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Published: August 21st 2007
One aspect of Filipino transport that makes life difficult for travellers is the general lack of centralised bus stations. Having plenty of bus companies is a good thing, but not when they all depart from different places in the same town. Fortunately both the potential lines for our next destination shared a bus station, so we chugged along to it on a trike - LA Woman in the sidecar with my rucksack, her rucksack balanced precariously on the sidecar's roof, and me balanced even more precariously side-saddle behind the driver.
The bus was one of the more comfortable I've had on my travels with Arctic aircon bringing a smile to my lips. Though the road was supposedly a national highway, it was more like Saltburn high street in terms of width and number of lanes. Most of the towns we passed through seemed scratty in a Vietnam kind of way rather than a China one. Catholicism may be the official religion here but in addition to Catholic churches there were places of worship of many other Christian denominations. Religious propaganda, on the lines of "Say no to drugs, say yes to God", was rife.
There's also some amusing English
usage - not in the sense of Engrish, but more like Indian English where there's nothing grammatically incorrect but constructions can sound strange to Western ears. A store's competition offering prizes of iPods and other gadgets was being advertised with "It's raining gizmo". Shop names included Happy Tummy, Goatmeister, and the masterful Ants On Uranus.
Our destination was Vigan, home of some of the best-preserved colonial buildings from the days when the Philippines were ruled by Spain. Accommodation in the old town is often in these relics of a bygone age - availability was low and prices high, leading to a wearying amount of plodding in the heat of late afternoon.
In the Philippines in general, Spanish rule has left its mark in the architecture, people's names, and places' names, but only some older people still speak Spanish. The much shorter American occupation - which started with a bitter war between the occupiers and the occupied - has left a different legacy, with English widely spoken (and even combining with the official language Tagalog to form Taglish), jeepneys a mainstay of transport throughout the country, and basketball apparently the national sport.
There isn't an enormous amount to
see in the old town once you've taken in the cathedral and a couple of squares, with the surrounding cobbled streets patrolled by smelly horse buggies in search of tourist custom (an unwelcome flashback to Central Park). I was struck again by just how much attention we're getting - security staff in stores seem to find it necessary to keep an eye on us, which is overkill as half the customers and assistants are already doing that. It does mean, though, that the shoplifting opportunities for everyone else rise markedly whenever we enter a store.
While in Vigan, I had the 2nd anniversary of leaving my job. On the day I left, I met (basketball star) Steve Nash in the lift of my apartment building, which seemed like a good omen. Though the urge to travel was one of many reasons why I quit, travelling has been my life for most of the last 2 years and I expect it to be that way for another 1.5 or so. I'll leave any musings on what I've learned in this period until my final blog, but suffice to say the only regret I have about leaving my job is that
I didn't do it sooner.
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