Philippines: “Life is difficult, but…”


“Life is difficult” starts Father de la Peña his preach in the only church of the teeny-tiny island of Pamilacan in the Philippines. There are plenty of examples why life is considered difficult in the country of 7107 islands: it is enough to remind people of the previous year when a tsunami and a devastating typhoon hit the Visayas within only 3 weeks. The traces of those catastrophies are still visible at certain parts of Bohol island. The school children sitting on the front benches learn the phrase very quickly and they repeat it after every example the priest come up with. By the end of the preach, they learn, though: no matter what difficulties you need to deal with, your happiness is in your own hands, and you need to take responsibility for it.

I think deep inside every Philippino knows that, because no matter how poor they are and what kind of catastrophies hit them, they keep smiling, singing and giving. What do they give? Food, a smile or some nice words…whatever they can.

To be honest, we had heard and read lots of bad things about the country before, so we were rather skeptic and very cautious first suspecting a terrorist or a thief at every corner, but our skepticism evaporated quite soon and what remained was the most honest admiration for these wonderful people.

white sandy beach

A glimpse of heaven on Earth

Even in the Philippines not many people know Pamilacan, this wonderful mini island with only 2000 inhabitants south of Bohol. Most tourists only take a day-trip here from Bohol or Panglao for snorkeling or dolphin-watching as there are no luxury hotels not even hostels there. But luckily, about 10 years ago Mesiang Pingkian and her husband Junior decided to start a family business on this little paradise on Earth: they built a couple of simple seaside cottages for rent. We had the chance to stay in one of those for 3 nights and we spent the most beautiful and careless days there. 
Mesiang cooked for us and helped us every time we needed something. Chatting with her helped us understand the people of this island so much better; we gained a little insight into people’s life, what difficulties they face not having a hospital (people sometimes die or give birth on the boat on the way to the hospital of the neighboring island) and proper job opportunities, but we also learned a lot about the beauties of a natural way of living we western city people will never experience.
One morning Junior and their son took us for dolphin watching. OMG I have never seen so many dolphins together and they were within our reach. It was an incredible experience! We spent our lazy days with reading, snorkeling, writing and we took long walks along the beach and in the village every afternoon. We had the chance to take part of a catholic mass too, as a priest and some trainee priests happened to come to the island to spend their 2 days vacation there. Almost the whole village showed up in the church where there is only one mass every month, so they were really happy about this special occasion. It was a Thursday morning, still all school-children and teachers came . (Kids were so cute wearing their uniforms.) And for us it was such an honor to be part of this lovely community – a one of a kind cultural experience!
pamilacan school children
priest and us
Everything happens for a reason
Who goes to the Philippines in the middle of the typhoon season?
It’s US!!!
We didn’t have very nice weather but we were extremely lucky getting away with a couple of rainy/windy days. Actually typhoons sound much more scary from back home. People here are so used to these heavy tropical storms; they even like them as typhoons bring lots of rain with them which is essential for the plants. That’s one way of looking at it, right?
After leaving the idyllic Pamilacan we headed to Siquijor island which was first a bit of a disappointment: our accommodation was very basic (but extremely cheap at least), the beach we had access to was dirty and the weather wasn’t ideal for snorkeling or sunbathing. We decided to rent a motorbike and drive around the island. And we did.
Everything went well until we skidded on a patch of wet soil (there was even a pit underneath) on the road and we were forced to finish our little trip and head back to the guesthouse. Luckily, both of us were able to sit back on the motorbike but we were full of scars and I felt strong pain in my right underarm. Only 45 minutes later when we stopped at a pharmacy to buy bandages and anti-septic for the scars did I realize how much my underarm and elbow got injured. I could hardly move it which made me start panicking right away.
Martin and Philippino children
If we hadn’t met James, most probably I would have landed in a hospital the following day and paid a fortune for the X-ray and other examinations; and at the end they wouldn’t have been able to do anything for me as my arm was not broken. But who is James? He is a healer and the local mayor in one person. He saved my life, or at least the long-term health of my right arm. He gave my arm a massage and treated it with hot herbs, which had an unbelievable result. And he did everything practically for free, for donation. And we got so much more. His lovely wife  (who was our translator as James doesn’t really speak English) invited us for coffee and biscuits  and organized cheap transport for us to the port for the following day. We left for the port at 4.30 am, which was not too early for her to invite us for a quick coffee before we leave saying that we will not have the opportunity to have a coffee at the port. On saying good-bye she offered us a room in their house in case we come back to Siquijor in the future. What extraordinary and generous people! Thanks to them I will never forget the days spent on Siquijor. I truly believe that the accident was meant to happen so that we meet these wonderful people.
Our 10 days in the Philippines in figures:
Hot shower: 0
cold shower: 4
vain attempts to take a shower: 5
good night sleep: 0
nights spent expecting spider attack: 6
sunny day: 1 (but on the best possible day)
heavy storm at night while expecting the cottage to collapse: 2
portion of rice eaten: above 15
portion of yummy but extremely unhealthy bakery food: way too many
weight gained: I don’t wanna know
hours spent at Manila Airport: about 20
occasions strangers said hello to us and/or stared at me: every minute I spent outside
bad experience with Philippinos/as: 0
lovely people I met: more than I can count
wonderful seashells we collected: 10
wonderful seashells we were seriously tempted to take with us but didn’t fit into our backpacks: over 10.000
hours spent with snorkeling: 4
hours spent desperately wanting to snorkel but it was too windy and/or stormy: 24
motorbike accident: 1
new friends made: 8 plus Baguis, our loyal dog-friend on Pamilacan
cute philippina on the way home
I am not going to lie, we experienced several inconveniences in the Philippines and neither Manila nor Cebu is going to be my favorite city. BUT the beauty of the small islands and the friendly manner of the people make the lack of hot shower or air-conditioning totally irrelevant. Avoiding this beautiful country out of fear or misconceptions is a serious crime.
All pics here

3 thoughts on “Philippines: “Life is difficult, but…”

  1. Diese Bilder und Menschen werden Euch nie aus dem Sinn gehen, sie werden Euch Kraft geben, wenn es mal sehr grau aussieht. Schön!!!

  2. Pingback: Our long-awaited Tokyo trip – Japanese culture at its best | GlobeRockers