We spent the past week at Sangat Island Dive Resort in the Philippines. We reached the island and never wanted to leave. It was the most relaxing vacation I think we have ever had. Our activities consisted of sleeping, eating, diving, and reading. Then we would repeat. It was perfect.
The actual traveling for this vacation was far from perfect. We can now add “sleeping in the airport” to our list of travel experiences. Our flight left Seoul on a Friday evening, and we arrived in Manila close to midnight. We had another flight booked for 9 a.m. the next morning. We have heard that the traffic in Manila is atrocious, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of money and patience to get a hotel for just a few hours. So, we arrived knowing that we would spend the night at the airport. Adventure! We quickly learned that the Manila international terminal is dirty, hot, and crowded. It is definitely at the bottom of my list of airports. I began questioning our night of adventure. After a long wait for a bus, we ventured to the domestic terminal that we would be staying in. It was much newer and cleaner. It also had many restaurants! That were closed. We found some greasy pizza that had been cooked several hours prior, and around 2 a.m. settled into a nice dark corner. (There were a lot of people doing the same as us. In fact, many Filipino families were better prepared and brought sleeping mats and blankets.) We took off our shoes, cuddled with our backpacks, and took turns “sleeping.” The floor wasn’t as dirty as I would have expected, and pure exhaustion helped me get a few hours of rest.
In the morning we took a quick flight from Manila to Coron. Our plane skidded into the tiny Coron airport, and we could immediately feel the Philippine heat. This airport consisted of one large room. There were no fans, but half the windows were missing, so there was a nice breeze. (The windows were possibly missing because of the 2013 typhoon.) Jared has his private pilot’s license, so I’ve seen some tiny airports, but this was different from anything I had seen. There were lawn chairs for seating, and you scooped water from a rain barrel to be able to flush the toilet. Baggage claim was a long low shelf that porters set the bags on.
Our resort had arranged for our transportation. We exited the airport and a guy told us to get into a van. Ok. Our drive wove around curvy roads, over multiple cattle grids, through a checkpoint where no one was present, and by poverty, poverty, and more poverty. Much like Cambodia, we saw huts with few or no walls, and front yards that resembled junk yards. More than once we saw a truck so full of people that men were riding on top of the cab. We crossed a stream where at least a dozen naked children played and splashed. Our van stopped at a pier and we were told to get out. Ok. A speed boat pulled up, and we were told to board. Ok! Our driver wore a shirt bearing the name of our resort, so I knew that we were headed in the right direction.
The ride on the speed boat left my lips salty and my shoulders pink, conditions that I maintained throughout the rest of the vacation. Resort staff and the island dog greeted us as we arrived; we drank from fresh coconuts, and were shown our hut. There are about 15 huts at the resort; they spread down the beach so that everyone has their own spot of sand. Our hut had two rooms: the bedroom and the bathroom. Our bed was surrounded by gauzy mosquito netting (why does a fabric meant to protect from disease seem so romantic?!), and all our furniture was crafted with bamboo. We had a porch that looked at the ocean, and two hammocks between us and the water. Dreamy.
So, by now one might think that this resort is nothing but luxury. Private speed boat, greeted with drinks, private huts… We only had electricity from about 6 PM to 7 AM. My alarm clock was the ceiling fan shutting off. If you wanted hot water for a shower, then you needed to bathe around 3 PM when the sun had been warming the well water; otherwise get ready to wash quickly and shiver. Our room rate included three meals a day, plus a snack. However, there was no menu. We ate what the kitchen prepared. Meals were buffet style and usually included rice, fish, salad, vegetables, and either pork, chicken or beef. Our room came with a water container that slightly resembled a gas canister. We would carry this down to the kitchen when we needed more drinking water. The internet was available at the bar, but it would take several minutes for an email or Facebook message to load.
The Philippines is a popular vacation destination for many foreigners living in South Korea. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that their family has vacationed there. The islands are littered with resorts. Honestly, the number of resorts and their popularity really made Jared and I question if we wanted to go. What was described to us was not in the least appealing. I know that all inclusive resorts are very popular for a reason; I have no problem with other people who visit them. I suppose we are the opposite end of the traditional travel snob. While some might only stay at 5 star hotels, we are backpacking and hostel snobs. You may keep your luxury resort with Egyptian cotton sheets; I’ll take the hut with mosquito netting. Private chef? I’ll eat the rice and pack some granola bars just in case. Swimming pools and activities for the entire family? Give me the ocean at my feet and let me watch the monkeys that are playing behind the hut. (Warning: they are VERY territorial!) In other words, this resort that only offers electricity for half of the day is our idea of luxury.
Our vacation wasn’t just sleeping and waiting for a cool breeze to sway our hammocks. We took a four day class to become certified open water SCUBA divers! I’ll have more on diving and pictures from our underwater adventures in the next post!