Apo island is 17 hectares in size, and home to a youthful, vibrant population of about 800. The village is quaint, with well-kept nipa huts dotting the single walking path that is the island’s main road. The cement path is about a metre wide, and is often filled with kids playing jump rope, women doing laundry, and the odd vendor. Vehicle-less, the place is relaxed, laid-back and looks exactly as you would imagine a perfect little community would. You really get the sense that people enjoy living here, and how could they not. It is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.
The community on Apo is tight-knit, and consists of about 80 families. Tourism is probably their largest industry, though it feels nothing like Boracay. The island attracts divers form all over the world to it’s unparalleled reefs, and after spending some time snorkeling in Apo’s renowned marine sanctuary, I see why. Beneath the waves of Apo Island lies a silent, blue world of breathtakingly beautiful corals and creatures. I felt like I’d landed on the set of Finding Nemo. The corals are enormous, colourful and healthy. And they’re teeming with fish of all kinds. We saw clowns, tangs, parrotfish, pufferfish, triggerfish, boxfish, angelfish and many many more species I’m still trying to identify. We even swam with sea turtles, and we saw another sea krait, though this one was at a comfortable distance.
Getting to and from Apo island perhaps only slightly hinders it’s number of visitors, but it is a bit of a pain. We traveled with the Harold’s Mansion dive boat, which is a large, well-kept banka operated by the hostel. Apo doesn’t have a dock, and it’s shores are quite rocky, so the boat was too large to pull right in. Instead, we had to load our stuff into a precarious craft smaller than a canoe, and be rowed ashore. One at a time. Tyson went first, as I loaded my computer and camera into a waterproof bag. Each wave made the boat teeter back and forth, filling it with water. When they came back for me, I loaded my stuff in, prayed it wouldn’t go overboard (it had made it this far safely!) donned my mask and jumped in for the 50ish metre swim. I’d rather just get wet than fall out of a boat.
I saw more life in that swim than I had seen in the last month and a half combined. At one point I had to slow down, so that a huge sea turtle could cross my path, grazing, unfazed by my presence.
Although we had a reservation for Mario’s Guesthouse, we were taken to the wrong place by a helpful gentleman who met us on the beach. I don’t believe this was an accident, but after we’d checked into Mary’s Guesthouse, we discovered that Mario’s was in fact somewhere else, and also more expensive. The staff at Mary’s were pleasant but non-existent, so we only spent one night there.
We spent the following five nights at Ronor’s Guesthouse. The place is in the centre of town, half way between the main entry point, and the marine sanctuary, and right next to the elementary school. Our gracious host cooked us a feast each night. We spent our time strolling through the village, waving hello to the locals who passed us by. At night, fireflies danced over the lagoon, so bright they had reflections, and giant crabs crept from their holes to stalk around the beach.
Because Apo is so small, it only has electricity for three hours a day, in the evening. When the lights come on, people crowd around each other’s television sets and karaoke machines, and the island comes to life, taking a break from it’s daily activities to breathe, and enjoy the presence of power, something you can tell they don’t take for granted. During this time, women cook, men watch tv and children run through the well-lit streets with playmates. The sounds and smells of content, island life and laughter fill the air.
But everyone knows they need to be near a flashlight or in bed by 9:15, when the electricity cuts out, and the island is thrown into a stagnant blackness. Tyson and I would huddle near the fan as that fateful time neared, knowing we would lose it’s coveted breeze to the sweltering heat as we absorbed the last few minutes of refreshment. Cursing the thing for dying, we spent the nights sweating under our mosquito net, promising never to take electricity for granted again. I imagine the two resorts on the island run generators, but we refuse to pay more for that kind of luxury.
Village life starts early on Apo island, with people eagerly taking advantage of their daylight hours. Because they go to bed so early, they get up at the crack of dawn. However, for two Canadians who like to sleep in, this was more amusing than annoying. It forced us to get up early as well, and make the most of our day. That being said, I will never ever miss the sound of a rooster ever again in my whole entire life.
One day we hiked the 400-odd stairs to the even tinier, more remote village on the other side if the island. Along the way we spotted a praying mantis and a few lizards. Tyson got some pics. We’ll post those soon, I hope. We wandered out to a gorgeous, empty beach backed by a lagoon teeming with fish. Coconut trees swayed gently as the surf rolled in, and we were in paradise.
While we were on Apo, a bladder infection I was battling turned into the beginnings of a kidney infection, and that’s how I found out the island doesn’t have a resident doctor. This surprised me, considering we saw a number of pregnant women walking around. Our host let me use her cell phone, and, scared that I had a serious medical condition on a remote island, I called my parents for advise. If I have ever taken for granted the wisdom of my parents, I won’t again. Being able to call them from half way around the globe, so they could calm me down, and tell me exactly what to do was a god-send. It turns out I just so happened to have the right antibiotic with me, and started taking it immediately. We made hasty plans to leave the island with a fisherman the next morning, but I was feeling so much better by then that we were able to stay an extra few days. Thank you, Mom and Dad!!
Getting off Apo island was slightly problematic, and certainly tested our patience. Our plan was to travel with the Harold’s Mansion dive boat again, since, compared to some of the smaller bankas we saw, it is big and reliable. But the locals wanted us to go with one of their boats, and used miscommunication as an excuse. We had to be very persistent, but we got on the right boat.
Apo island doesn’t feel real. It’s like a make-believe island from a children’s story, complete with beautiful, rugged terrain, blooming reefs, sea turtles, friendly people and a village that has almost a mystical quality about it, it’s so perfect. Children pour from the elementary school breathing youthful life over the island. Their laughter and chatter can be heard everywhere. The people of Apo have life figured out. They live it at their own pace, enjoying every day for what it is. You can see it in their faces when they smile.