Perfectly Imperfect

I admit it made me slightly nervous: One week before our intended wedding, we didn’t have a wedding location and venue, we had not invited anyone yet, and we even didn’t have wedding rings. We knew the wedding city: Tacloban. From all cities in the Philippines probably the least practical one in terms of organizing a wedding. This is a city in recovery mode where the majority of the shops are still closed, where basic products and services are difficult to acquire and where brown-outs are as common as mosquito bites. 

We didn’t expect the wedding rings to become a problem. In fact, far before the intended wedding date we more or less agreed about the design and the materials. But after facing long delivery times in Europe, and an unreliable jewelry manufacturer in Manila, we ended up here in Tacloban with no outlook on having wedding rings on our wedding.  Unfortunately, since the two big malls in town were severely damaged during Yolanda, the only jewelry shops who could help us here were temporarily closed. When things get on the red line, you need a plan, and you need to be practical. And since we both prioritized the reconstruction of the parents house above the wedding rings, we came up with the idea to acquire simple rings here, even at a pawnshop, and buy the ones we really like later in Europe, after the wedding. It was a plan we both could live with, since we both knew that this wedding would require a modest approach anyway, considering what happened here in Tacloban. It was a plan which would be executed, if …..

Tuesday, 21 January 2014, location Tacloban.
Just checked construction material prices in Tacloban, now driving back to the GV hotel. Then, suddenly, between all the damaged advertisement signs here downtown, my attention is caught by a small store. It’s name: “IS MEYCAUAYAN Goldsmith”. This would be typically one of these many stores I always ignore when I am here in the Philippines. In fact, in most of the cases I wouldn’t even notice these stores. I would have ignored it also this time, but taken into account our wedding-ring problem, each store which carries the word “gold” in it’s title catches my attention.

IS MEYCAUAYAN Goldsmith

My first thoughts though, from the motorbike: This store is doing something with gold, and this store might potentially use fake materials. I already feel being ripped off, without even entering the store, and after a short glimpse of the shabby interior inside, I decided to ignore the store, as if it doesn’t exist. This store is not going to bring me anything.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014, location Tacloban
I can’t get the goldsmith out of my mind. And thus, just after lunch, decide to go there again, but now with my girlfriend. Parked the motorbike across the street, and just watch the store from the outside for a couple of minutes, as if this superficial observation will bring us any new detail about the reliability of this store. Discuss shortly whether this is worth the try, and after 10 minutes we make the final decision: Let’s see what IS MEYCAUAYAN can do for us.

The inside looks shabby, dusty.

IS MEYCAUAYAN, from the inside

The tools used in this store to make and repair jewelry have seen better times, and I estimate the last Dutch store which used these tools in the Netherlands, have closed their doors far before the second world war. This is a goldsmith, where each product is completely man made, with prehistorical tools. This is a goldsmith where the quality of the product relies on the goldsmith itself. We meet Solomon, the owner of IS MEYCAUAYAN.

Solomon

The guy is surprised seeing me, my first guess is that I am the first white guy ever entering his store. He might see dollar signs in his eyes right now, or he just might be a guy who always smiles, but after the first moments of surprise, he comes forward from the back of the store with a big smile and shakes hands with me.

A short conversation between my girlfriend and him learns us that he makes customized jewelries, and after showing him the desired designs of our wedding rings, he  firmly confirms that he is able to make these. In fact, he can make these in three days, which is still in-time for the wedding. The ice is broken, we have a guy here who can deliver what we want, on time: The moment has started where I need to know more about his reliability. I still feel no confidence at all in him at this moment, and almost start counting my money to make sure he didn’t rip me off already.

Being Dutch, I use my typical direct approach to confront him with my wishes and worries: I want real gold, with real diamonds, no bullshit, no fake. Short terms, understandable for everyone, even for those with limited English knowledge. Solomon almost reacts furious: He points to a BIR registration on the wall, which learns us that this store indeed is registered as goldsmith, and that Solomon apparently pays his taxes.It doesn’t say anything yet about the quality of his products, but at least he knows what gold is. He points to another document on the wall, being a certificate, apparently demonstrating his skills. However, when taking a closer look to the certificate (I guess he didn’t expect me doing that), the certificate is on his wife’s name. When confronting him with that, and asking him for his certificate, he waves my worries away, telling me that he learned everything “by-doing”, from his wife. Being still in doubt, Solomon almost drags me to the back of this shop, and gives me a series of demonstrations proving that he only uses genuine materials: Acid tests, scratch tests, Solomon is doing everything to demonstrate the difference between real gold, real diamonds, and fake ones, assuming that I am able to interpret the results of the tests. In fact. I can’t but I just go with the flow confirming everything he confirms too. What else can I do?

Scatch test

It is the first moment though that I start to gain confidence in him, despite the shabby conditions in which the jewelries are made. We are almost 30 minutes in the shop and in this time-frame, we have received a fast-track course in identifying fake from genuine materials. As a further proof of his honesty, Solomon invites us to be present during the manufacturing process of the rings, once we place the order.

Being still careful, I probe Solomon to give me a price indication. It’s the moment where my confidence in him get’s a real boost: Within minutes, Solomon makes a complete break-down in costs: labor, gold, diamonds, preparation, in no-time I get an exact overview what the price will be, and how this price is built-up. Completely traceable (in fact, later that night I checked the gold-price part, and the guy is right!) I have never experienced a jewelry shop in my whole life, which made clear how prices are built-up. In all cases until now, there is an article, and there is a price, and you either take it or leave it. But my friend Solomon here is doing something what no jewelry shop ever had done before!! I really start to like the guy, and he has the same effect on my girlfriend. After another 5 minutes discussing we decide to take the challenge: It’s a final “everything or nothing” attempt: Either he delivers the rings as we requested before the wedding, or he totally screws up, ending with no rings at all. I look to Rinalyn, and she looks to me. I guess we both think the same now: We have faced so many challenges the last weeks in getting everything arranged, this challenge belongs in that same row. Let’s go for it!

Friday, 24 January 2014, location Tacloban
The manufacturing process has started, and we are here in his shop, to watch the first part: Melting the gold, stretching it to the right size, rounding it and finally make the bare rings.

Melting the gold

For an hour I watch with him, and I am amazed how this guy, with all the ancient tools he has, can create such beautiful products. I enjoy every second, as do the dozens of mosquito’s here enjoying my presence. But I don’t feel them, I am almost obsessed in what Solomon is doing here. Every second I feel that the wedding-ring challenge will get a “happy ending”. Could I ever predict that our wedding rings finally would be made by this local goldsmith, with all his prehistorical equipment? If destiny exist, then there must have been a damn good reason why it brought us here …

Monday, 27 January 2014, location Tacloban
We just received a text message from Solomon, The rings are ready. We are excited, but also a bit nervous. Would he be able to make the designs as we wanted? When we enter the shop, Solomon directly approaches us: I feel a certain nervousness  in him too. When Rinalyn sees the rings, she directly pinches me in my arm: The guy made an exact replica of the rings we wanted. It creates excitement in both of us, but an excitement we are able to hide. We still need to take a closer look to the rings.

The rings

When we take a closer look to both rings, we do notice a few imperfections. In first instance, we both get a bit disappointed when we see those: We both wanted perfect wedding rings, that’s what we paid for right? But the more I look to the imperfections, the more I realize that these imperfections are caused by the manual manufacturing process itself. These rings are not made by robots and machinery, these rings are made one-by-one, by a guy who gave his maximum effort to create the best quality rings. Each ring ever leaving this shop will be different, unique. I realize that the imperfections are a sign of craftsmanship, it indicates the uniqueness of the person who creates the rings. The more I think about it, the more I start appreciating the imperfections. These are rings where each rings has its own story. Maybe my ring was more difficult to melt, while Rinalyns ring gave issues with placing the diamonds. We don’t know, but I am sure that each ring required his specific expertise to make it.

In fact, at the moment I start discussing this with Rinalyn, I reach the level that I would be disappointed if these rings would be perfect. We talk softly to each other without giving a final statement whether we approve or disapprove the rings. It doesn’t take long before also Rinalyn starts appreciating the “hand-make signs”. Instantly, I consider myself lucky marrying a lady soon who also appreciates the true value of life. In the meantime I can see the tension on Solomons’ face. He is clearly nervous about our final verdict. Once I am sure that Rinalyn thinks the same as me, it’s time to release the guy from his prison: I congratulate him with the rings and praise him for his craftsmanship.

I think we all like to receive compliments, right? But experiencing what this compliment is doing to Solomon is a gift from him to me: Suddenly, all tension disappears, he comes up from his chair and start shaking hands. He is happy, almost in ecstasy, and calls his wife to celebrate our “verdict”. Instantly I realize that being probably his first white customer, he might have worked overtime in the weekend to make the rings. I am sure he saw the imperfections, as we see them, and maybe they were even larger then they are now. But I am sure he also did everything to minimize them and  he might have worked the whole weekend long to do this. It feels so enormously good seeing him now happy! I realize we made his day, maybe his week, today, by complimenting him with his work.

The rings, and Solomon, also teaches me a lesson. A lesson in misconception, in prejudgment, a lesson in dignity, a lesson in trust. The story of the wedding rings is the story about stop chasing perfection: In fact the rings are perfectly imperfect!

Challenges

Sometimes, easy tasks can become complicated, especially when you are 25 cm taller then the average Filipino, and live a different life standard. Take something like going to a CR. This wouldn’t normally be worth a blog, aside of the fact that it’s not particular an attractive topic. However, two occasions recently in relation to this are worth extra attention.

External CR in Salvaciion

03 of January around 01.30pm in the afternoon. Being at Rinalyns parents place, suddenly I feel a need coming up to make a CR-stop for, let’s say, a longer visit. Considering the fact that the whole house has been completely destroyed, I don’t expect a tile-furnished blinking CR with spotlights, so I prepare myself for something basic: A bowl, a bucket with water, something like that. And in my nightmares about CR’s, the worst is either just a hole in the ground where its my responsibility to target well, or a non-flushing CR with no water where its my responsibility what to do with my own leftovers.

Filipino sized CR bowl

Lucky for me, both nightmares are not on the list today: In the CR, which is mainly made from garbage corrugated steel, I find a real CR bowl. That is, a real Filipino CR bowl. The only difference with a western style CR bowl is the height: This one is at least 25cm smaller then a European one, which makes it impossible for me to sit: I never get off anymore, so this will be a tiring exercise. Once my pants are down, I get pain in my knees and upper legs, but fortunately I manage to fight gravity successfully during the first part of the operation. At the moment I am start cleaning myself (lucky for me I have tissues with me) I realize something weird: This CR doesn’t have a back wall. Curious about where my butt is looking too, I turn myself around and realize that from here, I can see half of all the barangay houses. I even see some people looking at me. I am not sure if they are laughing, but realizing that everyone can see me in this rather embarrassing  and un-honorable position, makes me speeding up the cleaning activities. I cant remember I cleaned my butt that fast, and within moments all my private parts are covered by pants again. I need somehow on a tactical way to report this to Rinalyns dad …

14 january: 01:30am in the night. Its dark outside. No stars, no moonlight, the sky is fully covered with clouds. It rains for days non-stop, but lucky for me, at the moment I get out of the bed for another visit to the same CR, its dry. Going to the CR in the middle of the night is a real survival here: The path is covered with chopped coconut trees, debris and other stuff, its slippery, and before I reached the CR, I cut myself twice on one of the sharp edges of a piece of corrugated steel. Pretty pissed of by now, my hand is bleeding, but at least I reached the room, which solves most of a humans problems in his or her entire life, alive. The back wall has been covered by a piece of corrugated steel: I wont experience another embarrassing event tonight. However the height of the bowl hasn’t changed, so it does require another intensive exercise. At the moment I lower my pants, I feel the first drops coming from the sky. It’s the first time I noticed the second deviation in this CR: There is no ceiling too!

CR from the inside. No ceiling

The drops are the introduction to a fast nearing heavy rain shower. 5 second later it is raining like it never rained before. In contradiction to the first event, the rain has an paralyzing effect on me: I let myself fall on the filipino sized CR-bowl, not even thinking how to get up again later. I give up fighting the nature elements from heaven, and within another 45 seconds I get soken, I mean really soken wet. For minutes I stare to the rusty corrugated steel plate in front of me, my pants on my heels, while the water is coming down with buckets. Although I have never smoked in my entire life, somehow this event here heavily triggers a need in me for one single cigarette. During the staring, questions like “What am I doing here?”, “Why am I not in Boracay now?” or “Wheres my motorbike?”, or just a simple “Why me again?” pass my mind, as if I don’t know the answers on these. Of course I know what I am doing here, Boracay is out of the question for this holiday and my bike is just meters away, but I guess the situation has a melancholic effect on me. Minutes start feeling as hours, and there are moments I wonder whether I end up being washed away together with the CR. Will this be my end?

I get off the CR by a strange move: I have to raise my right leg and let myself fall side wards to the left until I end up on both knees at the bottom of the CR. After returning to our bedroom, the clock shows 01:55 am. The whole scene has taken less then half an hour. Ten minutes later I fall asleep under my own mosquito net, with a softly spinning Rinalyn in my arms …. I love this place!

Window shopping

 

Date: 26 December 2013
Location: Allen, Northern Samar
Occasion: Check-in and stay in the Pahayahayan hotel

<Me>: Hello sir, I am looking for a room for an overnight stay. Do you have anything available?
<He>: Yes sir, we have a room for 800 pesos with aircon.

Pahayahayan hotel, Allen

I am here in Allen, Northern Samar. For those who want to know my opinion about Allen….well, I did write a separate blog entry about this, ehhh, let’s say “busy” port town of Samar. Based on my experiences with Allen so far, any offered hotel room here requires a thorough inspection before renting.

<Me>: Can I see the room, sir?
<He>: Yes sir, please follow me.

A first glimpse of the room learns me that I don’t need to expect too much tonight from my transit stay in Allen: The room is a very basic one, with dirty mattresses, walls which need more maintenance then only new paint and a floor which is somehow slippery, having no idea what causes this. Aside of that, the aircon doesn’t do what it should do (cooling the room), but it does create an awful amount of noise. I won’t be using this tonight I guess. 800 pesos doesn’t sound like a good deal, so time to ask for alternatives.

<Me>: Do you also have rooms without aircon, sir?
<He>: Yes sir, we have rooms for 400 pesos without aircon, with fan only. Please follow me.

The room without aircon shows the same state of maintenance as the first one. A strong sewer smell is coming from the bathroom. I guess the guy must have smelled this as well, because within seconds he throws a full bucket of water into the bathroom. I wonder where he got this bucket from, and how he managed to fill this with water so fast, but it doesn’t seem very important now. I can’t discover any cockroaches in the bathroom, and only that fact causes a certain satisfaction. For 400 pesos you cannot expect a 3D television with minibar and since this seems to be the best what Allen has to offer on hotel accommodations, I am ready to take the room.

2 ½ hour later, around 11pm, after I have some food and drinks in the port area and made a short “Allen tour”, I return to my room. Passing the reception area, I notice it is deserted. Looks weird to me for a hotel which offers 24 hours check-in. Anyway, it doesn’t bother me, I am about to take a short night sleep: As soon as light returns in Allen I want to leave, thus making the length of my stay here in Allen as short as possible.

Empty reception desk … where is the staff?

Entering my room, I notice the window is open. Lots of mosquito’s already have taken residence tonight in my room without paying. Since my room is on the second floor, right above open water, it seems logical first closing it before starting to hunt my non-paying visitors. The window closes by means of a shifting mechanism. It’s stuck somehow. It needs some force before it moves. However, once I am able to shift it, before I realize it, the whole window comes loose from its frame. In fact, if I didn’t react so fast, the window would most probably end-up at the bottom of the sea in the port of Allen, but somehow I manage to grab the window before it falls down. Its kind a heavy although it’s made from light materials: It takes some effort to get the window in my room. Once secured, the first thing what comes up in my mind: Why always me again???? I am looking to an opening in the wall which used to hold my window.

Window room after it came loose from its frame

I try several attempts to get the window in its original position back, but need to conclude at the end that this window can only be placed from the outside: Since there is no balcony, there is no way I can repair this myself. Time to have a talk with the hotel staff!

There is still no-one at the reception desk. However, there is a small bell, which can be used to call the staff. My optimism disappears fast when noticing that the bell doesn’t work. I am starting to get slightly irritated. If you provide a bell, then at least make sure it’s operational, right? Now you make me happy with a “dead bird”.

It’s this moment that I also notice that the prices mentioned before (400 and 800 pesos) are 100 pesos higher than the official rates. This would make me angry under normal circumstances, but in the situation I am in right now I decide not to pay attention to this.

Non-working bell to ring absent staff :)

Unfortunately for me, after searching the whole hotel, I can’t discover any responsible person who can help me fixing my window problem. My irritation level grows, however my alternatives are limited: I paid for the room already, and leaving Allen in the dark isn’t a good alternative. I guess I need to wait until anyone shows up.

This “anyone” is an elderly lady, I estimate her age on 50+ or so. She suddenly enters the reception area. I did see her shortly before, when checking the rooms. It’s 1145pm in the meanwhile.

<She>: Yes sir?
<Me, happy that finally there is someone who can help me>: Hello mrs, I am having a problem with my window, it got loosened from the frame and I can’t put it back.
<She>: Ok sir, and what’s the problem with that?
<Me, wondering why she asks this and why she doesn’t walk immediately with me to my room to witness my window problem>: Well, I like to sleep with closed window. I always do.
<She>: Ohh sir, but you can also sleep with open window.
<Me, trying to stay calm>: I understand that maam, but there is a mosquito party in my room now, and I like to sleep with closed window to prevent I am becoming mosquito food tonight.
<She>:  Ohh sir, but if you put the fan on the window, you will blow the mosquitos out of your room.

It’s the first time I noticed something weird on the lady. She doesn’t talk smoothly, with hick-ups, and she moves a bit erratically. There is a big noisy party outside, and it doesn’t take long for me to conclude that she joins the party, and that she is tipsy. I wouldn’t directly say drunk, but I can sense that she did take one or two bottles of red horse too much. For the second time tonight I am thinking: Why is this always happening to me????? Anyway, I can’t do too much about this, so let’s try to deal with this as decent as possible.

<Me>:  Well, I believe the fan is used to deliver a fresh flow of air for myself, and not to chase away mosquito’s right?

I notice her walking now two times to a dressing room which apparently stores bed linen, on the other side of the reception desk, and coming back without doing anything which is related to my window problem. One time she uses the desk itself as a support, to prevent her from collapsing. Since I realize now she’s drunk, I observe this with a certain amount of amusement and wondering how this night in Allen will end.

<She, after two useless walks to the dressing room>: So your problem is the window, Sir?
<Me, thinking…wow, good conclusion!> Yes maam, my problem is the window. Now can you either fix it or provide me with an alternative room, it’s almost 12 and I like to sleep.
<She>:  But sir, you don’t have to worry, the mosquito’s will leave your room after 12.

This answer I didn’t expect. In fact, it totally surprises me, overwhelms me. It feels like an attack from an invisible enemy, coming from an invisible direction. For the next 10 seconds I am speechless, forgetting she’s drunk, forgetting I am in Allen, forgetting basically everything. I need another 5 seconds to get all facts clear again, and realizing the silliness of this answer.

<Me, getting amused again>: So we have clock reading mosquito’s in Allen right? Well maam, I don’t really care if they can read clock, but I suggest you either send someone to help me or offer me another room.
<She, making a final attempt>:  But Sir, you can sleep with the curtains closed.
<Me>: I do realize that maam, I am not born yesterday, but I like to sleep with closed windows as well. I am not going to sleep tonight in that room without closed windows.
<She, showing signs of being pissed off>:  Ok sir, I will try to find a boy who can help you. So your problem is the window right?
<Me, accepting the fact that probably I have to confirm a dozen of times tonight that the window is the problem>: Yess maam, my problem is the window.

It’s the end of part 1. She leaves, going downstairs and out, and I do expect her first to go back to the party to get another couple of red horses before she will return. That is .. IF she will return. I also realize by now that the lady hasn’t taken any action to walk with me to my room to inspect the damage. I wonder if she really understands what my problem is.

00.30am. I almost fall asleep on the rather comfortable chair across the reception desk, but suddenly the lady returns, holding a red and a green balloon. She is accompanied by a “boy”. I estimate the boy’s age on mid 40s. I am instantly awake again. I believe it’s the ladies birthday party, reading the text on the balloons, but I am not sure about this.

I decide to put my attention to the boy. The lady seems to be more drunk then before. After one sentence however, it is very clear to me that the boy is joining the same party in Allen and also enjoyed many, I mean many, bottles of red horses as well.

<He, shouting loud, on a funny away>: Hello sir, what is your problem?
<Me, almost collapsing over the chair because I didn’t expect him to shout at me, I am only a meter away from him>: My window is loosened from its frame, sir, I can’t close it anymore.
<He, shouting even louder>: So you have a problem with your window?
<Me, almost automatically, without realizing it, shouting back>: Yes sir, I have a window problem.

It’s this moment when I realize that I am shouting as well. Why am I shouting in the middle of the night here in this hotel  to a guy standing one meter from me????

<He, still shouting>: Can we have a look to your room?
<Me, communicating on a decent soundlevel again>: Ofcourse sir, please follow me.

During the walk to my room he shouts several times to the lady. I don’t understand them. I do wonder if this doesn’t awake other customers, but frankly, I don’t really care anymore.

<Me, opening my room door and showing the window>: This is my problem sir.
<He and she, simultaneously>: Ohhhhhhhhhh.
<He>: Sir, YOU have a big problem, the window is out.
<Me, smiling>: Yes sir, that’s a big problem for YOU.

In this short conversation I am trying to get away from the situation that I have a problem. In first instance, in my view, the boy and the lady have a problem, not me.

<He>: Sir, let me try to fix the window.
<Me, thinking, this guy is drunk, not sure if trying to fix the window is the best thing to do now>: I am not sure if you can fix it sir, I think you have to do this from the outside.

Without listening to me, the guy steps on one of the two beds with his slippers on, picks up the window and tries to re-position it in the frame. As expected, he doesn’t succeed. In fact, I need to grab him during one attempt, preventing that he falls down, with the window, in the dirty sea water of Allen. After 5 to 10 minutes, the boy realizes that this window will not be fixed tonight. he puts the window back to one of the wall.

Boy and lady put window against the wall

<He>: Sir, I can’t fix this window tonight.
<Me>: It’s ok, I think you are right. Maybe you can provide me with an alternative room.
<She>: But that’s a problem sir, we don’t have any vacant rooms.
<Me>: So how are we going to solve this?
<She>: You can still sleep in this room sir?
<Me, starting to answer with a threatening voice tone>: I am NOT going to sleep in this room, maam.

She now starts talking in herself, mumbling, I can’t discover any reasonable words coming out, but it’s clear that she’s thinking, despite her current state. Once back at the reception desk, she walks again to the dressing room, takes out some bed linen, and then walks back to the same dressing room, putting the bed linen back. It’s clear that she has no clear plan, and I take back my original position in the comfortable chair, waiting what she will do.

Then suddenly, she takes the key from another room, enters the room and start bringing new bed linen in. During that, she mumbles to me several times that this room is not ready. I am curious why she says that, so I decide to inspect the room myself as well. It’s a large room, with three super dirty mattresses, a smell which cannot be described, and two fans.  I am not sure what people do here with mattresses, and I am not sure if I really want to know.

The first mattress

The second mattress

One of the three mattresses is being covered by “clean” bed-linen by the lady. The floor is dirty. However, the room doesn’t have any window. In the current situation, this almost feels like a victory. During a fast inspection of the bathroom I can’t discover any creature larger than 5 centimeters, and since it’s after 0100am already, without complaining, I accept the room in it’s current state.

The CR and bathroom

When I wake up around 0600am, in my sleep I accidentally removed partly the fresh bed-linen, and I am sleeping with my face on the most dirty mattress of the three. I guess it requires a couple of showers before feeling clean again. Around 0630am I leave the hotel. From the outside I look back to my original room. I guess it will take a long time before the window will be fixed.

Hotel Pahayahayan from the rear. The second room counting from right is my room. The window is still missing.

On my last meters leaving Allen, I realize that …

  • I am pretty sure that this is my last stay ever in this hotel.
  • I am pretty sure that this is my last stay ever in Allen.
  • I am pretty sure that from now on I will always check windows first before accepting any room.

I mumble words like “Thanks Allen” for this lesson learned, before opening my motorbikes throttle to its “full gas” position. It’s the fastest leave ever out of Allen, of a foreigner on a motorbike.

Hope for Allen?

Location: Allen Port, Northern Samar
Date: 26-12-2013, 0700pm, just arrived from the ferry from Matnog, Luzon.

There is only one thing which makes Allen, Northern Samar important: It maintains the ferry connection with Matnog Luzon. By doing this it is part of the main economic life vein over land between Luzon and Visayas: All main transport over land need to take the Matnog – Allen ferry or vice versa, This includes buses, trucks and … a few tourists like me travelling by motor.

I do have a kind of a love-hate connection with Allen. I love to leave Allen, whether its taking the boat to Luzon, or taking the road to Calbayog or Catarman. I hate to arrive in Allen. I have given up all hope for this port place, and my experiences go as far back as to 2007. Today, because of my obsessive desire to meet Mount Bulusan, I forgot that I was on a mission to Tacloban and Eastern Samar. As a result, I took the late 0430pm ferry from Matnog. If that wasn’t enough, the ferry took more then 45 minutes to “find” and “dock” on an alternative location in Allen. And now, its 0700pm, I am here in Allen and have three choices: A one-hour drive to Catarman, a place I don’t need to be, a three hour drive to Calbayog in the dark…or an overnight stay in Allen.

I must have faced a total black-out at the moment I make the decision to choose for the last option. In 2007, when I traveled with bus from Maasin to Legazpi, I had to get-out in Allen to buy a ferry ticket. The smell, the dirt, the cockroaches, the rats, the dogs … these are the only thing I remembered from Allen.

Then in 2012 I returned, and I dared to take an overnight stay in one of the lodging houses. It was my first encounter with flying cockroaches. The time I booked the room I didn’t see them, but at the time I wanted to sleep they were crawling all over the place: I even used my clothes to cover all spaces under and above doors and windows to keep them out of my room, but it wasn’t a fair battle: There were just too many.

Its now 2013. At the moment I enter the port of Allen, I see the ground moving, in the light and the shades of the traffic and street lights: Small creatures, between 2 and 5 cm crawl all over the place and act if the place is theirs. At the moment I stop the motorbike in front of the Pahayahayan hotel I accidentally kill one. Another one cracks under my feet when I get-off the bike. A rat curiously observes me from a dark corner and a couple of skinny stray dogs bark at me, but are scared as soon as I encounter them. Dirt is all over the place, its noisy, and there is always traffic here. It seems that the people don’t really care here about the environment they live-in.

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After booking my room, I decide to wear closed shoes before getting-out. I hate the feeling of those long tentacles on my feet. I buy corned beef and bread, sit down…and just watch live the Allen Cockroach Family Farm, free entree (for Filipinos as well as for foreigners :)), here at the port area. Every night a different show. Two actors however won’t be able to perform anymore. They are out. But I am sure they have capable replacement.

At times like this, my fantasy start to take over my mind, and suppresses my rational thinking…I start putting things in chronological order, starting from 2007. Things are getting worse and worse here. What if….what if these animals maintain some kind of intelligence? What if … this is part of some kind of secret cockroach war? What if …their goal is to take over earth? If that’s the case, then I am sure their headquarters are here in Allen and Ormoc! And if they have two headquarters, how do they communicate??? Are their underground cockroach tunnels between Allen and Ormoc? How do they pass then the San Juanico bridge? What I am sure of is that since 2007, their quantity has increased dramatically. The more and more I fantasize, the more I am getting convinced that I am sitting on a ticking time-bomb!! I am looking desperately around me if I am the only one who just discovered this lethal threat: A truck-driver, 10 meters away from me smiles at me. He doesn’t understand. A port official scratches his belly and yawns. He doesn’t feel the nearing apocalypse! MY GOD, AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE???? I want to shout, yell, warn everyone….

Roughly, but just on time, a tricycle driver parks his tricycle on my left foot. It hurts physically, but it ends the nightmare. I am back in reality. All I want now is a ride on my bike. I count dozens of stray dogs. It smells heavily. Lucky for me it doesn’t rain: Whole Allen changes in one big swamp once water falls from heaven.

In the morning, when I drive through Allen, my attention is caught by two slogans.

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The first one puts Allen as the gateway to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Well, in its current state, if I was a governor of any of these three area’s I would instantly file a case against the tourist office in Allen: By no means I would like to associate my province with this place.

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The next one “fantasizes” how Allen should look like in 2020. Well, if Allen “progresses” at the same speed as between 2007 and 2013, I can EXACTLY tell you how Allen will look like in 2020. In 2020, when I book a room in any hotel in Allen, the receptionist will be a man-sized cockroach using its tentacles to point me to the room rates. Stray dogs will guide me to my room, where rats will serve bed linen. Soap will not be allowed and in the morning garbage-breakfast will be served by humans, under strict mosquito management. That’s how Allen will look like in 2020!!!!

I know Samar rates high on the list of the most poorest provinces here. Still, I do believe not everything can be related to living standards. Everybody does have a responsibility to keep things clean. Dipolog, Davao, even Catbalogan are examples how you can create a reasonable clean environment for yourself. But here in Allen…its all dirt! I don’t wanna talk without respect about Allen, but a clean environment starts with the people here. Its not too late Allen, 2020 is still far. But please take action now, don’t let fantasy become reality!

Distances and Directions

 

Imagine yourself driving on a motorbike in a country which is far different then yours. I mean, infrastructure is different, people are different, road-signs are different. Imagine for example you are Dutch (like me) and you are driving in the Philippines (like me). You can imagine that once in a while, in the beginning once in the 5 minutes … you lose track where you really are.

So what can you do? Well, you could stop, approach a local and ask a question like this one: “Miss, which way is going to Cebu?” For me it’s a famous question, cause after 4 years I still remember that question, I still remember where I dropped this question, and how the discussion went. Now why on earth is this question so special? Just asking the road, seems not really very spectacular right? Maybe you should try it out one or two times yourself, and see if you recognize one of my underneath experiences when asking anyone about directions in the Philippines.

Let’s first go back to February 2007, on the road Carcar – Cebu.

<me>: Miss, which way is going to Cebu?
<she>: Cebu?
<me>: Yes miss, Cebu.
<she, without any delay>: There.
When she speaks the word “There”, she pulls up her nose a bit and points the same nose in the direction of the road I am driving. When she is doing this, she sniffs. My first idea is that she has a cold, and I wonder if she took medicines for that. However, the word “There” doesn’t help me any further. In fact, her nose points to a crossing where you can go straight ahead, or you can turn left. Still not clear to me which road to take.
<me>: Where?
<she>: There.
She must have seen by now the 1000 question marks in my eyes. I still have  no clue whether to go straight ahead or turn left.
<me>: You mean, the left road?
<she>: Hmm hmm
It starts dazzling me a bit and I get a bit irritated, thinking “Dammit, just tell me which road to take, woman! What the hell means “hmm hmm”?”
<me, still being friendly>: You mean straight ahead, miss (point my arm straight ahead) or turn left (pointing my arm left)
<she>:  Just go there (waving her arm in a direction which is in the middle of both roads
I remember at that time for a couple of seconds I reached a feeling of total desperacy. How long is this nonsense going to continue? At the moment of happening, I couldn’t see the humor in this discussion. If that wasn’t even enough, it started raining as well. To prevent becoming rude to her, I thanked her for her help and decided to use the road going straight ahead. It was a lucky shot. The discussion with the woman ends here.

Now if you think this is an incident, then you are wrong. Once you are lost in the Philippines, and your final direction goes further then, lets say, the next barangay, I challenge you to find someone at your current location which can help you. Unfortunately, I tend to forget this each year. This holiday I already made two times the mistake to ask the direction. The stupid thing is, that at the moment I start asking the question, I instantly realize that this is not going to help me. But then it’s already too late: The question is dropped and I have to wait until I get an answer … or no answer at all. In both cases it will not help me any further, because even when I do receive an answer, its is woven in question marks, vague statements and different opinions.

Here is another classical example, recorded this year, on the road from Tagum City to Bunawan. There is a roadblock around the township of Montevista. All traffic is blocked already for hours and if I can’t go on, there is no way I am going to reach Bunawan before dawn. There is also a passengers van in the waiting queue on its way to Butuan. The following conversation took place between me and the driver.

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Roadblock at Montevista by victims of typhone Pablo

<me>: Sir, is there any alternative road going to Bunawan?
<he>: Hmmmm …
Then he turns his head back to other passengers in the van, asking them probably the same question, but then in the Visaya language. But since my question is still open, I can’t leave. Would be rude right. So the next coming 2 to 3 minutes I have to wait, until a final answer comes.
<he, making his final statement>: We don’t think so, sir

Now this is an answer you have to be very careful with. What he really means is “We don’t know, sir” (or simply “We don’t know”, the “sir” thing makes me always feel old :)). That leaves at least the possibility open that there is an alternative road. In fact, when I later watched on the map, there is an alternative road, it’s just that the people don’t know about it. However, happy that I received the “final answer” I am about to leave when suddenly a couple of men pass the van. The van-driver decides to ask them as well about the alternative road. Just to make sure that I don’t sneak away, he says “Just wait sir”. I start feeling highly uncomfortable because the discussion which follows goes from low-emotion to high-emotion and vice verse  I think in the “heat of the battle” at least 20 people are involved in the discussion whether there is an alternative road or not. It starts raining in the meanwhile, just as in the “Cebu case”. The people in the van don’t get wet, the people outside don’t care getting wet, but I do care getting wet. In fact in minutes I am getting soaken wet. My mood sinks dramatically, but I have to wait for the final answer. Imagine yourself standing there, on the highroad between South and North Mindanao, with heavy rainfall, fully loaded with 2  backpacks, a mood-level below zero degrees and you have to wait for minutes, which feels like hours, on an answer which is of no use. I guess you can imagine how I felt that day.

Two classical examples where “direction-asking” can lead too. And sometimes this can really be an hassle. Although by now I can almost drive blindfolded from one place to another whether I am in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao, once I want to try something else, there is a big chance running into trouble. My idea last year to drive in south Negros  through the mountains, from Kabankalan to Bayawan City stranded after 2 hours driving. I got hopelessly lost, I did not have accurate maps from the area, and the locals around didn’t even speak English to help me. My last option, my smartphone using GPS, failed because maps couldn’t be loaded. These remote area’s lack internet coverage. And people there got confused between Bantayan City (which was the city next door) and Bayawan City (my final destination, hours away). So everytime I asked for “Bayawan”, they sended me to “Bantayan”. It made me crazy there. As a result I had to return back to Kabankalan.

Then … if directions are a problem, how about asking distances? Suppose you would ask the question “How far is it to going to Butuan?” Would that result in answers which you can use?

Unfortunately not. Nobody thinks here in kilometers, or time it takes, to reach a destination. Distances are expressed in “there”, “far”, or “very far”. It’s your task to translate that in a number of kilometers, or time-to-travel, a task which is often hard to complete. As an example, when a destination is labeled as “far” it can be on any distance between “the next corner” and “hundreds of kilometers away”. If you find someone who would have the “nerves” to say to you that “it’s 30 minutes from here” (it’s very hard to find someone, though), be prepared that it can still take 1 1/2 hour. When estimating time or distances, they ALWAYS estimate far to optimistic. Besides, landslides, road constructions, unpaved roads and in my case even a roadblock makes the inaccurate estimations of locals even more unpredictable.

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Roads like these significantly influence your travel time – Going to Sohoton National Park

Count to that the millions of worn-out, missing, misleading or even hidden road signs on essentials crossings and you can understand why planning travels is hard to accomplish.

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Worn-out road-sign, hidden behind advertising materials

Here is a typical conversation I had when asking the distance going to San Carlos, Negros, coming from Bacolod.

<me>: Sir, how far is it going to San Carlos?
<he>: San Carlos City?
<me, already thinking now … oh no, I am asking about distances, why am I doing this?>: yes, San Carlos City, my friend!
<he>: Oh, that is far sir.
<me, being in a good mood, knowing already where this is leading too>: Ahh ok … but do you know how far, sir?
<he, very seriously>: I don’t know that sir, but i think it’s very far.
<me, smiling, it’s good weather by the way!>: Ok, that’s very helpful, thanks. Any idea how long it takes to get there?
<he, involving now his neighbor, friend or just a vague passenger, I don’t know who the second guy is>: Well, we think it still takes long, sir.
<me>: Right! How long you think?
<he>: Very long sir!
<me>: Thanks a lot sir, you really helped me. I am Eric by the way.
<he, feeling a sincere proud that he was able to help a foreigner, and that he has now some kind of special tie wit me>: Ok sir, I am … (honestly I forgot his name)

I want to emphasize that it was absolutely not my intention to make this helpful local looking thumb or so. In fact I enjoyed this discussion. It would have irritated me years ago, but knowing each year more and more about the Philippines, I really appreciate that this guy did his best to help me. And in the meanwhile I am more and more becoming a specialist in recognizing specialties out of ordinary situations.

The very, very positive thing is, and I really feel the need to emphasize that: Everyone here tries to help you! The intention is always good! In fact I believe that in the Filipino culture, it’s very difficult to say “I don’t know”, especially when a foreigner is involved. Besides, can you blame anyone not knowing the direction if they hardly have any possibility to travel? It’s a poor country and each year I realize more and more how privileged I am to go wherever I wanna go with my bike. I can imagine that as a Filipino you want to help tourists and it must sometimes feel weird for locals that in the meanwhile I know far more about most places in the Philippines then an average Filipino.

But the fact that they all take time to discuss your question for minutes or longer proves that there is an intrinsic motivation to help you. And that makes even the most useless answers worth full! Thanks for every Filipino who gave me an answer. I sincerely appreciate it!

The Battle of Ownership

<Receptionist (smiling)>: Hello Sir, what can I do for you?
<Me>: 
Well, I’m searching for a room for the night, do you have anything available?
<Receptionist (smiling)>: 
Yes sir, we have a room for 450 pesos, its our cheapest accommodation.
<Me (thinking, wow, that’s really cheap)>: 
Sounds good, can I first see the room?
<Receptionist (even more smiling)>:
 Of-course Sir. Here is the key. My colleague will accompany you to your room.

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Pongos Hotel Ormoc, picture taken from other website

What follows is a 1 1/2 minute walk through the hotel, until we finally arrive at the room.

<Boy>: This is your room sir, do you like it?
<Me (observing the room, which shows many signs of severe lack of maintenance)>: Well I do understand why this room is that cheap, but for one night it will do I guess.
<Boy>: So you will take the room sir?
<Me (getting a bit suspicious now since he is really pushing me to take the room)>: Well, let me also have a check in the bathroom, ok?
<Boy>: That’s ok sir, the bathroom is there (pointing with his finger to a door)

When opening the door, everything still looks “ok”. The bathroom is in the same condition as the room itself. Just before leaving the room, just as a habit I open the shower curtain … And suddenly there they are: Two giant cockroaches!!!! I estimate the first one to be taller than 4 inches, excluding his tentacles. The other one is slightly smaller, but thicker. I think this one eats a lot of rice. Now I can make jokes about it right now, but both creatures scare me to death at the first encounter. I slightly jump backwards, which is noticed by the boy …

<Boy>: Is everything ok sir?
<Me (closing the curtain and directly walking outside the room)>: Yeah yeah, let’s go back to the reception. When looking back to the bathroom I see the boy looking also behind the curtain. He laughs ….

At the reception, the following conversation takes place:
<Receptionist (smiling)> : So what do you think about the room sir?
<Me>: Your room is full of cockroaches!
<Receptionist (still smiling, not showing a single sign of being surprised)>: Oh, there are cockroaches there sir?
<Me>: Yes. And big ones. I rather sleep on the beach then in that room.
<Receptionist (continue smiling and showing signs of sincere pride)>: But sir, we also have rooms without cockroaches!

Now once in while I’m speechless in this country. It doesn’t happen a lot, I use to have my answers ready, but for the next 5 coming seconds in this conversation I have no answer available. I mean, I think my lips are moving, but no words coming out. I just look him straight in the eyes, finding words, finding my mind back. Just to win time, I restart the conversation by repeating the last sentence.

<Me>: You also have rooms without cockroaches?
<Receptionist (showing now an even bigger smile)>: Yes sir, we have!
<Me (having my brains now on full power back, thinking)>: Sir, can I ask you a couple of questions?
<Receptionist (still smiling, but his smile shows now for the first time signs of worries)>: What is it sir?
<Me>: Here is the first question: If you know that you have rooms with cockroaches, why don’t you get rid of them in the first place ….
<Me (continuing my questions, starting to increase the volume of my voice)>: And the second one: Why on earth do you offer me a room with these mutants!!!!
<Receptionist (showing me a full smile again, apparently happy that he is able to answer them both)>: Well sir, the room we offered you remains in the old part of the hotel. There are always cockroaches there. And we thought we wanted to offer you the cheapest room possible. The rooms without cockroaches cost 800 pesos.

For the second time in this conversation I have troubles finding the right words. I am not sure if I should be offended (do I look that cheap?) right now. Whats even more astonishing for me is that apparently this hotel has given up rooms to the cockroaches. Its like in the battle between cockroaches and humans, the creatures mow own the old part of the building. I am not sure is there is some kind of status quo right now between man and animal, but analyzing the behavior of the whole hotel staff, I do not have the impression that the old part of the hotel will be conquered back soon. I also wonder why they do not advertise for rooms with and without cockroaches…..

<Me>: Well…I hope you understand that I would like to see the 800 pesos room too before I choose, if that’s ok for you?
<Receptionist (happy)>: Yes sir, here is the key. The girl (pointing to a co-worker) will accompany you to the room.

When walking on the hotel stairs to the room I discuss my findings with the girl. When asking her about the old part of the hotel, she tells me she doesn’t like to go there, cause she’s scared of cockroaches …

The 800 pesos room looks basic but fine. No cockroaches have been seen during my stay anymore. It seems that “The Gate Between The Old And The New Part Of The Hotel” is also the border between two worlds. I wonder why the cockroaches never asked for my passport.

27th of December 2012

Animal Slaughter

Awakened by an animal slaughter today. 06.00AM in the morning, it’s the 31th of December 2012, and that’s NOT good news for pigs in the Philippines. Its “slaughter day”, and people here start early that day making their favorite lechon baboy for tonight. Unfortunately for pigs, they are on the main menu.

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A pig, photographed in Cagayan d’Oro, on his way to his final destination

Unfortunately also for me. Awakened by a horrible sound which comes most close to a combination of tons of fireworks and 100 crying babies, the first thing what comes in my mind is that someone undergoes severe torturing. The sound comes from a pig, which undergoes the process of being slaughtered by my girlfriends neighbors. I deliberately call it a process, because it’s not a matter of seconds. The poor animal shouts for minutes, before it inhales his last breath. It seems that pigs here are slaughtered on a special way, but definitely not the way which causes least suffer for the animal.

Now houses are built very close to each-other here. It seems that the slaughter takes place just under our bedroom window. I believe that if I would now inspect the outer walls, I would find clear signs of the animal massacre which just occurred. It feels kinda weird that in meters from our bedroom blood splashes all over the place ….

I feel kinda sorry for the animal. The only comfort I can feel for the pig is that he is not the only one which undergoes this tragic destiny: I estimate that at least another million of pigs today in the Philippines will see daylight the last time. I guess instead of worrying about a couple of dozens flying goos around the Dutch National Airport, our Dutch Marianne Thieme from the Animal Party can better focus her attention on the millions of walking pigs in the Philippines, especially around this day.

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Lechon Baboy – Picture taken from other website

Later that day I eat a menu in Andoks. I believe there’s lechon baboy inside …

31th of December 2012

Visit to the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center

He (smiling): Welcome to the PEFC sir!
Me (getting question marks in my eyes): Eh … pfe … what?
He (still smiling): Welcome to the PEFC sir!
Me (trying to use another route): Is this the place where I can see the Philippine eagle?
He: Yes sir. That is 5 pesos entrance fee.
Me (thinking, wow, that’s cheap, I guess they put the Philippine eagle on diet): Sure.

It’s the start of an amazing visit to the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center. Because that’s where PEFC stands for. Of-course as an innocent visitor you have no idea what PEFC means. In fact, you have no idea what almost any abbreviation here means. And sometimes that can give you a hard time in a country which always ranks in the top 5 of countries with The Most Used Abbreviations. That wouldn’t even be such of an issue, if the inhabitants of this country not automatically would assume that visitors are not familiar with this. Unfortunately, I believe Filipinos assume that if they talk about BIR, LTO, NFI, PEFC, TIN, PWCRR, PPI, CPI or any other of the more than hundred thousands of abbreviations used, that visitors do understand what they are talking about. Well, I don’t, and many of my countrymen also don’t. It would have irritated me years ago, but I used to live with it and have developed workarounds for it, like in this case.

The Philippine eagle is my goal today in Davao. I’m not going to explain why this bird is so special. Just Google around. But here is what I know upfront, prior to my visit: There is a park  focusing on this specific animal, and its located in Calina. And Calina I know, I just passed this road yesterday when going to Davao. For the rest I don’t know anything, so around 10.00am I’m heading on my blue buddy to Calina.

The city of Davao has made it easy for me and others to find the PEFC: They use the same road signs as they use to indicate directions to cities, to mark the way to the PEFC. Its kinda funny, they use, very clearly, just the name “Philippine Eagle”. I just imagine myself not knowing about the park and I see this road sign … what would I expect? A place called Philippine Eagle … or at some moment a cross-bar from one site of the street to the other site with the Philippine Eagle on top … Its these simple things which makes me loving this country! The funny roadsign brings a smile on my face.

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Philippine Eagle Foundation Center road-sign…You can’t miss this one!

Now the Philippine eagle is an important animal for the Philippines. Here in Davao, the second city of the Philippines, on every corner of the street you are reminded about the animal. Not just in souvenir shops or street names, but also in government labels, statues… there’s always the head of the eagle.

Remarkably, in making the last steps to the PEFC, they made the same mistake as when I tried to find the Discovery Site of the first balancay in Butuan in 2012, or when I tried to find the Tarsier Foundation Center in Corella Bohol in 2007: The last signs to the park are so small that you easily can miss them. In case of the Butuan Discovery Site, this really amazed me: We are talking here of one of the most important historical findings which I believe each Filipino must have seen once in his life … and the last signs which directs you to the Site just drowns away among the hundreds of other advertising signs.
It’s the same for the PEFC. If I wasn’t aware that the PEFC is located in Calina, in specific Malagos, I would have searched a long time finding the park … Now, more by coincidence, I find the left turn in Calina almost instantly.

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Philippine Eagle Foundation Center road-sign…You can miss this one easily!

It’s really time Filipinos should shout out what they have to offer! So many beautiful places, historical findings, nature wonders here … and the only thing I hear is Boracay! Common, you can do better than that!!!

Anyway, it’s where the conversation about the PEFC starts. Once paying the 5 pesos, the first thing I noticed is that I am not being overwhelmed by fixers, aggressive tour-guides or any other nonsense types … In fact, I am left alone … and I can assure you … it feels good! The number of times I needed to fight myself through the rows of “specialists” which are all and only interested in my wallet are countless … but not here in the PEFC. They just leave me alone. It’s good, it feels good, and I’m happy I can discover this animal all by myself.

The entrance itself starts with a  couple of souvenir shops.

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Souvenir shops at the entrance of the PEFC … or the Malagos Water Supply System?

The entrance is a bit weird though. I doing two rounds to what appears to me as a very small park! When doing my rounds, I noticed several signs about the water supply system in Malagos, and I wonder what the eagle has to do with this. It’s a subject which doesn’t really interest me, and I can’t imagine it’s of any interests for the eagle as well.

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Malagos Water Supply System – Park

At some moment I even look up in the trees … Maybe they expect me to recognize the sound or the appearance of the eagle myself. I do hear several bird sounds, but it would heavily disappoint me if these sounds would come from the eagle … they sound more like small parrots. It’s this time that I am thinking … my gosh, I need a tour-guide! At the time I started to think that I entered the wrong park, I just turn my head around … and there it is: A worn-out sign directing me to the PEFC. Jesus Christ, am I always the first one to find out???? In fact, to enter the PEFC you have to go through the “Malagos Water Supply System Park”. How on earth do I need to know this, and more importantly, how do I know you need to follow the trail anti-clockwise stead clockwise to see the sign? Sometimes they make me crazy here … arggghh …

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The real entrance to the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center …

Being happy to find the trail to the PEFC, my mind start thinking fast. Why do they first led me through the Malagos Water Supply  System Park? What if I am not interested in this park at all (in fact, I AM not interested in this park at all) and only wants to visit the PEFC? And where is the 5 pesos entrance fee going to? It’s hardly a real concern, more like thinking it over what just happened to me. Apparently the creators of both parks found it necessary to show me first the water supply system park before directing me to the PEFC. If that is the case, then why not start selling T-shirts at the entrance with a text like “I Love the Malagos Water Supply System” as they do with the Philippine Eagle? Questions without answers …

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Finally: The entrance of the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center

Anyway, despite all start-up issues, the visit to the PEFC has become one of my top destinations in the Philippines. I enjoy every second in this park, which is created with love for this animal! The animal itself is impressive, almost royal! I think they have about 10 to 15 Philippine eagles here, but also other eagle types as well as other animals. Now my goal is the Philippine eagle, so you could discuss the added value to have a bunch of deers, pigs and a lonely crocodile as well in the park. The presence of the other eagles can be defended by stating that they are far families from the Philippine eagle (aren’t we all far families from each-other right?). You could also discuss the added value of the millions of mosquitoes in the park, although I can imagine you can’t blame the PEFC for that.  But the size of the caves, the maintenance of the park itself, the beautiful flora and fauna, and the silence ….. it’s a small paradise here.

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Large caves for the Philippine Eagle

Even if you are a captivated eagle, I believe there are worse places to spend the rest of your eagle life then here. Unfortunately, some of the eagles do not obey the park rules: Absolute silence is required, but a couple of eagles ignore this completely. I guess the Philippine eagle doesn’t appreciate silence and were never lectured about the park rules. However, when linking this eagle behavior to the Philippine people, I suddenly start understanding why some of the eagles are so noisy :).

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Me and the Philippine Eagle

The PEFC is a beautiful designed park. Not too big, but because it is so beautiful designed and maintained, you like to walk through this park more than one time. I think I made 3 rounds. Beautiful plants and trees, carefully combined make this park much more than a couple of caves.

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A sunbathing Philippine Eagle

Posters inform you from time to time about various characteristics of this beautiful animal. And because they do not overload you with tons of details, you are almost automatically invited to read them.

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One of the signs informing you more about the Philippine Eagle

The PEFC has various donation programs. The most obvious ones are the thousands of cement blocks on which you walk on when exploring the park. You can adopt a single block for 300 pesos, having your name in. The block remains in the park for at least 3 years. It’s a very cleaver donation program, because it can take a couple of months before the blocks are ready (they are produced when reaching a certain quantity). It you are interested in seeing your own block back, you need to come back. Recurring revenues! Smart system, and fortunately, it will be a pleasure to come back here.With or without blocks!

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Cement blocks which are part of a donation program

I was so enthusiastic that I became a donor for the park, buying 2 blocks. 600 pesos for 2 blocks is reasonable, and it provides three days food for one eagle. The 50 pesos entrance fee makes it also accessible for Filipinos, and the more they know about this animal, the better. A must for anyone visiting Davao!

Any advises?  Well, first of all keep on doing the great work! But get rid of all the animals (the deers, pigs, monkeys and the lonely crocodile) who have nothing to do with the eagle itself, including if possible also the approximately one billion of mosquitoes. And remove the signs asking everyone to be silent in the park, or start filing cases against the two or three eagles who have not committed themselves to this rule. And oh yeah, before I forget, make sure that you get your own entrance. You really deserve an own entrance, and guiding visitors through the Malagos Water Supply Park first before I could find the entrance of your park only created confusion for me. But these are ….just details.

14th of January 2013

Carbage disposal at sea

Facing the slowest ferry ever on this planet, Mindanao just doesn’t look to come any closer, from hour to hour. There are times on the Liloan – Lipata ferry I lose track on time. Numerous moments come up where I got scared missing my flight back to the Netherlands, being trapped on this ferry for months. My vision sometimes get so blurred that for minutes I can’t even notice the ferry is actively moving.  At the end of the ride I even manage to walk on specific parts on the ferry with my eyes closed, without ever hitting my head to anything.

So what can you do when you get bored on a ferry? Well, there are a couple of options. First you can go sleeping. In fact, that’s what approximately half of the passengers are doing. Another option is to watch a blood splashing “Hostel 6 look-a-like” movie on the public canteen TV, preferably to do together with your kids, varying in age between 3 and 14. This is what another 25% is doing right now.

Playing charts is a possibility. Eating anything is reasonably popular. Walking around the ship for hours is done solely by lonely souls like me and one or two others. During one of these walks I decided to give myself a new assignment: Identifying the most silly direction given by the owner of this ship, which is Seamarine Transport, Inc.

There is choice enough: I find detailed technical drawings from the complete ship in the canteen. I wonder what they expect me to do with this. Fresh water signs above big cans of water where a layer of oil is clearly covering its surface. In fact, on this ship everything is covered in oil. The stairs, the seats, the floors…everything is drowned in oil. In fact, it’s a miracle that this ship shows so many signs of severe oxidation with so much protective substances. Then, a lot of signs are in Korean, Japanese or Chinese only. I can’t read them, I even can’t tell the exact language they are written in, and I am sure no-one on this ship can do it better than me. I can only hope whatever these signs represent, it is not important. But then … why not remove them? And why were they important for the previous passengers who cruised this ship? Many questions pop-up in my mind which will not be answered today.

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Garbage disposal at sea – sign

The most nonsense direction however is this sign about food waste. The first thing what probably draws your attention is this Gothic font used. I personally believe that the only purpose of this font is making readable text not readable anymore. Now I am sure this font has nothing to do with house styles from Seamarine Transport, Inc or so: The designer of this document is probably the most IT literate (or the only IT literate) member of this ferry company, and most probably when exploring the first time the type of fonts used in Windows, he discovered this one. Not thinking about the purpose of his document, he most likely decided on personal reasons to use this font. The result is that it took me minutes more than usual to identify all words. I bet my monthly salary on it that in all its travels of this ferry, I am the first passenger ever taking a detailed look to this specific sign about garbage disposal at sea. And I am sure the used font does not invite passengers to  read the content of the poster, simply because it takes too much effort to decrypt it first. Talking about information waste huh.

Of-course there is much more to say about this. Suppose you have Food Waste Comminutes (whatever that may be huh) and you think…where can I drop this? Well, the average passenger will probably look around, than see this big blue ocean, and thinks……how about giving it back to mother sea?

Hoho, stop! That’s not the idea. According to Seamarine Transport, Inc, first you have to estimate the distance to the nearest shore. This must be more than three miles. Now you need to know this is a country which calculates in the metric system, not in miles. If you can find more than 10 persons in the whole country who knows the conversion factor between miles and kilometers, you deserve a statue. Furthermore, for a vast majority of the people in the Philippines, any direction which goes further then the next barangay is considered as far. People here don’t think in miles, or kilometers. Distances are expressed in terms like “there”, “far” or “very far”. You as a traveler have to translate that in metric numbers, a task which is often hard to complete successfully. So asking a Filipino to estimate the distance to the closes seashore is like asking an Eskimo where you can buy coconut milk.

Now take a closer look to the header. It says something about “Inside special areas, and “Outside special areas” when talking about garbage disposal at sea. So whats the first thing what comes up in your and my mind when reading this? Exactly, what the f.ck are special area’s? I closely examined this ferry twice, from the cargo level until the steering cabin on top, but no explanation is given about “special areas”. So it’s up to your and my imagination whatever a special area can be. I wonder if even the crew knows.

How about if you have packing material? Well, according to Seamarine Transport Inc, you need to be at least 25 miles from the nearest seashore to be allowed to give it back to the fish. 25 miles???? We are just entering a low depression area, I can’t even see Leyte anymore, which was seconds ago about 400 meters away. And now I have to estimate 25 miles?? Even with clear vision I think land view stops after a mile or 10.

Strangely, they do not specify packing material at all. Thinking about it, there are a wide collection of articles which all can be considered as packing material. Carton boxes, plastic straps, foam, metal wire … So how do I know which packing material can be thrown overboard? Or maybe it doesn’t matter for Seamarine Transport, Inc. As long as you are 25 miles from the nearest seashore, you can dump anything overboard which can be explained as some kind of packing material. Weird huh. Apparently , the fish there don’t care, or care less than fish swimming close the seashore, about chemical garbage? Didn’t know that …

I can go further, but I leave it up to your imagination. The idea is good to ask attention for ocean pollution, but the way Seamarine Transport, Inc. tries to deal with it is totally rubbish. What Seamarine Transport, Inc. should say: DO NOT THROW ANY GARBAGE IN SEA. IF YOU DO SO, YOU RISK FOLLOWING YOUR OWN GARBAGE DURING THE TIME IT TAKES TO REACH THE DESTINATION PORT. That should give Seamarine Transport, Inc. more then enough time to take “appropriate actions” if someone decides to use the ocean as garbage cemetery.

Oh yes, before I forget, Seamarine Transport, Inc. should write  this message in Arial, Verdana or Courier. Do not expect that every customer has taken a higher degree course on decryption techniques.

I am about to claim my own part of the ferry when finally the Lipata terminal appears in sight. It is like wakening up from the most horrible nightmare which you experienced when you were a kid. A simple glimpse on my cellphone learns me however that this ferry takes 4 hours and 12 minutes to reach Lipata. Not weeks, not months and my destiny is not doomed to stay on this ship forever. When off-boarding I push and wrestle myself with my bike to the front to be the first one to leave this turtle among all Philippine ferries. Only when reaching Surigao, I remember my thoughts about the food waste sign. I hope I will never see it back again …

08th of January 2013

Differences in customer approach

 

Suppose you are in charge of  managing a  park or a zoo. And you are responsible of achieving its targets. Most likely there is a mission to fulfill, but you also must make sure that the park meets its financial goals. Your most valuable asset are your visitors and sponsors, right? I mean, they are creating revenues. Without them, your park is doomed to die in loneliness and bankruptcy. You need to attract them to visit your place. And you would like them to come back from time to time. Initial and recurring revenues by visitors will create profit, and will make sure that your place can meet both its financial as well as its mission targets. Hopefully, some of them even become sponsors of your park. But how do you engage your visitors to become sponsors? How can you make customers feel that by their sponsorship, they become part of a bigger family with a shared mission? How can you make them feel that, by donating, they are supporting something good? Not always easy to find out, but that’s part of your job as a manager, right?

Now in attracting visitors and sponsors, are you going to ENGAGE your customers, or are you going to DISAPPOINT them? Are you going to make them ENTHUSIASTIC, or are you going to make them ANGRY? Do you see them as VALUABLE ASSETS, or do you treat them as WALKING AUTOMATIC CASH DISPENSERS? Are you building-up a RELATIONSHIP with them, or are you going to RIP THEM OFF?

I guess these questions should be easy to answer right? You might even think by now, where is this story going to? And what the heck has this to do with the Philippines? Well, I can tell you, it has EVERYTHING to do with the Philippines. As an example, I am talking here about the differences in management between the Sohoton National Park (SNP) in Basey, Samar, and the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center (PEFC) in Malagos, Mindanao. But I am sure this comparison can be made in many other areas in the Philippines.

First of all I like to share the advertising brochure of the Sohoton National Park with you. This is a beautiful nature park located in Eastern Samar. I painted parts of the brochure black containing pictures and/or names of people: My intention is not to damage people with this posting.

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Advertising Brochure Sohoton National Park, side 1 – Parts with names and pictures have been marked hidden by the author

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Advertising Brochure Sohoton National Park, side 2 – Parts with names and pictures have been marked hidden by the author

Our (I am together with my girlfriend today) specific interest is viewing the Sohoton Natural Bridge. There are also a couple of caves in Sohoton, but these are not our main interest. The Sohoton Natural Bridge is unique in its kind, so that’s our target. I like to ask you all to read the brochure,  specifically focus on the section about the entrance fees for the cave, falls or motorboat rentals. Now whats the first thing you notice which raises question marks when reading the brochure? You get 10 seconds from me to find-out. Then start reading the next paragraph to see if we found-out the same….

Right! There are differences in entrance fees. For the falls, if you are a Filipino resident, you only pay 20 pesos. But if you are a foreigner, you pay 5 times more. So let me get this straight: Depending on your passport, or (freely translated by myself cause I know this country pretty well) depending on the color of your skin, different prices are applied!  Prices change instantly as soon as your skin color goes white or yellow.

Here is another example: Wanna know the entrance fee if you are white and you wanna see the Balantak falls? 100 pesos. But once you get a tanned skin and a lot of sunburn, the price suddenly drops with a  factor 5. Still not convinced? If you want to enter the park by pump-boat and you are Filipino, you only pay 25 pesos. But once you make the mistake using an overdoses of whitening cream, entering the same park suddenly is 8 times more expensive. Can you explain this?

The first thing what comes up in my mind when reading the differences in entrance fees … this is racism dammit!!! Why not charge extra for Eskimo’s, people wearing nose rings larger than 3 inches or carabaos?  Where is the limit? The brochure lacks every explanation about the price differences, nor it explains why the price differentiation factor varies (5 versus 8).

So what is this brochure, my first encounter with the Sohoton National Park, doing to me? Well, the SNP brochure makes me angry, not enthusiastic! Cause I get the feeling this is a next attempt (in a row of  how many attempts I experienced here the last 7 years) of a rip-off deal. And that’s the bottom line which stays in my mind after reading the brochure: The management of this beautiful park tries to rip me off! And I haven’t even visited the park yet!

Now you can hardly blame low-educated remotely living villagers having this rather stereotypical view on white people, but from a management of a National Park you would expect a different attitude. I expect a warm and friendly attitude towards their visitors. I expect them to engage me, make me enthusiastic, offer me interesting donation programs.  But in case of the Sohoton National Park, the management decided to raise different prices for different skin colors, which makes my blood boil. Time for an explanation at the tourist office in Basey, at the 23th of January 2013. Just to be clear, when entering their office, people already made me aware about the price differences.

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Tourist Office Basey Samar – Picture taken from other website

<me>: Hello miss. Me and my girlfriend are interested in a visit to the Sohoton National Park in a few days. We are in total with the 5 of us.
<she>: Sure sir. How many Filipinos and foreigners are included?
<me, playing my act, showing my famous surprised look>: Eh, well 4 Filipinos and me. Does that matter?
Without answering my question, the lady starts an intensive calculation on a note sheet, writing-down boat rentals, tour-guides, entrance fees, cave lighting etc. It highly wonders us both, until now we did not express at all in which specific parts of the Sohoton National Park we are interested in. However, after 30 seconds the lady finishes her calculation.
<she>: That is 2700 pesos sir.
<me>: Can I see how the price is built-up miss?
<she>: Sure sir. Here is the overview.
<me, taking a quick look to the overview>:
But miss, we are only interested in seeing the Sohoton Natural Bridge, not in visiting the caves.
<she>: But sir, the caves are very beautiful.
<me>: I am sure about that miss, but our interest is solely in seeing the Sohoton Natural Bridge.
<she, probably realizing by now that she was a bit too fast with her calculation>: Oh, in that case you do not need a tour guide  You only pay the boat and the entrance fees. The price will then be …. (a complete  new (!) calculation starts)…. 2100 pesos.
<me, thinking, this is the time to dive into the entrance fee differences>: I see. Miss, I think you make a mistake. There is a difference in entrance fee between foreigners and locals. Shouldn’t that be the same?
<she, still not feeling any issue coming up>: No sir, look, it is even stated in our brochure!
<me, getting really devoted to my innocent playing role now, feeling already this is a discussion I can’t loose>: But miss, can you explain me why foreigners pay a different price then Filipinos?
<she, showing the first signals from becoming slightly uncomfortable>: Eh, well….I don’t know sir….
<me>:
But miss, isn’t according the Philippine law everybody equal? It seems that you apply price differentiation on skin color? Does this price setting not violate your own Constitution?
<she, now showing clear signs of becoming very uncomfortable, what results in a nervous smile towards a colleague who, smartly enough, has chosen not to interfere in this discussion>: Eh yes sir…I mean I don’t know sir…
<me>: But if everybody is equal, how can you then ask different entrance fees for people with different passports?
<she, showing the first signs of a nearing nervous breakdown>: I don’t know sir … you have to talk to our tourist officer about that. But she is on lunch break now.
<me, smelling something fishy here, still playing the innocent role>: But miss, does this mean that as a foreigner I get a different tour then a Filipino? Does my tour take 8 times longer, or do I get nicer views on the bridge then a Filipino?
<she, breathing fast now,  clearly nervous. Her eyes examine everything in her own office, except looking to me>:
No sir, you get the same tour. I really cannot answer your questions, you have to talk to our tourist officer about that.
<me>: Well then let’s wait her here. I am really interested in her answers. When will she return?
<she, showing signs of relief that she transferred these delicate questions to her superior>:
We don’t know sir, but we can give her your number…..

It takes another couple of nervous minutes in the office before they are able to provide me the number of the superior. It is also the end of the visit to the Basey Tourist Office that day. It’s clear for me the tourist officer will not return back during my stay in the office. And when I will call her, I bet my monthly salary that the first three attempts will not be picked up, giving her enough time at the end to give me nonsense answers. Answers like “We believe that national resources should be basically free for Filipinos” or “As a foreigner, you can afford, right?” It is a classical example how even government people look towards their foreign visitors.

In fact, it’s not the first time I saw this: I experienced a similar entrance fee setting when visiting the Twin Lakes National Park in Negros in 2007. It made me also very angry that time. But in contradiction with the Sohoton National Park, in the Twin Lake case I didn’t had a real choice anymore. I already traveled 13 km inland with a habal-habal driver and paid the guy for the ride, before I noticed the difference in entrance fee.

But in case of the Sohoton National Park, I DO have a  choice. And for me it’s very clear: We all pay the same price, whether that is 25 pesos or 200 or 1000 pesos, or we all pay nothing. This belongs to a set of fundamental rights I believe in which should be applied to all of us. Whether you are poor or rich, tall or short, disabled or not, black or white, we are not violating the rules of equality! It’s not about whether I can afford a factor 8 or not. I would have made the same scene with only 1 peso difference. It’s about asking the same price for the same service to everyone. In fact, I do believe that well-managed professional organizations (which currently does not include the current management of the Sohoton National Park), who are able to initiate innovative donation programs to their visitors can create much more additional profit then the Sohoton National Park is doing right now, without violating the rights of equality.

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The entrance to the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center

As an example, I would like to mention the Philippine Eagle Foundation Center (PEFC). I had the privilege to visit this park situated in Malagos, Davao, just 1 1/2 week before the Sohoton “case”. The park made a professional impression on me. I already wrote an almost lyric posting about this. The caves are large, the eagles look healthy (and even happy!), the park is beautiful designed and well maintained. This park is run by people with love for this animal, you can see, feel and maybe even smell that. Nature lovers will have a great time in the PEFC. I don’t have to explain that the PEFC does NOT look to your passport when asking entrance fees. Fortunately, the  vast majority of the parks and zoo’s  in the Philippines do not copy the idiot price setting of the Sohoton National Park. But what the PEFC has done is creating interesting donation programs. As an example, when walking through the PEFC, there are thousands of cement blocks you walk on. You can adopt a block for 300 pesos. You will get your name in and they assure the block remains in the park for 3 years. And by adopting a block you support the eagle (I thought one block == two days food for one eagle). I was happy to adopt two blocks, and I will come back next year to see where my blocks are.

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The cemented blocks with a personal subscription

Do you notice the differences in customer approach between the SNP and the PEFC? I was very happy to donate 600 pesos at the PEFC, but the 200 pesos I should have paid for entering the Sohoton National Park made me angry. I will return to the PEFC, but I will never make any visit to the Sohoton National Park as long as the management sees me as a walking ATM. The PEFC earned 650 pesos from me (two cement blocks + entrance fee), the Sohoton National Park earned nothing from me.

After the visit to the Basey tourist office I was angry, disappointed and sad. The Sohoton National Park is a beautiful park, with great nature views. In fact, the morning before we visited the Basey Tourist Office, me and my girlfriend already took a glimpse of the park by simply driving inland from Basey with my motor. After 10 km we were stopped because of bad road conditions. We simply couldn’t travel any further by land. But then we managed to hire a pump-boat locally, and the captain brought us almost to the Natural Bridge. We enjoyed each minute of the boat-cruise and I was happy to pay my 500 pesos boat-rent directly to the owner, a local poor villager. Unfortunately, we were not dressed to make the last 500 meters to the Sohoton Natural Bridge by foot crossing the Sohoton river a couple of times, but we were determined to come back in a couple of days with her brothers and sisters to give it a second try. We arranged with the same pump-boat owner to pick us up in Basey for another 1000 pesos, happily knowing that each peso will go into the pocket of this captain. Unfortunately, one day before our trip was planned the pump-boat owner text us to cancel the trip. Now 1000 pesos is a lot of money for inland locals. If this guys says “no’ to 1000 pesos, I smell something fishy here. Did the tourist office in Basey find out about our “alternative” route we took? Did they scare the pump-boat owner? Anyway hearing about the tourist office in Basey and the price differences between foreigners and locals, we decided to visit the office ourselves that same day, which closes the loop.

As a nature lover I was very excited to explore the park, to see its flora and fauna, and of course to see the Natural Bridge. I was happy at least to see a glimpse of the park by our own arranged boat cruise. But I have my principles, and I am not going to violate these. I refuse being used by a bunch of money grabbing morons who get dollar (or in my case euro) signs in their eyes as soon as they see a square millimeter of white skin. I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t. It’s enough! Basta.

And on the motorbike, I was thinking even further … suppose they would use this kind of pricing policy nation wide here? Suppose I would enter a Petron gas station, and they would use different prices for locals and foreigners? Suppose all articles in supermarkets here would be labeled with two different prices? Suppose restaurants would have two menu cards…what price should I pay when having dinner with my girlfriend? Sir, two times bangus-sisig … that is 175 pesos for your girlfriend and 1125 pesos for you … What if airliners, hotels, ferries, you name it, would apply local and foreign prices … How would the Philippines look like then?

My mind thoughts become bigger and bigger. Suppose each country would charge different prices to their visitors for all their services and products? As a visitor, would you feel welcome in such a country? Would you feel at home there? If the pricing policy of the Sohoton National Park would be applied globally, it would cause a total collapse of the whole tourism sector! Nobody would visit foreign countries anymore, nobody wants to feel being ripped-of continuously!  People would lose jobs, companies would get bankrupt … My God, on the way home to Tacloban I realize more and more the destructiveness of the pricing policy initiated by the Sohoton National Park Management MoneyWolves on the tourism sector. What a mismanagement….

There is much more to say about differences in management style between the PEFC and the SNP. As explained earlier, the PEFC is a well maintained park. It costs money to maintain a park, and walking through the PEFC gives you the impression that your money is well used. Now during our pump-boat tour in the Sohoton National Park earlier that day, we stopped at the entrance of the Rawis caves. There was an artificial bridge created which we were excited to take. However, it was closed. In the battle about the wooden foot bars of the bridge, termites have won  from humans.

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The artificial bridge on the background, closed due to lack of maintenance

That raises the question where all this money the tourist office tried to charge us, goes to? First of all boat-rental at the tourist office costs 1500 pesos. Compare that with the 1000 pesos of the pump-boat owner. In which pocket does the 500 pesos price difference ends-up? And then…why is this money not used to repair the bridge? Besides, 2100 pesos to visit a Natural Bridge, 10 km inland … is this a realistic price setting? That’s about 40 euro! I think an entrance ticket for Disneyland in Paris is cheaper.

The PEFC provides tons of information about the Philippine Eagle. Walking through the park, they take you on a journey using posters to learn more about this fantastic animal. They don’t irritate you trying to set you up with robotic-sound-producing tour-guides who have learned the script they need to tell perfectly, but who are unable to answer any of the raised questions which fall outside the script-based lecture. Sohoton tries to set you up with tour-guides, and in our pump-boat cruise and the corresponding walk near the Rawis caves, I haven’t seen any sign or poster telling me more about this fantastic park, except those who were totally worn-out and could not be read at all.

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The PEFC contains various signs with information about the Philippine Eagle

Maybe if you have time, read this posting as well. After my Sohoton experience, I searched the Internet for similar stories and I found this one. Just focus specifically about the artificial bridge and the fees raised. Looks like a similar story right?

There are differences and similarities in running and exploiting a park in the Philippines. The PEFC is managed and exploited by professionals with love. They understand how visitors want to be treated, and they are experienced in engaging customers to a next level. The Sohoton Natural Park is run by a couple of greedy amateurs who do not know anything about tourism or attracting sponsors. In their hunger to rip-off  money from white people they totally ignore their own mission statements, which can be read on their own website. Check the links from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DENR) or the Department of Tourism. Useless to say that both sites excel in a lack of information related to the content of this article.

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The beauty of the Sohoton National Park

Both parks are worth a visit, even more than only once. That’s the main similarity. But only one park takes customers seriously. The management of the other one has demonstrated a total lack of respect for the people who pay their salary. Every year I will come back to Basey, to check Sohoton’s price settings. I am sure that one day, this park will get its professionals which this park deserves. That will be my day to first visit this great park.

And the PEFC? Keep on doing the great work! But get rid of all the animals (the deers, pigs, monkeys and the lonely crocodile) who have nothing to do with the eagle itself, including if possible also the approximately one billion of mosquitoes. And remove the signs asking everyone to be silent in the park, or start filing cases against the two or three eagles who have not committed themselves to this rule. And oh yeah, before I forget, make sure that you get your own entrance. You really deserve an own entrance, and guiding visitors through the Malagos Water Supply Park first before I could find the entrance of your park only created confusion for me. But these are ….just details.

23th of January 2013