November 23, 2006
From Cebu to the Camotes IslandsJunks, the incredibly interesting architect, guitar maker, bar owner, outdoor equipment manufacturer, musician and triathlete we met last time in Cebu, mentioned that the Camotes Islands would be a nice place to visit, and that he had a house there.
LP confirmed - a good destination for adventurous travellers. So Andy and I went, for the weekend.
Finding out when the boat leaves was not easy. After some initial misinformation most sources seemed to agree that it would leave at 6am from Oanu wharf in Mandaue City. We went half an hour early, which was good, because it turned out that actual departure is (and has been, for a year), 5.30am. UPDATE: This difficulty inspired us to build a Web App for Boat Schedules in the Philippines which has now launched. The boat was 170 passenger bangka "Ave Maria 3"; a wooden trimaran powered by two V10 truck engines, complete with the original steering wheel, stabilized by bamboo outriggers.
We were able to ride on the roof, and had a nice breeze and good views. I'd prefer a boat like this over a modern boat with assigned seats any day.
About 3 hours later we arrived in San Francisco, Camotes. Immediately as we docked, kids came over and started playing on the outrigger. Very cute.
We transferred to the house in Esperanza (we ended up not staying in Junk's house, since it sounded more complicated and he wasnt sure if the generator was working) on two scooters, one of which we then rented for the weekend (400 PHP).
The nice thing about it was that it runs on Coca Cola. Finally a good use for that stuff. (the cheaper models run on Pepsi; but I think that tastes like wok water, so I doubt it's good for the engine).
When Andy wanted to take a picture of this pretty little store, the people around stopped him. Not because they didn't want the picture taken, but because they wanted to pose.
I have to point out that absolutely everyone we had met until this point had been incredibly friendly, even for the high standards in the Philippines. But that turned out to be only the beginning...
We started exploring the islands... to get an overview, we wanted to get on top of one of the hills. That turned out harder than we thought. People in that community spoke little english; one of them eventually murmured something about "Mata Christo" and pointed to the hill, gesturing us to follow him. So we did, along with about a dozen kids. Half an hour later, halfway up the hill, it became clear that I had heard correctly. The scluptures along the trail up the hill were somewhat creepy. Very explicit. They seemed well maintained. The views were very nice.
Somewhere around here I started to realize that there was something very strange going on on these islands. Something wonderful... more about that in the next article.
The next morning, we decided to get some work done, and then hung out with the villagers for a little while.
There were a lot of scary blue jellyfish on the beach. As a joke, I asked our friendly neighbor Ron how they taste. With a straight face, he said that his uncle knows how to prepare a dish from it. I decided to call the bluff and accepted his offer to bring a little bit for us to taste. Oops, I thought, when he showed up with a big plate full. Oh well. How bad can it be, after tasting day old chicks the day before? As it turned out, it blue jellyfish in coconut sauce was actually quite good. Chewy, of course, but not bad. Spicy.
We continued the tour...
At one point we passed a highly efficient live fowl transport. 100 roosters and two guys on a scooter.
I admit this is somewhat cruel, but at least these roosters had a decent life until today, probably their last day anyway.
And then I saw it. The most amazing sight ever: Not only do they have trash bags here and use them, they even recycle!
You have to have travelled in the tropics in the developing world to appreciate this... What was even more amazing was that everything else seemed consistent with this; looking back, it hit me that people really take care of this place.
They like where they live; there were no signs of conflict, neglect, carelessness or despair. People seemed to have their lives under control. There were dozens of episodes of friendliness and vibes of happiness, every single one of which would have deserved mentioning if they had happened elsewhere. Incredible, really.
We explored a cave, had a competition on who can take the cheesiest picture (Andy won), watched a house walk by, listened to Gemelina's women choir (turning down an invitation join in), helped a 5ft tall young girl start he offroad bike (one of the few signs of OFW money), talked to a farmer about his eggplant plantation, and generally continued to have a good time.
On the way back, I had a long conversation with a part owner of the boat, and met his nephew, Cliff, a very bright and motivated young man, who has some interesting insights on his family business and the shipping (public transportation by boat) industry in the Philippines in general. But that's another story.
UPDATE: Cliff is now running our little Philippines Boat ScheduleVenture.