The Tarsier Diaries: Adventures in the Philippines (4)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Leave Panglao, Hate Piers, Eat Goat and Love Sheets

Last look at Alona Beach, Panglao

Thursday 15th July 2010

Last night was our last dinner on the island. On the advice of some fellow travellers, we took a long and bumpy tricycle journey away from the beach and into the hills to dine at Bohol Bee Farm. It’s a very cool little hotel with an organic-only restaurant hidden amongst the cool, green and leafy grounds, overlooking the sea.
Our food was running a little late, so they brought out some complimentary snacks (always music to my ears): Compote bread with two spreads – mango and pesto. It was heavenly. Then came the starter – Cab Cab, which is crunchy dried cassava (like nachos) with a pesto and green tomato dip. For mains, I had a simple mountain of pasta tossed in pesto and (I think) a little bit of honey – because it was a little sweet, and we were on a bee farm.

A romantic moment, despite the vampire eyes we are both sporting.

We checked out of Oops cottage this afternoon and headed for Tagbilaran pier in the hopes of getting a boat to Dumaguette but still none of the direct ferries are running. So, now we are on a Supercat (best/worst super hero name ever?) Ferry to Cebu. Hopefully, from there we’ll be able to make our way to Dumaguete. Even if there is a boat from Cebu though, it will take another 6 hours to get to Dumaguete anyway.

Later that day, around 5.30pm

I hate piers. If there is a hell, it is a series of piers which I am forced to roam indefinitely.
We have been traipsing up and down, up and down the docks of Cebu in search of a ferry to Dumaguette. Now we have given up and are, in sheer desperation, sharing a van with another couple and driving down to Santander. Apparently, from there we should be able to get a ferry to Dumaguette tonight.

On the advice of our friends Nick and Vanessa, who’ve been to Dumaguete before, I have booked us a room at Harold’s mansion, a well-known hostel not too far from the pier. Hopefully we will get there sometime tonight?

Scenes from a van:

Even later, around 9.30pm

Result! After a three hour drive down the coast, we made it all the way down to Santander. All the fast ferries had already left, but we managed to get tickets for one of the slower crafts. After toasting the success of our mission with some San Miguel and a plate of goat (how else would we celebrate?) we hopped aboard the biggest cargo ship I have ever seen.

Goat 'n Beer

Some thoughts on Time.

Okay, so the ferry from Cebu to Dumaguete was tomorrow at 7pm and would have taken 7 hours. Our ETA would have been 17th July at 2am.
Instead, we took a 3 hour van drive and a 45 minute slow cargo ship (and will have another 30 minute taxi drive ahead of us once we get there). Our ETA is 15th July at 11pm.

I mean, seriously! I don’t know if our Lonely Planet guide is just kind of old and that’s why it doesn’t mention the van-boat route but SOMEONE should mention it.

Friday 16th July 2010 (Sometime in the afternoon)

We eventually got to Harold’s Mansion last night at around 11pm, with a driver who seemed to be playing Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ on a continuous loop inside his  own mind. Unfortunately, as I’d been unable to confirm our room via email (due to all the time spent pier wandering, goat eating and cargo ship hopping) it was ALL BOOKED UP. At this point, it took all my self-control not to collapse to my knees in the hostel lobby and let out an Anakin Skywalker style “NOOOOOOOOOO!” of utter despair. It was too much. Fortunately, the receptionist kindly managed to book us the one remaining room in the hostel up the street. We didn’t even care that it was a twin room with two single beds.

It was absolutely HEAVENLY to fall into a bed with clean sheets and a stiff mattress, after a blissfully hot shower, and flick channels between a mindless Sandra Bullock romantic comedy and Animal Planet, and have air conditioning, and not have sand in unfortunate places. It was magic. At one point in the evening, I said, “Rhys, isn’t it nice to cuddle on clean sheets?” To which he replied: “Yes! And so nice to cuddle a clean person too!” (Except we didn’t say cuddle. Um).

We woke up naturally around 8am (what?! Damn sleep cycles!) and walked across to HM to check in and eat breakfast. I ate some muesli with fresh fruit and rhys had a beautiful looking breakfast of eggs and bacon and some kind of fried potato deliciousness.

I cannot get over the joy of staying in a proper room with actual walls, and hot water, and plumbing, air conditioning, a good shower, a good bed and a TV – all for half the price of what we were paying on Panglao. Everything is cheaper here. The highlight of the day for me was discovering the most amazing little café near the promenade called Sans Rivals. Half is a restaurant where the lunch is served cafeteria style by a group of cheerful teens, who, despite all the time they spent teasing, laughing and flirting with each other, were very sweet and attentive.

And here, we had the best lunch of our trip so far. Nothing fancy – just a slice of home made lasagna and two slices of garlic baguette. Simple…beautiful. Whoever first thought to combine meat and cheese, I salute you. And all for about 85 PHP so…about 1.20 pounds. Perhaps this holiday has not been as relaxing or luxurious as we envisioned, but we have eaten some amazing food at ridiculous prices.


The Tarsier Diaries: Adventures in the Philippines (3)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Finally See The Tarsiers, Visit Nuts Huts, And Experience The Long Dark Night Of Rhys’ Soul.

Wednesday 14th July 2010.

Today involved another early morning trip, this time to Baclayon church on Bohol, which is the oldest coral stone church on the island. These days, I can’t be in a church without feeling sad. When I was a little girl growing up in South Africa, and actually went to church every week, it was just…ordinary. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t that much of a chore, it just…was. As much a part of day to day life as brushing my teeth or going to school.

I never go to church anymore. The last time I went to church was for my grandfather’s funeral. James Van Driel, my “Pa” was a wonderful grandfather and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I especially think of him in churches not only because that was where I said goodbye to him, but because he was a fiercely religious man who had tremendous faith and, to put it mildly, enjoyed a good religious debate. And now I find myself wanting to go to churches, to sit and think of him, no matter how sad it makes me. And that’s what I did at Baclayon Church. I lit a candle, and I thought of him.


The pretty ceiling


After visiting the church, we headed for Loboc river to take a river cruise and check out the tarsiers. The tarsier is the world’s smallest monkey (or maybe monkey-like creature – I’m not 100% sure on the exact biology). If I’m honest, one of my main reasons for wanting to come to Bohol was to see a tarsier. And steal one, dress it in tiny clothes, forge a tiny passport for it, and raise it as my own. I mean, look at this picture!

Family portrait

It should be noted that every single time Rhys sees a picture of a tarsier, he quips: “That’s what you look like in the morning.”
Here’s the thing though. My friend Ryan, who is originally from the Philippines, told me that people shouldn’t touch the tarsiers, because they become so distressed at being unable to get the smell of this intimate encounter off their skin that they KILL THEMSELVES. Seriously. Why can’t they just cry in the shower like normal people?
I don’t know if that’ true. If it’s not, it’s a weird lie to tell me. Maybe he could sense that I was clearly a potential tarsier-smuggler.

After we saw the tarsiers and some lemurs and a monkey, we took a trip down the river, which was like a very miniature amazon adventure. Im not sure why the photos make it look like we’re superimposed onto a background but I assure you we were really there.

We disembarked from our banca (with typical gracefulness I nearly stomp a hole through the rickety mini-pier) and headed for the intriguingly named Nuts Huts, which is known for it’s delicious organic food menu and treehouse-like accommodations. My food (spring rolls and a bean salad) wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but my banana shake … oh my god. I don’t know what they put in it, but it’s probably an illegal addictive substance. It reminded me of being a kid and sneaking into the kitchen to eat condensed milk straight out of the can. Deliciousness. I also liked the fact that the restaurant included not only tables and chairs but hammocks and beds – because sometimes people (me) eat a lot and need to have a lie down afterwards.

View from the restaurant

Rather than taking a quick nap, we decided to experience the Nuts Huts herbal sauna. It seemed fairly simple: strip down and get into this tiny wooden shack. At first, it was fine – the shack was toasty warm and the aromatherapy steam smelt hmmm-mmm good. But then, after about a minute, we realised that the steam had in fact become smoke, and was choking us to death. We alerted the owners who shuffled down to the shack and made some adjustments. But, soon enough, we were being smoked out again. Choking, gasping for air, freezing in our swimming costumes and smelling like death-smoke, we decided to call it a day.

Back on Bohol, we attempted to buy tickets to Dumaguete, a town on the nearby island of Negros – unfortunately, because of the typhoon this week, Oceanjet simply don’t fancy operating FOR THE NEXT 20 DAYS. This was something of an inconvenience – at this point we were both feeling very ready to leave this island. It turns out that I am no good at slumming it. The washing-self-using-cold-water-from-a-bucket situation means that I am beginning to look like I just crawled out of the TV in that movie The Ring. The plumbing situation makes me uncomfortable…I cannot use a toilet that occasionally refuses to flush in a bathroom separated from the bedroom with little more than a raffia mat. My boyfriend’s in there, damnit!

Perhaps the biggest contributor to the sudden urgent need to evacuate our desert island paradise are the events of Tuesday night, or what I like to call The Long Dark Night of Rhys’ Soul.

The Long Dark Night of Rhys’ Soul

After the activities of Tuesday night, I was even more keen than usual to enjoy a child-like bedtime. Sleep cycles be damned! Rhys, bless his heart, tried to keep me conscious. He even brought out the big guns (not a euphemism) – he nicked the chess board from the bar and attempted to cajole me into a game. I manfully tried my best to kick his ass, but as I slept during all of his moves and about half of mine, I didn’t stand a chance. Eventually I faded into a deep, dreamless slumber, and that’s when things began to go wrong.

Now, ask Rhys how he feels about bugs when he’s roaming the great outdoors and he’ll tell you that he doesn’t mind them. But the moment a bug enters his home space, the man goes, for want of a better word, ‘mental’.

Enter the humble cockroach. Note, this was not the cute little critter that lives in the Twinkie in Wall-E. This was a monster, as long as my arm, as broad as my face, with a gun for a mouth. (I may be exaggerating slightly). Of course, I was passed out like a stoner in an opium den, and therefore blissfully unaware of our bug situation. Anyways, Rhys didn’t want to squish the little BUGger (see what I did there?) because apparently to do so releases all the eggs and will bring a plague of roaches down upon us all. He found a glass and began stalking it around the room. Eventually, he brought the glass down to trap the beast but it moved at the last second, splitting itself in half on the rim of the glass (and of course, releasing eggs! No!) Rather than dying, which would have been the polite thing to do, the newly mangled little bastard fell to the ground and scuttled off. He (Rhys) set about pillaging the room to find the roach and make sure it didn’t get in our bags. When I woke up (eventually) the next morning, it seemed like we’d been the victims of a burglary, or some very vigorous feng shui.

It’s definitely time to go.

The Tarsier Diaries: Adventures in the Philippines (2)

In Which Stacey And Rhys Eat Pasties, Hate Disco, Watch Dolphins and Contemplate Thailand.

Sunday, 11th July 2010

First, a word on last night – we did NOT get a good night’s sleep. I was passed out by 9pm, just how I like it because, as Rhys says, I “could sleep through a war.” This is a trait that served me well, because it meant I could also sleep through the dodgy boom boom-ing of the Oops Bar Saturday night disco (!). Rhys however, was tortured by the dodgy 80s tunes. He decided to wake me up the best way he knows how (his usual subtle combination of nudging and boob-grabbing) and complained that I HAD to wake up because he didn’t want us to be on different sleep cycles. Um…what? The sad thing is that in my barely conscious sleep-deprived state, I absolutely believed him. I even recall propping myself upright against the headboard in a desperate attempt to stay away and sync up our bloody sleep cycles. Only in the cold light of morning did I realise that he was, in fact, talking utter bollocks.

Oops Bar Restaurant

Today was spent in typical chilled fashion – morning swimming, afternoon sun-bathing, beach meandering and of course, room “cabbaging” (a Rhys-ism meaning chilling/chillaxing/doing nothing much out of sheer exhaustion/laziness). Of course, all these activities have been interspersed with eating delicious foods. There was a time in my life when I swore never to be one of those Britons who travels abroad and then insists on ordering egg and chips or similar, but nearly three years living in Korea has given me an (un)healthy appreciation for Western food. It would shock people to see how excited Rhys and I were after discovering that the bar where we were staying served Cornish pasties! Pasties, for the love of God!

This evening was the long-awaited World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, which really interfered with the 9pm bedtime I was trying to cultivate. It wasn’t the best match of the tournament (and kick off was at about 2am, so my judgement may have been impaired) and I think pretty much every Dutchman got at least one yellow card. In all honesty, I was not in the mood to stay up til 2am to “watch a Spaniard get kicked in the heart.” (Thank you Richard Hammond for putting that so eloquently on Top Gear). But anyways, I’m glad Spain won. And David Villa, if you’re reading this, SHAVE OFF THE SOUL PATCH! Damn.

Tuesday 13th July 2010

Needless to say, Monday was a complete write-off. After staying up til sunrise to watch the football, we collapsed in our little hut (this time, without the accompanying disco soundtrack) and slept and slept. The next day was devoted to more sleeping, and to planning some actual activities that involve more than eating, drinking and tanning.

Which is why, this morning, I was awake at 5 AM. What?! What happened to syncing up our sleep cycles? Well, today we had to sync up with dolphin-time. It turns out that these fun-loving mammals like to have breakfast like, really early.

What 5am looks like (who knew?)


Sigh. So, with the sun barely up, Rhys and I mounted a little white banca and headed for the ocean on a dolphin watching trip. And it did not disappoint. Although the sea was worryingly choppy, and it took a while to find any, every dolphin sighting was ridiculously exciting, although you only got to see them for a few seconds at a time. This is why I love travelling – for these experiences that make you feel such fresh and innocent excitement and enthusiasm. It’s like being a child again. Albeit, worldly wise child with a passport full of stamps who can legally travel alone and drink in bars.

After the dolphin watching, we headed for the Virgin Islands, not to pick up a virgin, but to check out the 7km sandbar which curves out to sea. Unfortunately, it was high tide, so we couldn’t walk along the sandbar so much as paddle along it. The most notable thing about this part of the journey was that Rhys managed to take the single most unattractive photo of me that’s ever been taken:

Future Miss World

This was followed by a snorkelling trip off the coast of Balicasag island, which is rumoured to have some of the best snorkelling in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the water was ridiculously choppy (due to the typhoon the previous day which had hit Luzon in the north of the Philippines, but blessedly left our little island in the Visayas in tact). Even with my ever-chic bright orange life jacket, I was finding the whole experience somewhat terrifying. It’s difficult to marvel at a kaleidoscope of fish folk when you’re trying not to (a)hit your head on an oar (b) float out to sea (c) die. My poor boyfriend sans lifejacket, ended up drinking a lot of sea water, which we know from reading Life of Pi and watching Bear Grylls, is never a good thing.

Some fish

Dolphins aside, it’s been a bit of a disappointing day. We are both trying (and failing) not to make comparisons between this holiday and our last one, which was in the most perfect hotel ever in Koh Samui, Thailand and included hot water, calm seas and a breakfast buffet. Not once did I have to wash myself using a bucket of cold water, as is my privilege on Panglao. Sigh.