This is my first post writing from the United States. I arrived from the Philippines mid August and spent a few days staying with my cousins near Union Square in Manhattan. It was nice to be back in the states with the endless possibilities that New York City provides. I went to a show in Williamsburg with some friends I hadn’t seen in years. I had delicious bagels and cream cheese, giant slices of pizza, and amazing craft beers. That week I purchased a SIM card for my phone and visited the Flatiron School where I would be attending a web development immersive program for the next three months.
I ran into a fellow student who I’d become acquainted with over the summer chatting online from Korea. He also attended the Flatiron Presents meetup that Tuesday. We discussed the pre-work we’d both been working on over the summer and how we were looking forward to living in NYC.
I also helped my cousin to shoot a music video on his rooftop while I stayed with him. Check out his band Ditch Effort. I made a rough cut of the project for him, but he’s still ironing out the finer details of the project.
At the end of my stay in New York I left some of my bags from Korea with my cousins and flew home to Florida to see my family and get ready to move all of my things to New York. More to come in the next post.
So far in the trip the weather was beautiful. Everyday everywhere you looked the view looked like a postcard: tall palm trees, turquoise waters, soft white sand beaches. There was a gentle breeze at all times and while it was definitely warm, I wouldn’t say it ever really became sweltering. However, we were visiting during the rainy season and reminders of that were along the beach. During the rainy season it can get very windy and there are occasional typhoons. To combat this, many of the establishments along the beach construct bamboo scaffolding to protect their shops and restaurants from the wind and rain of the storms.
Towards the end of our trip we ran into some rain and got to experience the storms firsthand. They weren’t too bad as long as you could duck into a bar or cafe and ride out the many short rainstorms throughout the day. On our last day there was some concern even that we wouldn’t be able to leave or that the boats would stop running, leaving us stranded on the island. Fortunately for us, despite the weather, the boats off the island kept running and we were able to leave our last day.
During the week the weather had been nice for us, but the main island where Kalibo Airport was didn’t fare so well. It rained a bunch and we were nearly stuck in a flood on the road. That night we stayed at our original hotel where we’d stayed the first night. The next morning we hailed a cab to the airport loaded with all of our stuff. I travelled to Manila > Abu Dhabi > JFK. Nicole flew to Kuala Lumpur > Melbourne Australia where she planned to work as an au pair.
This was close to midnight in Abu Dhabi and it was 100 degrees out.
Boracay was so much fun. It was relaxing, exhilarating, exhausting, and above all else, a ton of fun. Our second day in Boracay, post-pubcrawl, we headed down to white sand beach and rented a paddle board for a few bucks. Nicole and I took turns riding it, then got really confident and tried our luck with both of us on it. As you can see from the Boracay video, disaster hilariously ensued.
ATVs and Mountaintop Towers
After some fun in the sun we returned the paddle board and rode ATVs up to the top of the highest point on the island. As if that wasn’t enough, someone built a tower on top of the island that takes you above the tree-line so you can see everything in all directions, literally the entire island.
Snorkeling and Cliff diving at Ariel’s Point
Later in the week, Nicole and I visited Ariel’s point, a private beach area separate from Boracay. To get to the island we met up at a hotel in Station 1 and took a boat 30 minutes out to Ariel’s point. Boarding the boat was an adventure. It could only come in towards the beach so far so we waded out to meet it, carrying out bags and backpacks over our head. The day we went it wasn’t too crowded. The island can handle three boats of visitors, but we only had 2 boats go out the day we visited. On the island there’s a bar, catered lunch, free snorkel gear, kayaks, and several places to cliff dive from: 5m, 8m, and 15m. We spent the afternoon cliff diving, Nicole and I each did all three jumps. Nicole was actually the last person to jump off the 15m cliff before we boarded the boat back to Boracay. In addition to cliff diving, we also rented snorkels and explored the reefs surrounding Ariel’s point.
At Ariel’s Point we met two teachers teaching in China. One of them was from my alma mater, UF. Nicole and I ended up joining them for some parasailing along the white sand beach the following day. I’d never been parasailing before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. At the one we did, you got all hooked up in a harness and attached to the sail then they slowly let you out like a kite from the back of the boat. Aside from boarding the boat from the beach we never even got wet. I was surprised by how far the parasail went out. By the time the sail line was all the way extended, the boat was a tiny dot far below us.
The following day we met up with out Chinese teacher friends and took an island hopping cruise around the coast of Boracay. This was one of my favorite days in Boracay. Our first stop was on a small island called Crystal Cove. The island’s coast is all white sand beach along one side and volcanic cliffside on the other. On the cliffside there were two coves we could climb down into and go snorkeling out through a hole in the cliff face. The first cove was reached via a bamboo spiral staircase into the Earth. The second cove you walked down into then crawled through a narrow tunnel no more than a meter in height which opened into a much larger chamber.
After Crystal Cove we went Crocodile Island, named for it’s shape, not the animals that inhabited it. The island could barely be called an island. It was no bigger than my apartment. However, the snorkeling around it was fantastic, almost as good as Bali. The current was really aggressive though so we snorkeled near the boat and occasionally had to grab hold of one of the many safety lines to keep from being swept out to sea.
Beachside Lunch Buffet
By this point I’d worked up a hearty appetite and was grateful to break for lunch at our next stop, a small beachside cafe. The cafe served a buffet of cured meats, veggies, and rice. I had my fill and walked out to the beach in front of the restaurant to watch the waves. At this point we’d navigated halfway around the island of Boracay and were opposite Station 1, 2, and 3. This side of the island was so much quieter and more peaceful. Aside from our island hopping group, there were only a handful of locals on the beach. I watched our boat bob up and down in the water as several little boys, took turns climbing onto the outriggers and doing flips off of them into the water.
After lunch, we all boarded to boat again. The boys doing back flips climbed onto the outriggers and rode with the boat for a few minutes before jumping off and swimming back to shore. Our next stop was another snorkeling spot, this one nestled into a lagoon on the Northside of the island. The snorkeling here was the best of the whole tour. There were tons of large brain coral and other colorful varieties that I could not begin to name. Aside from great snorkeling, the Northside of the island, is also home to some truly extravagant resorts off in their own little area and not easily accessible from the rest of the beaches at Stations 1 through 3. From where we snorkeled we could see white stucco villas in stair step formation descending down the mountain to greet the sea with their own private beaches. We looked up the prices on the hotels there and they were quite reasonable, in the neighborhood of $200/night: way more than we were paying, but on par with a hotel in a big city anywhere else in the world. With all the amenities included, such as private speedboat pickup from the port, it’s probably worth it if we ever return.
Our last stop of the day was Puka beach on the northernmost point of Boracay. It had even fewer people than our lunch buffet beach and the few people it had were spread along its expansive shores. Our boat pulled right up to shore and we all hopped out. Greeting us right along the beach was a local Philipino selling Magnum ice creams right out of a makeshift styrofoam cooler. Man, the only thing better than an icecream on a hot day, is ice cream on a hot beach. Ice cream in hand, we found some lounge chairs to rent and spent the last hours of our afternoon enjoying the calm beach waters and tranquility of Puka beach. We tried to go back later in the trip, but alas, the weather didn’t hold up.
After Puka beach we returned to Station 2 and had a bite to eat for dinner. All along the beach, after sundown, restaurants have fire dancers entertaining hungry patrons at their restaurants with impressive fire juggling and tricks. Nicole and I did out Boracay trip for pretty cheap. However, if we ate frugally we could have done Boracay for even less, but what’s the point in vacationing and not living it up with delicious foods from around the world. One night we had seafood pizza and tuna ceviche. Another night we had truffle mac & cheese. One night we really splurged and went to one of the best seafood buffets I’ve ever been too. There was limitless crab and lobster, steak and oysters. Throughout the night the chefs would come out and dance to pop songs. It was definitely my favorite meal of the trip.
Ahh Boracay. Normally on our vacations, Nicole and I put together a giant Google Doc with all kinds of info on weather, exchange rates, places to go, things to do. However, when it came down to planning for this trip, I was busy with Flatiron School prework so Nicole did all the planning. It was fun for me to visit Boracay going in blind. Honestly, I couldn’t even find Boracay on a map until halfway through our trip, but enough about me, let’s dive right into the trip.
Getting to Boracay
For Nicole and I, our last day of work was Wednesday and we left Korea on Thursday. By the time Thursday rolled around we’d already shipped a few boxes to the states and packed our things. We had coffee and shaved ice near the bus station then took an afternoon bus to Busan and a flight out that night.
Our plane was delayed an hour at the airport so we arrived around midnight, local time, instead of 11. It was weird flying into Kalibo at night. There were almost no lights. It looked almost uninhabited from the air. There was a patch of dirt and grass before the runway started and for a minute I thought the airport didn’t have a runway, and we’d be landing on a dirt road. That was not the case. However, the airport was only slightly larger than what you would expect from an airport with a dirt runway. There was one building, half was departures, the other half arrivals and no real security. We walked from the plane into the terminal, past several luggage carts from other flights. Once we got our bags, we had to pay a fee to enter the Philippines. Outside the airport a van from our guesthouse was waiting to take us to our guesthouse for the night.
To visit Boracay you have to either fly into Katiclan or Kalibo airport. Katiclan is right next to the ferry port to Boracay so it’s geographically very convenient. However, the runway is too short for most aircraft so you can only get there from Manila or other regional flights. There’s also a very strict weight limit on baggage. Since Nicole and I were moving after this vacation, there was no way we were going to be traveling light. Kalibo it was. From Kalibo you can take a bus, van, or taxi to the Katiclan jetty port. They’re listed by price and time to destination with bus being cheapest and slowest and taxi being most expensive and fastest.
RB Lodge Kalibo
Since we got in so late, we stayed the night at RB Lodge Kalibo. It’s a guesthouse that seems to exist for the sole purpose of providing lodging for late night airport arrivals. The accomodations were nice. Our room had an A/C wall unit and there was wifi. Bizarrely, our room had two twin beds.
In the morning we had breakfast downstairs. I love Philipino breakfast. It consists of some type of cured marinated meet, a fried egg, and white rice. I had that every day for our entire time in the Philippines and sitting in New York writing this now, I miss it dearly and remember it fondly.
After breakfast we took a trike to the airport. The main form of transportation in Kalibo and Boracay, and I suspect most of rural Phillipines is a trike, a small cc motorcycle (dirtbike?) welded to a little sidecar with a roof and room for up to 7 people. Nicole and I squeezed in to one, but we passed several trikes that appeared to be hosting family reunions inside. Some people even rode on the back of the motorcycle with the driver while their entire friend group and closest family members rode in the sidecar part.
Kalibo Airport Again
At the airport I had 500 pesos, about $10. The ride was 100 pesos, about $2 and no one had change. I finally found a woman selling chips who was able to give me some change. I bought a bag of conceited sour cream & onion potato chips that promised to revolutionize the world of snacking forever. Despite the bold claim, I think the chips delivered on their promise. They tasted like a more flavorful Baked Lays.
Finally, change in hand, I paid our trike cabbie. Nicole and I tried to find a van or bus to take us to Boracay, but they were waiting for more people to arrive at the airport. We had the option to either wait for a flight to land, possibly in an hour or two, or take a taxi straight there. We were excited and the difference between a taxi or bus was only about $2, so we opted for the cab and headed out posthaste. The ride took us through rice paddies, forested mountains, past Catholic churches and schools. The weather was rainy but not terribly so.
Riding to Katiclan Ferryport
We got to the ferry port and boarded a tiny wooden boat with outriggers on either side. A porter helped to latch our bags to the roof of the boat. The trip from the ferry port to Boracay is no more than a 15 minute journey. On a speedboat it’s even shorter than that.
The Stations of Boracay
When we arrived at the port a golf cart was waiting to take us to our hotel. Boracay is split amongst three “stations”, or sections of the beach: Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3. Station 1 is quiet. It’s where a lot of the more expensive resorts are. Station 2 is right in the middle. There are plenty of bars and shops and activities on the beach. Station 3 is quiet, a bit older and tends to have more budget accomadations. All three are a short walk from one to another along a beautiful white sand beach.
Welcome to Agos
We stayed at a place called Agos Boracay. It was across the main road and up a set of stairs from Station 2. Because we were going in the low season, July to November, the hotel was practically empty and so our room was upgraded free of charge. We dropped our bags off and ventured down to the beach to explore. Station 2 has a big outdoor mall/shopping area called D’Mall, pronounced Deemall, not Duhmall as Nicole thought. We got some barbecue chicken and drinks on the water and sat by the beach.
That night we did a pubcrawl and met a ton of people from all over the world. I chatted about Disney theme parks with some guys from Saudi Arabia, met a former marine and his girlfriend who’s the number 1 pole dancer in Thailand, and a number of Germans on holiday.
Overall, not a bad first night and day. We got the lay of the land, saw two cities in the Philippines and met a bunch of characters.
This was the third beach camping weekend in a row for Nicole and I and they were only getting better. The previous weekends were only one night, but fortunately for us we had a long weekend so we camped for 2 nights and three days.
Getting out to Bijindo
Our friend Brendan bought a car recently, Walter Whitecar, that we used for our Namhae weekend. This weekend he drove all of us out to the ferry port for the weekend trip. The port was packed. We navigated maze-like alleys congested with other small Korean cars and finally managed to find a parking spot not too far from the ferry terminal and right in front of a little Kimbap shop. Bags in hand, we shlepped out way to the terminal to meet the rest of the crew. At this point, there was a pretty vibrant foreign community in the Jeolla province that we were familar with so many of the faces in the camping group were recognizeable.
From the ferry terminal we took a ferry out to Bijindo Island. It’s a small island, well two islands, sort of. It’s one island shaped like a bowtie with a strip of sandy beach in the middle connecting the two sides. There’s great fishing, a few restaurants, some hiking trails and beach camping. We set up our tents along the water and made camp. Nicole and I had recently bought one of those tents that springs open, like those collapsible laundry hampers everyone had in college.
Laying about the Beach and Having Bonfires
The first day was a lot of fun in the ocean and grilling up food. Our friend Emily lent us her propane grill so we were able to cook up a bunch of veggies and seafood with Conor and Naomi, friends from Gwangyang.
Hiking Waesan Mountain
The second day, a friend and I hiked up Waesan mountain. It’s the tallest point in the area and taller than a great many of the surrounding islands as well so it offers a heck of a view from the top. The hike isn’t too challenging. I did it in sperry’s, shorts, and a t-shirt. However, Koreans love gear, so many of them were treating this 3 hour hike like they were summiting Everest.
From the top you can see the full outline of Bijindo. It’s truly a sight to behold. We stayed at the top for a while, just drinking in the scenery before the trek back down. That night we had another bonfire and cooked up more veggies. People busted out guitars and sang. South Africans cooked sausages in beer. We had marshmallows with ingredients bought piece by piece from a variety of convenience stores around Jeolla province.
In the morning, I woke to see the sunrise and enjoy the calm morning air. Korea has some of the best sunrises of any place I’ve ever visited. They’re soft and red and very calming. I don’t really know a better way to describe them without just showing you.
Returning from Island Life
After an awesome weekend of hiking, bonfires, and beach camping, it was time to return to society and life in sleepy old Gwangyang. There are many more adventures to come, but I will not soon forget my weekend in Bijindo.