Saturday, 28 January 2012

Malapascua to Dumaguete

In which we are approved by the Alien Control Officer, a Scotsman is rescued at sea and the Danes tutor an unwilling German in kissing

Starring Brent who thought we were all “bloody naive” and a Canadian who could count to two.

Apparently if you accidentally go adrift for some reason in the Philippines you are not likely to be at sea for more than a day before you bump back into land again.  A useful fact that was of absolutely no comfort in the long trek from Malapascua to Dumaguete – a small university town on the eastern tip of Negros Island.  First there is the matter of getting off Malapascua which means sitting around on some plastic chairs waiting to get a ticket while the lady who sells them has popped out for noodles.  Then you get on a tiny little boat that putts out to the bigger one and get onto that. Then you wait. Then you go.  At the other end you get on another little boat to reach the shore and wade out through the mud.  After that it was drier and the bus turned up pretty quickly.  Even the 5hr journey seemed to go quite quickly what with all the staring out the window, the wind in the hair and the peanut brittle you can buy wherever they stop. From the bus station we got a taxi to the ferry terminal and queued up for a ticket.  We were rather late – only arriving about twenty minutes before the ferry left – partly because it turned out that our taxi driver didn’t know where the port was and he stopped several times to ask the newspaper sellers which direction to take us in.  Luckily we were able to recover from the whole process in the leisurely four journey watching the excellent on board movie selection (Dog Hotel and Blades of Glory) while keeping a wary eye on two inch-long cockroaches hovering on the wall nearby.  Twelve hours, that is all. 

The first thing we had to do Dumaguete was extend our visas so after a morning stroll around town we located the Immigration Bureau.  As we were filling them in and getting the required photocopies done at the shop next door (one suspects that this service had not originally been provided by the Jimmy’s Pets but that they had introduced it in the face of never ending requests) when there was a power failure.  We were ushered out and encouraged to come back later.  The end result was a letter confirming we were not on a blacklist and a stamp in our passports signed by the “Alien Control Officer”.

The town itself has few sites – there’s a waterfront stroll complete with recently wrecked ship, an alarming statue of some nuns in a boat, a church with a historic belfry and some beautiful old wooden buildings – most people come for the diving instead. We also went out to a market down the coast where the local traders still use a bartering system (though we saw more tourists than actual exchanges) and the livestock go home in the tricycle carts or, like one loudly protesting pig, inelegantly strapped upside down to the side of a motorbike.  That afternoon we persuaded a tricycle driver to take us out to a craft cooperative in the north of the town and landed up in a very strange village that might once have been a travel show but was now just a series of rather pretty, abandoned huts, a fake cave and a few random sea creature balloons hanging in a tree.

On our second day I went out on a diving trip booked through our hostel.  The journey out was quite incredible. There was a high wind and so the swells were about 2-3m high and the boat we were in, though large, seemed to not have been designed for travel on water. We were slamming into the waves with jolts that were both spine rattling and joint separating – I could literally see the seams on the crossbars of the mast opening.  Even on the very top deck of the boat we were getting soaked in water while down below, the more wary (or sensible) began donning their life jackets. 

How to walk pigs
Luckily I was distracted from considering the distance to the shore by a very entertaining Canadian guy who was regaling some poor person with facts.  It really was worth writing this up in direct speech.
First: “After this, I am going to Bohol.  Dumagete is great isn’t it?”  Getting no response from person he was talking to: “My book lists ten top things to do in the Philippines.  Number ONE” (counting on finger) “is Dumaguete” (raises a second finger).  “Number TWO is Bohol.”  (Pauses for emphasis and raises third finger)   “Number THREE is:..” (longer pause).  “Number ONE is Dumaguete and number TWO is Bohol.  I’m going to Bohol next.” 
I was shaking.  Possibly with cold. Who knows. 

By the time we arrived at the first stop I’d realised that we were going to Oslob.  Not quite sure how this fact had escaped me (wouldn’t it be fantastically symmetrical if this idiocy of mine was featured in the Canadian’s blog:  “stupid South African woman claiming to be British did not even know where we were going).  I had heard about Oslob and made a very conscious decision not to go there.  It’s another spot in the Philippines where you can see whale sharks but here they feed them and everything I’ve read about this type of stuff suggests feeding wild animals is always a bad idea.  On the other hand it provides an income for the extremely poor fisherman in the area and that can only be a good thing.  So what to do?  As we arrived we could see that the whole area was fenced off and awash with fishermen in canoes and snorkelers and between them all the dorsal fins of three or four juvenile whale sharks emerged every now and again.  That settled it for me.  I went downstairs and told them I didn’t want to dive.

Curiously, there were once again a number of people on this all day snorkelling and diving trip who could not swim.  There was much discussion about how it would be for them getting in the water here as the current was strong, the water was rough and it was quite a swim out to the whale sharks.  Several of the stronger swimmers offered to take people with them but a really lovely Scottish guy (who confessed he had nearly drowned as a child) rather strangely decided to wait until everyone was gone and then leapt in (thankfully wearing a life jacket).  He didn’t swim away from the boat so the wave thumped him into it and he was generally a bit all over the place. The boat staff yelled down to ask if he was ok and he shook his head.  At this point there was some shouting from the back of the boat: “Get him out, get him out” and one of the staff grabbed a rope and dived into the water.  The current was so strong that he was now so far away from the boat that the rope was too short.  A new rope was thrown out and of course by the time that was at full length, he was once again too far away. Eventually the boat guy just ditched the rope and swam out to the Scott, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and they bobbed away on the tide together.  The boat was picking everyone up on the far side of the area so we intercepted them a bit later on and he seemed to have taken it all very cheerfully. 

The next two dives were off another little island and good. There’s not a huge amount of fish but the soft corals are truly incredible.  On the second dive which was mostly across shale/sand we suddenly came across a coral that was feeding itself – unfurling one ‘arm’ after the other and then recurling them down into a sort of mouth it had in the centre.  The next day we were out at Apo Island with a much better company based slightly south of Dumaguete. Abby came along for the snorkelling and was lucky enough to see two turtles.  We saw a pigmy seahorse – they’re absolutely minute, the length of my fingernail and hang out in fan corals – really difficult to see.  Another horrific trip back to shore that ended with us lying on the floor of the boat draped in dripping towels and sarongs and shivering with cold.  Had to have three large glasses of red wine in the resort bar to recover before heading back to the hostel.

We were so exhausted we decided just to eat in the hostel café and landed up chatting to an interesting Aussie guy called Brent who had managed to catch considerably more of the festivals than I had (three).  We all ended up sitting on the balcony upstairs with beers and were joined by a German guy called Max who was fleeing some Danish girls who he claimed had tried to teach him “some bullshit about types of kissing”.  Somehow (I think it might have been my fault) we got into a debate about what we all thought of the westerns hooking up with the Filipino women.  It’s so pervasive that we had to tone down at several points as the golden oldie in the room next to ours kept going past with his young lover.  Max, Abby and I were against mainly on the grounds that the women tend do it because they have no other options.  Brent was for – claiming both sides got what they wanted what was the problem?  Things came to a rather abrupt end when Brent called us all naïve (Max, from Berlin, roared with laughter) and then thankfully took himself off to bed.

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