Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Trip To Las Islas De Gigantes

The outcome of this trip was something that I saw coming from several days before zero hour, but because I'm a stubborn bastard who keeps his word no matter what, I simply had to go because I said I would go.
Now I know how she felt at Ayumu's summer home.
Basically, I was warned (by my mother because the trip is part of a package with her school faculty group) that the trip would consist of "island hopping" with an overnight stay in one of the resorts on the island and that we would be "roughing it" a bit and that there might be no electricity and limited amenities. Also, all our meals would be prepared for us beforehand by someone else.

Ok, so considering that I am an antisocial otaku who cannot live without modern technology, several clauses in there should have already triggered red warning signs and death flags in my head -- but again, I'm stubborn.

The Trip Begins... With A Hitch

We woke up (me and my mother) at 2 AM to prepare for the trip. Because there was a 3-hour car ride to the port of entry to the Las Islas De Gigantes, we had to be at the meeting place by 3 AM. Unfortunately, we couldn't drive our car to the meeting area since there was no place to park it, so we had to go by public transport. 

We took a public jeepney to the meeting place and arrived at 3:15 AM. Basically, the private chartered van was already waiting for us along with around 14 other passengers.

Anyway, with that temporary setback aside, we were well on our way. Naturally, I'd packed my cellphone, tablet, NDSL, PSP, 2DS, PS Vita and two power banks along for the ride.

I spent most of the 3-hour trip listening to Hatsune Miku tunes and dozing off every now and then. I might've also sent one or two facebook messages along the way.
View of the islands from afar. Apparently, it looks like a sleeping female giant. Dude, if it doesn't look anything like Nagi, I'm not even remotely interested.

A Hospitable Start

The Van took us to Estancia, which was where the port for the pump boats to be used for the actual trip was located. We arrived at around 7:10 AM sharp. It seems that one of our companions in the group had a wealthy relative there who welcomed us into her home and there, the group had breakfast consisting of grilled fish, crabs and prawns... by the way, I hate seafood. Anyway, I'd expected that there'd be mostly seafood on the menu for the trip, which is why I ate a big breakfast at home.

After  a short rest, the group was ready to hit the islands... again, the pump boat that we would be using had already been prepared for us courtesy of the wealthy relative -- who was totally a big shot there. Anyway, she was a kindly old lady who went along with us for the trip.

Dem skillz!
A "pump boat" is basically a small passenger boat with a seating capacity of 15-30 people plus luggage. It has a tent-canvas sunshade with benches for seats and outriggers made of bamboo at the sides. Refer to the pics for reference. The crew consists of four people... but with rather informal roles. There's the "captain" who calls the shots and handles the wheel while there's a person underneath who tends the engine and two ship hands whose roles consist of tightrope-walking along the outriggers to help maneuver the ship when near rocky terrain, dropping and hoisting the anchor, as well as jumping into the water and helping to tie the ship to other ships when near a dock.
A typical "Pump Boat"

Anyway, we boarded our pump boat at around 8:00 AM and the long trip finally began.
The view from inside the boat.

Island Hopping
Ok, so basically, (and I wasn't told) we'd be doing the island hopping thing before settling down at the place where we would be staying over for the night. Therefore, since the Las Islas De Gigantes consisted of several islands with apparently "beautiful natural sights," we'd spend the majority of the trip docking into one of these islands (along with other boats with their own passengers touring the islands like we were. It's all very informal, really.)  
"The beauty of God's Creation," probably...

So anyway, it takes around 2 hours to reach the islands via the boat and from there, the group was free to decide on which islands to visit. The islands were around 15-20 minutes away from each other using the pump boat. We stopped by around 5 different islands and one sandbar during the trip.
I am not pleased... not that I didn't see this coming.

Mostly, what we'd do is drop anchor near the island, take a little dip in the waters near the boat and maybe swim to the beach if we wanted to, and then we'd leave after around 45 minutes on one island and move on to the next... doing more of the same. The thing is, there are no modern conveniences in any of these islands at all. No stores, no restaurants, no nothing... oh wait, some of them offered these Banana Boat rides and sold useless souvenirs of the islands.
Sometimes the boats couldn't dock properly due to low tide, so we had to take a raft like this one to get to them.

We had lunch about halfway through. Again, seafood, seafood everywhere... fortunately, I think my mother bribed the person who prepared the food to bring pork chops along too, so a few pieces of pork chops and some rice and I had a pretty ok lunch. Still, I get motion sickness pretty easily anyway, so I didn't really eat much.
One of the "scenic spots" ... also, no coffee shops or convenience stores here.

Anyway, the trip was mostly uneventful except for my mother's phone getting wet because the waterproof bag that we bought from the Boracay islands about a year ago wasn't so waterproof after all... well, it was a cheap phone, so no big deal. 

Also, I didn't put on sunblock because I am a stubborn bastard who would rather get burned rather than get my skin all sticky... also, humans do not float.

And After The Islands...
After we'd had enough of the underwhelmingly "beautiful view" of "God's creation," (I'm an atheist, by the way... just in case the sarcasm went over your head) it was finally time to go to the island and to the "resort" where we were being housed. We arrived at the main island at about 2:45 PM.
One of the rooms at the resort. Running water isn't always available, so there are water containers everywhere.
Well, the place itself was... ok, I guess. It looked a bit run-down since after all, these are the islands which were heavily damaged by Typhoon Yolanda just a little over a year ago, but... it was mostly passable -- except for the fact (just as I dreaded) that we were sharing rooms with at least 6 people per room with only two beds each. Also, there was no running water, so there were in-house staff who would fetch a huge drum of water from a deepwell whenever you requested/ran out. Also, electricity was available, but a scarce commodity since the power company who "provided" electric power to the islands cut off the electricity for most weekends because of the large number of tourists who came to the islands during the weekends. It seems that the power company's policy was: high demand = blackout. 

Of course, we didn't learn about this until later on... but my mother and I agreed that we wouldn't be able to sleep in this place without any running water and the bed-sharing thing, so we had someone guide us to another resort just about half a kilometer way. We hitched a ride through some public transport motorcycles... who were the main modes of transportation within the island because we had some heavy luggage in tow.

Anyway, my jogging pants got snagged on the motorcycle as I was dismounting... so it got turned into shorts -- play with the cards you're dealt with!
Apparently, this resort was made for very short people or something. I'm 5'7" and look at how I tower over the doorway.

Inside this new resort, we were told that an air-conditioned room was available, so we went with that. The room itself was pretty terribad, but it did have running water, two beds and an air conditioner, so (we thought) it was fine and we rented it out straight away.
I guess this place has a really "rustic feel," if you're into that sort of thing... at 36 degrees celsius, no thanks.

First of all, as soon as we entered the room, we learned that there was a huge blackout and that the power wouldn't be back on until around 3:30 PM. So, we had to roast inside the room for around 20 minutes until the power finally came on and we could finally turn on the air-con. Well, here's the thing, it seems they just used a power generator to let us use the air-con, but the generator was so tiny that it could only last for 30 minutes, so we got all of 30 minutes of cool air into the room. Also, this is when the caretaker of the resort graciously told us that there was an island-wide blackout every weekend on the dot and that the power would be out for the entire weekend - nice and professional! Basically, we got duped into renting out an airconditioned room without air-conditioning... at least, it had a fan, which we would be able to use for the entire night! Because the resort owners are very gracious and provide their own generators for the guests! NIIIICE!
The Air-Con can't be used and heat is emanating from the walls all the time.

More Island Hopping
One of our companions came over to our room at around 4:00 PM in order to fetch us for more island hopping. It was definitely a better choice than staying inside an oven-hot room all day -- especially with temperatures in the Philippines ranging from 34-38 degrees celsius nowadays.
The "beautiful sunset." It's nice, but is it worth the entire "Las Islas De Gigantes experience?"
After a half-kilometer motorcycle ride to the resort where our companions were staying, we took the same boat again to another island, which was just about 10 minutes away. Again, it was more of the same. Docking the pump boat, with the two ship hands doing all the heavy grunt work (like slaves, really) and then the passengers on board going for a dip. Me and my mother opted not to go swimming this time since we had already changed clothes and were a bit tired from the trip so far anyway.

Dinner Time

At around 5-5:15 PM, after taking some pics of the apparently "beautiful sunset," it was time to head back to the resort for dinner. Of course, it had to be prepared first, by several of our companions who had brought their own provisions along (part of the package tour price). Dinner was served at around 7:30 PM, by this time, I'd burned through about 18% of my PS Vita's battery playing Tales of Hearts R and some Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f.
Walk around the island at night and you'll feel like you're playing Silent Hill.

Again, dinner consisted of more seafood. I saw some hot dogs, so I just took two of those and I was good. Well... maybe a little bit hungry, but y'know, get enough protein for the day and it's fine.

My mother, who doesn't share my disdain for seafood, seemed to enjoy the meal... well, so did everyone else apparently. It seems the price of the trip was more than justified with the sumptuous meals or something... uh yeah... sure, whatever. Whatever floats your boat or something like that.

Back To Our Resort

Since it was only half a kilometer or less away, we walked back to the resort. There was limited lighting, but fortunately, I always bring at least three flashlights along, a lighter, a pocket knife and three kinds of melee weapons. No, I'm not kidding.
In exchange for giving your resort a scathing review, here's some free publicity.
Of course, the people on the island were very hospitable towards us since tourism seems to be one of their main sources of livelihood along with fishing... speaking of fishing, the whole island reeks of the stench of rotting fish and the pungent aroma of scallops -- fried not baked. (Not that it matters, I hate seafood -- as I've said before.)

Back at the resort with our "air-conditioned room," my mother discovered that another group of teachers from the same university were staying there too. We went inside one of their group's rooms and had a little chit-chat before retiring for the night. We hit the sack at about 9:00 PM. We had to get up early the next day because we would be leaving by 5:30 or so.

Inside our room, it was oven-hot because there was only one electric fan and a single window for ventilation. Also, we couldn't use the air-con since it would bog down the generator for the entire resort.

I watched an episode of Oregairu S2 that I'd downloaded before the trip (no wifi, no signal) and just dozed off to sleep due to pure exhaustion... what a ridiculous day this has been. Also, I kept thinking what Nagi would do in this situation and the only thing that popped into my head would be: she would die. That is all.

The next day, we had breakfast at the resort... but they only had seafood and eggs. Fortunately, we'd brought some canned chicken chunks in broth, so we had them heat that up and serve it together with some eggs -- at last, a (sorta) decent meal... except they turned the broth from the can to turn the chicken chunks into some kind of weird soup.
My mother doesn't think much of their culinary skills.
After breakfast, we walked our way to the other resort to meet up with the group. Most of them were busy packing their stuff. Also, I noticed that there was a pet dog there who looked very badly neglected... anyway, none of my business, I suppose.
Just to show ya what I mean.
We left via the same boat from the other day at around 5:30 AM. We took a detour to another one of the islands where a small argument took place between two groups of passenger boats. My mother was trying to explain what happened to one of the groups, but I told her to stay out of it. (I'm not having any of that in this already hellish trip.) 

As a result, we spent about an hour on this one island called "Tanke" because the different boat owners and passengers couldn't decide who would get to dock first. Some of our companions went down and took pics on this island, but I was too tired from yesterday to care.

We took another 45 minute trip to another island -- one which was supposedly used as a location shoot for a sexy film from the 1970s. I didn't really care much -- again, but our companions all went down for more photoshoots and then some swimming on the beach. It was 12:00 PM sharp when we finally left to go back to Estancia, where our gracious host who had come on the trip with us had prepared our lunch... of more seafood.

We arrived at our guest's house at 12:50 PM and she had lunch served immediately. Our companions who had gone swimming had to take turns using the bathroom. Anyway, I ate some sticky glutinous rice with some peppers and chicken... not too bad, at least it's not seafood. My mother asked me if I thought it was delicious and I told her, "Delicious? Don't be ridiculous. I'm just eating so that I don't look rude, so don't call attention to me."

Finally, when everyone had settled down, we left for the long drive back to Iloilo City at about 3:00 PM. The trip back was unexpectedly shorter and we were in the city by 5:15 PM. Yey! Electricity! Running water! Air-conditioning! Real food! Real junk food! 
Anyway, while having dinner at a restaurant, I checked in on facebook and a friend asked me what I thought about the trip on a scale of 1-10. Honestly, I'd give it a zero. (Yes, I know you told me so.)

The host was nice, my companions were no trouble at all and the island people were really trying their best to please us, but I have to be honest with my feelings here. Take note that I'm a city-bred kid used to modern conveniences. In fact, I'm a friggin otaku who can't live without modern conveniences.

In any case, if you're feeling adventurous (or stupid), you might want to give the islands a try. Otherwise, if you just want to swim around on a white sand beach, Boracay has finer white sands and top-class amenities. It's going to take a while before the Las Islas De Gigantes can really compete with it as a tourist destination in my opinion.

Anywayz, I hope you enjoyed reading about me suffering. See ya in the next blog post!

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