After almost 14 hours long flight with Lufthansa we landed in Manila.
It was 5:00 PM, when the humid, almost wet, air struck my nostrils and my forehead got immediately covered with a layer of dust and sweat. And we were facing a question "Should we stay, or should we go know?"...
The "go" won, and so we left Manila right the same evening, trying our negotiating skills with a taxi driver. Probably we were not good enough, as he only took us to Las Pinas for 300 pesos. There we wanted to see a famous bamboo organ in the local church, but at 8:00 PM the place was already closed. So we were left on the street with our huge backpacks in the Manila suburbs. For few minutes we were not sure what to do, as there was no place to stay anywhere near.
But then we got back on our feet, asking the people and trying to get in the right direction - to the south. I was truly shocked by the kindness and sincere hospitality of the local people. Being in various countries before, and coming from Prague, I still could not believe that these people are willing to help, just because they want to... not expecting anything in reward.
After some time of walking we managed to get on a jeepney. Jeepney - definitely the most common mean of public transportation in Philippines. It somehow looks like a good old Jeep Willis, but on a closer look you find out that it basically is a pile of metal sheet, somehow being kept together. But even more amazing is the fact that these vehicles are being driven on incredibly bad roads, in mud, in water...and they go. And of course, every Jeepney tries to be unique, covered with hundreds of stickers, pictures and signs.
And inside almost every Jeepney, right behind the windshield, there is a little altar with Jesus Christ or Virgin Mary, or both. And the music is pumping... But at around 10:00 PM we got dropped at some little village in the middle of nowhere. Being put up with a fact that we shall have to sleep somewhere outside, we started to walk off the village.
Suddenly we heard a voice: "Yo, come on backpackers, why don't you stay over my place". So we got invited to sleep at a place belonging to an American guy working there on some telecommunication project. He welcomed us with a beer and potato chips, and was glad to speak to someone new. Next day we woke up very early and got back on the road, going towards the Taal Volcano.
It would be very nice, if my shoes were OK. But after few kilometers of walking they completely fell apart. I kind of thought that I would bring them to Philippines and left them there, because they were old, but they did not even last one day. Well, it was hot anyway, so I spent the rest of my time wearing sandals. Just my knee was not happy about it...
Taal Volcano was pretty astonishing scenery with a volcano crater sticking up from the middle of the lake. We sat around at the lake, drank Coke and then we started our bus marathon that took almost 17 hours in a row. Only longer stop we had was in San Pablo, a very nice town by the way, where we went to the Internet café. I did not even check my Hotmail, as the connection was not really working well.
Just sent some SMSs back home. On the bus we got to meet some locals, some lady who thought that Czechoslovakia is near to California and so. But they were all very nice, trying hard to keep on discussion with their poor English. Early morning, at 5:30 AM, found us sitting in a park in Legazpi City.
We were waiting for daylight to take a bus and go around the active Mayon Volcano. Meanwhile, we had some meal at the street stand and met a guy called Jesus. He was 24 years but looked like 17 (very normal in Philippines) and was totally drunk after long night drinking. And very talkative, asking any possible question we could ever imagine.
Nevertheless, he took us to the bus station and seated in the bus. On the way we were observing the volcano, but it was all fogy and misty, and there was no eruption. We were passing evacuation camps where the people, living nearby, found their shelters when the situation got critical. In the Tabaco City we got on the boat to go to the Catanduanes Island. On the boat we met an Austrian back-packer, who was planning to do some photographing there.
The island is pretty much untouched by industry and tourism. It is very ambivalent, even in the provincial capital called Virac (maybe 15.000 people?). There we rented a room for 175 Pesos and decided to take a break. The shower is typically Asian - bucket system. In the evening we got some food in the restaurant, and crashed out. It was raining whole night, just like giving us a notice that this is a rainy island.
In the morning I took a walk over the town, checking out a local market - a huge simple concrete structure full of any imaginable stuff, ranging from rice and spice up to Hong-Kong made electronics. Full of smells, tastes, noise, people pulsing and yelling, vendors sitting and calmly waiting for a customer to stop by. Vendors offering the same stuff everywhere.
I always wonder how they can survive, watching them sitting next to each other, dozens of them, hoping that during a day, someone will spend few Pesos at their place, not at the other one. And it keeps raining with little breaks. Around noon, it seems that the sky is clear. We go to catch a bus to Bagamanoc.
As we don't have any guide, no Lonely Planet, no Let's Go, we have no idea what's that place about, just saw it on the map, destination looks fine. The bus is completely crowded, so we get up on the roof with our backpacks. Even the roof is pretty full, full of boxes, bags and people. First it seemed as a pleasant roof joyride. But after few minutes it started raining, or better said pouring, again. We used a tarpaulin to cover ourselves, but sharing it among 15 people meant that we were totally wet anyway.
The backpacks were the priority - at least them we tried to keep dry. The paved road suddenly turned into muddy rails going over the whole island through the mountains. I simply could not believe that the bus, the piece of junk bus, can make this. The wheels sinking in mud, the engine roaring, the rain pouring.
The mountain scenery was incredibly beautiful. I just thought that this is something to be stored only in my head because it is not describable. The fresh green jungle, being watered by the hectoliters of rain, the sharp mountains, the rocks, the waterfalls going zigzag all around, the wilderness in its pure sense. The only disturbing thing was the fear.
Fear of falling down. At one moment, I asked my friend: "Are you thinking about the same things?", he replied: "Yes". Well, we were seriously thinking about what to do if there is a road slide. When watching the bus wheels, being 10 centimeters from the muddy ridge and the valley underneath, it did not make one to feel good.
Eventually, we appreciated sitting on the roof and being watered, because in the case of emergency, there would be a chance to get out. After almost 4 hours it stopped raining and we reached Bagamanoc. It was a little village at the seashore, being really off the beaten track. First finding was that there is no hotel, no place to stay. Next finding was that many people there saw a real white man (not on TV) for the first time in their life.
Everyone was looking at us, their eyes saying: "How the hell they could find their way here?". Pack of little kids chasing us at every step. We simply went to the "town hall" where we said that we need to sleep somewhere. The mayor, who was surprised to see the tourists as well, welcomed us. He was very nice to us, but he asked us to see our passports, saying that there are some terrorists around, and you never know. Of course he just wanted to see how the foreign passport looks like.
After we were verified, he started to walk with us through the village, asking the locals if they have a place to accommodate us for a night. It didn't take too long and we got one bed in the kitchen of one local house. We had a dinner in a local restaurant.
After a minute the place was pretty packed, the windows were full of faces - everyone was checking us out. It did not disturb me when enjoying a cold beer. I didn't even wash myself that night because I could see that water is scarce. There was one water pump shared among each 10 houses. Waking up early morning and paying some money to a fisherman to take us to the islands nearby. There are some coral reefs, not the best ones I've seen in my life though. The day is a bit dryer, it means it does not rain all the time. But when there is no rain, the sun just burns, I mean burns.
First sunburns are coming up. When walking through the village, we cannot omit the fact that even here, there is a video rent shop. They are renting videos with no translation, no subtitles, the people just watch them, not understanding the sense. But they watch their Western civilization idols, they laugh when something looks funny.
They listen to the cheapest crap music from the Euro discotheques, they drink Coke, and they wear the fake Nikes and Adidas.... But where is their own culture going? It is vanishing... In the afternoon we took a bus back to Virac to stay at the same hotel where we stayed before. Decent dinner in the evening and sleep. Getting ready to get back to the main island of Luzon. In the morning we caught a boat back to Tobaco.
From the boat, the Mayon volcano could be seen all hidden in fog and mist again. Still not having a good chance to take a good picture. We took a bus to Darag, passing by the evacuation camps again. In Darag, we climbed up the hill and finally got a chance to see Mayon in its all beauty. Just the peak was lost in fog. But still, the volcano looks very impressive...and a bit dangerous. And there we also met a Danish backpacker with a Lonely Planet guide.
In few minutes, I was trying to absorb as much information as possible for our following days. Then we wandered through the town for a while, visiting the Cagsawe church ruins. There is a tragic story attached to this place. There was a huge volcano eruption in 1816, and the people from the surrounding villages ran to seek protection from the God. They all hid in the church. Eventually they all found death in there, because the place got hit with lava and stones.
Today, it is a memorial place. Later on, we went to book the tickets for the bus to Lucena City. Before the bus arrived we had enough time to look at the local market, eat in a local junk fast food, and be nervous that the bus would not come. It arrived with a decent delay and was quite nice - basically a full size bus, not air-conditioned and having the seats covered with an extremely uncomfortable plastic sheet though. We were watching the volcano that we were going around, in a hope to see at least some minor eruption, eventually leaving it behind.
But after several hours the bus stopped in a huge column. No one knew what was going on. It already turned dark and still nothing. Completely bored of several hours of waiting in hot sweaty bus, we decided to find out what is actually happening, starting to walk.
On the way we could see perhaps hundreds of vehicles being parked on the road and the vital nightlife along side. Lot of the houses, their gardens, turned into bistros and restaurants, taking an opportunity of feeding the "pissed-off" drivers. There was an accident that could be considered by our standards as not too serious. One truck was laying flipped on the road, blocking the way.
And in maybe 10 hours, no one was able to come up and tow it away. We arrived to Lucena at 7:30 AM, totally tired and sticky from a sweat and horrible air in the bus. Some good guy, driving a little delivery truck, took us for free right to the port. We got on a small ship hoping that it would take us where we wanted. But as usually, the ship dropped us off somewhere we did not expect.
The place wasn't even on the map - a little fisherman village called Bamalacan. We asked a little boy whether there is any place to stay over night. He took us to a maybe 65 years old man, called Boy del Mundo, who had something like a dorm for the travelling salesmen. Very basic shed with rather nasty bathroom and typical bucket shower.
The guy called Boy was a great person. Having 3 teeth and three diplomas from various schools (management, political science and shipping). He showed us his fridge packed with any kind of beer you can find in Philippines (not too many though), and told us to help our selves and then pay upon leaving. There was an island where we ordered a local fisherman to take us to. We did some snorkeling, watching the little gold fish and burning our backs from the sun. The island looked like from a Robinson Crusoe book.
We spent there 2 hours and headed back, trying to take a day trip to the Bathala caves. After some time we managed to stop a Jeepney that took us to Mogpoc, a very "dead" town. After one hour of waiting by the road we came to a conclusion that there is no way to get to Santa Cruz and Bathala, because all the Jeepneys were completely packed with students going back home from the schools.
We gave up that day. For the first time I tasted delicious barbecue, little chunks of meat being roasted on the black coal. On the way back to the village of Bamalacan we took some pictures of the beautiful islands scenery and waited for the sunset. When we got back to our Guy del Mundo's place we saw that the living room turned into an unofficial pub, with several Guy's village friends in their sixties, drinking beer and watching porn movies.
Boy prepared for us a perfect dinner, consisting of rice, meatloaf and fish.A little tiny fish that I saw before in the markets and never understood how they could be consumed. Now I saw that they being formed in a ball and baked just the way they are, with eyes, heads and all the guts. Although it looked a bit disgusting, they were actually not that bad. We got in a conversation and started to speak about the Bathala caves, where we wanted to go.
They revealed to us whole range of stories about the ghosts, spirits and weird group of people, a cult, waiting there for the end of the world. Stories about the cradling houses of the people living around there, about the ghosts walking through their homes. Next day we woke up at 8:00 AM. The breakfast was already waiting for us, just from a Mum.
We said good-bye to our good old Guy and headed towards Bathala again, through Mogpoc and Santa Cruz. Some local bastard on the bus, for no reason, wants us to pay a fare for him. We say NO, but he leaves a bus after a while and when we get off, the driver charges us also his ticket. Strange... Bathala is a little village with only a farm road connecting it with the rest of the world. Some locals navigate us to the caves, or basically to the house of a Philippino couple who owns the land, where the caves are.
We negotiate with them a price, always stressing the point that we are neither Americans, nor Germans, that we come from Eastern Europe. The woman says resolutely: "You are white, and all the white people have money".
After some time we settle a deal for a guide (husband) and entrance, totaling 300 Pesos for both of us. After starting to walk, we are realizing that we really need the guide because a little narrow, sometimes invisible, path goes through a wild thick jungle. And the guide - husband turns into a great nice guy. Same as his wife he speaks quite good English, and is intelligent.
When we get to the first cave, I'm completely wet, little streams of sweat running all over my body. It is extremely hot and humid. And the path is pretty difficult itself. The cave looks like a huge hall with a little barbaric-Christian sanctuary. And then there are long and large underground corridors leading further and further underground. The ground is covered with mud, cockroaches and bat excrements.
The bats are everywhere; there are probably hundred of thousands of them, hanging from the ceilings, anywhere you look. And it is the reason why it is not possible to go any further. Any move, any sound wakes them up and they start to fly all around the place like mad.
The guide explains us that this is actually his business, not the tourism but fertilizers. He collects the bat excrements in the bags and then he sells them to some Dutch people. I start to explain him that Holland is somewhat a garden of Europe, growing the tulips and all the possible kinds of flowers, and he is obviously pleased about it.
Together with his four dogs, are moved to another cave. The journey was even more difficult, with slick rocks, mud and thick vegetation. We had to help the dogs several times to get over it. Eventually we reached the cave entrance completely hidden in the jungle. At that point the sweat was pouring from every pore of my skin. The cave was extremely humid, very dark and the floor was again covered with cockroaches and mud.
Walking there in the sandals was definitely not a fun, slipping upon almost every step. The feeling of wilderness was amplified by the presence of several huge snakes - pythons, sleeping in the holes on the walls. Walking around and under them was a bit scary, although our guide said they normally do not attack people if not bothered.
One of them was apparently awake as he was moving. When taking a picture of him, the guide was slightly nervous. We got out and stopped in guide's house because he was hungry. His wife prepared him something to eat and then he together with my friend Pavel went to check out one more cave.
As my knee was hurting and the sandals were pretty slippery, I decided to stay in the house with guide's wife. I spent about 2 hours talking with her, about the hardships of their life, about the problems with the governmental officials, about people, tourism and the life in general.
She was very bright in fact and also a strong believer in God. In such a discussion I tried to be neutral, as I didn't want to argue about the religion. When Pavel with the guide came back we had to get back on the road. They walked us to the "Jeepney stop", giving as a big discount for the entrance charge.
They probably liked us quite lot. The journey now is a bit complicated. There are not too many Jeepneys and buses at this time, but we have to move because the time is getting short so we refuse their offer to stay over night. After while the Jeepney comes to move us few kilometers. Then we get a ride on the truck, and then on the bus roof. Eventually we are taking a tricycle to get to Gasan after it is dark.
First it seems impossible to find decent but cheap accommodation, but finally with the help of locals, we find a family that gives private rooms, very nice in fact. The city is dead and there is not much to do at night. And we do appreciate a clean bed and good sleep. Tomorrow we must catch a boat to the Mindoro Island. In the morning we woke up at 6:15, taking a pleasant walk through the awaken town.
But during our walk, we found out that our boat that was supposed to be leaving at 8:00 AM is in fact leaving at 7:00 AM. Therefore we ran back to our room, got all the luggage and jumped on the boat just in time.
On the way we met a guy travelling to the town of Calapan, where he would fight with his cocks. He showed us a set of special knifes, which are tied to the cock's feet, with which they fight. The cockfighting is a very big thing in the Philippines; everyone seems to be living for it, dying for it, and most of all betting for it.
The cock fighting actually made me to say Goodbye to Pavel, my travel friend, and to get split up. He wanted to pursue his plans, going the see the rice terraces in the north, I wanted to see the cock fight as a part of the Philippino culture, and also to take a little break and enjoy the white beaches. First I found a place to stay and escorted Pavel to his ship, shook a hand with him, said Goodbye, and stayed alone.
First thing I did was to buy a newspaper in English. When I got to the hotel I started to read and read. To my surprise, the headlines were speaking about our president Vaclav Havel, meeting Madeleine Albright, and offering her presidency when his term is over. It was somehow shocking for me.
Another article was about a landslide from the Mayon volcano. And then there was one about the huge traffic jam we were part of, calling for the resignation of the responsible officer. And also one about the Muslim movement in the southern islands, the hostages and shooting.
"Good, we didn't go down to Chocolate hills", I thought. After I finished the newspaper, I left the room I started to look for a post office. It was a bit surprising that there was only one for a relatively large city. After a lot of asking I eventually found it. Everyone was knocking his forehead when I kept refusing to take a tricycle, and insisted on walking there.
It was that bad at all. At least something to kill the time before the cockfighting. I probably went through the whole town, getting to the poorest parts, where the locals were looking at me like if I was a creature. I also did some souvenir shopping that left me with almost no money, just enough to get in the fighting hall. The hall got soon very crowded with the people. When the first fight started, the whole place started to move.
Everyone was yelling and the money balls started to fly through the air. After while I discovered the system. The people were making the bets with each other, over the long distances, gesticulating, and passing huge sums of money through many other people or just throwing it towards the one they made a bet with. It shocked me, watching the poorest looking guys throwing away big money to pay for a lost fight.
But surprisingly enough, there were no fights, no arguments, and no disagreements in this completely chaotic looking environment over the bets. The fights themselves were not anything special. It was rather sending the cocks to death. The whole fight took just 1 or 2 minutes, until one of the cocks was laying dead in a blood.
This sport or how to call it can get interesting, or even exciting, only when betting. At 21:00 I had enough and left back to the hotel. Fortunately I made one tricycle driver to take me back only for 5 P as I was totally out of money and it just started to rain. In the morning I woke up around 9:00 AM, what a luxury, packed my stuff and took a tricycle to the main bus station.
After some waiting, the Jeepney left for Puerto Gallera, my destination. There was some German man there, whom I asked where to stay. He recommended me to look around the White Beach that was literally white. It wasn't even too expensive to rent a whole cabin. I took some lazy sleep and went to chill out on the white beach.
There were some white people, but I did not feel like getting in touch with them. Later afternoon I got up and went up to the hills to find a good place for watching the sunset. I found a beautiful country up there.
It was quite windy and the palm trees were waving, twisting, the grass was beautifully green and fresh. I found a little narrow path going through the bushes up on one of the hills. I was a bit surprised to find there one Philippino boy of my age. He was certainly surprised too. After while, his friend appeared and so three of us were sitting there quietly, watching the beautiful red sunset over the blue sea.
On the way back, it was already dark and I was a little lost, unable to find a way back. But eventually I managed and enjoyed a cold beer in the pub, reading a book. At the next table, I heard some white guy explaining in poor English some facts about the Czech Republic. Huh, I did not expect the Czechs to be here, but they really were. I had a short talk with them - a young couple, first time travelling. Then I left and read a book on the porch.
Next day I woke up quite early and caught a bus to get to the waterfalls, which were nearby. Unfortunately they were dirty and the water was muddy after the night rain. In the afternoon I took a boat and landed at the corral reefs and enjoyed snorkeling. This really was wonderful, maybe better than in Indonesia. Beautiful big reefs with thousands of fish and various sea creatures everywhere.
In the evening I took one more walk up to the hills and on the way back I suddenly heard someone speaking Czech. About 8 party animals from Prague. It of course ended up in one of the bamboo bars right on the beach, where we drank loads of San Miguels and shots of local gin, screaming our best regards towards the sea, to all the friends we left on the other side of the world.
The next day, with a decent hang-over, I had to wake up early and got on the boat to Batangas, already located on the main island of Luzon, as I had to head back to Manila. It took a usual hassle to get on the right buses, but eventually I managed to arrive to Manila in the late afternoon, before it got dark. As always, the big, unknown city seems to be unfriendly...till you find a place to stay and settle down. Through many asking I found a right Jeepney that took me to downtown, to the quarter where the hostels and cheap hotels were.
Just when I left the Jeepney, some white guy approached me, asking if I knew the city and some place to stay. He turned out to be German, called Frank, being in exactly the same situation as I was. But he had a Lonely Planet, and that helped. In a short time we found a decent pension, got a double room, and went to explore the night streets of Manila. Got something to eat and then, totally exhausted, went to bed.
Other day, being my last day in Philippines, Frank and me dedicated to Manila. We went to many places, visiting the modern skyscrapers business city without any life on Sunday, going to the poor neighborhoods, Chinese quarters, markets, going through the city zigzag. It did not seem to be that bad there at all. People friendly, helpful, of course thousands of prostitutes, offering their services, but not aggressive.
I did some gift shopping, mostly limited to the cheap local alcohol and in the evening got back to the hotel. Packed my stuff, got on a cab and said my last good bye to Philippines. At the airport I met Pavel, my travel mate I stared with, and the rest of the Czech crew that came with us on the same airplane in the beginning.
Everyone exchanging experiences and adventures they went through. Good I had something to say as well...