jacked by the demand of Koreans and Europeans coming to retire or open their dreamed restaurant by the beach, to inexpensive paradisiac islands, and more hotels are open by the week.
Sometimes it has a colonialistic feeling to it, while at the same time, this influx of tourists provides jobs and a new economy unexacting until a couple of years ago.
We left Bohol without a clear answer on the fast-changing way of life in the island, an airport is being built and with it, many more thousands of visitors will fill the idyllic beaches and businesses. I guess time will tell how will this lovely places we called home for two weeks will evolve.