…you will, at some stage in the day, curse a Lonely Planet cartographer*. After scaling the mighty Taal, it took a bus and three jeepneys to get to Anilao, a small promontory at the bottom of Luzon. What was there? We knew not.
For the tourist, the Philippines is like South-East Asia before the hordes of travellers came, and is not really set up for the honky kind. Nowdays, in Vietnam, they know that every yoga teacher and his tiresome bongo drum is headed to Ha Long Bay; in Thailand, every Gap year ladette is headed to Kho Pan Ghan; and that in India every ex-army Israeli trance-lover is making their kohl-rimmed track down south to Goa. Thus buses are headed in all such directions, and at all times to ensure said stereotypes are able to Find Themselves in a swift and hygienic manner, and with as little exposure to Asian culture as possible.
The ‘Pines are not like that, and three cheers for the Pinoy I say. Outside of the cities, you gotta catch the local transport, and you gotta catch it loads. None of this night bus crapola – at sparrow’s fart you load your sweaty parts onto a jeepney so you can see first-hand a schoolkid kissing her crucifix at the sharp turns, the games of chicken with oncoming motorbikes and the likes of small, yet hot men called Eugene who courteously offer you accommodation in his hillside nipa hut, hem hem.
After a day of the above we wound up at Barangay San Theodoro, about as far south as you can go past Anilao. For the next three days we were fed like Christmas geese, we flopped around on the decking next to the reef and admired the thunderheads and lightning playing across the 180-degree view of the islands in front of us. We eased into the Philippines.
From our deckside position under an Acacia tree full of giant bumblebees, we read, drew, wrote and ate, and admired small bangkas and fishing boats as they zoomed off every morning. These returned in the afternoon after picking the kids up from school, and usually the Dad would be sporting his child’s pink backpack as he steered the craft. One pregnant woman ambled past the pebble beach, tapped her belly and said she was on her way to the hot springs nearby. The waterway was crossed with channels and currents that hid the most amazing profusion of coloured, healthy reef which lay about 5 metres from the decking.
On one side of our official slothing position was a crumbled stone platform with steps leading up to nothing, creeping vines, geraniums and toppled pots like the fall of the Roman empire. Two stout Labradors drooped around all day emitting only the kind of powerful aromas you get from dogs in the tropics. The black one, Greg, cooled his balls on the pink tiles by resting his chin on the ground and splaying out all four legs and the fair one, Hershey, was more the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, and tottered about with ten long brown udders – always a curiosity to our white white eyes.
The kids of the hotel owners raced in and out of the sea all day, pausing only for the midmorning Filipino snack of spag bol, while we vigorously splashed and dived, looking for iridescent parrot fish, clownfish, starfish, coral forms like tubes and fans and flowers, fish that looked like rocks and rocks that looked like fish. Once the sun was long over the yardarm, we retreated to our hillside room – more a large balcony with shuttered walls you could pull back – for more sundowners and a quiet snooze.
*A note on the exuberant, jovial, intriguing and ubiquitous Lonely Planet guidebook:
I am not averse to the mighty adjective. In fact, the adjective is one of my very best friends on this blog. But what is wrong with these eejits – we know they own a thesaurus. Once you’ve travelled a few days with one of these guidebooks in hand, and while only reading it for essential (yet out of date) information on transport, accommodation or maps, you realise how much it colours your expectations of what you may or may not experience.
For example, the above hotel was described as ‘beguiling’, and the region so untouched ‘you might imagine a Pan-American clipper hove into view’. For fuck’s. They were renovating above our roof every morning from 7am, the decking became hard on the buttock after three days, we were plagued by a couple of low season weirdoes who drank much of our booze – lovely and relaxing as it was, I was not ‘beguiled’. Of course Annoi kept herself amused by sitting up suddenly every few hours to point at an island and shout “Booey! A Pan-American clipper!!” Me: “What where?” Such larks.