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Published: January 26th 2012
Well, I guess I’d better apologise in advance. After the previous few blogs that contained such wonders as snorkelling with whale sharks, swanning through deserted islands and of course the Mother of All Festivals, this edition will likely seem quite tame and relatively uneventful. I hadn’t really stopped much up until now - I had been moving every few days and doing lots of amazing things, but with the impending prospect of teaching eighty kids looming quite large, I relished the chance to just stop, relax and let my salt-encrusted and now quite natty hair down...
After the festival and with the cacophony of drums still ringing in my ears, I embarked on a fairly uneventful bus trip south across the island of Panay. I arrived in Iloilo City, took a quick look around at this fairly non-descript and noisy town and pondered my limited options. However, after realising that the tropical island of Guimaras lay only fifteen minutes away by bangka, I scampered down to the pier, paid my fourteen pesos and jumped on board.
Guimaras is renowned for its beaches and its mangoes and I can attest that in regards to the latter, they were pretty well
the best damn mangoes I’ve ever tasted. And thus the next few days consisted of eating these lovely delicacies, lazing around reading and swimming in the beautiful spring-fed pool of the hotel, which was itself perched at the top of a luscious green valley and looked out over the island and some lovely little bays and was surrounded by the most wonderful flowering gardens. The only downside was the occasional karaoke that would waft over the hills and this is one thing that I still really can’t come to terms with in Asia. The reasoning behind taking an already dodgy song from the 80's, remixing it with an atrocious house beat (thus making a crap song even crappier) and then publicly rehashing it with a generally mangled, out-of-tune voice, is to me, quite incomprehensible. But who am I to criticise, each to his own and all that…
Anyway, a couple of days later I motivated myself just enough to move on and had another day of travel that incorporated a jeepney, ferry, public bus, tricycle and finally a little canoe. (It’s funny, no matter how short a distance you travel in the Philippines, it always takes at least a
day and multiple forms of transport to get there.) So after the ferry ride from Guimaras, I was soon back on the island of Negros where I hopped on the bus south, weaving through sugar cane fields and with the looming mountains that run up the spine of Negros. Destination, Sugar Beach.
It was during the fifteen minute lunch stop that I sauntered off the bus to grab a bottle of water and bumped into a couple that would later be referred to as The Twins by those who met them in Sugar Beach. They were a couple and not brother and sister, but the physical resemblance between them was so much that it really was quite eerie. And quite disturbing if you pondered it for too long. Anyway, we got chatting and boarded the bus, only for them to exclaim that their bag was missing from where they'd left it beneath their seat. I assumed that it was just a spare bag containing maybe a spare set of clothes or a book, but no, the horrified look on their faces said it all. Passports, money, bank cards, camera. I stared at them in utter disbelief, I mean they'd
been travelling for three months already and you really wouldn't leave your bag unattened on a bus back at home, yet alone when travelling in a much poorer country. And especially when it contains everything that you need to get from A to B and to survive generally. They stood there, puffing on their ciggies and looking increasingly bewildered as the bus driver indicated that we really had to leave. I quickly asked whether they had any more at all, a rapid search of pockets turned up a handful of pesos, so as the bus pulled away, I grabbed a thousand pesos, handed it through the window to them, wished them luck and watched their haggard faces as the bus chugged out of the terminal.
Late that afternoon, I arrived in the little town of Montilla and a short canoe ride north brought me to Sugar Beach which consists of a beautiful kilometer-long beach, fringed with coconut palms and a few very laid back resorts. Besides a lovely half day spent snorkelling a wreck and some corals, the next five days consisted of treading a well-worn path of around a hundred steps from the hammock on the balcony of
my huge bamboo nipa hut, to the beach for a swim and then back via the restaurant for a mango shake or a bite to eat. I did also grab a couple of massages which contributed further to the aura of absoulte relaxedness that I had begun to emanate by this stage. That was until the final one when the masseur decided to answer her mobile mid-rubdown and proceeded to natter away for the next fifteen miutes, phone wedged between ear and shoulder as she continued to prod and rub. Not quite the ambience as I was after, as I generally prefer the lapping of waves to excited and energetic conversations in Tagalog, when I'm trying to unwind. But the Filipions do love their phones. More than once I have been informed by a local, beaming proudly, that Filipinos send more text messages per capita than any other country on earth. Not quite up there with the highest university entrance scores or as an average indicator of overall happiness but still quite a feat nonetheless, I'm sure you'll agree.
As I mentioned, it was the first time that I’ve actually stopped anywhere for more than a few days since
arriving in Siquijor and it allowed me the chance to actually read a considerable amount of the 1000-page weighty tome that I’ve been carrying around. (The resort owner actually started referring to me as Father Simon as this particular book does indeed resemble a huge chunky bible, and I played along by providing random blessings as I slowly sauntered past each day.) Even better, the said owner was a staunch United fan and I managed to catch my first game of football in five weeks. The Philippines is actually the exception to the rule in Asia where football and extensive discussions of it, are generally rife, albeit via a strangled version of pidgin-English and lots of hand gestures. Here, and undoubtedly due to the extensive US presence in the country over the years, basketball is king and I’ve found it perplexing when the locals look at me cluelessly as I try to engage them in the intricacies of the Dutch total football of the 70's or the continued demise of Liverpool due to tactical mismanagement and a general lack of any decent players...
I also met up with a great bunch of people at Sugar Beach and we embarked
together to head towards Dumaguete and the final stop of my trip. On board were Nicole and Flavia from Switzerland (the scheiser Sweitzer), Vicky from England, Maaika from the Netherlands and the indominatable Kraut, Max. Oh, and The Twins who had finally arrived at Sugar Beach sans
bag but were keen to head on to Dumaguete as well. So we were all ready to go when they cheerfully informed us that they just had to pop into the Western Union in nearby Sipalay to pick up a life-saving transfer sent from home. Two hours later, after they realised that they didn't know the required reference number to collect, and after a hasty 4:00 am phone call to wake Dad up to locate said number, we did finally head off. It was at this stage, the rest of us sitting there sweating and perplexed, that we started taking bets on how long The Twins will actually last on their extended multi-month journey.
Anyway, we did make it to Dumaguete eventually by late afternoon (I told you, one way or another, it always takes a day to get anywhere here) and yesterday we all rose early (or relatively early when considered
in light of the much slower Sugar Beach time) and had a full day of snorkelling or diving around the beautiful corals at nearby Apo Island. It was truly lovely and the corals on the leeside of the island were in very decent shape, despite the typhoon that had swept through the area a month and a half ago. A few turtles flippered majestically past and we swam after them for twenty minutes or so until they had had enough of the bothersome tourists and took off into the depths with effortless ease.
And so that is that and a twenty-odd hour trip home awaits tomorrow and then it’s back to my darling Jane who has been so unbelievably tolerant of her galavanting husband that it really is quite remarkable. It’s been a wonderful trip and I really can’t praise the wonderful Philippines and its people highly enough. I’ve been blessed to meet some truly great people, locals and travellers alike, to see some absolutely beautiful places and to have had some indescribably amazing experiences. My deepest and warmest salamat
to them all and a final tagai
from this most wonderful of countries.
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