Spewing Out Words – The Matnog Tourist Information Office
Once fortified with food (I struggled through my fish head as best I could), I stopped by the tourist information office. I could either catch a ferry across to Samar right away or the next morning. Or I could do a bit of exploring around Matnog first. I wanted to see what the tourism people had to say about this, and, taking my courage in both hands, I parked outside the small booth and went inside.
My enounter with the tourism people went about as well as can be expected. There were, as I knew from some research I had done, some island-hopping opportunities around Matnog. The tourism office even had a book of photographs of the various places included on the typical tour – Tikiling Island, a fish sanctuary, Subic Beach, and a cave. These pictures were quite good and I felt it would be worth checking these places out. I had been in the Philippines about a month and a half and other than my brief stop at Pururan Beach on Catanduanes, I hadn’t had any classic beach paradise experiences. I felt it was time to visit a beautiful beach or two and do some snorkelling.
Unfortunately, though the tourism office had a book of nice pictures and the staff there were capable of spewing out a lot of words rapidly, there was little information actually forthcoming, particularly of the who, when, where, and how variety. I tackled the staff in every way I could think of, but no matter how I pressed, how I phrased my questions, how often I repeated my questions, and how many different people I asked, I could find out nothing that would help me take one of these island-hopping tours. I was, as always, flabbergasted. I didn’t know how it was possible to live in a world of such vagueness. How was it possible to have a job during which you are constantly faced with questions from tourists and just bumble along without any facts of any kind to offer them?
It was incredibly disappointing, but I had no choice but to eventually cycle away with only the barest of an assurance that perhaps tomorrow I could go on an island-hopping tour. What time? No idea. Where would the tour go? No idea. How do I sign up? No idea. All I knew was that there were island-hopping tours and there was one that I could join. But that’s it. Nothing I did or said moved our discussion beyond that point. Baffling.
One of the staff members was helpful to the point of telling me that there were some beach resorts in Matnog itself – just a kilometer down the main road. He texted the most popular of the three and discovered that they were full booked. But he gave me the names of the other two, and I went off in search of them. I figured that I could find a place to stay for the night and then return to the tourism office later to take another stab at going on an island-hopping tour.
A little bit Matnog’s charm emerged as I rode my bike towards these beach resorts. The insanity around the port faded and I found myself at a bizarre cast-iron bridge over a wide river. I say bizarre because good chunks of the bridge were rusting away to the point of leaving long wide gaps. The metal gave underneath my bike’s tires just enough to give me the feeling that my wheels were going to plunge through the thin, rusting metal with disastrous results.
I made it across the bridge (slowly and carefully) and was pleassed to find myself in a quiet and beautiful area longside the ocean. The three beach resorts – Richview, Stardust, and Mantigue – were clustered together soon after the bridge. I rode past them and continued on by a long and attractive public beach. There were lots of people in big groups along the beach – drinking and eating and having fun – and they all called out to me as I rode past. I pondered just camping wild somewhere out there, but I couldn’t see anyplace that would serve.
Of the different resorts, Richview seemed to be the best option. I wouldn’t call it attractive, but the buildings were obviously new and a friendly man greeted me on my arrival. He joked that he was just a visitor like me, but I learned through his wife that he was teasing me and he was the owner. Unfortunately, the rooms were 1,200 pesos ($30) a night, which is more than I wanted to spend. I asked the owner about the possibility of camping, and he said that I was free to put up my tent anywhere on the grounds. I looked around a bit, and settled on a spot on the cement floor of a parking area underneath a high roof. I had no idea whether this would work out or not. It was impossible to predict any problems, but they had a public bathroom with a shower, and with access to that, I figured I’d be okay.
I set up my tent and then rode my bike back into chaos and to the tourism office. I got one key concession out of them this time. They said that there was definitely an island-hopping tour that I could go on in the morning. There was a group of people going and I could join that group. I was pleased about that bit of information, though I was less pleased when it became clear that that was the only piece of information I was going to get that day. Who was in this group that I was joining? They wouldn’t or couldn’t tell me. How much would it cost? Also unavailable information. Now for the kicker: What time did the tour begin? To this key question, they also could not supply an answer. I got a bit short-tempered with them by this point and I pressed them quite hard. But no matter how hard I pressed, nothing worked. The man told me that I should show up early. Very early. I asked him how early, and he said seven or eight o’clock. I tried to get him to narrow it down to one of those times. But he would not respond to my questions. I asked him what time the boat left. Then he actually came up with a fact. He said that the boat left at 9 o’clock. Why, then, I asked him, should I show up at 7 o’clock? If I showed up at 7 in the morning, then I would just have to sit there for two hours until 9. He just looked at me with glazed-over eyes and said “Yes.” I tried desperately to point out to the tourism staff how crazy this was. How can I go on an island-hopping tour when I don’t know when the tour begins? They all just agreed with me and said vague things that were unrelated to what I had said. I was about ready to scream, stand on my head, or otherwise go nuts. I was one second away from just leaving and forgetting about the whole endeavor. I could just get on the ferry in the morning and leave charmless and frustrating Matnog.
I didn’t do that, however. I calmed myself down and just got on my bike and rode away. This type of insanity, I knew, was par for the course in this part of the world. It is how things are done and experiencing it is part of the “joy” of travel. When you travel in Asia, you have to be flexible and go with the flow and all that sort of thing. I got that. I understood that. Yet, I always imagined it in a different way. For example, if I signed up for a boat tour and then discovered on the day of the tour that the boat had broken down and the tour was cancelled or that there was a shortage of gasoline and we couldn’t go, I’d go with the flow with the best of them. But, somehow, I never thought of being flexible as having anything to do with a complete and utter lack of logic and common sense. When faced with an official tourism office offering island-hopping tours but with staff unwilling to tell you when your tour leaves just leaves me gasping with disbelief. I’m helpless in the face of that kind of thing.