The Long Road to Boracay

March 3, 2015

White Beach, Boracay

I chose to spend the first few days of my time in the Philippines in Puerto Galera for a few reasons. One, its proximity to Manila makes it an easy journey by daylight. In addition, that little ferry ride from Batangas can make all the difference in the world when looking for an escape more tropical and less developed than one would find on Luzon. However, being on Mindoro, Puerto Galera is in a prime location to offer connections to Coron, Palawan, and Boracay.

If you’re not short on time and looking for alternatives to flights, boats are easy to come by and cheap, regardless of booking time beforehand. However, as I learned from my experience over to this paradise island, sometimes even established ferry services leave only when they want to. Along these lines, anyone who has spent any time in the Philippines has probably noticed there are two systems of transportation across the islands: one that leaves according to time, and one according to capacity. Jeepneys may say they have a scheduled time to leave, but will inconvenience everyone by delaying if there are too few people to make the trip worthwhile.

So, to the journey! I left my hotel in Puerto Galera at 9:45 in time to catch the regular jeepney headed to Calapan to find the only space available was hanging off the back… not ideal for a 1.5 hour ride through a very bumpy and winding road. I waited for the next one with a secure seat by the front and enjoyed the coastal views (including Tamaraw Falls).

Tamaraw Falls, Mindoro

However, once in Calapan, things got a little difficult. There are private bus services offering transport from Calapan Pier to Roxas Pier, but most need to take a van service from Calapan City. Even before I started this trip, I did the research and discovered this van could take anywhere from two to three and a half hours to reach the pier. I arrived at Calapan at 12:00. My ferry was scheduled for 4:00. No time for a lunch, just a quick dash off the jeepney and into an unmarked white van, where vendors would stop by asking if we’d like candy… I wonder how parents teach their children to avoid pedophiles in the Philippines?

120 kilometers to Roxas. We had a full tank of gas, the driver was smoking cigarettes; it was sunny out, and I’m wearing sunglasses. Hit it.

Although the journey south was faster and the road much better maintained, I didn’t anticipate having to switch vans halfway there or the constant stops picking up passengers only going a few kilometers. But, I can’t complain: I did manage to reach Roxas Pier at 2:45 and immediately spotted the Montenegro Shipping Lines office down the street. Incidentally, there are quite a few restaurants and shops in town.

First hitch: the guy on duty gruffly told me there was no 4:00 ferry today because… they didn’t feel like it (at least, that’s my interpretation). Instead, I should return to buy a ticket in two hours for a 6:00 departure.

This annoyed me for several reasons. I don’t typically let small travel hiccups get to me, but tourism in the Philippines has a way of wearing you down. Like in Cairo and Vietnam, there’s only so many times you can get asked for a massage, diving trip, gem shop, beads, or tattoo before you feel like yelling or spraying someone with a Supersoaker you specially packed for these nuisances.

So, ordinarily I wouldn’t have let a small delay affect my mood, but a 6:00 departure meant I would arrive in Caticlan at 10:00 PM assuming everything was on time, meaning the last bangka to Boracay would just be leaving. From everything I had heard about Boracay, the only way to get across the water after 10 PM was to hope there was a private boat available for airport transfers or arrange one on your own. Like I said, minor inconveniences to a seasoned traveler – it’s not like my money was stolen or a snake bit me – but little things were adding up.

Ferry from Roxas to Caticlan

The ship departed at 5:30, since most of the trucks and passengers were ready for a 4:00 launch anyway, and I enjoyed a sunset on the water and an Indian movie about a man who was reincarnated as a fly to protect his true love from his killer. Sounds corny, but it was pretty entertaining. Being so late to pass by Boracay meant I could see the Saturday night fireworks on White Beach from afar.

Boracay at night from the sea

Luck continued to favor me as I spotted one bangka docked as we approached Caticlan. Believe me when I say I ran at full speed from that ferry, dashed to the terminal and environmental fee windows, threw my money, collected my papers, and made it to the last seat in what I assume was the last boat of the evening, a mere 50 pesos lighter.

So yes, it is possible to take the long road to Boracay in lieu of an overnight ferry from Batangas or a flight from Manila or Cebu. Just be prepared for the possibility of buying a cheap room at one of the piers if your ferry company decides they’re not in the mood to go for a few hours.

Boracay awaits…

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