After two nights in Cebu City I was very excited to be finally heading to Malapascua Island. Roughly three hours away by private car I started to get nervous as we drove; the skies darkening and the wind picking up. About an hour away I received a call from the resort that the ferries had stopped running for now, but might resume later. I decided I would sit by the ferry port all afternoon, until the 5pm ‘last ferry’ time, just in case, despite my driver trying to drop me off at a BnB in some nearby town (not even Maya, the ferry port town where I was expecting to stay!)
Arriving at the ferry I was told they were running! Woo hoo! Nervously excited again, I bought my ticket (100PHP/ £1.40/ U$2) and waited for a ferry, along with about 50 other people. Only one ferry seemed to appear and with a total lack of order (those that arrived last got on the first ferry, which my name was on, but being a decent, well mannered person, I assumed those before me would go first and didn’t get on.) I was doubly kicking myself as there was a really distressed pig which I would have liked to have sat with and stroked (if that reads strangely to you, change ‘pig’ to ‘cat’ or ‘dog’.) Most people had been waiting for days to cross, so the energy on the pier was a little highly charged….
By the time more ferries appeared about an hour later, and we actually left people were able to just walk up and get on one. So, had I slept in an extra hour I would have saved myself a lot of ‘will I get to the island’ ‘stress! Despite also saying that each boat only holds 10 people, they left with about 20, but not sure if this is usual. Due to low tide we needed to take a 20PHP small boat to the island from the ferry, and the same again if you wanted a porter to carry your stuff on/off the boat. Some people got really stressed about this extra cost. 20PHP is 30p/40c, and providing a wage for people on a remote island. Perspective people!
Most accommodation is centered around Bounty Beach, where the pier is. I was staying at the Thresher Cove Dive Resort about 15 mins walk away so I jumped on a little motorbike and was SO impressed that the driver managed to get us to the resort without dropping my big 18kg wheelie bag (wedged between his stomach and the handle bars) or toppling us over whilst bouncing along the muddy paths and up and down a few ‘hills’ . He kept asking ‘are you okay?’ and saying ‘don’t worry’ but by this point I was exhausted, scabbed, wearing a ripped shirt (don’t ask) and couldn’t care less if we fell off the slow moving bike. I’m pretty sure he was just trying to reassure himself.
The resort was gorgeous. Very simple, but with everything you needed. Boasting the islands largest swimming pool and a private beach it not only caters for the wealthier traveler it also offers dorm room and budget/shared toilet cabanas. Despite enjoying my way too big for me, extravagant apartment in Cebu City, I was much more excited for my little cabana for one, facing out to the sea, complete with a beach swing and a foot-bath.
After a quick swim (is there anything better for instantly refreshing the body and soul? No. No there isn’t) I headed off to the welcome meeting. To be honest at this point I was feeling pretty anti-social, and daunted by the large groups of people all seeming to know each other. Despite this, within a minute of sitting down I was chatting away to the other new arrivals, and after a really interesting and informative presentation about the resort, the dives and the island, ended up having a super chilled dinner a with my new buddies. I was incredibly impressed the resort had a no-straw policy and also provided free drinking water to refill your water bottles with. Yes.
After a night swing overlooking the moonlight water, listening to Def Leppard and writing in my diary (so reminiscent of my teen years) I went to bed very excited about getting in the sea the next day. I wrote a dive destination guide on Malapascua for Girls That Scuba, so check that out for more specific dive information and general info about, and getting to the island.
I spent the next 3 days in the water as much as possible; either diving, snorkelling or attempting shallow handstands in the pool. The snorkelling wasn’t up to what I’d experienced in front of my hotel in Zanzibar but there was enough marine life to watch and admire with a fair amount of tropical fish, and the private bay was so peaceful to float in.
The diving however, was fabulous. I swam threw a tunnel under Gato Island to be greeted at the end by white tipped reef sharks, watched in early morning awe at the majestic threshers swimming by and dived down at dusk to witness mandarin fish mating.
Thresher Sharks ❤
(Video by Owen Jones-Hawke. The title is a little misleading…)
Though these were all spectacular, it was the general abundance and variety of marine life and soft corals and seafans that I loved the most. The macro (small marine life) was out of this world. Seriously. The nudibrancs especially. The colours! The patterns. The little horns! The minute detail to every part of their bodies. How they actually exist baffles me. Designs and colours I’d expect in science fiction graphic novel. As someone that doesn’t like (well, has an irrational discomfort around) snails and slugs, I can’t get enough of these guys. Thresher Cove were a really professional, but also fun and friendly dive centre, with mainly local guides, which I would completely recommend. The groups were small, and they tried hard to accommodate the guests wishes, and any issues. Ditto with the same for the resort management.
(All underwater pictures taken by Owen Jones-Hawke used with his kind permission.)
On the final day I took a trip out to the idillic looking Kalanggaman Island. After a 90 minute journey sat on the side, being totally soaked by the waves, and pretty cold… even usually optimistic me thought there was no way the grey sky would turn blue, or the clouds would part for the sun.
But I was wrong! We surfaced to blue skies and sunshine, just in time for lunch on the beach; spicy rice & vege for me, BBQ for everyone else, and a paddle in the clear waters.
I truly was in the happiest of places 25m under the surface, exploring the nooks and crannies along the wall, following boxfish, looking out into the blue, just seeing stillness, and feeling calm, yet exhilarated at the same time.
One of the Dive Masters had taught me how to make bubble rings with my hand, a new hobby for safety stops. On my final dive I even came out to the Baby Shark Song (watch the video above…) playing on the boat’s sound system, which was introduced to me by some of the kids I teach in Hong Kong, and I’d been telling people about the catchy song the day before. Perfect.
I didn’t actually spend too much time out of the resort or the water, but if I’d had a few more days I would have rented a bike to pedal around or walked up to the quiet beach north of the island, and eaten out more at Villa Sandra, a vegan-veggie B&B/cafe. The paths are small and narrow, lined with small houses and large trees; a real village feel, and fun to explore. On my last night, after deciding against joining in the pumping local disco (held on the basketball court), and then declining shots at the bar, me and a friend instead took a late night walk along the beach, playing with our feet in the water, making bio luminescent glitter boots, and looking up to a incredible starry sky, where for the first time ever I spotted my Scorpio constellation as well as at least ten shooting stars. Just wow.
Leaving was hard. And I don’t just mean dragging my rollie suitcase along the sand.. Malapascua was just pretty damn amazing. I had pretty high expectations anyway, but everything was even better. The vibes, the people, the diving. Just go.