Monday, November 5, 2012


View from the church opposite is a website where people who have a couch or an extra bed/room/sleeping situation are connected with travelers who need a place to stay. I'd tried to make use of it in the U.S. several times, but there was always some obstacle that kept it from happening. I met my friend Alex from Bohol through Couchsurfer, but this is my first time actually sleeping at someone's place. My hosts, Bambi and her family, are awesome. She lives with her parents at 35 (extremely common here), along with her two younger brothers, a helper (housemaid with two children of her own in nearby Guimaras) and her two dogs. The youngest is Quip, 26, and an artists famous and talented enough to get his paintings and other art into any museum in the U.S., especially if marketed under modern folk art. He could draw full, muscled human figures before he was 2 years old, and his paintings highlight local tales and social issues, family history and life, and take on a combination of Folk, Postmodern, and slightly Surrealist styles. A mediocre artist and connoisseur myself, I almost never say this, but he's an artistic genius. He portrays exactly what I would hope to say in the same way I would hope to say it. He's also very active at getting the art community of Iloilo and Southern Panay off the ground. His older brother and sister are wonderful and talented in their own rights in computers and dance/food.

View from the belfry opposite
Bambi is the host I met on, and she told me she started hosting in March of this year and has hosted more than 40 travelers since then. Her entire family looks at the profile of each surf request and gives or denies the traveler's entrance into their home. They love eating food from different places and hearing the backgrounds and stories of each traveler. I've cooked three vegetable meals to complement their meat dishes and they've loved each one. If you don't know, I learned to cook by cooking a different meal every time I cook. I've only repeated a very small handful of dishes and by request only, meaning I've cooked a different meal almost every day for about 7 years. No flops in these experiments so far.

Irony like this is hard to come by. Shrine to female Greek Goddesses with a building used by the Spanish to conquer the Philippines right next to it. Aphrodite is the one you can see clearest. The contradiction is priceless.
The first day, I arrived after dark and was welcomed into their home. There was actually another surfer here, Laiza from Mindanao, so I spent the first night in a very comfortable fold-out woven bed. I spent the next three nights above Bambi and her mother in a sort of loft. The first full day Bambi and I walked all around Iloilo to the museum and the main buildings and plazas, and tasted the nightlife in an area called Smallville. I saw an old church and a very old Bell Tower. I climbed the last leg up into the Bell Tower on a rickety ladder up to where the majority of the bats perched and fluttered, and met Michael, a vibrant young finance professional who finds his "serenity" up at the top of the Bell Tower. I can see why. It had a beautiful view, and I have a feeling his spirit animal is a bat.

Mango orchard on Guimaras Island
The second day I went to Gimaras where I had planned to rent a mountain bike and ride around (something advertised well in the Lonely Planet book), but even the resorts the tourist office mentions having bikes had no idea where to rent one. So I jeeped and hitched around the island for a day. I climbed an old rusted-out bell tower, visited several port towns, an old monastery, and the National Mango Research Institute, which maintains the health of the nation's mango trees. Guimaras is famous for having the sweetest mangos. I felt they were just as sweet as all the others here... VERY. I was leaving the Trappist Monastery when I felt the sudden urge to stick my thumb out and the first car I saw picked me up. It was a French couple in a shining silver SUV headed to their home of 2 years, a resort and restaurant on a white sand beach. The woman actually grew up in the Philippines and had too complicated a history to remember. The man didn't speak any English. Their two young daughters speak very good French, Spanish, Tagalog, and English. Apparently, when they pass through town centers in Guimaras and they pass a lone white traveler, they stop to pick them up. From a distance, before I had even stuck my thumb out, the man had apparently said a phrase in French to his wife that means, "Now there's a white one..."

Somehow this rusty lighthouse in Guimaras is still strong enough to withstand its many visitors...

The third day I traveled the Southern Coast of Panay stopping at all of the towns to visit their ancient Catholic Churches. Before I even left Iloilo, Bambi and I walked to a church near her house in a neighborhood called Villa. I also visited the old home of a family of weavers weaving fine pineapple strand and silk fabrics for barongs, table cloths, and women's leisure clothing. Amazingly, I found and played the very first passable piano I've found here. It's a Yamaha upright that was in tune and everything, and I even went back to play it the next day. From there I headed to my farthest destination of the day, San Joaquin, where I found the neighborhood and met a famous sculptor who uses rudimentary tools to carve sandstone figures. He even took me down to the river where he works on bigger projects and showed me his method. He sells many pieces for a pretty penny, but it mostly goes to his seven young boys. He's a poor, overworked, still young man with a beautiful soul and a beautiful baritone voice. San Joaquin has a gorgeous church and plaza, but it was nothing compared to the UNESCO World Heritage church in the next town of Miagao. Built in 1797, it was Spanish-commissioned and Filipino-built, of course. Walked around until I found my way back to the highway, more jeeps, more towns, and more old churches. In Oton, I was looking for something specific. Quip had told me of an artist community called Pugad near Oton, I went and visited with the owner/founder/teacher of this small coop of tree houses in the orchard he planted. Mangoes, figs, vegetables, rice, and other crops and trees grow there because he planted them, and he has spent the last year teaching the children of the community how to do all sorts of arts for free for ten years. He makes a meager living in architectural design for his family, and the proceeds of his own fantastic art goes to the arts community. Even the students land commissions and are able to earn and learn at the same time. His place is the manifestation of two separate dreams I've had of building a musician/artists coop and a self-sustainable farm/homestead near enough to a city to market the arts, but far enough away to find solitude, nature, and peace.

UNESCO World Heritage Church built 1797
I swear it didn't look like ketchup in real life...
The fourth day was spent preparing for Halloween Festivities. I was something dead like a zombie - Bambi did an amazing job in the makeup in just a few minutes - but the photos make it look like I just haven't learned how to eat a hot dog smothered in ketchup yet. According to Bambi, the 30th was the night the parties really happened because people travel to their hometowns on the 31st to prepare for All Saints' and All Souls' Days (Nov 1 and 2). Turned out we were the only ones in town in costumes. Awesome night though. Bambi and her best friend Shaun are excellent people and both Couch Surfer hosts (really a blessing to travelers like me).

The next day I took a jeep up to Dingle for an excursion into Bulabog Puti-an National Park.

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