Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

October 19, 2008

Paradise Eaten

Filed under: siquijor — Donald @ 7:40 am

Coral Cay Beach

Siquijor is the most beautiful place I have ever been. Only thirty years ago there were basically no paved roads or septic systems and no electricity. All of those things are more-or-less in place now, but much of the natural beauty of the island remains. The beaches are white, and thanks to the surrounding islands and reef, the sea on the west coast where I come to enjoy sunsets is usually very still. Everything seems hushed here. Siquijodnons speak softly. At this time of year it rains almost every night, but the days are usually sunny with a warm, clear light that reminds me a little bit of Taos, New Mexico. Moonlight on the beach is otherworldly. It is no mystery why people think this island is full of magic.

I spent most of last Wednesday on a motorcycle scouting out places to live. It was fun but tiring, so I settled in for a couple of beers at the resort in the evening. The guy next to me was also tired, having spent the last month marching through the mountains with a geologist from Manila. He is chief financial officer of a mining company that is in the process of making claims on tens of thousands of hectares of land. They plan to take from it gold, copper, and manganese.

Siquijor is said to be south of the typhoon belt, but one passed unusually close this year. It accompanied a high tide, resulting in a storm surge that damaged much of the coast. The beach is still littered with rotting vegetation some months later. During heavy rains, the water from the mountains runs brown with soil. Last Sunday a strong rain caused the downhill side of two new bridges to collapse and filled the market with three feet of water. No one I have talked with remembers such a thing happening before.

That night I saw the rain coming to Siquijor from a restaurant perch on the neighboring island of Negros. Seated at the next table was a well-dressed older gentleman with an upper-class Filipina companion. When he overheard me talking with the waiter about my favorite place, he took an interest and I told him what I knew. Then he told me what he knew. He had never been to Siquijor, so nothing about that, but he had been in and out of the Philippines for many years, beginning in the time of martial law under Marcos. Always he was head of one investment bank or another, most notably Citigroup Asia. We talked finance. He told me about shooting down Michael Milken when Milken tried to sell his company junk bonds, before the scandal broke and Milken went to prison. He told me about his testimony before Congress regarding the savings and loan crisis, and about how in recent years big boys on Wall Street gamed the system to make bundles of risky mortgages seem riskless, setting off the current crisis. From his descriptions it seemed that in every case disaster was foreseeable and could have been prevented by appropriate regulation and oversight. Instead, the government failed to protect the citizenry, allowing the richest of the rich to walk away with billions and to leave taxpayers with the bill.

Coral Cay Ref

As we looked out over the sea to Siquijor I asked him if things would get any worse this time around. His reply? “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

The next day the S&P was up 11%.

October 10, 2008

Going South

Filed under: Cebu — Donald @ 1:25 pm

Self Portrait

After leaving Cebu city I scouted the southwest coast of the island for places to live; south to avoid direct hits by the frequent typhoons, west for sunset views. Cebu is one of the most developed provinces in the country, so it holds for me the attraction of a reliable electrical supply. The beaches in the southwest are few and mostly rocky, but still there are some pleasant spots.

Southwest Cebu Shoreline

Badian

The only good sand I found was at the famous White Beach in Moalboal.

White Beach, Moalboal

Ginatilan is a particularly nice town. The market lies behind a Spanish wall.

Ginatilan Gate

The little park by the light tower would be pleasant except that it lacks shade, rendering it uninhabitable for most of the day. That is a bizarrely common characteristic of Filipino public spaces.

Ginatilan Park

In Malabuyoc I came across this gentleman playing a harp he had made. Cebu is famous for musical instruments.

Malabuyoc harpist

Another onlooker invited me to his home for lunch and we have become friends. In the provinces many people retain traditional Filipino values such as hospitality, values from which those in the cities have largely been liberated.

My lunch on another occasion was grits (“maize rice”) from this pot.

Grits pot

Now I’m in Dumaguete, one of my old haunts and a very nice town. Plenty of shade along the boulevard here. In my never-ending attempt to drive down expenses I tried out the Vintage Inn near the market.

Vintage Inn Fan Room Window

The view through the window didn’t bother me much, but the fact that the concrete walls kept my room sweltering did. Fan-only joints are best made from bamboo. Nothing like that is available in Dumaguete, so I decided to give myself a little vacation and checked into the new Ildesefa Suites Inn.

Idesefia Suites Inn

Even my cratering budget can handle a long weekend at fourteen bucks a night from time to time. International travel is a different story. My return ticket expired on Wednesday and I renewed my Philippine visa on Thursday. Kita ta unya, amigos. (See you later. Much, much later.)

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