One of the best things, and one of the most challenging things about the Philippines is the lack of development. Before we came here, I was excited by the fact that there are so many fantastic beaches and beautiful places that haven’t been spoilt by tourism. Any place in the US or Europe that has been recognized for something beautiful or extraordinary has been “developed” to accommodate tourists and, hopefully, protect it from the vacationing hoards to some extent or another. Here its another story and one that taught me a more comprehensive view of my expectations when I travel. Undeveloped sounds fantastic because it means no crowds, no tacky tourism, and no limitations on what you can or cannot see. All of these really appeal. I am happy to explore with no airconditioning, no ice cold drinks with umbrellas and without a tour guide to show the way.
However, the flip side of undeveloped also can mean a lot of other things, which I’ve learnt are significant negatives for me. Inexpensive hotels on idyllic beaches can be mean toilets that don’t flush, locks that don’t lock, cockroaches and worse. It can mean a tourist free-for-all, where locals hungry for business, compete with one another to get tourist dollars from the few that visit, and leave the visitor feeling scammed or short-changed, not to mention the damage to the environment. Development along with regulation (if enforced) is not always a bad thing.
So this left me searching for something in the middle. Where to go that was beautiful, where we felt safe, away from the masses, that really felt like we were experiencing the Philippines? And there are plenty of beautiful resorts offering just that. Stunning places with individual nipa huts in the water, amazing hotel rooms, or beautiful private islands. Luxury, comfort, and a waiter with a tray as you drink in the stunning view at your window. But it comes at a price. These places start at about $300/night and go up into the thousands.
But it just seems too excessive to me. Not just financially in a world where people live on a few dollars a day, but also in terms of what we really need to be happy and relaxed. In a beautiful place, I just want peace and quiet, a little shade, some pretty water to swim in and a comfortable chair to read my book. Yet the options for this, are few and far between. Most places are either very inexpensive, barely functioning local accommodation, or international, glamorous resort chains at high prices. Middle-of-the-road places do exist, but you have to hunt them down.
So, for our filipino travel experiences, I have been on a quest here to find somewhere that is our place in the sun, where we can enjoy some time off in the right place, at the right price. Our Boracay experience is a good example and one that was partially successful. But the fact remains that Boracay was just too crowded and commercial for us and that we needed something simpler and quieter.
So after much internet browsing, I stumbled upon the idea of renting a beach house in the Philippines and found just what we were looking for…a small house on a quiet beach on the island of Palawan. We booked it in November for Easter (yes you need to book that far ahead) and last month stayed there and had a fantastic time. Post to follow!
And for anyone reading this that thinks that all of this is ridiculous, and that we are very privileged to experience any of it – good or bad – I would have to say, you are right. We are. A lot of it is justified in my mind as a trade off for the difficulties of Manila life and a way to get a little fresh air back into the lungs. But please don’t judge too harshly. You too may find yourself screaming and shouting at bad drivers, horrible traffic and ridiculous bureaucracy after too many months. It gets to you. Its the little breaks that help keep the privilege of the Filipino experience in perspective.