Episode 2. Bohol.
Our ferry leaves at 8:15 a.m. Destination: Tagbilaran on the neighboring island Bohol. There’s not much to do on the boat except watch some pirated Chinese movie (with Chinese subtitles) or sleep, which I desperately need. Jetlag has kept me awake for most of last night.
When we step off the boat two hours later, we’re greeted by a hoard of taxi drivers offering their services: “Where you going? Come with me, I give you best price!” We choose Martin who doesn’t speak much English except “Chocolate Hills” – the famous attraction on this island. Once we hit the road, we communicate with hands and feet that we’d like to make two more stops and miraculously, we end up at the right places.
Our first stop is a national sanctuary for Tarpiers, small primates which look a little like monkeys. We carefully walk through the tropical forest of banana palms to spot the tiny animals. “Do you see any?” – “Yes, look out for their huge eyes.” The bodies are incredibly small in proportion to their eyes. Interesting creatures.
We get back into the car and shortly after, we stop at what would be a real challenge for me. Across the Luboc River are two bridges made of banana leaves and a little bit of iron reinforcement. The only way across the river is across these bridges.
My knees begin to shake a little and I get nervous.
I’m afraid of heights, especially if there’s only water below me and very shaky ground underneath my feet.
Nevertheless, I step onto the bridge and slowly make it across the river. And I’m glad I did because the view and the sense of accomplishment are worth it.
For lunch we find a local shop that displays pots filled with meat and cooked vegetables. And rice, there’s always rice. Filipino food mostly consists of meat and isn’t really spicy, but I must admit I really lusted for some fresh vegetables after a while.
When we walk past a stand with baked banana, I just can’t resist. As the soft consistency and sweet taste fill my mouth I am suddenly taken back to long bus rides from Uganda to Tanzania or Rwanda, where we visited friends a long time ago.
Five white people alone somewhere in the jungle.
Dozens of people shouting, “Mzungu, Mzungu (white person)” – oh, sweet sweet memories.
After lunch we walk around the streets and find the public market, a crowded place in the middle of town. Stalls offer everything – from fresh fruits to smelly fish to clothes to toys – and we buy some coconut juice. The lady picks two large nuts and slices the top part off, plucks a straw through the soft skin and hands it to us. Fresh juice, you just can’t get it any better than that.
We walk into one of the side streets and suddenly, the scene changes.
Colorful stalls become damp, dark shops.
Brick market buildings are replaced by rusty, instable shacks.
People sit in front of their tiny houses in dirty, torn clothes, kids are running around, often naked.
Wives cheer for their husbands as they play a board game and their wide-open mouths reveal several missing teeth.
As we walk through this chaos, people look up and stare at us. All of a sudden, I feel very uncomfortable in my own skin. Not because of them – because of me. I feel like I’m intruding into their streets, their lives, their world. My mere outer appearance doesn’t fit and I can do nothing to change that. No matter how hard I try to be different, I’ll never be the same. I don’t belong here and that is a rather strange experience. We turn around and make our way back to the main road.
On we go with our taxis to our final destination, Carmen. The roads are winding up and down the hill, but Martin still takes them at 120km/h. Whenever a tricycle or pedestrian seems to slow him down, he honks and they hurry to get out of his way. This is the Filipino way of driving: drive fast or make way. I’m surprised that I’m not carsick yet, but I find myself reaching for the door handle a few times.
When we arrive in Carmen, Martin is surprised to hear that we’re not staying at the pricy hotel direct next to the Chocolate Hills and it takes him a while to find the Bed&Breakfast tucked away in a rubble street. “You must be Katharina”, a woman greets me at the door.
This warm welcome is the beginning of a unique Filipino experience.
For the last four years, Grace has been running the B&B together with her Canadian husband Steve, who had just returned from a work assignment in Saudi-Arabia the night of our arrival. In his honor, the family – who all live on the property – prepare a feast for him and invite us along. Together with an elderly American missionary couple we get to taste Lechon – fire roasted piglet stuffed with vegetables. Interestingly, it is the same piglet we had seen running around early that afternoon…
Sharing a meal with our hosts is very special. We aren’t just guests in their home – we are invited to their table and share a bit of their lives. So we sit together, taste Filipino rum and ask questions about each other’s lives. They tell us how much Filipinos love Karaoke, they sing along whenever they know (or don’t know) a song on the radio. Their favorites are – of course – soft pop ballads.
The next morning we get up at 5 a.m. and ask a tricycle driver to take us to the Chocolate Hills. Tricycles are another great Filipino invention: buy a motorcycle and attach an iron cabin to it. It’s not really fast, but the easiest and cheapest way to get around locally. With three passengers, the tricycle driver struggles quite a bit to get us all the way up there, but we make it and are rewarded with a spectacular view: more than one hundred hills lie in front of us, their tops still hidden in the fog slowly rising up from the ground. A legend says the hills resemble giant tears shed for a lost love and they received their name from looking chocolate-brown during dry season. There’s no one on the platform except the three of us and we just take in the peaceful atmosphere of the morning. And finally, for once, the temperature is somewhat comfortable.
After a good breakfast at Grace&Steve’s, we say goodbye and head back to the ferry. In just two days we have seen and learned a lot. The only regret we have is that we couldn’t stay longer to experience more of Filipino hospitality.
This is part 2 of the series. Read more stories here, there or over here.