Ba-utiful Ba-ntayan

It’s amazing how quickly one’s sleep schedule adjusts to the cycle of the sun and the sound of the tide. By the second or third day of my short stay, I was waking up at 5:30am as the sun’s rays peaked through the window shade above my head. In the evening, after the sun had set, my eyelids began to droop and I was never in bed much later than 10:00pm. Each day felt long and full, the way I imagined people felt long before electricity and flashing neon signs.

The School of the SEAs has a large fishing boat that we took out on Wednesday, my first full day. We had a wonderful meal with grilled fish, kinilaw (raw fish in vinegar and onions), pork, seaweed and rice. I ate with my hands along with the rest of the crew, feeling each grain of rice and small fish bone in my palm. My hand formed a personal connection with the food before it reached my tongue, an intimate exercise different from the use of a knife and fork. We spend the rest of the time snorkeling around the boat before returning to shore.

Ta Ta grilling on boat

I woke up early on Thursday morning, and by 6:30am I was out on the beach walking the white sandy shore. I took my journal along with me and sat down to write about the past couple of days while enjoying the warmth from the sun. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement and turned see a middle-aged Caucasian man walking toward our hut. I called to him and asked if he needed anything. He walked over and introduced himself. He was staying at a resort not far away and looking to lease property on the island. His accent sounded familiar. “Where are you from?” I asked him. “Denmark. Copenhagen” he replied and I couldn’t help but smile. “Hvordan går det?” I asked in the best Danish accent I could muster.

For those of you who don’t know, I spend Fall semester 2010 in Copenhagen studying Sustainability in Europe (see old posts). The culture, the language, the people fascinated me and I fell in love with the small Scandinavian country. And so, as I sat on the beach of a small island off the northern tip of Cebu in the Philippines, I was struck by the beautiful circularity of life in the form of a lone Danish man who happened to be walking down the sand that morning. Coincidence? Perhaps. But in the moment, there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be.

Small table (left) and Boat (right)

On Friday, Carlie and I traveled into the main town. We went past Santa Fe, our municipality, all the way to Bantayan about 20 minutes away. When we arrived, the wet market was still open and I saw varieties of fish, clams, and even small sharks for sale. For lunch, we stopped at a cafeteria that served 8 to 10 different dishes. That is, 8 to 10 varieties of pork. Anna’s brother likes to say that if Filipinos could eat the soul of a pig, they would. I said a quick prayer for all the vegetarians in the world before I sat down for my meal.

After lunch we had to make one more stop before returning home but a tricycle was nowhere to be found. Tricycles here are motorcycles with a giant wooden carrier attached capable of holding up to 6 or 8 people. The heat of the sun was unrelenting and we paused to sweat when a motorcycle stopped next to us. Carlie and the driver exchanged pleasantries while I smiled and nodded as if I understood the conversation. Before I knew it, I was holding on to Carlie’s waist as the three of us flew down the road on the Angelo’s bike. Apparently, riding on the back of someone else’s motorcycle is a common form of public transportation, especially the provinces. (Don’t worry Mom, I’m writing this post with all limbs attached).

When we returned to the camp, dinner was not yet ready so Carlie and I walked to the resort nearby and ordered one San Miguel each. We sipped slowly and watched the small sand crabs scurry across the shore and into the shadows. I thought about the fish and rice that would be waiting for us next door and couldn’t help but smile in the evening air.

Trip to Bantayan Island

My trip to Bantayan was memorable to say the least. I began my travel at 8am from Stu’s house in Boljoon and arrived at the School of the SEAs in Bantayan around 3:30pm. In the over 7 hour commute I learned a few very valuable lessons.

School of the SEAs

From the bus station in Cebu City, my overstuffed suitcase was whisked away onto the nearest bus. I followed along after it, paying the man 20 pesos when he looked at me expectantly. This would become a common theme of the trip. Lesson 1: Travel light. 

On the bus, I sat down across from a man wearing a USA t-shirt and tried to start a conversation. I quickly learned that just because someone is wearing a USA shirt, does not mean that person is an America. The conversation was short to say the least. When the bus person came to collect my bus ticket, my smallest bill was P10o0 for a P108 bus ticket fair. I thought about explaining I had just taken money from an ATM but “Typical Rich Foreigner” was already stamped on my forehead. He told me I would get change at the end of the trip but I worried all the way to the bus rest stop. At which time, I took it upon myself to get change for Php1000…by buying approx. Php200 worth of bread. The conversation went like this:

Me: “Hi. So I really need change, and the bus might leave soon. And I’m kind of hungry so I need to buy some bread. How about P100? Or P200? Because I only have a P1000. Is that ok? Can I buy some rolls?

Confused Bakery Woman: “Umm (giggle) I can give change.”

Me: “Really? Ok great. So I’ll take one of those and two of those. And, are those good? Wait, doesn’t matter it looks like chocolate. Give me two of those. How much is that?”

CBW: “About P35.”

Me: “Ok, I’m gonna need a lot of more…”

At the end of the conversation, I ended up with 7 kinds of bread pastries/rolls, 1 pineapple juice, and 1 banana. I hopped back on the bus beaming with my new small bills and presented them to the bus man. I’m sure he wondered about my large purchase but didn’t ask questions. Lesson 2: Always have small change.

My boss called and asked where I was. When I was unable to pronounce the current town name, I handed the phone to a scared 16 year old girl to correctly pronounce the name. It was largely unsuccessful but I communicated my ETA and took the next boat when I arrived at the port. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I glanced up to see another man running a suitcase, my suitcase, toward the ferry platform. 20 pesos.

I sat on the ferry, leaning protectively on my suitcase, when a young man approached me. “Are you staying in Bantayan for long?” he asked and smiled. I relaxed knowing he could not whisk away my suitcase, and started a conversation. I was then introduced to his 4 friends and found out all of them worked on the ferry. “It’s a one year commitment,” they explained “We have to spend the entire time on the boat waking up each day about 2 or 3 in the morning. Hopefully, when we’re all done we can get good jobs on large international ships.” Tough life. Just some of the amazing people I have met in this country. Lesson 3: Make friends whenever possible.

When I got off the ferry, my bag was gone again, placed on the back of a bicycle and ready to go. 20 pesos. And so, when I finally arrived at the School of the SEAs, I had stories to tell. Many of the people I had not met before but I launched into my adventure anyway acting out the taking of my bag, the bus passengers, the ferry men and more. The people, complete strangers at the time, laughed and laughed while they munched on their bread rolls and stared at the excited, rain-soaked newcomer. Did I mention it had begun to rain?

Lesson 4: When you have a story to tell, always bring food. That way even if your story is uninteresting, at least your listeners have something to eat. 

View of Bantayan