*getting dropped off at the creepy downtown bus station at 2.30AM*
Grab driver: Aren't you afraid to be traveling alone?
*steps out of the car into the ominously empty parking lot*
Me: ..... Should I be?
Traveling alone is one thing. Traveling alone as a girl is an entirely other thing. Traveling alone as a girl who looks nothing like the locals? Talk about having the deck stacked against you. But that doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. In fact, I encourage it. Don't get me wrong, it can be a lot of work. There's a hell of a lot more looking over your shoulder and avoiding eye contact with weird randoms and avoiding poorly lit streets at night, but that's the unfortunate reality for every woman nowadays. It's crap and it's not fair and I hate it with all of my being, but here we are. So there's no real reason not to travel when the dangers abroad are no more imminent than those at home, right?
I will say that it teaches you a lot about yourself. When you have no one to turn to when you don't know where to stay or where to go or what to do, no one's shoulder to cry on when it seems like the world is working against you - or inversely when something is amazing and you have no one to share it with, and (if you're me and you talk a mile a minute) a lot more time spent thinking rather than speaking. Of course you meet people as you go and some of them become lifelong friends while others are just good conversation for the day, but you spend a good portion of your time alone. For me, it has meant a lot more chats with people that might not have interacted with me were I traveling with a companion.
Take yesterday for example. After spending a few nights in Cebu City (a place I would not recommend staying if you can help it) and catching up on sleep that I'd been in dire need of, I decided that it was about damn time for me to swim with some whale sharks. In case you weren't aware, I've been talking about doing this since before my trip started, to what might be considered an unhealthy extent. Lucky for me, there's a place to make that happen. In a small town called Oslob on the southern half of Cebu, there's a local organization that caters to tourists' desire to see these gentle giants but also knows the importance of taking care of the beautiful beasts and not further threatening their already endangered existence.
I started my day after a quick 3h nap when I woke up at 1.45AM to catch a Grab (the Southeast Asian equivalent to Uber) to the bus station. APPARENTLY the entirety of Cebu City was going the same place I was bc it took me two full hours of waiting to even get onto a bus. To make matters worse, I was the only tourist in sight. That's normally a good thing in my book bc who wants to be where all the tourists are, right? But as a solo traveler at 2AM trying to get to the super cool whale shark place you read about online, you at least want to know you're on the right track. I received no such assurances. In fact, I received almost no information whatsoever as all the employees were speaking Tagalog (bc why cater to the literal one person there who didn't understand what the hell was going on), which is totally fair bc obviously they shouldn't have to cater to me but also like come on cut me some slack people, am I even waiting in the right line? Am I going to die here? Is there air conditioning on the bus? Is there even a bus? What country am I in?
Okay, so it wasn't THAT dramatic. But still. And for those of you asking why I couldn't wake up and go see the whale sharks at a normal hour, it's bc they'll only take you out to them on the boats until noon, and it was a 3h bus ride from Cebu City to Oslob. That's why.
Three hours on a crowded bus with people literally standing in the aisles and Celine Dion covers blasting on repeat, sung by Filipino men who decidedly do not have her vocal range, I made it. As soon as I hopped off the bus, the nearby resort workers were all over me to follow them and pay extra to go with their company to see the whale sharks - yet another thing that is way more stressful to deal with when you're alone. I waded through the crowd to a small, paved side street where I met Luzbel, who would be my guide for the morning. She was potentially the most helpful person I've ever met. She brought me over to the registration desk, helped me find fins and a life vest, provided me with an underwater camera, found me a locker to stash my belongings, and everything in between. We chatted for a little while as she told me about her life - we're both 23 - and asked me about mine, and the contrasts were stark. She is 23 with a beautiful two year old baby boy, and I am 23 with no boys around, to name one. But we chatted until we reached a comfortable silence and waited for the next boat out.
Soon enough I was on my boat with Jesson, the lovely human, and Oslob native, who took my underwater pictures. Our conversation was interrupted as he would exclaim "Here comes one!" and we would dive underwater to witness the magnificence of these amazing creatures, but when we came back up for air, he talked to me about the treatment of the whale sharks and how important it is that we preserve their lives. Eventually it was time to head back to shore for some much needed breakfast, and unbeknownst to me, a show. My server at the local breakfast spot was a colorful local named Phil who, when he learned I was from the States, began to belt out the National Anthem like it was his job (though to my knowledge he's only paid to serve food). It was followed up by some lively conversation about places we've been and people we've met and our mutual hatred of a life of routine before I set off to find Luzbel.
Turns out, she found me. She also found me a habal-habal (motor taxi) to bring me to Tumalog Falls, a breathtaking set of waterfalls only a 20 minute ride from the coast. My driver, Ian, had a great sense of humor and liked to drive fast, so we were at the falls in what felt like no time. I hopped off his bike and told him I'd meet him in an hour before making the trek down to where the falls are nestled between the hills of south Cebu. A small fee of 20 pesos (approx. 40 cents) got me entrance to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen. And to top it all off, you can swim in them. It was an absolute dream. When I got to the top of the hill (a damn mission in and of itself - that thing was steep as hell), Ian drove me back to the bus stop where a few kind men told me the bus schedule and let me know when it was about to pull up so I wouldn't miss it - the people here are literally so beyond nice it's insane. Another 3h bus and 30 minute Grab later (it takes a million years to get anywhere in Cebu City bc the traffic is ridiculous) and I was back in my hostel bed.
Bc of my early morning and serious lack of sleep from the night before, I was out like a light at 8PM, which made for another early morning today involving some packing, breakfast, and a ferry to my current location: Panglao. Well actually, the 2h ferry took me to Bohol and then I had to take a tricycle (motorbike with like a side car situation on one side) to Panglao Island off the coast of Bohol. It was a process, but I'm finally in my (thankfully) air-conditioned hostel room. I'm hoping this hostel will be more social than the last, but this place is so beautiful I really don't mind the alone time so much.
So for now, I have an island to explore and some dinner to search for - until next time folx!
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
(in August in the US)