Journal 50: Philippines Day 13

Iloilo to Cuyo

The birth I secured was a cabin.  It was a modest, hostel-looking cabin on the top deck of the boat.  And I didn’t think much of it at first.  But when I snuck aboard the bridge and got a look at the captain’s quarters, I was pretty shocked.  His arrangement was quite modest compared to what the first class tickets provided.  And after the comfortable ride and pretty reasonable price, I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone riding on this particular charter.

But this is not the case for the second leg.  In fact, if you find yourself in this area and can float through the Visayan Sea while remaining aboard the Cokaliong shipping and charter line, I recommend that you do so.  My next vessel made the comfort of the Cokaliong look like the palace gates to the early Roman Empire.

My original plan was to make it to Cokaliong’s sister charter at Iloilo.  However, when I arrived to purchase my ticket, the real fun started. The boat was dry-docked — and had been for several weeks.  And would be for several more.  This was told to me by mechanics who looked like they were about as motivated to fix this boat as it was to fix itself.  The fattest of the stooges — and I am not kidding about the cliches, he was chomping on a fat cigar and had a greasy gas station ball cap on — stood towering over what looked like an accumulation of evaporated tobacco spit.

The most I could get out of them was where the next boat might be located at.  I didn’t inquire further.

When I showed up at what I thought was the right place, I sat next to another traveler and asked him if he knew anything about the boat that might be leaving today.  He honestly looked terrified.  He seemed to have been hoping I might know.  This worried me.  And so I simply proceeded to the counter and tried to ask about the births and departure times.

There were two people scribbling furiously onto big, green sheets of graphed paper and when I said something, the lady jumped as if I had shouted at her.  Her jump made me jump.  And the room went silent as if people were expecting me to whip out a gun and rob the place.  It was right out of a dusty, old western movie.  I half expected John Goodman and Nicholas Cage to jump out of a back room and start fighting over one of the Arizona Quints.

I started to take a slow pan around the room.  But I could I could tell the woman was anxious for me to reveal my innocence and get to the point of why I interrupted her obviously essential task of filling in the little green squares in front of her.

I started to express the thoughts that I’d come up to inquire upon and a dirty finger shot up from behind the glass and pressed down on a pre-made list of birthing types, schedules and costs that had before been flapping in the lazy current of air being generated by a tiny, steel fan bolted to the railing of the counter.

“Ahh,” I said, pretending that I didn’t notice her rudeness and general disengagement of my concerns.  Her hand retracted and the paper lifted back off the glass and re-established its pattern of slapping and laying flat just long enough to read for a few seconds.  Eventually I pieced together that I could purchase an open-air ticket, a cabin ticket or a “tourist” ticket — all of which were leaving this evening.

Once I thought I understood, I began to form the question which, if allowed to finish, would have sounded something like, “I’d like a ‘tourist ticket,’ please.”  But another finger cut me off and quickly struck the glass behind a price list — this time taped down — and then, noted at the bottom, were instructions indicating that I should sign in on the registration form below, await my turn and then retrieve my ticket when my name was called.

‘Nice and easy,’ I thought.

Shot from the short time hitting the beach.

That thought was followed instantly by a rumble in my stomach.  So I asked the scared tourist at the end of the bench how long he’d been waiting.  He told me that he’d been there for about an hour.  So I went back to the roster, found his name and calculated that I had at least that long until I needed to be back.

Without being invited, I went to the boat and dropped off our things.  But on the way, I was hit squarely in the face by what smelled like a mixture of formaldehyde and cat urine.  I have no idea what it could have been.  But whatever was being loaded into the belly of this rusty, aquatic beast, it smelled like it could have been ignited by a clap of the hands.  Honestly, not a whole lot could have made the entire boat smell any worse.  But that smell was powerful enough to motivate the senses into making my entire body think that it was under some kind of viral attack.  It was completely rancid.

The boat was well outside of the main part of town.  So once I loaded my things onto the rack where I’d be sleeping, I hopped in a tricycle and went for a bite.  The boat was scheduled to leave at 7pm — not that its captain, crew or the poor bastards doomed to loading the rest of that menacing substance had even the slightest notion of making that reservation.

What happened next was quite possibly the craziest thing that I have seen since traveling.

I had come back, bought my ticket, made it through the search (which was completely pointless, seeing as my bags were already on the boat, people had been walking around without any regard for security and whatever they were loading on that boat had to have been the most radioactive substance known to man.  For all I knew we were on the same vessel that was transporting yellow cake uranium to the Muslim underground for the first wave of enrichment and vaporization for hexafluoride preparation.

But this wasn’t the amazing part.  Come to think of it, it wasn’t actually what happened “next.”  What happened next was that I waited for more than five hours for the boat to launch.  It was 1am before that would happen.

No, what I am talking about is what happened during those last hours before embarking.

It seemed like the entire cabin (this time, an open area full of bunk beds) was asleep.  One guy was in such a deep sleep that even his vibration-causing gas didn’t wake him up.  I had just put the camera away for the night.  I happened to look out the window where the men were working heartily at getting the cargo aboard.  And I saw the crane drop an unsecured package on the deck.  It split open and I could have sworn that I saw a huge bail of compressed marijuana fall in between the boat and the pier.

More shots from the very short trip ashore while awaiting departure for the last leg to Palawan.

I was completely shocked.  It looked like the only bail of its kind on the crate that was being moved.  And the guy all but dove in after it.  They tried to poke and fish after it for about five minutes.  And I couldn’t get my mind off the idea that it might have been dope.  And if it was, it must have been $500,000 worth of the stuff. It was the size of a bail of hay and, by the way it tore open, must have been at least as heavy.

The men eventually stopped, scratched their heads, looked around and went to alert someone.  But someone came back shouting and they promptly returned to work.  It was incredible.

I eventually realized that  I could have been filming the entire time.  So because I was no longer sleepy, I broke out the camera, filmed a few minutes of them moving cargo and hoped for a repeat of the event.  Or at least to catch someone trying to find and pry the bail back out of the black waters underneath.

Once I did finally fall asleep, we’d long since set off.  So it had to have been around 3am when I finally passed out.  And then, even in my deep sleep, I was stirred many times by the rocking of this clearly overstuffed shipping vessel.  A couple times I woke up thinking I heard the ship dragging bottom.  It was not a pleasant trip.

Once in Iloilo, I realized how late the boat had actually been.  Not only was it delayed in overloading freight, which then caused more drag and slowing us down more.  It also had to unload that freight.  And through the channels I’d talked to when we were aweigh, I found out that the previous crew had left without unloading and they had to call in the next shift of workers.

This leg of the trip was doomed from the start.  In fact, about the only good things that came of the time I spent aboard that drug-toting deathtrap was meeting cool people, eating this terrible substance known as “Balut” (an fully-embryonic chicken served with vinegar and salt), and hitting the coast for my first taste of white sands since being here.

Altogether, that last line up was a pretty good one.  But what brought it back into the negative spectrum of things was that it delayed us for an entire day, forcing me into quite a pinch once I got to Palawan.  More about that in Journal 51.

This second night on the erratic waters between the islands gave me dreams of being on a ocean-going cruise piloted by a coke-crazed cartel crew.  And at its helm: the boss.  A man who’d lost a huge bail of of drugs and his paranoia had forced him to come completely unhinged.  Throttling the unsound ship to its peak, he’d lost is rag and once he found out that it was the conspiring crew that left him drugless, he threatened to captain this ship straight to the bowels of the benthic plane.

But that didn’t happen.  What did happen, however, will have to wait until the next journal.

For now, enjoy this film, it’s the last of the six part series covering the film from the documentary.  Those of you who ordered the ebook will have access to the outtakes and extras filmed while on the island of Iloilo and from around the towns I visited while sailing the Visayan Sea.

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