We just did our first repeat visit to a resort here in the Philippines. After almost exactly one year, we went back to Coco Beach resort in Mindoro last weekend, relatively close by road, with their own bus service from Manila, its then just a short boat ride to the resort. I was looking to replicate our previous experience and enjoy a quick, relaxing trip out of the city during a 3-day weekend. But, of course, things are never the same as last time. Especially here. Robert was sick at the last minute and couldn’t come. The resort was quieter than before, and the trip down was a little easier. We were also more experienced with life here and our perspectives had changed somewhat. As I say, nothing is ever the same.
We had a good time, but I didn’t leave with the same warm feeling that I had the first time I visited. Exactly why may be a combination of different factors, but the killer for me was the resort-provided boat we took on the first morning. We decided against a longer, all day trip, and instead took the shorter 2-hour free boat ride to a nearby beach that the resort offers daily. We just wanted to snorkel a little as the resort beach front wasn’t so great for this. The boat took us to a small beach about 15 minutes away, and as we approached it was clearn this was going to be another one of those Filipino experiences. As the 12 of us disembarked, a feeding frenzy ensued with boatman, pearl salesmen and a zillion vendors all trying to sell me something before both feet were even in the sand.
Overwhelmed, we headed for a shady spot to weigh up our options, and I glanced over at a Filipino family on the beach a few feet away. They had the usual beach gear, towels and a cooler with food for the day, simply enjoying the beach, which is all we wanted, but this wasn’t an option for us on so many levels. The vendors just kept coming and it was hard to even think straight. Our options were few. We couldn’t even really go swimming as previous experience taught me that someone was bound to take our stuff, even if it was just towels that we left behind, unless we went one at a time, which is no fun. The shoreline was covered in little boats that formed a discouraging barrier between the beach and the sea, blocking the vista. Then of course, there were the vendors. We had no choice, our boat wasn’t leaving for two hours and we were now just bait stranded on the beach, so we reluctantly paid one of the boat guys to take us out snorkelling. We headed out to a nearby spot where another 20 boats were just a few feet away doing exactly the same and it was too dangerous to swim, leaving us holding on to the boat boom and watching the fish swimming below. (When I snorkel, I love to follow the fish, and swim along with them. Its a wonderful feeling of freedom and peace, I found it very frustrating to be stuck in one spot.)
But I was most frustrated at myself for being a knucklehead and putting myself in this situation and frustrated that sometimes I feel I just can’t crack the Filipino tourist nut. Why had I fallen for this? I had presumed a free boat was provided by the resort as an add-on, improving their service at little cost to them. But clearly there was a deal going on. The resort or boatman was taking a fee to deliver guests to the beach. The same boat could easily have stopped at the reef and we could have snorkeled or swum in a lot more peace directly from the banca that brought us there, instead we were delivered as shark bait. I understand that these are poor people that are looking to make a living, and I really don’t begrudge paying for their services. But not like that.
Last year we went on an amazing Kayaking trip from Coco Beach that was an unforgettable experience, unfortunately marred by a couple of significant negative experiences. Not unlike the trip to Pinatubo — unmissable — but, boy, was the organization messed up. But in this instance, it was more than inexperience or lack of equipment. I can forgive the lack of finesse but not the lack of respect.
I can look at these experiences as learning curves, I can recognize that the Philippines is still in the early days of learning about tourism, I can recognize that poverty can be a driving factor over all other considerations. But that still leaves me — the weekend tourist here wanting to experience the Philippines and spend my tourist dollars — frustrated in a way that threatens to cripple my enthusiasm for the place.