- The Thrillippine Dream (Manila-South Luzon)
- Island Hopping the Thrillippines (Palawan)
- Taking it in around Cebu -another spill in the Thrillz (Regional Cebu)
- The Last Splash for ‘my’ Thrillippines (Antique/East Panay)
Antique Province of Panay Island
Alone again, on the road again to unknowns (to me anyhow) and quite excited for the rocks I may (or may not) turn over. This was the part I loved most about travelling; turning up in new territories, comfortably situated with the environment and full of optimism.
In San Jose, I met, after some digging around through tricycle rides, a man who had a place with a few rooms. The rooms were horrible -but also horribly cheap (about 2 bucks a night).
My accommodation was in a dark area, like a garage, with a kitchen in the middle and three small rooms built into concrete quarters. There was a young lady in the room next to mine, and my suspicions were that she was a ‘lady of the night’.
Though I was alone, I managed to find some company to lift my little shit-box room; fortunately the spiders were not as curious as the locals, completely shocked by my presence. ‘Why aren’t you at Borocay?’ is what they were all thinking, I’m sure.
The place was not special at all (San Jose), but the locals were friendly and a few feet from my accommodation I caught some of the best food I had in my time in the Thrillz. Some goat the first night, braised perfectly in a stew, and then the second day, the woman insisted I try
‘Soup number 5’ -didn’t even charge me. I advise you try it too! It’s great -and very unique. I also had some slow-cooked pig face in a sticky-soy based sauce (similar to Adobo of course). It was all very rich and all very heavy. The only thing to finish off this kind of assortment would be a baby bird fetus, sucked out of an egg with lime.
This cheap-ass accommodation was a great base for me to explore the region. The east and west of Panay are divided by a long mountain range, very long, and where there are mountains in the Thrillz there is jungle, a fucking shit load and water -waterfalls, rivers and streams.
This was a very remote region, and I believe that it is things like this that make this country special. Cut off from tourists the environment just feels so fresh, let alone the landscape. I might not have gotten a huge countryside spread of massive rice terraces in Baguio, but I got some beautiful rice terraces here all the same.
In the village, before this region, I was told trying to hike up this ‘summit’ was unrealistic and I would certainly get lost. It was told to me, to sign up for this little trip (so if I disappeared they would know to go look for the stupid mahaba ang ilong -prouncounced ma’asalong and meaning ‘long nose’) and take a guide at some stupid price. I wasn’t about to do that now, was I! The area was pretty flooded with rain, and it was, what you consider some serious jungle! With wood huts scattered about, the place couldn’t have been more remote and of essence.
Walking these terraces takes quite the strategy, let me tell you. Having to follow the curbs dividing these little rice patches is not easy. There is mud and water buffalo shit in these things and if you fall, your shoes are gonna get it; fortunately you took my advice and you are wearing shit-ass crocs (Packing for your Worldly Excursion).
I got lost. I got very lost. I nearly lost my shit I was so lost (laughing at myself now) and didn’t manage to ‘summit’ this little mountain, but it was good craic trying to. Once more I manoeuvred these crazy ass spider lines, and decided to do that (turn around I mean) when it started to rain -and I was nearly out of water. While the rain picked up I sat under one of the wood huts and a local family offered me their smiles, hearts, some fresh water, rice and a coconut.
After hours of struggling with this region I finally made myself out of it and was then, greeted by the whole village. After our introductions, they were brilliantly shocked at my presence. Kids were confused as fuck!
There were no more swagger jeeps back to Belison/Sibalom/San Jose. It was hitch, or take a motorbike (and pay), I’ll let you guess which I decided on.
There were a few things that could be checked out around this area, and I gave myself two days to do it. On my way up in the local bus I noticed a guesthouse and hopped out. The ‘reception’ -a living room- was chalkers with young women; they were all watching television on the carpet -like kids after dinner in the eighties. I knew what they were doing there and the accommodation, by no great surprise was very cheap -there was a bar in the back; very dark and seedy with a few fishermen about.
A small tricycle will take you from the little village of Culesi to the starting point of this beautiful region of Mt Marison. I truly had no idea what I was heading for. Someone in town told me about a little pool at the bottom of the hill and a trail. I figured this was about the best possible answer i could get. Loaded on a tricycle, hugging a big tank of butane on the roof with one other cat, we shoot down a smooth two way road towards the mountain range with about ten other people hanging from the sides of this motorbike, and in the little side carriage (and two others standing on the back).
At the base of the mountain there was a pool of sorts and a picnic area. There was a big family gathering, likely some kind of family reunion or big celebration -they love to celebrate. After declining an invitation -sadly- to dine with them and try a little of their pancit and pork chops, I rushed to this path they’d told me about to make it up to the top of this range before sunset. It would have been ideal to start early in the morning, but things just didn’t work out that way. There were still a few hours, but we know how it can be trekking through mountains.
The first thing to do is cross a bridge; you should be on the right side of the river and moving uphill. Basically, it’s like walking into a national park in central British Columbia (in Canada) all of the sudden. Seperating yourself from the seaside along a huge, open plain and then a dynamite view of high trees, vibrantly green and rich, reaching for the sky and the jetty pushing back towards the sea from the mountain tops. At some point I noticed a couple kids playing in a small pot-hole protected by two big jetstreams by large rocks. I joined them in my boxers after an introduction.
The trail was easy to follow as it likely was used by motorbikes heading back and forth from Culesi, for as I kept on, uphill, eventually ended up at a village. This tiny village was also very excited to see me and a middle-aged man (the head of the village) came up to me with his son and a big book. The book I was to sign in, and then pay a small fee to continue up the mountain. The book was full of local names and not one western, not for at least one year! Yea this was my spot alright.
Before heading to Mararison Island, in the morning of course, I had to eat something. The night before, after returning from the mountain slightly failed, I met a family inside a small restaurant; lured in by a dish of beef curry. Beef Curry? Well, why not.
This curry was fantastic, top shelf for the Philippines I’d say. It’s not Indian but it was good enough to drink -as I sucked down the gravy left in the little bowl with my lips. The woman cooking, she had a second generation link to Greece! She’d lived in America, and came back to the Philippines after some time. She had a daughter, who was studying hard to head back to America, we chatted a while before I headed home for bed and she told me about some waterfalls not too too far away from Culesi, back towards Valderrama and San Jose. Why not.
The island took a little fishing boat -where I feared for dear life- on the sea for about forty five minutes. The boat I was almost certain, would tip over and drown the lot of us in its rocky pissed off little waves. There were two women with grocery bags, heading home from the mainland, and I was sure we wouldn’t make it. The boat costed me about 2.50 each way and the island was certainly islolated, remote, and about 500 km away from any tourists, in any direction!
On the back end I found the perfect spot. High on a hill, overlooking the China Sea and nothing else with the next island about an hour’s boat to my right. There in front of me, a half moon of coral and breaks turning over; and the sun high and healthy, with the wind keeping me from drinking my sweat.
The rule is, when you arrive to a new place you are to check in with the head of the village, but when I turn up some of them get hungry, so I try to avoid the encounter. As I waited for my boat, the man had spotted me and tracked me down, he made me pay him about five bucks, but fuck it, the place was brilliant. Complete peace. Intoxicating peace.
Back in Culesi
In the morning, I moved into the town for one more day -before heading up north- to search out these falls, this young lady had told me about. I was so romantically taken by this region and all its different little points, that I could arrive to for so LITTLE! That made the adventure so much better, I wasn’t being tapped out by fees; sure there were a few little fees, but they were for locals -and there was yet to be administered a ‘tourist fee’ like so many other places.
Down at the coast, with all the fishing boats, I looked for my lunch, after finding a cheap, little room in town. There were some nice little cakes, something like crab cakes but certainly done with some kind of flakey fish.
The trip to these jungle falls took about a forty-five minute local bus, a small motor-bike taxi (or hitch) and then a small, local fee before taking on this very narrow, rugged pathway into the dark, covered, great outdoors! It was seven stages of falls heading up through some seriously treacherous, unique and well-to-do terrain. I had to climb up a jungle rope about 12 meters to reach the third, very thick barrel, that filled into my own little pool.
Every day. Every single day if you want to, these frigging Thrillippines shock time and again. My heart was filled and on the way home, back to Culesi, I think a young woman noticed as she introduced herself. Maria and I made plans the next day to meet up, and she with her brother would help me reach the big mountain top; her brother guiding us through the jungle, to the top of this region this time around!
Her brother was busy when I finally arrived at her family home; she got directions from him, very rough ones, but we would try it anyhow. Of course, the track led us through some serious rice terraces and a fantastic, open, jungle region of trails going in a number of directions -likely made my water buffalo and farmers. We were lost as fuck and had no hope of getting anywhere close to the top of this range, that was certain, but what amounted was all the same fantastic. A huge snake of a waterfall a couple hundred meters high falling down the green landscape in front of us.
We were unprepared to spend the night and I figured once we arrived at this big, fuck off, waterfall things would materialise somehow and we would find our way back to ‘civilization’.
A woman in a small hut was there, not far from the falling stream, and as the sounds intensified her home appeared. Her husband, we likely saw in the distance on our way in, farming the region. She invited us in for bananas and coconut.
It was either stay on the floor with them or make a quick trip to the thundering waters nearby, then make our way back through the lush jungle and back to the main road for a bus back to Culesi. Staying the night wasn’t a horrible idea, but I figured, though they would be happy to have us, it might be better we not take their space and make our own way back. The scene, even though lost miserably, time and again, even though without direction time and again, every excursion leads to some sort of humbling result.
Maria decided to head up the coast with me to Pandan. We found a very cheap little accommodation for us, and made base. From there I had a guide a little while, to eat a few things, unique and cheap. Also, a guide with Tagolog. It might be a very Americanized place with lots of English, but having that local language helps things no matter where you are. The first spot was a little local area, for local tourist; a watering hole with very teal water, to chill and swim.
This kid about ten years old and as high as a step ladder was challenging me time and again, climbing up these high trees and stepping along their thin branches. Of course I climbed up with him. He might be about 70 kilos lighter than me, but i can’t let the kid punk me out, can I!
If I didn’t ask, she certainly wouldn’t have told. And of course, people are going to be people no matter what. I was the long nose, with big money, and I was there to steal their women, their resources and their chances for a good life. Most of the time, they wondered if I was there looking for gold in the mountains, left by Spanish pirates, or if I was a scientist looking for some kind of mineral. There was no doubt in their minds that I was there for my own benefit -and I suppose I wasn’t. But there was also no doubt that I was a dirty Uncle Tom looking to pillage. Traveller, nomad, vegabond, manic for the road? These were unconfigurable words, images or possibilities, for this life was yet to come to town, so to speak. Our meals were great, and the time with Maria was something very unexpected and cool, it’s just too bad her passport couldn’t walk across oceans like mine can. And I hop she looks back with good vibrations, and that my presence didn’t cause her grief. I hope that the villagers got over themselves and moved on shortly after our streetside meetings.
That place was full of beautiful, natural, everflowing rivers and white, sandy beaches, but the people -for the most part- are very, very poor. Keep it in mind and try not to flashpack your ass around, if you know what I mean.