Sunday, January 16, 2011

Losing Sight


By the time I return Legaspi, I am a grouch. Maybe it's because I left beautiful Boracay. Or maybe it's because of those damn whale sharks. Those hard-to-get bastards.

From Boracay I fly to Manila and stay overnight in order to catch the only Legaspi flight daily, which is at beautiful 6:30am. How annoying.

My goals are to swim with the whale sharks out of Donsol, which is an hour from Legaspi. Then I planned to camp overnight on Mt. Mayon, out of Legaspi. I had not yet decided whether to stay in Legaspi the whole time and just take a day trip to Donsol.

But Legaspi is not beautiful. Teeming with cement stalls bearing corrugated roofs, and exhaust stained buildings, it makes Manila look like Paris. But while I've grown to appreciate Manila, I'm not confident that the same will happen in Legaspi, despite beautiful Mt. Mayon looming above. So when I arrive at 7:30am, I high-tail it to Donsol an hour away by mini-bus and two tricycle rides away.

I get there at 9:30am, too late to hop on one of the morning boats that search for the whale sharks, and too early for just about anything else. Argh. So I pay $45.00 for a room right next to the whale shark diving center. I later find out that I could have found a room for half that price down the road. Again, I am annoyed.

But I remind myself that the room still costs 1/3 of any of those crappy motels I stayed on my two week drive from Alaska to New Orleans. And it is a large room, clean, air-conditioned, and sitting right there on the beach.

The morning boats return and all I speak to have seen and swam with these bus-sized whale sharks. Damn it. Damn it damn it damn it. But my turn is next, right?

I pass the day reading a book sitting in front of my room overlooking the water. I take a night cruise to look at the fireflies that take over entire trees growing along the river. I meet charming and interesting European tourists at the hotel and pass a pleasant 5 hour dinner with them, talking about politics, French films, and how Denmark has a government-required 10 month paid maternity leave.

But they got to see whale sharks and I didn't!!!

So the next morning I went, and again the morning after. These boats are staffed with a captain, a World Wildlife Fund observer, and two whale spotters, who perch on bamboo joists hanging over the boat. There are six eager tourists on the boat as well. We all look and look and look. A total of ten hours on the ocean, looking, waiting, watching, for nothing!!!!!

"But it rained so the plankton sinks to the bottom," they say. "But it's better earlier in the morning." "But the plankton level is not so high this morning." "But it is not high season." Can these stupid whale sharks get any more high maintenance? Aaaagghhhhh!@##!

I never got to see them so the boat rides were a waste of time.

Well, except for the perfect temperature, and slight breeze blowing to cool us down.
And except for the perfect views of Mount Mayon looming over the glassy water.
And except for the beautiful Danish guy who stripped down to practically nothing and sunbathed for three hours. (Ok I'm digressing.)


And so now I start thinking Donsol was a waste of time.

Except for the cute hotel an the sweet staff and home-cooked food.
And except for the nice Euro's I met.
And except for that lovely boat ride with the fireflies.

But I am busy having a temper tantrum. So after three days and two nights of unsuccessful whale stalking, I head back to Legaspi. At least I have the volcano waiting for me.

Or not.

Magayon Hotel is flat-out scary. Lonely Planet, for the umpteenth time on this trip, has failed me. But I'm too tired and too cranky to keep looking. And anyhow, I'll be sleeping on the mountain tomorrow, right?

Wrong. "No overnight tours right now, ma'am, unless you want to pay $75.00 by yourself," they tell me. "The weather is not good for overnight camping now, ma'am." My sense is, no one at Bicol Adventures wants to take me on an overnight tour. "But there is a group going on Sunday only as far as Camp 2." I'm not staying in Legaspi for a minute longer than needed unless it's an overnight hike. I am having a temper tantrum that I'm doing best to internalize.

Before quoting me a price, the Bicol Adventure guides ask me where I'm from, worsening my already-irksome mood. So I pay the American rate of $45.00 for a five hour round trip hike to Camp 1, which puts me back in town 1.5 hours before my flight which I decide to take right then. Later in the day I confirm with some young, healthy-looking Dutch tourists I run into who have just completed the same hike in 5 hours, round-trip. Perfect. Spendy, considering there's no food and no gear rental, but perfect. I'll be with an informed guide. All in all it costs less than $10.00 per hour.

Or not. We start the hike. In Alaska, I was the least fit of my friends and boyfriends, and invariably the last one on the hike. I've since shaped up a bit more, having started boxing, but nothing noticeable in my eyes, and no scale of comparison since I no longer hike with Alaskans. Today, I have a bit of an urge. Having been stood up by the whale sharks, I want results. I'm not going to be able to camp up there, so I want adrenaline. All 8000 feet of the mountain are in full view in the morning, but then hides when we reach Camp 1, about one-third the way up, about an hour and a half later. I have passed my guide twice, a young Filipino, who needed to rest. He's getting a little snippy with me. But there's no stopping me.

We get to the camp and he points me to the "spring, safe for drinking", just minutes after he explained the presence of wild boar, wild cats, and water buffalo roaming the volcano. We are well-below the tree line. He has neither iodine pills nor a water purifier with him.
He's kidding, I say to myself. He's got to know that it can't be safe with animals around. He's a guide for Christ's sake. I ask him if he knows what giardia is, the water-born parasite common in untreated water sources where there are animals and animal feces present. He has no idea what I'm talking about. My water bottle is empty and I do not fill it. He doesn't drink the spring water either.

I am double timing it down the volcano, leaving him far behind, seriously irked and concerned at the water situation for I have sweat up a storm in my adrenaline quest. We make to the bottom putting us at comfortably less than three hours round trip. He looks pissed and a little ill.

But I, finally, got my adrenaline kick, so I'm less annoyed. And I got to see the volcano despite the weather. I feel badly about how poorly my guide looks so I tip him well. He is surprised. At the base of the volcano, his boss is playing golf amongst some wandering water buffalo. I compliment my guide to his boss. Again, he looks surprised. I want to be nice to him because I was a grouch, and despite being a somewhat under-qualified guide, he was kind and friendly. I apologize to him for rushing him, and he says it's okay, that he expected it. He elaborates that no one in the office wanted to take me because I sounded determined and because I look strong.
I look strong. I like that. But I feel badly for having been so cranky.


There are moments traveling that I lose context of what I'm doing. Every missed opportunity becomes a personal assault, every rip-off seems like a national conspiracy, when at the end of the day, I've spent as much that day or less than what I would on one night of drinks back home, and I'm doing something 99.9% of the people in the world will never get to do. I at least manage to restrain myself from complaining about this stuff out loud (this blog not included), but evenso, the negativity is the same. How I spiral into this mode I'm not sure. I really shouldn't lose sight of where I am and all the things I'm seeing. I saw Mount Mayon. I saw a charming beach town and had lovely boat rides, saw fireflies, and shared drinks and dinner with a lot of nice, interesting people.

If only those whale sharks had not stood me up. Jerks. JERKS!!

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