No two ways about it…today was an emotional roller coaster of a day. More ups and downs than I can recall: not sure what that was about.
The day started with me getting up in my somewhat dingy room (I’m starting to lose faith in the Lonely Planet, which gave this place great reviews for ‘ambience’) and walking up to reclaim my laundry. Along the way, I saw some kids trying to get a homemade toy out of a tree. It was a ball inside a sock that they could throw and catch, but it was lodged just out of reach of a stick in the hands of the tallest kid, who was still considerably shorter than me. So I stepped in and helped, and was able to get the ball down with the stick pretty easily. The kid thanked me using sign language, and I realized he was deaf. Since I have some skills in Sign, I started chatting to him, and found that his name was Brian. He was overjoyed to meet someone who could communicate, so we chatted for quite a bit, before it suddenly dawned on me that he was using International Sign Language. In every country where I have met a deaf person, they were using a domestic form of Sign. I’ve seen this in Latvia, Congo, China, Israel and even Mongolia, but here in the Philippines, Brian explained, they use International Sign Language (which is the form of Sign that I know best).
Feeling pretty good, I retrieved my laundry and went back to pack for my 9:00 tricycle pickup to go to the ferry. On the way out towards the ferry, I saw several guesthouses that were considerably nicer than the one I had been at, and my mood sort of dropped because I knew it had been a missed opportunity for a good place to stay.
When I got to the ferry terminal, I was surprised to find that the fare to Siquijor was not P700, as I expected, but P910, plus the P25 ‘terminal fee’ that they collect from everyone. No choice, so I paid it and went through to the terminal building When I got inside, there was some live music from three blind guitar players. I was sort of bittersweet to see these guys trying to make a living this way…most folks just ignored them, and only a few of us put any money in the hat. But between meeting Brian, and then seeing these guys, it hit a sad chord with me, as there is a history of deafness and blindness in my own family.
The ferry arrived, and I took my seat. Next to me was a guy from Quebec, so for the two hour ride to Dumaguete, I got to practice my French with him. I find, as many do, that the Parisian French are quite intolerant if you try to speak French to them in anything less than a very perfect accent: they will act as if they have no idea what you are saying, and make a really big deal about how atrocious your French is (often saying it using atrocious English…), but the French Canadians are entirely different. They will listen carefully, translate what they believe you are trying to say, then give you pointers on how to say it more properly. They are born teachers with their language, and I always enjoy hanging with them.
So the ride to Dumaguete was pleasant, and passed fairly quickly. But then my seat mate got off, and as I waited in my seat (30B), I heard a nasally, booming voice saying “Thar it is! 30A! Right over thar!” and a huge, loud elderly American shouldered his way past me and into the seat beside me.
“So is this yer lucky day, or WHAT!” he boomed at me, ignoring the stares he was drawing with his boisterous manner.
“Well, I’m not entirely sure yet” I countered, feeling a bit put off.
Turns out that this guy was from San Antonio Texas Home of the Spurs The Greatest Team In Basketball But They Are Getting A Bit Older Now So Its Time To Rebuild Because Everyone Wants To Knock The King Off His Throne Have You Ever Been To San Antone Its The Best Town In Texas…
Yeah, definitely not my lucky day. Sorry to say, I gave him the total cold shoulder and quickly enough the gentle rocking of the boat put him to sleep and I was saved.
When we hit the dock in Siquijor, I was among the first off the boat. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and from my internet research last night, I was sure I was going to find that dream bungalow on a pristine beach with palm trees to hang my hammock from. I walked past the 50 or so tricycle drivers who were gently pestering me to hire them (to their credit, they easily backed off with a shake of the head) and stopped at a sandwich shop across from the ferry to get some lunch and check on the Lonely Planet.
The guidebook was a bit vague on places to stay, so I asked the waiter if he knew of any good beaches with cabanas and palm trees. He suggested that I look around San Juan beach, west of town, so after my sandwich, I hailed a tricycle that was waiting outside and asked if he knew of a good place. He said, for the slightly inflated price of P250, he’d take me to San Juan beach and we could go from resort to resort until I found the one I wanted. I liked that, so I hopped in and away we went.
The first place we checked, Bruce Beach, was almost perfect! Big nipa hut, palm trees, gentle breeze. The only problem was…it was booked solid! Bummed out, we went to the next resort, and it was also booked solid.
We worked our way down the beach, visiting 15 different beach resorts, of all qualities and prices, and every last one of them was booked solid for the week!
So with a heavy heart (and a bit nervous), we headed back to Siguijor Town, where the tricycle driver (Romeo) said he knew of a guesthouse that might have a room. We stopped in at the Diamond Guest Lodge, and for P650, the did indeed have a room. Knowing that my options were thin, I took it, but in truth its just a bare bones, tiny little cubicle in a fairly derelict building, with just a bed and a fan on the ceiling. No chair, no table, no mirror…oh, and a cold shower.
So this sort of sucks. I would have stayed on Bohol if I had known that it was going to be impossible to find a beach hut!
Romeo helped me arrange a scooter rental, so after I checked in, I rode up to the northern part of the island to see about another beach area that has resorts. After a 30 minute ride (which is alway a mood lifter), I saw a sign for the Island Dream Beach Resort. According to my map, this is one of three resorts on a nice stretch of beach, so I headed down.
The parking lot was on the top of a bluff, and I had to walk down a stairway carved into a cliffside. The resort was nestled along the base of a cliff, secluded from the road and boxed in by the gentle sea. As soon as I got to the bottom of the steps, I know that this was the perfect place. The waves gently lapped the shoreline, the bungalows faced the open water, surrounded by a grove of coconut palms. Some guests were standing around a fire they had made on the beach, drinking beers and speaking in hushed tones to preserve the wonderful atmosphere.
So imagine my disappointment when the receptionist told me that they were fully booked for two weeks.
Saddened, I went next door to the Aussie Dive Resort. It had the same wonderful calm ambiance, as well as the sweet beach cottages facing the now setting sun, and it also was booked solid for two weeks.
Already knowing what to expect, I checked the third, perfect resort…the Casa de la Playa. Booked for three weeks.
Now totally depressed, I walked back up to my bike. There were no other resorts shown on the map for the western or southern side of the island. Who would have thought that the whole damn island was booked solid! And the four resorts that matched what I had been imagining since I left Hong Kong 2 weeks ago were all entirely booked out!
So with a very heavy heart I drove back to my dingy guesthouse. I mean it…I felt like crying. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and no matter how much you crave something, you get stuck with something else and its just out of your control.
Just before my guesthouse, I saw a bunch of people hanging out in a parking area, and it turned out that each evening, locals gather to sell barbecue and beer, and hang out in the cool breeze. So I pulled over, ordered some grilled pork strips and a beer, and pulled up a chair at a table. Nearby, a woman was selling Balut, that mysterious, potentially gross food that I have always wondered about. My mood was just low enough that I thought, oh what the hell, let’s try this.
The way it is described is pretty gross. I mean, just to get past the mental image is bad enough. I have heard it described as an almost-hatched chicken, cooked alive in the egg, then left to sit for days and days until the entire thing starts to rot and pickle itself in its own juices. And that there are bones and feathers and a beak and eyeballs and innards and everything else in there.
Well, you can imagine how my mood was if I was going to try THAT, but I did. When I asked for one, suddenly I was the center of attention for about 20 people around me. She handed me an egg…it had the heft of a hard boiled egg, and felt quite warm to the touch. It came on a small bowl with a teaspoon of salt. I asked her what was the usual way to eat it.
She showed me: first you crack the pointy end of the egg and peel back a small hole…about the size of a dime. Then you put some salt in there, and squirt a little vinegar. Then you tip it back and drink the contents.
“Drink” sounded surprising to me. I asked “is it a liquid, or like a jelly? Do I drink it all in one shot, or do I take little sips?”
She said it varies…depending on how long it cooked and all, it might all be one big mouthful of jelly, or it might even be quite solid.
So what the hell, I took the plunge. I opened my mouth and tipped it back, waiting to see what would fall out.
First, nothing. Then I gave it a little shake, and the clear membrane under the shell broke and about a teaspoon of liquid (mostly the vinegar I put in there) and a small piece of whatever was inside fell into my mouth. Certainly not the entire contents of the egg.
I chewed slowly, trying not to visualize what was in my mouth. At first, I was braced for something totally gross…feathers in my teeth and bones crunching and all that…but in truth it didn’t taste much different than, maybe, an oyster. Definitely not gross…just surprising. Then I added more vinegar and salt to the egg, peeled the shell back some more, and shook out about half of what else was left in there.
This time, it was very familiar! A cooked egg yolk. This was not different from eating a hard boiled egg! In fact, after that, I peeled back the rest of the shell and just popped the rest of the egg in there and munched it down.
All in all, not a bad surprise. I suspect that eating Balut is a lot like playing the lottery…some must be just hard boiled eggs entirely, and others might be the nightmare that we have always heard of. In my case, I sort of won the lottery, because I was suddenly a local hero there in the parking lot, and a couple of Canadian guys who were travelling together invited me over and bought lots of beers and wanted to hear my tales of braving the Balut.
So now, I’m back in my dingy little guesthouse room, deciding if I’m going to stay here for 4 nights, or catch a ferry back to Bohol and find this damn bungalow on the beach that I’ve been dreaming about!
We’ll see what the morning brings.