Published: February 11th 2007February 11th 2007
Passengers waiting to board the ship.
Christmas Day in the Philippines. It's hot, humid, and busy. People are running around singing Chritsmas carrolls in every corner of every street in every town of every province in the Philippines. I have never seen such a joyous celebration of Christmas anywhere in the world. In the United States and other Western countries Christmas has been diluted by other factions and interests such that you really can't celebrate Christmas without having to acknowledge Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Sodom and Gommorah (joke people), and other psuedo-holidays so that everybody's happy. But it's really nothing more than a big shopping bonanza and a boon to the retail industry. Here in the Philippines however, it is still about getting together with families in the provinces, parols(Filipino chritmas lanterns), lechon baboy (roast pig), Christmas carrolls, and going to church at midnight on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Christ and all the good things he brought to God's green earth. All good things however, come with unintentionally bad consequences, like the use of Christ's name to wage war upon thee, sinners and unbelievers traveling on a road to perdition, who's only savior is conversion or thee will burn in eternal hell. Thee also includes me,
Where am I?
Waiting for my ship in Pier Uno
The purpose of the preceding nonsense above is to grab the reader's attention and pique his or her interest so that he or she might entertain the thought of reading further on and perhaps be persuaded or entertained. In my case, I just want to entertain because I have no point of view to advance, only to share a story that is both honest and incisive. The Water Transport System
Water transportation is an essential part of life in the Philippines because there are so many islands in close proximitity to each other. Cebu City has long been a hub for water transport even before the colonial times, where many merchants from other parts of Asia and even as far away as the Middle East have traded with the inhabitants of the island of Cebu. This is well known and I am not the first person to say that when Magellan landed in Cebu he was not the first to discover these wonderful islands. Thus, giving him credit as the discoverer is a dishonor to the native inhabitants who have been living here for centuries. Unfortunately for old Hernando de Magallanes, he got a little too
The Escano family used to own one of the largest shipping lines in the Philippines. Now they own nothing, even the letter c have fallen off the sign of their once magnificent empire.
friendly with one faction of the tribes in Cebu which had an on going dispute with another tribe on the island of Mactan lead by Chief Lapu-Lapu, of which the city of Lapu-Lapu is named after. Magellan was killed by Lapu-Lapu and Lapu-Lapu became a national hero, but the Spaniards came back, took possesion of the land, gave it a Spanish name- Filipinas- and pretty much screwed the whole country for three hundred and fifty years. The Philippines is still recovering from all that screwing.
Now, back to the water transport system. I'm supposed to take the ferry to Southern Leyte today, Christmas Day, but the company, Ocean Jet, has suspended their Cebu to Hilongos, Leyte operation for this day only, and no reason was given. Perhaps because it's Christmas? They didn't really make that clear to me so I have no choice but to wait for another ferry, Kinswell, later in the afternoon. The Kinswell ferry will take me to another town called Bato, about ten miles south of Hilongos but this is fine because Bato is actually closer to Maasin, Southern Leyte, which will be my first stop in the province. The only problem with Kinswell is
The Streets of Maasin City
Maasin is a bustling little town. Not really a city. It doesn't have stop lights , but they do have a Jollibee.
that it's a bit slower than Ocean Jet.
The departure time for the Kinswell ferry is not until 6:00 PM in Pier Uno(Pier 1) this afternoon. So I sit in the lobby of the Marriott's Hotel and I write in this little notebook of mine that I keep just for this occassion, when I have nothing better to do. I write just about anything to occupy my time. This is part of traveling. It's not always adventurous. Sometimes it can get real boring, like now.
There are others here as well, sitting in the lobby, and doing nothing at all but sit, wait, talk, and drink alcohol. It's only ten o'clock in the morning and already people are boozing it up. Perhaps like me, they are stuck here because the Philippine water transport system is unreliable, or maybe they just don't want to deal with the heat and humidity outside. A couple of white guys, European looking(they're very easy to spot, just observe their mannerism and the clothes they wear) are sitting on a sofa near the bar area of the lobby, talking and smoking cuban cigars. They've been sitting there since early this morning, around ten o'clock,
Maasin City Hall
It was raining half the time that I was in Maasin.
haven't move since then, and there's no sign of them moving anytime soon. One guy, sitting on the right, has curly dark blonde hair, sporting a thick beard, wearing a biege-brown shirt, khaki trousers, and snap on slippers. Now, if that's not a European look, I don't know what is! The snap on slippers gave it all away. The other white guy has no hair at all, as bald as a cue ball, even his eyebrows have disappeared, like it's been shaved off. He couldn't be any whiter even if he holed up in a cave for a thousand years. God knows what these two are doing here. There they are, stuck to the sofa, having a laid back conversation, perhaps talking about what a wonderful place the Philippines is while puffing away and burning a hole in their lungs.
By this time my boredom is no longer bearable so I order a scotch on the rocks even though it's only eleven thirty in the morning. I'm being foolish, thinking perhaps that the alcohol will inspire me to write something wonderful, something thoughtful, maybe even something
entertaining. But who am I kidding. The only reason that I am writing,
Minubus threatens the jeepney
These little sonovaguns are proliferating in the Philippines and might one day wipe out the classic jeepneys. That would be too bad. Perhaps a SAVE THE JEEPNEY movement should be organized to prevent this from happening.
or write anything at all, is to occupy an otherwise empty moment in my life. This is one of those moments. In between sips of my scotch, I write. Now my attention is focused on the Chinese family sitting accros
from the two European gentlemen. They're all yakking away in Chinese and I have no idea what they're saying. The eldest member of the family, probably the grandfather, is smiling but his eyes are closed as if he was napping and not really paying attention to what anybody else is saying. The mother and father are arguing, I think, although you can never tell, especially with the Chinese. The two young kids, perhaps the daughter and son, in their early teens, are just sitting there and not doing anything at all, as if they're content to just be
sitting there forever.
A few minutes later a mixed couple arrived. I have seen at least ten American/Filipina couple since I've been here and my fascination with them is fading. They are no longer a novelty for me so I stopped counting. But what fascinates me though are the offspring. The couple arrived with their kids. One is a studious looking young girl, about eight or nine years old, wearing eye glasses as thick as a coke bottle. The other kid is a hippish looking teenaged son, his long hair wrapped into a pony tail in the back, wearing baggy pants, tennis shoes, and a Philippine embroidered aloha shirt. He could pass for a surfer from Hawai'i with his hapa-haole look (hapa-haole means half white in Hawaiian pidgin). While the young girl looks more Asiatic, the young teenaged son looks more like a Pacific Islander with a care free style and a devil may care attitude. The grandmother, the mother of the Filipina wife, also came along with them. They are sitting on the same sofa that I'm sitting on and thus, I was able to hear every word of their conversation. Now, this is heaven sent for me.
The husband is an older American who looks like he hails from Kansas or some other midwestern state. He didn't seem like a bad guy. He's mild mannered and soft spoken. He was thumbing through a Cebu map and looking for a place called Talisay just off the city of Cebu. At this point I put my notebook and pen away and grabbed my Globe cell phone which I had bought earlier at the Ayala center. I was pretending to be text messaging or doing something, as if I was not the least bit interested in their conversation at all. The wife is not young but about the same age as her husband, ordinary looking, and talks with a thick Filipino accent. Her mother didn't speak English very well so she just spoke Bisaya to her daughter, telling her this is what they should be doing, and nagging her endlessly. I could pick up some of this even with my limited knowledge of Bisaya. The wife was somewhat of a bitch. She was basically telling her husband to just stay here in the hotel and wait while she and her mother ran around the city to visit family and friends. At the same time she was complaining about what a pain in the ass the little daughter is, the Asiatic looking young girl. She said she hates the fact that the little rat is always pouting and acting disinterested, at which point the little rat said
I'm bored, I wanna go home
You see, you see what I mean'
the mother retorted back to the father. There was a moment of silence after this. The mother and grandmother looked at me but I did not look back, pretending to not hear anything, lost in my own little world with my Globe cellular phone. Finally, the father said
Anyway Jim, you wouldn't like it. There's nothing interesting for you to see. You'll just sweat and be bored because you wouldn't understand what we're saying
the wife said in a somewhat consolatory tone. The grandma chimed in with
in Bisaya, spoken to the wife although clearly intended for Jim, the husband.
The look in Jim's face told me that that was not the point. He simply felt left out. The little girl could care less about meeting her Filipino relatives and the teenaged son seemed not to care one way or the other. He was just sitting there, across from me, comfortably oblivious, and looking like whatever happens is cool with him. This kid seemed odd to me because he didn't fit the stereotype. Usually the kids of American/Filipina mixed couples are conflicted and the conflict is deeply rooted in their identity, or lack of it. What the hell Am I, American or Filipino, is probably what their thinking. The Americans of course, will never let them forget of their other half. Growing up in America however, they can never fully identify with being Filipino. In a family gathering of mostly Filipino crowd they often feel out of place. They look different, they speak different, and most importantly, they are treated differently than a full blooded Filipino. In many cases the American born half blooded Filipino will shun their Filipino identity, sometimes going to great lenghts to hide it, and are clearly ashamed of who they really are. I've seen this many times and as a matter of fact it's a rule rather than the exception. Very few of them have openly admitted that in fact, they are half Filipino and are proud of it.
So I sat there in the lobby with the American/Filipina couple and their kids, and the wife's mother, playing with my cell phone and drinking my scotch on the rocks. I did not open my mouth to speak, not once, and so I was able to store the event for posterity. Maasin
Pier Uno (Pier 1) in Cebu is teeming with passengers waiting to get on board one the many ships on station bound for the provinces. Families visiting relatives for the holidays, students returning home for Christmas break, merchants buying supplies from Cebu for their business back in the province, and many others just returning home after a brief visit with friends and relatives in Cebu. Many of these people are heading to either Leyte, Bohol, or Negros. I bought a ticket for the Bato, Leyte bound Kinswell ship, a relatively small craft but faster than the larger ships which take passengers for an overnight voyage to the provinces. While the larger ships take at least six hours to travel 50 nautical miles, the relatively fast Kinswell takes only halft that, about three hours. Thus, with a six o'clock departure, my ship will arrive in Bato in approximately 9 PM in the evening.
The first stop of my Southern Leyte itinerary is Maasin (Ma-a-sin), the capital of Southern Leyte province. This place is definetely off the beaten path, and that's what I like about it. I see no Western backpackers aboard the ship, no American/Filipina couple, no other Westerner being escorted by a Filipino guide who is hired by one of the dive resorts in Southern Leyte. Several dive resorts have sprung up on this province in the last ten years because of the beautiful waters and unspoiled wilderness which is teeming with marine life. This is not the reason why I am here, however. In fact, there is no reason at all other than it's there and I want to go there. Most people think am I out of my mind but what many don't understand is that this is precisely the reason why I travel; to go, too see, to waste time. If along the way I find a gem, or be delighted, surprised, bored, or just be plain disappointed, then so be it. It's a risk that I'm willing to take, as long as I don't get the shit beat out of me, or get killed, or both. That would be terribly disappointing to say the least.
There are Porters dockside, the laborers who do the heavy lifting of the auxiliaries like the gang-plank, the lines, the ships cargo, or whatever kind of activity that needs manpower in order to get the ship in port or underway. These Porters, although employed by the Port Authority of Cebu, also avail themselves to help the passengers carry the heavy lifting of their baggage, for a fee of course, and they're pretty aggressive. If they see a large box or luggage laying about with no handlers they will swarm all over it and handle it, asking the owner where he or she would like the baggage taken to, so you have to be careful with these guys. I board the ship with one backpack and a small carry on sport bag. One of the Porters asked me if I need help with my luggage. I politely said no, I can handle it.
After a ten minute delay the ship finally departs, pulling out of Pier Uno and onto the Straits of Mactan, passing under the bridges of Mactan and Marcelo Fernan. I have no idea who Marcelo Fernan is but he must have been a pretty important Cebuano to have a bridge built in his honor. The lights from Cebu City and Lapu-Lapu City on opposite sides of the straits shimmers in the water as we cut through the ocean on our way to the Camotes Sea. Out in the open sea the water is calm, only disturbed by the wake of our ferry. I can see lanterns flickering in the distance from the small bankas and pumpboats of independent fishermen who make their living at night and sell their catch in the morning. All of these I observed in the open deck while the ship traversed through it's route on our way to Bato. The seats inside are comfortable enough but the air conditioning is on full blast that a droplet from the condensation starts to spit down on you after a few minutes, so I elected to take a break outside in the open deck to warm up a little bit.
A guy joined me in the open deck after a few minutes. He was out for a smoke break. I asked him where he's from. He said Maasin. I said great, that's where I'm going. So I figured, well I'll just follow where he goes. He seemed like a good guy and I was happy to have met him. I went back inside after awhile just to look around and see if I can find something interesting to write about. There was nothing, so I lied down in a row of open seats and tried to nap. The televison was on with some Arnold Schwarzenegger blow em up movie and they had the volume up to the max, so it was difficult to get some shut eye. I figured I'll just lie down for three hours and do absolutely nothing, not talk, not even think, and maybe a miracle will happen, like put me to sleep for a few minutes. Well, that didn't happen, but we did finally arrive in Bato, Leyte a little after nine o'clock in the evening.
As soon as I got off the ship there were touts asking me where I'm headed. I said Maasin, and one of them offered to take me in a minivan for 500 pesos. So I thought about it for a minute. 500 pesos is equivalet to US$10, which isn't bad at first thought but then the guy whom I met on the Kinswell ship told me that was too much, so I refused and followed him to the jeepney terminal. It was kind of dark and a little difficult to tell which jeepney went to where but eventually we found a yellow colored jeepney with all the decorations you'd expect from such a vehicle. The sign in front on the lower right corner of the winshield said Maasin, so figured this must be it. We got in and paid fifty pesos for our fare to Maasin. That's ten times less that what the tout with the minivan had offered me. There's a good reason for this. The
minivan would have made fewer stops, would've been more comfortable, and generally more convenient and after about the tenth stop that the jeepney made on our way to Maasin I was beginning to think that I might have been better off paying five hundred pesos for the comfortable minivan ride instead of this slow and unbearably uncomfortable jeepney. The padding on the bench seats were so hard that I might as well have been sitting on concrete. Even though the jeepney was full to its maximum capacity still, the driver would stop if a passenger standing on the side of the road waved for him to stop. Pretty soon the jeepney was so full and no just with passengers but with baggage, bags of groceries, a dog, a fighting cock, a pig on the rooftop, more boxes filled with God knows what, and more passengers hanging on for dear life at the entrance/exit of the jeepney, and when you think that the jeepney is absolutely maxed out, that it can't possibly carry another ounce of cargo, the driver stops and picks up even more passengers with carrying more vegetables, fruits, and sacks of rice. The jeepney was literally moving at fifteen miles an hour as we bend around and reached the city limits of Maasin.
As we approached closer to the town center and reached out final stop, more people got off and thus more room for the rest of the passengers. I had no idea where we were, I was just hoping to get close enough to the town center so that I can take a tricylce ride to a guest house called Ampil Pensione. I got off on the final stop and flagged a tricycle, a motorcycle with a sidecar, asked the driver to take me to Ampil Pensione. It turned out that the place was pretty close to where we were at and I could've walked there myself but I paid five pesos instead for the motorcycle ride because I didn't know where I was. Ampil Pensione is not a bad place to stay although the rooms are kind of small, but 800 pesos you can have one the larger, more spacious deluxe suites. The accomodations are spartan but it does have airconditioning and cable TV.