A sinking feeling washed over me as I felt around under the back wall of the little bamboo hut where I had stashed the GoPro camera. It was the immediate despair you feel when you check your pockets for your phone and realize you don’t know where it is. I dug around in the sand despite knowing in the back of my mind that it was gone. Stolen. Why hadn’t I put it back with our things under the watchful eye of the Germans that had come out to Mantigue Island with me? Why did I enjoy stashing things in recklessly convenient places?
I.G. photo credit: Ben.away
My love of hiding things could likely be traced back to my grandfather, who had hidden dimes for an antique slot machine on the ledges above doorways. My cousins and I would take turns pulling down the metal arm, initiating a rattling, mechanical hum, occasionally followed by the satisfying ring of dimes raining down after three like images appeared. Our parents would ask us if we would do a chore for a dollar. No deal. But for 10 dimes we were all over it. I hope to one day get my children, nieces, and nephews hooked on the same slot machine, which lives in my study today, so that we may also benefit from the diligent child labor that gambling addiction can provide.
But I hadn’t hidden a few dimes. A $400 camera, borrowed from my brother, was gone. My mind raced. No one could have seen me hide it but I had walked past a fisherman sitting in his boat a hundred yards away. He saw me walking by with the GoPro and then hop in the water without it. As I swam out to the reef I had seen him paddling from the tiny little island the two kilometers towards Camiguin watching me intently. It all made sense. He had probably snatched the camera and was looking to see if I had noticed, which I hadn’t. Squinting at the shimmering water, his boat was nowhere to be found.
A few hundred extra pesos was enough to get a propeller boat to take me up and down the Camiguin coast across from Mantigue Island to search for my primary suspect. With only a paddle, the guy couldn’t have gone too far, even with a headstart. His boat was yellow, he had a distinctive, homemade speargun, and when I greeted him I noticed a missing incisor tooth. That should be enough of a profile to track him down on a sparsely populated coastline in paddling distance of Mantigue Island.
After about 20 minutes cruising along the coast we found his boat, moored, and waded up to the little village. My boatman explained the situation and the villagers brought me to the yellow boat owner’s home. Sure enough, there was his speargun drying outside. I learned his name was Chary Gunzaga and he had just left, probably to offload the “hot” GoPro.
Several hours later, just before sunset, I came back and found Chary whittling with a machete outside of his house. Alone and unarmed, I wondered if perhaps I should have gone to the police first. In a fair fight I was confident I could have taken the small but muscular 20 something. The machete changed my risk calculus. My eyes darted to a shovel leaning against a house a few feet away. Not ideal, but if things broke bad it would do.
Opening a coconut with the typical Visayan machete like the one Chary had.
I.G. Photo Credit: zven_sp
“Hello Chary. Did you find a GoPro camera on the beach in Mantigue?” There were several curious neighbors who had joined me as I walked to his house and the whole thing evolved into more of a spectacle than I had intended. “No, I go home after you in water.” His cool reply was in broken English but seemed rehersed. He continued whittling, defiantly unruffled. By now he had time to mentally prepare for my arrival and the GoPro was probably already on its way to a mainland Mindanao pawnshop. “If you found it and give it back, no problem. But if I can’t find it I’ll have to go to the police. I don’t want to but I’ll have to.” The mention of the police was enough to evoke a reaction from the young woman seated next to him. She said something in hushed but urgent Visayan, the local Filippino dialect. He tisked dismisively at her and continued whittling. This guy’s guilty as sin but I can’t pin it to him and he knows it. As promised, I submitted a police report with all the information I had and chalked it up as a lost cause.
My faith in the integrity of the Filippino people was restored when I went to return my moped. After paying for the past week, I told the owner that I’d be catching the 3:30am ferry. He gave me back my ID which he’d held for collateral and said to just park it in his lot on my way out and hide the keys in the cupholder. This guy not only trusts me, he also likes to play it fast and loose with hiding things. I decided to keep my recent misadventure with stashing stuff to myself and shook his hand. Then I stole his moped, sold it, and got the hell out of there. Just kidding.
My transportation everywhere in Southeast Asia
My travel day began with a 1:30am oatmeal breakfast before a peaceful 45 minute moped ride under the starry sky to the port where I dropped off the bike and caught the first ferry to northern Mindanao. Second breakfast was at a bus station where I woofed down a few hard boiled eggs and drank a mug of instant coffee that boldly, albeit incorrectly, advertised the popular Starbucks beverage "Fnappucuno."
Cursive foils the forgery factories.
My attempts to recoup some lost sleep were ironically foiled by a reminant of U.S. colonialism, American country music. The busdriver on the way to Surigao didn’t seem to think that 5am was too early to blast a full-length Kenny Rogers concert over the audio system complimented by no less than five tv screens strategically placed for optimized viewing. Even with earplugs in I started to sing along in my head. “Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to disable the bus’s audio system. Know when to run.”
Kenny Rogers concert blaring on the bus
The 3:30pm ferry from Surigao to the surfer island of Siargao arrived just as the sun was listing down towards the horizon. Feeling groggy but glad to have the journey almost behind me, I rented a scooter and made tracks for the backpacker haven of General Luna. Villa Solaria, a hostel with a distinctly surfer vibe and AC cooled dorm rooms was home for the following week. Days were spent with new friends checking out the various surf breaks, swimming holes, and little islands nearby. Tiny portugese manofwar, known by the inoquous moniquer of “blue bottles” gave my forearm a nasty rash but didn’t keep me from hopping back in the water when a good swell came through.
Eager to do some spearfishing and take on a little project, I picked up supplies from the hardware store and stopped by a street mechanic shop to borrow the tools to fashion a pole spear. The good natured mechanics let me use an angle grinder, hammer, and drill press to put it together. When I asked what I owed the shop owner flashed me an amused smile and told me to bring him my first fish. We had a good laugh and I agreed to do my best to “find nemo.” Don’t worry. I didn’t shoot a clown fish. I’m not a monster.
Evenings were either spent going to bed delightfully early or grabbing drinks with friends at one of the many watering holes. Having returned to a western backpacker hub that offered ample activities and social interaction I decided to cool my heels for a while longer. The 30-day tourist visa just wasn’t going to cut it. There was still so much of the Philippines to see and I had no interest in moving for the time being. So I plopped down the $60 to extend my visa another 30 days and meandered up the coast to the sleepy, one-horse surf town of Pacifico. Along the way I hucked a backflip off a ropeswing, explored some water-filled caves, and visited some turcoise tidal pools.
In contrast to the bustle of General Luna, Pacifico was a few hostels and local restaurants near some surf breaks. There wasn’t even a bar to speak of. I quickly fell into a group comprised of French, German, Swedish and Filippino surfers. The Filippinos were happy to show us the secret surf spots, cook meals with us, and host us at their shady river front home looking out over the mangroves. It was the perfect mix of social and cultural interaction. I’m still going to do some more of the Philippines as soon as I get restless. But for now, life is too good to change a thing.
Sugba Lagoon, Siargao Island
When the time comes to depart the Philippines, I’ll continue a little tradition I’ve started to give myself some good karma before arriving at my next destination. Once I’ve booked my flights I go to www.kiva.org and provide an interest-free, micro-loan to an entrepreneuer in the country I’m visiting. The website allows users to load up money to an account which can then be lent to someone which users can find by searching country and project category. It’s satisfying to see pictures of the recipients, read about their projects, and then contribute in increments of as little as $25. The loans are paid back over a time period that the recipients can manage. If they default, it was a donation. If not, the money will slowly trickle back into the kiva account which users can loan again to someone else.
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