From Taipei to the Philippines
Leaving Taipei with my bike to Philippines
Sunday March 31, 2013
I’m not sure that I have any energy to write. I’m in the Philippines. Well, in the airport in Manila anyway. Though it’s already super clear that I am in the Philippines. Everyone smiles and everyone seems happy and everyone is friendly. There are English songs from the fifties playing over the speakers and every clerk I’ve encountered so far has been singing along. They are a people that like to sing.
This night flight is actually my second full night without any sleep at all. I usually turn into a raving lunatic after one night of no sleep. After two nights, you can imagine how I feel.
Well, at least the trip to the airport in Taipei and boarding the flight and then getting here went smoothly. There was just a tiny moment at the check-in desk when I thought I was going to get dinged for massive weight charges, but then it went through. I had planned to take an airport bus, but I changed my mind at the last minute and my landlords called a taxi for me. It seemed worth the $30. I don’t think I could have carried my luggage to the airport bus stop anyway. And it started to rain heavily, so that might have been a disaster. My landlord and his son helped carry my bike box down the stairs. I wanted to carry it myself, but I couldn’t convince them that it would be easier and better for me to do it. They insisted on helping, and they nearly dropped the thing several times. They also tore open the cardboard by the handholds. It takes a light touch to carry a bike box properly, and they had no experience doing it.
The driver of the taxi was an older man – the type of guy that grips the wheel in both hands like he is holding on to a lifesaver. He drove very slowly and yet drifted from lane to lane. But we got to the airport safely. My first task was to get a VAT refund for some glasses that I bought. This was a bit of a disaster. I waited until the last minute to get new glasses that I needed, and the woman in the shop talked me into getting expensive Hugo Boss bifocals. They were delivered on Friday – the day before my flight – and I found out in the airport that they aren’t right. They’re horrible. A total waste of money. My old glasses are far sharper for things in the distance. These new ones are fuzzy and blurry. And there are many other problems. I knew better than to take a risk on something like that. I can really be an idiot sometimes.
I got my VAT refund and then I went to a bank – the only one still open at that time of night – to change my remaining NT$ to pesos. I didn’t even know what the exchange rate was. I just blindly handed over my cash and waited to see what he gave me back. Meanwhile, tourists from mainland China were crowding around me pushing and shoving and yelling – so different from the quiet and polite Taiwanese.
I only had to wait in the departure lounge for thirty or forty minutes. I wanted to strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler, but I didn’t have an opportunity. There were four other westerners in the lounge. One glance at them told me they were French – they just had that fashion sense and coolness factor that we Anglos lack. They ended up sitting in the same part of the plane as me, and I heard them speaking French, so I was right. They broke out a well-worn deck of cards and they flipped though their passports looking at all the visas they’ve collected, so they were on an extended tour of some kind. I envied them in a way – traveling in a group and not going by bicycle. My bicycle – being at the moment just a huge and heavy piece of luggage – seemed more of a hindrance than a help to the wayward traveler.
I had an aisle seat, which was nice, but the seats were far too small for my lanky limbs. I tried to chat with the Filipina sitting beside me, but she was totally occupied with keeping track of a large group of younger people that she seemed to be the leader of.
Cebu Pacific Air is a budget airline, and you only get meals if you request them. Since I had NT$ to get rid of, I ordered one of the meals. It was so bad. The menu offered chicken asado, beef asado, a third asado, and then chicken barbecue. I ordered the chicken barbecue for NT$350 (a princely sum!) and it was little more than white rice and some chunks of chicken in a sauce. It was so awful compared to the food I’m used to in Taiwan.
I was in bad shape on that flight, short as it was. I was so tired that I couldn’t do anything. But I couldn’t sleep either. I could only sit there and feel the fatigue eating me alive. I popped in the earbuds from my iPod Nano. I had loaded it up with the most recent set of podcasts. I will really miss podcasts. I won’t be able to update them without a computer and iTunes and all that. Now that I think of it, I probably didn’t need to bring the Nano at all. I had intended to bring a portable hard drive with my entire music library on it. But even I could see that that portable hard drive was overkill for this journey, and I shipped it back to Canada. Without it, I only have the music that is on the Nano. And I will have to keep charging it up by plugging it in.
This plugging in and recharging of electronic devices has become a theme of life and travel. All around me I see people exhibiting odd behavior. They walk up to walls that have nothing on them. They look down at the floor at nothing at all. It’s a puzzle until you realize that all of these people are on the constant lookout for electrical outlets. When they spot one, they descend on it with glee. They zip open their various bags and pull out a bewildering array of devices and start connecting them and plugging them in. I’m practically drowning in electrical cords and adapters, and I don’t even have a computer or a tablet. I can’t imagine how heavy my bags would be if I added those to my arsenal.
As I got ready for this flight, I started to wonder if Internet addiction was a real thing. If so, I seem to suffer from it. In fact, I had been looking forward to “unplugging” and getting away from the Internet. My first day of going cold turkey was in my apartment as I packed and got ready for my flight. I had given my computer to a friend and not having a computer was a very tough experience. I found it emotionally tough as I suddenly found myself totally cut off from all my normal modes of communication. I knew logically that I had no computer, but hardly a minute passed in which I didn’t suddenly make a move toward where the computer should be in order to look something up or contact someone or check Facebook. Using the Internet is now as deeply ingrained in me as breathing.
Having said that, I can feel a bit of that relief that I was anticipating. All these people around me who have laptops and smartphones are constantly feeling the need to plug in, charge up, and update their Facebook status or send an email. I would, too, but I don’t have the option. If I had a laptop with Internet access, I would be on Facebook right now and experiencing this place through communication with friends on Facebook. I’d be dying to know what new pictures have been posted from my various goodbye events. It’s a strange feeling to know that all those bits and bytes are out there flowing all around me in cyberspace while I have no access to any of it. I think it is healthy to unplug. By being out of touch with cyberspace, perhaps I will be more in touch with real space.
Boracay has become an extremely popular holiday destination for young Taiwanese, and many people on my flight were part of tour groups going to Boracay. Strange to think that Boracay was one of my first really big travel experiences in the Philippines. This was long ago and it wasn’t as developed as it is now. I had one of the best and most interesting periods of my life on Boracay, but I rarely mention it to people. I don’t like to associate the Boracay I knew with the Boracay of today.
The plane landed in Manila without fuss. I had a 59-day visa already in my passport, so going through immigration was simple. I had checked two items. The first was the bicycle in a box. The second was a duffle bag with three pannier bags, my tent, and my sleeping pad. The duffle bag is somewhat lightweight, and I hope to keep it with me so that I can use it again in the future. I nearly tore out my hair, though, figuring out a way to pack up the pannier bags in the duffle bag. It’s just a shapeless sack, so I had to give it shape somehow. It wasn’t easy.
That duffle bag was the first to appear on the luggage carousel. Then I settled in to wait for my bicycle box. I was so tired and my headache had gotten so bad that I didn’t want to stand. I sat down on the edge of my luggage cart and just put my face in my hands. I longed to stretch out on the cold, comforting floor and get some sleep. I’ve had this experience many times, and I always comfort myself with the thought that eventually, somehow, somewhere, I will be able to lie down and rest. Whatever adventures and problems await me, at some point, I will be in a little room somewhere and able to collapse. I just hold on to that thought and get what comfort from it that I can.
My bicycle box never did show up on the conveyor belt. Then when I stood up, I saw that it was over by the wall near where the conveyor belt came out of the wall. The luggage handlers had put it there, realizing that it wouldn’t really fit on the conveyor belt. I was very pleased to note that it was sitting upright and not flat and that it was sitting right side up. I had drawn big black arrows all over the sides with the words “up” and smaller arrows pointing in the same direction. I have no idea if the bike survived the journey. I hadn’t packed it very well or very professionally. Then again, I’ve never been very good at it. I was surprised to see that the box was largely undamaged. There were no tears or dents that I could see. And no part of the bike had punctured the side. That gives me some hope that the bike did not suffer too much damage. That it suffered no damage is probably too much to hope for.
By the way, when I wrote about people looking for outlets, an elderly man came into this airport coffee shop and exhibited that behavior I’ve described. He found an outlet at the bottom of a pillar and has been setting up a type of electronic camp ever since. It’s incredibly complicated. He has been working hard this entire time and has opened all of his bags to get at all the cords and devices he needs. His laptop is now sitting on the table, and, I assume, accessing the free WiFi I see advertised. Yet, he’s still rummaging and rummaging looking for more cords and devices.
Of course, I am currently typing on a type of computer. However, it is not a true computer, and it runs on AA batteries. It has no operating system or moving parts. So it’s a different beast altogether.
My next flight is a domestic flight. The way it works with Cebu Pacific Air is that you go through immigration when you land and then you get your luggage and go through customs. Then you have to bring your luggage to a transfer desk and check in for the domestic flight. I thought about staying in Manila, but I decided to follow through on my plans and go to Legazpi – a much smaller and therefore friendlier town.
At the transfer desk, they were concerned about my heavy luggage. They wanted to know if I had paid excess weight charges. I said that I had, and they asked for the receipt at check-in. I had to explain that I had paid in advance when I bought the ticket, so I had no receipt from check-in. It didn’t look like my explanation was gong to fly, but something on the computer screen finally pleased her, and she issued me my boarding pass for my next flight: a short little hop to Legazpi.
It was great to be rid of my luggage once more, and I could wander through the airport relatively unhampered. I still have a bag with me, of course. It is my fourth pannier bag – the one that I think of as my Survival Kit. It holds all that is truly important. In this case, it also holds my new Olympus camera and lenses. I realized while packing that I really shouldn’t have so many lenses. I doubt I will have a strong use for all of them. But it’s hard to imagine which lenses to give up. Each has a specific use. I tend to obsess over luggage. I’m always annoyed that I have so much and I’m always thinking of ways to have less. Yet, I prefer to have all the things that I have. A light traveler could easily dispense with many of the things I have, such as a large mosquito net, a Katadyn water filter, and a sleeping sheet. But I like to have those things. Keeps me more independent.
Once I’d checked in for my next flight, I stopped in the first likely looking coffee shop I saw. I became very fond of the milky cappuccinos I could get at the 7-11s in Taipei. And I ordered one here at this place called LeBistro. A large cost P120 ($3 US or NT$90). That seems expensive for the Philippines, but this is an airport after all. A concern for keeping to a budget hasn’t kicked in yet, so it seems fine to me to pay that much for a coffee. If I really do sink my teeth into this trip, I want to become much more rigorous about keeping to a budget. Seems almost silly after the vast amount of money I’ve blown on my Olympus camera system and my stupid Hugo Boss glasses. I also spent a lot of money on clothing for this trip. I literally had no clothing at all in Taipei. Well, that’s not true. I had a huge amount of clothing. My closets were bursting. But it was all extremely old and worn out. I shipped a few items to Canada, but the vast majority, I just put in a series of large shopping bags and put out on the street for the recyclers to pick up. Every morning, whatever I put out there would be gone. So for this trip, I was essentially starting from being totally naked. I ended up going to a camping store and buying some of that high-tec gear – underwear, shorts, long pants, and a rain jacket. Plus running shoes – lightweight ones. I usually wear just sandals, but I thought it would nice to have shoes, too. I’m not convinced I made wise choices with this clothing, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll just have to work things out as I go.
And that’s about it. Not a lot of drama on this trip so far, though the familiarity of the airport experience might account for that. I remember my first time through here, I was much more aware of all the little details that are unique to the Philippines. Now, I’m not really that aware of them. It’s just the overall happiness and liveliness of the people that strikes me. It’s not something that you see in Taiwan very often – like employees joking with each other and teasing and laughing and pushing each other around and singing on their way to work.
I guess the other big thing that strikes me has nothing to do with the Philippines. It’s suddenly being surrounded by so many different types of people – all these westerners from different countries and doing so many different things. You don’t see anything like that in Taiwan. I’m not used to seeing westerners other than the editors that I worked with. Sometimes I find all these other westerners a bit intimidating. I wonder what they are up to and where they are going. Some, like the French, seem so together and confident. Overall, there is such a mood of activity and action here. The Taiwanese have a reputation for working hard, but that isn’t quite accurate. They tend to work long and steadily. They don’t work fast. They don’t walk fast or move fast. They are also notoriously unaware of their physical surroundings. People here are more like what I think of as normal. Right now, I’m watching all the airport employees arriving for their day shifts. They pour through the doors – groups of them – laughing and pushing each other and walking fast. There’s also a much wider variety of clothing and personal possessions – more colors and more styles.
I suppose if I had a laptop and WiFi, I could zip this off as an email. That would be nice, actually. But as it is, these words are trapped in this NEO until I can download them to a real computer. Who knows? I might become a laptop owner yet.
Outside the airport in Legazpi
Right after I wrote the bit above about computers and people charging up all their devices, I went over to talk to the older man that I mentioned. I didn’t have a reason to approach him, so I just invented a question and asked him about the password for the wifi at the café. He was more than eager to pass the time of day in talk, and I found out that he was based in Ho Chi Minh City. He was an English teacher and had been for a good part of his life. He talked up Vietnam as a place to live and work – as long as you don’t mind the crazy traffic and traffic noise. I was pleased to meet him and get his stories as I was considering stopping in Vietnam to work for a while either riding my bike there or simply going there after the Philippines. He hinted at some other stories he had to tell, and I got the impression that he could tell stories for a good few hours if the opportunity presented itself. He had even spent some time in a jail in Iraq or Kuwait, I’m not sure which.
I recognized my departure lounge for my flight to Legazpi. I had used that same lounge for my flight to Camiguin Island the last time I came to the Philippines. While I hung out there, I approached a friendly looking foreigner who seemed to be on his own. I was just curious if he knew of a good place to stay in Legazpi. I imagined I would be getting a taxi from the airport to the town and then assembling my bike in the comfort of a hotel room. This foreigner had never been to Legazpi before either, so he didn’t have any information for me.
I then set my sights on a friendly looking Filipino. I went up to him and introduced myself and asked him some questions about hotels. His name was Mike, and he was an engineer born in Legazpi but now based in Manila. He was quite willing to talk, though a bit shy, and we chatted about the differences between the Philippines and Taiwan – particularly differences between the people.
Mike didn’t know about any cheap hotels in Legazpi. The best he could offer was a place that he said cost 2,000 pesos per night. Apparently, he thought that qualified as cheap. He did give me the useful information that a taxi from the airport to town would cost about 200 pesos and he also taught me the Tagalog for the numbers 1 through 10. I was hoping that Mike would scoop me up and take it as his responsibility to guide me through my arrival and help me get a reasonable taxi and that sort of thing. I even suggested that we partner up. I’d pay for the taxi if he would organize it. He was willing, but his father was coming to pick him up. I waited hopefully for an invitation to ride along with his father, but that invitation never came.
There were quite a few western tourists in the departure lounge going to Legazpi. The big draw for this area is swimming with the whale sharks, and it has turned into quite a thriving business for a lot of people. I was a bit disappointed to see so many foreigners around. I had hoped Legazpi would be a little off the beaten trail and that the whale sharks experiences would be more personal.
The flight was a short one, and in about an hour we were touching down at the airport in Legazpi. The jet stopped on the runway and we climbed down the rolling stairs to the tarmac. I was a bit nervous to see that it was raining. We were handed umbrellas by the flight attendants, but I turned mine down. I had enough to carry without having to hold onto an umbrella.
My bicycle box appeared in short order and I was waiting for my other bag when Mike came by and said goodbye. Oh, he also told me that it was easy to buy a SIM card for my cell phone. I can pick one up at many places and it should cost only 100 pesos plus whatever I want to put on the card. I don’t know if my phone is unlocked, but Mike said that they can do that here, too. I don’t need a cell phone, I guess, but it’s become so common that even in the Philippines, people expect you to have one.
As I was waiting for my luggage I started to think that I should just put the bike together at the airport. That would save me the trouble of having to find a taxi to carry my bike box and duffle bag to a hotel somewhere. That promised to be a hassle. And the one advantage to this night flight I’d gotten was that I had arrived at something like 9:00 in the morning. I had lots of time to put the bike together.
I grabbed my duffle bag and carried it outside the airport and over to a tourism information office. They promised to watch over it while I went back for my bike box. Once I had the bike box, I went in search of a quiet and sheltered spot where I could work. Turns out there were lots of places, and I settled on a spot far away from the hustle and bustle and under the overhang of a roof of a small restaurant and shop. You could never do something like that in Canada, of course. But here it is no problem. No one minded that I was commandeering that area. No security guards came to talk to me. Well, that isn’t entirely true. Every security guard in the airport came to talk to me, but they were just curious about the bike and wanted to chat. I had up to seven people standing around and watching and trying to help while I put the bike together. I made a bit of a show out of it and tried to look like an expert. Putting the bike back together is generally a much faster operation than dismantling it, for the simple reason that I don’t have to pack up each part in bubble wrap and safely stow it away. Still, it wasn’t a fast process, and once you factored in going through all my gear and trying to pack the pannier bags and attach them to the bike, the largest part of the day was gone. I think it took me about 3 hours from start to finish. Airport employees came and went throughout the day to chat and watch the progress. Each time I unwrapped a new part, I mentally crossed my fingers to ward off back luck and damage. And to my delight, I found no damage at all. The cardboard box had taken some hits and it was clear that the dismantled bike had bounced around inside the box like crazy, but it hadn’t done any real damage that I could see. I suppose I can take some credit for that in that I had packed the bike pretty carefully and protected the sensitive parts as much as possible. I was particularly worried about the wheels and the rear derailleur. I checked the wheels first and they seemed to me to be perfectly true. And no spokes were broken or loose. I held off unpacking the derailleur and putting it on as long as possible. If the derailleur was damaged in any way, I would be in serious trouble. And to my joy, the derailleur seemed perfectly fine. I didn’t have to adjust anything on the bike, in fact – not the brakes, not the derailleur. Everything worked perfectly once I’d put the bike together. That was good news.
Not such good news emerged when I turned to the pannier bags and the gear. It’s not that anything was damaged. It’s just that how heavy my luggage had been was not a trick or an illusion. It was heavy because the stuff inside my luggage was heavy. And not having been packed very efficiently either, I had a terrible time getting everything into the pannier bags and onto the bike. It took a great deal of time to do it, and the end result wasn’t very pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t pleasing to the bike either. There was far too much weight over the rear wheel. It felt practically dangerous – like the wheel was going to buckle without me even being on the bike.
I had plenty of time, so I didn’t rush anything. One airport porter in particular stayed with me. His English was decent and we had a good time chatting as I worked. He even offered to get me a cup of coffee – the typical 3-in-1 Nescafe that passes for coffee everywhere in the Philippines. Every hour or so, the airport siren would sound, signaling the impending arrival of another jet. Then my audience would desert me to go back to work. My main guy had been a porter for 15 years. I can’t imagine that they make a lot of money, but Legazpi is a tourist town it seems and so I’m sure they get some pretty generous fees from various tourists. I think there is an established fee per bag – a very modest sum – and I’m sure that any western tourist left to his own devices would automatically pay ten or even twenty times the going rate without thinking much about it. I know that I have in the past when a porter has gotten hold of my bags.
It rained sporadically throughout the day and once for as long as forty minutes straight. I was reassured by my audience, though. They said that this was an unusual day. It wasn’t the rainy season or anything like that.
I was quite pleased with myself for assembling the bike at the airport. It really wasn’t that hard and it made perfect sense, but it makes for a good story – to fly into an airport and then assemble your bike and ride away. The story sounds slightly less good when you admit that it took four hours from start to finish. But that was only because I had embarked on this trip without any real planning or preparation. I literally hadn’t had the pannier bags on the bike for over three and a half years. The last time I’d done any bike touring was when I first came back to Taiwan 3.5 years ago.
My worries about the bike were reinforced when I finally got on the bike and set off. The darn thing wobbled and shook like it was about to collapse. It handled like a drunk elephant and it took a huge effort to keep it steady and going uphill.
Throughout the day, I’d been asking various people about a cheap hotel in Legazpi. I didn’t get the answers I was looking for, and I eventually started to suspect that we were dealing with a problem of vocabulary. In Taiwan, for example, when you ask about a hotel, it is assumed you are talking about 4- or 5-star luxury hotels. That, to the Taiwanese, is what the word hotel means. So even if they come up with a “cheap” hotel, it is still expensive. The same thing was happening here, and I started to alter my question. This strategy met with success, and I learned that for the Filipinos, the word hotel also meant a luxurious kind of place. The cheap place I was envisioning is known as a lodging house or a guest house. Once I started asking about that, I got the answers I was looking for. A placed called “Backpackers” came up the most, and I focused on that. A friendly security guard brought me a good map of Legazpi and they all put their heads together to locate this Backpackers place on it. A room at this place, they said, went for 350 pesos.
Once I was on the bike, I was very glad to have it. The distance from the airport to the town was nothing at all. I can’t imagine why taking a taxi would cost anything like 200 pesos. Mike had even said that it would take about thirty minutes to make the trip. The actual time was more like three minutes. I simply rode out on Airport Road and once I’d turned right onto the main drag, I was pretty much in Legazpi. Just a few minutes later, and I was in the Backpackers area. I simply rode down a street here and there at random, and I stumbled across a huge and colorful sign pointing the way. This led to another huge sign and then another and another. Finding the place was easy once I was in the right neighborhood.
I was actually a bit displeased when I found the place. Its full name is the Mayon Backpackers Hostel. And it is a typical place for backpackers in Asia – a scene I’m very familiar with from my backpacking days. It’s great for meeting other travelers and hanging out, but it’s not the best way to meet Filipinos in any kind of natural setting.
It also meant that 350 pesos did not get you a room, as I had hoped, but a bed in a dorm. I haven’t stayed in a dorm for about a billion years. I’ve never liked them much, and I’ve always preferred to spring for an actual room. And when cycling, of course, you never see places like this anyway.
Still, it’s hard to argue with its many advantages. It’s located inside a big and beautiful house with nice gardens and lots of common spaces. It has a big kitchen and a dining room table with an unlimited free supply of coffee and tea and fruit and bread. I’m helping myself to my second cup of coffee and second sweet bun as I write this. The place even has a beautiful rooftop spread over three levels with lots of verandahs and alcoves with nice tables and chairs a gorgeous view of the surrounding houses, the lush hills, and the Mayon volcano in the distance.
Staying in a dorm, however, brings with it all kinds of complications, not the least of which is safeguarding your valuables. You can’t just leave everything out as you could in your own room. Even going to the bathroom and/or taking a shower is a complicated operation. Still, the price is right, and I’m glad of the company. Only 2 of the 6 beds in my room are occupied, and these occupants are two tall blondhaired guys with dreadlocks down to their waist. They looked somewhat intimidating to me, but they were quite friendly and we chatted at length about this and that – mainly my bicycle. Everyone at this hostel saw me pull up on my bike and that has led to some comical misunderstandings. It’s assumed that someone on a bicycle has come a long distance. Yet, my only cycling so far has been the two kilometers from the airport in Legazpi. I try to explain that just a day or two ago, I was in Taipei carrying boxes to the post office, but it makes no sense to anyone. It hardly makes sense to me.
I have to do some thinking here to see just how long I’ve gone without sleep. I had a going-away party on Thursday night. It went quite late and since I had done some drinking, I slept very badly that night. I hardly slept at all. But technically, I did sleep. So my sleepless period began when I got out of bed at 7:00 on Friday morning. I spent the morning going to the tax office and to immigration to deal with my paperwork. The afternoon went by in a whirlwind of dismantling my bicycle and boxing it up. Friday night was another going away party after which I went home and started packing again. I packed all night and all day Saturday right up until I carried my luggage down to the street for the taxi to take me to the airport. Saturday night was spent in airports and on jets. My first flight was at 1:20 in the morning and my second at 7:50. And today has been spent down at the airport unpacking and then assembling my bike. So that makes a period of no sleep at all of about 60 hours, or 2.5 days. I guess that’s not so impressive, but when I think about everything I did in those 60 hours, I’m impressed with myself. Specifically, I’m impressed that I’m still functioning at all. The worst period by far was Saturday. I was really freaking out at that time. You’d think that today would be much worse since I’ve been awake much longer. However, I was so focused and active while assembling my bike, that I hardly noticed my fatigue.
I have to say that I was feeling very stressed out during my last days in Taipei and then at the airport. I was feeling very down and almost panicked as if I’d made a huge mistake by leaving my job and leaving Taiwan and leaving behind my entire life, more or less. And there had been no pleasure at all in the packing and cleaning. But once I checked in for my flight, things started to go better and little bits of pleasure started to pop up here and there – meeting new people, having new small experiences. And now that I’ve actually reached my first temporary home in the Philippines and I have a place where I can finally relax and get my bearings and lay down my head, I feel much, much better. Today was in fact, a pretty good day any way you look at it. I met a whole series of interesting and friendly Filipinos. And here in the Backpackers, I’ve already had a dozen of those easy-going conversations that you always have with other travelers. You fall into conversation effortlessly with everyone you meet. One bit of bad news has come my way. This is that the whale shark season seems to have already come to an end. There have been very few sightings. None of the people in the hostel that have gone to Donsol have seen a whale shark. You still have to pay for the whole trip whether you encounter a whale shark or not. That’s part of the deal. To be honest, I’m not entirely upset that the season has ended. The atmosphere surrounding Donsol and the whale sharks is akin to a circus. It doesn’t sound like something that I would enjoy very much. Actually swimming with a whale shark might make up for any amount of circus atmosphere, but I’m not sure.
I took my bike out for a ride just now. I was hungry and I decided to see if I could find a little eatery. Filipino food is a bit of a mystery to me. One result of this little errand was being reminded how great it is for me to have a bike. Without a bike, I would have been stuck. The hostel is set pretty far back from the main road and it would take a long time to walk to the road let alone to a restaurant. On a bicycle, it is just a matter of a minute, and I can go quite far afield.
I rode quite a ways down the main drag of Legazpi. There held lots of interest. And people in the side streets were very friendly. When I rode away from the hostel, everyone called out my name. That has happened to me a lot in the Philippines. Within hours of my arrival, everyone somehow has come to know my name. At least I think they have. It certainly sounded like everyone was shouting “Doug”.
I didn’t see very many promising places to have dinner. Filipino cuisine is pretty limited, I find. They love fried fast food and pizza joints and places like that. I find them unpleasant and quite expensive. There was one place that sold entire roasted chickens for you to take home. I remember doing that with some people when I was on Camiguin. It was pretty tasty. Boy, I sure miss the food in Taiwan. And the dishes here are surprisingly expensive. I can get a big delicious meal in Taiwan with rice and soup and lots of vegetables and a meat dish for 2 or 3 dollars. Here, just a noodle dish can cost $4.
I’m feeling much better than I did when the trip started. But I’m still feeling somewhat overwhelmed and unprepared. There are so many things to be aware of. I just wanted to ride my bike around the city, but that meant completely emptying my pannier bag of all the stuff I didn’t need. So I have to leave that valuable stuff in a little locker in the dorm room. It’s secure,
But not very.