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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Sand & Selfies & Sharks

If there is anything I was NOT on the tiny island of Boracay, it was lazy. I walked everywhere.  Knee, be damned. If I was bored at all, I would just head out onto the sand highway to see what I could find.


I’d become quite fascinated with markets… wandering in and out of various stalls & shops, seeing what prices were offered and what unique pieces each vendor had. Most of it is pretty much exactly the same, but every once in a while, I'd stagger across something really uncommon… and worthy of a few pesos. I still haven’t grown accustomed to “Yes, Ma’am,” but one must make allowances. There are some things you just have to put up with… as grating as they are.


I also discovered the Hop On Hop Off Bus. Now this isn’t at all like those big red touristy buses you encounter in major cities all over the world. No. Nothing like them at all. The guides (or more appropriately, the staff) don’t give you any tidbits of information or history or advice as you roll along.


Nope.

Nothing.


The extent of their conversation is “Next stop, 15“… “Next stop 8.” That’s it. Sometimes they don’t even make it that far with conversation because they’re so enthralled in what’s going on in their phone.


And they take your money. Obviously.


Speaking of money, I have spent a LOT of it while I’ve been in the Philippines.  As soon as I’m back in Thailand, it’s time to hunker down. Hostels and street food only. I have 5 months left… at a budget now of approximately $1 per month.


It’s going to be a struggle.

Boracay has been forcing me to eat a lot. 


True story. 

There is just so much variety...


Although they say there are oodles of activities here on the island to choose from, most of them aren’t in my branch of recreational pursuit. I’m not a jet skier, nor am I a cliff jumper, a parasailer, a paddle boarder, a scuba diver, an avid snorkeller or a jet boater. Let’s blame it all on those evil, carnivorous beasts swimming around out there, with their beady little eyes... just waiting to take a nibble of me.


I’m really not much of a ‘beach’ person.

I try to be. 

I do.


In many scenarios, it is the ideal place for fun, reflection and escape. The beach is a place where people can go to forget the stress of everyday life. The beach is an enchanting backdrop for romantic escapades. Sit back, soak up the sun, watch the waves roll in... everyone loves the beach.


Meh...


Don’t get me wrong… I like the beach. I think it’s lovely with the waves, the relaxing sounds of the waves... and I’m even a fan of dramatic sunsets over evening seascapes.


That’s where my fascination ends though.


I don’t like the sand. I don’t like how it gets all over me and sticks to me like cement. It's abrasive and it ends up in places of my body that I never knew existed. I’m not even a fan of walking in sand. Especially sand on an angle. That's treacherous. Trying to put on clean shoes, all the while performing a strenuous balancing act and attempting to rid your feet of sand at the edge of the water, is probably, to me, one of life's most bothersome predicaments.


Bill Bryson couldn’t have said it any better in his book, Notes from a Small Island; “Much as I admire sand’s miraculous ability to be transformed into useful objects like glass and concrete, I am not a great fan of it in its natural state. To me, it is primarily a hostile barrier that stands between a parking lot and water. It blows in your face, gets in your sandwiches, swallows vital objects like car keys and coins. In hot countries, it burns your feet and makes you go “Ooh! Ah!” and hop to the water in a fashion that people with better bodies find amusing. When you are wet, it adheres to you like stucco, and cannot be shifted with a fireman’s hose. But—and here’s the strange thing—the moment you step on a beach towel, climb into a car, or walk across a recently vacuumed carpet, it all falls off.”


I remember when I read that book. I was in Greece... on the sand. I couldn't agree more.


Getting in and out of the water is forever a hurdle, with the range of jagged rocks, shells, stony coral, slime and slippery seaweed. One must always be cautious dealing with uneven surfaces, dangerous waves and rip currents. Don't even get me started on the sea urchins, perilous jellyfish, stonefish and assorted other sea creatures. 


What’s going to sting me?

What’s going to bite me?


The sky's the limit. 

Or, more appropriately, the sea is the limit. 


Do you know that only a mere 5% of the global ocean has been explored? I'm not going to be the one who's dragged into the other 95%. Nope.


Do I have thalassophobia?

Maybe.

Probably.


Even when I’m in the ocean, I refuse to put myself in the position where I could possibly be the target of attack. I need my feet firmly placed, the ability to move swiftly, the shore close and I need a bird's eye view of what is going on around me all the time. 


*Plus I need someone just slightly further out in the ocean. A buffer, for lack of a better word. Someone that, unfortunately, will take one for the team & be BAIT, while I make my escape back to shore. Anyone that has ever gone swimming in the ocean with me knows exactly what I'm talking about.


Give me a lake or a pool any day.

Seriously.


So instead of engaging in ocean activities… I ate all day. Seems reasonable... right?


I did get my nails done, which was an experience all in itself. They were getting quite scraggly and in desperate need of some TLC. It was a process. A process I don’t think I was necessarily prepared for. I feel that I just naturally assumed that everyone in Southeast Asia would excel at nail art, but no. That’s very stereotypical thinking of me... and it stops now.


Yellow!

The lady took all my old fill off and then proceeded to just put polish on my naked, brittle nails.


No!!!

Oh no.

"Hard coat gel, please."


I know myself well enough to know that if my nails break, they immediately go to my teeth. Old habits die hard. It ended up being an extra charge … and an extra hour & a half for better nails. Not to leak out further Joanna adventure drama, but they have already begun to crumble & fall off. Not 'better nails' at all.


The entire time I was sitting there, I was being eyed up by two ladyboys, who were horrified at the state of greying hair. They kept trying to convince me to let them do a treatment on my mess. I insisted I was comfortable with my silver frizz, they weren't buying it. Had they offered to massage my knee, I would’ve been all over that. It was throbbing a bit from excessive walking, and I was relishing in the time I'd been given.


In an attempt to quash the excessive eating, and to ease the pain of my obvious antiquity,  against my better judgement, I decided it might be a good idea to take another island hopping tour.


Wrong, Joanna.

Ugh... another shifty tour...


No disrespect to the late, and incredibly talented, Shane MacGowan, but our guide could have put up a good fight in a dental negligence challenge.


He would spend approximately 20 minutes speaking to the group in Filipino … and then when it came time to translate for us, the remaining 3 English, he would throw us a broken sentence and walk away. There was little to no communication, which resulted in a lot of shrugs, rolled eyes and bewildered glances.


From 9am until 3pm, we had NO idea where we were going or what was going on.


He had a great quantity to say when it came to trying to extract money from our pockets & purses. The usual… 100 peso for snorkel rental… 300 pesos to visit the crystal cove. Do not ever be fooled by anything claiming to be an all-inclusive tour.


I opted not to snorkel.


Maybe it was the excessive amount of sharks circling the boat, just waiting for me to make the plunge. Maybe it was because there was nothing to see. Could have been a bit of both.


The other two English speakers were actually Russian. A lovely couple that have been traveling for a couple years now to evade their government. The girl wanted to snorkel and jumped in almost immediately. Within 10 minutes, she was back on the boat, with NOT a fish to report.


Everyone thinks I’m crazy to be scared of sharks, but they’re out there. Guaranteed. Whether you hear about them or not, they're there. Sometimes I like to play a little game where I try to isolate a certain section of the sea... and then try to guess how many sharks are swimming underneath in that particular area.


Don’t tell me there’s none.

Absurd.


In a climate like this, with water like this, in open water like this… there’s at least one. If not a dozen. You know it and I know it.


Lunch was fun.


We docked... somewhere.

Disembarked.

Then we all walked, single file, along a muddy trail and over a few decrepit bamboo bridges. Once we had reached a shaded dirt parking lot, we all stood there for about 10 minutes, wondering what was happening. There were so many people lingering, all from different tours, I’d actually lost my crew. Finally I was directed to get into a tuk tuk, where I was whisked away to the other side of the island. It wasn’t exactly the scenic route… more industrial, if I were forced to categorize it.


It was all very peculiar.


Until I actually got out of the vehicle, walked into the hall and saw the buffet, I had no idea I was being taken to lunch. Our guide had disappeared altogether.


I wasn’t super hungry. I was the gluttonous beast who devoured 3 stale oatmeal cookies prior to the trip and was now suffering the consequences . No one but myself is to blame.


It probably didn’t help that 3 stale oatmeal cookies were mixed with a rough sea. While I was sitting in the boat, it was brought to my attention that there had recently been an earthquake off the coast of the Philippines. All coastal regions of eastern shores were being evacuated. Words like tsunami, cautionary measures, advisory and warning were being tossed around willy nilly.


Suddenly sharks weren’t my biggest issue.

I kept my eyes peeled to the eastern horizon, ever fearful that a colossal wave would begin to develop.


Never a dull moment.


Of all the times to find out there’s a possible tsunami in the Philippines, it's when I'm sitting in a rickety old boat in the middle of the ocean... in the Philippines.


It can only happen to me.

... and the rest of the schmucks in this old boat.


The Crystal Cove experience came directly after lunch. We all disembarked to visit a small island.


Once on land, the guide yelled at everyone to head directly to the ticket desk. Ok?

What if we didn't want to visit Crystal Cove?

His answer? "Walk around. NO SWIM!"


Swimming was forbidden... though with the amount of tour boats up on shore, it wouldn't have been a fun dip anyway. But still… it did eliminate 90% of our activities without going in the Crystal Cove…


Left was a small stretch of sand, 87 boats and about 7000 tourists mulling around. The only shade could be found near the back of the beach, and that was peppered with little stalls selling drinks, coconuts and peanut brittle banana concoctions. They also had seating… but only if you spent more. Fair enough.


So… money… we needed money.

If we were going to do anything - be it eat or see the coves... we needed money.


Sad story though... we'd all left our belongings on the boat. Let's blame that on the poor communication.


So what was the best course of action to take?


Let’s go back on board, grab some money and then rethink our options!

Do we take the plunge and visit the crystal cove?

Do we take a seat and overindulge in a banana feast?


Back to the boat, we went, but our fate had ultimately been decided for us.


Nothing.

We did nothing.


The boat and the guide had taken off after dropping us all off and were now nowhere to be seen. Gone.


We sat on a thin cement ledge, desperately cramming ourselves into whatever shade could be offered to us without irritating the shop owners.


TWO HOURS.


Two hours without any of our stuff. Two hours held captive on a small, crowded beach. Two hours having to endure excruciating heat and witness a multitude of sexy photo shoots with duck lips and peace signs.


It was out of control.



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