The truth is, when I first thought of boarding a Filipino ferry, I immediately envisioned a big, decrepit & delaptitated transport vessel.
I wasn't far off.
Sure... being aboard a ferry in the Philippines sounded like an adventure... but maybe it was an adventure I could forgo. I had my heart set on a flight from Surigao to Cebu... and nothing (except rapidly increasing fares) would dissuade me.
Well... the outrageous fares finally conquered and I was left with its nautical alternative... the ferry. I guess one could argue that going from $300+ to $25 is a fairly good alternative. Still, I wasn't exceedingly pumped about spending a full day in the Philippines, on a ferry.
That really was going to cut into my tan time.
I had no other choice. The Starlink Ferry from Surigao City to Cebu left at 9am... and 9am ONLY, every day.
Ok. I was booked.
While I was making my reservation, I realized they had a Tourist Class section, which sounded slightly more posh than just regular economy. Right? Economy was a row of uncomfortable chairs. Tourist class boasted individual bunk beds and air conditioning!
Who could beat that?
I think the word posh is a bit of an overstep. Knowing what I know now, I don't think I would necessarily refer to the Tourist class mass bunk accommodation space as particularly swank, but we can leave it at that. A girl I had met in General Luna told me that the ferry she'd been on was quite similar to a cruise ship.
Either I was on the wrong boat or she had never been on a decent cruise line. I've been on my fair share of ferries before and it doesn't matter how much you try to spin them, there is nothing cruise shippy about them. My Starlink experience was no exception. Even more so, I'd say.
Prior to my ferry excursion, I had arranged for one of the Tuk Tok drivers to pick me up between 4:30-5AM. I had to be in Dapa in order to catch the first vessel off the island. This self proclaimed 'fastcraft' looked more like an overcrowded submarine and I found myself very vigilant as to the locations of the nearest exits and the floatation devices. I had to be prepared.
On arrival in Surigao, we were all made to disembark, leave the port and then re-enter. Of course, the re-entry bit required me the payment of another port fee. Now, I don't mean to complain... (somewhat)... I DO understand the power of additional fees. I've encountered them everywhere and I'm actually getting quite used to them. Usually they are so minimal, it's hardly worth making a fuss about.
Here in the Philippines, it was the set up I took issue with.
Here's the system... in a nutshell.
You go to the main ticket office window and you either buy your ticket or show them the ticket you've already purchased.
You walk a few steps and someone checks your ticket to ensure you've paid.
You're then directed to another ticket window where you pay a port fee. Once paid, the cashier staples a port fee payent slip onto your ferry ticket.
You then walk a few feet away from this window and someone checks your portfee slip. They rip it, ever so slightly, to indicate confirmation of port fee payment.
It's a make-work project.
Without a doubt. There is no shortage of work here.
ALL of this before you go through security... and show your ticket again.
And then again.
Many, many steps.
Once everyone in the Philippines had checked my ticket, I boarded my non-cruise ship and proceeded to find my bunk. My own personal bit of the boat, as I liked to refer to it as. It was an enormous room, divided into three bunk-lined hallways. It could aptly be described as cramped quarter cubbies. The beds were exactly like the rubber mats you would pull out in high school gym class to do jumping and stretching exercises. I covered my mat with a sleep sheet I had purchased in Vietnam years ago, but there was the option to rent bedding.
I was lucky/not lucky to get a top bunk.
It was brilliant because I had a window and could while away the hours watching the sea go by. But... it was a little bit shit because my ladder was almost entirely constricted by the concierge desk. As much as I tried, I couldn't manage to balance myself well enough to make the short climb.
Yes... there was a concierge desk. It's where you rented the linen, and from what I could tell... was it's only purpose.
I was told it was illegal to move bunks.
I had to prove how totally inaccessible my ladder was before the jerk concierge guy provided me with a small step stool.
Did I mention they did a 5 minute prayer before the ship sailed?
Yes, they did.
I didn't really take any photos. I figure photos didn't really do it justice. I did do a video though...
⬇ ⬇ ⬇ ⬇
I felt an obligation to compile a list of DO's to make everyone's Filippio ferry experience a little more enjoyable.
Bring a sweater ~ It gets quit chilly with the air conditioning. And if you don't need the sweater, it makes for a great pillow.
Bring snacks ~ The canteen is frightening. The food is frightening. The poeple that hang out in the canteen are frightening. Trust me.
Bring water ~ You'll need it. Hydrate.
Bring toilet paper ~ You'll DEFINITELY need it. I had to ask one of the staff for toilet paper... and after he looked around, he finally handed me a couple napkins. Then I couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet, so I bolted as quickly as I could.
Bring facial wipes ~ You'll want them to freshen up. Or to sanitize your hands after the bathroom... which is even more frightening than the canteen.
Bring linen … or something similar ~ Unless you want to rent it onboard, bring your own. A pillow would have been a game-changer for me.
Charge your electronics ~ There are no public plug-ins at all. There are some chargers, but they cost money.
Bring change for the massage chairs ~ If you dare sit down. When I first saw the chairs, there were a couple older guys passed out in each of them... snoring VERY loudly. Who can judge? The seats are probably more comfortable than economy.
Bring things to do ~ Be prepared for 10+ hours of boredom. There was a TV in the canteen area, but it was on a Filipino soap opera for the entire duration. It seemed very dramatic and captured a lot of people's attention... but I had no idea what was going on.
Bring earbuds & music ~ There is a LOT of snoring.
A LOT of snoring...