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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Look More Local

The day had come! I was officially en route to the Philippines.


I have to admit it... I was quite delighted. The Philippines had always just seemed so remote... so forbidden... and almost insurmountable, if that makes any sense. I knew they were there... and I knew they thrived off quite a booming travel & tourist industry... but still...

On one hand, I saw the Philippines as a tropical paradise, rich in natural wonders and endless beaches.


On the other hand... and this is silly... but... my first real introduction to the Philippines had been in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Alcoholics.

Sailors.

Hookers & brothels.


Sad, but true.

I flew into Manila at around 9:30PM. I had read many mixed reviews about Manila. From what I could gather, it was a Pandora's box of vibrant nightlife, culinary delights and rich history peppered with assaults, robberies and kidnappings.

TERRORISM RISK: HIGH.

Extreme vigilance recommended.


Eeek... Enough said.


I think my flight from Bangkok was delayed about 5 times. Yes, a bit of a pain in the ass, apart from the 300฿ complimentary meal ticket I received, as an apology for the inconvenience. Not too shabby. Bangkok airport is no dime store in the realm of International Airport cuisine. It boasts extortion, just like the best and the rest of them. The meal ticket was more than appreciated.


I had booked a Manila hotel within 1km of the airport, with full intention of just walking there. That idea was quickly thrown out the window. It was dark, I was alone... and I was hardly in the mood for being robbed, let alone, kidnapped..


I flagged an airport taxi and regardless of the short journey, I had to endure the usual, annoying and highly personal questions. Taxi drivers are the same the world over. Seriously. It couldn’t possibly be by chance. WHY??? The same questions, over & over & over.


Why are you alone?

Where's your husband?

Why don't you want a husband?

Where's your boyfriend?

Where are your children?

When are you going to have children?

Why don't you want children"


One of these days I will snap. I can feel it.


How many blogs have I complained about intrusive taxi drivers? So many... THAT could be a book. I was exhausted and hardly in the mood, so I just remained quiet until we pulled up in front of my hotel. I didn't answer any of his meddlesome questions.


Thanks. Bye.


Had it not been for the price and the convenient location of my accommodation, I would have run. It was like a big, hollow warehouse with brushed concrete walls and floors. There was little to no atmosphere or design, save from the tacky Christmas decorations scattered about. The bar downstairs was filled with loud, drunken men and their hollering and incessant singing echoed through the hallways and into my rooms. All night.


... and the pillows sucked.

I actually haven't found a pillow I like yet.

Early the following morning, I caught the shuttle back to the airport.


I had a different driver this time, but he was equally as charismatically disturbing. As soon as I was in and we were on the road, he informed me (in his broken English) that he was going to pull over and have breakfast before taking me to the airport.


He was hungry.


“Um… no.”


No… you’re not.

I was completely baffled. He figured this was an acceptable idea?? My English was lost on him, but I think my frustration finally hit a cord.


“Am I just going to wait in the car?”


Ya… no.


His only valid argument was, “I very hungry.”

Too bad. Me too,

Take me to the airport.


I won.

I went directly to the airport without any diners, drive-ins and dive detours.


Bizarre.


The most bizarre things happen to me.

I remember once, whilst hitchhiking in Australia, our captor pulled over to have a milkshake and a meat pie. There is actually a LOT more to that story and you can read it here if you want.


On a brighter note... Mastercard cut me off.


They have suspected "suspicious activity." Of course, I'M the suspicious activity. It was an absolute nightmare for a couple days. All my bills are tied into this card. The odd part about it was that I'd only actually only done TWO booking.com transactions. That's it. They cut me off. Every website I found directed me to an International assistance line, BUT... the trouble was, I don't have a phone number anymore.


Once I'd managed to get my E-sim working (which had been a long, hideous process in itself) I wasn't quite prepared to circle back to the beginning and reactivate my Canadian phone line... in the PHILIPPINES.


Nightmare.


To anyone that is thinking of traveling and plans on temporarily discontinuing their number, download a free WIFI calling app. I've heard Yolla is good. This came to my attention AFTER I'd left the country and disconnected my number. Making a new WIFI connection through these apps is impossible without confirming my number through a code that has specifically been sent to my Canadian number. Yes, WhatsApp is fabulous... but you can only connect with others using the app. Mastercard is not on WhatsApp. Not yet anyway...


Hassle.


What a travel expert I truly am...


In the end, I Facetimed a friend, while her husband called the MC 1-800 line from his own line... and I spoke to my bank on speaker. It worked. It also worked that the help-line guy was also situated in the Philippines, So instead of being inundated with security questions, we chatted about weather and travel plans.


Shout out to Nicole and Mike for helping me with this pestering predicament I was in. And yes... sooooo many of you will say that I should have called my credit card to let them know I was leaving the country. Maybe I should have... but in my defence, I have had this card for 10+ years and never had any problems while I've been traveling. In that 10+ years, I have journeyed through Eastern African, Southern Africa, Europe, the United States, South American AND Central America. I've never been cut off due to suspicious activity.

Never.


Ever.


So... I finally made it to Siargao. Siargao is an eastern, tear-drop shaped island in the Philippine Sea. Siargao is renowned as the surfing capital of the Philippines and is home to some of the best beaches in Asia.


I'm scared of sharks, so I won't be trying my skills out on a surfboard, but here I am, nonetheless...


I had booked two locations for accommodation on the island. Only for a few days each... just in case I didn't like them or wasn't comfortable. I figured out long ago that I don't particularly like being tied to one location for too long. Especially when you're tied in with payment.


I had booked 3 nights in General Luna, the main tourist hub of the island and 3 nights in a homestay in Burgos. Burgos was my first stop... and it was quite far away. So far, actually, none of the taxi drivers waiting at the airport agreed to drive me there.


I always pick the best places.


**Joanna's next travel tip: Look at taxi prices and availability to get where you're going before you book!


I had to pay upwards of $50. It was an absolute rip off. But... I was desperate.


When I arrived, it was pouring rain... and there was no one around to greet me. I had no idea where to go and anyone I tried to speak to just looked at me like I was an intruder. One of the girls even asked me for proof of my booking. I sat on the balcony of one of the bungalows, taking cover until the owner arrived to let me in.


I could tell my room had been cleaned in a hurry. Dishes had obviously just been washed and were left out to drip dry. Mop strands were scattered on the bathroom floor. I actually jumped back in fear when I first saw them, thinking they were a multitude of small, grey snakes. There was a used toothbrush sitting on the counter... and there was no garbage bin... or toilet paper?


Odd.

I asked the owner if he could recommend a local restaurant in the area. It was getting late and having only feasted on airport food... I was feeling quite famished. He told me there was a place up the road I could go. I can't be confident, but it sounded like he was trying to tell me that the restaurant only served oatmeal.


Ok… oatmeal it shall be.


Oatmeal sounded like a pretty good idea.


In the drizzling rain, I walked quite a ways up the road, ever fearful of the storm that was threatening to roll in. I clamored along in the damp darkness and not once did I happen upon any oatmeal restaurants. Exasperated and getting wetter with every step, I finally turned in the direction of the small village of Burgos and found a little shop stall. It hardly offered much in the way of sustenance, so I settled on a bag of corn chips and a chocolate bar.

Once I was back in my hut, I couldn't quite put my finger on the taste of the chips. It seemed familiar somehow, but I'd never had chips with quite this flavour before. It was like corn chips, but sweeter...


It was bloody cream corn.

I was eating cream corn chips.

Won't be getting those again.

The following day, the rain seemed to subside temporarily, so I figured it was a fairly good time to go for a walk. I packed my rain jacket, just in case, and headed north on the lone road.


Siargao only seems to really have three main roads. One circumnavigates the entire island, while the other two connect the main road through the middle. I think it would be tough to get lost… although in saying that, stranger things have happened to me.


Anyway… off I went, puddle-jumping my way around this little island.

I did find the oatmeal restaurant, but I would hardly describe it as that. In fact, from my first glance at the menu, the only thing I saw that might have been mistaken as oatmeal, was quinoa. It was a wonderful menu full of delicious treats such as fried eggplant fingers, fruit smoothies, salads, wraps and assorted bowls. After my cream corn chip feast the night before, it was pure heaven. I dined on an appetizer of coconut crusted mashed potato balls, and then headed back into the mist & monsoon, determined to make it to the northern tip of the island. Thank goodness for my jacket.


At one point, I could hear a vehicle approaching from behind. As it got closer, it slowed down. I turned and a van load of men were looking at me and inquiring as to whether I wanted a ride or not.


No, thank you.


I was happy walking. As soon as the words left my mouth and the van sped off, I realized how vulnerable I was. I was walking along this lone road... all alone in the middle of this dense jungle. All by myself... not a house or person in sight, lumbering along with all my credit cards, my phone, my airpods, my computer, my passport. I represented the perfect victim for the perfect crime. My mugging would have been flawless.


I think I have mentioned this before, but I have a serious phobia of losing my important things. One might attribute this fear to the time my computer was stolen in Costa Rica. I think that's a fair assessment. Anyway... I panic if I momentarily can't find one thing. I panic if I think I might be susceptible to criminal activity. I just panic at the thought of anything leaving my person. I can't even leave my possessions in hotel rooms. That's how crippling this anxiety is for me.


Yes... I know... it's ALL replaceable, but they are all tied to hassle and financial hardship in their absence. And I don't like that.


I need to rethink my process. My program is weak.

For all the robbers out there reading this, I'm an easy target.


A friend of mine wrote to me and told me to try and blend in more. He said I could avoid these scenarios if I tried to look more local.


Try harder to blend in?


Seriously?

I'll try that tomorrow.

lol

I did keep going and made it to the northern tip of the island without being rolled. I walked home on the beach which was more difficult than I remember, If you want to get in shape, walk on the beach. Holy moly.


Not only was it treacherous because obviously it's sand... but the beach was on an incline, making it double-trouble treacherous. Unstable surface on an incline. Not particularly easy.


Finally I found semi-solid-sand at the top part of the beach, and spent my time dodging and weaving through morning glory, shells, rocks, garbage, dead coral, seaweed… and suddenly it occurred to me that there might be dangerous creatures around that I could potentially step on. I hadn’t done any research in that department either.


I'd seen a zillion paw prints in the sand, but naturally assumed those were dogs.


Hmmm...


Were there predatory cats in the area? I didn't know.

Were they watching me from the jungle? Waiting to pounce?


What a shit traveler I am.

Serious shit.


I started to get paranoid…

Crocodiles? Snakes? Spiders?


Who would help me if I was attacked? There was no one on the beach, save for a few solitary fishermen... and I'd passed them eons ago.


I think I should write a book on how NOT to travel.


Well... I made it. Barely.


Everyone can rest easy knowing that I arrived back at my bungalow, safe and sound, devoid of any snake bites or crocodile attacks. No predatory cats got me either.


I started my online research into dangerous animals in Siargao.

THEY HAVE A COBRA NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY. The Philippine spitting cobra.

Ya...

In addition to that, there are scorpions, crocodiles AND black widows. Even the humble centipede is one of the most venomous and most dangerous to encounter.


... and I won't even get into what's in the water...


I really do live on the edge.






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