There is a beautician in El Nido who collects the small scraps of skin from around your toenails with a sharp knife, puts them into pies and sells them to tourists. True story. It’s like Buko Pie, but not as sweet.
Like all ideal situations, the longer we stayed in the winsome paradise of El Nido, the less ideal it became. We had drunk all the Malibu in town. We’d swum in the bay. We took every tour. And after a throbbing hour at the local beauty shop, we bumped into no less than four people we had met along the way. The town became uncomfortably small.
On the morning the thunderheads rolled in from the horizon, we decided that a day zooming about on motorbikes would be just the thing. I’m sure we both had the same image in our mind’s eye: a cheeky pale blue Vespa; a dashing scarf; ¾ length pants; the breeze in our hair and a basket full of baguettes. What we got instead was one of those great hulking trail bikes, all shiny red plastic, thin wheels and sloping seat – ‘The Maxxxon 3000’ or something like that.
Annoi sauntered up to the very lovely bike shop chap, and said that as we ‘both had manual licenses in Australia’ that figuring out these puppies would be no problem. He offered to let us putt around the block before we hired it, which we thought a very good deal indeed. We stood on either side of the monstrosity saying ‘you go…no you….go on go on, oh all right, no wait… you go first and I’ll go second’ etc until I threw all intuition to the wind, said fuckit and leapt on.
I drove straight up the main drag, and for one splendid moment I was James Dean, Dennis Hopper and Lawrence of Arabia in the one woman. I had the wind in my hair and a song in my heart. I drove through an intersection, past a school and a basketball court. I kept driving straight without turning left or right, and tried to slow down. I sped up instead, wobbled on my tiny wheel, wobbled some more, and gripped the handlebars. In a panic, my hands were glued to the accelerator, which for some reason I thought the brake. What gear? Which button? Left hand or right foot – WHAT WHAT WHAT.
With a final roar I sped straight into El Nido’s only deep ditch and smacked the side of my head on a telegraph pole. I flew backwards off the seat and landed on my arse in the ditch with both legs around my ears as the bike coughed and stopped. I sat thus for a while.
Covered in dirt and bruises, I crawled out of my ditch and crouched for a while with my head in my hands. A group of silent locals prised the bike from where it had wrapped its wheel around the pole, and someone handed me my sunnies.
When I canvassed several family members later I found that all had had their own experiences with motorbikes, ranging from being unable to keep both wheels on the ground to driving one up a neighbour’s hallway and even setting one on fire. “I can’t water ski either”, said my Uncle Gaz, for good measure. This proves conclusively that my family are completely unco and cannot be trusted around moving parts.
The bike shop guy drove up to inspect the damage, and cheerfully plopped me on the back of his bike for the, oh, 500m ride back to his shop. He produced the price sheet for the mashed mudguard, which came to all of $7.50 to replace, and no charge for labour. Annoi was all ‘Aiieeeee’ and worried eyes, but everyone else standing around produced their hilarious bike smash stories while I inspected my wounds.
Just in case anyone dislikes Annoi for being tall, gorgeous and smart, it’s good to know also that she is also the world’s most accident-prone woman, has had something like 7 sets of stitches to the head, and knows exactly what to do in case of shock. Back at the hotel I was chivvied into the shower for ‘a good sook’, bullied into drinking litres of water, and plonked upon the bed (where I lay with bottom lip out) while she swabbed every graze with rubbing alcohol.
A few hours passed while we sorted out what to do next. All we needed was a quiet afternoon free of chit-chat* and full of books. We hired a private bangka to drop us off at the exciting-sounding 7 Commandos Beach, and loaded it up with Sky Flakes, rum and other necessities. Once the anchor hit the water, the sky started to unload in earnest. We raced through a grove of palm trees, and found an Indiana Jones-esque cave to shelter under, to wait the storm out.
I’m normally all for a good ‘two women against the elements’ tale, but this day my humour had departed along with the mangled sunnies. I perched irritably on a rock while the sky opened up around us, and sluiced litres in front of our faces. Mosquitoes emerged from their lairs and danced around our ankles. We finished the rum with alacrity, and one by one popped out to the beach to inspect the wall of water, then report back.
The mozzies pursued us to another outcrop on the beach, where we tried to lie on damp sarongs in the drizzle. Every time I shut my eyes I could see a telegraph pole rocketing towards my head. We went for a swim in the rain. Finally I sat up and announced that I was wet, bitten, uncomfortable, bruised, not nearly drunk enough, and that it was time to move on again. As we made ourselves comfortable in an abandoned shack, the boatman returned to rescue us from our island prison.
What a day!
That night, in the Shipwrecked Bar, we met some handsome divers as we shuffled and dealt the now well-worn nautical playing cards (learn semaphore and maritime flags as you play!).
There were a few moments I would describe as Champagne Annoi during this trip: her firmly administering the Nice N’ Clean to a howling child on a jeepney, or the announcement to a group of dull British backpackers that “I just want everyone to know, my hair’s not normally this curly!” but this comment took the cake.
So some Filipinos are mad for the cockfighting, yeah? They strap metal spurs to roosters and watch them fight to the death and then take bets. Just horrible – if you’re unlucky you’ll walk past a fight in the street. But we found out that the handsome divers had bought a bird (thus to unleash the thrilling line ‘come back to my hotel and see my cock’ on the Ladies) and were going to fight it the next day.
Annoi’s lips turned to string. She harangued them about their morals, their warped sense of humour and their ideas on humane behaviour, which they all shrugged off with a laugh. Finally she turned to me and said, very loudly, “YOU KNOW WHAT? I DON’T LIKE THESE GUYS ANY MORE. I THINK WE SHOULD GO.” I snortingly wrapped up the game as she made to sweep out of the bar, not before this parting shot: ‘We’re going to meet up with our FRIENDS at another bar. You can come if you want. Or not. Whatever.” Like I said, Champagne Annoi.
*A note on North American chit-chat
Don’t get me wrong, the North Americans we met were lovely. Really really lovely. But the amount of chatter that went on was not to be believed. We could be in the most gob-smacking environment, and these guys would be talking, without a break withoutabreath, notasecondtotakeinamomentofthecountrytheyweretheretosee. What they were going to do for lunch. Where they bought cute dress #400. What they were going to do after teaching in Asia. What they studied at college. The weird spot on the inside of their knee (their perfectly toned bodies came under intense scrutiny around the clock).
Once they did lift their heads up, everything was declared ‘aaawwweesumm’, ‘amaaaaazzing’ and ‘goooorgeous’ (they should have checked the Lonely Planet for adjectival inspiration). Everything, everything needed to be described, processed via the mouth and the ear. The air was FULL of words.
I. Went. Out. Of. My. Mind. After. A. While.