Below is a post I wrote for Lloyds blog after visiting him and doing a mini-tour of the Philippines last year.
‘What an honour I have bestowed upon me! Unsurprisingly, it’s cold wet and miserable outside as I write this. Unsurprisingly, I’d rather be back in the Philippines… despite the stampede, mudslides and the recently declared national state of emergency after a thwarted coup. When Lloyd was assigned to the Philippines, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I took advantage to go back to the area of the world I was born and raised. After my antics in Milwaukee, I’m sure a few people thought mayhem would ensue, but amazingly, I spent a lot of the time in silence, absorbing some of the most spectacular surroundings and dreaming of possibilities that would allow me to escape the nonsense of big city life.
Two weeks after booking my ticket, a delayed flight later and an enforced night in Manila, I was reunited with my dear friend and it felt completely normal that we were doing so in the other side of the world. First port of call was three nights in Lloyds town of Miagao. I had arrived for the latter stages of the Salakayan festival, which is a celebration and commemoration of their ancestor’s efforts at repelling the evil Moro raiders who first pillaged Miag-ao ten years after the town was founded (1731). The festival was marked by several re-enactments of the town’s heroics and we can all be rest assured that those evil pillagers will not be returning to the town of Miag-ao anytime soon!
It was all very entertaining if not somewhat bemusing. The Miagaowonans had obviously put a lot of effort and passion into the festival and it really highlighted the pride that these people felt as a community for their past. Accompanying the festival was a lot of food, boozing and dancing and that is of course when I am in my element. I was completely blown away by Lloyd’s command of the local dialect, Illonggo. It was very entertaining to watch Lloyd converse in Illonggo and to see the often very surprised look on the unsuspecting locals face. I grinned like an unwitting idiot, feeling a lot of pride for Lloyd, not knowing that he was using it is an opportunity to tell those he was introducing me to as “single and available” and looking for a wife… cheers mate! However, I soon settled in and found some drinking buddies!
The community spirit of Miag-ao and the Philippine nation as a whole, really blew me away. The average Philippino survives on under $2 a day and therefore, Westerners are the subject of envy for the wealth we have and the luxuries that are afforded to it. However, it is perhaps their lack of wealth that has created a community of open doors and open hearts. I can’t help but feel that it is a tremendous shame that our two “great” nations place so much emphasis on individualism at the expense of the community and I know we are worse off for it. Lloyd is slightly revered by his community and this is testimony to his strength of personality and his acknowledgement that learning the language is imperative to integration and his subsequent effort in learning Illonggo. This does however, mean that he is frequently mobbed and the next stage of my trip undoubtedly proved a welcome break for him.
It is not uncommon to witness Philippinos pray as they get onto public transport and not long into our 6 hour journey to the port of Dumaguete, I was beginning to wish I had a God to pray to. It didn’t help Lloyd informing me that he sometimes thought there was a problem with bus drivers using crack and I quickly began to wish I had some form of substance to alleviate the terrifying fear that was beginning to grip me. The bus journey did take us through some spectacular scenery, particularly through the mountainous region which I did enjoy when I could avert my eyes from staring death directly in the face. After a quick stopover in Dumaguete, it was off to the secluded Apo Island.
Apo is a 72 hectare island of pure beauty, untainted by the conveniences of Western life. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as I stepped on the sandy shores and breathed in the fresh, salty air. Apo has a population of around 700 and fishing provides the main commercial revenue for the people. The local people are striving to create a harmonious co-existence with the environment that allows for commercial activity without burdening the local habitat. In fact, they benefit as the conserved area provides an increasing abundance of fish, which in turn, they are permitted to catch. Apo serves as an exemplary example that conservation does not mean financial hardship and by upholding the areas outstanding natural beauty, tourists and locals benefit alike. Upon arrival we immediately made way for the protected area for a spot of snorkeling that was truly breathtaking.
On our way to the site, we were distracted by the sound of cheering and we decided to investigate. I was in luck. We had stumbled upon a cock fight, something that I had been eagerly anticipating after my first night. After a journey that saw me leave London and not arrive at Lloyd’s for some 36 hours later, I was all to ready to get a good nights sleep. However, the devil in disguise decided to wake and keep me so with some incessantly raucous crowing. It is now my belief that the devil is a cock. I must admit to having some slight reservations about cockfighting, but after that first night I asked Lloyd’s neighbours and keen cockfight spectators if the cocks “die a slow and painful death” as I hoped they did. Any of you who have ever eaten chicken or eggs that are non free range, then I’m afraid you forfeit the right to pass any judgment on cockfighting for I know which of the two I find more humane. I guess part of mulitculturalism is not passing judgment on what consititutes as a huge part of Philippine culture, but it’s not really for me.
We spent our evenings there hanging out with the very talented and friendly local artist “Elbaens”. It was really satisfying that three men of the same age, from completely different backgrounds were able to hang out, united by our mutual appreciation of good music and of course, beer. The next day saw me do some diving where I hung out with the cast of “Finding Nemo” whilst Lloyd was working very hard on becoming the first person to make an ass-groove in a hammock. We were there for Valentines and there is perhaps very few other places more romantic than Apo island, and as much as I love Lloyd, I did wish that there was someone of the opposite sex to share the double bed with me that overlooked the ocean abyss…
It was perhaps be-fitting that after Apo we traveled to another area of outstanding beauty, though this time, it was inland. Located on the island of Bohol, Nuts Huts consists of nipa huts clustered on the banks of the river at the base of the hills, cloistered from civilization. Again, it was truly breathtaking and I was mesmerized by the pure tranquility of it all.
Whilst there, we visited the freakish geological occurrence, the “chocolate hills”, swimming in the river with local kids, hiking amongst the hills with most inadequate footwear, and visiting some of the local bats. I was however, at my happiest there, whilst swaying in the hammock, overlooking the river on the backdrop of the hills, enjoying some quiet, introspective time… and sipping on some quite delightful banana shakes with generous lashings of rum.
Unfortunately there were no female travel buddies around that Lloyd and I constantly wished were waiting for us at every destination… so we had to make do with using the homemade sauna with just each other for company again.
We forfeited a night in the very Westernized island of Cebu for another night in Utopia and I really found it difficult to leave… especially as this entailed a 13 hour boat trip. We arrived back in Iloilo feeling the strain of a week on the move and it seemed apt that we go for a massage. Our final night saw us meet up with some of Lloyd’s fellow Peace-Corps and finally, we had our night of mayhem. I don’t really know quite what happened and at what point the mayhem started but it was all very messy and a good way to send me off.
So that’s that really. I feel rejuvenated and revitalized after a fantastically wonderful time. I left Philippines feeling a lot of pride for my mate and all that he is doing with himself. I can’t wait for the next time we meet up, whenever and wherever that may be……..’