Well, we are stuck. We are healthy, but stuck.
The COVID-19 pandemic caught us in the travel ban web. However, we have landed in such a great spot – we can hardly complain.
We spent a few days traveling to, staying on, and traveling from the remote Gigantes islands in the Philippines. WiFi was nonexistent; data was dicey. This is why Earth Vagabonds did not post anything for several days.
One thing about a travel lifestyle: you have to adjust plans as things develop. I’m so proud of how Tedly handled the changes, and how relatively positive and cool-headed we stayed, including mom Diane, still traveling with us.
Philippine Quarantine: How Earth Vagabonds got stuck
Plans blow up
The story starts en route to Gigantes. We turned up at our reserved rooms in Carles – a port town for Gigantes – and were turned away!
The owner of Ludy’s said she canceled all reservations, had already given us a refund, and sent us notice. We never got the notice on our long bus ride from Iloilo City to Carles. Of course, we weren’t happy, but we understood her fears.
We later found out she did NOT give a refund at all. In fact, she offered to re-book us in the future at no charge. So now we have a dispute with booking.com over that.
We also found out on arrival that our day-trip to Gigantes from Carles the next morning was canceled. The people in Carles had freaked out over some virus-related news we could not access.
After much discussion with tourism officials in tiny Carles, Tedly secured a place for us to stay for the night, and also way for us to tour the islands — and also stay overnight there!
It was a fabulous experience – one that deserves its own blog post.
Last travelers to leave
We were the last travelers to leave the small Gigantes islands. During our brief stay, local business owners and government leaders decided to ban all travel to Gigantes for at least one month.
We were on the last boat back to the “mainland.” One boat captain told me as we left: “Come back.” I cringe to think of how this pandemic will hurt people who depend on tourism.
Back in Carles, we traveled by two buses to get to Roxas City, and then by V-hire (shared van taxi) to Caticlan, a port city for Boracay. It was another day with no WiFi and spotty data service.
Along the way, our temperatures were checked; our passports inspected. We kept pointing out: we’ve been in the Philippines since November 2019.
It was the first time we saw road checks. Clearly, a lot had changed during the days we had hardly any access to news.
Once in Caticlan, we were forbidden to ride the ferry to Boracay.
Adapt, adjust, overcome
The original plan: an apartment rental on Boracay for two weeks, and then travel on to Romblon Island for one month. This wasn’t gonna happen.
We accepted we had to skip Boracay and change the plan. Security guards pointed me to a notice posted about the new restrictions as of that very day. Only residents, medical staff, and supplies were allowed to Boracay, and only the governor of Aklan province could grant anyone else access.
Stuck, wondering what to do, Tedly went to tourism office inside the port building. Security let him through. Mom and I waited outside. That’s when workers started spraying a bleach solution onto the sidewalk and we dove for cover away from the mist. Things sure had changed quick.
The tourism officials had nothing to offer. There were no plans, was no help, for people like us — stuck.
They did offer this: local hotels in Caticlan probably were not going to accept foreigners.
Everyone was afraid.
Tedly came back with the report: we weren’t going to Boracay, and hotels might turn us away.
We wondered about going to Romblon. Was it possible to get a ferry to that island? That was supposed to be our next stop after Boracay anyway. Tedly went to ask at a different area of the terminal that services a different island.
The answer: Yes! The last boat is leaving now — hurry up!
He raced back to us again with this better bit of news. We quickly got to the window, paid a terminal fee, and ran to the boat.
Ready for our fake out?
Security stopped us. They made some calls. They were kind and respectful, and also, they were all business.
The answer came back: NO. We could not take a ferry to Romblon. That left us stuck at the Caticlan port.
Mom Diane half-joked: a bench could be comfortable. At this point, I was a bit nervous. But we still all (mostly) kept our cool. I would bet most travelers would have been panicked. Not us Earth Vagabonds!
Plans C & D
We tried to book a hotel online near the airport. It looked promising: free WiFi and breakfast for three people at a reasonable price. But the free public WiFi cut out when I turned on the VPN and tried to book it. I wasn’t sure the booking request went through or not.
In the end, the booking failed, and that’s a great thing. Plan C was a regular, nothing-special hotel room near the airport.
When Plan C failed, Tedly found a Plan D. When the free public WiFi access returned a few minutes later, he found a spacious two-bedroom apartment with AC and WiFi and views of Boracay. Way more than what we usually spend as retired budget travelers, but we were running out of options and our nerves were tightening.
With a booking confirmation secured, we took a trike (motorcycle with a passenger cart that acts as a taxi) to the Hangout Beach Resort.
When we arrived, the owner initially declined to accept us. She said she was surprised how the reservation could go through, because she wasn’t allowed to accept guests on a new decree issued earlier that day. We quickly explained we’d been in the Philippines for four months traveling around.
And then, I looked her in the eye and simply said: we had nowhere else to go. She invited us inside – with our bags – to talk things over.
This woman is a godsend. Her name is Yolly.
Related: Top 10 reasons to love Filipino people and the Philippines
Yolly called the local officials and explained our situation. One of them lives nearby and came to the Hangout Beach Resort. I could see the local official suspiciously peer into the entrance area where we sat. I understand her fears, and I hoped she understood the jam we were in.
There were negotiations out of my earshot. Eventually, Yolly gave us the great news: we could stay – but we could not leave for two weeks. We had to be on quarantine.
Hangout Beach Resort
Technically, as of now, we are on “Philippine quarantine” in the two-bedroom apartment (and the rooftop) for 14 days. Luckily, it’s a nice place! We decided to stay at least a month, maybe more, if we can.
I like to muse Plan D worked out because ‘D’ is for “Divine.” We are right where we are supposed to be. Yolly said maybe God sent us to her. I think it works that way, too.
We will post daily quarantine updates. The next post will be “Philippine Quarantine: Day 1” for our first full day of isolation.
We understand the fear in people’s eyes. We understand we are foreigners visiting this country. We understand we can be deported at any time. While we are not sick — we understand we could be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
Philippine Quarantine rules for Earth Vagabonds
We filled out paperwork outlining our travels around the Philippines since November 18 (mom Diane since early December). The local health officials will come and take our temperatures twice a day.
We have a system worked out for food delivery. We have everything we need, including my post-breast cancer medication, and more.
There are two other people here also under “quarantine.” A man from Italy, and a woman from Belgium.
They arrived three or four days before us, before the travel ban, and they had already explored the area. Their quarantine rules are different. They can walk around the property at the Hangout Beach Resort, but they cannot leave the property, where as we cannot leave the second floor or the rooftop on the third level.
It’s somewhat ironic that they can move around more than us, since they were in Manila and we weren’t. But I’m not going to complain. Not when we ended up in such a fantastic spot!
If anyone needs us, we’ll be hangin’ out at the Hangout Beach Resort, enjoying the apartment space, the views, the food.
As I like to say: Life is Now.