Monday, 27 February 2012

Hong Kong and the Philippines Part 4: Vigan, Badoc and Batac


I'm back from Poland now after sampling the delights of Krakow and the surrounding area. It was a brilliant week away and one that I'm sure will find its way onto this blog sometime over the coming year. However, for now, we're Pilipinas, not Polska and so let us head south to the mountain city of Baguio...

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all the parts of this travelogue:

Part 1: Hong Kong

Part 2: Manila and Lapu Lapu

Part 3: Cebu and Bohol

Part 4: Vigan, Badoc and Batac

Part 5: Bagiou, Montalban and Manila

We arrived in Manila mid-morning and took a cab right across town to Quezon City where all the bus stations are located. Randy had told us to head for the Dagupan Bus Station but when we got there we found that they did not run services to Ilocos Norte so instead we headed next door to Dominion Bus Services, (slogan 'Our buses are protected by angels'). They too did not run as far as Laoag, the destination that we wanted but they did go to Vigan, a town just south of Badoc, (where our hosts, the Corpuz family lived), so we booked onto their trip scheduled to depart at eight that evening. It been only the hour of two at that time however, we decided to leave our bags in the ticket office and head into the city for the afternoon.

Earlier I said that the Manila LRT had only one line. This is true, but to confuse matters, the city has another light rapid transit system called the MRT (Manila Rapid Transit?), which runs from Quezon to Edsa on the LRT line. The two are different since the MRT is private and the LRT state-owned but to the traveller the experience is the same, and so we walked along the dusty street, pass shops full of pirate DVDs and cheap cassettes to the MRT station.

The MRT is an interesting ride to take and a little pleasanter than the LRT since all it's trains have air con. Our journey took us through Quezon to Makati (the business district), and then onwards, over a river to the Edsa Terminal, (Edsa is famous as the place where the people rebelled and ousted Marcos). I consider both systems, both L and MRT's, (will the next one be the NRT?), as great ways to see the city as both tracks are elevated and you can can good views of the surrounded cityscape. We changed onto the older train there and went as far as the Central Terminal from whence we walked to Intramuros.

You may remember that we'd intended to visit the Spanish-walled city during our previous sojurn in the capital, only to be thwarted by the actions of a jeepney-riding pickpocket. I'd gone anyway, but Ryan was still green to the city's Spanish charms so it was his turn to look around there.

We went first to the Cathedral and once more it was filled with a wedding party, (I've never come across so many marriages in one holiday!), so we moved swiftly onto the Santiago fort.

San Pedro Fort in Cebu had been the smallest Spanish fortification in the Philippines. Santiago is the biggest so the contrast was interesting. Once inside we came across yet another wedding party, (they were having the reception in the grounds), but the place was still peaceful and pleasant anyway. Before coming I'd heard a lot about the dungeons where many notable revolutionaries had been held by the Spanish, Americans and Japanese over the years. When we found them however we were most unimpressed, no chambers of gruesome torture, just mere holes in the ground with an iron grille over the top.

One famous inhabitant of the dungeons had been a certain Jose Rizal. I'll forgive you if you've never heard of him before, no one has outside of the Philippines, but there is the main man without a doubt; the number one National Hero you might say.

Rizal was born 1861 and died, by Spanish musket fire, in 1896. He was many things, a scholar (it is said that he mastered twenty-two languages), a poet and essayist, a national hero and much more. Unfortunately, the Spanish who ruled the Philippines at that time didn't overtly like national hero type poets who publicised to the world what was wrong with their rule. That's why they shot him and that's why he's considered a superman to most Filipinos. His museum preserves his legacy well, there's copies of his writings, the cell in which he spent his last night and wrote his famous death poem, his shoes and glowing tributes to him in a multitude of tongues. The only downside was that there was also a guy at the end who required you to give a donation to the museum, something that I resented since the museum had been the best kept place I'd been to so far in the country anyway, and something makes me suspect that the Filipino government will keep it's bit of nationalist propaganda pristine with or without outside donations.

We walked a little around the walls and I was surprised that the fort had also been occupied by the British for two years in the eighteenth century. What they were doing there I never learnt. We left the fortress and took a taxi back to the SM shopping centre near the LRT station where we dined on Filipino fare before returning to the Dominion Bus Station.

We were given our first taste of Filipino bus travel in the bus station. The service was scheduled to leave at eight. With all passengers and the driver on board at that hour, it then sat there with the door open, and the choking air of Manila making me feel positively ill. Then, for no apparent reason, just after nine it started off on the long journey north. I was glad that the toxic fumes of the city were now excluded from the bus, but there was a new problem. We had been told that the vehicle was air-conditioned, but we were not warned how much. By the time we reached our changing place of Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sud, we were shivering and chattering and wishing that we’d kept our coats and jumpers on our bodies and not in our bags.

Our miseries were not over by the time that we’d restored ourselves to a normal temperature either. It was around five in the morning, we had slept little if any, and our beds for the night/ day were still over an hour’s bus ride away. “When is the next bus for Badoc due?” I asked the rather delectable yet grumpy young lady in the ticket office.
“Who knows?” she answered with a shrug and a huff. “One hour, two..?”
So we waited, for more than two it must be said, and when our carriage onwards finally did arrive we climbed onto it in a semi-conscious daze that lasted throughout the remaining hour, our meeting with the Corpuz family, and the short trip to their marvellous country house, a traditional wooden Ilocano affair with fine fretwork and windows made out of the material that they have been made out of for centuries; sea shells. We mumbled our hellos and arranged to wake up around twelvish in time for a trip to a local sports event, before climbing those proverbial wooden hills and sinking into a deep sleep in that fine old house amongst the palms.

The Corpuz family home, Badoc

The cock pit was not what I'd expected. My only prior knowledge regarding the sport was that it used to be popular in Britain until it was banned sometime in the nineteenth century. It had actually been practiced in my home village of Draycott-en-le-Moors and a cock pit still exists there, now functioning as an unusual centrepiece to someone's back garden. The cock pit there is a circular mound surrounded by a ditch, several metres across. That's what I'd expected to find in Santo Dominguez, a circle of sandy ground surrounded by around twenty to thirty old men, betting on which cock would be killed first.

The reality was far different. We knew that we were there immediately due to the hundreds of cyclos parked along the road and in the field. Then there was the stalls selling everything from bottled water and beer to spit roasted pig and chicken kebabs, (no prizes for guessing where the chicken meat came from). And beyond all that was the stadium, a huge, roofed metal construction backed to the rafters with a vociferous crowd, one thousand souls minimum. And this was a small, rural cock pit!

Cock-fighting in Santo Dominguez

We parked up and walked through the hollering traders to the main entrance. We were confronted by a wall of people, with some of the younger and more agile clinging to the sides of the stand. There was absolutely no way that we could enter by that route, so we went around the back and climbed some rickety stairs to the top of the stand. It was also packed there too, but somehow we managed to squeeze in and get a look at the action.

If I were asked to describe what a cock fight is like as a spectator experience, I reckon that the best description I could give is as a cross between watching a football match in the good old days when standing was allowed at stadiums and a sumo bout. It was similar to the football since everyone was crammed, standing only, into a stadium that from the inside looked rather like a football stadium, albeit with a much smaller pitch. The cock it was square in shape and the stands led right down to the edge of the 'pitch' as one might say. What's more, like in a good football match, everyone was shouting very loudly.

The fight itself however was not a game. It consisted of bouts which lasted no time at all, rather like sumo. A good, lengthy cock fight will last three or four minutes, most others far less. Yet, the tournament goes on all day long. The one we were attending had started around noon and would last until around seven in the evening. It this respect it reminded me of sumo, countless short bouts in a long tournament.

The experience started when the two cocks were brought out and displayed to the crowd. The cocks pecked each other to incite hatred and it was then that the betting started. Like so many sports, the main purpose of cock fighting is the betting. The cock on the left was always viewed as the weaker, thus if it won, it was more financially rewarding. The big difference however between betting in the West and Filipino cock fight betting is that nothing is written down. Betters signal to the bookies, (who are lined up at the side of the pit), how much they are prepared to bet, and on which cock by the means of hand gestures which signify how many hundreds or thousands of pesos they are willing to risk. They also holler their family name, though one assumes that most of the bookies know this already, it being a small, rural community. The betting then subsides and the fight begins. The cocks are placed down in the ring and their owners retreat. For the first minute or so the cocks merely strut around, apparently not noticing each other. Then they fly at their opponent with a flurry of feather, the ones around their neck standing on end like an Elizabethan ruff, which makes them look all the more menacing. Usually the fight is over within a minute or so. The referee picks up the wounded cockerel and lets it peck and it's opponent. If it attacks, it is still alive and the fight continues. Usually however, it is dead.

Then the exchange of money takes place. The losers screw the appropriate amount of pesos tightly into balls and throw them down to the bookies, who then throw balls of pesos up towards the winners. Once this activity subsides, then it's time for the next bout.

I must admit that my visit to the cockpit changed my perceptions of the sport quite a lot. I am someone who is anti-blood sports and I'm not ashamed to make that clear. I have no doubt in my mind that fox hunting should be banned in Britain for example, and I still hold to the belief that banning cock fighting was a good thing. However, I must say that the sport is far less bloody than I expected. At the absolute most, the cockerel only suffers for two minutes or so, which is hardly that long and in my mind far more humane than chasing a fox for miles across open country or even fishing and leaving a fish to suffocate quietly or with a wound in it's mouth from a hook. No, there are worse crimes than cock fighting and why it has such a very bad reputation I am not entirely sure.

For me however, it is not a sport that I can ever see me getting into. The bouts are too short to get interesting and I am not a betting man as a rule, (I did of course have a go in Santo Dominguez and promptly lost 400 pesos), so the main attraction of the sport doesn't really appeal to me. Still each to his own I suppose and at the end of the day, I like to eat the finished product so I can't complain there!

And it is each to HIS own. In the whole one thousand plus spectators I only spotted five women. The one in our party stayed in the car and slept. Like football used to be, cock fighting a male domain, father and son go to the pit together, mother and daughter stay at home or chat to their friends outside in the market stalls.

After about an hour of bouts, my tired legs suggested that it was time to move on. I don't know if the males of the Corpuz family really wanted to go, (I suspect not), but they made no objection, so off we went to the next town, Vigan. Of course we had been to Vigan  before, but I couldn't say that I'd really seen the place and that experience was one that I'd rather forget anyway. What I didn't realise then however, is that Vigan was not just another provincial capital, it is instead the best preserved Spanish colonial town in the Philippines. With that on your doorstep more or less, how could you not visit it, yet Sheree Ann informed us that despite living only thirty miles or so away, and indeed passing through the place everytime that she went to Manila, she'd never been there before, and nor had the other members of her family! I found this rather difficult to believe but it seems that Filipinos, despite being some of the biggest globe-trotters, rarely see anything of their own country. This was as much a new experience for them as it was for us.

Upon arrival in the main square, we hired a  sort of horse-drawn trap, to take us around. Myself, Ryan, Sheree Ann and Jerome got in and the others disappeared somewhere, (perhaps back to the cockpit?). The trap was a nice, leisurely way to see what is undoubtedly a pleasant town. We went past the church and towards the outskirts where we stopped at an ancient bell tower to take some photographs. We then proceeded onto a small pottery where we watched a lad of about sixteen fashion a jar. "Do you have many potteries where you live?" asked Ryan. Considering that the city nearest my home is named 'The Potteries' I would guess that we do came my reply. Actually I once did a weeks work experience in a pottery museum which was great fun, although it meant that the whole process of potting is a wee bit familiar now.

After the pottery we proceeded to the colonial quarter where we took some photographs of Spanish-style streets and explored tacky souvenir shops. It was getting dark however, so we returned to the square and met the lads who were now back from wherever it was that they'd been. We grabbed some delicious fried pancakes from a stall named empanada and then made the journey back to Badoc.

Vigan with Sheree Ann & Co

That evening was spent in a nice, leisurely style, drinking San Miguel beers with the Corpuz family and participating in the national pastime of the Philippines, Videoke. Unfortunately there were very few songs that we knew. As in Vietnam, the mysterious Michael Learns To Rock was a popular act, the allegedly American singer whom no American or European has ever heard of. So we let the Filipinos do the singing and we entertained ourselves by conversing with an old guy who was looked on with some embarrassment by the rest of the family. "He's our cousin", Winnie explained. "All he does is drink, all he knows how to do is drink."
"Do you have any gin?" asked Alkie Cousin, who then added that he was almost seventy and that we were very white indeed. He departed soon afterwards when he realised that San Miguel just wasn't alcoholic enough for him.

Drinks and karaoke with the Corpuz’s in Badoc

Little did I imagine that the following morning was what I would look back on as the highlight of our trip. During the hours whilst we were in the Land of Nod, Sheree Ann had decided to organise a Christmas Party for the neighbourhood children. Of course, a Filipino Christmas Party is quite different from a British one, no crackers or hats, or sitting inside someone's living room playing musical chairs. The sun was shining so everyone was outside on the basketball court, the only concreted area in the hamlet, and a place that served as a Recreation Ground for all.

Perhaps the biggest difference between third and first world countries these days, is not the wealth gap, but the number of kids. Whilst every developed country these days has a more or less stable population, those of the third world nations rocket ever upwards. Being from a developed and what's more Protestant tradition we tend to view that as a bad thing, sentiments such as 'they'll never sort themselves out if they keep on having all those bloody children' are common back home, and indeed big families are looked on as being a bad thing. Yet here, the situation is the reverse. The Filipinos are good Catholics, and whilst some do use contraception, most do not, and big families are the norm. At the party, which encompassed all the inhabitants of the hamlet, I counted well over thirty children; there were only ten adults, including myself and Ryan. Whether big families are a good thing or not I don't know, twenty-four years of British upbringing tell me that they're not, but I must admit that there are some advantages. No village in Britain could hold a spontaneous party for the local kids so successfully, and I suspect that growing up in a Filipino village is a happy childhood with no shortage of playmates.

Their party was more like a school sports day. Races and competitions were held and Sheree Ann and the other adults gave out small prizes of sweets or low denomination notes to the winners. The older boys also had a game of basketball, the national sport of the Philippines, and although Ryan took part, I diplomatically stepped back, as I did not wish to embarrass myself. The British are not renowned as basketball players.

I did take part in all the rest however, and it was great fun. I introduced them to the egg and spoon and wheelbarrow races, and we also tried out something we'd learnt in Japan, a 'Janken Relay'. The Philippines was occupied by the Japanese for around three years but the only legacy they seem to have left is that kids use the Japanese terms, ('Janken po'), for the paper, scissors, stone game that the Japanese adore. Our race involved three teams. Each member had to run up to a chair at the other end of the court and play janken with whomever was sat there, if they won they could go around the chair and the next member of the team went up. If they lost however, they had to run back and start again.

All in all we had a brilliant time, giving the cute village kids piggy-back rides and playing clapping games with them. In the end however it was time for lunch and so we retired to the house, where we ate home-cooked food heartily before setting off for a trip around the locality with Cris, Winnie,Sheree Ann and two of her nephews, Jerome and John Shane.

Kids’ Christmas Party, Badoc

Our first stop was Badoc, at the shop of the oldest sister, Josephine where they had to drop off some chain saw oil. We got out of the car and bought some drinks, which we consumed whilst Cris showed us the fighting cocks that Josephine's husband bred. Then we were off north, along the National Highway, to the next town, Batac.

When anyone talks about Filipino politics, there is one name that always comes to mind, that of Ferdinand Marcos, President of the Republic from 1965 to 1984. Marcos is undoubtedly a mammoth figure in the Philippines even today, and his legacy is rather controversial. He was elected to power in 1965 and was re-elected in 1969. In 1972 however, he declared martial law and cracked down on the crime and corruption rampant in the country. He also joined several major international groupings and made friends with foreign states both capitalist and socialist. At home he implemented many reforms and also supervised the building of some huge civil engineering products. Sounds good, doesn't it? In many ways it was, but Marcos these days has a very bad reputation in the west. The reasons are simple, firstly there was his wife, Imelda who was as flamboyant as they get. Few people can forget that when Marcos was ousted from power, it was found that she owned over 3,000 pairs of shoes, at a time when many Filipinos went barefoot. Secondly, Marcos was corrupt, and thirdly he had a habit of terminating his political opponents, most notably his main rival Benigno Aquino, (who's widow Cory, later became President), who died by an assasin's bullet on the tarmac of Manila Airport, (never has a link with Marcos actually been proved mind). Anyway, it all went to pieces for Ferdinand in 1984 when he held elections and lost overwhelmingly to the opposition United Nationalist Democratic Opposition, headed by Cory. He announced however that he had in fact won, the people unconvinced, hit the streets in Edsa (Manila), and with the support of the influential Catholic Church they managed to make sure that their former President and his glitzy wife took a fast copter out of the country.

A leader, corrupt as they come, and ousted by people power you would expect to have left a pretty bad memory in the minds of his people. But not it seems. In the Philippines, everyone that we spoke to, rich or poor, male or female, admires him. "The best president we ever had was Marcos" says Arlene. Even the pious Red agrees, despite the fact that the nuns took to the streets to oust him. Ok, so Arlene and the rest of the Corpuz family are Ilocanos, like Marcos, probably local pride getting in the way. But Randy in Manila agrees, and so do the taxi drivers in Cebu. In the end we asked every Filipino we met what they thought of him, hoping to find just one who didn't like him. We failed, the harshest criticism we got was that, "he had perhaps been in power too long."

But why was he so good?
"He helped the poor," explains John, the Aussie guy we met on the Superferry. "Maybe Cory and Ramos created some economic growth, but the poor, which is most of the population, felt non of the benefits. he built them hospitals and houses."
"What about the corruption?" I asked.
"All Filipino politicians are corrupt. That huge sum that he siphoned off for himself, it's only the same as every other President has done. Take Estrada for example. He was a good Catholic right, like every Filipino at church on a Sunday. Yet he had huge houses built for all his mistresses, and amassed an enormous personal fortune."
"But what about his mistakes?" I continued.
"They blame those on Imelda" replied John.

Marcos came from Batac, the town we were now visiting, and indeed he's still there, his body frozen in an elaborate mausoleum, complete with chapel, (after all he was a man who embodied all the Christian virtues, right?), next to his family home, which is now a museum. We filed solemnly round the body along with lots of respectful Filipinos before being treated to an exhibition detailing his life as a military hero, an exemplary scholar, a sage senator and the greatest President that ever there was. At the end there was a photo opportunity with a life size replica of the great man and a chance to purchase T-shirts emblazoned with 'Batac: Home of Great Leaders' (Yes, of course I bought one).

Me and Ferdinand Marcos, Batac

'Leaders' is in the plural because the Marcos family was big in politics long before Ferdinand came along, and is still going strong. His father was a senator, and so is one of his daughters. Imelda is a big cheese still in her home province of Leyte, and his son, Ferdinand 'Bong Bong' Marcos is the Governor of Ilocos Norte. We left Marcosville for the beach resort of Fort Iliocadia, a five star affair catering for mostly Asian tourists. Oh yes, and it's built on land owned by a certain family named Marcos, and that huge mansion we passed on the way there, that's where the Governor lives.

On the beach we made sandcastles only to see them destroyed by the tide, before heading further north to Laoag, the capital of the province from whence we were to take a bus south to Baguio. We arrived at four and there wasn't a bus until half six, so we went to a restaurant and sang videoke whist eating Filipino fare. Then it was back to the bus station and goodbye to the Corpuz family who'd made us so welcome.

And what's more, the bus was only forty minutes late in leaving. This had been a successful day!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hong Kong and the Philippines Part 3: Cebu and Bohol


It's been a busy week indeed as I've been finishing my Balkan travelogue (90,000+ words!!!) but at last its done and I hope to start posting it here in full very soon. Reflecting on five countries is hard work indeed, (particularly when you've a kid and full-time job as well), so I'll be taking a break and heading off to Poland next week. Therefore, there shall be no update to look forward to Monday for Uncle Travelling Matt will be doing what he does best... travelling.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all the parts of this travelogue:

Part 1: Hong Kong

Part 2: Manila and Lapu Lapu

Part 3: Cebu and Bohol

Part 4: Vigan, Badoc and Batac

Part 5: Bagiou, Montalban and Manila

We awoke early for the trip to Bohol and took the taxi all the way to the pier in Cebu rather than taking the cheaper, and slower ferry. Arriving in plenty of time we perused the various stores in the terminal before passing through the ticket checks and seating ourselves in the waiting room. Playing in the waiting room was a group of blind musicians and singers, who were heartily belting out all the Christmas classics that they knew in English and Tagalog, and even the Spanish 'Feliz Navidad'. A lady came around with a collecting bucket explaining that this was some support group for the blind in the city, so we willingly dropped a few pesos their way.

The boat was not a boat actually, it was a catamaran, one of the many that seem to be taking over ferry services worldwide. It was full and we sat down in our allotted seats and proceeded to watch the TV, which was showing a very bad film about ballet dancing, that was only interrupted by the safety instructions and a prayer for a safe voyage. Seated next to us was an American guy of about fifty and a young Filipina who was very obviously his partner.

One thing that I'd expected to see a lot of in the Philippines was tourists, particularly of the backpacking variety. After all everywhere else in South East Asia is teeming with them, and the Philippines does have a lot to offer. To our surprise however, throughout our whole stay we saw virtually no foreign tourists at all. The biggest group of all were the Koreans whom were easily spotted since they came in big groups and all the men had the same haircut. At first we thought that they might be Japanese, (I still can't tell the difference though there is a rumour that Koreans have slightly rounder faces), but after we greeted some in Japanese and they replied indignantly in English that they were in fact not Japanese but Korean. But of Westerners there were very few, and Westerners under fifty, well we saw only two, (ourselves), and a party of about ten Americans who jogged past up in the Philippines Military Academy, which led us to suspect that tourists they were not, and military personnel they were. No, the only Western tourists we saw on a regular basis were of the type seated next to us on the boat, old guys with young and sexy Filipinas in tow.

What to think of the whole situation is morally confusing for me I must admit. Firstly, although I know that a lot of girls favour the older man, you could plainly tell that most of this lot weren't in it for the love, since the guys they were with, (and we spoke to quite a few), were more often than not the rejects of their society at home. They weren't lookers and they certainly weren't over-endowed in the personality department either. You can certainly see why they enjoy the Philippines, after all, as Ryan said, "I think I'd come here if I was that age and I could get a hot bird like he's got. After all, most guys our age can't get women like that now, let alone when they're hitting fifty." He had a point, and so yes, we can understand the guy's motive, but the girl?

The sad fact is that much of it is due to poverty. There are plenty of young Filipinas out there willing to sacrifice their romantic bliss for the money. One could look at this in a negative light and say that they're nothing better than prostitutes, especially if they're only in it for themselves. But many actually enter such relationships with the aim of helping their families. For many uneducated, attractive young girls, the easiest way to enable their family to move out of their shack in a shanty town and into a proper house is to team themselves up with some elderly foreign man. They have their family's consent in all this, as in a way the girl's are used as a sort of 'sacrificial cow' for the welfare of the family. When this is the case, is it truly fair to look on such people as whores? Would we be willing to sacrifice so much for our families?

To be fair to the guy sat next to us, he wasn't a complete reject and he was actually a rather friendly fellow. He explained that his girl was from Bohol, (they'd met via the Internet), and he was going over to meet her family and then spend some time alone. He'd been to the island before and he recommended we hire a taxi for the day and do an island tour.

Once there we did just that, and hired the first driver we saw, a reasonable 1,500 pesos for the whole day. Our driver's name was Dan and he proceeded to take us through the island's capital, Tagbilaran, and on the standard tour. Our first stop was Bool, the spot where (allegedly), Legaspi (early Spanish guy) had made his blood pact with Sikatuna (local chieftain) when he had first landed on the island on 16th March 1565. A life-size statue of the Spaniards and the Filipinos in what seemed to me a rather jovial meeting commemorated the event, and when that was sufficiently photographed we moved on to the Parish Church of Immaculate Conception, in the town of Baclayon.

Monument to the first Spanish landing in the Philippines, Bohol

The church was built in 1595 and is allegedly one of the oldest in the Philippines. How true that claim is I know not, but it certainly was worth a visit. The museum was housed in the priest's quarters adjacent to the house of worship, which were constructed from timber and plaster and certainly had something of an aura about them. The church itself though, being a House of God I suppose was built from more durable stuff, coral rock. Inside it was cavernous, yet had a nice atmosphere I thought, not dark and dismal like many churches. One thing that struck me about that church, and indeed most of the ones that we went to in the Philippines is that often there is no glass in the windows, just ornate iron grilles. This is undoubtedly due to the hot climate though what good it must do to precious artefacts, having them open to the elements I can only hazard a guess. Despite this I quite liked it as it had resulted in birds flying into the building and nesting in the rafters. The chirping of the young birds lent the building a peaceful and natural atmosphere which pleased me greatly, totally in keeping with the spirit of the religion that the place was built to represent over five hundred years ago.

Free with entry into the church came a guided tour of the parish museum in English. Our guide obviously had a passion for his church and village and explained in detail all the various statues and fading photographs of Father's long departed. He lamented the theft of some items and showed us the area where the priest still dine to this day. Out in the back garden was a monkey, a pet of one of the Fathers he informed us. I thoroughly enjoyed looking round the musty decaying old church which reminded me a lot of our church at home; like this one it's still serves it's two primary functions, as a place of worship and as a repository of the heritage of the parish.

During the journey we got talking to the driver who turned out to be an interesting and informative chap. He told us that the car was not actually his, but part of a company who had about twenty drivers. That explained why none of the drivers fought in vying for our attention at the dock, or tried to undercut one another as happens in many places; they all got a share of the dough anyway. As we drove along he pointed out his house in a village, a small concrete abode. A concrete house, however small is a sign of wealth in the Philippines, normally the preserve of those who have relatives working abroad. He had never worked abroad however, nor had any of his family, so one must assume that driving tourists around is a profitable business.

I asked him what people do on the island and he explained that most income was derived from farming and fishing. There was a little industry he continued, but it was insignificant, the next biggest sector being tourism, though what with all the kidnappings in Mindanao, the flow of foreign tourists to the Philippines had dwindled to a mere trickle, most American and Korean, with a few Germans.
"What about in their free time?" I asked, "What do the islanders do?"
"Tuba" came the reply. "They sit around and drink Tuba."
Tuba, turned out to be the local brew, a potent wine distilled from coconuts, the island's main fruit.

We then went on to talk about our lives. "You work in Japan" he exclaimed, "a lot of Filipinos in Japan."
"Yes, we know some of them. They work in a computer company."
"Maybe, but most work in bars and clubs. Loose girls, we call them Japayuki. They're girls from poor families, but they come back with lots of money."
"But a lot marry Japanese guys," I added.
"Maybe they do, but they don't stay married to them. Their purpose is to help their family, once they are old they come back here. Many Filipinos leave but they always come back." We talked about the Japayuki's and the problems that Filipinas have when they marry the Japanese. "The problem is the values," our driver continued. "To the Japanese the company and work is number one, money is their God I think. But for the Filipino the family is most important, we are Catholics, Christians, we care more for our family than the Japanese. I think that is hard for the girls there to live with."

Our main purpose in visiting Bohol was of course to see the Chocolate Hills, probably the second most spectacular sight that the Philippines has to offer after the famous rice terraces of Banaue. The hills are situated in the heart of the island and were formed way back in prehistory when two local giants had an argument. Their crossed words soon turned into a full blown fight where they scooped up handfuls of earth and threw them at each other. Those handful of brown earth are now the Hills, or at least that is the story according to '101 Myths and Legends of the Philippines'. The real reason behind these strange freaks of nature is not entirely known, though geologists think that the hills are as they are because the marine limestone underneath cannot support plants. Thus, the surrounding landscape is lush and green whilst these hummock-shaped mounds are covered only by a thin layer of grass; grass that turns brown in the summer causing the chocolate effect from which their name is derived. When we went it was not summer, so the hills were more mint green than chocolatey, but the effect was stunning nonetheless and difficult to describe, the hundreds of small, perfectly-formed mounds creating a landscape quite unlike anything else I'd ever seen. That landscape was duly improved by the placing of our handsome mugs between the camera and the hills, and that touristy task completed, we headed down to the gift shop where we purchased a few postcards for the folks back home. No stamps however, but we figured that we'd come across post office in Cebu, so we were not unduly worried.

The Chocolate Hills, Bohol

Considering that the hills are the Philippine's number two tourist site, we were once again surprised by the sparse numbers milling around. There were a few Filipino sightseers, but once again we were the only foreigners. Not that we were complaining mind, one of the strongest recommendations for going to the Philippines in my mind is that it is well away from the backpacker trail and thus all the commercial exploitation that goes with it.

On the way back our friendly driver stopped off at a small hut by a river. Here were housed the famous tarsier, the world's smallest monkeys, tiny creatures the size of a hamster but with huge bulging eyes. During his visit to the Philippines several years ago, my esteemed countryman, Prince Charles Windsor of Wales had also visited here so it was only right that us two ambassadors of internationalisation should stop by too.

The monkeys were extremely tame and climbed all over us. The only thing was, you are not allowed to pat them on their heads as they have extremely thin craniums. We resisted the temptation and got our photos taken, before taking a traditional Filipino fishing canoe up the river to see the allegedly famous waterfalls there.

Ryan monkeying around

The waterfalls, whose name I remember not, were to be quite frank a disappointment. Supposedly famous, I'd never heard of them before and with good reason since they were little more than rapids. Nonetheless, the boat ride was fun and when the navigator suggested that we take a swim, we did so with gusto, much to the amusement of a boat of Korean tourists who turned up later. Thus, dripping wet, we headed back into the taxi and drove back to Tagbilaran.

When we arrived in the island's capital there was still an hour or so until the boat came so our driver dropped us off at the shopping centre and we passed the time perusing second-hand books in a shop there. The Philippines is full of English second-hand bookshops, since most Filipinos read in English as much as Tagalog, (this is probably due to the fact that during their formative years at school, they are taught in English only, and not in their native tongue). I am a big fan of the second-hand bookshop it must be said, but I was rather disappointed with the ones that we came across, since they were all stocked with Mills and Boons, Harlequins, and sadly, not a lot else.

Leaving the shopping centre we met up again with our driver who'd now found somewhere to park his vehicle. He then announced that if we wanted, we could purchase some Tuba, the local moonlight juice that he mentioned earlier. We voiced hearty approval for the scheme, and so we followed through a jeepney terminal to a small shack of a shop where an old crone was selling the liquor in litre bottles. The smell alone told us that perhaps we'd never manage a whole litre, so she procured a smaller bottle and filled it full of the murky liquor, before demanding 15 pesos. Thus, armed with some local brew, we headed back to the ferry where we met our American friend and his Filipina from the trip over. He was not so chatty this time but he had a huge grin on his face for the whole journey.

"I assume he managed some time alone with her" said Ryan.

By the by, I'd forgotten to mention that that particular day was December 24th, Christmas Eve. The previous night I'd asked the receptionist at the hotel where a Mass in English could be heard and he recommended the Redemptorist Church in Cebu City. That was not until the evening however, so when we got off the ferry in Cebu, we decided first to walk the short distance to the area around the cathedral which seemed to perhaps be the centre of the city. The short distance on the map seemed a lot longer on foot but the walk was fascinating nonetheless, taking us through the dockside slums to the town park. These slums were perhaps not as poor as the ones near Tayuman Railway Station in Manila but it was nonetheless shocking to see them. That night however, being Christmas Eve, was party night. Whole streets had clubbed together and hired disco units which were blaring out music in the middle of the street, young and old dancing alike. Every street also contained a small chapel with pious maidens sat inside praying devoutly. Despite the fact that they were so poor and we were obviously rich Westerners, not once did we feel threatened. People shouted 'Merry Christmas' to us and wished us well, but that was all, not once was a robbery or attack attempted, and it would have been so easy. The only danger we were in was from marauding fireworks which whizzed and banged around the streets.

We ended up by the Santo Nino Basilica, the oldest church in the city, surrounded by old ladies urging us to buy candles for a peso a piece to light inside and say a prayer. Inside the church people milled around, looking at the crib and praying to their favourite saint. Santo Nino, like Santo Agustin in Manila was a beautiful old building, dating from the Spanish days which had a peaceful ambience despite all the hustle and bustle.

Time and tide wait for no man however and it was getting late, so we hailed a taxi and got him to take us to the highly recommended Redemptorist Church. The Mass, we learnt, started at ten, so we dined at a nearby Austrian Restaurant, before joining the masses in church.

And masses they were. We arrived around five minutes before the service was to commence yet already the church was overflowing. We managed to find places to stand at the back however, but many later arrivals didn't and there were several hundred worshippers outside the church also. It certainly is interesting to think that this must have been what it was like in Britain in Victorian times and before, when a real religious zeal pervaded the whole population. I personally have only seen churches as full for funerals, a half full establishment being considered a large congregation these.

Quite how and why Britain lost it's religious zeal I don't know, but one thing is certain, it's definitely still there in the Philippines. Whilst we were there the Redemptorist Church was being extended and judging from the size of the congregation that evening, it needed to be. All over the country we saw new churches being built, perhaps the only construction projects that ever get finished.

I would imagine that the Philippines is one of the most Christian countries on earth these days. 85% of the population are Roman Catholic, and only 8% of the people follow a faith other that Christianity. They are mostly Muslims, but we saw few of those, since they are located largely in the south, on the isle of Mindanao. Like their Catholic brethren, the Protestant sects here also seemed to be flourishing, particularly the homegrown Igliesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), a sect that does not believe in idols, however flowers on the altar instead according to one taxi driver. What's more, there seems to be a remarkable level of harmony between Catholic and Protestant, something that a few other countries could learn from I'm sure.

The Redemptorist Church however, was Catholic, part of an international sect of the church that has a particular missionary zeal. At the service we attended there were priests from Vietnam, the UK, Indonesia, Malaysia, Eire, and the USA, as well as the native fathers. The service we listened to was good though not the most inspiring I'd ever heard. Still beggars can't be choosers and I suppose we were lucky enough to have just found one in English.

Leaving the church to the strains of Handel's Joy to the World and the sight of fireworks exploding everywhere, we decided to head out for a drink or two, before returning to the hotel, so we made our way back to the Austrian restaurant and headed into the adjacent bar.

The low lights, smooth music and bikini-clad girl dancing on stage soon made it clear that this was no normal bar. We settled down for a drink and were joined by two young girls, who informed us that they were eighteen, but looked considerably younger. We had chanced upon a hostess bar it seems.

The girls that we talked to may not have been ugly, but the problem was they were definitely boring. The idea of hostess bars is for the hostesses to talk to guys, but these two had nothing to say and in fact looked decidedly miserable. It soon became clear that they were from the poorest parts of the city and had left school at the earliest age possible. The whole place was sleazy and when they asked us if we'd like to take them home, we realised that this was not really the place for us, so after one drink each, (and buying the girls the obligatory beverage), we left and caught a cab home, stopping off at a petrol station for some ale.

Thus we spent a quiet Christmas Eve in the hotel, drinking beers and phoning loved ones at home As a climax to the day we decided to crack open the tuba, Bohol's native brew. It was vile, and smelt disgusting, and in the end we had to mix it with a lot of coke just to get it down. Unsurprisingly, both of us had a cold for the next few days, we did not doubt what caused it.

On Christmas Day 2001, we arose late and after a lazy meal in the hotel restaurant, we headed into Cebu to see the sights. Our first port of call was the San Pedro Fort, the smallest yet oldest Spanish fortification in the country. The fort was almost complete and was a peaceful haven of tranquillity away from the bustle of the city. One of the guards kindly opened up a room of artefacts found by a recent French team of divers on the wreck of a nearby galleon. It was fascinating to see the old coins, cannons, astrolabes, pottery and other such stuff that had lain at the bottom of the sea for so long. The exhibition also contained a scale model of the ship and it's history in English. We were not disappointed, the guard was though, I am not the type to tip unless I have to.

Next we went to Magellan's Cross by the Santo Nino Basilica, the cross where legend tells us the first Mass in the Philippines was said. How true that was we know not, but next door a Mass was definitely going on. Thousands were gathered in the courtyard in front of the church listening to the Christmas message. Unable to understand the local dialect of Cebuano-Visayan ourselves, we passed through the throngs of worshippers and took a look at the nearby Cathedral, a classical building and far less inspiring than the baroque Santo Nino. The cathedral too however was crammed with the faithful, so we decided to take a trip out of town to the Taoist Temple on the hills above the city.

Nothing illustrated the inequalities of Filipino society better than the taxi ride that followed. The Taoist Temple is situated in an area of town called 'Beverley Hills', a fenced off community for Cebu's rich and famous. All around were appalling shanty-towns, yet once through the perimeter gate we were in a land of spacious gardens, well manicured lawns and large houses complete with a swimming pool.

The temple itself was the crowning glory, a brightly-coloured pagoda rising up from the millionnaire's mansions. Beautifully carved wooden lions and dragons, and even a replica of the Great Wall firmly stamped the Chinese cultural mark on Cebu's map and showed us who holds the money there. Everything was immaculate, including the dress of the worshippers.

I went inside, and lit some sticks of incense for the Gods before asking heir advice in the traditional manner. I'm not quite sure about the answer that I received mind, do they answer truthfully to non-believers?

We viewed the stunning panorama of the city that the temple provided and took some pretty cheesy photos of us playing ukuleles in front of dragons and other oriental beasts, before heading back down in the dwindling light and taking a jeepney into town where we dined at Jolibee, the Filipino burger chain, where they sell rather tasty chicken with gravy.

The King of Balls, monarch of a Cebu shopping centre

On our final day in the locality we both decided that we couldn't really be bothered going into Cebu City again, especially since we'd probably seen all that there was to see, so instead we hired a taxi to take us around the island of Maktan itself, after all it is one of the most popular tourists destinations in the Philippines so it must have something to offer.

Surprisingly though it didn't. Despite the fact that our driver took us most of the way around the small isle, there was really nothing that stirred our fancy. The places was flat and really quite boring. The only things to see there were beach resorts, so in the end we went to one of those, but even that was not particularly impressive at all, far inferior to the one that we later visited in Ilocos Norte.  Very soon we tired of the meaningless driving about, so we asked our driver to stop somewhere for a drink. He pulled up in the next village but again we were unimpressed. The place was overpriced and full of swarthy Filipino men who wished to take us out on a boat trip for some exorbitant fee. Despite the fact that the alternative was stopping in the hotel, we had no hesitation in declining and climbing back inside the taxi; we simply weren't in the mood. To be fair though, it wasn't just the drive around Maktan that had put us in bad humour. That morning we'd paid our hotel expenses and had been horrified when presented with a bill for just over 10,000 pesos (just over a hundred quid), for the six phonecalls we'd made on Christmas Day. That the rates were exorbitant was bad enough but on top of that, they also charged about a pound for each call that didn't connect. We were far from impressed, and vowed there and then not to bother returning to Days Hotel, Cebu on our next trip.

We boarded the towering mass of the WG&A Superferry 12 already in a nautical mood, after having taken the ferry across to Cebu from Lapu Lapu. Although I've not sailed as much as I would have liked to, I must profess to being a lover of journeys by sea. Cars I dislike most, cramped in a small space and without the opportunity to meet new people, though aeroplanes come a close second, (again the space, but more the fact that I'm missing out on all the interesting places that are passing me by below). Trains are of course my favourite, but ships and boats come a close second and I for one was eagerly looking forward to the coming trip.

Our cabin was accommodated a total of four, each passenger being allocated a small bed and a locker for their baggage. My only gripe was that the bed, being designed for Filipinos, was too short. But one shouldn't complain, on the last long sea voyage that I'd undertaken, I didn't even get a bed, only a seat, so this was high class as far as I was concerned.

I set off to explore the craft and found it containing far more amenities than I'd expected. Not only was there a bar, a restaurant, a disco and a shop, but there was also a swimming pool at the stern (filled with sea water), and the only onboard chapel that I've ever come across. I settled down on deck and continued reading Viajero (from which I was learning all about the history of the Philippines), and observed the process of the ship's departure from Cebu.

As the light dwindled we made our way into the restaurant, where we met with a middle-aged white guy seated at the bar, nursing a San Miguel. He turned out to be John, originally from Australia, but now living in the Philippines for around twenty years as the boss of a construction company. "It's not a bad place" he confided, "I stay here for two reasons mainly, this [the San Miguel], and the women. Can't beat the women, I should know, I'm married to one."
"What was that like?" I asked.
"The thing is, if you marry a Filipina, you're not just marrying her, you're marrying the whole damn family. Everything's the family here. But they're a nice lot, her family are, and I've got no reason to go back to Oz, after all me kids there are grown up now."
"What are the Filipino's like to work with then?"
"Ok, lazy bastards sometimes, but who isn't, eh? The only thing is, you think they speak English, right. Well they do, but they don't understand you. For example, when I was working in Indonesia, you give a guy instructions in English, you know the bastard hasn't understood ya. But here, I tell them, and it's 'Yes John, no problem' but does it get done? Does it hell, the guy never understood ya in the first place!"
"What about the politics?"
"Politics! What a bunch of corrupt bastards they are! All as bad as each other, best one was Marcos probably. Thing is, the Philippines is a rich country, I'm not kiddin' ya. Loadsa money, but there's only a few bastards that have got any. Thing is, there's not middle classes here, just very rich and very poor. When the poor guy gets power, he doesn't know what to do with all the money, it just goes to his head, look at that bastard Estrada, the money he spent on homes for al his mistresses and stuff. Yeah, an' like all good Filipinos, he was at church every Sunday with his missus. No, the politicians here, Jesus! Nothing get done. Like that railway that they're planning, Manila to Mindanao. Bloody pipe dream mate!"

We later left John to eat our tea which was included in the ticket cost. When we returned to the bar he wasn't there, so I got talking to the barmaid instead. She told me all about working on the boats, how it was good work since you got good money and degree of freedom from your family.
"Don't you have a boyfriend?" I asked her. She was after all, quite a bonnie lass.
"Boyfriend, yes I had one. I loved him so much, you know, but obviously he didn't feel the same for me, he left me for another girl, they're married now." Her sing-song voice lamented the traditional lament of love lost, timeless over centuries and as heart-rending each time. It was only stopped when the band started up, singing covers of famous Western hits. I requested Angelina before retiring to the disco, which was virtually empty. Soon bored with that, I went up on deck, watching the waves roll past and feeling like an extra on Titanic. However, no Kate Winslet's appeared on the deck above for me, so I turned in for the night and fell sound asleep on my bed for the vertically-challenged.

The arrival of morning was heralded by the playing of eighties hits over the tannoys. I lay in bed reading and listening to Human League classic before rising and showering to '99 Red Balloons' (in German). When the time for 'Video Killed the Radio Star' came I climbed up on deck, where I read more and later lazily took a dip in the pool. The day whiled away and in what seemed like no time at all the soaring towers of Metro Manila could be seen on the skyline, so below deck I went and prepared for disembarkation. The trip had been enjoyable and relaxing and the only regret is that it wasn't longer. Still, refreshed and invigourated after our time at sea, we were both now ready to face the smog and traffic of Manila our bid to journey ever northwards, towards Ilocos Norte.

On board Superferry 12