I’ve written elsewhere about the perils of B-side travel: overly quiet destinations, less than memorable sights, overall disappointing experiences. But then sometimes you strike the right cord -or rather, the right cord is struck for you- and you end up happily stuck in an anonymous destination, wondering why the hell you tried to pack in so many destinations in so little time.
That was my experience with Anda, my first Filipino travel destination. Anda is a delightful country town in the vicinity of unspoilt white sand beaches and water caves – perhaps most famous among them are Talisay Beach and Cabagnow Cave Pool, but even those two felt low-key and mainly visited by locals and Filipino travelers.
It’s a town that seems to have struck the right balance between offering a basic tourist infrastructure and preserving a friendly, local feel. Frankly, I can only hope that it will stay that way – so, so far from the crowds that now flock to Panglao and the famous Bohol sights.
Truly, I was happy to slow down, and Anda rewarded me with a plethora of memorable images. The childish excitement of jumping time and again into the cool pristine waters of Cabagnow Cave pool. Taking the wrong turn on the way back and suddenly appearing on an empty Talisay Beach in high tide. Talisay: Swimming in those turquoise waters laughing from joy, wondering how the sand could be so white and unspoilt – but also, enjoying an evening of low tide and solitude. Eating a cheap Filipino lunch at the local eatery where an old couple is singing karaoke to entertain the patrons. A quiet afternoon walk on Quinale beach with dogs and chicken far outnumbering people, and then discovering some municipal workers carefully (lovingly?) burying algae in the sand. The delightful combination of Red Horse, Bam-i noodles and rock classics with my feet buried in the sand while having dinner at the beach bar.
Anda is also the kind of place where it’s easy to talk to locals.
“Are you alone?” I was asked by the ladies cooking the barbecue skewers. “You with wife?”
“No, I’m alone… Actually, throw in some chicken feet too…Salamat!”
“My colleague says she would like to give you a massage”, said one of the girls taking care of the simple guesthouse I chose for my extra night in Anda.
“Really?” I asked, wondering whether her colleague would be as young and pretty as her – and, if so, what the hell I’d reply.
But the offer came from Maria, a chubby lady in her fifties with a generous smile.
“I can also show you around”, she said as soon as she saw me. “Have you been to Anda’s waterfall?”
“No. Waterfall? That’d be cool!” I replied enthusiastically.
So we walked to the church area and hired a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) driver to take us there.
Maria. (You can call me Ate Maria, she had said. Your older sister.) Ate Maria was funny and talkative. Apparently she she had been married to a rich European guy, and had lived the life in Singapore for a number of years, before the guy had dumped her for a girl in her twenties. I wish the story didn’t sound familiar.
But Ate Maria stayed positive. She enjoyed being back home in Bohol, and tried her best to talk to tourists and foreign travelers. “This way I maintain my English“, she claimed.
Photo credit: travelwithamate.com
As it happened, Ate Maria didn’t quite deliver as a tour guide. The waterfall turned out to be a mere trickle feeding a pool of brown water, and the spectacular views on the way to Lamanok were nowhere to be found.
I still thanked her profusely for her time as we got off our motorbike well past sunset, and said I’d be happy to have a drink with her.
“You’re single. Would you like me to help you find a Filipino wife?” she offered as we shared a San Mig grande.
“No, but I’d be happy to stay in touch with you.”
With her and Anda: my first Filipino love, and probably the first I’ll be returning too.