The Philippines - Part 1

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Asia » Philippines
April 4th 2007
Published: June 6th 2011
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We are deposited on Cebu Island at around 4am.

During the journey into Cebu City I get the taxi to stop 4 times at atm's, none of which will accept my card.

The driver’s eyes darken as he becomes worried about his fare.

We arrive at the planned guesthouse in the city centre.
I could have guessed that as there are about 60 nurses hanging around in the foyer and outside, waiting for a lift to their shift.

I leave Linda to wait and set off with the taxi driver to try for some cash. Fortunately, the first machine gives me 10,000 pesos.

He departs, the beneficiary of an overgenerous tip, and I set off on foot, guidebook in hand, searching for a bed at 5am.

Despite the early hour there are plenty of people about.

Security guards and street-sleepers in equal measure.

I am disoriented, and peer at a map in the half light trying to get my bearings.

A man hails me from the other side of the road, and then crosses.

"You want girl. I get 15 year old girl and bring her to your room. Very cheap"

Any westerner on the street at this hour must be looking for action, stands to reason.

"No thanks" I turn away and start walking. He follows.

"Feeefteen years old. I bring to you room. No problem"

"No thanks".

I walk. He follows.

I enquire at 3 guest houses. Full. Full. Full.

Each time I descend the steps he is waiting for me. It must be obvious by now that I don't have the room prerequisite for his proposition.

"You want a girl?"

Obviously walking away does not work. I must see him off.

I am sorely aware of my general lack of experience with persistent pimps.

It would be rather inconvenient to get beaten up within my first 2 hours in the country (to say the least).

"Right. Listen carefully" I begin, "It must be clear to you by now that I am not interested in you or your offers yet you persist in following me around the streets. This is very irritating and you are making me angry and upset. The time has come for you to leave me alone to complete my business. Please go. Goodbye"

He disappears with the last of the night. However I am unnerved and Linda will be wondering where I am.

I make my way back to her and, lo, a car park gate opens to reveal a hotel rear entrance.

I enquire and find that they have a window-free room surrounded on 3 sides by a clickety-clackety corridor.

We fall in to bed at about 6am, just as the other residents are rising, probably intending to get their clickety-clackety revenge in straight away.

Cebu City is a grower. As the provincial capital of the Visayas group of islands it is well stocked with McDonalds, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, and other places we might use in an emergency.

We found a nice bar with a live guitar band in the evenings, and we even recognised some of the songs.

We walked from the uptown to the downtown where there is an ancient cathedral nestled in amongst the grot and enjoyed the pulsating throng of people and traffic from the upstairs window of a Chow King fast food joint (this qualified as an emergency).

The hotel did porridge for breakfast and we had about 50 cable channels in our room.

For the umpteenth time I gave BBC World another go (10 for effort, 2 for achievement), and caught the end of good films and the beginning of bad ones. I found Al-jazeera to be strangely captivating, much more so than the array of over zealous gospel channels offering salvation through donation.

The current advertising tag line for the Philippines is "With 7100 islands, if you don't like this one there's always another".

Of course this means that there's always another boat trip. I knew that at some point we would have do go on an overnight ferry so I decided to get it over with early.

We sailed from Cebu City to Surigao on the island of Mindanao .

Here we had an early lesson that the concept of integrated transport has yet to take off as we had a 6 hour wait for another ferry to our destination of Siargao.

We filled the time by going to a nearby hotel for a nice breakfast and then staring into space for the next 5 hours.

The overnight journey had not been too bad. We had traveled 'tourist class' which consists of a bunk in an air conditioned dormitory.

I might even have slept if the temperature had been set 6 degrees higher or I was 6 inches shorter.

Siargao is on the travelers map because of a world class surfing break which became known as Cloud 9.

We stayed in a nice bungalow looking directly out to sea at the break, which occurs over a coral reef about 50 metres out to sea.

I had expected it to be teeming with surfers but it was the wrong time of year.

There were quite a few surfer dudes staying in the area but they were hiring boats to get to the waves breaking over coral reefs elsewhere in the ocean.

Cloud 9 only covered an area about 200 metres in front of the sea. There was no beach to speak of, the waves broke out at sea and then a tidal lagoon rose over the rocks and coral debris to the shore.

One day I tagged along on a snorkeling trip with the couple from the next bungalow.

Ray had hired a boat for an early morning trip to some nearby islands. Unfortunately we saw nothing more than sand and weed. Ray took this personally and refused to let me pay my share of the trip.

The next day Linda and I hired a motorbike to take a closer look at the island.

Apart from the sealed main highway all of the roads were rough tracks.

Despite sitting towards the rear of the bike, Linda took a keen interest on what was going on up front. Frequent nuggets of advice were offered into my left ear.
"Slow down"
"Beep your horn"
"Keep your eyes on the road"

Once I inadvertently opened the throttle a bit fast and did a wheelie. I no longer recall what she said at that point.

There was next to no traffic on the road, so we made it to the main town of Dapa without mishap.

There's not much there, so we had a cola and returned to our local town of General Luna , where we found a seaside resort with a wide lunch menu.

A week was probably a bit too long here, but we had arranged the return trip to the port a few days in advance, as this required getting up at 4.00 am to catch a ferry at 5.45.

The plan was to go directly to the next island of Camiguin , but by the time we had got to the Butuan, halfway there, it was 2pm and we had had enough.

We got off the bus and checked into the first hotel we saw - the Butuan Luxury Hotel.

Somebody’s got a sense of humour. It was about as basic as you can get, but at £7 who's complaining.

For a one night stop Butuan was excellent. I always like those provincial towns where tourists are a rarity, smiles and "hellos" abound.

We had dinner in the towns only posh hotel and the management lined up afterward to enquire about our plans.

The next day we made an early start for the bus and ferry to Camiguin.

On arrival we hired a driver for the journey to the recommended resort only to find it was full. We drove around for an hour. The places we tried were either full or overpriced until we settled on a nice cabin in a seafront resort a couple of hundred yards from where we started.

While doing the rounds we had spotted a couple we had met in Siargao and wandered to their place for a chat.

Gill and Dimitri are a lively and interesting couple. They do their best to live an 'alternative' eco-friendly lifestyle.

When not traveling Gill is a waitress at a vegan cafe and Dimitri is a professional juggler.

We already knew this as we had seen him practicing in Siargao and giving out balloon-twist creations to the local kids.

Dimitri had arranged to give a Fire Show at the resort so on Saturday night much of the expat population joined the locals to witness him juggling burning rods and twirling fire poys, along with some other talents we didn't know about, with great expertise.

One morning we took a jeepney to a 'Stations of the Cross', a path running up the side of an extinct volcano with statued montages representing the journey of Jesus from sentencing to crucifixion to resurrection installed at intervals.

There were 15 such stations in all and it took over an hour to ascend the walkway in the hot sun.

"This makes you think about what Jesus went through when he had to carry the cross all that way" said Linda.

"I think that’s the idea" said I.

I think that, come Easter, many people will be making that journey on their knees.

The next day I took the plunge and hired another motorbike.

There’s plenty to see in Camiguin. A hot spring in the hills, a hot spring coming up under the sea (at paddling depth), waterfalls, a cemetery that had slipped into the sea (now marked by a big cross on a concrete plinth. Snorkeling is allowed but I didn't fancy it on my own) and small villages with big churches.

Another week gone by and we left Camiguin in the company of Gill and Dimitri.

On mainland Mindanao we took a bus to the industrial town of Cagayan De Oro where we organised tickets on an overnight ferry back to Cebu .

Completely unexpectedly this time we really enjoyed the journey.

The ferry was scrupulously clean with small partitions between the dorm beds so that the room was split into sections.

A large area of the deck had been converted into a coffee bar so we sat chatting around a table as Cagayan disappeared into the dusk.

Soon after setting sail Gill disappeared for a few minutes and came back to tell us that she had just confirmed her suspected pregnancy using one of those stick tests. No wonder we were all so cheerful.

We all spent the day in Cebu city without managing to bump into one another and then met up for breakfast before heading our separate ways - they went to Palawan whilst we got on the bus for Malapascua.

Malapascua is a small island about half an hour from the northern tip of Cebu island.

Being the last passengers on the modest transfer boat we were the only ones not under cover when the heavens opened during the crossing.

The boat pulled up on the beach and I jumped off the prow, bags in hand, and ran for a nearby beachfront restaurant. This turned out to be the HQ for the Cocobana beach resort, the largest operator on the beach, though they only had one tiny chalet available, tucked away at the back.

We weren't in the mood to start hunting around (as usual) and took it for one night which turned into seven.

By now the message was starting to filter through - you can't rely on accommodation availability in the Philippines . I resolved to buy a mobile phone once we got back to a town.

Malapascua's reputation as an up and coming tropical resort preceeds it. Consequently people arrive here who may not be going elsewhere in the Philippines .
Not a bad decision.

Bounty beach is composed of powdery white sand and palm trees of the type beloved by travel brochures.

To their credit, the resort owners are not taking the opportunity to fleece their visitors, and food and accommodation remains reasonably priced.

Almost immediately we bumped into a couple we had seen in Camiguin but hadn't spoken to at the time. Eric (Danish) and Rose (Philippino) had flown in from Camiguin that morning (via Cebu ), whereas it had taken us 3 days to get there.

Eric was organising a snorkeling trip, so I made the right noises and got us invited along.

Linda and Rose sat in the boat whilst Eric and I swam through a feast of coral and colourful fish. It was the most coral I have ever seen.

We stopped in 3 different places and then were surprised to find that we had circumnavigated the island, arriving back on Bounty beach.

For the next 4 or 5 days we were great chums with Eric and Rose, sticking together for snorkeling and trips.

"I have a very unusual job" declared Eric one day, "I am a keyhole seller."

Rose was candid beyond our level of interest.

"Now I am menstruating. I will not shower for 3 days. Today is day number two."

"Once I had a Korean boyfriend. Oh Dear. Pussy pussy bang bang 3 times every night. Oh no. I say to him 'you find anudder girlfriend'. "

Together we hired a boat for the 2 hour trip to Bantayan Island .

I had originally expected to go there to stay, but it has a renowned holy church and, being so close to Holy Week, the few resorts were fully booked. That was a shame.

The beach was heartrendingly beautiful and the teeny tiny town of Santa Fe was full of character.

So another week flew by, then we made our way back to Cebu City for the third (and final?) time, bought a mobile phone (Nokia 1110, £22) and got a Fast Ferry to Tagbilaran on the Island of Bohol .

I hadn't originally planned to go to Bohol , but when I mentioned this to Gill she had gasped inwardly and said "Nuts Huts" under her breath.
This was enough to make me change my plans.

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