The Road to Malapascua

If you want to see Thresher sharks, you head to the island of Malapascua in the Philippines, and I wanted to see Threshers. I was in Thailand, so it started with a flight from Bangkok to Manila that got in at midnight. Unfortunately, my flight out wasn’t till 5 AM. I suppose I could have headed to a nearby hotel, but for 3 hours of sleep at best, it just didn’t seem worth the trouble. I scouted out an open power outlet, plugged in my laptop, took a seat on the floor and passed the time watching movies on my hard drive. Frankly, I was surprised that this was even an option, as a terrorist plot to bomb Manila’s airport had just been uncovered earlier that same week. I figured the place would be locked down tight by grim men with big guns, but from what I could see, it was business as usual. I suspect that the reaction would have been a little different in the US. If there is one thing we have plenty of there, it’s grim men with big guns.

In the morning, I caught a commuter flight to the island of Cebu then hopped in a taxi to the North bus terminal. I wandered around the terminal for a while, brushing off drivers trying to take me God-knows-where and touts trying to sell me God-knows-what until I found a bus with AC heading to the northernmost town on the island, a place called Maya. Then I bought a cup of coffee and a donut (OK, three donuts) and settled in for the ride. At this point, I was really hoping for a nap, but was foiled by third world road conditions and an A/V system with the volume cranked up to 11, first showing Filipino soap operas, then the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123”. Ugh. The original was so much better. All this one had going for it was John Travolta in full manic mode, dropping “M*#f*@ bombs” left and right. A curious way for the kids on the bus to learn English but like I said, things are different here.

Three girls from Singapore and I got dropped off in Maya after 4 1/2 bone-jarring hours and went looking for the public ferry to Malapascua which, of course, was nowhere to be found. But there were plenty of private boat captains willing to take us the last 8 km, for 3 times the ferry price. We waited for a while, hoping that the ferry would appear, but it eventually became obvious that a private boat was our only option. Oh, and the private boat can’t get close enough to shore because it’s low tide so you have to take a flat-bottom boat out to it. That’s right, you need to take a ferry to the ferry. Of course, there’s a fee for that. Oh, and you have baggage? You guessed it. There’s a fee for that too.

And it was right about that point that I’m afraid I snapped. I wish I could say that I’m immune to this kind of thing by now, but travel annoyances can still get to me, especially when I’m tired and hungry. It was particularly ridiculous because it was only 20 pesos (about 50 cents US), but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. Instead, I was thinking about one more gouge in a long, gouge-y day, and I had had enough. He tried to collect, I barked out a rather sharp response, making it clear that no more pesos were coming, and that was the end of the baggage fee negotiation. I do feel badly about it now and, in hindsight, I know I could have handled it better, but keep in mind that I had not slept in over 24 hours. I wasn’t exactly at my best. Travolta didn’t help either. He got me all edgy.

Just a quick aside while I’m thinking about it. You know how you have to pay a checked bag fee when you fly on US airlines now, and some have even started charging for carry-ons? Well, I have been to over 30 other countries at this point, flown in quite a few of them, and not once has there been an extra charge for either my checked bag or my carry-on. That seems to be an income stream unique to US airlines. Good for them, being able to get away with it, but if there is anyone who deserves to be snapped at, it’s those guys, not some poor Filipino sailor.

Anyway, the boat died twice on the way to the island. From my vantage point, I could actually watch the belt that transmitted power to the drive shaft steadily wobble its way off the pulley once the motor RPMs revved high enough. Then everything had to be shutdown, the belt re-attached, and the motor restarted with a pull rope. It brought back memories of trying to start an old four stroke lawnmower engine when I was a kid, but this was a much bigger rope that required a couple of men to pull it. We drifted for a while but the crew eventually got things going, the belt holding on long enough for us to moor off Bounty Beach, where we piled into one more flatboat to shore.

There we were immediately greeted by a bunch of young men with motorbikes, eager to take us on the final leg of our journey. “Where you go, where you go?” I told them “Thresher Cove” and was greeted with a chorus of “50 pesos, 50 pesos.” But here’s the thing. I had checked out Thresher Cove’s website beforehand and I remembered reading that motorbike transport from the beach was free. The resort would pay them after they brought us. I happened to (loudly) mention that to the Singapore girls and magically, the chorus of voices changed from “50 pesos, 50 pesos” to “No charge, no charge!” Uh-huh. Not a big deal in the grand scheme scheme of things, but you take your wins where you can.

So it took two planes, a taxi, a bus, two flatboat, a ferry, and a motorbike, but I had made it to Malapascua. Was it worth the trip? Well, I’m not going to lie to you. My enthusiasm was definitely dampened (pun intended) by an ear infection and my GoPro camera flooding out, but it’s not fair to take that out on the island. On the plus side, I got to stay here for about $6 US per night…

And I got to see these beauties…



As well as Mandarin fish on a night dive, one of the most beautiful reef fish I’ve ever seen…

Photograph by © Luc Viator GFDL/CC - Not my photo because my poor GoPro was flooded out by then.
Photograph by © Luc Viator GFDL/CC – Not my photo because my poor GoPro was flooded out by then.

Yeah, it was worth it.

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