Journal 53: The end of my Southeast Asian Travels

Well, this journal ends almost three years of wonderful travels throughout all but one country in Southeast Asia.  In order, I have visited Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo-Malaysia, Brunei Darussalem and the Philippines.  In the fall, I will be headed out to East Timor to begin my video trek which will bring me east and then north as I make my way up to Myanmar, the last country on my documentary goal of hitting all eleven countries on one shot.

In a way, this blog marks the end of a period of wonderful memories in my life.  It also stands as a series of lessons that I have learned.  It also resembles the broadest expansion into my photographic and journalistic efforts.  And through it all, I have been able to do enough in-country studies that my documentaries at the end of this year are sure to be complimented by experiences throughout these great countries.

All told, I have collected more than 10,000 fully edited images (almost half my career total); created a feature length documentary along with many outtakes, interviews and shorts; two published books on research from two separate countries in the region — and about to publish my third; eight manuscripts awaiting publication ranging from the religious and cultural, to the traditional and historical aspects of the diverse micro-societies in each nation; traveled nearly 14,000 miles; and lived and worked here the entire time.

But while seeing all this in my rear-view mirror might inspire pensive appreciation, it is the future that brings me more joy.  As I look with anticipation to the year ahead, I know that it will be just as memorable and meaningful as these many months in my past.

Coming up this year is a full lineup of some really great things that I plan on incorporating into my focus for the blog, for my commercial website, and for my travel lust.

Firstly, I will be releasing tons of new books.  I have been writing for the last eight years (as you know) throughout my travels about all sorts of things.  And in the last year I have been able to bring many of them to completion.  So in the next year, as more of my works become completed, I will be releasing ebooks in droves.  These will mostly be articles that I have written for magazines, articles I’ve written for myself and the enjoyment of my close friends and, of course, this blog.

I have also written several full length novels.  And as soon as I am more settled, I will be sending them off for professional editing and then publication.  But I wanted to release all the smaller works first so that by the time the larger works arrived, I will have established a wider reader-base and hopefully a larger audience.

I have also been working with designers for a few ideas that I have had to incorporate my photographic and video exploits into apps for the iPhone, the iPad and Android phones.   I won’t ruin the surprise, but they should be finalized soon and I will be really excited to see them come to life.  It will provide a lot of people access to the photography that might never have knew that travel photography could be so interesting.

Additional books planned for release on the iPad, Kindle, eReader, and others, are photo books of specific regions that I’ve gone and taken some amazing images.  These photo books will be available in hard copy, but the primary mode of publication will be within the obvious future of book publishing — electronic copy.  So look for those to start coming soon.

Also, because I have been spending a lot of time filming for my most recent film, Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan, I will be releasing snippets and teasers of that in upcoming blogs.  It will be really exciting to finally release that.  The date, by the way, that I have slated to release it is set for May 10th.  If I can get it out before then, I will definitely do that.  But because I will be going to Macau and filming for the Hong Kong/Macau documentary and editing double-time, that might not be possible.  But, again, I am working on it!

Here in Taiwan, they have some really strange holidays.  For instance, every year in a new place the entire town dons protective gear and has an all-out fireworks war where they shoot each other with flaming, exploding firecrackers.  Some people stand atop huge pires of billowing flames and rockets shooting out all around them.  Some people spin in circles while swinging enormous ropes of M-80 fire crackers blowing up as they move and filling the streets with huge pockets of smoke.  It’s really amazing.  And that is the type of thing that I have traveled all over Taiwan and filmed for this latest one.  It’s going to be pretty exciting.

And finally, the big one:  For the last six months, I have been preparing for the grandest of all my exploits.  Over the summer, I will be returning to the states and take a refresher course in film studies.  Then, when I have finished the intensive (and expensive) six-week course, I will be putting the hands-on studies to the test.

This fall I will be headed back out to this are of the world to complete four months of filming documentaries in all eleven countries of Southeast Asia.  I am slated to start my journey in the country that I missed on the first run, East Timor, and then make my way west and north until I reach Thailand.  Midway there, in Malaysia, I will be flying out to Borneo to tackle both Indonesia and Malaysian island life, but also to Brunei Darussalem which I wanted to see more of the last time around.  And then after a run through the southern islands of the Philippines (which I sourly missed this last time) I’ll continue my trek back through peninsular Malaysia.  Once I’ve reached the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand, I will be headed over into Laos, south to Cambodia, east and then north through Vietnam and then straight over to Myanmar.

Because visas expire and require careful planning, I have chosen to do Vietnam and Myanmar back to back.  So that will be the end of my trip.

After this trip I will likely be settled in Thailand while I edit the content for the videos, tackle the gargantuan task of compiling the library of photos from the trip and updating the website, completing the journal entries and begin marketing the release of all these materials.

I hope that by the time I am finished with the films I will have enough support with ad sales and book purchases that I can simply release them for free right here and everyone can enjoy them.  But not everything works out the way we hope.  I have been keeping this blog for more then 7 years and have even transferred an old blog that I used on Blogger to import it into the new and improved WordPress format.

But in all that time, it’s never been quite as expensive a hobby as it’s become in the recent past.  So I am asking all of you who enjoy this blog to visit as often as you can, to spread the word to others about the site and to bring the site stats up so that I can offer advertising and help replenish the expenses that have gone into the content that you see here.

It won’t cost you anything to come back and visit, read through and click on all the photos.  It’s free to send a link to friends who might enjoy the blog.  And I have never charged for any of the content I put up.  So return the favor and keep the blog alive by visiting everyday and spreading the word around.

Hopefully I will get enough followers that I can move to a bigger site that will support more traffic and I will be able to keep blogging as more than a hobby — a passion that pays!

Below is a video of my fond farewell to the Southeast Asia Journals and the welcoming in period of this year’s coming projects from other parts of the world.  I also discuss my slated return to the region to compile several more Travel Geek Documentaries.  Exciting stuff!

Journal 52: Philippines Day 15

Last day in the Philippines — and Last day for the Southeast Asia Journals:

This last day in the Philippines was very bittersweet for me.  While I have loved this trip and been able to do a lot from it, it also symbolizes the end of my journey throughout Southeast Asia.

From the Philippines alone, I have made a full length feature documentary spanning the middle to the north of the country.  A gallery of more than 300 photos was produced from the HDR image above to the black-and-white still-lifes that capture the essence of its timelessness.  Documenting in journals and articles, I have savored my thoughts and reflected on the amazing times that can’t be conveyed in visual media.  And then, of course, are the amazing friends and experiences that will remain in my memory throughout the rest of my days.

Here, I am setting up for taking the picture shown above. What a great shot it turned out to be.

But for the rest of Southeast Asia, I will have similar and unique experiences that memorialize my time in each country Ivisited.  Each province had its own rules — attempting to better itself for the benefit of its inhabitants.  Each town remains in my memory with its own feel — its own energy.  Each village carried an air of playfulness or excitement, based on the number of children running after me as I walked through.  Every beach drew different waves.  Every face brought new emotion.  And they all add up to something deeply personal for me as I worked my way through every country in the region.  Every country except one.

Photographing the Bomod-ok Waterfall, Sagada, Ifugao.

I have visited all but East Timor.  I tried to get there when I was in headed east in Java.  But it simply wasn’t in the cards for me to make my way there.

Of course, I don’t mean that in the sense that I will never be returning.  In fact I will be back this fall to start filming on a huge project that will hopefully take me through all eleven countries of Southeast Asia.  But I will be talking more about that in upcoming journals.

This last day in the Philippines really brought home the sense of awe that I remember having upon the first day that I arrived in Thailand.  And while the surprise may have dulled with each new experience, that sense of awe has never faded.  The culture and diversity that exists here is more than just the metaphorical “world apart” from the western society that encompasses most of my memory.

And these were my thoughts as I walked along the beach, leaving behind me the incredible place that, while no less impressive, stands as a symbol representing the many years, countries, miles and memories that I have spent and acquired in this part of the world.

Quite a moving experience indeed — pun proudly intended!

The final part of the six-part series is below, please enjoy it.  And be sure to watch the full length video on my Youtube channel HERE.

Journal 51: Philippines Day 14

Cuyo to Palawan:

If the first night was not bumpy enough as we plied through the coastal waters getting to Iloilo, the choppy, unfriendly waters from Cuyo to Palawan certainly were.

Apparently, Palawan used to be its own district in the Philippines.  And it claimed Cuyo as its capital city.

All told, Cuyo envelopes 45 islets but only has a total area of about 50 square miles. Cuyo, itself, takes up about half that area.  And Palawan, the longest of the islands, holds more square mileage than all the islets and Cuyo combined.

At Palawan’s southernmost tip, is the pirate-infested Sulu Sea.  This is where you hear about all those terrible stories about how the Islamic radicals who fund their terrorist campaign by boarding tourist boats, stealing from and killing the inhabitants and then tying the resisters to the anchor and send them overboard.  It’s not pleasant what people do in the name of religion.

Boasting a culture all its own, the Palawan area of the Philippines is home to more than 350 years of recent heritage as the region’s unique center for traditional festivals.  The park, I am assuming, must have been its hub.  Because, as the encampment was constructed of four, squared-off bastions which were 10 meters high and 2 meters thick,  it was even used as a fort to stave off attacks from the Moros in the late 17th century.

Interestingly, Tabon Man was also discovered here, too (well, in the Palawan region — not sure exactly where). In 1962, an American researcher by the name of Dr. Robert B. Fox, found what was thought to be the earliest human remains, dating back to more than 40,000 years ago from the Carbon-14 dating system which was available then. In 2007, however, Callao Man, found elsewhere in the Philippines, was uranium-series tested to have been around about 67,000 years ago — almost twice the age of Tabon Man.

By the way, he was named Tabon Man because he was found in Tabon Cave, a dwelling which was in use all the way from the upper Pleistocene period to about 10,000 years ago (about 30,000 years in all).  That’s a long time to be in one cave. I guess they had things pretty well the way they wanted them. Plus, moving all your things without a u-Haul can be pretty cumbersome.

Sometimes I wonder how, that long ago, people made it to these parts of the world. What kind of boats or floating constructions would have given them the ability to cross vast expanses of very intimidating waters — and without navigation tools, maps or even the promise of actually finding land.  They’re almost always found in singles, too.  So what’s confusing to me is that these lone migrants just sort of make their way around to uninhabited areas and die there, alone without heir.  Were they outcasts?  Were they failed explorers?  Were they lost?  Or did they simply roam about like wandering animals in search of less competition for food?

The things I ponder while in transit in the far reaches of the world…

Heavily influenced by the Malaysian settlements in the 16th century, Cuyo has celebrations which include a Malay folk dance called “Pondo-Pondo” even today.

Later, in the year 1622, a Spanish Count San Augustin formed the first mission of Christinan Colonization and gave the island its current name.

Interesting fact: People who live in Cuyo are called “Cuyonos,” rather than Filipinos. And this dates back to the Augustin baptisms when they were indoctrinated into the new way of life. I think this is funny, however, because that would be like someone coming to my house from the other side of the world, telling me that they know better than me the spiritual traditions that have been passed down through more than 40,000 years and then telling me that if I believe them, I can be renamed and allowed to continue living there. Well, maybe that’s not very funny after all.

But regardless how morbid the humor, it only lasted another 15 years.  They were invaded by religious zealots — this time in the form of Muslim pirates who burned their newly built churches, killed their proud religious heads and stole everything they could get their hands on.  This included of course, everything from heirlooms to the island’s women.

And aside from a few punctuated periods of extreme scandal the Republic of the Philippines, the history of the 12th most populous country in the world, has remained pretty much the same since then.  The Islamo-Christian tug-of-war over the Muslim-pirated seas in Mindanao, the height of radicalism in the Visayas and the staunchly Catholic resistance in the north has been surpassed in profundity only by extreme political corruption, bloody revolutionary sieges and World War II.

And I was smack in the middle of all of it as the Milagrosa Shipping vessel pulled into the main port of Palawan, Puerto Princessa.

Along the trip, I met a really cool guy named Michael Rammassammy.  He’s the guy holding the camera while filming the “Balut” consumption on the documentary.  Camera-Dan was out cold from being seasick for three contiguous days anchors-aweigh.

Michael was from New Caledonia.  Don’t worry, I have never heard of it either.  In fact, that was the running joke.  He told me that when he traveled and people asked him where he was from, he’d tell them and then wait for their response which, he said, normally came in the form of a confused look.

At any rate, I knew that because I was so late coming in, I might not get over to the other side of the island in time to see the underground river — one of the “can’t miss” goals of my trip.  And since the last bus had already left by the time we got to the bus station, we’d be hard pressed to get the earliest bus the next day, go to see the subterranian river, hop on another bus and make it back to this side of the island in order to make our flight back to Manila and then back home the next day.

So all together, we rented a private van that would get us there in less than two hours.  I don’t recommend this unless you have a pretty unlimited budget.  It was quite expensive.  But it was air conditioned, comfortable and we could stop wherever we wanted along the way.

And speaking of that, we stopped at this really cool place where the farmers had come together and started their own tour company of the areas around their land.  And, I have to say, if they do this thing right, they won’t have to be farmers for much longer.  They have what I consider to be the best rock climbing, spelunking and zip-line location in all of the Philippines.

They have set some of this up, too.  So I was able to see it all in its infancy.  And it doesn’t look like it has any signs of slowing. It’s great, really.  Lots of ideas running around this place.  Hiking into really cool limestone rock formations is always a blast. And since they already have a few

The caving and zipline tour website is HERE.  And the permalink is here [].  The websites are not that exciting, but remember, they are run by farmers and their families.  So be kind!  And besides that, there are some pretty good photos that show the fun people have spelunking and climbing.

I strongly recommend going there to support this very eco-friendly accent to your Philippines trip.  I was even tempted to stop and hike for a while, but then I remembered I was running out of time and had a tight schedule to keep.  But the driver let us get out and check out the grounds.  Perhaps I will go and take the zip tour next time.

Anyway, back on the road, we finally got to the other side of the island.  And when you go there from Puerto Princessa, the southern route brings you up through this cliffside vista that’s just breathtaking.  You can see other islands.  And along the road there are little souvenir shops attached to eateries and nooks to stop and see different things.  More importantly, most of them have a trail out back that will lead you all the way to some break in the foliage where you can get a great view of the islets off the coast of this long, thin island.

The thing about this slow pace of life, including not having electricity until 6pm everyday, is that no one’s really in a rush or to provide you services on the fly.  And normally I wouldn’t mind that mentality.  When I go to an island getaway, I do so fort he very purpose of slowing down and taking it all in.  But today was not a take-it-in type of day.

I needed to be on the west coast by 3pm so that I could have the best shot at making one of the last boats leaving for the subterranean river for the day.  But I would run into a few hassles before then.

I also had to secure a hotel room, drop off my things and get a ticket for the boat and the tour.  But in all this, I also realized that I hadn’t eaten anything all day.  And this went for Dani and Michael as well.

The problem that I started to run into was that my driver suddenly decided two things without the forethought of discussing the matter with his passengers.  First, he decided that he was not going to drive us to the hotel and then back to the boat dock.  This was not acceptable, seeing as I was paying him quite a lot of money to get us to where we needed to be.  And secondly, he decided that the price of the ticket to bring us to the other side of the island would cost us even more than we’d agreed upon.  Again, unacceptable.

The video of the scandal unfolding is available to those receiving the ebook.  And trust me, it’s an interesting show.  It documents just how fervently one must argue for ensuring that would-be third world scammers know their place.

But after that was settled, I found myself at the dock having bought a ticket, checked in with luggage secured, and on my way to the nearest restaurant.  We ate quickly and made it back to the boats just in time for our trip to be afoot.

The ride was pleasant.  A little choppy.  But pleasant.  There was a storm making its way off the mountaintops on the horizon that threatened to put a damper on our trip.  But it was stayed long enough to go to the tour and back.  And I must say, it was a really encredible time.

Once you get to the dropping point you walk through this completely jungled area where the monkeys have become completely accustomed to people and roam about without too much concern for what you’re doing.

Then there are the monitor lizards.  These land dragons are pretty amazing.  And in their own way, they have been desensitized to humans as well.

At the launch, you meet your guide who, in our case, is a cheeky, entertaining fellow.  And what he might have lacked in ability to talk with technical knowledge of the formations along the inside of the river, he made up for in jokes about the appearance of eroded structures like “Sharon Stone” and “Chris Rock.”

There’s also a resident boa constrictor living in the cave that seems to love a certain perch.  How he got there, I am not sure.  But he’s definitely chosen that cave as his home — frequent visitors or not.

The outtakes from the documentary capture these interesting occurrences.  This, too, is available through the ebook.

When we arrived back at the dock, there seemed little sense in rushing around anymore.  We’d seen what we came there to see.  And so the rest of the evening was ours to lounge around, soak up what little sun poked through the overcasted clouds.

We chose to walk along the beach, which is a wonderfully peaceful hike, back to the hotel from the boats.  The rooms that I rented were little more than bamboo huts with very little privacy from the neighbors beyond the next wall.  But the staff is accommodating and friendly.  And they have no problem with people lounging with a beer on their driftwood furniture along the headwall of the shore.

I found a great spot that I knew I wanted to take pictures from later that evening around sunset and Michael joined me as I set up for the shot.  The surf is powerful and the jagged rocks are not to be trifled with.  But from a photographic point of view, it’s definitely worth taking the risk to get out there and shoot at the golden hours of the day.

The shot that I was hoping to get is at the top of this blog entry and is for sale in high resolution.  Through this blog, I am pricing it at $24.99 plus $7 shipping from here in Asia.  The dimensions are about 24 x 14 inches and can be processed as large as 48 x 32 inches from here in Taiwan.  And once I am in the states, I can do other varying sizes.  Larger copies will be priced per order, but just inquire and I will see what I can do.

After returning from the rocky coast, I toasted my new friends from the hotel grounds and went to bed.  Tomorrow would be my last day in the Philippines.

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, Cuyo and Palawan.

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.

Journal 49: Philippines Day 12

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.

Riding the bus back from Ifugao to Manila

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.

Journal 48: Philippines Day 11

On the road back to Manila:

Back at the hotel, I spoke with someone just in passing who told me that the buses out of the area were to be closed for the next two days down to Manila because of the holiday.  So I had to put a fast forward on my plans to get out of town.

So that next morning, I packed my things and headed out the door at about 5 a.m. to catch what would ultimately be a 6 a.m. bus down the mountain.

It was a rickety bus providing a bumpy ride that only a meaty shoulder would allow for a leaning nap.  And since there was no one taller than me sitting next to me, Dani was the only one getting any sleep on the ride down.  And it was a long ride.

Take the average developing nation — usually loud, most likely hot, always overcrowded — and then hop on a bus to its capital.  Oh yea, and on New Year’s Eve.  This was my plan for the day.

The area’s recent rains had caused a rise in congested traffic and construction even more than their normal congested-ness (if that’s a word?).  So that added to the delay.  But the bus driver stopped at a few places to eat and we eventually made it to the city.

It’s probably the one thing that I detest about traveling — not knowing about hangups that could otherwise have been avoided.  But they are, as the crux of the situation denotes, simply unavoidable.  You need to know about the delays, the problems with transportation, the days buses aren’t running.  But you won’t know unless you travel there and find out.  Travel in that country would be made much more pleasant, but you have to put in the frustrating time in the trenches to know — thereby ensuring the unpleasantness inherent in the arena of world travel.  It’s the ultimate traveler’s catch-22 (which, by the way, is also the title of the book by Joseph Heller that I will be doing a book review on — as soon as I read it).

Yes, you just can’t get away from those pesky quirks.  But I generally make the best of the time by writing journals, taking photos, talking to the locals — which is a wonderful blessing to have in an English-speaking country like the Philippines.

The people here have been exceedingly friendly.  And even when I inadvertently sat in someone else’s seat, they let me have it without too much fuss.  I am not sure I would have fit anywhere else anyway.

Riding along, I can say that if you visit this area of the Philippines, you should definitely take the day trip.  Crowded or not, the views from either side of the road are bound to amaze you.  There seem to be endless peaks jutting up from below the cloud line and peppered with bright green plumage.  Then you pass through the terraced fields that people have been tending for generations.  These are probably the most spectacular site because of their sheer grandiosity.  Once you reach the highest point, these cascading steps seem to have placed you at the to of some immense temple in the heavens.  Below you  is only a cloud-hewn sea at the surface of a slowly wavering boundary between you and the chaotic city-scape below.

Back in Manila:

New Year’s Eve in Manila is not what I would recommend to anyone wanting to spend that day in a nice place.  It’s noisy because all of the homeless people have saved up their money, apparently, to buy their children fireworks that they can shoot at passing traffic for shits and giggles.

So not only do you have the frequent blasts from the random detonations all over the city, you have the ensuing honking and occasional accident thereafter.  Reason number 108 for why I bring along earplugs on foreign travel.

That night I settled up in the hotel near the airport and headed directly out for the Mall of Asia, which, I heard, was the biggest thing in Manila since shantytowns.

It was big, there’s no doubt about that.  But what was cooler was that the huge globe sitting in front of the main entrance which had recently been redone with more than 26,000 lights coordinated to create the most impressive form of advertising I have ever seen.  Besides actually making a spinning conflagration of countries swirling around as would a globe, it also made use of its spherical shape to cast other amazing items like ornaments on a Christmas tree that zoomed out to show the entire scene and cool ideas like that.

There was supposed to be a fireworks show at the mall, but because the crowds kept swelling and the elbow room kept shrinking, I thought it was probably best to bypass the traffic following the show by getting out of there early and getting some sleep for my 6 a.m. flight to Cebu.

End Part One