“It’s really so beautiful here,” says my cousin, our wooden boat rocking gently. We’re on the azure sea surrounding Malapascua island. The sun heralds in a wave of colour; precious blue water and white sandy beaches, the dark green outlines of palm trees painted in the distance.
Maybe it’s the saltwater, but I need to rub my eyes. It’s breathtaking, in the most beautiful way.
My cousin speaks in tune with the calm ocean breeze: “I remember my teacher once told our class that before we travel abroad, we need to see more of The Philippines first.
“If you haven’t seen your own country, how will you tell people about it?”
Malapascua is the pretty little secret of the Visayan sea. Floating nearly seven kilometers from the mainland, this central Philippines island will take you by the hand and serenade your entire stay. You’ll leave with a loosened collar, sand in-between your toes and a smile on your face.
Malapascua is an undersea mecca for scuba-divers, rich with coral formations, diverse rainbow fish and fabled thresher sharks. Travel bloggers rave about the island, enraptured in states of coconut-sipping calm. Beach-bums are known to stay for literally months on end, kicking it back with the locals and the pull of the tide.
As a Filipino, it makes me joyful that our country holds so many little pockets of paradise; and that people come from all over the world to experience what’s on our doorstep.
To get to Malapascua, you’re going to need a boat. And a bus.
From Cebu South Bus Terminal, you take a five hour bus journey to the port town of Maya (thankfully it’s air-conditioned). It costs around 400 pesos (£6).
Here you’ll need to pay roughly 200 pesos to get a boat across to Malapascua. These vessels normally only leave when there’s enough tourists to justify the trip. Don’t be fooled into paying double for an ‘early’ ride, as the captain and his crew may try their luck if you seem gullible.
Opportunism aside, they’re a hearty sea-faring crew who will get you to Malapascua (mostly) dry.
Then it’s time to kick back and embrace the sea spray.
The boat docks a little ways out to sea. We have to wade our way through the ocean – our first steps to reach the beach. We slip off our flip flops and the saltwater touches our feet. This is Poblacion Beach, with its row of bars, restaurants and guesthouses.
Our feet making contact with dry land, we’re greeted by a group of men offering motorbike rides. Initial reaction? Scam – it’s an island, we could surely walk. Then one of them grabs our attention: “no, no it’s free. the hotel will pay.”
Turns out Malapascua is bigger than we thought.
The island has several beaches, each that are better-suited to specific purposes. Poblacion is the main port beach, with the local village and businesses nearby. Our hostel was on the other side of the island.
So next thing you know we’re on the backs of motorbikes:
My driver starts chatting on the way.
“I grew up on Malapascua, but went to study in Cebu. I got really good grades so I got into university. I finished last year and will be looking for work soon,” he said. He was quite young, maybe 24, dressed in a red basketball shirt and spiky saltwater-kissed hair.
“Will you move back here?” I ask.
“I hope so, I grew up here. Everyone leaves Malapascua to go to school because there is no high school here. But our family is here, and we come back sometimes.”
We stayed in $3 per night dorms at Thresher Cove, a popular scuba diving spot. With cheap beer, a swimming pool and a gorgeous private beach, the next three days were absolute melt-in-the-sand bliss filled with snorkeling, beach exploring and pure idleness.
“It’s really so beautiful here,” says my cousin, our wooden boat rocking gently. We’re on the azure sea surrounding Malapascua island. Our friends are in the ocean snorkeling, taking go-pro photos of coral, pufferfish and ‘Dorys’. The 400 pesos price tag is more than worth it. Our boat guides wrap wet t-shirts around their heads to keep cool in the glare of the midday Philippine sun.
Looking at the vast expanse before me – beaches, boats and water, full of so much joyful life – I feel a slight shudder. Maybe it was the jellyfish sting. But then again, I think it’s more.
“Yeah, it really is beautiful,” I say, before leaping off the boat and into the cool Philippine Sea.