Saturday, December 5, 2009

Final Notes on Apo Island

My Negros Oriental Tour: My Final Notes On Apo Island
In general, I liked this Apo Island visit. But as you will see down the article, there are things that I realized were not at all attractive – after some of you have reacted by txt, call, email or chat as I went along. So here goes…

Power!
This one is interesting… the “council of elders” still rules on Apo Island hehe! How is that? I asked why the island only has electric power from 630PM until 930PM when folks usually need it every minute of the day. I learned that the reason was nothing but arbitrary. I learned further that the power’s time-slot have been moved to different time-frames. There was a time it was made available 6 to 9, there was also a time it was until 12 midnight. At another time, even until morning. But one point-of-view emerged most important. Hear this: older folks complained that the younger population kept singing at those videoke machines until the wee hours so that they could not sleep early BUT they needed to get up early in the mornings for men to go fishing or for women to attend mass. That’s it! So electricity was decidedly made available from 6:30PM to 9:30PM – ONLY! Then (probably the same old folks requested so), it was also made available from 0630 to 0830H!

Mass I said? Ah well, if you hear some singing chanting by old ladies and children at about 5AM or 7PM, don’t think that you are drifting to a world of hallucinations. It is real. There is a chapel down a few meters from Liberty’s ground level, and yes, the service starts at 5AM. It includes a rosary. And it can be heard all the way to Apo Island Beach Resort. Why? Because like in many other places in this country, them chapels and churches put up loud speakers facing every direction for the whole outside world to hear whatever they are doing inside. I don’t really know what for. And it happens too from Angelus to about 8PM! You want to complain? Good luck hehehe!

Unreasonably Expensive
I enjoyed my Apo Island visit and let me be clear with that. But when I started telling friends of the expenses, their eyebrows really raised (and raced) to the high clouds. There were so many ‘ill-comments’ form many of you that the jolly flamboyant happy-go-lucky tourist in me did not at first consider to be anything an issue. So, I started re-thinking all about my visit. Here are some of your observations that I agree with:

Its an “offensively expensive” place to visit, despite its rurality and lack of basic facilities, thus, not a very good value for your money. There you are bro Mike, I quoted your “offensively expensive” hehe! Folks, I am speaking as just a normal leisurely visitor and not a diver. They (divers) might have a different view! For the regular visitor though, true, one thing is clear – Apo Island is a business endeavor where the local government wants to earn millions in a hurry by voraciously charging visitors steep prices, thus, an over-rated attraction. Hey Ching, there goes your “voraciously” hehe!

Why do they/I say over-rated? Hmm, there is really nothing too fantastic about the island, their beach, their cliffs, their resorts, their barrio and how the people live or earn a living - if I compare them to many of the other islands in this country. Am not sure about the dives though – but let us be clear, this is not the Tubbataha nor Apo off Mindoro Occidental.

Why do they/I say its expensive and not a good value for money destination? Let’s tell you… The entrance fee over at Malatapay is/was P100 per head. Compare that to Boracay, Panglao or Pandan! Hello, is there even an entrance fee to Panglao? Hehehe! Diving/Snorkeling at the sanctuary is/was P300 per head. Outside the sanctuary its P200. That is just the ‘entrance’ or ‘being there’ fees and not (yet) your dive or equipment fees. Compare that to Olango, Hilutungan, MOAP and just about any other of the hundreds of “sanctuaries” that have sprouted in this country! Again, those above are just fees to the local government and excludes your dive gear and transpo! Gosh!

Ah the locals also follow suit in this mad rush to ‘get rich quick’!

Crossing from Malatapay is usually P1,700 per boat (max 6 to 8pax). And it can even be more if you are not keen to haggling. How much do you pay for crossing between Cordova and Hilutongan or Hilton to Olango, Kaohagan, Nalusuan, etc? How much is it to cross from Davao to Paradise or yes, even all the way to faaar Pearl Farm?! Gosh! Add salt to the injury… Apo Island Beach Resort can offer you the crossing for P440 while Liberty for P300 – which at that are even still expensive, right? How much do you pay crossing Liloan to Sibulan? Di ba?!. If them resorts can lower it, then it can be that cheap. So why are the local boat owners charging P1,700 or more?! You want to add lemon to the salt and the injury? If you were alone and talk to other visitors who might either be alone or a small group so you all think you’ll get to save for the island crossing fare… no boatman will allow it. Even if they did, you still pay P1,700 and the other party or parties a separate P1,700 – which all boils down to you are better-off hiring your own expensive boat ride! Now you might think you are wise so you just wait for the next boat crossing with locals on board. Yes you can, and your eyes will cry blood that they pay P30 each to the boatmen while you WILL STILL pay P1,700 for that one-way ride. O ano laban ka?!

So you thought it might be best to go to Apo Islnad from Dauin instead of Malatapay as you might be able to haggle a better rate. Note… that boat has to pay the island government P250 just because it docked there - so that gets added to whatever rate you have agreed with the boatman.

Here is more… so you have that videocam or even just the digicam but it looks like you are doing videos or generally ‘a coverage’ of where you are going. That is common and natural thing to do right? Okay, you pay P5,000 if you’re doing it at the sanctuary whether off or on water. Its P3,000 if outside of the sanctuary and P2,000 if you are just doing the landscape or the general view. And that is PER DAY! My goodness, I have not seen a place in this country that is so much as hungry for money but couldn’t even provide a 24-hour supply of electricity. Yes Paolo, tangina talaga hehe!

How did I know all those? While I was receiving txst msgs, emails and calls from all of you my dear readers, I interviewed them boatmen and all! And I learned something else! They even field two or three lookouts at Malatapay to spot if indeed you are traveling with this or that group or not. Why? Because you (individual or group) must be charged the hefty boat crossing fare separately. No wonder I was all too perplexed why most of the residents on this island I saw were just hanging around with nothing to do the whole day but wait for the videoke or the church lights to switch on. I have not even seen a fledgling or thriving native industry for them to get busy with. I can just imagine, they all are heftily earning from those boats and so many fees, so their families sit around and wait for the videoke to come alive!

In sum, I enjoyed my visit, as it was a different experience living in an undeveloped island of nothingness… but I must say Apo Island is not something I will be proud of as a Filipino. Everything about going there and out is surrounded by money hungry uneducated vultures who do not even check how much are the going rates when crossing from island to island in this country. Don’t they even know that we all see the prices of crude oil per liter everyday on TV? Ah they don’t, as they don’t have the privilege of such a conveyance hehe! I’ll bet… all the people in that island do not have any idea what “standardization” or “economies of scale” mean. Entrance fees alone are already debatable. Why the triple standards on visitors? What is the difference with foreigners or people from Luzon versus people from Negros setting foot on the island? If you come to think of it, those people from Dauin and Negros would actually even give the island less business as they go there with their own food and equipment. And they paying less entrance fees?

Hey, on return to Malatapay, I asked the man who collects the P100 ‘entrance fee’ why the boat fares are so expensive at such a very short island crossing. His reply was something like “its their own business and we cannot do something about it”. Really?!

So, Apo Island Negros Oriental is a ‘go there once and never again’ island! That is if you care about why you must have to pay more just because you don’t come from the same province. It looks like they’re saying “hey, this is a beautiful island just for our residents, so if you’re from somewhere else, you pay more!

This country’s tourism department only promotes the beauty of the islands, they don’t regulate rates or standards? Is that it? Tell me how much it costs to cross from Dumaguete to Tagbilaran versus Malatapay to Apo Island. And tell me how much is the most expensive room at Harold’s Inn in Dumaguete versus my Room 9 at Liberty’s without running water and with limited electricity hahaha! Yes Priyanka, everywhere we went off Krabi were definitely better in all aspects of price, convenience and rural settings! Lastly while walking the concrete path, I saw a man buy beer and he paid P15. I did the same and I was charged P35. When I asked why, the woman answered “you’re tourist”! Uh!

This was the first time I said “good luck NegOr”!


If you want to read the chronology of all stories on this tour, click the following:
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35
36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65



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