Saturday, December 1, 2007

New Friends on Cebu Island, Malapascua Island

A friend of mine is a Christian missionary abroad. After I told him that I was visiting the Philippines, he mentioned that his father (Tom) had retired there and asked if I would be interested in meeting him. Tom and his wife, Fhona, live in the very north tip of Cebu Island, about a 5 hour bus ride north from Cebu City. I stayed with them in their beautiful home for several days and had a great time. Although they live in a small town, this is a more rural area and so I got to see the agricultural side of Filipino life. Tom and Fhona also gave me a lot of insights about Filipino life and culture. Fhona's extended family lives nearby. Before moving to the Philippines five years ago, Tom and Fhona lived in the States for 10 years.

On the first full day of my visit we roasted a pig at Tom's little beachhouse (which is a couple of kilometers from his house). I have some pig roasting experience and let me tell you, these guys know what they are doing! I met the extended family that day. Most of the family speak English, but many of them only know the basics, so anything beyond simple communication is not easy. It is not like in the city where most young people speak English quite well -- English is now the medium of school instruction for virtually all schools (public and private) in the Philippines. Many of Fhona's brothers and brothers-in-law have taken jobs abroad -- some of them as far as the Persian Gulf. This is common in the Philippines and can create strains on families when the mother or father or husband or wife is away for long periods of time. It is not an easy life.

On my last evening as Tom's guest, they finally relented and let me spend some money and so I took everyone out for a special dinner. Here is the extended family along with Tom (the caucasian) and Fhona is seated next to him (on the right when looking at this picture):

This is a picture of Vanesa and I. Vanesa is Fhona's niece. Wow, what a cutey!

During my visit at Tom's place, I took two days out to visit Malapascua Island on my own, which is a 30 minute ferry ride from there. I had a great time there! The island was gorgeous, probably the most beautiful scenery I have seen in the Phils. It is a tiny island known for diving and shallow coral reefs -- it is only about 1 kilometer wide and 2.5 kilometers long.

I hired a small boat to take me around the island snorkeling. I also explored the island on foot and walked through several villages (permanent population of about 4000 people) and met some locals while searching for the lighthouse on the island. I was having trouble getting to it, and so one of the locals helped me. Soon, we were joined by two curious little boys and finally by another teenager who could speak some English. They were showing me around including some things I would have missed on my own.

I was interested in a boat ride back to my hotel and I asked them how much -- they said they would take whatever I wanted to pay them. I said please tell me a price, so they said 100 pesos (about $2.40). I said I would pay them more, don't worry about it. They showed me several of the local sites. The boat owner, Toni, had lost a father to dynamite fishing. This used to be a common practice but is now illegal. Unfortunately, the practice of dynamiting has wrecked a lot of the corals around the island. Fhona's brother also lost a leg to this practice. Anyway, after showing me all around (there were a group of 5 of us now) and sitting down and talking and then taking me back in a boat right up to my hotel on the other side of the island, I paid them 300 pesos ($7), much more than they had asked for. This is a typical Filipino experience -- the people are kind and always willing to help. That amount of money is actually about 1.5 days wages -- there is a huge gap in income and wealth in the Philippines.

Also at Malapascua, the gorgeous(!) girls from my hotel invited me to the disco. There was some kind of fiesta on the island -- they could not explain to me exactly what was being celebrated, however. As part of the celebration, there were cockfights in the afternoon (a local took me as his guest) and then in the evening came the disco.

The girls had told me they would arrive at the disco about 10 PM, but I ended up arriving early at 8:00. The disco was basically an empty basketball court outside that was all lit up. When I started dancing, I was suddenly surrounded by about seven dancing transvestites. From where did they all come? They were fascinated with me and some of them were dancing uncomfortably close and in an alluring fashion. I started talking to one of them. He was only 17 years old! He said they were all there for a gay beauty pageant that was to take place in two days. OK, that explains it. He also said they like to pick up on foreign men. It turns out there is a big gay scene in the Philippines. I had no idea before arriving. Anyway, this is definitely not my cup of tea but they were friendly enough once I explained that I was not interested -- as always, I tried to maintain a good sense of humor throughout and that is the Filipino way! I also got to dance with the girls and we all had a nice evening.

After this last cockfight experience, I now realize that cockfighting is an insidious influence here. Many of the men sneak away from the family and lose a lot of money there. I have decided that I have attended my last cockfight.

I returned from Malapascua island to Tom's place for one final evening there. A typhoon came later to the area just as I was leaving Tom's place the following morning. The bus ride back to Cebu City took a long time and when I arrived it was dark and there were no taxis available because it was still raining. So I ended up walking from the Cebu City bus station to my hotel, about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles). Here is a picture of what was left of my umbrella, shown fully extended, which I promptly threw out. It had served its time . . . and I could only laugh about the whole situation! ;-)

I had a great time with Tom and Fhona and the extended family -- what great memories! They showed me unsurpassed hospitality and stimulating conversation. I hope that I get the chance to visit again.

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