What I Saw:
In Photographs: Malapascua
How I Did It: Download Itinerary and Budget
Itinerary and Budget, OPTION 1
Itinerary and Budget, OPTION 2
UPDATE: I put together two Itinerary and Budget options, which are more or less the same. OPTION 1 is planned out to leave Malapascua the day before your flight out of Cebu; OPTION 2 allows you to leave the island and Cebu on the same day. I considered staying one more day (Saturday) while my aunts returned to the city earlier (Friday). At least in my experience, OPTION 2 — staying in Malapascua an extra day instead of spending my last day in the city — turned out to be just a tad cheaper, but waayyyyy much more fun. 🙂
What I Was Listening To:
Playlist: En La Buena en Malapascua
Where I Was:
I was first told about Malapascua by a Spanish friend, Ulises, some four years ago. He was a dive instructor who was traveling with the Galeón Andalucía, whose arrival on Philippine shores I had a hand in putting together. Which, to this day, I regard as the best job I’ve ever had.
Being a dive enthusiast, it was only natural for him, I suppose, to have escaped to Malapascua on his days off, when the galleon sailed to Cebu. At the time, I thought it would just be pretty, but I realize now that the island
has is an intense diving community, first and foremost.
My trip to Malapascua was completely unexpected; It was not at all in my plans for the immediate future. I was a mere attachment to someone else’s trip, and Malapascua was a happy happenstance. It was a voracious hunger for new experience, a burning desire for something soul-shaking, my infamous impulsiveness, my brazen disregard for my circumstance, and fate that brought me to its shores.
There is an endearing story behind the island’s name: one unfortunate Spanish galeón was shipwrecked around it one God-forsaken (pun fully intended), storm-ridden Easter (not Christmas). It was terrible. It was a mala pascua. Hence, Malapascua.
As torrential as it might have been when the landed, I can’t imagine that it would have been so bad as to feel the need to associate the entire island after such a bad experience. It is a tiny island, with roughly just 3 km length, and 1.5 km width. But it is gorgeous! I disagree with the island’s name, but somebody did a righteous job with naming Bounty Beach, because it is bountiful with white sand, and marine life just a few swim strokes away.
To get there, it isn’t much. Take a pleasant, four-hour Ceres bus ride from the North Bus Terminal in Cebu, to Maya Port. Along the way, there was some road work, which caused some delay, but the lush, scenic greenery was more than enough to compensate. From Maya Port, it’s just another 30-minute boat ride to paradise. Be prepared to be asked for more than what is declared on the internet to get the boats going at Maya Port — boats don’t always get filled up with passengers, so the boatmen will bump up what is normally P80 to P200 to get you to the island faster. Otherwise, you have to wait. I wouldn’t call it a scam, as much as it is just the law of supply and demand.
The moment I set foot on that soft sand, I knew I was in trouble. I fell in love immediately. From the clearest sea water and bleached sand, to the blatant absence of chaos, noise, and cars — it was such a stark difference to the world that I know. The most jarring noise I heard my entire stay, was the guttural roar of a dive boat, while I was on it. But, other than that, it was just the clunking of oxygen tanks, and Sixto Rodriguez in the background.
Oh, and the multi-lingual chatter of talkative tourists, swapping stories about how their dive went that day, or where else they’ve been and how long they’ve been traveling for. Introductions are made, and see-you-laters are bade. Bottles and glasses clink; cheers are cried; laughter and flirtatious glances are exchanged. The reason for being on that island alone is enough for everyone to love each other.
I met Americans, Australians, Austrians, Dutch, English, French-Canadians, Germans, Israelis, Japanese. Half of Spain was there, and barely six hours in, I was putting my broken Spanish to good use (thank you, Instituto Cervantes!) I’m not sure if I was surprised or not, but besides the locals, the it seemed like the only other Filipinos there — at the time, anyway — were us. Three of us.
On the one hand, I wassn’t; it isn’t exactly summer, and people aren’t on break. We were renegade vacationers. On the other hand, It made me wonder what percentage of the island’s tourists are actually Filipino?
Which brings me to my next point. Bear with me.
As a little girl, I distinctly remember seeing a dive shop at Wilson St., Greenhills, close to Alex III, where my family and I used to like to eat. And every time we ate there, after dinner, when we would walk to the where our cars were parked, I would gaze at the randomly-placed dive shop, telling myself that diving was one of those things that I needed to get my hands on in my lifetime. Like skydiving; getting a tattoo; and living on an island.
And for the last six years, I have received invite upon invite to go diving: from my best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, a priest… everybody. But similar to my learning Spanish, and traveling, and tending to my wants and needs rather than the expectations of everyone else around me, I put it off. Because there was always some reason to put it off, and I was perhaps raised with that sort of mentality: that there is always some reason not to do anything. I woke up one day and realized that I was squandering myself with such a wasteful mindset, and that there is always some reason to do something. Now, I have the time, the money, and the willingness to do it. And I’m making up for so much time. Quite hurriedly, and a little too late, in my opinion, but I’m getting there.
As far as diving is concerned, now was the time to do it. It would be a sin to go to Malapascua and not dive. So, I decided on a Discover Scuba Diving Experience at Thresher Shark Divers (upon the strong recommendation of a dive master friend from Puerto Galera; apparently, they are the best in the Philippines). Even if I did have five whole days on the island, I had a few other things lined up, so I didn’t have time to finish an Open Water Certification Course. Besides, at that point, I had already decided that I had fallen in love with Malapascua, so it gave me a reason (or an excuse) to go back.
On my dive experience, I met Shira, an Israeli girl. She was here on vacation, in between the army and becoming a lawyer, and she came with friends, who all happened to be advanced divers. She was the only beginner in their group. We both thought the other was pretty, and agreed that we had tremendous fun underwater. After a little bit of getting to know each other, the fact that I am Filipina came up. She was surprised that I was a local, and that I was just about to do an intro dive with her. She raised a good point — why wasn’t it a given for me, by virtue of me being born amidst these spectacular 7,107 islands, to already be diving? And we have all these visitors, who traverse half the globe just to enjoy our country’s natural beauty, and we don’t? I didn’t know how else to response, except to shrug my shoulders, blush with embarrassment a little bit, and resigned to the fact that diving really just isn’t all that common in the Philippines.
Which begs the question — why not? Why don’t more Filipinos dive? Why aren’t we raised to explore, appreciate, and protect what we have in our backyard? Why are we more excited about checking out the latest mall, and buying the most modern, trendy things, when we have so much natural wealth? Why are we so fixated on a work-breed-die mentality? That is barely a life process.
Sure, having a job establishes a sense of responsibility and being grounded. It pays the bills. It feeds us and the people we love. And sure, monetary security is nice, but where did my last stable office job lead me? Sobbing into the steering wheel of my car.
I’m not saying that you need to take off of your job right now, or that you shouldn’t have one at all. What I mean is that there are lifestyles that are alternative to what the city has ingrained in us. Your job could be doing something that you actually love. You can make it work, and you could be happy!
Take Tata, for example. Tata is a dive instructor — the first local dive instructor in Malapascua — whom I met on an island hopping trip. I was circling a reef where he was teaching a family to dive. I came up for air, and he just started calling out to me about spots in the cove where I should be snorkelling, as if I was one of his students too. Him being absolutely local, and us being technically local, we sparked a bond with him immediately, and insisted that he shared our on-sand grilled lunch with us. I hung out with him everyday since then. He showed me life underwater: he was bored and took me free-diving along the beach; we shared a kayak to do some more free-diving on some islets, and dove for snails. He took me on one of his diving classes, just so I could go free-diving some more. He brought me to a local cockfight derby. It was great!
The thing with Tata is that he possesses a profound fire that I just don’t see in anyone else I know. I do know some pretty amazing people, but I don’t think I know anybody who shines as brightly, as confidently, as calmly, and as peacefully as Tata does. None that come to mind, anyway. He is one of those street-corner prophets; an ancient soul who knows the secrets of the universe, of life, and of happiness; he is the Malapascua Marley. He enjoys life, while remaining uncompromised. He flows, but maintains a quiet strength. As complex as he is as a human being, he is simple in his tastes, and his insides are a clean slate.
Can I say that he is sincerely happy? It seems so. It would be a safe assumption, but I can’t undermine all that he represents with a half-baked answer. But, I wouldn’t be writing about him if I didn’t believe it was true, that he is, indeed, genuine in his happiness. He has it all: a fulfilling job that provides him with a sense of purpose; a safe home; the time and the space to enjoy life; a family that loves him. He’s no bigshot corporate manager, and he has no intention of being one, at least for now. Maybe someday, he’ll own his own dive shop, but today, he’s just happy where he is: everyday diving deep into the waters of his home, and looking after his island. His wants are modest, and therefore easily met. Between our lofty, unattained dreams, and his simple, but extremely fulfilled one, I think he’s got a leg up on all of us.
Maybe, instead of trying so hard to be someone/something else, the best things we can offer to ourselves to be happy is who we are exactly. As humans, harp on our strengths, rather than fill in the holes of our weaknesses. As citizens of the country, empower and enjoy our land, our seas, and our people, instead of working for foreign-owned BPOs.
More than anything, my Malapascua trip was a reestablishment of my personal and cultural identity.
As a Filipino, I’ve never been more proud of my land, and my roots. I’ve seen the Philippines from the air, and on level ground, but this was a first to see it underwater. Diving unlocked an entirely new world for me, and another facet of the Philippines that I am now ecstatic to explore. We have so much water, and there are so many sites! And I’m going to pursue this, it seems. We have all this beauty around us! I see it even in the dreariest places in Manila, but turning my head around towards the rest of the country, and already I’m awed by what I’ve seen so far, and overwhelmed by what I have yet to see.
I traveled with two of my aunts, and each one of us belonged to a different generation. So, some family history came into light. I’ve always found myself to be quite different from everyone else in my immediate family, but I realized that I hadn’t taken into consideration the rest of my family. More than anyone, I take after my mother’s mother: my namesake, Bernadette. She is a down-ass chick: stubborn, sunny, spirited, cannot be held down nor told what to do, and always game for anything. I don’t think my mom realized what she was getting herself into when she named me after her. And not that it would have had direct consequences, but it did rub off on me, somehow. She once frustratedly yelled at me, “Why can’t you sit still!” I didn’t have an answer for her then, and I still don’t have an answer for her now, other than maybe that’s just how I’m wired. This is as close to an explanation as either of us is going to get.
On a personal level: I like who I am when I travel. When I travel, I’d like to think that I am my most naked state. I am stripped down of my defenses, to my bare bones. And I like it. I like who I am when I’m not in Manila, where my defenses are infinite yet my sensitivity is heightened, and my fuse is short. The city does get imposing. Life on Malapascua is so much simpler. My tiny little island has no cars. The most advanced mode of transportation is habal-habal (hitching on the backseat of a motorcycle). You can walk from the north end to the south in minutes. I’ve run farther than the island’s length.
On my first day back in the city, I was greeted by honking horns and traffic, my allergic rhinitis, car problems, and heavy concrete. I realize that my life here is a life that I have not built for myself nor by myself, but it is a product of society. The problems that I deal with here are not problems that I want to have; rather, it’s all clutter that I inherited from my hoarder environment, and are heavily imposed on me. The only way I can deal with my sneezing is to pop allergy pills everyday? I’ve wasted so much of my youth and beauty on Metro Manila traffic. My car can break down in the middle of EDSA because it is old, and for some reason, cannot be replaced. My eyes are strained from seeing only shades of gray and artificial light. Streets and minds are so narrow.
I don’t want to deal with any of it anymore. I’m not drinking your pills. I want clean air, clear skies, greenery, and natural lighting. I would give up driving at the drop of a hat. I would give up the city altogether if it means clearing myself of chaos.
Mark my words: I am going back to Malapascua. The next time I return will be soon, and when I do, I will be there for longer. Much longer.
WHEN IN MALAPASCUA
Resorts and Restaurants
Bounty Beach is lined with one resort after another most with accompanying restaurants, and about 80% are dive resorts that give considerable discounts if you’re a diver.
Cocobana was the first resort in Malapascua, so I suppose it had first dibs on super spacious, sprawling property. They are one of the few resorts on the island with a swimming pool (I have my opinions about having pools on a beautiful island, but I suppose people and some dive shops do have their reasons). They’ve got options for beachfront air-conditioned bungalow rooms, and fan cottages in following rows. I stayed here, in both room types: the former when I had company, and the latter when I asked to be left behind by myself. Rooms are basic, but clean and properly provided. Their restaurant has decent breakfast, and of course, delicious homemade bread, like most resorts on the island.
- Ocean Vida Beach and Diving Resort
Closely affiliated with Sea Explorers dive shop, the Ocean Vida Resort also boasts of a formidable restaurant and bar. Their F&B guy, a Spaniard named Fernando makes sure you get a hearty meal inside of you. In the morning, he has a breakfast buffet for you. His breakfast, lunch and dinner a la carte menus are always very hefty and flavorful. Their bar and beachfront is a great place to hang out in the afternoons and happy hour. Here’s a treat: Wednesdays and Saturdays are Paella Night! Fernando being a legitimate Madrileño, you can be sure his gazpacho, paella, and sangria are authentic, and muy sabroso! In my opinion, they have the best homemade bread on the island. I highly recommend their homemade pan integrál (whole wheat bread) with a tomato, onion, basil, feta cheese salad.
- Mabuhay Bar and Restaurant
Mabuhay hosted my first meal on the island. It was a good first option, because they had grilled everything: pork belly (liempo), fish and squid, which all still tasted like the sea – that’s how fresh they were!
- Exotic Island Dive Resort
As a restaurant, Exotic is great for afternoon coffee or merienda. And they have an extensive, international culinary range for any of your meals. I highly recommend their Ginger Vanilla Ice Cream.
As a dive resort, it seems to have the largest dive shop facilities among the others. And it seems a bit more high-end. It is a bit more quiet than the other parts of Bounty Beach, because it is located in the northern tip of the island. It is to Malapascua what Station 1 is to Boracay.
Kokay’s Maldito Dive Resort
Like most resorts on Malapascua, Kokay’s Maldito is a dive resort/bar and restaurant all rolled into one. What sets it apart from the other ones though, is that it sits on the Southwest tip of the island, which makes it the absolute best spot to watch the amazing Malapascua sunset. Another thing is that it has a billiards table; their pizza is cooked in a brick oven; and their Rhum Cokes are deadly! Whether you’re getting a single, double, or triple, glasses of Rhum Coke are cheaper the less Coke they need, because Coke is more expensive than the rhum.
- grilled fresh catch, with your hands, by the beach
We hired a lovely boatman, Mang Intoy, to take us boating around the island. He brought us to snorkel where a Japanese ship was wrecked, Bantigue Cove, where lunch was, and one more gorgeous site around the island. And then he cooked us a nice lunch of grilled fish, squid, chicken, and pork. You have to understand that Malapascua is a tiny island, therefore, they’ve had to learn to be self-sustaining. The primary sources of livelihood are (besides diving) sustenance farming and fishing. And they’re super protective of their waters, so you can imagine just how fresh everything is. Even the bread is all homemade!
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When the tide is low, you might need a pump boat to get from your motor bangka to the shore. He can come get you, bring you to your resort, and then take you back on your return trip. Get in touch with him, but call, don’t just text.
- Thresher Shark Divers
TSD is allegedly the best dive shop not just in Malapascua, but in the country. I am likely to agree, because they did take good care of me when I went in to get my Discover Scuba Diving Experience. And I will go back to them to get my Open Water Certification. I agree also on the basis of TSD being recommended to me by another dive master from all the way in Puerto Galera. That’s got to say something. And, one last count — the guys over there are great! I had a fun time with them when I met and hung out with them one evening.
- Sea Explorers
Another great option, regardless of whether you’re staying at Ocean Vida or not. Tata works as a dive instructor here. Look for him, and have yourself a Tata experience!
Word to the Wise
Beware counterfeit bills!
It was one snafu after the other in Cebu. I don’t know if we just had an unlucky streak, or that’s how things really are over there, but this one really takes the cake: during my stay in Malapascua, I was somehow issued a counterfeit P200 bill by one of the establishments. I unknowingly used it to pay for my bus fare, and the conductor came back to me, saying that the note I handed him was fake, and tore it in half right in front of me! He pointed out that the serial numbers on the same bill were different, and I of course, didn’t notice, because — I don’t know if you do — but I don’t normally take time to check these things.
I don’t blame the establishment, because cash is fluid, and they were as innocent as I am. But if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. So be careful!