What I Saw:
IN PHOTOGRAPHS: Apo Island
How I Did It:
Download Itinerary and Budget
What I Listened To:
PLAYLIST: Apo Island
Technically, Dumaguete was not my first stop this year (I went to Boracay in January, but I had gone pretty much every year for the last 18 years, so there’s nothing new about that), but in terms of my backpacking journey and me exploring more of The Philippines, Dumaguete is where it all started. I went on an impulsive solo trip to Siquijor (my first fully solo trip as well) at the end of March, during Holy Week, to celebrate my birthday in early April. That trip came with much questioning from my parents, because it all did come out of left field, but I felt like I needed to do it for myself, because I had a lot of independence and self-discovery that I needed to learn.
Considering my personal goals, the trip was a success, and it was then that I was pretty sure that I had caught the backpacking bug. I think it has become clear to those of you that have followed my journey (not that I think that there are much of you) that I did fall in love with ceremonies of backpacking and the places that it had brought me to. Since then, I’d sworn off my yearly Boracay trips, and have visited more unique places in one year than I’ve ever been to in any other year earlier.
As fate would have it, I was gifted by one of my best friends with a round-trip ticket to Dumaguete for the end of the year. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my year of traveling, exploration, and thrillionaire-ing (my first of many, I assure you) was about to come to a close, and full-circle.
Along the way, I had also fallen in love with being underwater, thanks to Malapascua and Palawan. There’s still a lot of ground to cover, so to speak, and it seems like seeing more of what’s down there is something that I plan to pursue further. And Apo Island, being just a couple of hours away from Dumaguete, seemed like the obvious destination to round out my year.
So there I went, back to where I began, to dive deeper into a newly discovered love.
The trip was short, but very sweet. For most backpackers, Apo Island would be a day trip, because it is quite small, and there isn’t much else to do besides hang out in the sea. Nevertheless, I spent all the time I had for Dumaguete in Apo Island, just to take it all in.
This time around, my personal goals were simpler: to sight some turtles, and to just enjoy! Emotionally, I was calmer, lighter, and more certain about my situation than I was the last time I was there, so I went with much more clarity. It was easier for me to just flow with things, not plan so much, and let things happen. Unlike all the other trips I made this year, I wanted my last trip to be unscheduled, unruled by itinerary, unhurried, and unworried. And it was.
Truth be told, I made no arrangements for it until exactly the day before. And even then, all I did was send an e-mail to the resort that I meant to stay in to reserve a dorm bed, and pack halfway through my 35-liter backpack. It looks like I really am learning the principle of “f**k it and go; pack it and go,” because this was the lightest I had ever packed.
HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to Apo Island is fairly easy. From Dumaguete town, find your way to the Zamboaguita bus terminal. If you are coming from the airport, like I was, you can be sure that the tricycle drivers that you will find at the airport will ask if you are on your way to the Malatapay boat port (which you are), and insist that they take you there themselves. Do not fall for this; they will charge you P500. A tricycle ride from the airport to the bus terminal should only cost at most P150.
From there, take a Ceres bus to the Malatapay boat port. The 30-minute ride costs about P25. It can get quite crowded, and make sure that the conductor lets you know when it’s time for you to get off; he almost forgot to tell me. Taking a jeepney from town is also an option (I took one on the way back from Malatapay to Dumaguete, for P20).
When you get off the bus (or jeep), cross the street and walk along the road with the wooden huts until you get to the coast. Approach the lady at the desk (take note: nothing here looks official, so any desk with a lady shuffling papers, tickets, and money bills would be it), and buy yourself a boat ticket to Apo Island. Each way should be P300.
WHERE TO STAY
Apo Island is a tiny island. It is 2 kilometers long, and 1 kilometer across. Very cute! From what it looks like, there might be only two resorts on the entire island.
Liberty Lodge and Dive Resort
Between the two, Liberty’s would be the more approachable resort. Their rooms are more budget-friendly, and they have accommodations for backpackers (read: dorm beds), but you’d have to be ready to kind of rough it. Electricity on the island is available for only so many hours a day, and if you can imagine, its plumbing features is quite limited.
However, the great thing about it is, for P900/night (which was the going rate for a dorm bed space) your breakfast, lunch, and dinner are on the house! The same goes for all accommodation options, regardless of room size.
Apo Island Resort
Situated in a relatively hidden cove at the tip of this tiny island, the Apo Island Resort would definitely be the more private resort between the two. Although it is just as affordable to stay there (P800 for a dorm bed), they do not specify whether or not their rates come with meals. However, their beachfront is much less crowded, slightly less accessible (boats don’t normally dock there), and more quiet.
WHAT TO DO
Like I said earlier, there isn’t much else to do on Apo Island besides go underwater. There is a lighthouse that you can hike up to, but other than that, it’s really just diving.
But, wow, the life down there is amazing!
The Apo Reef is a marine sanctuary, and is actively preserved. An entry permit of about P100/person is paid especially for its maintenance. A certain section of it is cordoned off, and you are only allowed access to it with the assistance of a snorkelling guide. To hire one is P300, and although I would love more than anything to contribute to the preservation of the island, I found that you don’t really need to hire one: the surrounding, unrestricted area is just as good for diving. The sea creatures are not limited to the restricted area alone; they are free to roam anywhere they please. Apart from the usual corals, sea cucumbers, urchins, and fish, I found different varieties of sea snakes, and moray eels. Amazing!
The Sea Turtles
I went to Apo Reef really to find sea turtles, or in the local language, the pawikan. I left Coron with a heavy heart when I failed to find any there when I went in September, so the pressure was on for Apo. I was just not going to leave until I found one.
The one whole day that I had on the island, I dedicated to “hunting” them down. I had slathered on all the sunblock I could manage on my back, because I was not going to turn over until I found at least one.
On my first attempt, early in the morning, I found everything else but the turtles. The snakes and the moray eels made appearances, but not my pawikan. I heard stories from the divers that I had met that they spotted between two to four big ones during their dives, which made me seething with jealousy and more determined to see them. I had gathered all the information that I could get: where they were spotted, and at which best times. I was told that they would be somewhere by the preserved area — likely inside, but there was a good chance I’d find one grazing outside it as well, at around lunch time. Noted, with thanks.
After an hour and a few shades of brown later, I took a break. I rehydrated, applied another layer of sunblock, and went back down at noon, when they said it would be ideal. I swam up and down along the short coastline, my mask constantly defogged, my snorkel regularly cleared, my eyes and my camera on high alert for the majestic creatures.
Forty-five minutes in, and still no luck. Just when I was about to give up, I chanced on a glance to my left, and there it was: it’s gorgeous round head munching at the sea grass, and floating tessellated shield of a back — a green sea turtle!
It probably wouldn’t make sense for me to say that I stopped in the middle of my tracks afloat in the water, but that is exactly what I did. I gasped through my snorkel and choked on some saltwater along the way. I was once a competitive swimmer, but I scrambled towards it like a drowning dog. When you finally spot an underwater celebrity, you don’t really care. I hadn’t felt this way since I chatted up Este Haim from the other side of a metal fence at Laneway. I just could not contain myself!
Burned back be damned; I spent another half hour just admiring the turtle — Torta La Tortuga, as I’ve named it, as a symbolism of my affinity for it — taking its photos, watching its every move. I managed to witness it swimming up to the surface a couple of times to take breaths of air. It moved so gracefully, so effortlessly, and with so much nonchalance. I could not believe my eyes. I watched it with the same wonder that I would a baby being born, or how I would listen to a jazz overture: with all the awe I had the capacity for. Graceful, elegant and carefree, in its natural state — I suppose this is the very definition of beauty, isn’t it?
I could not think of a better way to cap off my year of travel. The year is over, but I am not, at least as far as exploring is concerned; if anything, this was enough to seal that I’ve only begun. The leaps I’ve taken this year were many, and I have had absolutely no reason to regret any of it. If anything, the best decision I made this year was to change everything I didn’t like about my previous life.
I quit my job, a previous lifestyle, and everything that in entailed (whether it was being stuck either along EDSA or in front of a computer) in favor of investing in experiences, because I felt like I was missing out on so much on life! The sunrise over the temples of Bagan; the witches of Siquijor; the friends I made in Malapascua and Siargao; the secret spots of Leyte; the lagoons and typhoon-proof houses in Coron; the ruins of Manila; and now the sunset and the turtles of Apo Island — they have all been worth it.
So, do I apologize for any of the crazy decisions I’ve made this year?
Onward with the adventures!