Travel

Philippines Diary #3

This was only the first of our many stops in the Philippines but our backpacks are already stuffed to the brim with souvenirs and local knick knacks. Can’t wait to get home and start distributing gifts, I always dread the end of a vacation but having gifts to unpack will make it much easier to let go 🙂

So here in El Nido all the island tours are clearly labelled A, B,C etc and follow pre-fixed routes and timings. That’s thanks to the government tourism department. So no matter what tour operator or company you pick, you will get to see the same sights. It sounds restrictive but it’s actually quite efficient and prevents any arguments over rates and itineraries.

But after only the first day of group sight seeing we decided to skip the touristy stuff and do something local instead so we made a deal with a bike taxi driver we had met the night before to take us to the local ‘wet’ market and then to his village.

The wet market is where the locals go to buy fruits, meat and produce for the week and it was quite a sight to see. Rows and rows of different tropical fruit, vegetable, fish and meat for sale in a noisy municipal market setting. There were lots of small piglets and chickens running around that you take home alive to get butchered on your own. After debating wether to buy a live pig or a chicken we settled for filling up a bag with nice fruits to take as gifts for the drivers family. He then took us further away from the city centre to his little village to meet his small family and see a slice of local village life.

We loved walking around the village and meeting the locals who gave us big smiles and were very curious to know where we came from. I learnt that Hindi means No in the local language and this caused quite some confusion because every time they asked what language we spoke at home I had to say NO!

The locals love basketball. After eating pork and singing karaoke this is their next favourite pastime. In the village they had no plumbing, just one light bulb per house and still used wood for cooking in an outdoor kitchen but I counted at least 3 basketball courts. Some made of nothing more than a plank of wood and a metal ring in a clearing of dirt. It was nice to see how much fun can be had with so little.

We spent the rest of the day buying more souveniers and may have possibly shopped too much because at some point in the night we ran out of local currency and weren’t able to get anyone to accept dollars or find a money changer at night. This left us trying desperately to find a meal that night for two people in our modest budget of leftover notes and coins and we made it a point to get enough exchanged the next morning to buy half the island.

Our journeys between destinations have been very eventful and somewhere on the 5 hour ride back to the airport we stopped at a rest stop where I dared to use the men’s room.

Drinking bottle after bottle of water to beat the heat had taken its toll on me and upon entering I found myself facing a waist high kitchen counter covered in tile that ran the length of the little restroom. At first I thought they must be renovating and will install sinks here but then found no other plumbing in the room, no urinals or stalls and was left wondering how this works. I looked around for help but found nobody to explain the etiquette and only then realised that you have to stand back and aim pee on top of this counter, which is tilted back just enough to drain everything away through a small outlet that ran along the back. No flush and no signs to help other confused travellers.

Once outside I compared notes with Kritika who had also faced a similar puzzle in the women’s room where she told me there was a western style loo embedded half into the ground almost till the top as if King Kong had squashed someone with his fist who was sitting on it. Again no flush. They don’t seem to have fresh running water to spare at the roadside stops but have come up with some very innovative solutions for dealing with the problem like the kitchen counter system.

That brings me to the next pastime karaoke.

You can catch the locals singing and practicing at every chance possible. I had heard that karaoke was popular here but did not expect such enthusiasm. At one point I woke up from my nap mid-flight to the sound of love songs being belted out over the crackling announcement system by enthusiastic female passengers, still wondering if this was a dream or really happening. Our Indian DGCA would never allow this but in the Philippines it’s no problem. There was also no safety demonstration on the flight but nobody seemed to miss that charade, they were happy at not being forced to pretend to pay attention and kept their attention glued to their smartphones throughout.

We are now on our way to the next stop in Bohol and as a side note I wish to retract my previous comment about the absence of dogs due to their consumption by locals because tonight I can hear them howling outside my room in large numbers in a scene reminiscent of an Indian Parliament debate. I’m not sure why they are howling but Just in case I’ve opted for the fruit platter for breakfast and will only eat meat once a head count of strays has been established.

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