Boa vs. Python
on the little TV in the waiting area so Lisa, Casey, and I ventured out to explore the area. Immediately outside the small harbor there were blocks and blocks of shanty slums, just buildings that looked as though they'd no more to give and a bleakness that ought to have rubbed off on the people living there. But for reasons that it would probably behoove the rest of us to understand better, we way nothing but smiles and joy as we walked around and made friends
. Strumming my guitar while walking, we soon had a herd of energetic kids following us through town. All down the blocks, people were leaning out their windows to wave us into their homes, but we were only able to make a few stops as to not miss our boat. We spent the most time in the town pool hall, an open-air weathered table covered by a corrugated metal roof and surrounded by shirtless Filipino men who insisted that I take on the oldest guy there who I presume was in charge. A few games later (and I think he really just let me win one of them), and after Casey's chordless rendition to the kids of "Happy Birthday" on the guitar, we had to head back to the dock, still trailed by the kids to whom I taught the chorus of "G-L-O-R-I-A" and who jumped and shouted with every "Hey!
" in "Hide Your Love Away".
We slept most of the way to Bohol, and due to limited tickets left, the ladies took first class while the two gentlemen made like Titanic in the lower berths as the vagabonds (Hobo Misha) and the Irish (O'Hallahan). Bohol is the tenth largest of the Philippines' 700+ islands and "coincidentally" enough (the itinerary was planned by Case) the place where, just a month and a half earlier, we were inveited to be wed by the Filipino fellas in the bar in Hiroshima where I met her in the first place.
After some silly haggling with a few of the drivers in Bohol harbor, we found a great guy Pancha who loaded up into his jeepney (leftover US Army vehicles now painted in beautiful colors and portraits) and took us off to find a place for the night
. Despite Wully's advice not to worry about it, it was surprisingly no easy go in finding a few rooms. Nearly every place was booked solid, and the ones that weren't had just one room for an astronomical price. Getting creative, we even hit up the Bird Sanctuary which was rumored to have a nest available or something. We knew it wasn't going to work out when we abruptly turned off the road down a narrow, rickety path through a jungle thicket and parked in the very this-is-the-scene-for-a-scary-movie tiny lot. Resolved to try anyhow (as one of the key ingredients of a scary movie is separating the group to explore that strange noise/light/shadowy figure over there), Lisa and I wandered towards a building visible by a single light (especially brave for Lisa as she is afraid of both birds and
gruesome movie death) while Pancha disappeared to leave Ryan and the slightly-more-petrified Casey in the open-air jeepney under the flickering light and and on the other side of the fence from the rabid manic barking dog. Casey was not amused when Ryan mused, "Hey if this were a scary movie dontcha think the bad guy could already be on the roof?" and they were relieved when the barking stopped but unrelieved when they saw the reason for that was that the fence was now open and the dog was likelier than not was watching them through the jungle as potential prey. Lisa and I came back: no nests available, not even a perch.
Finally, three hours into our search, we settled for a double room for four, literally the last room available in the Leoping Island area
. Even after all the extra work, Pancha asked for no more than the original fare and we sent him off with a heavy tip and happily accepted his offer to be our guide around the island a few days hence. After a lovely dinner on the beach and polishing off the rest of that Vietnamese scorpion wine (how that got through customs three times I have no idea), we had a beautiful nighttime walk on the beach before calling it a night.
Our first goal the next morning was to find cheaper, less cramped, possibly lizard-free accommodations. But first things first. We loaded up on mangoes (Lisa and I are both aficionados) and while waiting for a jeepney to take us away, made friends with Oliver, Joseph, and Grace who were our age and having a picnic on the beach with their extended extended families. We jammed on the our guitars for a bit, including a particularly raucous "I Will Survive" (which along with "Hotel California" everyone in the entire world knows the words to) and made plans to meet up again later that night to show us the island.
A Bananaland Bungalow was just the ticket, a quaint (only because it sounds weird when I say "cute") 2-story thatched bamboo building with the chickens running around the hammock in front. That day was to be Beach Day. With the exception of Ryan destroying his toe on a rusty protruding nail to further his aim of getting injured in every country on Earth, it was a chill day of sit, snooze, swim, smiles, and spizza if you'll splease forgive my attempt to sfurther the salliteration
. Dinner on the beach again that night, really could get used to this sort of thing, with the meat we pointed to grilled to perfection and a guitar player and singer/tambourinist coming around to spend a good lot of time mostly on the Beatles until, to the everlasting regret of both they and the rest of the rest of the beach patrons, they surrendered their instruments to Ryan and I for a few numbers. The diners other than Casey and Lisa were much more mildly amused than we were, especially during the tambourine-lawn chair overhead solo. We set out to find ibuprofen for Lisa's cankles (this is when your calf and ankle region swells so large that they indistinguishably blend together ... Lisa the Canadian insists that it only happens to her in hot weather) and, on the way to find the disco whose beats we'd heard thumping across the islands, ran again into our morning beach friends. Back to the shore for more music, Red Horse, and just chillin and learning about our friends and Filipino life.
We awoke early the next morning (6:30!) so we could get out on the water to see the dolphins and whales around the island on our way to Siquihor, the nearby witchcraft island. We watched Flipper for a while and two hours later waded ashore to another paradise. Met by a driver guide we arranged, Charlie, we first stopped at a big jumping rock with the water 40-50 feet below and so clear and the bottom so visible that it was hard to believe that it would be deep enough to envelop my falling mass
. After my quick leap and Ryan's soon thereafter, it took only 45 minutes or so of encouragement/cajoling/threats to get both the girls in the water as well. We headed then for the enchanted waterfalls, how do I know this, well not only do witches live on the island but also the sign in front says so. We had a few more jumps into the revitalizing pools, and I climbed up one of the waterfalls with the Filipino kids who I swear are part spider, seeing me in their way, climbing around and six times as fast as I. It was after one more stop later at the most beautiful beach ever for lunch, shakes, and a swim out that we were back to our boat and back home, Ryan providing the shark bait off the side on the way.
We had another early morning wakeup, this time to meet Pancha (driver from the first night) again and explore Bohol. We stopped at several interesting places, including a famous cave (also self-proclaimed on the sign) and a ginormous python cared for by a none-too-convincing and rather handsy ladyman (this is not an unkind term, his/her words). There were two stops, though, that were most memorable. The first was a boat lunch cruise, which took off from behind a tarsier sanctuary. Tarsiers are the world's smallest primate, nocturnal, suuuper freaky looking, and (Ryan believes) probably delicious. We took far more photos than the stop justified, and as they proved too wily for Ryan's gaping maw, we had to gorge on drumsticks on the water instead. On board, a but tired of hearing the same made-up song about Bohol and the river, the crew sent me up to hijack the electric guitar and mic to play a song for Casey; G-L-O-R-I-A became C-A-S-E-Y- ... -Y, there's something about the Philippines and Van Morrison for me I guess. I headed back to my seat but the erstwhile musicians wouldn't let me, probably having less to do with my skill as a singer than with them finding a way to still get paid for sitting there and clapping along
. We stopped at another tarsier sanctuary (to bring the score to Uneaten Tarsiers:2, Ryan: 0) and then onto the Chocolate Hills. These are the most famous and interesting natural features in Bohol, 1268 nearly perfectly hemispherical large lumps rising from the Earth for some geological reason that my freshman year Yosemite seminar hadn't equipped me to understand. As spring ends, the grasses on the hills all turn brown, making them all appear like dollops of my favorite confection ... as it was midway through the process, they seemed more as Mint Chocolate Hills to me, no doubt ass deceptively un-delicious. The tallest two were very close to one another and had a viewpoint center build bestriding and atop them, I asked the folks working there if it'd be possible to climb any of the ones I was pointing to, the answer consistenly probably not. That being the wrong answer, I stopped Pancha as we were driving away, pointed, and proclaimed, "That one!" On our way off the road and down the dusty trail, a gang of kids started running after the jeepney, and as we were preparing too hoof it up any ol' side, the kids called our attention to an actual trail (steep, narrow, and crumbly as it was) and led us up. Not nearly as fast as our 5-8 year-old guides, we all finally made it up to the beautiful sight of green-brown lumps all around with the sun casting a setting, warm hue on them. Especially excited as, despite living on the island his whole life, it was Pancha's first time up a hump, we then slid down (poor Ryan in his rubber flip flops and resulting likely broken big toe really pushing the limit on how often one guy can hurt stuff) and we were well satisfied with our travails that day
. Pancha got us home, fixing the flat time on the way like it was nothing, and we sent him off with hugs and again much more than we'd agreed upon. One thing we've found in travelling is that, with so many people trying to rip you off as a walking ATM tourist, you just want to profusely thank the genuine, honest folk who, as a result of your happiness about their fairness, end up with more from us than the rip-off artists would have scammed from you anyhow!
One more beach visit, showers, internet, and picture CD-burning later (even when travelling to interesting and exciting locales there needs to be left time for the mundane), we all gussied up a little nicer for our last night together. We had such a fun time, in large part due to Casey's inability to stop her chair from falling over in the quicksand she was sat over, and then being confused when the staff came over to sing "Happy Birthday" to her to practice their English. Lisa grew increasingly, and from our point of view extremely comically, concerned about her ever-increasing cankles ("All jokes aside, are they OK?" Ryan: "In reverse order, no, and no such promise.") and we laughed until it was time to knock out.
To celebrate the decade-anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah in style, we again rose early (hey aren't we supposed to be on vacay here!) to get to the harbor for our ferry back to Cebu. In an adventurous mood while shopping for snacks at the harbor store, we came away with mostly things we could neither pronounce nor recognize which was all good except for the dried jackfruit which both smells and
tastes like BO-ridden armpit (how does he know what armpit tastes like?)
. Not even any of the Filipinos around us on the ferry wanted anything to do with their native fruit, and it was dried
which is supposed to mellow it out.
For the checklist we saw Magellan's Cross and a church that none of us knew quite why we were there (though outside I did buy some quality and dare-I-say-authentic indestructible Ray-BaM
s, and yes that is how they were labelled on the side) and found a Chinese restaurant, some feisty chicken, and Dr. Love of 97.9 Love Radio before a discreet and satisfying flight back to Manila.Moral of the Story
: Jimmy Buffet only found a Cheeseburger in Paradise. We came away with witchcraft, chocohills, tarsiers, cankles, and nothing but love from the people around us.
Though Ryan did nearly take a page from Jimmy and satisfy his carnivorous habit at the expense of a wee monkey.
Barely making it to Manila airport and onto our flight, we had a short hop- during which Ryan had to sit next to Casey and I, making him jealous of Lisa and her new old creepy German friend Wully the cockfighting promoter- to Cebu, the largest airport down south. We hoofed it over to the harbor and bought tickets for the next ferry to Bohol set to leave several hours later. We were at first put off by the security guards prowling the grounds carrying heavy artillery, especially when we saw the near posted sign: "Become a Security Guard with 2 Days Training!!!". Must be at least 3 to carry the AK. The other strange thing was that the sign was all in English. In fact, they were all in English, everywhere. Ryan was riveted to