Sunday, January 28, 2007
I'm in Boracay. It's a tourist town: bars, tourists, a fascinating variety of beach traders [grin], more bars, more tourists [loads of Koreans] and a great beach... oh, and cheap Internet!
I've met some cool people, been out a few times, lazed on the beach quite a lot. Nothing worth blogging about! It's nice here - relaxing - feels like a holiday! But I am looking forward to moving on - truth is, secretly, I love those jeepneys!
Asking someone about a ferry elicits the same response as asking an intimate detail about their sexual preferences: blushes, embarrassed giggles, shuffling of feet whilst looking at the floor and, sometimes, blind shock.
Last week in Romblon I had a hell of a time trying to get details about the boat to Sibuyan. I thought it would be easy! I asked a Tricycle driver - he gave a hearty laugh [in the style of a Bond Villain] and drove away chuckling to himself. I asked the two woman who ran the guesthouse: they giggled nervously and looked at the floor. Right! I thought. Go to source of the problem - no messing around. I jumped on Jeepney and headed for the Port.
At the gate was a Ticket-Seller:
"Hello, do you know about the boat to Sibuyan?"
"Yes, Damsel Boat" he said and pointed at the last jetty. I looked over and saw a small Banca with 'Damsel Lines' stencilled on the side.
"Great!" I said "What time does it leave?"
"Oh!" He looked shocked and slightly offended, then he shrugged.
"Information?" I asked.
"Oh yes" he said cheerfully "Information" and pointed to the impressive looking Port Authority building.
I went in, there's a glass fronted office. It says Romblon Town Port Authority and underneath that it says INFORMATION in big black capitals. Surely I am in the right place?
There's a smartly-dressed woman, who stands up to greet me as I enter. She smiles and says
"Can I help you?"
"Yes please" I say "I want to get the ferry to Sibuyan." She nods and points out the window,
"Damsel Boat" she replies.
"Great! What time does it leave?"
"Yes, what time does the boat leave?" Nothing. A blank face
"Depart? What hour does it go?" She looks embarrassed and shrugs a little.
"This boat, Sibuyan, when? [sigh] At what hour does this boat leave"
She shuffles her feet and starts blushing. I try a change of tactic:
"What time does the boat arrive in Sibuyan?"
"Arrive!" she says, surprised "Where?"
"Where?" now it's my turn to be surprised "In Sibuyan!"
"Where in Sibuyan?"
Aaaaah "Port Fernando?"
"No" she says.
"No boat to Port Fernando"
"Oh. Then..." I consult my map "Magdiwang? What time in Magdiwang?"
"Magdiwang!" She is shocked, apparently she's never heard of the place - or maybe it's a naughty word. She is slightly stern -
"No!" she says "No boat to Magdiwang"
"Right." I consult my map. There are only 3 villages on Sibuyan. Two are on this side of the island, the third, Cajidiocan, is on the far side."Cajidiocan?" I say doubtfully. She smirks, a ridiculous question!
"No," she smiles "No boat to Cajidiocan"
"Right" I say "Where in Sibuyan does the boat go?"
"Sibuyan?!" She looks startled, as if I've just changed the subject.
"Yes," I point outside "this boat, Damsel Boat, where?"
"Aaaah" she says "Abra!" I consult the map, I already know there's no Abra. I show her the map.
"Where is Abra?" She giggles nervously, shuffles her feet and looks at the floor
"I don't know" she says.
"Oh" Sigh "What time does it arrive in Abra?" She jumps, takes a step back and looks at me as if I have just asked her to mimic the mating dance of one of those baboons with a red bum.
"I don't know!" she says primly.
I have a moment of inspiration!
"This boat" I say pointing "is like a jeepney boat - it leaves when it is full?"
"Oh no!" She says, offended now "this is a scheduled boat"
"A-ha!" I say gleefully. I have her now! "A scheduled boat?"
"Oh yes" she says, nodding authoritatively.
"Where is the schedule?"
"Schedule?" She says doubtfully.
"The schedule is here?" I make a point of looking around the room, there is a notice board and her desk. She follows my gaze, looking at her desk as if there might be something fierce behind it.
"Sked-doool?" She says slowly, as if the word might be familiar to her... I know what this is. It's the Parisian Method and it has no known defence.
On the way out I ask if there is a Tourist Information Office. I am directed down the street. I find it, it's boarded up. There are two Filipino gentleman sat outside.
"Closed" says one of them helpfully.
"Yes" I say, "will it open?" They both shrug in unison.
"Maybe at 10" says the second one. I'm not convinced. "I can help you?" he asks with a friendly smile. I smile back sadly and take a deep breath.
"I want to ask" he smiles expectantly "the time. Of the Ferry. To Sibuyan"
"Aaaah" he says and they both nod sympathetically.
Tomorrow I want to move on. But first I have to find out when and where the boats go from [sigh]. I've asked Travel Agents, Tourist Information offices, Trike drivers and anyone I've met in the bar! [grin] So far the response has been:
1. There is a weekly ferry from Kabilo to Cebu City - day and time unknown.
2. There is a daily ferry from Roxas to Cebu City - time unknown.
3. There is no boat from Kabilo, Roxas or anywhere else to anywhere. Get on a jeepney and learn to love it - cos you're gonna be on there for a long time.
4. Cebu City? That's a place? Boat? 'Fairrrrr-reeee' - that's a familiar sounding word... but... no. I have no idea what you're asking me.
5. Cebu City? Is that something to do with baboons? How dare you ask a respectable person a question like that?
So I reckon I'll head south and see what happens...
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Discovered I'm not as fit as I thought! Achy breaky legs today! I lay in the hammock all day and chatted to the squirrel sisters [there's 4 of them] - it really is a lovely place and the food is outstanding!
The 'other foreigner' turned out to be a Hungarian chap called Balint, who had planned his two-week trip around the boat to Sibuyan, with the intention of climbing this mountain. So I felt a bit of a fraud, crashing in on his party the night before [particularly as I obviously slowed him down!] but he was cool - so I think I got away with it! [grin]
It was a beautiful hike. I love the rain forest - particularly high 'cloud forest' - it's like nowhere else. But, blimey it's exhausting - you don't so much walk as manoeuvre. It's full-body, full-contact hiking!
A rain forest is an entanglement, that twists and turns and wraps around itself grappling for the light. Barbara Kingsolver said "the forest eats itself and lives forever" and I did have a sense of nature as an almost malignant or mischievous force, when vines seemed to conspire to trip me up and spiky things snagged me as I passed. There's no rhythm to it, it's an obstacle course that you must climb over, crawl under, clamber up and slide down [picking the leaches off as you go! They didn't like Balint, but they loved me [sigh] I was trying to remember why exactly they're supposed to be good for you... anyone know?! If they are, then I am now a very healthy girl indeed...]
Weirdly, the last part [in the cloud] - cold, windy and rainswept with wispy cloud blowing through the trees - looked remarkably like the Degoba System! I kept expecting a small wrinkly character to appear [as if from nowhere] and say
"Very high up the mountain this is - have a good reason to be here you do?" [grin]
But sadly the only shadowy figure was our guide, who said very little and watched us from a distance, with a bemused look, as if he was finding the whole experience very odd. [smile]
On Day Two Balint was up before dawn, heading for the summit, camera at the ready. He was also considering going on [across a treacherous ridge] to the next summit. There was no way I was crossing that ridge at the best of times and certainly not in the dark! I followed at a more leisurely pace. But the views [and the wind] soon woke me up. We were at the top of the world [ma!] with the whole island laid out beneath us. I could even see the other two Islands to the West, [where I had come from], the reef surrounding us and just south of Romblon Island I could see a Plankton Bloom. Awesome.
The way down was hard [my poor knees!] but all worth it!
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
"Hello" I said, "do you have a room?"
"Yes yes, of course" said Abbi irritably "Come in! In! First sit down" she waves me towards a wooden bench against the wall.
She is small, with long hair in a high ponytail. She has sharp features - a pointy nose and chin. She makes slight but fast movements. She reminds me of a squirrel. A potentially vicious squirrel. I sat. She sat opposite me and studied me for a moment.
"There is another foreigner already here" she said finally, "he is climbing the mountain tomorrow. You will go with him."
"Ok" I said, wondering if it was rude to ask which mountain.
There was a pause, we looked at each other, then she spoke with the exasperated patience of someone used to dealing with idiots:
"So you can share a guide!"
"Yes, of course" I said nervously, "sorry"
"He is looking around the town now." She stood up. "So! Come!"
I followed her upstairs.
"Which room you want?" she said and she opened all the doors. Two of the rooms were occupied.
"Sorry" I said, to an elderly man reading on his bed. He stared at me with wide-eyes as I closed the door. I turned to see Abbi watching me suspiciously, as if I was behaving strangely.
"The first one" I said.
"Ok" she nodded slowly "a very good room. My sister give you key when she return, until then" she raised a finger threateningly "Don't shut the door!"
"Right" I said.
She looked at her watch and started down the stairs.
"I be back at 5 or 4. You drive a motorbike?"
"No" I said apologetically. She tutted.
"Ok then" resigned "I will drive"
"Sorry" I repeated, feeling very British. "Errrrr, do you know, can I get any food around here?"
"My sister out back, she feed you" and she was gone.
I turned to find the elderly man from upstairs cowering behind me.
"Hello" I said.
"Hello" he replied, "I am a guest here too." He looked behind him nervously and then continued in a conspiratorial whisper "it is a very nice place"
Just then another, far friendlier, squirrelly face appearred at the back door.
"You want eat?" she called.
"Yes please! Hello, I'm Ja -"
"Come! Come! I made fish and vegetables, come!"
Apparently I was late for lunch too.
Catching a jeepney last week [it was not a great journey for me]: I overslept and left too late, so the sun was up and the temperature was rising fast. Odiongan was a typical 'ordinary' town - not pretty, dirt roads, mud, dust and petrol fumes.
Luckily I only had to walk to the corner to get my 'Trike'. [A trike is an excellent form of transport: a motorbike with a side car. Inside the side car is actually comfortable, although low to the ground, which is not good if it's dusty. I have seen 11 Filipinos, plus driver, on one trike - next time I'll get a photo!] This was a dusty journey and I wasn't in the best mood when I got to the Terminal.
Backpacking with all my dive gear is no joke - my bags are heavy. I am carrying a 65L on my back, a 30L on my front, plus my fins bag over my shoulder. I had to jump a ditch to get into the terminal. I am so top-heavy if I overbalance it's all over! I nearly fell in - not funny!
The terminal was crowded and all the Jeepney Touts were keen to get me on-board regardless of where I, or they, were going. It was getting hotter [and my bags were getting heavier] by the minute. There was a fish market next door which stunk. I missed my jeepney while I was looking for it. To make matters even worse when I found where it left from it turned out to be very near to where I'd come in - if I'd turned right instead of left... arrrggghhh!
I was getting cross, but fighting it! This is Asia - people bend-over backwards to help you - but if you loose your rag or [worse] raise your voice, all that goodwill will instantly evaporate.
So I'm hot, bothered, sweating [buckets], filthy [already], quietly furious and I'm trying to maintain an easy manner and pleasant smile. I was not having fun.
Another jeepney turns up that's going my way, which is good. The tout/ticket seller/bus-bloke turns out to be an irritating 18 yr-old who fancies himself and wants to be seen scoring a white woman. O joy. But I have met his type before and have recently developed a new way of dealing with them. I am calling it The Parisian Method.
The Parisian Method is simple, cruel and effective. It involves completely failing to understand anything that is said to you. The trick is to be incredibly polite about it. You must listen carefully to whatever is said, with no recognition but a concentrated frown. When the idiot stops speaking it's good to do nothing and not realise. Then frown again, look embarrassed and apologetic, before slowly shaking your head and finally giving the quintessential 'Parisian shrug' which says 'I am trying my best, but I really have no idea what you just said and I'm afraid that it's your fault, sorry'.
It is especially effective if you repeat certain words back to them, as if they might sound familiar but you're not sure: "hoos-bond" you say slowly, with intense focus. Then smile sadly and shrug again.
Works every time. Fools [grin].
So finally I am climbing into the jeepney and there I find myself sitting opposite Noburo.
Noburo is wearing a crisp white shirt and beige chinos, with a crease. His glasses are shiny, he's not sweating. In fact Noburo looks like an Executive who just stepped out of the Office for a moment to grab a quick espresso.
He's carrying a spotlessly clean backpack [without any trailing straps] and a matching day-pack. I don't need to look inside to know that his extensive wardrobe is packed in individual, colour coded, vacuum sealed bags [such a good idea - why don't I do that?!]. Noburo is well-versed in the ancient Japanese art of packing vast amounts into a small space and still managing to take them out looking freshly laundered with all the creases in the right places.
Noburo is quiet and unruffled. He is impervious to the heat, the fumes and the dust. He is not even phased when the jeepney driver parked next to us puts on Bon Jovi's Greatest Hits at full volume [I was trying to surreptitiously stuff things in my ears].
After about 40 minutes of waiting [for the driver] Noburo says he's going for breakfast.
"You'll miss the bus!" I say. He looks around him carefully,
"I do not think so" he replies.
As he gets off I notice he is also carrying a very large fish in a plastic bag. He returns 15 minutes later and 2 minutes before the driver - how did he know?!
An hour into the journey he got off and walked into the jungle. I have a feeling I will see him again.
Interestingly, last week I spent a couple of evenings hanging out with an American who was living in Tokyo, working as a translator. He told me that one of the most challenging aspects of his job is that there are certain Japanese words and concepts that have no equivalent in English and are therefore 'untranslatable'. I asked for examples [yeah I know, he gave me that same look!] He came up with two: "To work hard vigorously" - which is just delightfully Japanese! And [better] "to persevere for no reason except perseverance itself" - I love this! I love that this word exists in any language! And it occurs to me that maybe this is why the Japanese make such excellent and contented travellers.
All travellers are, of course, looking for those 'unique' experiences: the ones that stay in the memory for years to come, that teach us something, that shape us as people, that enlighten, excite or energise [in other words - for the stories we tell when we get back!] Hopefully with the right attitude, patience and a few risks we find them. But in between those times is an awful lot of trogging around: hauling bags on and off buses, breathing fumes, waiting, lounging and generally being aimless.
Some people [the Lonely Planet Devotees] deal with this by furiously sight-seeing and going to as many different places as they possibly can. You can almost guarantee that nothing exciting will happen to these types - and if it does they'll be such a hurry they'll miss it!
Others [the Thai(dyed) Fisherman Pants Brigade] take the opposite approach and stay in one place, doing nothing, for ages. Sometimes they can discover amazing places and make real friendships, but more often they end-up smoking weed with the other foreigners waiting for something to happen to them.
I think to be an engaged [and more importantly] a happy traveller you do have to keep trogging along! Not too fast and be prepared to stop, but do keep moving. You have to allow adventures to come your way. You have to travel for no other reason except for travelling itself.
I am writing this [long-hand] on a pleasant beach. It's pretty, but not special. It took me 2 days to get here. Tomorrow I am moving on to another island. I don't know what's there. Maybe the time of my life! Maybe nothing...
NB. This was written on the 17th Jan.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I had a change of plan! I came up with a Plan B that
involved more ferries, less jeepneys and not getting
up at 5am. It also involved going somewhere else....
so instead of Boracay, I am on an island called
Romblom and tomorrow I am heading over to an island
called Sibuyan - I will be going 'off-road' for a
Aparently there's no internet, no banks, no
guest-houses [but the locals will put people up] and
only rumours of onward ferries! Hmmmm, I may be some
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Had some great luck yesterday though! I did my last dive at 9, which was good but not spectacular. We went to a really nice site but, as often happens at the popular sites, it was very busy - fins everywhere!
However it was a lovely sunny day and my gear was already wet, so I decided to splash out [ho-ho] and buy just one more dive.
I asked Josh, the Divemaster, to take me a favourite site and as I hoped, he chose a place that was not in any guidebooks, we were the only boat and it was lovely. Great conditions, great visibility and lots to see. Saw a nice big octopus, eels everywhere [seriously!] and... and... wait for it!
I was looking at a little crab, just relaxing and mooching along, when I realise I can't see anyone else...
I look around and see both my buddy and Josh motionless [although practically quivering with excitement] staring at a point directly behind me.
I turn all the way round and what do I see cruising along? Only a 3 metre Thresher Shark! They're really groovy-looking! There's a pic here -
Hurrah! The first one I've ever seen and the first one that anyone from the Dive Shop had seen here in 5 years. How lucky is that! A superb way to end my visit here.
Tomorrow is going to be a long day - the joys of public transport! I'll be up at 4.30am to get the 5 o'clock Jeepney [kind of a pick-up truck. Q: How many people can fit on a Jeepney? A: Just one more!] to Calapan, from there I am hoping there might be a bus, but if not it'll be another Jeepney to Roxas [5-6 hours]. Aparently Roxas is a dump, so it would be nice if I could jump on a ferry straight away... but if not it'll be a ferry in the morning to Caticlan, followed by a Banca [small out-rigger boat] to Boracay - the most famous beach in the Philippines! Celebrated for it's white sand and beach bum culture... d'ya think i'll fit in? [Grin].
So my next post will be from Boracay... think of me in the next day or so, squashed on a truck with 43 people, their luggage and a goat!
Friday, January 12, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Also, there's been a Sword shipment! Today I met 4 traders all pushing swords. Which is good cos I completely forgot mine - there's always something isn't there? [sigh]
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
José Rizal [1861-96] is credited with starting the Independence Movement in The Philippines. He wrote a book called "Noli Me Tangere" in which he criticised the Spanish imperial regime. It was banned but became a 'cult' underground success. Later he founded a civic movement called ' La Liga Filipina' which sought reform through legal and non-violent methods. The organisation was disbanded by the Governor.
Rizal kept writing [another novel, many essays and pamphlets] until he was imprisoned in 1892 and exiled to a distant province. Whilst in exile he continued to write, but he also built a school, a hospital and a water supply system; as well as working with local farmers to introduce new crops and teach new techniques. He was finally executed in 1896 for supposedly organising an armed rebellion in Northern Luzon.
The pieces of his writing that I have seen so far are intelligent, moderate and peaceful. His status as National Hero appears to be well deserved.
Recently a religious sect has appeared called The Rizalists, they believe that Rizal was the second son of God and will return at some point to lead his children into 'the promised land'.
Rizal's final walk [from Fort Santiago to the Square where he faced the firing squad - the area is now Rizal Park] has been marked with a path of golden footprints. I saw many people 'walking the steps' of Rizal with a fervour that I found quite unsettling.
At Fort Santiago [a place which is literally soaked in history] there was much to see. Below the splendid ornamental platform overlooking the river are some particularly nasty dungeons. In WW2, when the Japanese Army took the Fort, they had the ingenious idea of putting portals into the walls so that the cells would flood with each incoming tide. They were the execution chambers. Up to 10,000 Filipino and US POW's died in the Fort.
The Fort has been in existence since the 1500's and has many more gruesome stories. However, the main attraction by far is the remains of Rizal's cell. Pilgrims, many of whom have walked his footsteps all the way back from the park, stand motionless and gaze upon the space he once inhabited.
Across the courtyard is the Rizal Shrine which includes exerts from his writings along with many artifacts - his coat, books and desk - but the prize exhibit is a piece of his bone [complete with bullet hole] enclosed in an ornamental glass urn reminiscent of the Catholic Relics. The Chapel where he spent his last hours is next door. The pavement outside was awash with flowers and people queued to peer in the doorway where I could see even more flowers.
The upper floor of the Shrine is dedicated to his final work: the poem "Mi Último Adiós" [My Last Goodbye] which he wrote in Fort Santiago and smuggled out, in an oil lamp, to his sister. It has been translated into every language I could think of [smile] and carved into stone, painted as art, engraved into metal, etc, etc... although the Tagalog version is there purely for appearances - from the moving lips of the supplicants it seemed they knew all 16 verses by heart.
From reading the exerts I got an impression of someone principled, highly educated but humble, with a heart-felt desire to 'do the right thing' and expose the injustices as he saw them.
This man was quietly brave: stoic rather than daring.
"I have sought political liberty" he said "but never the freedom to rebel"
I can't help but wonder what he would think of the cult that has arisen around his memory.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Beer: The local brew is San Miguel Pale Pilsen. It
comes with a Gothic looking label and costs between
30-50p a bottle [hurrah!]. Interestingly the canned
version has a photo printed on the back of two
underage & sozzled girls giggling, blearily clutching
beers in one hand and the table in the other. Since I
can't read the text, I am not sure if this is a advert
or a warning [grin]. The front of the label, however
is in English and San Miguel is described as being the
"only beer that nurtures true Filipino friendships" so
Tourism: Not that much of it [so far] and they are
very relaxed about it. They are only touts I've ever
met who gladly take 'No' for an answer and then wish
you a Happy New Year. [There IS however a lot of sex
tourism - but this subject deserves a blog all of it's
own - almost every... no scrap that, every white bloke
over the age of 40 has a piece of 18-yr old Filipina
totty on his arm.]
Beach Sellers: This is a whole new world of beach
trading [smile] - I should explain - this is a
profession I take great interest in since I was once a
necklace & hair wrap [remember them?] seller in Corfu.
I am used to beach traders selling jewellery, sarongs,
drinks, etc - the usual stuff. This afternoon, whilst
chilling on the beach, I was offered: a guitar, a
billiard cue, a metal pan scourer and [my favourite] a
2m x 50cm brass picture showing a battle of unknown
origin. Am I missing something?!
I have this lovely image in my head of 'Janet & John'
on the beach and all-of-a-sudden John jumps up and
"Goddammit I forgot my billiard cue! Now where can I
get one in a hurry?"
Diving: I've done three dives so far - 2 average, one
fab. Earlier today I saw three White-Tip Reef Sharks!
[two babies, one 5 footer] Yummy! But there's loads of
stuff I've never seen before: fabulous corals
[specially soft corals], multi-coloured basket stars,
neon starfish, groovy flat worms, hairy crabs [big
grin]... but not that many fish! Although I did see a
giant barracuda this morning [about as big as me] he
was cool and posed nicely!
BUT: I fell! Boo! Was coming out of my room, early
morning and I [foolishly] attempted to come down the
wet, shiney, painted steps in my flip-flops - what a
I was lucky, after a bounce or two [grin] I slipped
off the side of the steps and landed in the mud rather
than on the concrete below. So I have some alarming
bruises, a slightly damaged ego [fortunately my ego
bounces better than the rest of me], a nasty cut on my
shin [where I hit the concrete] and a silly walk
I got a telling off from one of the girls who works
here - I retreated back to my room [for a little cry]
and she followed me up to see if I was ok. She wagged
her finger at me [she's about 15] and said
"Very smooth" pointing at the steps, "very slippy"
pointing at my flip-flops, "you no wear - you fall!"
I know!" said I, indignantly
"Aaaah" she said "you cry" and she gave me a pat.
Since then all the girls have been fussing over me as
if I was an invalid... and an idiot [sigh] - I
probably deserve it.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Decent flight[s] - first one was very empty, second one I sat next to a French bloke with excessive elbows. To the naked eye he appeared to have only the usual two [one in each sleeve] but every time I tried to kip he produced more from somewhere. Met a nice Indian chap in Dubai - he was on his way home to [somewhere near] Madras after studying/practising Paediatrics in Russia for 12 years. He said in the early days the Russians had nothing, could get nothing and were very nice people. Recently they can get whatever they want, but cannot afford it, as a result they are driven only by greed and are not happy anymore. I said, "welcome to the First World!"
Right, I need coffee like I've never needed coffee before [yawn]! Where am I again?