Pandan countryside escape

10 Dec

Tasting the real Philippines

There’s only so much of a tourist island one can cope with – no matter how white & turquoise the beach & sea are – no matter how breathtaking the sunsets… So after 2 weeks of Boracay paradise I felt it was time for a change. Why not hop over to the main island (Panay) next door? Except that there’s nothing to do… and maybe that’s exactly what I went to do there.

  • A nice change from the hustle & bustle of Boracay, with massage, fruit, shake, boat trip & souvenir vendors at every corner.

Another island is only a hop away

The omnipresent bangka boats

There’s the traditional bangka boats shuttling between Boracay island and Caticlan on Panay island. Getting onto a boat is a bit of a hassle though. Getting off it on the other side too (but more about that later).

To get on a boat: first you need to buy a ticket (ridiculously cheap: 25 Pesos=40 Eurocent), then you need to shove through to the next ticket window and pay an environment fee (only 50 Pesos – fair enough). But that’s not all. You are then requested to queue up at yet another window to pay your terminal fee (another 50 Pesos).

  • I wonder how many years it will take them to realise that they could actually sell one all-in ticket? That would save on paper, hassle, queuing time and people in aquariums (ticket boots) – but maybe it’s just a clever employment scheme?

And what would be the point of buying all the tickets & fees if nobody would check them? So another 5 meters further there’s a woman checking your terminal/environment fee tickets. Of course there is the omnipresent guards (like in any mall, theatre, restaurant, hotel,…) pretending to check your bag and giving your back & front a quick caress.

Island hopping

At the boat, you need to show the boat ticket again, which you just stowed away to be ready to walk over the wobbly unsecured plank to the boat. So instead you don’t only have your luggage to carry, but also your hands full of tickets… Great!

The good thing though is that the boats leave as soon as they’re full – and that’s quite quick in (almost) high season. You’re sort of obliged to wear a life-jacket but nobody really does. At the terminal you had to put your name in a register (another step in the process!), so if a boat would perish, they would know you’re amongst the ‘lucky ones’ anyway.

A few buses per day only

Arriving on the other side is an obstacle course trying to dodge all the people chasing you for your custom. Tricycles offering their services, vans going to about anywhere, restaurants and shops nagging you brainless with their “Buy SIR”… And despite big signs pointing in the wrong direction and asking 5 different people with different opinions on where to take the bus, I did manage to find the right bus stand.

Penetrating the real Philippines

Unfinished roads, unbeaten tracks

I had booked myself a bungalow in a beach resort, the only accommodation in the area that had a website apparently (so that limited options). The road description how to get there was one and a half page long, so I suppose you could say it was off the beaten track. I had to take a specific bus (40 Peso for the 1 hour drive) and ask to drop me off at the crossing near the hospital. Then take a tricycle or jeepney for another hour along a road that was under construction, which did not only mean banging my head against the roof of the tricycle because of all the bumps, but also kamikaze confrontations with cars coming from the opposite directions, sharing the same half of road that was finished.

Private beach, peace & quiet

But I did arrive in one piece, and they only moderately ripped me off. The beach resort was not really what would jump to my mind when hearing the word ‘resort’. It was a collection of concrete buildings with some bamboo or straw trimmings. There was a beach though, as good as private if you don’t consider the passing fishermen or neighbours’ children plunging in the waves. I would do my laps (swimming out and back and out and back and…) and had the sea all to myself. Sooo peaceful.

My little bungalow

Less peaceful were the owners of the resort: a Filipina-Austrian couple. The Austrian husband had the tendency to get drunk and discusses politics with the American neighbour. They started convincing others that there is no global warming at all: “it’s just a fable created by the solar & wind energy companies!” At that stage, I wisely retired to my cottage…

The Filipina wife was not alcoholic, but she was suffering of motherhood combined with the absence of a volume switch on her body (she was extreme loud). They had a baby girl, spoiled rotten, and the mother would parade her as if she were a monkey: “Shake hands with Tony”, “Say hello to Tony”, etc. Too much. Especially when she does the same tricks permanently with all the guests, in a voice which easily covers the resort. Too loud for my ear drums…

  • So maybe Boracay was not so bad after all…

Going down town, getting down to work

The internet café that cares for its customers...

The Pandan trip collided with the freelance copywriter job that I got from Belgium (more here). So on one of the days I would need to revise a bit the work I’d done and send it off. The only little obstacle was that the ‘beach resort’ did not have any internet (even though they told me it would be possible to go online). So I had to venture into town to the local Internet café.

I arrived relatively early (as I was dropped off by the driver of the resort on his way to the airport for new arrivals) and I get going: checking my emails, revising, a bit of surfing,… I worked more or less 4 hours (nothing abnormal I would say) and that’s when the owner of the cybercafé came to check on me with a cup of coffee and crackers (on the house!) because, poor me, I did not have lunch yet. Soooo sweet.

  • Obviously, lunch is not something to miss in the Philippines (countryside ;-)

Simply unique... Halo halo

So when I finished my work and my coffee, I asked the owner if she would know a nice place to eat? She even walked me down the market street to recommend me a few local little restaurants. Once was all pink and bamboo – so I just had to try that one. The meny was simple but varied. For a less than 2 Euro, I got one big dish of veg & chicken noodles, a coke and the lovely local speciality: Halo Halo –something you have to try!

  • Halo Halo is a desert with shaved ice, topped with red beans, jelly, cornflakes, tapioca, coconut, sweet potato, banana, tarot, marshmallows and a scoop of purple icecream on top, mmmm. Divine!

Quaint little town

Quaint little town of Pandan

It was nice just to wander through the little town (village), so see what the real Filipino life is like. Streets lined with flowers and trees. Roosters preciously kept in cages for the cock-fights. Not a building in sight, but still a ‘Franks & Burgers’ fastfood stall was deeply rooted there in the countryside.

And walking past the school, there was a group of girls hanging out. When I walked past them, I stirred quite a commotion. One of the braver 7 year olds, shouted over to me that her friend liked me, indicating my nose. Hm, where does this notion come from? Would I tell a black or Asian woman or man ‘you’re beautiful’ when I was 7 years old?

  • It’s a different culture after all ;-) luckily

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