Cebu and the most horrid airline on earth, Cebu Pacific Airlines:
The next morning I got overcharged for a ride to the airport, I knew I was being taken for a ride (excuse the pun) but I knew that New Year’s Day traffic at the airport would be disastrous. My advice, as always, is never take the first cab, never take the first price. The general rule is to walk away from the first offer and find someone who will deliver you for about half of that offer – using the first quote as the standard. Or just use the meter. But, again, I was just trying to get to the airport at 4 a.m., so I didn’t have a lot of taxi selection or haggle time.
Once checked in and awaiting the plane, I wound up sitting until around 8 a.m. for my flight to leave the ground due to heavy fog in the area. I couldn’t believe the fog, actually. In fact, I have photos of the fog just in case anyone doubts me. Granted, it does very little justice to the introduction of this journal. But perhaps the fact that I snapped a photo in the camera-restricted area of an international airport makes it a little more exciting. Nevertheless, I doubt anyone cares because I wasn’t really able to get much out of it.
Once on the plane, an hour and fifteen minutes of horror ensued. The rocky, shifty plane ride jumped around without warning, jolted sideways relentlessly and with no apologies or notifications from the captain, had people throwing up all over the place. It finally ended in Cebu by teetering on one wheel for what seemed like an eternity and choking itself into a halt at the final terminal.
Rather than take another flight with Cebu Pacific, I managed to secure a seafaring vessel, the Cokaliong, headed for Iloilo (Eelo-eelo) Island where I would spend the day and try to make the final leg to my last destination, Palawan. This would include a stopover in Cuyo, another island with lots of history.
The slow pace of island life was never so annoying as when I tracked down a shipping line on the other side of the island and, by way of at least four other failed attempts through travel agents and phone conversations, was only able to secure the first half of that journey.
But I figured luck was on my side seeing as I wasn’t vaporized in a huge fireball that would have engulfed my plane had the hellacious flight here gone any worse. So confidence was with me. Well, to be perfectly honest, I was more confident that doing anything but flying would be the better of all the choices available to me.
The pier at Cebu was just outside the mall. Getting there wasn’t very hard. Getting someone who actually worked there was the trick. Then getting them to actually work was a miracle.
Once I arrived in what looked like a system of ticketing stalls, I saw three people sitting in the lounge. Everywhere else was vacant. I don’t even remember seeing flies. The place was desolate.
All three were intently watching the television. One had the clicker. Being the one that appeared in the most likely place of leadership given that the other two had entrusted him with responsibility of their channel surfing exploits, I asked him if he knew where I could purchase a ticket that I had earlier reserved on the phone.
He continued to sit there. The only indication that he’d heard me at all was a slight movement drawing his head about a half-inch toward me. I stood in pause for a few uncomfortable moments. Then I realized that I was the only one thinking they were uncomfortable. I chuffed and snickered at this recognition.
He then leaned forward and eventually made his way to his feet. I couldn’t tell if he was going to turn and swing on me or was on his way over to the men’s room. But instead he headed the other direction. Still eyeing the television as he walked, he headed to the back of the booth where he then came up behind the bars and asked me for my reservation number.
After securing the tickets, we were herded onto a bus that drove us two blocks to an area behind huge, fenced barricades and armed guards. The slowness and impartiality of island life was sharply contrasted by this unwieldy array of disquieting security measures.
Onto the boat, I realized that it would be at least 14 hours until I had the opportunity to buy anything of substance that could hold us over. So I decided to drop off my things and head out to get dinner and some perishables for the trip. And once outside and walking around, I got much more than I thought possible from just an hour-long stroll to find food.
The more I walked, the more I realized that I was in the “seedy” part of town. But what crusty, salty shipping dock isn’t? The guards with AK-47’s helped point me in the general vicinity of where I might find food. .
I was directed down what looked like the main street through town. But all I saw there were side shops with bags full of odd looking fried items, cigarettes and booze. So when I came upon a park, I took a detour and eventually found myself staring at this amazing embankment with statues. Along this cryptic, old wall, canons were mounted ominously pointing into the town. And in the park area were huge, old trees hanging over this massive expanse of green field where children were playing and young people were throwing Frisbees. It was a nice change from the mountainous areas whose largest open plot of ground consisted of a dried up riverbed.
As I stood reading an inscription on one of the bronze tablets, a man approached me and began to tell me about the history of the place.
Cebu has its own language, Cebuano. And when Magellan first landed here in the 16th century, it had only been influenced by one other foreign culture: the hedonistic, Hindu Chola Dynasty that had bested the Sumatran and Javan people just years before. The Rajah, or king, not only welcomed them, but took on Portuguese Catholicism and were taken by the idea of baptism. And if that wasn’t enough, he and his queen even took on Christian names. But if the cliches still weren’t sufficient for the pattern of the growing Christian empire, their newly adorned names, Carlos and Juana, surely must have been.
Continuing on from the park, I wound up kicking myself for having left my camera back on the boat. There was a massive celebration taking place in this amazing old church — presumably one of the few that had survived. It was definitely out of the era that I had just learned about.
There were people celebrating in the streets and selling fruits and different foods (which I promptly snatched up since I couldn’t find a store to save my life). I also found a small eatery and ordered a few of the most edible-looking items and headed back for the boat.
The sun was setting and it would be just a few more hours until we charted the course for Iloilo and then to Cuyo. And then to Palawan.
For everyone reading my latest ebook, Postcards from the Pavement: Southeast Asia, look for the password at the end of this entry to see the hidden footage from Cebu, Iloilo, Cuyo and Palawan.