I found a really good restaurant (LP recommended) in Tagbilaran, set in a lovely old house. For lunch on Friday I had sizzling gambas which was a shrimp mixture with lots of garlic served on a sizzling platter to eat over rice. Unfortunately when I ate there the next day, what I had wasn’t very good. So it goes.
Saturday I got a jeepney to the bus station and then an honest-to-goodness bus (not a jeepney) to see the Chocolate Hills. I got off the bus at the Chocolate Hills sign, four km before Carmen, then hired a motorbike driver to haul me up the first big hill near a viewing area.
These hills are weird. They are perfectly cone-shaped although round on the top. The LP says there are 1268 of them, nearly identical, caused by a 2-million year old coral bed rising up and making these formations. The hills are between 150 and 400 feet high. The reason they call them ‘chocolate’ is in the dry season the vegetation turns a chocolatey brown color. They did kind of remind me of those chocolate covered candies in the shape of a rounded cone that we had as kids.
It started to sprinkle as I was walking up the very long stairway leading to the top of the viewing platform on one of the taller hills. Nevertheless, it was really quite a sight—nothing like I’ve seen before. The clouds and mist made it even more eerie.
I walked down the steps and down the hill back to the bus stand as it rained progressively harder. Luckily the bus stand had a roof as I waited 40 minutes for the bus back to town. The bus had no glass windows, only openings, but not to worry—there were wooden shutters to pull up which kept out the rain. The bus was jam-packed during the two hour ride but luckily after while I got a seat. We arrived back at the station where I could get a jeepney back downtown near my hotel. In spite of the rain, it was a satisfying day.
The houses and farmlets along the way were so pleasant—here a water buffalo, there a rice paddy and lots of smiling children and adults.
Some observations on The Philippines:
*English is everywhere—not the tongue they converse in but almost everybody knows some English. Yet, they are hard for me to understand and they often don’t understand me. Virtually all of the signs are in English.
*They are really religious. Many, many denominations are here, especially the Evangelicals plus, of course, the traditional Roman Catholic church. Almost all of the tricycles, jeepneys and buses have religious slogans on them like “God is Good To Me,” “Pray the Rosary Daily,” “God is King,” “God Bless Our Trip,” etc. Many of the smaller denominational churches are in storefronts.
*The Philippines are not nearly as poor as, say, Bangladesh. Very few people ride pedal bikes, mostly they have motorbikes. Even small cities have enormous modern A\C shopping malls. They’re full of people, presumably buying things.
*So far I find the food a mixed bag. Some is very tasty and some not. Fast food is big here—McDonalds, Pizza Hut, etc., as well as their own Jollibees. CocaCola is everywhere in huge quantities. Perhaps an effect of this is that I see many, many overweight young men. They’re not obese, but most of them have a pot belly. I’ve seen a couple of upper class families in upscale restaurants that have 14-year old sons bordering on the obese.
*Travel costs are quite inexpensive. Compared to some other Southeast Asian countries, rooms are a bit higher-priced but transportation costs are rock-bottom cheap.
*The bigger towns and cities are kind of a mess. There’s junk all over and nothing is very neat. This isn’t the case with small towns which are quite pretty with beautiful, well-kept flowering and decorative plants around the houses.
*And yes, as promised by the LP, the people really are nice, friendly and helpful. They’re very interested in tourists—they often ask, “Where is your companion?”
The next morning I walked to the highway and got a tricycle to Anda town, a pretty village situated on a huge white-sand beach. I had breakfast in a carinderia which is a small establishment with several covered pots on a ledge. One looks into the pots and chooses—I chose what another man was getting, without looking too closely. It turned out to be tripe (cow’s stomach lining) which is pretty chewy, but the broth was flavorful which I ate, along with some of the tripe, over rice.
They had Internet in tiny Anda (!) but alas, it didn’t work when I was there. So, after perusing the photogenic market, looking into the pretty church and being greeted by schoolgirls (she shook my hand, then pulled it to her forehead) I started walking out of town and spotted and photographed two bright blue Kingfishers—actually I see very few birds.
Another day I walked all the way to Anda town—it took me just an hour. I haven’t been walking every day lately, so this felt good. After breakfast (eggs, a noodle stir-fry and two tiny bananas) I was able to use the Internet after all!
The bus back to Tagbilaran left early so I didn’t have time for breakfast. Not a problem—in a few minutes we had sort of a rest stop and women with baskets on their heads came to the bus windows to sell food. I bought two hard-cooked eggs and a small bag of peanuts. The eggs were in a small plastic bag with a blue plastic wad of something at the bottom. This turned out to be coarse sea salt (the only kind they use). I’ll bet they think that our fine salt would be spiffy, while we pay more for coarse sea salt!
Today I shall go to the Nuts Huts resort on a river near Loboc. Then after a couple of days, I’ll boat to Dumaguete on the island of Negros.