The receptionist couldn’t believe that I’d arrived at the resort alone, a single female traveller. “Only you?” she asked. “No friends, no boyfriend?”
It’s something I’m used to hearing, because I love to travel solo. The main reason is that you’re never really alone, as you always make new friends along the way. In fact by the end of my stay in Bohol, the receptionist, Kayla, was one of them.
It was in 2012, and I’d been living in Korea for just over two years. I’d explored much of East and Southeast Asia, but I’d somehow never made it to the Philippines.
So, when I chanced across a bargain last-minute flight to Cebu, I booked it then and there. A friend recommended I head to Bohol because, as she said: “So many package tours go to Cebu from here, you’ll feel like you never left Korea.”
Before I set off, I found a cheap resort on the island and arranged for scooter rental — other than that, I had no real plans.
I landed in Cebu and was one of the few tourists not picked up by a tour company. I found a cab driver who would run the meter (which as I’ve learned since, was a stroke of luck), and he asked where I was going. “Umm… I need to catch the ferry to Bohol tomorrow, so a hotel somewhere near the port.”
“Do you have a reservation?” he asked. I didn’t, but he said he knew some good places. I couldn’t help thinking I was going to be ripped off, but I was wrong — he couldn’t have been more helpful. The first couple of hotels we tried were full, so we kept on driving around until we found a place. Occasionally, I have luck with taxi drivers.
The next day, I took the ferry to Bohol. Mike, the guy from the scooter rental company, was at the pier to meet me. At his office he asked if he could copy my American driving licence. I opened my wallet to find that I’d left it in Korea. He then asked if I had any experience with two-wheeled vehicles. “Sure, I’ve been on 65, 85, 125, 225, and 250cc bikes many times,” I said. Apparently, that was good enough for him. He copied my passport, took my deposit, gave me a map and a helmet, and off I went.
What I didn’t tell Mike was that I’d never ridden on a road before — my experience was all on dirt-bikes — so I was a little nervous. But that feeling soon passed because the roads in Bohol are pretty quiet.
I set off along the southern coast. The resort was about halfway across the island, so I had a bit of a ride ahead of me. The views along the way were truly beautiful, but towards the end I rode into a downpour and was a soggy mess when I arrived.
You’re alone and tomorrow is your birthday?! Aren’t you sad?”
It was Kayla, the receptionist and now my friend, who greeted me, and expressed her amazement that I had arrived alone.
When she saw my passport, she was even more surprised. “You’re alone and tomorrow is your birthday?! Aren’t you sad?” Indeed, my 25th birthday was the next day.
After settling in, I found a hammock by the beach and relaxed, reading and watching the local kids playing. Before long I realised that I really, really loved the Philippines.
For the next few days, I rode around doing the usual tourist things. There were the Chocolate Hills (which, to me, resembled Madonna’s pointed bra rising from a green plain), the tiny, alien-like tarsiers, a species of primate unique to the island, lots of crystal-clear water, old churches, farms and so much more.
On my last full day, I rode to Anda, a town on the far end of the island known for its perfect white sand beaches. I took a few photos, grabbed a banana smoothie, and kicked back at a table on the beach.
While I was enjoying the view, a lady approached. She asked if she could join me. We started chatting and she suggested we share a meal. As we ate, a few people walked by and greeted her, so I figured she must live nearby.
We ended up chatting for more than an hour. At the end, she said she had to go to a meeting, and I asked what her job was.“I’m the mayor of Anda,” she said. “I’m glad you’re enjoying our island. Tell your friends.” She then passed me a business card, and left.
I hopped back on my scooter, amused at the encounter, and rode back to the hotel. When I arrived, Kayla asked: “Do you drink, and do you like karaoke?” When I told her that I did, absolutely, she said: “Okay, meet me here at 8pm.”
I was curious as to where we were going, because we were surrounded by nothing but small private homes and countryside. At the appointed time, a group of us, including other resort staff and guests, gathered in the lobby. “Let’s go,” said Kayla, “But be careful. There are few lights.”
Flashlights in hand, they led the way to the main road, and then down a dirt side street to a cinderblock hut with a karaoke machine, makeshift bar, and a fridge full of Red Horse beer.
I kicked off the karaoke session, which featured an obscene amount of Red Horse and countless wailed songs reverberating off the concrete. At the end of the night, the staff led us back.
On the way, I glanced up at the sky, and, to the amusement of the entire party, exclaimed: “Holy shit, STARS!” In Seoul, it is hard to see more than one or two, but on Bohol, the entire galaxy seemed visible.
It was the perfect end to a perfect trip. I was sad to leave, but I knew I’d return to the Philippines soon.