Southwest Philippines

March 19th, 2004

Current Location - Puerto Princesa, Philippines
Local Currency - Peso (P55 = $1)
Language - Tagalog, but English widely spoken
Temperature - 90+
Songs defining this leg of the trip - Ocho ocho o
House of the Rising Sun - Rick and Dave

How are you?
    I am fine. How are you?
I am fine.

In my mind I can hear this being repeated over and over and over in the schools of the Philippines. It dawned on me one day that the entire country is doing just fine. Not by observing this, but by asking them. I like to say hello to people. Most times, people would say hello back, then ask "How are you?" I'd say something like "I'm good, how are you doing?". 99.99999% of the time, the answer is "I am fine.", said as if it was being read from a textbook. I've now been trying a little experiment to see if I can get an answer other than fine. Not yet.

Dave and I have been learning a very tiny bit of Tagalog, but not much more than: Hello, Goodbye, Thanks, Please, etc. Oh, and the word for Yes is O'o. Pronounced uh-oh. People will still use this even if you are speaking in English. Example: Can I go in there? Uh-oh. What, did I do something wrong?

The people who do use the word Yes, use it very freely. Sometimes too freely. You ask the counterperson at the hotel, "Have you seen my roommate?". Yes. Did he leave the key or take it with him? Yes. Did he say he'd be a long time? Yes. Or did he say he be back soon? Yes. Thanks for your help. Yes.

But man, the Philippines has a hold on me. I'm really liking it here, and both Dave and I really dont want to leave. In the end we have to meet people (he in Indonesia, I in Thailand) so we're going to be on our way in a couple weeks.

We've basically spent the last two weeks just enjoying Puerto and all it has to offer. We've become regulars at the Kinabuch resturant/bar/pool hall. They have an stir-fry dish that costs only P80 which is incredibly delicious. We've come to know the owner of the Hangar nightclub who now lets us in for free, which is cool as its the only place in town that has a cover charge- and an expensive one at that. We've come to know a good number of the people in town through Daves jam sessions and just hanging out. We've got a little routine of dinner at Kinabuch, dancing and hanging at Hangar, then to Christines (the towns 24-hour outdoor bar) for one last beer while ordering some of the P20 burgers they sell outside. You can get anywhere in town by moto-trike for P4, which at about 8 cents is the deal of the century. Our hotel is nice, quiet, clean, cheap, friendly and has a great view. Yep, we really dont want to leave.

Puerto Princesa has some weird signs.

Trying to delay the inevitable leaving, and not really having a plan of where to go at this point, we decided to head out to Honda bay with our friends Alan and Zsa Zsa, who we'd been hanging out with practically non-stop since we arrived in Puerto. We had met the two of them on our jeepney ride from Sabang to Peurto. Alan is from Scotland and Zsa Zsa is a native Filipina from the southern island of Mindinao.

So many people had told us about Honda Bay and told us it was a must see while we were staying in Peurto. The mainland dock is only about 30 minutes away by moto-trike, and from there you can spend as many hours or days as you like touring the surrounding islands. Only 2 of the islands have resorts on them. Our plan was to stay at the resort on Starfish Island for 2 nights and spend some time the first day touring around the islands, and then the second day just lounging around.

The touring around on the first day was amazing, just like the other great spots we'd visited in the Philippines. The snorkeling was great, as were the beaches. A couple of neat things were at Snake Island where there was an area you could swim in with bread, and the fish would come and eat out of your hands. Then we went to the grouper farm. Groupers are large (up to 4 feet long) fish with broad mouths. Due to over-fishing, the population is dwindling. So the grouper farm is breeding them and sending them back out. The farm is made of a few net-cages supported by floating planks which you can walk along. It was sort of a fear-factor-ish moment. Walking along these narrow planks with mean-looking shark-sized fish on either side. Cool.

honda bay

We returned to Starfish Island and Zsa Zsa cooked up some amazing shish-ka-bobs, and we ate like champs. We noticed that the island was nearly deserted. We rented one of the 6 cottages on the island for P500 (about 9 bucks) and essentially had the whole island to ourselves. There was a couple who rented another cottage, but we barely saw them all night long. Throughout the discussions of the evening, Zsa Zsa mentioned that her grandparents actually own the island. It used to get a lot more business, but since business dropped off, they were thinking about selling it. She also mentioned that they might be interested in leasing it. The 4 of us had a lot of fun discussing ideas of what we might do to make it more popular again if we were able to lease the island. We had so much fun with it and came up with so many good ideas, that a few days later we were giving a proposal to her grandparents to do just that. So, in the end, it looks like theres a possibility we could be here for a bit longer.

After returning to Peurto, we settled back in to our usual enjoyable routines of doing everything and nothing at all at the same time. Dave and I decided we wanted to make good on our idea to visit our friends, Romeo and Josie, in the fishing village where we got off our sailing boat.

So last Tuesday afternoon, we headed off towards a fishing village where before our original arrival, had never seen a tourist. We were hoping to work on one of the fishing boats as we had discussed before.

We had some rough directions on how to get to the village. Take a Jeepney to the port of Bahile. From there, find a boat going to Taranuayan or some where near it. There really is no boat service to the village, you just have to find someone going that way.

When we found the Jeepney going to Bahile, people were very concerned when we jumped in. Bahile? Are you sure you want to go to Bahile? There is nothing in Bahile, you know? No hotels. Uh, yes, we know. We're sure we're going to Bahile, we're visiting friends in Taranuyan. Oh, ok.

The Jeepney ride was awesome and made me realize another fundamental difference between the Philippines and the western world. Everyone on the bus talks to everyone else. The conversations were in Tagalog, so we didnt know what they were saying, but it was a lively conversation with a lot of laughter, and everyone was joining in. Why do people in the US not talk to each other on busses? What would be wrong with that?

We arrived in Bahile to the same surprise we'd become accustomed to. We asked around for and found a boat headed to Taranuayan. The guy who owned the boat said he needed to go get his wife first and then he wandered off. An hour later, we were wondering exactly where his wife had gone? Germany, perhaps? We amused ourselves by playing with the kids in the area, kicking the ball around, playing hackeysack (I'm a much better player when I play with Dave, as he allows me to use a flat hand as well the feet) and playing with the kids' home-made tops.

Our ride to Taranuayan returned and we headed out. When we arrived, we surprised the heck out of Romeo and Josie, and their son, Jastine. I think they expected that if we were to come back it would have been in the next few days, not over 2 weeks later. They invited us in with the warmth of old friends and immediately began to cook for us. We had brought food, but they were only too happy to cook it up and add some of their own ingredients.

We sat around after dinner and talked about what had happened in the past 2 weeks and about our future plans for traveling, and what the other members of our boat crew were up to. As we were in this discussion, Romeos brother (who lives next door) came up to us and said "Ok, come on, its time!". Uh, for what? Well, sing-a-long of course.

I think I've addressed the topic of Karaoke before, so I'll just leave it alone except to say that Dave and I do not fully see the attraction that every other Filipino in the entire country does. But here we were, invited guests to a night of Karaoke. In a fishing village you ask? Yes, Romeo and 3 of his neighbors split the cost of a generator so they could have power at night. His brother bought a TV and karaoke machine. The rest is history. But more amazing is that this village of 60 houses (villages size are measured in # of houses, not number of people) there are 6 houses that own karaoke machines. Thats 1 in 10 folks. In a remote fishing village.

It was clear from the get-go that we were expected to sing. As the guest of honor, it would be rude not to. But we didnt want to go first. Someone popped in the Karaoke-disc called "Soft Rock". The music wasnt half bad. Part of our aversion to Karaoke was the awful ballads that were normally available. But these songs were do-able. Dave was the first one to take the mike. Score: 92. Then Rick. Score 88. Then someone else, then back to Rick and Dave. Pretty soon we were doing duets and fighting over whos turn it was, and trying to top each others score. Could this really be happening? The CD was finally changed to some songs we never heard of (of the love ballad variety), and we began to decline. We were nearly forced to do it one last time, so we both sung one song we'd never heard of, just to see how bad we could do it.

In between songs, we'd amuse ourselves by playing with the animals in the house. Its weird how all the animals there get along just fine. Cats and dogs living peacefully, and chickens running right by them without being eaten. Odd. They also had the most relaxed cat and most relaxed dog I've ever seen. The dog would lay on the floor with his head down. You could spin him 180 degrees on the floor, and he wouldnt even lift his head to see what was going on. The cat you could drape over your leg, a log, a hot stove, and he would just lay there like a cat-shaped beanbag. I had to check if he had a skeleton a couple times. We draped the cat over the dog, just because we could, and got an immense laugh out of it. Our laughter caused the dog to look up, and when he realized it was a cat we put on him, promptly jumped up. Guess they dont like each other that much.

That night we slept in the livingroom of Romeo and Josie, on a straw mat and blanket they had laid out for us. No one in the village owns or uses bedding as far as we could see. They just all sleep on the floor. That night, as I fell asleep, it really dawned on me how cool this all was. Here I was sleeping on the floor of someone kind enough to allow me in to their home for a few days as their guest.

The next day we were eager to go fishing with Romeo. We had no idea what to expect. Would we be out for just a few hours? All day? Would it be hard work? Or would they make it easy on us? Would we be using Romeo's mid-sized boat, or go out on one of the large boats? We didnt expect to see the 2-man paddle canoe that came up, which they proudly brought over so Dave and I could paddle out to the bay to go snorkeling and go look at fish.

Obviously a communications gap.

We really wanted to go fishing with them. To work with them. For them. For free. Just for the experience of it. I think when that little boat arrived, I knew that was never going to happen. But for all the most beautiful reasons. We were their guests. They would never dream of letting us work while we were here, no matter how much we asked and pleaded. We really wanted to help out in any way, just to get a taste of village life, but no matter how we asked, it was clear that their goal was to make our stay as pleasant as possible, and in their minds, that involved no work. Besides, as it was a full moon, the majority of the boats from the village (including Romeos) were out of the water and being worked on. Dave did get to help prepare the food for the pigs one day, but other than that, we were on holiday as far as they were concerned.

So instead we amused ourselves by going for hikes around the village, playing basketball, going snorkeling, and walking through the village and talking to people. Just about everyone wanted to know what we were doing here. It was hard to explain, and it became easiest to simply say that we were visiting friends.

Our second night in the village, there was no gasoline for the generator, so there was to be no karaoke that we were promised. Great, give us a little taste to get us addicted, then deny us! It didnt matter, we stayed up and talked with Romeo and Josie and had a great time.

I didnt sleep so well the first night, and had mentioned it to Dave. He said he also woke up a few times from the hard floor, but that everytime he woke up, realized it was because he was sleeping on a wooden floor in a fishing village and how cool that was, and fell back to sleep. Nice way to think of it, I'll try that the next night. Although I did attempt to sleep in my hammock, Josie and Romeo would have no part in it. I tried to tell them it was ok and that I enjoyed sleeping in the hammock, but they insisted I sleep inside. Perhaps they felt if the neighbors saw me sleeping outside, it would reflect on their ability as a host to provide a suitable sleeping spot. Not wanting to cause any trouble, I slept inside. Good thing, it rained.

The next day was much the same, visiting with the villagers, learning Tagalog, playing with Jastine, who is one of the cooler kids we've met. Bit of a troublemaker, but in a cute way. We also took a walk to go talk to the bird that can "meow". Someone in the village owns a bird that obviously grew up listening to the cats around it and meows just like a cat. We'd play with the kids around the village either making faces at them, swinging them in the hammock or just horsing around. Sometimes, just watching them play, it was the coolest picture ever. But there was never any hope of ever getting that shot with the camera. As soon as the camera comes out, the kids pose and run and jump in front of the lens. Its always like that. The best shots are the candid ones you just cant get. I wondered how the people from National Geographic get those shots. Are they just really camoflauged? Well, I think I figured it out. After 3 days in the village, taking pictures, the kids got more used to it, and didnt feel the need to pose everytime. I think if you really wanted to get the good shots, the trick would be to stay somewhere for a week and just keep taking pictures until it wasnt a big deal anymore.

We left Friday morning very early, as to catch a ride out with someone headed to Bahile. Most of the neighbors were up, and all came over to say goodbye to us. There are a lot of places that I fall in love with, but only a few that I get really sad to leave. This was one of them. We knew all the neighborhood kids, and the adults too. Some better than others, but everyone sort of knew our story and would smile back at us if nothing else. But when everyone was saying goodbye, I really felt something cool. Not like the times when the kids would waive goodbye after we left a village that we'd been in for a few hours. This was more of a meaningful goodbye. But alas, it was time to leave.

Romeo has had jobs in other countries before, and both he and Josie are interested in working overseas again. Dave and I said that in order for them to make it happen, they'd need to learn to use the internet and get an email address. So they came to Puerto with us, and we spent 3 hours with them in the internet cafe. I showed Josie the ins-and-outs of Yahoo mail, while Dave showed Romeo resources for finding jobs overseas, and how to find more on his own. Hopefully, they will be able to keep at it and make something work out.

Back in Puerto now, and we're gearing up for a big weekend, before we leave for Manila on Monday. When I went up north to the mountains of Luzon a couple of months ago, I didnt get a chance to see the rice terraces of Banaue, because I wanted to make the Ati-Atihan festival before it ended. Dave wanted to take a trip up to those parts anyway, so we're going to head up there, and then make plans to head to Singapore.

Hope all is well with you,


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