There is salt in my hair. It’s been there for a few days now. I can’t say that I care much.
Because in that wonderful, starry-eyed way, I am in love.
I am in love with the sea.
(You thought I was going to tell you I fell in love with an actual person, didn’t you? Haha, fat chance. But I gotcha, didn’t I? Ahem, back to waxing poetic.)
Love makes you feel all sorts of interesting ways you weren’t expecting, even when it’s for an inanimate object. Love makes you overlook the annoying, the uncomfortable, the less than desirable. Love makes you blind.
Loves makes me not mind the thin rattan walls of my hostel on bamboo stilts over the coastline. Walls so thin I can hear every cough and footstep, every toilet flush, ever cock’s crow and the snorting pig next door—I didn’t know you could keep pigs in a ramshackle shack on stilts above the sea. I don’t mind the salty stink that rises up through the slats of the floorboards when the tide passes in and out a few feet below. I don’t mind the brown outs, when the entire town operates by candle light. It all just adds to the romance. I don’t mind the permanent sticky quality my skin’s taken on from the humidity that makes me feel like I’m halfway to becoming a salamander. And I especially don’t mind the salt. The salt that immediately settles into my hair when I get on the sea, that makes it stand up all stiff and crunchy and wild.
I don’t mind any of it because I get to be on a boat all day looking at this:
Hanging out here:
Lest you think I’m some kind of millionaire for being able to laze my week away on a tropical island, I’ll let you in on a not so secret secret: I’m doing all of this for under $50/day.
I’m in the Philippines, on Busuanga Island, in the town of Coron, a fishing village that still operates as such. It’s gritty, real, rough around the edges, but it’s safe and it’s friendly and it’s cheap. There are plenty of tourists, but you don’t get the sense that the entire town is built around their existence. At least, it’s not a place that’s manicured to coddle them.
I came here with visions of spending new year’s eve in my own bungalow on stilts with a view of the ocean. That was before I realized (duh) that that kind of accommodation costs over $500/night and is reserved for gazillionaires and movie stars. I am still holding out for my beach-front bungalow some day, but my humble hostel on stilts feels like home just fine. I actually switched from a “resort” a little outside of town to stay here, where the people are friendlier, I have access to a fridge and free drinking water, and wifi when there’s electricity. Barefooted children run up and down the plank walkway between the houses smiling and calling hello hello! and neighbors stop by to chat with the manager.
I’ve loved my week in Coron. It’s slowed me down like island life will do, and I’ve had a few blissful days in and on the water, swimming and snorkeling to my heart’s content. I’m filled up on mangoes and bananas and coconut juice and grilled fish. My ankles are itchy with mosquito bites, the barometric pressure is making my knees pop, and there is this perpetual salt in my hair, but I am leaving with a giddy grin only love can give you.
Tour operators in town offer island hopping packages for 650 to 1500 pesos, about $20-35 US depending on where you want to go. (There is lots of diving as well, including WWII Japanese ship wrecks to explore.)
My favorite tour was the Banana Island-Malcapuya Island-Bulog trifecta offered by Nice in Paradise tours. All the locations are clean, clear beaches where you can walk right into the water with your snorkel on and see fish in a couple feet of water. Their lunch is also pretty big (grilled fish, squid, crabs, seaweed salad, fruit, etc.)
Coron Backpackers Guesthouse: Budget stay in a typical local style house on stilts above the tide. Laid back feel. English-born Filipino manager and his Filipino wife are beyond sweet. Make friends in the common areas and expect some mosquitoes at night. You get your own room with shared bath for 500 pesos/night, about $10 US.
Sea Dive “Resort”: Resort on the island is a loosely defined term. It just means the place is somewhat enclosed and includes a restaurant, bar, and tour booking. I hung out at the bar/restaurant and it seems like a clean, comfortable establishment but restaurant service is on island time. They have their own generator so the brownouts don’t affect them.
Lolo Nolo’s Food Station. Service with a smile in the center of town was yummy, cheap, and didn’t dumb the food down for tourists.
Fruit, nuts, little packets of instant coffee and Spanish sweet bread from the public market and bakeries will give you a decent breakfast for mere pennies.