Finally some peace! We ‘d stopped for the night on the west of Masbate Island. It was the first time since we’ve arrived that we were far from human inhabitation. We were anchored in a wide bay and the sun was setting over the still water and silence surrounded us save for the hiccupping bird that follows us everywhere… wonderful. It’s a noisy old place here most of time, constant horn blowing (if it moves, beep, if it stays still, beep!), the fighting cocks a doodling, techno music competing with karaoke through the night, Bangka engines roaring right beside us and always everybody shouting. Mobile phones are everywhere, but roaring your head off seems a preferred method of communication. It reminds me of growing up at home with my 3 brothers, no-one would ever actually look for another member of the family at home, preferring to shout conversations from end of the house to the other.
Out and about we’ve had many high decibel exchanges, usually with someone in a field about 200 metres away. ‘Whats your name?’ ‘WHAT IS YOUR NAME? …..NAME?? Always followed with ‘where are you going? It’s the default question, asked in every situation, even on the way to the loo. Throw in the language difficulties, and cock crowing and it’s a long loud shouting match as we inch slowly away.
As with every foreigner, shouts of ‘Hey Joe’ are a common greeting. I’m not sure if it’s a mutation of Hello, or if we just all look alike and many years ago some guy called Joe travelled the length of the Philippines and met everyone. The more welcoming ‘Hey Friend’ was heard throughout Camiguin, a lovely island north of Mindanao, and the decidedly less hospitable ‘Give me money’ shouted by every child in every island, from the cities to the tiny villages and strangely by a very elderly lady from the porch of her clearly undestitute house. The sentiment is not so mystifying; the Philippines is a poor nation, but exactly the same phrase everywhere? Do they teach it at school? I’m always happy to give the street kids a little here and there, but it’s harder to deal with a gang of 20 boisterous boys in canoes surrounding the boat. So instead of just handing over the cash, we engage in a bit of coconut dealing and have a fresh green buko rolling around the boat. Straight from the fridge on a hot evening, just stick in a straw, delicious, add a bit of rum and its perfection.
And so, sitting out on deck, happily slurping bounty flavoured cocktails, enjoying this rare quiet, the explosion came as quite a surprise. The huge bang resonated through the aluminium. After a moment of confusion the white water across the bay gave the culprit away. A lone fisherman in a small canoe about a half mile away had set off dynamite underwater and was gathering up the casualties, just stretch out a hand and grab them. An effective if destructive and pretty unfair method of fishing. Dynamite fishing had been common all over the Philippines, but now is officially banned, although still takes place in some remote areas. What were once some of the finest reefs in the world, are now sadly decimated. Makes for depressing snorkling over stretches of dead reef, mostly devoid of fish. There’s gradually been more effort at conservation and stricter policing, and in places the coral is recovering, but it will be a slow process.
Something for us to ponder while we drink our rum and coconut juice.