If you sing the title of this post to the tune of the Bee Gee’s Night Fever than you have an insight into what’s been going on in my brain for the past week. Friday night I increased my Filipino Island Count (let’s call this FIC, as I feel like I’m going to be saying it a lot over the next two years) from 5 to 6 by venturing with my host Kuya and Ate (big brother and sister, respectively) to the neighboring island of Cebu. At 2130 I was boarding the Night Ferry and settling into my bottom bunk adjacent to my Ate’s. At night there isn’t much to see but glimmering lights of small island towns, so we chatted ourselves into exhaustion and got some shut eye. When we arrived at 2am, Kuya’s friend was there to pick us up and take us back to their apartment where we would be staying for the weekend. Late at night the city was quiet and traffic-free, not to be expected of the daytime I was told… I gazed sleepily out the car window at the passing lights and darkened streets, my stomach softly fluttering my excitement: I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
Saturday I was joined by an American friend who was in the Philippines for business and wanted to get out for the weekend. We spent Saturday at my Kuya’s tennis tournament, an all-day event that in true Filipino style was full of food and fun! There were two lechon (roast pig) amongst an array of other meaty dishes, giant vats of rice, bags of fresh bread, and local made sweets; crisp pastries similar to elephant ears and a fudge-like peanut bar, both of which I devoured. I sat around with the men learning betting games (without gambling) and fun words in the local language… limbogan, cheater, was a popular one that would spark mock outcry followed by lots of laughter. For a while, I felt like one of the ‘kuyas’.
After the tournament we heading to the SM Seaside, the third largest mall in the Philippines and 6th largest in the world! I saw a small fraction of it as we grabbed some dinner before venturing out to the nightlife of Cebu. We ended up at a disco with a private room fully equipped for a classic Filipino pastime: videoke! We spent 3 hours belting our hearts out, pretending to know songs in foreign languages, learning songs in foreign languages, and dancing among new friends.
The following morning, Zach and I went off to explore like tourists, navigating unknown territory between recommended historic sites. We started the day with a festive brunch at a local honey-themed restaurant chain: The Buzz Café. The restaurant originated on my island in partnership with Bohol Bee Farm and is famous for its coconut-based ice cream in exotic flavors (spiced ginger, dragonfruit, avocado, soursop, salted honey, durian, and more). In honor of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, starting that evening, I thought a sweet and honey-filled meal was a good place to start the day! I left the restaurant with both my belly and my heart a little fuller as I thought of my family and friends celebrating the holiday across the globe.
As we set out to our first tourist destination, we walked through a dusty and lively street in Barangay Tejero. While stopped to watch some kids play basketball on a street-side makeshift half-court, an old man sat beside a pickup truck beckoned us over to him. We wandered over and found two men holding a rooster as they tied a 3 inch blade to one of its feet. Instantly, I understood: there was going to be a cockfight, known as a sabong in Tagalog or a tigbakayan in Bisayas. Cockfights are another popular pastime in parts of the Philippines. Some of them are held in real arenas and some of them, like the one we were about to see, are done in whatever dirt patch is available. I had avoided seeing a cockfight until this moment for a few reasons, 1) I don’t like the idea of animals fighting to their deaths and 2) cockfights are usually male-dominated events. Here, the opportunity had presented itself to me like a poorly wrapped gift with the tape already coming undone; I wasn’t going to walk away from that.
We watched as men poured in from all over and circled around the two contestants, each rooster armed with one giant blade on the back of a claw. The owners held their respective roosters in the middle of the circle and brought their faces within inches of each other several times; the roosters puffed up their hackles and cape, squawking at each other angrily… the birds were ready for action! A referee is in the pit shouting betting odds and anyone interested holds up a certain amount of fingers to put a bet in… one old timer comes over and plucks a little feather from one of the roosters backs, crumples it and sticks it onto his forehead. Even from my spot on the sidewalk above the pit, it’s hard to keep track of what is going on and the next thing I know the roosters are charging at each other and the fight is on! Cockfights are to the death and they can be rather bloody with feathers flying everywhere, the only good thing is that they are often over quickly. About 20 seconds later the winner was being carried away to a corner for inspection of injuries and celebration while the loser is lying on the floor motionless, surrounded by his supporters. We decide it’s time to continue on our way…
We venture over to Fort San Pedro, advertised as ‘the oldest and smallest fort in the Philippines’. The fort construction first started in 1565 with Miguel Lopéz de Legazpi but did not end until 1738! The structure is scalene triangle in shape and has an internal space of 2,025 square metres (21,800 sq ft). The walls are 6.1 metres high by 2.4 metres thick (20 feet high by 8 feet thick) and there are 14 original cannons still mounted atop them. It served the Spaniards for a couple century before being used by the Americans and even Japanese during some of the wars… for a little fort, it had quite a lot of history.
After the fort we ventured to Magellan’s Cross (planted in 1521!) and the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino (“Mother and Head of all Churches in the Philippines”). Being Sunday, both were swarming with people coming to Mass. You could buy candles in every color to light for prayer, or you could buy balloons to keep your children happy. A few feet from the steps of the Basilica you could even buy your own Santo Nino, ranging from 2 inches to 2 feet high, in an assortment of colors and styles. The roads was jammed with stalls selling souvenirs an street food; fried chicken, fish balls, balut (the infamous fertilized duck egg), buko juice (coconut water), dumplings, hanging rice, and freshly fried peanuts in a variety of flavors. We navigated through the stalls, stopping often to sample something exotic, examine a piece of jewelry or watch the vendors at work, hammering open sea snails and prepping plates of food for their customers.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets of Cebu City and perusing the Carbon Market: the street market of my dreams. There were mounds of fruits and vegetables, baskets full of dried or fermented fish, a wet market full of exotic reef fish I’ve only dreamt of seeing snorkeling… there were street bars, and pop-up restaurants, fresh cut flowers, bamboo weavers, and second hand stalls selling shirts for 10 or 20 PHP (about 20-40 US cents).
We meandered through all of it, sampling more foods, asking fish vendors about their catches, learning the local names for certain species, and high fiving kids that came up to say hello. We had walked for hours, my belly was full, my feet were tired, my mouth was dry, and it was one of the best days I’ve had here so far. I wanted to plop myself down on a corner and just watch this wonderful world at work, to witness a sliver of the lives of these people, and capture the colors of this place that is slowly becoming more of my own.
Until next time,