This is something I’ve had in mind to write for the last few weeks, but more and more things have happened making the post longer and longer in my mind.
I flicked onto my blog earlier this morning and read the last thing I wrote in Winter, when I was … destroyed? I can’t really think of a word to describe it. Reading it back upsets me, partly because I was back there only two weeks ago, and I continue to be terrified that I will be there again one day.
The important thing is that I’m out of that hole again. After you hit rock bottom, the only way is up, right? It certainly feels that way.
But the only reason why I’ve managed to crawl back out of there is thanks to my people, giving me a leg up every step of the way. I have been completely astonished by the overwhelmingly loving reaction from everyone, including from my family, my near and far friends and even absolute strangers on twitter. The phone calls, the proclamations of love, the messages of strength; every single one helped a little bit, and I was blessed with so many. My room is littered with care packages of chocolate from around the world and my phone full of text messages reminding me that I am strong and loved. More often than not, my tears are now happy tears.
It is not always easy to be a brave Hux, but I’m working on it, thanks to you. Thank you for making me me again.
Every time it happens I change. I forget who I was. Not in a literal, amnesia sense. But a few days after my seizure, I begin to realise that I’m not me, again.
The second day is usually spent so exhausted I can’t really think about anything. It’s the third day where it goes wrong.
I completely lose the ability to compartmentalise and control my emotions. The worst bit is that the things I worry about are always to do with other people’s perception of me. Is she mad that I can’t come to the party? Why hasn’t he called me cute in the last two weeks? Do they mind having to skip their plans to stay home and watch me?
The last is the worst. I feel like a useless thing. Not even a person, just a thing that has to be watched just in case it hurts itself and causes more problems. My sister pointed out that I keep using the term “babysit” to describe when people stay with me to make sure I don’t have another seizure and thoroughly injure myself. I guess I don’t think very highly of myself.
I remember that the people around me need time off to sort out their own lives. But when I feel like this all I can think of is me and I hate it.
My confidence that I so cherish is diminished so much so that I barely recognise myself. The idea of having a shower is scary because what if I have a seizure and some poor sod has to come rescue me, covered in suds and naked as the day as I was born. My bedroom is two floors up, so I try and take everything I need downstairs for the day in the morning so I don’t have to move about too much. A seizure on the stairs could be truly dangerous.
Going outside is even worse. The outside world is full of people who could knock into me, flashing lights, loud noises. People as a collective entity start to scare me, because what if I seizure in front of them? Will they think I’m crazy or drunk? Will they help? I had a seizure outside once, but that was in the arms of my boyfriend. What if I’m alone?
The times before my seizures tend to be when I’m really happy and healthy and are not plagued by terrible thoughts. It’s the after-times. It’s the now, and they sit in my head like an itch that won’t go. A horrible primal feeling that someone thinks I’m awful combined with an aching loneliness that won’t shift. The two mean I’m constantly battling a desire for comfort and reassurance when I know I need to be able to look after myself.
But sometimes, like now, I just want to give in to that feeling, be held and be told everything is okay.
So guys, seeing as you put me through this TOILET of a book, 50 Shades of Grey, I realised that hell, I’m barely literate, maybe I COULD WRITE ONE OF THESE. Luke and I had a joke conversation and this is what we came up with.
Whiny, physically non-descript girl is experiencing change in her life. Let’s go for moves to a new town. Let’s make it… London. Yup, London. She’s clumsy, she’s a socially awkward penguin, if you will. Let’s call her - let’s think, Bella, Anastasia…. - Catriana Swanson (i don’t know if that’s a name, who cares, he can call her Kitty if he wants).
She is taken out by her kerazzzyyyy new housemate to a fancy do. Let’s say it’s a meet and greet that lawyers go to. Obviously I don’t need to know if this sort of thing happens. Let’s make it a charity ball.
In this charity ball, she meets a strange, aloof man, who is incredibly handsome. She needs to fixate upon something, so let’s go for his strong chin and Roman nose (sexy hey). There’s just something about this guy. She can’t stop staring at him. They talk, she swoons. Let’s call him - Edward, Christian - Victor. Victor…. hmm can’t think of a good surname right now. Let’s go for Victor Buckley.
Later in completely unrelated circumstances she has an ALMOST SERIOUS accident, only to be saved at last minute by mystery Victor. It’s so surprising that he’s there, except it’s not because he’s probably been trawling her as the others do because he’s SO ADDICTED to her. He takes care of her, they have coffee, he is MYSTERIOUS and ALOOF but things get steamy and he talks about how delicious she looks and how beautiful she is and how supple her limbs are.
They go home and have really hot passionate sex (though it doesn’t have to be really hot or passionate or well written because I’m writing for the unwashed masses). He then tells her she NEEDS TO KEEP AWAY FROM HIM because he’s so DANGEROUS and could HURT HER. SO MUCH FORESHADOWING. She’s all swoon I want to love you forever.
This similar pattern continues.
And then she finds the dungeon. No not a sex dungeon. Like, a hidden room. With chains on the walls. And a meat cleaver. And a freezer.
YES THAT’S RIGHT YOU GUYS HE’S A CANNIBAL
But she’s going to stay with him because she thinks she can change him or save him and he wants to protect her and love her.
In the second book he goes abroad to hide because someone’s noticed that someone he knew is missing so we get to spend a whole half book with her crying about how much she misses him, then he’ll come back and apologise and it’ll all be SO TENSE.
In the third book he suggests they elope and she gets all excited, except that one night he suggests some kinky sex and ties her up then HE SLICES HER UP. THAT’S RIGHT GUYS, HE’S GOING TO EAT HER. IN THE BOOK. YOU. READER. HE’S EATING YOU.
The end. Money now?
DO NOT READ THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM I AM NOT BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR SPOILERS
SO YOU’VE SEEN IT. GOOD.
Things I thought about when I watched the new Batman, in no particular order other than how I remembered them once I’d gotten home:
- Ahahahah oh god is that really his voice?
- Why are foreign people always evil?
- Since when did Nathan leave the Uncharted series to become Bane’s side kick
- TAAADAAAAA IT’S A BOMB NOW
- Wait I thought it was just unstable so would degrade and blow up at some point, nothing to do with the timer what why is everyone panicking about 45 minutes time
- Why the fuck is Qui Gon Jin back if he is alive I’m going to nut someone
- There was definitely a LUKE I AM YOUR FATHER MOMENT between Batman and Bane
- Seriously why did they think that would be a good voice for Bane?
- I love that Catwoman’s goggles are her ears someone get me some
- Oh I see why the bike you lean forward on is given to Catwoman. WONDERFULLY GRATIUITOUS ASS SHOT.
- What does Bane’s facial wear actually do?
- OH BANE PLEASE STOP TALKING I’M DYING HERE
- HOW THE FUCK DID HE GET BACK HERE? NO REALLY. IGNORING THAT HE’S BROKE HOW DID HE GET ACROSS THE BRIDGES??
- Nolan really likes blowing up the bridges
- OH ALFRED DON’T BE CRY
- This is strange, I don’t hate Anne Hathaway in this
On food and Filipino culture
I believe this is a post I’ve had in mind since the last time I came to the Philippines but I hadn’t really experienced enough in order to write of a reasonable breadth of experiences.
Food is most certainly at the heart of Filipino culture. People may say otherwise and that religion really is the lifeblood, but this is my firm belief. You only have to look at fiestas, where villagers make their way around everyone’s house stopping for a whole meal or at least some sum-sum (eating while drinking, usually leftovers or snacks). Filipinos are enormously generous and this is no more demonstrated than when they open up their house to you and place about four different dishes plus rice and beer or pepsi in front of you, just for the pleasure of it.
Finding good cuisine in the Philippines really depends on what you are looking for. I spoke to a couple from Cambridge at Mike’s in Dauin who had travelled across through all of Asia and admitted that Filipino food had been their least favourite due to the vast amounts of barbequed chicken and rice that make up the bulk of choice. Finding some real delicacies takes a bit of luck and some digging, certainly.
During the fiesta in Mahaba, it appears that we were seen as special guest stars, so to speak, hence why we ended up eating somewhere around five meals between lunch and dinner time. The phrase “meat sweats” does not quite cut it. I could have sworn my sweat the next day smelt distinctly of ham.
Speaking of meat, I continue to be astonished by the vast quantities of meat the Filipinos devour on a daily basis. My views are potentially slanted slightly because there’s a distinct possibility that they cook us white people up lots of meat dishes because that’s what they expect richer people to eat, but still, everything contains chicken or pork or fish. During our time in Mahaba, I had to specifically ask for vegetable dishes, and then ask again for them to have no meat in them. I think after seeing how happy I was devouring half a bowl of squash and green beans, they seemed to understand what I was getting at! Vegetarianism here is almost unheard of, though I relished in the opportunity at Coral Cay to be a pretend one. The females in my immediate family have always had trouble digesting large quantities of animal products, and it’s taken me a few weeks to get back into the swing of meat-meat-meat. On top of that the huge quantities of rice remains something I am still yet to get used to as it appears at every meal, though at breakfast it is generally garlic fried rice which is rather good.
Despite all this heavy food, I have managed to lose ¾ of a stone during my 7 weeks here, the bulk of this disappearing in the last two weeks when we weren’t diving (really not sure how that one happened). I will here describe some of the wondrous and bizarre dishes that I have had the luck to be served, complete with photographs wherever possible:
Whole spit roasted pig: This is also known as lechon, and is some of the loveliest, most tender meat you will ever eat. At the Rosenas family reunion on Apid Island, we even sat with a whole 60kg lechon on our table, peeling off its sweet and crispy crackling. It goes amazingly well with a sauce (usually it is named sarsa) that is brown and sweet in flavour, the equivalent of the apple sauce hog roast combination. I found that, in fact, many things go very well with sarsa, especially vegetarian egg fritters, mmmm.
Freshly caught squid: One lucky day when it was particularly hot and Howard and I were feeling a bit down in the dumps a few days after the Crown of Thorns day, one of the small boats pulled up absolutely laden with about seven men, who it transpired had been out catching a huge amount of squid. Our staff brought a small bowl of them over to show us. The creatures had in fact died by this point, but the pigments in their skin were still flashing in their chemical reaction. It was fascinating to watch. This even continued for another hour, once the squid had been chopped up and served raw on our plate. We also had them cooked in their own inks, which was delicious and not too over cooked.
Mentioning raw seafood brings me straight to one of my favourite dishes here – kinilaw. Kinilaw is raw fish, with fresh coconut made into the equivalent of a thin coconut milk, with lots of ginger, spring onion and red chilis. It is sweet and spicy and sour all at once and a complete assail on the senses, but boy is it good. It is the Filipino equivalent of sashimi, essentially. I’ve had it with Tuna (eep, every time I come here I get served huge quantities of the exact thing I refuse profusely at home), squid and I think another type of fish which escapes me, possibly snapper.
Crabs served with buko (young coconut): This was cooked for us on Mahaba on a reasonably regular basis. Crabs are caught and then I believe boiled slightly, then their flesh removed from the shell, mixed with buko and mashed slightly, then returned to the shell for serving. It is sweet and very flavoursome. We did eat one “coconut crab”, which is much bigger and almost lobster like in appearance, though the flesh is much bitterer and not really to mine or Howard’s taste. I would love to have taken the recipe for this, but there is definitely no way I could recreate this in the UK.
Mango and banana float are favourites that I will most certainly be making back at home. Having not eaten this in Cebu, I can assume that it may be a delicacy that resides in Leyte. Float implies a liquid nature, which initially put me off, but it’s not at all like that, until it melts a little. It is a dessert layered in the same way one might make a lasagne, but the layers are made of crushed Graham crackers (so much arguing about how to say the word Graham between the Brits and Americans!!), sliced banana or mango and condensed milk. You then freeze it, but allow it to thaw a small amount before serving else you can’t break the stuff up. It is quintessential heaven and quite probably bad for you but the wonderful taste of it overrides your health concerns. Those who live in York may be lucky enough to taste my attempts at making this over the next few months!
With regards to palate, Filipino food is very sweet. The bread is more akin to brioche as it contains eggs, sugar and milk. I’ve only ever been served sweet potatoes, which look pale and fibrous, half way between the sort we get in imported into the UK and a regular British spud. In fact, as I’m writing this section, our cooks in Mahaba Fi and Marilou have just provided us with a plate of these sweet potatoes, fried and caramelised in sugar, which are treacly and comforting, the sort of thing your mother would make you when you needed a real energy boost. A bit on the heavy side, so I can’t gorge on them, which may or may not be a good thing – my mind keeps yelling DON’T REGAIN THAT ¾ STONE MISSY.
The instant coffee tends to contain coffee mate as well as sugar and pictures of bleached Asians really enjoying their drink. Given that Coffee Mate’s primary ingredient is glucose syrup, you start to get the picture of how sweet things are. Luckily we managed to find some instant Nescafe that contains nothing added and Romell has a bean grinder.
Tuba and San Miguel are regularly mixed with Pepsi to make it sweeter, and Tanduay often mixed with Sparkle which tastes like molten sugar but is supposed to be somewhat like Sprite, which they also have here. Their equivalent of Fanta is so luminous in colour that it could light your way in the dark. The ice tea powder contains 23g of sugar in every 25g of powder. Err guys, I’m pretty sure you can’t call that tea…
Amongst the sweet and the delicious comes the truly bizarre. Baluk is something that, as yet, no one has convinced me it’s worth trying and at the thought of it my Western squeamishness reaches maximum levels. Baluk is a fertilised duck egg and you eat all of it, bar the shell. Last summer I recall two people telling me that you drink the “soup”, referencing the egg white and yolk, and that the duck foetus tends to disintegrate if you’re not quick enough.
A weird Asian delicacy that I am much happier to devour at length is stinky, creamy durian fruit. Banned from many a building and transportation, it really smells bad, almost like sulphurous rotten eggs. But ripened and cooled in the fridge, the fruit inside the thick spiked shell is delightful. The key to durian is to not think of it as a fruit, per se, as it doesn’t have the same fructose sweetness as tropical fruits like mangoes or bananas. The best stuff is the fibrous bits around the stone. It looks a little like the creamy inside of fresh brie and to me, it tastes like a creamy sweetened cheese. Many people uncertain of eating it ask “why would you eat something that tastes so bad”, at which I point them to stilton or similar coloured cheeses which smell like feet but taste absolutely delicious. Separating your taste buds from your nose can be difficult (though personally, I think it smells less when you’ve cracked it open and get the yellow flesh out) but with an open mind many first timers, like myself, can enjoy it immensely. If you ever get the opportunity to eat it in an Asian country, I recommend you do so if it’s ripe as no matter what your personal review is, it’s worth the experience.
At the end of my time in Mahaba I was also treated to another stinky-tasty food which was dried fish, which had basically sat in the sun for four days, and you dipped the meat into vinegar. It was very salty and there was some other taste, almost a bit like off butter. That day I really liked it, but the next day I felt like I could smell it on my skin and we got served it in a sort of coconut soup that made me retch at the smell. I think I might steer clear of that one.
A meal that I had in Pura Vida was a yellow thai curry sauce, mixed with grilled chicken, cubed mango and sliced banana. This was on a bed of lightly fried rice, mixed with spring onion, white onion and cubed carrot. Totally making this when I get home.
When I mention that Filipinos eat a huge quantity of meat, I don’t simply refer to steaks and chicken breasts. At the Barangay Captain’s house in Mahaba Island, I was served a stew of pork “innards” in which the sauce was composed mostly of blood. I was really rather surprised to find it delightful, reminiscent of a hearty, salt laden pork soup I had in the restaurant of the Fernsehturm in Berlin. I have also been served chicken intestines on a stick which I accepted one night when I was a bit too drunk to consider what it was I was really eating and that was pretty good too, though it had a grainy texture and the meat almost melted in your mouth not unlike ox tongue; I believe the best part of it was the sauce. During the Rosenas family reunion on Apid, we met another English fellow who was married into the family, and he told me that the lechon ears are considered a delicacy, as is the tongue. We even get fish heads in our broths along with the fins and meat!
Hospitality, generosity and positivity have been evident in the Filipinos no matter where I’ve been and everyone is always keen to help out when we look a bit lost. I’ve learnt just enough Visayan to ask questions and to understand directions, so that helps!
Back to religion, Catholicism features regularly here. You can’t drive for particularly long without passing a statue of the Virgin Mary and almost all the jeepneys, buses and tuk-tuks have something along the lines with “God Bless this journey” written on them. Many fiestas have religious origins, such as the one I attended in Limasawa, Southern Leyte, which was to celebrate the first Catholic Mass to be held not only in the Philippines, but in Asia when the Spanish conquered - I believe it was the 491st anniversary. Our Filipino counterpart signs the crosses or makes a sign every time we pass a Mary on the roads. On several occasions, meals have been blessed by seminaries or by high standing members of the public, while Howard and I look on awkwardly, always missing the point where they do the sign of the cross over their bodies, meaning our hands hang limp but twitch just as we miss the cue.
Howard wanted to donate some money to the village, to something that would benefit the local community. The first response was to give it to the church, which we refused on the basis that we’re not religious and something better could be done with the money rather than it be spent on the upkeep of a church somewhere nearby. In the end it went towards new buoys for the Marine Protected Areas, though I never actually saw this being implemented!
So that’s it; my rough, poorly edited collection of thoughts on the Philippines.
I know that if you happen to be one of those nice people who think it imperative to read my tweety ramblings as well as this (HA YEAH) then you’ll know that mine and Howard’s good work has been stopped by a bloody typhoon.
After being here 7 days, with a day off for ear rest, we had finished three of our sites. The third was a fished damaged area that was alright, nothing particularly special, called Talisay. We were super chuffed with ourselves so planned to go to the Marine Reserve the next day.
And that’s when trouble started.
The Barangay Captains (local elected mini mayors I guess) had all been informed by the main office that gave us our permit that we would be diving in the Marine Reserve because no one else is allowed to. Supposedly, they had told the Bantay Dagat (marine guard protector people) we were coming. Of course this didn’t happen. One of our boat staff swam all the way out to the Bantay Dagat office and back to give us the bad news (poor guy, 10 mins each way in bad waves). Then we had to go to the Barangay Captain’s office. When he was found he just sent a text to the Bantay Dagat. A full hour and a half was wasted by that exercise but OH WELL.
Unfortunately there was a current so we only got half the full amount at 5 metres depth completed, then we struggled to get back on the boat because of the waves.
It was after that that the warning about the typhoon came and the waves got really big. Now typhoon season runs from June to December here. The typhoon hit on the FIRST OF JUNE. And it’s now the 4th and the waves are still too bad for us to go to that side of the island because it’s so exposed. Our side, you can barely tell we’re having problems. The weather is nice and there’s some wind occasionally, but otherwise you’d have no idea. The typhoon itself is off on the other side of the Visayas, and yet it’s still messed up our progress.
We have tomorrow left in Cabilao so I’m really hoping we can dive, but looks like we’ll have to come back later to finish it. On the upside in this spare time I’ve done more work on the statistics and my tan, a little. It’s just frustrating to see the sea and want to dive in it but not be able. Boo.
The first thing I noticed about Cabilao was the humidity. The second thing I noticed was how healthy the coral is.
Oh my goodness. After five weeks of bad to mediocre coral in Mahaba then Dauin I had forgotten how glorious a healthy reef truly is. Lighthouse reef on the North Western tip of the island is absolutely exceptional. Howard and I jumped off the boat in our snorkelling gear just to check out whether the site was suitable for a “good coral” labelled site, and it didn’t take us long to realise that it was perfect. The quality of reef here is very high, though so far we have only dived Lighthouse and Cambiquiz, on the North Eastern tip of the island, in front of the Sea Explorers resort.
Cambiquiz is dominated by seagrass stretching out far from the shore, only to a depth of 5 or 6m maximum, followed by a wall which shows history of dynamite damage – unsurprising given that on the other side of the neighbouring island, dynamite fishing still continues and we hear blasts at least once or twice a dive. The seagrass bed is littered with coral bommies and hosts a variety of marine life and we even saw a pair of Cowries mating! When we snorkel out we are regularly greeted by shy green puffer fish, trying to camouflage themselves into inexistence. I’ve seen a lot of pipe fish here too.
Cabilao is famous for the pygmy seahorse, discovered to be here by the dive guide at Sea Explorers known as Bobet, who now is somewhat of a local celebrity. He helped us find all our site combinations, thus completely obliterating our need for a scoping day. In fact, we’re now on day 6 of Cabilao, having an ear-rest day, and Howard and I have completed two of our sites and know exactly where the other two are!
My right ear is causing a bit of a problem today, however I am unsure if it is an ear problem or a jaw problem. Around my jaw hinge is swollen and my gums feel sensitive, and because of this equalising can be difficult though I generally can do it. H and I inspected my mouthpiece to my regulator and realised that when it’s in my mouth, it keeps me locked at a half-open position, rather than almost closed, due to a piece of plastic that goes over the roof of my mouth. The only reason this thought sprung to my mind was because of Nadia and Naomi mentioning when they were doing my share of the field work in Dauin how strange it made their mouths feel. After a few hours of this a day, perhaps it is my face that is suffering, and not my ears. I’m unsure about this, but I’ve switched to a normal mouthpiece so we’ll see tomorrow as I intend to dive or at least give it a shot. The worst thing about this is how painful it is to eat, though on the upside this does mean that it’s less likely I’ll be piling back on all that weight I lost.
There was a bit of a misunderstanding regarding our rooms – we were led to believe that there was no room for us for the first three nights, but it turned out to be three nights in – so we stayed over at Polaris resort for two nights and braved the seriously bad bumpy road between the two resorts via motorbike. The food there was excellent and I gorged on the first spinach I’d eaten in eleven weeks. While the electricity was on the island’s generator, so only between 5pm and around 11pm, the resort itself was nice and attractive looking. The rooms were a bit kitschy – seriously guys, a wall hanging with dolphins on does not also need glitter!
It’s nice to be back in one place though. We’re here projected for another nine days, depending on how soon we finish up the diving. It’s just been Howard and I for all the time here so far which has been nice and we’ve been working like the well-oiled machine we had built ourselves up to being.
I think Howard and I really earned Dauin after our ordeal at Mahaba. Arriving at Dauin was like stepping into a world of luxury that we were completely unused to.
The first place we stayed at was Mike’s resort, just for a week or so whilst Sea Explorers was fully booked, as it was a bit of a last minute decision to go to Dauin as our third, rather than fifth, site. Mike’s was great. Mike himself is a warm-hearted California who used to grow wine grapes and is determined to make you feel at home as soon as you arrive. The rooms were huge and cool, with internet actually in the room which is so unbelievably rare. They had a big hairy black Labrador named Lola, who was heavy with milk and constantly scratching, closely followed around by her only remaining puppy who looked the absolute spitting image of my beloved Bantay. Unlike Bantay, however, she had a particular penchant for attracting ticks, so I spent much time on extracting the little bastards from her. It was a nice place to spend my recuperation, whilst my abscess receded and hearing returned. I managed to get a few dives in at the end of our time there, then we moved next door to Pura Vida which is part of the Sea Explorers company.
All the staff at Pura Vida are really charming and sweet, and remember my name which is really nice considering there seemed to be about fifty people staying there at that time (though, to be fair, I am the only young, white female). One of my cleaning ladies accidentally locked me out of my room when I was working in Howard’s and when I caught up with her at the reception, she walked me all the way back to unlock it herself, whilst complimenting me on “how you wear your shorts” and told me that the guard said I was very gwappa. I said this last year, and it still stands, the Philippines is great for your ego if you are an averagely attractive white female like myself. Like I said, all very nice friendly people.
Howie and I were super lucky to have a visit from Naomi and Nadia (of Cebu adventuring days) whilst they were doing their holidaying before going back to the UK. We were triply lucky, because I got otitis externa (swimmers ear for you normals) and so couldn’t dive, so they stepped up to the plate and helped us complete the site. It was lovely and refreshing to have them around. All the staff would ask me “are they twins?!” and occasionally “they are boys?” A little boy swimming in the shallows of the pool one afternoon, who kept telling me which bits he was going to swim along (massive adorable points combined with oh-god-my-ovaries), came across Naomi and asked, quite sweetly, “why is your head like mine?” We told him it was because it was too hot for long hair, which he seemed to agree to, but then said something like “is it because it’s pink?” which was where we lost him. He then asked Howard, who was squinting in the sun, why his eyes were so small.
We managed to crack out some ideas for the statistics during my time off diving though, so at least there were some upsides. My tan improved too, a little.
In case any of you are divers and want to know about the diving around Dauin, I’d say if you’re after muck diving then you are in heaven. Unfortunately I didn’t get chance to go to Apo because of my stupid ear, and so just dived in the long stretch of marine reserves along the coast. The coral got hit very badly by a tropical storm in December, which also damaged many of the businesses boats. Therefore, there’s a lot of recent rubble with some algae already growing. There’s a surprising number of fish in many of the marine reserves where the coral has suffered, however. Hopefully that won’t change over time, as it’s going to take a long time before the coral comes back to how it was. The resorts here are wonderful though and it sounds like all of Apo except the East side didn’t suffer in the storm, so it’s worth heading over if you’re considering it.
That’s about it for now!
While our time in Cuatro Islas may have gotten off to a rocky start, today was pretty brilliant. We had helped organise a mass crown of thorns extraction across the marine parks of three islands, Mahaba (our own), Apid and Digyo. Howard couldn’t participate unfortunately as his chest infection was still rife and he was dosed up on antibiotics on mine and Amelia’s (Coral Cay’s medical officer) instructions.
Rommell and I took the boat over to Apid at just before eight in the morning. Apid is the main island of the Barangay and is much larger than our little Mahaba, though enormous compared to barely inhabited Digyo with its five houses. There I met many of the local people who were keen to be involved in the collection, including a seminary who had come along for the day to bless our collection, I believe. Barely anything happens around here without some sort of blessing.
After about an hour’s waiting and organising and people asking if I was American or British, if I lived in London and if I was married, we headed off to the boat. We only went a short distance from the town to the marine park, where we all jumped in ready to kick some thorny crowny ass. If you have never seen a Crown of Thorns starfish, I recommend googling them. They are a mess of legs and spikes, with red-orange tips making them look incredibly nasty looking. When they get annoyed, they curl up into a ball like a hedgehog but considerably less cute and certainly more dangerous, as their spikes possess a poison – I believe it targets the nervous system as some men known to Coral Cay have lost all sensation in finger tips after being stung.
The locals all donned their goggles made out of coconut (if I remember rightly, that’s what someone told me last year) and some ply wood fins – though there weren’t enough to go around so some people only got the one fin! Myself and a couple of the Filipino guys who were lucky enough to have two fins took the deeper areas, free diving down to about four metres to collect them.
After we all emptied our buckets a good three times, we moved on to Digyo. We worked out each small bucket contained around 70 crown of thorns of varying sizes, but there were larger buckets completely stuffed full as well. Digyo had much less of an infestation but also more people helping out so that got cleared up quite quickly, and it turns out that people did all of the Mahaba site while we were off on the other islands.
We have roughly counted up how many we think have been removed and put the estimate somewhere near 4000, which is an astonishing amount. Everyone was super enthusiastic and pleased to be involved, which made me in turn very happy. It felt good to do some hands on conservation with the community. Howard had organised a big meal back at Mahaba village for everyone who was involved, so we all headed there including H himself and ate a big hearty meal and drank some tuba for good measure. We even put on the videoke machine for a bit and had a few songs.
Finally, because Howard had decided to donate the 3000 pesos reward that he had put up for his missing phone that turned up in the rocks, we discussed with the Barangay captain what best to do with the money, coming up with the idea to replace the buoys around the marine protected areas with new, brighter markers. All in all a successful day.
So I haven’t written too much about my time in Mahaba on here but I think once you’ve read this post you’ll understand why. It is fairly safe to say that our time here has been plagued by a considerable amount of misfortune. Neither Howard nor myself are particularly superstitious people, but we can’t help feeling like this site has bad juju. May I present a summary of our misfortunes so far!
1. The site is a logistical nightmare. So, we live on a marine station on the top of a cliff. Pretty nice you say, must be good sunsets. Yes those are both thoroughly true statements that I agree wholeheartedly with. However, the only way up is via a rickety, crumbling wooden ladder, up which we have to transport tanks, dive equipment, food etc. Also our compressors are on the mainland, meaning a boat trip every time we run out of tanks.
2. Not only is it a logistical nightmare, but it’s isolation without privacy. As I said, we’re on a cliff but there is a village nearby on the island. The only way to get to it is either to take a boat, walk along the shore at low tide (rarely is it low enough for this to be possible) or take the high road. This requires scrambling through the forest behind our house, which we did on the first day we were here, as we didn’t quite realise how difficult this would be. The rocks are jagged and grey and rip like daggers if you are unlucky enough to scrape yourself on them. The path goes through twisting trees with roots ready to trip you if you don’t slip and slide over the rocky outcrops in your flip flops. Howard and I managed to maintain our cool (barely) and even scrambled down the sheer cliff at the end, about three or four times my height, escaping injury. Needless to say, we have never tried this again! Further to this, our house has three rooms and a porch area but the staff and visitors are always dotted around talking very loudly, so it’s hard to concentrate or feel like you have anywhere to escape to, except maybe the sea below.
3. On our first day, Howard’s phone was stolen. So after we made this crazy trip and returned to our house, splashing ourselves vigorously with icy water to mitigate the thick heat, Howard realised that his phone had been taken from the table. We had locked everything else in his bedroom but forgotten to put that in too. It was definitely gone as I ransacked his room trying to find it. After a lot of upset and an early night and a lot of angry phone calls in Visayan, it did turn up, behind some rocks, in the far corner of the porch area where someone had evidently stashed it for the time being.
4. Howard’s never ending chest infection. When we arrived, he had a small cold which he had picked up in Coral Cay, but it only got worse. I suspect that the unclean conditions we are living in are not exactly helping his lungs, but we lost a good five days of diving because he was so sick. He even had a brief fever one night, causing me to stay awake half the night terrified of what was happening, checking in on him every hour. Luckily the fever broke the next day and we got him on a course of amoxicillin which seemed to have mostly done the trick, though the bastard thing is still hanging on.
5. The tank issue. So not only are the compressors on the mainland, but at least one of them is giving us bad air. It is difficult to work out for definite what is going on, but Howard and I dived on some plastic smelling air then felt rotten for the rest of the day. Evidently a mistake on our part, but we didn’t have much of a choice by that point. If it was a resort, we would have rejected it. But not only are we getting bad air, we are getting half-filled tanks. All these problems mean that when we get, say 10 tanks delivered, about half of them end up being unusable. After being here two weeks, we still have 160 metres of transect to do at 15 metres depth, spread over 4 dive areas, plus 40 metres at 10 depth and 40 metres at 5 depth. We have essentially done around 7 of our required 16 dives.
6. The language barrier. I am persisting and this is only a minor issue, though it does mean that we cannot converse easily with the staff. Visayan is quite a difficult language as it is so far removed from European languages, except for the odd words of English or Spanish that pop up. Romell is being a patient teacher and helping me with the basics so that I can string small sentences together, but I’m still far from conversational. I think Howard and I are a bit lonely without other people to chat to, save the English guy Graham who we bumped into at the Rosenas family reunion.
7. The house is exceptionally basic and pushes mine and Howard’s willingness to live in the bare minimum. We have electricity from 6pm to 10pm, roughly (depending on when the generator operator can be bothered) though we can get more if asked (again, provided the operator is around). Our beds are very thin mattresses, with a bottom sheet, on the floor. There is nothing to put our things on so my room is surrounded by all my stuff around my bed. The heat is stifling here and we have no fans and obviously no air conditioning (which Howard and I will never complain about ever ever ever again). The rooms are pretty insulated as well, so the wind from the sea, if there is one, doesn’t ever quite reach us.
8. SO MUCH RED MEAT OH GODDD. Thanks to David’s influence, I don’t eat very much red meat at home, or fish, but here every dish is meat. Every now and then they do a big bowl of squash and green beans for me as they realise it’s my favourite, but honestly, it’s making me feel so rough all the time.
9. My ear hurts today, much more than it did last time. This time it is my left ear, so not a reinfection from last time, but I clean my ears after every dive and snorkel and yet this has still happened.
Finally, although this is not Mahaba’s fault, but I had some terribly sad news a few days ago, in which I found out that my friend Felimar’s fourteen year old son JanJan had passed away. He suffered from diabetes and so was very small and ill. Last year, the other volunteers and I organised purchase and collection of insulin for him, as well as an emergency evacuation when he had a serious problem. He was a very sweet child and Felimar is an amazingly devoted father. The journey to Cebu to get JanJan’s insulin was an eight hour round trip, which their family couldn’t afford, let alone afford the insulin. They had three other children to feed, who were also suffering because of the lack of leftover money after JanJan’s needs had been cared for. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy and I wish there was so much more that I could do.
Basically I think my patience has run out. We still have to do all the 15 metre depth transects but I am urging Howard to admit defeat. Sometimes, while it’s good to persevere, sometimes you have to admit you’re beaten. And this time I think we truly have been. There have been two lovely days – a Crown of Thorns extraction and a fiesta which will have their separate blog posts shortly – so don’t think that I’m ungrateful but moving on to site three will be a good thing.
Amidst all the trouble preventing us from diving, I have, however, managed to read an extraordinary amount:
- Little Women
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones
- Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay (cried so much it’s embarrassing)
- Franny and Zooey (seriously JD Salinger what? Are all of your male characters just you)
- Jane Eyre (such a great character until the revelation about 60% through the book and she just turns into an idiot for two years)
- Brideshead Revisited
Having watched all of Downton Abbey, I’m now going to read through anything vaguely of that period with grand houses. I believe all this escapism is helping retain my sanity. Thank goodness for my hammock and kindle!
#6th of May UPDATE#
So after writing this on Thursday the 3rd May, the next day Romell kindly drove me to the ENT specialist in Baybay where we were treated to a live-camera-action shot of a tube going down my ear and finding an enormous abscess. No wonder I couldn’t hear or open my mouth. He informed me that “no surgery was required today”(I’d not even considered that a possibility!) and I was incredibly lucky that it didn’t burst as this would have been a serious complication. Apparently it was a pressure related injury, though I can’t for the life of me think of when it could have happened, unless it was due to the compression I felt run through my body two days prior due to an enormous dynamite blast (either from the blast itself or from me rapidly descending or ascending in surprise). Regardless, he told me to come back in the next few days and not go in the water at all (sacre bleu!), then dosed me up with super antibiotic tablets and ear-drops, as well as some form of corticosteroid to dull the pain, plus an instruction to not dive for probably two weeks, depending on our next meeting.
After that, we popped up to Visaya State University, formerly Visca, to pick up our tanks, only to find that all six smelled like plastic and fumes. Turns out the filter was very old and they were due to get a new compressor in about a month’s time, so weren’t going to change it. We emptied all the tanks outside, which caused a huge cloud of horrendous smelling gas to be released. Thank goodness we hadn’t dived on more than one (or possibly two in my unlucky case) contaminated tank to any huge depth as the toxicity would have made us very, very ill.
This was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. Howard realised that we needed to get out of here, abandoning all the 15 metre depth transects, as we’d completely run out time with only him and Romell doing the surveying combined with the hit and miss air fills. We had 40 metres of transects to do at 5 and 10 metres depth in order to leave with three depths completed, so if the tanks from Inopacan come back filled well we can finish off properly. We aren’t holding our breath about this, however, as the exhaust is rather close to where the air goes in, but positivity prevails for now!
On top of this, the £10,000 transferred from the university to Romell’s account in order to pay for everything in Mahaba and site 3 in Cataban in cash has been frozen, potentially by the money laundering investigation people (though we have no idea what they are called or anything!). Despite getting a letter from the university sent to the HQ of his bank, we still have no idea how long it will take to process. So the options remaining were wait here or go somewhere that takes visa.
At this point, I rang up Rolf Muehlemann of SeaExplorers. We had been conversing through email as he agreed to help us as much as possible in sites 4 and 5, Cabilao in Bohol and Dauin in Negros Oriental. After a bit of deliberation, he booked us into Pura Vida resort in Dauin from the 15th of May where we have air conditioned private rooms in a five star resort. Until then, we are staying a night in Panglao mid-transit, so I get to visit my friend Simon on the way, then staying at a resort called Mike’s for 5 days.
This is where I wholeheartedly recommend Sea Explorers. They are one of the biggest companies in the Philippines, spanning across the Central Visayas and I dived with Tata (Roberto Tipo) at Malapascua, who is one of my favourite people in this country. Rolf has been incredibly accommodating and has put up with many questions and dithering on our end. I will write a longer testimonial once we’ve used them, but their professionalism and helpfulness so far has been excellent.
After my trip to Cebu and a clean bill of health on the ear front, it was back to business. And when I say business, I obviously mean science. Howard and I sped through our second dive area, only to realise we were running short on time and needed help. Good on Coral Cay came to our rescue and offered us two extra divers, for two days, when they were going to Bahay, a site we needed to visit anyway. Bahay was mine and Howard’s fished and trashed coral site, and that’s pretty much entirely what we found. The first day went smoothly, except for the constant downpour which left us all wet for just under twelve hours. On the first dive, I was the only one to not come up shaking with cold, despite also being the only one not in a wet suit - those extra layers of fat were definitely something to be thankful for that day!
The next day was our recreation day, so all of us opted to go snorkelling with whale sharks. The journey took a few hours, and we picked up some spotters on the way, who attached their boats to the back of hours, forming a conga line of whale shark enthusiasts. Once we arrived at Sonok, the spotters broke off from our boat and we all sat poised at the edges, ready to jump in when a whale shark was near. The spotters would wave when they found one and our boat would speed along, where we’d all pile into the water and swim after the world’s biggest fish. Over an hour or so, I was lucky enough to see three individuals, one of which was rather close to the surface and decided mid-swim to do a full 360 turn, and so ended up staring me in the face as I’d ducked down at that precise moment. There is a photograph to prove this but our internet is so darn slow, I’ll have to show it you another time. There was lots of full pelt swimming while we searched for new sharks which I very much enjoyed – despite doing lots of diving, there is plenty of time spent sedentary, and I was grateful for the chance to push my body. At one point, the majority of our group had gotten back on the boat, and only Naomi, Nadia, Joe the Science Officer and myself were in the water mid-way between our boat and the spotters. Nadia and Joe sped off like a pair of semi aquatic creatures, while Naomi and I pushed along. I was copying her strokes so that we would maintain the same pace throughout which I revealed after to her delight – ultimate buddy techniques there guys.
After a little while, however, I decided to get out. That fifteen minute full pelt swim had tired me out a bit and it was then I took some real time to survey the situation. Our boat had around 15 people on it, splashing along violently in the water to keep up with the whale sharks. On top of that, there was a dive boat that had brought five spotters of their own and had around 12 tourists on it. Altogether, that adds up to a lot of noise and a lot of people. First of all from the person’s perspective, it could be fairly unsafe, as with so many people focussed on something below the water, a collision of fin-to-face was not irregular. On top of that, the German tourists on the dive boat regular pushed us out the way – one even ended up inadvertently, or maybe purposefully, grabbing Callum’s testicles in a bid to get past him.
Secondly, and most importantly, imagine how deafening it must be for the sharks. 25 people thrashing around in fins, not obeying rules about slow fin kicks that make no splashes, plus two large bancas with super loud engines (seriously, I’ve been made temporarily deaf by one before) and then the ten little spotter boats dashing around, albeit by paddle not engine. It must be a confusing and terrifying situation, surely? I thought back to my time at the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre in Utila, Honduras, where I believe the maximum tourists per whale shark was capped at something around 12, and then you were sent in in two waves, so as not to cause distress. It also made me think of Oslob, in Cebu, where fishermen have been feeding the whale sharks, leading to around 100 tourists per day snorkelling with them. A girl I know from last summer is coordinating behavioural research into this tourism, which can only have negative effects on the animals, I’m sure.
Howard appeared to have the same attitude, and so did Naomi, so she and I decided to have a little rest on the bough. Apparently our rest was a little too long, we discovered later. When everyone got back on the boat, we all assembled for boat-journey-home-nap-time, as has become customary (those life jackets that mother Coral Cay made us wear did make exceptionally good pillows if you got the right one). When we awoke and disembarked and showered off the day’s salt, Naomi and I stopped to assess each other, and slowly realised that we were both a horrendous shade of raspberry. Even worse, Naomi had clearly fallen asleep with her hand on her bare stomach, and so had been left with a white hand mark in the middle of her luminous stomach. We both got dick of the day nominations for that little stunt. The funny thing is, a few days later she fell asleep in the sun again and I had to wake her up, as this time she’d left a book on her bare stomach and I had images of a very bizarre tan line in the making.
The day after, we got back to business in Bahay and finished off all our surveys with the help of other volunteers again. Howard and I were facing finishing early, which delighted us, and eventually we did indeed finish with time to spare, allowing him to finish writing up and rest due to his oncoming cold.
The final Saturday night was… messy. Three volunteers were celebrating their completion of their Dive Master with the infamous “Snorkel Test” – for those unfamiliar, the person undertaking the test dons a mask and snorkel, which is then slowly filled with a cocktail of alcohol. First of all we spun them around and made them wear fins and made it all very silly. After the drinking commenced, it quickly became a very funny night. Somehow Tanduay rum made it to the porch which we were taking shots of out of a bowl, which for some reason there are photographs of me wearing. We built a bonfire that worked fairly well, someone fell asleep in the roots of a tree and many people fell asleep on the beach. All in all, everyone’s spirits were high and it was a good final Saturday night for us all who were set to leave within the following few days.
Over the last few days I assisted on a small crown of thorns extraction, though luckily there aren’t that many around Napantao at the minute *touch wood* and I only surfaced with about three after a forty minute dive. The highlight of my last few days was assisting Amelia’s two final Dive Master dives, in which she was supposed to be taking out novice coral reef divers and awful qualified divers. Naturally, the instructor Ant and I took this as an opportunity to be absolute nuisances and credit where credit’s due, Amelia handled our indiscretions really well. The first of these dives happened to be my 100th dive, so everyone dressed up my equipment like a Christmas tree (did not fancy going naked as is tradition, as my new BCD would not leave anything at all to the imagination). This mischiefs include me wearing my BCD back to front, removal and subsequent stealing of fins, getting tangled up in the SMB line, swimming off and hiding, pretending to not remember how to get down, descending with snorkels in our mouths instead of regulators, pressing the inflate instead of deflate button and, this one was just Ant and I, complete swapping of equipment. This ended up being hilariously funny as Ant’s BCD turned out to be far too big for me and was a little bit underweighted, so I was floating about everywhere. When we reached the surface, the shoulders of the BCD were floating way above my head, much to everyone’s amusement.
Ultimately, I must say I miss Coral Cay. While it is nice to have a room to myself, I miss all the people who were always ready with stories to tell. I miss sitting on the sea wall, having our pre dinner 5.30pm allocated beer with the shisha pipe, swapping our stories of the day’s activities. I miss relaxing on the porch watching Community every evening. I miss the puppy, Bantay, and the spaced out cat Frankie. I miss the dinner time discussions of Hero and Dick of the day. I miss waking up to blaring music, bizarrely – that was one I didn’t expect. Howard and I both very much enjoyed our time there and I wish everyone at the Napantao site all the luck in the world and I hope that I get to cross paths with them again.
Adventures to Cebu, written early April. Wow I’m slack.
So our trip to Cebu cannot simply be described as straight forward. In fact, I would say that straight forward is about as far from the actual event as you could get. It did start out really well. Nadia and Naomi had opted to use their allotted holiday time to come along with James, Callum and I on our little trip, so spirits were high and everyone was excited.
We were advised that our bus would be around 8am, so we organised for the motorbikes to come get us at 7am, giving us plenty of waiting around at the bus stop time. We got there and set up in the little shack and I stood by the side of the road waiting for the bus. 8am came around but the bus did not. In fact our expedition leader Logon came shooting past on his motorbike on the way to get the week’s food and shouted instructions for us to get the next bus to Sogod then transfer from there, as the straight bus to the ferry was obviously not coming. One turned up and we ran into the road shouting “PARA! PARA! PARA!” (stop!). The bus drew up, completely full to the brim with people. They signalled us on, so we figured there must be room behind all the people leaning out of the bus entrance. Space might have been an over exaggeration. After a lot of shuffling about, Callum, Nadia, Naomi and myself ended up sprawled between each other’s legs, while James (who is 6ft 4) stood with his necked crane to one side so he could fit in the Filipino height designed bus. This seemed like a fairly ok option, despite the sudden breaking reeling Callum into a small girl at the front of the bus, but otherwise all was alright. Until the floor started heating up, that is. We realised that actually we were sitting on the engine cover, and whenever the driver kicked up the speed, it started to heat up. In fact, it got so uncomfortable-borderline-painful that Nadia had to get me a pair of her shorts for me to sit on – bad day to choose a short dress to wear! We did have a few people take photographs of us in our weird position and one lady shoved her camera phone in my face, instructing me to “smile, beautiful”. A very bizarre leg of the journey!
So we made it to Sogod which is the main town on the way and we discovered our bus was headed to Bato. After Bato we were to go on to Hilongas, though there was a chance of catching a ferry from Bato’s pier. Next to us were two or three buses also going to Bato, but we decided to hedge our bets and stay on that bus… which then sat waiting for 15 minutes. Eventually we trundled off again, this time with us all on our own seats thanks to the bus emptying out – though Naomi did get snuggled on by a little girl. At Bato we skipped out and found a nice, clean public toilet where we had to wear “courtesy slippers”, otherwise known as communal flip flops in order to keep the place clean. Nadia, Naomi and I paid our money and started all walking to the women’s when the lady cried out and pointed towards the otherside of her and to Naomi. Apparently Naomi’s short hair qualified her to be a potential male, so I cried out “no she’s a girl!” while the lady was contemplating her sexual identity. Small apology followed by clean toilets, then we wandered up the pier, finding nothing but news that the ferry would be at 9pm and a dead kitten floating in the water. Only the bakery made Bato a vaguely hopeful place.
We filled some carrier bags with sweet breads and bottled water, and hailed a tuk-tuk (motorbike with a side carriage that many people can sit in) and drove off down to Hilongas. We walked down to the first ferry office, only to be also told that the next ferry was at 9pm. We continued on down the road, in sweltering heat, and found another ferry office which had listings to Cebu. A female member of staff came out of the office of Leopard’s Ferries and chatted to us, informing us that we had missed the ferry we had aimed for by a mere 50 minutes. We noticed ferries from Bohol and asked her what the chance was of going to a whole other island on the way. She made a phone call and announced that yes, we could get to Cebu provided we took a ferry to Ubay in Bohol, got a jeepney, a van and then another ferry from Getafe, and finally would arrive around 6pm. We realised this would only be an hour after we were supposed to arrive and the choice of waiting for 9 hours in Hilongas to get a 6 hour ferry to Cebu or get there sooner with a small adventure was a massive no-brainer. The lady even organised for another member of staff for Leopard’s to meet us at the other end and ensure we get on the right jeepney to Talibon, where we’d get a van. We sat in their office enjoying an ice cream, then were taken to the ferry itself in a little jeepney.
We slept almost the whole way, once I’d told them to turn down the obnoxiously loud Fall Out Boy and similar whiney American angsty youth music. The lady from Leopard’s was indeed waiting under an umbrella to shade herself from the sun at the pier, and she walked us all the way to the jeepneys through a complicated pathway of market shortcuts. Part of the way into our journey, we had to stop to refuel, with Callum getting a surprise as the opening to the tank was near the floor between his legs. When we arrived just before Talibon, a man ran up to the window and shouted “FERRY? GETAFE? CEBU?” evidently used to this change over, and we hopped off the hot tin can jeepney and clambered into an air conditioned van, waiting for it to fill up so we could get to the ferry within the next 40 minutes. At one point, I noticed a girl in just a long white t shirt wander towards our van, and peek through the windows shielding the light from her eyes. She smiled, then drooled everywhere. Evidently she was well known about the village too, as the driver ushered her away. She stood smiling and drooling as we pulled away.
Desperately clock watching, we arrived in Getafe with fifteen minutes to spare, but we couldn’t see the sea at all. Luckily a man with a motorbike side car/tuk-tuk was there and we cried out “FERRY PIER BOAT”. It was so small that Callum had to hold onto the back of the sidecar and James was half sticking out of it, but we made it, alive, somehow, with time to spare.
Our boat to Cebu was named Star Craft 5 and was half submerged, looking a bit like a submarine with wings. Inside it said in Engrish instructions to not open the windows when the boat was “plying”. As the boat didn’t actually fly, we never really worked out what word they were aiming for. The air con was on so high that we all started to freeze, so huddled together to try and understand the incomprehensible movie they had put on the screen for us, without sound might I add. We decided to annotate it ourselves – an epic about a man who was once a cowboy, with something to do with Victorian New York, then suddenly there were aliens and he could jump a lot and these aliens had four arms in two pairs, and when one arm on a side moved the one beneath it did too, like it was attached by strings, then there were some sexy Romans that looked evil but the hot lady sexy Roman joined up with the jumping cowboy and found some blue glowing things and she cried a lot and he kept chasing off her horse thing. This was apparently John Carter, the Disney movie. Don’t waste your time, in case you were enticed by my ultra-condensed version.
We arrived in Cebu and decided not to get our tickets for the ferry back (mistake) and head straight for the Mayflower inn via a taxi. Turns out the hotel was pretty reasonable (about £8 a night per person) and was secure, clean, comfortable and fitted with flushing toilets and air conditioning. This is something I now consider luxury. We scampered over to the big mall, Ayala, where I had spent time the summer before and was instructed to find the Pizza Hut (mistake number two). Mistake number two however was realised sometime earlier than mistake number one, after I devoured some mozzarella sticks and my dairy deprived insides bloated up and I began sweating (that theory I had that I might be a bit lactose intolerant may carry some weight). James felt rough too, but the poor thing felt pretty out of it for our whole time there. We baggage up our pizza leftovers, rang the “good service bell” to say we had a nice time and collapsed in our beds. James and Callum managed to stay up an extra four or so hours, due to Pizza Hut’s offering of unlimited Mountain Dew, entertaining themselves with WWE.
Wednesday morning brought us to my favourite place to eat in Cebu, the Pancake House, where I gorged myself on an Americano, fresh Calamansi juice (somewhere between a lemon and a lime but about three times as sour), three blueberry pancakes drizzled in blueberry syrup and a slice of bacon. Evidently my appetite had recovered from the previous evening. The others equally treated themselves and we set off to Aquaventure White Tip to buy the dive supplies that had been ordered. Now, last time I was in that shop, I ended up spending £300 on a dive computer. This time was no exception. After organising everyone’s orders, keeping their cash and cards separate and bagging up everything individually, I decided dangerously to peruse the BCD section. I had discussed earlier that week with the Science Officer Aless whether it would be worth it, but before I knew it I had bought the one that James was proudly modelling; a beautifully designed, large pocketed, integrated weight systemed, axion Aqualung contraption. It fits like a dream. Now James and I are matching BCD buddies, as well as part of a weird mother-son type of friendship where I repeatedly tell him to stop picking his scabs.
Getting everyone’s stuff was a small nightmare that drove me a little crazy. The small joy amidst ticking off the list was the shop Naomi, James and I walked into to find a nice sarong for Michelle back at base. It sold beach wear and patchwork skirts and AMAZING TIE DYE TROUSERS. Naomi and I were sucked in, perhaps partly due to the rushing around and slight dehydration, but honestly, best pants ever. Next time I go through Cebu I’m picking up seven more pairs (or less, as that’s £70 on trousers). By the time the three of us had picked up almost everything, we found Nadia and Callum at a bar, with a half demolished tower of beer. To say the least, they were pretty merry! We had an amazing dinner at the Golden Cowrie (recommended cheap but good Filipino food) including baked garlic scallops, chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and lechon (think hog-roast). Naomi, still on a bit of a possible melt down, was staring at all the meat with wide eyes cursing her vegetarianism. She eventually started nibbling on all the pandan leaves. Our friend Andy met up with us then took us out for drinks back at the Marriott where he was staying, where I drank a mango cocktail that was pretty much just slightly alcoholic pureed mango – therefore heaven.
At some point during that afternoon, we had realised the error of not booking our ferry tickets in advance. No tourist tickets remained (i.e. no nice beds with air con in private rooms) and no beds were available in the crazy normal bit. We got “standing” which filled us all with quite a bit of fear. This is why you don’t travel in the Philippines on Holy Week, guys. Apparently everything is full. Or closed.
Like the mall turned out to be. Luckily our hotel allowed us to hang around for 5 extra hours after check out in their living room area, playing knock off sea themed versions of monopoly or reading the entirety of Maus Volume 1 in a single sitting. Luckily the day passed fairly quickly thanks to a trip to McDonald’s and the fruit market, but then the ferry crossing was a bit more choice than we had anticipated. We got there two hours early as advised, and pitched up a spot next to the café after the mad rush onto the boat itself, only to realise that the tonnes of flying ants that were flitting about were coming from the light above us. After two hours of sweltering heat and sweating everywhere, we finally left. Nadia and Callum took one bench and fell asleep on each other, Naomi opted for the floor between two sets of benches and honestly looked comfiest, whilst James and I tried to fit ourselves around each other for about half an hour, then gave up and he went an slept elsewhere. I proceeded to pass out for about 5 hours, feeling that the whole journey had whipped passed, though seemingly Callum and Nadia had not fared so well. We took our time getting off the ferry (potentially mistake number 3) and found a number of buses waiting on the pier, including one that appeared to go all the way to Napantao… a full bus. We got closer and hung around and generally looked distressed, trying to work out what to do, then the bus staff ushered us on. People were sitting three a seat. We were standing around the driver who was wedged in with everyone’s bags. It was strangely reminiscent of the first bus journey, except there was nothing to hold on to, it was three in the morning and it was highly likely that if he braked too hard we were all going straight through the windscreen. But yay none of that happened and people even started leaving the bus so we all got a seat for an hour, hurrah! Dandan picked us up on the motorbike and we all arrived home at 5.30am before breakfast, and fell asleep in one big cuddle pile on the sea wall with Bantay watching over us.
Written 1st April 2012
I’m here at Coral Cay’s site in Napantao. It’s 6am and there’s a huge rainstorm going on. There is a needlefish chasing a school of small fish, jumping out of the water regularly. The puppy, Bantay (meaning protector or guard in Visayan) and Frankie the kitten (short for Frankenstein) are at my feet. I’ve got a cup of Milo. I’m officially in the routine of waking up as soon as it is 6am, regardless of lie-ins or clouds to hide the morning sun. It feels really good.
I’ll admit, I did approach Coral Cay with some hesitation. I had heard a multitude of opinions on volunteering or working with them, ranging from good to “it’s like prison”. However, now that I’m here I see lots of good stuff happening.
The site here is situated on a Marine Protected Area (MPA) called Napantao, meaning a quick (or slow, in my case as my dive booties are so thin I feel everything in the water) walk into the sea means I get to see how beautiful and effective MPAs really can be. The coral cover is up in the 90% range, tall and complex and intricate. There’s a lot of fish too, not so many large schoolers but certainly lots of reef fish and I’ve seen a few locust like shoals of parrotfish. And did I mention the turtles? Yeah. Turtles. There’s also the odd whale shark that might have gone the wrong way up Sogod Bay, but I’ve not come across that yet. I have however seen an enormous puffer fish, probably half the size of me – almost as good. The point is, there is also a little beach in our cove and in front of this local people can fish using traditional methods, and even here in this well controlled buffer zone there are significantly less fish, the biodiversity of molluscs is definitely lower and the coral cover is definitely lower – I think there’s more sandy patches too. But the fish from the MPA do spill over to the other sides – the shoal of parrot fish that reside inside Napantao regularly go past when I’m surveying outside. There is a stark contrast to Monad Shoal, where I worked last summer, a site where dynamite and poor diver control has led to the continuing degradation of a sea mount reef regularly visited by megafauna for cleaning activities.
I’m technically a bit outside the volunteer process here, as Howie and I are doing our own surveys, though I occasionally sit in the odd lecture. The Science Officer and Project Scientist here are both really great. The PS does a lot of work in the community encouraging other barangays (sort of town-regions) to set up their own MPAs or manage their existing ones better – for instance making sure the fees paid go back to the management of the site, unlike in Monad Shoal at Malapascua, where the money appears to go off to Cebu and never come back. Meanwhile, the Education Officer goes out into the schools to teach kids Marine Ecology and even has set up events at the centre for the kids to come to, which we held last weekend and went down a treat! She also has learned to speak Visayan in the few months I’ve been here, which I certainly think is the key to reaching children across all age groups. In fact, she’s been helping me a bit, though I’m still quite terrible. All in all, what I can say about the work that is being done by this particular group of staff at this site is only good stuff. Everyone works so hard for the good of the community and it is evident that that is why they are here, not just for a good time.
Surveying is going particularly well, and our other research assistant popped down to show us where we are going to next; a site on the other side of Leyte, then two in Bohol, then finally Negros Oriental right next to Apo Island where we are most certainly going. My mollusc identifying skills have improved greatly, though I’m terrible at remembering the scientific terms for parts of the shells and thus keep referring to things as “mouth” or “bum”. We’ve seen a whack load of cone snails, but luckily nothing that would kill us, yet.
We’re not just stuck in Napantao, though getting to the nearest town of San Francisco is a good 40 minute walk I understand. So far, we’ve had one excursion out. This weekend we went to the island of Limasawa (yes somewhere else with an MPA, golly gosh they are good) where they were celebrating the 491st anniversary of the first Catholic Mass in Asia. To us, this seemed quite a bizarre thing to celebrate – the invasion of your homeland and the enforcement of a Christian culture onto a pre-existing one. As another volunteer pointed out, Thanksgiving is the same, therefore a bit weird too. Anyway, the majority of us went, though Howie stayed behind to write up and enjoy the peace after 19 of us left. We crammed into this teeny boat and made our way over the water. The heat was pretty intense there and most of the time we kept retreating to the sea for a dip. We watched some of the Catholic mass and the singing and there was some traditional dancing too. Though, to be honest, most of our day was spent in the shade, devouring ice cream after ice cream, chatting American politics and slowly being surrounded by children. I don’t think Limasawa regularly gets a hoard of white people visiting, so we were somewhat of an attraction for these children – so much so that when we woke up yesterday morning in our tents they were peeking in, looking at us sleep. The afternoon was spent on a secluded beach where only one person followed us – a young girl who wanted to practise her English – and drank a lot of bottles of coconut milk, pineapple and Tanduay rum. Then we went to kareoke, drank a lot more and generally had an excellent time. Waking up in a tent in the heat being stared at by children the next day was definitely an experience, of sorts.
I’ve contracted a teensy ear infection, luckily not by the ear drum, so I’m off for a few days to Cebu city for some errand running and shopping. I will put up a multitude of photographs shortly, but the internet here cannot quite sustain mega photo uploads, so perhaps in a few week’s time this will be full of photographs of smiling children, flat turquoise seas and a kitten we keep putting in weird positions. Bye bye for now!