We were on a rusty old ferry heading to Zamboanga, the very south of the Philippines coming form murky old Sandakan in Malaysia - it was the cheapest way to get to the Philippines. The trip was scheduled to take 17 hours but it took 22 hours and we get sea sick - smart move Andrea! Coming from the UK we presumed that all the passengers would have cabins - duh! Communal bunk beds covered the deck, with beds exactly 5-7 (my head and feet were tightly pressed against each end) and the mattresses were just about wide enough. The beds were arranged in sets of four, so you end up laying next to some random man as there were no separators in between the beds - I wasn't quite comfortable with that and their wondering hands so managed to pay a bit extra for one of the two 4-birth cabins with no lock, sharing with one other female passenger who stayed in the room the entire time and she was really nice.
We went to explore the cafeteria as we were starving, the menu consisted of fish, and that was about it! Being a vegetarian that wasn't particularly appealing but we managed to find a packet of dried mango (I knew we should have eaten beforehand!) The Filipino people on the boat were so friendly and chatty, their English was pretty good too so in no time at all we had a donation of some cold Okra (a weird vegetable) from one of the passengers. My sister, Chrissie, was on the karaoke machine (glad they have their priorities straight - no food but can't go 22 hours without karaoke!) The locals had been trying to persuade her to sing a rendition of Celine Dion's 'My Heart will go on' but she opted for the Beetles instead, just as the sea got considerably rougher. Moments later her song was finished and she was throwing up in the bin. We spent the rest of the journey lying down. Apparently the week before the sea was much worse and all the passengers were falling out of bed so I guess we were lucky!
We woke the next morning with 3 hours until we reached land, during which time I think we spoke to everyone on the boat!
"Hello, where are you from?" asked the guy behind the counter in the cafeteria "Do you have a boyfriend". At which point some of his friends joined the conversation
"I've always wanted to marry an English girl"
Similar questions proved popular with many of the Philippino guys! There also seemed to be a lot of concern for our safety, we found out that Zamboanga was a terrorist area and tourists don't go there as it common for them to get kidnapped, there was also a bombing the week before. I did wonder why we were the only tourists on the boat! I like the way our guidebook tells us about the cheap ferry but nothing at all about Zamboanga - helpful! We spoke to a lovely Filipino girl, Jeanie, whose Brother-in-Law worked for the Tourist Police, she said that they could help get us out of the area safely.
We reached Zamboanga and Jeanie-s Brother-in-Law, Bernie, collected us all from the port and took us to his small two bedroom house where we met the rest of the family (Bernie's wife and 2 children) and their visitors (Jeanie's sister, her daughter, 2 of her friends, Jeanie's brother, his wife and their child) all temporarily visiting to see Jeanie who has been living in Malaysia for sometime, so all staying in the small house. The original plan was to stop for food, as we were all starving, then book tickets to safe ground. Jeanie made the tastiest meal we had in ages, vegetarian too which was really kind as in the Philippines they just eat loads of meat, no one eats vegetables and trying to buy them anywhere is a nightmare! That's why I reckon there are so many pharmacies around as they are all so unhealthy! One thing led to another and soon we were up singing karaoke in the sitting room with the family, the neighbours and the random audience outside in the street! I was forced into singing and I am the worst singer in the world - in England when I do karaoke they turn the microphone off and say its broken, and then when I put my name down again they wont call me up so I put fake names down. Then I have the audience throwing peanuts and beer mats at me. So yeah, really bad! I warned them that I sound cross between a donkey and a dolphin but as usual no one gets the extent of how bad I am until they hear it, people always think I'm exaggerating. I sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" as some how I think it take the attention off of my hideous voice as it puts a little bit of humor in instead (obviously I'm fooling myself). It was bad but I have done worse, everyone looked a little shocked until my sister started laughing at me, no one was shy to get up after that!
Time flew and we hadn't enough time to get the tickets, Jeanie suggested we stay with them overnight and get the tickets the following day. I felt guilty staying the night as they had been so kind to us and the house was jam-packed already - talk about ten in a bed! That night they took us out clubbing, our first taste of Filipino flavour. First there was a band on, the songs were good and there were amusing to watch as it looked like they has a routine planned but none of them seemed to know what came next. The band took a break and the dance floor was packed as soon as the last note had played! Wow, Filipinos can really move, all bendy and wiggly in a Latino style way - how do they do that? Everyone dances with everyone, even the guys were dancing with each other, it was funny to watch. Every group had formed their own little circles, each taking it in turn to strut their stuff in the middle. Finished my cigarette and waltzed over to the dance floor, my group were at the back of the crowded dance floor so I was made to dance in the circles of all the groups in front of them. It was a real energy lifter with everyone clapping and cheering like off some kind of Run DMC music video. I finally made it over to my group, everyone was really friendly and our circle was soon merged with all of the other circles. Everyone wanted to talk to us, so we had more questions of "Do you have a boyfriend?" froma few guys and "Where are you from" as well as a lot of curiosity what we were doing in Zamboanga. The band came back on and the dance floor cleared as we all sat back down. When we got over to our table there was some weird looking stuff in food bowls, apparently it was vegetarian so I tried some. It tasted weird, but not that bad, I asked what it was made of and was told that it was intestines - Niiice!
The next day they took us into town to get the tickets, as we drove down the street I noticed all the Police and military with their machine guns, in fact I noticed that everyone had a gun (hand gun), even the family that we were staying with! We got to the shopping centre, no guns were allowed so they has to be checked in and were given back upon exit. After we were searched and all the guns were deposited we were allowed to enter. We bought the tickets and the family took us on a tour of the town and then to meet some of their relatives. Then later they took us to the beach where we stroked wild chickens! (Ok, I know wild chickens sounds weird but they didn-t belong to anyone so were wild!). We ended up staying with the family for two days and then left for a safer location. Although Zamboanga was such a dangerous area, I felt really safe with the family and it was actually my favorite place in the whole of the country! They were definitely the kindest people I have ever met and it was by far the best bit of my trip. It just goes to show that there are good people in the world after all!
Posted By ANDREA CROME on 17th May 2007
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