As I write this, darkness is falling on 24th December and all Filipinos are getting ready for Christmas. People are singing in the streets, wishing each other a pleasant festive season or boogying to a bit of videoke. I should be writing this post from Boracay, sinking my toes into the sand of the White Beach. Instead, I’m still in Luzon; I’ve been awake for 36 hours and have seen more God-awful bus movies than I care to remember. Not exactly the Christmas I had planned…
Things started well in Baguio on the morning of the 23rd. The 7.40am bus to Cubao left on time and I was excited to get to Boracay, figuring my Christmas could then begin. Unsurprisingly, it went wrong when we hit Manila. I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt before but now I’ve really gone off it. It’s just gridlocked all of the time – how can you enjoy that? Just crossing from one side of the city to the other added 2 hours to our journey time.
The good news was that after arriving at the Victory Liner bus terminal (Manila has company terminals scattered across the city rather than a big bus terminal), it was only a 5 minute walk down EDSA to get on the ALPS bus to Batangas Pier from where my ferry to Boracay would leave. It cost 164php for the (supposed) 2 hour journey though the delights of Manila ensured it took double that.
It was now 8pm, with the ferry to Caticlan (the gateway to Boracay) due to leave at 9. Unfortunately, Batangas Port continued the trend of every other Philippines transport system in the country – it was absolutely awful. Queues were non-existent and they just didn’t have the facilities or the manpower to deal with all the people entering the terminal. If you’ve already got your ticket, you have to push your way through the terminal ticket bottleneck to pay a 30php fee before then queuing to go through the one security X-Ray belt which is supposed to do the whole terminal. Only then can you check in.
I checked in as the clock struck 9 but the guys on the desk didn’t seem to mind, just telling me to head up to the gate. I was now in the waiting room, just moments away from the boat. How could things possibly go wrong?
Obviously they could. The waiting room was packed with people, many of whom I’d just seen in the 2GO queue so I figured they must also be waiting for the ferry. Shortly after, a muffled and barely audible tannoy mentioned something about a delay on the 2GO ferry and people murmured that we wouldn’t be departing until gone midnight.
Three long hours followed waiting for the Caticlan ferry until finally the 2GO staff opened the door around 12.30am. I headed through, got to the boat, got surveyed by sniffer dogs and proudly displayed my ticket, only to be told that this was the boat to Cebu. Irritated, I figured the Caticlan boat was delayed even further but when I showed my ticket to the staff upstairs, I was met with nervous glances before they told me that the Caticlan ferry had left at 9pm, as planned.
In all the commotion of getting up there, the sheer volume of people and the useless tannoy system, I hadn’t realised that my ferry had departed just moments after I arrived and, had I walked through the gate after checking in, I’d be sat on a Boracay beach sipping happy hour San Miguels right now. I didn’t know how to react, particularly as the 24th ferry was sold out and so I couldn’t even transfer to that one. I was hoping the ferry staff would magically make it better or give me a solution but I got nothing. I was now stuck at Batangas pier at 1.30am with no chance of getting to Boracay. And no internet connection.
After taking a minute (during which my mind basically went “?/&/@,!~$~€||?@;&:/”), I decided the best course of action would be to head back to Manila, find a McDonalds (which are, after all, the answer to everything) and plan my next move through the power of Wi-Fi. I was already figuring out alternatives in my head, such as flying to Boracay, going to Palawan early or exploring other parts of Luzon.
It was around 5am when the bus pulled up in pitch dark and soaking wet Cubao. And just to top it all, the McDonalds which was open didn’t have Wi-Fi. I ended up at JBoy (quite apt I thought) cafe, looking like I’d lost everything on the stock exchange. I had all my worldly goods with me, was using their socket to charge my phone and harnessing their Wi-Fi, all whilst picking at food I’d only bought to give me an excuse to be there.
With any form of Christmas Eve flight out of the question, I decided I wouldn’t be defeated and would strive to spend Christmas on the beach still. I Googled beaches near Manila and was surprised to find there were a few which were just a few hours away. Most were in Batangas (where I’d just come from annoyingly) but finding any form of accommodation over the Christmas period was impossible.
Finally I stumbled across a place called Alaminos which was a few hours north of Manila. The city, which I’d never heard of, had regular buses going there from Cubao (4-5 hours, 300php with 5Stars) and was home to the renowned ‘One Hundred Islands’ which are exactly what they said on the tin. Coupled with the fact I found a charming guesthouse with vacancies right near the islands, Alaminos was looking like a dead cert.
After a few hours waiting in the rain, I caught a bus to Alaminos and it is from there I write now, chilling at the Treasure Isle Guesthouse with its brilliant kubo huts and treehouse accommodation, as a roaring campfire goes and neighbours murder classic pop hits on the videoke. This morning I was really panicking about whether my Christmas travelling was going to work out and, though I’m gutted Boracay didn’t happen, it’s still looking set to be a Christmas to remember. I don’t think it could be any other sort in the Philippines to be honest.
Happy holidays everyone!