I t’s 21st December. Another travel day and I’m apprehensive. Travel days can be stressful, Armand and I tend to snap at each other when tired and our budget seems to take a battering.
Determined to take our time and make no rash decisions, we prepare to leave Bohol for Malapascua Island where we will spend Christmas. We will stick to our plan which is to:
Travel to Tagbilaran port in Bohol from Nuts Huts after breakfast by the same means as arrival – 0830 boat then flag a public bus.
Take a motorbike tricycle from the bus station, 15 minutes to the ferry terminal at Tagbilaran.
Catch the 1040am Oceanjet or 11am Supercat 2 hour ferry to Cebu.
Upon arrival at Cebu Pier 1, we will take a 4 minute taxi ride to the northern bus terminal.
There, take the first available Ceres coach to Maya, the port for Malapascua Island. It will take 6 hours by coach and we accept we will not make the last ferry to get onto Malapascua Island, but will stay in cheap accommodation at Maya port and go the island the next day.
Total travel cost £11. 50 each. Total travel time 11 hours to Maya.
All is well. A pleasant start to the trip all the way to Cebu, which we reach at 1.30pm. We start to negotiate the price for the 4 minute trip to the bus terminal with the taxi drivers. They want us to pay them 3500 pesos (£50) and they will take us all the way to Maya. They say “It will only take 3 hours – you can catch the last ferry – the buses are too busy – it’ll take 8 hours – it’s the last Saturday before Christmas – everyone travelling – you will have to stand all the way on the bus – they stop many times – we go straight there”. I stand firm. No, stick to the plan. Try the coaches. We want the bus station. We can’t afford £50 for a private taxi when it’s only £3 by bus and I can’t believe they’d shave over 50% off the travel time as both vehicles are on the same busy, traffic jammed roads of Cebu.
We need cash and there’s a nearby cashpoint. I leave Armand with the bags to get some funds. When I return, Armand tells me that the price of a taxi to Maya is now 2500 pesos (£38). He believes the drivers – that we’ve hit the busiest day to travel before Christmas and he wants to get to Malapascua Island today. I repeat, that it’s too much, we must get the bus. Then in a true menopausal style, I hesitate, doubt my decision to stand firm and flounder. I can’t be sure what to do. My biggest challenge travelling as a mature woman is the menopause. My flagging hormone levels change me erratically from a confident, self assured woman into someone both Armand and I do not recognise. It catches me out. On certain random days, I can be irrationally sad or anxious or insecure. Today is the day. My vacillation causes me to stutter out to Armand, OK, if that’s what you want to do.
So we are in a private taxi to Maya. I feel sick at the unnecessary expense. We try so hard to stay within our £30 each daily budget, but seem to blow the budget out of the water when stressed on travel days. We sit silently. The car is hot. No Air con. It’s a heap of rubbish. I don’t have a handle to open my window. It’s been over an hour and we are still in the outskirts of the city, having spent much of the time on clogged roads. I watch the city pass by. Young kids are attempting to sell water to the drivers stuck in the traffic jam. It’s tough out there. Shacks and industrial buildings line the road.
We pass a Ceres coach, similar to one we were intending to take. It’s stopped for its half way courtesy break. It looks comfortable. It is new. It has air con. I conclude that I would be having a more comfortable, albeit slightly longer journey by bus for £1.50 rather than the current journey costing £19 each. Now and again we pick up speed and I fantasize that we will make that last ferry and as the sun sets I’ll be on a beach with a beer in hand. I curse my menopause, but accept my fate. We will not make Malapascua today, we will be £35 down in our budget and having to watching the pennies again this week to recover the extra costs. I turn to Armand and say that I think we should have taken the bus and I think it’s unlikely we’ll make the last ferry. He replies a little too vitriolically, “Well we have to live by our decisions”. That was unnecessary. Back to travelling in silence. Another typical travel day.
It’s 4pm. The driver has given us a good experience of third world driving, beep and overtake regardless, but there’s still a way to go. Armand bets me 200 pesos that we will make the ferry. I take the bet as I’ve read that the last ferry is at 430pm. He then asks the driver when the last ferries depart and the driver tells us there’s extra ferries laid on today at it’s approaching Christmas. Armand smiles. He’s such a lucky beggar. I still can’t believe we will make it. It’ll soon be dark.
At the ‘New Port’, we just miss the 5pm ferry, but we are told there is a final ferry at 6pm. There is a problem. If it does not have 15 paying passengers at 100 pesos each, we would be expected to pay more. If it’s just us, the full 1500 pesos, that’s over £20 when the fare should be £3. I’m exasperated. More unnecessary expense. I try to convince Armand to stay in this unremarkable port overnight and travel tomorrow as we had originally planned, but he’s headstrong and determined now to get to Malapascua tonight.
At the port there’s a local Filipino hostel owner, Jr and his ineffectual partner (who is absorbed in his phone for the entire time we are with him). Jr is also determined to get to the Island. We agree to share the cost, but time is not on our side. It’s approaching 630pm and the coastguard no longer agrees the crossing. JR, our Filipino saviour eats humble pie and begs the coastguard – it’s Christmas. We are given permission. Just as we are about to leave, a young German couple (whose bags didn’t arrive at the airport and so are late to Maya) arrive and join us. They have just paid 1200 pesos to get on board. The captain has made a killing. We are not offered a refund based on the fact that six of us should now be sharing the 1500 fee.
In pitch black we make the crossing by Banca boat in 45 minutes. It’s choppy. The boat beaches its self on Malapascua Island. I can’t believe we are here today. We sit and have a beer and a pizza on the beach. Using booking.com, we attempt to save money by booking a simple room, but it’s another expensive waste of money. It’s next to a disco. We hand back the key and walk straight out and back to the beach for another beer. We fork out more money to stay in a quiet beach front room. Hormones still low, I feel like crying. Whilst for some, this day might not seem particularly difficult, for me today it was. But surely this is it. Just one challenging and expensive day. Things must start looking up now we are here.
But things are not going to. It’s just the first day of a truly eventful and difficult 6 day trip to Malapascua Island.
I didn’t want ‘to do’ Christmas this year. I wanted to escape the traditional madness of that event.
I will get what I wish for. I won’t do Christmas. But I won’t escape madness either.