MY PHILIPPINE ADVENTURE by Karen L. Haycox (Camiguin Trip)
So after the reunion take a side trip to Camiguin Island. There is huge sentimental value in this for me – it’s where I first fell in love with snorkeling. Daddy is not pleased with this development as he is highly protective and is convinced I’ll be kidnapped or somehow drown snorkeling. Yeah, I survived 16 years of high yield but it’s snorkeling that’s going to take me down… Actually one of the most embarrassing moments of my life came courtesy of Daddy. I was in Ireland for the World Championships for Parliamentary Debate. The tournament was sponsored by Guinness, whom Daddy had some random connection to. So in the general assembly, where literally hundreds of the top debaters from around the world are waiting to hear the pairings, we get the announcement, “Karen Haycox, please call home, your father is worried about you”.
But I’m not an idiot with regards to safety, really. For my side trip to Camiguin it was arranged by former classmate on the plantation, Gina, who is now a travel agent for the area. I am in good hands. She gives me my own driver/tour guide for the entire trip. My guide Eric proves a total delight. Now, many of you have heard me obnoxiously state that the only thing that would get me to marry again is a guy with a private jet. I’ve actually lowered the standards a tad to a guy with access to a private jet. Well, Eric sets a whole new standard. Any guy that can organize my day for me, drive me around, provide fun facts all throughout, keep me supplied in San Miguel, tolerate my constant stream of chatter AND carry my purse for me, has raised a whole new bar for desirable male companionship.
The first day we do some sight seeing on the Island. Is so much more built up from when we first went there. When we went we stayed in thatched huts and roasted a pig on the beach. Honestly, was pretty fun. But now the island is quite the tourist destination. Driving on the island is crazy though. There are Jeepneys (which are essentially elongated versions of Jeeps that are elaborately decorated (and yes Cel, Jeepney vs. Jitney – I was confusing my credits with cars)) as well as moterellas. These are genius by the way. Can’t believe they haven’t found their way to New York. It’s basically like a pedi-cab, but powered by a motorcycle. See? Genius! Eric (again full of the fun facts) informs me the inventor of this contraption in fact lives in Cagayan de Oro and invented this in his spare time. His actual profession was selling ham.
Selling ham and inventor on the side? This is putting the Smithfield management to shame.
The other thing about the landscape is all the chickens. No really, I have never seen so many in my life. I am seeing a true, constant visual display of “why did the chicken cross the road”. Eric and I engage in a lively debate over what creatures are the most stupid with regards to crossing the road, chickens, dogs or iguanas. Interestingly, the answer turns out to be dogs.
While driving to another destination Eric points out some chickens that are “cockfighters”. I am amazed by this, this sport still exits??? Of course Eric has to provide another fun fact, oh yes, it exists. It is the second largest sport in the Philippines (after basketball, when told this I kind of had to remind Eric that they are all kind of short to play this game…) and literally produces billions of dollars in revenue. All controlled by politicians, so never going to go away. Eric takes great delight in telling me a top performing cock goes for 100k. He takes even greater delight in telling me, not pesos, dollars. That’s how big this sport is.
I connect the dots and realize those “chickens” that were checked in at Cagayan de Oro were likely cockfighters. Eric affirms this assumption. Huh. Is there anyway I can get my deformed dog in on this action?
Also while driving around the island see several political billboards from the governor. His slogan is: “The Camiguin Islands – A Rabies Free Island”. Now that is a platform I can get behind…much better than “lets tax the rich”.
Another (not so given the circumstances) fun fact Eric provides me is evidence of how successful the Philippines has become. After a rather tragic Typhoon hit Cagayan de Oro he took around a Spanish relief worker. He disclosed to Eric that he had a hard time raising money for the country given how well they were doing. The GDP prediction for 2012 was 18%. They end up doing 30%.
The research analyst in me (and I swear, I will eventually give up these instincts) can’t help but compare China to the Philippines with regards to foreign investment. Yes, I know China has population. But the Philippines has so much more. Please indulge me on a head to head comparison:
|3rd largest speaker of English, highly educated||Barely speaks English, many people can’t even read.|
|Have a democracy||Still Communist|
|US Ally (actually heard several times we are rebuilding our military presence here)||Alliance with US “questionable”|
|Not trying to steal random islands from Japan||Trying to steal random islands from Japan|
|Not reliant upon foreign investment for growth||Highly reliant on foreign investment for growth – and guess what – it’s slowing|
|Have multitude of natural resources||Minimal natural resources – and again – they have graveyards dispersed throughout their corn fields.|
Visit the “sunken graveyard”. I guess during one of the volcano eruptions literally a graveyard sunk into the ocean. Ask Eric if people actually snorkel here. He answers yes. I am hardcore, but that is too much even for me.
One of the stops on Gina’s itinerary was “Volcano”. Now for this disclosure I am inevitably going to offend some people. Given I routinely offend people, if I am saying this, you know it must be that bad. But in my defense, I’m just not this religious. And my only exposure to religion was when my parents dropped us off at Sunday School because they wanted free child care.
So Eric has done everything with me, I ask him if he’s coming on this one, and he responds with, “no, I’ll take a pass”. This should have been my first clue that I was about to embark on the religious hike from hell.
There are two volcanoes on the island, this is the inactive one. There is a set of stairs leading upwards, I assume I am hiking up to a very scenic spot where I can get some good pictures of the island and the ocean. I begin. Notice there are signs along the way giving the varying stages of Jesus’ crucifixion. Assume this is the Filipino version of guide signs to let you know how far you have gotten (it’s a very Catholic country). Head up. And up. And up. Its steep and the stairs are highly uneven. The signs prove frustrating in terms of figuring out when I would reach the top. “Jesus Falls”….”Jesus Falls Again”…..”Jesus Fall Again”…..
Come on. How clumsy could Jesus be??? This is getting ridiculous. I start to wonder if I did something to Gina in middle school and this is her revenge…..
But I keep going. I’ve come this far, so might as well finish what I’ve started. I tend to be stubborn about these kind of things (Jigger don’t say a word) much like my 3 hour bus ride to see the terra cotta soldiers in Xian.
Reach station 10, and well, we are nowhere near the crucifixion (which I know was a bad thing). Now we are given the disclosure that Jesus has torn his shirt. Really, I mean really? We are going into that level of detail? This gives me the clue that this hike is nowhere near finished. And I am beyond hot and tired. I pull the plug and head back down. Which is equally painful. Going down stairs is just as bad as going up. Trust me, I have the Airforce One flyby evacuation from the 42nd floor at GS to prove it.
Get back to Eric. He is laughing at my totally disheveled appearance. I ask him if Gina had bad-mouthed me and if this was revenge for something. He swears no. Gina is very sweet (and she is) and this is actually a big tourist destination. Memory kicks in – on Easter a big tradition is for locals to carry crosses up this path, recreating the crucifixion. I think that crew and our own extreme religious right should pick out a night and go bowling together.
Throughout the trip am advised constantly that I cannot give money to children (yes, I saw Slumdog Millionaire, but still hard) or tip. I violate the giving money to kids thing in Camigian. We were at this old Church (that was truly beautiful, but I did drink a San Mig while touring, Jigger promised me that the church that turns blood into wine won’t judge) and these two utterly, utterly adorable children came up offering up chicharon – fried pork skin, for like 2 pesos. Do I want this, no. Not at all. But did I mention these kids were utterly adorable? I buy a bag, but give them 200 pesos instead with the strict instructions they have to be quiet about it. Of course they don’t. Their screams of delight were infectious. Worth every stern lecture I got from Eric in the error of my ways.
On tipping, that was a no-brainer. Hello, when you tip and no one else does, you get this thing called, “preferential treatment”. I tip left and right. I am a huge believer in tipping. Just not taxing.
Check into hotel. Gina set me up in what I guess is the “penthouse” suite which is lovely with wonderful views of the ocean. But does require a four flight walk up. My suspicions of revenge from middle school come back.
Head off to the hot springs. They were nice. Actually rather comforted in fact that they weren’t that hot, which to me means the volcano can’t be that active. Unlike Costa Rica, where literally the ground would shake. Didn’t spend that much time there, Eric was rather surprised. But I’m like, I came, I saw, I soaked. Let’s get some dinner. I was hungry.
Get dinner at the hotel. Eric tour guide is delightful. Eric dinner companion after two San Miguels is hysterical. He catches me up on all the politics in the Philippines. We engage in a debate between our two countries on who has the most corruption. We both have many examples. But he is able to provide a recent one whereby a provincial minister was using his position to sell drugs.
At hotel attempt to watch TV, but honestly, it’s rather spotty, there was one channel that proclaimed themselves as the ” best US TV shows”. Yeah, whatever. I haven’t heard of any of them. I think they are proving what I call the “boar’s head theory”. If you say enough times, “we are the best” people actually accept it, and it takes.
Next day, finally do what I came to do – go snorkeling. Have to do it at the crack of dawn as the conditions get a bit rough in the afternoon (see Daddy – I did observe safety). Eric takes the option to sleep in. Head over to the White Island in a boat that looks like it was assembled by MacGyver. Takes me a while, but find the reef. It’s exactly as I remember. Tons of tiny colorful fish darting inside and outside of the coral. Am actually impressed by how well they’ve preserved things. It’s not Bonaire, I don’t think anything can match that at this point, but for me, it’s truly intoxicating. Though gotta tell you, those damn little fish are tough to photograph. Except for the clown fish (aka Finding Nemo fish). They would come straight up to me and just explore. Loved it, so much personality. Also forgot about the bright blue star fish that were sprinkled throughout the reef. Was truly everything I hoped for and expected. I am happy.
Shower, have breakfast then more touring with Eric. Next on the agenda is the cold springs. I ask him what this is, he responds (rather sarcastically) “It’s a cold spring”. He adds insult to injury with the comment, “We can go back to the volcano if you prefer”. We are clearly getting too comfortable with each other. Especially since I tell him to f*** off.
On ferry ride back to Mindanao see a school of dolphins playing in the water. Perfect end to a perfect trip.
Spend a final night in Cagayan de Oro. Oh my, this town has changed. I got a sense of it when we drove through to the hotel but Eric gives me several distinct instructions on the latest developments on this town to check out. As it turns out there is an amazing supermarket and mall just across the street from my hotel (which was not 5 stars, but pretty impressive). And a Starbucks and a McDonald’s! Really!!! There is a McDonald’s in Cagayan do Oro!!! This is mind blowing to me on many levels. I actually go in and have a cheeseburger. Because 1) after 10 days of Filipino food was really craving something American and 2) kind of felt like a form of congratulations to Cagayan de Oro that they were in fact, awarded a MCD.
Explore the mall, can’t help but notice there is a Payless, a Gap, a GNC and within the department store, Robinsons, a store within a store for Toys R Us and Babies R Us. I swear, someday I will figure out I am no longer a retail analyst (but Jordan I got you some really good pictures).
Given my religious hike from hell and time to kill, I book a massage at the hotel. This will upset many of you, but when asked what area to focus on, for the first time in many years I don’t say my neck and shoulders – which were in a constant state of soreness based on the fact that I spent my day hunched over a computer. This time, I actually had other areas to be focused on – because I am finally doing different things. It was a very liberating moment for me.
After massage, in hotel room, turn on CNN. Have been thoroughly checked out for awhile and enjoyed it. But what is first story I see, the Obama Coin????? No really? This is under consideration in any way shape or form? Not exactly the return to reality that I am looking for.
(to be continued)