Malapascua, Philippines

Loads of people we met had hyped up Malapascua, so we decided to check it out despite the tail-end of Typhoon Nona meaning less than ideal weather. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors – chiefly me getting a searingly painful ear infection, not being able to dive, and blanket cloud – meant Malapascua was a bit of a wash-out and in hindsight somewhere we probably should have skipped.

Most people go to Malapascua to dive at Monad Shoal, where thresher sharks lurk at 40m on the ocean bed, and divers go to stake them out in the early hours of the morning. We’d considered the dive (and doing the quick advanced/deep dive qualification it would entail) but after my ears getting worse and worse over the course of a few days, and hearing from some divers that the encounter is pretty brief, we decided to chill on the island instead.

Our journey there was a long one, and we ended up hunkering down in nearby town Maya on Cebu when we missed the last boat over. This turned out to be an incidental silver lining, as Maya was a very sweet town, and we were embraced into the town’s hospitality in our hour of need.

Arriving shortly before midnight, we were ferried off our bus and into the home of a lovely Filipino lady, who offered up all the rooms in her homestay to a few of us backpackers who were stranded from the last bus. When it became obvious there weren’t enough beds, (she hadn’t been able to rebuild her homestay properly since the last typhoon) she adorably offered up her own bedroom! So Sam and I ended up sleeping in a plush bedroom complete with mosquito zapper, air con, and many giant cuddly toys on our bed. We ventured out to find some spitroast chicken and rice for dinner which we ate with fellow backpackers in the kitchen and hit the hay, ready for the boat to Malapascua the next day.

So far, so good. Then, at 3am, disaster struck! I woke up in searing pain, my ears burning and throbbing, and the whole area surrounding it was in total agony. I’d obviously been touching it in my sleep which didn’t help! It felt like a really deep infection, and Sam was brilliant in keeping me calm, dosing me up on Tylenol regularly every few hours to make sure they didn’t wear off completely.

The next day Sam went out to try and find a pharmacy or doctor, but turned out the one doctor in Maya was out delivering a baby (!) so we had to make do with buying some antibiotics in a corner shop, which was thoroughly bizarre! The corner shop lady had a whole wall of drugs and antibiotics, and we bought some (which we later found out were FAR too strong for just an ear infection!) out of sheer desperation, knowing there’d be no doctors of pharmacies on tiny Malapascua.
For breakfast we had one of our best meals in the Philippines – a buffet ‘point and eat’ restaurant serving fried meats, curries, noodles and fried rice, with VEGETABLES (a rarity!) – then boarded the boat to Malapascua. This was an adventure in itself, as low tide meant jumping onto a tiny boat, which went out of the bay, then crossing onto a bigger boat – with our big bags in tow!

The boat journey was lovely and relaxing, and on arrival we found awesome hippy/Rasta hostel Villa Sandra, where we met some nice Aussie backpackers and hit the hammocks for the next couple of days.

The weather was a mix of sunshine, cloud, and some serious storms, and we mainly chilled at the hostel reading and blogging, but we also ventured out through the nearby villages and tiny coastline.
The villages were pretty cute and surprisingly unaffected by tourism, as most of the dive shops and swankier resorts were on the coast, leaving the inner island still an authentic slice of village living. The kids and locals were really friendly and we got a sense of a real tight-knit community, with volunteers helping to tidy up the beach and running programmes to help the kids with their reading.

We also managed to find a cheap and delicious restaurant which – given we were pretty much doing nothing – was a god-send, and cheered us up hugely! We ate amazing spicy coconut squid, curries and fried noodles, and even treated ourselves to some Red Horse (super strong!) beer.

We spent an afternoon on the beach during a break in the clouds, and watched the divers roll on and off of boats, noticing the sweet hotel and diveschool workers who all had their Christmas hats on. We were expecting a lot from the beach as it’d been really hyped up to us, but it was pretty over-run by dive boats and there wasn’t much space to lounge, other than in front of posh resorts with private patches of beach (where we squatted!)

Typically, on the day we were supposed to be leaving, there was brilliant sunshine, but we already had plans to go to Bohol, and a booking at the much-hyped Nuts Huts – a fancy resort in the jungle – so we had to peel ourselves away, waving a sad farewell to now-sunny Malapascua, en route to our 8th island in just 4 weeks, Bohol!