Thursday, January 10, 2008

Being security concious

I have now officially been frisked. Not very thoroughly, thank the gods. And I wasn't singled out; every single person entering manila domestic airport gets the personal treatment. In my case it was just a quick pat down and a gentle shove off the little podium I had to stand on. The airport was jam packed, shoulder to shoulder and long queues for the food (the first meal on the trip that I deemed totally inedible, mostly veg but heavily flavoured with dried shrimp). We arrived very early as we'd expected the traffic to be especially bad (it being a monday, according to the guest-house-guy).
Arriving in Puerto Princesa was a blessing. PP is quite a small town, lots of palm/banana/papaya/bouganvillea plants and all that is green and neccessary to make you feel like you're on a tropical island. Everything is in pretty reasonable repair, the main road is decent although I'm not sure the truck we saw yesterday that broken and fallen into a covered sewer would have agreed... The place is busy with hundreds of little blue tricycles (a moterbike with a sort of covered sidecar, look like big scooting helmets) and the occassional daring red tricyle.
But I was talking about security. It's a new experiance to get my bag checked and one of those electric paddle doflicky things waved over me on my way into the supermarket. Every bank has at least one guard with a shotgun, a lot of the shops have guards too. Hell, even the man at the door to Dunkin' Donuts had a handgun! It's not intimidating, not at all.... It's a bit weird because this seems a little like the last place on earth where they would have a problem with violent crime, but I guess they have a gun culture (like America).
This country seems to be a mis-mash of different cultures, the original plus a heavy smattering of spanish influences (the religion, language) and a lot of american stuff (language, food). You hear it as people talk, literally 20% of what people say and write is directly english, plus a lot of words that sound an awful lot like english (eg Excuse me is Iskus), same for spanish and a lot of young men in particular sound for all the world like they grew up in the US.
So anyway, moving on!
Yesterday we took a day trip out to the world's longest known navigable Subterranean River (world famous apparently, although I'd never heard of it until I read about it in our guide book....). It's pretty cool. We took a terrible road for a couple of hours out to the national park at Sabang, a very noisy boat across the sea to a gorgeous little cove (picture perfect tropical island postcard), we were hustled along a 2 minute walk to the river (beautiful teal and crystal clear) where we had to write our name in a book, all in a great hurry because it's 'first come first served'...and then we waited in the shadows of the rainforest while long-tailed macaques watched us warily and tried to pinch one guys water bottle... these monkeys were very cute, and quite small - much smaller than the pig-tailed macaques I'm used to - and all had pretty white eyebrow markings and mohawks.
After a long wait we donned damp lifejackets (one super-organised couple actually had their own fancy lifejackets, talk about thinking ahead!) and plastic helmets and hopped into our little boat to be taken under the mountain. Even though the entrance to the caves was only about 30m away, we made a stop halfway to be reorganised 'for the balance' and I had to carry the torch at the prow of the boat. And so we slipped smoothly under the mountains where we floated about 1.5km along a river in a tunnel underground. Pretty damn cool, like something out of Lord of the Rings. I would have enjoyed it more if our driver had stopped talking for more than 30 seconds and if I hadn't been the light-pointer (Right mam, right mam, up, up mam, slowly mam, down mam, that is the Mother Mary Formation, straight ahead mam, right mam...) but the caves were full of little bats ('fledermaus') which I adore so I I spent a lot of time looking at the little brown bodies arranged all over the ceiling (and keeping my mouth shut).
Back in PP we've done not much more than wander around eating. We feel like very fussy eaters all of a sudden, but a lot of the food so far really hasn't been all that appealing. Salted eggs are too strongly flavoured, a lot of it is super-greasy, a ginger soup tasted like it would cure my cold (Actually I think it might have!) and I gave half of the chicken I had for lunch yesterday to a starving dog that kept looking at me. The nicest local food we've found to eat is Pinakbet, a meat/veg concoction that's very tasty...once I pick out all the bitter melon (bleugh) and okra (BLEUGH), when you eat in outdoor restaurants at night it's very important to pick a table with decent lighting so you can sort out the edible bits from the inedible parts. We're going to tackle a 'lucky dip out of a dozen saucepans' type of lunch shortly and just hope it doesn't have any of the intestines in it we've seen strung along skewers for BBQ snacks. Anyway, we haven't starved yet although we have lowered ourselves to eat at Jollibees (it's Pilippino, so that's ok but the food is just as bad as the gigantum american chain it's copied).
The one last thing I was going to talk about was the supermarket, but what is there to say really about a shop which stocked a whole entire aisle of laundry powder, another aisle of dishwashing detergant, took up a quarter of the building for alcohol and where I could have bought Placenta Soap? ('with extracts of placenta! Healing Properties and Extra Whitening!'). The imagination runs riot...

Tomorrow to the north of Palawan and El Nido :-)

Cheers all, love to everyone,

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