Friday, April 30, 2010

Goodbye Iloilo, hello Sorsogon

I promised that something interesting would happen once I got on the road again and sure enough it's true, things got interesting almost instantly. By now I've decided that leaving Iloilo is a very good thing. The school is a basket case and unfortunately I have to report that I left without the equivalent of half a month's salary due me for my last visa extension. I'm disappointed obviously, but not surprised. I'd been warned by many people over the years to never work for a Korean school, and even this one in particular when I started, but in the end it's all just another experience in life. By the time I leave the Philippines I'm sure I will have just broken even and not actually saved anything. I'd declined a farewell party and there was even a small earthquake on the night before I left. If I believed in signs, I'd had enough that I should go.
I left on May 1st at 4:30am, no farewells, no drama, just snuck out. My first great adventure was to make my way to see Ida, over in Sorsogon. The most sensible thing to do would be to fly via Manila or Cebu, but I chose to "overland" it in a direct line, ignoring all of the main travel routes. My route called for me to cut across the middle of the country in a East-West direction which nobody does from Panay (the island Iloilo is on) to Sorsogon via Masbate (an island nobody ever goes to and is completely undeveloped for tourism). So it was a 2 1/2hr bus ride to Roxas, a one hour wait and then a 4 1/2hr ride on a large bangka (outrigger boat) to a little village on a little island called Jintolo. I got stuck on Jintolo for an hour or so, sitting on the beach with 2 older ladies and a young boy, waiting for another boat to maybe take us to the main part of Masbate island. I have to say that the water and beach looked beautiful. There isn't much development, so not much garbage. In fact Masbate probably had the cleanest beaches I've seen in the country and no way for a foreigner to enjoy them.
I got off Jintolo on a small Bangka that had been chartered by a local political campaigner with a heavily armed escort.
An hour later when we beached at the next village, Calumpang, we were told that there was no further onward transport. We'd have to stay in the village but there are no hotels or guesthouses. A quick motorbike trip on the sandy lanes that would be considered "streets" and we were at the home of the Barangay (village) Captain, a 74 year old lady who, with her extensive family (all living in multiple homes on a big lot as is usual in villages around here), welcomed us in for the night. Sweet! Local hosting :)
I was a major attraction. Like I said, foreigners do not come through these parts often, if ever, so one of the relatives, a female schoolteacher who spoke English was charged with entertaining me. It was already early evening so we had dinner and chatted for a while and by the end I'd gotten an invite to stay the following day and visit some more. Dying for a better look at the area, I couldn't refuse.
The following day, we visited in the home for most of the day. Did I mention how hot it is these days? Wow, it's torture to go out during the heat of the day, so everyone wakes up at like 4-5am and then sleeps in the afternoon for a few hours. In the evening we went to a house opening party. It was a new place, multi storied and built of concrete which looked out of place beside all the single story, traditional bamboo homes everyone else was living in. Loads of fireworks, tons of food including fully roasted pig and calf, and a priest to give the blessing and sprinkle water everywhere while we stomped all through the house. I was given the title of honorary benefactor of the home along with the other important people of the area. Lol, this kind of thing is unexpected, but fun. We ate and sat on the windless beach while all the children ran around with sparklers and making bonfires out of dried palm leaves blotting out the multitude of stars above. It was great. Very peaceful, very relaxing.
The following morning I was on the bus at 3am (yes, the only transport choices were 3,4,5 and sometimes 7am buses) to continue to Sorsogon. This bus was a classic. Broken windows, ripped seats, full of scruffy old men (I fit this description too), cigarette smoke and the smell of dried fish. The incessant creaks and groans a constant reminder that this bus should've been honorably retired decades ago and potentially on it's last journey ever. But the bus matched the road, usually nothing more than a sandy track through the countryside. I couldn't see anything in the dark for the first couple hours but when it got light at 5am I was shocked at how different things looked on this island. Gone were the palm trees and banana plants and all the lush tropical vegetation. Instead, grasses, horses and that wild ranch type look backed by low, bare mountains. Masbate is known as the cowboy and ranch island of the country and I could totally see why the only attraction here all year is a rodeo.
Upon completing this 4 hour bumpfest, I jumped on another boat from Masbate City to get to Pilar, the port near Donsol (where we saw the whalesharks in Jan '09) and a few more rides to Sorsogon. I arrived on Monday afternoon and hung out for the week while she was working. She did have one surprise for me though. There was going to be a training session for outdoor activities, focusing on rappelling and rock climbing coming up on the weekend that she wanted to go to. Seeing as that is what I am hoping to get involved in down in Australia I agreed to go. The problem was that it was in Manila.
So last Friday we were on an overnight bus to Manila that ran out of gas and got stuck for a few hours so we were late getting to the session. It was a 2 day event, with about a dozen other participants, all Filipino and mostly boys 10 years younger than me. The first day was classroom stuff about leadership, history of outdoor education and skills like knots. Pretty basic really but it was mostly in Tagalog so I wasn't paying much attention most of the time, just focusing on staying awake. The next day we went to the Boy Scouts headquarters where there was an outdoor wall set up for climbing and rappelling down 3 stories on the side of the building. Believe it or not, it was my first time doing it. It was fun after the first moment of scary. I don't like heights but got over it quickly and was even the first to try the rappelling facing forward down the wall.
We finished everything by late afternoon so Ida and I went to see Iron Man 2, ate a Frosty and Wendy's and then caught a bus overnight back to Naga. We'd missed the Sorsogon bus and had to leapfrog it back home. This enabled us to stop in Daraga to visit the old church where there is a perfect view of Mt. Mayon, which, despite being mostly cloud covered at the time was still very cool with it's smoking cone at the top. Recall that this is considered the most perfectly shaped volcano in the world and frequently blows (it was threatening last December) and I was happy to get a close look.
We are now back in Sorsogon and are hoping to arrange some scuba diving soon.


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