All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Work has been a good experience so far. But work is, well… work. I can see now why the desk job is not highly desired. Eight-hour days in front of a computer screen in an office with no windows leaves me feeling unmotivated and listless.

So, to combat the restlessness that often accompanies long hours, the FNRI and Human Nature interns took advantage of the three-day weekend and traveled south to Visayas to explore Puerto Galera.

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Getting to the island of Mindoro (no, not Mindanao) was a trying experience, riddled with the reality that tourists are targets for money-grubbing schemes. Before leaving for the trip, I had researched the costs of the hour-long ferry ride from Batangas, a southern port in Luzon, to Muelle Beach in Puerto Galera. Individual tickets are about 250 pesos each, with an additional terminal fee of 30 pesos – so 280 in total, or $5.50 in USD.

Upon arrival outside the ferry terminal, we were immediately hustled towards ticket booths by a young Filipino man named Ariel. With no clear proof that he was a real port employee, Ariel’s presence was dubious. Then, with six in our party, he told us the fare was 3,000 pesos. True to my miserly self, I told him that was the wrong price and that the cost should be 1,000 pesos (twenty dollars) less. He feigned a limited knowledge of English in order to avoid responding to our protests, maintaining a mantra of “3,000 ma’am. Total price.” After much insistence, Ariel caved. “2,000 then. Follow me.”

We were given our tickets and followed in, pressured for tips, and then given Ariel’s cell number to call for our future transportation needs. After he finally left, an older local approached me and admitted conspiratorially, “The young man should not be trusted, he will overcharge you. Call me instead if you need help on the way back.” He handed me a slip of paper bearing his number and name, smiled, and left us to wait for our ferry. Relieved by his laid back nature, I figured we would call him to arrange a car back to Manila. We later discovered that he was working with Ariel and splitting any profits made from arranging cars for tourists. Apparently the good cop, bad cop routine is not just limited to television.

Having finally left the gauntlet of people vying for tourists money, we stood in the crowded terminal waiting for our boat. I was not sure that we hadn’t been scammed into buying fake tickets, given that many groups waiting for ferry’s owned by the same company were still waiting for their 11 am ferry around 12:30. Additionally, all of our tickets were different colors and bore different layouts. I mentally prepared for a scenario in which we were forced to buy a new set of six tickets and to repeat the painful process over again.

Fortunately, the worst never came. We boarded the vivid blue and yellow Father and Son’s ferry without further obstacles.  The hour-long ferry ride was aesthetically lovely, with unobstructed views of lush tropical islands emerging from the shimmering ocean.

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We stopped first at White Beach, the most popular tourist destination on the island. Its appeal was undeniable. Innumerable palm trees and tropical flowering trees crowded up to brightly painted hotels and restaurants. Pristine white sand sloped down into awe-inducing aquamarine waters. The backdrop of the quaint town was an immense mountain swallowed by dense jungle foliage.

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After ten minutes more on the ferry we arrived at our beach and were bused to our hotel. The view from the hotel, truly a collection of apartments spilling down a steep hill, was phenomenal. And thus began two blissful days relaxing in Puerto Galera. My biggest concern was reapplying sunblock often enough (I did not).

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Our hotel was right on a private beach in a protected cove which was perfect for tide pooling at low tide. Among the various sea creatures inhabiting the small cove by our hotel were crabs, coral, jellyfish, both poisonous and friendly sea urchins, starfish, an electric blue sea snake (eeeep!), a lionfish, and a diversity of coral fish—a few of which looked just like Dory. There were many locals with their children tide pooling as well, hunting snails, crabs, and sea urchins for future meals.

In the evening, the sky transformed the bay outside our hotel, boasting one of the most dramatic and beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

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On top of tide pooling, we were able to swim, snorkel, and kayak. The snorkelling was lovely, as the water was calm and clear, allowing for fantastic visibility. All sorts of strange and exotic fish flitted past us, while vibrantly colored schools patrolled the reef. We were even able to feed the fish out of our hands with bread while underwater (admittedly, I thought the bread was for us at first and, famished, took a large bite out of the stale dinner roll).

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Our three days in Puerto Galera came to a close far too soon, evaporating in the hot sun. My mind concocted several possible excuses for why I couldn’t return to work on time—a typhoon delay or maybe a run-in with pirates. Convincing as the excuses were, I was forced to pocket them for a future excursion.

Returning to work was hard with memories of sea kayaking luring me to day dream rather than look at a monitor; however, I can’t deny how lucky I am to be able to see this new corner of the world, to spend any amount of time experiencing what the Philippines has to offer. Work is work is work, but this is a beautiful foreign country and not central Illinois….

And it’s like they say here: It’s more fun in the Philippines.

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