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Recovering and enjoying the festive period in Philippines

living with Spring in Dumaguete, chilling at her bar- Destino's, not feeling well for weeks, doctors/tablets/fever, Christmas, NYE

sunny 29 °C

To pass the time on the plane and ignore the fidgity people around me I watched Dark Knight Rises and as the plane descended into Kuala Lumpur everyone was moving about so was unsurprised to see half the passengers with seat belt off standing as we taxied- your not going to get out any faster!! Breezing through immigration in the LCCT (big group went elsewhere) we checked in with Cebu Pacific and went to the gates only to find out our plane was delayed 90 minutes worrying the hell out of me as may miss the connection, which is exactly what happened despite the pilot doing his best to make up time and there being a gorgeous sunrise welcoming us into the Philippines. The key fact that pissed me off the most was our rushing off and getting stamped into the country first in Manila’s NAIA airport meant absolutely nothing as the staff in KL wouldn’t send our bags all the way through to our end destination and typically ours were last! Literally 10 minutes before the scheduled time of take off I was still trying to board by running around T3′s departure desks like a headless chicken but it was of no use and all in vein. Causing a bit of a scene (as I like to do) I made sure we were put on the next flight in only 3 hours time at no expense to ourselves so dodged a bullet in terms of not having to waste a day in the capital. We changed a $10 bill John had meaning 200 pesos each for food and from investigating all the food outlets managed to get two bottles of minute maid, a mini pizza and a big packet of chips- not many other international airports in the world where you can get all that for £3! Our luck kept improving as the flight to Dumaguete was on time and although we asked for window seats each both slept the entire way missing all the island views beneath. Coming in to land was really cool as we banked to the right over the ocean and went so low as to feel like we were actually going to land on water when all of a sudden tarmac appeared at the last possible moment- we were here!

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Once the baggage was dropped off I found Springzeal waiting outside and luckily for us there was a complimentary van ready to go to Harold’s Mansion meaning could head into town for water, ATM (max can withdraw is 10,000 pesos – £150) and a much needed lunch at Ka’away consisting of two cheesburgers. Having developed the odd small infection on my skin from the trekking I bought antibacterial cream then relaxed at Spring’s house for the rest of the afternoon managing to get enough sleep to feel alive again. I met her father, Samo, sister Zanesh and girlfriend Monique, and also 3 year old Nathan who wanted to play toy cars and invited me to the dinner table unexpectadly. I rode the 100cc automatic scooter she owns to Harold’s to be in a proper backpacker environment (been a while), meet two of her friends (Segrid and Princess), play pool and enjoy a grill night put on my host Ramon on the rooftop.

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After spending 9 months hearing about the progression of her bar from being a plot of land to a popular student haunt I finally got to go to Destino’s and order a drink liking the laid back atmosphere, simplicity of the layout, kitchen and nice staff. We moved from the beer to the Pina Colada’s to the Rum and coke’s then sang the night away in one of the two videoke rooms.

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Nathan banging hard on the door at 6.30am was not ideal considering how much I needed to sleep but I kept at it for a few more hours until had a cake and juice breakfast at the closest bakery/shop although the packaging not saying fruit percentage is a worry to how healthy it actually is for me considering the country’s sugar obsession (high diabetes levels). Once woke John up from his slumber we ate at a local eatery then I used the hostel’s WIFI under the radar (told them in his room- 204) and was very unproductive right through till the evening when drove the 2 minutes to Princess’ apartment where she was cooking ‘milk fish’ on a tiny homemade concrete grill; did my best to ‘woft’ the flames with a fan. Along with the Halong Halong chicken (coconut sauce and meat falling off the bone) it turned out to be the best meal since leaving home (a huge say especially in a place not known for its culinary skills) and I couldn’t help myself in going up for second, third and fourth helpings plus a mango, struggling to move as listened to Gangnam Style for the very first time (apparently a bit behind the rest of the universe) and having a good chat.

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The Christmas Carnival was being held in Dumaguete for the first time so parked up and saw all the people, rides, lit up pond infront of City Hall, stage and food stalls as went on the unstable ferris wheel and had a drunk man ask for money for more alcohol (no bullshit). We all sat on the seawall with melting Cornetto’s, had some beer at Destino then at midnight, quite tired, me and Spring watched funny, overlong ‘The Five Year Engagement’.

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A second rude awakening in a row really got on my nerves but I persevered with intermittant shut eye before enjoying a lovely hot bowl of porridge (got big bag of oats so easy breakfast every day, sometimes with banana or apple). Wanting more normal food that I am used to I couldn’t wait to visit Lee Plaza Supermarket to buy mayo, cheddar cheese, ham, black pepper, non sweet baguettes, butter and baked beans as well as chocolate biscuits and crisps for snack purposes. It was market day and besides being in a bit of a muddy, fly ridden hole knowing the bananas were a peso a piece (roughly £0.20 a kilo) was too tempting to resist so bought a bundle as well as tomatoes. After helping Spring with purchasing food and drink stock (can’t believe she does it on her own as weighty bags) I took myself over to Harold’s to beat John at pool and socialise as she slept. At 9.30pm on what was a Friday night we were ready to go out properly so began in Destino and ended in nearby Hayahay’s who were putting on a rare foam party. Unfortunately I was in a horrific mood from the get go so had a shitty time not drinking even though attempted to dance with all the drunks who were having a blast- go me!

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On the day the world was due to end Nathan’s nanny Nina was under strict orders to not let him anywhere near the door in the morning so slept naturally till gone 10am. Around lunchtime we went to the modern, new Robinson’s Mall to meet a Brazilian women Spring made friends recently who may need some help in regards to a starting a new life here in the Philippines then tried locating John who was in fact at Princess’ still resting- fair play. It took no time at all for us to have some food and come back but the other two were a very different story and it wasn’t until mid afternoon when we got moving towards the beaches of Dauin about half an hour away through to the other side of town and south on the speedy highway. Forgetting it was dirty, brown sand and the scenery nothing to write home about I just about went for a swim feeling colder than usual and very weak indeed as still an unwell human being hoping for it to go away. Leaving them in our wake we went flat out home just as it was getting dark (got impatient being behind them on way here) and ate sizzling sisig in Destino for dinner before watching the Bruce Willis film Looper at the only big cinema in town; arrived 2 minutes late (no previews or adverts) and about to close doors and not let anyone else in! Coming out into rain we dried off the bike seat and went back to the bar for a burger and beer having an early night.

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Knowing how bad Filipinos are at time and distance estimates I should of set the alarm much later than 6.45am as even though we were delayed a while in the house the journey to Samo’s Protestant church in Siit, Siatan took less than half what he had told us and we were the first ones in the congretion, along with Zanesh and Monique. There was enough time for a walk through some fields to a view of a bay (first beautiful day), buy a bunch of peso sweets, look over the Bisayan language bible with a cover of a sunbathing man on it and wonder if the Christmas service was ever going to begin.

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When full of families and old folk (lots of children and young mums- near zero contraception in these parts) the Pastor and Treasurer could start proceedings. Besides the main sermon itself things went smoothly and quickly with a mixture of hymns and prayers but I felt incredibly faint all of a sudden so had to take a seat. After I was introduced to the church by Spring’s dad everyone got up and shook hands as a sign of friendship which I really liked and wished would see more of as so many happy faces and festive greetings. Once the presents were given out to the children and the adults some of the local women placed various pots of food on a small table and we tucked in although the building being so open (no windows) meant a stiff breeze blew cups and plates everywhere.

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When the committee meeting began we were given permission to leave so after a detour to Antalung Resort and the supermarket had baked beans on toast, did some writing and took Nathan to the Carnival where all he was interested in was the fountain and not the rides etc. For dinner a big Baraka pizza at Judstz Cafe was in order that was large enough to share between four hungry adults but not people like me or John so were still in need of something else. Spring knew exactly what that was- 18 day old semi developed duck foetus in an egg called Balut (local speciality); I stomached the majority of it but the last, rubbery bit did not want to be swallowed no matter how much vinegar was added. A 3 litre Red Horse beer tower was just the ticket to wash out the taste in our mouths with one more litre for good measure as a nightcap at midnight.

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I woke up very tired on Christmas Eve morning wishing was near family and at the very least had my parcel from home with me but FedEx cocked up with taxes so over a week late and counting. I had fun with the shower literally watching it for ten minutes praying it would find some pressure but was not to be so the bucket it was! I managed to squeeze in breakfast and a semi fry up lunch (internet on the stick inbetween) as we got ready for all important Christmas shopping seeing all the last minute mayhem in Lee Plaza, Unitop and Robinsons as Spring got food and other bits whilst I bought Nathan’s present and sorted out a ‘Double Dutch’ roll from Goldilocks and ice cream for dessert. To cut a long story short we were extremely late for church and missing half the family but caught the final words and did the hand shaking with me and John clearly the people most wanted to say hello to as felt it nice outsiders being amongst them and not just sitting in the expat bars by the sea chatting up young girls. We knew a big dinner was not far away but cheese sticks and sticky rice were too good to pass by and would have been rude to leave straight away (haha).

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As the family was busy preparing the meal we sat watching an ‘End of the World’ documentary, Home Alone 2 and part of Men in Black with Pale Pilsen in hand trying my best to look and feel well enough. All seated outside at 11.45pm we said prayer and enjoyed a lovely dinner with it being quite clear from the small portions that the desserts were to be the main draw, especially seeing as the Mango float the girls made was absolutely delicious on every level despite needing time to defrost as rock solid out the freezer. It was firework time with the roman candle getting us off to a good start but me being me then proceeded to do a rather silly thing- hold a 5 peso rocket in the air and light it seeing the sparks go in my direction as I said ‘Oh Shit!’ and let go as the whole thing shot into a tree. My mistake was highlighted even more when Samo lit the next and instead of going into the sky simply exploded with a huge bang not far from the table; if happened to me would of been in serious trouble. Zanesh made herself risk taker for the others which were put well away from the house (50/50 good/exploded). The Catherine wheel failed to go round and the big P250 thing was a success as spewed out a fountain of light making a fitting finale for a fraction of the cost you pay back home. With bangs all around reminiscent of Diwali in India the presents were exchanged then by 2am John was walking home and a bloated me was lying in bed feeling bigger than Santa.

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Like most places in the Christian world the majority of things were shut on Christmas Day so had the time to make a to do list, send messages to friends, add photos to WordPress, book future hostels, researched places and made a detailed budget for the upcoming ‘holiday’ which Spring still frowned at. Last night’s leftovers were the name of the game for late lunch then spoke to Mum on the phone before Skyping the family as they were going to the Ouiasne swim on a cold wintery day in Jersey. Already evening we put John on the back of the bike as I rode uncomfortably, squashing my never regions on the seat as stopped at the Cock Fighting Arena en route. We paid for ring side seats for what was the last day in the yearly calendar with only a few fights left. The moment the birds entered the ring ferocious betting took place amongst the hundreds of people and several ‘bookies’ but it was so fast and totally inaudible that we didn’t have a clue how to join in the madness. We were extremely lucky to witness an epic first fight in which the white cockerel I wanted to win got a right old battering and to everyone present had no chance but with one last kick of the sharp knife attached to its right leg nigh on took the other ones head off with blood everywhere- amazing!

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We stayed for two more one sided affairs that took less than a minute then rode in the dark down the empty highway to Dauin and Spring’s friend Joey’s house which was a big place a load of divemaster’s live. She got the timings wrong so missed all the entertainment and the fact it was BYO alcohol so had to fend off others (argh), although there was still lots of good catered food left making up for things. Not feeling good and being overwhelmed by John made me very quiet so just listened in and made sure I put my feet in the sea prior to midnight to carry on the tradition (only once in 10 years have not been in the sea on Christmas day). Looking forward to leaving it was a stroke of luck no alcohol remained meaning was easy to get going and was home in time to do a dinner table skype to everyone including Grandad and Susan as well as a separate one to Amy. Worryingly my left foot swelled up out of nowhere scaring me a bit which confirmed to me that I should see someone so went to bed hoping I would soon be better.

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The western looking Sulliman University Hospital was less than three minutes away and I was with a Dr Magbanua in no time at all. Once I told him what was happening and how I have felt since the food poisoning he examined me thoroughly coming to the conclusion that I had an amoebic parasite in my gut (mild dysentery) and a sinus infection meaning I had it inside me the whole time trekking and must of just been the strong antibiotics giving me a false sense of security enabling me to do what I did. Pleased it was nothing more serious he prescribed me some pills and gave me a strict 48 hour diet to kill the microscopic beast so paid the 2500 pesos and went shopping- no caffeine/alcohol/ dairy/leafed vegetable/chocolate/oily or fatty foods limiting me but easy to work around for such a short space of time. I bought supplies and my favourite P7 banana cake and forked out a load more money so could have my FedEx parcel delivered as got screwed on tax/customs- £80! I spent hours going through the contents (clothes, mask/snorkel, cards, little festive bits, gifts, photocopies and a few small presents) putting a huge smile on my face just at the right time as was in and out of sleep completely sapped of energy not having any grasp of time and needing to visit the ‘Comfort Room’ on a regular basis; monsoonal rain, thunder and lightning went on all night long making me restless.

With Spring’s bike chain broken we had to tricycle it to hospital for blood tests which I was not looking forward to in the slightest and to make matters worse nearly fainted in the needle chair when tried getting up to give a urine sample. With my only excursion of the day over I could go back to the room for marmalade on toast, fruit juice and Gatorade then attempt to catch up on my journal which took many hours as stopped repeatedly due to needing a rest and an on-off headache. John and Princess came to visit me that evening bringing with them possibly the most wrong disgusting fruit ever had the pleasure of tasting in my life- Buongon (wasn’t on purpose). Samo’s recently arrived girlfriend Judith was cooking and specifically made things I could digest so had a plate of Sinugbong Isola fish, native chicken and Nilung-ag nga saging which is boiled bananas rolled in sugar. Spring was in and out all night on errands trying to run her business and it took me all the way till 2.30am to get up to date when knew I would not sleep well due to over resting, having a fever and hearing the TV.

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My nerves about my results and how I was doing were unfounded as the good doctor was pleased at my improvement and besides low sodium and potassium levels I was on the mend. I shook his hand (he wished me a happy vacation) and went straight to Hayahay’s for a pizza celebration with John on what was a perfect day with clear visibility to Cebu and Siquijor as the girls went to try and deal with the power company that provides electricity to the bar but given ticket number 792 meant a few hours till any need to go back there (holy shit). The plan was to go to a proper beach quite a way’s away but a few reasons, including the fact it was piping hot, prevented this from happening and so pretty much wasted the day frustratingly. I used the laptop, drank out of my new Philippines map mug Spring bought me, chilled and waited for dinner to be made. My sinus issues showed themselves, as ever, in the evening making it ridiculously difficult just to get up for paracetamol (about 40 minutes, honestly) but they subsided later on when took up John’s offer of drinks at Harold’s where met Jasper and his British mate telling them all about what to do in this country. Ramon came to see if I was better and made us Ciparanha’s before we met local friends in a bar but one more beer did it for me as just felt dehydrated as listened to a decent live band. I did some meet and greets and tried enjoying things but soon got to a point where home seemed better (so boring at the moment- no mojo) so when paid up here thought that was it only for Tiki Bar to be the next destination which was loud and no other foreigners in sight. I asked Spring to go and so was in bed by 2am sober as a judge unlike her.

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Although I woke up in a puddle of sweat (high temperature) I was not prepared to spend another sunny day indoors so picked up John, arranged a rental bike for him and went further to Kookoo’s Nest exactly an hour from Dumaguete. At the foot of 107.5 stairs was the rocky white sand beach and nice bamboo resort run by two Brits who owned three beautiful, hairy golden retrievers that were clearly well fed. The P100 fee was consumerable so had a burnt pepperoni and cheese toastie on non sweet bread and stared out to sea a while before finding a quiet spot at one end to play frisbee, take photos and go to the end of the rickety pontoon, that extends out to slightly deeper water, for a swim. Pleased I was able to swim out to an empty dive boat and back giving me alot of confidence in my ability to dive or do anything that requires effort; stayed on ‘Hooligan’ enjoying the tranquillity of the surroundings. We thought we’d stay for the unspectacular sunset then carefully went along the track to the highway taking twice as long as before- John’s headlight terrible. Although was a still, fresh night, multiple small fires and Jeepneys/trucks with dirty engines almost suffocated me with noxious gases making me glad to get off the scooter to buy chocolate milk at Ricky’s (small local supermarket). Not keen on going out we just watched Event Horizon and had the intention of a proper movie night when a full blown mini migraine stopped me in my tracks- like nothing experienced before.

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After hiding away as Nathan’s dad came to take him to Bacolod (6 hours north by bus) for a month, and finding out Palawan may not happen less than 72 hours from us flying (her finances) myself and Spring had a bit of a disagreement and briefly ignored each other; she played an awful set of songs in the meantime. I snacked on cheese and crackers then we met the other two for Silvanas cookies and lasagne at Sans Rival, shopped at Lee Plaza for the millionth time for the staff party then decided it was time for a trim- took mirror to bathroom and hung it on shower! Late, at 9.45pm, I took her dad to Destino then had American Brian sat by me buying us beer and being a little rude about the lack of staff as serving other groups at the time. When rest of family, John, Princess and Jasper about more than a few Boracay Rhum/Pina Colada shots were consumed chilling my throat then we joined the others for food, beer towers, Secret Santa (got big bar of Cadbury’s chocolate but most just Red Horse Litro’s), beer bongs and finally at 1.45am videoke with good, bad and downright ugly tunes being chosen but all with the same average model posing in odd location as a background and myself singing away everytime a classic I knew came up using the microphone regardless of what my voice sounds like. In the early morning hours we left the kitchen guys to it and went away for sleep.

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On the last day of 2012 I got to try out Monique’s 125cc fake KTM geared bike at the open cemetery where Spring’s mum is buried (died not long ago quite suddenly) as no other cars about and just one family paying respects to their relative. I got used to how it worked in seconds making me want to learn and obtain my license. I took us up to Tierra Alto for a view, popped to Harold’s and ate Extra Tasty Australian cheddar, chorizo and grilled tomato sandwiches finally finding a winning formula with Heinz Ketchup poured on.

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Unable to get online we swapped movies and went to check out the fireworks display at the Hypermarket I saw advertised on a poll somewhere, not expecting much we were amazed at the quality and consistency of the rockets that were fired for about 15 minutes quite unsafely less than 50 yards from spectators (roughly 150 there) in a car park right by the unclosed road; range of types and the organisation was impeccable with two lanterns being a part of the finale making for one of the best i’ve seen.

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On Harold’s rooftop by 8.15pm we settled into drinking rum and coke and eating free Lechon the westerner’s left (otherwise rip off 250 pesos) behind including pig tongue and its crispy ears. I beat John at pool, ate lasagne someone made and took the piss out of all the oddball’s and those in the Peace Corps especially as unable to sing any song to an audible, worthwhile volume. I chatted to Mindanaoan Aaron about his neck of the woods then myself and John put the blue jackets on just in time for the countdown…HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL! As we all shook hands, hugged and kissed we could see fireworks all over town (City Hall biggest) then took over karaoke getting to a great level of tipsiness when ready to leave in early hours- feeling a hell of a lot better at just the right time.

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Despite all our travels for one reason or another myself and John had never scuba dived together and so it was on my last day in Dumaguete with him we would finally get to. Unfortunately it was with Harold’s Dive Shop (as he was doing PADI Advanced) going to Apo Island which I have done before. To make matters worse things were so diorganised it was a joke with the staff and divemasters not knowing what they were doing or who was going on what boat and with who. This meant a two hour wait from 7am, getting in a van full of horrible and annoying Japenese people then much more waiting on the beach in Dauin. Getting drenched on the boat and being amongst a load of nerdy folk doing a 3D/2N tour meant I was so eager to get in the water at Rock Point that I initially forgot my weightbelt! FAIL. The sun helped eluminate what is an ok spot but being in a big group and not seeing anything particularly exciting dampened the occasion of our first dive; at least got to use the GoPro. ‘Sunbaking’ (got soo burnt) and a hearty curry were just the ticket before going to Katipanan for a very average dive that I spent the whole time thinking and not really paying attention to anything; a sea snake and some chilled turtles I suppose could be counted as worthwhile (expectations far too high me think).

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Time was ticking because of all the fucking around in the morning so got told we were to get on another boat when moored at Largahan instead of doing a third dive but when that boat felt it was too choppy to pull up besides us it just kept going meaning we would get to go again; would of preferred the refund! We saw some thermal bubbles rising from sand and nothing else (well there might of been something but nothing worth remembering) as I felt a chill which turned into uncontrollable shivering on the boat as unpatiently waited for the tour guys to depart so we could go back to Dauin in the dark; Harold offered to pay for a room on Apo but was not feasible for any of us. Although not in my top 3 of scary Asian sea journeys it is certainly not far off because we were on a decent sized vessel that was moving violently and unable to see a thing with the captain slowing to a standstill constantly when it got too much and meaning what should of been 40 minutes turned into a couple of hours. Thankfully transport came soon to take us to Dumaguete where did dive log, ate a greasy pizza from Alberto’s, got money out BPI ATM, had a big chat with Spring and concluded the night with cheese and crackers with apple juice at 2am.

I went to bed telling myself that the next five weeks would be awesome so when back in this town in February will be myself again and able to make the absolute most of it as I quite simply haven’t so far…

Posted by antony25 02.04.2013 01:41 Archived in Philippines

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