The Philippines is a staunchly catholic nation, but as a traveler, it’s not so much a firm belief in God that you need, rather a strong faith in your immune system. With our sturdy constitutions we munched our way around the street side food stalls in Cebu. In among the mud, goats, mangy dogs and fighting cocks, the ladies set up their mini kitchens and the customers simply wander by, peering under pot covers to see what’s on offer. For less than a dollar you can have a feast of stewed vegetables with unidentified gristly meat, gristly meat on its own, gristly meat with sauce, crispy fried chicken and a surprisingly delicious prawn tortilla type thing. Still, it’s an improvement on the pacific, which was just spam, spam, spam, spam, spam and yam. Just don’t eat the Aso.
It’s a while now since our crossing from Palau. Thankfully a 4-day swift passage, nothing like the pre-Christmas misery. Our only mishap was a high speed fishing boat intent on a midnight ocean collision. 50 metres may sound like a long way, but at sea, in the dark with a roaring fish factory heading straight for you in a sailboat that won’t turn around, its damn close. They pulled away at the last moment at headed off into the night, leaving us a trembling bag of nerves. Pirates, ocean joy riders or just shortsighted fishermen? We’ll never know but given that they did change direction multiple times to stay on a collision course, innocent intentions seem unlikely.
It’s been problem free since then, apart from a little earthquake and some customs officials with a creative approach to entry fees. With each new country there’s a new set of customs, quarantine, sanitation and immigration regulations to comply with and a ton of forms to fill out. It’s ranged from the chic and efficient New Caledonian experience, where elegantly clad officials boarded the boat within half an hour of arriving, to the sweaty wait in the stultifying Solomons heat for a man with no shoes. Cebu City was relatively easy, a parade of gentlemen joined us at the bar quickly sorting the paperwork before presenting a range of unpublished charges, which there seemed no way to avoid.
A little too late we worked out that these were highly inflated fees and by the time we made it to jam packed immigration office, we were sick of paying the baksheesh and refused to hand over any more corrupt charges. The poor official was apoplectic with rage. We rather too honestly admitted that we’d been had by his colleagues. He considered it most unfair that we pay everyone else’s made up charges but not his own. We eventually got away with a ‘special minimal charge’ of 1000pesos, still entirely imaginary, but at least we got a smile, and a smile goes a long way here.
This is an alarmingly well-armed place. Even the bakeries have an M16 machine gun toting security guard and allegedly there’s a dainty pistol in every man bag. Clearly it’s best not to get into an argument. Luckily, the Filipinos have a horror of losing face or ‘hiya’ in public so disagreements are solved with a smile, and the passions are poured into karaoke instead. Grown men willingly gather at night to blast the surrounding square mile with renditions of mournful high-pitched 1980s love songs. There is no escape, where-ever there’s electricity there’s a videoke machine and a happy clientele who sing the night away. And, as it’s considered immensely bad form to criticise anyone’s performance, there’s invariably some excrutiating voices filling the air. Perhaps here, my own special talents will finally be appreciated.
We’re now battling our way north against a strong head wind, pinballesque, tacking between Cebu and Negros. We’ve traipsed our way through the last 2 months around Bohol, Camiguin, Siquijor gathering new friends along the way. Concerned texts about our whereabouts and wellbeing keep us company now. I’m a conformist at heart, but blending in is not an option. It’s hard to be inconspicuous when a foot taller then everyone else and the boat is not the best option for a discrete arrival in town. Its takes a day or two to get beyond the novelty factor and genuinely talk to people. The Barangay boat party at Bonbon and the whale sharks of Pamilican hanging out under the hull are just two of the highlights so far. It’s a vibrant, noisy and slightly mad place, full of goats and guns and pigs and volcanoes and perhaps our favourite so far.