January 30th, 2004
Subject: Bus 721, seat 30.
I should be whipped. Flogged. Beaten with a wet fish. My last email was awful, and I apologize for it. Anytime I start 3 consecutive paragraphs with "The next day I....", something is wrong. Sometimes my creativity flows, and other times it seems like I'm simply writing filler just so as to not have gaps in the journal. If the latter happens again, I'll try to be more concise, or... or well I'll do something. And feel free to critique me. I had developed a habit at one point on my travels where I would critique my hosts on their ability being a host. I was spending so much time at peoples places, I felt it only fair to let them know where they could be doing a better job. :) So, payback time, if the mail is bad, tell me. :)
One thing I might do is write more about daily life on the road. A lot of what makes my travel interesting to me isnt the events that I plan out, but rather the small details in everyday life that make being in a foriegn place so interesting.
For starters, the reactions to foriegners, namely white folk, is rather varied. Most places you will get stared at. Not in an agressive way, but more just out of curiousity. Its maybe only 10-20% of the people that stare, but they will really check you out. I usually look back and try to smile. Upon going in to the larger nicer malls here, bags are checked and people are passed over with a handheld metal detector. Except for white people. I have been in a line of a few people, all of whom are checked, and then will walk up and hand the security guard my bag, which he refuses to check and waives me through with a smile. I'm somewhat disturbed by this fact, but it doesnt appear as the others being searched appear to be disturbed by it in the least. Also, being caucasion makes you a target for beggars. They will single you out of a street full of people and put their hand out relentlessly. I struggle with how to deal with this everytime it happens, and it happens a few times a day. On the one hand, I can afford the 10 cents they're asking for. On the other hand, am I just perpetrating the idea that tourists should be expected to give to them, therefore keeping the cycle going. On the other hand, have they tried everything and really have no means to support themselves but to beg? In the end, I just dont give out money. The few times I have given spare change, the next person is on you quite quickly, then to try to explain why you gave the previous person money, and not them, is just too hard. I used to say no apologetically, but have since learned a succinct and stern "NO!" does the trick and stops them from keeping on you. The only thing I really dont tolerate is touching. The only people I want touching me is someone I'm dating or my family. Other than that, its this thing about personal space I have. I feel sorry for the few people who grabbed my arm thinking it was harmless, and I know I seem like a stuck up ogre when I yank quickly away and yell, "Dont touch me!" Its just this thing I have.
To counter this I've kind of decided on just being more of a tipper. Not just for waiters and waitresses, but anyone trying to make a buck working and finds a way to help me out, I give them a nice tip. If someone is trying to make it, I'm going to do what I can to help them out.
The beggars arent the only ones that see you as one big dollar sign. Exiting any boat, bus or plane, you'll notice every taxi or motor-trike wants your business. They know they can jack the fare up, and unless you know whats standard or insist on using the meter (often broken) they will.
In order to avoid this, I leanred how to take the local jeepneys while in Manila, which costs 4 pesos (8 cents) no matter how far you're going. But they have short little routes which are confusing to figure out in the city, so sometimes you have to take a couple to get to where you're going. But once you've got the gist, its ok.
The jeepney itself is a weird creature. Its like the small bus of the Philippines. Its about the length of a short city bus. However, the front looks exactly like a Jeep from the USA, and the back has 2 long bench seats facing each other, and a tin roof overhead. The sides and back are open. You get in and pass your money to the person next to you, who then passes it on and on up to the driver. He then makes change, and passes the change back. While driving. I had a jeepney driver who was doing this, and trying to fix an electrical problem which kept causing his headlights to go off around left turns, all while driving. His faulty wires were under the dash, and he had to rest his head on the door to get at them.
Theres a few other modes of transport around here worth noting. Theres the motor-trike. Its a small motorcycle with a side car on it. Each place I have been the side cars look different, but they all look the same within their regions. Each side car can hold between 2 and 8 people, depending on the design and the size of the people. Kalibo had the best design by far. The sidecars could fit 2 up front, 4 in the back, one on the roof, and a couple more on the back seat of the motorcycle. Now, realize this is not a huge sidecar. Its about the same size as the single-seater sidecars you normally see, about 2 feet wide. People just mash whole families in there. Another variation on this is the pedal-trike. Just a normal bicycle with a similar side car. Some sidecars are made in to little kiosks selling nuts or drinks. Lastly, you've got the suicidal taxi drivers. My taxi driver the other day tried to run a bus off the road. The bus got so angry he tried to run us off the road. This is actually somewhat common.
I would say that Manila ranks second in my list of craziest drivers in the world (Lima, Peru holding the title - a friend of mine there Olenka being the craziest). People dont stop to let anyone in, yet the only way to get in is to just go and not hesitate. Without any rules as to right-of-way, I dont see how this doesnt cause an accident. Taxis merge in to thick traffic where there are no gaps. Busses brake hard, merging happens. But the busses I have been on dont stop. What happens when my non-stopping bus meets my non-yeilding taxi? This hasn't happened yet. Millions of gallons of paint are seemingly wasted on these things called lines in the middle of the road. Lanes dont exist, and an oncoming car isnt a good enough reason not to pass - they'll get over. And they do. As chaotic as it all seems, somehow it all works. I really dont know how, but it does.
This makes the pedestrians crossing streets rather vulnerable. There are no stoplights or stop signs - people just go when they can. The only thing I figured out is to stand next to a car trying to cross the same street, right on its fender, and run across as it darts to the other side. Sometimes there are police guiding traffic, but its rare. Probably due to the short life expectancy of an officer in that position.
Speaking of police, I have seen very few other countries so armed to the teeth. At the festival in Kalibo, there were a great number of police and military personnel on hand, each with a machine gun. AK-47, I think, but I'm no gun expert. These guns were the type that had clips in the front. Again, no gun expert here, but I'd assume a clip could hold 50 rounds or more. Well, we saw one officer with 10 clips around his waist! 10!! We tried to imagine what incident could possibly arise to need 500 rounds. Could things potentially get so out of control, that he'd need to unload a whole clip in to the crowd, and go back for more another 10 times. I know it was probably for effect as much as anything else, but really.
And just about every security guard (and most buildings have them) have some sort of sawed-off shotgun. Big, evil looking things that they hold diagonally across their chests. I saw one security guard even playing with his gun with his friends on the side of the store. Just general flipping and horseplay. Yikes.
But back to the police. The police vehicles are strange here. In the US, the police drive Chevy Caprices, or Ford Crown Vics. Its as though those are the only 2 approved vehicles that can be used. And they probably are. But here, I think its up to the local cheif to decide what to buy and use. I have seen police mini-vans, motorcycles, mopeds, jeepneys, beater cars, a hummer look-a-like truck, just about everything. And just because its a police car doesnt mean you can put cool stickers all over it. I have seen some that have quite a few neon stickers. I saw one the other day that had a bunch of "No Fear" stickers. Appropriate, I guess.
Another thing I've come to notice, is that people in other parts of the world arent hung up on petty things. I think I finally realized this on the ferry when they started broadcasting a religious service. Well, it wasnt a service, it was a recording of someone saying the "Hail Mary" prayer about 60 times. Over and over. Ok, the monotony and droning of it aside, how many groups do you think would be suing that boat if that was in the US? I mean, we put together a committee and spent millions to investigate weather or not we should remove the word "God" from the pledge of allegiance in school. I tried to figure it out, why we in the US have come to make issues out of things we should just let go. Could it be that we've become so comfortable, that we need things to complain about. I am sure there were non Catholics on that boat. I am sure they just shrugged it off, and didnt let themselves get bothered by it. Ok, enough philosophising...
So I was able to make it to Olongapo this past week to do some wreck diving on the WWII wrecks. Strange city, this Olongapo. There used to be a US Navy base there, which was abandoned in 1992 and the Philippine government took over it and make it a freeport. Freeport I guess meaning a little town where the navy base used to be. Its not used as a port, but theres a few shops in there, and the barracks have been converted to houses and hotels. It looks like any American suburban city that has been left unkept for 10 years.
The diving was pretty cool, with the exception of my dive master. The aformentioned appearance of tourists as dollar signs was never truer than with this guy. He kept telling me about his kids and his money problems and urged me to tip him good when we were done. At one point, the normally unconfrontational Rick told him, "Just show me a good dive and I will tip you. Mention your money problems one more time and you get nothing. Understand?" The rest of the dive, he kept pointing out all the things he was doing to make it a good dive - just about as annoying.
The ship we saw was the USS New York. Sunk in 1945 it sits about 30 meters below the water. Although its covered in barnacles and some coral, you can see detailed shapes clearly. Guns fore and aft are still in position, and you can still swim up to and around the lookout mast. We swam the entire length of it, and saw quite a few large fish, including a 5-foot grouper. On the return trip to the other end of the ship, we actually swam through the ship the entire length. I'll admit, this was a bit scarry. Its dark in there, and you're swimming down a corridor which has a few beams going through it, making it just wide enough for a diver. Awesome dive.
I got word from the boat I will be working aboard that they will be in Cebu, in the middle area of the Philippines in a few days - just south of where I was. So I decided to head south and see some sights along the way. I looked at my guidebook, and found that Legaspi was on the way south, and had some cool hikes and a nearby beach where visitors could swim with the migratory sharks between December and May. The book said that busses left all day for Legaspi, so I headed over to the station at noon.
For the sake of the reader, I'll go in to the accounts of this bus ride, which was a fairly typical 3rd world bus ride.
Arrive at noon, ask when the bus goes to Legaspi. I am told by the bag boy out front that the only 2 busses go at 9am and 9pm. We check the schedule. Then he says unless I want to take a non-air-conditioned bus, they go every 2 hours or so, with one leaving at 1pm. Sure, I dont mind. He shows me the bus. 5 seats across instead of 4, and no a/c. I can deal with this - I have ridden worse. He says, "are you sure?", in a very questioning way. Then he takes me to 2 other bus stations to see if they have a/c busses to Legaspi at better times. Nope. Just the non-a/c bus at 1pm. No problem, I tell him I'll wait upstairs in the waiting area. I tip him 50 pesos and make a friend for life.
I get on the bus at 12:45. The seats are 3-wide on the left, 2-wide on the right. I take a 2-er in hopes I'll have it to myself. Bus is still pretty empty. Find out on the non-a/c busses, the baggage space below is used for shipments, and personal luggage goes inside with the passengers. Well, the aisles are blocked with boxes and livestock, so I put my backback on the seat next to me. 1:15 rolls around, we havent left. I ask someone what happened. A passenger tells me that there were not enough people on the 1pm bus, so they are going to combine it with the 3:30pm, and it will leave at 2:15pm. Now, mathmatically this is the fairest way to do it, but explain that to the person that shows up at 3pm expecting to catch a bus.
At 2pm, my new found friend, the bag boy, comes running on the bus exclaiming "I found it". Found what, did I drop something? "No, I found your seating mate". He grabs my backpack, throws it behind the rear seats, and introduces me to the attractive girl he is obviously trying to play matchmaker with. To me, the fact that she doesnt take up more than her half of the seat, doenst smell bad, and isnt carrying livestock are incredibly delightful features. Not much of a conversationalist, but I have my book, and the bus is filling up fast, and spending 10 hours sitting next to a large farmer and his chickens wasnt appealing.
It was now apparent to me that a non-a/c bus means more than just no a/c. Its a way to differentiate the classes of bus service. On the non-a/c bus, there are no assigned seats, everyone just packs in, animals are allowed, luggage blocks the aisle front to rear, smoking is apparently allowed and maybe even encouraged, even when the windows are all shut, and last but not least, there is no a/c. So, I have thoughts of just getting up and waiting out the night in my hotel in Manila, and taking the 9am. I didnt want to hang in a bus station to take the 9pm. While I am toying with this idea, I look at my guide book and see what other cities were on the way to Legaspi. I could stop just short of Legaspi, and go the rest of the way in the morning. A town two hours short of Legaspi called Naga was described as "Surprisingly attractive and clean" and had hotels listed for 150pesos, which was far better than the 700 I was paying in Manila. Fine, I go to Naga which is 8 hours rather than 10, sleep cheap, and go to Legaspi in the morning.
The bus engine starts and my seat mate gets up, grabs her bags and gets off. Why, I have no idea. But this leaves me the only person on the bus with a free seat. I even offered it to some of the people who looked cramped up in their 3-wide seats. No takers. Fine by me. :)
The bus seeems to stop once every half hour to pick someone up or drop someone/something off. About every hour, we stop for 15 mintues to have a bathroom break and grab a bite. Sometimes we stop at a local food stand, and they'll usually have Siopao's - which I can seemingly susist on for days. They're like these little dough-balls with seasoned pork in the middle. A lot like a Malasada, a food I grew up with as a child, so these things bring back good memories. Most times the little food shops will also have beef and pork dishes. The beef has a 100% chance of getting stuck painfully in your teeth, so us backpackers generally avoid it. The pork may look like pork with potatoes, but the little potatoe-y bits are actally big chunks of pork fat. I ordered it once, thinking it was all light-meat pork, but it was actually just a bunch of chunks of fat. No part of the animal is wasted here, and with a lot of the population being skinny to the point of looking somewhat frial, I'm sure the fat is welcomed in their diet. My favorite is when the bus stops at the Jollibee. The Jollibee is the Filipino equivalent of McDonalds, although they have McDonalds here too. Jollibee burgers are flat and dry, but somehow taste pretty good- I think its in the secret sauce. The mascot is a large bee, who in cartoon form looks somewhat cuddly. However, in some ads, he's portrayed by a person in the Jollibee suit, who looks downright like a larger-than-life possesed telly-tubbie.
On one of our stops, we stop at a fruit stand. They only sold limes and oranges. Following this stop, but bus smelled like citrus for 20-30 minutes. It was also at this stop that I got back on the bus and noticed the cockpit for the first time. A couple of gauges hanging loosely and some wires run about, and an exposed steering shaft with a 16-year-old kid at the helm. Crikeys.
About this point in the trip, a lady comes and asks if she may sit next to me. She had been sitting in the back row and the heat of the engines had melted the souls of her shoes. She showed me. Sure enough, they had melted. I guardedly put my hand on the empty seat and told her firmly to go away. No, I didnt do that. She and her melted shoes sat happily next to me.
Then the ticket inspector got on. The lady informed me this is who it was. Rather than reaching in my somewhat inaccessable pocket, I'd wait until I was promted for the ticket, seeing as no-one else had theirs out. The inspector looked around. Yep, some people, some boxes, a pig and some chickens. All checks out here, no need to look at tickets.
And these chickens and their flu. Whats with this? I have read now that one can not catch the bird flu by eating tainted chicken, as cooking kills the bacteria, and all reported cases of human infection have come from contact with infected raw blood or spit from a sick chicken. So, in order to remain safe, I just have to not drink any chickens blood, which unless I get roped in to some weird ritualistic circumstance, should be fairly easy, and also to make sure that if I get spit on by a chicken, its important to look him over and make sure he doesnt look sick.
So I arrive at Naga and before going to my hotel strike up a conversation with a guy who lives in Donsol, the town with the sharks you can swim with. He tells me they're late this year, and not expected until May. Cross that off.
So I go to the hotel mentioned in the book, and they're full. We call the similarly-priced one also in the book. Number no longer in service. The only other hotel was the Crown Hotel. I head to the Crown, and the lady in the marble waiting room tells me their cheapest room is 1000pesos. !? She didnt know of any other hotels, and I just didnt feel like looking. I wanted to drop my bags and have a beer at the little bar I passed, so I took the room. I walked to the bar, ordered a beer, and said hello to the few people in there, none who seemed receptive in talking. All day long I had met people on the bus who wanted to talk and talk. Now, no one was interested and my beer tasted like it had been watered down 10 parts to 1. I didnt even finish it. Naga turned out to be a bad choice.
I asked the lady in the hotel in the morning about about climbing in the local area. She said there has been too much activity on the volcanoes recently and no one will lead a climb up it. So I headed back to the bus station.
I would pick another city south and see what was there. The guidebook didnt mention much of interest along the way. I thought of just picking some random towns and checking them out, but Naga put a bad taste in my mouth with that idea. Naga might have been clean, but it was dull. Not much to do. But I wasnt going to go all the way to Cebu in one shot. So I had to pick a point south to go to. It was 10am. The posted schedule for busses heading south listed times starting at 4pm. I asked the lady if there was another schedule that listed busses before 4pm.
"That depends sir, where do you want to go?"
I look at the map. Seems awfully tight to make it in 6 hours, but if the bus wasnt going to stop, I suppose it could be done. There were 2 ferry links.
"8pm? Are you sure?"
So I wander the bus station. I talk to the locals, including a mentally handicapped guy who kept asking me the same questions over and over in English, then hugging me when I answered him. Nice guy. He thought it was the coolest thing when I took a picture with the digital camera then showed it to him. Left by saying "See you tomorrow", and I didnt have the heart to tell him I was leaving that day. I bought a newspaper, then left it on the seat when I was done and went to go walk for a bit. I came back and someone was reading it and panicked thinking I'd be upset. I motioned to him he was free to have it. I deliberately made the biggest smile I could ever possibly make, just so he knew I wasnt upset about it. The gesture of over-freindliness is probably what made him think I was a good prospect to tap me on the shoulder a few minutes later and then ask for change. "No!"
At 1:40 I causally stroll over to where the bus will come in at. It arrived at 1:42, I got on, and it left at 1:43. So much for the 2pm bus, its the 2pm-ish bus.
The conductor guy comes to sell me a ticket, and I tell him I'm going to Cebu. He says its 880 pesos. That doesnt sound right for a 6 hour trip. I ask what time it gets in. He confirms 8pm. I ask why its so much for a 6 hour trip. No, the bus arrives at 8pm tomorrow. Oh! 30 hours on this bus? Can I really handle that? I look at the guidebook quickly to see if theres somewhere else I'd rather stop. "880 sir!". Right - lets do this then. I pay the man and settle in for what will be my longest bus ride ever. I look around at my new home for the next day and half, bus 721, seat 30. I could have taken the plane, and it would have worked out cheaper, if you factor in the cost of that hotel in Naga. But in some sadistic way, I like taking the bus. Its more of an epic journey. Its more a form of pure traveling when you make the trek overland. Planes are for tourists - busses are the lifeline of the backpacker. Riding along in a bus is like seeing a succession of short 5-second soundless movie clips about the country you're in. You see more, you watch your surroundings change, and the mission remains the trip rather than the destination. And your butt hurts.
A relatively uneventful ride for the first half. Talked to other passengers, and boarded the first ferry at 9pm. We arrived in the docking area at 8:30pm, and got on the 9pm ferry. While on this ferry, I talked to the lady in front of me who was traveling with her baby. I asked how old it was. Well, she was on the way from Manila to Tacloban yesterday when contractions came. She got off in Naga, went to the hospital, had the baby and got back on the 2pm bus. By the time she got off, the baby had been on that bus 16 hours, or what I calculated to be 4/5ths of his entire life. Yeah buddy, I'd be crying too. About the same time she got off, a lof of the others got off too, and the bus was down to about a dozen passengers. There were 2 drivers and I'd gotten to know them by now. The one driver on relief came and sat next to me and we talked about various things, including what kind of car I liked to drive. He asked if I ever drove a bus. I said no, but jokingly said I'd take the wheel if they needed a break. He shouted up to his friend driving something in the local dialect. The first sentence included the word "Americano", the second sentence was a question. By the look of terror on the faces of passengers who turned around, I guessed he said "The American wants to drive, should we let him?" The driver just sort of shrugged, and the guy next to me motioned for me to go up. I said no thanks, but still dont know if they were serious. There'd have to be some sort of laws or insurance regulations against that. Wait, we're in the Philippines, I guess there might not be.
We arrive at the next ferry dock at 10:38am. I ask if the ferry leaves at 11am, judging by our arrival time at the last dock, and by the fact that we were racing to get here with an incredible urgency. The driver told me the ferry leaves at 1pm. Well, doesn't that leave us with a lot of time to kill? "Yes, you drink beer right?". I guess you could say that. So, for the next 2 hours, I proceeded to throw back beers in the local cantina with the two guys responsible for driving my bus. I'm sure that violated some sort of laws. To their credit, they didnt drink on the 5 hour ferry ride across, which I guess made them good to go for the remaining 2 hour drive to Cebu. I set up my hammock on the ferry to catch up on the sleep I lost through the night due to a crying baby and a/c set to sub-zero temps. The hammock caused a lot of curiousity from the locals, who watched me put it up, then watched me get in. Then watched me sit in it. For about 5 minutes. I dont know if they were waiting for me to make some sort of strange movement, but they just stood and stared for an uncomfortably long period of time.
30 long hours on a bus and I made it. A bit of an adventure, a bit of fun, a few laughs, and a sore butt. But I loved it.
I am now in Cebu. The boat I am getting on will come in to a nearby port in a couple of days. I'm rather excited to meet them and get on the boat and get traveling by the water.
Hope all is well.
February 7th th, 2004
Subject: Chillin with the locals
I must say, traveling in the Philippines is quite different than most other places I've traveled for one simple reason. There are no other tourists.
I have been using my LonelyPlanet guidebook, and going to all the hotels and hostels listed as "backpackers haven", "the meeting point for travelers", and "the place to be" - to find them all empty. Even in Cebu, the place that was described as "a major through point where most backpackers pass" I didnt see anyone. So I set out on my own to walk around the city. I went to the old castle just a few blocks outside of the city center. There was a group of students sitting on the grass within the castle, and I went over an introduced myself. They were here doing research for a project they were working on. There were 4 of them, and they all spoke English rather well, one even was a part-time English teacher. This was a Saturday and they had a half-day of classes, and then this research trip. On a Saturday! We talked for a while, and I asked them if they had plans for the night - which they did and we all planned to meet up.
Standard plans for the night usually included going to a private karaoke club. Private? What is this, like some exclusive sort of signing bar where they keep the rif-raf out, and only let in members? Would I be allowed in? Of course, its open to the public. Well, then I don't get it. Well, a private karaoke club is one where you and your group sit in a booth and sing just with each other. Oh no. There are 3 of us, and I am not sitting in a room singing to two other people. Sorry, I'm all for taking in local culture and customs, but if it involves me sitting in a cubicle singing to two people I barely know, its not going to happen. So we headed out to a bar instead. The bar was a bit loud, making conversation difficult, so we called it an early night.
I had enough of the city and decided to make tracks for Bohol the next day. Bohol is a small island just 2 hours from Cebu and has a ton of things to check out, including quite a few good dive spots. I got in to town and headed to Nisa's Travelers Inn - the backpackers hangout on Bohol. Empty.
I decided to head out for a run, which is one of my favorite ways to see a new town. I walked about, then spotted a nice area which seemed to go away from the main congestion of the tiny little town. I strapped on my running shoes and took off.
Running while traveling has many interesting aspects to it. First, I have not gone running here yet without having everyone say hello. Most people will be sitting out in front of their house, or walking along, and almost all of them say hello, or "Hey Joe!". Except the girls. The 15 year old girls usually just look shyly and giggle, and cup their hands over their nose and mouth to try and supress the giggles. Sometimes I'll shout an enthusiastic "Hello!" or sometimes I will cup my hands over my nose and mouth and giggle back. This usually sends them in to giggle fits. Thankfully, these arent the same giggles like the ones the 15 year old girls used to do when I was 15. No, these are the same as a 15 year old girl might do if she saw one of the Backstreet Boys. Oh yes, I'm quasi-famous. And sometimes if I get gigglers as I am walking, I will stop to say hello, and 9 times out of 10, they will try to talk, stammer and stutter and then run away.
The other nice thing about running here is the ease of bathroom breaks. In most places I go running, I have to hold it until I get home, or find a secluded tree. But in the Philippines, it is perfectly acceptable for any male to pee whereever he pleases. Streetside, on a building or car, on a tree. You dont even need to have something in front of you - just need to have an urge. So in that respect, its rather convenient.
But I have to say, running while traveling is not easy. Running, if done correctly, will make you sweat. If you live out of a backpack, and you try to stuff sweaty clothes back in to a small bag, everything you own will smell like a gym locker. However, if you try to wash it, and it doesnt dry before you're ready to leave, everything in your bag will smell musty. So a run has to be timed just perfectly so as to give about 24 hours dry-time after it.
After running, I grabbed a bite and checked email, then headed back to my hotel to find a bunch of local guys sitting on the back deck drinking beer. I sat down, introduced myself, and they filled the glass and passed it to me. The way drinking is done here in the Philippines is like this. All the beer or drink for the night is placed on the table. There is one cup which is passed around the table clockwise. You fill it for the next person, they drink it and pass it. If there are 5 people or so, you can have 2 cups going around. The cups are small, but aren't meant to eb chugged down fast. Just drank at a normal pace. So I sat there for the night drinking with the guys who were asking me what my plans were for Bohol. I told them a few of the things I wanted to see, and that I'd be taking the bus around to see them after I went diving in the morning. Dondon said that he could get a motorcycle for the next day and would be happy to take me around and show me the sights of the island. It got him out of having to do construction work at the hotel, and landed me a tour guide.
I did my two dives in the morning at a place called Alona beach. It looked like a touristy place, but without the tourists. There were, however, a nice bunch of Norwegians who were staying there for 6 weeks. They were in both of my dive trips and a nice bunch of folk. I would have stayed and hung out for the night in Alona beach (an hours drive from Nisa's Travelers Inn) if it hadnt been for my plans with Dondon.
I got back to Nisa's Inn a bit late, but Dondon said we still had time to get everything in. If not, we could do a bit of it in the morning. We jumped on the scooter and headed off. It reminded me of riding in Nils' scooter in Austria, but this time we didnt have any helmets. They just dont seem to have or sell them here.
The first place we stopped was the old Pirate lookout. Used for spotting invading armies back when the Spanish rules the Philippines. Next, we headed to the oldest church in the Philippines, built in 1592. We took a tour of the church and museum. Our next stop was to go see the tarsiers, which are the smallest monkey in the world. Although they look more like a lemur than a monkey, they are more closely related to the monkey. They are only found in this part of the world, and at that only in very specific areas. I found the most incredible tidbit of information to be that each eyeball is bigger than their brain. http://www.szgdocent.org/pp/p-tarsir.htm We visited a place that had a couple tame ones in an enclosure. The sign outside said "Please do not handle the tarsiers." Dondon picked it up and placed it on me and said "Ok, here, let me take your photo". Cute little buggers.
On our way back to the city, we stopped by the Cock Fighting arena, which was still packed to the brim. Aparently we got there just in time for the last fight of the day. The cocks were being prepared for the battle by the officials. The way it works is this. There are officials whose job it is to attach the blade to the rear of the cocks foot. It looks like a minature sicle about 3 inches long. The shiny blade points down and backwards, and is tied securely to the leg by wrapping thread around it a few hundred times. The process takes about 15 minutes. Then, a sheath is put over the blade so the owner doesnt get cut while carrying him to the ring. The cocks are then held in the ring by their owners and allowed to peck at each other for a few seconds, while being held. The crowd then makes bets based on the pecking, in a frenzy of shouts and hollers back and forth. The sheaths are then removed, the cocks are allowed to peck a few more times and then dropped. Instinctively, they run at each other. They need to life their legs high enough to get the blade (facing backwards) to face forwards and make a cut. The whole thing was over in about 20 seconds. They went at each other immediately, then a few feathers went up, and a cock went down. Some people hollered, some groaned.
Bets are usually even up, 1:1. There dont seem to be bookies taking bets, rather just bets between people in the crowd. The real money to be made is entering the tournaments. The tournaments are either a 3 or 4 cock tournament, meaning that each person has to enter that many birds. Entry fee will be about 10,000 pesos (per person entering, not per bird). Each bird will cost you about 600 pesos. If all three of your birds win, you win the grand prize, which can be around 300,000 pesos. If more than one person has all of their birds win, the prize money is split. If no one has all their birds win, then the prize money is split between everyone that had 2 of their birds win.
We returned back to the hotel for another night of hanging out on the back porch, with my plans to go meet the boat I will be sailing on the next day.
I took the ferry to Cebu, then caught the bus to Carmen. The bus rides here still never cease to amaze me. One the island of Cebu, the bus drivers seem to fall in to one of 2 categories. There are the drivers that are crazy, and the drivers that are truly insane. The crazy drivers will pass a car despite the fact that there is oncoming traffic just a few meters away. The truly insane will be passing the crazy bus driver as he is passing the car with oncoming traffic. You may think I am kidding or exaggerating, but no. It get to the point where you get in your bus, size up the bus driver and look at him and think "Oh good, he looks crazy." And find yourself being sincere in this thought.
The Carmen-Danao-Carmen area has these really cool disco busses too.
I phoned up the boat owners, Sonia and Alex, who could see me on the dock from where they were anchored, just about 100 meters off shore. Sonia was tending to business on the boat with the kids, Callum (5) and Megan (8), while Alex was out shopping. We got aquainted and Sonia showed me to my room and I dropped my stuff.
The boat is a 63 foot aluminum sailboat that Sonia and Alex have been sailing around for 5 years now. They sailed another boat together for 5 years before that, and Alex has actually been living and sailing on boats for the last 17 years. The boat can accomodate the 4 of them, and 6 crew - maybe 8 crew if really necessary. They have been hiring on crew in this fashion for the past 10 years, and estimate they have had over 150 people working for them throuhgout this time. Right now there are no other crew on the boat. The last 3 crew got off last week to travel by land for a while, and the next 2 crew will be showing up by the end of the week, and another one a week later. So for traveling SE asia, it will be the family and 4 crew, but maybe more if more people decide to join.
I spent the rest of the day learning where things were kept on the boat, and reading Harry Potter books to the kids. They have just about every Harry Potter fact memorzied, and have been quizzing me. So the reading is doing me good, and increasing my scores.
Since then, I have been going ashore to either go running, do shopping, wash clothes, or just wander. There are 2 dinghys used for getting ashore. The main one is motorized, and provided Alex or Sonia have the time, their happy to take the crew ashore. But we're also allowed to use the row boat as we please, which gives us a nice sense of freedom to go ashore whenever we want to. Its quite a good workout too.
I washed my clothes in the little local well the other day just outside of the village of Carmen. I have become used to washing my clothes by hand when I cant find a laundrymat. But this was the first time I had to drop a bucket down a well and beat the clothes around in a bucket. The local villagers found this quite amusing. Not nearly as amusing as when I dipped my head in there and broke out the shampoo.
I've been doing most of the shopping in the small town of Danao, 7kms away. If I thought being in a bus on these roads was scarry, then being on the back seat of a moto-trike with one of these busses barreling at me is pure terror. Somehow they all seem to just weave in and out like magic.
Yes, I must say that I really like the non-tourist nature of this place. It really makes it seem like you've found some sort of hidden treasure. Nothing is catered to tourists, and its all got a real feel to it. The people I have met have all mainly been locals, which is so nice. Really makes you feel that you're getting to know the place on all of its levels. And the people couldn't be friendlier.
Well, the boat is waiting around here until the 10th for the other 2 crew members, then we set sail for Palawan (still in the Philippines) where we hope to reach on the 17th. Then we head west for Malaysia and beyond.
Hope everyone is well,