Bohol & Panglao Island
Alright, listen. At no stage in the timeline of this story was I actively TRYING to get arrested. Take that in, process it, and remember it. Bc it’s important knowledge.
So here’s the story: I took an afternoon ferry from Cebu City to Bohol last week. It took two incredibly long hours to get me to the next island, and upon arrival, my Grab app (like Uber but in Asia) wasn’t functioning properly. I asked around and found out that there IS no Grab on this island. Fabulous. However, there were private cars for the equivalent of $12 which would be more than willing to take me to my destination (Panglao Island – a 45 minute drive from the Bohol pier). If you know me at all, you know I’m not the private car kind of girl, and my budget doesn’t exactly lend to such luxuries. Sure enough, there was a line of tricycles nearby who were more my speed at half the price (and half the comfort, but that is the life of a budget traveler). One hour and $6 later, I arrived on Alona beach where I wandered until coming upon Fools Moon Hostel, a gem just a five minute walk from the beach itself which had AC, above ground toilets, showers that don’t involve the use of buckets, AND soap. Can you believe it? I almost moved in.
That night, like every night, they had a 6PM social hour for the hostel guests looking to make friends. It was there that I met a lovely human from the Netherlands named Paulien who would become my travel buddy for the entirety of the next day. We agreed to meet in the morning (at no time in particular bc long term travelers are literally so noncommittal that they can’t even pick a time to meet the next day bc we are all terrified of set times and dates) and I was about to head to bed early bc it had been such a long day before I got a call from my favorite German in the whole wide world (Sassy) which kept me up for another two hours as we chatted about everything from Masters programs to her recent move to England to how we miss each other way too much bc we got to spend the entire winter together and now we haven’t seen each other since January. See? Even when I’m traveling alone, I’m never really alone bc I am much too social of a human not to have constant contact with my favorite people bc without them I will wither up and die like a plant without sun.
The next morning, I chatted with my mom for an hour or two while enjoying the most aesthetically pleasing bowl of acai I have ever seen before meeting up with Paulien to find bikes to rent. This is where the potential for being arrested came in. So in the Philippines, you’re supposed to have a license to be able to rent a bike, right? Makes sense. But mine got stolen with the rest of my damn life when I was in Kuala Lumpur, so I don’t have one along. Paulien doesn’t even have a license like literally never learned how to drive formally… so we had to find somewhere they were willing to bend the rules for us and hope for the best. The first company we came across shut us down pretty hard core, but a bit more wandering and we landed at a place that didn’t even ask for our full names when we signed up to rent bikes. **FYI there’s no such thing as a waiver out here bc the idea that anyone but yourself is responsible for your highly likely yet untimely death is absolutely laughable.
Minutes later and we were on the road, using the directions we asked for every few kilometers from the locals to find our destination bc trying to use our phones to map while driving was actively asking for death to take us. We passed by a massive group of cops on the bridge between Panglao and Bohol islands and bc I’m incredibly cool under pressure, I waved at them. I think I was hoping they would be so enthralled by some random blonde chick looking their way that they wouldn’t try to ask us for identification. I was right. About 45 minutes of solid biking later, we made it to the tarsier sanctuary – for those of you who don’t know what a tarsier is, think small monkey primate thing that strongly resembles yoda. They’re about the size of a large fist, have eyes that are bigger than their brains, and if they get too stressed out, they commit suicide. Basically, these ugly lil’ bastards and I have way more in common than I’d like to admit. After bonding with my long lost kin, we hopped back on the bikes to search for the famed Chocolate Hills of Bohol which have made it onto so many Instagram travel accounts recently that we couldn’t not go see it for ourselves. Several wrong turns, many pointed questions from the guy who filled up our tanks about why we didn’t have boyfriends, and 200 steps in the blistering heat later, we made it to the viewpoint. It was actually a really beautiful sight to see and totally worth the absolute mission that was getting there, but by then it was about 3PM and way past time for a snack. We sat on top of the viewpoint in a small section of shade and chatted about our past jobs and studies and future plans and travel goals and it was honestly so lovely, especially after such a lonely time in Cebu City.
We made it back into the city just after dark and were about to turn onto the street where we’d rented the bikes when we saw cops crawling all over the place with a traffic block to stop incoming traffic and check ID’s. As I mentioned, we didn’t have those. So what did we do? Well first, we walked up to the first set of tourists we could find and Paulien pointedly asked them whether or not they had ID’s, which made them think we were cops trying to get them in trouble, so they weren’t particularly keen to help us out. After that, we decided locals would probably be a smarter way to go, so we stopped at the fruit stand she had bought a pineapple from to explain the situation and ask if they would help us out. The girl working the stand was too young to have an ID but offered to go talk to the cops for us so that we could get through, to which we rapidly declined. She then told her friend WHO WAS A COP IN COPS CLOTHING AFTER WE EXPRESSLY TOLD HER THAT WE DIDN’T WANT TO GET IN TROUBLE WITH THE COPS about our situation, at which point we switched into German (which Paulien also speaks) to ask each other what the hell we should do before quickly thanking them for trying and booking it out of there. Finally, we decided that our best option would be to tell the bike company the truth about our lack of licenses and ask them to come get the bikes for us. It was an awkward conversation, but eventually they followed us down the road to where we’d parked them and drove them back for us. We were very, very grateful.
We took quick showers to get off all the dirt that was clinging to us after sweating and biking through the dirt (the attractive image you have in your head is absolutely accurate) and headed out for drinks to celebrate the fact that we hadn’t gotten arrested that day. Several hours later we were trying to get arrested again bc we were so engrossed in our conversation that we FORGOT TO PAY FOR OUR DRINKS BEFORE WE LEFT AND THE STAFF HAD TO CHASE AFTER US DOWN THE STREET AND ASK US TO PAY. We were so unbelievably embarrassed, oh my god. But we did pay (and then ran home with our tails between our legs) before passing out in our incredibly comfortable hostel dorm beds. Paulien left the next morning and I was exhausted (and maybe a little hungover) from the day before, so I took an admin day to plan my National Park road trip (with the fam), Mexico scuba trip (with mom), Big Sur road trip (with my sisters), Texas visit (with my grandparents) and move to Germany (with my dad who will help move me into my new apartment if I ever find one). Yeah, it’s going to be yet another busy summer in the Janecek house, but that’s nothing new. Essentially, I get home and then I just keep traveling… what a surprise.
The one productive thing I DID do that day was to schedule my dive trip for the following day with an amazing Spanish man who sold me on three dives with Bohol Divers Club to the absolutely breathtaking Balicasag Island. I was up the next day at 7AM (still not sure how I woke up to the alarm bc I suck at mornings) to meet my dive group and prep for the day. My USUAL diving buddy/best friend ditched me to go back to California so I dove with a French guy named Matthieu, a Dutch guy named Vas, and a British girl named Kate, all of whom were Advanced level or Dive Masters, so our dives lasted one whole hour per dive bc all of us had such good breathing control that no one needed to head up at the usual 45 minute mark. It was awesome. The thing is though, when you dive, you’re not supposed to fly within a certain window based on how deep you dove and how many times you went in. See, I had booked a flight for the next day, but it wasn’t until 10AM, and I reaaaally didn’t want to miss out on all the sea turtles and black coral that the island was known for… so I took a bit of a risk. But it was a calculated one, I swear! I knew I would be done diving at 2PM and had a flight at 10AM, and according to the PADI diving website, you need to wait 18 hours before flying after multiple dives. The thing is, Vas’ dive computer (which airs much more on the conservative side for fear of being sued) said after our second dive that I needed to wait 22h before flying. And that was exactly how long I had at the time. So after consulting with literally everyone on the boat and weighing the odds of getting the bends against the potential to swim with more sea turtles…. I dove. It was so worth it. I mean, I say that now, but I probably wouldn’t say that if I’d died. Mostly bc I would be dead.
I booked it back to my hostel for a quick shower and some dinner at the vegan place next door before hiring a tricycle to take me back to the pier for a late ferry back to Cebu City to catch my flight the next day. Two hours of Owl City (the guy who sang that Fireflies song like a decade ago) singing freakin’ non-stop Christian music later, and I was back in the city with the literal worst traffic ever. As luck would have it, a torrential downpour began just as we were pulling up to the dock, and I was in a white cotton dress. Fabulous. Naturally there as nowhere you could take refuge from the rain on the pier bc that would be too convenient, so I did my best to huddle up against a wall while I waited for my newly ordered Grab to arrive and prayed my dress wasn’t as see through as I was almost certain it would be after another few minutes. Eventually my ride arrived and I splashed through the massive puddles scattered across the area before basically taking a nose dive into his car to avoid the rain. He did not appreciate it.
Upon arrival, I was informed that the room I had booked by email had accidentally been given to another person with my name (bc there are like 1,000 Alex’s in the world) and they would need to put me on an emergency bed for the night bc they had nowhere else to put me. I think the girl expected me to be upset but honestly I was just excited to have a place to sleep. After I was settled in, I figured it would be an early night after such a long day of diving, but it wasn’t long before I was having serious political chats with an awesome Peruvian guy named Nando who was well informed about our current political issues and more than willing to share everything he knew about the goings on in Peru, which was a lot. It was awesome. Not just to be able to use my Spanish again (not a lot of Spanish speakers out here), but just to have quality conversation with a stranger for two hours that’s so enticing that you forget to ask each other’s names until the end. That is the absolute best kind of conversation to have. That’s how you know it was good – when you’re so busy talking about something real that you never have to make small talk and ask for names or small details.
The next morning found me on a flight to Puerto Princesa (on Palawan) googling the symptoms of decompression sickness and hoping there was a doctor on board in case things went south. I wasn’t THAT worried… but I did text Kyle and tell him to cross his fingers for me. Obviously, I made it though, so @mom @grandma pls don’t yell at me BC I’M FINE.
But for now this is where I leave you, bc I have a 6h bus ride between me and El Nido and I have to mentally prepare for the inevitably horrendous driving that may or may not result in the end of my life before I reach my destination. The number of close run-ins with death purely due to the dangers of driving/walking/existing on the streets of Southeast Asia is harrowing and I’m going to be so pissed if after all the dumb stuff I’ve done on this trip, I die in a freaking traffic accident. Southeast Asia is a damn adventure, people.
Until next time folx – XOXOX
• All of the tricycles have biblical quotes on the back – Christianity is huge here
• The locals have been incredibly concerned about the fact that I am traveling alone, as evidenced by the exchanges I have had with every Filipino ever who finds out I’m alone which goes something along the lines of “Are you alone? Why you alone? You have no friends? You have boyfriend? Why you have no boyfriend? You eat alone? How sad for you, very sad.” They’re certainly not pulling any punches, but it does seem to come from a place of legitimate concern, so I’ll deal with it and my crushed self-esteem.
Thanks for sharing your adventurous travel story! Your ability to adapt to the situation and explore the island on a budget is inspiring. It's great to hear that you were able to make friends and find a place to stay that was comfortable and close to the beach.
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About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece, Vatican City, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guatemala, Kenya