We’ve been at our respective sites for over half a year now, which means I still have yet to see films like Star Wars, The Revenant, Tangerine, Spectre or basically anything else since summer. Half a year seems crazy to me, and whether or not I think it’s gone by fast or slow (I’m undecided), the fact of the matter is I’ve been in Biliran for almost 2% of my life. Ok that sounded way less impressive than I expected. In any case, Holy Week in the Philippines brings out a lot of different celebrations, but for many PCVs, it means some greatly awaited vacation time.
So I packed a small drybag (my go-to travel bag is probably like 7 or 8kg lang) and cruised down to Cebu City to meet with some other boys from the CRM sector (we never agreed to call ourselves the Bohol Barkada, but later in the trip we went to Bohol and I like alliteration as much as I like spooning peanut butter after tough days). For me, Cebu City is sort of a wild mess of big malls, big ships, call centers, slums, foreigners struggling to get on boats toward other places, McDonald’s, and then some pretty awesome places to explore. If anyone wants to laugh and cry at the same time, check out the tripadvisor reviews for the Cebu Zoo, something we chose to skip. I know I’m not giving Cebu City a fair shake, I’ve only seen it briefly and for me it’s just a shock coming from the little island of Biliran. I think there’s a “scene” of some kind bubbling up in Cebu’s kitchen but I’m not sure what it is. A lot of volunteers go through Cebu and it was really nice seeing some good friends over pizza and (unfortunately) weng weng “juice”. Another major appeal that had us PCVs traveling around here and there was the food selection. Things that for six months had only existed in dreams and food blogs became accessible. It wasn’t chaotic madness, it was a cold-blooded surgical strike. I had shwarma, and for anyone who saw me sort of crying at a table in the Ayala Center in Cebu…I’m sorry but you wouldn’t understand.
From Cebu the Bohol Barkada cruised (literally, on a boat) to Tagbilaran, the capital of Bohol Province. On the boat they showed Pixel, without sound, which honestly was fine with us. It made me a bit sad, and I wish Mr. Sandler would have just stopped after shortcomings with…everything. When a person googles Bohol they get hits for Tarsiers, the Chocolate Hills, beautiful forests and beaches, and Loboc River cruises. But that’s not why we were there. Joke lang, that’s why we went. Our tour of Bohol was a bit ad hoc as we dodged large groups of Filipino tourists trying to take pictures with us and spent a lot of time making fun of each other speaking as much Cebuano as we could to everyone we met. The Blood Compact site was overrun with people that really enjoyed our presence (many many selfies), but we were able to check out some very beautiful, old churches, take some time watching the Loboc river go by, and eye-gasm some pretty impressive butterflies. There were some depressing moments looking at some caged animals and over-handled pythons, but sites such as that are to be expected in places with heavy tourist traffic.
The end of our tour featured the chocolate hills, which were impressive and widespread though they mysteriously and unfortunately didn’t contain any chocolate. I brought that up with some Filipinos at the site and had mixed reactions, though a few giggles. The last destination was the most mysterious…the Tarsier Sanctuary. This fabled creature rises out of the mist at night as the king/queen of its domain and is the only purely carnivorous primate. For a quick review of this mysterious beast of the night, please watch this short video. These little guys were living in a small sanctuary, and during the day tourists walk through and are shown by employees their napping locations. It wasn’t a very adventurous safari, and I think we all felt a little underwhelmed, but the weirdness of those tarsiers is the real deal and the truth is we never would have spotted them if we were out in the woods looking for ourselves. Even pointed out in the trees, it took a bit of searching before you could see one of those fist-sized pocket-primates.
After two nights most of the Bohol Barkada went off to another island and to other adventures. I was looking forward to a few days of reading, writing, and diving in a more relaxed environment, and so I headed for Panglao, Bohol. Panglao is a small island of about 80 square km southwest of Tagbilaran. Aluna beach, its crown jewel, is crowded with resorts, bars, tourists, and boats, but it is said to have some of the best opportunities for diving in the country. I opted to stay at a quiet, out of the way place called Bohol Coco Farm which was about 6 kilometers away from Aluna in another barangay. The farm had kubo huts and dormitories surrounded by trees and their organic farm, which provides vegetables, fruits, chickens, and other yummies to their menu. This place was amazing, and the only issue with staying there was the distance from all the activities found in Aluna or elsewhere in Panglao. Transportation by tryke can be expensive in tourist areas, and motorcycles are bawal (forbidden) for PCVs, so I solved this problem the way I usually do. I placed my cowboy hat upon my noggin, scooted into my tsinelas, and ran the distance in the morning to get to the scuba scene, then jogged back in the afternoon after diving. Distance running in tsinelas ins’t ideal, but it’s cooler on my toes. I didn’t get an opportunity to go to Balicasag, their top dive location, but I was able to dive down 13-14 meters along the wall just off the coastline. There was a bit of a current, and the visibility wasn’t amazing, but the wall there had great soft coral, gorgonians, foliose corals, and some very lovely nudibranchs that were traveling across an expanse of silt along the bottom. I know not where those naked flatworm wanderers were going, but it was magical. I was tickled to see porcelain shrimp, glass shrimp, a barracuda, and a painted clown frogfish.
On my last night in Panglao, I joined an amazing new friend at the Bee Farm and splurged on a meal for the ages. Before all was said and done, we were filled to the gills with spicy cheese pizza, spicy kinilaw talong, organic rice, and salted honey ice cream. I can’t exactly describe what the salted honey ice cream meant to me but I’ll try. There’s that scene in Castaway where Tom Hanks loses his best friend, a blood-painted volleyball named Wilson, over the side of his raft and is emotionally shattered. Imagine that in the next scene Wilson came back smiling with a large burrito, nachos, and a Corona, then imagine how Tom Hanks’ character would feel. Enter salted honey ice cream.
Every time I visit a new place in the Philippines I’m amazed by the natural beauty and the friendliness of the people. I was happy to travel in Cebu and Bohol where I could continue using my Cebuano/Bisaya dialect. I found that traveling as a “non-tourist” has a lot of benefits, it allowed me to cultivate discounts and opportunities along the way after using local language and telling my story and purpose in Biliran. Its been three years now since I traveled through many parts of Southeast Asia, some of the travelers I met in Panglao were unique, kind, and conversations with them brought a lot of those memories back. You meet intriguing people all over if you’re open to it, it took a little adventure on my time off to remember that.
What else? There’s a lot of negative things in the world right now, I’m reading about Brussels, Lahore, the death of Jim Harrison, and issues with continued sexual harassment concerning MFA programs/poetic-heroes like Thomas Sayer Ellis (Jezebel). This stuff hurts me, I often take it personally, and sometimes it makes my work here feel like a small drop in the bucket. When this happens, I try to think of good people I know here, back home, and all over the world. There are a lot of really kind, courageous, determined, compassionate people doing their thing. That’s a lot of drops. We could fill a lot of buckets.
to salted honey ice cream, barracuda, and drops in buckets