12.12.2013 - 15.12.2013
Vigan is a really nice spot; an old and really well preserved colonial town, the architecture a mixture of colonial Spanish and Chinese, with a touch of local Filipino style thrown in. It has cobblestone streets plied by horse drawn carriages, small hotels and cafés in old merchants houses and a Unesco world heritage site status. I am there two weeks before Christmas and the place has been done up a treat, with really unique takes on traditional Christmas decorations. Lots of people are in town to witness the spectacle and everyone is in great form. It feels lovely to be here and be part of it.
Even better, I had treated myself to a couple of nights in a reasonably upmarket, reasonably stylish hotel. My room had nice tasteful period decor, a comfy bed and always my favourite, a table lamp. When you live your life in a world of budget hotel rooms with fluorescent strip lighting, bedside table lamps become items of fantasy. The hotel was crawling with staff; a football teams worth behind reception, a small villages worth behind the bar, hundreds more lurking round every corner. All appeared to have done some formal training in general incompetence. Thus they took half an hour to register me, struggled to open the door of my room, couldn't get the the air con to work or answer any questions I had. A request to bar staff for a bottle of coke resulted in incredulous stares and little else.
After a few hours in town I realised it wasn't the poor hotel at fault, I realised that Vigan is influenced by some malaise whereby people working in the tourist industry become socially inept, intellectually challenged, disinterested and clueless individuals who loose the ability to understand English, only in the presence of English speakers. In every bar, shop and cafe I saw visitors beating their brows in frustration when attempting to do the normal things that tourists do. I had no idea what the hell was going on. For me, a classic experience was going to a beauty parlour to ask for a pedicure. The surly receptionist suggested that instead I might want a deluxe foot massage, a facial and a variety of other treatments. When I reiterated that I wanted a pedicure, pointing to it on the price list, she threw the laminated list on the counter and walked away. I should have chased after her, just for the hell of it. Instead I just walked away.
To the normal people on the street I was a celebrity or a god, sometimes both I think. Responses to me were on a spectrum from huge excitement of the the jumping up and down variety, to the stopping and staring, mouth ajar type response. And that was the adults. Honestly, I know just how Justin Bieber feels now. People ran across the street to greet me, take pictures of me, pull me over to stay hello to their shyer relatives. I know I was 'without companion', white, tall and pointy nosed, but this was something else.
And then my final jaunt in the Philippines; a short journey south to San Fernando, cutting 3 hours off a potentially mammoth ten hour journey to Manila for an evening flight to Bali. I'm slightly nervous about the whole enterprise; much of the coast this close to Manila is the exclusive of beach resorts catering to sex tourism and I have no desire to end up in the middle of that. Furthermore it's Saturday night, a night when many of the better heeled Filipinos head to the beach for a spot of family R nR. When I get there, everywhere seems to be full. I drag my rucksack from hotel to hotel, there is no room at the Inn. Well, that not 100% accurate. There is room at one Inn, its just it's a pay by the hour motel, in other words, a place where people go to have sex.
Reluctantly, I check in. My room fits it's purpose, with a plastic coated mattress and a mirror which runs the full length of the bed. However it's affordable, clean and has both hot water and air con, what a treat. To see my last Filipino sunset I cut across the national highway and down a wee alley way down to the South China sea. As is usual in the Philippines, it is teeming with people, just being together, hanging out. As is usual, the people are so warm and welcoming, so many initiating the greeting to me, despite the fact I'm a well off foreigner walking through their barrio. I am constantly aware of the difference between here and Central America,. I would not be doing this there, If I did I would be in trouble. The Philippines has given me the freedom to roam safely and I am very appreciative of that. I have my final dinner at a beach resort overlooking the sea. The staff are lovely as is my dinner, a perfect last supper. Then it's back to the love hotel where my plan is to keep the air on as high a setting as possible, in order to drown out the sounds of any energetic love making. However by 4am it becomes bitterly cold and I reluctantly have to turn it. Thankfully, apart form a minor disagreement at about 4.30, all is quiet. Sodom and Gomorrah is postponed for another day.