Rising at dawn, as became our unintentional custom, Smells and I set off for the airport for coffee, obscenely unhealthy sugary snacks (that’s me) and a flight down to Dumaguete. One thing I particularly love about Cebu Pacific, a billion miles from their crap online booking system, is that they try on each flight to spread a little love. Seeing as this was just after Valentine’s Day, on our flight this meant getting three passengers to stand up and sing two lines of a love song into the intercom hoping to win the coveted prize of a Cebu Pacific bag. Perfect antidote to an early start. Oh, and this little nugget from the in-flight mag.
Checked into our digs and had a mooch around town for Helen’s first day in the tropics, including an evening trip to the fish market to buy deliciously fresh yellow-fin tuna and white marlin to pop on the grill. Mmmm! Dumaguete is still an energetic university town but it was hit by a typhoon on 17th December which caused some severe damage in places. Then you might have heard of the earthquake that hit a couple of weeks back. It never rains but it pours. Still, the it escaped the earthquake fairly unscathed, unlike the poor village some kilometres North which was buried under a landslide.
Typhoon damage is visible in the shipwrecked ferry just off the city’s promenade, the wrecked bridges and path up to Casororo waterfalls and the very sad destruction of one of Apo island’s excellent marine reserves. Experts estimate that it will take anywhere from five to ten years for the coral to regrow. Unhappy face.
We went to check it out for ourselves with a day of diving off Apo. I hunkered in for some more fun dives since I’ve never been arsed to learn more than how to use the equipment, while Hels Discovered Scuba. Why when I can just mess about at the back and follow the guide? Saw some cool little critters – lion fish, octopus, frog fish, sea snakes etc. – but was mostly fascinated by the corals. I read this week that there are around 500 known coral species in the world and 488 are represented in the Philippines. And they’re so pwetty!
Sticking with a marine theme, we also checked out Silliman University’s Marine Research Lab back in town. Here you can see old whale bones, information on which animals are seen locally and a few breeding projects. They’re trying to bring crocs back and have a bunch of them hiding out in the back.
I got talking to Richard, one of the in-house marine biologists who is working on a project to establish the longer-term toxicity of various materials used in fake reefs. They used to use banks of old tyres but discovered that the tyres release noxious substances over time. Now they sink cars and old planes to encourage coral growth but Richard wants to know if the same toxicity applies to other materials in these too.
More interestingly still, we got talking about dugongs, otherwise known as manatees. Christopher Columbus famously mistook a manatee for a mermaid back in the 1400s and, well, it’s easy to see why isn’t it.
Here in Dumaguete, the locals are similarly bewitched by the dugong which gave rise to a brilliant chinese whisper back in 2009. A fairly bad flood hit the town and the locals became convinced that the Marine Lab had kidnapped a baby mermaid, or mermaid egg, and began to protest outside the university before curiously paying to visit and snooping around looking for it. When a week or so later a dolphin was found beached on the shore right by the lab, they were convinced that it was an emissary of the mermaid sent to retrieve the baby, and beseeched the university to release it back to its mother. It eventually died down but I thought these rumours existed only in olden days, before science. No?
Duma’d out, we headed for Siquijor and the firefly sanctuary/hatchery of Hambilica. Whiled away some time gazing at the glowing eggs in the levy below the resort and the grown fireflies drifting over treetops. By day we rented a scooter and nipped inland to bathe in some cool waterfalls, meet some local wood sculptors and basket weavers, and eat coconuts on the white sand beach at sunset.
After partying with the locals briefly one night, enjoying some time out, feasting at JJs and touring the island, it was time for Helen’s whistlestop, week-long tour of the Phillies to continue. So, up at 4.30am for a dawn ferryride across to Bohol, an island famous for Tarsiers and chocolate hills. The chocolate hills are just peculiarly dome-shaped hills that the locals think that they might be formed from the tears of a man plagued by an unrequited love, or that it might be the untidied battle ground of two fueding giants, or the poos of a giant looking to lose weight to win his love. The geologists aren’t sure so let’s run with the giants.
We headed inland up the river Loboc to the jungle and checked into the slightly dilapidated Nuts Huts. After the afternoon rainstorm we took some kayaks up the river to the waterfall and pissed about in the rapids for a bit before heading back for massages. Man, the women here have strong, healing hands and kneaded, Swedish-style, the knots in backs and shoulders for a good hour. Lush. Next day we headed up the jungle with out new friends Dessi and Adam and hiked sweatily for a morning up to, through and into a couple of bat caves. At the end, there’s the option of a couple of bonus zipwires. Pretty fast and you’re strapped in headfirst. Fun!
Alas, after here it was time for Helen to depart back to the grindstone in Tokyo. Boooo. After a boat-trip down the river early one morning, a jeepney into town and a slap-up breakfast of spicy sardines and corn coffee at the Boholano farmer’s cafe in Tagbilaran, I plopped Helen in a tricycle for the airport, sat on my bag and wondered where the hell to go next.