After a few days of playing it safe and lounging at the beach in front of my hotel, I was itching to venture out and do some island sightseeing. That’s my typical M.O. I like to suss out a place for a few days to get the ‘lay of the land.’ My next goal was to rent a boat Boracay style.
Boracay Island, pronounced Borak-eye, is a tiny island off the shore of larger, Panay Island in the Philippines. It’s only 7km long (4.5 miles), and much of it can be seen in a few days. But I was now ready to venture out and see some of the other islands nearby.
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Beware! Everyone’s trying to sell you something
There were tons of local vendors outside the hotels and restaurants trying to flog you a boat tour of some sort, sell you sunglasses, a selfie stick, massages, hats, you name it – much of what you don’t need. It can be a bit exasperating, but, whatever. They are just trying to make a living.
The first thing I learn how to say locally is, “No. Thank you.” It comes in very handy and often. Here, basically you can get by with, “Salamat Po”, simply, Thank You.
The hotel did offer to arrange a similar boat tour, but at twice the price, so I hesitated and considered using one of the lingering vendors. I later heard it was wise to be weary of the vendors, as sometimes they will take a deposit to sign you up for a tour, only to run off with your money! And since there are hundreds of guys selling tours, chances are you’d never find him again. Lesson well learned.
Take a group boat tour if you want to meet people
There are many organized tours that will take you to a few snorkeling spots and islands, along with 30 other people on board. But sometimes that’s too much ‘input’ on my part trying to ‘make nice’ with strangers.
After a week in Manila with 400 other bloggers, I was in need of ‘me’ time and didn’t want to be bothered by anyone or on anyone else’s schedule.
It helps to meet some locals
Having firmly planted myself for two evenings at the same bar next to my hotel, listening to a local cover band over cheap beer, I became friends with one of their security guards. And not a bad looking guy to boot. There is something about security guards that makes you feel safe. However, in the Philippines, you never know.
Any rate, I was having yet another flirty chat with hot Security Dude when a vendor came up trying to sell a tour. I bid him my, Salamat Po, and he kindly moved on.
I mentioned to Security Dude I really did want to take a tour, but didn’t know how to go about arranging one. Then, all of a sudden, a ruckus broke out and Security Dude abruptly left – our conversation cut short by a couple of drunk Aussies fighting over some local girls. Thanks, guys!
An hour later, after kicking the guys out and finishing his paperwork, Security Dude came back and said he’d arranged a private boat for me for tomorrow, and if I didn’t mind, he’d like to come with. Wow… day out on a private boat, with hunky Security Dude probably 1/2 my age??? Hmmm, let me think….. Ah, yeah, sweet!
Gathering Rations for the Day at the Wet Market in Boracay
So the next morning we arranged to meet at 10:00. And just to caveat all this, I made friends as well with the Security in my hotel. I told them where I was going and with whom. They knew Security Dude, and where he worked, so I felt okay going off with him for the day.
The morning started out awkward with a bit of small talk, and I wasn’t sure where we were going or how the day would unfold. Security Dude had arranged for us to have a barbecue on an island, so we needed to go to the Wet Market first to pick up a few things.
The Wet Market is a local market selling all sorts of fresh fish, meats, fruits and veggies. It’s where the locals go and the prices are very reasonable.
This covered-but-no-walls market has a slimy-wet tiled floor that is extremely slippery, and a staggering odor of rotten fish! After looking at everything from lobsters, urchins, squid, oysters, a variety of fish I didn’t recognize, pork, beef, and chicken, we settled on red snapper and pork.
Ok, I’m getting the hang of this, and clearly Security Dude has done this before as he knew exactly where to go and what to pick up. That, along with some rice, limes, herbs, fruit, a couple of beers, and we were set. I spent less than $15.
Head to the boat dock area
With our bounty in hand, we hailed a trike to the Bulabog boat area on the eastern side of the island where you register for your private boat. There, you provide your details on an official form (name, passport number, hotel you are staying at), and you, as well, know that they are licensed to operate.
There are many bandits that are not qualified, certified nor insured to operate boats, so only go with those that provide official paper work.
I’m sure since there’s been a massive crack down on sewage problems and corruption in 2018 that I island made other improvements to ensure businesses are registered and tourists are safe.
Benefit of having your own private boat
The benefit of renting your on boat on Boracay is really control over where you go and for how long. The boats are really cool and typical for this part of the world. They are outrigger-style with a roof covering for shade.
The sun is scorching, so you absolutely need a boat with shade of some sort. We sailed out for about 15 minutes to a rather popular snorkeling drop-off location. There, we were surrounded by lots of larger boats with lots of noisy tourists.
Not me…, I was extremely content paddling around my private boat all alone, listening to no one, bumping into no one, stepping over no one.
I spent about 20 minutes floating in silence admiring the beautiful coral, getting caught up in schools of fish, getting freaked out by the fish, and cooling off in the sweltering sun. Security Dude now became my photographer as well.
You get to Crystal Cove Island before the crowds
Back on board and we were off. We left the bulk of the tour groups behind still paddling around, and headed to Crystal Cove Island. This was a great decision, since I didn’t have to wait to buy an admission ticket because we arrived before the hoards.
Entry to Crystal Cove island is 200PHP ($4) and free for locals. You’ll find there are substantial differences between local and tourist prices – particularly in the cost of transport and entries to parks. You rent a trike, it’s one price. If a local rents, it’s another.
The boat drivers will cook your lunch
Once on the island, we gave our bag of ‘yet-to-be-yumminess’ to the second captain and off he went. We, instead, headed off to find a covered picnic area. And, thankfully, we lucked out. There were not many sheltered tables available and again, it was great that we arrived before the crowds or we’d have been sitting in full sun.
We cracked open a couple of beers and talked a lot about life, and the challenges of living in the Philippines: jobs, living conditions, healthcare, benefits, vacation time.
This is a conversation the locals have quite frequently with visitors, and don’t think the desire to get off the islands is a female-only stereotype. Guys as well will happily see how far they can get with the ‘I’m poor’ card. Again, they are only trying to make a living, but it’s something you need to be aware of.
Getting to know my tour guide – Life in Manila was tough
Security Dude previously worked in Manila for 10 years as a guard at the Mall of Asia. He used to do ‘bank runs’ in one of those armored trucks. Then one day, tragedy struck. Seven bandits on scooters shot their tires causing the truck to roll. They then threw teargas into the cab forcing the guards to get out.
Security Dude’s partner pulled his gun, (yes, most guards carry guns in the Philippines) but so did one of the bandits behind him. His partner was shot in the back of the head and his brains were literally splatter all over Security Dude. The bandits then put the gun to Security Dude’s head and he thought his life was over.
Luckily, the police started to arrive and the bandits fled. Two weeks later Security Dude left Manila and hasn’t looked back.
He much prefers security duty for a hotel/restaurant on a beautiful island even though the pay is much less and even if he doesn’t get to see his wife and children much, since they live on a different island.
Food and housing are part of his package and he gets a salary, much of which he sends back home. Security guards start off making about $250 a month, to put things in perspective. He works 12-hour days, sometimes 24 and maybe has 3 days off a month. So I was even more appreciative of his time.
Our Barbecue is ready
Out of nowhere, the second captain arrived with our deliciously-prepared snapper, barbecue pork, along with a zesty, soy-chili-tomato sauce for the rice. We finished it off with fresh mango and apple, and washed it down with San Miguel. It was such a unique, impromptu experience I would never have had, had I been with a group of 30 people.
After lunch we spent another hour exploring the beautiful volcanic island and coves that have been created over time by the sea’s erosion. It’s magical and strange at the same time. The rocks are extremely sharp and I conked my head a couple of times while crawling on my knees trying to enter an opening that would lead to a beautiful sea pond cove where you could snorkel and paddle around.
Nothing is for free
If you have the chance to make the acquaintance of a local who is willing to do the leg work of getting you a private boat, do it. But remember, these people aren’t doing it for free, no matter how friendly they are. You should pay them for their time as well as cover the cost for their food. But you don’t have to over pay either.
I was happy to pay Security Dude for his time and that meant I also had someone to look out for me for the rest of my stay on the island. The experience will be unforgettable and again one of those times I was glad I traveled alone.
A group tour will cost you about 800 PHP (£14 or $17) and the private boat was 2500 PHP (£44 or $52) for 4 hours. The benefit of a private tour is that you can linger longer or shorter in places depending on your interest. So make friends with a local, but be aware of the games that may take place. I hope you’ve enjoyed my experience of how to rent a boat Boracay style. Oh, and I won’t tell you where to find my Security Dude. He’s mine for the next time I go back.