she said (Philippines):"...LIKE A DEAD RAT BURNING IN THE SUN..."
June 18, 2015
The tricycle dropped me off at the pier and started chatting to a lady who said yes they have a boat and yes they would take me. And so it was informally contracted, I would wait with these random strangers and all of their shopping bags until their boat left and conveniently they also own a cottage as well. Perfect! Except the boat didn't end up leaving for another like 3 hours so I sat there on my own with this lovely lady and her lovely sisters and chatted with them for a whole pile of time while we waited. Turns out two of them were teachers so we had some common conversational ground. Even though we didn't leave for so long, it was a small price to pay for feeling really comfortable because I was with a group of amazing, friendly women and wouldn't find myself alone on a boat with a few men in the middle of the ocean. It was crazy because as I was sitting around, a whole group of kids walked by, in April, holding Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes! A very cool home-traveling connection. When it was time to leave, I piled on the boat with all my stuff, two French tourists and a pile of local adults and kids, literally so many people were sitting on top of eachother. It was packed! All the kids on the boat were either sleeping or seasick or both, though no children puking this time which was, by this point, completely unexpected.
We got to the island at about 5:30 pm and it wasn't quite the peaceful tropical oasis I had pictured...actually more farms-and-village-on-island, so I was a little disappointed that once again the perfect Philippines beach had eluded me! I, along with the French couple, was taken to Connie's Cottages which were tiny basic thatch bungalows (ah!) with no running water, solar powered electricity, a water dump flushing toilet WITH a seat (not sure if I explained this in Thailand but basically looks like a western toilet without a flusher so you have to fill up a bucket with water and dump it in the bowl) and bucket dump showers. On arrival I got my instruction to use the big garbage bin full of sea water outside to fill up my utility bucket and put it in the bathroom for flushing the toilet and then I was given a black canister of fresh water for showers...that's it. Though basic, the cottage was lovely-super new and clean and in an absolutely incredible location right on a cliff side overlooking the ocean with a fantastic seabreeze and another of those most spectacular Philippines sunsets.
The biggest cockroach I'd ever saw crawling up the inside part of my door, up the wall and into the roof within the first 5 minutes of being there only dampened my spirits a small bit (in related news, outside of a complete nuclear holocaust, remergence to the light of a shit-ton of surviving cockroaches situation or a crawling over/into my face or any other body parts sort of a situation, I've become quite a bit more tolerant to cockroaches). Cave spiders are a different story all together.
There were only 3 of us staying at the cottages...an odd number and a blatant and curious case of "where's your boyfriend or anyone else you might be traveling with because you can't possibly be traveling alone". After several times getting the wide eyed question "why you alone?", "only one?", I had become quite rehearsed in my story "no I'm traveling with my boyfriend but he drank too much beers so I left him in Panglao". Which people found hilarious. Anyways, so here I was, a staunch bungalow/unsealed room avoider, all alone in a little thatch hut on a very little visited by tourists island. My companions for 3 meals a day and any hanging out time at the cottages was an older French couple who spoke almost no English and I shamefully, even less French. It was amazing because, though these were some of my most laboured conversations on the trip so far (which were inescapable because complete silence and stares were the only alternative over 3 meals a day and any hanging out time at the cottages), it was incredible how much you are able to convey with a few words in a common language, alot of gestures and alot of smiles! I actually think we learned quite alot about each other over the course of our time together, though admittedly with most of the credit going to the man who had a few English words, incredible charades skills and the patience and persistence of a saint.
After our first somewhat intense, very broken dinner conversation as the last of the sun dipped below the ocean, I ducked back into my hut to go pee. The light switch was at the back, at the far wall from the door in front of the bathroom so I opened the door, scanned the room for any movement using my headlamp and then proceeded past my upright standing backpack on the floor against a table to the bathroom to turn on the light and do my business. When I came back out, I still don't know how I saw "it" or how I identified "it" but, from across the room, I happened to see what looked like small two sticks protruding into the light from under the shadow of the waiststrap of my backpack. It was one of those moments that you knew in your gut what was up before the flashlight confirmed it and sure enough, there it was, ANOTHER ground dwelling cave spider, once again, hiding under something black. You have got to be fucking kidding me?! So now I'm stuck in the bathroom with a cave monster blocking my way to the door and I have no Bridger to do the dirty work for me.
I took a moment to wimper a bit to myself before crawling over my bed to get out of the hut and implore, through gestures and facial expressions, my new French friend to help me, for the love of god, help me! Which he did and swiftly and bravely killed that spider with a shoe in a much less dramatic production than the last spider hunt Bridger and I had in Laos. And then I thanked him profusely and convinced myself that it was only there because the cottage had been uninhabited for so long but now that creatures knew someone was living in there they would be gone and I also convinced myself that these things only come out in the dark so I left the light on for the rest of the night. I didn't sleep well (obviously) and I apologise to the environment for the massive energy drain.
Pamilacan island itself was grassroots tourism at its finest and was quite off the beaten track. It truly is a village and local people who have lived on the island their whole life just started building cottages as the ocassional tourist started to show an interest. Most of the cottages are small (mine only had two units, some had one) local, family owned affairs that you rent directly from them for a price that includes 3 delicious home cooked meals per day, no middlemen, no travel agents, no menus (you just eat what happens to come out at meal time!)--heavenly! There are no commercial restaurants or stores on the entire island, just little local convenience store huts scattered throughout. Literally just imagine farms/village thatch huts scattered across an island and that was what it looked like. With a big old central Catholic church in the middle.
It really does have this beautifully communal feel and besides the French couple, I only saw about two other tourists the entire time. I spent a few hours walking from one side of the island to the other and I've never been so close to rural local life than I was here. Cows, goats and chickens were either tethered in yards or wandered free like in Laos...except this time I was actually IN it and I walked by within feet of a bunch of farm animals. And endless friendly, if not shy of seeing tourists, people just went about their lives, regularly stopping to smile and say hi to me. Actually right outside our cottage there was a wandering baby goat who, whenever it saw you, walked directly towards you and stopped at your feet. There was also it's older counterpart chained to a tree to let out the loudest, completely lacking in traditional goat vibrato (Ma-a-a-a-a-a-a) "MAAAAAAAAA!!!"all day and night long. Turns out its friend had just been sold and it has done that ever since. So goats feel grief too I guess. After wandering the village for a bit I walked down the beach around the island which was full of sand and coral.
The owner of the cottages Connie and her husband were fabulous super friendly people and we had several long, hilarious and energetic conversations with them about everything from why I was alone to their family to cockfighting/the success of their prize rooster. The nights were pitch black save for the stars and the odd firefly and it was so quiet and tranquil. I hadn't felt pure peace like that for a long time and it was so fabulous to just write in my journal, listen to the crickets (and the odd "MAAAAAAA!!!") and lay and look at the stars...corny I know. Actually the island was really just a giant rock and reminded me quite a bit of Newfoundland in that way. Though it was not my tropical paradise, that is what made it so amazing and even though it was not what I had in mind, I absolutely fell in love with it and wished I had several more days as I would have stayed in a heartbeat.
Now the island also only had electicity between 4 pm and 12 am. That meant that if you ever wanted a cold drink, better get it no earlier in the day than about 6 pm giving it time to cool once the power went on and the fridge started working and it also meant no ice cream on the island. But more importantly, it meant that because I had absolutely no charging outlet in my cottage for my terrible to hold charge phone, I had to give all my electronics to my host to charge in their store only between 4 to 12. This made it really great to try to keep in touch with Bridger as he started emailing me wondering where I was and how he could get there as I watched my phone battery die before my eyes thinking at this rate, it might be 4 more days until we got a solid connection to organize to meet up again.
The next morning myself and the French couple took a 6 am boat ride on our host's boat, the "Holy infant Jesus", to see the dolphins that play in the waters around Pamilacan Island.
Apparently the local people used to hunt the dolphins but, much like Cambodia, have turned to making money through dolphin sighting tours for tourists instead. Again, another beautifully raw and unmanufactured experience. At 6 am we were literally the only boat out trolling the waters following pods of dolphins as the sun rose (by 6:30 there were 3 more boats but still very quiet). We saw many pods of spinner dolphins breaching, occasionally right at the tip of our boat. They were also extraordinary to watch because occasionally they would jump clean out of the water in the traditional arch or in their characteristic move where they launch themselves straight up and do a corkscrew spin. I'd never seen this move before and it was so neat...google that too. We watched for about an hour before heading home and, to sound totally cheesy, it was like the dolphins knew because it seemed like all the pods joined together (there were more than we had seen all morning) and they all swam directly towards our boat and then cut across in front with the sunrise in the backdrop. So cool! Of course getting pictures of dolphins is impossible..
I went snorkelling right off the beach and then bummed around and relaxed for the rest of the day. As I was laying in the hammock, guess who just walks up from around the corner though we had not had any solid communication over the last 24 hours...Bridger. In true Bridger style, his phone was dead so he didn't get any of my very detailed descriptions about where I was and how to go about getting here but instead, showed up at the dock where, by that point because I had told local people who I'm sure had told more local people, he was legendary as "the guy who drank too much so his girlfriend left him in Panglao".
Our time in the Philiippines was running short and we couldn't for the life of us decide if we wanted to stay another night in Pamilacan or head onwards to another island we wanted to see, Siquijor. The French couple was definitely leaving so we knew there was a boat going back to the mainland, but when it came down it it, we had been moving so fast we both just wanted to relax so we decided to stay another day and not make it to Siquijor. And then I woke up at 3 am and changed my mind. So we set our alarm and woke up at 6 am for a scheduled 7 am departure back to the mainland where we would have to take a tricycle to another town to the ferry terminal to Siquijor island. Nobody was exactly sure what time the ferry left but we figured leaving at 7 am would get us there early enough to catch it at whatever time. Sure enough, at 7 am when we were supposed to be boarding the boat to go, our hosts threw out this generous offer "it's a beautiful morning, do you want to go snorkelling one more time before we go?". Inside we are screaming "NOOOOOOO!!!" because we didn't want to risk missing our boat but I guess we didn't beam it strongly enough to the French couple's head because they were like "oh yes, that would be nice". And THEN, here was our opportunity, they asked "is that ok with you?". "No it's not flipping ok, we were promised a 7 am boat and we need to get the hell out of here now"...is what we wanted to say. But instead we gritted our teeth and said "sure, no problem" because it would be the asshole thing to do to hijack their boat and then tell them they couldn't snorkel because we changed our minds to come at the last minute. So they went snorkeling...and saw a sea turtle...while we waited tapping our feet to go.
Eventually our boat and our host did leave and when we got to the pier our host tried to book us a tricycle for 150 pesos to the pier to which I replied that the tricycle driver himself had told me it would be 100...now I'm wondering if he's trying to make some commission here? And then when saying goodbye I haphazardly (because I had only stayed two nights, Bridger one, and it's just what you say!) said something along the lines of "We're so sad to leave! If we miss our boat, can we come back (haha right?!)???". And we all laughed. And then we got in our tricycle and sure enough, our host did too...all the way to the town of the ferry terminal. WTF what was happening...is he following us to see if we get the boat and if not he's going to try to take us directly back?!?! It was just something I flippantly said buddy, I wasn't serious!!! We rode quietly, not quite sure what was happening until with a big sigh of relief, we dropped our guy off at a hardware store. Turns out he wasn't waiting to scoop us again, just getting a free ride into town on our bill. Haha we should have told him that he owes 33 pesos, his third. We were dropped at the pier at 10:14 and found out the boat left at 10:30. Phewf, just in time we think. Well, turns out there's an unfortunate byproduct of Philippines transportation being so well oiled and on time...it's that they close boarding 15 minutes prior to scheduled leave time. So we missed the boat...because of snorkeling, ugh. Now we're stuck in Tagbilaran with options to either get accommodation for one night and head out the next day or jump on a freight boat and travel overnight between 8 pm and 11 pm but then we'd arrive late at night and have to navigate transport, we'd be on the ocean at night and we'd have to kill the whole day in Tagbilaran before the freighter left. The more convenient thing was to stay overnight and leave the next day which we did. Turned out to be a good choice because Bridger researched our Dubai plan and I went to the internet gaming centre to work on the blog for several hours. In order to get pics up I had to dowload pics from dropbox and them upload them to our website builder and because this was the fastest speed cafe we'd found to date, I whipped into a dowloading/uploading frenzy while chatting with the super friendly internet cafe owner who took a liking to me. I pretty well went into my own excitable world of productivity when owner guy snapped me out of it by politely saying "um how long are you uploading for because they can't play their games while you're doing it?". Sure enough, I looked up and every little boy and man-child in that cafe was either on Facebook/youtube or just staring at me! I was so embarrassed and wrapped the dowloading/uploading agenda. When I tried to leave at 11:30 pm the owner kept chatting with me and then gave me a free hot chocolate so I walked home on my own with my hot chocolate (don't worry I'd been keeping in touch with Bridger for my eta) while random night people smiled and said hello.
The next day we did thankfully get on that boat to Siquijor, though we, as always, cut it to the last minute and arrived just before the gates closed again...but luckily this time we had a ticket. So much for breakfast, we ended up running to our boarding gate. In Siquijor we decided that we wanted to dive in the Philippines one more time. Not sure if we'd make it to another diving destination, I wanted to have a positive experience so that I didn't end off on a bad note and be scared off diving for the rest of my life. We went to the dive shop and inquired about diving to the somewhat nearby Apo Island, one of the amazing dive sites in the Philippines. I tried to explain the trauma of my last dive and get information from them and honestly, I should have listened to my gut (again!) because I wasn't getting a very good, receptive vibe from these guys. They were rushing around before closing time while we were trying to talk to them and pretty well they just impatiently asked "so you dive or no?". Since it is such an extraordinary dive site, we decided to bite the bullet and just do it for the next day, our only full day in Siquijor unfortunately. We went and dropped off our laundry (to the divemasters house because coincidentally "his wife does laundry"-what that means in the Philippines was that yes, she is capable of doing her family's laundry and will also unofficially do ours to make some extra cash!) and went back to our jungle hotel and there was a bucket of water sitting on the front porch between our unit and our neighbors unit. Being familiar with feet washing buckets in beach destinations, I naturally dunked my feet in the bucket to wash all the sand off much to Bridger's trepidation as he didn't think that's what it was for. I dismissed him because I obviously knew what it was for. Then later on we saw our neighbor come out of his unit so naturally we smiled at him and said hello which he reciprocated...before grabbing the bucket and taking it inside his unit. Soooo I think what just happend there was that I washed my feet in his shower water... oops.
The next morning we boarded this beautiful boat to Apo Island for our dive trip (we were scheduled to take two dives) and we met another awesome bunch of beginner divers who we would be diving with. I was feeling a little nervous but just kept trying to do the positive self talk to take my mind off my nerves.
In our pre-dive briefing we were told that we'd go down to 18 meters, maybe to about 22. Umm well, we're only certified to go down to 18 soooo...conservative dive practice fail one. Well, this was a beautiful boat but it wasn't a dive boat because there was nowhere to put tanks and get geared up. So basically that turned into a factory assembly line of the boat crew bringing up a diver, dumping their equipment on them and tossing them in the water as fast as possible. No attempt at self gear checking or buddy checking...conservative dive practice fail two. So I did my own in the water, fighting a strong current, and in doing so, realized that once agian, my plastic mouthpiece had pieces hanging on by a thread. When I said this to the divemaster, I was told to "just use my alternate instead"...really, so you're completely comfortable with sending me down there without a backup?!...conservative dive practice fail three. I breathed into my alternate underwater and sure enough, breathed in an entire breath of water directly through the regulator...a totally faulty piece of equipment. Are you fucking kidding me?! I mention this and all of a sudden I'm being literally dragged to the side of the boat where the boat hands go to work pulling my entire regulator off the tank and replacing it while I bob like a piece of cheese in the water (I'm no diving expert but doesn't the diving community go to great lengths to avoid getting that o ring wet?!)...conservative dive practice fail four. It all happend so freaking fast and then all of a sudden, because the current was so strong, the divemaster was hastily confirming with everyone that we were good to go down. Actually no I'm not flipping ready. I just came off a really shitty last dive, you've now given me a crapload of absolutely shit gear and now I either don't even want to go because I'm freaking out and at the very least, give me some goddamn time to at least check this new gear you idiot!!! At this point I can't believe this is happening to me again and I was literally about to crawl out of the water and abort mission again which, the smart part of me knows I should have. But I really wanted to do this dive! So we all went down. Once again, the divemaster left much to be desired, didn't pay too much attention to us or point out much and again, barely asked us what our air levels were at...conservative dive practice fail five. But the dive itself was absolutely spectacular! I've never seen such colorful and variety of intact coral. I always thought I was a much more in to marine life kind of diver but this coral converted me.
I also saw an enormous (must have been at least 1.5 metres and two inches diameter) sea snake swimming directly above me. Now I'll never forget the time in El Nido when there was a very small sea snake swimming around the shallow water and the locals stood on the beach watching it closely and refused to get in the water to get on the boat while it was in the area...if the locals who seemingly have no fear of anything are clearly treading lightly around this thing, I'm sure as hell going to stay away. I don't even think our divemaster saw this sea snake but I freaked out a bit and immediately dove down as low as I could to get away from the thing! I also saw a giant puffer fish and the biggest triggerfish I ever saw (my dive certification in Thailand way back when put the fear of god in us about these particularly territorial, aggressive fish...not sure if perhaps there were just more aggressive ones in Koh Phi Phi because nobody else seem sto care as much about avoiding these mutts but, nontheless, I'll never forget)... and then I see Bridger...chasing after it with the GoPro!!! Luckily it continued to ignore his little white fingers stretching directly towards it. Though the dive itself was amazing and I'm glad I did it without problems, I decided not to tempt fate with this shitty dive company and I bailed on my second dive and felt good about the choice. Bridger, having a much lower threshold for fear and caution than me, continued though I begged him to check his gear!!!
You know, I hate to say this but my experiences with local divemasters in SE Asia and Central America has been pretty dismal. On the other hand, I have had absolutely great foreign divemasters every time as they seem to be much more conservative and they seem to conduct their pre-dive, dive and post-dive practices to a much higher standard both safety wise and environmental wise than the local divemasters. The problem is that usually the foreign dive masters are actually dive instructors or higher as foreigners can more easily afford to take the very expensive course where locals usually stop their training at the more affordable divemaster level. And as such, if you are just fun diving, it seems to be that you get the lower certified local divemaster as they are much cheaper than the foreign trained dive instructors. Ultimately I'm sure the divemaster training is the same, however, I think what is missing is just that the local divemasters have existed their whole life, not just their diving life, in an environment that across the board maintains far fewer safety standards than the developed world so they just don't think about safety as much nor do they feel threatened by things that we, as westerners, do. Think seatbelts, helmets, safe food handling/storage etc...not really a concern in the developing world. And of course, this rather blasé attitude grown over a lifetime of no cares about such things, extends into their dive practices as well. While this is all part of traveling and usually we work around it fine, but I really do feel like scuba diving deserves more reverence, and flippancy as it relates to diving is just not something I like to gamble with. I have become slightly more optimistic, or maybe hopeful is a better word, having spoken to a few other divers who have had very positive experiences with local divemasters but at this point, I'm incredibly frustrated. I don't want to abandon diving altogether because it is something that I've loved, but my experiences as of late have just been so rotten I'm starting to have more than nerves, but fear associated and wonder if maybe I'm just not meant to dive? Seriously, who has two big equipment failures on consecutive dives, really?!? I'm not writing it off completely but I definitely need to turn this ship and have some positive experiences pretty quickly if I am going to continue.
I was slightly disappointed that I still had not seen a sea turtle while diving so I was SO excited to find out that where we stopped for lunch, there was a sea turtle sanctuary that you could snorkel in which both Bridger and I did. Until that moment, this was a highlight of my life. The water wasn't that deep and the turtles were everywhere! Just as you'd be snorkeling next to one, you'd see another and another and they seemed to have no fear or avoidance of people. There was a few times where I was actually a little nervous because one came swimming directly for me! They are absolutey amazing to watch as they nibble on the sea grass on the bottom and then they go for a swim which is also incrdible to watch because they glide like birds through the water and then they swim up to the top and pop their heads out of the water before going under again. I have a totally unexplained love affair with sea turtles. Saw one for the first time while snorkeling in Belize and they are just the most unique, beautiful sight underwater...just so wow!
After lunch the divers jumped in and everyone else went for a snorkel far from the boat and I just hung out for awhile, not sure if I would snorkel or not. Aside from the crew I was the only one on the boat. After awhile I decided that I would snorkel so I set out to the reef all by myself. Well I almost peed myself as I was snorkeling, still in deep water, as a giant sea turtle just came out of the blackness and swam across, directly in front of me. I was in awe...until I saw another smaller one following it...and then another even smaller one following that one!!! Again with the cheesiness, but it was one of the most quiet, tranquil, amazing moments of my life, just me, the ocean and 3 sea turtles within metres of me! It was one thing to see sea turtles where they always are in the sanctuary but quite another to see them, completely by chance, out in the wide open ocean and I honestly felt like the universe had sent me a gift and a clear reward that I made the right choice not to dive! I think I actually laughed under water by myself. Turns out, Bridger also saw a turtle on his dive, so then again, maybe not :) Though I don't think it could have been nearly as epic and poster beautiful as my moment.
This is where I will say, completely trivially, that my freaking hair is in rough shape. And I'm reminded of it now because I'm talking about diving/snorkeling and my god does it ever ruin your hair! Before I left on this trip my hair was already broken and so so thin, then I had to cut a giant knot out of it in Railay and now it's been dunked and then ravaged by sea water and wind over and over and then it's constantly getting stuck in goggle straps and dive regulators/tanks. My gosh, I swear I spent half my last dive pulling my hair out of god knows what it was stuck in on my dive tank and the other half holding it down so it didn't get stuck again...at this point, every little strand counts! Don't be surprised if I come home wiht only 7 strands left. Over and over I keep coming back to dreads but I think even the window for that has closed now, unless of course I want to have only 4 dreads on my entire head...
We realized after our dive that we forgot money to pick up our laundry so had to walk 1.5 km back to our hotel to grab money before walking 1.5 km back to the divemasters house. As we walked towards the house, we both glamorously tripped over some sort of piping on the ground...made a great entrance but nontheless, got our laundry, and also, hug attacked by his adorable children who had obviously, no sense of stranger danger. Then we walked 1.5 km back to our hotel before we realized that neither of us had the hotel key. Bridger figured it must have fallen out of his pocket when he tripped so we walked 1.5 km back to the divemasters house where sure enough, he used a flashlight to find the key that somehow had not just fallen out of his pocket but launched out of his pocket. And then we walked 1.5 km back to our hotel with a flashlight because now it was pitch black. It was so fun.
We went for dinner at our hotel that night and mid dinner Bridger went back to our room for a toilet break and then came back. When we arrived back to our room after dinner, the door to our room was just, you know, completely open because Bridger, even though he locked it, didn't make sure it latched properly before walking away. It's this kind of diligence that I appreciate every day.
And speaking of toilets, I think Bridger and I have reached an entirely new level of bodily function comfort. I can't remember the last time either of us closed the door while peeing, we've listened to all sorts of poos and/or "shrapnel" as Bridger calls it through the door, we've heard endless farts from each other, often being released directly next to eachother in bed if not on eachothers hands/legs/back etc and he's held my hair while I puke. Now we were always pretty open about this stuff to begin with but I think we've reached a new level and I'm not sure if this is good or bad! But on a related note, my guts have been uncharacteristically good for awhile now! Like actually very satisfyingly good! And then, after thinking on what is different between my diet here and at home, I had an epiphany moment...by sheer lack of availablility, we haven't been eating much dairy. Where I always thought maybe it was the gluten, there has been no shortage of bread products on the road and I seem to tolerate this fine but the noted absence of dairy has made me absolutely certain that it is dairy. And when one has a theory, one must set out to prove or disprove the theory so naturally, I have an ice cream bar. And sure enough, my guts are sore and I'm back to being smelly farty McGee. And then I've noticed along the way that I'm fine, fine, fine and then I'll eat pizza or cereal with milk and that day/the next day my guts are all messed up again. Soooo traveling has been a nice natural experiment on gut functioning and I suppose we'll attempt some dairy cuts when we get home. Lesson here-if your guts suck, blame it on dairy. Or travel, test your theory (what scientists we are) and then you can definitely blame it on dairy.
On our last day in Siquijor, we rented a motorbike and drove around the island and stopped at some waterfalls where were involuntarily escorted down the steps to the waterfall by our bright orange vested "lifeguard". Now this was quite laughable really because it was so obviously unecessary and a total "create-a-job"! He walked down the steps with us and then watched us swim in the falls...we were very excited...
After our swim he escorted us back up the hill where we paid for our bike parking. Now we know the drill by this point and completely expected this...as we passed over our pesos for parking, there was a very tentative "for your lifeguard?". Another prime example of how Philippines has not yet picked up the "hustle" of the other more trafficked SE Asian countries as it was less of a demand (hello Thailand and Cambodia) and more of an embarrassed suggestion. We tipped the guy a few pesos and he was more than happy and appreciative and everyone in the parking lot sent us off with a big hearty wave and smile. We also stopped at this really incredible old Catholic church and an old convent that since been converted into a school before continuing on our motorbike quest around the rest of the island, half of which I'm quite certain sees only a handful of tourists per year which is quite cool.
Our time in the Philippines was wrapping up and we had to make it back ot Cebu City by ferry to catch our direct (direct, whaaat?!) flight to Dubai. On the ferry there was this little Filipino girl who kept looking at Bridger, she was like maybe 3 or 4. As they stood up to get off the ferry and passed us, the mom very nonjudgingly but more factually explained "she's talking about your nose--it's big". We were both laughing and as they continued walking, the little girl continued staring and then made a loud, excited, amazed exclamation of what I can only imagine was one of a handful of English words that she had ever spoken: "LONG!!!!".
Actually being in the Philippines has actually given some nice insight for my career as an SLP! As many SLPs know, assessing Filipino kids is always a challenge because of the dilution of first language-most Filipino kiddos in Canada will speak English and maybe or maybe not some Tagalog/Illocano/Visaya and as such, are not really native English speakers as their English models have not been true native English yet they are not really ELL (English Language Learners) either when they are described as only speaking English and not speaking or understanding "Filipino". I and I'm sure many others have wondered whether pure Filipino languages even exist in a whole form and are even classified as a separate language or do all Filipinos only speak a version of Tagalog/Illocano/Visaya mixed with English? Is it a separate language altogether or is it now just a dialect of English or is English truly their first language? This was further confounded for me when I arrived in Manila and the ATM asked me whether I'd like to proceed in "English" or "Taglish". Oh man. After traveling in the Phliippines for 3+ weeks, this is what I have observed: English is widespread, especially in the major cities and can almost be assumed, even to a high degree of fluency and proficiency. That being said, though English is almost a given, people over and over consistently communicated with eachother in a language that I could not understand at all and was therefore, not English, nor a derivative of. In addition, we also had some interactions with adults who did not speak English at all and especially in the smaller towns, both adults and especially children who did not speak, nor understand even basic English (like greetings, where are you from, how old are you, do you have brothers/sisters etc.) which tells me that there is still a very real and thriving first language situation that continues in the Philippines. Hooray!
The ferry dropped us off at the port of Cebu City where we hastily grabbed a taxi. In hindsight, you shouldn't grab a taxi that already has half the bumper shaved off as the driver jitterishly yells "hurry, hurry, get in!!!". This was the strangest taxi ride ever and the driver was a nutjob and we really didn't know if we should be laughing or ejecting ourselves out. He had just clutter all over the dash and what looked to be a rooster between the seats (we asked and he confirmed yes, that it was a rooster, though we still weren't entirely clear what form it was in--dead rooster, duster or decoration made out of rooster feathers? We don't know). The guy talked incessantly but with this abrupt, strange prosody, zippy speech and then would periodically break out in this maniacal laughter about something he or we said. As we were driving towards what we hoped was our hotel, he spontaneously pulled over and said, I'm not even joking, "I want to stop for some candy. Ok?". Umm, ok...but first can we check that we're not locked in and you can bet we'll be staring at the trunk to make sure our bags stay in the trunk and on high alert ready to jump the hell out of this car at a moments notice...but ok. Sure enough after a few awkward and jittery minutes, he came back. Now I'm not sure if "candy" means candy...or drugs...but we were off again, this time to a steady stream of telling us about a combo of how much traffic there was and how expensive this taxi ride will be and how Korean and Japanese tourists come and only want to "give you the sex". Ok. Please just get me to my hotel and let me out. Thank goodness, this happened...eventually. We checked into our crappy little hotel full of problems but right by the airport and went for dinner where I ordered "Penne Carbonara with bacon". I was pretty excited because mostly pasta is only in the form of spaghetti so when I had the option of penne I was pumped. What came out was not penne with bacon but actually linguini with ham. When I asked about it, the waitress unapologetically "oh yes, but linguini instead, same taste". I almost punched her in the mouth.
Three weeks definitely wasn't enough time in the Philippines compounded by the fact that we had absolutely no plan when we arrived because it was such a last minute change. It's crazy because even though it is so, so close to the well trodden SE Asia travel circuit, it miraculously stays off most travelers radars, which is so great in alot of ways. Obviously there was just less people and the people who were there tended to be a bit older and a bit quieter of a crowd so there didn't seem to be this pervasive sense of animosity of locals towards tourists as experienced in other Asian countries. Philippines was the first place where we didn't feel like a piece of meat...the vibe was just totally different. Traveling in Philippines was so easy and straightforward given the prevalence of English spoken, the streamlined transportation system and more importantly, the fact that things were just how they were. We didn't run into blatant tourist pricing, blatant rip offs and scams or opportunistic thievery. Instead we encountered a pile of amazingly genuine, conversational and assistive people who genuinely have an interest in interacting with you. For the first time on the trip, outside of tourist hotels/restaurants, local people and tourists almost seemed to peacefully coexist rather than exist in this gross, enmeshed, dependent relationship where locals rely entirely on tourists for their livelihood, slowly over time becoming exhausted and disdainful of them. Of course, where there are tourists, there inevitably is a bit of this dynamic but it was far less obvious, in our experience anyways. For those reasons, I would highly reccommend Philippines as an entry level travel destination or as a stop on your SE Asian adventure. Just check for typhoons before booking your flight ;)