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It is great to be back
Camiguin Island (Philippines), January 26th 2010

After a little bit more than a year, we are back in the Philippines. And to be honest, we were looking forward to that. We were tired of the cold weather in Southern China and the rainy days in Hong Kong, so we couldn’t wait longer anymore for the tropical climate of the Philippines. Besides that, we only visited the Philippines last year for seven weeks, and that was not enough to see the vast archipelago. So, more than enough reasons for us to come back. And now it is time to look back on the first week of our second visit to the Philippines, from our comfortable hammock on the small island of Camiguin.

We flew on February 19th 2010 from Hong Kong, via the Filipino capital Manila, to the southern city Davao. Our travel guide book describes Davao as a cosmopolitan city, and when we were waiting at the luggage belt in the airport of Davao, a big billboard advertised that Davao is the most beautiful city of the Philippines. But that doesn’t say a lot, because all Philippines cities we saw so far, were very ugly. And being the most beautiful one of the ugly ones doesn’t mean that it is beautiful. Davao is by the way the capital city of the troubled province of Mindanao. Already for many years, Mindanao is the battlefield between the Filipino army and some Islamic rebel groups that want to establish an Islamic state in this part of the Philippines. In the past, the rebel groups took hostage foreigners to use them as exchange for ransom money, which the rebels used to finance their fight. It is even suspected that the rebels are connected to Al-Qaeda. For this reason, Mindanao has a very bad image and most western countries advice their citizens not to visit this southern province of the Philippines. But when you look in a more detailed way to the situation, you will notice that the fighting is only concentrated in some parts of the central and western part of the province. The eastern part is no less safe than for example Manila, where the rebels also undertook some action in the past. Another issue is the violence that took place some time ago between two powerful local clans in connection to the upcoming elections in the Philippines. But this violence was not directed to foreigners, and was no reason for us to skip the visit to Mindanao.

A street scene with a jeepney in Davao

After spending a couple of days in the city, we were not impressed by the beauty of the city. Davao is chaotic, polluted, unorganised and in many ways crumbling. The economic boom that took place in other parts of Asia, doesn’t seem the have arrived to this second biggest city of the Philippines yet. Things are like they probably were ten years ago. No new and shiny buildings or other visible proofs of progress yet. But that doesn’t mean that the city has no atmosphere. On the contrary, it is a typical Filipino city which means that there are a lot of activities going on, that the city is colourful and that the streets are the domain of the characteristic Jeepney’s, a crossing between a jeep and a bus. The Jeepney’s are an enjoyment for the eye, but a disaster for the health. The technology used is so old, that the Jeepney’s are a main contributor of the bad air quality of the city. Almost without exception, these typical Filipino vehicles blow out huge blue clouds of smoke. But still, they are great to see and one of the main attractions of every Filipino city.

Also in the southern part of the Philippines, people are really friendly. They often treat you on a big smile, and many times a day they greet you with the famous words ‘He Joe’, the generic name used for male westerners as a remainder of the time that the Philippines were an American colony. But it is not only friendliness that is deep inside the Filipino’s. In case of a conflict, they will always first try to resolve it with a smile, but if that isn’t possible, it is not uncommon that the conflict results in extreme violence. The number of guns in the country is huge, and Filipino’s are not afraid of using them. Violent clashes as result of minor conflicts are common. Most businesses have armed security people at their front doors, and when you visit a bar or restaurant, it is not uncommon that bags and people are searched. It is also not uncommon that you see men walking in the streets with a gun on their back, put behind their belt. A little bit of Wild West.

Exploring the little island of Camiguin by motorcycle
We used one of the days in Mindanao for a visit to the Philippine Eagle Research Centre, located 36 kilometres from Davao in the small village of Malagos. This research centre tries to protect the eagle, also called the monkey eating eagle because of the fact that it sometimes eats monkeys, which has a very difficult time. Mainly due to the loss of habitat, only between the 400 and 500 couples are left in wild. The research centre tries to reproduce them, and eventually put them back into the wild. But we are not sure if it really works. The Philippine Eagle Centre looks more like a small zoo, concentrated on raptors, and we didn’t see any serious research activities. We would rather call the centre an education centre to inform the Filipino’s about the results of human behaviour. We saw approximately ten Philippines Eagles, and all were behind bars. There were no semi-wild birds around. Eventually, we also didn’t see them elsewhere in the wild. Not many are left, and if you know that each pair of birds needs approximately 130 square kilometres to survive, the chance of spotting them are almost zero.

The bus journey from Davao to Cagayan de Oro took eight hours and is highly recommended. The journey takes you through the heart of the province and it is easy to see that Mindanao is a beautiful island. Perfectly green hills and mountains, together with small towns and villages is the treat of the trip. Cagayan de Oro is a small student town, of which the centre is compact and easy to navigate. The area around the central park is dotted with the usual fast food restaurants, but also the small barbecue joints are still present. It is a great way to meet the locals, to drink a beer and to enjoy a barbecued chicken. After visiting the cities, it was time to go to one of the places that the Philippines are famous for: a beach resort on one of the picturesque small islands. Beach resorts are available for all kinds of budgets. Of course, you can choose for one of the pricier upmarket places where all the luxury is available, but also the small budget places are a good deal. For around ten Euros per night you can find a nice bamboo hut with private bathroom in a laid back resort. The menu of the restaurant is maybe not the most spectacular one, but the food is fresh and good. And the beer and views aren’t worse than at the upmarket resorts. Yesterday we rented a motorcycle to explore the island, and today we spent most of the time in our hammock, just staring to the sea and drinking a San Miguel beer once in a while. It’s great to be back in the Philippines.

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