June 2001

I planned to leave Cebu for a week's vacation, but wasn't sure where: Negros? Bohol? Leyte? Samar? The ferry schedule in the Cebu newspaper listed a 5:30 PM boat to Tagbilaran City on Bohol, so Saturday at 5:15 I was at the dock. 5:30 PM arrives and no boat, no surprise. I wandered the docks awhile, and found a boat to Talibon leaving at 10pm. Another boat was just pulling away from the dock, and a sailor had his head stuck out a window on the bridge. I yelled up "Asa (where)?" and he yelled back "Tubigon." Never heard of it. "What island?" I asked. "Bohol" he responded. I waved my arms, he brought the boat back to within a few feet of the pier and I jumped aboard. We headed off into the dusk, a beautiful evening on the Bohol Strait.

I wanted to do some early reading for my next computer subject (JAVA), so in Tagbilaran City I walked over to the University of Bohol to find a bookstore. I asked several students and the gate guard where the bookstore was, but they only gave me vacant stares, as in "BOOKSTORE????" Somebody suggested I go talk to an administrator. I found a nice woman at the admissions office, and our conversation went pretty much like:
"Where is the bookstore here?"
"Where do the students buy their books here?"
"Well, that depends on the book. If the book isn't here, then maybe they go to Cebu."
"Well, what if the book is here, then where do they buy it?"
"Oh, well, there are some books at the BQ Store downtown. You know where that is?"
"Yes, I think I went there already, but there are only a few books there. You mean the students buy their books there?"
"Maybe, sometimes."
By now I had a "Just WHAT is the story here??" kind of feeling. As I walked out of the office I looked at the students around me and realized most of them were carrying notebooks but none had any books. Of course, that's it.......there's no bookstore because these are all poor students from Bohol, and poor students don't BUY books because they don't have the money! There's my USA first-world assumptions again.

Tuesday morning I rode a bus up to the center of Bohol, to the town of Carmen and the nearby Chocolate Hills. The rainy season began a few weeks ago, and the past days had been very wet. Passing many rice fields on the bus, I saw hundreds of farmers out plowing with their carabao (water buffalo) and transplanting rice. Fields and fields and fields and fields of incredible emerald green baby rice plants, spreading their wings and shooting for the sky. A timeless sacrament, repeated all over Asia for thousands of years. How can people get any closer to God?

The tarsier is the smallest primate, weighing in at a hefty 4 ounces. There are small, isolated populations of them in the Philippines and Indonesia. Bohol has the most famous, and very endangered group of tarsiers in the Philippines. A half-hour jeep ride north of Tagbilaran City, in barangay Canapnapan, is the Tarsier Preservation Center. With local and international help, Filipinos have created an information center and fenced preserve here to try to save the remaining tarsiers.
I hired a motorcycle driver to take me the last ten kilometers. We rode into a blasting rainstorm, and arrived soaked. After a few minutes hanging out at the visitor center, a staff member took me on a tour of the breeding area. This is a one-hectare forest surrounded by a ten-foot concrete and wire fence designed to keep predators (especially the human kind) out and "encourage" the tarsiers to stay in (adults can get over the fence both coming and going, but the babies can't, thus nursing mothers tend to return to their babies, and the males stay too.) After a few minutes walk, my guide found our first fuzzy of the day: a 6-inch bundle of fur clutching a small tree trunk. Very long fingers and toes, and about the largest and saddest eyes I've ever seen (they need the big eyes for insect hunting at night, consuming over 100 insects per day each.) A little bit like meeting ET in the woods.

She's an eleven-year old waif in a shaggy dress at the Dao bus terminal, missing her right forearm, with bad teeth and a smile that could melt a polar icecap. No father, and her mom is "gone to Manila" according to one of the other vendors. Who takes care of her? The vendor shrugs. I told the girl she was beautiful and she blushed.

"I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings." Fortunately, I had my magic marker with me and there was just enough space at the bottom of the sign to add "NOT!" (just kidding, maybe)

SeaView Inn, Talibon City, Bohol. Freshly painted single room on the second floor, clean sheets and a towel too, fan, bathroom down the hall, view out the window of the market and harbor, 75 pesos per night ($1.44 US.) The clerk is Pleesy, recently married and radiantly happy.

Walking down the wharf in Talibon on my last night on Bohol, somebody calls my name. It's Cheryl Pangandagon! I met her during April in Cebu, where she was spending her summer vacation working at her sister's chicken restaurant. We spend the evening walking around Talibon (doesn't take very long), I buy a bag of rolls from Julie's Bakeshop for her cousins. Next day, after her 8:30 AM class, we meet at the BayanTel office and take a tricycle to her house 10K out of town. The trike leaves us on an earthen dam, and then it's a twenty-minute walk through the hills to her place. We approach the house by walking on dikes that separate her father's rice fields (they'll be harvesting next week, then time to plant the next crop). There's a small forest of fruit trees surrounding the house: coconut, mango, guava, jackfruit, banana, calamansi and sineguelas trees. The house is typical rural Filipino: wood frame, nipa roof, bamboo sides, and dirt floor except for the wood-floored sleeping area.
The dogs greet us with a wild friendly chorus of barking. First I meet Marcelina, Cheryl's mom, so shy she'll barely speak with me, and Edel Bart, Cheryl's nephew, whose mom is living down in Mindanao. After awhile her dad Wilpredo, comes in from the rice fields. He rolls up a chunk of tobacco in a leaf from one of the trees, lights it up and smiles a huge toothy grin.
We had brought some fresh Tulingan fish from the market in town and Marcelina grills them on the fireplace in the house. Lunch is the fish, beautiful red rice (pula nga humay) out of their own fields, fresh jackfruit (yum!) and coconut juice. I don't eat much because I'm really thirsty and am afraid of the well water. But lunch is delicious and prepared with love. After lunch I take some family portraits out in the rice fields (but I only have my regular camera, I regret not having brought my digital camera to Bohol; maybe I'll splurge and get them scanned so I can post 'em to the web site.)
It all looks like heaven to me. I ask Cheryl where she wants to live after she gets married. "If I marry the foreigner, then we'll go to his place in the USA." (Of course, foreigners live in the USA.) But trade all this for a condo in Kent????

That evening I catch the OceanJet fast boat back to Cebu: an hour blasting through rough water (I find out later there's a typhoon up on Leyte.) Arriving in Cebu at dusk, I decide to walk through town to my new lodgings at McSherry Pension House. It's blowing and getting dark. I pass a burning building on Juan Luna Street, people are running out onto the street. I hear fire engines in the distance. For them tonite is another disaster, but I'm happy to be back.

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