Just a short blog, if i'm being honest I haven't been up too much other than enjoying the sun, sea, food and cheap plonk! Think I've even put on some blubber.
First impressions of the Philippines are admittedly not great. Manila is huge, so huge that all the surrounding cities have merged into Manila to create one whopping big 16 city metropolis where a quarter of the Philippines' 90 million population reside. What surprised me is the American influence. I knew the Americans had been here during the second world war but I didnt realise that for the first half of the twentieth century they colonized the country. Influences range from the American diners, the fast food restaurants, licence plates on cars, fashion styles and use of the word trash! The upside of all this, Cheetos are sold everywhere. To add to the mish mash of cultures there is also a Spanish influence from when the Spanish colonized the country prior to the Americans involvement. The local language contains hints of Spanish such as numbers and to make it all the more bonkers you hear English words being used in the middle of sentences in Filipino. Anyway, i'm not writing for the Lonely Planet so lets get on with the funny shit! I didn't warm to Manila, it felt a little sketchy. Despite being in a safe neighbourhood everywhere had high walls, iron gates, guards with revolvers and signs outside shops and bars saying "leave your firearms outside" (American readers - that's not normal for us!). They call Manila the Pearl of the Orient but I have yet to see how it resembles the sparkle, charm and sophistication of a pearl... an arsehole maybe but certainly not a pearl.
A spontaneous accommodation decision left me staying some way outside of the city but it did introduce me to some forms of transport unique to the Philippines. The first is the tricycle, a motorbike with a covered side cart some which can carry up to 4 westeners in the cart or 12 Filipinos. You can also sit on the roof of the cart which I tried out on one occasion but vowed not to do it again as A) I can't imagine my travel insurers will look favourably on my claim and B) its terrifying. The second form of transport is the Jeepney, a pimped up stretched jeep splashed with a colourful motif and religous icons hanging inside.
I spent 4 days in a small town called Donsol which is known as the Whaleshark capital of the world. Unfortunately despite 4 boat trips I didn't manage to see or snorkel with the biggest fish in the world so enough on that subject.
The only other activities in Donsol are firefly watching and cock fighting! I won't bore you with the fireflies, they're very pretty but I think you would rather hear about cock fighting! Brace yourselves, i'm going to talk about cocks so suppress your giggles. The event takes place every weekend and is aptly held at a venue known as "the cockpit" which is a small arena holding around 150-200 people all seated on concrete ledges. The pit is covered with a tin roof which makes it unbearably hot as it traps the heat generated by the Filipino men going crazy for the fight. Two men came out each clutching a cock with a 4 inch blade protruding from a single leg. The betting commences while the two men still holding the birds aggravate them by clashing their heads together until they eventually set against each other attempting to peck their opponent. By now the arena is in chaos with men shouting their bets to a person at the end of each row of people. The betting ceases and the two cocks are put on the ground where they immediately go for each other in a cloud of feathers. The matches last anywhere from 12 seconds to 10 minutes and the winner is obviously the surviving cock although in many cases the winning cock is in such a bad way it too ends up dying and destined for a dinner plate accompanied with rice. After the match, the men handling the cocks wipe the blood from their hands and another guy comes in and sweeps the feathers off the floor, then it all starts over again. They go through more cocks in that place than a porn star.....BOOM BOOM!!!!
After 5 days on the main island of Luzon I flew to the island of Palawan. They call Palawan the "last frontier" as its one of the least developed of the 7,000 or so islands which make up the Philippines. My first night there was my first introduction to the Filipinos' obsession with karaoke. The karaoke machine dominates the bar and some of the signing you hear is terrible but no one notices! To them its not about making a wally out of yourself but enjoying yourself. I ended up singing (?) Metallica "Enter Sandman" complete with James Hetfield-esq "fuck yeah Philippines" and "sing it to me!" I also had a little help in the chorus courtesy of a Filipino woman with a squeaky voice, no words in this blog can tell you how ridiculous that sounds.
The main reason people go to Palawan is El Nido. A 5 hour drive away from Puerto Princesa is probably the closest you will ever get to paradise. The last hour of the ride is a dirt road so it's fairly isolated and you appreciate how sparse the island is as there is so little between Puerto and El Nido. The town is surrounded by tall limestone peaks and turquoise blue waters. I met a great group of people and took several boat trips where we snorkelled around the reefs, explored lagoons, ate and drank beer. A couple of us also hiked or I should say, climbed, to the top of one of the limestone peaks overlooking the town. I unfortunately ignored the advice of our guide by drinking way too much the night before and going to bed at 3am only to get up at 6am. I was still way beyond the drink-climb limit in fact I couldn't put my shirt on and collapsed by the toilet. Still, I never let a hangover stop me getting stuff done but my stubbornness almost got me in trouble. Had I known how hardcore this climb was I wouldn't have let a drop of drink touch my lips, we were clambering up almost vertical cliff faces! A particular highlight for me in El Nido was a beach with a small makeshift bar on it. One of our guys told the barman that the beer was very expensive and cool as a cucumber the Filipino barman responded with "hey maaaan, you're in the middle of fuckin' nowhere" and he was right!! Here's the El Nido crew (minus Alf)
I reluctantly moved on from El Nido after 5 days of great sea food, great company, cheap cocktails and even cheaper beer (am I getting to you yet?). My next destination was the seaside village of Sabang where I arranged to do a trip to a local village with my friend Claire from Kansas. We met our guide by chance while we were drinking in a bar, he came up to our table pretty drunk and on the strength of his slurring we figured that this guy would be an appropriate and responsible guide to take us through the jungle. He even told us that he discovered the tribe when they saved his life after he got lost in the jungle. Our guide was called Jungle George, imagine Tarzan crossed with Screech from Saved by the Bell and you have him. We met him the next morning and set off on the roof of a jeepney to the junction where we would then get a bus to the start of the trek. At the junction we made some purchases for our meals and also for the villagers who would be accommodating us for 50 pesos, just shy of a pound. The shopping list contained the usual essentials along with a dozen fish, cigarettes and two bottles of 80 proof rum! Alcohol here is cheaper than water back home, a litre of rum costs little more than a pound. Additionally George had brought the villagers some firecrackers which he had left over from new years eve as the villagers use these to hunt wild pigs. They stuff the firecrackers in some bait then hide in the bush waiting for the pig. Once the pig starts eating they detonate it blowing the pigs face off and hopefully for the sake of the poor suffering pig, its head! Puts the cock fighting into perspective huh! While we were at the shop a big lorry stopped outside so George was able to barter between the shopkeeper and the lorry driver who had a truck full of wholesale goods. Our next transport was a bus and a hell of a lot of fun. Scrambling onto the roof we found a few local guys sitting at top along with various boxes, bags and half a market's worth of produce. I found a place to sit and was just about to perch on what I thought was a sack of rice which turned out to be a sack full of cats sticking their noses out of the holes! We hung on for dear life attempting waves at the villagers who were delighted to see two foreigners riding the bus Filipino style. After a short trek wading through rivers and steamy jungle we arrived at the village of the Batak tribe home to around 80 people and what a reception.... EVERYONE stared. We couldn't interact with any of them as they didn't speak English and even waving got little or no reaction. George introduced us to the chief's family who provided us with a room in their home which was a simple 2 room bamboo hut. Considering there were 5 or 6 people living there they hardly had any possessions other than blankets, a few cooking utensils and a home made rifle. Some children were playing basketball so we decided to join them on the dusty court, the centre piece of the village. After initial shyness and seeing us shooting some 3 pointers they started laughing and having fun with us, then we had a match and realised they could speak some English, the word "dunk"! By the end of the game we had an audience of 30 or so people sitting around watching the two clumsy foreigners being out run by kids half their age. Claire on the opposing team tried to get the ball from me but was greeted with my taunting wiggling butt which got a good laugh from everyone. The evening was spent eating the grilled fish served over a table covered with a banana leaf. The night continued and a few villagers joined us in polishing off two bottles of the strongest rum I've ever tasted. We called it a night then George casually informs us that he forgot to tell us to bring blankets, a sleeping mat and a pillow. All a bit unfortunate seeing as I had a sleeveless shirt, shorts which had been soaked in the stream and no spare clothes. It wasn't the best night's sleep trying to rest on a bamboo floor and we gave up at 3am when the roosters started making a racket. And not just one rooster, every house seemed to have one as the villagers are mad on cock-fighting, these things were everywhere. I can see why they cock fight now...
That's all from me.