I’ve been told that the best way to see Southeast Asia is by scooter, and so I embarked on my very first scooter ride a few weeks ago in Panglao, a sandy little island off Bohol. It’s worth mentioning that I did not actually drive the scooter myself, apart from two rotations around the hotel courtyard; despite the ease of steering the thing, I was worried I might crash into a truck or something, so I left it to Judson’s expertise to drive while I took blurry photographs.
Panglao-by-scooter reminded me a little bit of Siem Reap-by-bicycle. There’s a lot going on that’s best observed without the obstacle of a car window: decrepit Coca Cola stands, children playing with frayed rope on crumbling porches, dogs napping in cool ditches. Judson had done some exploring the day before and had decided we would visit a cave that may have been called Hinagdanan, if we could only find it. Imagine asking locals to direct you to a place whose name you can’t pronounce. It is as amusing as it sounds.
After passing signs and making a few U-turns, we made it to the cave, which is located just beyond a cluster of kiosks and shops selling fresh fruit and tickets for the cave, which come in giant sheets, not unlike those sold at carnivals.
The cave is accessed by climbing down a steep set of stairs which eventually lead to a dimly lit little cavern with a still pool of water at the bottom. We were told that swimming in the cave was possible, although our guide did not make it seem very appealing.
“Poops,” he told us, pointing to the water. “From the birds.”
We looked up to find birds darting around beneath the low ceiling. Though the water looked clear and inviting, the notion of swimming in bird feces was not. I wanted to know more about the history of the cave, but the information board revealed very little: the cave was once a place where people met to trade goods and chill out, until a guy got drunk and vomited in the cave. That put a damper on the whole shebang, leaving the cave to the birds and the tourists.
Still, it was enjoyable, and we took advantage of the fruit stalls outside to drink smoothies in the afternoon sun. If you didn’t know already how amazing the mango is in the Philippines, let me tell you. Best place I’ve ever tried mango, and I have tried it in a number of countries. I did learn, however, that mangos are basically pure sugar.
“Good for digestion and immune system,” the woman said to Judson, who had ordered some other type of fruit. “Yours, lots of sugar.”
At least it’s natural sugar.
We decided to take the scooter over to a bee farm after this, because the honey was good and Judson had heard that the food was good also. It was, and the view of the sea was stunning. I’d love to show you photos, but my camera died after taking a lengthy video of makeshift basketball courts we passed on the scooter. This is also why there are no photos of the cave. You’ll just have to use your imagination.
I’d been told before visiting Panglao that the place to stay is South Palms resort. If you can stay there, do it. Our room offered sliding glass doors that opened onto a soft white beach, palm trees jutting out of the sand, roped together with hammocks. Talk about a place to relax.
The sea itself was a panoply of blues and was so inviting that I threw myself into it, swam over heaps of seaweed tangles, and planted myself amidst a circle of sea urchins, which I did not notice until Judson pointed them out to me. I don’t have the best of luck, but it was by miracle that I did not impale my foot on one of their spikes. I had never seen sea urchins before, or living starfish, which were also present, so despite the threat to my ankles, it was pretty exciting – in a mildly terrifying way.
Moral of this story? Go to Panglao for beaches, pina coladas, and motorbike rides. Not a bad first island experience in the Philippines.