Asia-Pacific Tour: The Philippines (Part Two)

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Traditional Ifugao Village and Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province, Luzon, Philippines

Author’s Note: This is a series of selected highlights from two years (1986-88) of budget backpacker travel through 15 countries and a half-dozen US States – hosted all along the way by national and local YMCAs – from the Pacific Islands to selected Asian countries including: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, The Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan – and the USA.

Island girl and outrigger on Boracay

A real back-to-the-Pacific feeling. After spending so many months in mainland Southeast Asia, the Philippines was a welcome blend of Asia and the Pacific. Excellent sea food, crystal clear water for swimming, spectacular tropical island scenery and of course, beautiful women everywhere.

Considerable American influence was evident in the ‘popular culture’ slang terms and fast-food lifestyle, and some unique local traditions, like the favorite snack ‘balut’ (an 18-day-old developing duck embryo cooked in the shell) were a bit hard to take. But I was quite content to take the ‘good’ with the ‘bad’, and clearly had no complaints!

After our adventures in Hong Kong, Macau and China (stay tuned for these stories — coming soon!) my brother Dave and I were more than ready to return to these paradise islands and sparkling seas for a much needed rest. Like Samoa in Polynesia, Phi Phi Island and Krabi in Thailand, Tioman Island in Malaysia, the Spice Islands of Indonesia, and so many other tropical gems – utterly magical with the cheerful exuberance of the rural people, especially the kids – all bright smiles and laughter, the easy, relaxed movement of the island women, tiny bamboo houses nestled in the greenest fields of ripe rice along quiet dirt roads, or tucked away against the lush, forested hillsides.

The 1986 “People Power Revolution” had been largely confined to Manila, and we passed a military tank downtown. But otherwise, all was calm again, and we weren’t aware of armed conflict anywhere outside of the capital.

From Manila, Dave and I headed south to our favorite island getaway — Boracay — arriving in time to bask in the soothing, late afternoon breezes moving through the coconut groves and tall stands of grass as shadows lengthened along the wide, empty beach; sunlight streaming across the shimmering sea.

It had been well over a year since I left Samoa to hit the road with just a backpack, and I was tired of traveling. Digging deep for the energy to continue, I began dreaming of a long-term job somewhere that might lessen the pain of so many difficult departures. The strong breezes of the lingering typhoon would soon be ending — as would Dave’s holiday. But not so the adventures! Boracay had been the perfect refuge for weary travelers, and Jessie joined us on the island for a few more days together before Dave’s departure.

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Fresh coconuts in the hammock

Indeed, it was really tough when the time came for Jessie and me to leave Boracay — and those morning swims along the wide, empty stretches of beach to Jonah’s Café for their delicious thick, banana-peanut-chocolate shakes.

The fantastic tropical island beauty was so peaceful and relaxing in the coolness of the breezy coconut groves. Waking up in our cottage by the sea — with freshly baked bread, boiled eggs and coconuts delivered to our door each morning. A fresh fish from the nightly catch, grilled and served with a salad for less than a dollar, and a full schedule of cross-island walks to quiet, white sandy bays, snorkeling in the clear waters. Then lounging in the hammock as the late afternoon sunlight turned everything to gold. With a guitar and some freshly tapped tuba (local palm wine tapped from coconut buds) we waited for the stars to light up the balmy night sky.

Compared to Boracay, the bustling metropolis of Iloilo City on Panay Island was a bit of a shock. So, after our meetings with the YMCA, Jessie and I left on a ferry to Bacolod City on Negros Island and then toughed out 10 hours by bus to Dumaguete (Jessie’s university town), where we caught a boat to Cebu Island. From the Cebu City YMCA, we toured the Talasay City YMCA’s “Rural Community Development Project” before heading to Moalboal and Pescadores Island for more fantastic (and really cheap!) world-class scuba diving.

Eventually, we caught a ferry to Tagbilaran Port on Bohol Island, and settled into our breezy cottage at the nearly deserted Alona Beach on Panglao Island, where we indulged in more swimming, eating, sleeping, guitar picking and tuba sipping in this island paradise.

Dave relishing his ‘VIP’ island accommodation

A second typhoon to the north of us left a trail of rain and cold weather in its wake. On several occasions the tempest rolled in at night with a fury that threatened to blow our bamboo cottage down. But it held firm, and in the morning, the sea was warm and a welcome refuge as I fought off a certain turbulence in my brain.

It was hard to see Dave go — even as he was set adrift on yet another broken-down outrigger, and once again nearly missed his plane. And soon I would be leaving as well — for the time being anyway — off to the YMCAs in Taiwan, Korea and Japan. This was really killing me – but eventually Jessie and I dragged ourselves from our cozy beach bungalow and boarded a dangerously overloaded passenger ship to Manila.

Parting was so difficult, and the time had just flown by. But my visa was finished, and the Traveling Road Show was rolling on! I was so utterly filled up with all of this intense living — it hurt with each new experience, each new friend — because it was always just a matter of time before we would part. Alas — the same old traveling syndrome.

Stay tuned for Asia-Pacific Tour: Hong Kong, Macau and China – coming soon!

You can read more about Jim’s backstory,  here and here.

 

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