So, as it turns out, I cannot successfully board a Filipino pump boat/banca/balangay without complete and utter failure/embarrassment. The number of times I fell into, and out of, boats in the Philippines is ridiculous. I genuinely had an issue! I therefore thought I would share some steps that I have learnt, on reflection, that should hopefully help you avoid the total and repeated embarrassment that I suffered!
1. Plan ahead and work on your balance
Getting onto/off of one of these boats requires some pretty damn good balancing skills. You are expected to use a very thin plank to get onto and off of the boat. Add to that the fact the boat is in no way anchored and therefore bobs around all over the place, sometimes rather violently, and unless you have the balance of a trapeze artist, you will likely find yourself in the water.
I would therefore highly recommend taking yoga, Pilates or some other balance improving class well in advance of your trip.
2. Choose your footwear wisely
I wore flipflops. This was a very stupid move. Flipflops have no grip, come off your feet easily and in my case, are even a tripping hazard. In the end, I opted for bare feet when getting on and off of the boats in the hope this helped somewhat but due to my lack of balance (hence point 1 above) this actually made very little difference. I still fell into the water. Numerous times.
3. Try to wait until the boat has settled on the water
This may seem obvious but you will no doubt be ushered onto the boat quickly whilst it is still ‘docking’. I often boarded boats direct from the sea, no sturdy platform to start your ascent/descent along the tiny plank, so try to gauge when the boat has steadied somewhat before attempting to board.
4. Keep your hands free
Yes, there aren’t any rails to hold onto for dear life as you balance your way up or down the thin plank but the Filipino’s are super lovely people and will hold out their hands to help to steady you, so keep your hands free as you will no doubt require this assistance (unless you are a trapeze artist or planned ahead as per point 1).
5. Wear swim gear and have a change of underwear on dry land
If all the above fail and like me, you still end up quite spectacularly falling off the thin plank into the sea below, at least you will know you have something dry to change into once you drag your embarrassed self back onto dry land. Plus, by wearing swimming stuff, you feel somewhat less awkward continuing your day on the boat soaking wet.
As you can tell, I suffered many embarrassing falls in my pursuit of exploring the waterways of the Philippines. I cut my knees, bruised elbows, plunged into the water with the loudest splash ever and fell head first into one of the boats, flashing everything to the lovely people I would be sharing the rest of the day with. All in all, I experienced embarrassment on new levels. Repeatedly.
If the above does not help and you find yourself in my position, my best advice is to STYLE. IT. OUT. Embrace the embarrassment and put it down as another one of those awesome travel stories you can tell on your return.