We’ve been in the Philippines for almost three weeks now, which for me is just enough time to start to get comfortable in a place. After a few weeks I’ve finally stop comparing our current destination to the one we just left. After a few weeks I have gotten past the shock and awe factor that always comes with exploring a new place and instead I let the everyday happenings inform my opinion about the country and its people. And so after three weeks what do I think of the Philippines?
There are 7107 islands that make up the Philippines, so even though we had 13 anchorages at 10 different islands so far we haven’t even scratched the surface of getting to know the country as a whole. That said everywhere we’ve been the people have been friendly. We are greeted with big smiles and enthusiastic waves and since we try not to frequent the tourist spots, so those smiles are genuine. We feel welcome.
What’s more we feel safe. This is no small thing considering there are over 100 million people in the Philippines, and if you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last few months.
Just before we departed Palau Abu Sayif, a faction from the ARMM (the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindinao a very Southern group of islands) who align themselves with ISIS, brought a couple boats up to Bohol, a tourist island hot spot. They were there to start some trouble by planning the kidnapping of some white folks. The President and local Filipinos were having none of it. The result was a shootout with 12 people dead, including a couple bad guys, a couple civilians and a few police/military personal. A couple bad guys got away, so the President put a bounty on their heads; 1 million Pesos each…dead or alive. That is a whole LOT of money in this country. You can buy a beer at the store for 33P and gasoline is 40P/L.
Despite the fact that it was all over and done with by the time we arrived we figured that it was probably best to avoid Bohol and elected to take the longer northern route around the island. We stopped only at a small outpost called Jetafe (Get-Ta-Fae) in the NW of Bohol for one night. We went ashore to find a busy ferry dock and a very small town. We did find the ice-cream parlour cum restaurant cum karaoke bar that had cool beer (note to travellers: ice cream requires a working freezer, always check the ice cream parlours for cold beer!). We were given a table, a smile, a couple of clean glasses and the local price. Not once there or anywhere else have we felt nervous, threatened or uneasy. Even in Cebu City, the nation’s second largest city and home to 4+ million people, there was a good vibe. Sure it was a hectic, dirty vibe but it was a good one.
Of course we are careful; we lock the boat when we leave, we lock the dinghy, we don’t flash money around and I keep my belongings close at hand in crowded markets and on busy buses. All the usual things one does to prevent opportunistic crime, there is after all 100+ million people hanging around, there are bound to be a few pick pockets.
The biggest concern when we leave our dinghy on a beach or tied to a local pier is the tides. We know it will be there when we get back, if only with a little more sandy at the bottom due to some curious kids. But it is always in good company of several local boats. And that is something I’ve really missing; local boat traffic. There was none in Palau. The only local boat there was for tourism, and if you weren’t a paying customer they didn’t pay you, or common sense boating rules, much attention.
However being a nation of islands (there are 7107 of them remember) there are heaps of boats in the Philippines. Everything from large ships to inter-island ferries to local ferries to fishing boats to canoes. And like everywhere there is a large boating population there is a sense of community amongst those afloat. We’ve been encouraged to tie our dinghy to tow boats and large ferries when the dock was too big for our wee boat, the crew happy to let us climb over and through there vessel. We’ve had boys help us push our dinghy out of the shallows when the tide went down. We’ve had fisherman guide us around nets. It feels good to be surrounded by seafarers once again.
So we feel welcome and safe…and man have we been well fed! The food in the Philippines has been FANTASTIC!
We are finally back in a place that has locally grown produce sold at outside local markets. Mangoes, pineapples, bananas, mangosteens, pumpkin, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, radish, lemongrass, basil, green onions and the list goes on. Eggs are cheap, delicious and sold by the side of the road – you must bring your own container unless you want to buy a whole flat. The grocery stores are full of products made in the Philippines and the fresh fish/seafood/meat is not full of hormones. If you don’t want to cook then just hit the streets. After 4pm you’re likely to find more than a few coal fired BBQ’s set up selling everything from meat on a stick to whole rotisserie chickens and liempo – rotisserie pork belly. There seems to be a bakery on every corner, although the bread products are mostly sweetened, it is inexpensive. If there is a fiesta or event happening you can bet there will be a few whole pigs roasted on spits over coals, turned for hours by hand. Sit on beach and someone will wander by with a selection of fruit, peanuts and other snacks. This doesn’t even include proper restaurants, many of which are clean and inexpensive.
The only downside so far is that this time of year there is very little wind in the Philippines. We’ve had some amazingly beautiful, incredibly windless days. Great if you’re on holiday, not handy if you’re trying to put miles under the keel.