June 10th, 2004(Continued from last page)
Subject: Operation Dad
The Bangkok airport sucks. It offers NO comfortable place to sleep for those who have been out fullmooning the night before. So, I wandered aimlessly around the airport for 5 hours, dreaming of a bed, until I could check in. When I finally checked in, I was turned away from the counter because I had no onward ticket. NO!! I totally forgot about that. It didnt apply the first time I came in because I had the letter from my sailboat that I'd be leaving with them. If I'd thought about it sooner, I'd have re-printed the letter and used it. I didnt buy a roundtrip because at the time my dad didnt know when he'd be going back. I should have just made it for a day past the last possible day, but... I didnt. The sleep deprivation almost made me cry at this point. Buying a ticket here in Bangkok would be twice as much as it would be in the travel agents in Manila. Anyhoot, I was forced to buy an onward ticket. The man at the airport said I could just buy the cheapest one and then refund it when I got to the Philippines. Fine. I bought the cheapest one - a ticket to Hong Kong - with the intention of refunding it.
I arrived in Manila and checked in to a hotel with a nice comfy bed. And I couldnt sleep. Dont you hate when that happens? So, I got up and headed straight for Jollibee. I've been craving a Jollibee burger for the last couple months, so I headed straight out to get one.
Dad got in about midnight and we zonked out in preparation of making our 8:30 flight to Puerto.
I was wondering how long I might be here in this city before I saw someone I would recogize. Well, I didnt even make it out of the airport. My friend Hope was there passing out flyers and recognized me, despite my dye-job-gone-bad on my head (it turned out orange instead of blonde, but hey, hair grows out).
Dad and I headed to the Puerto Pension where I stayed last time. The lady at the front desk remembered me, which was nice to see. We checked in to our room and headed right for Honda Bay. We arrived early enough in the morning where we still had most of the day.
Honda Bay is the bay next to Puerto where you can go island-hopping for the day. We charted a boat for the day and headed out. I told our driver I wanted our first stop to be Starfish Island. This the island that I stayed at with Dave, Alan and Zsa Zsa for 2 nights. The one that the 4 of us have the opportunity to run as a resort for a year, and we may be doing just that come September. So, I really wanted my dad to see it.
To my surprise, it was almost 50% more underwater. Because of the full moon, the high tides were at their highest. The island had really shrunk. Thats ok, it just made the tour all the shorter. :) We hopped in the water and went snorkeling. I really must say that Starfish Island has the best snorkeling in all of Honda Bay, and probably the second best in Palawan (behind El Nido). The high tide made it a bit tricky to see as much as we had seen last time, but it was still amazing snorkeling.
Next we took the boat out to Snake Island. I suppose there are snakes there somewhere, but I've never seen any. But there are cool fish there that you can feed. On the ride over, my dad commented that all the pictures and words in the world cant really describe the feeling of being on this little outrigger boat in the middle of this bay in the Philippines. Its always so nice to refresh my perspective like that. It happened when my brother came to travel with me in Costa Rica. He'd take pictures of things I'd consider everyday. I'd ask why he was taking a picture of it, and he'd have to tell me, because its cool. Then I'd look at it again, and realize it was cool. Same with the boat trip. By the time I reached Puerto last time, we'd been on so many of these boats, it almost had become routine. A fun and awesome routine, but a routine none-the-less. Seeing someone get the thrill of it for the first time brings that all back in a way.
After Snake Island, we headed out to the Lapu-Lapu farm. This is a fish farm where they breed and raise the 5-foot long Lapu-Lapu fish in captivity, out of harms way of the fishermen. The farm is built out of planks tied to plastic containers filled with air. Its not a very stable sort of thing, and the planks resemble something which you might see on fear factor. At first glance, it might look easy to walk on, but for someone without sea legs, its not an easy place to learn.
I got my sea legs working in Alaska way-back-when. Dave got his working on the Salamandra, where I honed mine as well. Zsa Zsa having grown up around the water had her sea legs too, but Alan was the only one in our group who didnt have them last time. Your bodies ability to learn how to walk on floating surfaces is tough to aquire, but once you have it, you have it. This time it was my dads turn. While I jump off the boat and scurry over the planks, he's just getting used to the sensation of walking on them. It probably doesnt help matters that on either side of the planks are fish with mouths the size of dinner plates when opened fully. We kept asking what would happen if someone fell in, if they'd be bitten, but couldnt get an answer with translation difficulties. They were chewing up the fish that were tossed in rather violently.
We took the boat back to the dock where our trike driver was waiting to take us back to the hotel. The main form of transport around Puerto is the trike. Theres about 3000 of them, but it seems like double that. Theres one road at the bottom of town that just has a continuous procession of trikes. Each driver will put his front wheel on the side car of the trike in front of him. Which makes it look almost like a conveyor-belt made of trikes. Just find an empty spot on the belt and hop on. 5 pesos later, you're at your destination.
That night, we headed out to my favorite Puerto bar, Kinabuchs. It always has relatively good music, great food, cold beer, and nice pool tables. We had dinner there and a good number of pool games before heading to Christines, the 24 hour bar. I told my dad about my plan of actually staying a continuous 24 hours in the place, and the fact that Dave wouldnt do it with me. Dad wouldnt either. I guess the gene that makes me want to do that I inhereted from somewhere else, although I'm pretty sure my mom wouldnt be too game on the idea either. :) We stayed at Christines for a few rounds, then grabbed a couple burgers at the Burger Hut outside the bar. I dont think I have ever headed home without a couple of these burgers. At 20 pesos, the give the trike rides competition for being the best bargain in town.
We finally slept in the next day, and decided to head to the Iwahag Prison, just outside of town. It was in the guidebook, but somehow we didnt see it last time. We stopped at the market on the way there, but it was more of a farmers market than a shoppers market. While cool to see and walk through, it didnt offer us much to buy.
On the way to the prison, our trike driver got a flat tire. It was only his 10th day as a trike driver, poor guy. And we made him go down this rocky dirt road, and he got a flat out in the middle of nowhere. Well, he wasnt that far from no-where, we were actually walking distance to the prison. But I think we were far from anywhere that repaired flats, as his bike was still there 3 hours later when we left.
The prison is out in the countryside, and is a prison without walls. Its minimun security, and really doesnt have any cells or walls around it. Theres a guard at the entrance, but no gate. The entrance is rather odd. You'd expect a prison entrance to be grey and serious. This one had a large sign sponsored by Coca-Cola, with the Coke logo and th words "Enjoy!!" in big happy letters, and beneath it is beautiful script writing, "Welcome to the Iwaha prison". It looked way too cheerful. We walked in, and walked about 30 minutes down a dirt road to reach the compound, stopping at a neat little store on the way, where we helped a 6 year old girl practice her english.
The compound looked a bit like a university that had closed up a few years earlier, but still had someone mow the lawns. The buildings were a bit delapadated, but not overly so. However, the gardens were expertly manicured. Because we had walked up on our own, we didnt know if there was a tour we should be taking, or a route around we should be walking. There were just random people that had shirts on that said 'inmate'. One of them came walking over to us and opened a bag with 4 keychains in it. Each one had a large lizard foot attached to it. I dont think the fact there were 4 was a co-incidence. I'm imagining a lizard crept in to his room one night and this enterprising young fellow saw the business opportunity and went for it. He was a bit disappointed when we said that we had no need for such a thing, but was ok with it. We asked him if it was ok if we just walked around and he said yes, and said to just go anywhere. He was serving 8 years and couldnt have been a nicer guy.
We walked around the perimiter of the buildings and started to head back when a guy by the name of Michael came up to us. He asked if we were leaving and we told him we were. He directed us to the bus stop, but said that there wasnt really a schedule and we'd just have to wait. While we waited, he showed us his collection of scorpions. He kept them in an empty water bottle. They were dead. Whether they went in the bottle that way, I dont know, but they didnt appear shoe-squashed. Then, he excitedly told us that he could sell us t-shirts. The same ones the inmates wear. The same ones they sell in the gift shop, but at half the cost. (Theres a gift shop? We couldnt find it). So, we bought a couple. He insisted on wrapping them in white paper before we took them out, giving the hint that this wasnt all on the up-and-up. Wow, here I am in a Philippine prison making illegal deals with inmates. Cool. We had actually gone to Micheals bunkhouse to get the shirts, and its at that point that you really realize you're in a prison. Theres 5 guys in there, lying on their cots, looking bored to death. For all the beauty outside, theres really nothing to do there.
We talked to Michael for quite some time. He was serving 13 years, but we didnt ask what for. We didnt feel it appropriate. He looked to be no older than mid-to-late 20s, which we also thought odd. He was getting out that week, which might be why he was in such a happy mood. He played in a band and said that he could get a permission slip to leave the campus when the band requested that he join them. His english was near perfect, and he was just an all around likeable guy. Not the sort of person you'd expect to find in a prison. He set us up with a ride home from one of the employees and we made it back to Puerto in plenty of time to make the rounds at Kinabuch, Christines and the Burger Hut that night.
The next day, our goal was to try to get out to the fishing village that our crew got off the sailboat at. As I mentioned before, our finding this village was the most random thing that could possibly happen. It just happened to be where we got sick of Alex and the kids, and got off the boat. It was probably one of the more remote places we had gone to, but it was where we needed to get off. Being thrown in to that sort of situation, we quickly made friends with the people that helped us get back to civilization. We were the first foriegners to have ever set foot in that tiny village. The fact that we got to know people living there and have become friends with them has been one of the highlights of my entire trip. When Dave and I returned there weeks later, we were welcomed with open arms.
There is no way for me to get in touch with my friends there. They dont have phone access. There are no phone lines to their village, nor does cell coverage extend there. There isnt even power or water. So, I couldnt even be sure that they would be there. But I really wanted my dad to be able to meet them and the people of their village. Its such a unique once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure. But at the same time, what makes it more unique is that its not really an 'adventure', its just visiting friends.
However, the adventure is getting there. The first part is finding a jeepney*(1) to Bahile or Macarascas. Then taking that jeepney to those ports and trying to find an outrigger headed your way. Then finally taking the outrigger to Tarunayan.
We had to make a few stops before we found the jeepneys headed to Bahile and Macarascas. The jeepney drivers try to shuffle you inside with the promise that we're leaving "real soon". Well, we left about 10 minutes after we got there, went down the road to pick up some people and cargo, then went back to the bus station and sat for another 10 minutes. Then finally, we got on the road. Or so we thought. We headed down a side road where a group of guys loaded up a couple of enormous boats on top of the jeepney, then we headed back to the bus station to wait for another 10 minutes. Then on the way out of town, we stopped at another bus station for 10 more minutes. All this time, we never have a clue whats going on, because with the language difference, we cant ask anyone. And if someone would understand us, they wouldnt understand why we found it odd that over an hour had passed and we hadnt left city limits. They probably also wouldnt understand exactly what we were getting at by trying to figure out when we're going to really be leaving. It leaves when it leaves, so we just accepted it like the rest of the passengers, who probably do this every day. We were just happy we werent stopping to pick up a pig too. We had seen the most enormous pig riding on the roof rack of a jeepney the day before. He didnt appear tied down, just sort of roof-surfing, and doing a good job of it.
Delays aside, we got to the port of Bahile in good time, only to realize there were no boats there going to Tarunayan. The driver asked us where we wanted to go, and when we told him, he said, "of course, you want to catch those boats in Macarascas." Sure enough, we got to Macarascas and it was the port Dave and I were in last time. All this time I thought it was Bahile. We quickly learned that all the boats headed to Tarunayan had left for the day and we'd have to arrange for someone to take us there. A nice guy said he'd take us if we paid for gas, which we quickly agreed to.
The ride out was more amazing than I remembered it to be, probably due to my dad pointing out all the nearby mountains and how much they looked like the ones we saw growing up in Hawaii.
We arrived right at Romeo and Josies front door and I didnt recognize it. I imagined this village looking the same for decades and decades, and it went and changed in the 3 months since I had been there. Romeo sold his fishing boat and bought a pool table. He cut down all the trees in the side yard and put up a pavillion and put in the table and charges 5 pesos per game. The table is in use from morning until night.
We were welcomed with open arms once again and greeted with huge smiles. The baby, Janlow, was 4 months when we left, and is now 7 months and looking much bigger. The neighborhood kids remembered me and came around to hang out and stare, just like old times. We took a walk through the village and saw some familiar faces, and had a chat with the talking (and meowing) bird. I even saw the crazy old guy down at the end of the village and had a similarly incomprehensible conversation with him. He's doing well. I think.
After our walk, we headed back to Romeo and Josies to get in on the pool table action. My dad is a bit of a pool shark. I dont think he'd mind me putting it that way. He financed his spending money while in the Army by sharking games from town to town. I've seen him whip many a player in many a city, and was anxious to see the reactions of the villagers on the games. Fortunately, the games that they played were unique in that lucky breaks could make players of remotely similar skill levels have an equal shot of winning. Sort of like 9-ball. One player can get in all 8, and the guy who makes the last shot wins. The games they played used a deck of cards, so the cards you drew had just as much of a bearing on the chances you'd win. Most of the games involved more than 2 players so everyone could play at once. At an early point, a guy who appeared to be the best of the group asked my dad if he'd like to play one-on-one for money. At first he refused, but when the stakes were set at only 10 pesos each, my dad agreed. After a couple losses, the guy said we should go back to the multi-player games. :) The peole in the village were such a fun bunch, and we loved playing with them. The games lasted a few hours, and over the course of the afternoon, I'd say we were just about even-up money-wise, which was nice. It was a 5 peso ante per game, and the winner had to pay the table charge from their winnings. My dad had the only table-run off a break, which brought some fits of incredulity and laughter from the audience.
I asked Romeo if we could have a night of karaoke that night. He said as long as I'd be able to pay for the gas for the generator, it'd be no problem. Now, the last time we did karaoke in the village, it was an event. Everyone came out, and everyone sang. It was a grand old time. My reason for wanting to do karaoke wasnt a desire to sing, but a desire to share in another night of fun with the people of the village. But that wasnt what I conveyed, I guess. They thought that since I so enthusically asked, "are we doing karaoke again?", that I really wanted to do it, and that my dad and I should be allowed to have the mike all night, especially since we were paying for the gas. So, they turned on the machine, gave us the mike and told us to have at it while they watched. No. This isnt what I meant. I insisted they take the mike for a few songs, and they did, but it never really gained momentum. Eventually, we shut it down and watched music videos and talked. At one point, I decided to get out a deck of cards and let my dad show them some of his magic tricks. The audience was impressed, but some of the tricks lose something when the people you're doing the trick do dont understand exactly what you're trying to say.
All in all, a fun night. A very fun night. We got to talk with Romeo for a while about his plans, which now include possibly going to work in Tiawan for a short while.
We ended up going to bed about midnight, sleeping on the living room floor. As far as I can tell, everyone in the village sleeps on the floor. Josie and Romeo are the type of people that if they had a bed, they'd offer it. Sleeping on a wooden floor, you wake up a lot. But its cool to look around and realize where you are. Sometimes theres cats fighting under the house, sometimes roosters crowing, and sometimes you just hear the waves.
We got up early, had coffee and a nice morning chat with Romeo and Josie, and they told us that no one was heading to Bahile or Macarascas, so Romeo would borrow a boat and take us there himself. Way cool. We had to go in the morning, as there was probably no afternoon jeepney service.
We arrived and got a seat on an incredibly uncrowded Jeepney. That was just fine. The one we came on was very crowded, so my dad got to experience crowded-Filipino-jeepney on the way here, and we could relax on the way back.
Well, not quite. About a 3rd of the way there, the jeepney driver decided that he didnt have enough passengers to make it worth his while to go all the way, so he dropped us all off at a crossroads and we were told to wait for another jeepney. Well, about 15 minutes later, a massive and packed behemoth of an old bus comes barreling down the road, skids to a stop and everyone shuffles in. Seats designed to hold 2 people have from 3 to 5 people on them. The aisles are packed, and the legs of the seated passengers dont give the standing people many options for comfortable standing positions. I asked the ticket guy if we could ride on the roof-rack and he just motioned for us to go inside. So, here we are in this cramped, packed, non-AC bus and I am SO glad my dad gets to see this. When I describe this type of bus that I rode for 11 hours, its hard to grasp. But when it grasps you, you get it. :) At one point I say to my dad,
Welcome to 3rd world bussing. Things like this are common. Funny, in a way, but absolutely not funny in another way.
Driver woes aside, we made it back to Puerto in one piece. We had a nice breakfast at the ArtCafe, another of my favorite Puerto places, then spent the afternoon getting our plane tickets sorted out, and checking email.
At the risk of being predictable, I'll mention that we went to Kinabuch and Christines again. We had wanted to go to Coco Hut for some live music but on the nights we tried to go there, it was all closed up. Christines proved to have a bit of excitement with a pretty rowdy fight going on outside the bar. Curiosity got the better of us and we walked out front to watch it with the rest of the bar. But we returned to our conversation while it was still in full swing. Conversation with dad is like that. Way more interesting than a fight, to the point where beer bottles could have come flying overhead and we'd probably have kept going.
We caught the only flight back to Manila which wasa morning flight, which got us in to town in time to meet up with some of my dads work friends for lunch. Lunch? Well, a late lunch. Well, dinner. Well, after dinner drinks. What we had intended to be a short lunchtime get together, turned in to a fun and hilarious evening with all the people my dad has worked with on his business trips. A really funny and lively bunch of guys, one of whom started working for a resturant after leaving the company my dad works for. It happened to be the resturant we were at and he was kind enough to treat us for the entire night. We probably would have stayed much longer had it not been for my dad needing to get up at 5am to catch a flight.
We got a ride home with one of my dads friends, who on the way home deliberately made a u-turn in a no-u-turn area. It wasnt dangerous in the least, but regardless it was marked no-u-turn, and there was a police officer right there watching it. The policeman stepped in front of the car and put his hand up. My dads friend drove towards him, swerved around him by a wide margin and waived it off, saying "No, I'm not stopping for that little u-turn", as the cop is flailing his arms behind us, but powerless to do anything more without a vehicle to give chase with. Just goes to show, you dont need to be in a remote fishing village to see unusual things here.
5am came around pretty soon, and I saw my dad out the door of the hotel. It was really great to travel with him for the week. In fact, I might rank it up there with one of my favorite travel times of the trip. Partly because being with someone who's seeing all this for the first time from a fresh perspective makes the traveling so much more exciting, but mostly just because I love spending time with my dad. We never seem to run out of things to talk about or laugh about. Yep, I'm glad we could make this trip work out. Thanks dad.
In one of those unexplainable quirks, I couldnt get back to sleep and after sufficent tossing and turning just decided to start my day. My mission was to refund my Hong Kong ticket and get a Bangkok ticket. Would you know, it wasnt as easy as the guy in Bangkok made it out. Whats worse, is that trying to get anything done here is an exercise in futility. I went to the Philippine Air office by my hotel and the security guard at the door wanted me to take a number. Different numbers are assinged depending on what you want to do. You take a white ticket for purchases, a green ticket for refunds. So the guy asks me what I am here to do before he gives me the ticket.
This is what I am working with. So, I take the number, head to Jollibee and the drug store and arrive back just in time to find out I do indeed have to go to Makati. But I'm given the number first so I can call and find out the dealio. Turns out I'd have to wait in the Philippines for 15 day to sign for my refund, or I might have better luck refunding it in Bangkok where I bought it. Rats. So, I went to buy my one-way ticket back to Thailand. My one-ways are about the same as roundtrips and at the end of the day I've spent about a grand on this ticketing fiasco when I could have done the whole thing for about $350 had I just been smarter about it. T'was all my own fault. Live and learn. Dont buy tickets in a rush or when sleep deprived. :)
On the way back to the hotel, I have to walk past all of the guys selling Rolexs'. I am always nice to these guys. I know they are doing their best to make a buck. I tell them I dont want to buy one, but they keep on hassling me. But I understand they are just trying real hard to make a buck, and I am polite, even as I say no for the 20th time. But after coming out of the travel agency, I was fuming. I was going to lay in to the next fake Rolex salesman if he had already tried to sell me one on the way down the street the first time. Then I saw this cat on the mat of a doorstep, lying on his back trying to fineagle his own tail in to his mouth, and doing a bad job of it. I like cats. I decided this one needed a good tickling. He saw me moving in and darted out of my reach, but spun around after I had walked away, and had no idea that I was right behind him. I scratched his back, which made him fling around in surprise. The look he gave me wasnt so much of fear, but that look of, "I cant believe you outsmarted me!!!" Yes, I did. I gotcha! It made me laugh. It made me smile. I walked on and the same Rolex guy came up to me and tried to sell me a nice silver set of mens and womens matching Rolexes. I said no. I said it 20 times and I said it with a smile each time. Its amazing the power that animals can have to brighten up a day.
On that note, goodnight.