I write this as I sit outside my gorgeous, spacious, 1,950 Peso (about 20 quid) a night beach bungalow on the majestic, volcanic Apo Island. (Actually, there was no internet on Apo…I wrote the following on paper and am transferring it directly now that I’ve found an internet shop on a different island.)
The paper I write on was just procured from a village store, from the only village on the island. As I walked off in search of writing paper it was already dark, and the village was a hive of activity. It was 7:15pm. Kids were running around blowing soapsud bubbles. Old men and women crouched in front of a rare TV set in their simple wooden homes, hosting a captive audience of villagers without such a luxury who had gathered outside. Shirtless men sat around drinking, many fresh from a days fishing. The soft sound of acoustic guitar strings being plucked filled the space in the air between the chattering, the clinking and clanking of pots and pans, the sound of children laughing and playing, and the general humdrum of a friendly, happy village. I had asked around several shops for some paper, before being pointed in the direction of the ‘Co-op.’ It was larger than the other shops, though still contained only a bare minimum of supplies. No paper was available here either, but the woman working helpfully sold me the pad she was writing the shop accounts on for a whopping 15 Pesos (15p). I gave her 20, and walked back down the path towards the Apo Island Resort where I was staying. The journey back, scrambling over rocks, wading through the sea, and walking up a sharp coral beach, is difficult enough during the day. At night, with only the light of a million beautiful stars to guide you, it borders on lethal. Still, I made it unscathed; after all, I’d only had 2 San Miguel Pilsens. Aaaahh, San Miguel. Not since Ibiza 97, on holiday with creator of this site Paul Crosby, have I had so much of this stuff. And it’s bloody good. Full of flavour. I haven’t had a night without it thus far. Anyhow, on to Day 1.
The flight from Singapore’s Budget Terminal left at 12:25am. The Cebu Pacific Flight took 4.5 hours. During the flight. I was sat next to a wacky Filipino woman, who used to be a singer in a band in Japan. Or so she claimed. Her sense of dress and general demeaner, and the fact that she had been in Singapore on a one month visa and was familiar with Orchard Towers (aka The Four Floors of Whores) pointed to a more dubious profession. She was good fun though, belting out songs all the way to Cebu, her breath reeking of Tiger beer and cigarettes. Sleep was difficult. It was my first encounter with a Filipino, so I was rather bemused by the whole thing. Thankfully, she was going from Cebu staright to Manila, so I could shake her off at immigration.
Upon leaving the reasonably efficient airport, I got accosted by a number of rogues trying to sell me a ride into Cebu City (Cebu airport is actually in Mactan, across the water from Cebu.) I haggled a price of P300 for the trip to the city. Going on the Lonely Planet’s ‘expert’ advice, I tried checking into 3 or 4 of the hotels they mentioned. All were fully booked, or, due to my arrival time at between 5-6:30am, too sleepy to deal with me. I eventually took a room at the awful, but conveniently located, Casa Amigo. The room was sparse. No towels or soap, let aone room sevice, a noisy street view, and no hot water. Not that it bothers me: I went 1 year in Jakarta without ever having a hot shower. Sometimes it’s nice, though. Tires, I decided to take the room anyway, for an extortionate P1,650. An absolute rip-off. Never mind. I bedded down for a nice 4 hour kip.
Waking at 12:30, I decided to get out into the fray. Armed with my camera, a fat wallet containing P44,000, my passport, and of course my guide book, I hopped into a waiting taxi, ordered him to turn on the meter, and set off to the most ‘Westernized’ place in Cebu; the gigantic SM City. Resembling Plaza Indonesia in Jakarta, SM City had little appeal. Pizza Hut certainly appealed though. I ordered Garlic Bread and a Meat Feast. A welcome start. After that, I looked around for a telephone, found one, then rang Oceanjet to ask about their ferry service to Dumaguete. I’d already decided Cebu was a one day and one night sort of place, and I wanted to see the sights and get out. I was told there was a 6:15am ferry, and that I had to be at Pier One of the Harbour by 5:30am to guarantee a ticket. Satisfied, I hung up and went out of the mall and into a taxi.
“Fort San Pedro, boss.” I told the driver. “And switch on the meter please”, I reminded him. the driver chuckled, and soon we were on our way down the dusty streets of Cebu and towards the famous fort. It’s an old place. Built in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. It’s now a crumbling ruin, and was once an army garrison, a rebel strong-hold, and a prison camp.
Before entering, I had a stroll around a small park. As it was Sunday, the park was pretty full, and teeming with students. A few food carts selling local snacks made for a nice scene. Across the road from the park, I took a stroll in a leafy, grassy area. A couple of circus fete style tents with games had been set up, and I was invited to participate. I didn’t but the man in charge wasted no time in introducing me to his pretty niece, a student. She shyly asked me my phone number, but I had to refuse. I bid a cheery farewell, and headed to the fort.
The entrance fee was P21. I walked around the top of the fort, and viewed the cannons poiting out around the city. It was pleasant. A group of local girls asked for my photo, and so I posed for a few as they giggled. For some reason they insisted I take their numbers, and so I did, knowing that I’d never be in touch. After a pleasant stroll past countless love-struck Filipino couples, I found myself wishing for the company of Lindsay. This was a time to reflect and relax alone, however, so I knew the feeling of loneliness was one I was going to have to deal with.
After Fort San Pedro, I took a walk to the impressive Basilica Minore Del Santo Nino. The church was bulit in 1565 and has burnt down 3 times since. As it was Sunday, and as Filipinos are a deeply religious people and 90% of them are Catholics, the church and the surrounding streets were packed. Entrance inside the church was practically impossible, as a sea of black-haired people were all trying to squeeze in to pray and take a look at a Flemish image of the infant Jesus, said to be miraculous.
Outside, hundreds of people were lighting candles and praying. It was a beautiful, relatively peaceful scene. I took some nice snaps, then headed out and down the busy streets to a photo shop to have my many images stored onto CD, as my camera was quickly running out of memory space. From there, I took a stroll to the Carbon Market. Not since the Russian Market in Phenm on Penh have I witnessed such colouful, chaotic scenes. This market, though, was 20 times bigger than the one in Cambodia, and took up whole neighbourhoods, it seemed. Everything was sold here: fruit, vegetables, clothes, fish, meat, fighting cocks and lots more besides. I was the only white face in a sea of Filipinos, and it was a great experience. The locals, I found, were very freindly, and were even happy to pose for photographs. I took many classic shots that will forever live in the memory. The scenes, sounds and smells, overpowering at times, were delightful. After escaping the chaos, I bout water from a supermarket, then headed to Magellan’s cross, The patron of Catholicism in the Phillipines, and revered by the locals.
Feeling a little weary, I took a taxi back to my hotel, showered, changed,a nd headed out into the night. I was hungry again, and decided to seek out a restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. I headed uptown, and, after alighting the taxi at Fuente Circl, walked quite a distance to Sideline Garden Restaurant. It was worth the eait. San Miguels were only P30 a pop, and were ice-cold. I picked out a fish and they grilled it and served it sweet and sour style over garlic rice. Delicious, and reasonably priced. Across from me, at another table, sat 3 grizzled and stereotypical old sexpats, all loud-mouthed, fat, with dirty laughs and Hawaiin shirts. They get everywhere.
I paid the bill. I wouldn’t have missed Lindsay’s company at this point, but no matter. It wasn’t to be. I jumped into a taxi and headed to Golden Peak hotel, from where I hoped I would find Sun City bar. Instead, i came across a place called Wineshop. Flash yet unpretentious and with a freindly staff, it offered a relaxed atmosphere in which to have a drink and think about where to go next. I drank a beer called Red Horse Stallion. Almost as popular as San Miguel, this beer clocks in at 8%, so it packs a punch. After drinking Barons Brew at 8.8% in Singapore over the last few months however, I figured I could handle it.
After a nice drink i caught a taxi to the large Sunflower City disco. A good cover band were playing, but nobody was there. A quick San Miguel then, and on I went. This time, I headed downtown, and to Our Place bar, popular with expats. Only 4 people were there, 2 bar girls, one American and one Canadian/Pole. Both drunk. The American declared himself a ‘professional bum’ who had just bought a place in North Cebu City. He sounded like the guy who gives advice on that Baz Lurhman song ‘Sunscreen’. His freind was a nice enough guy. Soon, a raging drunk Scotsman staggered in, and crap jokes were abound. Yet, to the sozzled sexpats, they weren’t crap jokes. They were great jokes. Nice enough chaps, but somehow lost in their ways. I finshed my beer and took off into the night. Downtown Cebu is sleazy, and does nothing for me, so I hit the local fast-food chain JollyBee for a burger, then took a taxi back to the hotel. What a day.