The Philippines - Part 2

Philippines' flag
Asia » Philippines
May 7th 2007
Published: June 6th 2011
Edit Blog Post

The Loboc River runs through the bottom of a deep ravine.

Excessively tall coconut trees bend from the banks; somehow the light through the palm fronds lends the river water an unusual pearlescent green quality.

'This is a bit different' I think to myself as we spot the first of the bungalows buried amongst the trees.

Coming to Nuts Huts by boat is by far the most preferable option.

The basic cottages are just steps from the river.

To approach from the nearest road requires a hike along a 1km rough track followed by the descent down the side of the ravine of about two hundred and sixty steps. Not great fun with a rucksack, as a number of Peace Corps volunteers demonstrated.

Our cottage hung off the hillside, raised about 3 metres above the ground on stilts and was made mainly of bamboo and planed wood.

The rustic feel was accentuated by the large gaps between the floorboards, walls and ceiling, in Linda's mind an open invitation to all the creepy-crawlies of the forest.

Food and beer were located halfway up the ravine side, a mere 126 steps to breakfast.

We were on the island of Bohol and hired the motorbike necessary to see the tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills.

Located in the centre of the island, the Chocolate Hills are a collection of ancient coral mounds which are now above sea level and have been eroded to resemble chocolate drops (so they say), particularly when the grassy coverings have been scorched by the sun.

One of the largest has been blessed with a car park and souvenir shops and presents a decent view of the hundreds of mounds disappearing over the horizon.

I have to say that it wasn't half as naff as I was expecting, and worth 25 minutes of anyone's time.

The Tarsier Visitors Centre is located a long way down a graded road.

Far enough for us to be on the verge of turning back before we came upon it. However, it was a pleasant drive through rural villages and waving people (me), or a cruel torment to an oversensitive pillions posterior (Linda).

So, what is a tarsier?

A tarsier is the worlds smallest primate, somewhere between a lemur and a monkey, which will fit comfortably into the palm of your hand.

They are nocturnal and have big soulful eyes which make them oh so cute and supports a trade in roadside cages where less aware tourists can cuddle and stroke them into an early grave.

Us responsible travellers go to the sanctuary where a warden points out a tarsier or two gripping onto a branch, waiting for nightfall, and we must make not a sound.

Despite being adopted as the symbol of Bohol, the tarsier is an endangered species due to habitat destruction, predation by domestic cats and its disinclination to reproduce with any enthusiasm .

This was the week before Easter and we knew that everywhere would be busy with domestic holidaymakers but we hadn't booked anywhere for the Easter weekend as we didn't really know where we would be.

The man at Nuts Huts sucked at the air between his teeth "You'll be lucky to find anywhere now".

Linda began to panic at the thought of any extra time in this idyllic jungle retreat, so I exhumed the mobile phone and started ringing around Bohols beach resorts. No joy.

The island of Siquihor was mentioned on the book as having some sort of healers convention over the Holy weekend, so I called a load of places there and managed to patch together a couple of accommodatory options to cover the critical period.

First stop in Siquihor was the Swiss Stars guest house in the town, a place where the owners and staff had clearly lost interest in the venture and everybody wished they were somewhere else.

In the room next to ours was a 70 year old Englishman named Tom.

"I'm looking for a wife", he confided, "I'm fed up of being lonely"

We learnt that he'd been looking for a wife in various parts of The Philippines over the last 4 months.

He had met quite a few ladies through 'Find A Wife' websites but wasn't averse to striking up conversations with ladies in the restaurant or passing on the pavement.

"The problem with these websites is that the girls are all so young. It's unusual to find anyone over thirty. What can I do?" he complained.

He clearly wasn't doing that badly. It was impossible to hold a conversation with him without being interrupted every 10 minutes by text messages from previous candidates:

'Where are you Tom?'

He had come to Siquihor to meet another lady from the internet.

"Oh, I don't like her" he said after talking to her for ten minutes.

She went home with his laundry, bringing it back the next morning.

"Thank you", he said, "I'm off for a nap now".

When she had left, perplexed, he reappeared a bit sheepishly.

"Phew, I thought I was going to have trouble with that one."

But she had his phone number and text messages followed, starting with 'Tom, do you have any more laundry' and progressing to 'Tom, I am in bed lonely thinking of you'.

The next day Tom seemed quite sprightly.

"I've got a new girl coming today from Cebu."

Chorito turned up at around teatime and we could see instantly that she was a gem.

A beautiful girl, lovely personality, looked twenty but said she was thirty one.

I could only surmise that she remained single because (a) she was poor or (b) she had a cleft palate.

This resulted in quite a severe speech impediment, but we were able to tune into her after a couple of days and hold proper conversations.

Not surprisingly, Tom was enthralled from the word go.

"If we get married, will they sort her out on the NHS?”
I didn't know the answer to that one.

We moved on to the Kiwi Dive Resort, further around the island, for the Easter weekend.

Here we struck lucky, getting a lovely cottage (with an upstairs!) a stones throw from the high tide line.

Good food, nice people, lovely views, we were happy to spend three days barely venturing from the veranda.

I then decided to check out the snorkeling only to find a wealth of vibrant coral virtually on my doorstep.

I cursed my previous indolence and visited my own personal reef twice a day for the next week.

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday here is called Black Saturday, the day of the healer's convention.

I hired a motorbike and set out for the inland village where it was supposed to take place.

I had visions of crowds of people in the street watching the healers strangling chickens and boiling up potions.

In the village everything seemed quiet, so I assumed that I was too early or too late, and went for a ride around the island.

What I didn't know was that you were supposed to find the healers house.

Better informed people that I spoke to later said that there was indeed an old man cutting up herbs and preparing a poultice in a small cauldron, which was then sold as either a cure-all or a love potion, depending on the buyers needs. About 100 people were gathered in the old mans garden, but I don't know where the 'convention' appellation comes from.

As I had the bike we rode back to Siquihor town to meet up with Tom and Chorito.

When they heard how lovely the Kiwi Lodge was they resolved to come over for the day later in the week.

When they arrived we all had a swim followed by a few drinks.

"My big problem with women", said Tom "is that I always end up treating them like servants. I really must make a big effort not to let that happen this time".

Moments later he turned to Chorito "Go and get me a beer and a tuna sandwich will you. Thanks darling" with no hint of irony.

Before they left Tom asked if they could use our shower.

"No problem" said Linda.

"That wasn't what I was expecting" she added as they showered together - and then used our towels.

We've kept in touch with them since by text message. Tom has been to meet the family but has to leave in May to sort out his pension. Is there a future in this intergenerational relationship?
We hope we find out.

From Siquihor it was but a short hop across the water to the town of Dumaguete on the island of Negros.

Here we stayed at Harolds Mansion, run by Harold, a Philipino guy who has done some travelling and decided to set up a proper backpackers place.

A very good job he's made of it too, with free breakfast, free tea and coffee, and free internet access, but the real attraction of the place is Harold himself. He is a really friendly outgoing guy who gave us some good ideas and advice (and features later in this piece, hence the intro).

Dumaguete is a pleasant enough provincial town. Here we discovered that Pizza Hut now do excellent spare ribs, or we could get a lunchtime special of soup, salad, breadsticks, micro-pizza and drinks for £2 for two.

Whilst in town we extended our visa's for a rather hefty £35 which included a 'fast track' fee although we were the only people n the office.

The jumping off point for Apo Island is a half hour jeepney ride out of Dumaguete.

I had phoned ahead so I knew the transfer boat was quite pricey and was expecting something at least moderately comfortable.

We were somewhat surprised to find an outrigger the size of a large canoe waiting for us. This was hard topped, so we sat on rather than in the boat.

It was a 40 minute journey across open sea.

We got wet.

Fortunately our allocated room was basic, but lovely, with a balcony looking over where the boats were coming in and out.

We watched the elderly Americans crawl onto the transfer boats on all fours.

Apo Island is famous as a dive location.

For about a decade the locals have been participating in an experiment in which a 50 metre no fishing zone has been set up around the island.

This was controversial to start with as they had traditionally fished over the reef, but they have actually found their overall catch has increased as fish on the reef are left in peace to grow and reproduce.

This also means that there are big(gish) fish to see when diving or snorkeling.

I saw plenty at around 18 inches long, and they are quite happy to ignore you swimming above them.

There was also lots of coral to see directly off the beach, so I expect the snorkeling here is as good as it gets.

Everything would have been great, was it not for the lack of electricity at night.

The daytime temperatures had been around 40 degrees C and the nights were sweltering without even the airflow from a fan.

Despite having all the doors and windows open, four restless nights were sufficient and we returned to Dumaguete.

The return crossing was rougher and wetter, and we shared it with a Swedish girl, Hannah, who revealed that it was her birthday and she was also going to Harolds.

Harold was keen to celebrate Hannah's birthday (she was 23, blond and winsome).

"I know", he said, "lets have a barbeque at my place".

Good on yer, Harold.

First we headed down to the fish market, where I saw many of my colourful friends lying on the slabs.

A couple of scabrous rats were running, unremarked, between the stalls, which was a bit off putting.

After taking in the sights and smells we had to chose a fish for the barbie.

"You choose, Harold", we agreed, "You know better than us what's good."

"OK", he said, "let's have a piece of jaw."

With that he went and bought a fish jaw bone about the size of a shoe box.

As this was only a quarter of the actual jaw I concluded that the original fish must have been an 8 or 9 footer.

We also bought some giant prawns, sea grass and star apples to complete the ensemble.

Before heading to his place, Harold wanted to show us the bit of beach where he went drinking in his student days.

As we were downing the San Miguel, a man came up selling a basket of eggs.

"Duck eggs", explained Harold, "you can buy them at 12 days, 18 days or 21 days old".

Yuck, we thought, they'll be a bit smelly.

"No, no", said Harold, catching onto our thoughts, "that's how long they've been incubated for before being boiled. They would hatch at around 28 days".

With that he bought a 21 day egg and peeled off the shell to reveal a duck embryo in the final stages of development.

"They're nice and crunchy at this stage", he said through bulging cheeks, "but I don't like the feathers".

Eventually we made it back to his house.

I was only mildly surprised to find it was big and posh, and he handed the food over to a housemaid to prepare while he cracked open a bottle of spirits.

His lodgers joined us for a chat, during which he was referred to as 'the richest man in Dumaguete', which is probably not far from the truth.

Anyway, I can recommend barbecued fish jaw. It was superb.

We were to leave at 9 am the following morning.

"I will be up to see you off", promised Harold as he dropped us off, apparently none the worse for wear.

He whispered something into Hannah's ear, she nodded and they drove off. We saw her the next morning, packed and ready to go. Apparently they had been dancing 'till 4am.

Harold was somewhere sleeping it off, so we never got to say goodbye before setting off for another beach.

Additional photos below
Photos: 64, Displayed: 31

Tot: 0.191s; Tpl: 0.014s; cc: 12; qc: 53; dbt: 0.0879s; 1; m:domysql w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.3mb