A Meander In The Philippines
I spend a lot of time in Boracay and I might write a whole submission on it another time but this is an account of some of my meanderings in other parts of the Philippines.
I met a lady called P who is from Kabankalan in Negros Occidental while I was there. We hit it off and I spent a number of weeks travelling around the Philippines with her.
I was with P for a few days when she suggested that we go to her home town. I am opened minded roll with the flow kind of guy so I thought "Ok, let’s do it."
We travelled down through the island of Panay to the port of Iloilo and got the ferry to Bacalod in Negros. Travelling with a native gives you an edge on sussing what there is to see. While we were there she suggested that we go to Mambacal. Maybe it has changed now but when we got there I found that it was an exclusive resort for Philippinos, I did not see one foreigner there. It’s a wonderful place… soaking in the super hot springs heated by the nearby volcano Mount Kanlaon, watching thousands of flying foxes (fruit bats with a wing span of a metre or more) circling high overhead and hanging from the tall vegetation free trees was a memorable experience.
Our next stop was Kabankalan, a very clean city.. Apparently the mayor is very strict when it comes to littering.
I met P's family there, nicer people you could not meet, and they made me feel really welcome. Had some really good nights sitting outside her house with her brother and some of his friends who are musicians singing songs and drinking Red Horse, it’s the beer that Philippinos will tell you really kicks and I can verify that. Think something like turbo-charged Beer Chang!
Kabankalan was the first place I got to drink Tuba. There are Tuba houses around the main market area. Tuba is palm wine. The sap is extracted from an unopened coconut bud and fermented. I am Irish and I can handle my alcohol but this was different. I had a couple of glasses of it and my head was spinning. The locals drink lots of this stuff, a cheap hit that costs around 80 peso (per gallon). I met an expat there who drinks copious amounts of it as well. His remark to me hit the spot "The people here think they are drunk but they are not. They are stoned!"
While I was drinking with the locals (I was promptly back on the San Mig), P whispered to me that some of the people in our company were NPA. I asked her what that meant and she said they were New People’s Army. She informed me that they were a terrorist organization but that it was ok as they were not active! The situations I get myself into. Drive on, Mister Magoo!
Philippinos are a fun loving people but like the Thais they can have a proclivity for violence. There was a character there whose nickname was Bruce Lee (he was sporting a lean shirtless torso) who seemed to spend all his waking hours in a Tuba-induced stupor. Bruce was afflicted with an ocular axis that was off kilter. He was also intent on monopolizing my attention. Now if you can imagine the scene as he was standing by the table I was sitting at. He was agitated, gesticulating and mumbling to me in the local lingo with one eye looking straight at me and the other one looking for me! I didn’t have a clue what he was he was saying and when I asked P she just shrugged her shoulders.
There is only so much being polite and smiling and nodding one’s head you can take and after a while I started to ignore him. He would tap me on the shoulder and insist that I listen to him again. After a while when he was not getting any hop from me he wandered away. I thought that was the end of it and I was glad to have burned him off. Wishful thinking on my part I am afraid as about 30 seconds later there was a commotion and a few guys jumped up and ran behind me. Bruce had picked up a heavy wooden bench and was trying to smash it down on the back of my head! Luckily some of the boys intervened before he was able to do the damage! What happened next was one of those "only in the Philippines moments". The owner's wife, a well built lady, exploded out of the blocks and unleashed a combination of punches to Bruce’s head that would have floored Manny Pacquiao! Realizing that he had met his match he picked himself up and staggered away.
I have fond memories of Kabakalan though and will definitely go back there one day.
The next stop was Sipalay on the way to Sugar Beach, about a four hour trip on the bus from Kabankalan.
We arrived there late in the evening and it was a quite unique journey to Sugar Beach. First we had to get a trike which took us out of Sipalay and then across mangrove swamps in the failing light. When the trike dropped us off we had to walk for a while in the dark until we came to a tidal river. After some haggling with the ferry man he took us to the other side! We then had to walk for a bit until we came around a head land on to Sugar Beach. To say that it is well off the beaten track would be an understatement.
There were six resorts there. The first one is the Takatuka Lodge. When we walked in there around 9 pm the first question I was asked was have "Have you got a reservation?" WTF, they were booked out! We tried the resorts along the beach and it was the same story. No room at the inn. Having resigned myself to the fact that we would have to sleep on the beach and become mossie fodder for the night we tried the last resort…and we hit the jackpot as they had one room left!
The next day we decided to take a boat trip back into Sipalay as I was nearly out of cash and needed to go to an ATM
Sipalay is a town with a population of over 60,000 people so I presumed that there would no problem getting money. How wrong I was. There was only one ATM and it was not online. The nearest one was an 8-hour round trip back to Kabankalan and I did not have enough money for the bus fare! How was I going to get out of this one? I had an expensive Sony camcorder that I was able to pawn for 2500 peso (redeemed for 2600 peso the next day) which gave me enough cash to get by until I could arrange a Western Union money transfer…needs must! The lesson to learn from this is to cash up well before leaving the main cities there.
Sugar Beach is a very nice place to chill for a few days. Reminded me of the island beach resorts in Thailand years ago. The room we stayed in had a veranda from which you could step straight onto the beach. The Takatuka Lodge although I did not stay there was a cool place to hang out and the food there was excellent.
Our next destination was Damuguete in Negros Oriental which is university town with a nice promenade. I had wanted to spend a few days on Siquijor Island which is close by but P would not hear of it as she was scared to go there. Siquijor gained notoriety years ago when a western television crew went there and filmed "healers" doing surgical operations with their bare hands. It was later proved to be fake, they used sleight of hand and the organs and tissue they were "extracting" were in fact of animal origin. The island still though has a reputation for among other things black magic and witchcraft and most Philippinos give the place a wide berth.
So to finish we often hear of the Phi in Thailand and how Thais, particularly the ladies, are scared of it. In the Philippines, people are scared of ghosts as well. I have been with on two occasions pregnant Philippino ladies whom I met before they were showing. Both were made pregnant by their Western boyfriends who promptly dumped them as soon as they found out but that is another story.
These ladies who seemed sane and rational in every other way could not be left alone in the hotel room day or night because they firmly believed and feared that the Aswang (it's googleable) would come in and eat their babies!
It really does sound like the infrastructure in the Philippines is not neatly as developed as Thailand. 8 hours to the nearest ATM? Wow, sometimes in Thailand it feels like you're never more than 8 minutes from one!