15.05.2016 - 17.05.2016
Whilst we were on Panglao we decided to book a day out at sea. This meant hiring a bangka boat with crew. Bangkas are the go-to boats for most things in The Philippines it seems. They are usually fitted with very noisy petrol engines and aren't really the most peaceful or comfortable mode of transport. We'd been on a few bangkas already and though we didn't really want to go on another, we didn't have much choice as the boat types aren't too varied.
First we got up for a 5.30am start and went off looking for dolphins. Everything looked really serene at that time in the morning:
After a while there were loads of boats in the water all looking for dolphins, most of them noisy bangkas. They seemed to be following one another and were presumably trying to chase after pods of dolphins. But it started to feel like we were harassing any form of marine life - even though at this point we hadn't seen any dolphins - and I didn't feel it was the right way to go about it. So we were much happier when we gave up on the group hunt and started to head off towards another island on our own. Luckily we came across quite a lot of dolphins when it was just us:
After that things didn't go quite to plan. Firstly, there was a huge fire on the boat. That was quite a shock. I just turned around as one of the crew started shouting and then I saw flames coming from the steering area. The boats aren't very big and it's not like there are any emergency supplies on board (no fire extinguisher, no radios, no fire blankets, no life boats of course, and the fire was in the area where the life jackets were stored... not that the life jackets in The Philippines were much cop generally... oh and the whole boat was made of glossed wood so hardly flame resistant). The crew were quite panicked and the only way to try and put the fire out was to use anything made of material, soak it in sea water, and throw it over the flames. A throw used in this manner then set on fire itself. We only had a towel each and our clothes that were made of material. The boatman's legs were even alight, and had to be doused in sea water. Then we saw that the petrol fuel cannister was on fire (huge flames licking up at roof height!). This was obviously a big danger sign and I think we started to realise we may have to jump off the boat, in the middle of the sea (nowhere near land), sacrifice all our belongings, and hope to firstly avoid being eaten and secondly to be rescued by someone. All whilst minus lifejackets with a non-English speaking crew.
Thankfully the fire eventually receded and the crew had thrown the fuel tank in to the sea. It was still smoking high in to the air for a long time afterwards - we could eventually see it a long distance away. It was quite a serious safety issue (pretty sure you'd get sued for that in the UK or similar) but this is The Philippines and there is no such thing as health and safety.
After the fire, miraculously the crew managed to restart the boat. I've no idea how. And then they carried on as if nothing had happened. Off we went snorkelling! We saw giant turtles swimming underneath us and lots of fish. By this point we had done quite a lot of snorkelling during our travels and we were a little bit jaded, but the giant turtles were definitely a high point.
Unfortunately I then got stung by a jellyfish whilst snorkelling. I felt a pain on my thigh and then, when we got back on the boat, saw marks over the front and back of my left thigh. There was no mobile medical treatment for this of course (it's The Philippines!). I assumed it would just get better but it actually felt a lot worse the next day, and the heat and sun aggravated it. It took a couple of weeks to die down properly.
We had a whole host of problems with the boat experience that I won't go in to. We saw some amazing things: giant turtles and dolphins, but the boat trip itself was probably the worst thing we've ever done. We complained of course, and it became a long dragged out and frustrating process for weeks afterwards.
After the boat experience and everything else, we were eventually glad to be leaving The Philippines. As our time came to an end the election results came in. Rodrigo Duterte had received the most votes. I couldn't believe it. They'd voted in someone with an atrocious human rights record and shocking - unacceptable - opinions on things. But he'd been seen as the saviour of the city in which he'd organised (or sanctioned) vigilante killings of hundreds of (petty) criminals. It had apparently become a very safe place after the mass murders. During his election campaign he promised to kill 100,000 more criminals in the first six months of being in power and dump them in Manila Bay. He seemed to find it hilarious, saying he would be able to excuse himself of mass murder. There are many more examples of pretty shocking things he's said and yet the country, which seems so corrupt and hopeless in many ways (to a westerner), voted him in. They perhaps believe he'll solve all the problems that others have failed to, and somehow that he'll be less corrupt...
We also found out that the 'transparent' elections had been a bit of a joke. For some reason the system prints a confirmation of your vote for you to take home once you exit the polling station. Why? Well one reason would be to prove which way you voted... and why would you need that? Because those running for president buy votes - offering impoverished people a small amount of money, or even food, in exchange for their vote. Obviously they'd need to have proof of the way they'd voted to claim what was offered. A small amount of money, or food, was worth a lot more than democracy to those in need. It was without doubt widespread practice, our guide confirmed this, and I'm not sure it stopped just at those in poverty (possibly the amounts offered just get larger depending how much money you have). No wonder there were huge lines of people by the side of every polling station.
I found the whole political situation really interesting and if Duterte seems to 'fix' the crime rate I wonder how he'll do at fixing the poverty and other problems... and how he'll be seen on an international level as essentially some kind of tyrant.
We returned to Manila, feeling defeated about the whole Philippines situation, for our next flight. Thankfully this time we didn't have to brave Manila itself; we just stayed in the airport. By this point we couldn't wait to leave, though as luck would have it our plane was delayed and it was already 11pm. Eventually we boarded our 11th flight of the trip: we were off to Vietnam!