Philippines: White Christmas at Alaminos

After the stress of missing my Boracay ferry and being stranded in Batangas at 1am, coupled with the really gutting feeling that I wouldn’t be visiting the one place I’d revolved my whole Philippines trip around, I needed a good Christmas. To be honest, I’d have settled for spending Christmas anywhere other than Manila, so when I woke up in a kubow hut in Alaminos on Christmas morning to blazing sunshine, I had a good feeling.

There’s no denying that Alaminos had been my second (and very last minute) choice but by the end of my stay here, I was wondering why I hadn’t heard of, let alone considered, it before. It was incredible and the turnaround from the start to the end of the week was amazing. Somehow, I managed to pull off having the incredible Christmas I’d wanted. And that’s the joy of travelling – sometimes it throws nasty curveballs at you but, equally, you get surprising gems which really make your trip.

My brilliant stay in Alaminos was down, in no small part, to the wonderful Treasure Isle Guest House which I’d highly recommend. A higgledy-piggledy house off Lucap Road, it has the charm of a haunted house done good. In its grounds sit tents and kubow huts (which go for between 300 – 500php a night – the kubows in particular are great) whilst the house is home to bigger rooms and the acclaimed treehouse. Chickens, turkeys, dogs and hyperactive children roam round the backyard, giving it a real homely feel. Most nights involve the guests gathering around the campfire in the yard and swapping stories.

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The hosts, Nick and Alma, are also great. Nick is constantly attentive, always greeting you with a cheery wave and a wisecrack. He’s certainly got some fascinating stories to tell! His wife Alma is also a lot of fun and a superb cook. They can both easily arrange tours to the nearby sites and ensured I was paired up with other groups so I didn’t pay the more expensive solo prices. This also had the advantage of meaning I wasn’t alone for Christmas which was nice. For your trips, they pack enough food and drink to feed the 5000. I ate the best I’d eaten for the whole trip so far. And that’s what Christmas is really about.

So on Christmas Day itself, I woke up early (one year I’ll get a Christmas lie-in) and headed out with a Filipino family to Bolinao, home to the revered Patar White Beach. It was about an hour away from Alaminos in a jeepney. I got my white Christmas after all! The beach was stunning, one of the finest I’ve seen. The water was amazing and, though it was busy, you could wander a few minutes further down and you’d have the whole place to yourself to enjoy a Red Horse (or three). A gathering of huts sit for people to make food and Alma cooked us a delicious Christmas feast. It was great being with the Filipino family as they could suggest what combinations to try.

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Christmas Dinner

After stuffing ourselves silly, we headed to the mystical-sounding Enchanted Cave (150php entrance fee if you want to swim). It was a cave sat in gorgeous surroundings with pools and waterfalls galore. We went at a perfect time too, just as the sun started to set. After this, we returned home and polished off the remainder of Alma’s food for dinner. Then, after much persuasion (and many beers), I was convinced to join in with the Filipino way of celebrating Christmas – videoke. The catalogue of songs was like a phonebook! I belted out Wham, Oasis and The Carpenters and watched as the others took on some Filipino classics, until we were so bad that one of the family’s young daughters came upstairs and told us to shut up. It was probably for the best.

Patar White Beach, Bolinao
Patar White Beach, Bolinao

The next day (Boxing Day for us Brits but just the day after Christmas out here), I tagged along with a German guy and Filipino girl and we visited Alaminos’ top attraction – the One Hundred Islands. It’s exactly what it says on the tin and you can hire a boat for next to nothing – it cost us 1400php between three of us for the day. Nick and Alma stocked us up with plenty of food and drink and we headed off. It was another glorious day.

The first island has a stunning lookout across some of the other islands, many of which just look like big rocks. We snapped some pictures and then headed to the snorkelling spot so the couple could give it a go. I’ve still not plucked up the courage to try it yet, given that I’m not the biggest fan of the water. They said it was good, though there were few fish, just coral.

DSC_0431The other two had booked to camp overnight on an island so we next have to find an island on which they could sleep. We settled for Scout Island where we set up camp and ate lunch, drank beer and chatted. After going out for a swim, we decided to hop across to another island to hire out kayaks. I wasn’t too sure – the last time I’d been in a kayak had been in Menai 9 years ago and, given my track record with any sort of vehicle, I thought I’d probably end up back in Hong Kong.

Despite almost being trapped and crushed by two boats, I soon got into the swing of it and we paddled across to ‘our’ island and celebrated with some beer. We were so pleased with ourselves that we forgot to take the kayaks back and had to pay a fine for returning them late. It had been worth it though and a lot of fun. The other two stayed on the island and I headed back to the guesthouse for an early night. Island hopping is exhausting!

I left Alaminos the next morning in order to catch my flight to Palawan. Alaminos hadn’t been mentioned anywhere in my Lonely Planet and I could have easily missed it. Had Boracay not fallen through, I never would have known it existed. But it was a hidden gem – just a 5 hour bus ride (300 – 400php) from Cubao with Victory Liner/5Stars is a perfectly placed city which sits nestled within stunning islands and beautiful beaches. It was one of the best surprises I’ve ever had.

I should miss ferries more often…

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