This particular post you’re about to read, documents a series of terrible decision making. If you thought it was a miracle I was still alive from previous posts, this one will certainly make you clutch your prayer beads. All I ask is that you don’t entirely judge my intellectual capability following this, and definitely do not forward this to future employees who will certainly condemn me to a miserable life of unemployment and government welfare schemes. I promise I’m better at adulting than this seems, or at the very least, I’m actively trying.
With the perfectly triangular Legazbi volcano behind us, we began planning our journey to Cebu City. With plenty of time on our hands, and looking to save a dollar or two, we decided to take advantage of the ferry and bus services rather than flying directly.
Note to self: Always fly in the Philippines.
Already during my first week I had experienced the two extremes of what this extraordinary country had to offer. The idyllic, paradise of Boracay with its crystal clear waters and cotton soft sand. To the manic, dire streets of urban-poverty Manilla.
We took our first ferry from Legazbi to Masbate, a small island relatively close by. The trip took longer than expected as we quickly learnt a Filipino timetable was more of a suggestion, rather than reliable schedule. Not only did it take longer, but the ferry port was on the opposite side of the island we needed to be.
“Nothing major.” we thought.
We lugged our hefty bags from the ferry onto a cramped bus – a minor hiccup; which we dealt with like the professional backpackers we believed we were. I wedged my bag over my seat, my knees under my chin, and began the bone rattling trip south – the bus driver carefully making sure to hit every pothole at full speed.
Six or so hours later and we arrived at our location – a deserted port town, in the middle of night. My days sunbathing in Boracay and sipping exotic, mango and lime slushies seemed a world away.
We found ourselves a motel that’s sole purpose seemed to be housing stranded sailors and clueless tourists. They were, however, extremely lovely and cooked us a more than edible fried rice dish. More importantly, they had a healthy supply of local beer which we took full advantage of until our aches, pains and sores of the bus ride were well forgotten.
We woke early to the sound of farm animals.
Overly vocal cows, pigs and sheep were singing a sweet tune reminiscent of young children being told Santa wasn’t real. The perfect song to set the tone for the next 24 hours. We paid our room (but mainly beer) bill from the previous night, and strolled down to the ferry. Like a scene from the bible, we watched animals boarding the ship. However, this time Noah was being played by an angry, shirtless Filipino man with a large stick, and the two-by-two exotic animals were a few shipping containers worth of malnourished pigs and cows.
After the animals were crammed in snout-to-arse on the lower deck, passengers were allowed to embark. We walked past them with mixed feelings of guilt and hope that our ride would be at least be a tad more luxurious than there’s.
And only a tad more it was.
We climbed the stairs and found ourselves in a huge open room crammed with at least 50 metal bunk beds. Guests were already claiming their plastic-sheeted mattresses and setting themselves up with some extravagant breakfast picnics. Everyone seemed delightfully satisfied and content with their living arrangement for the next 12 hours; we were struggling to feel as enthusiastic. All we had brought with us was a slight hangover from the night before.
We chose a bunk near the corner, dropped our bags and decided to go for a stroll. We found a bench on an outside deck and watched the shore slowly disappear as we started our trip to Cebu Island. With the feeling of being watched, we looked down at the lower deck and saw 100 pairs of eyes looking up at us. We returned the animals stares with a sympathetic smile and nod, knowing full well these guys were taking their final trip to a factory down south. Noah’s Arc this definitely was not.
A few hours had passed in which we had located the bar and restaurant which supplied all the dried super-noodles and room-temperature fizzy drinks you could wish for. Sipping on my warm cola and playing the 20th round of cards, an American man (the only other ‘tourist’ on the boat), introduced himself. We were initially relieved to meet another westerner who had chosen the same travel method as ourselves. Maybe we weren’t that crazy after all? However, when he pointed out the Filipino woman he was traveling with, it became clear we had two very different trips in mind. Some come to the Philippines for the beaches, diving and natural beauty; others to exploit the vulnerable in an arrangement disguised as marriage. The expression on the woman’s face was no better than the cattle below, heading to the slaughter house. When her husband-to-be pulled out a taser-gun and started preaching about rapists and murderers, we politely excused ourselves and surrendered back to our bunk.
The rest of the boat ride was long and uneventful, except for the addition of the karaoke machine. The picnic-passengers wailed along to 80’s classics, the barn animals kindly contributing with beautiful harmonies in the background. We chose to nod off to Whitney and Wham classics being butchered in the bunk room, rather than risk the real possibility of being butchered from our taser-bearing American friend in the bar.
We woke up as we arrived in Bogo. It was nighttime already; the days starting to blur into one long nightmarish daze. As we bid farewell and safe travels to our four-legged companions, we found ourselves stranded, yet again, in a deserted port town in the middle of night. The desperation must’ve been obvious because a lovely, young woman from the boat came to our aid. Just in time too, as we were genuinely contemplating calling it a day, sneaking a ride to the slaughter house and being minced into burger patties. As it turned out, we were in a less-than-desirable part of town and were advised to leave immediately. We weren’t keen on the idea of traveling that night, but seeing the American in the distance give us a wink and a flash of his taser, we swiftly followed the woman into the minibus heading for Cebu City.
By some miracle I must’ve fallen asleep, despite another runaway-train bus ride. My initial relief of waking up in a busy, developed metropolis quickly vanished as I scanned the Cebu City Bus Station walls. Posters of escaped murderers and rapists from Cebu’s biggest prison decorated the terminals and waiting room. The men’s faces played the Mona Lisa trick, watching us from every angle as we quickly collected our belongings. Unlike dear Mona, these men were covered in facial tattoos and couldn’t have had a full set of teeth between them. Suddenly the taser didn’t feel like a horrible idea.
Again, we were stranded, in the middle of the night, in a potentially dangerous place. Sometimes it’s exhausting being this hopeless. Don’t fret though; any delusional, self-confidence we once might’ve had, was officially non-existent at this point. Apparently it takes two disastrous ferry rides, a couple of deserted port towns, a handful of rapists with serious dental issues and hours of horrific karaoke to realise we were a pair of useles bumbling backpackers.
Children with little, to no, clothing played in the rain outside the station as we flagged down a taxi. We asked our driver to take us to the nearest, reasonably priced hotel. Interestingly, he took creative control over these instructions and chose a curious place for us to stay – which is more a reflection of his personality than ours.
First impressions were very positive; velvet red walls, a plush duvet and more lighting options than an IKEA showroom. It wasn’t until we saw the disco lights in the shower and a colourful choice of TV channels that we started to piece together what kind of hotel he had picked for us.
Resting our exhausted heads on our pillows, we reflected on the strangest 72 hours of travel we had each ever experienced. And with the soft thumping sounds from our neighbours and the glow from our Saturday Night Fever inspired lighting, we slept like babies, dreaming of the beaches we would soon be reunited with. And in case you wondered, the hotel also provided an excellent selection of room service sandwiches – so much so, that we checked in for a second night.
It’s unfortunate this is the first, and probably only, story from my time in the Philippines. But tales of sunbathing, diving with sharks and meeting wonderful people doesn’t quite make as interesting reading material as a journey from hell. But please don’t be mistaken, the Philippines is incredible and everything that went wrong was entirely my fault – except the escaped prisoners. I will refuse to take the flak for an obviously slack security guard.