Philippines: finding paradise

In total I visited only 11 of the many islands that make up the Philippines; without question this was the most authentic; it’s my favorite. It is remote and a little difficult to get to- but it is COMPLETELY worth all the trouble (even the horror story- click here to read it). Considering the amazement of my time on this island it’s easy to consider it a paradise, but it felt like it even more so following that ‘traveler’s nightmare’.
This island gave me: private beaches, authentic local engagement, the freshest food, and amazing sea life experiences- I swam with turtles,!

island view from the bangka boat at sunset

Alad, Romblon

Sitting on half the sand bar as I wait for the other half to be revealed I watch the water flow in and out. As the water slowly recedes exposing more sand little by little I start seeing the earth breathe. It literally looks as if the Earth is inhaling and exhaling, the sand is the lungs and the water the air. I see the rise and fall of the ‘body’ of Mother Nature and I synchronize my own breathing.
It’s just me right now. The water is about knee deep another quarter of the way but looks deeper as the bar approaches the small island. I’ll continue to wait.
There is no shade here and I just used the last of my SPF 50. I also have 2 more days in Romblon. I don’t even know where I can buy more. I must admit, even with 2 days left to come, I think today is my favorite. Earlier I swam with sea turtles! They’re so big and majestic. One of the larger turtles continued to swim with me. I was careful not to touch him but he kept getting so close; I was able to dodge him. (Objects are closer than they appear in goggles.) I’m not sure why, but I read somewhere not to touch them and to leave them their space- so I tried to do this for the big guy but he was awfully curious! The smaller ones made this easy; I was always the one chasing them around. I’d always try- I’d go real far and they’d keep gaining more and more distance and suddenly I’d see the dark blue depth beneath me. They continuously took me so far out beyond the shallow sea floor of grass and all of a sudden a seawall/cliff appeared and the darkness was terrifying.
This was my first time snorkeling without a life vest- I always thought I needed one. I snorkel for hours on end. I’m quite buoyant; I tried a few times to dive under to get closer to the coral for video but it was very difficult. I don’t think I’ll ever choose a life vest again- when snorkeling. I just need to figure out how to go under.

I’m in the shade now. I crossed the sandbar. It was rather difficult. The water level wasn’t a problem- it was beneath my knees the entire way. It was the “sand”. In the smoother sand I’d would sink and in the hard sand… well it was rocks- jagged rocks and shells. (worse than Waikiki shells.) My feet feel like they’re bleeding, I had left my flip flops on the boat and my captain, Kaen, has moved somewhere deeper as to not bank the boat during low tide. I still need to make it back before high tide to successfully cross. By the time I crosses, a local family had shown up to do the same. They didn’t stay long- just took a few pictures and said it was time to head back. I stayed- I’ve found solitude here on my private little island. Although, every now and then I hear animals (big ones) running, chasing each other, I hear the trees cracking and I wonder if I should worry; I later find out it’s a few goats. There is a house on the other side of this small island. The family who said it was time to cross is now back on the other island connected by the bar. They were only here about 5 minutes; I met them earlier in the private natural pool on another island. It was my first stop of the day. To better recap my day, I’ll start with the beginning.

Swimming with Sea Turtles

view looking out from a yellow bangka boat to small islands in Romblon, Philippines.

My private boat tour

DAY 54, 6/5/19.
With plans to wake up for sunrise, I went to bed quite early last night- I was tucked in by 21:00. I picked up a book from the shelf at the resorts dining room and was going to continue reading; I started before dinner. Anyway, I miraculously had service and my sister was sending me gifts options for her to give our dad for Father’s Day. Time quickly flew by and we began talking about other things. Things that would then keep me up pondering my own thoughts- family relationships. Right as I was beginning to fall asleep I heard scratches and squeals. Rats! Oh, this pumped me with adrenaline. It sounded like they were under my bed or in the bathroom. I turned on lights and made some noise to try and scurry them away. It didn’t work. I don’t like the idea of them crawling on me at night- well EVER. Anyway, it was now after 01:00 and I’d keep the light on for the rest of the night. I eventually did dose off and woke up around sunrise just to stay in the bed. I didn’t even bother looking out the window. I had booked a boat for 09:00 and wanted to explore. I’d catch sunrise tomorrow. For the time being I’d try to sleep more so I could have the energy to swim with the turtles- among other things. I came to this island because I heard about the turtles. I had heard that there was a high chance I’d find wild turtles to swim with- snorkel with. I didn’t have my PADI yet.

I finally got out of bed around 8:00. I first went to the dining room so I could begin charging my things. I’m staying at an eco-friendly resort, Tinaoog Beach Resort. Everything is solar powered and we can only charge in the daytime, water is limited and we use a compost toilet. There’s also no AC, thus a fan and mosquito net around my bed. I really don’t mind it. I kind of miss the sprayer for my butt though- the ‘Asian bidet’. As I was saying, I head down to breakfast and charge my things. I had sunny side up eggs (2) paired with toast and jelly. I actually think it might’ve been apple butter.
I leave my things to charge and run back to my room to change and get ready for the day. I am like the only guest here- if there are others, my things are safe. The boat will arrive at 9:00 sharp and we won’t return again until lunch- and it will be quick. I have 15 minutes to get my things and change. I’m already so excited for the day and I don’t even know just how magical it is about to be!

First stop: the pool

My captain knows Kristin, the blogger I follow. I am here because I read about her experience at this same resort. I only know about this island because of her blog. She recommended staying at this resort and apparently she also had him as her boat captain. I tell him this is how I found out about the place and he naturally takes me where he took her. First stop the island ‘pool’… I’m not quite sure what to expect when he says we will go to the pool. Am I just going to another resort or local pool? The tide was high and the wakes were very rough- I don’t mind, just worth mentioning. We make it to an island and my captain begins to reposition the boat. He decides to anchor and tie up to a rock. This made it quite difficult to disembark. I eventually manage, with lots of help from him (it’s only the 2 of us), and a few steps later I see it. He brought me to a private lagoon! It is all natural and somehow no one is else is here. He tells me not to stand in the pool because there are urchins. Then we look around and don’t see any. I stand on a nearby underwater rock because otherwise my head would be under. Then he offers to take my pictures. He took pictures for Kristin too- he boasted. I saw her pictures, she has the same camera as me. Ok, that’s not entirely true, she has the higher more complicated version. However, my setting make my camera a little more advanced than a point and shoot. In fact, that’s no longer an option, even in auto to not have to manually focus. He manages 1 good one and I’m happy. I would’ve liked to show him but the sun was too bright to use the LCD screen and it’s too difficult to explain otherwise.

floating in the "pool", a private natural lagoon

I stay here a little longer floating in the turquoise warm water. It was so relaxing I didn’t really want to go to the next island. Then a family of 4 appeared. I assume a husband, wife and two sisters. They were all the same age. We talk a little and they take their own pictures before I get out. Then my guide says the magic word: “turtles?” YES!! He doesn’t speak much English- but he knew the magic word. I’m a little unsure of how he will know where the turtles are. I figure they have the entire ocean and they probably also move based on the day and the weather… etc. Regardless, he got it right! Just as I started questioning him aloud how he knew where they were, a large turtle appeared on the surface for air. I was so excited!! We were now near the banks of Cobrador Island.

My toes have blisters from snorkeling yesterday. I wore fins for the first time on this trip and both second toes (the one closest to my big toe) on each foot have a blister right at the nail bed. I wear them still because I worry about the coral and urchins and know they’ll protect my feet. I spray some sunscreen on my legs and back. I mostly focused on my butt because my new bikini is a bit cheekier than my others. My butt is already pink from yesterday’s hours of snorkeling. I need to protect my skin more today, because I am opting out of wearing my life vest in the water. Yesterday it proved to be a nuisance. He instructed me to swim along the shore and then to go out deep- that’s how you’ll find them. After spotting the one earlier we had to dock to shore- I couldn’t remember where exactly that one was or in what direction it was headed. I followed his instruction and I found them.

Swimming with Sea Turtles

First I found a baby sea turtle accompanied by a bigger one. Truly, it’s not a baby I’m just calling it that because it’s half the size of the larger ones I found. Not like a tiny baby you see when they run to the water after hatching. The small ones were the size of a nightstand and the big ones were the size of a coffee table. I found 3 babies: 2 small and 1 medium and then 4 of what I call the ‘big’ ones- they’re very large. I was just talking to my captain/guide and he told me there are 7 turtles total that frequent that area. I guess I saw them all. I know I saw 5 at once so it’s not as if I kept seeing the same 2 or something. I also noticed a few differences in the shells. The big one in my video I swam with is from Malaysia- I wouldn’t have known if Kaen didn’t tell me this. I have since learned they are called Hawkbill Sea Turtles and are protected, they are the most critically endangered turtle species. There were 7 total where I was swimming.

I must have swam for hours with those sea turtles. I almost forgot I wasn’t using a life vest- it felt just like I had been and I struggle to go under water. Those little turtles continued to lead me over the edge and the big ones would swim with me more for short periods of time when they’d take breaks from chomping on seagrass. You could hear the chomping. I loved being with them and watching how they moved. It was fascinating to see them so close. They’d eat, swim, glide and dive… rinse and repeat. It was continuous. I learned to just hover until they’d come up to swim with me. The Malaysian one would always take a couple looks at me and then get closer. Not in a harmful way, just too close for me to swim while trying to not touch it! Still I managed and couldn’t take my eyes off it. It’s hard to say what I enjoyed more- sleeping with the elephants in Chiang Mai (alone- just me and the 2 of them) or swimming with these turtles (alone- just me and 7 of them).
Where the turtles grazed was mainly sand and grass, but closer to the shore was coral, and between these two spaces were other sea creatures. There were dark periwinkle colored starfish and the black spiky sea urchins. I wanted to get close to the urchins but from what I’ve learned from Hollywood, they’re deadly. I kept my distance and floated steadily above. I could see neon colors in the center passed the needles. I guess it was the body of the urchin, or maybe the eye, one would have a neon blue center and another would be pink- it was like a light, so bright! I doubt the GoPro captured the details for either but I’ll have a look still when I have the broadband needed to upload. I started to hear other people around me, locals were coming out to fish and children came to see the turtles. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… I had enough time with them (not really). I wanted to let the others enjoy them, too. As it turns out, the children just wanted to talk to me. They followed me to my boat talking to me the whole time- Kaen lifted the anchor and tried to row far enough for the motor to be lowered. The motor was on and only then did the kids return to the waters with the turtles- funny how that works.

Fish bone after finishing lunch

I would love to go back there tomorrow; it was now 13:00- time to head to the resort for lunch. I have all 3 meals here each day. The only one I choose is breakfast. All the meals have been wonderfully delicious and fresh though. For lunch I just asked for something light- it was fresh tuna. The tuna was perfectly cooked and served with shaved carrots and olives as well as a vegetable like salad. I noticed and appreciated the efforts and resourcefulness of the cooks- based on the things I left on my plate from the same sort of salad at yesterday’s lunch, they omitted the vegetables I didn’t eat and gave me extras of the ones I did eat. Today I gobbled it up- it was delicious and I had an appetite.

Last stop: The sandbar

I didn’t see Kaen, so I quickly went to my room to use the restroom and to look at my butt- it was burnt. It hurts a little just to sit. I changed bathing suits to a bottom with more coverage. I hope I won’t peel. My boat was back to pick me up, and off we went, to check out the white sand beach and see the sandbar. He asked if I wanted to snorkel some more but I was so set on seeing this sand bar I asked to head there first. And that’s where this whole entry began. As I was waiting for the low tide I sat and began what I thought were just notes I’d return to in a week. I’m still working on my entry from Halong Bay and have a couple more before this, in the chronological sense but I couldn’t lose the details I noticed as the Earth was breathing beside me- I felt more connected than ever to Mother Nature.

Previous days on Paradise

Breakfast spread; eggs and toast with jam and apple butter.' a side of watermelon slices and hot tea.

Yesterday, day 53 of my South East Asian vacation, I stayed at the resort. I had my eggs and toast for breakfast after having a great night’s sleep. It was my first full day on the island- I arrived late the night before. I was exhausted from the fiasco on Tablas (an entry of its own) and fell right to sleep. No rats were heard that night. After breakfast I took my time to get ready and figure out what I’d do- I was charging all my devices. They were all dead or on the verge of it; my phone was completely off. Around 11:00 I decided to snorkel. I grabbed some gear and began right off the shore of the resort. As I was kicking the fins and trying to adjust my mask and set up for the day I was already above a fascinating creature. Of course I hadn’t known until I put my face down.
An octopus! This close to the shore and I found a camouflaged octopus. The way they move about the bottom of the sea floor is pretty magical, too. It was the only one I’d see that day as well as today. I can’t say I was really looking today- I was with the turtles for crying out loud! I think I’ll find myself snorkeling again tomorrow. I’d love to go see the turtles. I ventured a lot further than our shoreline here. I went around the rock formation barrier, passed 2 small little beaches all the way to a little beach village, the third beach. I took so many videos and swam with huge schools of fish. I stayed out for about 2 hours. When I started in the morning it was high tide and by the end we had a beach 3 times the size that I’d left. I knew because my belongings were so much farther from the water than where I’d left them, yet it was still just as close to the swing so no one moved it. I knew it was the tide and with all the coral I needed to get out or it would be more difficult- if that wasn’t enough to get me out than perhaps the amount of pruning my body was undergoing was.

I laid on the beach for a little but the heat was so much and I felt like I was burning; I didn’t last long there. I went to the kitchen to talk and chat about hiring a private boat. That’s when I discovered a book in English. They have about 12 books left behind from other travelers- only 1 is in English. I can’t remember the name, the sleeve was taken off. I stayed in the shade with a fan running and I read; I also wrote about Vietnam and tried to edit photos of Ninh Binh. Lightroom allowed me to do about 4 pictures before it decided I didn’t have enough data or broadband.
I’m still unsure of what I’ll do tomorrow- I’d love to see the turtles again or maybe try SCUBA diving. Either way, I’m trying to catch a sunrise! I’m going to write until my battery is fully charged and then I’m going to my room to shower and read. I just finished dinner, it was delicious as per usual. It started with creamy pumpkin soup paired with a homemade baguette toasted with butter and garlic. The main course was tuna and some amazing whipped potatoes, I asked for seconds. This was paired with one of those vegetable salads again. Then I had watermelon to finish the meal. Oh yeah, I had fresh mango juice when I arrived back right around sunset, before dinner was prepared. Everything here is so simple and perfect. I think it’s raining now. The simplicity of this place really makes me enjoy the World for what it is- every part of it and all the encounters within.

DAY 55, 6/6.
Today I woke up for the sunrise. I immediately hopped out of bed to see the sky. It was pink and blue with wispy white clouds. Turns out I’m facing south west. I’m so close to being able to catch the sunset and not nearly close enough to see it rise- bummer. I kept my windows open and watched the view as I dozed off again.
I didn’t hear the rats too much last night, but it was confirmed. The housekeeper told a German girl who’d checked in yesterday afternoon that rats… excuse me, a muskrat, had eaten a hole into her suitcase. Turns out she was in the room that shares a bamboo wall- about 9ft tall, with me. We were under the same roof: 1 bungalow, 2 rooms with a divider that didn’t go but halfway to the pointed ceiling. The hosts here told us the rats have become a problem only in this last month. I didn’t say anything.
This had me a bit worried, I’d need to check my bags too. At least, I unpacked everything into the armoire when I’d arrived. The rats wouldn’t really have a reason to want to get in my bag. I stayed in the dining room late- writing and charging my phone. When the girl and her 2 friends went back to their room I heard screaming followed by laughter. I assume it was a rat.
When I finally went into my room that night- I left the front door open, turned on all the lights, took off my flip flops and stood on the bed; I threw each flip flop individually at the corner my bag was nestled in. No scatters heard or rats seen. The three people next to me were playing games and being a little rowdy. I welcomed this, just so long as it scared the rats out of the hut entirely and not just to my side. I noticed new rat poop in my bathroom that wasn’t there earlier that afternoon. In the end, as long as I don’t see them, I’ll be ok. They’ve been frequent thus far in all of my travels in Asia. I see them often in the restaurants, quite honestly… and I still eat the food. For all I know I could have been served rat at some point on this trip- I just don’t want to be clawed by one or have one in my bed with me. Just the thought gives me the heevie jeevies.

Anyhow, I came to breakfast at 8. I had my usual. This time I ordered a side of fruit. They gave me a bowl of papaya, watermelon, and banana; it was a great combination! I stayed and wrote some more- as I am now. Once my phone was charged I moved to the basket hammocks I spotted on my way to the dining room. They were nicely shaded. Eventually the sun rose higher in the sky and the shade betrayed me, exposing me to the sun. I retreated to my room to continue writing. I stayed there until 13:23. I wrote the entry about my nightmare in Tablas- finally being able to comprehend the day. Then I came out for lunch.
I think the people next to me left after breakfast. It sounded like the housekeeper was cleaning their room entirely. They told me last night in the dining room that they’d only come for a day; they wanted to see turtles but had no luck. I showed them my video and told them the whereabouts to where I’d found them. I didn’t know the islands name at the time, but roughly some landmarks nearby- I also told them Luc would know the island name. Luc and his wife own this resort, they live here with their 2 daughters. The other guests spoke to him and this morning at breakfast they confirmed finding 3 turtles. I knew they were happy. They got to see two of the giant ones.

More Tuna & a Massage
I just finished up lunch- tuna, again. It has been prepared differently each time- I enjoy it still. I hope I get another fresh tuna steak tomorrow before I leave the island. I’ve been avoiding the water today. I have been burnt 2 days in a row, both days on my entire backside. It looks like its tan but my butt is definitely pink- that’s really the only part that hurts, so maybe it’s the only part burnt. I still don’t want to chance it without sunscreen. There are no nearby stores. The massage therapist I’d scheduled for tomorrow is here massaging someone else. She asked if I wanted mine today. I think it’s a good idea. I pulled a muscle in my left shoulder yesterday swimming. I also pulled something in my right foot. I told her about my burn and she offered to rub fresh aloe over me at the end of the massage. Sounds like a plan to me- I’m just waiting now.
I’ll continue reading the book I found, it’s called: Blue Lorries. I was only 2 pages deep when the therapist came for me. She said we would have the massage in my room. I took her there. She prepared my bed. I pointed out my sunburn and she said if it hurt we could do a different technique. This wasn’t the best massage I’d have but I’d place it second to the one from Boracay; that one will be hard to beat. I’m still pondering the obsession people have with Thailand. When it comes to land, I choose Vietnam… well and the Philippines but the difficulty of getting place to place makes it easy to understand why it’s not typically included in the backpackers route. Massages hands down are best in the Philippines. They use the time allotted in the most efficient ways. I feel like I’m getting much more than an hour. Even after it ends I want more. Like the Thai people, the philippines also climb on the bed and use their weight. They bend your limbs, too but never uncomfortably.

I could’ve cur… I DID curse the sandbar as I walked across bare feet yesterday. When the therapist dug her nails into the bottoms of me feet it felt similar but with the reflexology type of benefits. If only I could’ve thought of the shells having the same effect. Nope, not possible. I’m buying water shoes as soon as I can. It is as essential as a fan in Vietnam and Cambodia and I have a bunch more beach countries to come- necessary. Ahhh, It felt so nice to have my feet rubbed. The tops were sore, too, from the flippers. She was careful not to touch the blisters on the second toes- they’re raw now.
After my fabulous massage we went to my porch and she rubbed fresh aloe over the entire back of my body. By tomorrow the burns should be better. I avoided the sun all day. I plan to catch the sunset in just a few minutes. Tomorrow I might snorkel in the morning. I need to arrange my boat to Romblon, Romblon and payments tonight. I’ve absolutely loved the simple life I’ve had these past 4 days. I did a lot of thinking, reflecting, and connecting.
I just watched the sunset. I climbed to the other side of the same rock formation I swam around the first day. The sun hid behind another island as it set. The clouds were in abundance so instead of an orange sky and a half circle over the horizon like the sunsets in Boracay, I had pink fluffy clouds above and reflective pink waters below. I sat on the edge of the cliff. Technically it’s a diving cliff but it’s low tide and I don’t dare. I might do it tomorrow while I snorkel and the tide is high.
Dinner will be served in an hour and I want to read more. I know now, with snorkeling tomorrow, I will not finish this book. I’ll just move the bookmark I found inside a little further along from where I’d found it. It’s a funny bookmaker. It days “cliffhangers are so …”

DAY 56, 6/7
Dinner was food as usual. I stayed very late so I could discuss payment and I was even able to miraculously have service. I paid my bill through PayPal. If I didn’t have enough service for internet my sister agreed to pay and I would Venmo her when I had service. I learned that night that they offered WiFi, it is an added fee I was not aware of. I am happy I found this out the last day. I’ve always enjoyed being disconnected from the noise.
After dinner I went to sleep. It rained hard last night. It sounded like I was in a tranquil rainforest. It was the perfect white noise machine. It was exuberant in sound and then I also had a single, slow drip sound- maybe from the shower. A little fire crackle and thunder in the distance and it would’ve literally been the tune I created on my white noise app. I fell asleep so quickly. I slept very well.

My last day, time with my favorite local.

I haven’t had any more issues with rats. Not here. I went to breakfast with a plan. It was just after 08:00. My plan: I would eat and begin snorkeling around 09:00, swim beyond the village to find the red starfish, come back around 12:00 or 13:00 (I predicted the time it would take to swim), then have lunch, shower, pack and be ready for the 17:30 boat. That was the plan- and this is what happened: breakfast at 08:00, read a little. I went to the water and found Luc. I asked him some questions about the places I’d visited for THIS WRITE UP and how to get to Manila by bus. THEN MAYA KIDNAPPED ME.
She first spotted both shoulders on my back and began to examine my body. She had just come out of the water and stripped her clothes off. She was naked. I let her move my shirt as she looked for more tattoos. She even peeked down the front- I didn’t stop her, I didn’t want her to feel exposed. No harm done but she only found 2 of my 4 tattoos.
After this we were friends. She grabbed my hand and asked me to help her find ‘the eggs’. The eggs were in the coconut trees, the small bushes, and the garden beds with the red ants. I don’t know how she was avoiding the stings and the bites. They were getting me! The eggs were nuts from another tree near the coconut trees. They were all over. We kept calling them eggs and counting how many we had- more than 30.
I didn’t know if we would ever find enough. I wanted to swim with her. She loves to swim. She swims every morning while I eat and then says “good morning, I love swimming!” each time she sees me. I couldn’t convince her; she was on a mission to get ALL the eggs. We kept looking, she even began to dig… no more.
I showed her my GoPro and she selected videos to watch. She recognized the yellow boat, “Kaen!” and she loved the turtles. Then she wanted to film her eggs- she was so silly. Eventually her dad, Luc, came back and she was immediately convinced to swim. So we went in together. She had her floaty and I swam beside her. She filmed a little but then wanted to play a game of drowning. I did not like this game- I was worried. It turns out she’s quite the swimmer AND she can stand! She tricked me. I enjoy spending time with her; she is 3. My niece is turning 3 next month. She kind of reminds me of her except this girl is more used to strangers than my niece. My niece wouldn’t dare stay with a stranger if my sister left.
We played until 10:00. Her mom arrived on a boat with fresh ingredients for more meals. She ran to her and I hurried to return my things to my room and grab my snorkel gear. She didn’t care if I left her now. I swam all the way to the village but not far beyond. There were plenty of red starfish just there- they’re all over the sea floor. I got some pictures and swam over the colorful coral until my SD card was full. I asked a man on a boat for the time but he had no watch. I figured it might be late and I needed to swim against the current around the jutted rock. This was quite a feat and I was ready. I swam hard, I made it. I kept seeing what looked like cling wrap trash floating on the surface. I saw 2 already and couldn’t figure out why there would be this much. I didn’t see it the previous days. I looked closer- It was tiny little jellyfish clustered (plankton?). That would explain the minor stinging I’d feel every so often. It didn’t hurt. I knew I’d smelled them at sunset yesterday. I swam back to the resort and there was a big group of people stopping just to eat. I couldn’t find Maya now, perhaps she was napping.

Maya warmed up to me quickly. I’m sure this is her everyday life- people coming and going. She might take after her family in the business someday. Her sweet ‘good mornings’ and ‘good nights’ will be missed. She even hugs me 3 times before she lets me go with a kiss to the yellow boat. I leave with Kaen as he drops me and another couple from the resort off to Romblon pier to catch our ferry. After snorkeling I lounged around, reading and napping in the hammock.
I’m at the little bistro now, next to the Romblon pier. I ordered a Hawaiian burger. It may take all the time to make. I’m supposed to check-in to the ferry at 19:00; it boards at 20:00. It is currently 18:43. While Luc and I were chatting this morning we spotted a ferry. “If it is the 2go ferry it will be 3 hours late to the rest of the routes for the day” he told me. 

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