Notes from a Nomad

Remarkable People, Memorable Events and Fascinating Destinations from Around the World.

40  A Tale of Three Islands 2: Doom and Gloom on Siquijor – November 10 -14 2016 Siquijor, Visayas, The Philippines

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Last November I was travelling from the UK to Australia as our family had decided to spend Christmas with Lisa and James ‘Down Under’ to save Lisa the stress and hassle of organising a trip back to Europe at a time when she could not really afford to disrupt her PhD studies.

I planned to break the journey and spend 6 weeks in South East Asia at my home in Thailand and in the Philippines so just over a year after I was writing about Bohol and Cebu (See here for the first part of the Tale) I found myself back in Cebu and in many ways it was déjà vu all over again.

Setting off to Siquijor from Cebu.

Like last year I was having some dental treatment and like last year I enjoyed the company of my husband and wife dental team Gaston and Eloise, and their friends Ted and Tessa.

And like last year the dental treatment is more extensive and expensive than originally envisaged (Sorry Gaston!) and I now have three implants bedding in!

And like last year I have just returned from a stay on an interesting island which was again recommended by Gaston.

And like last year on Bohol I was accompanied to Siquijor by Jen, now in her final year at University, as my visit coincided with a break between semesters.

Clearly I am a creature of habit!

And also just like last year, Jen cancelled a trip she had planned courtesy of a cheap promo flight (this time to Hong Kong) so she could spend time with me and guide me around the Philippines.

Jen tries out her new camera – a gift from a secret admirer?

Jojie is excited at the prospect of a few days of holiday on Siquijor.

And I should hasten to add that my reference to Doom and Gloom was largely my reaction to world events this year and two sad events that occurred when we were on Siquijor rather than a reflection of the attractions or company that Siquijor had to offer!

I had kept the Philippine connection up throughout the past 12 months  because my dentists, Gaston and his wife Eloise, came to visit me in Switzerland last summer and not to undertake emergency dental treatment although that would not have been amiss! They were accompanied by their close friends Ted and Tess who I also met in Cebu last year and we enjoyed several days hiking around both Murren and Zermatt close to such famous mountains as the Eiger and Matterhorn.

I had also seen Jen when she made a visit to Thailand in January and had been in close contact with her over most of the last year – free messaging services like Viber and Whats App means it is easy to stay in touch with friends anywhere in the world with free instant texting, photo sharing and video calls readily available. In fact more often than not Jen and I would be chatting online several times a week and I had also arranged for her to work for the travel company in which I have invested (www.kiplingtours.com) as she has been doing online research identifying contact details for teachers in UK, American and Australian schools.

She would normally earn maybe $4 for 6 hours work in a print shop prior to going to university so the $3 an hour she charges us is good for her being, much more than she can normally earn in the Philippines, and good for Kipling as it is perhaps only 30% of what we would be paying hiring less qualified staff in the UK to do the work.

Siquijor is famed for its mystics and witches! I wonder which I have brought with me?

I was due to return to Cebu any time after March to have the work on last year’s implants completed but decided to leave it until November when I could combine it with some vacation time for Jen and more stable weather and hopefully finally get to Palawan and El Nido.

I flew to Cebu after a couple of days in Manila and both Ted, the owner of a major cold storage and distribution network in the southern Philippines  and Jen insisted on  meeting me at Mactan (Cebu) Airport.

Jen wanted to welcome me back to her home city and Ted wanted to meet me in return for guiding him and his wife Tess to the foot of the Matterhorn in Switzerland a few months earlier. Jen was already en route in a taxi and Ted was driving in his car so Ted, one of the nicest guys on the planet, told me to tell Jen to get out of her taxi at the Mactan Bridge and he would pick her up.

Jen was somewhat apprehensive as she did not understand how a poor university student could ride with a wealthy business owner (there is a vast economic and social gulf between the wealthy and poor in the Philippines) but just as I knew would be the case Ted instantly put her at ease and she spent the first hour with me telling me how kind and normal Ted was, even if he was very wealthy!

So it was I was met at Cebu Airport by a very demure and pretty Jen and affable Ted, looking at least 15 years younger than his early 50s age with his baby face, shaven head and not a pound of extra weight.

No wonder Jen was impressed!

Our driver was waiting at the Siquijor Pier with a hand crafted sign.

It was typically kind and generous for Ted to drive across Cebu just to transfer me to the nearby Costabella Resort for a day’s relaxation before the following day’s dental appointment with Gaston and it was a delight to see and spend time with Jen again almost 10 months after we had last seen each other in Thailand.

I will always remember Tuesday November 8 as one of the most enjoyable and relaxing days I have spent anywhere in recent years and I will always have very fond memories of the Costabella Resort but things began to go rapidly downhill the following morning – and nothing to do with Jen I might add.

Tuesday November 8 will go down as one of the most momentous days in recent world history because the unthinkable occurred when Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the USA. I was glued to CNN on Wednesday morning Philippines time as the early results were coming in from the USA after the polling stations closed. By the time we left Costabella for central Cebu the unthinkable was looking possible and by the time I reached Gaston’s surgery the feeling had not abated that the American people had chosen to elect a divisive candidate who has less knowledge of world affairs than my grandmother and she has been dead for 70 years!

Welcome to the Coco Grove Beach Resort

If Brexit was as I believe a tragedy for Britain and Europe  this was truly unbelievable – it appeared the US had elected a businessman with a chequered ethical history and no political experience to be their President rather than perhaps the most experienced and qualified candidate to put themselves before the American electorate. The Lunatics were truly running the American asylum.

And as far as I was concerned the week was souring and my mood darkening!

Whilst I was with Gaston who wanted to take a cast of my teeth where I needed a bridge replacing, Jen went back to her room to get her belongings together for our trip to Siquijor as the following day three of us were off to the famous island of Siquijor which Gaston had recommended the previous year.

Three of us?

Perhaps this is the appropriate place for a comment or two on both the traits and personalities of Filipino women (Filipinas) with of course the disclaimer that these are comments are entirely based on my observations, travels and interactions over a number of years and of course cannot be considered to apply to every female in the Philippines. On the other hand like many generalisations about nationalities there is often a sound basis – Americans are always looking for iced drinks and comparing destinations with ‘back home’, Germans are very efficient, the Swiss pride themselves on organisation and  punctuality, the Chinese love to gamble, the Irish are great raconteurs and the French love good cuisine.

The Coco Grove Beach Resort was an ideal place to relax.

Most Filipinas are hardworking and incredibly loyal. They are quick to smile and laugh and will often cover their mouth in mock embarrassment when laughing. If you make a joke with an Asian waitress anywhere in the world is it is an instant giveaway that they are Filipinos if they cover their mouth in shock when they laugh.

They are incurable optimists despite living in a male dominated country which offers few opportunities to women other than those who are educated to university standard.

It is a sad reflection of Filipino priorities and society that a Filipina graduate can often earn more as a Nanny or domestic worker overseas than by following their chosen profession in the Philippines.

Most Filipinas are incurable romantics and take great joy and pride in announcing to friends and family that they have a ‘boyfriend’ and many times I have had conversations with Filipinas who tell me they have had an American or Dutch boyfriend in the past and it is revealed they have perhaps only met the said boyfriend once or twice and perhaps corresponded by email or social media. This is hardly the ongoing more permanent relationship that we in the west acquaint with the terms ‘boyfriends’ and ’girlfriends’ but most Filipina love to be able to tell friends and family that she has a ‘boyfriend’.

Indeed when we were chatting online once Jen asked if I could do her a favour. She wanted to know if it was OK for her to refer to me as her ‘boyfriend’ when she went to her hiking club. She believed if she told people that she had an English ‘boyfriend’ it would deter some of the single guys from ‘hitting’ on her as she was only interested in the hiking. And also bring her some kudos and prestige with friends and family.

And this also reveals another aspect of the Filipina personality – not wanting to do something without being honest and asking permission. There is almost, what we in the west might describe as ‘old fashioned naivety’ in the way many Filipinas might ask for permission in regard to something and indeed in the example I have just cited I was thousands of miles away and I would never know how I was being described unless or until I turned up in Cebu and joined the Cebu Hash Harriers for a day of hiking.

Birthdays and Valentine Days are major events on every Filipino’s calendar. Ttraffic congestion is always horrendous on February 14 when every single Filipina longs to have a boyfriend and a ‘date’.

But our arrival at Siquijor was tarnished by the American people electing a President who was clearly not fit for purpose and quite possibly mentally unstable. This image went viral around the world.

Filipinas are invariably courteous and polite and being raised in a conservative and Catholic country will often insist on a sister or cousin or aunt being present on a first date, just as was the case in bygone days in the west. And also in another throwback although English is widely spoken throughout the Philippines the vocabulary used is often historic and even biblical. One example that comes readily to mind is I would be used to hearing references to brothers and sisters in the west but  in the Philippines the term ‘siblings’ which I rarely hear in the west is frequently used.

And one of the curious and appealing contradictions of Filipinas is that behind the many shy, proper and reserved Filipinas that often insist on a chaperone being present at an initial meeting is an affectionate open minded woman often more adventurous, liberal, sensual and open minded than her counterpart in the west.

Anyway back to the plot!

Over the last year Jen had reconnected with her High School friend Jojie who she had hardly seen since leaving school and when Jen and I had been planning our trip to Siquijor she has suggested or asked if I would like her friend Jojie to come along and join us.

This talented group provided excellent entertainment whilst we ate at the beach restaurant.

I had no problems with this and Jojie, who is a single mother with three young kids arranged for her children to stay with their grandmother for 5 nights and she joined us at our central Cebu Hotel, The Summit Circle, conveniently located close to both Gaston’s Dental practice and the Ayala Mall. Jojie was clearly delighted to see Jen again and we were all ready for an early morning departure the following day when a Taxi whisked us to the Ferry Terminal for our Ocean Jet Hydrofoil departure back Tagbilaran on Bohol where we were last year, on to Dumaguete on Negros Oriental and eventually almost 6 hours later back to Siquijor.

Jen caught up with sleep for much of the trip but the air conditioning, just like last year, was so cold I chose to sit outside near the bow for much of the trip and Jen joined me when we reached Taglibaran, using the occasion to experiment with her new camera, a recent gift from a friend. She was eventually to get so fed up with my teasing her about how much her friend must admire her to give her a camera that she pawned it rather than bring it on a subsequent trip with me! Pawn Shops are everywhere in the Philippines where so many struggle with cash flow and often charging the most exorbitant rates of interest. Jen subsequently took a loan out to help her mother and step father secure their home and had to pay 4% …………… per month! I insisted that 48% interest per annum was financial suicide and helped her negotiate a loan at a normal commercial rate.

We eventually got to Siquijor and disembarked on to a busy pier with a number of boats coming and going for the obligatory photos. Filipinas in general and Jen in particular love having their photos taken and are always quick to pose and lets be honest I also enjoy taking pictures and am always ready to take photos at the drop of a hat. Both arms stretched to the sky is a popular Filipino pose and Jens favourite is aside/back profile wistfully looking at the horizon. I have always joked with Jen that within hours of our first meeting she was asking me to take pictures of her.

Early Morning Exercise for Jen.

Once the photos were taken we walked off the pier and soon found our transfer vehicle with the driver waiting holding an ornately decorated chalk board with the name ‘Michael Bromfield’ beautifully transcribed in a decorative script.

We were staying at the Coco Grove Beach Resort about a 30 minute drive along the southern coast of Siquijor, an island traditionally famous for witchcraft and healers – one to curse you and one to heal? We passed through several sleepy low key villages before arriving at our hotel and the good news was the resort was far more impressive than I expected with beautifully landscaped grounds, three restaurants and an excellent beach front location.

The bad news was that our room was spacious but the bed quite small and so Jojie drew the short straw and got the camp bed! The enormous beds at Costabella made by combining two queen sized beds would have been useful here as one could sleep a battalion of troops on those beds, they were that huge.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner on the beach our first night with first class live entertainment from a trio of outstanding Filipina vocalists accompanied by a blind keyboard player. The singers were excellent and sang harmonies in the style of the Everly Brothers and were pitch perfect. They could easily have made a living as professional musicians in the west but were probably earning no more than $10 each per night because in the Philippines everyone sings, and sings well! Indeed Filipinos are the troubadours or minstrels of Asia and if you go into a Bar, Hotel Lobby, Night Club or Jazz Club in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore the chances are that the band you are listening too will be Filipino or at least have a Filipino vocalist. There is surely no other nation that provides so many outstanding singers on a per head basis. Go to a Birthday Party or Christening and you can be sure the Karaoke will come out and someone/everyone will be singing. There was Fire Dancing as well so our meal was very pleasant except I obviously made one flippant comment too many and Jen gave me the silent treatment for several hours.

Sadly my stay on Siquijor will always be associated with the death of my idol and icon, the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen who I had met in 2010.

Did I mention moods in my assessment of Filipino women?

On a more serious note there was  one significant cloud on the horizon because by now it was confirmed, Donald Trump, a far from impressive businessman with a track record of treating both his staff and customers appallingly and littered with business failures had indeed been elected the 45th President of the United States.

This was a man whose campaign was characterised by divisiveness in the extreme, and whose comments about women betrayed a total inability to be considered a moral leader of his or indeed any nation. He had continually lied about Hillary Clinton. His comments about immigrants were divisive and appealed to the electorate’s worst instincts and just as in the UK with Brexit, it had worked and America had almost certainly voted for the candidate ever put before them who was least qualified to lead and govern their nation.

Trump’s only skill that I can acknowledge is in self promotion and of changing the subject of which he is a master and I am horrified that so many gullible Americans were taken in by this charleton.

When the UK had voted 52 to 48% to leave the EEC in June like many others I was shell shocked and felt I had lost a close relative. Indeed it was the first political event in my lifetime that affected me emotionally and on a personal level.

Sure I can resist Cheese Cake……….most of the time!

Clearly many people voted to leave as a gesture of dissatisfaction with their current situation and without realising the consequences, let alone that the EEC had ushered in a the longest period of peace without  conflict in Europe for over a thousand years.

And now it seemed this wave of so called populism (I call it political hooliganism!) had also worked in the USA and there was every probability that with a President uniquely unsuitable to hold such a position of leadership this event would have a dramatic impact on the rest of the world over the coming four years.

Who could possibly have predicted that the UK would vote to leave the EEC and turn our backs on our vital trading partners and that Donald Trump, who had been an advocate of promoting the lie that President Obama was not born in the USA, would be elected President.

Clearly the world (or parts of it) was taking leave of its senses in 2016 but worse was to come for me on Siquijor.

Anyone who has met me or who has read my article on Leonard Cohen here will know that this iconic Canadian Singer Poet and Writer has been my idol and icon since I first started listening to the ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ in 1967.

Our waitress was an absolute delight. My guide was not bad either!

There is absolutely zero doubt that he has been one of the most iconic and influential figures of popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries and ‘Hallelujah’  has become one of the most recorded songs in history. Since Leonard resumed touring again in 2008 in the next 6 years he performed 372 concerts watched by around 4 million people.

And almost every one of those 4 million considered the concert they had attended to be ‘the best concert I ever been to’ as night after night Leonard sang over 25 songs for well over three hours with a band of the highest quality and continually thanking his ‘friends’ (the audience) for keeping his music alive and making an old man happy.

I had met Leonard’s  Manager Robert Kory in Los Angeles in 2009 to discuss writing a book ‘The Fans of Leonard Cohen’ and after grilling me for two hours Robert was quite supportive and two years later I briefly met Leonard in Victoria BC – just time to thank him for his music and some quick photos.

When I told him I had been to over 20 of his concerts (then) he smiled and just said ‘That’s too many my friend’.

In December 2012 my wife Sharron and I had flown to Montreal from Virginia and the UK respectively to attend what were to be his last concerts he ever performed in his home town and 10 months later we were there in Amsterdam in 2013 for his last European concert. I think that was my 32nd Leonard Cohen concert since 2008 and every one was memorable and like a private conversation. His charm was that almost every single member of every audience thought the same way. He was loved and admired by millions of devotees around the world and established a connection with his fans in a way rarely replicated by other artists.

Villagers on their way to church in a nation where over 90% of the population are regular churchgoers.

I can well remember watching his famous performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 when he quietened a boisterous crowd at 4am and to this day I wear a Leonard Cohen ring on the pinkie finger of my left hand and sport a Leonard Cohen tattoo on my right wrist.

In short I was a fan. He was truly my idol and icon and my philosophy has often been if it worked for Leonard then it worked for me. And Leonard had spent plenty of time during his life with younger women!

I sat at our table the following morning waiting for our breakfast. Jen and Jojie were checking Social Media for messages. I was barely prepared for the message that came from my wife Sharron in England

‘Did you hear this?

It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist Leonard Cohen has passed away

We have lost one of Music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.

A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief’

The San Isidro Labrador Church at Lazi

I could not believe it.

When I had last checked in with the Leonard Cohen Forum there was speculation that Leonard was not well but also speculation in regard to the release of a new album would see a return to some limited touring – three years previously at 79 he had still been skipping on and off stage and performing for three and a half hours with just a 20 minute intermission.

His music had been a constant backdrop to my life for almost 50 years and  his songs ‘Anthem’ and ‘If it be your will’ had been played at my mother’s funeral 6 years ago and now Leonard was no longer with us.

I found it difficult to accept there would be no more concerts or albums and that Leonard would not be around. When I discovered that he had died on the Monday three days earlier I thought at least he was spared the spectacle of Trump being elected President of the USA as that would not be an appropriate memory to cloud anyone’s last moments.

Given my concerns about the possible disastrous consequences of both Brexit and the election of Trump had now both been realised and my own sense of grief and despair  compounded by the passing of Leonard Cohen I guess I was not in the most tolerant of moods when we sat down for dinner on the beach that evening to listen to some more live entertainment as we ate.

When it started to rain the friendly staff moved us to an inside table and then asked if we minded sharing with three ladies who appeared to be in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

The impressive interior of the San Isidro Labrador Church at Lazi provided relief from the oppressive heat outside.

As we waited for our starters, being polite and to make conversation, I asked

‘Where are you guys from?’

‘Oh we are from the USA’

the younger woman replied

‘So you guys have a lot to apologise for today then’

I immediately retorted

Oh please don’t blame us – we are gay and from the Bay area’

she replied immediately implying there was no way they would be Trump supporters.

Funny how every American I have met travelling in the last 20 years has vowed they were not Bush voters and now here we were going again!

‘Well clearly someone is’ I commented ‘You Americans have really got to sort out your internal politics. You preach Democracy to the rest of the world yet have gun laws that allow innocent citizens to be massacred. You treat every attempt to introduce a form of guaranteed health care for the most needy as if it is a criminal action whereas in most civilised parts of the world it is considered a fundamental responsibility of government to provide healthcare to its citizens.

At this point Jen and Jojie are looking anxiously at each other. Asians do not like to argue publicly and to do so is both embarrassing and a loss of face and in truth I should have been more considerate in their presence.

But I was off and running.

A Family Excursion heading towards the waterfall for a cool dip.

After moaning to Jen for 36 hours that I just could not believe that a mentally unstable self promoting egoist had actually been elected to the most important position in the world I was now ready to vent my spleen on someone.

Whoa – we are are in a bubble and on holiday. We do not need to hear this’

the older lady replied.

‘I am sorry but I think you do’ I replied ‘Your electoral system is 200 years out of date and no longer fit for purpose when the person who the majority vote for is not elected to office. The whole system is a joke but if that’s what Americans want then that’s fine but it is not right that the rest of the world should suffer the consequences.’’

‘But what about Brexit?’ the younger woman asked ‘You Brits have just made a pretty stupid decision’

‘I agree 100%’

I commented and continued

‘……………..which is why I have apologised to every single European that I have met since June for the damage our selfish decision might cause to the rest of Europe. And that is why I think you should be apologising for your country’s decision because the potential for international instability with Trump leading the USA does not bear thinking about’

Indeed Trumps earlier comments on Brexit and the EEC had previously showed he had minimal understanding of global politics or the international situation and indeed his first few months in office painfully confirmed his opinions on world affairs were not to be shaped by the objective input of his embassies or the State Department but rather shaped by the latest family member or advisor that he spoke to and/or by the latest soundbite he saw on Fox News or read on Breitbart News.

But back on Siquijor, at this point Jen and Jojie and sinking deeper and deeper into their chairs wishing they were anywhere but next to me spouting on. If they had been keeping a lower profile they would have been under the table!

The Cambugahay Falls are a great place to cool off on a hot afternoon.

For them paying the next month’s rent and earning some income was of far more importance than the election of an American President and they had their own despotic President to worry about as Dutarte has been condoning the use of Vigilante groups to deal with the nation’s Drug problem and thousands of Filipinos have died as a result, including many innocent citizens caught up in the crossfire.

And at this point the Americans decided to call a Time Out and asked the waiter if they could be moved to another table!

I accept that I was over the top and rude. In truth Brexit and America’s decision to elect Trump had given me concerns, for the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, in that I actually fear for the future of the civilised world as we know it.

Not because a Nuclear confrontation was looming (although at the time of writing Trump is threatening North Korea with devastation the likes of which has not been seen before!) but because it appeared ill informed and misled electorates in the UK and USA were deliberately making decisions and wilfully turning their back on the rest of the world and rejecting years of progress in a way that will have a profound impact on other nations. If we are reverting to every nation for itself there will only be three or four major players on the global stage in the centuries to come.

There are many secluded coves at Segusa Beach.

The world does not have finite resources and nations need to work together for all our benefit and it appeared Britain was turning its back on its neighbours and the USA was turning its back on the world. To me it seems inevitable that the rest of the world will inevitably suffer once Trump starts to implement his divisive and America first policies so I was pretty despondent and the passing of Leonard Cohen had just acerbated my gloom.

I made a mental note to apologise to the three American ladies the next morning and explain they were in the wrong place at the wrong time but I think when I saw them the following morning I just managed a Nod and Good Morning and when I planned to go and apologise they had disappeared. Once bitten twice shy!

The next few days we took it easy reading and relaxing whilst Jojie kept up a texting conversation with her boyfriend in the USA so we did not see too much of her when she was so occupied.

And when it came to the final day much as we had enjoyed relaxing and chilling out at the resort, which after all was the name of the exercise we knew we really should see some of the island so we rented a small motor bike taxi with Jojie sitting on the pillion behind the driver and Jen and I squeezed into the sidecar!

We proceeded eastwards along the southern coast to Lazi passing through a succession of small villages. As it was a Sunday the inhabitants were usually on the road making their way to and from church and often carrying brightly coloured umbrellas for protection from the sun.

Beware of the Photobomber behind!

At Lazi we visited the photogenic San Isidro Labrador Church.

It was constructed in an interesting combination of coral stone and timber and with a 6 sided bell tower attached. The interior was vast with a curved ceiling and a very decorative interior with an ornate blue pulpit.

Facing the church was the oldest convent in the Philippines, housed in an impressive timber and stone villa and surrounded by some magnificent trees. It was all very pleasant – and hot!

After Lazi we drove north for a few kilometres to the Cambugahay Falls where we walked down a rough stairway to a series of swimming holes. Jen kept us entertained by swinging back and forth on a rope suspended from a branch overhanging a swimming area before dropping into the pool below whilst I…………………….watched and took photos! Local kids escorted us down the steps to the pools and back up again afterwards.

After returning to Lazi we continued eastwards to Kagusa Beach – a series of attractive secluded coves each with its own sandy beach. After enjoying the sand and the obligatory photos and selfies (this is the Philippines!) we made our way back to our hotel to enjoy a wonderful sunset on the beach, satisfied that we had explored at least part of Siquijor.

Our motorbike Taxi for 3 on Siquijor.

The following day we returned to Cebu but not without a misunderstanding as Jen was expecting she and I would spend a day exploring Dumaguete whereas I thought it made more sense to continue back to Cebu City with Jojie. It was simply a misunderstanding and failure to communicate properly on my behalf and Jen forgave me after two or three hours of the silent treatment – she had been looking forward to visiting Dumaguete but finally got there several weeks later when helping a new friend of hers as an assistant tour guide for a French group of tourists.

And she also got paid for that visit so alls well that ends well!

And so our second island break came to an end and I had certainly enjoyed Siquijor sufficiently to want to return at some point in the future.

And as for our three person tryst with one 68 year old gypsy and two 29 year old Filipinas.

Fun, Fantasy or Foolish?

I think Jen and I were agreed that a 24 hour break for the three of us would have been fun and worth repeating but four days was maybe too long!

And although this tale is coming to its end the story went on.

The oldest convent in the Philippines is found at Lazi on Siquijor.

After having my replacement bridge fitted by my dentist Gaston in  Cebu Jen and I did go to another island – the much bigger island of Palawan and we finally got to El Nido and had a wonderful time island hopping, snorkelling and visiting  the spectacular cliffs, islands, bays and beaches on a series of boat excursions from El Nido.

I have visited both the famed destinations of Halong Bay in Vietnam and Phang Nga Bay in Thailand but have no reservations in saying El Nido is a class above both as far as magnificent scenery and snorkelling is concerned.

And then I returned to my home in Thailand before continuing to Australia for almost two months over Christmas and the New Year with my family in Sydney and then to the Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne.

But Jen and I were able to meet up in Hong Kong (another island!) in early February this year and again in Cebu when I was accompanied by my friend and former colleague Tony (now also based in Thailand for part of the year) and Jen organised an excellent days sightseeing for us both in Cebu City together with some other friends of hers who were visiting from Dubai.

She also looked after me very patiently when I developed a vicious and embarrassing gastroenteritis infection in Cebu and we also enjoyed several days relaxing and sightseeing in Manila before I returned to Thailand again later in February this year.

An avenue of grand trees near Lazi.

But life was changing for Jen – by now she had completed her three years studies and all that was required was a year’s ‘on the job’ experience before she can graduate with an IT degree in April 2018.

She secured a good position in an IT department that was approved by her university but it was unpaid which worried her – as did the responsibility of looking after her teenage brother.

I tried to funnel as much work as possible from Kipling Tours to her and encouraged her to set up and promote her own website so she could get additional income from doing online research for others as well as Kipling Tours.

So Jen was working long and unpaid hours through the day to complete her degree, working in the evenings to have some income, worrying about her brother, looking for somewhere nicer to live, was hospitalised with a stomach infection, embroiled in a legal dispute over the land she purchased for her mother and when she returned to Leyte to sort this out was involved in a motor bike accident and wearing no helmet. She had terrible cuts and grazes to her face and leg but was relieved her mouth and teeth were unscathed or two years of wearing braces would have gone to waste.

In truth she was lucky to escape serious injury and I think I was more angry with her for being so stupid as to not wear a helmet than I was sympathetic to her injuries!

For much of the past two years Jen would text me most days just for a chat or advice and to tell me what she was up to – I guess as she was a mature student and most of her fellow students were younger it was helpful for her to have an older friend/father figure for advice.

But now she was working she had new worries and less free time and the messages from her and chats with her were far less frequent.

Cooling off with the fish at the end of a hot day.

She was also unimpressed that when passing through Manila for 48 hours on my way back to the UK in May I did not get in touch with her although in truth my reason for doing so was because I thought that as she had just started her OJT she was hardly in a position to take a couple of days off to fly up to Manila and meet with me. However I should have called her.

So for whatever reason her messages were less frequent, she was often ‘down’ when we chatted and my calls to her usually went unanswered with a variety of far from convincing explanations.

I assumed that now Jen was working she had new friends closer to her age and a new social life which would be good for her. I suspected that maybe she had met someone else.  It could have been that she was too embarrassed to tell me,  although for two years I had been encouraging her to make new friends.

And on one of the few occasions when Jen did answer my call I reminded her that  I would likely be in the Philippines this coming October to get the crown fitted on my final implant and did she want to keep the tradition going and visit a third island.

I mentioned the island of Boracay which Jen had been interested in visiting last February. Boracay is far more commercialised than Bohol or Siquijor, the first two islands we had explored together, but it has a magnificent white sand beach which ranks with the world’s finest.

Siquijor is renowned for its beautiful sunsets.

However Jen was adamant she was no longer interested in visiting Boracay but was unable to explain why. Yes she had enjoyed the hotel room with a nice view in Manila but she did not have anything complimentary to say about the company (!) but maybe she would be interested in a trip to Malaysia and Singapore if I was going that way.

So for whatever reason this was not the Jen who had been my best friend for the last two years – no longer laughing, positive and in fact giving the impression she did not really want to talk.

In truth whilst we both enjoyed chatting online it is so easy to misinterpret or take offence at some innocuous comment when you do not see the wink in the writers eye and realise it is a joke. Indeed Jen once commented that I was the most sensitive (in taking offence) and insensitive (with thoughtless comments) person she had ever met, a comment that I at times thought could equally be applied to her!

There were times when we both thought we had enough of long distance correspondence but usually after a week or two one of us would contact the other and normal service would be resumed.

But this felt different.

Time to depart Siquijor after a relaxing four days

Clearly Jen now had other interests and priorities and seemed to have decided that both our lives would be easier without her having to maintain a friendship with someone who was usually half way around the world.

I had already finished my article on Bohol – A Tale of Three Islands 1, which you can find here  and was well into the first draft of this article – A Tale of Three Islands 2.

But during that final phone call it became quite clear to me that things had changed and it was highly unlikely I was going to be penning A Tale of Three Islands 3.

And so it proved a few weeks later when my messaging service told me that Jen’s cousin had subscribed to the network that I used and we were chatting and catching up. I made an innocent comment that I was worried about Jen and indeed Joanna confirmed that Jen was setting off in another direction with her life and clearly had not been comfortable in telling me.

I will always wish her well but it does not look like we will be heading off for any third island tales any time soon but I will always have fond memories of the first two islands and my hard working guide, always trying to better herself and improve the hand she had been dealt as well as well as do all she could for her family’s well being!

For sure Life is not easy for young women in the Philippines.

©Michael Bromfield

A double rainbow followed by sunset whilst we wait in Taglibaran on the return journey to Cebu.

 

2 thoughts on “40  A Tale of Three Islands 2: Doom and Gloom on Siquijor – November 10 -14 2016 Siquijor, Visayas, The Philippines

  1. So did you find out what happened to her or why she ‘went off you’?

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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