Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Sabang, Mindoro to Baybay, Leyte. Typhoon deaths.

Well, two years away from home. Wow. 731 days (including a leap year). I left home on the 12th June 2006 and today is the 14th June 2008. I find myself currently in the Philippines for the 6th time. This time last year I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This time two years ago I was on a bus from Newcastle to Aberdeen.

I am now in Sabang, Mindoro Island. I arrived in Manila last week. I was on the maiden flight from Kaohsiung - Manila. At Kaosiung airport there was a free buffet and a little ceremony with all the head-honchos from I was the only Westerner on it. I ate the free scran and then they gave me a shell necklace and a gucci  new colgate toothbrush! It was a laugh watching the directors giving speeches and cutting ribbons with scissors just before we boarded.

I arrived in Manila and met Don in Malate where we spent 2 nights drinking cheap booze before heading back to the TownHouse hostel in Baclaran. This is where we first met in January so it was a little nostalgic as we drank beer and sang karaoke terribly. I then went to the airport to meet Zi Ting. I waited 3 hours before realising she was not even on the plane. She had visa problems at Kaohsiung airport. She tried to call me but I had drunkenly lost my cellphone. I am still devastated she never made it. It also means we wasted the money on her flights. I am still determined to get her here though. I was really afraid that she had missed me in arrivals and was in Manila alone - not a great thing when you don't know whats going on. Manila can be a little scary for a first timer.

With a sad heart and another skinful of San Miguel we headed to Sabang where we are now drinking, swimming and walking through jungles. I love it here. This place rocks and I am thinking of staying here for at least 80 days. I will have to extend my 21 day visa for a further 59 days in a fortnight.

We are actually a trio at the moment as we met a lad called Jez at the TownHouse. He is originally from Leeds but has been driving trucks in New Zealand for the last year. He still has a very strong Yorky accent. He was going to go to Boracay but we talked him into coming to Sabang with us. He loves it and does not want to return to Kiwi-land. Can't say I can blame him like! He is a bit mad though. Only yesterday after boozing all day, he threw his cellphone off the floating bar for reasons that remain a mystery to me. He has taken the ferry to Batangas to get a new one today! Nutter!

So here I am happy as Larry for the foreseeable.

I almost forgot. I am now a 'celebrity' on the BBC. I was browsing when I noticed a link to "Expat Geordies". I read a few of them and realised I could be one of these. I sent an email and they said they were interested. I sent a few pics with a little info and some answers to a few of their questions. This is the link:

I asked them to include a link to my blog but they said they couldn't really do it as there are to many profanities in it - hehe. I understand as maybe kids could click the link and be exposed to f-ing and b-ing. Not the best thing. When I first clicked on the link I felt a mixture of pride and embarrassment! Haha.


I have managed to escape Sabang on Mindoro alive. It was not nature that was going to beat me but alcohol. I ended up staying there for 2 weeks. One night on one of many boozy sessions with the local expats, we were chilling out waiting for a typhoon to strike. The weather was perfect with no indication of impending doom. We noted a large passenger ship sailing southwards, east of the island down the channel from Manila to Cebu. We thought it a little odd as all the small bancas had been cleared from our area. Even the floating bar was towed away to a safe haven in a secluded, well protected harbour.

As you have probably heard that very ship sank and something like 800 people lost their lives. Obviously, emotions remain very high here in the Philippines and people are questioning the motives for sailing when we knew a typhoon was coming. Madness. Money v Safety? Really crap. I would think the Captain should be held responsible as he has the final decision but how much pressure would he have been under to sail? Perhaps his job may have been at risk. I am only speculating but it is very upsetting to be so close to events like this.

The typhoon knocked out our power for 48hrs. The locals call these 'brown outs'. The weather itself was pretty extreme. I was laying in bed in pitch black feeling the whole wooden structure of the building shake. I was worried it might collapse. There's not alot you can do in these situations. I ended up chatting to my neighbour Richard from the States in his posher (and sturdier) accomm for a while.

On a lighter note Don has found himself a new lass. Eva was the manager of the floating bar and served beer in a bikini. I say 'was' because it looks like the floating bar won't be back for a few months. I miss it like crazy. I loved wasting my time on there. So with no job and no reason to stay in Sabang she decided to go home to her province on Leyte Island. Don agreed to go with her and he talked me in to going too. I am sitting here now in Bay Bay (pronounced Bai Bai) in SE Leyte using the net for the first time in weeks. It was nice to find out who got to the Euro 2008 final. Bay Bay is your typical Philippino rural barrio. It's a really good change after the tourist madness of Puerto Galera. As standard, Don and I are the only white people here - just the way we like it. Prices are normal - even for us!

To get here was a bit of a marathon. We left Sabang on Mindoro at 1300 Wednesday and arrived here 1500 Friday. We got the banca and bus to Manila and stayed there Wednesday night so Eva could collect her gorgeous 3yr old daughter. The next day we arrived at the bus station at 1000 and eventually boarded the bus at 1300. We sat on the bus for 2 hrs before finally leaving at 1500. We drove all the way to the southern tip of Luzon Island before taking a ferry to Samar Island. We then crossed the San Juanico bridge from Samar to Leyte. We stopped here for 1.30hrs for reasons we couldn't fathom. Drained, we finally arrived at Eva's village.

26 hours on a bus smashes my previous record of 16hrs. When I did finally get some brief sleep the cocks at the back of the bus would give the loudest cock-a-doodle-do the world has ever heard. I was exhausted when we arrived. A couple of San Miguels and I was out for the count.

The portions in the Philippines are tiny. The latest (and best) example had Don and I ill with laughing. We saw a menu with 'roast beef and mash potatoes' on it. I am always suspicious of Western food in Asia as I have rarely had anything decent. I tend not to bother with it. But this one looked too tempting. We ordered one each (90piso) and started crying when it came. The taste was good but the size of the mash potato was ridiculous. I will try and explain. It was one hemispherical scoop. Not a scoop size you know from home though. It was a hemisphere of potato about 4cm in diameter - and you only got one. I ate mine in one bite! I think there is a little mis-selling going on there. We asked for some more thinking how we would be embarrassed to serve it. He gave us another 4cm diameter hemisphere and charged us 10piso for it. Haha.

I think they saw us coming. A little like our bus tickets. Normal price 1100piso but we had to pay 1500piso. That is a whopping 36% skin tax. We slipped up because it had been so long since Eva had been home she was unsure of the price. The bastards even charged her 1500 because she was with us so she is white/rich/guilty* by association. (* delete as appropriate). At least we know for next time.

I miss many of the lads and lasses from Sabang. Marti the Aussie who runs a bar. Franco the German who runs a mint little karaoke. Mike from Halifax who now works in Dubai but went to Uni in Newcastle and even worked selling fruit in Ashington and Morpeth markets. Bruce and Wayne (sounds like Batman) from Oz who work in Borneo. Richard the fat Yank who I loved chatting with. 66 year old Ian from Oz who has lived there 18 years - he has a PhD in Architecture. I loved chatting with him. Again too many people to mention. No doubt I will see them all again.

I did my first ever visa extension last week. I extended my original 21day visa by 38 days to make 59days in total. It was quite a painless exercise but cost me 3250piso (40gbp). So I have just bought some 10piso lottery tickets in the hope of winning 50000gbp. That would be nice!

Bay Bay in Leyte is very nice. Frist impressions are very positive. I walked from Eva's bamboo house next to countless rice fields, palm and banana trees into the main town. Takes about 45mins. A very enjoyable stroll with all the locals staring at you. The town has beach side piers that sell BBQd chicken and pork. I chatted with the locals yesterday fishing for small spiny fish. My Tagalog is coming along nicely but here they speak bloody Visayan. I always want to learn the main language but end up in the parts of the country where it is not the first language (Taiwan).


Have to go as Don has just texted me to meet him and his lass for a beer in the sun.

Oh yeah, they keep trying to line me up with potential women but I keep telling then I already have a lovely lass in Taiwan!!!

Ba a lam - goodbye

Here is a map of Leyte island in the Philippines. You can see Baybay on the central west coast.

On Sunday I went with Don's lasses brother and his wife to their family in Inopacan for St Paul's Fiesta. Some kind of Catholic celebration. It was great. We ate strange shellfish I've never seen before. Some of them looked like big stones and had to be smashed open with a hammer. We drank tuba (an alcoholic drink made from palm branches) and swam in the sea. It was a great day. As usual I was the only white guy around and endured the curious stares all day long.  At night we drank more tuba followed by a few beers to wash the tuba down. This practice is knowing as washing! One of the relatives got out a guitar and entertained us with Visayan songs all night. Next day we took Ely's (Eva's brother) tricycle back to Bay Bay at 0500 so he could resume his taxi duties.

The head copper of Inopacan offered me a personal assurance that I was safe from kidnapping - this was nice if not a little perturbing!

In my current residence we have no running water. We have to take jerry cans to a spring and carry then back up the hill to the house. They can get heavy. I don't think you realise how heavy water is until you have to carry it. Champion.

This is Mike from Halifax in Marti's bar in Sabang. He just emailed this pic of one of our nights of debauchery. He went to Sabang for SCUBA diving and managed it an impressive ONCE in 17 days. Not bad eh?

I am off to the BBQ places on the pier for some BBQ'd chicken and a cold beer with Don.

It's a tough life.

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