Rain in the Night


 

One night, Anya and I got talking to the owner of the guest house where we were staying.

We were sitting in the restaurant, had finished eating, and were drinking a glass of red wine (imported from California, and quite a luxury in a tropical country where grapes can’t be grown).
We were the only people in the restaurant.

It was raining.

Heavy tropical rain, You could heard it thudding the ground.

The restaurant was built in local style: wooden support posts, high thatch ceiling, and open on all sides to optimise the movement of air.

Nearby was a view of rainforest, tall trees, creepers, and ferns.

The sounds of the rain, the geckos in the ceiling and the frogs in a nearby creek, mingled together to create a natural symphony.

It was then that Claudia appeared out of the kitchen, went to the nearby bar, poured herself a whisky and came over and sat down at our table.

We’d spoken to her on several occasions and liked her.

Five years ago, she and her husband Kristof had given up their jobs in Austria and come to the Philippines and arranged to have the guest house built.

Kristof had gone to bed.

 

 

Claudia and Kristof’s guest house was beautiful.

It was situated on a corridor of land in a rainforest and, at the end of a peninsula. Behind the restaurant were two rows bungalows constructed from natural materials and in the local style. Between them was a garden filled with creepers, palms, ferns and flowers.

The peninsula ended abruptly before a steep cliff. There was a series of steep concrete steps leading down to a rocky headland. The waters washing the headland were perfectly clear; a diver’s paradise and for us, as ocean swimmers, a fine place to swim.

As beautiful as the guest house was, it didn’t escape me that it must have required an awful lot of work to establish.

I asked Claudia about this and she gave us a short and vivid glimpse into the frustrations involved during their first year in The Philippines: for example, arranging for tradesmen and workers to turn up and work a full day for a full week for months on end, something they weren’t used to.

‘It didn’t matter that you paid them far more than the going rate. They were used to working in intensive bouts for a few days and then, taking it easy. Another problem was that they never thought ahead. They did one thing at a time. They were not used to working from a plan or working to a schedule.’

Then there were the local bureaucrats and police – as well as the immigration authorities – which had to be bribed.

‘We had never been outside Europe before coming here’ Claudia observed, ‘so it was a real learning experience for us. Sometimes we thought about giving up and going home.’

They didn’t go home though.

They hung in there.

 

Five years on, their business was doing well. It was constantly booked out. Kristof organised diving tours; checking the equipment, filling tanks, organising a boat and crew. He was an experienced diver and a qualified teacher. Almost half the foreign tourists that came to Philippines were either keen amateur divers or people who wanted to learn. The diving season was almost all year round.

Claudia was responsible for hiring staff and running the kitchen, restaurant and bar as well as arranging for the cleaning and maintenance of the bungalows. She took the bookings, handled complaints, did the accounts; she was the business manager.

‘Running a business was something I knew a lot about before coming here. I had plenty of experience running my parent’s guest house in Austria.’

 

 

I’m not sure how it came about, but Claudia began talking about her experiences with the Filipinos as workers. It was something which was very much a part of her everyday life.

She had a strict employment policy: she employed only unmarried, young women and never men.

‘Filipino women are good workers. The men are lazy and unreliable. I’ve offered jobs many times to men and either they don’t show up or, they work for a while and then quit. I only employ single women. When a Filipino woman employee gets married, that’s the end of her working life, even though she and her new husband might well be able to use the extra income. Once she’s married, her life is motherhood. Her husband dictates her life. He will keep her pregnant whilst he hangs around with his friends, drinks, and goes to cock-fights. Often, he’ll have a girlfriend on the side too. ‘

The latent sexism in Filipino society which Claudia alluded to, did not come as a great surprise to me. The position of women in most non-western nations is very different than in western societies. On the global gender gap index, the Philippines was a long way from occupying a top ranking. India for example, beat it hands down. Sexism in the other Asian nations – with the significant exception of China – was certainly as bad and in some cases, worse than The Philippines.

I think it was me who pointed out that in The Philippines, the Catholic church, it seemed to me, was very conservative in its attitudes towards women. Without knowing it, I touched upon a sensitive subject for Claudia.

She was implacably hostile towards Catholicism.

In her view, it supported the entrenched sexism in Filipino society with its archaic stereotyping of a woman as a Mother Mary, complete with lots of babies.

‘The present Pope may be making all the right noises but that’s all he’s doing. Outside of Rome, the institution remains unchanged. The Catholic church is an empire run by men. It’s a sexist empire. Only when women can be ordained as priests and cardinals will there be any hope for that religion.‘

Strong language, which reflected not only Claudia’s take on Filipino society, but also her own personal experience.

‘As a girl growing up in a small town in Austria, I was raised as a Catholic. It was very traditional. The man was the boss, and the wife had to obey him. He worked, and the wife looked after the children as well as his elderly parents. In the cities it was different. As people became more aware and more prosperous, religion lost its hold. Fewer and fewer people went to church. The Catholic priests lost their jobs. When I left my village and went to study in Vienna, it was a big change for me. I still resent the Catholic church for the bullshit they rammed down my throat. All that guilt stuff, especially if you were a woman. ‘

‘The same thing happened in The Netherlands’ Anya pointed out. Before the 1960’s, The Netherlands was one of the most religious nations in Europe. Most people were either Catholic or Protestant. Everyone lived in their community. Education and consumerism changed all that. It happened within a decade. ‘

Claudia said: ‘Yes, things can change, and I hope it happens here, but I wouldn’t hold my breath!’

 

 

Later in the evening, it became evident that there was a good reason why Claudia was alive to the issue of sexism, besides her experience with the Catholic church.

‘After I came back from Vienna, with a degree in accountancy, I took over running my parents’ guest house. They were getting on and they really had no idea how to run a guest house as a business. In their day, a few tourists came every summer, they rented out a room or two, provided breakfast and that was it. ‘Zimmer Frei’ was a useful source of income, but the main business of their farm were cows and milk. Tourism though was big business. My parents couldn’t speak English. Every year, more tourists came. To ski, to walk or just to be there and appreciate the view of the mountains. I organised a loan, had an extension built on to the house, put us on the internet and booking.com, installed an easy to use booking programme on a new computer. The business started moving. Within a year, the income from the tourists was much more than the cows.

My mother died. Not long after, my father died. My parents promised me that in their joint will that they would divide the farm and the guest house equally between my brother and I. In his last days, my father changed the will. Everything went to my brother –‘

Anya and I interjected: ‘That couldn’t have been legal! Parents cannot disinherit their daughters!’

In Austria, it transpired, they can when it involves a farm. A farm can be passed on to the eldest son to the exclusion of all the other siblings. Its an old rule which means that a farm doesn’t have to be divided. It can stay in the family. 

We were shocked. It seemed hard to credit that this kind of archaic sexism could survive in a country which to all extents and purposes was a prosperous, modern western society.

I said: ‘You could never do that in the The Netherlands. Surely this must be against E.U. regulations?’

Claudia answered: ‘The EU leaves this area of policy in the hands of the national government…..in our case, the guest house was not seen as a business. It was classified as the ‘family home’ and a part of the farm, even though the ‘family home’ was a hotel and the income from ‘the family home’ was from tourism not cows.

My brother became my employer. He had always envied me. He didn’t know anything about running a business. He knew about cows. His wife thought she could run a business. She was put in charge and she got very bossy. So I left and went back to Vienna and got a 9 to 5 job. Then I met Kristof. He was a social worker, but diving was his passion. We saved up and then left. I’ve not had any contact with my brother and his wife, but I heard from a friend in the village that the business is in trouble, getting bad reviews on booking.com. It used to get 8 and above. ‘

 

 

Our conversation that night ended on a different note.

I said: ‘A question I keep asking myself is: why is it that there is so little aggression in this country – unlike the other Catholic nations in Middle and South America? I’ve heard stories both from travellers and people living in that part of the world about the high crime rates. How one needs to be constantly aware of the security issue. For example, one does not walk around at night, alone. Catholicism there seems go hand in hand with an aggressive machismo. This kind of thing is conspicuously absent here whilst it is also a poor country. There may be a gender imbalance, it may be a big one, but Filipino men are not macho. It’s a funny old world: The Philippines, so deeply flawed, so much poverty, so much injustice – and sexism – is so easy to travel in. No hassles, no bad vibes. These are the friendliest people in Asia.’

Claudia smiled and said: ‘Yes! …You’re right!

‘That’s why we are here and we are going to stay here….

Austria is no longer our home.’

 

see also: https://serioustravelblog.com/2012/10/22/the-incorruptible-saint/

Yolanda

 

Shortly after we got into the taxi, we knew it was going to be a long trip to the airport.

Even though it was early in the afternoon and on a week day, the traffic was bumper to bumper; it hardly moved.

To get the airport, we had to move from one end of town to the other.

Our taxi driver seemed upbeat about the traffic.

Like many Filipinos, he spoke English. More than that though; he spoke quite well.

When we asked him why the traffic was so heavy, he exclaimed incredulously:
‘You don’t know?’ 

He duly informed us why the traffic was so heavy early in the afternoon:

‘There’s a big religious festival in Cebu this weekend. People are arriving from all over the country, even overseas.’

He laboured that theme for a while, before rhetorically asking again: Surely you’ve heard about it?’

We had to disappoint him.

We’d been travelling on other islands we explained and had only arrived in Cebu city an hour before.

 

I guessed that the taxi driver was a proud native of Cebu.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

He was a man making the best of a bad lot.

No shortage of them in The Philippines.

 

‘Do you believe in God?’

‘No.’

‘Lost your belief?’

‘Never had it’.

‘Listen, I understand you. My wife, she’s lost her belief. She doesn’t believe anymore. When I married her, she was a Catholic, like me. No more. I’m still a Catholic though. Every Sunday I go to church and everyday I pray to the Lord.’

 

It took over an hour to get to the airport. Distance wise it was nothing. Most of the time we were stationary or crawling. A conga line of metal and glass canisters and belching exhaust pipes. Fortunately, the air con worked. We got to see a lot of local life, first hand. People sitting all day behind the counters of micro stores. People sitting on the sidewalks staring into space. Shacks. People sleeping on pieces of cardboard. A woman who is intellectually handicapped, sitting on the ground with her head tucked into her bunched-up knees, rocking back and forth. Barefoot kids playing games with bits of can and a stick.

Yeah, local life.

It was heart breaking.

 

He asked us where we’d been to during our stay in The Philippines.

Cebu, Negros, Bohor, Leyte….…

‘Leyte? You were in Leyte?’

‘Yes.’

‘Not many tourists go to Leyte.’

‘We didn’t see many, no.’

‘You go to Tacloban?

Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, was in the south.

‘No, we didn’t get there. We went north.’

‘North? Typhoon up there.’

‘Yeah, we got there two days after the typhon hit.’

 

It hadn’t been our intention to travel to a disaster area. 

The fact was, we hadn’t known anything about it.  At the guest house where we were staying, before we left for Leyte, there was no TV and no internet (although they claimed to have WIFI). We were staying on the south- east coast of the island of Bohor. It was the day after New Year’s Eve when the typhoon ravaged north-east Leyte. I could remember the day clearly. In the afternoon, heavy cloud moved in over the ocean horizon, followed by continuous torrential rain. Late in the afternoon, a heavy mist set in and visibility was down to 100 metres. That night, lightning and strong winds and torrential rain battered our hut. But unknown to us, the eye of the storm had been a couple of hundred meters to the north, where our next intended destination lay.

Arriving in Leyte on the ferry, we took a mini bus to the town of Ormoc, stayed a night, and then on the following day, took another mini bus north to a town called Naval. The trip to Ormoc was over a flat road following the coast but the one to Naval was through jungle covered mountains. It was on the last leg of the journey to Naval, that we realised that something bad had happened in this area. Whole areas of the jungle had been ripped out leaving behind a wasteland of mud and water and broken trees. Down in the valleys, villages and rice paddies had been swept away. We saw the wreckage of houses and deep cavernous trenches.

The mini bus had to stop a few kilometres outside Naval.

A section of the bridge, recently built, had been destroyed and we had to join hundreds of people who walked across the ruins of the bridge and then, through deep mud. The river, back to normal, was a meandering, shallow tract of water. Some people walked across the river rather than take their chances crossing the ruins of the bridge. Only two days before, there had been so much water coursing down from the mountain sides that the river, ten times bigger than normal, had engulfed the entire bridge.

 

We talked about the destruction caused by the typhoon in the north- east of Leyte.

He seemed to know a lot about it. He quoted a run of statistics: how many people died, how many were left homeless, how many hectares of rice paddies had been destroyed.

I assumed that the typhoon had been in the news and that he had seen it on TV.

‘Leyte is bad for typhoons. It’s a …. how do you say in English…a bad zone.’

‘Bad climatic zone’ I offered.

‘Yes, that’s it. Climatic zone.’

‘You think Leyte is in a worse climatic zone than other islands in The Philippines?

‘Oh sure. When bad weather hits the Philippines, it’s always worst in Leyte.’

He was emphatic about this.

It was quite possible.

We had noticed that the weather could vary greatly from one island to the next. During our time on Leyte it rained for much of the time. Arriving at Cebu, after a 3-hour ferry trip, the weather was sunny and warm.

 

It’s always worst in Leyte.

He went on about this for a while. He seemed to have a special interest in Leyte.

‘This typhoon though, it wasn’t as bad as typhoon Yolanda.’

‘Yeah’ I answered, ‘Typhoon Yolanda was one of the worst typhoons ever.’

Yolanda: I could remember seeing the images and reading the reports of that terrible typhoon in the media. Winds of over 200 kilometres an hour were recorded. Hundreds of people had died, millions left homeless. I was living in The Netherlands then. It was 2013.

‘The worst!’ he said, ‘you’re right!’…

There a short silence before he continued:

“My wife and I were living in Leyte. We lost everything….’

We asked him about it.  He recounted the following details in a dry, matter of fact way, in between stops and starts in the traffic.

Bizarre, to say the least, hearing this tragic story told in dribs and drabs.

‘My wife and l were born and raised in Tacloban. We had land outside Tacloban. On the land we had bananas and coconuts. I managed the property, my wife worked in Tacloban. She had a university degree. Her job was to read English texts and correct them. She had good pay, 50,000 Pesos a month (200 Euros a week, a good wage in The Philippines). We were doing well. We made good money from the bananas and coconuts. We built a new house made of concrete with 3 bedrooms and a big lounge. Our two children were very happy. Then came typhoon Yolanda. We were scared, everyone was scared. We prayed to God. The wind got stronger and stronger. Whoo! whoo! like this. I will never forget that noise. Then came the rain. Like stones hitting our roof.

We survived. Our house was very strong, Many people living in wood houses were left homeless. Everywhere you looked there was destruction. We lost everything. All our trees were torn down. Only the stems were left. Everywhere you looked there was pieces of tree and mud. My wife became depressed. She couldn’t recover. She lost her job. She wanted to go to Cebu city where her family lived. She didn’t want to stay in Leyte. So we came here. Then she got diabetes. She needs special medicines. I’m the only one who can work. ‘

 

It was hard to know what to say on hearing a story like this.

Speechless.

I found myself in a dark place.

Looking out the window and seeing people struggling to exist – sitting behind the counter of a small stall all day and much of the night; carrying heavy sacks off the back of a truck; sitting inside a shack and fixing motor bikes or filling bags or performing one or another dull, repetitive mindless task, day in, day out – you realised how much suffering there was in the world.

The taxi driver, sitting behind the wheel of a modern Korean vehicle with air conditioning, was, it seemed to me, another member of that large, poor, suffering mass of people I could see out the window.

It was heart-breaking.

 

Since time immemorial, prophets had arisen on the back of a golden promise of ending this suffering. Jesus, Krishna, Mohammed, Buddha, Marx– the list was a long one. Had any of them limited human suffering or only increased it? At the best, it seemed to me, they had offered no more than an illusion, an empty promise. ‘When you die, the suffering will come to an end’ or, ‘follow me and the promised land will materialise at some point in the future’.

In this 21st century, we had the technological means to limit suffering, to create the greatest amount of contentment for the greatest number of people.

But for a whole bunch of reasons we were unable to do it.

 

The taxi driver said: ‘Not all is darkness. There is also light.’

Light?

Where was his light?

He was paying off the taxi he was driving. In another 2 years, it would be his.

He had ambitions. He wanted his kids to get a good education and speak good English.  Maybe one day they could immigrate.

Shortly before we pulled up at the airport, he gave another reason for feeling positive about himself.

‘I’m a Filipino. Not matter how bad things get, we can always raise a smile.’

There was not the slightest doubt about that.

 

 

Postscript: A day later, in our hotel in Kuala Lumpur, I googled ‘Yolanda’. One of the first ten hits that came up was ‘Tacloban’. I clicked on it and found a report in an English language Filipino site. Yolanda had devastated much of the Philippines, but Tacloban had been in the eye of that of devastating event.

I thought of our taxi driver and his wife.

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/523931/over-100-dead-in-typhoon-yolanda-onslaught-in-philippines

 

See also: https://serioustravelblog.com/2018/01/14/fishing-in-the-philippines/

Fishing in The Philippines

 

The guest house where we were staying was beautifully situated, on a headland.

From the veranda of our thatch hut, we had a view of jungle clad mountains sweeping down into a deep elliptical bay.

Set back in the palms crowding the bay and only partly visible, were the small houses of fishermen.

Their boats however, small, simple wooden outriggers, painted in bright colours and bearing inscriptions from the bible, rested on the narrow beach and could be seen from far distant.

One afternoon, sitting on our veranda, we watched the fishermen go out on their outriggers.

The sea was calm, and schools of fish were intermittently breaking the surface of the water. It was quite a sight: an area of the otherwise placid ocean suddenly became turbulent and looked as if the water was boiling; some of the fish sprang into the air. In any one school, there might be hundreds of fish.

By this time, we were used to seeing this, but in the beginning, during our first days in The Philippines, it took us by surprise, especially when we were swimming and a large school of fish serviced near us.

We had swum in oceans in many countries including Australia, Cambodia, Croatia, Greece, India, Malaysia, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka and Tunisia – and never seen anything like it. 

Fact is, most of the world’s oceans have been depleted of their fish due to commercial and amateur fishing.

 

On this afternoon, there were several schools of fish which regularly swam en masse to the surface and then dived again; the churned-up areas appeared and re-appeared in different places. There was a storm on the way and it’s possible that the fish had come into the still waters closer to shore to feed, before the encroaching bad weather, when they would retreat to deeper water.

A group of the local fishermen, who had small motors on their outriggers and nets attached to the back of their boats, went out to try and take advantage of the situation. They puttered around, keening their eyes to see where the next school of fish might surface – and then head over there as fast as their little craft would allow them.

It was like a game of chasey.

None of the fishermen knew where the schools would surface.

They watched the water keenly and as soon as the water somewhere began to become ruffled, off they’d go, racing each other to get there.

Sometimes several areas began to swarm with fish at the same time and they’d head off in different directions.

 

Watching these fishermen in action, I thought of the times Anya and I had ridden our bikes in the coastal areas of The Netherlands and Denmark and seen fishing trawlers tied up in harbours: huge, high-tech machines worth millions of Euros, bristling with radar dishes, aerials, winches and cranes; above deck an observation tower, below deck, huge refrigerated holds. The men operating these machines were no doubt skilled in the use of the latest electronic gadgetry.

I let my thoughts run here for a bit.

Imagine taking two fishermen from here, I mused, and sending them to Europe to accompany a trawler on one of its runs out into the North Sea. Then, sending them back home accompanied by two European fishermen who could take a close look at fishing in the Philippines.

Then record the impressions of both lots of fishermen.

What a story that would be!

But I would never get to write it.

I could only use my imagination.

 

25 Sentimo

 

A week after arriving in The Philippines, I came across an English language Filipino newspaper called the ‘Manilla Bulletin’.

Anya and I were staying in a typical tourist lodge on the coast of the island of Cebu. I was perusing the books left behind by other travellers when I noticed a few editions of the  ‘Manilla Bulletin’ lying folded on the bottom shelf of a dark, wooden book case (the four shelves above it crammed with dog-eared, sun bleached novels, none of them in English or Dutch).

I grabbed the newspapers and took them back to my room and began reading.

There was one article which really drew my interest.

It was from the hand of a journalist named Tonyo Cruz and it was entitled:

‘DON’T FORGET OUR SOCIO-ECONOMIC RIGHTS’

The following lines got me in:

‘Governments from the time of Fidel Ramos to Noynoy Aquino have loudly boasted about economic figures. And the boasting continues under Rodrigo Duterte, with sycophants proclaiming the Philippines economy supposedly besting even China’s! This is what the Duterte administration wants us to forget: recent economic growth has not resulted in the attainment of the rights to work, to just wages, to land, to adequate standard of living, and to health, housing and education – in many instances, the situation has become worse…..just like past presidents, Duterte’s boasts amount to empty, jobless growth.’

The following statistics were quoted by Cruz:

11.5 Filipinos were unemployed; 10 million were working overseas; 5,800 left the country every day to work overseas; of those employed, 60% lived on 125 Pesos a day or less.

100 Pesos was the equivalent of $2.60 Australian or, 2 Euros.

Then I read the following:

The combined wealth of 15 wealthiest individuals is equivalent to the income of 77 million Filipinos.

Duterte had introduced tax cuts for the rich and slashed corporate taxes (gee, didn’t that sound familiar!) which Cruz observed, would be paid for by the poor and the middle classes. In addition, Cruz pointed out, Duterte has sold off the telecommunications industry to the Chinese without any proper investigation into the sale or the implications for national security.

 

On arriving in The Philippines, I was surprised right from day one by the poverty – the number of people living in shacks and worse. A taxi ride – followed by a bus trip – through the poorer areas of Cebu city – was a graphic introduction to the country. 

A day after reading the article by Cruz, we were on a local bus heading south. We wanted to get on a ferry to the neighbouring island of Negros. The bus took us through  a rural setting. On our left were steep mountain sides clothed in jungle. On our right was a rocky coast. Villages and small towns hugged to the road. The bus stopped often to pick up anyone who wanted to get on. We got a good view of local life and once again, I was surprised at the poverty; how basic the shops and stores, how limited their wares; the number of students crammed into small schools; the lack of any kind of infrastructure; the small houses constructed of bamboo and wood and sometimes no more than a single room.

At one point, as our bus rattled along, Anya took the coins from her wallet and began studying them.

We were still trying to familiarise ourselves with the currency.

There were six banknotes: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 Pesos.

Easy enough.

The coins however were more difficult even though there were only three of them: 1, 5 and 10 Pesos. The problem was, at first glance, they all looked the same. Hence it was a good idea to familiarise ourselves with them. Anya passed over the three coins and I put my glasses on and studied them.

Then she found a couple of small coins deep in her wallet, pulled them out and said: ‘Hey, have a look at this!’

She passed one of them over. There was no mistaking this one. It was much smaller than the others.

25 Sentimo. This coin wasn’t mentioned in our guide book.

25 Sentimo: a quarter of a Peso.

Shit! A quarter of a Peso!

One Peso = 2.6 Australian cents or 2 Euro cents.

25 Sentimo = .6 of an Australian cent or .4 Euro cents.

I turned this thing over in my mind.

5 cents Australian = 8 of those small 25 Sentimo coins.

The 5 cent coin in Australia was useless, like the 10 and 20 cent coins. Their only reason for their existence was because in the advertisements, no one ever rounded off the price. It was always 24.80 or 90 or 95 and never 25. Psychology and it worked, apparently.

That there was a 25 Sentimo coin in existence said all there was to be said about poverty in a developing nation. The statistics quoted by Tonya Cruz were important and shocking, but holding that coin in my hand, that tiny, tiny fraction of value, as our bus rattled passed huts and dilapidated little stalls and shops, was somehow more graphic; an emotional dimension to the words and figures on a page.

 

Poverty, inequality.

So much could be said about it. There were many sides to it.

One of them was population growth.

The population of the Philippines was over a 100 million (the official census put it at 104 million but people I spoke to told me that the census was notoriously inaccurate and that they suspected the population was closer to 120 million).

The average age was 24.2

There was a ‘youth bulge’ in The Philippines. One only needed to walk around the slums in the cities or the villages and towns in the rural areas to realise that. The swarms of children, the ubiquitous sight of pregnant women with a bevy of kids in tow.

If the Filipino economy were to grow at 5% a year, corruption was drastically curtailed, a progressive taxation system implemented – very unlikely, naturally – even then, given the present rate of population growth, nothing would substantially change. You would be in effect, treading water.

Further: The Philippines was a long way from having a high birth rate in comparison with say the nations of Africa or the Middle East.

 

If an important driver behind poverty and inequality was over population, then in turn, behind this was another set of factors, e.g. such as religion and tradition, low education and critically, – the gender gap. In societies with rapidly growing populations, there was invariably an entrenched pattern of sexism. This was certainly true of The Philippines and a good deal of the blame here resided with the Catholic church.

Rapid population growth had widespread implications. Take climate change, for example.

Climate change was caused by carbon emissions and we needed to develop alternative sources of energy quickly. Yet any discussion about climate change which ignored other issues such as social economic inequality and population growth was destined to be an exercise in futility. Only coal fired power stations – or nuclear reactors – could provide the enormous amounts of energy required by a rapidly expanding population. In India for example, the government was constructing coal fired power stations at a frenetic rate; it had promised the poor that they too, would have cheap energy. India’s population of over a billion people was growing at over 20 million people a year. In Nigeria, an oil producing nation, four massive nuclear reactors had just been purchased from the Russians – once again, to provide power for the rapidly expanding poor.

 

It was possible to see many things in that diminutive coin, that coin which only the poor valued: 25 Sentimo.

Behind its bronze shine there was a range of interrelated issues which we needed to discuss and what’s more, at the global level.

But it wasn’t happening.

Activists campaigned for single issues e.g. green energy, bio-diversity, foreign aid and climate change; or their focus was purely on western societies, this whilst the big changes needed to occur in the underdeveloped world – e.g. feminism.

One thing is certain: poverty in the developing world and all its attendant issues demand an integrated, global approach. Of which we are it seems, as members of the species Homo Sapiens, deeply incapable. Yet it’s a dangerous illusion for the world’s affluent to think that the problems of the developing world can be isolated or ignored.

We are all on the same boat.

 

I hung on to the 25 Sentimo coin.

Still got it.

I won’t part with it.

It’s a souvenir.

Strange kind of souvenir.

It symbolises all the failings of our world and the dots we need to join up if we are concerned about the future of our planet.

It will only cease to have any value to me when it – and all its cousins all over the developing world – go out of circulation.

Only then will I know that we are on the right course.

Plan B

 

After a stay in the hills in the south of the island of Negros, Anya and I went to the port at Dumaguete early in the morning to get the ferry to a small island called Siquijor. It was raining – heavy, tropical rain – and we got drenched in alighting from the auto-rickshaw and walking the short distance to the ticket office at the ferry terminal. Standing around, under umbrellas, was a big crowd of Filipinos. One of them told us the bad news: all ferry services to Siquijor had been suspended for at least 2 days. A tropical storm named ‘Tembin’ was moving across the Philippines further south. The day before, a ferry departing Quezon, in the north, had capsized in big waves; 4 people had drowned and 250 rescued; the incident had made the news services all over the world. The local coastguard, understandably feeling a bit jittery, wasn’t taking any chances.

The crowds of Filipinos standing around disconsolately, were foreign workers who had returned for the Christmas/New Year period to be with their families. The cancellation of the ferry services was a disaster for them. Many of them had decided to wait around for the day in the hope that at some point, the coastguard might change its mind and the ferry service be resumed. But given the circumstances, especially given the disaster from the day before, the chances of this occurring seemed slender.

Anya and I were left in a quandary.

We had booked 5 nights at a lodge on Siquijor, including Christmas Day.  Our problem was nothing compared to the Filipinos hoping to join their families for the festive season, but nevertheless we had to come up with a ‘plan B’.

 

A break in the rain came. We walked towards one of the bars we had seen during our ride in the rickshaw along the esplanade. We stopped at the first one we came to, asked if they served breakfast – which they did – and ordered omelettes and coffee. In the meantime, we began pondering our alternatives. Early that morning, when we got up at first light, it was with an expectation of how the day would unfold. Now everything was in flux.

Whilst waiting for our breakfast, I looked around me.

The bar was one of many in Dumaguete which was frequented at nights by elderly Caucasian men – mostly Americans with a smattering of Australians and British – who lived in or near Dumaguete and spent their days in the company of Filipino women and, drinking. On the wall behind the bar was a long list of the drinks available and their prices. It was easy to see why, if you liked a drink, that this was a good place to be (a glass of single malt whisky for example, cost the equivalent of 2 Euros)

Early on that rainy morning however, there was a lingering desolation about the place. Looking past the empty tables and chairs on the sidewalk, at the wet esplanade and the ferry boats lying at anchor on a sheet of grey sea – I was tempted to order a whisky myself. 

 

After breakfast, Anya and I got to work.

We cancelled our booking at the lodge on Siquijor, and then looked around for somewhere else to stay. A place on the coast of Negros and preferably not too far from Dumaguete was the most logical option.

Most of the places we found on the coast of Negros were full or exorbitantly expensive. That was hardly surprising but also, rather dispiriting. The glass of whisky entered my thoughts again.

Eventually Anya, who thankfully is a good deal more persistent than me, found a place which was on the beachfront, within our budget, and 20 kilometres away. We booked 4 nights, got a rickshaw to the bus station, then on a bus going down the coast followed by another rickshaw.

 

As the rickshaw turned off the busy main road and lurched down a long muddy track passed a riot of palm trees, ferns and creepers, I had a feeling that everything had turned out for the best.

That night, sitting on a balcony, the sound of waves breaking on the sand and palm fronds clattering in the wind, I was not sorry about the ferry service being suspended.

Plan B had worked out.

To live the unexpected – that is what it truly meant to travel.