After a night troubled only by one of the hotel boys hanging outside our windows and howling our names, it was time to say goodbye to sloth and vice in Anilao. With great optimism, we got up early with the intention of getting on a plane to Palawan by the evening, and steamed up the steep hill back to the road to catch a jeepney that would arrive ‘in the morning’. We waited….and then we waited. After we had waited a bit, we kept waiting some more.
We transferred our bags from the sunny side of the road to the shade. I picked five different types of flowers, just by plunging one hand into the bushes next to me. We waved at construction workers. We sat on our thick books and pulled apart the personalities of the other travellers we’d met. Using the venerable tradition of summoning transport, Annoi lit a cigarette. Then she disappeared behind a tree. No jeepney.
Finally, she returned to her fantasy book, and the adventures of a character called, I kid you not, ‘Wynkyn de Worde’, while I strode about with two branches, enjoying my ‘lady reporter undercover in a third word drug-runner’s airstrip’, fantasy, and pretended to signal invisible planes along a runway.
Two and a half hours later, by the time we lost all patience and I had hared downhill to the shore to organise a boat back to Anilao, I heard a wail from the road: a rumble of engine. Civilisation! Again, it was the jeepney, the other jeepney, the bus, the Nice N’ Clean, the sacks of rice, the solemn-eyed children and we were well on our way again.
Just as we were nodding off on a Manila-bound bus to the soothing sounds of a typhoon (short video below), we were abruptly woken by a preacher – a pregnant woman declaiming in Tagalog. She beat her fists and pointed a finger to the lord, and woke everyone up. She paced up and down the bus and kept returning to the spot where Annoi sat, her 2km legs mashed up around her ears. We grumbled and cursed in our godless way, until we received a Sign – a straw broom fell from the compartment overhead and struck Annoi smartly on the head. When she picked it up it was so worn away that it resembled horns: the Devil’s Broom. The preacher lady handed out donation envelopes with a space for our name, address and wish, and the following quote: ‘God rewards a cheerful giver.’
Giving up on the idea of a nap, we concentrated instead on the on-board TV, and were introduced to the wonders of Wo Wo Wee, a Pinoy game show that runs every day for about 2.5 hours. It features non-stop dancing and singing and appears to invite different people from around the Philippines for nationwide humiliation. The Filipino mania for karaoke is given thorough expression, and someone’s daggy Dad in his hawker centre white singlet and shorts gives full throat to tunes like ‘A Little Less Conversation’ with scant regard to tune, key, rhythm or the English language. In the background, girls in bikinis and cocktail dresses gyrate and sing and hold up signs for intriguing medical prizes like ‘Liver-aide’ and ‘Recto-tonic’.
Back in Manila we hied to the airport to buy tickets to Palawan for the next day (our envelope prayers were not enough – perhaps 20 pesos didn’t cut it), and broke the golden rule of travel, which is ‘never go back to the same place twice.’ Luckily such idiotic rules are there to be broken, and we found ourselves back at the divine Bianca’s Garden. Unluckily, the other golden rule states that when you buy a combination lock, it will only seize up on you when you’re dying to strip off all your clothes, don the red bikini and plunge into the pool before the typhoon you were driving through in the countryside arrives in the city.
Off I went with my sagging backpack and spirits, to find a locksmith. Flocks of people stopped me to remind me of my good looks and dozens of children raced up…not to get coins but to ask my name and giggle. A team of trike drivers danced to the Pussycat Dolls on the street while they waited for their roast pork to cook. On a seedy side-street I found a chap who couldn’t help me, but roamed up and down the road until he found someone who could. I flapped about uselessly while someone’s grandma wielded the hacksaw while the watchmaker and his kid held the bag until the lock was sawn open. Do you think anyone wanted any payment for this? A note? A coin? I couldn’t even buy anyone a coffee. They all grinned and sent me on my way.
At the risk of sounding like the fat colonial overlord I will no doubt one day become, what a nice bunch of people over there. It’s all about the eye contact and the big grin and the being welcoming to strangers. And I’m a huge sucker for elegant manners. Whenever you get out of a trike or a van, someone always offers a lean hand to assist you, or carry your bags. You feel like Marie Antoinette being handed out of a carriage. It’s rather fantastic.
We didn’t go so far as thrashing the servants before bed, but this evening we lived the colonial fantasy. I finally got my swim and hallooed this young gent as he woke from his kip by the pool:
Do you think Lonely Planet thought to mention anything about Dr. Bloom in their gushing prose? I think not!! Part Orlando Bloom, part Johnny Depp, part Mr Rochester, this bloke will be placed in the Philippine annals amongst such sights as live volcanoes, monitor lizards and stalactites shaped like Sharon Stone. What a gent. He was charming, he was worldly, he was gallant, he treated us to dinner at a Cuban restaurant, he was EYE CANDY EXTRAORDINAIRE. He was not in fact a real person.
Every time Dr. Bloom exited the room, we seized each other with silent screams and flailed our legs in the air. We sat around the gorgeous main rooms of the house, which was coated in antiques, long mahogany tables, faded pouffes, Asian wall hangings and tattered rugs, and propped by the open windows (which were high, arched, and covered in wrought iron) watching the massive storm roll in and enjoyed the sheets of water and lightning. We fed him gin, fluttered our eyelashes and thrilled him with our tales.
So what happened next?