Darling it's better, down where it's wetter...

Trip Start Dec 21, 2010
1
9
18
Trip End Feb 05, 2011


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Where I stayed
Liberty's Lodge

Flag of Philippines  , Central Visayas,
Saturday, January 8, 2011

Under da sea....

Aaaah, now this is what it's all about, one of the most anticipated locations of our whole trip: tiny Apo Island, 7km off the coast of Negros. It's approximately 3km X 1km and has a population of around 800 people, mainly villagers.

We were met by 2 friendly boatmen sent by our hotel, Liberty's Lodge, who tucked our luggage into a waterproof compartment and, along with 3 locals, we were on our way! It was comparable to a small raft - quite a contrast to the big ferries in Thailand! The Bangka ride took about 45 minutes and was a little choppy and wet, but as there was no shade, quite refreshing.

Approaching Apo, you immediately see the main (coral) beach which has the island's only 2 hotels plus the back end of the village. It truly is a little paradise in the middle of the ocean. While the 2 hotels are both comfortable, there is only electricity for around 4 hours a day via a generator which runs the whole island. Liberty's has another smaller generator so we got a few extra hours a day. No running water though, let alone hot water: the island is not at all self-sufficient as all fresh water is brought in from the mainland and treated as gold. We had a trough in our bathroom which was filled up once a day and that water had to be used to wash, shower and flush the toilet - all done with a bucket!

The view from our room was pretty perfect: a little balcony overlooking the beach (we stayed directly above the dive shop), palm trees, boatmen and the crystal clear blue waters. Their is no aircon so the windows and doors were open 24/7 and it was rather nice falling asleep to the lapping waves, and waking up and the first thing you see is the blue sea disappearing over the horizon. Very poetic indeed! Only downside being waken up at 5am by a screaming baby next door, luckily they left after the first night day only to be replaced by a snorer that sounded like a dying buffalo...

That said, it felt like a privilege to be able to stay on Apo for 4 nights and meet so many locals and see how they live. We did not encounter one unfriendly person and as you walk through the village (just like the rest of the Philippines so far, stuck in a time warp from a few decades ago) you are greeted by numerous little kids and other locals. Luloy was the guy who picked us up on the first day, then he was the warden on duty at the marine sanctuary the next, then the day after that he was picking us up after our first scuba dive out at sea, yes he really has 3 jobs! We didn't get a chance to say goodbye but on reaching the mainland he was waiting for us, well he was painting the new boat for Liberty's, so we were very happy we got to say goodbye.

Grace was the lovely 'office lady' with whom we had long chats to about how the village runs and how the locals live, so interesting. She was lovely and sent us the following SMS after we left (we had to draw cash and pay the driver on the mainland):
"Hehehe not 4 sure. Becos he wil b n a bg trouble hahaha. Thank also sir luke and maam jacqui. Hope to c u nxt time. We miss u both already:)"

All the ladies in the restaurant were great, not terribly efficient, although cooking without electricity for 25+ people can't be easy! Then there were the various cleaners, boatmen, dive shop helpers and sarong sellers (some of whom could definitely eat an apple through a tennis racket!).

Apo Island is how we imagine PhiPhi in Thailand was about 20 years ago: 1 or 2 locals setting up rooms to rent with little restaurants in their gardens, a handful of tiny shops selling drinks and sweets and a few ladies on the main beach selling t-shirts and sarongs out of big plastic bags. They were very cute ladies who run up to each arriving boat trying to sell their goods. We bought a few items over our time there as we really wanted to support them - they were not at all pushy like their Thai counterparts and one specific lady always shouted "la-ter Sir, la-ter Madam" each time we walked past with her gold tooth blinging in the sunlight. On that note, throughout Philippines we get referred to as Sir and Ma'am and each hotel greets us as 'Sir Luke' and 'Ma'am Jacqui' - think it shows the American influence from the ruling days as well as American TV nowadays. Definitely do not get called Sir Luke in the UK but will have a chat to Queenie (the real one) and see of she can sort that out! :) The staff all seem very honest and make an effort to remember your name and treat you more like a friend than a guest. People say the Philippines is one of the friendliest countries in the world and we could not agree more.

If you read the Dumaguete post you will remember the street kid who sang Justin Bieber to us? Well, it appears it's catching on as all the little kids on the island, and there are a lot (TVs and lights go out at 9pm), sang the exact same Justin Bieber song. They would just sit on the rocks at sunset and all sing it, really odd and a little disturbing!

So, the one of the reasons for coming to Apo was to finish our PADI scuba diving course (which we started in London) at one of the top 10 dive locations in the world. We had to wait a day before we could start so used that time to do some snorkelling, which Apo is also famous for as they have a protected 15,000-sq-m marine reserve and fish sanctuary which bans fishing and anchoring. The reefs right off the beach were stunning: 5 metres out and you had coral gardens, schools of fish and our favourite new friends, sea turtles! There are quite a few around the island and we had the chance to swim within a couple of metres of them. They weren't to bothered by us and we could swim right alongside them, almost touching them at times. They have beautiful patterns on their shells and cheeky little faces, very similar to the markings on a giraffe. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience and will not be forgotten in a hurry! Other sightings of note were a nest of anemones inhabited by about 100 nemos (clown fish) - they were very protective even going as far as trying to butt us away from their nest! It was amazing to see so many, so close, as the water was only about 2 metres deep at that point.

We both completed our PADI Open Water Scuba courses by the time we left which is a good thing to tick off the list and we hope to get a few more dives in before we head home as it's a lot easier and cheaper now that we are certified. We managed to fit in 5 dives in total on Apo and are trying to learn the names of everything we saw but are still beginners and the underwater world is plentiful so have some learning to do! The final bits of the course itself was pretty straightforward, Jacqui had some issues with her ears and equalising whilst underwater and apparently I breath too much air underwater so have to work on that according to our instructor... I blame the equipment :)

Unfortunately, on our 2nd last day, a resident German gentleman who helps run Libertys' computers and is the general handyman saw me working on my laptop and asked if I was a 'computer expert'. I reluctantly mumbled that it 'depends'.... needless to say I spent the next 2 hours fixing his laptop and had to make 2/3 visits into their reception to fix another laptop. We were given free Internet access for our whole stay (yes, they don't have running water but they do have internet!) which was a nice gesture. He also started asking questions about re-doing their website... so who knows... he has my email address but I don't think the going rate in Philippine Pesos is much to write home about! If it was for the Apo community and not the hotel, well that would be a privilege.

All meals were inclusive so we ate at Liberty's 3 X a day. The food was a bit average and limited: by the time we left we had eaten basically everything on the menu. The Apo style fish was delicious which we think was Tuna and then covered in fried garlic, onions, peppers etc. Again, not much Filipino food, mainly western, which seems to be the norm. There really does seem to be a very limited Filipino range of meals, again very different to Thailand and Malaysia. They did however serve possibly the best French fries I have ever tasted. They also prefer to refill your drinking water bottles to limit rubbish on what is a very clean island, excellent idea!

A small, struggling island with so much character and charm - definitely worth a visit, even if it's just for a snorkel/ dive and a quick island tour. We leave there hoping that tourism positively supports the locals, and in 10/ 20 years, the island will be a flourishing destination with a healthy village, not overcrowded with tourists and destroyed like much of Thailand. As they say themselves, "if the fish survive, Apo survives".
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Comments

Trina on

Sounds fantastic you will have to work out a tour for us to inclide Thailand and Philipines.

Francisco on

I stayed at Apo Island at the same resort, 10-11 years ago when they are just getting started. They had just been featured on the front cover on a Diver Magazine in the US. Paul was still there. But at that time, I could dive 2 times a day, eat and stay for about 25-30US$/day. I see it is now much higher in price. It was amazing then, good to hear it is still great... just a lot more expensive.

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