Palawan Bike Trip 011
Sunday March 23
I had plans to cycle to El Nido today, but I changed my mind at the last minute. Today is Easter Sunday, and I’ve heard that El Nido is very busy for the holidays. I’d started hearing these stories as long ago as in Port Barton. Yvonne was planning her trip so as to be in El Nido before the holidays or after them. She didn’t want to arrive in the middle. I heard from a couple of other people since then that El Nido was completely full on Good Friday. One couple had to spend the night in a Viewpoint because there were no rooms at all. Part of the problem was that there were no buses running on Good Friday, so you couldn’t get out even if you wanted to unless you had your own transportation or took a shuttle van. I thought by Easter Sunday there would be something available, but I decided not to take the chance. Better to go on Monday and avoid the crush. Besides, I’ve only taken about 100 pictures of the fort and Taytay. I should take at least another 100 more…
There were no big adventures yesterday, but I had plenty of small ones, and it ended up being a pleasant day. In Taytay with my cottage and this restaurant, how could it not?
I started the day typing in the NEO in the restaurant. All the people I had noticed the day before were in the restaurant having breakfast and getting ready to go. The American family was all over the place. It was like watching an army on the move. I never did speak to any of them, though. They seemed like a pretty self-contained unit. My only contact with them was to lend the boys my binoculars for a while. They were trying to spot Club Noah where they had stayed on a distant island. I find my binoculars so essential that I’m often surprised when people are blasé about them. I spend a lot of time up here at Casa Rosa watching Taytay and the fishermen in their boats with my binoculars. Without them, I couldn’t see nearly as much. Perhaps other people just have better eyesight.
The day before, I’d also noticed a pair of youngish Filipinas hanging out at Casa Rosa. One was large and rather plain. The other was strikingly pretty. The pretty one was sitting at the table next to mine in the morning, and I threw a couple of openings her way to start up a conversation with me. She didn’t seem to want to follow up on the opportunity, though. I let it go, but then later I tried once more and I kept chatting. It turned out that she was very interested in talking to me, but was extremely shy. She had never spoken to a foreigner before and was just unsure of how to handle herself or what to do.
The Pretty One was nineteen years old, and she was a nursing student in Puerto. She had an aunt who also trained to be a nurse in the Philippines and was now working in L.A. She hoped to do the same thing. This idea of studying to be a nurse and then going to Canada or the United States to work is a common one here. I’ve heard it a number of times. The Pretty One was just finished the first year of a four-year program. She seemed to know exactly what she was doing and had a clear plan. She understood about getting licensed to work in different places and how she would have to write exams to get board certified and all of this. She seemed a bit weary though. She was studying for her final exams of this year, and she didn’t seem very happy about it. The next three years stretched out long before her and she wasn’t very happy about that.
Her father was from Mindanao and her mother was from Puerto. She was born in Mindanao and grew up there. However, her parents separated, and now she was sort of moved around from Mindanao to Palawan. She might finish her degree here or in Mindanao. It all depended on how things went with her parents. She said that her parents had a security firm and were very busy and hadn’t had much time for parenting. Beyond that, all she told me about herself was that she had two older sisters. One was married at 22 years old, and the other was going to get married.
The Pretty One’s friend was still sleeping apparently. They had plans to go back to Puerto by bus or shuttle van, and I was worried that by talking to me for so long they were going to miss their bus or leave too late. She got on her cell phone and started texting like crazy. No one here speaks to anyone when they can text instead. I feel at a distinct disadvantage sometimes not having a cell phone. Everyone wants my cell phone number. Even many foreigners have cell phones. Foreigners are also calling ahead to places and making reservations. Traveling on Palawan appears to take a lot of organizing for some people.
The Pretty One got back a flurry of messages and none of her friends appeared. She had asked them if they wanted to go down to the fort, and they had said no, that she had to go by herself. Of course, I offered to go with her and after dropping off some stuff in my cottage we set off. The gates to the fort were still closed (as I could see through my binoculars) but I thought with the Pretty One along, she could speak to someone and perhaps get them to open it.
The Pretty One seemed to be having the time of her life walking with me. She kept smiling and looking around. She said that everyone was staring at us. That didn’t surprise me since all foreign men with their younger Filipina girlfriends get looks of interest. I hadn’t noticed people looking at us because people always look at me. It wasn’t any different. However, after she said that, I paid attention and it seemed that people looked at us much longer and more intently than usual. I wondered if it was such a wise idea to be walking with such a young girl.
The fort was still closed when we got there and we couldn’t find anyone to open it for us. Everyone said it wouldn’t open until Monday. We took a few pictures and then turned around to head back. I would have suggested going elsewhere, but I had the feeling that she didn’t have much time, that she had to get back for the shuttle van. We were standing outside of Pem’s at that point and I said I wanted to duck inside to see if Ed was there. I assumed she would come with me, but she said she had to go right away – urgent text messages from friends – and we parted company.
I knocked on Ed’s cottage door and his wife answered. Then Ed himself showed up walking up to the steps. We stood out there for a while and chatted. He and his wife were waiting for the staff at Pem’s to clean a different cottage. They were going to move to a slightly different cottage.
I learned quite a bit more about what Ed was up to. I had thought he was buying land in El Nido. However, the land he was buying was actually outside Roxas. He was also buying some land on an island near Taytay. The land near Roxas had lots of good coconut trees on it and the land on the island had cashews. It all sounded terribly complex to me, but apparently it wasn’t all that difficult. He had family connections to this land and there were already some things in place whereby the coconuts and cashews would be harvested and sold without much input from him. His wife was also quite up on all the details. Ed seemed to really be enjoying the new entrepreneurial turn his life had taken in the Philippines. In the United States, doing anything in the way of buying and selling is quite complicated and involves lots of paperwork and taxes. In the Philippines, though, one can do a bit of buying and selling quite easily. That very morning, his wife had seen some shoes for sale in Taytay. They were used shoes that perhaps had been part of some aid shipment to the Philippines. There were sixty pairs and they were selling for 70 pesos each. Ed’s wife knew they sold for 250 pesos in Puerto. So she bought them all, and through all kinds of family connections, these huge boxes of shoes were going to be put on a bus to Puerto, picked up by someone there, and then sold through a cousin who has a bit of space in one of the markets. Everyone gets a bit of the profit and away they go to the next deal. I can see that even I might discover hidden entrepreneurial instincts if I didn’t have this idea that it was terribly complicated and expensive – which it is in Canada. In Canada, you can’t simply buy low and sell high so easily. It just doesn’t work that way. Perhaps by the strict letter of the law it isn’t that easy here either. However, I don’t get the impression that the law is enforced that strongly. Ed contrasted opening a restaurant in the US with opening one in the Philippines. In the US, opening a restaurant is fantastically expensive and complex. Here, a person can do it for a thousand pesos. They go to the market, buy some pots, cook some food in the pots, put the pots on a table in front of their house, and they have a restaurant. I’ve seen lots of operations like that. They don’t even need tables and chairs because people buy the food in plastic bags and take it home. There isn’t a huge turnover of course but it’s a little business.
I hinted to Ed about getting together again later for a drink and a talk. That got him thinking out loud about his day and he said that he needed a couple of hours to write in the afternoon and then when the power came on, he’d write more at night. I found out later that he is also a writer. He is working on a novel and hopes to get it published.
I learned this after dinner. He and his wife and his baby boy came up to Casa Rosa for dinner. I let them eat in peace, but after dinner, Ed and I chatted a bit. That’s when he told me about his writing. I didn’t press him for details, but I did show off my NEO. He mentioned that his laptop battery lasted only an hour or so, and that limited his writing time. The NEO, assuming one can live with its limitations, could be helpful for someone like him. He was pretty excited about it, and I wrote down the information so that he could look into getting one himself.
One of the more interesting chats I had was with the cook here at Casa Rosa. I spoke with her on the morning that I moved in and I found out that she was here just temporarily. The regular cook had gone somewhere for a course in Italian cooking. She was here as a substitute. I think there were lots of family connections there and other details, but I didn’t understand them. She takes her work quite seriously. She instantly felt that the menu here was too limited. She knew that foreigners didn’t all want to eat seafood all the time, so she expanded the menu to include things like the pork steak I had my first night. She was also concerned about the quality of the food and commented that the hardest part of the job was constantly making trips to Puerto to keep supplied. She could get many things in Taytay, but the quality wasn’t very good and the selection wasn’t large.
She struck me as a somewhat sad woman. She also seemed tired, though she obviously had a lot of energy. Her job here was very demanding and she worked hard. World-weary might be a good way of describing her. Her husband had died young and had left her with four children to raise on her own. Since then, her entire life has been about caring for the children. Her youngest son was three years old when her husband died. She then had to work full time while leaving him at home alone. I’m not sure why there wasn’t family around at this point to help out. Family seems to come up in almost every other situation here.
She told me this story in the saddest tone with the saddest eyes. She said she was working in a German restaurant (I think) and she was paid 4,000 pesos a month for very long hours. I’ve heard similar stories to this, and I’m always surprised in the end to learn how many of the people involved in the story are now overseas working. This woman had a strong work ethic, and somehow she had gleaned the idea that the work ethic in the Philippines was nowhere near what it was in the west and other places. Her children had dreams and hopes, but she didn’t feel they really understood what it means to work – really work.
She described going into offices in the Philippines where there would be lots of clerks present. Yet they weren’t working. It was all “blah blah blah.” Customers would be lined up waiting and the clerks would just “blah blah blah.” Somehow, she had the chance to go to Germany, and I assume it was there that she saw a different way of working. She was amazed to go into places and see one or two clerks serving huge numbers of customers. But that’s because they worked hard and efficiently. They simply did their job and helped customers one after the other after the other non-stop. That was the way these countries became successful, she thought. She wanted her children to understand that, so she was glad that she had one son working as a janitor in Saudi Arabia and a daughter working somewhere else. What puzzles me is how all these people from very poor families manage to get overseas to work in the first place. The work visa alone, this woman told me, costs 100,000 pesos. Making 4,000 pesos a month, how could she possibly pull that money together? Perhaps I can ask her today as I spend another day hanging out here.
The main reasons I stayed in Taytay another day were to enjoy the view from Casa Rosa and make sure of getting a place to stay in El Nido. But I also had this idea that on Easter Sunday there would be lots of activities. Ed had said something about a procession. I learned this morning that there was a procession, but by tradition it took place at three or four a.m. Other than rumors of that procession and an Easter Mass to take place this evening, the town seems largely unchanged. The only difference I can see is that there are a lot more people coming and going by boat, though I doubt that has anything to do with Easter Sunday. I am glad I stayed, though.