On the ferry to Bohol I sat next to a Filipino man from Cebu who lived on 72nd and West End Ave and worked at Sherry Lehman for eight years in the 1990s. Small world. We shared a tricycle ride to Alona beach on Panglao Island, then went our separate ways.
I scoured the beach for a budget room but was unable to find any on the beach front. I had read online that many of the resorts have budget rooms in the back but I found that not only are these budget rooms usually unavailable but they are also not really budget. I ended up getting a room at Alona Bamboo down a narrow rocky road for 500 pesos ($11.) The room is simple- a small room upstairs in the back with a mattress on the floor, and the bathroom is the public bathroom in the breakfast area.
The older woman who works behind the desk seemed lovely and answered all my questions about the town. It wasn’t until I stayed a few nights that she showed her true colors and became rather unfriendly. After checking in and talking with her I wandered the beach checking out dive shops. I ended up choosing Valm Dive Shop because they’re the only dive shop that still had space the following day for Balicasag, the reason for diving here. I also lucked out because it’s the cheapest dive shop I could find, 2,300 pesos for two dives including the park fee ($52.)
I then wandered up and around town and down the road parallel to the beach. I was looking for local food because all the restaurants on the beach from are too expensive, approx. $4 for a plate. I ended up finding Dahon Dahon, a local street restaurant that was recommended by the woman at my hotel. It’s a food stand with three small plastic tables with chairs. I particularly liked the turquoise table clothes and colored umbrellas.
I asked the man behind the counter for his speciality and was served the pork steak in black bean sauce, and a banana shake, for $2 total. While I was eating an Swedish woman came by who seemed to be associated with the stand but she also ate as a customer. I began talking to her and it turns out she’s Swedish but has lived in Alona for almost twenty years as a dive instructor.
Eventually the three of us were talking and the woman and the local invited me to join them for dinner the next night to celebrate Fiesta. Fiesta is a local celebration throughout the town where everyone goes to each other’s houses to eat, non-stop, for a couple of days. Technically it’s a time to celebrate saints, this time was Saint Carlos, but in general more people seem to care about the eating than the religious side.
After my late lunch I walked the beach and had a foot massage. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was but I fell asleep right away when I got home.
Later on I went back to Dahon Dahon for dinner. There were a few locals already eating there. I grabbed the only remaining table and ordered the chop suey and chicken fried rice ($1.50.) While I was eating a few French boys came and they joined me. They are still in university and are volunteering abroad as part of their major. They were in Bohol just for a few days and we’re eating only white rice and sleeping on the beach to save money. I’m traveling on a tight budget but they bring it to a new level.
The next morning I woke-up, had breakfast at my guesthouse, then walked down the beach to Valm. I got my equipment together and the boat headed out to Balicasag Island at 8:30am
. I was the only diver with Valm that day so we joined another company’s boat since and I ended up lucking out twice. First off the other companies boat was huge, and second I had my own dive master for the day, Raffy.
The first site we did was Rico’s Wall and I honestly didn’t like it. It was a wall dive but the colors were dull and the sea life and coral were mediocre compared to what I’ve been seeing. In many way it reminded me of a Caribbean dive which is not what I want to see here.
The second dive was at Black Forest, which was better. It was a drift dive and we split our time between the sand bottom and the wall. Here I saw a massive tornado of jackfish in the blue- Raffy had to pull me back because I was drifting too far off to get closer. I got up close to a turtle, and saw a lot of really cool FAUNA moving with the drift. I love watching fish try to swim against the drift as well. And I especially love this one plant I found which had floral pods that opened and closed non-stop.
After diving I stopped at Aquatic for lunch, the cheapest restaurant on the bean. All the local places were closed because of Fiesta. I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce which was risky but it was the cheapest thing on the menu. I got a plate of overcooked spaghetti covered in some type of a ketchup-y sauce with bit of pork meat and sprinkled with Filipino fake cheese.
I took a nap after lunch then at 6pm
went back to Dahon Dahon to meet up with my new friends to celebrate Fiesta. We walked down the road, and into a local neighborhood to a family members house.
For Fiesta the grandfather went to the nearby town and bought a dead pig the day before. The whole pig then came home and was chopped up. Every part of the pig is used for cooking including the blood. When I arrived at the house the pig leg was in a large round metal pot over fire in the kitchen out back.
I had a great evening and felt incredibly welcome the whole time.
For food we were served pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork in ginger, pork blood, and a soy/vinegar beef dish. The beef and sautéed pork were delicious. All night we ate, drank and chatted. Randomly different friends and family arrived to eat too.
The next morning I bought beer and went back to the house to celebrate day 2 of Fiesta, and to watch the Pacquiao Mayweather boxing match. Everyone in the Philippines was riled up about the match, so proud that Pacquiao (one of their own) made it all the way. When Pacquiao lost no one was upset and they’re all still just as proud of him. [Manny Pacquiao should have one that fight, he won 8 out of the 12 matches.]
Watching the match on a local Filipino station was amusing. There was a commercial break every few minutes and then the same commercials played every time and in the same order. Of these commercials about a quarter of them had Paquol as a sponsor. But my favorite commercial was for canned chicken called Sexy Chix.
This day lunch was served buffet style indoors. There was pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork with root vegetables, roasted pork, pork blood, pork spring rolls, pork cordon bleu, coleslaw, rice and sweet rolls. I ate twice here just in the early afternoon. The house was crowded with family and friends to watch the match, and to eat and drink.
we left and went to another house for Fiesta. This home was a friend of the Swedish woman. Again I felt incredibly welcome. Food here was different and more variety. There was fish and eggplant in spicy coconut milk, chicken curry, pork, vegetable spring rolls, and pork balls. I sat outside with a few locals boys and was given a never ending glass of coconut wine, which was surprisingly not sweet.
I headed home with the desperate need to jump in the ocean. It had been incredibly hot all day and I was constantly drenched in sweat, in normal clothes. So I changed and headed to the beach. I laid in the shallow water and admired all the starfish. Then I had an hour body massage on the beach, watched the sunset, and headed home for the night. I had already had five meals and it wasn’t even 7pm
yet, so I didn’t need dinner.
The next morning I took a motorbike to the pier in Bohol and bought a ticket for the 10:30am
boat to Dumaguette with OceanJet. The ticket cost 700 pesos plus the 15 for terminal fee ($16 total), which seemed very expensive for a 3.5 hour ferry. I got on the ferry and it turns out the woman put me in the last seat upstairs, which was soaking wet from the rain and was the only seat now in the blaring sun. So I waited downstairs for the ferry to board and then I grabbed a open seat in the AC.