Travelling between places in the Philippines is hard. It’s much more time-consuming than I expected, so one month here is great, but it is nowhere near enough time to visit all the places I want to see and have any time to relax. I’ll come back one day to see the places I haven’t made it to on this trip. Here’s my epic journey between two frequently visited places in the Philippines.
I set off at about 8:30am, walked to the village centre in Sabang and arranged a trike to stop at an ATM in Puerto Galera and take me on to the port at Balatero for 250 Pesos. This is where the boat leaves for Abra de Ilog once a day at 10:30am.
The queue at the ATM was slow and then the damned machine ate one of my cards. But then it spat it out with the next card I put in. Strange (and lucky).
I made it to Balatero Port easily and the terminal is small and quite busy with only a few ticket desks so it’s straightforward to navigate.
The ticket to Abra de Ilog costs 230 Pesos (£3.40) and the terminal fee is 10 Pesos (£0.15) so it’s cheap and I’ve got some time to relax before the boat.
It was a fairly comfortable ride in this ferry. Just locals seem to use the boat. It’s an hour along the coast with pretty views the whole way.
The boat docked in an unconventional way at 11:30am and I popped to the mini market then waited for the bus which arrived at 12. It’s called the RoRo bus (the Roll-on Roll-off ferry docks here) and it goes all the way to San Jose taking five and a half hours. Air-conditioned, spacious and with comfy seats, this bus seems to be a good idea. The ticket costs 350 Pesos.
The other option here is to take a van but you have to make three changes to reach San Jose. I had wanted to go diving at Apo Reef and I thought perhaps it was too much hassle but it’s actually easily possible to get off the bus at Sablayan where you can go diving. I took this photo of a sign near the port in case anyone wants to arrange diving.
The road is in amazing condition! It really is such a big change from what I’ve seen before. Even so, the bus is only going 40km/h. The countryside is stunning! The first part of the journey is through a wide flat valley filled with rice paddies, cows and egrets, surrounded by rugged hills.
It’s funny to see the locals drying rice on the road, just after a tight bend. Asking for trouble.
On the bus we are watching a hilarious Filipino film about two women whose husbands fall in love and then the women end up going on a journey through the complicated world of non-hetero life. I was trying to just look out of the window and enjoy the view but now I’m hooked!
We reached Sablayan Grand Terminal at just before 3pm and that’s probably early enough to arrange diving for the next day (but only if the dive shops have already planned a boat ride to Apo Reef). I’m carrying on down to San Jose though so I can reach Coron.
The rest of the afternoons journey was simple and we arrived at 5:15pm in San Jose, although the RORO bus terminal seems to have moved a little out of town from the MAPS.ME location. But it’s totally walkable into town, which I did, in the beautiful sunset light.
I popped into a couple of hotels (this isn’t a hostel kind of a place) to check prices and paid 780 Pesos (£11.50) for a room with air-conditioning at the West Town Hotel.
When I was speaking to the receptionist about my plans she dropped the HUGE BOMBSHELL that the Montenegro daily ferry to Coron is out of action!!! It’s only the Bunso Boat that goes at the moment and it’s only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 9am. So my next boat out of here is in two days time on Tuesday.
Five minutes and £103 later I have a flight booked tomorrow at 12:05 with Philippine Airlines including 20kg of checked baggage. Pretty straightforward and luckily very quick to sort out.
I decided to have some comfort food for dinner so I went to Jollibee, the Filipino favourite food chain. The food was good, and they are particularly famous for their fried chicken with gravy, which is both cheap and delicious.
As I came out of Jollibee there was a Christmas procession of 30 decorated trikes going slowly down the street – I love the Philippines at Christmas!!
I was having some issues with one of my bank cards so I tried to withdraw cash again without luck so I popped back to the hotel for my main backup card and it worked fine. My bank has no clue why it’s not working though, so I’ll have to keep trying.
There’s a lively food court opposite my hotel called Kalya Burgos Food Park and I’ve come here to relax for the evening. There are loads of great food stalls and a live band is setting up.
A lovely local lady called Salve, short for Salvation, joined me and we have been here chatting for a few hours and when the music gets loud, Salve writes to me on napkins. She is so generous and wants to make sure I try all the local dishes so now I am so full.
My favourite new thing is a delicious local fruit called Chico; it looks like a cross between a potato and a pear. And it’s tastes like a cinnamon pear! Delicious. Apparently they are cheap too so I’m going to hunt some down soon.
The live band are so good! The food court is packed with locals enjoying their Saturday night and requesting songs. Salve has been up to request at least 5 songs already. They are playing Taylor Swift Love Story now and it’s a really good cover. The lead singer just came over to say hello; she is really friendly and is pleased that I’m enjoying their set.
I’ve had a good random evening in San Jose despite the shock of not having the ferry tomorrow morning.
This morning I had a lovely breakfast at Chowking, the popular Chinese food chain in the Philippines and it was excellent. Pork Chow Fan with a coffee cost 120 Pesos and the portion was huge! The soy sauce is second to none.
The trike to the airport only cost 30 Pesos for 3 kilometres and it was quick and painless. My driver was really friendly and was trying to have a conversation over the noise of the engine, which was sweet but challenging.
Check-in was interesting because they are using a manual system so they can’t check my bag through to my destination. This could be interesting as I only have 40 minutes at Clark Airport to transit if we arrive on time…
The coolest thing happened as we were preparing to board. They give you an umbrella to walk across the tarmac with!
It was a smooth flight and we landed early at Clark International Airport with a gorgeous view of Arayat Volcano with its jagged blown out crater.
It all got very exciting at Clark. My bag arrived at the check in counter but there were lots of queues so I had to be shuffled through everybody to clear the security quickly. There’s an airport departure tax of 150 Pesos which I practically threw at the man because the women at the gate were frantically waving at me. I got a private bus to my plane because it had already boarded. But it hasn’t left yet which is a bonus. A little confusing because the boarding time listed is 1pm and it’s only that time now but everyone else has already boarded.
You’ve gotta laugh. I just got back on board the same aircraft with the same crew!!!
The flight was fine, just one hour. My bag made it! And when it emerged it was covered in tags, 11 in total.
Outside the departures door there are dozens of tour agents waving leaflets at you. All pretty much for the same tours. I figured it was best to find out more in town.
I took a van going to the centre rather than one of the resort-specific buses. I paid 150 Pesos and jumped out near HOP hostel at the top of a hill in the town. It is a stunning place! Unfortunately it’s full tonight so I kept walking to The Hub.
Brandan is the owner and he is pretty friendly. He gave me a bed in the quieter second building, a few hundred metres down the road, for 320 Pesos per night (four bed dorm with fan) as I have booked two nights.
He suggested I try Reggae Dive Shop to arrange my wreck diving here in Coron. It was just over a mile away so I hopped on a trike. The dive centre seems nice and not too expensive. I decided to book two PADI specialty courses so I’m beginning Wreck Diver and Nitrox Diver tomorrow. The pair of courses will cost 17,500 Pesos (£262) where the Wreck Diver course on its own costs 12,500 Pesos (£187).
So tonight I’ve got to study…
I walked to Tapas Lounge to read my wreck diving manual with a beer and watch the sunset then went to a very unremarkable restaurant further down the main road from the hostel. It looks really classy but the staff aren’t very nice. The chop suey was nice but the atmosphere was a bit lame.
I had a drink at the hostel and hung out with a nice crowd before heading down to the other building to pack for diving.