Darling it's better, down where it's wetter...
Trip Start Dec 21, 2010
18Trip End Feb 05, 2011
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Aaaah, now this is what it's all about, one of the most anticipated locations of our whole trip: tiny Apo Island, 7km off the coast of Negros. It's approximately 3km X 1km and has a population of around 800 people, mainly villagers.
We were met by 2 friendly boatmen sent by our hotel, Liberty's Lodge, who tucked our luggage into a waterproof compartment and, along with 3 locals, we were on our way! It was comparable to a small raft - quite a contrast to the big ferries in Thailand! The Bangka ride took about 45 minutes and was a little choppy and wet, but as there was no shade, quite refreshing.
Approaching Apo, you immediately see the main (coral) beach which has the island's only 2 hotels plus the back end of the village
The view from our room was pretty perfect: a little balcony overlooking the beach (we stayed directly above the dive shop), palm trees, boatmen and the crystal clear blue waters. Their is no aircon so the windows and doors were open 24/7 and it was rather nice falling asleep to the lapping waves, and waking up and the first thing you see is the blue sea disappearing over the horizon. Very poetic indeed! Only downside being waken up at 5am by a screaming baby next door, luckily they left after the first night day only to be replaced by a snorer that sounded like a dying buffalo...
That said, it felt like a privilege to be able to stay on Apo for 4 nights and meet so many locals and see how they live
Grace was the lovely 'office lady' with whom we had long chats to about how the village runs and how the locals live, so interesting. She was lovely and sent us the following SMS after we left (we had to draw cash and pay the driver on the mainland):
"Hehehe not 4 sure. Becos he wil b n a bg trouble hahaha. Thank also sir luke and maam jacqui. Hope to c u nxt time. We miss u both already:)"
All the ladies in the restaurant were great, not terribly efficient, although cooking without electricity for 25+ people can't be easy! Then there were the various cleaners, boatmen, dive shop helpers and sarong sellers (some of whom could definitely eat an apple through a tennis racket!)
Apo Island is how we imagine PhiPhi in Thailand was about 20 years ago: 1 or 2 locals setting up rooms to rent with little restaurants in their gardens, a handful of tiny shops selling drinks and sweets and a few ladies on the main beach selling t-shirts and sarongs out of big plastic bags. They were very cute ladies who run up to each arriving boat trying to sell their goods. We bought a few items over our time there as we really wanted to support them - they were not at all pushy like their Thai counterparts and one specific lady always shouted "la-ter Sir, la-ter Madam" each time we walked past with her gold tooth blinging in the sunlight. On that note, throughout Philippines we get referred to as Sir and Ma'am and each hotel greets us as 'Sir Luke' and 'Ma'am Jacqui' - think it shows the American influence from the ruling days as well as American TV nowadays. Definitely do not get called Sir Luke in the UK but will have a chat to Queenie (the real one) and see of she can sort that out! :) The staff all seem very honest and make an effort to remember your name and treat you more like a friend than a guest. People say the Philippines is one of the friendliest countries in the world and we could not agree more.
If you read the Dumaguete post you will remember the street kid who sang Justin Bieber to us? Well, it appears it's catching on as all the little kids on the island, and there are a lot (TVs and lights go out at 9pm), sang the exact same Justin Bieber song
So, the one of the reasons for coming to Apo was to finish our PADI scuba diving course (which we started in London) at one of the top 10 dive locations in the world. We had to wait a day before we could start so used that time to do some snorkelling, which Apo is also famous for as they have a protected 15,000-sq-m marine reserve and fish sanctuary which bans fishing and anchoring. The reefs right off the beach were stunning: 5 metres out and you had coral gardens, schools of fish and our favourite new friends, sea turtles! There are quite a few around the island and we had the chance to swim within a couple of metres of them. They weren't to bothered by us and we could swim right alongside them, almost touching them at times. They have beautiful patterns on their shells and cheeky little faces, very similar to the markings on a giraffe. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience and will not be forgotten in a hurry! Other sightings of note were a nest of anemones inhabited by about 100 nemos (clown fish) - they were very protective even going as far as trying to butt us away from their nest! It was amazing to see so many, so close, as the water was only about 2 metres deep at that point.
We both completed our PADI Open Water Scuba courses by the time we left which is a good thing to tick off the list and we hope to get a few more dives in before we head home as it's a lot easier and cheaper now that we are certified
Unfortunately, on our 2nd last day, a resident German gentleman who helps run Libertys' computers and is the general handyman saw me working on my laptop and asked if I was a 'computer expert'. I reluctantly mumbled that it 'depends'.... needless to say I spent the next 2 hours fixing his laptop and had to make 2/3 visits into their reception to fix another laptop. We were given free Internet access for our whole stay (yes, they don't have running water but they do have internet!) which was a nice gesture. He also started asking questions about re-doing their website... so who knows... he has my email address but I don't think the going rate in Philippine Pesos is much to write home about! If it was for the Apo community and not the hotel, well that would be a privilege.
All meals were inclusive so we ate at Liberty's 3 X a day
A small, struggling island with so much character and charm - definitely worth a visit, even if it's just for a snorkel/ dive and a quick island tour. We leave there hoping that tourism positively supports the locals, and in 10/ 20 years, the island will be a flourishing destination with a healthy village, not overcrowded with tourists and destroyed like much of Thailand. As they say themselves, "if the fish survive, Apo survives".