Fish Tacos with Mushrooms
Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? No? How about tortillas smothered in tomato sauce and sweet cream? Better? Maybe, corn on pizza?
If this does not sound delicious to you, you may want to reconsider vacationing in the Philippines. Because lordy, lordy the Philippines are chalk full of random food bites. It is like a foodie heaven for people who don’t actually like food that tastes good.
I’m really selling it, aren’t I?
Thank goodness there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Philippines.
Like the views.
We just got back from our little beach holiday in Boracay, Philippines. Chances are you have heard of Boracay. It is probably the most frequented (read: touristy) destinations in the Philippines and always manages to make it into travel magazines and whatnot.
And now you know why. The sand is the whitest, softest sand you have ever wiggled your toes into. The ocean is a perfect temperature and invites you in with its ombre of blues. The sunsets are consistently breathtaking and the breeze is a gentle but cooling presence. It is truly the prettiest beach I have ever been to. Truly.
That said, I may never go back.
Wait. Never is a strong word. Revision: I will most likely not go back in the near future (i.e. the next 3-10 years). Why, you ask? Four words: Transfers. D*Mall. Tastebuds. Thailand.
Let me explain. But before I do let it be shouted from the rooftops that we had an AMAZING vacation and we are so grateful for the chance to visit this lovely little island. While it may, at first, feel like I am just another spoiled little expat complaining about her awesome vacation in a beautiful country…I promise you there is a twist to this tale. A moral, if you will. I digress…
Distance wise, the Philippines are not that far away from Beijing. To give you some perspective, it is a 4 ½ hour flight to Manila and then another 1 hour flight from Manila to Boracay. Maybe this sounds like a long way away to some of you, but for those of us who live in Beijing, a 5 hour flight is the standard time it takes to get anywhere cool (and by that I mean, warm). So it is not the distance traveled that is the problem. Rather, it is the amount of times you transfer vehicles within that distance that really makes you think, “Is this really worth it?” For instance for us to reach Boracay we had to:
Taxi to airport at 11 p.m.
Take plane to Manila at 1 a.m. (in Economy Minus**)
Go through passport control, pick up bags, check bags again and take plane to Caticlan at 7:30 a.m.
Take van to Ferry Station on Caticlan
Take boat to Boracay
Take Truck-type-of-thing to resort – arriving around 12 p.m the following day.
**Economy Minus is like the opposite of Economy Plus where they give you like 6 extra inches of space between seats. In Economy Minus they take 3 inches away and make you pay for water. Needless to say, it sucks.
It doesn’t even sound that bad when you write it all down but for each transfer, we had to pay an assortment of “terminal” fees in a currency we don’t yet understand, tip a variety of random men who carried our bags, weigh and reweigh our bags (on one occasion we had to weigh ourselves – that was awesome), check our bags, pick up our bags, fill out forms, and manage 3 wild 3 year olds. Oh, I didn’t mention that we were traveling with 3 overtired 3 year olds? Yeah. We were. Not me and Brado by ourselves, mind you. The other little ones’ parents were there too. Come on. We aren’t superheroes.
Needless to say, it was a bit chaotic. It is also probably important to note that things aren’t quite as efficient in the Philippines as say in the USA, or maybe even Afghanistan. Just kidding about that last one BTW. I am pretty sure the Philippines would dominate Afghanistan in an efficiency competition. Although I have never been to Afghanistan so that is just a hunch. However, in the Philippines, it does often feel like whatever it is you are attempting to do (i.e. checking your bag at the airport) is being attempted for the very first time in the history of the country. It can just be a process and you have to mentally prepare yourself for it.
Apparently, we got super lucky. It is rumored (i.e. one person told me the other day) that the flights out of Manila to Caticlan are often (she said, “ALWAYS”) delayed/cancelled. But not ours, darn it! We were right on time which means that a measly little 12+ hours after we embarked on our journey, we arrived at our “resort”.
Lesson learned: If you have a child under the age of 5, only go places that offer a direct flight, serve free booze before, during and after your journey and come with 24 hour nanny. Basically, don’t ever leave your house.
I say “resort” because, technically, it was one. And by that I mean that it had the word ‘resort’ in the name. However, by all other definitions of the word, I am not sure that this place would actually qualify. I think it is more accurate to describe it as a well-situated motel. #notswanky
To give you a few examples of its swanklessness:
While on the website it advertises complimentary Internet, there actually was no Internet. Although, to be fair, not having Internet was free.
We had a nice little patio overlooking the beautiful ocean. However, we could not really use said patio because our screen door was so broken and impossible to open. Seriously, Hulk Hogan (am I dating myself?) himself would struggle to open this friggin’ door. Not 70 year old Hulk Hogan. Hulk Hogan in his heyday.
The “fresh” orange juice was actually semi-diluted Tang.
The food was inedible. Seriously. Just. So. Bad.
Which brings me to D*Mall. Since our hotel did not really serve anything appetizing, we ended up having to eat out for basically every meal. Again, under normal circumstances, this is not a big deal. But here in Boracay, it is a process. Add moody 3 year olds into the mix and it is called torture. Oh also, the only way to get anywhere there is to hire a tricycle.
Believe it or not one of these bad boys can carry anywhere from 2-12 people. I think our best was 7. Needless to say, it is not the most comfortable ride in the world. Especially when you are 6 months preggers.
The tricycle would then take you to D*Mall because it is the center of the Boracay universe and really the only place to get decent food (and get your mermaid photos taken).
It is also my own personal version of hell.
On a given day/night it is packed with sunburnt people and overpriced trinkets you don’t want to buy (but your kid TOTALLY wants you to buy). It is the definition of a clusterf*#k.
If I never have to go to D*Mall again, I will die happy. Mark my words.
Lesson learned: D*Mall is for suckas
I do not have a sophisticated palate. Really. Give me a decent hamburger, some fries and some ice cream and I am pretty happy. While it is possible to get decent food in Boracay, it is not at all guaranteed. The local food is, how do you say, lacking and the imported food (i.e. Mexican) is down right all wrong.
I spent a good chunk of my time in the Philippines wishing I could stuff my face with some pad thai or some fried rice or some mango and sticky rice. Which brings me to my last point.
Lesson learned: Pack snacks
The thing is… the islands of the Philippines ARE amazing. But so is Thailand. The difference, of course, is that if I go to Thailand I can: a.) take a direct flight, b.) not have to visit D*Mall and c.) have my tastebuds stimulated at every meal. It is a no-brainer folks. So long as Thailand exists, my Philippines adventures are numbered.
Lesson learned: exposing yourself to new countries and cultures is overrated. Go where you can get mango and sticky rice.
So what is the moral then? Where is the part where I try to back peddle and try to not sound like a spoiled little princess? Here it is. Ready to have your mind blown?
We had an AMAZING vacation in the Philippines. We had all these little headaches and hiccups and yet it was one of my favorite vacations ever. I can’t place my finger on the precise reason why but essentially it comes down to this little golden nugget: Life is pretty awesome when you surround yourself with good people (and you don’t have to work)
It doesn’t really matter if you are playing card games in your basement or you are on some tropical island in the Seychelles (although, I must confess, that helps a lot sometimes). Being with people that make you smile and laugh is food for the soul. And this past week in Boracay, I ate it up and washed it down with a tall glass of Tang.
It was delicious. Thank you Philippines! I am sure we will be back…someday.